Making Money From Your Blog: Engaging With Your Audience
Welcome to this fourth installment in this series on monetizing your blog! So far you’ve learned how to identify your niche, configure your site and plan content.
In this part of the series, I’m going to focus on the thing you can’t be without if your blog is to be successful – an audience. I’ll demonstrate that simply writing content and expecting people to stumble upon it isn’t enough if you want to grow your audience. I’ll also look at some successful blogs and identify the tools they use to grow their audience, including SEO, converting visitors to followers, and using social media to build engagement.
“If you build it, they will come” – sorry, but Kevin Costner was wrong.
You’ll find that many of the tools we’ll look at here do more than one job – some will help you find an audience, make it loyal and grow it. So I’m going to introduce some of the best tools first and then look at each of those areas in turn, identifying what you can do to achieve each.
Read the other posts in this series about making money with your WordPress blog:
- Want to Make Money From Your WordPress Blog? You Need a Niche
- Making Money From Your Blog: Site Configuration and Preparation
- Making Money From Your Blog: Producing The Right Content
- Making Money From Your Blog: Engaging With Your Audience
- Making Money From Your Blog: Seeing the Money Roll In
Tools for Attracting and Engaging With an Audience
The tools you use will depend on the nature of your blog and your audience, so I don’t suggest that you use all of the below. Instead, pick which are best for you.
The tools I’ve seen bloggers use most effectively include:
- SEO – This is your first port of call when it comes to attracting people to your site, and it’s wrapped up with your content and your blog titles.
- Email sign up – Encouraging people to subscribe by email can help ensure they keep coming back and stay loyal. But beware being too pushy.
- Freebies – By offering a freebie in return for a visitor’s email address, you can add them to your circulation list, either for a newsletter or for updates on new posts.
- Collaboration with other blogs – Lots of bloggers from networks they use to encourage their followers to visit each others’ sites.
- Comments – Make sure comments are enabled on your blog so people can initiate and/or join in with a conversation.
- Content – If this isn’t good, no-one will come back, or share your content.
- Content sharing plugins – Make sure you’ve got one installed on your site.
- Recommended / related content – This can help people stay on your site and explore it in more depth.
- Social media – The platform(s) you use will depend on your audience and what it’s using. Popular social media outlets for bloggers include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and reddit.
- YouTube – Streaming video to your site from YouTube, or launching a standalone YouTube channel, will help people find you.
- Real life appearances – Some bloggers speak at conferences or events or appear at shows relevant to their niche. The really successful ones have their own tours and TV shows.
- Live chat – A scheduled chat with your followers can help cement a relationship and give you deeper exposure.
So there are lots of channels you can use to engage with your audience, and in the list above I’ve only included social media as one of them. This is probably the one you’ve been the most focused on, but it’s just one weapon in your arsenal. Let’s look at the different stages of building an audience: research, attracting visitors, building loyalty and growing the audience.
Researching Your Audience
If you’ve been following this post you’ll have noticed that this is the third time I’ve stressed the importance of audience research. Both when identifying your niche and planning your content, I recommended getting to know your audience better. This is because by understanding your audience, you can better tailor your activity to it.
In this context, you need to know three key things about your audience:
Where Are They?
What social media channels do they use? Do they use other media? How are they most likely to find out about new blogs? Who do they listen to? This will vary a lot depending on the nature of your blog and your audience: for example if your blog supports a business you’re likely to be using Facebook to sell to consumers or LinkedIn if you’re selling to businesses.
What Do They Need From Your Blog?
If your blog is going to be successful, you need to understand how it answers some kind of need or requirement from your audience. So if your blog is designed to help people learn, you need to check that there’s a significant audience out there wanting to learn about your topic, and how they prefer to do it.
Talk to your audience, find out what they need and how you can help provide it. Either that’s information, services or simply entertainment. If you know what it is, you can better engage with your audience.
What Do They Respond To?
Look at your audience’s habits. What other blogs and digital media do they tend to respond to? Do they like video, audio or infographics? Do they like to join in a conversation or are they more likely to keep quiet?
As well as doing this research in the early stages by looking at other resources your audience is using, you can understand this better by analyzing your blog’s data as you get more visitors. Identify what content gets the most views, shares and comments, and which ways of sharing your content brought the most people to your blog. Use that to inform your content plans.
