How to write better to encourage more people to read your blog

Here are some ways to help encourage more people to read your blog. This seems straightforward and common sense – but it won’t hurt to outline here some strategies which you can employ every time you blog. And a few to use more sparingly.

1. Plan what you’re going to write

You should write drafts posts based on any ideas you want to. But before you actually publish a post spend a lot of time to plan what you are writing, and craft that blog post. By craft I mean look at your title, the Web address, the look of your post on the screen, as well as what you are going to write.

a. Titles should entice people to click through and read

The title of your post is possibly the only chance you have to cut through the noise in your audience’s information feed – it may be the ONLY part of your blog they will see in their Google search results or linked to from Stephen Fry’s Twitter feed. So make a good, strong first impression.

b. SEO

That’s Search Engine Optimisation! The title is fodder for the search engines (Google and the like), so you should use your category or keyword (see below) somewhere in your title.

“Try creating intrigue or using the element of surprise with titles by alluding to something readers can only see or learn by reading the post” from Attracting Traffic: Tips for Writing Great Blog Post Titles by Krista

And shorten your title. If your post title is fairly long, (over six or seven words) remove the words which don’t specifically relate to the post’s topic.

The URL or web address of your blog post is another source of information used by search engines to understand what you are writing about. You can edit the URL in your blog post to reflect the title and keywords. For example, if I hadn’t edited it this post’s title would have translated automatically into the following URL:

/the-secret-to-wrting-nice-blog-posts-using-wordpress-or-blogger

Shorten it to put the emphasis on the main idea: writing good blog posts.

c. White space

Don’t write long sentences in long, dense paragraphs.

Blogs are almost exclusively read on a screen, and usually “consumed” with a myriad of distractions going on around the reader. White space makes long posts easier for readers to scan. These all create space and break up chunks of text:

  • subheadings
  • short paragraphs
  • block-quotes (the bit in a newspaper broadsheet page which leaps out at you – along with the headline and the photo)
  • lists
  • bullet-points
  • and images

This makes your content easy to digest, easier to quote in a tweet and so more easy to share. Readers will skip over the content to the headings – have you written the best headings for the content which follows?

d. Images

A dark, candle lit interior of a dug-out. An officer signs a paper for a waiting messenger

Writing for your blog should not feel like a chore. Try not to stay in your own dug-out. Participate!

I mentioned images in the previous paragraph as a way to create the white space that makes posts more easy to scan-read. There are many sources of freely-available copyright-cleared images for you to choose from. This is not your thesis, you can illustrate your argument with a bold, striking image – and for decorative purposes only.

In social media, the Tweets and Facebook posts with a picture generate much more interest than those without. The same is true for blogs. So when a reader shares a link to your post on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, your image will automatically be offered to them as part of the link, making it more likely that your post will be noticed and clicked on – and shared again.

OK, so maybe you don’t want to interrupt your post – then try an image at the beginning as an attention grabber or even at the end of a short post.

e. SEO for images

Blog posts with images that help explain your content also help how they are discovered by search engines. This means that you must add alt text to your images. This is a distraction from the main thrust of this blog post, and should be post on its own (see the note about keywords below) therefore I will leave that for the moment, but I will remember this blog post when I get round to writing about how to describe your images, (see the note about Link to Previous Posts in Your Blog below). You should caption your images, and there’s even an idea that lengthy captions of more than a sentence long entice readers to stay on your page.

f. Your “voice”

Don’t use “the passive voice”. This is not your dissertation, you don’t need to use formal language. You could even try to make your writing more engaging for a wider audience, maybe by trying to use “plain English“? In YOUR blog you should let your personality leak out in your writing. Express your opinions, tell the world about your work, or your thoughts. Use humour! If this is NOT YOUR blog, maybe it is a department’s newsfeed or a project blog, then make sure you understand the parameters you should work to – but still personalise what you’re writing.

g. Be useful

Talk about prototypes, experiments, early research ideas – this is a really good way to find out from the people who comment on your blog or Tweet at you about other projects in a similar area or someone else who has already broken the ground. Better now, than when you finally publish in hard cold print.

If you’re still sceptical about how blogging and tweeting can help your academic project or your research, I can only recommend you to read authors such as Dr Melissa Terras, UCL for example Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict.

Share content which is interesting, and people will enjoy reading – and maybe even get some kudos from sharing with their networks. Give your readership something:

  • a link to something (further reading, a photo/video);
  • something people can share, and want to share;
  • launch-pad to where people can find more info;
  • adds value for people, a chance for them to engage with the post and the campaign or project;
  • people should pay even more attention to you for next post.

h. Link to previous posts on your blog, and to others

You shouldn’t force the reader to use the “search” functionality to find a blog post you refer to, just link to it in your post. Make it easy for them to find the rest of your interesting work. This also allows search engines to understand your content better. And if you read an interesting post on someone else’ site, link to it, refer to it in your post.

i. Keywords

Add meaningful “categories” or keywords – but no more than one or two – to tag your post.

This actually helps to discipline you to focus a blog post – maybe if you need more than three or four categories to describe it then what you need to do is divide this complex topic into more than one post? You should also consider the keywords people will search for this topic and include these in your title and in your post – so that they find your content.

2. Proofread what you’ve written, and “Preview”

You can project a professional voice with your authority on a subject, and write engagingly about it, but this is undermined by poor presentation such as broken links and typos. Re-read what you’ve written and prof-read sorry – proof-read and correct typos – but especially re-read for “meaning”. Look at those headings do they accurately lead the reader to the content. Having written your post, is this really what you planned to write?

