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Listening – Principles of Successful Blogging #1

Posted By Darren Rowse 30th of September 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

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Last week I shared a set of slides from a presentation I recently gave which outlines a variety of lessons that I’ve learned as a blogger over the last 7 years. Over the coming months I intend to expand upon many of the points in that presentation – starting today with ‘Listening’.

When I began blogging in 2002 I made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of false assumptions about blogging. One of the things I quickly found out didn’t work when trying to grow a blog was to use it purely as a broadcast tool.

In the first few weeks of blogging it was almost as though I was using the blog as a platform or a stage where I stood with a megaphone in hand blasting out my message for anyone who might happen to be passing by to hear. It’s no wonder that only my wife read my blog that first week (and even she never really came back).

Nobody likes a loud mouth. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of someone talking AT them.

The people we tend to be drawn to in real life are people who pause in conversation to let you have a say, people who ask questions about you, people who have a genuine interest in what you’ve got to say.

The same is true (in most cases) when it comes to blogging.

Of course there are cases where blogs are successfully used as broadcast tools with little interaction between blogger and reader – however in most cases there is at least some element of ‘listening’ going on by the blogger. Let me explore a few ways that a blogger should consider ‘listening’:

Listen to the culture of the blogosphere

This is one for those yet to start blogging (and it should also be applied to those getting into new social media tools like Twitter, Facebook etc).

I was chatting with a new blogger recently who described her first week of blogging as being similar to travelling to a new country and having to adjust to a new language, climate, etiquette and customs as an outsider.

When travelling overseas for an extended stay (perhaps for a new job) most travellers know that one of their first tasks as a new resident is to make some cultural adjustments.

  • learning some basic words in the local language
  • finding a local who can talk them through the etiquette
  • getting a map so that they can find their way around
  • learning to use systems like public transport…. etc

In a similar way – when you’re new to the blogosphere (or any new part of the social media-sphere) it’s important to pause, take stock, learn about the culture, learn to use the tools, discover what is acceptable (and not acceptable), learn the rhythms etc

The danger in not learning the culture of the blogosphere is doing something that not only doesn’t work but that offends ‘the locals’ and hurts your reputation.

Listen for where your potential readers are gathering

One of the key tasks that any new blogger who wants to grow their readership should do is identify where their potential readers are already gathering online.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks back – it’s not enough just to build a good blog with great content in order to find readers for your blog. If you want people to know about your blog you need to ‘get out there’ and interact with them and develop a presence in the places that your potential readers are already gathering.

Of course before you can find these places you need to have an understanding of who you’re trying to attract – so do a little work on defining who you want to read your blog and then begin to look for where that type of person is already gathering (I talk more about how I did this in this recent video on how I use promote my blog).

Listen to what others in your niche are saying

One of the most powerful things that I did which helped take my early blogs to the next level was to begin to monitor what others in my niche/industry were talking about.

I discovered the power of this accidentally one day when I just happened to be surfing on another small blog that broke news of a big story. I picked up the story on my own blog (linking to the first) and then my post got picked up by a massive blog which drew in a lot of new readers. Knowing what was happening in the niche helped to break stories but also build relationships with other bloggers in the niche.

Back then the tools for monitoring other blogs and topics were primitive and meant some manual hunting around (I remember in the very early days having to manually bookmark the blogs I wanted to track and visit them each every day to see if they’d posted anything new) but these days it is a lot easier to set up and automate.

My own monitoring of my niches generally happens in two ways:

