Ten Years of Down the Road

How to attract readers to your blog – and keep them

Even though you’re almost certainly never going to become rich or famous through blogging, with effort and patience you can build a rewarding regular readership, and start to form a community with your readers.

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A masthead image from this blog’s bygone days

I’ve learned a lot about how to do this in my ten years of blogging. Some of it I’ve figured out on my own, and the rest I’ve learned from other successful bloggers.

Titles and opening paragraphs must be crackling good. Your readers follow many other sources of information and entertainment. They probably don’t have time to read everything they follow, so they scan titles looking for stuff that might be interesting. When the title pulls them in, they skim the opening paragraphs to decide whether to read the rest of the post.

As people find themselves regularly drawn into your posts, they often start to think, “This blog posts good stuff, so I’m always going to read it.” That’s the moment a reader becomes regular.

I’m still not as good at titles as I want to be, but I feel like my opening paragraphs are much improved now over just a couple years ago. And it is paying off in terms of views, likes, and comments.

Post regularly, on a schedule if you can. The more often you post, the better your posts rank in searches. And readers come to look forward to your posts. One of my blogging friends posts every Friday morning, for example. When I see his post in my feed, I think, “Oh yeah, Friday morning!” And then I dive in and read. It’s a little weekly dopamine hit.

I don’t publish regularly on my other blog, about software development. The stats reflect it: that blog gets five percent of the views this one does.

Keep your posts short, between 300 and 1000 words. The Internet is a short-attention-span theater, after all. People are more likely to stick with a post when it’s bite sized.

I’ve not always kept to this. Last year, I wrote a post that was over 2,500 words! Because most of my posts are 500-800 words, I hoped you’d all beg my pardon. I was surprised by how many of you read it all the way through and commented.

But when all of your posts are long, people become fatigued. “Ah, another post from that guy. It’s probably gonna be a mile long. No time for that today. Pass.”

Tell stories. Humans are naturally drawn to stories. Using them keeps them engaged with your posts. Even when I’m writing something routine like a camera review, I tell little stories about the places I photograph, or of a triggered memory, or about what’s going on in my life as it relates to the photographs I took. It humanizes the post and makes it interesting even to people who don’t care much about the gear itself.

Write as someone who’s still learning, still growing – except when you’re really an expert, when you should write as an expert. A blog becomes tiresome when the author always comes across as the World’s Foremost Expert. We’re all works in progress here. Let your blog reflect it. You’ll resonate with readers more deeply.

Yet you just might be an authority on some things. When your imperfect humanity comes through elsewhere on your blog, you have air cover to boldly assert the authority you do have. (Like I’m doing in this post.) Your readers will accept it because they aren’t fatigued from it.

In your feed, show your posts’ full text rather than a summary. This might seem counterintuitive – don’t you want people to click through from their feed reader to your blog, to juice your stats? But unless you’re a famous blogger, people won’t hang on your every post. They’re skimming and scanning their feed readers looking for interesting stuff. Making them click through gives them a good reason not to read your posts.

Remove that friction! In WordPress.com, go to yourblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/options-reading.php, click the “Full text” radio button and click Save.

showfulltext

Reply to comments. Leaving even a simple reply lets your reader know that you’re a real person and that you are happy they stopped by. It encourages them to keep coming back.

And for those of you who don’t allow comments at all: what the? I know that on some sites the comments are a cesspool. But on your blog, that’s fully under your control. You’ll get the comment section you cultivate. Cultivate a good one and more readers will become regular.

Include images in your posts. This is a trick more than a technique. But most feed readers show one of your post’s images, which adds interest and encourages people to click through. And when you share your posts on social media, one of the images generally appears as part of the share. It causes the share to take up more real estate, making it harder to miss. And eyes are naturally drawn to good imagery anyway.

This is what I’ve learned so far. One thing I’ve very much enjoyed about blogging is that it has provided endless opportunity to learn. So when I learn more, I’ll share it in future posts!

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35 thoughts on “How to attract readers to your blog – and keep them

  1. Bob Smith says:

    Jim I read your Blog every day. I especially like the pics showing old roadways, bridges, buildings and history of Indy and surrounding small towns.
    Bob Smith

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  2. Christopher Smith says:

    Well I guess you are doing something write as I keep coming back for more.
    seriously though I enjoy reading your blog even if I can’t relate to everything you write.

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  3. Nancy Stewart says:

    I enjoy most of your blogs, especially the ones about history, old roads and bridges. Also your travel blogs and all your photos. I don’t always check in every day but I try and catch up if I get behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post has got me thinking (more) about blogging and what appeals to people.

    Some would advise to stick to a very specific niche and go deep with the content. But that’s not what you do Jim, and I think what makes your site appeal to many people is that it’s very much a blog in the original sense of the definition – like an online diary that encapsulates a number of threads that together form the fabric of your life.

