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How to Build a Stronger Blog Community Using Comments (Part One)

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stronger blog community

About a year and a half ago, I started an interesting experiment on one of my blogs. Previously, I had only replied to comments sparingly, when someone asked a direct question or challenged the opinion in the post. I would get one or two comments on each post, with the occasional post getting more comments and some posts getting no comments. This is about average in the specific niche in question, especially for the size of my blog at the time (15,000 to 20,000 pageviews per month).

I made a distinct decision to start replying to comments. With very few exceptions, I started replying to every single comment received on my posts, from thoughtful, long comments to comments that said little more than, “Great post!”

Here’s what happened:

  • My pageviews increased more rapidly than my unique views.
  • I got an increase in emails from readers.
  • I began to notice certain commenters popping up over and over.
  • My email list subscribers began to increase at a faster rate.
  • I started receiving sponsored post inquiries.

I want to go over each of these points one by one, because I think it’s important to analyze exactly what happened and why. Replying to comments isn’t some kind of magic technique that will suddenly make your blog super successful. But if my experiences are indicative of the norm, this is a practice your should consider.

stats Increase in PageViews

When I made the decision to start replying to comments, I also made other changes. This was part of an overall strategy to move the blog from being more personal in nature to having more strategy for increasing traffic and revenue. Making the decision to reply to comments was just one of the changes I made.

Some of the other changes I made at the same time included:

  • Putting more effort into search engine optimization (previously, I had not considered it at all)
  • Posting more frequently (3-4 times per week instead of 1-2 times per week)
  • Scheduling my posts (previously, I might post twice in one day, then not again for a week)
  • Using Tumblr to promote my blog (previously, I had not used this platform)
  • Having a weekly feature every Tuesday (the same type of post consistently)

I think all of these changes helped me gain more traffic. Plus, most bloggers find that their traffic will increase over time naturally, as long as you’re posting regularly.

What was interesting, however, is that I didn’t see the same rate of increase in unique views as I did in overall pageviews. My bounce rate went down slightly, but more importantly, the same readers were coming back again and again. SEO, increase in frequency, and new promotion methods all brought in new readers, while the scheduling, weekly feature, and replying to comments all contributed to having more returning readers.

email Increase in Emails from Readers

On this specific blog, I publish a lot of “advice” posts. Commenters will often ask for clarification or ask new questions. However, the niche is relationship-related, so not everyone is comfortable posting questions that are so personal.

When I started to reply to comments, I saw an increase in the number of emails from readers asking for advice.

Of course, some of this can be attributed to my increase in traffic. However, regularly, I will have readers mention the fact that they’re email me after reading one of my comments or that they’re asking for advice because they like the advice I give to other commenters. I believe that this is by far the biggest reason I get more readers’ emails.

As a side note, this is an awesome way to get content ideas. Often, several people will ask the same question, and I end up turning my answer into a post. I keep a spreadsheet if ideas for my blog, including questions I’m asked via email.

comments Return Commenters

Before I started replying to comments, I had some regular readers. However, when I started interacting more with commenters, I noticed that the same people started to comment more and more often.

Were these people regular readers before? In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. The fact that old and new readers alike began to comment regularly is an advantage, though. Their comments make my posts more valuable or start interesting conversations. Sometimes, comments can even lead to new post ideas.

In any case, regular interaction has helped these readers feel like they are a part of my blog. Someone who feels like an active member of my community, not just passive reader, is invested in my content and community, and they’re more likely to share posts with their friends and buy products.

When you see someone comment regularly, I actually suggest reaching out via email and letting them know you appreciate their support. This is only going to keep them coming back and commenting.

Also, if you see a regular commenter stop commenting, take a moment and email them or say hi via social media. That little efforts lets your biggest fans know you appreciate them.

email 2 More Email Subscribers

Because I made several changes on my blog, there’s no way to say what attributed to the increase I saw in email subscribers.

I did notice some of the same names popping up–readers who had emailed me and who had become regular commenters also subscribed. So, I have to infer that replying to comments did make a difference. I won’t dwell on this point, though, since I don’t believe it’s one of the main advances, just fringe benefit.

