If you blog it, will they come?

From my guest post on the fabulously on-topic, helpful and well-done Sharp Words

So you’ve built your blog – whether for fun, for profit or “just because” — but is anyone reading it? Consider these 5 steps to bring not only readers (hits) but returning, interested, active readers to your blog time and again.

Note that is a 101 course – I’m still learning myself (and may come back when I know more) – and it is meant to help you bring readers to your blog, not necessarily to sell a product or market another service through your blog. While these tips should apply to bloggers at any level, they may be of most use to those looking to maximize their blogs on a hosted service (wordpress.com or blogger.com) for example or those new to the world of self-hosting.

Step 1: Umm, what is this blog about? Determine the purpose of your blog in 10 words or less. Duh, right? But many people (cough! cough! Me, Washwords, until a month or so ago) haven’t taken the time to answer the basic “what is this blog about?” if you don’t know, how can your readers know and how will they know if they want to stick around or post comments or subscribe?

I know this firsthand as I change my blog from a blog about …. everything (and therefore nothing) to a blog about what I realize I always meant it to be about from the minute I named it Washwords: Washington D.C. and writing. I am in the process of focusing everything on my blog: from the links to the categories to the pages to one of these two categories: Wash(ington, D.C.) and Words (writing tips, resources, ideas). When they are about both so much the better.

Step 2: Brand it. Now that you know what your blog is about, everything about it should echo its purpose. Creating a corporate identity is more than just a pretty face (though having graphic talent, or talented friends is great and sure, if your blog is about newspapers, it should look newsy; if it’s about celebrity gossip, it should look “poppy”), it’s about being you, your blog identity on and off your blog itself.

So, yes, your blog name should reflect your mission, so should the categories you select, the keywords (tags) you use time and again. But take the branding a level further: is your key mission stated succintly and consistently in every description of your blog you list in directories (blogcatalog, mybloglog, blogher, nablopomo to name a few), in the avatar you select for posting elsewhere, in the links that are in your blogroll?

Advertising your blog, like advertising anything, depends on consistently repeating a consistent message. What is yours? Would others recognize it when they see you?

Step 3: Put yourself where you want to be. Want to be the next _____ (insert your favorite blog here?) Comment there. Intelligently, interestingly and on topic and occasionally (NOT always) with relevant links to your own blog on specific topics.) The more focused your blog comments, and your choice of WHERE to comment, the better “return on investment” (your time and energy) you’re going to see.

My real-life example: I like and enjoy the blog techcrunch, one of the most popular blogs on technology, social media, and all things modern. I posted comments there and got lots of “hits” back from that comment. Lots of hits that quickly hit elsewhere, finding that my blog actually wasn’t about technology at all, rather, occasionally, it was about a writer, trying to be more tech savvy. Commenting there wasn’t my “niche,” my market. It wasn’t wrong or a waste to me, because I liked the blog and found it interesting to be part of the dialogue, but it wasn’t a marketing device. What WAS a marketing device: posting on journalism and social media writing-geared blogs such as Poytner and Columbia Journalism Review’s blog, The Kicker and DC-related blogs, such as DCist and DCblogs (where I’m now serving as a contributing editor, after forming a relationship with the editors on topics we were all passionationate about, our home.)

How do you find top blogs in your area? Start reading! Type in the key words in your blog mission to google search (in future posts, as I learn more, they’ll be more about how to be sure YOU’re the top listing there) and see what comes up that you like, consistently. A few other spots to looks: technorati’s top blogs section, and aggregator sites like Alltop.com that list and rank top blogs by topic.

Don’t stop there though. Join relevant newsgroups and message boards (again, try blogcatalog, mybloglog to start.)

Step 4: Make it easy to join your blog. If you’ve been blogging for a while, you likely know that you can subscribe to any blog by clicking on a familiar (usually orange) logo that looks a bit like a speaker. Your readers may not know that. You want a clear, clean logo and instructions for ANY reader, newbie or pro, to find and find easily to subscribe to your blog. Sites like feedburner and addthis make it easy. Non-blog-savvy readers may prefer getting your blog in their in box. Let them! (See awebber or feedblitz for example.)