    There’s a lot of YOU in it it’s not a dry, instructive “expert” blog.

    I guess you could have a blog purely about cameras, another about bridges, another about cars, another about your faith, and so on, and develop a more specifically targeted audience for each. But again, by combining these in one place you give people a wider more rounded snapshot (or series of snapshots) about your and your interests.

    With titles, I must say I have mixed feelings about very specific direct titles like “How to attract readers to your blog”. I guess I’m weary from years of following marketing type blogs. Although you can’t argue that they tell you exactly what to expect in the post, and no doubt are great for Google, I tend to prefer (for myself) a more interesting, maybe even enigmatic title, the makes me curious to read more.

    With my own blog I’ve thought of having straightforward titles like “Pentax ME Super In Depth Review”, but in the end usually go for something more poetic (hopefully!) like “The Mindful Merge Of Mood And Mode”. That’s just my personal preference of how I want to present my writing.

    All food for thought as I continue to develop my own blog, thanks Jim.

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    • I test software for a living. It’s part of my nature to try things to see what happens.

      When I started this blog I carefully wrote a lot of titles that got no Google love. At some point I read about writing titles that Google would notice, so I tried it, and glory be searches started bringing people in.

      I have come to believe that people really are inundated with content, and they need a clear message to reach them in the title and first paragraph or they’re gone. So while a part of me would like to continue to write esoteric titles like “Summer’s denouement” (one of my favorites), my desire to be read leads me to write titles like the one that leads this post.

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      • I think I’m going to experiment a little with titles, Jim.

        I call the sort of direct ones you’re using “Ronseal Titles” – it does what it says on the tin. (I don’t know if you have Ronseal in the US, but it’s a brand of paint/varnish etc over here whose marketing has always been very straightforward. Green decking paint is called green decking paint, and their TV ads always ended with “Ronseal – it does what it says on the tin”…)

        I noted what you said about intro paragraphs too, and am working on those.

        This is the beauty of this kind of venture, you can experiment and play and see what works and what doesn’t. : )

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      • PS/ Meant to say before Jim, interesting to see this wasn’t your original title for the post – the URL contains “lessons-learned-in-ten-years-of-blogging”. I know WordPress creates the URL from the original title you start writing the post as.

        Do you any knowledge/experience as to whether Google scans the URL for searchable content and/or whether this should align with the actual published title of the post?

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        • Ah, a great question. Yes, Google looks at the URL and the title. Sometimes I deliberately make them different so I can express two complementary ideas and drive extra searches. However, in this case I simply forgot to update the URL after I changed the title! I always throw a title in when I start writing and about 25% of the time I need to change it somewhere along the way as I find what I’m really trying to say. The “Lessons learned” title was always meant to be a placeholder.

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  5. Thanks for the tips Jim. One thing that I need to work on is my titles. I tend to name it based on what the post is about instead of naming it something that will grab peoples interest. One way that I make sure that my blogs are not to long is cutting them in half. It kills two birds with one stone. It shortens your post and it makes you post more frequently.

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  6. Nora says:

    I have to admit I have a few times deleted my account, asking myself what am I doing? I many years ago wrote a running blog, that was easy! Run.. then write. This I am struggling with. I do not know how to write about my work. Great ideas you have here. Thank you

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    • The first year of blogging is the hardest in some ways as you both figure out what you want your blog to be, and as nobody reads it. Keep writing, keep trying, and the audience and your themes will find you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks. I needed that. I have an unhealthy addiction to silly titles and I don’t always put sufficient effort into crafting opening paragraphs and I too often go above 1000 words but most of your guidelines are ones that I’ve at least tried to follow. The glaring exception is full vs. summary publication. When I started blogging it appeared to me that the world was about evenly divided and my own sensitivity to size led me to pick “summary”. I still think of bandwidth as something to be conserved and lean toward the “smaller is better” (regarding the internet) school of thought. However, a quick scan of the feeds I subscribe to shows the “summary” folks to now be very much in the minority and I’m well aware that a few extra words and a few more thumbnails (another piece of “smaller is better” thinking) aren’t even a drop in the bit bucket of an internet happily streaming full length HD movies. So, despite it making this old byte pincher cringe a little, I’ve checked the “Full text” selection. You haven’t led me astray yet. AFAIK.

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    • Part of my nefarious master plan is to lead you astray in such believable ways that you never saw any of it coming! :-)

      Seriously though, yeah, titles matter a lot and on the Web the more direct they are, the better. The reader needs to understand the value they’re going to get from your post, or they might just move on. We all have so much content to sift through that our titles need to strongly suggest that our posts have strong signal.

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      • Jim, I struggle a bit with this, because personally as a reader I don’t want every blog/article I read to sound like some kind of how to guide or instruction manual. Sometimes I enjoy reading because of how it’s written.

