One of the most important things I do on this blog is respond to comments

Reading other blogs was one big reason I started this blog. If other people could do it, I sure as heck could too!

I still love blogs. On them, everyday people share their lives and their thoughts. I think we all lead interesting lives and I’m deeply curious about yours. But I won’t just come up to you and ask you to tell me your stories. When you have a blog, I can come visit and get to know you.

At my desk
Where I work on this blog

Sometimes, a post really touches, moves, amuses, or otherwise impresses me and I leave a comment. It is always a little disappointing when it is ignored. It is flat out frustrating when I want to leave a comment, but the blog doesn’t accept them.

I get it, I don’t have a Constitutional right to comment, and nobody owes me a response. But my frustration and disappointment led me to set a policy when I started my blog (way back in 2007): I would allow comments, and I would respond to every comment.

That was easy at first, as few people read what I wrote. By 2015 this blog was getting about 2,500 comments a year, and sometimes comments would turn into long threads going back and forth. It became a little challenging to keep up. So I modified my policy: I’d respond to every initial comment, but I didn’t have to have the last word in every thread.

I think that my reply policy is why this blog gets so many comments, and why the overwhelming majority of comments are of good quality. People really like the interaction.

Having conversations with you in the comments has turned out to be enriching for me, as well. I learn so much from you. Just this morning someone commented on one of my recent Michigan Road posts having done some research with old maps, finding an old alignment of the road I had missed. When I taught myself to develop and scan black-and-white film, several of you offered meaningful advice that shortened my learning curve considerably. And when my oldest child died, your condolences really did help me grieve.

Because of this, I don’t understand bloggers who ignore comments or don’t accept them in the first place.

I make an exception for bloggers who are well known. For whatever reason, commenters come out of the woodwork with axes to grind. But most of the bloggers I follow are everyday people with small followings. My blog gets about a quarter million pageviews a year, which ain’t bad, but that still places it in the “small following” category.

If you blog but don’t allow comments, try turning them on. Try responding to comments. I believe it attracts loyal readers.

I do have a comment policy, finally implemented last year when a couple comment threads got out of hand. Read it here.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


Three tips to increase engagement with your blog

As a veteran blogger and a veteran reader of blogs, I want to share some key things I’ve learned about how to encourage readers to keep coming back.

Your readers have only so much attention to give. Your blog is part of a wide stream of information swishing past everyone you hope will read your writing. They, too, quickly decide what to read and what to pass by.

Here are three things you can do now to help readers not pass your posts by.

Write descriptive titles and strong opening paragraphs. This lets everyone know why your post is awesome, and gives them a good reason to keep reading.

I used to write clever or obscure titles and then ramble in early paragraphs. I thought I was a witty raconteur but in reality readers didn’t track with me. When I started writing simple, declarative titles and got to the point in my first or second paragraph, pageviews and comments began to grow.

Doing this well takes practice. I don’t always succeed! But I keep working at it. You can too. For good examples by other bloggers, check out this post and this post.

Share complete posts, not just excerpts, in your feed. I buck conventional wisdom with this recommendation.

Before I explain, here’s some background. Readers can find out if you’ve published in several ways. They can always just come to your blog. Or they can follow you on social media if you share new posts there. Or they can subscribe to your blog and get an email every time you publish.

They can also follow you in a feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin’ or NewsBlur. These services work by picking up your blog’s feed, a technical name for the way your blog alerts these services of new posts.

WordPress, and I assume most other blogging platforms, give you an option to share only the first paragraph or so of your posts in your feed. The idea is that this entices readers to click through to your blog to read the rest.

If your excerpt doesn’t strongly communicate why your post is interesting, most readers won’t click through. (Unless you’re a celebrity and people hang off your every word.)

If you get good at writing compelling titles and opening paragraphs (or custom excerpts, a WordPress feature; more here), you should improve your clickthrough rate.

But so many people read on their phones now. If they subscribe via email or feed reader, the phone opens your posts instantly. But if you make them click through they have to wait a few seconds for the post to load in the phone’s browser. I think this is a strong deterrent. I know it deters me. I think it’s better to not throw up this barrier.

To turn off excerpts in WordPress, click My Sites in the upper-left corner of your blog and choose Settings. Click the Writing tab and scroll down to Feed Settings. Click the slider next to “Limit feed to excerpt only” until the white dot moves to the left and the control turns gray. Click the Save Settings button.

Enable, and reply to, comments. Comments are the last key to engagement with your blog. Once they’ve read your post, let them respond.

Yes, readers still have to click through. But just as most of us are faster to speak than to listen, a reader’s desire to have a say is likely to hurtle them right over that barrier.

Several blogs I follow don’t allow comments. It’s super frustrating when they write a good post and I want to offer a perspective or praise! I assume they disable comments because so many comment sections are cesspools, full of pointless arguments and nasty insults.

Yours doesn’t have to be this way. You get to decide the the tone of your comment section. Just delete anything that crosses your line. You don’t even have to warn an erring commenter if you don’t want to.

My blog generates little controversy. But trolls, jerks, and people having bad days do show up from time to time and say unkind things. When it’s a regular commenter, I ask them to tone it down. Otherwise, I just delete the comment and move on. If you do the same, you’ll shape a pleasant comment community — one that your readers will be glad to join.

Respond to at least some of the comments you get. Readers will see that you’re willing to engage, and it will encourage them to come back.

To enable comments on your WordPress blog, click My Sites and choose Settings. Click the Discussion tab. In the Default Article Settings area, click the slider next to “Allow people to post comments on new articles” until the white dot moves to the left and the control turns gray.

Do you have any other thoughts about how to increase engagement with your blog? If so, share in the comments!

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!