Today’s task in the Rediscover Your Blogging Groove project is to answer a reader’s question.
One of the simplest ways to find something to write about that connects with readers is to answer one of their questions. Today, if you’re taking part in the project, I’d like to encourage you to give it a go. If you’re not participating you still might find the post helpful – so lets read on…
Even in the early days of my blogging I remember getting comments and emails from readers asking for information, opinion or insight on the topics that I was covering. Sometimes the questions were quite to the point and bite sized, other times they were more open ended.
At first I would answer these questions in the medium that they were asked (in the comment thread or by replying to email) however I very quickly realized that I was being asked the same questions repeatedly and that the answers might be relevant for a wider audience than just the person asking them.
The result of this realization is that I regularly post answers to questions as posts.
I have a folder on my computer’s desktop called ‘reader questions’ that I place some of the questions that I’m asked into (as they hit my inbox or comments section). By no means do I answer them all but they do provide a treasure trove of inspiration on those slow days when I’ve run out of things to write about.
A few suggestions on answering questions:
- Pick Relevant Questions – not every question that you are asked will be appropriate for answering on your blog. Keep on topic and don’t keep answering the same question over and over.
- Ask for Permission or Keep Anonymity – before I post answer someone’s question I attempt to seek their permission to do so. I’m not sure on the legalities of answering someone’s question in public and using their name as the questioner – but I think it is polite and helps to show that you value your readers. If you can’t get permission (either you don’t have email details or they won’t reply) then I would change the question slightly to protect the questioner.
- Credit the Questioner – if they give you permission, give the person asking the question credit with their name and a link if they have one.
The beauty of using reader questions is that you end up with a post to point people to when you’re next asked the question. This will save you a lot of time in future.
The other great thing about answering questions is that they can be a very effective way of bringing in search engine traffic. Many of the searches done on Google are done in a ‘question’ format and smart bloggers who incorporate questions into their posts position themselves well for this traffic. Check out Ask Dave Taylor for an example of a blogger who has based his whole blog on answering questions.
“What if no one asks me questions?”
I can hear some of you thinking this already. Well let me answer your question with a few suggestions….
- Ask for questions – on numerous occasions I’ve solicited questions from my readers in blog posts and on each occasion the response was quite amazing with questions being asked that I’d never have considered writing posts on. Don’t promise to answer them all in your post or you could set yourself up for a bit of a disaster.
- Trawl for questions – if you don’t have enough readers yet on your blog to get many questions then perhaps you need to go on a question hunt on other sites. Look in the comments sections of other blogs and check out forums on your topics. Forums are a particularly good place for beginner questions.
- Find a Beginner – one of the best readers to identify is someone just starting out on the topic that you’re writing about. I did this a year back here at ProBlogger by approaching a couple of random readers who I knew were new bloggers via email and asking them if they had any questions that I could answer publicly. The bloggers were over the moon and I ended up with 15-20 posts based on the needs of beginner bloggers.
- Ask yourself a question – still can’t find a reader question? Don’t give up – ask yourself one! I’ve written many posts like this over the years. They start off with a question that I could imagine a reader asking (they don’t claim to be real questions) and they then go onto me answering the question. These posts are particularly good in the early days of a blog because they show your willingness to answer questions even if it wasn’t a reader that they originated from.
- Remember your previous questions – a little extension on the ‘ask yourself a question’ technique is simply to remember back to the early days of your own learning about your topic. What did you not know that you now know? What did you ask the people who taught you? If you asked these questions – someone else is sure to be also.
Homework – it’s time to go and write your question post. Don’t let it get too complex – imagine you’re talking to the reader who asked the question and simply write it up as you’d answer it in person.
Once you’ve answered the question in a post come back here and share the link to it so that we can all read it and learn from how you’ve done it.
note: while your previous question answering posts might be interesting – I’d prefer it if you only posted links to new posts in comments below – after all, this series is about helping you to improve your blog NOW rather than looking back – thanks for understanding.
update – thanks to Brody for reminding me of a technique to help you find questions to answer – check your blog’s search engine referral statistics to see what keywords people are using to find your blog. You’ll find that many times it is questions that bring them in – and that they’re questions that are ready made topics to write about. I’ve written about how I do this using the 103bees metrics tool previously.
I get comments in my blog. But I don’t get much of questions. Searching in forums, as you said is a nice way to find questions. My method is to think what I searched for when I was new to blogging (still new only). This has helped in many situations. This helped me create a post for the Daily Blog Tips writing contest in which I luckily came as a runner up.
Really useful tips. I’ve actually answered some of my reader’s questions on my posts, I didn’t ask for their permission but I kept their identity confidential. I guess it’s better to give them credit so that they’ll know that you appreciate them.
I’ve not seen Day 1 but I wish to participate. I’ll catch up. Cheers.
Great advice once again! You rock, Darren! *=)
My new forum is providing no end of new topic ideas :)
This was a bit difficult since I don’t have many reader questions to draw from so I changed yesterday’s list post into a question. Great assignment.
Today’s assignment: Top 5 election issues I DON’T want to hear about
I did mine based on a reader question I got in response to my list. (worked out perfect!)
It is an article on Telecommuting, what it is and how to get into it.
I made it a lot longer than you probably intended, but there was just so much info to cover!
I answer questions that I get in the comments section quite often. If they posted a comment, I haven’t been asking for their permission though, and I end up linking to their comment in my post. I thought that since they asked the question in the comments, that they weren’t anonymous.
Is this incorrect Darren?
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago answering a question on my blog and it was a fun post to write. I definitely recommend this suggestion.
