Ah yes. A familiar beginner’s problem for any new blogger: No readers. Assuming you’re comparing your brand new blog to an already-well-established website with a huge following, it’s understandable why the task of luring in an audience might seem overwhelming. Not everyone can snap their fingers and magically summon a rabid fan base of hungry readers just waiting to devour your every word.
That said, there are a few things you can do to attract readers and drive traffic to your blog, most of which only take a bit of leg-work for the first few weeks, but really help pave the road for all of your future posts.
“The most awesome stage”
Last year, Facebook's VP of Design thought the TNW Conference main stage was the best she'd ever been on.
For those of you struggling with the very common blog-population-zero issue, let me first point you in the direction of my previous post, how to define your target audience. If you’ve already read that and are ready for the next step, read on.
Focus on your SEO
Search Engine Optimization is one of those fancy terms that bloggers tend to throw around pretty regularly. Not only because it sounds cool, but because it works. By optimizing your blog across engines like Google, Bing, etc, you are effectively allowing the Internet to discover you. While new readers can definitely discover you through other means like word of mouth, often times, search engines are more likely to be your friend in the battle for a larger audience.
It’s wise to link back to your blog several times across the web from anywhere you’ve established any sort of presence. You essentially want to make it impossible for anyone to not find you online because you’ve put an obvious effort into making sure your blogging identity is seen everywhere your potential audience is likely to be.
Drop links to your website on popular social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, and Reddit to drive their very active blog-hunting communities to your own blog. Not all of your links will receive the fantastic ratings or responses that you’re hoping for, but that’s not the point of populating bookmarking services with URL’s to your site. You are merely providing the web with more of a reason to point towards your blog, increasing visibility for your content.
Several of the tips listed below are the main contributing factors behind optimizing your blog for search, so keep this in mind while reading.
Adding Google Analytics to your blog will help you understand more about your site traffic. Analytics breaks down when your site receives the most traffic, how often people are visiting, how much time they are spending on your website, and how likely they are to bounce away if your content isn’t engaging enough. Studying these various metrics will help you craft your blog into a presentable format that keeps readers around for longer periods of time.
You should also monitor analytics in order to discover who is linking to your blog, and where most of your traffic is coming from. For example, on my personal blog, I understand that most of my audience comes from Twitter due to Analytics. Because of this, I make sure to notify my followers on Twitter every time I release a new blog post in order to take advantage of that traffic source.
Analytics also helps you understand what people are searching for in Google to find you. Capitalizing on these keywords will help you rise in search rankings and make you more visible overall.
Picking up a Google+ profile is one of the easiest and quickest ways to optimize your blog for search. Now that Google+ is open to the public, the social platform can serve as the official hub for all of your link backs through search. Signing up through the service allows you to edit links into your profile that Google will now associate with your brand or identity online, effectively forcing these results to rank in search when potential readers are looking you up.
Aside from Google+, Twitter is another fantastic tool where you’ll be able to promote and have your blog link seen by several thousand potential readers. Edit your blog link into your profile on Twitter, or simply tweet each time a new blog entry comes out on your site to alert your followers of new content, then link your followers directly to the new post. You’ll be able to use Twitter as a separate feedback medium through which you’ll be able to engage more deeply with your readers in a real-time setting.
You can accomplish this same thing on Facebook, Tumblr, or any other site where social networking is encouraged. Even your email address signature should contain a link to your blog. In fact, by constantly linking back to your work across the web and engaging your followers across various social platforms, you are not only increasing the chances that your site will be picked up by search, but you are also making your blog much more visible to potential readers.
It might seem a bit forceful to shove your posts down the throats of your friends, but for most new bloggers, your friends and family are natural evangelists for your work and actually serve as a great beginning tool to spread the word about your blog. Promote your blog everywhere you can, and promote it liberally.