At this stage I like to think like an old-style journalist: “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em. Tell ’em. Then tell ’em what you just told ’em”. Try to add a couple of sentences to explain at the top and the tail, to help the reader know if this blog is worth spending their precious time on. Then, check, have you emphasised the key points – don’t highlight everything but maybe there is one key sentence you should write in bold, or from which to make a block quote.

3. Promote your blog

a. “If you build it, they will come!”

No, they won’t!

Equally, don’t blanket spam your department or your friends with your latest post. But there are ways you can lead people to your blog:

  • Engage Digital technologies for public engagement, knowledge exchange and impact

    Each Michaelmas we run the award-winning Engage programme – a full term of social media and digital communications events which explores digital technologies, tools and strategies for building online presence, academic networking, public engagement, knowledge exchange and impact.

    Tweet about your post, carefully. If the title of the post is any good, you won’t need to do a lot to describe what you’ve written, but the link may need some judicious use of # hashtags.

  • Mention your post in Twitter conversations, refer to it when answering a question someone’s posted on Twitter – search for the hashtag you are thinking about for your Tweet – maybe ‘tweeps’ are already talking about the subject and you could get in on the conversation? (Do make sure that your post is really relevant to the ‘Tweeter’ and what they may already have shared or conversed about on Twitter). Once your blog post is already circulating on Twitter, it’s a simple task for someone you don’t already know to pass it on. There’s so much more to tweeting effectively to lead an audience to your content, and you can find out more on the Engage website.
  • Mention it on Facebook. Tell your colleagues in the team meeting. Include a link to your latest post on your website, or the project newsletter, or in the ‘signature’ of your emails. I’ll write that again – not just a link to your blog, a link to your latest post! In these ways people who are already connected to you get to know about your post.
  • Guest blogging: it is difficult to create quality content on a blog, all the time. You’ll find this, so you know that other bloggers will have the same problem. If there is a respected blog in your subject, contact them – maybe they are in the market for a short piece from guest authors. In your post you could cover an issue as agreed, and link back to your blog, better still link to your posts on the topic.
  • Make it easy for people to share your posts: in the blog dashboard there will be widgets (plugins or tools or “extensions”) you can pick and choose from. These will add a “share” button, specifically linking to the usual social media sites.

b. Two-way engagement

Blogging should not be a broadcast, without any engagement with people who could be interested in your content.

Build relationships with other authors on your subject. Link to their content, tweet in response to their tweets, add comments to their blog posts – answer their questions, make suggestions, show an interest, participate in discussions on academic email lists – AND link to your content.

Publicly respond to every comment left on your blog, and respond to every person to ensure they feel welcome, and that you respect their point of view, even if you don’t agree with what they have written.

This should take you as much if not more time than it took you to write your posts. Build your online presence, build trust and influence on other sites outside of your blog. Network!

c. Be consistent and be persistent

Don’t lose interested readers because you did not post for a long while, and don’t change the subject of your blog all of a sudden.

If you’re finding it hard to post frequently then look at similar blogs or Tweets in your subject – which are getting the most responses? Consider responding to their post on your blog as the foundation for your next post.

What about scheduling a particular topic? For example “it’s Thursday it’s four 0’clock so let’s write a brief behind-the-scenes-in-the-laboratory with an interesting photo”. In this way you’ll build a series which readers should want to come back to every few weeks.

Your audience won’t grow overnight. However if you continue to add content regularly – notice I don’t say frequently – and you follow some of these techniques then you should see an increase in your figures.

This post is written in response to two other bloggers: 10 Ways to Ensure No-One Will Read Your Content by Ali Luke (Daily Blog Tips) and 9 Things to Do To Make Sure Your Next Blog Post is Read by More than Your Mom by Darren Rowse (ProBlogger).

It is part of my presentation about how to build your online presence around your blog for the courses:

…which I teach at the University of Oxford IT Services as part of the Education Enhancement Team.

This post is being used as the basis for a series of posts I am writing now in the Creating a WordPress blog.

Image credits: The Dispatch (The Captain’s Dugout) by Marjory Watherson 1917 © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5199), via Europeana 1914-1918

Posted in presentation, social media | Tagged | 6 Comments

6 Responses to “How to write better to encourage more people to read your blog”

  1. Alun Edwards says:

    Added the links to the courses this presentation will be part of: “Make: Blogs – Getting readership beyond your Mum“, “WordPress: Building your site“, “Online Presence“, and “Twitter for Academics” …which I teach at the University of Oxford IT Services as part of the Education Enhancement Team.

  2. KTDigital says:

    Useful article for the blogging talk/workshop, may be? http://bit.ly/10N3hGq Five minutes with Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson: “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now“.

  3. Alun Edwards says:

    Thanks @KTDigital, really interesting to see another UK perspective on blogging in academia – if the comments trail does display some dissent.

  4. […] It’s a version of a post in the blog of the Education Enhancement Team. […]

  5. Alun Edwards says:

    Added to this post that it is being used as the basis for a series of posts I am writing now in the Creating a WordPress blog.

  6. […] courses on blogging and on building a WordPress site. See also an informative blog post, How to write better to encourage more people to read your blog, by Alun Edwards of the Education Enhancement Team in IT […]

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