Stop Blogging in a Vacuum: How to Increase Engagement

Blogging Alone

You know those motivational posters your middle school teachers had plastered all over their classrooms? The ones that featured a set of whales leaping out of the ocean with the caption, “TEAMWORK” and included a little quote that was supposed to convince you not to hate all your group-work assignments?

These made easy targets for the parody “demotivational” posters that have long been popular as chain email fodder. While most of them were clearly made by individuals who have a sense of humor that got stuck in the 7th grade, there’s one I’ve seen that, as a blogger, made me stop and think. The picture is of two people on a desert ledge, dwarfed by the landscape. The caption says, “BLOGGING: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.”

The reason this got my attention is because the caption is, unfortunately, based on a kernel of truth. It’s wonderful that anyone with an idea and an Internet connection can fire up their own blog and start producing posts. It’s not so wonderful that so many of us who want to run a blog don’t have any direction, knowledge on best practices, or understanding of how to translate thoughts into engaging posts. Too many bloggers out there are lacking killer content and the knowledge of how to share that content properly with the world. As a result, they’re lacking readership and engagement is nonexistent. They’re also adding to the noise and making it harder for readers to find and engage with great blogs

This is a problem, because I believe each of us does have something to say. You do possess something that you can share via your blog will add value to a reader’s day. We simply need to uncover exactly what that is. Offering something of value to the world will be the foundation to your well-read blog that attracts readers and builds engagement within your community of followers and connections.

Don’t be the blogger who has nothing of real substance to discuss, and who is projecting their posts out into that desert canyon where the only response they get is the sound of their own voice echoing back at them. It’s time to stop blogging in a vacuum, learn how to create content that an audience wants, and increase your engagement to grow your tribe.

Increase Engagement by Offering Value to Build Loyal Followers

Before we even dive into what good content looks like or how to draw more eyeballs to that content, you need to identify what it is you have to say that other people want to hear about, learn about, or talk about. People want to come to your blog and engage with your content when you have something to offer them. When you offer value, you build readership, and when you build readership, you can build engagement.

This might sound intimidating, but the value you offer to others can be anything – really! – so long as you are:

  1. Passionate
  2. Articulate
  3. Respectful of what the audience wants. It’s about your readers, not you.

That last point is extremely important. You want to empathize with your readers, show you understand their wants and needs, and provide something for them. This could be information, knowledge, a solution, or even an idea or image that provides happiness or inspiration. This doesn’t have to be complicated – keep in mind that at its most fundamental, what you provide should either take away someone’s pain, stress, or confusion, or add to their happiness, knowledge base, or quality of life in some way.

It’s Not Your Topic, It’s Your Presentation

Let’s look an example to provide some more clarity on how to offer value. Say you are passionate about your pet cat. You love talking about your cat, sharing cute pictures or funny videos, and telling stories about what your furry friend does and why. So, you blog all about your cat and (unsurprisingly), you’ve found you’re blogging in a vacuum. You have all this fun content about you and your cat, but you’re blogging into empty space.

What’s the problem here? If you said, “no one wants to read about your stupid cat,” you’re wrong. It’s not that no one wants to read about someone else’s cat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the topic of “my cat.” This is a niche millions of people around the world can relate to, and want to read about because they’re passionate about cats, too. What is wrong is that there is no value being offered. The problem is that in this example, this blog is presented in a way where the content serves the blogger and not the reader.

So what can be done to change this? Remember, you want to either take away bad things like stress or add to good things like enjoyment. Solve a problem or increase happiness. Our cat blogger can offer value and increase engagement by creating posts like “Why Your Cat Scratches Your Couch and What To Do About It,” “7 Signs Your Cat Needs More Attention – and How to Provide It”, or “Top 10 Cute Cat Moments Around the World from 2013.”

Now the blog has begun to serve the reader instead of the blogger. With each of these post ideas, the blogger can include pictures of their own cat and share personal stories to illustrate widespread problems or universal reasons to feel joy amongst cat owners. Readers can now relate to the content, because it’s offering to solve one of their problems or it was created for their enjoyment. The audience can engage now; the blog is all about them and they want to take part in the discussion

Value Isn’t Without Personality

Focusing on providing value doesn’t mean your blog has to be divorced from what interests you. It simply needs to be packaged and delivered in a way that makes it all about the reader. As you saw with our cat blogger example, the blogger didn’t need to stop sharing stories, pictures, or information about their cat. They simply needed to incorporate these elements into posts that served the needs and wants of the people visiting the blog.

