‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’ The great novelists of the past, like Charles Dickens, knew exactly how to engage their readers from the first line. But these writers all had the luxury of taking their time reaching a full explanation of their sentiment. The bloggers of today, on the other hand, do not.
Blogging, as you may well know, is not simply a case of writing your thoughts and feelings on a certain topic in an online medium. Blogging, specifically in the age of online marketing, is about gaining as much reader engagement as possible. There are various factors to consider – such as writing search engine optimised copywriting, writing to establish yourself as a thought leader on a particular topic, writing to entertain a broad audience, and so on – but the ultimate goal of all business blogs is identical: to convert casual readers into customers. This may sound like a tall order, but it all boils down to interaction.
Many great blogs go virtually unnoticed because they fail to incorporate the essential elements required to create engagement. These elements may not necessarily be tactile, but the blogs that generate thousands of visits and countless comments all seem to possess them. It’s a bit like that certain ‘something’ that makes some restaurants exceedingly trendy and leaves others wallowing in obscurity.
What Is Reader Engagement, and Why Is It so Important?
Ask any blogger or online marketing professional and he or she will tell you that reader engagement is one of the most important factors of a successful blog. But, what is reader engagement exactly, and why is it that important?
Reader engagement essentially refers to the tendency of certain readers to continue the communication. Reading is typically one-sided – when you read a book or magazine the communication is coming only one way, which is from the writer to you. But the beauty of the internet is that it takes this form of communication and gives it the possibility of being two-sided. If you read an article in a magazine which you don’t quite agree with, the most you can do is send a letter to the editor (which may never be published, or even read). However, the internet allows you to comment on the article, reaching the writer directly, in order to offer your opinion. This is reader engagement; it’s the act of making a conversation out of an article.
So, to offer a clear definition, reader engagement involves readers commenting on your blog, as well as liking and sharing it on social media. Any interaction as a result of your words, in fact, is reader engagement. But, why is this so important to blogging?
Whether it is written for a personal page or a business, a blog is always a form of marketing. A personal blog is marketing the writer as an individual whose opinion matters, while a business blog is marketing the business, of course. In either case, the goal is a community of interested readers. Marketing, after all, is about increasing the knowledge of a particular business, or individual, in the eyes of the people who stand to benefit from that business, and benefit the business in turn. It’s about reaching a target market and inspiring interest in that market.
The best way for a business to become popular with people is through recommendations by their friends and acquaintances. So, having likes, comments, and shares coming from a target market is the ideal marketing situation for a business. This, in a nutshell, is why creating reader engagement is so important.
How to Boost Reader Engagement
So, you know that reader engagement creates an online presence, which is incredibly useful for creating trust in a particular business and turning readers into customers, but how exactly do you write to inspire reader engagement? The following tips should certainly help you along the way:
1. Inspire Interest from the Start
Like the great novelists of the past and present, you want to hook the reader’s attention from the very first sentence. While you need to get to the point fairly quickly after that, given that people naturally devote less of their attention to reading internet articles than they do to reading novels, the first sentence can be the difference between a reader staying to read the article or clicking away from it.
A good first sentence should hint at the topic of your blog, but should also contain just enough intrigue to inspire the reader’s interest. There are several ways to do this, such as:
• A Question: This can be witty or factually-based, depending on the type of blog you are writing. But be careful not to make the question dull, or this can sap all the intrigue from your blog immediately and be the reason for readers clicking away immediately.
• A Fact: This can be a statistic or the discovery of a piece of research which will act as the main topic of your blog. Again, don’t state it outright as this can prevent the reader from continuing. Readers come to your blog out of interest in your topic, so if you cover it inside of one sentence then they have no reason to stay and read on.
• A Story: Many bloggers who write personal blogs are inspired to cover particular topics based on their experiences during the week, similar to newspaper columnists. Many begin their blogs by explaining the circumstances which led them to believe that their topic is one which will benefit their readers’ lives. This is a good way to introduce the topic and build interest simultaneously.
• A Quote: Seeing some recognizable words or a famous name at the beginning of your blog gives your readers a sense of familiarity which will make them want to keep reading. Also, they will want to see exactly why you chose to include that quote, which means they are already hooked.
