When I’m actively blogging, I often assume a great deal about my readers and their pre-existing knowledge of my topic. I often go so far as to assume that, even after I’ve researched a topic, I’m roughly on par with them in terms of really understanding the topic, so I focus on my own reflections on a complex issue without explaining it.
Whenever I do this, I punch myself in the arm. Why? If I do it too often, a large bruise will start to appear, both on my arm and my blog. People will see it, not understand it, and avoid it.
How do you solve the problem of attracting beginning readers without alienating your regular audience? My solution is to make roughly one fifth of my posts focus specifically on very fundamental issues, such as the difference between APR and APY and how compound interest works. My regular readers usually read these as well and the posts tend to attract a lot of comments, as these experienced readers look for places to fill in holes that I’ve missed.
In short, occasional “fundamentals” posts do not alienate your regular reader base – and can attract new readers.
Here are several avenues you can take for identifying and writing posts on fundamental topics in your area.
Make a list. Take fifteen or so recent posts on your blog and make a list of every word that refers specifically to something within your domain. Maybe you write an art blog and you discuss artists all the time. Maybe you write about NPR and regularly refer to contributors. Maybe you write a financial blog and drop the term EPS all the time.
Write a blog post explaining, in your own words, what exactly each term means. Don’t assume the reader is stupid; treat them as if you are explaining the topic to a friend. Imagine, for example, that you’re a literature blogger and a friend stops over, pulls a book off your shelf, and asks, “What’s this about?” Would you talk down to that person? Probably not (unless you’re massively condescending). Imagine that the person you’re writing for is that friend who just pulled a book off the shelf.
Encourage comments on these posts. Such posts tend to attract lots of comments (for me, anyway), but it can’t hurt to even request comments at the end of that post. This encourages your regular audience to fill in gaps (and feel smart) and your new readers to ask questions that they might have. Never forget that blogging is a conversation and you’ll be fine.
Occasionally (not always), link to your explanation by linking the appearance of that word in future posts. Readers who come to your site and are confused as to who John Hodgman is or what APY is can just click on the word and be whisked to another blog post on that specific topic.
After you’ve done a lot of these, post a compendium. This post can just list all of the “fundamentals” posts you’ve made. Once you’ve created this, add it to your site’s sidebar along with a link that says something like “Getting Started” or “[Your Topic] 101.” This way, when new readers come along, they at least have a chance to understand your most recent “deep” post.
Your content will bring new readers to the site, but if you put forth a bit of extra effort to make their entrance easier, they might just stay around for a while.
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, Celebrate With Your Readers, or back to the previous one, Don’t Clutter It Up.