November 16th, 2006
So, you’ve launched that blog you’ve always been dreaming of and now you want someone to actually, you know, read it. How do you build traffic to a blog, whether it’s a personal project or a site written for an organization, institution or campaign?
I’ve learned a thing or two over the last few months about hoodwinking/cajoling readers into looking at blog pages, much to their chagrin, and Monday’s blogging bootcamp really got me thinking about how to do it in a systematic way. Here are ten basic steps bloggers can take to help the world notice what they have to say:
- Have something to say. This is the one essential — if you don’t write something interesting or compelling, all of the promotional magic in the world won’t draw or keep readers. The blogosphere is that rare place where style and substance both matter: content is king.
- Write often. The more you write, the more there is to read. Simple enough, yep? Writing regularly gives readers an incentive to come back often to check on what you’re up to, and it also gives search engines more meat to chew on (i.e., more pages to index and to send traffic to). I try to publish at least one article every weekday. Writing every other day is probably the minimum if you want to keep a steady audience.
- When possible, write about timely subjects. If a topic is in the air, more people are going to be interested in it and more potential readers are going to be searching for it. My post-election analysis, written less than a day after the polls closed, has been the most popular thing I’ve posted in quite a while and has been picked up on several other sites and the Politics Online newsletter.
- Write on weekends. Relatively few bloggers write on Saturday or Sunday, so your weekend posts are more likely to stand out and to be picked up elsewhere.
- Write clear headlines. Your headline (the title of your blog post) is a chance to sell your article — some people will see your headline in an RSS reader or My Yahoo/Google start page or in search engine results and will use it to decide whether to read the full article. Also, the headline usually ends up being the HTML page title, and Google and other search engines place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on its content when ranking pages. Clever headlines are fine, but clever, clear and keyword-laden is better than clever and obscure.
- Use trackbacks. Be a part of the conversation! If you mention someone else’s blog post, use the trackback feature in your blogging program to alert the author. If they approve your trackback, a link to your post will appear in the comments section of their original article, giving you a chance to draw their readers. Conversely, let others place trackbacks on your site — you benefit from letting people know that you’re actually being read, and the outside bloggers benefit from being in front of your readers. Everybody wins!
- Even if you’re usually aggregating outside content, try to do an occasional think piece. A lot of blog posts are just quick blurbs or comments with a link to an outside article, but even if that’s the bulk of what you do, try to write an occasional longer analytical piece. I’ve found that these think pieces are more likely to be picked up and spread.
- Contact the people you link to. Whenever I link to a blog or to an article in a media outlet, I try to write the author if I can. You never know who might become a reader or who might mention you in the future. And, it’s a downright neighborly thing to do.
- Pitch individual articles to authors who might link to them. Don’t be shy! If you wrote something good, look around for sites that might be interested and let them know about it. Don’t do it all the time, obviously, or you’ll burn out your sources, but my most linked-to articles have been ones that I pitched to sites with more readers than I have.
- Write articles for other websites. Don’t pass up opportunities to guest-blog or to write expert articles for online publications — each one puts your name and usually your URL in front of a new audience.
None of these methods is fool-proof, but keeping them in mind should help maximize your chances of drawing and keeping readers. Whether you have something worth reading? That’s up to you…no pressure, man.