Want more tips for getting email subscribers? Check out these 30+ tips for building your list.

money3 Landing Sponsors

By far, the best part of this experiment, for me, has been the increase in revenue for the blog. I started offering sponsored posts about two years ago, but I didn’t really see any traction on this until I began interacting in the comments section of my blog. Prior to that, most of the money I made on this blog can from banner ads and affiliate sales. Now, I get 5-10 sponsored post requests per month, and I get to pick and choose who I want to work with and what I want to post. (For the record, I only post about 2 per month due to the nature of my blog, but having the option to post more is nice!)

I know for a fact that landing more sponsors for sponsored posts has happened because of the interaction in the comments section of my blog. Potential sponsors have flat-out told me that they’re impressed with the interesting conversation that happens on my posts and the fact that I’m so involved with the community.

Some Final Thoughts

So should you reply to all of your comments? This really depends on your blog style. Seth Godin has a very successful blog that doesn’t have comments at all. Jenny Lawson has a very successful blog despite rarely responding to comments. There’s not one right answer. For me, for this blog and this niche, it has had advantages.

Do you reply to all of the comments on your blog? Tell me about your experiences in the comments section of this post!

Stay tuned for part two in this series, where I talk about commenting on other blogs to build your own community.

Listening vs. Waiting to Speak: Engaging Readers

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In the evolution of blogging, one of the major steps was allowing readers to take part in the conversation on your website. Prior to the existence of comments sections, we could read what someone had to say and even email them about it if they provided an address, but it was just one-on-one interaction, not part of the site. Today, comments sections drastically increase the value of any blog, so engaging readers through comments is important.

Excessive Talking

I was once taught a very valuable lesson. Several years ago, I was going through a rough patch in my life on many fronts, and I really leaned on a friend of mine for support. He was great, and very patiently listened to my problems, offering advice and hugs when needed. I was pretty tunnel-visioned by everything going on in my life, and was too self-centered to realize that he was dealing with some problems himself.

One evening, he got fed up with me, and pointed out that I wasn’t actually listening to him. I was just waiting to speak. And he was right. It was a really humbling moment of my life, to realize that every time he was speaking, I was just planning in my mind the point I wanted to make about my own problems. I wasn’t offering support as much as changing the subject to reflect what I wanted to discuss. Excessive talking isn’t just about being the person who speaks the most.

Listening to Your Comments

Since then, I think I’ve gotten a lot better at listening instead of waiting to speak. It’s something I actively think about whenever I’m in a conversation with someone, especially about a serious topic, and it’s something that bloggers need to actively think about as well. Your comments section isn’t as valuable to your site if you’re just waiting to speak.

This goes further than just making sure you reply to comments. I do think it’s great when bloggers reply to comments, but I’m also of the opinion that not every comment needs a reply (some bloggers disagree, and that’s fine). To me, it depends on the situation. In any case, engaging your readers through listening is all about hearing what they have to say and replying to their comment thoughtfully, not just using what they say as a jumping off spot for your own argument again.

Listening Tips for Bloggers

So how can you ensure that you’re listening and not just waiting to speak? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Stay conversational. You’ve made your point in your blog post, so there’s no need to constantly restate it, even if your readers are leaving negative comments. Remember, your replies should add value to the website, so grow and expand your thoughts on the subject as your readers leave comments.
  • Consider using a comment as inspiration for a new post. You can even contact the reader who left the comment to co-author a post, do a guest post, or be interviewed. Keep the conversation going.
  • Understand what your readers are saying. When you post an opinion, there will always be people who disagree, but negative comments can have value, too. If your readers are constantly confused to turned off by your posts, they won’t come back, which defeats the purpose of blogging professionally. By listening to reader comments and changing slightly to accommodate, you can drive more traffic and please a larger number of people.
  • Stay civil. In many niches, readers can be biting and rude. If a comment makes you upset, turn away from the computer for an hour or two to calm down a bit before you reply. Try to see the person’s underlying point, even if they say things in a mean way. Remember, conversation.
  • Be an authority on your subject, but also approach readers on the same level. Just because you know more about a specific subject doesn’t mean that your readers have nothing to teach you. No one likes when someone speaks down to them, so consider all of your readers on your level, not “below you” in some way.

Learning to listen is a skill that you’ll improve with practice. We might be born with the ability to hear, but it takes decades to perfect being a good listener, especially when it comes to a written medium, like a blog comments section. It’s something I’m still learning, too. What tips do you have for making sure you’re a good listener, rather than just waiting to talk?

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She still talks waaaaay too much and often too quickly, but hopes you’ll find this quality more endearing than annoying.

Image Credit: sxc.hu

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