So you’ve done it. You’ve signed up for a Blogger or WordPress.com free blog and you’ve come up with a nifty name. You take ok pictures. You think you write pretty well and you might even have some sort of vision for where you want to go with your blog. You add some pretty widgets that may or may not add value to the site in terms of reader experience. You play with fonts, colours, layouts. You think it looks pretty good. You write a post. Upload your first pictures. You nervously hit “Publish” for the first time. And then you wait. You wait for all those comments to come in. For people to contact you with free goods, products to test, free trips. You wait for that book deal. That TV show…. And wait…
Ok, ok so the last few items might be exaggerating a little but if you’ve ever read a blog then started your own, you will definitely relate to the waiting for comments. You see that community over at other people’s blogs. It looks effortless, right? They write a great post, publish gorgeous pictures and the comments just roll in. So how do they do that? What’s the secret? I receive emails on a regular basis asking me “How do you get so many readers?” “How do you get your name and your blog out there?” so today I will begin addressing this by letting you in on a little secret.
Sorry to burst your bubble but there is no secret. It is work. A lot of work, to grow your blog readership and it’s something I am still working on 2 ½ years into blogging. At the beginning it seems daunting. I was lucky in that I started my blog kind on a whim. I was looking for something to do in all my spare time after finishing my MA and found an online “New Media” course that looked interesting. I totally planned on creating a blog for the express purpose of completing assignments for that class.
By the time the 10 weeks were over, I was hooked. The beauty of that class was that it was taught online, in a blog environment. We all had to read each other’s blogs – an immediate audience of 10 – and many of the assignments involved writing posts and commenting on others. Yes, definitely Blogging 101 and much of it I found fairly basic. But what I learned from that and my biggest takeaway is the value of community. I am still close friends with one of the students from that course. We’ve even met in real life. We still read each others’ every post nearly 3 years later. I remember when we were the only people commenting on each others’ blogs. When my stats showed hits in the single figures. And that was after a couple of months. I loved the little bubble of community I formed in that class and I wanted to carry it over into “real life blogging”. But how to do that? How to gain a following?
At the time, I was not on Facebook (still am not) or Twitter (I am now) and had no real way of sharing my posts. My photos were not good enough to get on Foodgawker or Tastepspotting so I couldn’t count on traffic from there. So I joined Foodbuzz - back in the day when it was a much smaller community - as a way of sharing my posts with other like-minded foodies. Actually, what I found invaluable on Foodbuzz back in those early days was the “Search Foodies” function where you can look for fellow bloggers by location. So whether you want to read blogs written in your home city, or much further afield, it was a great way to find new reads and inspiration. Many of the blogs I still follow today are those I found on Foodbuzz. And during the summer of 2009, when I was visiting family in Australia and having a hard time dealing with the 14 hour time difference, I spent a lot of time finding blogs to follow, reading them and commenting.
Yes, commenting. There has been a lot written about commenting on other people’s blogs, some of it rather controversial, but for me, it’s simply a way to reach out to those people whose work I enjoy to say “Hey! I was here, I read your post and I loved it!” Sometimes you might have more to add to the conversation – maybe you made the recipe and it worked out. Maybe you made it and it didn’t work properly – so you ask a question. Get the conversation going. The more you engage meaningfully with other people on their blogs, the more likely they will be to visit yours. It’s as simple as that. Think of commenting on other blogs as being a little like a cocktail party. If you go to the party but don’t talk to anyone, it’s likely people won’t talk to you.
Don’t think the comments will start rolling in overnight. It takes time. I was probably blogging for 6 months before I had a tiny loyal readership. Some people use the “ask a question” approach, which was pretty successful for me in this earlier post and if you are just starting out, it’s a simple way to draw people in, engage them in a conversation.
If you’re a new blogger, take the time to find a couple of new blogs every now and then that appeal to you. Leave a few comments on posts that speak to you. Contribute meaningfully, respectfully and positively to their community and you might find yours more active too!
Of course with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, sharing your work and getting your name “out there” is much easier than it was even 5 years ago. But that’s another post….
This article was written by Mardi Michels, author of eat. live. travel. write and co-founder of Food Bloggers of Canada. Mardi is an elementary school French teacher at an all boys' school in Toronto, a macaron expert, and lives with Mr. Neil, her in-house wine advisor, and Cleo the Cat. Twitter: @eatlivtravwrite