Over on The Daily Post, we’ve published interviews with writers on growth and readership. Robert Bruce, the blogger behind the popular book site, 101 Books, shared bits of advice on building a loyal readership and successful niche blog. Here are snippets from his Q&A:
You’ve got over 26,000 followers and counting. What’s your secret?
There’s really no secret. It’s just steady, consistent posting over a long period of time. 101 Books is more than three years old now, and I’ve had more than 700 posts. When you post that often, people are bound to find you. Then, the key is to just write content that relates to them. Most people don’t care about what you had for breakfast, but if you can help them learn something new, then they’ll keep coming back.
What types of posts perform better?
The funny thing about my blog is that, even though it’s centered on the “101 Books” project, these book reviews don’t perform as well as the quirkier stuff. One of the most popular posts I’ve had was a post about my two-year-old son judging books by their covers. I put a couple of classic book covers in front of him and asked him what he thought they were about. His answers were hilarious. That post took about 15 minutes to put together, but because it was unique and fresh, it became a hit.
Obviously, list-style posts do well, and I probably tend to overuse them because of that. (I’m not BuzzFeed.) Also, for whatever reason, people gravitate to more negative-sounding titles, like “7 Words That Should Die A Horrible Death.”
There are many blogs about books on the web. Why do you think yours has been so successful?
I think people can easily get behind the idea of someone pursuing a crazy goal and the ups and downs that come with that.
There’s a lot of great book blogs out there, and a lot of bloggers who write incredibly detailed book reviews. My blog is a little different because I review books in small chunks; I take a small passage from a book and write about it. Or I write about some cool, unusual fact from the author’s background. So I think it stands out a bit in the book blogging world.
Plus, I think people can easily get behind the idea of someone pursuing a crazy goal and the ups and downs that come with that. It’s like a literary version of the Julie and Julia book (and movie). Not that I’m near as creative and successful as she was, but you get the point.
Do you have tips for someone who wants to focus their blog on books?
Sometimes you’ve just got to push the publish button because an almost-perfect blog post is better than no post at all.
Be honest. Don’t feel like you have to like a book or dislike a book because of what the critics say. On my blog, I’m very vocal of my dislike for Mrs. Dalloway, but it’s my honest opinion.
If you want to write a book blog with an academic voice, that’s great. But you’ll probably realize that not many people will read it. I try to write about literature in an approachable way, and that style involves forgetting what my English literature professor taught me.
I think it’s also important to forget about being perfect. Sometimes you’ve just got to push the publish button because an almost-perfect blog post is better than no post at all. Don’t pass over the great in search of the perfect.
Are you looking for advice on how to grow your audience and attract new readers? Do you want to capitalize on your social networks and build a strategic online presence? Are you interested in honing your personal brand?
For those of you interested in blog and website growth, the folks at The Daily Post published a free ebook: Grow Your Traffic, Build Your Blog.
While the ebook is targeted to people with blogs and websites hosted on WordPress.com, it’s packed with lots of general information on growth and traffic — and is a great resource for people writing and publishing on any kind of site.
You can download it from the ebook page in pdf, mobi, and epub formats.
In the past, we’ve shared quick optimization tips, sharing plugins, and other tools to help drive traffic to your site. Over on The Daily Post, we’ve published interviews with popular bloggers on growing your site and building your readership.
What’s your secret to building such a large following?
The secret is to do something you’re passionate about, something you care deeply about. Because if you do so, odds are that someone else will relate to what you’re doing. If every post you write means something to you, it’ll undoubtedly mean something to other people, too.
Another key aspect is consistency. It’s not all about quantity — posting every day, for instance — but also about quality. Readers should know what to expect every time they get notified that you posted something new on your blog.
Blogging is not a numbers game. Yes, as you become more popular it’s easy to lose track of things; it becomes more and more difficult to realize that those numbers are actually people. Every like, comment, and follow is an action performed by another human being.
Statistics only offer you a cold perspective of what’s going on with your blog, but what matters more is the level of interaction that you manage with fellow bloggers. Also, if you think too much about followers and such, you’re going to try too hard. And you’re going to fail.
What types of posts perform better?
It’s almost impossible to determine why some posts perform better than others. Sometimes it’s ironic, because you worked really hard on a certain piece — did a lot of research, tried to make it all come together in the most attractive way possible — and you just don’t get people to care enough to leave a comment. Other times, the exact opposite happens.
