Getting folks to read your blog. March 3, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: blog readership, blogging, blogs, how to get people to read your blog, Mr. Subjunctive, Plants Are the Strangest People, successful blogs, WordPress
Our friend Ben was heading over to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, this morning when my attention was caught like a moth in a flame by a blog post on our blog host, WordPress’s, home page. WordPress has any number of great features, but one that always turns our friend Ben green with envy is its featured blogs section. Every day, the home page showcases a number of blog posts that the WordPress factotums think merit readership. Much like Oprah’s Book Club back in the day, doubtless being featured on this roster is a really, really good way to attract readers to your blog. (Sigh.) But I digress.
Today, two posts caught my eye: One was called something like “Weird uses for leather” and showed a photo of a pig who, under the circumstances, didn’t strike our friend Ben as looking sufficiently concerned. Wishing the pig well, but having no desire to actually read the post, I scanned the other featured posts and came upon something to the effect of “How to use WordPress to attract a zillion readers to your blog.” (Apparently, using the name “WordPress” in the title works pretty damn well.) Naturally, our friend Ben, modest soul that I am, would love to attract a zillion readers to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. (And no, Silence, of course this has nothing to do with my unending attempts to attract the attention of the MacArthur Fellowship nominators.) So, like the hapless moth, our friend Ben found myself clicking on the post.
What did I read there? Bad news and good news. The blogger said that, in order to attract readership, you simply had to be on Twitter and Facebook ranting on (and on) about your blog. (Luddites that we are here at PRA, forget that.) You had to inundate all your friends, relatives, coworkers, and acquaintances with “news” about and links to your blog. (Mercifully, I only know one person who actually does this. And it’s so irritating.) And you absolutely, absolutely had to include photos in your posts, or your blog was doomed. You’d be lucky to attract 3, much less 30, readers a day.
We here at Poor Richard’s Almanac beg to differ. Not because we disagree with this advice as a basic template. It’s all pretty sound advice. But rather because it’s a template, not a mandate.
As noted, we use neither Facebook nor Twitter. We find that we have enough to do writing our blog, answering and sending e-mail, doing our work, and living our lives, without adding yet more time-eaters like tweeting and texting and posting to Facebook. But that doesn’t mean we discount their utility as tools. If our blog was commercial in nature, or if our jobs or businesses required it, you can bet we’d be tweeting away like mad and asking everyone on earth to “friend us on Facebook.” Thank God we don’t have to.
As for annoying our friends and relations with endless begging, screaming e-mails and the like about how great our blog is and how they should all be reading it, we’d say to go for the happy medium. Yes, tell everyone you’d want to read your blog that you’ve started it, what it’s about, and that you’d love to get their feedback. And please provide a link! Then sit back and wait for none of them to actually read it, at least for a very long time. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were dismayed that so few of our family and friends tuned in to Poor Richard’s Almanac when we and Richard Saunders launched it in 2008. OFB’s brother and one of our good friends were faithful readers, but of all our families and closest friends, that was pretty much it. Hundreds of readers checked in faithfully, but not the folks who were nearest and dearest to us in the face-to-face sense. Many of these announced very self-righteously that they didn’t read blogs. Well, fine, your loss. But over time, and without additional annoyance on our parts, we’ve found that more of our friends are joining the group of faithful readers that keeps Poor Richard’s Almanac afloat. We’re always surprised, thrilled, and humbled when another friend joins the flock. But no, we wouldn’t dream of badgering anyone about it. That takes more hubris than we can muster.
Now, about those photos. We have no, absolutely no, argument with this advice. Our observations of the world of blogging suggest that photos are key to transforming your blog into a commercial success, to getting noticed, to getting that book and maybe even that movie deal. We ourselves love seeing photos on other people’s blogs. So why don’t we have any here on Poor Richard’s Almanac? Well, first of all, we’re writers and thinkers, not photographers. Being Luddites, we can’t even take a decent photo, much less upload one to our blog. But second of all, when we started Poor Richard’s Almanac, we set ourselves a challenge. We wanted to see if, like our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin, we could write such compelling posts that readers would come to see what we had to say without visual backup.
So how have we done? Without being celebrities or even recognized authorities in our various fields, being in fact complete unknowns, and without offering visuals or advertising ourselves in any way, Poor Richard’s Almanac attracts hundreds of visitors a day, over 160,000 so far (according to WordPress’s accounting). Not bad for just two years’ postings!
What would we advise for blogging success? Again, we endorse the photographic approach even if we don’t practice it. We also approve of the original post author’s additional suggestions that you write the catchiest possible titles, that you write about things you love, and that you return the favor of visiting bloggers by becoming a regular visitor to (and commentor on) their blogs as well.
But that isn’t all, in our experience, by any means. We think that the greatest success comes from two very disparate approaches. One is to tackle a diverse series of topics that interest you and that, however tangential, will interest others. Whether it’s the age of Dr. Oz, the history of JABO marbles, the nature of Amish Friendship Bread, or if cats ever have brown eyes, this is the approach that has worked for us. People search for what interests them, be it a recipe for pumpkin chili or the best pirate movies or black German shepherd puppies or Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas traditions or the best places to stay in Asheville or how to grow potatoes in containers, and they find themselves on our blog. Our posts seem to be timeless in this respect: We write about what interests us, and when it interests someone else, they come to see what we’ve said about it, be it two minutes or two years after we’ve written it. We find this really awesome.
But there’s a different approach, and that’s tight specialization. When it works, it works far better than our scattershot approach. Look, for example, at Mr. Subjunctive’s blog Plants Are the Strangest People (http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/). Mr. Subjunctive typically posts about tropicals and houseplants, usually giving their history and nomenclature and often focusing on favorite cultivars and growing techniques. Yes, his blog does digress from time to time, notably on Saturdays when he showcases a photo of his delightful anole, Nina, but he usually stays on-topic and has gained a faithful audience and over 500,000 views as a result.
So yes, we’re here to tell you it can be done. If you want to blog, go for it. But we would like to remind you that “the total look,” text, photos, and illustrative touches, plus a real passion for your subject matter and a flair for great post titles, will get you further faster. Do as we say, not as we do. But thanks for stopping in!