One issue that has always interested me is how one can maximize the retention of visitors from social bookmarking sites like Digg. These visitors are only coming to your site to read a particular article; typically, they don’t stay around to read other things. A similar notion is true about visitors from search engines (though their tendency to stay is somewhat higher).
What do these situations have in common? Obviously, these readers found your site through methods that didn’t involve your direct recruitment. They were drawn to your site because of a specific piece of content that relates to them somehow. Even more important, this reader is often highly uninformed about your topic of discussion, but is seeking some piece of information related to your topic.
The question is how do you convert these viewers into long-term viewers. Here are some suggestions to keep those viewers on your blog and perhaps convert them to regular readers.
Give them lots of opportunities within the post to dig in further. Link specific points in new posts to appropriately-related articles from your archives. This encourages the interested reader to click on the link, which will take them to another article that might answer their question. Of course, this post should also have specific points linked to archived posts and so on. Don’t rely on these links, though; your post should express a full thought on its own without links. The links merely serve as a way to expand thoughts and to pull in the interested reader.
List related posts. Whenever a user sees a post, they should find links to similar posts on your site. This is particularly true for search engine visitors: once they find a page on your site, it may or may not answer their question, but similar posts might address their needs, and providing a link will keep a user reading, which is what you want. For WordPress users, there’s a great plugin that does this automatically; for users of other blogging software, you may have to really work to find other ways to do this.
Make some of your best posts easily available. You should keep a list of your best posts either directly on your sidebar or on a page linked to on your sidebar. If a person visits from a search engine or a social bookmarking site, they’re looking for good stuff, so pointing them to potential sources of good stuff is always a strong idea.
Engage them directly. If a post of yours shows up on a social bookmarking site, you might want to stick a paragraph that introduces your site on the top of that popular post for a week or so. This paragraph should include a one-sentence description of your site and a few links to your absolute best posts. Although I don’t usually follow this practice, I have seen it be successful in practice, particularly if your blog is rather obscure and this is your one moment to be seen by a large group.
Answer your email if at all possible. Quite often, casual viewers will fling a question at you if they see your site and are interested, but you didn’t immediately sate their interest. This is an opportunity to, in the worst case, pick up a reader or, in the best case, pick up a lot of readers. Answer courteously, quickly, and accurately if at all possible. If you’re to the point where you’re receiving dozens of legitimate emails an hour, you can reconsider this, but your blog is probably so successful you have no reason to be reading this, anyway.
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, Talking to Other Blogggers, or back to the previous one, Post Consistently.