Engaged readers are valuable readers. They stay longer, read more. They’re the demographic from which subscribers are likely drawn. So the question how to create higher engagement is quite an important one for all journalists and publishers.

While everyone’s competing for the same eyeballs, how do you gain an edge? Through CPI, our compound metric found in the Insights part of the tool, it’s easy to see at a glance how articles score for engagement.

Sometimes they score big. So what’s the secret there? We already came up with 7 ways to create more engaging content. During a data dive recently we discovered one of our clients, Indian news site The Economic Times (ET Prime), was knocking it out of the park in the engagement stakes, so we asked their editor, Shishir Prasad, for his insights about their success.

Why should this matter to your newsroom?

It’s not just ‘because it’s nice to know’. Monitoring engagement is important for many reasons and for all kinds of business models:

  • Membership models - to understand what converts - and what retains interest so as to reduce the risk of churn
  • Ad models - to ensure advertisers feel confident about placing their ads on your pages
  • Public broadcasters - to help with their central mission of education and information
  • Startups - to measure interest in your central mission and go from start up to scale up
  • Grow of startups - to measure interest in your central mission and go from start up to scale up

And essentially there’s the issue of whether the message and mission are being communicated effectively. Nobody’s writing for nothing, right? When you look at engagement, you’re revealing if the message you’ve put out into the world is being received and understood.

How do we measure it?

Engagement can be measured in many ways, but here we look at elements that give a picture of the reading behaviour to illuminate how much a reader is involved and interested in a specific article.

This could be things like:

  • Read Depth - how far through an article a reader gets before clicking away (Expressed as a percentage)
  • Page Depth - how many further articles are clicked on after the initial one - a good indicator that the reader is keen to engage further on a topic or with a publication or brand
  • Time on page - as simple as it sounds - how long a reader reads for. The same can be said for session time (how long a user stays on site).

These are individual metrics. In Insights we also use a compound metric called Content Performance Indicator (CPI) to give a single reading of how well an article performs on a scale of 0-1000. This is a balanced metric, so it looks at various indicators of good engagement, measures them against one another and spits out a number, benchmarked against others on your specific site, which shows if something’s average (500), underperforming (<500) or doing really well (500+). It’s important and useful because this approach is length-agnostic: it doesn’t care whether your article is long or short - but gives you a true glimpse of how well people are responding.

So what can articles that score 1000 tell us about engagement? The Indian economic website ET Prime gets lots of extremely highly scoring articles, so we decided to ask them, if not for their secret recipe, then at least for some hints about their secret sauce. We’ve taken away three tips for you to consider right here, right now.

EP Times
EP Times homepage

What ET Prime can teach us about highly engaging articles

The player: ET Prime, part of the Economic Times of India group

Location - Mumbai, India

Business model - The Economic Times of India, a business-focused daily. ET Prime is its member-only platform

Founded - The Economic Times, 1961; ET Prime 2018

Reach - 200k subscribers to ET Prime

Shishir Prasad - editor, ET Prime

'Curiosity has its own half life'

1. Timing & relevance

What makes an article succeed? Shishir Prasad had his ideas. "I think the number one thing is when it’s at the intersection of what people want to know - and what they don’t.

A couple of weeks ago we had the tragic incident of the submersible, Titan, that imploded at the bottom of the Atlantic. For readers finding out about this in that moment, what is it that you would have wanted to know? There’s no single answer. Maybe there are some who wanted to know who the father son duo were, and what they were doing. Somebody would have wanted to know why it should have happened to these guys when they had done it so many times before and who seemed like professionals?

The biggest boxes you can check are whether an article succeeds in answering those key questions, and if it can do that at the moment readers need it. Because, let's face it, curiosity has its own half life. You're not going to be curious about this one thing forever: something new comes along all the time.

I think good journalists and good editors are able to sense that and either anticipate what will be needed, or react very quickly when something happens.”


KEY POINT -> Readers’ attention is easily stolen. Ensure that you’re answering the questions they have promptly, in the detail required, and from the angle that’s most appropriate.

User needs can help with this by identifying the best approach to create an article, or finding the most efficacious way to follow up a breaking news update. If you want to make sure the editors of your company learn from the best? Please add them to our e-learning program smartocto Academy.

2. Data-informed planning

“Let’s say you've published a story and it does really well. You might think you should do another story on the same company next week. But maybe not: often there's no story because whatever you have to say you've done already.

Just because something has worked once doesn’t mean it will work again. If formulas could predict 100% successes, Netflix would never make a dud - and we know they do.

So, data helps us strengthen our intuition. It tells us where we've gone wrong. When we’ve picked the wrong topic. When something didn't perform well. Maybe the headline was bad. Maybe the way it was written was really poor. So we use that to guide our intuition. But at any given point of time, we’re always aware of the bigger picture - in our case with what’s going on in the Indian business world - and trying to look for what would be of relevant importance to our readers. And that really is an editorial call.”



If you’re tempted to make follow up stories, be careful - or at least mindful. Repeating the same information will likely decrease engagement, but creating content that covers the story from a different angle can be extremely valuable and help boost it.

Check out this client case to see how Dutch regional player, De Gelderlander, developed a story, or read this cautionary tale about a fish.

In my humble opinion, the reason why these work is because people want to become rich. In India, where the economy is growing and where we have a very large, young population, this is especially true.

Shishir Prasad

Shishir Prasad editor @ ET Prime

3. Headline analysis & brand dna

The key to ET Prime’s successful articles is simply in understanding what makes their readers subscribe. In their case the motivation primarily centres upon financial education. Readers become members because they want to learn from the best, learn from those with experience and those who’ve had success economically. It follows then, that the headlines reveal the promises of the articles - but also tap into the defining motivation of the reader to read and subscribe, and for the publisher to convert and retain.

  • ‘How’, and ‘Why headlines hint at explanatory and educative articles'
  • Keywords like ‘wealthy’, ‘returns’ ‘wizard’ reveal success stories waiting to be dissected
  • The ‘profile’ format (“Meet Avadhut Sathe”) promises to reveal secrets of success

Three top-scoring articles at ET Prime featured these elements:

How panic sale by Bajaj Finance singed an INR40 crore hole in Seetha Kumari’s portfolio

Meet Avadhut Sathe — the man on a mission to make every Indian wealthy via stock trading

Meet Jim Simons, the math wizard of Wall Street, who has delivered extraordinary returns.

“In my humble opinion, the reason why these work is because people want to become rich. In India, where the economy is growing and where we have a very large, young population, this is especially true. Nobody wants to be poor here, because we've been poor for a very long time. And so any formula readers can look at, which tells them how to make money, how to become successful is just the kind of article our readers enjoy.”

The Anatomy of a winning article

So, let’s summarise. Successful articles:

  • Answer readers’ questions
  • Arrive when readers need them, and don’t outstay their welcome
  • Headlines are on-point, making good use of keywords that understand the central brand promise(s)