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How I’m Increasing Reader Engagement on my Blog

“What is the main thing that you’re trying to get readers to do when they visit your blog?”

Last week during a conversation with an ad network executive I was asked this question as it pertains to my photography site. It was a good question to be asked because it made me stop and think a little about the priorities that I had for the site.

The first thing that I was tempted to answer with was ‘clicking ads’ or ‘buying affiliate products’ – perhaps it was because I was talking with an ad network representative that my mind automatically went to that conclusion…. however the more I thought about it the more I realized that my focus has changed over the last year or two away from having earnings as the primary focus for that site.

I realized that these days I spend a lot more time focusing my energies upon creating engaged and loyal readers.

The main calls to action on the blog and forum areas these days at DPS are to get people to ‘subscribe’ or ‘join’ rather than to ‘buy’ or ‘click’ ads.

I know this hasn’t always been the case – on previous blogs I was much more interested on making the blogs profitable, but these days while I want the site to earn an income I guess I’ve realized that it will only increase in profitability if I work on other aspects of the site.

So my priorities are these days more about ‘creating engaged and loyal readers’ – how am I doing that?

There are many ways that I’ve tried to do this of late with DPS but the main 3 things have been:

1. Content

I’ve always attempted to make DPS as useful as possible but since redesigning the site earlier in the year and expanding it in terms of topics covered (we added a post production tips area and a cameras and equipment area to our previous photography tips and tutorials section) I’ve attempted to increase both the quality and quantity of content.

Quantity – Instead of one post per day we now have two per day. This has definitely boosted traffic but more importantly it seems to have increased reader engagement a little. It’s hard to track it but I’ve had quite a few readers email me over the last few months commenting that they were a little dubious about the increase in posts when it first happened but that they have come to appreciate us widening our topics to cover the new areas of the site.

Quality – I’ve always wanted to keep quality high but in the last few months I’ve made particular effort to create content that is more interactive. On a weekly basis I now try to include either a poll, a reader discussion question or some kind of ‘challenge‘ for people to go away and do. More often than not there’s two of these types of posts in the week. I’ve found that since doing more of these types of posts that reader engagement has increased, comment levels has been on the rise (in all types of posts, not just the ‘reader engagement’ ones).

2. Building a network on Twitter

I’ve put quite a bit more time into both promoting the site’s Twitter account and using it more effectively. I’m not completely satisfied with how I’m doing it yet but am seeing some real benefits of doing so in two ways.

1. Firstly follower numbers have risen quite a bit of late:

twitter-dps.png

The early rise back in May was when I did a post on the blog promoting the fact that we were on Twitter. I’ve also added a Twitter icon to the ‘subscribe’ area of the site (top right hand corner), have promoted it in weekly newsletters and have mentioned it in numerous articles on the site over the last few months.

2. The second aspect of Twitter has been the amount of traffic that it has been driving to the site’s two main areas, the blog and forum.

The Blog – When I started renewing my efforts with Twitter I spent most of the time promoting new articles on the blog. Here’s a chart of traffic coming from Twitter.com to DPS since the beginning of the year (click to enlarge):

twitter-dps-blog.png

You can see that even back before I started promoting the account more heavily back in May it was driving some traffic to the site. This was because we were tweeting new posts on the blog to those few followers that we had and because occasionally others were sharing links.

However lately (particularly in the last couple of months) I’ve started Tweeting not just the automated posts alerting followers to new posts but also the occasional ‘Earlier on DPS Tweet’ later in the day to catch other time zones but also links to popular archived posts. This has helped bring about a marked increase in blog traffic.

The Forum – I’m not sure why, but until a few weeks ago I had rarely shared a link on Twitter to any page in the DPS forum. Why I’d not done this I have no idea but it struck me a couple of weeks ago just how short sighted I’d been. So I began to Tweet links to ‘hot threads’ and cool photos and latest assignments in the forum area. Here’s what happened:

twitter-dps-forum.png

Do I wish I’d been doing this earlier? You bet I do!

All in all a renewed effort and focus upon Twitter has helped to drive traffic to the blog but also it is giving us an extra point of contact with readers – many of whom had not ever used one of our other subscription methods.

Note: keep in mind that the traffic above is just that traffic coming in from Twitter.com and does not include traffic being driven from Twitter clients like TweetDeck.

