Community is an oft-used words when it comes to blog building and marketing. It’s so oft-used, in fact, that it’s almost become jargon and lost a bit of its meaning. I remember Belle Gibson (recently fallen social media superstar) talking passionately about ‘my community’ as she discussed her The Whole Pantry/The Whole Life hopes and dreams. Part of me winced, because it had a definite air of ‘jumping the shark’ as she peppered her sentences with ‘community’ references. Ugh. But let’s shake that off.
Community is not just a buzzword. It’s not jargon. The people who are great at building community authentically and efficiently don’t tend to throw the word around a lot, in fact. Rather than community being another ‘asset’ of their ‘business’ those who do community well are too busy being in amongst their people to be patting themselves on the back for creating a movement.
Great community builders see community for what it is – individuals who deserve time and value. Great community builders understand that paying attention to individuals and small details are what matters most. Let’s call it ‘the small picture’. If you keep your eye on the small picture, knowing that connecting with people on a more intimate level and making a difference in a personal way is super important, you (and your blog) are going to reap the rewards.
Not only are you going to learn a lot from the people who read your blog or link back to you, you’re going to have the added bonus of a like-minded cheer-squad that supports the things you do. Perhaps that support is via checking in on your new posts, perhaps it’s spreading the word about the good things you are doing, perhaps it’s buying your product or suggesting resources/events to you that will improve your blog. Support comes in many guises so keeping these connections open and realising the value of them (and the small picture) and reciprocating sincerely is vital.
MANY people look at their blog or business from the top – looking down. That’s fine if you are coming up with a big, strategic plan for your blog, but when you are working day to day on your blog, endeavouring to make it something special and reflect you and the things you want to do, the small picture is very, very important.
Most bloggers who are seeking commercial success are going to really struggle if they keep thinking about the big picture, looking over the shoulders at the ‘competiton’ and don’t spend time on the smaller details and fostering sincere relationships with their readers. Many bloggers spend way too much time trying to replicate the style, content and approach of existing blogs – blogs that may seem to be successful – but the truth of it is that the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ doctrine of acting like your successful competitors is not the best path to doing well. Nope. No way.
Instead, you need to focus in a bit and start thinking about the small picture. For now, ignore what the others are doing, because you’re not like them. Start thinking about what you really want to blog about, what’s working on your blog (not on the blogger next-door’s blog) and who is spending time on your blog (be they regular readers or other bloggers).
Luckily, this is something I’ve always done intuitively on my own blog, but I am not the only one, of course. I bumped into this great post by Seth Godin on this very subject earlier today.
There are some really great tools to help you focus in on your own blogging game, on the small picture stuff (i.e. get to work on what’s working for you, rather than getting distracted by the blogging noise about you). Let’s talk about that!
Are you shuddering? Google Analytics is certainly a beast of a tool. There’s so much you can do with this platform/program that whole books have been written on it. If you’re interested in honing your skills and becoming an expert, it’s a great idea to head for some further reading or even an online course into all GA can do.
I’m not going to cover everything that GA does. Instead I’m going to take you through a few things that can help you turn GA from Cynical Marketers Tool into Community Noticing and Thanking Assistant (CNTA)! How good does that sound?!
Firstly – you need to have Google Analytics set up on your blog, if possible.
(REMEMBER – Google Analytics takes a little while to gather your data – so give it 24 hours or so. You can check if it’s working by going to REAL TIME > OVERVIEW and waiting to see if someone pops up in LIVE/REAL TIME, visiting your blog)
Not only is it going to be useful in our CNTA role, if you’ve signed up for this course, you might be interested in working with brands and you will need Google Analytics to give them credible figures about your blog’s traffic. It’s also an important element of your Media Kit.
Set up Google Analytics – do not pass go, do not collect $200!
(Unless your blog is WP.com and you can’t! There is still much for you in this lesson!)
If you’re not sure how – WordPress has Google Analytics plugins that make GA much easier to install – just be sure they are compatible with your version of WordPress before you add them to your blog. If you are not on WordPress, YouTube has a heap of tutorials that teach you how to install GA. Have a peek over there.
More useful GA resources and tools
Access Google Analytics (where to find GA online!)
Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress Plugin – an easy way to install your Google Analytics code once you’ve set up a Google Analytics account.
Google’s own Google Analytics training (in case you want to know more!)