You can do the same. Your blog should offer something of value, but it shouldn’t be void of your opinions, thoughts, and interests. These are elements of what makes a blog stand out and be heard over the noise of people who have nothing to say yet publish post after post of boring fluff. Your individual, unique voice is what will help draw readers in. The value you offer them encourages them to not only come back for more but also to share with others.

If you remember, the number one thing you needed to turn your idea into valuable content for your following is passion. You should be passionate about your topics or the niche you’re in. What you should not do is ignore the people you’re relying on to engage with you and eventually become loyal members of your tribe.

Creating Engaging Content

Once you establish what it is that you can offer your followers that they will find valuable, you need to actually round up those followers and convince them to join your tribe. Yes, having an SEO strategy will help you rank better in search engine traffic and this is an important component to getting your blog seen by others. But there is something else you should be doing that is actually much more crucial to increasing engagement. If you consistently publish high-quality, thoughtful, valuable content that promotes discussion and keep that going long enough, you will develop a loyal base of followers that love you and your blog and will be happy to join your community and promote what you’re doing to others.

If you are lacking incredible content that fails to engage the people that visit your blog, you’ll never gain a foothold in your niche. Throwing a jumble of your thoughts into a post and calling it a day is, unfortunately, not going to be good enough if you want your blog to engage and retain an audience that consists of more people than just your mom.

To create content that increases engagement, your post needs to meet the following criteria:

  • The post should be empathetic; it needs to acknowledge what readers want or need.
  • The post should be helpful; it needs to provide the information required for readers to obtain what they want or need.
  • The post should always provide value in some way; it should solve a problem, offer a solution, allow readers to build knowledge, or serve as a source of joy.
  • The post should be written in your own, unique tone and voice; this is what hooks a reader, encourages them to engage by joining the discussion or sharing your content, and gets them coming back for more (a good rule of thumb: write like you talk).
  • The post should be relevant; it needs to somehow connect with your chosen blog topic or niche.
  • The post should end with a call to action to encourage engagement; ask readers a question and invite them to post responses and opinions in the comments or provide an awesome quote and turn it into a click-to-tweet link.

If your posts adheres to these guidelines, you’ve likely got a thought-provoking, interesting piece of content ready to be published. This is an incredible step forward, but your work isn’t quite done.

You need to provide your audience with an easy way to join in the discussion and to quickly and painlessly share your blog posts. Ensure you have a simple, functional comment form in place so that readers can add their thoughts to the post and engage with other members of the community. Don’t make your readers jump through too many hoops to prove they aren’t spammers; this is what good spam-blocking plugins should do for you.

Additionally, provide social media sharing buttons for your readers so they can easily click on the platform of their choice and hit “share now.” Again, these buttons should be simple and functional. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot at the finish line by making sharing buttons tiny (or obnoxiously everywhere) or hard to find. Remember, you want to make engagement as easy as possible for anyone wanting to connect with your blog in some way. Confused minds don’t buy – and frustrated users don’t bother wasting time trying to figure out how to leave a simple comment. They certainly won’t do you the favor of sharing your content if you make it difficult for them to do so.

Put It All Together and Replace Empty Space with A Vast Readership

By putting the above information and advice into practice, it’s extremely likely that you’ll be able to stop blogging in a vacuum and start sharing content with your own dedicated audience. Taking these steps will make your blog a more accessible, thoughtful, and pleasing space for others. You have something to say, so ensure you have an audience to say it to and a tribe that wants to engage with what you’ve provided for them. If you offer value, produce excellent content, and make it easy for others to engage in a variety of ways, it’s a guarantee that will not only increase your readership but also increase engagement for your blog.

How to Get Out of a Blogging Rut When You Are Feeling Stuck

Anyone who writes a blog for an extended period of time hits a point where they feel as though they’ve run out of words (or a blogging rut).  We work so hard to create engaging content and build an audience.  We gain the audience, they’re excited for each post and hungry for more. Then, suddenly, the word flow runs dry.  Panic time!

Actually, you don’t need to panic.  You need to take a deep breath.

According to WordPress, I’ve posted over 2100 times on my blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee .  I blog most weekdays, and have for nearly a decade.  Ruts exist — but you can overcome them.

Freelance writer and veteran blogger Lori Widmer, of Words on the Page suggests, “Whenever I’m finding myself in a rut, I cut down on the number of blog entries I post in a week.  Also, I draw from current situations.  An example this week is when a client and I didn’t mesh.  I found a teachable moment in that circumstance.”