  1. Subscribing to Feeds of Key Sources of Information – these days most sites have some way of subscribing to them, usually via an RSS feed. I have a folder in my feed reader for each of my main topics which contains a number of key blogs and news sites in that niche. I used to follow close to a thousand blogs to do this – but these days have refined the list to much less for each topic.
  2. 2. Keyword Alerts – using Google’s news and blog alerts I have a number of alerts set up so that if any news site or blog uses a keyword that I’m interested in I know about it. Choosing keywords that are specific enough can take a little time (some words just generate too many alerts) but on almost a daily basis these alerts identify important posts in my niches.
  3. Recommendation Sites – the other listening tool that I use to help me know what’s going on in my niches is to subscribe to sites that are in the business of looking for popular content in my niches. These sites can be a little hard to find depending upon your niche but because I’m largely working in the Tech space there are a few including TechMeme and Delicious. TechMeme looks at what content key blogs are linking to in the tech space and Delicious is a bookmarking site that produces a list of popular content being bookmarked at any point in time (it’s not purely tech related but does consistently produce good results for me). Both of these sites have RSS feeds you can subscribe to to monitor what’s hot.
  4. Twitter – I also find that being active on Twitter and developing a Twitter account that has a niche focus can also help you listen to what people are saying about your niche. This partly happens naturally (those you follow in your niche will share links) but there are also great tools including Tweetmeme (which shows you what is being retweeted in different categories) and other monitoring/search tools such as Twitter search (you can set up an RSS feed for different search terms) and tools built into Twitter clients (like TweetDeck which allows you to set up a column specifically for alerts). More and more useful tools are being set up for Twitter to help monitor what people are saying about your industry.

Listen to what is being said about you

The other use for some of the tools mentioned above (keyword alerts and the Twitter keyword monitoring) is that you can use them to alert you when someone is talking about you, your business, your blog or your brand specifically.

I’ve talked previously about setting up a vanity folder in your feed reader to help you do this so won’t go into great detail about it here – however it’s something that I’ve found particularly useful for a couple of reasons:

  1. Building Relationships – when another blogger links to you it is useful to know about it so you can go and build a relationship with that blogger and their readers.
  2. Reputation Management – from time to time you might also be mentioned on another site/blog/press in a more negative way. Knowing quickly about this is also important as it enables you to respond (if necessarily) or at least monitor developments.

Create Listening Spaces on Your Blog

Have you ever had a ‘conversation’ with someone where you simply could not get a word in edgeways? The person talked so fast and without taking a breath – to the point where there simply wasn’t space for you to be listened to.

Sometimes I get that same feeling while on blogs. It’s not that the blogger isn’t interested in their reader – it’s just that they get so excited about what they’re blogging about that they just don’t stop long enough to let others have a say.

One of the simplest ways to create these ‘listening spaces’ on a blog is to ask questions. Ask them at the end of your posts, ask them half way through the and even write posts that are nothing but questions.

Listen to the Questions Your Readers are Asking

One of the most important things to be on the listen out for is questions.

I remember one of my first teachers drumming into the class I was in that there was no such thing as a dumb question and that if one person asked a question it usually meant that others also had the same question going around in their minds.

As a result – when a reader asks you a question, you can bet that they’re not the only one thinking it.

Questions reveal potential topics to write about, problems with your site and opportunities to expand what you’re doing on your blog. Pay careful attention to them in the following areas:

  1. comments section – this is the most obvious place for your readers to ask questions
  2. your inbox – what questions are you getting from readers via your blog’s contact form?
  3. search engine referral terms – often people arrive on your site having plugged a specific question into Google. Most stats packages will reveal these terms and phrases – keep on the look out specifically for questions – also check out 103bees – a tool that specifically monitors and collates questions being asked in your search stats.
  4. questions typed into onsite search boxes – this is a goldmine of information, monitoring what people are searching for when they’re actually on your site will show you all kinds of needs, problems and challenges that your readers want to learn more about. Lijit is one tool that helps you track these questions.
  5. ask readers for questions – from time to time it can be worth writing a post on your blog that specifically invites readers to ask a question.

Listen to what is working (and what isn’t)

The last thing I’ll add on the topic of listening before I open this topic up to others to share their thoughts is to listen by tracking what is and isn’t working on your blog.

This means setting up your blog with a good metrics tool (I use Google Analytics but there are other great ones out there) and regularly using it to work out what is readers are responding to on your blog.

