The social media landscape over the last year or so has changed dramatically. Companies that were once skeptical about tools such as blogs are now blogging or considering starting one. Unfortunately, many companies that do so still have little idea of how to grow their blog into an integral part of their marketing efforts.
However, every company can take some easy step to grow its blog. Many companies don't have the knowledge or the resources to implement elaborate technical measures to boost their blog's status and instead need no-nonsense ideas that every writer can use every day.
This article will outline eight easy steps that bloggers can take to grow their blog's readership.
1. Post regularly
This is probably the easiest way to boost your blog's readership, but possibly the hardest. The quickest way to convert infrequent visitors into regular readers is to give them new content every time they visit. This means getting your writers on a regular pattern of posting. Ideally, you want your blog to have a minimum of three posts a week, and these should be during the week because blog readership falls during the weekend. Getting on a regular posting schedule will train your readers to know when to expect new content.
Key action point: Work with your writers to develop a posting schedule that lets your blog have at least three new posts every week. Start by posting new content on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. These days are usually the best for blog readership. If your writers can commit to more posts per week, then add a post on Monday, then Friday; then go back to posting again on Tuesday through Thursday. Avoid leaving three posts on one weekday, then none the next weekday.
2. Develop a comment policy
Comments are the lifeblood of any company blog. Everything on your blog should be geared toward encouraging your visitors to comment. So carefully consider what your policy will be toward comments. Are you going to moderate comments? Will you have some sort of word-verification, like CAPTCHA? Or will all comments go through without any verification or moderation?
You want comments to appear on your blog as quickly as possible. If comments can be posted without any verification, participation will increase; but this also increases the chance of spam comments and offensive remarks. Adding word-verification is a great way to tackle spam comments and is a good compromise. Your final option is to moderate comments, which means that all comments must be approved before being posted. This all but eliminates spam and abusive comments; but if comments aren't posted promptly, visitors will be less likely to comment in the future.
Key action point: Balance the need to have control over comments with your desire to encourage interaction with your readers. Adding verification to your comments is a good way to remove most spam comments. If you opt to moderate comments, only do so if you can regularly approve comments—during work hours, within an hour of being posted. Also, every effort should be made to approve comments during nights and weekends. Consider how your readers would react if they leave a comment on Friday night and it isn't approved until Monday morning. Many readers wouldn't understand that long of a wait. Always consider your reader's point of view when crafting your comment policy.
3. Reply to comments
This might be the best-kept secret for growing a blog's readership. When your readers are kind enough to leave comments to your posts, make every effort to reply to them. This is just common courtesy, and it shows your readers that you value their input and want to reward it. It's an online way of saying thank you. And the more comments a post has, the more likely that it will be read by future visitors.
Key action point: Make every effort reply to comments left by your readers. Also, try to encourage your readers to comment by asking in your posts for their input. This is another way to show your readers that you value, and want, their input. And comments breed comments. The more comments a post has, the more likely that future visitors will read and comment on that post. Remember that comments are the lifeblood of your blog, and you should do everything possible encourage an environment where your readers feel comfortable commenting on your blog.
4. Showcase readers who make special contributions
This step will seem counterintuitive to many companies that consider their blog a place to promote themselves. Nevertheless, every company should promote and recognize its top contributors. The idea is to create a sense of community around your blog. Once readers see that you appreciate their contributions (via comments or links), other readers will become more likely to comment and link to your blog. Remember that you want to promote your company and its offerings, but don't hesitate to shine the spotlight on your readers who are going above and beyond to give you feedback.
Key action point: If you notice that certain readers are leaving frequent comments, send them an email thanking them personally and, if they have a blog, add their blog to your blogroll (see Step 5). Also, if a reader leaves a comment that spurs other readers to comment, edit your post to add the reader's comment to your post. I call this adding a window to the comments section. It shows readers that there's an interesting discussion going on in the comments section, and it gives you another chance to promote the reader who left the comment.
