How estimated reading times increase content engagement

Letting your readers know how much time it takes to read your content helps improve user experience.

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The advent of digital platforms has increased the amount of content people read on computers, smartphones, and tablets. The average person spends almost seven hours a day viewing internet-connected content on a screen, according to data from Comparitech. And it’s even higher in the U.S., with the average person spending over seven hours viewing screen content each day.

This shows that there are many opportunities to engage customers digitally, which is why it’s worth asking how much of their time is spent on your online content and using visual cues to present the estimated reading time to the reader.

Estimated reading time

Marketers can use advanced marketing analytics tools to determine how much time users spend engaging with your content. Customer traffic to your article can be thought of as a consumption funnel – starting with the total number of people who load the page and narrowing it down to those who start reading, reach the bottom of your article, and eventually hit the bottom of your page. These tools also show how much time the customers take to reach a particular point in the article. 

One example of these tools is Page Analytics from Google. This Chrome extension lets you analyze how customers interact with each page on your website. 

If these tools tell you a large number of people view your article but few reach the end, this might indicate a need to make your content more engaging. 

An effective way to encourage customers to read your article is to mention the estimated reading time. Showing site visitors how many minutes it takes to read your article can help convince them that the time commitment will be less than what they originally thought. This can lead to better engagement with your content.


Why it’s worth mentioning reading time

Mentioning the estimated reading time of articles seems to have positive impacts – it can reduce bounce rates and increase time spent onsite. A study from Simpleview Europe even found that engagement rates have increased by up to 40% after reading times were added to the post.

There is also psychological evidence supporting estimated reading time mentions. In psychology, the “paradox of choice” is a phenomenon in which having a large number of choices can negatively impact your decision-making experience. This could play out within your audience, such as when readers wonder whether or not they have time to read your articles.

Intuitively, you might think the more choices you have, the more capable you are of choosing something that suits your needs. However, having too many choices can overwhelm customers.

Having fewer options can put less burden on customers. And, fewer choices ensure greater confidence in their decisions and lower chances of regret. 

If you can tell readers how long it will take to finish reading an article, your content will can become more enticing. This reduces the burden on readers to figure out how much time they need to invest. 

Knowing precisely how much time they need to invest helps customers set aside time to read your article. For example, if someone has 10 minutes to spare on their morning commute, and they know that the article is less than 10 minutes long, they will be more likely to read your article.

Calculate reading time

There are multiple methods you can use to calculate reading time for your article. Depending on what suits you the best, you can either choose to do this manually or with an online tool.

Estimate manually

Research varies, but generally, the average adult reads 200-250 words in one minute. You can use this information to calculate the estimated time to read.

Here’s how:

  1. Find your total word count. Let’s say it’s 938 words.
  2. Divide your total word count by 200. You’ll get a decimal number, in this case, 4.69.
  3. The first part of your decimal number is your minute. In this case, it’s 4.
  4. Take the second part — the decimal points — and multiply that by 0.60. Those are your seconds. Round up or down as necessary to get a whole second. In this case, 0.69 x 0.60 = 0.414. We’ll round that to 41 seconds.

The result? A four-minute, 41-second read.

You can also round up that time to make things simpler for your reader. That would make your 938-word article a 5-minute read.

The most important parameter to keep in mind while using this method is the average speed of reading you are assuming. Depending on the complexity of your material or the audience type, this number is subject to change. For example, if you are talking about a straightforward subject to a knowledgeable audience, you can assume a higher number of words per minute. This allows you to customize the estimated reading type according to the context of a particular article.

Use online tools

There are many online tools that you can use to calculate the estimated reading time of your content. Read-o-meter is an easy-to-use online tool that lets you cut and paste your content into their dashboard. It will then give you an output of the estimated time to read your article. The tool assumes a 200 words per minute reading average. 

However, keep in mind that while 200 words per minute is the average, this number may have to be adjusted depending on your article and audience. If you think the average reading time for your audience is different, using the manual method might be a better option.

Other websites that help with these calculations are The Read Time and Words to Time. The Read Time calculates this speed based on an average reading time of 238 words per minute, whereas Words to Time uses an average of 130 words per minute for calculation.

Lastly, if you want to move a step further, you can also incorporate a reading bar in your article. This bar will show your users how much of the article is left to read as your readers keep scrolling down.

If your visitors know what percentage of the article they’ve read in real-time, it will encourage them to finish reading your article.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Akshat Biyani
Akshat Biyani is a Contributing Editor to MarTech, a former analyst who has a strong interest in writing about technology and its effect on marketing.

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