3. Building Newsletter Subscribers

This continues to be the ultimate goal for me on the blog. I push people to subscribe to the newsletter wherever I can because I know it’s so powerful at increasing reader engagement, driving significant traffic and as a result increasing earnings.

The guys who operate the servers behind b5media hate the days I send newsletters – it sends as much, if not more, traffic as a front page on Digg. My ad network partners always ask me why revenue increases so much on Thursdays – the earnings are so good.

Another chart – firstly daily direct traffic (ie it doesn’t include referring site traffic or search engine traffic) on the blog over the last month. You can see the days the newsletters go out pretty clearly – direct traffic doubles (at least) those days. Page views go up by even more because visitors from the newsletter typically view multiple pages.

dps-blog-newsletter.png

The forum has similar peaks on newsletter days.

The next chart shows the shape of AdSense earnings on the blog (with the actual numbers removed) over the last month. Again you can see a similar pattern.

adsense.png

If I were to chart affiliate earnings the pattern is even more pronounced as I find my newsletter subscribers respond well to affiliate promotions.

I really can’t stress enough the power of this email newsletter that I’ve been running and promoting heavily – it’s certainly been a cornerstone in everything that I do on that blog of late.

Summing it Up

Three years ago if you’d asked me what strategies I’d been implementing on my blogs it probably would have been more about optimizing advertising and affiliate promotions. While I still do work on these things I guess I’ve realized that making money from a blog tends to look after itself a little more when you have an engaged and growing readership.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. “Steve – I just use WP-Polls to run the polls on DPS” ~ Darren Rowse

    Cheers man, I really appreciate you taking the time to share that with me even though you’re very busy.

    All the very best,

  2. Tara says:

    I’m getting a bit tired of seeing these tweets that say “Get thousands of followers …”. I don’t want thousands of followers – I want to engage with real people. Thank you for sharing your experiences and giving me good practical tips I can use!

  3. Great info. The “later in the day” tweet is an Interesting idea. Also great to hear that the newsletter is still an effective tool. I feel the my newsletters through “my emma” are hitting the junk mail box before the inbox. Newletters are lots of work to have them sitting in someone’s junk mail. Any ideas there?

  4. Twitter is a great way to gain readers and followers. It’s become almost essential to any blogger. It allows the reader to get to know the blogger and can be used for other means of communication.

  5. krissy knox says:

    Darren, the last line of your post says it all:

    “While I still do work on these things I guess I’ve realized that making money from a blog tends to look after itself a little more when you have an engaged and growing readership.”

    krissy knox :)
    follow me on twitter:
    http://twitter.com/iamkrissy

  6. Its nice to see that you are gaining in every segment of DPS. Such kind of continue growth is always inspiration to the new comer and teach the value of hard labour and giving back to its readers.

  7. fas says:

    Bingo, you hit the nail on the head. Money is secondary, if you do the primary tasks, the rest takes care of itself.

  8. I’ve built up a good toolbox for reader engagement.

    1) All my blogs have some engaging questions that repeat on a cycle. Some appear once a week, like “Friday Favorites” on Hypatia’s Hoard of Reviews (about what people are reading/listening to) or “Weekend Meet-n-Greet” on Gaiatribe: Ideas for a Thinking Planet (which encourages people to talk about their blogs and visit each other’s blogs). Others are monthly, like “Hard Things” (where people can share difficult things they’ve done recently) and “Plans & Goals” (for sharing things people want to accomplish) on The Wordsmith’s Forge for gathering social support. These are always tailored to topics related to the blog’s theme or general networking, and they help build a sense of community as readers get to know each other.

    2) I specifically invite reader interaction through questions in longer posts. Many of my posts end with a question like “What do you think?” “What are your experiences with this?” etc. Another regular feature over on Gaiatribe is “Three Questions,” where I quote part of a news article and then ask three questions related to it; this encourages people to read thoughtfully and not just be passive consumers of the news.

    3) Over on The Wordsmith’s Forge, I have many creative people in my audience, so I get them involved in my writing and other creative projects. The poetry fishbowls, where I ask for writing prompts, are the most popular. But I also sometimes use this blog for research, talking about a story I’m writing so that readers can help me tease out subtle implications or find historical resources. People like to be asked for help; it makes them feel important and creative and useful.

  9. I wonder if newsletters are more efficient in certain genres of content but not in others.

    For my site – http://www.theblogismine.com – it doesn’t work at all!