Simon Heseltine, Director of SEO at AOL/Huffington Post Guest Speaking at DragonSearch – Part 3

How can we increase our audience’s engagement with our blog? What can we do to help build and encourage conversation and sharing? What does our audience care about and what will make them want to leave a comment on our blog?

After sharing his extensive knowledge and experience about mobile and event marketing, Simon Heseltine, Director of SEO at AOL, talked to #usDragons about audience engagement strategies. Simon’s team works with all AOL brands on organic audience development.

Simon Heseltine guest speaking at DragonSearch.

Simon Heseltine discusses SEO with usDragons.

Read more about other topics Simon talked about in these posts:

Ideas for Increasing Engagement

Huffington Post, one of AOL’s brands, has a dedicated team that works hard on ensuring their readers have a great experience on the site, which not only includes outstanding content but also building community and discussion around the topics. They are constantly looking for ways to improve this experience, and increase the engagement and social shares.  Simon shared some of the tactics they’ve used successfully.

Tap Into Celebrity Connections

When Huffington Post mentions a celebrity, they try to ping them to let them know so they can share the content to their followers to get more views and increase engagement. Celebrities typically have a huge numbers of followers in social media and one tweets from a celebrity can get in front of 1,000s of people building brand awareness for Huff Post.

Make Sharing Easy

When people sign into Huffington Post they can connect their social media accounts and access their comments. If you want to follow someone, you can do it from your Huffington Post dashboard. You can also take a conversation off the HuffPost site and onto Twitter or Facebook. This helps spread the conversation to their followers who might then come to the site and read the article.

Image of how the commenting system is set up on Huffington Post to encourage engagement and blog commenting.

When users want to comment on Huffington Post they can connect their social media accounts and can earn badges. This helps increase engagement, commenting and shares.

Encourage Commenting with Gamification

To increase blog commenting and reader engagement, Huffington Post set-up their website so that commenters can earn badges. Depending on the level they reach, users comments will display in different colors. When they reach the community moderator level, they can delete comments.

Huffington Post badges that active readers can earn.

Huffington Post integrated gammification into their site successfully through giving badges to active users.


AOL’s Case Study – Analysis of The Anatomy of the Perfect Blog Comment

On Huffington Post, 70% of the blog comments are replies to other people’s comments. In an effort to understand audience experience and their motivation to engage and participate, AOL’s Consumer Analytics and Research team conducted a study analyzing the readers’ experience with blog comments and different components of the comments.

Analyzing the Engagement

The analysis team worked conjointly to evaluate comments based on the sum of their components to sequence the DNA of the comments. They broke down the comments by:

The survey looked at 8 different sites, including CNN, The New York Times, etc. with the goal to understand what actually got people to comment and engage with others. They tried to balance things from many different perspectives like, age, gender, geographical location, and they let readers self-select articles of interest.

They then asked readers to rate comments based on their emotional response, whether they thought it was a quality comment and how well it encouraged them to want to engage and respond.

Criteria used to evaluate comments based on various components.

Benchmarks used to create the blog comment DNA to help analyze and evaluate blog comments.

Survey Results

The key findings:

You can find the complete study here.

The Perfect Comment survey results.

Results of AOL’s survey.

So What Can You Do to Increase Audience Engagement on Your Blog?

AOL’s case study clearly demonstrates that understanding your audience and what motivates them to comment is the first step in creating a content marketing strategy for increasing their engagement. Here are some good starters to consider:

What Do You Do to Increase Engagement on Your Blog?

Now it’s your turn. What did you find worked best for you to increase reader engagement? What didn’t work? Share will us (how appropriate) in the comments below.