Do you ever feel – as you blog – like you’re talking to an empty room?
Day after day you publish posts only to have them greeted by….
If that is how you feel – then you’re not alone. In fact one of the most common questions that I hear from bloggers is:
“How do I get my readers to interact with me?”
Over the next little while I’d like to suggest some ways to increase reader engagement and would love to hear how you do it on your blog too in comments below.
But first – today I’d like to talk about WHY community and interaction on a blog is so important.
Blogging – More than Just Creating Content
There is no one way to build a successful blog but in my experience a blog really comes alive when there is at least some level of community on… or around… the the blog.
Perhaps the best example I can think of to illustrate this is the time I started Digital Photography School (my main blog).
When I launched dPS in 2006, I launched it without comments being activated on the blog. This was an experiment to see what impact not having comments would have on a new blog.
I quickly discovered that by starting a blog in this way had quite a few negative impacts upon the site – the main one being that not having reader feedback just felt plain weird and left ME as the blogger thirsting for interaction with readers. I guess I’d become used to getting readers engagement on my other blogs and without it just felt ‘wrong’ for my style of blogging.
Within a few weeks I’d not only turned comments back on at dPS but was already working towards starting a photography forum on the site too!
The impact of adding more and more opportunity for community engagement on the site was immediate and big. Page views went up, repeat/loyal readership increased and I feel the quality of the site also improved.
Why Build Community on Your Blog?
Let’s take a bit deeper look at some of the benefits of focusing upon reader engagement and building community on your blog.
1. Community Increases Your Blog’s Usefulness
Right from the early days of ProBlogger my mantra has always been that a good blog is a useful blog.
If you’re not being useful to your readers on some level (and being useful can be many things from being informative, to entertaining, to keeping them up to date) it is very difficult to have success with your blog.
My experience of having community on a blog is that it makes the blog exponentially more useful – something James Surowiecki wrote about in his useful book – The Wisdom of Crowds.
Together we are a lot smarter than any single one of us.
I’ve seen this many times over on my blogs. While I work hard to have as much expertise on my topics there will always be things I don’t know but which my readership has experience and insight.
For example I once received an email from a reader – Mandy – asking how she should go about photographing her dying grandmother with dignity. This was a long way out of my expertise so I asked my readership and we had over 90 responses.
Without the community on dPS I would have been unable to help Mandy.
This is a fairly extreme example but I see it in action on a daily basis in the comments sections of my blogs when readers have their questions answered by others in the community.
Ultimately for me – increasing your blog’s usefulness to readers is the number 1 reason to build community on your blog. However there are other reasons too.
2. Community Builds Social Proof
Have you ever chosen to eat in a restaurant purely because you can see it is popular with other patrons or passed by one that is empty?
If so – you understand the concept of social proof.
People attract people in all kinds of places – a blog is no exception.
It is much easier to attract and get engagement from a reader if there is already engagement from other readers.
I’ve seen this numerous times on my blogs (but also social media accounts). The more genuine interaction you have on your blog the easier it is to convince others that your blog is worth a second visit.
3. Community Increases Page Views
Page views won’t matter as much to some readers of ProBlogger as others but for those of you monetizing your blog with advertising you might want to take note.
Page views are important for those using Ad networks like AdSense or selling ads directly to sponsors because the more times the ads are seen on your blog the more you’ll be able to earn.
Community increases page views. If someone leaves a comment on your blog on most blogs that means 2 page views instead of 1. That person is also more likely to return to see if others leave a comment responding to theirs so you’re up to 2, 4 or 5 page views (and even more if a conversation between readers emerges).
Add a forum area to your blog and the average pages viewed per visitor can skyrocket – we regularly see as many as 10 pages view per visit on the Digital Photography School Forum.
4. Community Makes Your Blog More Attractive to Advertisers
Speaking of advertising as a model to monetize your blog – I’ve discovered over the last few years of selling advertising directly to advertisers on dPS that many advertisers are looking to not only see their banner ads on a site – but they are willing to pay for engagement with your readers.
One of the best examples of this is an annual competition we’ve run on dPS to give away a price from one of our regular site sponsors.
This competition is part of an advertising bundle that we run with this sponsor (they also run some banner ads but also sponsor our newsletter regularly).
While they get value out of the banner ads and newsletter ads that they run it is the competition that really converts well for them because it gets our readers visiting their website and engaging with the products that they offer (because to enter the competition you need to leave a comment saying which product you’d like to win and why).
This is the third year in a row we’ve run this particular competition and we’ve had 700+ comments left on each year we’ve run it.