Some places to start include:

  • What posts are being read most?
  • What posts are generating good conversation/comments?
  • What posts are being linked to by others most?
  • How are readers using your design? (use a tool like CrazyEgg to create a heatmap)
  • What days of the week are people reading your site most on? What times of the day?
  • What pages are people ‘bouncing’ from your site on (bounce rate shows how many people arrive on your blog and immediately leave)
  • What posts are people spending most (and least) time on?
  • What posts are you getting most negative feedback on?

It is easy to obsess on some of these stats – but it’s also easy to ignore the useful stuff in them that could help you improve your blog.

How else do you Listen in your blogging?

I’ve talked for way too long on a post about listening – so now it’s over to you.

What would you add? Do you use some of the above techniques? What has worked well for you? I’m all ears!

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Excellent advice! I particularly like “Listen for where your potential readers are gathering.” With the prevalence of social media, this is becoming a critical component of successful blogging.

    I always coach my clients and students to check out tools like http://socialoomph.com and http://google.com/alerts which queue you in to conversations that are happening about you on the web!

    — Jason

  2. Well most of the blog posts, I get the readers to share with me or even ask me questions on the related topic.

  3. I absolutely agree with you. Listening is very important factor to be a successful blogger. Keep up posting good post.

  4. The irony of long post about listening is awesome. I really enjoyed this post though. I’ve had a hard time deciding where to go with my blog because I have such a wide range of interests, and I know to maintain a regular audience, I need to tighten my topics up a little bit.
    I really liked some of the ideas you’ve had about listening. I’ve been trying to find a heat map for a while, but didn’t know what it was called to search for it. I’m excited to use it. I’m very interested in combining that with analytics to determine which type of posts I should focus on and which ones are turning people away.
    I always try to include at least a couple of questions with each post, but I have a hard time getting answers (even when I get a good number of comments). Any suggestions on how to increase the rate of answers?

  5. This has been the mose extensive and comprehensive post on “listening” to your readers that I have ever read. A lot of good points but one good point that struck me was really my blog was becoming my outlet for anything I want to say. Because really that is what blog is about, right? but at the end of the day no one continues or keeps reading your blog when it’s just all about you, you and you. Thanks for the tip. i think that’s an understatement. thanks for everything you do to the blogosphere. without darren rowse, blogosphere will not be like this today!

    Blessings to you!

  6. Very nice post. With blogging, “active” listening is the key. This means that once you listen and find out what others want, you have to be engaging and put that listening into motion correctly. Often times people listen out of respect, and then just charge ahead as they planned to all along. With active listening, you actually shape your actions and words based completely on what you heard (or observed).

    It takes some getting used to, but when your ego is put aside, you actually try to put yourself in your readers’ shoes, and then act accordingly, you can really develop a great community where two way communication is the norm.

    Rob – LexiConn

  7. Great post. Listening to our readers and people in our specific niche is very important. Whether we are online or even running an offline business, the only way to be successful is to give the people what they want. The only way to know what they want is to listen to them.

    Someone recommended brandseye.com to me for monitoring what people are saying about you. I am going to check it out. Has anyone ever used it?

  8. Awesome article. I’ve noticed on my own blog that the more natural and “non-loudspeaker-y” a post is, the more likely it is to be read and commented on. The thing that newbie bloggers (I still count myself in that group) often have a problem with is being themselves and maintaining their natural voice – especially when writing for an audience.

    I know it comes with practice, but in the beginning it’s almost as painful for the blogger as it is for his/her readers. :)

  9. I’ve finished reading John Chow’s Ebook, which also mentions this. I’m currently reading yours – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. Your articles are very inspiring. I use twitter and RSS-feeds to stay up to date about the latest info. And a ‘Most Popular Articles’ heading to create conversations. I Think it is not only important that there is interaction between writer and reader, but also amongst readers. I’m still figuring out the perfect way to stimulate this. I believe it makes your blog more alive.

    I’m still finding other blogs that are related to my blog: Whenigetrich.com. Beginning a blog can be pretty chaotic. Trying to keep up with the big boys while coming up with your own articles and in the meantime give it your personal signature.

