Six ways to build blog readership

Down the Road, v. 1.0

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 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?


31 thoughts on “Six ways to build blog readership

  1. These are useful tips for blogging; I’m glad to say I knew all this already. Granted, I’m hardly an expert, but I like to think I’ve improved over the past few months.
    Thanks for posting!

  2. This is one of the most helpful posts on blogging I’ve ever read. I know I’m doing my ‘tagging’ wrong, so I appreciate the help. I also ten to have great ideas for a post, but I don’t stop to actually write and schedule them. By the time I get around to it, I’ve lost my inspiration. Gotta change that. Thanks for a great post!

    • When I started leaning more on the simple, common tags, it made tagging less onerous.

      It can be difficult sometimes to clear the decks when a blog post idea strikes, but it’s usually worth it!

  3. versakay says:

    I started writing a blog for almost the same reason you stated to have.I wrote profusely because it was part of my job.Buthave alwaysbeen tardy and lethargic when it came to write on my own.. It is so evenafter started writing my blog, abd Ifeel guilty when Ifind that there are discrning people farremovedfrom me by geographic distance who like what I write and express the desire that I write more often.
    Thanksfor a nice post and great advice, Sorryfor the typos. My Ipad tochpad is somewhat erratic, and the cursor refuses to let me correct after I type in the edit window.

    • No worries about the typos! I found that going on the Monday-Thursday schedule forced me to find the discipline necessary to keep writing.

  4. Always helpful to read a to-the-point post on increasing readership. I’ve found that responding to others’ posts and replying to those who comment on my posts is especially beneficial.

  5. “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.”

    Sure—as someone said somewhere, instead of getting “fifteen minutes of fame”, in the Internet age, everyone will be “famous to fifteen people”.

    But, as you suggest, it can make a big difference to those fifteen people!

    Thanks much for the tips. I was doing my tags all wrong, too, until just a week or two ago—I just assumed the more the better, you know?

  6. I’ll go ahead and state the obvious, but I have NO clue what I’m doing in regards to building a readership. I mostly write and comment and respond and read because I really just like to! You’re tips might be my best bet at bumping my readership from ten to ten and a half!

  7. Gerald says:

    I stumbled upon your blog looking for something road-geeky, but it has been so long I have no idea what I was originally looking for. I think it was National Old Trails Highway pictures.

    Very nice site, only took me a little bit to realize I read the photo description first, then look at the photo!

    I love maps, and they provide a way to orient the reader. Check this site out ( ) as an example of how they use Google Maps API to show old alignments of railroads.

    Oh, and thanks for allowing Guest postings.

    • That is a very nice use of Google Maps on the site you linked. This is the kind of usage that, I think, Google is looking for. I use simple screen shots of Google’s work — contrary to their guidelines — but I want to show the map imagery as it was when I made my trip, as a record of my road research as I made it at the time.

  8. Pingback: A year of painting and blogging! | zorgor

  9. Very insightful indeed … I write for the sake of writing but yes I agree that it’s great to have an audience – not because of any narcissistic traits but just for the sake of sharing something which gives me pleasure …

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