Quite often, bloggers sit around crafting posts without considering the wider community around them. We write and write and write, but we get into a routine and forget to seek out interesting new links outside of our own blogs. We check Technorati to see if people are linking to us, but we forget the importance of linking out to others and connecting to the wider world.
Blogging is being in a conversation, and insular blogging is like being in a conversation with yourself: it’s not very interesting for anyone else to listen to.
Conversations are what readers want, in the end. They want to read lots of perspectives on what interests them. We do it all the time; that’s why we often click on lots of pages when we do a search or why we visit lots of different sites on the same topic. When we write a response to another post, or write our own comments on a news article, we are using our blog to continue a conversation with someone else. The simple act of doing this regularly not only provides infinite topics, but also draws in readers engaged in searches for continuation of conversations that interest them. This includes people peeking at Technorati for links as well as people searching in search engines, and both will drive traffic your way.
Breaking the insular barrier goes beyond your own blog: it stretches into interacting with other blogs as well as seeking out conversations to participate in. It helps if you imagine that your blog is a participant in an academic conference. If you just sit over in the corner quietly at your poster, no one will talk to you, but if you talk to people at their other posters and engage them in conversation, you will both grow.
Here are ten ways to reduce your insularity as a blogger and keep the conversation going. I try to do the first several every day and the remainder on a weekly basis.
Find interesting conversations. I do this by reading great link aggregators, subscribing to thought provoking blogs both within your topic and far outside of it, setting up watchlists on terms of interest on Technorati, and by searching Technorati and IceRocket for any random ideas that pop into my head.
Write a post that links to a specific blog post on someone else’s blog. Don’t just paste in a link and say, “Cool, look at this.” Link to something that makes you think, and explain what those thoughts are and how they relate to your topic.
Comment on someone else’s blog. If you have an immediate brief reaction to a blog post, leave a comment for them. Include a link back to your own blog, and if your comment is interesting, you’ll almost always get a visitor or two.
Send an email to a blogger you enjoy. I find a well-written email, especially to a less-popular blogger, is a great way to build up conversation and meet interesting people. If you are intrigued by several posts or by a writer’s general viewpoint, an email to the author is a great way to build a new conversation. For me, this often results in a new acquaintance and perhaps new blogging topics.
Drop an IM to a blogger you enjoy. Just this evening, I was contacted by a reader who had some general questions about the content of my site, and this actual conversation built into several good ideas for future posts and a new person on my buddy list. I also do the same, writing to bloggers that I like if they provide their instant messenger information. This is often a great way of getting to know a blogger who blogs on a topic that you know little about, but are interested in. For instance, if you wish to IM with me, I’m often on AIM in the evenings as tes888888.
Participate in message boards and put your URL in your signature. Not only are interesting messageboards a treasure trove of good ideas, but often your blog’s URL will be seen as a continuation of messageboard conversations. Readers who like your ideas will wish to subscribe to your newsletter, after all.
Link directly to URLs of news stories. If a news story in the mainstream media interests you, don’t be afraid to link straight to that story and quote from it when you’re discussing it. This will actually help people find your blog, as I often search Technorati or IceRocket for URLs of news stories that pique my interest – and I’m not alone in doing this.
Participate in blog carnivals. These are effective ways of drawing in new readers. Whenever you make a good post, you should look for a carnival that matches the topic and submit your article to that carnival. It’s an effective way of bringing your article to the attention of a whole community and set of conversations.
Post a daily or weekly link aggregation. Some people literally do this using del.icio.us, which allows you to automatically create a post out of your most recent links and have it appear in your blog at regular intervals. Since I tend to be … quirky with my del.icio.us linkages, I usually do this myself in the form of the morning roundup. Basically, I just save the links that I want to shout from the rooftops, but I don’t really have enough thoughts of my own to contribute to make a whole post out of.
Write an occasional post just highlighting a blog you love. I wrote a series recently highlighting personal finance blogs that I love to fill a weekend when I was travelling, and I’m planning on a similar series on blogs that simply inspire me. Not only will your readers appreciate it when you write passionately about something and point them to an interesting site, but the person you link to (when they inevitably find it) will appreciate it, too. Don’t overdo it, though; save these for the blogs that you really love so that your paean to them will show off some real passion.
Building a Better Blog for 2007 is a month-long series at The Simple Dollar, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump ahead to the next essay, Keep Something In Reserve, or back to the previous one, Don’t Leave Them Hanging.