Estimated reading time is a metric that of late I’ve seen being displayed on numerous high profile sites and blogs. This was first introduced at Medium I suppose and has since become a trend.

For reasons unknown to me it’s catching on—I don’t know if it increases conversion rates- conversion here implying, visitors completely reading a blog post.

I always used to wonder what tool they use to do this and how on earth did they give an exact estimate of reading times.

Since every individual reads differently, there was no easy way for the calculated time to be accurate. It also seems to me that the display of times in part is a bit conceited since the large majority of web visitors are oriented to scan posts searching for precisely what they came looking for. I have gone into much detail over this phenomenon in an earlier post.

Turns out I was right. They use a generic formula that points to a ballpark estimate of reading times.

But why would you need something like this in the first place?

The world we live in is besotted with time, with people never seeming to have enough of it. Especially your blog readers. By giving an estimate of how many minutes or seconds you as a blogger are going to take away from their life you can interest them in the article.


If they’re searching for solutions giving a reading time estimate quells the fear in them as to how long it would take for them to find their solution.

This can possibly increase the engagement on your site and increase the time spent in reading a post.

If you’re habituated in writing longer posts then displaying estimated reading time that goes beyond 10 or 12 minutes may act as a detractor with you managing to scare people who wanted to read the post away. Sites like that routinely publish blog posts with minimum 5000 words that frequently border on 10000 words never display reading times.

As I say in conversion rate optimization— you will never know until and unless you test and find out for yourself.

Brian Clay’s experiments with displaying reading times were documented on his blog but sadly that blog doesn’t exist any longer. He found a 13% increase in followers and interactions post displaying reading time. But note that most of his posts are under the 6 minute reading range with many taking only a minute.

Why does displaying reading time work even if this is a farce?

Individualizing reading times isn’t possible.

The second problem is the overwhelming majority of people take to scanning blog posts rather than reading them.

And yet we have instances where displaying reading time can work in higher engagement, post completion and so on.


I’ve written about the multiplicity of choices that hamper our lives on this blog before and why they prevent us from making a decision at all.

Psychologists Claude and Michaela investing the apparent paradox of choices came to the conclusion that when people feel that a lot of work needs to be done to make a decision it results in no decision. On the flipend, when people feel that the amount of work they have do is reduced; decisions happen quickly. And that results in happiness, something our brain actively seeks.

Displaying estimated reading times gives readers enough info to make a decision on whether to commit to reading a post or not.

Here’s why this happens.

A long time ago Oli from Unbounce decided to offer a lead magnet but conversions weren’t as good as he expected. He wanted to dig up the reasons and found that a few visitors had what you call click fear. They didn’t click because they didn’t know what to expect on the next page. To be safe they took comfort in no decision.


A similar click fear may be hiding inside the hearts of visitors. Not knowing how long it’d take to finish the article, they chicken out taking the safer route. And if they’ve already clicked through from search engine results we could classify that as scroll fear.

Displaying estimated post times assuages click fear. And despite you offering a farcical promise—you don’t know if it’s the actual reading time, the reader doesn’t know or buffer himself in advance against other distractions and so on but it’s seems like a good method to get some more readers.

Here’s how you do that

And the tool that’s used is a plugin called Reading time estimate.

Reading time estimate plugin

Install and Activate the plugin.

You can change the label name from default Reading Time to Estimated Reading time.

Reading time can be displayed in minutes.

The words per minute setting reflect the speed that you need to set to estimate reading times. The generic and default choice is 300 words.

I recommend sticking to that.

Since if reading time is too long, visitors might not read the post.

Other plugins

Guerrilla’s Estimated Reading Time

The plugin uses a new line to add the estimated reading time at the beginning of a post. If you’re displaying excerpts for your posts on the front page the plugin wouldn’t display reading time there. A visitor needs to be on the blog post page to view it.

How to calculate reading time?

The average American spends only 19 minutes a day reading and this time slot figures in everything from social media posts, to adverts, to posters to blogs.

Reading speeds haven’t improved much in the past 100 years. Average reading speeds top at 250 words a minute. That is 2 minutes per page.

Setting your plugins to those speeds should work.

What do you think about the article on reading times. Will it improve engagement and get more people on your site?

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