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How to Make Your Blog Stronger by Interacting With Your Readers

Today’s episode is about how to deepen relationships with your readers on your blog. One of the most common questions I get from my readers is “how do I get my readers to interact with me?” Not all bloggers spend a lot of time trying to build community but most of the successful bloggers I know of do. This is the first of a two-part episode. Today is about why building engagement with your readers matters so much.

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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). In today’s episode:

  • Why blogging is more than just producing content
  • Why you might want to encourage interaction from your readers
  • My personal story about what has and hasn’t worked for me in growing community on my blogs
  • How building community makes your blog more useful for your readers
  • How building community builds social proof for your blog
  • How building community makes your blog more attractive to advertisers
  • How having a community can make it easier to create and sell products
  • How having a community can make your blog more attractive to sell
  • How having a community can create an army of advocates and evangelists
  • How having a community can help you generate new content
  • How building community can improve your personal blogging satisfaction
  • The costs you might encounter in building a community around your blog

Further Reading and Resources for How to Make Your Blog Stronger by Interacting With Your Readers

Full Transcript Expand to view full transcript Compress to smaller transcript view
Hi there and welcome to episode 60 of the ProBlogger podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and today I want to talk about building community on your blog, deepening reader engagement with your readers, and particularly I want to focus on some reasons why this is important. This is a two part podcast series. I’m going to follow it up with some really practical tips on how to build community, but I think it’s really important first to address some of those mind shift paradigms around building community on your blog. You can find today’s show notes at

Creating great content, finding an audience, building engagement, monetizing your blog. This is ProBlogger.

Do you ever feel as a blogger like you’re talking to an empty room? I know I have. Day after day we publish our blog posts only to have them greeted by [bird sounds]. If that’s how you feel, you can relate to that, then I want you to know that you are not alone. In fact, one of the most common questions that I get from readers is how do I get my readers to interact with me? How do I get them to leave a comment, to acknowledge that I’ve even written something?

In the next couple of episodes, I want to talk a little bit about how to build community on your blog. Before I do it, I want to talk a little bit about why it’s so important to deepen reader engagement because not all bloggers actually spend a whole heap of time on this. There are different approaches to this, I’ll say that right up front. I know someone like Seth Godin on his blog, doesn’t have comments, doesn’t respond to comments, and doesn’t engage on Twitter. In an engaging way, I think his only social media presence is broadcasting and he’s got his own good reasons for that.

I think for most bloggers, there’s a really good case for building community on your blog. There’s no one way to do it, but in most cases, I think most of the successful bloggers that I’ve come across have invested time and energy into building community on their blogs. One of the best examples that I can personally think to illustrate the importance of community is when I started my own blog, Digital Photography School, which is my main blog today. 

I launched it back in 2006 and I launched it without comments being activated. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, I just didn’t have time to moderate comments, or at least I thought I didn’t have time. Two, it was a bit of an experiment. I’d seen people like Seth Godin not having comments and had heard his arguments for not having them and thought I’m going to give it a go to see what impact it would have on a new blog.

I very quickly discovered that by starting a blog without comments, that there were more negative impacts than positive ones, at least in my case. The main one for me was that it just felt weird. It left me feeling like I really wanted interaction with my readers. I was putting content out there. I could see through the statistics that people were reading, but I didn’t know who they were, I didn’t know what they thought of what I was writing. It had a real impact upon me as a blogger, and I really did feel like I was talking to an empty room and had no idea how people were interacting with me.

I guess this was partly because I’d become used to reader engagement on my other blogs that I previously had. It just felt wrong for me, so I decided for those reasons to switch comments back on and to begin to interact with my readers. The impact for doing so was pretty much immediate, and it was pretty big on that blog. Pageviews went up. I began to see that readers were returning more. I began to feel like the quality of my content was increasing because I began to understand who my reader was. I began to get questions from readers that I could build upon. I started getting more ideas for content and readers actually started to offer to contribute content.

I’m going to touch on all of these in a few other things as well but I guess really for me, my experience of adding comments and by having a blog that was just about content, and then moving it to be more of a community focused blog, the impact was pretty massive for me. I think it’s one of the main reasons that that blog has grown to become 10 times bigger than ProBlogger and my main source of income today.

Why should you build community on your blog? I want to give you nine quick reasons for doing so. The first one is that it increases your blog’s usefulness. Right from the very early days of ProBlogger, I’ve been saying that the way to build a successful blog is to build a useful blog. If you’re not being useful to readers on some level, then it’s very difficult to have success with your blog, and my experience of having community on a blog is that it does make your blog more useful.

