So you’ve started your own blog. You’ve agonized over a clever name; spent months carefully selecting the right layout, fonts and color scheme; and painstakingly crafted post after post jam-packed with perfect prose.
So why isn’t anybody reading?
Unfortunately blog readers don’t abide by the old Field of Dreams mantra—even if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Cultivating a blog readership can be hard work, especially in a space as crowded as the web.
But don’t despair. Blogging can be a great way to build a name for yourself, generate business and increase traffic to your website. Follow these basic tips to make sure you develop a readership that treats your blog as a go-to resource:
1. It starts with good writing
The Golden Rule of any website—blogs included—is that writing must be clear and compelling. You can employ all the blog promotion tricks in the book, but if content isn’t well-written and interesting, you’ll never generate a following. Check out our blog post for several tips on how to write effectively on the web.
2. Think and write like a search engine
While it varies greatly by website, search engines drive roughly 64 percent of web traffic on average. In short, it’s absolutely critical that you employ search engine optimization to make sure Google, Yahoo, Bing and others can actually find your content. Doing this is sort of an art. Think about the question: “If I were researching this post’s subject matter, what would I type into Google?” Include the terms you come up with in headlines and subheaders. These keywords should be specific as well as broadly interesting. For example, say you’re writing a post about snack foods. “Great snack foods” might be too generic—your post wouldn’t rise to the top in a Google search. But “healthy snack foods for toddlers” is specific enough to appear in top search results while also appealing to a large audience. Check out our post on keywords for more advice on this topic.
Post length also plays a role in SEO. While long posts aren’t necessarily better than short posts, Google tends to look at length as a marker of quality. After crunching the numbers, SEO guru Neil Patel concludes that blog posts of 1,500 words or more get “better ranking, higher indexing, and more sharing.” Just don’t forget rule #1 about good writing—if you’re padding just to pad, the reader will see through it.
3. Complement text with multimedia
Once you’ve mastered the art of creating good copy, it’s time to think about other ways of telling a story. Supplement text with visual content like photos, graphics and video. Research shows that publishers who use infographics see their traffic grow 12 percent faster than those who don’t; still more reports show that 60 percent of site visitors will watch a video before reading any text. Plus, visual content is very popular on social media, and providing images in your post provides a hook for search engines (check out this article for more information on how to optimize images for SEO).
4. Promote on social media
Roughly 31 percent of referral traffic comes from social media sites, so make sure to include social media sharing buttons on your blog and actively promote every post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. If you have a lot of great visual assets—photos, graphics and video—be sure to include them, as well as promote them on Pinterest or Instagram. Social media posts with visual content tends to be more popular than text alone—according to QuickSprout, posting images on LinkedIn can increase your comment rate by 98 percent. Share content from your personal social media accounts, and set up professional accounts representing your blog, website or business. Try using a platform like Hootsuite, which will allow you to manage all your social media accounts from one dashboard and schedule updates. Once you’ve mastered these social media basics…
5. …wade even deeper into social media
Social media should be a telephone—not a megaphone. Connect with other bloggers and thought leaders in your field by following them on Twitter, commenting on their blogs and retweeting their content. Identify your most active followers, and tweet at them, “like” their posts and share their content. Additionally, find relevant LinkedIn groups where you can post content, comment on other posts that pertain to your blog topic, and engage with prospective readers. With an active social media presence, it’s more likely that other users will follow your blog and share your content with their own networks. According to HubSpot, 80 percent of marketers actively engaged in social media said that it increased traffic to their websites.
6. Connect with other bloggers
The blogosphere is a very scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of world. Do your research and identify the other notable bloggers writing on a similar topic. Ask them if you can include their site in your blogroll, and see if they’ll include your blog on theirs. Keep abreast of their content, and link to relevant posts within your own blog posts. Make sure to send them an email or social media message when you do link to their content, as they’re likely to then share it with their own followers or link to your posts on their own blog. Conducting blogger outreach will not only help you stay informed of the latest issues within your topic area, it will help establish your credibility as an expert and expand your readership.
7. Let others know when you mention them
Depending on the type of blog you have, it’s likely that you’ll often refer to and provide links to specific businesses, products or organizations. Whenever you do so, make sure you identify the organization’s communications or social media representative and send them an email or social media message. They may share your post on their own website or through their own social media followers, significantly expanding your potential audience.
