10 Ways to Focus on the Reader and Build Long-Term Traffic

Too often bloggers focus on themselves – blogging is a form of journaling, right? – or on making money, on advertisers, on marketing, or on social media.

As a result, if they attract a reader, they have trouble making them stick.

The goal of most bloggers is to build up readership and traffic, but the only way to build up long-term traffic (as opposed to say a two-day spike from Digg) is to get the readers you are able to attract to stick around for a little while.

So your goal should be to get the reader interested not only in reading your article, but in exploring the rest of your site, reading more and ultimately getting hooked.

The way to do that: by focusing entirely on the reader, all the time.

Here are 10 suggestions to do just that:

1. The Reader’s problem.

Every post you write should be useful to your readers — which means you must focus on a problem that the reader has, and how to solve it.

What problem will you solve for your reader today? How to lose weight? How to find a job? How to make money online? How to knit all her Christmas gifts?

Whatever the problem, it should be something common to most of your readers — and to know that, you’ll need to get to know your readers. When you write your post, don’t write about yourself too much — just enough to allow them to relate to you, and to know that you’ve gone through this problem too — but focus more on how they can solve the problem.

2. Don’t annoy the reader.

It’s annoying to have a subscription or ad boxes pop up when you just want to read an article. It’s annoying to have to click multiple times to read one article.

It’s annoying to have flashing ads screaming at you. It’s annoying to have way too many ads, or garish bright colors, or a very jumbled design. Avoid these things, or you are ignoring your reader’s wishes.

3. Answer their comments.

While it’s impossible for the blogs with heavy traffic to answer every single comment, if you don’t get many comments, you should treat every commenter like they’re your best friend.

Reply to each one, be welcoming, thank them, answer their questions, don’t get pissed off at them even if they’re critical. And even if you get a lot of comments, don’t ignore them all. Respond to as many as you have time for, and especially those with questions or concerns.

A blog is about the discussion, not just about the post, and if you don’t take part in the discussion, your blog is dead, and readers won’t care about it. Talk to them.

4. Answer their emails.

Similarly, be sure to give them an easy way to contact you in private (an email address or contact form), and be sure to respond to every single email if you can.

If you can’t, respond to as many as possible. Even if it’s just a two-line reply. I respond to every reader email, even if I can’t respond to every comment on the blog.

Why? Because they felt strongly enough to send me an email — I need to show them that I value them (which I do) by taking at least a minute to thank them for the email, and to answer their question or concern if possible. This dialogue with your readers is crucial.

5. Ask them questions.

Every week or two, I run an “Ask the readers” post, asking them a simple question related to the topics I write about.

Instead of me providing the answers, I show that they have just as much wisdom, and can provide answers of their own. I show that their opinions are valued, and allow them to speak.

The readers are central to a post like this. Best of all: it’s like an informal poll, and it allows you to find out much more about them. And as I said in the first item, you need to know them to know what problems they have. Ask them.

6. Show them your best stuff.

In your sidebar, or somewhere easily accessible from every page, put links to some of your best posts. Don’t make the reader dig through your archives to find your gems — make it easy to find them.

That way, they’ll be more likely to read more than one article, and see what good articles you have on your site. If they like them, they’ll stay. They’ll subscribe. And that’s a good thing.

7. Make navigation easier.

Similarly, they should be able to navigate from one story to another, or through your archives, without too much trouble.

Imagine that you’re a first-time reader — is it easy to find stuff, especially if you don’t know what’s there? The easier you can design your navigation, the better. Simplify rather than confuse.

8. Listen to their complaints.

If someone is complaining about your blog, it’s possible that will make you defensive or angry. But think about it: they are giving you valuable feedback that you can use to improve your blog.

Listen to these complaints. Treasure them. Thank the reader for giving you that input. Now, you shouldn’t change your entire blog each time a reader complains, but you should still listen.

Sometimes they just make sense. Sometimes, it will take 10 readers to complain about something before you decide to make a change. But ignore your readers at your own peril.

9. Don’t add stuff they don’t need.

A great example of this is MyBlogLog. It’s popular among bloggers, for a number of reasons: it helps people find you through the blogs you read, it shows readers that you have a bunch of other readers, it helps you to network with other blogs, it gives you stats, it helps keep readers on your site if they join your community.

But out of those great benefits to the blogger, how many of them are really benefits for the reader? None, really. So why add it? You shouldn’t, unless you can think of a compelling reason that it will help the reader.

MyBlogLog is an example of a service or element of your blog that helps you, not the reader. It’s only one example, though — you should ask yourself this question each time you sign up for a service or add something to your site.

10. Don’t write about stuff they don’t care about.

This goes with Item No. 1 above, but it should be emphasized here: don’t write too much about stuff that’s not relevant to the topic of your blog.

For example, if your blog is about blogging, don’t write about politics or sports. Similarly, don’t write about other blogs just because you like them — if it isn’t about the topic of the blog, and isn’t extremely useful, it doesn’t belong there.

Also, don’t write too much about your personal life — sure, people like to get to know you as a blogger, but it should be within the context of providing useful information to them. They usually don’t want to hear about your day if it’s not relevant.

About Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta is the author of The Power of Less and the creator and blogger at Zen Habits — one of the top productivity and simplicity blogs on the Internet.

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