Adds Erica Rodefer, of the long-running, excellent blog Spoiled Yogi, says, “Of course I get into ruts!  Sometimes I find ideas by browsing other blogs or scrolling through my social media feeds.  But the best thing I’ve found I can do when I feel uninspired is to step away from the computer!  I go outside to take a walk, call a friend, get on my yoga mat, or meditate and do something (anything!) that will take my mind off of it for awhile.  Often I’ll get an idea while I’m doing something completely unrelated–and if not, when I come back to it with fresh eyes things make more sense.”

I tend to push through, but there are times when I walk on the beach, get back on the yoga mat, and I’m known to have many of my best ideas in the shower.

What is the focus of your blog?

Most blogs are created to deal with something specific — writing, food, politics, someone’s unique personal view of the world.  Our lives grow and change, our professions grow and change.  Our blogs need to grow and change with us.

The focus with which you started may change over time.  Do you still want to write about this topic?  Or is it time to move to something else?  Is it time to start an additional blog on the other topic while keeping the current one?  Or should you wind down the current blog and start a new one?

That’s an individual decision, and you need to make the decision that best serves your vision.  However, if you decide to stop writing a blog, break the news gently and honestly to your readership.  Don’t just say, “I don’t have time to blog” — which is a slap in the face to your readers.  They MAKE time to read your words; if you tell them you “don’t have time”, you tell them that they are not WORTH the time it takes for you to write the blog.  It’s an insult, and most readers will realize it as such.  Now, you’ve lost them forever.

If, however, you tell them that you feel like you’ve said all you have to say about this topic and are either taking a break or writing about a new topic (inviting them to join you), you are considerate of the time they’ve invested in you, while still being true to your needs.  It’s a thoughtful and diplomatic way to bring about positive change.

Hang gliding

Try Something New

If you’re writing about the same topic in the same way, over and over, maybe it’s time to write about something new.  If you write a gardening blog, try growing something a little different.  Prove the “experts” wrong, through you care and nurture of an unusual plant (as long as it’s non-invasive and won’t hurt the local eco-system).  Interview the owner of a gardening center.  Take a field trip to a botanical garden and write about it.  If you write a food blog, write about a new restaurant or take a class out of your wheelhouse and share your experiences.

I admit it — I sometimes force myself out the door to go and do something so I have something to write about.  But, once I’m OUT the door and DOING — I have a terrific time, and creative ideas for articles, stories, and scripts beyond the blog posts flow.

“I keep a running list of ideas,” said Erica Rodefer.  “I add to the list anytime I get a new idea, no matter how silly it seems at the time.  That way when it’s time to write, I have a few different avenues I could explore.”

Reassess

Are you writing only for yourself or only for your audience?  The best blogs do both — they serve the writer’s vision, while conveying information that’s both useful and entertaining to the audience.

Erica Rodefer agrees.   “It’s always helpful to reassess what you’re writing and why,” she says.  “It’s important to me that the things I’m putting out there are relevant to the people who read my blogs — because if I’m just venting about my personal feelings I might as well keep a private journal instead. So, yes, I look to see what people are responding to most, what Google searches bring them to my page, and I try to create as much content as I can around those topics.”

To Vent, or not to Vent?

Wise words from Erica, above.  I still keep a personal, handwritten journal, where I can do my venting.  I do vent publicly on particular issues, especially when they have political and social relevance tied into my writing.  I don’t believe in “going along to get along.”  I’m a big believer in taking action against injustice.

However, in a case where I read a book and it doesn’t work for me AT ALL — I don’t vent about it on the blog and trash the writer.  I know how much it takes to write a book.  If I’m a paid reviewer for a publication, I will be honest, but I will not trash a colleague on my blog, even if that particular outing doesn’t work for me.  It’s a challenging balance.

Remember to Have Fun

Blogging is a way to share passions.  What fascinates you?  What intrigues you?  What makes you excited to get out of bed every morning?  Ultimately, if you’re passionate about and dedicated to a topic, you can engage your audience.

9 Content Strategy Ideas for New Bloggers

You’ve registered your domain, found a great blog theme, assembled your plugins, and read up on SEO. Now the nuts and bolts of your new blog are in place, so it’s time for the fun to begin. Writing content!

So, what’s your blog content strategy? You do have one, don’t you?

A good content strategy can be nothing more than a hastily scribbled list of topics that sit on your desk. But if you’re willing to invest a little extra time on a great blog content strategy, you can avoid getting stuck in idle when you’re out of ideas and reach lots of people with your content. You’ll also be able to pivot quickly when timely blog topics crop up that you want to tackle immediately.

A killer blog content strategy is really a two-pronged approach. You need methods for consistently creating compelling content and ways to get it in front of peoples’ eyeballs. Here are some proven content strategy ideas for new bloggers to get the job done, along with some ideas you might not have considered.

