Let’s be honest: people who are constantly badgering you to read, like and share their blog posts or pages can be a pain. Ever since writing became a thing, people have been trying to pull this on their friends. “Yo, Hatsepshut! Check out the new hieroglyphs I just dropped about the Pharaoh!” It’s not inconceivable those words, or some variant of them, were uttered in the shadow of the Pyramids thousands of years ago. And it’s also not inconceivable that Hatsepshut quickly learned to turn around and walk the other way the next time he saw the utterer of those words, rather than be forced to smile and nod every time he had another clay tablet of mediocre poetry thrust in his face.
It’s important not to create negative associations with your name. Your goal is to create genuine engagement, not forced interaction. People should want to read and share your work. They shouldn’t feel as if they have to. Whether or not they do is dependent in large part on your skill as a writer, but it’s also dependent on your savvy as a website owner.
Following are a few tips on how to get more people to read and respond to your work, as well as how to boost your search engine presence. For experienced bloggers, these may be old hat, but if you are relatively new to running your own site, you should find something worthwhile here.
Of course, these tips don’t apply only to My Writing Network websites. They’ll work for any website.
1. Write about something you’re passionate about.
It’s easy to tell when people are writing about something that gets them fired up, and when they are just writing for the sake of having something to say. There are huge numbers of blogs out there that offer little of value, but their authors are convinced they’re doing them good because they make use of keywords–searchable terms that will garner clicks. That may be true of certain business websites. For a writing blog, just getting people to visit is not your goal. You want to them to stay and read–the longer, the better.
Google actually measures how long a person stays on your site. If too many people pop in, look around, realize there’s nothing of value for them, and leave within five seconds, guess what happens? Your site ranking actually drops. If you don’t care about site ranking, that’s fine. But if you want people to be able to find you more easily, this is something to consider.
2. Fill a niche.
Don’t try to be all things to all people. You may feel strongly on a wide range of issues, or you may have something to say about absolutely everything. But you have to consider that there are lots of other people writing about stuff, too, and you’re competing with all of them. Competition becomes a lot easier the less people you are up against, and because the internet is so vast, the overall effect is that you can actually net more readers by narrowing your focus to a pinprick. Counter-intuitive, but true.
As an example, I wrote a post a few months ago that went viral in a limited kind of way. Most of my posts might get a few hundred reads over the course of a few months. This post got six thousand hits in two days. The subject matter was the tiny liberal arts college I attended from 1990-94 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There were less than a hundred people in my graduating class, and our alumni rolls are infinitesimally small compared to larger schools. In other words, you wouldn’t think many people would care. Yet because this post was of specific interest to current students, past students, future students, and their friends and family, it got read.
I’ll admit I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I found it immensely instructive: the more focused and specific your topic, the more readers you are likely to get, while the broader and looser your topic, the less readers you will get.
3. Learn the basic principles of SEO.
SEO means “search engine optimization,” and it can also refer to a person who practices SEO principles. There are a number of tricks and tips to be mastered to become a really effective SEO. None of them are rocket science. Going through each of them here is too much for one post, but I highly recommend that you Google the term and do some independent learning. Here is one excellent place to start learning about SEO.
4. Use images.
People really like looking at pictures. Some people will visit your post and only look at the picture. Others will visit but will leave immediately if they see a big wall of words. Ideally, however, a well-chosen picture will engage them further. They will look at the picture first, then the caption. If they find this interesting, they are far more likely to go back and read the whole piece. You should try to use at least one image in a blog post or article, and maybe two or three.
You also need to make sure you are allowed to use the picture in question, because some people are very touchy about that, and have been known to sue. I recommend creating a free Flickr account and learning how to search their image files with the license filter. You can search for images by any keyword, and select only those results whose owners have specifically granted everyone the right to re-use their images under a Creative Commons License. You will find there is a huge selection to choose from, and it’s a nice feeling knowing you won’t be hearing from any lawyers.
5. Let people know you would appreciate a link or a share, but don’t hound them about it.
The same rules of good social graces that you learned as a child (at least I hope you did) apply here as well: don’t be whiny and annoying, but do be clear about what you would appreciate. One example of how to do this: Post a link to your latest piece on Facebook. Include a line like, “Here’s my latest post on _____. If you like it, sharing is appreciated. Hope you enjoy.” Low pressure, no guilt. If people are interested, they’ll click. (Hopefully, your engagingly-crafted title and well-chosen feature image will entice them!)
6. Use Jetpack
But you’re not done yet. Within the piece itself, make use of Jetpack’s Publicize feature. Your MWN blog comes with the Jetpack plugin installed by default, but in order to use it, you need to create a free WordPress.com account, then activate Jetpack. Once that’s accomplished, you can activate the Publicize module, which is the thing that puts the little social media links at the end of each of your posts and pages and makes it very easy for others to share what they’ve just read. (Jetpack offers a whole whack of other cool things, too.)
If you follow these six tips, plus keep an open mind and do your own learning on the subject, I think you’ll find that your readership increases noticeably in a short time. Building an audience is a long, slow process for most people. The real pleasure, at least for me, is in the process.
Owner, My Writing Network
Image of Egyptian scribe by Flickr user Kathryn Greenhill. Used under Creative Commons License 2.0.