5. Community Makes Your Blog Easier to Create and Sell Products
Back in 2005 I ran a series of blog posts here on ProBlogger titled – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. The project was so successful that I ran the project again in 2007 and then again in 2009.
Each time I ran the project it grew larger and larger and readers became more and more engaged with the concept but also with the rest of my blog (it was a great community building project in and of itself).
At the end of the 2009 project a strange thing happened – my readers began to beg me to compile the 31 posts I’d written that year into a PDF… to sell to them as an eBook.
Yes you heard it – out of a period of intense reader interaction and delivering tangible value my readers asked me to sell them a product.
Not only did they ask me to create a product – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (now updated from its 2nd edition into a course) went on to become my biggest selling eBook.
This illustrates just how powerful community is if you’re looking to monetize your blog through selling products of some kind.
I’ve seen the same thing happening on dPS where we’ve developed 11 photography eBooks – the readers who buy our products are often the most engaged members of our communities and interestingly when a discussion happens in our forum area on topics covered in our eBook it is our community members who ‘sell’ our eBooks to new members the best.
6. Community Makes Your Blog More Attractive to Sell
Over the years I’ve had a number of companies offer to buy my blogs. While I’m not looking to sell them it is always an interesting discussion to have.
In most cases the conversation starts with a potential buyer interested in your traffic numbers and income – however what I’ve noticed is that when you begin to talk about the high level of reader engagement that you have on your bog many buyers become a lot more interested and start talking about higher purchase prices. In fact the most recent acquisition approach I had was from a company whose main interest was in the community I had built and how I could also help them build community.
This will depend a little on the business model of a potential buyer – but I’ve seen this happen on at least 3 occasions in the last few years.
Community makes your blog more attractive to potential buyers.
7. Community Creates an Army of Advocates and Evangelists
An engaged and loyal reader is a powerful thing – not only because they’ll make your site useful and might buy your products – but because they are also much more likely to help you grow what you do.
This happens very naturally really – when you help someone on a daily basis and they feel a sense of belonging to your site they’re highly likely to tell someone about your blog.
I’ve seen it time and time again. I’ll often meet readers at a conference and ask them how they first became readers – the story is regularly ‘I am friends with Jim/Sarah/Bill/Joe/Anne… and they told me what a great site it was’.
Engaged readers don’t only help find you new readers – they can help you in many other ways.
Example 1: Several years ago one of my readers emailed me with an introduction to a New York Times journalist that they knew who was looking for someone to interview for a story. A week later dPS was featured in that publication.
Example 2: Around the same time a group of readers started a campaign to get our site on the radar of Canon and Nikon because they wanted them to advertise on dPS. They started a petition and did end up helping us land a small advertising campaign!
8. Community Can Help with User Generated Content
In a similar way – engaged readers who feel that they belong are more likely to contribute to your site by generating content for it.
This again may not be something that all bloggers are interested in – however if you’re looking to supplement your own content with guest posts from readers it can be an effective way of generating such content.
The other aspect of this is that you may not want to feature full posts from readers – but having engaged readers can help you generate other kinds of content.
For example I recently asked readers of my Google+ Account to share with us their advice on the topic of ‘finding your voice’ as a blogger.
I had some great responses and am compiling the answers into a post for ProBlogger (to which I’ll add some of my own thoughts). While not a ‘guest post’ as such it brings the wisdom of readers out of my social media community areas and onto the blog.
In the past I’ve done exactly the same thing by asking readers for their advice in the comments section of a blog and bringing those comments into a blog post.
9. Community Brings More Personal Satisfaction to Blogging
When I first drafted this post I didn’t have this point but on reflection of my last decade of blogging perhaps the biggest benefit of having community on my blogs has been it exponentially increases the personal satisfaction I’ve received from blogging.
I’ve had 30 or so blogs in the last 20 years and the ones in which I’ve invested into the community and had readers invest back into it have been the ones that I’ve been able to sustain over many years.
The blogs where community didn’t really click (and this can be the result of many factors) were blogs that I found most difficult sustain – probably because I wasn’t getting the engagement, feedback and encouragement of readers.
Maybe it is just me – although I suspect not – but it is community that is a fuel that feeds my blogs. Without it I can only sustain them so long!
The Costs of Community
The benefits of building community on a blog are many (and I would encourage you to add more that you’ve experienced to the comments section below) however it would not be balanced of me to talk about the benefits of building community on a blog without at least acknowledging that there are some ‘costs’ involved.
1. Building Community on a Blog Takes Time
Relationships and community don’t just appear out of thin air. They take time – in two ways:
- Firstly – building true community is something that generally takes a long period of time to gradually happen. While you can get comments on your first blog post – to get readers deeply engaged can take months… and years. We’ll talk more about how to build this culture of community on a blog in the coming days.
