Whether you blog for fun or to add value to a business, your blog can be one of your greatest assets and one of your most valuable marketing tools. You can use it to build trust with your customers, generate leads, educate, hone your communication skills, and build brand awareness. Once you get into a rhythm of blogging, your blog might also generate income through referrals or ads.

Blogging is not always easy though. While it’s become one of the most popular ways of communicating online, with so many people blogging it can be hard to be ensure you’ll build an audience of your own and keep them engaged. Don’t worry though: with a little thought, effort, and a lot of heart, you can make your blog work for you.

Blogging is here to stay, and I think most folks can have a good blog about whatever, as long as they’re passionate about the topic, knowledgeable and can spell. – Luvvie Ajayi on Awesomely Luvvie

    Author’s note:

    I’m not an expert on blogging. I don’t run a blog of my own yet. And while I contribute to a few in various ways with a semi-regular cadence, my experience in this realm comes not from intense experience focused in the world of blogging, but from working to connect broad and diverse audiences with the Obama White House through the Office of Digital Strategy (ODS). ODS was run with the mission of Connecting People with Purpose — or creating meaningful opportunities for engagement between the administration and public given the influence of technology on where people get information, how they build community, and how they engage.

    As I see it, blogging is one aspect of a very interconnected web of digital communication. Just like a website, newsletter, social media profile or stream, or any kind of digital media, a blog doesn’t exist in a silo, on its own.

    Below, I share a bit on how to grow a blog’s audience and increase engagement from my experience. You may notice that many of the below recommendations are about understanding your audience, making connections between your blog and other online spaces, and then taking the time to learn about what’s working for you. Every blog will have different needs, but if you learn one thing from this post, let it be those few things.

Before You Begin

As you start your blog, and then again with each post you write, consider your audience.

Who are you speaking to? What would you like them to do? How would you like them to feel? Where do they spend their time? The more you know your audience the more relevant you can make your posts for them. This builds interest and loyalty over time.

Insights about your audience should stay in mind as you write. They should influence your tone, the things you reference, and the actions you ask them to take.

For example, if you’re speaking to a the scientific community, you’d like them to buy a report you review, because you’ve left them intrigued — you already know a good deal about the post you haven’t yet begun. And when you consider in advance where they spend their time, you also get a head start in considering how to promote your future blog post.

If you’re blogging for yourself and don’t have an audience in mind yet, don’t fret. Start by noting a bit of what you hope to write about and spend a little time considering who else might be interested in that content. This can help you get a sense of possible audiences. You don’t need to write for anyone else, but being able to write for yourself and share it with those who have like interests can be pretty incredible.

Writing Your Posts

As you start writing, it’s important to keep your audience in mind. What you write and how you write it can go a long way in keeping your audience engaged. The more engaged your audience is the more likely they are to share your work and further grow your readership.

Here are some other quick tips:

  • Use paragraph breaks: The more skimmable you can make your content by breaking it down with paragraphs and headings, the wider range of attention spans you’ll be able to satisfy. Keep in mind that some folks like to skim content for high-level points and others like to deep dive.
  • Tell stories: Aristotle frames a basic framework for engaging and convincing audiences and one-third of it is emotion. Telling stories is one of the easiest ways to get some emotion into a post. You can also try sharing an related inspirational quote, using more descriptive language, or simply naming an emotion associated with your post as it makes sense. For example, “I’m excited to share with you all that my blog has been recognized by WordPress.com. Thanks for all of your support.”
  • Post pictures or videos: These can help bring your points to life. Be careful to respect copyrights of the content you choose to share.
  • Activate your audience: Don’t just speak at your readers, consider what you know about them and how you can encourage or challenge them.
  • Show an ongoing value: If you’ll be following up on a post with more insights that might be valuable to the same audience, let them know. This is a great prompt to get them to sign up for updates or simply give them a reason to return to the blog in the future.
  • Consider switching up the format: Once you’ve been blogging for a bit, consider switching up the format some to add interest. Here are some ideas:
    • Interviews: Help another bogger share by interviewing them. This is also a great way to engage the audience you’ve already built while getting an opportunity to interact with a guest’s audience as well.
    • Image-first approach: Do you photograph or have process images that might be of interest to one of your audiences? Consider sharing it with descriptions, a little contextual content, and maybe a call for public input in the comments.
    • Announcements & milestones: Sometimes an audience cares to know achievements and milestones. In fact, it can make them feel like they’re on a journey with you. Consider using your blog timeline to document key events relevant to your blog or topic areas.
    • Inspiration: Share something you’ve seen, read, or listened to that’s changing the way you think and might benefit your audience.
    • How-To: Break down how to do something your audience is interested in. You might consider making a how-to post if you get frequent questions on an earlier blog post that a new post can further explain. That responsiveness is also a great way to engage with your audience and keep them coming back.
    • Follow Friday, and other trends: Look at the formats that trend and consider trying one with your own spin. A Follow Friday post can at once engage your audience, lift other individuals – deepening community, and can get your blog on trend where it might be cross-posted or shared more, getting even more eyeballs. Some other ideas are Everyday Carry, Throwback Thursday, Wednesday Wisdom, Today in History, and Listicle.

