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.
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.
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!