8. Invite guest bloggers to contribute to your blog
Once you identify the other bloggers, thought leaders and experts in your topic area, consider reaching out to see if one or more of them would like to write a guest post for your blog. These writers come with their own readership base. Once they write for your site, they’ll likely share the post with their own followers—and hopefully, some of their fans will then become your fans!
9. Guest blog on other websites
On the other side of the coin, reach out to see if you can write for other relevant websites. Many blogs and even professional media outlets are hungry for content from external authors—they’ll want your unique perspective on a particular issue. If you’ve already written a great piece that you think would appeal to their readers, send a note to one of the editors and see if they’ll cross-post your content on their website. This is a low-cost option for putting your content in front of new audiences and in turn, building a fan base for your own blog.
10. Listen to your analytic
Use tools like Google Analytics or your site’s built-in statistics to track traffic to your content. Which posts are the most popular, and what do they have in common? Try producing more content that matches their style, structure or focus. Where are most of your readers coming from—Google, Facebook, Twitter? Try increasing engagement on those platforms. And are external websites driving traffic to your blog through hyperlinks? Make sure you send the authors an email or social media thank-you for promoting your content, and direct them to other relevant content they may have missed. If you’re not tracking your blog’s popularity, traffic sources, engagement and more, it’s very hard to learn what works and what doesn’t.
11. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs
Most visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on a website—hardly enough time to even read a whole post, nevermind multiple pieces. But you can beat these dismal statistics by layering content. Hyperlink key words throughout a blog post to previous, relevant posts on your site. End your article with a call-to-action asking readers to read another post for more information. Or include a bulleted list of related content in a text box or at the end of each blog post.
12. Ask others to promote your content
You’d be surprised what fans will do if you only ask. One study found that users who ask others to retweet their content receive an average of 73.48 retweets per tweet, compared to just 2.09 retweets for tweets without this ask. Of course, this strategy must be used sparingly. No loyal reader likes to feel taken advantage of!
13. Solicit feedback and engage with commenters
Readers like to be able to ask questions, share thoughts and provide feedback—and actually get a response! Prompt readers to leave comments by ending a post with questions like, “How do you feel about XYZ issue? Tell us in the comments section below!” Make sure you respond to commenters regularly to answer their questions, provide links to other relevant content or simply thank them for reading. Boosting interactivity with readers is a sure-fire to ensure they’ll keep coming back for more.
14. Invest the time—publish regularly
Research shows there’s a direct correlation between how often you update your blog and the traffic it receives. Of course, most folks don’t have time to write a blog post every day. But if you don’t have the time to update your blog at least once a week or every other week, it’s unlikely to generate a sizable following.
15. Create a newsletter and RSS feed
Many people still prefer to receive content in digest form. Set up an RSS feed so that subscribers can receive a notification every time you publish new material. And depending on how often you update the site, create a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly e-newsletter where subscribers receive an email listing and linking to all the notable blogs you’ve published recently.
16. Cross-promote in other marketing materials
Think about all the various forms of communications you or your business engages in. You’re probably reaching hundreds or even thousands of people every week through email, social media and even printed marketing materials like flyers, brochures and business cards. Now imagine if you also included a link to your blog in all these materials? It’s an easy, free way to significantly increase your potential readership.
17. Pay attention to what’s going on behind-the-scenes
Many people spend all their time thinking about the public face of their blog, and not enough time looking at the private side—i.e. the back-end of the content management system. Make sure you fill out the tags section with the important keywords that apply to your blog post—think proper nouns like names and places (Rome, COP21, Super Bowl), as well as topics and issues (Italian food, climate change, football). No more than 15 tags per post is best. You can also fill out a brief page description for each blog post in your SEO Settings, which will give your SEO a boost.
Chances are you’re already writing great content. Now with these tips, you’ve got the tools to make sure people are actually reading it!
Sarah is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, MD. Her work has also appeared in Popular Science, Audubon, OnEarth, GOOD, Grist.org, Inhabitat.com, and several other publications. When she's not creating compelling online content, Sarah enjoys reading, cooking, watching bad reality TV, and pampering her dog, Clancy.