Why do you want subscribers? Because it’s a busy world out there. Even people who LOVE what you post every time won’t check every day. But if they get an email or see you in their feedreader, posting on their favorite subject… they’re likely to come check it out.

Step 5: Be creative and use existing and ever-expanding technology. New promotional tools pop up every day, but some of the ones I find the best are the ones you’re likely already using for your “other (aka real) life.” I got some of my most loyal readers from facebook, LinkedIn, as well as work and professional message boards I’m on. Readers aren’t always the ones I expected either. Two of my best “lurkers” turned commenters are friends of friends from elementary school who I barely knew.

I make use of other more modern tools too: twitter, friendfeed, plurk, and entrecard and sezwho. All have brought me active readers.

In parting, some of you may go to my Web site and say, “she only has 15 email subscribers, she only has 11,000 hits.” True and fair enough. I’m still learning and each new step is tremendous and stunning in its power. The thing that I am building confidently though can’t be measured in hits: credibility, reader loyalty and interest. I don’t post the number of emails I receive every day, ranging from writing questions to hellos to sharing a tip or link or seeking job advice: they are numerous and they are on topic.

For me, for now, anyway, the goal is very much the goal I was taught way back when in journalism: afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. When I got my first email from someone I didn’t know, touched by something I read, I felt this blog had been a success, whatever else it turns out to be.

Thank you and see you in the blogosphere.

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6 Comments

  1. legallyheidi said,

    Wrote on September 2, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

    i need to work on all that…branding, etc…especially if i want to make my blog into more than just…a blog someday. which i hate to admit I would love to do, but name a blogger that doesn’t right? Thanks for the tips πŸ™‚ (i’m going to take them to heart whilst i switch from wordpress.com to wordpress.org which should be much easier than it is…stupid .org crap πŸ™

    legallyheidis last post: Plurk me!

  2. PinoyCopywriter said,

    Wrote on September 11, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

    I’ve learned so much from this post. Some points actually hit me dead-center, especially the branding part. I’m still tinkering the look of my blog, changing the layout or the entire template. I’m still in the process of nailing that right brand identity for me.

    PinoyCopywriters last post: Font Conference

  3. Vincent Parker said,

    Wrote on September 15, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

    I love your blog and present you with the prestigious “I love your blog” award. You can see the previous presenter along with my entries for the award. Much continued success with your blog.

    Blessings!

    Vincent Parkers last post: It’s Not A Pulitzer Prize, But I Am Honored

  4. John "John Parman" Parman said,

    Wrote on September 16, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

    Branding is difficult, unless your me. For a successful personal brand to operate, you need four things:
    1. A killer idea of the population you want to attract. (I.e., Federal employees who wish they could garden all day.)
    2. Ramped up loyalty among the community (I.e., “I’ll be at the Red Derby on Sunday getting blitzed – but I want your company!”)
    3. Character. There are lots of blogs that cater to Washington, DC. What makes yours different? Are you engaged and planning to get married? That’s a good stress/joy/glam issue to pop into the mix. Perhaps you don’t want to be elbowed on the bus. You find yourself Facebook-befriended to guys you met at singles nights two years ago. Many options.
    4. Onanism.

  5. John "John Parman" Parman said,

    Wrote on September 16, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

    “Onanism”

    Whoops! I thought that meant talking in the third-person in public! Apparently not! Sorry.

  6. washwords said,

    Wrote on September 16, 2008 @ 6:16 pm

    thank ye, thank ye for the prestigious award, Vince and vocabulary/branding tips,John.

    Sorry everyone to be so long absent. I’m coming back and have a lot of excuses, I mean, reasons for my absence. Stay tuned.

    And John, I DID blog about my facebook encounters of the funny kind (and my engagement)in my engagement post. be careful what you wish for though. in honor of my engagement, I’m soon to be posting some of dating/single-girl-in-the-city adventures. think you’re safe, but you never know what will turn up in the archives πŸ˜‰

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