Welcome to part seven of the Lib Dem Voice “Introduction to blogging” guide for Liberal Democrat bloggers or would-be bloggers. It’s appearing each Saturday between now and Christmas. The series will then be revised and collated into an e-book, so please do post up your comments as the series progresses. Today it’s the turn of Lib Dem Voice’s Mark Pack to talk about building up your audience.
There are many reasons for blogging and, depending on your own motivation, getting a bigger audience is not necessarily important. My occasional blog post about paper clips are aimed at around seven people and judging their success or not by readership beyond them misses the point of why I write them. However, for many blogging objectives – such as a councillor wanting to reach residents or a party member wanting to get their views heard – bigger relevant audiences are better.
But how do you go about that? Many people make a full time profession out of building up online audiences, so here is a brief introduction to some of the simplest and most effective steps you can take.
Be clear about your niche
To get an audience, you have to be writing something that is of interest to them. So try to picture your ideal reader(s) and ask yourself, “What information can my blog provide that they don’t get from elsewhere?” For example, you may have two ideal readers – a ward residents and a local party member. The answers may be, “The local news which they don’t get from the local newspaper because it has a very low readership” and “Information about what the party is up to which they don’t get from our limited media coverage”.
Be easy to find in the obvious places
For Liberal Democrat blogs, being listed on the Liberal Democrat Blogs aggregator is an obvious starting point (details here). Other potentially useful and free places to get a listing include the Total Politics blog directory and Wikio [2015 update: now defunct]. Make sure you also cover the other relevant Liberal Democrat sites (e.g. your local party’s site) and any local non-Lib Dem sites.
Tell people about your blog
Telling people that your blog exists is a much better bet than relying on telepathy. In particular, personally telling your friends and colleagues is a good way to get people to take an initial look. One tip – do this just after you’ve done a few blog posts that you think worked particularly well. You want to make a good impression when these people come looking.
But more than that, if you blog about what someone else has said or done, then letting them know is often both polite and a way to help nudge your audience up. For example, if you blog giving extra details about a story run in a local newspaper, let the journalist know. Or if you blog about a great speech you heard at an event, let the speaker know.
Make your blog like a newspaper, not a book
A daily newspaper doesn’t need to advertise to let you know when the next edition is out. You know that without having to be told specifically each time. Book publishers however have to put great efforts into letting people know that a new book is out from an established author.
You want your blog to be more like a newspaper, where people come back for future updated of their own volition and without you have to work hard to attract them afresh each time.
Two major ways of doing this are to blog reasonably regularly and also to provide a clear RSS feed. The former means people expect there to be new content and so come to look at it whilst the latter allows people to sign up to automatically get new content pushed out at them.
Write good headlines
As in print, so online – the headline you give a story has a big effect on the number of people who decide to then go on and read the story. Short, clear and interesting is what you need. Much easier said than done, I’m afraid but it is a really useful skill to acquire and refine.
Look at some evidence
There are many free services available to provide details about the level of traffic on your blog. Google Analytics is one of the most popular and lets you see how many visits your blog gets, how people find your blog and what content on it is most popular. This all adds up to a very rich set of suggestions about what is working well on your blog, what isn’t and what you can do in future.
Blog at the best times
Relatively few people have the time or inclination to systematically and regularly check back through stories they may have missed. If they use a feed reader, there’s often a backlog of stories that either don’t get read or get only the merest skim. If they visit sites, they often will not click through to pages of older posts every time in order to see everything since their last visit. Some people do, but many don’t. If you don’t time your post well, that means you’ll miss out on their readership.
The ability to schedule posts to appear at some point in the future is a standard part of blogging packages, so when you write a post doesn’t have to determine when it appears.
But when is the best time to post? This post I wrote previously may help you answer that.
Learn from the other advice in this series of course!