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How to Turn Surfers into Blog Readers by Building a Sticky Blog

Today’s episode is about how to find new readers for your blog. It’s the question I get asked most by bloggers, so this is the third of several podcasts on this topic. In part one we looked at two really important questions to ask before you go hunting for readers to read your blog. In part two, we talked about how to use two types of content to find readers for your blog. Today, we talk about building a blog that readers will want to return to again and again (a ‘sticky’ blog).

In This Episode

You can listen to today’s episode above or in iTunes or Stitcher (where we’d also LOVE to get your reviews on those platforms if you have a moment). Today we talk about:

  • Why it’s so much easier to hook readers into become regular rather than having to find fresh readers every day
  • 15 ways to make it difficult for readers to leave your blog
  • How to get readers to subscribe, follow and connect

Further Resources For Finding Blog Readers

Full Transcript Expand to view full transcript

Hi. My name is Darren Rowse and welcome to episode 35 of the ProBlogger Podcast, a podcast dedicated to helping you build better blogs. Today’s show notes can be found at

Hi. My name is Darren Rowse and welcome to episode 35 of the ProBlogger Podcast, a podcast dedicated to helping you build better blogs. Today’s show notes can be found at

Today, we’re continuing our series on finding readers for your blog. It’s a topic we’re all interested in as bloggers. In the last two episodes, I’ve been building some foundations for finding readers for your blog. In episode 33, I’ve talked about two questions to ask about the potential readers you’re trying to attract. In the last episode, episode 34, I talked about two types of content that can help you to find new readers for your blog.

Today, I want to suggest one more thing to think about as a good foundation for building a blog with lots of readers—building a sticky blog. You might be asking, what is a sticky blog? A sticky blog is one way a first-time reader of your blog finds it difficult to leave. That might sound like you’re going to try and trap them or send them a virus to their computer or something like that. It’s nothing like that at all. It’s because something in your blog motivates them to explore it further and/or they make a decision to return and keep connected in some way. The goal of what we’re talking about today is to get people deeper into your blog, viewing more pages, subscribing, connecting, and following in some way. 

The reality is that most people who arrive on your blog surf away and they’re gone again within seconds. It’s less than 10 seconds (I would guess) in most cases. How are you going to hook them? How are you going to keep them on your blog longer? These questions are questions that I think are really important. I’m surprised how few posts there are in blog tips on this particular topic. It makes sense to me that it’s better to find a reader and keep them coming back once a week for the rest of the year—52 times—than to go way out and have to find 52 new readers. Turning that one reader into a regular reader will pay off in the long term. 

This is actually how I think it’s best to grow your readership. If all you’re doing is promoting your blog to new readers and not convincing any of them to hang around, you’re going to hit a ceiling as to how many readers you can have. But if you continue to add new loyal readers into your blog every day by hooking them in, then you can begin to grow your readership over time. 

What I want to do today is to suggest 15 ways that you can hook readers into your blog, that you could build a sticky blog. None of these 15 things go for long. I’m going to whip through them pretty quickly. I’ll give you some further reading in many of them, but I think some of these will help different bloggers, depending on what type of blog you have and what life stage you’re at with your blog, too. 

The first thing is to have some ways for people to subscribe, follow, or connect. This is not rocket science, but it’s amazing how many people haven’t really thought this one through. Firstly, it’s about trying to work out which is the best option to subscribe. Personally, I find email is the best way both for my blogs. Social networks can be good, too, but they tend to come and go over time and they don’t give you complete control over how you can communicate with people. Facebook, for instance, filters your updates, so not everyone will see all of your updates. On email, generally get through to people and you have more control over it.

It will vary from blog to blog. There is a whole heap of different ways to get people to subscribe or follow. One might be email. Another might be your blog’s RSS feed. There are also services out there that turn your blog’s RSS feed into an email. FeedBurner has one, for instance, but there are others. Social media is another way you can get people to follow, connect, or subscribe. Many people use their Facebook page almost like an RSS feed. They just put in a new post there. Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, or even a new tool like Periscope that’s become more popular recently. Then, there are other platforms that you can get people to subscribe to your podcast, your YouTube channel. There’s a whole heap of different ways that you can offer for people to connect with you. 

