The challenge: build community around your blog

I probably should have titled this post, How to drive traffic to your blog. That would have gotten more clicks, right? But the truth is, while we sometimes use hits to measure the success of our Web sites and blogs, the reason for that success is community.

One common mistake new bloggers make is thinking that all they have to do is put information out there — and readers will come. But to create a successful blog or Web site or organization, you’ve got to turn that information into conversation, into community, into a place people want to visit again and again.

Several writers have approached me recently, asking how they can attract readers to their blog. What they really need to know is, how do you go about building a community?

Here’s what I tell them:

Provide awesome content. This sounds obvious, but it’s the basis of any successful blog. If you don’t have good content, the other strategies I’m about to suggest are useless. Ask yourself: Is my content unique? Useful? Inspiring? What can I give readers that they won’t get anywhere else?

Encourage conversation. Write in a way that encourages dialogue and follow-ups. Ask questions at the bottom of your posts. Not yes or no questions, but open-ended ones that give readers the chance to weigh in. If your content is awesome, they may think about commenting or linking to your post on their blog. But they take that leap unless they feel welcome, inspired, encouraged.

One person who does this really well: soon-to-be author Jody Hedlund. There are thousands of writing blogs out there, yet writers go back to hers because she engages readers, asks great questions, joins the conversation in the comments and visits the blogs of her readers. She starts dialogue. (For example, check out her recent post about blogging.) On that note…

Join the conversation. Respond to comments on your posts. Visit the sites of the people who left them, and leave comments on their sites. When you do, make sure your name offers a link to your site. Not only will the blogger come back to visit you, but her other readers might, too.

Link within your posts. When you link to other bloggers’ posts within your posts, you’re helping your reader by providing additional information. But you’re also creating a conversation with those bloggers because their blog will tell them you linked to them, and maybe they’ll visit your blog.

This is how I connected with author Mary Morris. I mentioned her book and linked to her Web site so readers could find out more about the book. She noticed my link — either her site told her or Google alerts let her know — and visited my site, left a comment, I responded — and boom! We’re friends. That’s one of the main benefits of having a blog: connecting with people who have accomplished what you’re working toward.

Link to descriptive words like my travel blog or Inkslinging in Africa, not instructions like click here. This helps Google send people to your blog. Which brings us to…

Search Engine Optimization. You only need to understand the basics of SEO to make it work for you. The most important rule is to write good headlines, using words you’d type into Google if you were searching for whatever you’re writing about. An example of a good headline: How to find and apply to writers’ colonies. It has lots of words you’d type into Google if you were looking for a colony: colony, writers, find, apply. A bad headline: Does this count as productive? It doesn’t tell you what the post is about, doesn’t contain any keywords that would help Google guide readers to the post. Yeah, I knew that when I wrote it and I did it anyway. Sometimes we break our own rules.

Use images. They do more than make your blog interesting and fun to look at. Just like Google uses your text and links to determine whether to send people to your site, it also looks through your images. One map I included on my travel blog still drives significant traffic there a year after I stopped posting.

Get involved online. Participating in Facebook and Twitter will lead people to your blog. But make sure you’re using those tools properly, promoting yourself in a way that attracts, not annoys, potential readers.

What other forums can you join to lure people into your community? I created a Ning group for writers of travel memoir. I did it because I wanted to connect with writers in my genre, but as an added benefit it brings people to my blog. Another example: I’m active at Matador Network, a community of travelers. I leave comments on stories and occasionally write for the site. All of this participation online helps me strengthen my own community. (Need more ideas? Check out this post at Chip McGregor’s blog.)

Network in person. No matter how much we try to create relationships through our blogs, those connections are still virtual. Turn them into in-person connections. Go to conferences or round tables or Meetups — anywhere that helps you physically meet people who share your interests. At the very least, put a photo of yourself in your blog sidebar. Readers are more likely to feel like they know you if they can picture your face.

Be likable. Show us your personality — if only the nice parts. You are your own community liaison. You are your brand. You are the face of your blog. Make us want to hang out with you and get to know you better. Be interesting and helpful, but also be a friend. When I like the person behind a blog or Web site, I go back for more.

