Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Blogging: Keeping Readers

Ok, so attracting readers is one thing. Keeping them is another.

First: credentials. I don't have stratospheric web stats. Let's face it--only so many people are interested in debuts. However, my monthly web traffic over the life of this blog looks like this:

A nice slow but steady slope up, with a recent hill, and a few dips. The only declines were short-lived. It looks like I'm in a dip now, but February was a short month. In the last three months, I have gained over 150 new feed subscribers, and I know about almost 400 of them.

I aim to post at least one post daily. For the sake of this calculation, let's give myself 28 posting days per month. Let's assume that 50 percent of my feed subscribers read regularly, and the other fifty percent are either defunct subscribers, or they read some of the time, depending on whether my topic looks interesting. So, let's bump it up another ten percent. Multiply that by 350 feed subscribers. That gives me 5880 reads. Add to that a current average of 4000 monthly visits, which gives me almost 10,000 estimated reads a month. Let's take away click-throughs from feed readers, for people who want to leave comments or check out the action on the sidebars. That's been about 20 a day, or about 600 a month. To make the numbers round and keep the estimate conservative, let's call it 9,000 visits a month. Or about a hundred thousand visits a year.

So, why do I think those readers keep coming back? I don't know. I can only guess based on my own behavior. And modify my own behavior accordingly as I realize I'm doing something that annoys me elsewhere. Therefore, I came up with a few rules to blog by.

1) Unless the topic is an article (like this one), keep it to a reasonable length. Even political columnists like Thomas Sowell and Clarence Page keep it to 700 words, and they are professional writers. The reason that they must keep it to 700 words is because that's the lenghth of a typical newspaper column. And that's the length of a typical newspaper column because it really is the perfect length for an opinion piece. And in the blogging world, much of what we are writing are opinion pieces.

I'm guilty of breaking this rule, especially in my reviews. I'm going to try to improve in the future. Just because I have a lot to say, doesn't mean you want to read it all.

2) Don't be boring. It's hard to tell when you're being boring, but you can use word counts as a guide. If you've written 500 words about your cat, some of it is probably boring. If you're going to write about your cat, or playing piano, or anything else that is peripheral to your blog, keep it under 300 words. 200 words would be better. And include a picture, for reasons explained below. (BTW, I love cats and I play piano. I could easily write a thousand words on learning Mozart's Piano Sonata in C Major, or on the death of my poor kitty. But you won't read it here.)

3) If you're going to post more than once a day, use a combination of short and long posts, with no more than one long post a day. Kimber An taught me this. You don't want to overwhelm your readers with lots of long posts. Otherwise, we'll be tempted to use the "mark all as read" option in our feed reader. Pace yourself. We're already reading your blog more often than we read Thomas Sowell and Clarance Page. Don't push it.

4) Use pictures, when appropriate. Sandra McDonald taught me this. Pictures make boring posts interesting, and make interesting posts even more so. Especially if you can use your pictures in a clever way. Heather usually does a great job with pictures over at The Galaxy Express.

5) Be cautious about ranting. Give yourself a shorter wordcount when it comes to rants. This will help prevent annoying people who have an opposing viewpoint. Even though they have opposing viewpoints, they are still your readers, and you want to keep it that way. The best rants are short and persuasive.

The exception is when you can be as funny as this.

6) Don't pour out your troubles for the world to see. I'm sorry to say it, but we're not your friends. We find you interesting, and that's why we read your blog. We could possibly become your friends if we start exchanging emails. But if you keep pouring out your troubles, we start wondering if you need therapy. Don't do this.

7) When interviewing, don't tax your interviewees with a slew of questions. Over at Neth Space, Ken has the perfect interview length with his Questions Five. Ok, so maybe that's a little short, but he has the right idea. Long interviews not only tax your interviewee, they tax your readers. Especially if the interviewees get . . . er . . . a bit wordy. You could easily end up with posts well over 2000 words. This is way too long, and you don't want to offend your interviewee with cuts. So keep it short to begin with.

8) Consider publishing your full feed, not just a few paragraphs. If you're trying to monetize your blog, I understand the temptation of using a partial feed, but you're short-changing your regular readers. Make your posts engaging enough, and we'll come over anyway to check out the comments. You're also short-changing yourself, because fewer people will subscribe to partial feeds. And if they don't subscribe, they might not remember to check out your blog.

For more on the full-versus-partial debate, check out this debate at ProBlogger.

9) Don't make up points just so you can get ten of them. I'm done here. I'm not going to try to stretch it out to ten points. Because ten really isn't a magic number.