Here’s the thing, I would encourage you to work out which is your number one priority. Call people to subscribe to that, number one. I think having a one clear call to action is going to be less overwhelming and less confusing to people. That doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple but I would have one key one which is your main call to action then follow that up with some others. For us, email is our number one. We do have buttons for others but email is the big priority. We’re pretty aggressive with how we try to get people to sign up.

In Digital Photography School, we actually use a popup. In ProBlogger, we don’t use that. We have a more subtle slide in at the bottom of the page on You need to really tailor that depending upon your blog and how your blog readers will respond to it.

The other thing I’ll say about calling people to subscribe is that it’s totally fine to have multiple places on your blog where you do make that invitation to subscribe. A popup might be one. That may be a bit aggressive for you and that’s totally fine. A hello bar at the top, in your sidebar. 

Another great place that I find really useful and it converts quite well is at the end of the blogpost; we’ve actually built it into our template. Underneath the post, it’s the place that people pull at the end of the post and they’re looking for something else to do. It’s a great place to put further reading or something like that. An ad, even, if you’re monetizing with ads and also a call to subscribe can be useful. So, that’s the first thing, is to decide how you want people to subscribe and then call people prominently to do that. 

The second thing related to that. It’s about not only calling people to subscribe in your blog template, in your design, but also in your content. During a blog post, that may actually be relevant there to call people to subscribe. I actually find those in content invitations convert particularly well. The other thing you might want to do in your blog post is to educate your readers as well.

When Twitter first came out, for instance, we ran a number of posts in Digital Photography School about how to use Twitter. We’re actually educating our readers on how to use these different social networks. Now, a lot of people would know how to use Facebook these days but a new tool like Periscope (which just came out), maybe something that you might want to write a blog post on, partly to educate your readers and be useful to them but also to call them to action to follow you on that new social network.

Number three way to make your blog sticky is to really pay attention to the first impressions that readers get when they come to your site. People decide, as I’ve mentioned before in the first few seconds, what your blog’s about whether it’s relevant for them. You want to think very carefully about what your blog is communicating in those first few seconds to really communicate that effectively. If people are confused about what your blog is about, then they’re probably unlikely to stick around and subscribe.

A great place to think about that is to go back to episode one of this podcast where we talked about creating an elevator pitch for your blog. That elevator pitch may actually turn into a tagline that you might want to include. Other ways to communicate really quickly what your blog is about is the title of your blog, the tagline, the categories of your blog, what’s appearing in the navigation areas, and the design as well, which leads me to point number four in making your blog sticky—the design of your blog.

The first impression that your blog design creates is so important. People are making snap judgments about whether your blog’s professional, whether it’s relevant, whether it’s on-brand for their type of person that they are. You want to make your blog as clear, as clean, and as inviting as possible to people.

Not only the design of your blog but actually the way you layout your blog posts can have a massive impact as well. The difference between someone coming to your blog and then bouncing straight off again because it’s too hard to read and it’s not presented in an aesthetically pleasing way. It can be the difference between them bouncing away or them actually reading on. Things like using images in your blog posts can really be the difference between your post being read or not. Creating a blog post that’s scannable, using headlines, shorter paragraphs, using formatting like bold, italics, that type of thing, using lists, and even the headlines of your blog posts and how accessible they are.

The other aspect of design is how it looks on the mobile. Increasingly, people are landing on your blog on their phones. How does it look to them on that? Is it beautiful? Is it engaging? Or is it crowded, confusing, and hard to use? These types of things are factors in building a sticky blog—a blog that people want to subscribe to and keep coming back to.

The fifth thing I want to talk about briefly is building anticipation on your blog. If you think about the blogs that you subscribe to or the blogs that you follow on social media—the ones that you’re most engaged with—think back to when you first subscribe, to when you first followed them. Why did you do that? Why did you follow that blog?

I would argue that in almost every case, it’s probably because you anticipated that something was coming that would enhance your life in some ways. It’s about projecting forward. As you sat there looking at that blog, “I want to be in touch with this blogger because they’re going to produce something that could make my life better in some way.” So, it’s anticipation, it’s momentum. There are ways that you can build anticipation in someone arriving in your blog.

