How To Fake It Till You Make It In Blogging

Building an active community around a new blog can often seem like an uphill struggle. You’re constantly working to create the best possible content and to promote your site yet often the initial returns are meagre. The fact is that most websites experience a “snowball” effect where the results can be slow to start but over time you will start to see your readership, natural inbound links and commenters increasing at an ever-increasing rate.
The problem is how to get to that exponential growth phase in the first place. After all, the internet is littered with “dead blogs” that have been forgotten by their owners due to lack of results. And even a blog that is still being worked on can look a bit sad with a feed readership of just 5 people and a total of two comments since it was launched (one of those being from your Mom).
It’s important to appreciate that “social proof” of the value that your blog brings is important and social proof can either be positive or negative. Visit a blog with hundreds of comments, a massive readership, a well-known name and so on and you’re likely to sit up and take notice. The evidence suggests this is a blog worth reading even before your eyes have glanced at a single article.
But the reverse is also true. And that’s what this article is all about; quite simply how to build up your blog without it suffering from “digital tumbleweeds” that are driving away the few visitors you currently receive.
Blog Comments
Blogs are built for comments; they’re built for discussions and interaction and a blog without that discussion is going to give a bad first impression. Worse, as anyone who has ever tried to start a forum will attest, getting your first few commenters is hardest. Nobody wants to stick up their hand and be first in line. But blogs that already have a number of comments are far more likely to receive additional comments both because of the “social proof” factor and because of course there is already a conversation going on. More comments mean there are more things for other people to comment on and so on.
There are a number of ways to deal with the lack of comments on a new blog.
The first is simply to turn off the comment function until you manage to build up a significant readership. Then once you have lots of people visiting you can turn comments back on at which point the discussions can start. This is simple enough to do but there are risks involved. One example is that if you operate in a niche in which there are lots of blogs your visitors will no doubt expect to be able to comment. Not giving them the ability to do so may frustrate or annoy some people, reducing the odds of them returning.
A second option is to start a blog comment contest. Offer up some kind of prize for the “top commenters” at the end of the month to encourage people to start adding comments. I took part in a contest like this last year where I spent significant time adding content-rich and useful comments to a new blog and ending up winning an iPod Shuffle for my efforts. Let me assure you there was quite a bit of competition so this method clearly works.
Commenting on other blogs can be helpful as many bloggers will check out the websites of those people who comment on theirs. We all know that commenting can drive traffic so there is a good chance they will return the favor and comment at your blog hoping to generate extra traffic as a result. So load up your feed reader and take some time each day to comment on other blogs.
There are a number of free plugins that will display comments about your content that have been made elsewhere. For example if you tweet about each of your new posts then Twitoaster will gather any retweets or comments relating to that tweet and display them as comments beneath your blog post. If you make a video version of your content and upload it to YouTube then the Genki YouTube Comments plugin will draw any videos comments that get placed on YouTube and display them as normal comments at the end of your blog post.
You can also use a number of WordPress plugins to reward your commenters. Examples of these include the Top Commenters plugin to show who has commented the most, the CommentLuv plugin to offer a do-follow link to any commenters blog and KeywordLuv which allows these links to be keyword rich.
Whatever you do ensure that you are actively requesting comments such as ending your blog posts with a specific question you’d like your readers to comment on and try to respond personally to every comment made.
Feed Readership
If you use Feed Burner then it’s easy to display a button that shows how many people subscribe to your blog. If it says you have 28,000 readers then paste it up nice and prominently because it’s another form of social proof to show how popular your blog is. But why do people add this same little widget when it says there are currently just 16 subscribers to your blog?
Until your subscriber numbers get into the hundreds I would strongly advise you *not* to display your subscriber stats publically even if indirectly anyone interested can find out your readership through Google Reader.
Twitter Followers
In a similar vein it is possible to use TwitterCounter to display how many followers you have on Twitter and of course the higher the number the better. So again until your follower numbers grow it’s best not to display these figures.
However this is one area where you have a degree of control. After all, when you start following other people a percentage of them will start to follow you back so simply by searching for, and then following, people with similar interests you can quickly grow your Twitter following.
Whatever your opinions on such software there are also automated solutions that with a few clicks of your mouse will start to find and follow hundreds of other tweeps. In a short space of time this can grow into a significant number of followers, at which point TwitterCounter can start to become beneficial to your results.
Post Regularity
Blogs that don’t get updated look unloved and forgotten. If I visit a blog that hasn’t been posted to in months (or even years) then I take it as a sign that the information on it may be dated, that the owner doesn’t really care about it and so I’m far less likely to visit it again or subscribe for updates. Why would I if there simply aren’t updates being made?
As a result of this, even if you currently only receive a trickle of readers try to post on a semi-regular basis at the very least so at most a few weeks have gone by since your last update. The more content you’re adding the more reason there is for your existing visitors to actually bother subscribing.
As Featured On…
One form of social proof that you can have some control over is who your blog is associated with. There isn’t always a direct link between the quality of your blog and the traffic that you’re receiving and it’s possible to leverage your great content into higher traffic and more community through th use of guest blogging.
If you really know your subject well and put the effort into your writing then there is no reason you can’t get some guest posts featured on the top sites in your niche. Doing so will not only offer direct traffic as a result of people clicking on the link to your website that is added to a guest post but also by association you will gain credibility. If you’re featured on ProBlogger for example then Darren Rowse thinks you know a think or too about blogging and other readers will pay more attention to you.
Furthermore you can add a section at the top of your blog navigation panel that displays a list of the authority blogs you’ve been featured on. If I see you’ve been mentioned or featured on the top 5-10 blogs in my niche you better believe you just increased my interest in digging deeper into your blog.
In closing try to think of your blog from a new visitors perspective. What do they see? What is the first impression? Does your blog suffer from “digital tumbleweeds” or does it give the impression of an active and valuable resource – irrespective of your current traffic levels?
What have you done to “fake it till you make it” on your blog? Are there ideas or suggestions you feel we’ve missed? Please leave us your opinions in the comments form below…


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