Maria Zannini said...

Excellent advice!

I like white space in articles. If all I see are big blocks of text, my eyes glaze over.

But I won't use a lot of photos any more. Now that I'm no longer on high speed internet, photos eat up a lot of my speed. Makes me grumpy if I have to wait for it to load. 9 times out of 10, I simply move on rather than wait.

--I do like cover art though. I need to see a visual with a review.

Janet said...

An astonishing number of first-time visitors at my blog come from Google Image Search. I strongly recommend including pictures. One per post is usually enough.

SparklingBlue said...

Some sage advice, which I will be keeping in mind.

I mean, I'd love to have artwork of my world and the beings in it, but drawing is not my strong point--that's why my blog is picture-less for the moment

Unknown said...

Thank you for the helpful advice. Posts like this are like gold for the people starting out (like me).

I repeat, thank you.

Unknown said...

These do soudn like good things to keep in mind if and when I start a non-personal blog. {Smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

Mihai A. said...

Very nice advice, Tia. It is really useful and helpful :)

Anonymous said...

I never thought about using pictures. That's a good idea! And my blog traffic has been trickling off lately, so I'll have to try something.

Maria said...

I also like Neth Space interviews--they are short and quirky. He also avoids asking the same typical questions found in every single author interview out there. Some of the driest interviews begin with: Tell us about your book in 50 words or less...

That's a killer for me right there...

Aubrey said...

Good advice...oh any by the way, I really enjoy your blog! So don't worry about the downturn, I'm sure it's temporary!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Excellent advice. Thank you!

Laura Benedict said...

Wonderful advice, Tia. I always learn something new here. What you provide is unique, and I love that you maintain such a great conversational, yet professional tone. Of course your readers keep coming back!

Tia Nevitt said...

Maria Z--I certainly understand! I'm glad I'm not overwhelming you with pictures. You can definitely go the other extreme.

Janet--I never thought of that! I'll have to check out my analytics.

Maria--I'll try to remember that for my interviews.

Everyone else--Thanks and you're welcome!

Renee said...

Awesome post, and excellent words of advice.

Ah, word count. That's the toughy for me.

Neil Richard said...

There is a ton of good advice here, but I like "I'm sorry to say it, but we're not your friends" the best. My problem is it tends to cut both ways as I have a sarcastic and sometimes caustic form of humor that most people don't "get." And it doesn't translate well online.

I'll try to read this again in a week or so to see if I've applied what I've learned. I'm hoping I will.

Neth said...

Ha! - just as you are praising the short interviews I give, I post my first long interview in years. There's always an exception.

When doing an interview, I always do research into the author's background and other interviews they've given - I see no benefit in going over the same ground that others have covered. Even for Questions Five, which heavily relies on the same questions over and over again, I use this research to target the questions and my aim is to ask questions that an author hasn't seen before and that they can't use their canned answers for.

Of course after doing 19 of these interviews, the format is starting to bore me, even if (I hope) it's still fresh to the authors I interview.

Tia Nevitt said...

I saw that, Ken! But that's ok--I read it anyway. :)

Adele said...

Since someone introduced me to Googlereader I have followed a lot more blogs. Great article.

ediFanoB said...

I'm a reader. So I liked to read how you try to keep the interest of readers.

I would like to add some comments from "the other side":

1.) I think normally you're right concerning length of a post.
But first of all I always look at the topic. When I'm interested in a topic I also read longer posts.

2.) What is boring? When the summary of a book is much longer than the comment.

3.)I read a lot of blogs. So I'm happy with one posting per day. Fortunately I use google reader. So I don't miss a blog entry. Result is delayed answers.

4.) Once a whil a picturenis nice

5.) Mark a rant as a rant and it's fine as long as you blog alos other stuff.

6.) Depends. Because your mood and emotions have an influence on your posts. It's good to know in case your arm is put in plaster. That means you will have difficulties to post.

7.) Depends. You mentioned Ken and yes I like his five questions but I like exceptions.

8.) You're right.

9.) Yes 9 or 11.

K. said...

This is a terrific post, Tia!Very useful stuff. :D

Tia Nevitt said...

Edi, thanks for your counterpoints! In most cases, I was talking about extremes.

The point about length reflects my blogging habits. When checking out a blog for the first time, if the top post is very long, I'll scroll down to see if all the posts are long. If they are, chances are--unless the writing is top-notch--I won't be back. I'm assuming I'm not alone.

You have inspired another post on the topic, so thanks! And thanks to the rest of you. I thought maybe this post turned out to be a bit too cheeky.