One of the best ways to do it is to write blog posts that are a part of a series of content. In some ways, that’s what happening here in this podcast right now. This is the third part in the series. We still got another couple of parts to go. At the end of this podcast, I’ll tell you what the next episode is about. That gives you an incentive if it’s relevant to you to subscribe. I encourage you to do so in iTunes. Creating a series of content could get people thinking about the future post and how they’re going to get those. Hinting on what’s to come is one way of building that anticipation.

Another way to do it is to have a regular type of post that comes up in your blog. On Digital Photography School, every Friday, we give our readers a challenge. We say, “Go away and take a photo on this theme. Then, come back and share it.” We have readers that that’s the only post they read every week. They subscribed and engaged because they love that post. You might do an opinion post every Tuesday. You might review a product every Wednesday. You can actually build regularity into your post and communicate to your readers that this is the type of post that you do on this day. Once a month, you might do another type of post. This regularity shows your readers that there’s more to come that might be relevant to them. Anything you can do to build anticipation is worth doing.

I’ve got a link in today’s show notes on building anticipation on your blog.

Another really simple way of making your blog sticky is by interlinking your posts. Any opportunity that you have to link to another post that you’ve written already is a great way to get people to view another page on their site. If they’re viewing extra pages, they’re more likely to see your good stuff and more likely to subscribe.

Get into the habit as you’re writing a post and you mentioned a topic that may not be exactly what your blog’s about but it could be interesting to someone, link back to those old posts. A great way to do this is at the end of the post, include further readings. You’ve got to the end of your post but there are other things in your archives that your readers might find interesting. So, create a further reading, at least.

There are tools and plugins around that that can do this for you automatically. They might pull in things like other posts in your categories or your most popular posts. You can also curate these lists by yourself.

Related to this is my seventh tip. That is to create a sneeze page. We talked about this in episode 18. It is probably the most effective way that I’ve come across to get people reading other posts in your archives and getting people deep into your archives. You want to use these sneeze pages to highlight your best content as much as possible. Then, include the links to these sneeze pages in your navigation areas. If you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about with the sneeze page, go back and listen to episode 18. It is so effective. I had so much positive feedback on that particular episode.

The eighth tip I’ll give you is to use social proof. This is a term that many of you will be familiar with. Most of you have seen it even if you don’t know the term. You probably walked down a street where there’s been a whole heap of restaurants, looked into the restaurants, and noticed that one has a whole heap of people. A lot of others don’t have anyone. You’re much more likely to go into the one with lots of people. This is social proof in action. We like to do what other people do. It’s just part of who we are as human beings. 

There are ways that you can signal that there are parts of your blogs being read more and that there are readers hanging out in your blog. If people come to your blog and they say, “Oh, look.” All those comments that have been left on the post, they’re much more likely to go and read that post. Signaling where there’s action in your blog, highlighting the popular parts in your blog can be one part of this.

If you do have readers of your blog already, perhaps you’ve already got a whole heap of people following you on Facebook, highlight that in different ways. Actually have in your “Follow us on Facebook,” button the number of people that are already following you there. This is something that is a little bit harder if you are a new blogger. You might not have many readers yet or many subscribers. As your blog grows, highlight the action that’s happening on your blog. Any kind of community, any kind of interaction that you have is important.

That’s my ninth tip, get your interaction up. People are much more likely to come back to your blog if they’ve left a comment, if they’ve voted in the poll, if they’ve entered the competition, if they’ve participated in some kind of project that you’re running. Get interaction up. Invite people to comment. Invite people to participate in your blog. Community breads community. It’s part of the social proof part of your blog which I just talked about. 

If you’ve got a tool like Disqus as your commenting system on your blog, that actually lets people know when you respond to their comments. There are other plugins around that you can install if you’re just using WordPress comments to let people know when someone responded to their comments. These types of tools can be good but they mean that you need to be responding to comments as well. Getting interaction up is really important.

My tenth tip of the 15, I want to run through quickly, is to be as personal as you can. I found on my blogs that people are much more likely to subscribe and connect with a human being than they are with a brand.

