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Wednesday
Jun062012

First Impressions Matter-- Engage Your Readers to Generate Blog Traffic

Anyone taking the time to write a blog wants readers. Better yet, bloggers want engaged readers. Time and again, you'll hear that the key is to "write quality content," but what exactly is quality content? I have some thoughts.

Lately, I've really been hitting Twitter hard (follow me here) in an effort to reach out to people to build my online brand. As part of that, I've endeavored to actually visit every site that a new follower has listed in their Twitter profile and, when their site design allows me to, engage with their site's content by reading some posts and leaving some comments. This has been a great learning exercise for me because I've had the opportunity to visit a whole range of sites and gather some impressions to carry back to my own efforts here and elsewhere. In addition, I know as a new blogger how much of a morale boost it can be to have someone actually leave a comment. Even a lonely comment shows that someone is out there paying attention to you and that can be really encouraging.

These impressions from my journeys from site to site form the bulk of what I'll discuss here. After all, if readership is what you are after, then people like me are exactly the sort of person that you want to hook with your writing, sign up for your newsletter, or add you to their bookmarks or RSS reader.

One thing I've also discovered is that there are some critical areas that I need to address with this blog, so I'm aware of the risks of throwing stones in a glass house! I know I still have a lot of work to do here!

So, what am I thinking when I first show up on your blog?

1. Who are you? Are you authentic?

When I first started here, I tried to maintain a bit more anonymity than I do now. Part of that was my concern that I'm still in the military and there is often a tendency, I think, for military folks to be risk averse when it comes to their online presence, sometimes for good reasons. However, I had to abandon most of this very early because sites simply aren't engaging when readers don't see a personality behind the writing. In my own experiences, the sites that are the most engaging are the ones where you sense a real person behind the curtain. In this way, I've tried to put more of myself and my family out there with this blog.

For instance, one of the first blogs I really enjoyed and became engaged with was Zero Passive Income, where Jeremy Salvador blogs about how he and his wife turned around their financial missteps and improved their lives. Is he an "A List" financial blogger? Well, maybe not by pure metrics, but the authenticity of his effort shines through and that is a hook for readers like me. He also generates great content.

In my opinion, the gold standard for just this sort of site is Pat Flynn's Smart Passive Income Blog. It doesn't hurt, of course, that Pat has had spectacular success in generating new and substantial income after losing his job, but his transparency and honesty spills out of his site. When you read it, you want to share in his success and you trust him. In my mind, that creates an engaged, lifelong reader. It also helps that Pat's content really is first-rate, with proven systems presented more clearly than anyone else out there.

This leads me to one last point on this topic. I think it is okay to emulate the many great examples that you see, but you have to have something that is unique to you. It simply isn't going to work trying to clone someone else's unique online voice. You have to find your own. What sets you apart and makes you valuable to your readers? This is a tough question, but one that you constantly have to ask if you want to be successful.

2. Are you trying to sell me something?

If so, you're going to have to invite me in first, perhaps offer me a drink, a seat on the couch, and some conversation. Now, I know the data may not support this, but if you hit me with a newsletter pop-up the moment I land on your site, I'm clicking it off and I'm less likely to take a look at what you're doing. I know this might sound foolish, but throwing up a pop-up in the middle of the screen the moment I've arrived at your site just seems rude to me. Along those lines, I favor blogs that are telling me a story or engaging with me in personal ways. The slickly produced, cookie cutter Wordpress sites where it is clear to me that you are only trying to get me to sign up for your "free e-book" and harvest my email just isn't doing that, unless you are an established name who I know is competent. If you are a faceless clone, then I'm not engaging with your copycat site.

3. What are you trying to show me? What value am I going to gain from visiting your blog?

If you are saying "I CAN MAKE YOU RICH!" I simply don't believe you, unless you are an established name and, even then, I carry with me a healthy dose of skepticism. If, however, you are sharing some tips from your own efforts and you bother to show me your own successes and failures, then I see your site as a place where I can stay, engage with your writing and potentially learn something or, at the very least, be entertained. And entertainment does matter. The blog as a writing format is fantastic for telling an emerging story. It is great to see stories develop over time. Take advantage of that. It is okay to be "bigger than you really are," to generate enthusiasm, but that must be tempered with honesty and authenticity. At the end, give me something to think about so that I come back for another visit.

4. Are you sloppy?

Maybe this is the professor in me, and I'm part of a dying breed that values correctness in writing, but if you can't put together a site that is mostly grammatically correct with words spelled properly, then I'm turning you off. Blogging is writing and writing is art. If your art lacks care and attention to detail, I'm not going to pay attention, because your thoughts probably lack care as well.

What do you think? Am I on the mark with these?

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Reader Comments (6)

Thanks for the post. I agree with the sloppiness...I'm really new to blogging and don't consider myself a "writer" or writing as art but bad grammar and spelling annoys me too. I'm struggling with what I really want to say/do, but I do let my personality come through and I don't hold back or try to sound to mushy, friendly, politically correct etc. just to be liked...I'm hope my honesty and respectability will shine through.

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClint Moar

Clint, thanks for the comment. I went and checked out your site. I enjoyed the sentiment there and wish you the best of luck! Stay in touch and let us know of your progress!

June 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterMike

I completely agree with the newsletter pop-up -- that's an automatic "close tab" for me. I am willing to deal with sloppy writing if the author's general idea gets across and you can tell that he/she's trying his/her best

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

Vanessa, on the sloppy writing, I guess I should be more clear. If someone is just journaling or engaging in some other personal pursuit, then I'm more tolerant. I just think that sites that are primarily business-related should have some writing standards. I'm surprised, frankly, when they don't. Thanks for the comment and I really enjoyed your site!

June 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterMike

Hi Mike, I agree with everything you say in this post. You have to build an authentic brand and engage with your readers before trying to sell them anything. I also hate pop-ups and will click straight off any site that uses them. I really like Pat Flynn's site too and have learnt so much from his excellent podcasts. I also love reading his income reports - he's an inspiration!

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Thanks for the comment Jan. Maybe both of us can see some of the same success that Pat has!

June 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterMike

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