This post originally appeared on the Shareaholic blog and is republished with permission.
Readers are drowning in content. At the same time, bloggers are caught up in a never-ending rat race to author articles cheaper and faster.
Last month, Wordpress.com users published 41.6 million new posts. Tumblr alone hosts 186.1 million blogs. Even though billions of people can access digital content, demand hasn't quite scaled as fast as supply has. It is safe to say that digital publishing is an absolute mess.
Though competition for reader mind share is fierce, independent writers still stand a chance of being heard on the grand, global stage. Whether you're a small-time blogger or an established publishing house, here are a few tips well-worth remembering to help you blog smarter:
1. Email is your friend
Email is an easy way to gently alert loyal readers about newly published blog posts. Most readers won't have your blog bookmarked and fewer still would periodically check in to see if you've written a new article since their last visit. Fortunately, everyone checks their email.
At Shareaholic, we use the Scroll Triggered Box plugin to capture new subscribers. Since we started using it, we've increased email subscriptions by more than 150%, and those readers tend to open our weekly newsletter more often than others.
2. Social sharing can go a long way
Growing a strong fan and follower base is hard work, but the beauty of social media is that you, yourself, do not have to always be at the forefront of promoting your content.
All you have to do is enable your readers to do so, and you'll be surprised at how many referrals you might receive. Take, for instance, this post I wrote about LinkedIn's new publishing tool and what it can do for businesses. Generally, posts I actively promote on LinkedIn get 10-30 shares. This one received 600+ shares thanks to a few of our most enthusiastic readers.
What should you do? Add social share buttons that'll let your readers do a lot of the work for you.
3. Always remember, engagement is one of your top performance metrics
The longer readers spend on your site, the more pages they visit, and the lower your bounce rate, the more successful you truly are as a publisher. High volume, fleeting traffic is of no use to anyone anymore, especially since the cat is finally out of the bag and advertisers and publishers know those dubious visits are thanks to misleading robot activity.
Bloggers should focus on creating more in-depth content that not only will rank higher on search engines, but will also keep readers fully engaged.
4. Know text isn't the be-all and end-all (add interactive visuals and even gifs)
Some readers want long-form stories. Others want the story told in image or video form. Many want both, depending on the time of day and their current mood. The best publishers know how to create a healthy mix of all.
On OkDork.com, Nate Desmond published a "How To" post that outlined his strategy for driving more social shares. In it, he used gifs to visualize, step-by-step, how to scrape a site and do analysis of social activity to identify the best times to publish and the most viral words to use.
On the Shareaholic blog, Jennifer Spivak authored a post which included gifs to elicit stronger reader emotion, and they loved it -- 99+ Pinterest users thought it was well worth sharing.
5. Pay for traffic
As satisfying as purely organic growth is, the smartest blogs pay to promote their content too. The reasons are simple: there are limits to organic growth and paid traffic can boost an article's overall reach.
Buzzfeed does this exceptionally well. When a Buzzfeed post becomes "hot," it has a high "social lift" quotient which means each new visit will actually spawn several more by virtue of the post's virality. For your own blog, it is well worth paying to amplify posts that are overperforming, so you get the most bang for your buck.
6. Provide targeted recommendations
Your most loyal readers are addicted to your content, so surface relevant posts for them so they may discover and continue to consume your best reads. Our related content widget has proven to increase sites' pageviews by up to 29% simply because it is available. Best of all, it is absolutely free for publishers.
7. Bring on the guest bloggers
Get more content, gain access to a new audience, and all you have to do is edit and format a post.
Are you sold yet? Inviting serious guest bloggers -- not the spammy link-generating kind -- to contribute to your blog is a brilliant way to source more support for your blog and bring in a new audience (the guest blogger's fans and followers). As well, occasional contributors invigorate your blog with a new voice and help you boost your site's content portfolio so readers may access a greater breadth of information.
8. Interview the experts (or source expert opinions)
Let's face it. You are not the leading authority on anything in your niche (yet).
While you're working your way to the top, you'll want to learn from industry experts who can teach you (and your readers) a thing or two about the topics you all care about. You can turn those interactions into recorded interviews for your blog, or highlight snippets and reference those to add credibility to new posts.
9. Empathize with your reader
Ultimately, publishers create content with the overarching goal of educating and entertaining readers. Therefore, readers' needs should always be top-of-mind, and if you're not aware of what their biggest needs are, survey them. Crowdsource post ideas through forums and social media. Research reports and studies that point out your audience's biggest struggles and build content that helps them on those ends.
10. Own your data
Use analytics to make better publishing decisions. Before you brainstorm next week's set of blog posts, craft an upcoming email newsletter, or do a complete site redesign, utilize sophisticated analytics to identify areas your reader connects well with or struggles with on your site.
You might realize your food blog's audience is most receptive to posts about quinoa, while they absolutely abhor stories about fast food. Quantifying how often they comment about a particular topic or ask a certain question also sheds light on the things they truly care about (and want to read).
The numbers you end up pulling may also help you identify areas for improvement on your site such as blog categories, user flow, etc.
11. Take an unconventional approach to content
You can simply ignore most of this advice and do the exact opposite of what the "experts" suggest are "best practices for blogging". For example, you can blog less, disclose sensitive information and publicly challenge your readers and yourself.
The results may surprise you.
12. Be incredibly bold
As the digital publishing landscape evolves, it is also worth making bold moves to stay ahead of the curve. Therefore, whether you use any of the tips above or decide, intentionally, or do the opposite of everything I suggested, you should always be trying new and imaginative things.
Though you're guaranteed to upset some readers, few will abandon you long-term as long as you don't make a habit of repeating the same mistake twice. The rest, including new readers, will admire and thank you for working hard to create content that matters in different ways and forms to best engage them.
What are other smart blogging practices you'd love to share with us?