        So a curious or witty or poetic title often draws me in more than yet another “The 10 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making With Photography Today” or “How To Learn Photoshop In 10 Minutes a Day” etc. There’s little personality or intrigue there to draw me in.

        On the flip side, speaking as a blog author, I’d like people to enjoy reading my blog because it’s interesting to read (and of course to enjoy viewing the photographs) and not just get “killer tips”, although some posts I like to provide that too.

        I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.

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        • The titles you’re referencing are the kind that play on fear that the reader isn’t good enough, or doesn’t know enough. There may be a place for that but your blog doesn’t need to do that if you don’t want it to.

          But do not discount how much stuff your reader, even your devoted reader, is sorting through every day to determine what to read. Titles and opening paragraphs need to communicate quickly what value they’re going to get from reading your post. If it doesn’t , your reader might pass you by.

          That doesn’t preclude pithy titles, as long as that value is communicated, or if you communicate good value 4 out of 5 times and do straight up pithy the fifth time.

          You can write about whatever you want as long as you make it somehow show value for your reader, and let them know in the title and opening paragraph(s) what that value is going to be.

          I guess it comes down to knowing what you want from your blog. If you truly want to be read and build an audience, I am convinced that you have to show people why they should care about yours, as there are millions of them to choose from. Sometimes you have to lead readers by the nose a little.

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        • I think that’s a very useful way of putting it Jim – how we can add value.

          Sometimes adding value for a reader is by teaching them how to do something, sometimes it’s by inspiring them to get out and photograph more (by our words or our photographs) and sometimes it’s just by providing an interesting and entertaining read…

          Liked by 1 person

      • Heading down the “Full Text” path has raised a couple of questions.

        I’m currently using Subscribe2 for email subscriptions. The free version only supports non-HTML excerpts. A paid version supports additional features including full post emails. Jetpack (the WordPress feature bundle plugin for blogs not hosted at WordPress.com) did not offer a subscription service when I started blogging but it does now and it looks to be the same as that offered by WordPress.com. Assuming that is true, I’m guessing that the “Full Text” setting you mentioned affects both RSS and email. Correct? If so, I’ll probably try switching to Jetpack’s service.

        My short experience with “Full Text” RSS brought two surprises. One is that all photos seem to be delivered at full size rather than the embedded thumbnails. Do you know if this can be controlled? The second is that I include an Amazon link in book reviews but that disappears (becomes an empty box) in the RSS feed. Any thoughts?

        I know our setups are different and that you may have no insight into the picture or Amazon link situations. I’m asking just in case you do.

        Thanks.

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        • I recommend Jetpack. I have all of Jetpack’s goodness already baked in to WordPress.com, and it’s good.

          But I don’t know why you’re getting full-sized photos. I have some photo challenges with the Jetpack emails too but I just shrug and move on. And I don’t know anything about the Amazon links, sorry!

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        • I have Jetpack installed and use other features but not subscriptions. IIRC it wasn’t there in 2011 or maybe I missed it. I’m going to see if I can sneak into it and experiment a little before diving in completely. Regarding the photo sizes it may be a Feedly thing. The feed itself seems to have the right stuff in it. I guess I’ll dig into the Amazon links eventually. Both the size and link issues are basically minor aggravations that keep going full_text a little less than smooth.

          Thanks a bunch for your input.

          Liked by 1 person

        • What I’ve learned is that none of the readers, not even the WordPress.com one, render all formatting properly. You have to shrug your shoulders and move on. You may notice I do fewer align-left and align-right images these days and this is the big reason why. Inline images render right.

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  8. I just changed my settings to “full text”, thanks to your post. However, my posts are quite long for the most part, so I may have to lawn mower them down to size or split them up. I’ve blogged on and off over the past 3 years and have just recently come back and resurrected a few posts. Plus my focus is split between two very different topics, which I thought was problematic, until I landed here :) Thanks!

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    • Yeah, long posts can be challenging for readers. Sometimes there’s no way to shorten them but I’ve found that most times I can cut 20 or 30 percent and not lose anything.

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  9. Hi Jim! I’m Violet. I was wondering if you had any tips on how to drum up activity on an anonymous blog. I obviously do not want to share it on my personal social media pages and other various outlets connected to me. Is it even really possible? Thank you :)

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    • It’s a lot harder to publicize your blog when you’re anonymous. A lot harder.

      You can try creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your blog and ask one or two trusted friends to share things you post to those sources, and see if things catch.

      I wasn’t fully anonymous here from the first as my blog address included my name, but I also didn’t publicize my blog because I feared people in my second- or third-degree circles finding it. It took me a couple years to get over that. There are still a few stories I won’t tell here, but I’ve told some pretty deeply personal ones and the world did not end.

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