Assuming your blog has a specific niche (and it should, if you’ve already read my post on defining your target audience), you are more likely to gain loyal followers by networking with those who have similar interests. Online communities and forums, for example, are a great way to introduce yourself to a very niche group of consumers whose tastes all reflect your own.
In this case, leave a link back to your blog in the signature of your forum identity, and link back to the various areas you are known online to establish some sort of Internet credibility. By making yourself more available and “easy to stalk”, you are, in a sense, offering that form of transparency that many new readers like to see. By establishing that unique voice for yourself online, your readers will be more likely to find your work interesting or relevant, as they can relate to your tone as a writer or content creator.
For myself, I’ll involve myself in all of the communities that I feel are relevant to my blog, and link back to certain categories within my blog depending on which community I’m participating in. My personal blog is sort of a jumble of mixed topics, all with very loyal readers who all have varying interests. By categorizing my posts (into segments like technology, video games, shopping, etc), my readers know exactly where to go to get the content that they want.
If I’m participating in a video game forum, my signature link in that forum will lead new readers to the video game section on my website rather than the shopping section. In this way, I am effectively targeting the correct community and driving the readers I want to the content that I hope they’ll enjoy consuming. In the event that they find my targeted content interesting, there is the chance that they’ll begin browsing through other areas of my website and discover that there is more to me than just the gaming side, and will hopefully begin to branch out into my other content. In this way, I am slowly introducing new readers to my work in a way that isn’t too obnoxious.
Contests are an easy way to grab the short attention spans of new readers. You may not get quality readers from running contests, but you will experience a temporary boost in traffic as well as receive more overall visibility.
While new visits from those interested in your contest might not always come back to your blog to read your actual posts, you have at least cemented your presence in their mind as a source for new content. In the happiest cases, those entering your contest might actually take an interest in the rest of your blogging material and take a moment to browse through your site. From here, it’s a matter of converting them from someone who simply browses, to someone who remains constantly engaged in your work.
For those of you interested in attracting the more loyal types of readers, read on.
Create a sense of belonging
Speak directly to your readers. They want to feel the sense that they belong to your blog, and by speaking directly to them in your writing, you are curating that sense of loyalty and familiarity that they crave. By involving your readers in your work by referring to their old comments or referencing old inside jokes that only your most loyal followers will understand, your blog will give off the appearance that it already has a very set audience and community.
While this certainly has the potential to drive new readers away, it will also encourage your current audience to remain loyal to your work. It also gives your blog a sort of “cool” identity. The exclusivity of your work will often encourage new readers to stick around longer just to develop that same sense of loyalty that you’ve already formed with your older audience.
So again, speak to your audience as if they belong there, and always write with your most loyal readers in mind. Throw your new readers a bone as well, but definitely work towards creating a specific community who remains loyal to your blog. It is your most loyal readers who will likely become evangelists for your work and spread the word about your blog for you, and these are the relationships you’ll want to care for.
While managing any blog (old or new), understanding reader feedback is essential to blogging success. For one, it helps engage your readers and gives them a medium through which they can interact with the author or brain behind the post they’ve just taken the time to comment on. For another, it gives off the impression that you are eager to hear what they have to say (and you should be, if you hope to develop any sort of loyal readership).
Through speaking back and forth with your readers through comments and feedback, you foster a sense of community where your audience now feels like it “belongs” or is contributing to some greater purpose. Involve your readers as deeply as you can in the direction of your blog, as their feedback can be essential to the progress of your work.
Of course, on’t necessarily allow your readers to completely control the way you post or how you choose to do it. It’s your blog, after all, and it’s important to keep your own identity and voice in mind when creating content. In fact, you should also be leaving comments on the blogs of other industry professionals (or at least, the blogs of those who write to your same niche). Get to know the communities of other well-established bloggers and find out what makes those readers tick, then take what you’ve learned and apply that to your own blog.