I think James Surowiecki said in his book, The Wisdom of the Crowds, that together we are a lot smarter than any single one of us. I’ve seen this in blogs many times and in my own blogs particularly. Let me give you a really quick example. One day I received an email from a reader, her name was Mandy. It was a heartfelt email. It was a reader of my Digital Photography blog, and she asked me the question how she should go about photographing her dying grandmother with dignity?

Her family didn’t realize they didn’t really have any photos of their grandmother, but she was in hospital and she was going to pass away in the next week. This was way out of my depth, to answer that question. I’d never done it. I didn’t really know what to do, or how to answer that question, but I wanted to answer it. I posted her question with her permission on the blog.

Over the next week, we had 90 responses to it. I’ll link to that particular blog post in the show notes today.

I realized the power of our community at that point. Whilst I didn’t know the answer, whilst Mandy didn’t know the answer, 90 people had ideas on how she could go about photographing her grandmother in this really tough time. The community rallied around her, they gave her all kinds of interesting and useful responses. This is just a simple example of when the community on a blog can make the blog more useful. Without the community on Digital Photography School, I would’ve never been able to help Mandy.

Ultimately, for me, increasing your blog’s usefulness to your readers is the number one reason to build community on your blog, but there are a whole heap of other reasons too. Number two, it builds social proof on your site. If you’ve ever walked down a street and been looking for a restaurant to eat in, you’ve probably seen the power of social proof. Generally, we’re drawn to the restaurants that have other people sitting in them rather than the ones that are empty. The same is true on blogs.

It’s much easier to attract new readers to your blog, if you’ve already got readers on your blog, and readers that are engaging. If you’ve got lots of community, if you’ve got lots of comments, if you’ve got people engaging in polls, if you’ve got people engaging in your social media, it’s much easier to attract new readers to your blog. I’ve seen this many times in my own blogs. It’s almost like a snowballing effect. Once you have some readers and they’re engaging, it’s much easier to grow that readership. 

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Number three reason for growing community on your blog, it increases your pageviews. Pageviews won’t matter to everyone. It probably depends a little upon the business model that you’re building around your blog, but those of you who are monetizing with advertising, or particularly want to focus upon pageviews and increasing those pageviews, particularly, if you’re advertising with ad networks like AdSense or other ad networks. Community increases pageviews; just simply by the fact of someone leaving a comment on your blog means that they’re going to view two pages on your blog. One is when they first arrive, and two when they hit publish on that comment, it then reloads another comment.

They’re also more likely to come back to the blog to see if other people are responding as well. It could end up being three, or four, or five pageviews. Just some from them simply leaving a comment. What I found is that the more community feel there is on a blog, the more people are wanting to surf around, and there’s a whole heap of different tools that you can use to help with that. For instance, we’ve got Discus loaded on Digital Photography School, it’s a commenting system. Not only does it notify people when other people have responded to the comments, but it also suggests other hot threads of conversation on the site in the comments area, so it increases community in that way.

The other good thing about pageviews that’s not so much tied to monetization is that they help to keep readers retained. The more people view content on your site, the more pages they view, the more sticky your blog becomes. I talked about sticky blogs in episode 35, it’s basically about turning your surfers into readers. Those first time visitors are much more likely to become ongoing readers if they feel engaged in some way. If there’s an interesting conversation that they can join in on, they’re much more likely to come back again and subscribe to your blog. If they feel like they belong, if they feel like they’ve been acknowledged in some way.

The number four reason to build community on your blog is that it makes your blog more attractive to advertisers. This is only for those of you who want to monetize your blogs with advertisers. What I’ve found is that advertisers are much more likely to advertise on your blog if there’s some sort of community or some way that they can engage with your readers, and this is becoming more and more important. Ten years ago, banner ads were big. These days advertisers aren’t just satisfied. Many of them aren’t too satisfied to put banner ads all over your site.

They want to engage with your readers, they want some interaction with them. One of the best examples I can give you of this is a competition that we run on Digital Photography School once a year with one of our advertisers. The advertisers, the New York Institute of Photography. Five years ago, they came to us and said, “We might want to run a comments competition.” It was just a simple competition. People had to leave a comment to be entered into the draw to win one of their courses.