Once you’ve researched your audience, identified your niche and started producing content, then you’ll need some visitors. Here are some tips for attracting people to your site (again, remember that you won’t have time to do all of these: pick the ones that are most relevant to your topic and your audience):
- SEO plugins – Install a search engine plugin like our SmartCrawl and configure it in the way that works best for your content. Take the time to configure descriptions and titles for all new content you write. This one isn’t optional – every blog owner should do it.
- Post titles – Yes, I know you hate clickbait and you expect your blog to be above all that. But the truth is that some post titles will attract more readers than others. There are a few options which work: clear and practical titles such as ‘How to paint kitchen cabinets’, which is the title that first attracted me to the Young House Love website when I was researching my own kitchen.
Or use teaser titles that make people want to know more, like “What it is that determines how we vote,” from the ConservativeHome site:
Alternatively, a title like ‘The day the dog ate my breast pump’ promises you an entertaining read on the #lifewithboys site:
- Sharing content – Once you’ve identified which social media platforms your audience is using, make sure you share your content on them. Research the best frequency and time of day for each, and target the tone of your posts to the platform and its audience. Lots of people use automated tools to share their content across multiple platforms at once. This can save you a lot of time and hassle but I believe that tailoring your message and your post to each platform will help you engage better with your audience.
- Video – Posting video to YouTube will help your Google rankings and give you another platform for people to find you. It also makes it easy for you to embed your videos in your posts, and for other people to do so as well.
When people visit your site, you want them to hang around and read more than one post. And then you want them to keep on coming back. Here are some tips to help you do that:
- Post length – Make sure your posts aren’t so short that people don’t feel drawn in, or so long that you lose their attention. Here at the WPMU DEV Blog, we find that posts of about 2,000 words tend to be most popular.
- Content – Quality content that is well matched to your audience is the most important thing you have when it comes to building loyalty. Without it, no-one will come back.
- Incentives – Offer freebies and other incentives to loyal fans. This can include discount codes, free pdf guides, product discounts and more. Examples include the Young House Love podcast, whose sponsors offer discounts – you have to listen to the podcast to get the code.
Our Hustle plugin will help you manage incentives and rewards on your site.
- Newsletters and email updates – Don’t let people forget your blog exists. By encouraging them to sign up for a newsletter or for new post updates, you’ll build up a database of email addresses you can use to keep in touch with your audience. Don’t overdo it though: I often unsubscribe from blogs that mail me more than once a week. Hustle lets you schedule your emails so they aren’t too frequent.
- Discussion – Reply to comments that people leave on your posts, and answer any questions. This will get harder as you build a bigger following and get more comments, but it will do more than almost anything else to engage with individual readers.
- Polls and audience opinion – Ask your readers what they think. Get their views on posts (past and future) and on things you’re planning that are relevant to your blog. Ask them to leave comments or create an online poll. Use a plugin like WP-Polls to embed this in your posts and make sure people don’t have to leave your blog to engage with you.
Growing Your Audience
Attracting visitors and building loyalty will both help you to grow a larger following, but it’ll be much more effective if you actively take steps to increase your readership.
- Moving outside your comfort zone – Add a new form of media (like podcasts or video) to your site. This will appeal to a sector of your potential audience that may not already have been visiting your blog.
- Encouraging your audience to share content – Install a social sharing plugin like our own Hustle which will encourage and even incentivize social sharing, or use Jetpack to add social sharing to the bottom of each post. This also helps you automate sharing posts to your own social media channels.
- Non-digital media – Write a book, get yourself a TV or radio appearance, or speak at a conference or event. This will raise your profile with a completely new audience. It’ll be difficult to get any of these opportunities until your blog is already quite big, but it will help it go from big to massive.
- Collaboration – Some bloggers encourage their readers to visit collaborating websites via guest posts, blog tours or a theme which a number of bloggers blog about in a given week or month, with links to all the other posts on each blog. You might be scared of doing this in case you lose your audience to your competitors, but the reality is that people can follow more than one blog at a time and you want one of those to be yours.
Engaging With Your Audience is the Key to Success
The one thing that bloggers have over big brands is a connection to their audience. The chances are that you’re a part of the same community as the people reading your blog. This gives you an authenticity and a nearness that traditional media just can’t emulate.
Follow the tips above and never stop focusing on your audience, understanding them, talking to them and rewarding them for their loyalty.