~ Yes, all of this stuff is time consuming. It’s also necessary if you want your blog to succeed. Don’t let it overwhelm you. You don’t have to introduce all of this at once. Focus on one or two of these suggestions each week, and eventually they’ll work in your favor.

Do these ideas help? What have I missed? How do you build community around your blog, and what do you struggle with?

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30 Responses

  1. Fab post, Alexis.I don’t think you missed anything here. I’m trying to do most of these things on my blog. Followers have grown from 7 when I began, to100, so I guess I’m doing something right. Thanks for the helpful advice, as always.
    karen

  2. Great tips here Alexis. The one I like the best is commenting on other blogs. I’ve done this, and met some great people. I enjoy their posts and they come and comment on mine as well. As you mention, the main problem is time. Although worthwhile, it’s time consuming to read and comment on blogs. Ooops….I’d better go get to work!

  3. Awesome tips, Alexis! I agree with all of them! I’m retweeting this post!

  4. Oh — I forgot such an important one: WRITE GUEST POSTS. Write them for blogs or publications that target your audience. Key.

  5. fantastic tips Alexis. I think I’ll use this post in the next class I teach on Networking.

    Guest Posts is a great idea! I keep meaning to do more of that 🙂

    You are what I consider to be one of the best bloggers out there because you do everything you suggest and you are INVOLVED because blogging is about building community 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

  6. Mine is a struggle to settle a question that’s plagued me all my life:

    Many people seem to have either a strong interest in, or aversion to, my most central topic, aviation. But the curve seems fattest with people who claim (or is feign a better word?) to be interested but do nothing to show it.

    As a child, when I told friends I flew, I was reacted to with either envy, hatred, or disinterest. The latter two I came to understand and/or accept, but when I offered to bring those who said they wish they too could fly a liitle deeper into my world, 9/10 of them would morph back into Ambivalence.

    So it is now, as an adult. People who see me at work study me, and in many faces I read jealousy or worse (however unfounded or undeserved), but quite a few people cheerfully, even occasionally excitedly, ask me any number of questions about my job or work life. Then, their curiosity sated like a cat’s for a new, uninteresting toy, they wander back to their previous life, seemingly unaffected.

    So maybe some of your readers can answer me, once and for all: is flying something about which you really don’t get enough information, or is your curiousity truly situational and relatively shallow, like mine when, say, at the zoo?

    I started my blog with faith that the first choice would prove to be the answer for many people, but I’m beginning to doubt. Can anyone straighten me out?

    • Hey Nathan — It’s innately interesting to me! But a lot of it has to do with HOW you tell the story. Are you telling awesome tales of flying to cool places, doing things you wouldn’t be able to do if you weren’t a pilot? Honestly, I think the story of tying your shoe could be interesting if you told it properly.

      Looking forward to checking out your blog!

      Lexi

    • Flying is such a negative experience these days. People don’t seem to want to read negative travel stories, even if they contain useful, interesting or timely information. Recently, I’ve written about lousy handling of weather delays at SFO, United getting rid of 737s, a 40th anniversary of the 747, and how to maximize your carry-ons. All duds, as far as reader interest.
      That said, anything having to do with aviation that has a pop culture or entertainment angle, such as what was George Clooney’s rolling suitcase in “Up in the Air”, or whether or not there is a 10-million-mile FF club, goes off the charts…dozens of comments, thousands of clicks.
      Go figure.

  7. I can’t think of anything you haven’t covered. I really enjoy the friends I’ve made blogging and I’ve picked up so much useful information in the process.

  8. Great post, Alexis! So comprehensive.
    I’d love to hear about how people organize their blog-commenting time. Do you do it once a day? Once a week? I love visiting favorite blogs, but also think I am not efficient about it.

    • On slow Sundays, I usually take the time to click through most of the links left by people who have commented on my blog. And if I really like the blog, I add it to my RSS feed… so I know from experience that readers of MY blog are getting ME as a reader of their blog — if their content is good enough to pull me in.

      How does everyone else manage this? I’d love to hear from Jody, because she gets a ton of comments on her blog.

      • I try to comment on tthe blogs of those who stop by my blog and I follow blogs via rss feeds. I still find it hard to balance and I won’t let myself add more blogs to my feed until I get caught up 🙂

  9. Hey Alexis,

    Keeping up with blogs we follow is a tough balancing act, especially because the more involved we get within the writing community, the more great blogs we find to follow. Eventually we get to the point where we may even be overwhelmed by it all, and my post on Friday addressed that issue!