We ran this competition, and we had hundreds of people enter that competition. They’ve come back every year since to run the same competition. Part of the competition was that people had to go over to their site and choose which course they wanted to win, and then in comments, give a reason for wanting to win that course. It got people to their site, but it also got people to engage with what they did. To win the competition you had to understand the courses that they offered, and so we’re able to drive a whole heap of engagement to all those competitions.

As a result, they come back every year and pay us to run these competitions. If you have community on your blog, it’s much easier to run these sorts of campaigns for brands and advertisers. The fifth reason you might want to build community on your blog is that it makes your blog much easier to sell products on whether they be your own products or other people’s products that you can promote as an affiliate. 

This is a different model of monetization, some of you might not want to do advertising. Whether you have an E-book, or a course, or whether you sell your own services. It’s much easier to sell when your readers are engaged, if they feel like they belong, if they feel like they know you and they’ve had an engagement with you and others in the community. The other part of creating products is that when you’ve got community on your blog. It’s much easier to work out what to create when you know your readers, and sometimes your readers will even tell you what to create directly. The best example I can give you of this is 31 days to build a better blog, which I ran as a blog post series back in 2005 on ProBlogger.

I repeated it in 2007. And then in 2009, I did again this 31 day series of blog posts, but at the end of the 2009 series, my readers began to ask me if I could create a product around it. I’m not even really considering that idea but because I’d run this project on my blog, and it was a very interactive project where people could do a little bit of homework and then come back and report how they went. It was highly engaging, and it was out of that engagement, my readers began to brainstorm together without me initially on how I could monetize that particular program.

This to me is the prime example of how to use community to monetize your blog. They asked me to create the product and then they bought it and it went on to become my biggest selling e-book ever.

Having community on your blog will sometimes help you to create the products but also help you to sell them. I’ve seen the same thing over at Digital Photography School, we’ve had over 35 ebooks now there. The readers who buy those products are often the people who are in our forum, or who are leaving comments on our blog, who are in the newsletter, who engaging on social media with us sets the raving fans the most engaged readers who tend to buy the most.

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The sixth reason to build community on your blog is that it makes your blog more attractive to sell. Over the years, I’ve had a number of companies come and offer to buy my blogs and whilst I’m not looking to sell them at all, although for the right price you never know. In most cases the conversation starts with the potential buyer interested in knowing your traffic numbers and the income numbers on your site. That’s generally where the conversation starts, but in a couple of cases, when I also started to talk about the community on my blog, the engagement with my readers on the blog, the people coming in and who were interested in buying started talking about higher prices, and their eyes lit up when it came to community.

This depends a little on the business model of the person who might want to buy your blog, but I’ve seen this happen a number of times. Community makes your blog more attractive to potential buyers. Number seven reason for building community on your blog is that it creates you an army of advocates and evangelists. An engaged reader is a very powerful thing, because not only do they make your site more useful, not only are they more likely to buy your products, but they’re also more likely to help you to grow what you do in a number of ways, firstly, by telling other people about it. I see this all the time.

Every time I meet someone in person, I ask them, “How did you find my blog?” This is when I made the reader say it at a conference. Many of the times it’s because someone else referred them to the blog, and they remember who that person is. Many of the times where I hear Sarah referred me, or it was Joe, or it was Anne. Often it’s people I actually recognize the name of because they are regular commenters on my blogs. What I began to notice over the years is that the most engaged readers are also the most likely to share what you do.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes–it doesn’t happen all the time, but–the most engaged readers can also help you in other ways. An example of this was quite a few years ago now just after Digital Photography School started, one of my most engaged readers emailed me and said, “Hey, I know a journalist at the New York Times. Would you be interested in being interviewed by them? They’re looking for bloggers at the moment to interview.” This was a highly engaged reader, one of my most highly commenting readers. I knew them by name, and I’ve engaged with them many times. They would never have emailed me with that particular introduction if I had not engaged with them, if I did not build community with them.

When you acknowledge your readers, when you know your readers, they’re much more likely to think of you when opportunities arise. Another example was when our readers actually began a campaign to try and get Canon and Nikon to advertise on my site. I’d never asked them to do it. They just loved our site and actually got together as a group in our forum to begin to try and campaign to get those brands to advertise with us, and it did end up getting us a small advertising campaign with Canon quite a few years ago.

You never quite know where the community might lead, but if readers are engaged, they feel ownership of your site, they’re much more likely to help you to improve it. The eighth and second last reason to build community on your blog is that it can really help you to build and generate user generated content on your site. Some of you won’t be looking for user generated content on your site, you prefer to create your own content yourself, but if you are interested in it, you’re much more likely to attract guest posters and contributors if you have engaged readers. Guest posting might be one of those but there’s other ways that you can generate content from your readers.

