The No-Tricks Approach to Increasing User Engagement on Your WordPress Blog

The No-Tricks Approach to Increasing User Engagement on Your WordPress BlogForgive me for my cynicism, but if something seems too good to good to be true, it usually is.

The blogosphere is littered with silver bullets for everything from boosting traffic to making money from your blog. But for the most part it comes back to a simple process of learning and persistence.

More often than not, the most simple and practical advice is the best. Whilst the kind of tips that don’t come packaged in a “this will change your blog forever” box won’t necessarily set your world on fire, they are the kind of things that will make a genuine difference in the long run.

With that in mind, today I want to focus on some practical steps you should take in order to increase user engagement on your WordPress blog, in addition to my explanation as to why they are effective. The following is based upon my own personal experience with my blog as well as other blogs that I have worked on and observed.

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Why is User Engagement So Important?

Before we begin, let’s actually approach the question of why we are concerned with improvement user engagement.

Your blog should have one primary objective. For many this will be getting people to subscribe to a newsletter, for others it might be to purchase an information product or click on an affiliate link. The details of the objective are unimportant for the purposes of this post, because whatever it is, increased engagement will give you a greater chance of seeing that objective being met more often.

The logic is simple — the longer someone is on your site, the greater chance they have of taking fulfilling your primary objective. If you are nudging your reader in the right direction and they can’t help but stay on your site, it should only be a matter of time before they do what you would like them to.

Beyond that, you should consider the fact that user engagement is perhaps the best qualitative indicator you have of the quality of your product (i.e. your blog). If people are bouncing off left right and center, you clearly have cause for concern. On the other hand, if people are spending an average of a couple of minutes (or even longer) on your site, you know you’re doing something right.

My User Engagement Tips

I approach increasing user engagement from a rather logical point of view – in order to keep people on your site, you must give them a reason to stay. This means that you must do two things:

  1. Produce great content
  2. Make that content easily accessible

For the purposes of this post I am going to assume that your content is awesome, but please do not take that to mean that I do not particularly value great content. On the contrary — I would argue that the biggest causative factor of increased user engagement is great content. Even if it is a pain in the ass to navigate around your site, people will find a way if they really want to read your content.

So start with awesome content, then concern yourself with making it easily accessible. Here’s how.

Optimize Your Posts

Your post pages (as a group) will attract by far the most visits to your blog, and as such, it is vitally important that they are well-optimized to keep the reader engaged with your content. You don’t want people reading just one post and leaving — you want them to take an interest in what you have to offer and ultimately perform your desired action.

The key is to litter each of your posts with opportunities to discover more of your blog without it seeming overbearing or overwhelming. One of the best ways to do this is by interlinking. This is no doubt something you have heard of and already do — the simple act of linking from one blog post to another. But you are probably not doing it as much as you should.

I would recommend that you interlink at least twice on each of your blog posts, and ideally more. And don’t just link to other posts — feel free to link to category and tag pages too (on the assumption that you have curated these appropriately). Each link should be contextually relevant — in a perfect world, readers won’t be able to help but open up additional tabs in order to read more of your content.

For easy interlinking I would recommend that you install Better Internal Link Search. It’s awesome.

Another great option is to provide a related posts section at the bottom of each post. The key with this is to provide posts that are actually relevant. I cannot understate the importance of this enough — you’re only likely to see user engagement increase if the posts that are advertised are actually relevant. For that reason I only have one suggestion — Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP). Whilst there are alternatives, I consider YARPP the best option by a distance. I wrote a little guide on how to make the most of it here.

Once you have implemented the above two tactics, each post you write should offer a number of well-placed opportunities for the reader to engage with your content further.

Reduce Options

If you want to understand what makes people tick when making decisions, you should grab yourself a copy of The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar. I first read about a fascinating experiment that formed the basis of that book over at Social Triggers, in a post where Derek Halpern summarized it perfectly:

Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University, set up a free tasting booth in Draeger’s supermarket—an up scale grocery store, known for an extensive product selection—on two consecutive Saturdays.

One Saturday, 24 flavors of jam were available, and on the other, 6 were available.

Now take a guess. Which display sold more jam?

Given the “more is better” mindset, you’d think the larger display sold more. But that’s not what happened.

When 24 jams were available, 60% of the customers stopped for a taste test and 3% of those bought some. When 6 jams were available, 40% of the customers stopped for a taste test, but 30% bought some.

Huge results. While the larger display attracted more people, the smaller display sold more jam. About 6 times more. A 600% increase in sales.

It would seem that less is more, and we can channel this understanding through our blog design. If you want people to remain on your site and engaged with your content, make sure that they have a limited number of options, and that most of (if not all) of those options are internal links.

You can take this as far as you would like — for instance, some people exclude social media buttons because they take the user away from their site. This is not a move I disapprove of (but have yet to make myself).

The aforementioned Social Triggers is an excellent example of how a completely sparse design can work. Here’s a screenshot of the aforementioned post:

Social Triggers

Above the fold, the only external link is a small “Follow Him on Twitter” call to action underneath the post title. Everything else you see keeps you onsite. Furthermore, the sidebar offers just three options:

  • Sign up to the newsletter
  • Key resources
  • Popular articles

I’m all for a sidebar that offers up limited options, as I covered recently. Remember — the less choice a visitor has, the more likely they are to make a choice (other than leaving).

Optimize Key Pages

There are certain pages that will attract a great deal of traffic and act as “pivot points” where a new reader will either stay onsite or lose interest and move on.

Beyond your home page, the two other pages that are perhaps most integral are “About” and “Start Here”. If you don’t yet have a “Start Here” page, I would recommend that you strongly consider it — on my own blog, it attracts only a few less visits than my “About” page.

If you want to learn how you should best optimize these pages for better engagement, check out these two posts:

Are You Optimized?

Having read through this post, do you feel that your blog is currently well-optimized for user engagement, or is there room for improvement? Or do you perhaps have a different approach to engaging with your readers? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of marksweb

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