On ProBlogger, everywhere you go, you probably see my face. That’s partly to personalize the brand and people seem to like to be able to connect with that. I don’t think it’s just my face. The way I think, people like people. Being personal on your blog by using your photo, by telling stories, but also by using different mediums. A medium like a podcast, you’re hearing my voice. You’re not just reading some random words at someone out there. You’re actually listening to my words. You can hear my inflection. You can hear my accent and who I am. 

Using other tools like Periscope where people go and actually see you, they can interact with you. These types of things tend to make people feel a deeper connection with you than just purely using words. Words can do it but adding in these other mediums can be really helpful as well.

Be personal with your writing but with the mediums that you use as well. People are much more likely to come and read your stuff after they’ve talked to you or they had some kind of interaction with you.

The eleventh thing I’ll talk about is consider—you don’t have to do this one—removing the dates on old posts on your blog. This is a bit controversial. It will depend upon the type of blog that you have. I do this on Digital Photography School but not on ProBlogger. That’s because the type of content that I’m creating on ProBlogger is a little bit more timely. We’re talking about tools, plugins, or techniques that work today but may not work in a month’s time. It’s important for us to have the dates on those particular posts.

In Digital Photography School, we’re talking about a lot of concepts that do not date over time. I’ve written a post eight years ago now on the topic of aperture. I still link back to that particular post today because it is relevant for today. 

If your content is evergreen, you don’t have to do it, but consider the option of removing the dates from those posts. When someone shows up and sees that a post was written eight years ago, even if it’s completely relevant for today, they’re going to start making judgments about it being old and less relevant for today. If your older content is still relevant for today, consider making that change in the way that your blog displays it. Another way to do it is to put the dates down the bottom of the post so when people are arriving, they don’t suddenly see this old date. They see it at the end once they’ve already consumed that content.

The twelfth thing I’ll briefly talk about is giving people incentive to subscribe to your blog. Again, there are different opinions on this and it can work really well. For instance, offering someone a free download of a PDF or a guide to something if they’ve subscribed to your newsletter. That will increase the number of people that will subscribe to your newsletter and that can be really effective. However, you will get some people who simply subscribe to get the free thing and then they unsubscribe. That’s the risk that you run with that particular type of approach.

A better way to do it might be to offer ongoing benefits. “If you sign up, I will give you a free course on this particular topic.” That course is delivered via a series of emails by that time. They’ve got more incentive to hang around for the next month, the next two months, or the next three months. They’ll also hear other communications in the mix as well.

The key when you’re offering an incentive for people to sign up is to keep it highly relevant to what the rest of your blog is about, of high quality. You want to send them the best stuff and make it ongoing in some sort of way. Hint at the ongoing benefits and that will help to get people not only to sign up but to stay subscribed.

The thirteenth thing is to work on your About page. One of the most highly read pages on any blog that has one is the About page. People hit the About link in your navigation area, if you have one, to (1) decide what your blogs about, (2) work out whether you’re credible, whether you actually know what you’re talking about. To find out what sort of style you have and to find out who’s behind the blog as well. They make a decision, more often than not, while they’re on that page, whether they’re going to continue to connect with you.

Use your About page effectively. Keep it up to date. I use it to tell my story. I think a story’s a great way to be relatable but also to talk about the benefits of subscribers. Actually, give people on your About page the option to connect with you more. Again, drive people to that number one way that you want them to connect with you, and you might follow that up with some secondary ones. And be personal on that page. Again, I’ll give you some further reading on About pages in today’s show notes.

The fourteenth and second to the last thing I’ll talk about today is to consider targeting different readers with different messages. Not everyone here arrives on your blog is in the same state. They’ve all got different intents. One of the ways that you can tell this is where they’ve come from. There are some great tools out there that allow you to deliver a different message to someone arriving from Google to Twitter, for instance.

One of the tools that we use on ProBlogger is OptinMonster. I’ve got a link for that in today’s show notes. It enables us to show a different call to action to someone coming from Google, from someone coming from another blog, or someone coming from Facebook.

