6 ways to optimize your blog for reader engagement

6 ways to optimize your blog for reader engagement

Try these quick and practical tips to get more people reading the blog content you're creating.

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When I am working with organizations to help them build communities, content is a key component in building an audience, and a blog is a key tool in delivering that content.

Whether you're writing about your open source project or your open source adventures, work, and exploration, if you're investing time and energy into creating a blog, you want to get as many eyeballs as possible seeing that content.

The following six recommendations can help you optimize your blog for more traffic and engagement. These solutions are tailored for people or organizations running their own blog (either on a self-hosted site or a hosted service such as WPEngine), but some of the guidance also applies to blogs posted on services like Medium.

1. Design for readability

When I say "readability," you may think I'm talking about sentence structure, grammar, and other components of well-written prose. While those are very important, they aren't the only readability factors that you should consider.

When people first see an article, they often quickly scan the page to get a sense of a) the length, and b) any outstanding elements that catch their eye. If this initial scan passes muster, they will usually consider reading it. Here are two ways to improve the chances that people will read your post:

  • Make your blog posts as short as possible. People have shorter attention spans than ever, so after you write your post, reread it and cut any text that isn't new and simply reiterates another point.
  • Visually break up your post. Avoid large blocks of text; instead, use subheadings, format the text, insert pull quotes and embed images. These make the piece seem easier to digest.

2. Optimize for SEO

It's essential to optimize your blog for keywords. Most people will find your post via a social media post or a search engine result, and using SEO-friendly keywords can make it more visible.

When possible, I recommend installing an SEO plugin such as Yoast, which provides guidance on optimizing your post for SEO.

Here are some general tips to boost your SEO:

  • Define a keyword that ties into the post's topic and desired search results
  • Ensure the keyword is in the first paragraph
  • Use lots of internal links and some external links
  • Write the meta description you want to appear in the search result
  • Include images and ensure they have "alt" attributes
  • Repeat your keyword throughout the post

SEO is a huge topic, but if you follow the basics, you can get more traffic to your blog.

3. Incorporate simple social media sharing

If you invest time in writing blog content, you want to get maximum value in terms of exposure for that content. Given that links in social media posts are a significant source of blog post traffic, make it simple for people to share your post on social media. The most effective way is to add a floating social media bar that is always visible as people scroll. Here's how it looks on the left side of my website:

There are a few key features to look for here:

  • Clicking one of the social buttons makes it easy for someone to share the post
  • The buttons show the number of shares, and when people see a post that is highly shared, they're more likely to read it

A great social sharing plugin is the Monarch plugin for WordPress.

4. Include related content

When people land on your blog, you want them to continue reading additional content on your site. In other words, you want to reduce bounce rate (the percentage of users who navigate away from the site after reading one page).

One way to keep people reading is to add a list of related posts at the bottom of your blog post. This can be as simple as a set of text links, as I've done on my site:

It always surprises me how many people click on these links and keep browsing content. There are lots of plugins that automatically generate these links for you.

5. Enable comments

Whether or not to enable comments can be a big decision when setting up a blog. Comments can provide a great way to keep people coming back to your blog for discussion, which increases traffic, engagement, and overall interest in your work. Comments can also be a wonderful way to gather feedback, input, and new ideas.

On the other hand, allowing comments can be a burden if you get spam or disrespectful discussions that you have to moderate. Be sure to use an anti-spam plugin, such as Akismet, to keep the spam away.

If you're not sure whether enabling comments is a good idea, assess how much time you can commit to reviewing comments and run a trial for a few months. 

6. Enable subscriptions

In the early days of blogging, people subscribed to RSS feeds to stay up to date with their favorite blogs. But that's less viable today, especially if your audience is not very technical.

Instead, enable email subscriptions. Readers can add their email address to your list and receive an email when you post new blogs. There are many services and plugins that automate new post announcements.

My blog uses a floating subscription box that doesn't obscure the content and is easy to dismiss, but grabs the reader's attention:

A reasonable number of people will subscribe if you regularly publish interesting content. It's a great way to engage people with no additional work (outside of setting up the initial subscription feature).

What do you think?

These are some quick and practical things you can do to start engaging your audience. Be sure to let us know your thoughts and additional ideas in the comments.

About the author

Jono Bacon - Jono Bacon is a leading community manager, speaker, author, and podcaster. He is the founder of Jono Bacon Consulting which provides community strategy/execution, developer workflow, and other services. He also previously served as director of community at GitHub, Canonical, XPRIZE, OpenAdvantage, and consulted and advised a range of organizations. Bacon is a prominent author and speaker on community management and best practice,...