I started blogging on a whim because I missed writing, something I used to do professionally. When I wrote my first post, I dreamed of thousands reading it and fawning over my excellent brilliance. (Delusions of grandeur? Naaaaaah!) Neither of those things happened, of course. As of today, that post has had only 41 views. Fame still hasn’t come four and half years later, either, but it’s okay. I’m over it now.
Instead, this blog has brought me great pleasure both in the discipline of writing it and in the response I get from you (hardly thousands; more like tens) on each post. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that have enhanced the experience:
- Post on a schedule. My old friend Mike Roe, who is a copywriter for the University of Notre Dame and a blogging veteran, told me to post on a regular schedule. “People will come to look for your posts on those days and will keep coming back,” he said. He was right. When I started my Monday-Thursday schedule in 2009, I began to attract regular readers. (And I’m grateful for each of you!)
- Schedule posts in advance. When I have something to say, I clear the decks and write. When I don’t, I lose enthusiasm for my ideas – and sometimes end up with writer’s block. Sometimes acting on an idea right away opens the creative floodgates. Almost everything you read here between January and March this year I wrote the week after Christmas in a fit of blog mania. It was pure diarrhea of the brain.
- Have a way to prime the pump when the well runs dry. Sometimes my post backlog runs out and I can’t think of anything to say. When that happens, I look through my Flickr space, find a good photograph, and write two paragraphs about it. (Now you know the secret behind the “Captured” series.) This usually starts ideas flowing in my mind again and puts me back on track.
- Reply to comments. At first, I replied to (almost) every comment because I thought it would be impolite not to. But soon I figured out that blogs are meant to be interactive; it’s part of the fun. People like it when you reply, and it encourages them to keep coming back. Replying has also had the unexpected benefit of leading to some Internet friendships that I value very much.
- Tag your posts with common keywords. I used to think tags were useful mostly to drive searches, and so I tagged posts as if I were creating a book index. But I got very few readers that way. Then I read this post by a WordPress editor that says that they choose posts for their daily Freshly Pressed feature by trolling common tags. (Here’s a list of the most popular tags on WordPress right now.) I added a couple relevant common tags to my next post and it was Freshly Pressed, leading to 700 visits in one day. Another Freshly Pressed post brought a staggering 5,000 visitors on its first day. Also, every tag has a page on WordPress.com that lists the latest posts that use that tag; pages for the most popular tags (such as photography, music, and travel) list two featured posts each day. The tag pages frequently send readers to my blog.
- Write about things others don’t. If you write about obscure topics, things other bloggers don’t cover, the Internet’s long tail can drive readership. My posts about vintage cameras seldom attract many visits when new. But people who find their grandpa’s old Brownie inevitably turn to the Internet for information about it, and it frequently leads them to my blog. So far this year, seven of the 10 most visited posts on Down the Road are about my cameras. Many of my camera posts are in the top five results when you search for them on Google. (Seriously. Try searching for Argus A-Four, or Kodak Tourist, or Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, or Minolta Hi-Matic 7, and see what you find.)
So, my blogging friends, what lessons have you learned about building blog readership?