You may have a list of blogs whose visitor counts you envy. With the right techniques, however, you too can increase your daily or weekly visitors, and possibly even one day rival this list of blogs. You may already know that a blog design should be highly customized to an audience. What many blog owners do not know, though, is how exactly to find their audience and incorporate what they want into a blog.
Fortunately, finding your audience can be done with a few tried and true techniques. And with only a few changes to your blog, you can fine-tune it to better meet the needs of your readers. By making it easier for visitors to find content, you build trust and they will be much more likely to return for more information later. Keep reading for some steps you can take to find your audience, target your blog design to this audience, and hopefully increase your visitor count.
Before you can tune your blog, you really need to know your readers inside and out. Why do they visit your blog? What answers are they looking for? Can you anticipate questions they might not have thought of and respond preemptively? These questions help you understand your audience so you can ask the right questions and build the proper solutions later.
One way to understand your readers better is to study analytics. Most analytics packages, like the free Google Analytics suite, allows for keyword tracking. This tells you how readers are finding you and lets you see what keywords they are typing in to get to your website. Often the very question they are searching for can be found in the keywords people use.
Another way to get to know your audience is through question and answers. As people leave comments or you start building relationships with your readers, take the time to ask questions. Get their feedback. You may get new ideas that give your readers more ways to solve problems with simple changes to your blog.
You can also very plainly ask your readers to drop you a line to tell you what they’d like to see more and less of on your blog. You could even ask them to fill out a simple survey and email them a free package of helpful information or tools as an incentive.
One immediate problem with many blogs is the layout. We’re not talking about how many columns, necessarily, although two columns is the standard format. What is more important, though, is that the layout of your information and mix of ads can be an instant turn off to readers.
While it can be much more difficult to generate ad revenues with a blog these days, don’t compromise your blog design with poorly placed ads. There are two general ad issues: poor placement and trickery.
Poor placement is generally just the mistake of cluttering blogs with advertisements. Whether they are text ads or graphic-based ads, too many ads can be very distracting. Track which ads perform the best for you and remove the others. Most of the time, specific ads far out-perform the rest, meaning the others aren’t necessary.
Never, ever try to trick your readers into clicking ads. A common method is to replace the navigation bar with ads. Another technique is to bury ads in the body of the content telling your readers that the ads are related content or resources. Trust is the most important thing you have with your readers. If they think for a split second that you are trying to trick them, you’ve lost all credibility and they won’t come back.
Remove any ads that aren’t generating revenue. Make sure your layout makes it easy for your readers to find answers, not ads.
An often overlooked design element when it comes to blogging is the typography. How your fonts display is a critical way to make sure your readers can find and read your content. Simple updates can have a huge impact.
With the advent of CSS, updating your fonts across the site is no longer a major undertaking. But often a change to the font family itself isn’t the issue. You just need to adjust how the font functions.
For example, small adjustments to the line-height CSS property can dramatically improve the whitespace of your blog. Try adding a few pixels to the code and looking at how it changes the way your blog reads.
Another simple change is the font size. Don’t be afraid to go a little bigger than you think necessary. Some websites now stick with 18pt and even 24pt fonts for body text. So there is no need to assume that the standard 12pt font is automatically perfect for your blog.
Lastly, if you want to give your entire blog a quick face-lift, consider incorporating the @font-face CSS property and using free web fonts from places like Google Webfonts for a major change in your blog’s look. Some of the fonts are not appropriate for body text, but there are a number of really great free webfonts you can quickly implement for page titles or menus.
Notice how on this article you can quickly scan the headings and find what you are looking for with very little effort? Each section is labeled with a heading that allows you to visually scan the page and pick out the sections of interest.
Headings serve another purpose: search engines. The keywords in the headings are weighted heavily and help search engines know what the content of the article is about. If you skip headings, search engines have to rely on the title of your document and keyword percentages in the body of your text. Take the guesswork out and put important keywords in the headings of every article.
If you don’t normally use headings, get in the habit of using them every time you write a new post. In the HTML, you simply wrap a heading with an
<h1> for the main title,
<h2> for headings, and
<h4>, etc for subsequent sub-headings and sub-sub-headings.
Remember, the real goal of all of this is to answer the question your readers want answered. If you were looking for information about “headings” when you got to this page, the headings would have helped you find the answer much more quickly than having to read through the entire post.
The home page of your blog is a very important piece of digital real-estate. This is where knowing your audience really comes into play. Making it as easy as possible for your readers to find the answers they’re looking for is what the home page is all about. In fact, guiding your visitors to content is the primary function of the home page.
Like the table of contents in the front of a book, the home page offers a high-level overview of your site. Use this space to make it very easy to get answers. If the readers made it to your home page, it is often through a referral or even word-of-mouth. Search engines typically send visitors to a specific page. So they have arrived at your site with a purpose in mind. Don’t make them scroll through pages of introductory material. Save that for specific pages like the “About” or “Who We Are” pages.