Popularity simply means how many people relate to what you’re doing. Engagement means how many people care enough — whether they agree or disagree — to actually respond. The goal is to figure out what it is that makes people follow your blog. What type of posts do they enjoy reading most? That’s when your stats may prove useful. If you analyze the posts that perform better, you’ll see they’re often similar in theme, structure, and so on. That’s what readers want most.
Ping-O-Matic is all about getting your latest content out into the world and driving more traffic to your blog. And if you have a blog, chances are you want to be part of a larger community. You don’t just want to create and share your stuff — you want to connect with people who share your interests and passions in a meaningful way.
Publishing a post is just one step in blogging — getting people to engage with you is another. How do you start a conversation?
Here are some tips:
- End with a prompt. At the end of a post, encourage comments by asking a specific question or two, which is a better way of generating feedback than more general “Leave a comment” or “What do you think?” prompts. Your blog isn’t just a monologue — you want to open up the discussion to others.
- Reply to comments. Your job doesn’t end when you hit publish. When readers leave comments, keep the conversation going with a thoughtful reply.
- But don’t reply to every comment. If you receive many comments and reply to each with a generic one-liner (“Thanks!”), your comment thread won’t be interesting. Feel free to reply to first-time visitors to welcome them to your site, but in general, reply only if you have something substantial to add to the existing conversation.
- Moderate with care. It’s best not to encourage or allow nasty and abusive comments. They intimidate new readers, derail conversations, and distract you from good blogging. It’s your online home — don’t be afraid to give polite warnings to visitors who aren’t appropriate.
- Post commenting guidelines. If you find yourself doing a lot of policing, one way to be transparent about the type of comments you will and will not permit is to post simple guidelines. This can help you attract the kind of commenters you want, and deter unwanted behavior.
- Return the visit. Developing friendships with your readers is one of the best parts of blogging. If you have loyal commenters, make sure you visit and engage on their blogs, too. If they like what you post, chances are you’ll be into their stuff as well.
With a WordPress blog, you have a variety of tools to not only create content, but to share it and get your newest, freshest stuff out to your audience quickly. Ping-O-Matic is a quick and simple way to let others know you’ve posted new content—and ultimately drive more traffic to your blog. For self-hosted WordPress blogs, this update service is a built-in feature; you can choose the update services you would like to “ping” by going to Settings > Writing in your dashboard.
Need a refresher or primer? As you fill in your blog details at Ping-O-Matic, you can opt to ping multiple ping servers at once, such as Weblogs.com, NewsGator, Blo.gs, and FeedBurner. When you ping these services, they automatically notify subscribers that new content is posted to your website or blog.
Essentially, Ping-O-Matic is a service that notifies the larger community—from search engines and blogging platforms to aggregators and social networks—of the newest, freshest content on the Internet. This, in turn, helps improve the speed at which search engines find and index your content.
That said, driving traffic to your blog isn’t simply about enabling this service and letting it do all the work for you. Remember that getting more traffic requires more effort—posting well-written, original content in particular.
To get you started, we want you to stir things up on your blog and write about a topic that’s up for debate. At The Daily Post, we post Mind the Gap prompts that ask readers what they think about controversial and divisive issues. So, we’re particularly interested in what you think about kids in adult-oriented places. Most of us can agree that it’s not a good idea to drag little Sally to a bar at 1AM, but what about a museum? A fancy restaurant?
Here are the essentials to consider when drafting this post:
- Read up on the existing discussion of this topic: Researching this topic (and any other subject you tackle) beforehand strengthens your own stance. And it also allows you to link to related posts that enhance your discussion, as well as engage with other bloggers who have weighed in on the topic. Both are good practices and additional ways to drive the right kind of traffic to your site.
- Pick a good, relevant title: Blog post titles are like newspaper headlines. They need to be short, snappy, and attention-grabbing. On social networks like Facebook and Twitter, your title is the primary (and may be the only) text that readers see before clicking to your post.
- Edit, proofread, and proofread some more: Take the time to develop your ideas. Readers are smart—they prefer to read posts that intrigue them, make them think and question, and rouse them up. If you pique their interest, they will comment on your post thoughtfully in return.
- Generate your own discussion: After presenting your thoughts on kids in adult-oriented places, ask questions or create your own poll at the end of your post to prompt your readers.
- Share your stuff on social networks: Use the sharing tools available to you to share this post across the Internet. Make it easy for others to spread the word.
You can apply the process above to other posts you write. Overall, it’s important to remember that original, relevant, and well-written content is key, and from there you can share it and use the tools and services available to you to draw traffic to your blog.
We look forward to providing more tips on this blog. Stay tuned!