2. Don’t Write Drivel
The days of writing specifically for search engines are gone. Now you have to entertain your readers if you want your blog to make an impact. Understand that your readers’ attention is not a given and you have to work hard for it. With this in mind, make sure that every sentence you write is important to your piece, and must continue to inform and entertain your readers.
This is often harder than it sounds, as it’s easy to get carried away and lose sight of your main topic – which is why proof reading is important. After you write your blog, let it stand for a while as you continue to go over the points in your head. Then come back to it and see if it still discusses the topic in the correct way. Reading out loud is very helpful here, as it gives you a good feel for how your readers will see it. If you start to bore yourself, it’s time for some editing.
3. Keep it Short and Simple
Search engine crawlers prefer shorter sentences, which should inspire you to keep your sentences short to begin with. But, aside from this, readers can lose track of what you are trying to say if your sentences contain too many ideas.
Here again, proof reading is important. If you start to daydream while reading a single sentence, or of you’re reading out loud but need to stop for breath halfway through a sentence, you need to do some trimming. If you absolutely can’t summarise your thought or break it up into smaller sentences, try cutting some adjectives out of it.
4. Keep it Accessible
If you are a freelance blogger there will be times when you find yourself writing for clients that aim themselves at a niche market. That is, they want to establish themselves as thought leaders in their industries, on a business to business basis. But most of the time you will be writing for the general public, who really don’t care for difficult-to-follow industry terminology.
Since you’re not writing a university essay it’s completely acceptable to use ordinary language. After all, blogs are informal and should aim to connect with people on a personal level. Using obscure vocabulary can make you seem snobbish, and lose you readers. When facing a choice between a common word and its posh cousin, go for the common word.
5. Throw in Easy Explanations
Examples and analogies are always good, particularly when blogging about more technical subjects. It’s just like the way it was more difficult to learn about some school subjects from a textbook than it was to see them in practice. For example, it’s much easier to learn about drag and air resistance across surfaces by watching someone curve a football than it is to read about the physics.
Similarly, it is far easier for your readers to stay interested in your blog if you relate your writing to everyday occurrences.
6. End It with a Bang
The above tips are great for reeling readers in and keeping them interested, but you want to promote engagement. With this in mind, you want an ending strong enough to get readers to comment, or share the blog on social media.
A good way to do this is to sum up your main points in the conclusion. This refreshes your readers’ own opinions right before they are given the opportunity to engage you in the comments section of your blog. Better yet, end your blog with a call to action – which encourages engagement – or perhaps a question about the reader’s own opinion on the matter.
Engagement Isn’t Just About the Writing
Incorporating the above tips into your writing should certainly help boost reader engagement, but building a solid community of readers isn’t as simple as writing good copy. Leading online marketing companies have entire strategies based on increasing reader engagement, and many go far beyond the actual content. So, if you are really serious about having your readers frequently respond to your blogs (which you should be) you need to pay just as much attention to what happens after you post your blogs as you do to writing them.
Here are some ways to keep your readers responding to your blog posts:
1. Be Quick to Reply
Your work is far from over once you start getting comments on your blogs. This is the time when you want to be the most attentive – after all, this is why you put so much thought into writing your blog in the first place. Don’t leave your readers’ comments unanswered as this can discourage them from commenting again, or even reading one of your future posts. Instead, be quick to respond, and use the opportunity to whet their appetite about your future posts. Use it as a ‘watch this space’ outlet.
2. Ask What Your Readers Want
If your audience is responding you’re already doing something right. But, to build an audience of loyal readers, be sure to convey the fact that you appreciate your readers and are interested in pleasing them. Use your reader interaction to ask your audience about your blog, what they like about it, and what they would change. Also, always be appreciative of this feedback.
3. Don’t be Aggressive
The internet is full of people who like to start fights, and occasionally they will wander onto your blog and rip it to shreds for their own amusement. It’s best to just leave these comments alone.
If, on the other hand, you do publish a blog that stirs up some controversy, don’t defend it aggressively. There are much better ways to handle negative comments. Apologise, if need be, and bring in some industry experts to rectify any statements you made that were perhaps ill-informed.
Fluidity is Key to Building Engagement
Sadly, there is no magic formula to building reader engagement. But it’s important to remember that creating engagement is possible in all cases. If the above tips don’t work for your readers, keep experimenting with variations until you find a winning formula. After all, as Richard Branson says, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and falling over.”