If you don’t have a website, I and the rest of the 21st Century are pretty surprised. The century and I would be nearly as surprised if you hadn’t started—or thought about starting—a blog to go on that site. We wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the blog stalled out and didn’t get a whole lot of traction.
Please don’t interpret that lack of surprise as any sort of skepticism about your ability. As someone who runs blog for a living, I can say with total certainty that it is hard. I mean, it’s not hard to put words in a document and publish them to the Internet. What is hard is writing something good, publishing it, getting people to read it and getting any sort of return on that time and effort investment – every. Single. Day.
I’ve been open with our struggles to create good content and our intentions to do better. So now that we’ve been talking the talk for a while, it’s time to show you that we’re starting to walk the walk—and how our doing so can help you in your efforts to establish and/or grow a blog.
Creating your audience
So think—how is your blog really doing? This includes a consistent posting schedule and an editorial plan, but today’s focus is on this question: Do you have an audience, and is that audience growing?
If you answered yes, feel free to finish writing this post for me. Otherwise, let’s talk. First, if you don’t have an audience, you need to create one, and probably, they’re going to be very similar to your target customers. The best way to start growing your blog audience is to reach out to your mailing list.
Consider all the marketing or sales emails you send. Is there a place in the header or footer for a link to your latest blog post? Could you feature an article from your blog in the regular newsletter you send out? At the very least, can you link to and/or feature the blog in any electronic receipts you mail? There is always a place to feature your content in the collateral you already create.
Of course, you should be putting all your blog content out onto social media and engaging with influencers and target readers on all those platforms. Guest blogging for other well-known bloggers who have the same or related target audiences is another excellent way to grow your audience, but consistency is important in all these options.
It’s a lot of work. Blogs do not work within the “If you build it they will come” theory. We can talk more about establishing an audience in future posts.
Growing your audience
Once you have some people who read your blog, you want more people to do so. This is the point we’re at. We have a core audience—we love you and we want more of you. So how to get that? First, it comes down to making sure you’re giving your audience what they want. When they know that they can trust that clicking on your site won’t be a waste of their time, they’ll not only come back, they’ll refer other people to your blog.
So instead of guessing about what our readers want, we came up with a radical idea: Why don’t we ask you what you want?
We did (and we’re going to ask you again), with a quick three-minute survey. If your audience isn’t quite big enough to survey on the blog just yet, consider sending out the survey link in the very same emails we mentioned featuring your blog in.
But you might also want to offer an incentive. Almost everyone feels short on time, and most of us don’t want to fill out another survey. That’s why we offered the chance to win one of ten $10 Amazon gift cards. It’s a simple case of offering value in exchange for valuable information, and I highly recommend you make a little room in the budget to do the same.
So what questions should you ask in your three-minute survey? I’ll walk you through ours – and the results that we got – and explain the thought process behind why we asked what we asked and how you can implement it.
How often do you read our blog?
You definitely need to know the frequency with which your readers visit because it will help you plan. First, it will give you an idea of how frequently you should be posting. If you see that half your visitors say they visit every day but you’re only posting once a week, you know they’re looking for more.
Second and more importantly, it will set a precedent. If you see that most people say they only visit monthly, the next time you do a survey, you can ask the same question and see if the frequency has changed. If you see that more people are visiting more frequently, it means something’s going well.
Just make sure to give people answer options that are concrete. Instead of giving the option of “frequently,” give a specific time, like “weekly” or “daily.”
Here’s what we found: 82 percent (or 150) of you said you visit our blog on a weekly basis. Awesome! That’s a great starting point. But now that we’re posting content consistently every day, we’re hoping to see the number of people who say they visit daily increase.
Why don’t you read the blog more often?
When I put this on our survey, I wasn’t sure if “they” (aka my managers) would let me put that on there. By dint of the word “don’t,” it’s a negative question, and a lot of companies would shy away from that. But there’s something to be said for honesty: we weren’t getting the numbers we wanted, and we wanted to know why. By the same token, if you’re wondering something similar, just ask. People like to be spoken to like the intelligent adults that they are.
Here’s what we found: 64 percent said “other.” Most of the others said that they just didn’t have time to come back more often. I can’t believe I forgot to put “I don’t have enough time” as one of the choices.
Nearly 24 percent said the writing wasn’t compelling, and someone left a great comment for us:
“Recent posts try too hard to be cheeky and clever. Not a lot of variety or substance in the longer posts, and increasingly there’s too much rah-rah small business filler. The authors don’t seem authoritative; just rehashing common sense.”
I sincerely appreciate this comment. While I feel I must assert that I promise I’m not trying to be cheeky or clever (I’m just naturally this way), that kind of honesty is what we need, and it is so in line with the changes we’re making around here. In January, we’ve got some great guest bloggers lined up who are true experts in their topic. We’re also working on not being common sense rehashers by raising the quality standards for content on our blog.
It may not be a flattering comment, but I’m highlighting it because it’s important not to ignore feedback. When you put out a survey, you may not like all the responses that you get, but those are the ones you probably should pay the most attention to (short of anything nasty, which you can just ignore).
What kind of blog content do you prefer?
Blogs are all about variety now: long posts, short posts, infographics, videos, podcasts, audio recordings, slideshows—your blog can and should include as many different kinds of content as you can include.
While different audiences may want different things, we found the answers to our survey both interesting and in line with a lot of research: 81 percent of responders said they want long-form blog posts that take six to eight minutes to read. Twenty-four percent want posts that take two to three minutes to read, while 19 percent want videos and 15 percent want infographics (there was the option to choose more than one content type, which is why the percentages don’t add up to 100).
So we’re working on longer, more informative posts but making sure to keep in shorter posts while expanding our repertoire of non-written posts. And be sure we’ll be asking you all about how you like it along the way.
What topics do you want to read about?
Writing what your audience wants to read about is perhaps the biggest key to keeping and growing your audience. If no one wants to read what you have to say, you’re ultimately just writing for yourself. When creating the questions, be sure that you give people concrete topic options.
Here’s what we found interesting: 80 percent of you want to read about productivity and timesaving tips. Which, given the fact that a lot of you said you don’t have time to read the blog more often, seems about right. The others were pretty evenly distributed. So we’re going to make sure that every month we have some productivity tips for you. We’ve also designated January as productivity month. You can be sure we’ll be following up with you on that one, as well!