Why do I answer every single comment made here? A couple of people have asked why I did my Reader Appreciation post. Some have even implied that I have a big enough audience to not need to do this. What is it about comments I am so obsessed about?
There are three critical aspects that make a blog great. Lose any one aspect and you have made it so much harder to be a success. The simple truth is without my reader community a massive part of my blog would be lost. Without comments blogs are sadly lacking. I need you! This post explains the three critical components of a successful blog – my “Three Dimensions” of blogging.
- The First Dimension: Content – A blog should be constantly updated. The first dimension is the stickiness of fresh news and articles. Any website can be routinely added to but this is more true of blogs. It is expected of a blog that it will be added to. Another aspect of this dimension is the archive. If people like what they see when they first visit they can drill back to your older stuff.
- The Second Dimension: Syndication – Traditional websites might have a newsletter attached to attract people back but subscriptions are part and parcel of blogs. Readers expect to be able to read the blog without actually visiting. Further to this, syndication is perhaps a way blogging will evolve in future with mashups, new tools and advancements in widgets. The main difference between a newsletter and syndication is emails are still on the creators timing rather than the readers. As with other media, people want their content on their own schedule. We don’t like having to march to the beat of anothers drum. We time-shift. Syndication allows us to time-shift blogs. It is not enough to just make syndication available, people have to use it and enjoy using it. Your feed is not an after-thought, it is the engine of your blog.
- The Third Dimension: Conversation – Without community your site is still a blog, but it is a blog without a soul. One of the huge benefits of blogs is you can converse with the content creator. In other media this opportunity is either absent or highly constrained (letter to the editor, phone-ins, nothing compares). This community adds to the original ideas of the blogger in so many ways it fuels the blog much more than the blogger alone can manage. It is not just your own community either, the conversation takes place across blogs and between blogs. Again, as with Syndication, the content and venue are not tied together. Even blogs without comments enabled still have to take part in the conversation.
This is not a 1+1+1=3 equation. The whole is way more than the sum of the parts. Each dimension doesn’t just add to the others; add a dimension that is missing and see the benefits multiply.
So how do you benefit from these three dimensions of blogging?
The first step is obvious; add fresh content. We are blogging for a purpose, and that purpose requires great content. It might surprise you though that I disagree that “Content is King”. “King” implies that content is top of the pile, the be-all, the epitome.
My belief is that content is the foundation that all else is built on. If you repeatedly add compelling, valuable content you will get repeat visitors and only then will you have an opportunity to benefit from the other two dimensions.
Make sure your archives are easy to find and navigate, and especially your best stuff is visible. You want your readers to consume as much of what you have to offer as possible to be really sold on your blog. There is no better way to communicate a brand than through experience. If your reader enjoys what they find this builds trust. Without trust you will not get them to do anything other than perhaps leave.
Syndication extends your reach. It allows your reader to enjoy your content on their own terms. For a reader to subscribe they have to believe what you have to offer is beneficial and trustworthy. So they will have to have been impressed by your content, the first dimension. Adding a feed to a reader requires less permission than adding an email address to an email newsletter and therefore less trust. It is easy to add a feed and still ignore it and the author does not get any personal details. On the other hand there are less people out there using feed readers, it is still a technical hurdle for many people. For this reason you need to also allow subscription via email and to be persuasive about it. Inspire confidence, make it easy, sell the benefits. Use full feeds rather than snippets. Have faith in your content. With a healthy subscriber count you will get repeat visits, more traffic and most importantly have a platform to build your next dimension, community.
If you do not allow comments, or as bad do not reply to them, your blog is a lecture. This is not a bad thing but not what I would call a good blog and is not half as valuable to your reader.
With the best will in the world you will not get community right away but you will get the odd comment if you encourage them.
Community is more than just comments. Traffic and encouragement is what makes community possible. Comments are just the start of community. What community actually requires is repeat visitors and conversation. This will only take hold when the other dimensions are in place.
What is the difference between comments and conversation? Comments are like submissions to a guest book; fire and forget. A conversation is a to-and-fro, an exchange of ideas. People have to reply and then come back to see other replies. This is why you need to attract return commenters any way you can, using email notifications and encouragement.
Once you have a community you have built much more than a blog. Just like the best bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants are not just places where people eat and drink but like to hang out, this is the ultimate pinnacle of your blog. With this you will find exponentially more success than a mere website.
There are very few blogs, a handful maybe, that achieve the nirvana of community but we have to set our goals high and work towards them the best we can. If we don’t try to make our creations the best they can be what is the point? If you work all three dimensions your blog will become not just a valuable destination but the place people love to visit.