For example, we find people coming in from Google, they leave again very quickly. We tend to be a bit more aggressive in the calls to action that we have from people from Google. They’re never going to come back again anyway. We want to interrupt them a little bit more and say, “Hey, here are some benefits of subscribing to this site.” We found that that works quite well for our particular site.

We serve them a more aggressive and a more direct popup on Digital Photography School if they’ve come in from Google. If they’ve come in from another blog, they’re more interested in the topic. They’re more interested and more open to the idea of seeing some more of our content. So, we show them different stuff based upon that. Again, the tool we’re using is OptinMonster, but there are other plugins and tools out there. You might want to do a bit of research on that.

The last thing I’ll say about making your blog sticky is you really want to pay attention to any post or part of your blog that gets a lot of traction, a lot of traffic already. Yesterday, we talked about creating shareable content for your blog. You do want to create that but you also want to watch what happens from time to time you create a shareable piece of content that goes viral. It may not go viral in that it gets visitors but it may get more than a normal post. They’re the posts you want to pay particular attention to honing and really thinking carefully about how you’re going to make those posts sticky. 

You might want to add an invitation to subscribe to that post. You might want to put some further reading or interlinking of posts in that particular post. You might want to write a second follow-up post to it. 

We noticed in the early days of Digital Photography School that we published a post that was 10 Tips for Portrait Photography that did really well. A week later, I followed it up with a second one, 10 More Tips for Portrait Photography. I linked those posts together. You got to the end of the first one which was continuing to get a lot of traffic from Google. You got to the end of it and you were invited to read the second part of the series. That drove a lot more traffic. 

Again, getting people to view a second page increases the chances that they’re going to subscribe and view more content as well. Pay particular attention to those hot posts that you’ve got that might be going a little bit more viral than others. Also, pay particular attention to any post in your archives that’s getting a whole heap of search engine traffic. You’ll notice over time, if you’ve been blogging for a year or two, you have one post in your archives that just randomly seems to be ranking really high for Google and sending a whole heap of traffic. It’s often a post you didn’t expect to rank high. They’re the post to go back and update them.

Another great technique that I’ve seen in action recently is to create an incentive to subscribe that relates to a specific post. I recently was talking to a blogger. She’d written this post on her blog about a particular style of calligraphy. It’s kind of a random, nichey kind of topic in many ways. She was ranking number one in Google for that particular style of calligraphy and she was getting hundreds of visits to this blog post everyday. 

They weren’t really sticking around. They read the post and then they went away. I said to her, “Why don’t you create a downloadable PDF on that particular topic? Offer it if anyone subscribes to your newsletter.” She set up a list on a web that basically offered this incentive. It had a little auto-responder in it. If you signed up, you got sent an email to a link in PDF that taught you a little bit more on this particular style of calligraphy. 

She was converting those hundreds of readers a day to 50 or so sing ups a day to her newsletter simply by adding that incentive to that single post. She didn’t mention the incentive in any of the other posts or anywhere else on the site. It was specific to a particular list. It worked really well. You might want to consider adding an incentive that relates to the particular post that you’ve got.

I hope some of those techniques have connected with you. I would encourage you not to go away and do all 15 at once. Pick one, two, or three of them. Over the next few days, you might want to start implementing them. 

In the next episode on this podcast—I told you that I was going to push forward and build some anticipation—I’m going to get more tactical. We’re going to talk more about techniques and some of the best techniques I’ve seen for finding readers for your blog. Before we get into that, it’ll be a couple of days away. I really would encourage you to choose one or two of these techniques in building a sticky blog. It’s going to help you so much more when you actually begin to find new readers if you can hook them in some way.

You can find today’s show notes at I would love to hear on those show notes what you would add out of your experience of blogging, what techniques have you used to build this sticky blog that would’ve worked well for you, and then what you’re going to do as a result of listening to this podcast. What technique are you going to focus on to implement on your blog?

I hope you found today’s episode useful. I will see you in a couple of days’ time in episode 35, which will be a little bit more tactical- and technique-oriented on finding readers for your blog.

How did you go with today’s challenge?

Are you already using some techniques to make your blog sticky? What would you add? What will you try next?

I’d love to hear your answers to those questions. Let me know in the comments below, and share a link to your blog.

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