An easy way to tell if your site is performing is to check your analytics. If the entry page is your home page and the exit rate and/or bounce rate is high, you are not making it easy enough to find the right content. The concept of a table of contents is an excellent way to approach your home page. Can they quickly find answers and drill into your content or are they stuck looking at ads and introductory material first?
People have an opinion and generally love to share it. Commenting on your blog is an excellent way to get conversation going and to build relationships with visitors. But commenting can also be a huge distraction, too.
We’ve all seen those comments left by angry, disgruntled, or just generally argumentative people. Sometimes they are insightful, but most of the time you can tell pretty quickly you’ve got someone looking for a fight and they’re hiding behind the anonymity the Internet provides.
Then you have spammers. They leave everything from incredibly generic responses to medicine to porn. Again, this is very distracting and never helpful to your readers.
One solution more blog owners are reaching for is to only allow commenting through Facebook. So the visitor has to be logged into Facebook to leave a comment on your site. The upside is that this will eliminate any and all spam. The also eliminates most people who might hide behind an anonymous user name.
The downside of this approach is that you will scare away non-Facebook users and those who are not comfortable with putting their name on your site – even if they have legitimate feedback to provide. So think through adding Facebook only comments carefully as this may not be a good fit.
Other options include keeping the standard commenting systems, but adding a Captcha phrase that must be entered. This works for the most part for spam, but doesn’t keep out the users looking to argue.
Ultimately, this boils down to your readers. If your audience is a group that loves to comment and gets very involved, make sure leaving comments is very easy for them. For those blog owners who struggle with the fighters and the spammers, consider switching to the Facebook comment system. A simple WordPress plugin you can reach for is Facebook Comments by Alex Moss.
We discussed this in the layout section above, but ads bear a more detailed discussion. If you are like most blog owners, you need the ad revenue you generate to keep the blog running. Options abound for ways of making money with ads, but not all methods of getting the income are worth it.
Ads should be placed carefully to let readers know they are ads. Never try to trick them into clicking. That’s a lost cause in the long-term as it’s far better to have returning visitors than to get a quick click and lose them forever.
Text ads are fine, but consider graphic-based ads as well. Avoid ads that have rotating images as these are incredibly distracting. Instead, explore selling ads directly using a fixed banner size and location. While this can be a bit more work, you have control over what ads are on your site, making sure that ads are relevant to your readers.
Any easy way to make your content more visually appealing is to include graphics whenever possible. At a minimum, you should have one image per post. This sets the tone for the article and breaks up the black and white block that posts can take on.
Graphics do not have to be highly customized. Using resources like SXC.hu, Flickr.com, or even Wikipedia.org, you can quickly upload images that you can use legally on your blog. If you have the ability to add typography to your graphics, then this only helps tie the graphic to the article.
If you can, use an image of some kind every 4-6 paragraphs. This is only a rule of thumb, but it helps break up the content and can keep readers engaged.
While you’re adding images, take a few seconds to add meta descriptions to your images. This helps readers who have accessibility needs understand what the images are doing and it also helps search engines understand the content of the images, which also helps with SEO purposes.
You can encourage readers to subscribe to your website by providing premium content. Some sites charge for this feature while others hide content from users who have not yet subscribed for free. Still others simply provide subscribers with content updates any time they publish new posts.
Make the subscription process easy and ask for as little information as is needed. A name and email is typically fine for keeping readers updated. The more you ask for, the less likely they are to subscribe as people are more concerned than ever with giving their personal information away.
Another common way to keep up with all the content on the web is to use RSS feeds to track new content. RSS feeds allow readers to automatically download and aggregate content from many different websites from free RSS readers, like Google Reader.
Most WordPress and other blog platforms automatically generate RSS feeds, but that doesn’t mean your readers have easy access to your RSS feed. Put a link to your RSS feed in a prominent location on your site. A good spot is the same location that you place your other social media links.
Social media has two general functions within your blog: extending the lines of communication and making it easier for readers to share. Most blogs only do one of those well, but you should take advantage of both.
Open up the lines of communication outside your blog commenting areas into the social media arena. You can provide deeper insights, more fulfilling conversation, and context dependent feedback when you engage your readers through social media.
You can also use any number of social media plugins within WordPress and other blogging platforms to make it easy for your readers to share your content. Your readers benefit because they are able to send relevant information to their contacts. They use this to establish themselves as experts or simply to pass relevant information on to friends.
Featured and popular article widgets make it easy for readers to find key information quickly. These widgets are installed either on the home page of the website, the sidebar, or even in the bottom of posts to guide readers to the next set of articles.
You can spend extra time on key articles and use these as your feature pieces to draw readers into other areas of your website. WordPress and other blogging platforms have the ability to mark articles as featured articles by using categories or tags.
The same works for popular articles, except the widget detects which articles are getting the most visits and puts these at the top of the list. This helps readers find articles that are trendy and works as another way to drive people to more content on your site.
The key to giving your readers what they want is to first understand their needs and then make the resources they want available. When readers find what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently, they will continue to come back and you will build trust with them over time. So always look for ways to better understand your visitors’ needs and never do anything that might cost you their hard earned trust.