Rock Steady: How to maintain high levels of blog engagement
You've been blogging for a little while now, but your readership is completely erratic.
You're longing for a steady upswing in traffic, but you're feeling like you can't seem to keep up a consistent level of readership. Maybe you've seen a boom in traffic that faded and left you wondering what happened.
Maybe you're not really sure where your audience is coming from, or why they are (or aren't) sticking around.
Maybe you're struggling with how often you need to be posting in order to maintain a high level of engagement.
These feelings are not unique. This is what a blog looks like in its infancy, moody and inconsistent. As a blog coach for creative entrepreneur, this is something I get asked about often. No one wants to spend hours carefully crafting a blog post only to find out they're writing to an audience of exactly 3. No one wants to find themselves collecting tumbleweed after a boom in traffic, wondering what on earth they did wrong.
1. CAPTURE READERS
It's crucial that you have all the features set up to capture readers, in the event that a big burst of traffic does arrive. I'm not talking about being prepared for a million viewers if you get a truly viral post, but the typical upswing of traffic you can expect from a few well-placed shares. You want to make sure that you have systems in place to capture those readers, and make sure that they are able to return to your blog. What am I talking about? A few things.
The most important thing is your newsletter. I'm not talking about a newsletter that simply tells your readers when you publish a new blog post, but a newsletter that gives them serious value for their commitment. You might offer them tips and advice relevant to your niche, extra content, or a free email course. If you notice a post is getting way more traffic than usual, make sure you have a call to action at the bottom of the post— whether that is simply telling them about how valuable your newsletter is, or offering them a content upgrade— so that you are not wasting your greater visibility. On the regular, you should always have a clear, simple way for your readers to get your newsletter.
If you don't have a newsletter, or you're looking for an alternative means of capturing your reader, sending them to your Facebook Page or group, or other social media accounts is a great way to ensure you get repeat contact with that viewer. Don't make them search for links to your social!
2. BUILD IN DIRECTION
Where is your reader headed after they stop by to see that blog post someone shared on Pinterest? How do they know if this blog is for them, or where they should go next? Your job is to make it extremely easy for your reader to be hooked on your blog.
I'll be forever recommending a 'Start Here' page. It's like an about page, but better. It shows your readers what you're all about, who your blog is for, and what they are going to gain by sticking around. It allows you to showcase your best blog posts, and most important services. And the best part about it? The 'Start Here' page tells your reader what to do first. It's right in the title. If they're eye is roaming the page, looking for where to go, you've got one golden opportunity to show them. Put a link to your 'Start Here' page in the top right or left hand corner.
When your reader first comes to your blog, chances are they are there for a specific post, and are spending the bulk of their time reading that post. What better to do than make sure there are ample opportunities for them to explore other blog posts? Put links to relevant content right in your blog posts. You can add them at the end of a chunk of content like I did at the end of the last paragraph, or work them into a sentence, like this:
"Last week, when I was writing about building brilliant blog posts, I mentioned that you should always..."
Finally, make sure to include some links or images in your sidebar which take your reader to your services, or most popular posts. I recommend using branded cover images like the ones you see in my blog posts, as they work much better to grab your reader's eye!
3. DON'T BE THAT FRIEND
You know, the one who you don't hear from for 8 months, and then calls you up exclaiming how much she missed you and can we please please go out for coffee.
Consistency is very important when you are working to build an audience, both on your blog proper, and with your various social media satellites (if you aren't using social media yet to build your audience, you need to be.) People will forget you if they don't hear from you, no matter how much they liked that blog post they read. If they aren't reminded of your glorious presence, they will give up. Now, this is not to say that you need to be posting every single day.
When The House of Muses was young, I felt like I needed to be posting every single day in order to keep up my traffic— when I didn't post, traffic plummeted, and I panicked. Great quality content that shows up once a week will bring you way more success than six hastily written blog posts you banged out at 1AM. There is a place for Top 10s, roundups, and favourite things, but it sure as hell isn't in every blog post. Your readers want quality, original content that really adds value to their life. You need your voice to stand out among the noise.
Setting up an editorial calendar is a great way to go. At the beginning of each month, brainstorm some post topics and write them into your calendar so you know exactly what you have coming up. Experiment with posting on different days to see when your audience responds the best and stick to that day like gum in a five year olds hair.
And on social media? Make sure you stop in at least once a day. You don't need to be a master of seven different platforms; pick one or two that work best and which don't make you want to put your head through a wall and develop a clear, effective strategy. If it's Pinterest, that might be pinning a certain number of Pins every day and staying active in group boards; if it's Instagram, that might mean finding out exactly which hashtags your tribe is using and making sure you post at least once quality image each day with the relevant tags.
4. AN OLDIE, BUT A GOODIE
All those blog posts you spend 3724 cumulative hours writing? Don't let them go to waste! Just because they are no longer on page one doesn't mean that they can't be rocking your traffic. You want to know a little secret? My most popular blog posts and biggest traffic drivers to this day are from:
- November 26, 2015
- July 13, 2015
- August 13, 2015
You can help drive traffic back to old posts with some of the techniques I mentioned previously such as building internal linking, and directing your readers to your best content in your sidebar and 'Start Here' page, but this is where social media really shines. A stellar Pinterest or Twitter strategy are some of the best places to be sharing old content. The best thing about this method is that once in place it require minimal maintenance effort on your part! Set up a schedule with Hootsuite which shares all your posts on a cycle, so each day your audience is being directed to those old but gold posts of yours.
Although it seems popular lately to post blog posts without the date attached, I don't recommend doing this. Not only does it feel slightly dishonest, but it can be frustrating and misleading to your readers, especially if the content is time sensitive. No one needs a guide on how to use Pinterest that is five years old.
5. KNOCK THEIR SOCKS OFF
I feel like it's cheating saying this, but I continually see these same mistakes popping up in blogs of every niche. You have one chance to make a great impression; one chance to capture your reader and keep them coming back to you and your community. Writing great content is part of it— it's the foundation— but there is more to pulling off a successful blog than just great content. Here are a few things that will drive me away from a blog, no matter how good the content:
- a blog loaded with typos, grammatical errors, three exclamation points after each sentence, and texting short forms straight out of 2006
"i can't understand why u would do this!!!"
a popup that shows up right when I arrive. If your reader doesn't even know who you are, they sure as hell aren't going to sign up for your newsletter— at least not for the right reasons.
- too many adds and affiliate schemes. They don't make you money unless you have a massive amount of monthly views, and they are driving traffic away from your website. If you are including an ad, place it in the sidebar, and for heaven's sake not in the middle of your blog post.
- distracting visuals. Do you need to have the perfect professional brand? Definitely not. But if you don't, err on the side of simplicity. Too many fonts, too many colours and too many features will confuse and distract your readers, leaving them with no clear idea what you're all about.
Focusing on building brilliant blog posts, growing your tribe with a heartfelt, informative newsletter, and making your message clear. The rest will come.