Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Fads and Fanboys: The Top 10 Tricks Bloggers Use to Drive Traffic

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 01, 2011

In a world with millions of blogs and the competition for readers' attention always lurking one pageview away, bloggers have typically turned to some tried and true methods for attracting and keeping their readers' loyalty. Here's how:

  1. Simple Structure – it's hard to write a post that traces the lines of
    argumentation from evidence to conclusion, and even harder for readers to follow that structure. So popular bloggers use structures that avoid taxing their readers' minds. The list post, consisting of the top ten whatever, is probably the pinnacle of the form. It does not tax the readers' reasoning skills, and provides a handy structure they can skim.

  2. Pander to Fads – if something is in the news, its a trending keyword, which means that it's time to write an article mentioning the fad or trend. Last week, it was the Oscars and Libya, next week it may be an earthquake in Chile or the start of spring training. The topic isn't important; what's important is to resonate with whatever else your reader is reading, so he or she feels connected, in touch and validated. If you can get on top of the trends – catch the meme while it's still in the Wall Street Journal, or the video just as it's trending. Keep up with current events and make sure they're reflected in your blog.

  3. Celebrities – nothing attracts readers like people they already know. Linking to well known names in the field, or failing that, TED Videos, is an excellent way to keep people coming back. Pick a few people who are ‘stars' in your field, and follow them religiously. Always link to sites that are more popular than you, after all, selective attraction is a natural and common way to develop a network. And be sure to link to them so they'll notice you and maybe link back.

  4. Homespun wisdom – nothing is more true than things your readers already know. So rather than introduce them to new ideas that may be unfamiliar and challenging, reach back into your bag of tricks and pull out the old reliable bits of knowledge accepted as truisms in your community. Tell them that what they do is more important than the technology, tell them what they've always done is the right thing, tell them that the wisdom they learned from their grandmother is unchanging. Don't give people new things to learn; stick with the comfortable and familiar.

  5. It's new! It's new! – at the same time, make sure every few posts you announce something shiny and new. Gadgets are best, followed by online services. These are things that exist ‘out there' and are nice to know about, but which are not threatening change. It's especially useful if you can combine an "It's new!" post with a marketing campaign, like, say, an iPad launch, so you can bask in the reflected glory while making your readers feel right up to date. Talking about harmless new things is a surefire winner. If you can be the goto source for gadget news, you can live off your blog's ad revenues.

  6. Tips and Tricks – nothing validates current practice more than tips and tricks that make it better. If you can introduce people to a small thing they can do that doesn't take much time and gives them a shiny result, you will have your readers' interest every day. The tips and tricks post should not be too involved – no detailed software installation of programming instructions. The best sort of tip or trick is a pointer to a website that allows you to fill out a form and get a nifty result. Like, say, creating a Wordle to create beautidful word clouds with no writing required.

  7. Work the Social Networks – a link to someone's blog in a social network like Twitter or Facebook is an easy little gift that costs nothing to give, but which will generate legions of loyal readers. Using the social network to draw readers in by sharing your links won't drive readers away from your blog like linking to them in articles would, and it's also a good place to pass on your own links. Social networks also let you catch trending topics, so you can reassure readers they're not missing anything.

  8. Be puzzled – it's a lot easier to not know why something is the case than to offer explanations. It's a lot easier to criticize some person or entity than to work out a solution to the problem they're trying to solve. It also gives your readers the chance to offer their own knowledge and insight into the matter. Present yourself not as well-informed and insightful, but rather, just like your readers: puzzled, challenged, and not sure where this all leads. Avoid staking out a position; that will just cause readers to unsubscribe. If you can ask questions of your readers while getting them to think you're actually informing them, you've hit the golden mean.

  9. Arts, Entertainment and Sports – people may be interested in your topic, but they're interested in arts, entertainment and sports more. So be sure to discuss your subject with reference to these topics wherever possible. If it's a blog about quantum physics, it's better if it's a blog about quantum physics and jazz. If it's a website focused on poverty, it's more interesting is it's a website focused on poverty and kung fu. Never stray far from arts, entertainment and sports – these form the central metaphors in people's lives and define the conceptual possibilities they can entertain.

  10. Find the ‘Best Of' – it's difficult for people to evaluate everything that's out there, and a lot easier if they can just depend on you. Your list need not actually evaluate resources for different values of ‘best' – just list the ones you know, and call them the best. It's unlikley that anyone will go to the work of making the comparison, and your readers won't follow the link into the study or report in any case (the only research you write about should be research that has already been covered in the press, you ypou can point to the summary rather than the original document).

If you've read this far (and unnamed studies say you probably haven't) then you probably already know that what I'm saying is that, if you're following these tend tips to bloggers success, you may be driving traffic to your site, but you're cheating your readers and cheapening the state of discourse in your field.

What should you do with your blog? The exact opposite of this. Structure your work into a form of reasoning, not a quick survey. Focus on what's important, not faddish. Link to people who do the work, not those who foster their own celebrity. Challenge your readers with new ideas and new ways of seeing the world. Don't get caught up in the new, stay focused on the valuable. If you show people how to do things, show them how to do the hard things, not the easy things. Don't be distracted by the gossip chain that is the social networks. Take stands, stake out a position, and defend it. Instead of finding easy metaphors, do your research, and bring that to the fore. Take the time to weight, evaluate, try out and look up. Foster these values not only in yourself, but also in your readers. Yes, you'll have fewer readers. But you'll have better readers, and you'll be making them better.

Posted as a Guest Post on Andrew B. Watt's blog.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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