    Shortly, I’m very thankful for the info you’re sharing with the world. And for 31DBBB ;). It helped me a lot with building http://www.whenigetrich.com.

  10. Connecting with your readers is hugely important. I run a music business blog and we’re always talking about artists connecting with their fans, so we follow the same model and try to connect with our readers as much as possible.

  11. Interesting! But was a fan of Jason Calacanis, Mashable, Dosh Dosh etc. bloggers. But never found anything came out it for my blogs. Now I got small solution (not permanent) with Google to earn a few cents… However, I am the only one in the project, reading, million pages, articles, content, write content, edit, post, tweak, experiment, research.. and still remained there. However, too much of know how master of none.. My child advised me to write, but I cannot jot down all points as too much information in my mind…any help please…Appreciate!

  12. Darren, would you happen to have an real life example on what exactly the benefit was of your using Google’s news and blog alerts?

    How did you use this tool most effectively? Thanks for any pointers!

  13. I’m going through a transition myself with respect to blogging.

    I started with a blog as a sort of “online resume” where I could write out what I was doing, and what I knew how to do. A way of demonstrating technical skills to some unseen audience of technical recruiters, etc.

    Now, building community is much more fun!

    Excellent article coming at just the right time.

  14. Yeah.. SOmetimes we not listening to readers/

  15. Hey Darren.

    This is a solid topic here. Listening is where it is at because me yelling loud in the middle of a street like with your megaphone example will send people packing, or maybe bring about complaint. Listening is where problem-solving happens.

    This reminded me of Gary Vaynerchuk being asked by reporters in his interview on CNN about listening as much as speaking, and he responded by saying it is about listening all of the time. Here is a link to that bit that has that section about emerging media:


    Creating listening spaces by asking questions is something I will keep in mind.

  16. Totally agree, I learned (after years) that what I thought readers wanted was off target. Last month I consulted with a few dozen and as a result split http://www.digmo.co.uk into two blogs (new one http://www.totalapps.net) the first will have a pure ed tech focus whereas the latter is now Mac. I am already seeing massive benefits and even today have received 3 messages through the contact form offering guest posts in focused areas which I think is great.

    Amazing that an article written last saturday morning can see more traffic than any other article on my site over 3 years just by writing about a requested topic.

    I’m learning….. that I am not always right !!

  17. Thank you for this post… and for linking to it from facebook as you usually do.

    I started a blog about a year ago, but struggled because I spent most of my effort creating content. While I still think content is extremely important, I realized (thanks in part to Gary Vaynerchuk) how important engaging with my audience is – probably closer to 10:1 ratio for engagement to content, especially in the beginning.

    Realizing this of course is one thing – doing anything about it is quite another. I particularly liked the Vanity Folder link. I’ve used some of the alerts you mentioned, but the article came as a timely reminder for how to jump back into the trenches with readers and other bloggers.

    Marshall Jones Jr.

  18. For me, listening is definitely one of the way to create a better blog. Through listening, it will definitely help us to know what ‘other side’ of us – our blog readers want and need.

    Sometimes, we confines ourselves to our very own world without try look for new source of inputs which can be done by listening.

    By listening, it will bring new perspectives and dimensions to our blogging material and way of writing. It will be more ‘closer’ to our blog readers and will reflect what our blog readers want.

    Listening is definitely a must element for a blogger as I believe blogging is not about us – blogging is about our readers; their need and interest.

  19. Awesome, AWESOME thoughts.

    I too-often get hung up on this one, though:

    “Listen to what is being said about you.”

    If you do this too much, or if what’s being said is something less than positive, you can become obsessed. Yes, your image and your brand are important, but listening to what others say about you is only part of knowing how well that brand is doing.

    Great stuff!

  20. I find that asking questions at the end of a post is particularly helpful to encourage feedback!

  21. lol on the moniker “poorblogger” up there, definitely makes me want to check out his (her?) blog for curiosity sake.

    It’s funny, I’m still getting hundreds of Stumbles daily on one post of funny / cute things my young daughter has said over the past few years.