5. Build your blogroll with your readers' interests in mind
Companies that follow steps 4 and 5 are usually the ones that have exceptional company blogs. Companies naturally want to promote themselves on their blogs, and that extends to the company blogroll. But make sure to add links on your blogroll that are relevant to your readers. And don't be afraid to link to readers who leave frequent comments on your blog as well. Keep in mind that everything you do on your blog should be viewed through the reader's eye.
Key action point: Consider your readers' interests when building your blogroll. For example, if you are blogging for a hotel chain, add links on your blogroll to travel-related sites. If some of your readers provide a link to their blogs, feel free to add these to your blogroll as well. Your blogroll, as with everything else on your company blog, should be viewed as a collaborative effort. Make sure you promote your company and its offerings, but also shine the spotlight on your readers.
6. Offer unique content aimed at your blog's target audience
The growing popularity of blogs is a double-edged sword. It means that companies smart enough to start blogging can gain a competitive advantage over non-blogging competitors. But your readers are faced with more choices for their time, which means that you need to create unique content if you are to stand out from the crowd. If you address the same topics that readers have already seen on five other blogs, they will likely tune out what you have to say. But if you can offer unique content, or break news before anyone else, that will lead to more readers, more comments, and more links for your blog.
Key action point: Find a way to give your readers content that they can't find elsewhere. For example, on my blog The Viral Garden, my target audiences are fellow bloggers interested in marketing news and commentary, and companies that are either blogging or want to start blogging. So I began creating unique content that is tailored toward both groups. In 2006 I began ranking the Top 25 Marketing Blogs, based on traffic and inbound links. This list is valuable to both bloggers and companies that want to know which marketing blogs are viewed as some of the most influential. Then, a few weeks ago, I started a Company Blog Checkup series: Each week, I examine a company's blogging efforts and detail what I think it is doing well and what it needs to work on. This series benefits companies that are blogging, or considering blogging, by giving tips and advice on how to improve their blogging efforts. Think about ways that you can give your readers unique content that appeals to them.
7. Make your blog's feed available for RSS subscribers
Now that your content is tailored to your readers' interests and you are posting regularly, make it as easy as possible for your readers to receive your content. As blog readers find more and more blogs they want to keep up with, many are turning to something called feed readers, such as Bloglines, that let you read content from your favorite blogs all in one place. Blog readers now expect all blogs to have buttons on their site that easily allow readers to subscribe to their feed. This is another way to give your readers the content they desire, in the form that they wish to consume it.
Key action point: If you haven't already, open a free account at FeedBurner.com, where you can burn a feed for your blog. FeedBurner will provide you with several subscriber buttons that you can add to your blog. These buttons will allow your readers to easily subscribe to your feed. FeedBurner also allows you to track how many subscribers your feeds have and which feed readers your readers are using to access your feed. From this, you can decide which buttons to add to your blog. To start with, add one for FeedBurner, Bloglines, and Google Reader—the most common.
8. Offer email subscriptions to your blog's content
This step ties into step No. 7. It is another way to give your readers your content in a form that's convenient. Not every reader has the time to check your blog more than once a daily; they may wish to instead read your blog via email. An email subscription allows your readers to stay up to date on your postings, but also links to every post so readers can go directly to your blog if they wish.
Key action point: FeedBurner also allows users to set up email subscriptions to their blog's feed. The site will give you the code to add an input box on your blog that will allow readers to subscribe by inputting their email address. FeedBurner also allows you to add links at the bottom of your email posts, giving readers the ability to email you, or seed your content to social-bookmarking sites such as Del.icio.us and Digg. And as with your feed subscribers, you can track how many email subscribers you have at any time.
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The best way to grow your blog's readership is to shift your focus to satisfying your readers' wants and needs. If you create an environment on your blog that welcomes readers to participate and encourages their feedback, your blog will blossom.
Instead of viewing your blog as a promotional and marketing tool for your company, consider how you can create a community on your blog. Once you shift your blog's focus toward the wants and needs of the readers, you will begin to see your readership grow, as will interaction via comments and links to your blog.
The end result is that the more interaction and discussion you can have with your readers on your blog, the better you can understand them and the better they can understand you. As a result, your company's marketing becomes much more efficient, and less expensive. But it all begins with focusing on giving visitors to your blog an environment that encourages them to become regular readers.