Promoting Your Posts

Basics – Free and easy gets you going

  • Promote your posts: Share your posts with your networks on other social platforms or in an email newsletter if you have one. Use relevant hashtags and remember to link to your post. Consider making a Facebook business Page for your blog so you’ll have access to promotional tools down the road.
  • Turn on related post features: This allows visitors to one blog post to see others that may be of interest, maximizing engagement and increasing the chances your blog will be remembered and subscribed to.
  • Turn on the sharing features: Make every effort to make sharing one of your posts, and your blog itself, easy for your audience. Turning on the share features and taking the time to add post descriptions will improve the quality of those shares.
  • Ask for shares: Sometimes, getting others to share your work is as simple as asking them to share it if they enjoyed it. You’ll be surprised to learn how much of a difference that general suggestion will make to the number of shares and recommendations your content gets. In fact, when I worked in the White House Office of Digital Strategy, it became common practice for us to ask our audiences to “reshare if they agree.” This short note would sometimes more than triple the number of engagements with a social or blog post. Consider ending your posts with a boilerplate request “Did you enjoy this? Spread the word,” followed by social sharing and WordPress.com’s Reblog buttons.
  • Invite your audience to join: Everyone wants to be a part of something. Invite your readers to subscribe to update alerts or, if you have it, an email list so you can continue to speak with them, but they get the distinct feeling of being part of the club. This simple ask can also turn a one-time reader into a lifetime reader.
  • Link to other blogs: Add links to blogs you love and are relevant, but not competitive to what you’re sharing. As you link the others, it will encourage other blogs to also link to you, organically growing your audience over time.
  • Engage with other bloggers: Let bloggers with similar audiences know what you like about their work and you’ll get more readers. Consider commenting on their posts with encouragement or relevant thoughts.
  • As you grow your blog audience, let folks know: Thank readers for being some of the first to follow or read your blog and let them know when you’ve reached milestones with their help. This allows your visitors to bond with you on your blogging journey and feel like they’re part of something. Over time, you may go from considering them your audience to considering them your blogging tribe.
  • Share the load. If you have a goal of growing your blog, consider inviting a guest author to write a post on your blog. Or, as you ramp up to something like that, writing a short description of why you liked a post by someone else and then link to it. These types of cross-promotional pieces can show value to your audience and build awareness of you in the sphere you’re in.
  • Build on what’s working. Pay attention to stats and see what’s working. If you’re not getting much qualitative data (like comments) on your posts, consider polling your audience to get a better sense of what they think. Ditch what isn’t working for you and invest in the efforts that are paying off.

Advanced — Spend a little and make more

Imagine you have $20 (or equivalent currency) to spend on maximizing engagement with your blog. What do you do? Below are some ideas on how to start. I recommend starting with the option that feels the most natural to you before trying other options. For example, if you’re most comfortable in Twitter, start there and ignore the rest for a bit. Once you’ve mastered or ruled out one of these advanced options, consider trying another.

  • WordAds. Are you blogging in WordPress.com? Update your website plan to Premium of Business to have access to this feature that will help you make money to invest back into growing your following. With this extra investment, you can add advertising to your site and earn money from impressions. To qualify, you’ll want to have done some of the basics and already have a bit of an audience and some steady viewership. Once you start making money, you’ll have turned your few extra dollars, pounds, yen, etc to work with. Here are some other ways to make money from your site.
  • Boost your post:
    • Using your Facebook business Page, boost a Facebook post that promotes one of your strongest blog posts. Since you’ve gotten to know your audience, keep them again in mind as you enter information in the “Audience” section. Cap your “total budget” at $20 to start and get boosting. This will put your Facebook post in front of new audiences on Facebook, increasing awareness of your Facebook page and driving traffic to your blog. Remember to boost a Facebook post that gives a clear call to action; in this case as you reach new folks in your target audience, you likely want them to read the post.
    • Promote your tweet. Promoted Tweets appear in timelines, on profile pages, and on Tweet detail pages where they get more engagements. Remember that folks are more likely to engage with Tweets that contain visuals, so consider starting with one with a strong image in the link or embedded in the Tweet.  Remember to promote a tweet that gives a clear call to action; in this case as you reach new folks in your target audience, you likely want them to read the post.
    • Use Google AdWords. Start with any budget and only get paid for the clicks to your blog, but start with $10 a day or more and one of their AdWords specialists will help you get started. Consider starting with a two-day, $10-a-day experiment and getting Google support in setting up a promotional campaign that will drive traffic to your blog.
  • If you’re not ready to boost your post, but ready to increase your blogging game with an additional investment, consider investing in some paid photography. This is a great way to add interest to your posts and your promotions with a minimal budget.

While starting a blog can feel daunting, there’s no better way to learn then by doing. As you post, you’ll grow and your audience will too.

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. – Barack Obama

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Posted by Ashleigh Axios

Design Exponent at Automattic. Creative director, digital strategist, designer, maker, mentor, RISD alumna, AIGA national board member, Design Observer editorial board member, former creative director & digital strategist for the Obama White House.