    People love that sweet “kids say the darndest things” honesty, so I’m not only listening to my readers but more closely to my daughter — and hopefully the first sequel will be ready to publish a lot sooner than the original was.

  22. Great post.. I agree with you. I have set up few google alerts for certain terms related to my niche. Listening and learning from readers on my own as well as other blogs helped me come up with new ideas and needs. I try to get involve myself in communication and based on their answers I twist my post or create new one.

  23. I’m learning to listen better everyday. When new to blogging I don’t think I ever used a ‘?’ when posting. It’s not about “me, me, me”, it’s about “what do you think?”


  24. thanks for the info, however, i just still write whatever i want…

    maybe later i will think in your way :-)

  25. Darren it was wonderful article, I have learned nice thing about balancing my blog by listening what people says.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful information

  26. Listening to a readers want would definitely increase our blog’s readership but it won’t get big if you aren’t going to do anything about it.

  27. Amazing information, and a lot of good tips. Thanks for posting this!
    I love how successful bloggers break the rules by following what they love. I think as we all begin to define more clearly what it is that we desire as we blog, our duties will unfold with that much more ease.

  28. is listening = replying all of the comments ?

  29. Listening to your visitors is the best way to improve your site and take it to the next level. They will give creative feedback and that too for zero cost.

  30. Great post.

    Blog design and blog comments are also very important. One should focus on these two points. A good blog design template must include some audio links, RSS feeds option, and customize blog header related to business.

    The blog owner should encourage readers to participate in discussions to increase readers’ involvement.

  31. One useful way to track what’s being said about you/your blog is to set up Google news alerts that go across all social platforms. I’ve caught some interesting updates that way…

  32. Amazing information you have shared….Listening is very important to et success in blogging, it ll definitely increase our blog’s readership.

  33. Hi Darren, all of your articles keep getting the star in my Google Reader. I love it. Thanks for the great content.

  34. Awesome, AWESOME thoughts.

  35. Thank you..Nice Post..

  36. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information

  37. right, listening is the great tool for being successful in life as well as in Bloggin, unfortunately not everyone uses it.

  38. This is one also great article that I ever read on Problogger. Most of blogger like us may be do not aware all of the above point. We just blogging as other also blogging, I completely agree with you that only making post and doing SEO for traffic on blog is not the end of blogging, we have to understand what our reader want and we have to keep in touch with our reader, this make one strong relationship with reader.

  39. Darren,

    Nothing will get me to leave a site quicker than being preached to by a know it all. There is an art to listening and daily soapbox rants are not part of that paradigm.


  40. GReat Advice! I know I am one of them that gets so excited about my message, I forget to listen. thanks for reminding me!

  41. Great post. Really this is great

  42. I think the idea of using a megaphone is great, it is the easiest way to get someone to noticed you.. :( kidding aside, I really hope that someday, someone will listen :)

  43. Thanks a lot Darren. This is one of my favorite articles of yours. This has really given me lots of great ideas for a Travel Blog that I am currently working on.

    Good on ya!

  44. Terrific post, the keyword alert sounds like a great idea.

  45. awesome thoughts you have there,im still on a part of listening what works and what isn’t.Maybe soon i’ll apply what you have said there

  46. This post was incredibly timely for me on several levels, thanks.

  47. Love to read anything and EVERYTHING about Listening. In fact, the first day of every class I teach begins with the Three Rules to Business Success [and success in just about everything.

    The FIRST RULE — and most important — is to Listen Carefully. It is the kind of lesson that can just flow through the brain matter without hooking onto anything UNLESS a Big Deal is made about How To Be An Active Listener.

    In fact, isn’t Listening the foundation of Social Media, i.e., “social” – living and being with one another.

    BTW, Rule 2 is Read Carefully. Rule 3 is Follow ALL Directions.

  48. Funny you said this, because I visited the site today just AFTER I’d written an “Ask me anything” post. Still getting a feel for blogging. Having fun with it, but not making my proverbial coffee money yet. :-)

  49. informative post.

  50. i agree with you about listening to the audience

    you have just inspired me, man

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