For example, in the past, I’ve asked my social media followers on my ProBlogger accounts to share their advice on different aspects of blogging on social media, and then I’ve turned their responses into blog posts. I remember once I asked for productivity tips from my readers, and my readers all tweeted back to me their productivity tips, and then I embedded their tweets into my blog as a blog post. There was user generated content, I didn’t need to write much at all, because my readers know how much I do. Together, we know so much more, so there’s all kinds of creative ways that you can tap into that community to generate content. 

Another example would be the polls that we regularly run on Digital Photography School, we try to do one every month or two, just a poll asking a simple question to our readers. That in itself can generate content because we embed the polls into a blog post, but we then take the results of that and put it into a nicely designed chart, and then do a follow up blog post, which is another blog post. It’s more content, but that often stimulates all kinds of conversation.

For instance, we asked our readers once what brand of camera do they use, they all voted in the poll, then we presented back to them and told them that most of our readers use Canon, and then Nikon, and then whatever it might be, and that, of course, opened up a can of worms that opened up all kinds of debate and interesting discussion. Using your readers’ responses, using that community to generate even more content and even more discussion can be a very powerful thing.

Creating great content and building your audience, this is ProBlogger.

The last reason that I think it’s really important to build community on your blog and this one probably is one of the most important to me, is that community brings more personal satisfaction to your blogging. When I first came up with this list of things that I’ve been talking about in this podcast, I didn’t really have this point, but on my reflection of the last 13 or so years of blogging, this is one of the biggest benefits of having community on your blogs. 

I’ve kind of touched on this by talking about Digital Photography School when I started that blog without comments. It wasn’t satisfying to write that blog. It left me wanting more and it didn’t motivate me to keep writing the blog, but when I switched the comments on and began to engage with my readers, began to know who they were, began to see that I was helping them in different ways, began to see their questions, it became a whole heap more energizing. At many times over the years, it’s my readers comments, and it’s my readers engagement that has driven me through the tough times where I’ve had bloggers block, when I’ve had a lack of motivation. It’s the engagement that I’ve had with readers that continues to drive me on time and time again.

I’m often asked the question, “How have you kept at it for 13 years?” My honest answer is, “It’s my readers. I love my readers.” If I didn’t have community, if I didn’t have comments, if I didn’t have engagement on social media, I’m not sure I would have stuck at it that long. If it’s only for that reason, I think it’s worth investing time and energy into building community on your blog. I don’t want this podcast to become a bit of a Kumbaya moment where we just talk about the benefits of creating community on your blog, there are also some costs and building community on your blog does take time.

It’s a gradual process. It will take you years to really build up a community on your blog, and also takes time in that you have to invest time into this. If you want to have community on your blog, you need to put time into building community on your blog. You need to take the lead on that. Building community on your blog can also be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. When you invest into your community and no one comes back at you with comments in the early days, that can be incredibly disheartening.

You can also have periods where perhaps the community gets a bit sour on your blogs where a troll might come in and it will spam as might hit you. That can be disheartening too but it can also lead to many highs as well. Roller coasters have their highs and lows. I guess it’s probably important to also acknowledge that having community on your blog and investing into community on your blog can also be a little bit risky at times.

There have been times over the years where I’ve seen a bloggers readership turn on them in different ways because they’ve either sort of not invested into the community, or they’ve done something wrong and haven’t been transparent in some way. If you’ve got to engage readership, they feel like they own your site to a degree, so you need to manage them, and you need to look after them, and continue to invest into them, continue to build that culture. If you don’t, or if you take your community in a different direction to what your readers want, then there can be some pushback on that.

I think it’s worth mentioning that there are some costs and perhaps some risks at times of building community on your blog, but in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

How to build and monetize your blog? This is ProBlogger.

In the next podcast episode, I want to get a little bit more practical. We’ve been talking about why you should build community today, but I think it’s probably really important now that we shift gears and we get into how to do it. I’ve got a variety of really practical things that you can do to build community on your blog, and you’ll find that in episode 61 in a couple of days’ time.

Thanks so much for listening to today’s episode. You can find today’s show notes over at I’ll talk to you in episode 61 on how to build community on your blog.

You’ve been listening to ProBlogger. If you’d like to comment on any of today’s topics or subscribe to the series. Find us at Tweet us @problogger. Find us at or search ProBlogger on iTunes.

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