How to build a blog audience

What makes a successful blog? (Seminar/workshop March 5th 2009)

 The answer is the audience. No matter how insightful your posts are, or how well written, without an audience, your blog is nothing!

Think of Facebook. Most of you will spend hours on Facebook, but probably see your blog as a bit of a chore. That’s because Facebook uses community and interaction as its key features.

You go on Facebook to catch up with people and to interact with them. And laugh at their embarrassing party pictures. That’s the key to building a good blog too. Give people something they’ll enjoy, be interested in, be amused by and – importantly – something they’ll want to pass on to their friends

What are examples of good, crowd-pleasing blog material?

When John Scalzi taped bacon to his cat and posted the pictures on his blog, it became the internet’s second most-visited web page on September 15 2006. Why? Well – people are kind of dumb. But it had that “ooh – I’ll send that dumb picture to my friend quality” that has real viral value.

The whole “bacon/cat” thing became a bit of a meme, such that Scalzi has coined “Scalzi’s Law”:

Any conversation on the internet will eventually include bacon in some way. And then be forwarded immediately to John Scalzi.

I’m going to include quite a few links to his site a bit later. It’s not just that I’m lazy, but he actually has a lot of useful information about building a blog audience on his site.

The “Big Post”

One thing he mentions is the difference between a sudden spike of traffic – a “big post” – like bacon cat got and building a solid audience that grows steadily. He blogs about it here and here.

  • A “big post” will push traffic up, but you’ll lose a lot of it afterwards.
  • If you’re lucky average traffic will go up a bit higher as a result.
  • You can’t predict what the big post will be. (Bacon on a cat? Seriously?)

Ideas for blog posts

So – what do you post about? There’s a really good post here on Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog about 12 ideas for blog posts that’s well worth reading. You can find other advice elsewhere on the web, but this is pretty comprehensive. In part:

  • Respond to things on the web
  • Offer advice (video “how to” guides like this one from Commoncraft can be a real a winner. And text-based advice is fine too)
  • Suggest lists
  • Report from an event
  • Write a review (especially of something controversial, like this review of the Creation Museum in the US, which got a lot of attention)
  • Start an argument (be careful – this is called link-baiting and may get you thrown off someone’s site)
  • Interview someone interesting/notable (remember, notable doesn’t have to mean J-Lo famous – it could be someone well-known in a special interest field)

Keep writing

The more material on your blog, the more reason for people to visit. So update frequently (preferably daily).

Remember – you can do very short posts in between longer articles. This will stop you going mad trying to think of things to say. Here’s one that probably took very little time.

Scalzi writes here (some way down the longish post) about the importance of his archives, which keep drawing new readers to his blog.

Having active archives both increases the overall visitorship, and I think converts some of those “single visit” readers into regulars.

Invite others to write for you

Guest posts, or giving other people to chance to talk about what they’re doing, can work well.

  • It stops you having to think of endless things to say
  • It gives your audience something new
  • It brings in people who know them
  • It might give you something to talk about later

Scalzi (again!) does this with his “Big Idea” slot, allowing other writers the chance to talk about the idea behind their latest novel.

Your audience helps you

Once you start building an audience, the more they comment on your posts, the better it is for you. Good comment threads will encourage conversation. That tiresome Scalzi again (nearish the bottom of the longish post):

Another very strong component to growing the visitorship is the comment threads, which are sometimes (oh, okay, often) more interesting than the entries to which they are attached.”

More resources

There’s also loads of advice on building an audience sites like Problogger – which is worth looking at, although a lot of its advice on making money from blogs may be more relevant for a US audience. 

And try a search on Google for more advice. 

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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