Content is king (and queen, and the whole royal court)

One of the scariest things about blogging is the fear you’ll run out of ideas. It happens to all bloggers at some point, so the key is to have a content strategy in place that keeps your blog running smoothly even if you’re not firing on all cylinders. Let’s take a look at some ways generate content ideas.

1. Answer questions. Q & A websites like Yahoo, Quora, and Google Discussions are veritable gold mines of ideas. Some of the best blog posts out there help people answer questions and solve problems, so find out what people want to know. For example, if your blog is focused on horse racing, Quora can tell you what kinds of questions people are asking so you can answer them on your blog.

quora

2. Round ups. Round up posts that pull in timely information from a variety of sources are beneficial in two ways. First, they give your readers multiple viewpoints of the same topic. Second, they’re great for getting on the radar of bloggers you’d like to connect with. A blog post titled, “What the 7 Best Sports Commentators Are Saying About the Sochi 2014 Olympics” grabs the attention of readers who are glad you culled the information. There’s also a good chance the commentators your mention and link to will happily share your content because, hey, who doesn’t like to be on a “best of” list?

3. Guest posts. One reason networking on social media platforms is so important is that it gives you an opportunity to connect with other bloggers in your industry. We’ll get into the importance of setting up social media accounts in a minute, but once you’re established and sharing your content across these networks, be sure to cultivate friendships with others for possible guest posting down the road. It’s a great strategy for writers to get new readers fresh eyes on their work.

3. Infographics. Sometimes delivering hard data via eye-catching graphics can turn a dry blog post into a quick and easy read for the information overloaded. Imagine a long blog post describing the nuanced differences in popular fonts. Are there even enough adjectives in the world to explain fonts with that level of detail? Now have a look at an infographic web designer Rylee Blake put together.

RyleeBlake infographic

You don’t have to be a web design pro to create an infographic on your own. Try a free online service like Piktochart or infogr.am to create a clever image with interesting information.

4. Video. Once in a while even the most prolific blogger should step away from the keyboard and create a video blog post, or, vlog. Of course, you’ll want to experiment with video content to see if it’s something your readers find useful before committing to a long string of videos. While consumable video content may not be right for every blog, it’s a natural fit for others. No one wants to watch a talking head drone into the camera for 20 minutes, so a good rule of thumb is to rely on vlogging for action-oriented content like a walking tour of local craft beer breweries or a how-to on using power saw without losing a finger.

5. Polls/Surveys. Everyone likes to share their opinion so polls and surveys are a treasure trove of information that can often generate multiple blog topics. Use a free polling site like Survey Monkey to poll your readers on questions related to your blog content and use their responses to come up with content and ideas for future posts.

6. Social media networks. As you begin strategizing topic ideas, be sure to secure accounts at The Big Three social media services: Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. If your blog content is valuable to industry professionals, also consider setting up a LinkedIn account. Social networks are a terrific method for sparking ideas based around trending topics and for finding out what people are talking about right now.

7. RSS feed. Save yourself some time and sanity by filling an RSS feed reader with blogs and websites that are relevant to the topic you’re writing about. You’ll be checking these sites frequently so scanning a neatly filtered feed is much easier than opening 36 bookmarked tabs in your browser. As an added bonus, many RSS readers let you favorite, star, tag, or otherwise annotate posts so you can quickly find them again later.

8. Google Alerts. If RSS feeds are a long, leisurely walk you take while developing blog content ideas, Google Alerts are a quick run into the convenience store to grab something off the shelf before it’s gone. Depending on the type of content you’re creating, writing about rapidly trending topics around the internet can make or break the success of your blog. Going back to our Olympics analogy for a moment, few people want to read about who won gold medals five weeks after the event is over. That kind of content must be published as it happens or it stands little chance of ever being seen. Google Alerts keeps you informed in near-real time whenever your choice of keywords or topics are mentioned around the internet so you can whip up a post right away.

Bonus tip

9. Set up an editorial calendar. Once you begin collecting blog topics, assemble them into a loose schedule using an editorial calendar. This can be as elaborate or as bare-bones as you prefer; Google Calendar is a good place to start. As your blog topics begin to gel, an editorial calendar helps keep you on track and shows you at a glance what can be moved around to accommodate timely ideas you come across via Google Alerts, available times to schedule guest posts, and so on.

I can’t promise you that you’ll never draw a blank on what to write about because it happens to every blogger eventually. But a good content strategy keeps you on track and keeps those ideas flowing even when you think there’s nothing left to say — because there’s always something to say.