So I am just getting into blogging for business as I work for a great 1031 property exchange company that allows me to find all sorts of avenues to drum up business. My latest idea has been to educate the masses on 1031 exchanges. So I set out to answer “What are 1031 Exchanges” (the most basic and often asked question). It was a great experience for me as I am just starting to get thoughts out in posts and allowing myself to actually send it out to the world. I never realized how much harder it would be to press send when I knew anybody and everybody can read it.
My company blog is getting set up over the next couple of weeks so I have started my family blog to start writing, so that’s where you’ll see this post.
Thanks for your great content and tips!
How can I get readers to ask questions?
I’m afraid I am with Tejvan on this one. My blog is the story of my life as a single (redhead) mom raising a boy as he begins his teenage years. It is a set format based on M/W/F posts. My readers don’t ask many questions. I am not sure how a question would tie in to my format and the congruency of my blog…
Catherine, the redhead
I don’t get very many reader questions, but when I do get them I will use this to write a post on.
I don’t get any reader questions :( . But when I do I will do my best to elaborate and make a post or something out of it.
I’ve answered a question with a list, do I get extra credit? ;)
What is the Bai Hui acupuncture point, and how can it improve my health?
The comments/mailbox is where you’ll-never-really-know-what-you’ll-receive (minus the spam of course) so that’s where the fun starts!
The post is why to use full feed rss.
Another way to find questions is to mine the search terms people use to find your site. If they’ve found your site by typing in a certain question in the search engine, then more than likely your blog talks about the same subject that they want to know about. I write for a country music website and we’ve used this technique several times to create so called mailbags with 15-20 questions and answers per post.
Those of you who don’t get reader questions – why don’t you ask yourself one, or ask someone to ask you one?
Brody – great tip! I’m going to update the post with that. thanks for reminding me.
I get a lot of reader questions in emails, usually in response to posts I’ve made. Typically I’ll update the relevant post with any new ideas their emails spark in me, but I recently received one that’s perfect for starring in a new post…
Today’s submission: Buying Maternity Clothes in Deutschland
I just started a blog, so reading here has helped me greatly. The only thing about comments and questions that I have wondered about is if having the comments area moderated influences people to not post there comment or question.
Great series! I love learning new perspectives about blogging.
For the first time I answered a reader’s question a few days ago in the form of a list of tips. I combined the ideas of the two first articles you posted in this series (so I’d like the extra credit along with Chris). I posted it in list format since this seemed the best way to address her question. I got great feedback from the reader.
However, I wasn’t aware of gaining permission before answering a reader’s question. I gave her credit for inspiring the post, and emailed her to let her know about the post, and she was very happy that she gave me the idea. Thanks for making me aware of gaining permission from a reader.
Here is the link to the post:
Thanks, Brody, for that great tip. Some of the search terms used to find my site do look like questions. Never thought of that before. Thanks for sharing.
I answered a question I have read online before re: high fructose corn syrup. It tied in with a topic I was inspired to write about today because I had just seen a particular food label in the grocery store:
I took this and ran really really loosely with it as I don’t get asked many questions. My blogging genre is, loosely, parenting – particularly single parenting. Yesterday due to a post on a sole parenting forum I had a lot of visitors from. Therefore I went through my drafts and found this one about being pregnant while single that I’m sure people from this forum would be interested in. As I say in my post, an answer to an unasked question.
So your post inspired me to seek it out and do it, so thanks.
As yet I haven’t even had time to ask questions of any of my newsletter subscribers as I’ve been busy building the blog and other sites.
I will definitely add these tips when it comes time though.
Today’s offering: http://gscottage.blogspot.com/2007/07/answer-question-what-would-i-do-if.html
Well, this post pushed me to write a post I had set aside a while back. I had a visitor arrive at my real estate site, RealNews, searching for “how do real estate back-up offers work” on Google. I saved the question as a draft title in WordPress and have looked at it every day for a while. Your post here prompted me to finally write the answer:
I’m thinking this series of yours could be subtitled “How Darren Can Prod You to Stop Procrastinating” and I may have a future metablogging piece of my own “How Tom Got His Groove Back” or “The Bloggers New Groove.”
I don’t have any outstanding reader questions. Nor do I have any unanswered questions of my own. But it’s a good idea and I’ll hold it until I do.
You are really good at it – asking questions. I have been kept amazed by both of your questions and answers!
I heard that when you asked the right question, you got half of the answer.
I receive a lot of questions at my website. They are usually sent via email. This is one I received yesterday.
High Blood Pressure: Six Ways You Can Lower it Naturally
Usually I receive comments, and they can be formulated into questions.
Recently I used a suggestion from a reader and used it in my post so as to give the rest of the readers a chance to discuss it further.
I ask myself a question, reflect on it and found an answer that surprise even myself. That’s a very good task. Thanks.
Ask a question to get an answer
Thanks, Darren – I’m learning a lot And having fun!
My answer-a-question post:
In keeping with this project I’ve answered the question “What is Inspired Action?” in reference to using the Law of Attraction as seen in the movie “The Secret.”
Next project is Day 3.
Thanks again for the simple suggestions and inspiration for getting back in the groove.
Well, it wasn’t exactly a question …
Well, it wasn’t exactly a question, but I responded to it anyway.
Absolutely, 103bees is incredibly useful for this – I love being able to see the exact questions that readers are asking the search engines that bring them to my blog. Often, there are surprises in those stats!
This is a great suggestion! I actually read a suggestion you did back in April or May about turing your titles into questions. I have done so and it has helped tremendously.
I am starting to get lots of questions from readers. Mostly in email. I also answer questions on a forum that has brought more traffic to my blog. Good Stuff!
I especially like his concern that he doesn’t want his legs to be severed at the thigh:
I receive a bunch of questions and have learned that it’s more effective to answer them in a post rather than under the comments section where my replies can be lost to new readers.
Here’s my example:
Reader asks, “How exactly did you become a millionaire so young?”