Quality content is key
No matter how many eyes you get on your blog, the long-term potential for any reader is lost if you lack quality content. By quality content, I mean a standard measure of quality writing or media that your readers can come to expect. Dish it out constantly and always aim to serve up top-shelf material. Whether it’s high-quality images, amazing writing, or fantastic illustrations, your blog needs to live up to the standards that you hold other blogs online up to.
When writing, edit yourself ruthlessly to the point where you are working and reworking your piece until you know it sounds perfect, know it’s dressed up and presented in a very palatable way, and is something that you know you’ll look back on proudly over a lengthy period of time. Quality content is timeless and impressive, and without the sort of caliber writing or material your readers have come to expect from your more successful competition, how will you ever stand out?
Measure yourself against your competition constantly. If you see something unique and original that one of your competitors has put out that has received great feedback, maybe strive to offer the same thing but better. Bloggers, inventors, and entrepreneurs alike are constantly reiterating on other great ideas, refining them until they create the perfect viral product. Do the same for your blog content and dress it up in a way that is presentable and interesting to your target audience.
When a new visitor stumbles onto your blog, they aren’t just going to click on every single article or post and read everything thoroughly. In most cases, new readers will glance towards your headlines and soak in information as quickly as possible. The Internet is full of infinite resources for information, and because of this, new readers are likely to bounce away if your stand-out writing doesn’t speak to them.
Always craft your blog headlines in a way that will draw readers in from that line alone. Write a headline that doesn’t appear everywhere when Google’d. Offer something unique. And when you realize that your blog posts have become a large wall of text, break it up with smaller headlines that section off your posts and make them easier to digest.
Invite Other Bloggers
By inviting another blogger to write or create content for your website, you are essentially inviting that blogger’s audience to read your own content. It’s an effective form of co-advertising, where the affiliation means you are “cool” enough to be selected as a hub for this particular guest’s work, while also linking back to his or her blog through the guest post.
You can also simply create list posts now and again to showcase your favorite blogs online, or talk about what else you’ve been reading on the net. Your loyal audience will appreciate knowing where some of your inspiration comes from, and may even look to you as a good source for finding cool blogs online in the future. Likewise, by dropping a comment or letting other bloggers know that you’ve featured them on your website, you are also encouraging them to check out your work (and possibly promote it for you) by giving them a reason to peek at your stuff.
Spread the love among your favorite bloggers. The humility that comes with admitting that you too also admire other content creators is sincere and attractive to new readers.
Encourage readers to share your work
How will readers know that you want them to spread the word about your blog if you don’t simply ask them to? In many cases, simply asking a favor from an established following is enough to at least get one reshare, retweet, or positive blog post written up about you and your work.
Although you can definitely just ask them in a blog post to share your work, you can also add widgets to your blog (Google+ has a +1 button to add to your blog, while Twitter also has tools to add a Follow button on your website, etc). Make it easy for readers to share your work, and encourage them to do so regularly so they understand that the sharing is actually wanted.
In some cases, you can even reward your most loyal or influential readers after they’ve shared your content (sending someone a personal message or even offering fun swag for being so helpful is a great way to encourage reader loyalty).
Maintain your brand and identity
As a blogger, you need to establish yourself as an honest, authentic, and unique authority. You need to establish your identity and your brand as a presence that new readers want to associate themselves with. The Internet is forever, after all, so maintain who it is that you want your readers to hear across all areas you’ve managed to spotlight yourself in online.
Define who you are as a blogger and stick to that mold while growing from it slowly. Your readers are likely to become familiar with who you are both as a person and as a blogger, and it’s important that you transition your audience along with you as you continue to grow. If some drastic change happens in your life that alters the direction your blog is taking, explain it to your current readers in a way that they can digest, and address any issues that pop up diplomatically.
Likewise, always address people speaking to you as if they are one of your readers. You never know who’s been to your blog and who’s checking out your work, so keep that in mind both when writing and when interacting with new folks online. It is very likely that if you’ve managed to establish your blog presence across all of your active social networks, the new person who is now in contact with you has probably checked out your blog.
With that said, happy blogging!