So, while those techy sites can tell you how to take charge of your reporting and traffic goals via GA, I’m going to talk to you about using GA for building community and improving your blog’s content. While the more technical features of Google Analytics are no doubt really wonderful, I don’t use them very much, instead preferring to use GA to provide hints on who is reading, who I should be thanking or finding out more about and optimising the posts I have already written or might be planning to write.
Let’s take a look at the first ‘home’ screen of Google Analytics (if you are on WordPress.com and are unable to use GA – take a peek at your WP.com stats and follow along as you can – most of these concepts can be applied to your blog too!)
Let’s start with Pages Per Session and what this can tell us about our readers and how we are treating them. This blog is pretty amazing in that it gets 3.28 pages per session. The reason for this is that there are a lot of galleries on this blog (a post with multiple images within the post that you need to click through). Because the content is really interesting and there are galleries on each post AND a new page loads each time you click through the gallery, there is a high Pages/Session count.
NOW. That might seem like a great idea to get more page views. Sure. I guess so. The problem is that readers HATE galleries so you are snatching at better Pages/Session and Page Views while sacrificing a nice experience for readers.
SO. Do not lament if your readers are only looking at ONE Page/Session – they might be devoted readers who come to your blog each time you write a fresh post. They are not leaving after reading one page because your blog is bad – they like your blog and have actually already read most of the things you’ve posted recently. It’s a good thing (and better than luring readers to more Pages/Session with annoying galleries!)
THAT SAID, there are ways we can increase Pages/Session (and Page Views – and also improve our ‘Bounce Rate’ – more on that later), ways that won’t annoy our readers…
What even is ‘Bounce Rate’?!
Not just the number of times Jesse Pinkman of Breaking Bad decides to leave, Bounce Rate in GA denotes the number of readers who left after viewing just one page. So this ‘Bounce Rate’ is pretty good. Bloggers may find they have a higher bounce rate of around 70% (for instance) because their readers are regular and they just pop by to read the latest post.
You also might find that Google sends you traffic for a particular ‘search term’ and that once readers get to you, your content is not quite what they are after. It’s nothing personal, but Google doesn’t always get it right…
You can improve this ‘Bounce Rate’ by giving your readers a little bit more of you within each post – linking to an older related post or referring back to something you’ve previously talked about on your blog (in context) is a great way to do this.
What you really want to do is find ways to reward your readers with more interesting content within each post. This is where ‘Related Posts’ widgets or links come in.
Make sure you have some kind of ‘Related Posts’ widget that shows similar or other interesting posts at the end of each post you write. You can also do this manually – at the end of your post you could pop in a link that says ‘This time last month, I was doing this….!’ or perhaps ‘Feel like looking at some more projects like this? Try this, this or this’ <– with the this-s linked to more projects elsewhere on your blog.
Find ways to pop in extra links to your own content – to reward your readers and also to increase the traffic around your blog. It’s not only good to do this for your readers’ benefit, it’s good if you want to improve your blog statistics and traffic and it’s great for all those neglected posts that are languishing on your blog. Let them see the light of day.
Here’s the most popular post on my blog – and if you take a look at it, you can see I’ve manually added some more links to other content readers might like at the bottom. AND I’ve added a little ‘Welcome’ at the top of the post, because I get lots of new visitors from Google to this post each day. I EVEN added a link to a newly-created ‘Overflow’ page for tired visitors who can’t be bothered to scroll to the bottom of the page for those extra links.
I’m doing everything I can to capture those new readers as they come through because I don’t want them to hit the page and then click away. I want to reward their click through with more of the kind of information they were searching for in the first place.
Remember how I asked you to find your there most popular posts? Great. Let’s refer to those posts now.
- I want you to pop into those posts and add in some extra links – wherever it makes sense – to help you readers find more content they might like (and to help your older posts see the light of day/strut their stuff again!)
- Are those popular posts STILL getting traffic from Google or Pinterest or elsewhere?
- Consider whether there are any options to write a new updated intro to that post to capture new readers’ interest.
- Would it be helpful to readers if you created a new PAGE of helpful links to other related posts you have written, as I did in my most popular post.
- How can you inject more of you into those popular posts, improve them and give them new life?
