Not too long ago, a piece of content was often measured purely on a few, mostly superficial numbers: views, clicks, and shares being the usual suspects. This, along with Google’s relatively primitive SEO algorithm, led to the rise of content farms that took advantage of practices like keyword stuffing and clickbait headlines to rack up the numbers people once thought were of utmost importance.

Well, times have changed, and the way we measure content has come to a more sophisticated place. Engagement metrics have now taken the mantle as the key way to understand the effectiveness of your content. For brands and publishers hoping to foster a loyal audience, making sure users are actually reading, viewing, or otherwise engaging with your content has become the number one priority.

Though engagement is often tracked differently depending on the platform of analytics tool, what remains consistent is that the user is demonstrating legitimate interest with a piece of content. Generally, this is tracked through time spent on page, scrolling, clicking, and anything that discloses that a person is not just skimming and sharing, but is actually absorbing the content you spent all that time and money on.

There isn’t much of a better way to ensure engagement than through interactive design, which is explicitly made to get the user scrolling, clicking, and directly engaging with an article. Big-name publishers like The New York Times and FiveThirtyEight have proven that interactive design works, and brands haven’t been afraid to throw their budget behind interactive design either.

And it’s not just brands and publishers with big budgets that interactive design is limited to. As Cody Brown, the co-founder of Scroll Kit, demonstrated, interactive design projects like The New York Times‘ famous Snow Fall report can be done without an unrealistic investment in time and money.

Creating an interactive article, webpage, or ebook not only naturally increases the likelihood that a user will engage with the content, but it also allows for more data points to be gathered and eventually measured. This is especially true when it comes to considering PDF ebooks versus those with interactive elements. Interactive ebooks have built-in data points for easy analysis, allowing the creator to better understand just how effective or ineffective their ebook was.

The Internet is saturated with attention-grabbing formats, and a vanilla article simply isn’t as exciting or convenient as a video or GIF. With the explosion of content to all corners of the Internet, users have to be more selective in what they read and watch. By highlighting visual aesthetics and interactive elements, interactive design is often what is necessary to draw in a reader and keep her engaged throughout.

Of course, having strong content is a prerequisite to all of this. Interactive design can’t save boring, repetitive, or otherwise valueless text and visuals. But interactive design can exponentially amplify a piece of strong content, and otherwise make it more valuable and effective than it already was.

Another critical reason why interactive design is key in today’s engagement-driven content world is the continuing changes in SEO. Google’s ever-shifting algorithm has eschewed keyword stuffing in the name of more sophisticated metrics, a lot of which focus on content that is unique, valuable, and well-designed.

Moz’s Rand Fishkin characterized this shift well in a recent interview with The Content Strategist: “I think there’s still a lot of [misguided] belief around quantity over quality. There’s not a whole lot of value in writing a decent blog post anymore. [There’s not a lot of value] unless you can be pretty extraordinary.”

In other words, creating content that goes above and beyond the usual is critical in optimizing your content for the still important race for the top of Google’s search results. Interactive design comes in handy here as well, as a well-designed piece that draws an engaged audience will line up well with what Google is rewarding in their sophisticated algorithms.

As the content world becomes increasingly digital, there’s little doubt that interactivity is going to become more and more important. It is, after all, what ultimately separates digital content from print content. Publishers on the leading edge, such as BuzzFeed, Vox, and The New York Times, have begun to focus more and more on interactive content, and it’s easy to see why. Those who ignore interactive design as too costly or time-consuming risk falling behind—it’s time to start creating truly engaging content.

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