Photo courtesy of Zach Klein.
By Leo Babauta
I don’t know about you, but often when I begin exploring new blogs to find useful information, I get so frustrated that I give up and leave within a few minutes of finding the blog.
While many blogs might contain the useful posts I’m looking for, they often make it too difficult for new readers to find.
Sure, if you’ve been following a blog for six months or more, you know the blogger, you know the basics of the blog, you know how useful and interesting the blog is.
But if you’re new, you don’t know any of that. And first impressions mean everything when it comes to attracting — and more importantly, keeping — new readers.
If a reader hates your blog at first site, you’ve lost him. If a reader can’t find anything good on your blog within a few minutes — actually, instantly for many readers — you’ve lost him. If you annoy a reader, you’ve probably lost him.
And for each reader you’ve lost, that’s a wasted opportunity. You’ve worked hard to promote your blog, to connect with other bloggers, to do guest posts and spread the word through social media … but when the reader arrives, you fail to keep him and turn him into a regular reader or a subscriber.
Today, I’ll walk you through some common mistakes many blogs make that turn off new readers (and even regular readers oftentimes) … mistakes that could be killing your blog.
1. Less-than-useful posts. When I’m exploring new blogs, most of the time I’m looking for certain information — interesting new workouts, yummy recipes, good running advice, frugality ideas, inspiration to improve my life, and so on. You want useful posts — that’s why you’re there. Sure, some times a blogger is just such an interesting writer that you’ll read posts even if they’re not that useful. Some of my favorite bloggers are more interesting or funny than anything else. But most of the time, you’re looking for useful stuff. And when you go to a blog and scan the front page and can’t find one single useful post, you’re outta there. You want useful posts, and you want them fast. Bloggers should have lots of posts packed with useful information, and they should be on the front page so the reader doesn’t have to look for them. If your front page displays the 5 most recent posts, and they’re all updates about a competiton or a new product you’re selling or a contest on another blog … well, the reader will leave rather than having to wade through 10 non-useful posts just to find one useful post.
2. Infrequent posting. If you go to a blog and the last update was two months ago, you know the blog isn’t being updated. And while it might contain tons of useful stuff from the past, there’s no reason to subscribe or keep coming back if you don’t think new posts are coming out regularly. A good blog will have posts at least once a week — any longer than a week and it looks like cobwebs are forming on the blog. Two or three times a week is probably better, and 4-5 times a week might be best (depending on the type of blog you have — news blogs obviously are updated more than daily).
3. Writing about infrequent posting. What’s worse than noticing that the last post was two months ago? Reading the first paragraph of the post and seeing something like, “Sorry I haven’t been posting lately — things have been really busy for me. I promise to post more frequently!” That kind of post is a death knell for a blog. Don’t let that be the first impression. If you haven’t been posting recently, get on the ball and write some great posts (or ask other bloggers for guest posts). Don’t write a post about why you haven’t been posting.
4. Not displaying your best posts. Going through months of archives is too difficult for a new reader. The new reader wants to find your most essential posts right away, on the front page. Of course, your best posts might be spread out throughout the entire lifespan of your blog, so you’re not going to actually have them on the front page (which obviously just has the latest posts). But you can display them on the front page (and on every page, actually) by listing your best posts in your sidebar. A list of 10-20 essential posts for new readers is a must. Seriously, a must. Don’t make it difficult for readers to find your good stuff.
5. Flashy or annoying ads. If an ad is flashing, or popping up, or making noises, or expanding to block the text of the post, or in some other way forces the reader to click “close” … that’s just annoying. It’s happened on Zen Habits a few times when my ad networks ran annoying ads — and I wrote to them right away to ask them to remove them. Annoying your reader is a very bad strategy. Don’t do it. Seriously, stop it right now!
6. Trying to push products too often. I’ve run across some really good blogs with lots of useful information — they do everything right — except that they’re always trying to sell me stuff. I mean, like in every post, along with their sidebars and headers. It might be their own products, or the products of other websites. I’m not talking about banner ads in the sidebar. I’m talking about pushing products within the posts themselves, all the time. I do it every now and then when I think I’ve found a useful ebook my readers might enjoy, or do a book review with Amazon affiliate links. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that from time to time. But in every post? C’mon!
7. Long posts that are hard to scan. I’ve written about making your posts scannable before, so I won’t belabor the point here, but too often in my recent explorations of a large number of blogs, I’ve found post that contain useful information, but it’s too hard to find the info you’re looking for. You shouldn’t have to read every word of every paragraph to find the tips you want — they should be listed in bullet points or a numbered list, or highlighted in bold or somehow brought to the attention to the reader. Make it easy, not hard, to find the info the reader wants!
8. Pop-up subscription boxes. A good number of very decent blogs have this gimmick, and perhaps it helps them get subscribers. I can’t say. All I know is that as a reader, when I go to a blog like this, I click “close” or “no thanks” when the pop-up subscription box appears, and then I leave the site, never to come back. It’s too annoying, and too pushy. Don’t force the subscription on the reader. Let them review your site first, and then decide for themselves if they want to subscribe. A large number of blogs also use that WordPress plugin that says something like, “It looks like you’re new to this blog. You might consider subscribing … etc.” Something like that. Well, it’s better than the pop-up subscription box, but it still annoys me … especially as I’ve often been to the blog before but perhaps my browser has cleared out the cookie the plugin uses. Why tell me I haven’t been to your blog when I’m a regular reader? Frustrating.
9. Way too much clutter on your site. This is often related to the annoying ads and the blogger trying to sell you too much, but basically when you have a ton of ads, sidebar elements, and things throughout the post and in the header and footer of the blog, it gets overwhelming. The reader really wants to focus on the post, and while he’s willing to put up with some ads and other elements, if there’s too much it makes it hard to read. And that’s gonna lose you readers. Consider eliminating as many elements as you can while still retaining your best performing ad networks and other sidebar elements. Make reading a pleasant experience.
10. Boring or uninformative headlines. Again, a new reader wants to be able to find your useful posts very quickly. Often that means that he’ll scan through the front page, looking only at the headlines. If the headline is “Tuesday workout”, that doesn’t promise anything useful. But if it’s something like “Why running the day after lifting heavy weights is a bad idea”, that might contain something the reader is looking for. You can see the difference: the second headline is much more informative (even if both posts contain the same info), and it shows the reader exactly what useful information the post will deliver. Get that information and benefit in the headline, not just buried somewhere within the post. Or else you’ll lose that reader.
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