Just when you were thinking the blog I’ve been using here as a case-study was so awesome, we can talk about New VS Returning visitors and it all crumbles. This blog gets LOTS of traffic via Google and Pinterest and isn’t updated often anymore. Loyalty is pretty awful and the New Vs Returning pie chart reflects that.
Most of the bloggers who graduate from Blog With Pip would have much more loyal readers (a testament to their skill, sincerity and relationship building!) I really think that all my students would be doing very well in this area, so keep doing what you are doing and know that the effort you are putting in will be paying off here.
(Sorry, I had to cover up the URLS that denote the page/post that is being linked to, but you can see where they’d appear under the yellow and pink ribbons)
If you have Google Analytics installed you can use Trackbacks to track who is linking to you (and exactly which posts) and then you can thank them or follow/comment on their blog too.
If you DON’T have Google Analytics, and have a different kind of stats counter, you can still do this by carefully keeping an eye on your stats and heading over to blogs that mention you to say hello/thank you/or just comment and be part of their chatter!
Trackbacks or referrals are one of the BEST ways you can build community and increase your blogging world, and you can do this no matter what platform you blog on (and whether you use Google Analytics or not!)
Find the ten most recent Trackbacks or Referrals to your blog. Are they quite recent? Or perhaps some are also included in your 3 most popular posts list?
Looking at the posts that appear most recently on your referrals or trackbacks (for the last 30 days, say) consider whether you can do one or more of the following:
- Comment on the sites that are linking to you
- Share something good they are doing on social media
- See a pattern and think about adding additional, similar content in future
- Improve the posts that are bringing those referrals, so they are even more interesting to readers
- Just say thank you!
Keep in mind we’re trying to make these posts more interesting and user-friendly for the readers that keep visiting them. We want to keep the reader in mind (but still stay true to ourselves and make sure the post reflects us and delivers our message in the best way possible).
When you consider each post from your top 3 most popular posts and your ten most recent referrals – why did they appeal to readers or other bloggers? What was their key to success?
- Make a list of those posts
- Make a note of what was interesting about them and why they did well
- What kinds of patterns appeared, in terms of their theme or purpose?
- Did they transform, inform, entertain, advise, teach, confide? What made those posts tick?
- Can you learn anything from this about what makes your readers and blogging peers tick?
Have you founds some posts to improve as you’ve worked through this lesson? Did you write a new intro or add extra links or make small changes in the hope of providing EVEN MORE interestingness to you readers?
Be sure to track those posts:
- Make a list of the posts you have updated (and any posts you have newly linked to within those popular or referred to posts)
- Keep an eye on those. Are you getting more traffic to the posts you added in?
- If you have Google Analytics – has your Bounce Rate, Session Duration or Pages/Session changed at all?
A lot of marketing and community building involves getting your readers to do ONE THING and then rewarding them with ANOTHER THING. You know the kind of thing – “sign up to this and I’ll give you this” or “share this and I’ll let you read this”. I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of incentivising a bit annoying at times. I’m okay with it from a big commercial site, but I find it a bit irritating from smaller blogs.
For me, blogging is about building trust and creating real relationships. Adding conditions to the relationships you have with your readers can end up being a disincentive.
What I would say to you is, how can you instead reward your readers with some unconditional friendship? How can you build a sustainable and reciprocal relationship with your readers? Perhaps it’s just by providing great content consistently. Perhaps there is more you can do?
- Reader events
- Free printables or other digital products
- Great giveaways that don’t rely on naughty ‘likes’ or ‘shares’
- Going above and beyond with the things you do
- Sneak peek at products you are creating
- Special discounts or presales
- Responding sincerely to comments on a regular basis
- Regularly visiting the blogs of your readers and peers
- Chat events on Twitter or Facebook
I want to leave you with something great to read. If you’re a little hesitant to listen to me and my readers-as-friends philosophy, at least have a listen to Seth. It’ll make you feel a whole lot better about creating the kind of content that makes sense to/is most meaningful to you…
My ideas have been formed by years of blogging, shop keeping and cafe owning experience. I know how to look after people and help them find things that are interesting or delicious to them! It’s nice to know that the likes of Mr Godin are on the same page as me, not just because it’s affirming, but because it gives bloggers like us the courage to blog as ourselves (and not some cynical entrepreneur-ed up version of us!)
Click here –> TRACK SOME STUFF <– to download a simple spreadsheet to track the things we’ve spoken about in Lesson One.