- Secondly – once you have community (and building community) can be something of a time suck and if you’re time poor it can be a challenge to do on a day by day basis.
2. Building Community can be an Emotional Roller-coaster
Building relationships with readers can be something of an emotional roller coaster.
In the early days it can be incredibly disheartening when community doesn’t seem to be happening despite your very best efforts.
But then in the longer term after community does begin to happen it can be so difficult to maintain once your community begins to pull in different directions and on those occasions when things go badly.
When community goes well it can be powerful – but when trolls, spammers or competitors infiltrate it can make you wonder why you bother at all!
3. Community Can be a Little Risky
I can think of a few instances over the years when a ‘community’ or readership of a blog have turned against a blogger and have really hurt the brand of a blog.
While these instances are certainly in the minority it is worth noting that if you’re not willing to invest into a community and lead it that you leave your blog’s brand in a vulnerable position.
We’ll talk more about this in the coming days as we talk about how to build a good culture of community on a blog.
How to Build Community on a Blog
In the coming days here at ProBlogger I want to explore the idea of building community and deepening reader engagement on a blog further.
Next week we’ll take a look at 5 stages of building a Culture of Community on a Blog and then the following week we’ll get a little more concrete and look at 7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog.
As always – subscribe to our newsletter by adding your email address in that box on the right sidebar for a wrap up email at the end of this series so you don’t miss out!
If you’re serious about building an audience for your blog and want to go beyond engagement and unlock the power of Community, ProBlogger’s Build Community Course will give you clear action points to develop your audience into a community.
This post was first published on 26 March 2013 and republished 10 March 2022
Great topic Darren – I’m looking forward to it.
Since my blog has no direct commercial purpose, some benefits are more important for my blog than others. Community mainly shows me whether I’ve written something useful, something which readers can relate to, and gives me new ideas (so that’s roughly 1, 8 and 9 I guess).
Now that Google definitely cannot be relied on for traffic (2008 RIP spammy AdSense sites, 2012 Panda, Penguin) it’s pretty clear that getting community going on your site must be king. Getting terrific content there is a good start: but only a start.
So I’ll be interested to see what you do to encourage people to return: and to take part.
I dangle carrots in-front of my readers to make sure they come back. This costs me a lot of carrots and doesn’t work very well, but is still a rather enjoyable way to spend an evening. Sort of like attaching a worm to a stick and never catching a fish, except without the need to sacrifice a poor helpless worm by puncturing a hook through his body.
I look forward to your suggestions in the coming days, because obviously I need some sort of help.
I think this would be a good next step in the future. The topic of my blog, Cultivating Courage, is a perfect candidate for a community centered blog. I look forward to learning more about this.
Very excited for this series Darren – I’ve recently just started a community on my site and am excited and nervous at the same time. It’s definitely a lot of work and I’m sure it’s not going to be easy to both get it running and then keep it running, but if it goes as planned, like you said it can be worth it.
I am one of those bloggers who has a difficult time maintaining connections to my readers for a variety of reasons – ongoing illnesses that sometimes prevent me from going online and a HUGE family that depends on me for help when I am able. It would be nice to have a large group of readers, but health and family come first. Also, I just enjoy writing, so, for me, the money isn’t my primary goal. I do read your blog, however, so something inside me is probably wishing for a larger readership :)
yeah, for writer feedback is very important, and if he doesn’t get feedback, he will find great ways to get it other than comments, and that might be even more lucrative.
Great tips, Darren.
I’m sure they will work for anyone who is willing to put some hard work into his/her blog.
Agreed that building community on your blog brings a lot of traffic. If you are dedicated towards your community,you can turn them into loyal readers. They will share your post more and more thus new readers will come to your blog and if they found your post informative and interesting they will surely join your community and hence the process will go on and on. It is better to pay attention towards your community and towards their need as much as you can.
It can be emtionally tasking to be the only one on your forum at the early stage of building the forum. If you are not patient and disciplined enough, you might be forced to give up the dream.
When your blog forum finally becomes highly interactive, you forget all the pains you went through.
You brings the great topic again at your blog. I think everyone should implement this idea of creating communities at blogs. As i am running deal website, it works great for me. I am looking forward to it.
Nice post. The pendulum is definitely swinging back to social. You’ve got to be creating content that people will want to share, and effectively promoting it.
I need advice with this so badly. I can tell people are reading posts and people are commenting on my blog’s facebook page, but not actually on the blog page itself. Looking forward to changing whatever ways I need to change.
Darren, I absolutely agree that you have no blog without a tribe/community to serve and be part of.
