Today’s task in the Rediscover Your Blogging Groove project is to answer a reader’s question.
One of the simplest ways to find something to write about that connects with readers is to answer one of their questions. Today, if you’re taking part in the project, I’d like to encourage you to give it a go. If you’re not participating you still might find the post helpful – so lets read on…
Even in the early days of my blogging I remember getting comments and emails from readers asking for information, opinion or insight on the topics that I was covering. Sometimes the questions were quite to the point and bite sized, other times they were more open ended.
At first I would answer these questions in the medium that they were asked (in the comment thread or by replying to email) however I very quickly realized that I was being asked the same questions repeatedly and that the answers might be relevant for a wider audience than just the person asking them.
The result of this realization is that I regularly post answers to questions as posts.
I have a folder on my computer’s desktop called ‘reader questions’ that I place some of the questions that I’m asked into (as they hit my inbox or comments section). By no means do I answer them all but they do provide a treasure trove of inspiration on those slow days when I’ve run out of things to write about.
A few suggestions on answering questions:
- Pick Relevant Questions – not every question that you are asked will be appropriate for answering on your blog. Keep on topic and don’t keep answering the same question over and over.
- Ask for Permission or Keep Anonymity – before I post answer someone’s question I attempt to seek their permission to do so. I’m not sure on the legalities of answering someone’s question in public and using their name as the questioner – but I think it is polite and helps to show that you value your readers. If you can’t get permission (either you don’t have email details or they won’t reply) then I would change the question slightly to protect the questioner.
- Credit the Questioner – if they give you permission, give the person asking the question credit with their name and a link if they have one.
The beauty of using reader questions is that you end up with a post to point people to when you’re next asked the question. This will save you a lot of time in future.
The other great thing about answering questions is that they can be a very effective way of bringing in search engine traffic. Many of the searches done on Google are done in a ‘question’ format and smart bloggers who incorporate questions into their posts position themselves well for this traffic. Check out Ask Dave Taylor for an example of a blogger who has based his whole blog on answering questions.
“What if no one asks me questions?”
I can hear some of you thinking this already. Well let me answer your question with a few suggestions….
- Ask for questions – on numerous occasions I’ve solicited questions from my readers in blog posts and on each occasion the response was quite amazing with questions being asked that I’d never have considered writing posts on. Don’t promise to answer them all in your post or you could set yourself up for a bit of a disaster.
- Trawl for questions - if you don’t have enough readers yet on your blog to get many questions then perhaps you need to go on a question hunt on other sites. Look in the comments sections of other blogs and check out forums on your topics. Forums are a particularly good place for beginner questions.
- Find a Beginner - one of the best readers to identify is someone just starting out on the topic that you’re writing about. I did this a year back here at ProBlogger by approaching a couple of random readers who I knew were new bloggers via email and asking them if they had any questions that I could answer publicly. The bloggers were over the moon and I ended up with 15-20 posts based on the needs of beginner bloggers.
- Ask yourself a question – still can’t find a reader question? Don’t give up – ask yourself one! I’ve written many posts like this over the years. They start off with a question that I could imagine a reader asking (they don’t claim to be real questions) and they then go onto me answering the question. These posts are particularly good in the early days of a blog because they show your willingness to answer questions even if it wasn’t a reader that they originated from.
- Remember your previous questions - a little extension on the ‘ask yourself a question’ technique is simply to remember back to the early days of your own learning about your topic. What did you not know that you now know? What did you ask the people who taught you? If you asked these questions – someone else is sure to be also.
Homework – it’s time to go and write your question post. Don’t let it get too complex – imagine you’re talking to the reader who asked the question and simply write it up as you’d answer it in person.
Once you’ve answered the question in a post come back here and share the link to it so that we can all read it and learn from how you’ve done it.
note: while your previous question answering posts might be interesting – I’d prefer it if you only posted links to new posts in comments below – after all, this series is about helping you to improve your blog NOW rather than looking back – thanks for understanding.
update – thanks to Brody for reminding me of a technique to help you find questions to answer – check your blog’s search engine referral statistics to see what keywords people are using to find your blog. You’ll find that many times it is questions that bring them in – and that they’re questions that are ready made topics to write about. I’ve written about how I do this using the 103bees metrics tool previously.