    But, on a more practical level, how do I personally choose which blogs to read and comment on? I usually block in a little bit of time 3-4 mornings a week in which I read blogs, usually the blogs of people who’ve recently left a comment on my blog. I can’t always “repay” the visit, since I do get quite a few comments each time I post. But I prioritize “regular” visitor friends and first time visitors.

    Thanks for asking, Alexis! Great thoughts here today!

    • Sound advice from both Alexis and Jody. It can get overwhelming, but I guess it is all about prioritizing … just like everything else, eh? 🙂

  10. These are excellent blog points. Thanks for sharing!

    Kathy
    http://krpooler.wordpress.com

  11. Fascinating post, Alexis, with lots of good ideas. I plan to print it out.

    My blog has been very successful in terms of stats – I’m reaching the 50,000 hits milestone today. In terms of knowing who all those people are, I’m still somewhat in the dark. I get regular comments from some, but I’m not nearly as diligent as some others about checking in and commenting on others’ blogs.

    I agree the notion of community is key. I feel as if there’s definitely an online Blog Book Tours community that’s helped sustain me, but I also feel a small community like that can suck up enormous amounts of time, especially if everyone comments on everyone else. It’s a dilemma I haven’t solved yet.

    BTW, I’m giving away a book to whoever leaves a comment on my blog right after I hit 50,000 – if I can tell who it is! You’re not eligible, because I already gave you a book, but your readers might be interested. I’ve now got about 66 hits to go.

    Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso

  12. Nice useful info. This is very helpful. I think I would add two things: One, getting involved with the community means finding writers who write on the same subjects as you and commenting on their writing…and sometimes even asking them to comment back on your own. Also, WordPress has a nice feature where you can search by tags to find people writing on topics of interest to you.
    Second, provide multiple avenues online via different networking sites to reach you (along with what you are saying about getting involved in communities online). It can be hard, but once you start to share your content, more folks will come looking for you.
    Also, thanks for the tip on search engine optimization, this is so good to know. I was not always super aware of this…

    http://www.adiosanticipado.wordpress.com

    P.S. Glad you like South China–they are some of my favorite musics these days. I think you’ll enjoy the next artist I profile. Pretty unique topic and I’m thinking I’ll do it for May.

  13. I’m your newest subscriber after reading your post on the Lady Bloggers Society. I’m an aspiring writer, and after starting a blog a few months ago, I’m realizing I have A LOT to learn. Thanks for the tips, and I look forward to reading more.

  14. thank you so much! found your blog through the lady blogger society and your site is officially bookmarked – i’ll be returning often!

  15. Hello, Alexis. I’m finally here! 😉

    This is fantastic. I’ve got to do more of linking within my posts. I do some, but really should do it every time.

    This is great info I’d like to share with my readers, also. Thanks very much!

    Cheers,
    Tia

  16. […] read your posts and left comments, and I was really inspired by Alexis Grant’s post “The challenge: build community around your blog.” Please take a minute to go read the post; you’ll come away with some really great […]

  17. […] read your posts and left comments, and I was really inspired by Alexis Grant’s post “The challenge: build community around your blog.” Please take a minute to go read the post; you’ll come away with some really great […]

  18. Great post, currently I am trying to grow a strong community and your post was helpful.
    My blog is http://www.quickcache.wordpress.com.

  19. […] Another reason writers should use Twitter Posted on May 11, 2010 by Alexis Grant You all know I think writers should use Twitter. And Facebook. And other social media that helps you create your own community. […]

  20. […] I didn’t realize how much I could leverage my experience in this field. Yeah, blogging and building online communities and using all sorts of social networks is part of my daily life. I use those tools because they […]

  21. Thank you Alexis. I have just started a blog and also tweeting. Some fellow writers I have met through the Queensland Writers Group gave me your link.

    This information is good because I really didn’t know how to network using my blog. Thanks. 🙂

    cheers, Noelle

  22. […] read your posts and left comments, and I was really inspired by Alexis Grant’s post “The challenge: build community around your blog.” Please take a minute to go read the post; you’ll come away with some really great […]

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