Great points in #1 about the need to give it time and patience. For sure it’s not happening overnight, but how great it is when it starts to grow :)
Definitely takes daily effort and attention to reader’s needs.
You can’t just spew information (even great information) and expect the community to come.
The best way of building a community on your blog is to lead the way and start to be the community that you want to form
Agreed. Building a community on your blog will be one of the most difficult, yet most rewarding things you can do for your website.
Great, insightful article. I’m looking forward to reading more about this over the next week!
for having a community makes me feel less crazy like I am talking to myself.Plus its more fun.It does cost but sometimes I think its worth it
I used to generate 100 plus comments on each post then a funny thing happened; I lost my way, tried to make money before all else, stopped build a community and struggled horribly for years. I stopped doing what was important and was penalized.
Fitting timing, as I just began to start a more aggressive blog commenting campaign today, to strengthen my community again. Giving, and giving on a persistent basis, whatever you most want to receive, helps you receive that thing. If you want community you would be wise to help other bloggers build their communities.
As for build a crew around you, engaging persistently, no matter how many times you are met with crickets in the response field, can help you build a network. Keep at it. Keep writing, asking for feedback, and making friends by commenting on other blogs. This approach is the most direct way to build a large, engaging community.
Thanks for the kick in the rear Darren, I intend to generate more comments and build my community again.
If you dont want to worship Google and keep praying before every Panda Update you must develope a community:
a) This is more relevant to your niche
b) The most interactive with your niche
c) The most interested in your niche
d) The most familiar with your niche
e) And above all most demanding in your niche
In this way you just have to explore this community to make it a bigger lot and achieve your blogging objectives by serving their needs and addressing their concerns.
I actually started with the idea of a community, and added a blog later when it became apparent I needed one :) I have a community of parents with teenagers, created because I needed it myself. It is hard work, and it does take a long time, but my belief that we need this in Australia keeps me going. I’m really looking forward to reading more Darren.
Most people want to be heard. Saying or writing something to which nobody responds, can be more disheartening than not saying or writing anything at all. However, getting a response is not automatic. A reader or listener needs to be engaged by being informed, educated or entertained.
Building a community absolutely takes time, but it’s always been worth it to me. The people who I’ve met through comments on my sites and the comments I’ve left on other people’s sites have gone on to become friends, clients, mentors and more – relationships I never would have made without making use of community-building features in the first place.
I know some people prefer to minimize the workload of approving and responding to comments by turning them off entirely, but I think that’s their loss. A blog can be so much more than just a static website, but only if you allow community-based interactions to happen.
I’d love to take the risk of building a community on my blog, If It’s really risky. Takes months, even years of hard work in order to build an attractive community on a blog.
Excellent post Darren
I agree with what you say and building a community of followers does take time and effort but most of all trust. I look forward to your next post.
This seems to be happening naturally for me. Visitors are gathering to not only browse my work, but they’re all wondering if they too can be successful with fiverr. Always good to be affirmed by your posts Darren.
Thanks so much for this! I’m looking forward to the rest. My blog is only one month old, and I’ve had a few comments but I’m looking forward to building a loyal community.
Unreal Darren couldn’t have come at a better time. Can’t wait to follow your tips and advice :)
This goes to show that even after you create content, it’s important for any blogger to stay connected to people on social networks and elsewhere on the web, because meaningful online relationship building does more good then enticing folks to leave comments on your site. It goes deep into the abyss of keeping them engaged on your content long-term.
Brilliant post, and this is the reason I’m glad you’re writing more of your own content again. I’m always talking about blogging and community and how important it can be, as well as fulfilling. Over the years I’ve gone back and forth with my community, the last couple on the whims of Google and its animal interventions. I’ve never reached the level where I’ve had anyone ask me to put together any kind of product but I’ve had the opportunity to get a lot of feedback and hopefully grow as a blogger. One of these days…
What I know since the my early days of blogging is, a blog is a community site because visitors can participate by comments. So I think it is essential for a blog to have a community and thanks for your tips Darren.
I am a huge fan! Just added this (and many others) to my tools and resource page of my site for my seo clients to read. Thank you so much for sharing!
Great topic. Your link on the stages sends me back to the same article (9 benefits…)
Thanks for the good work!
This is great revelation a.nd an eyes opener.I will like to build a community furom around my blog for conversation and regular cnmments etc.. Please help. Thaks.
I’ve created a community OFF my blog on instagram with a 7 day challenge called 7 Vignettes. It’s been interesting to note an increase in blog traffic since it started, even though you can’t link directly from instagram to an outside site, other than in your profile. That traffic hasn’t come from instagram directly but has no doubt come because of the buzz around that community.
Great topic and write up Darren.. cheers