Do You Really Know What Your Readers Want?

As bloggers, we make all kinds of choices — how many columns should our blog be, what should I write about, how can I make money?

These choices and all the other choices we have to make can be tough, but it gets easier if we ask ourselves this question: Do you really know what your readers want?

Too often I see bloggers filling their blog with promotional stuff designed to help out blogger friends or make money. Ads are placed right at the beginning of a post, making it hard to read the post, just to make more money. Now, I’m not knocking those bloggers, but at the same time I think they are putting other considerations before their readers, and I think in the long run that will lose you readers.

Why It’s Important to Put Readers First

Let’s talk first about what the other considerations are, besides what your readers want. Here are a few:

  • Money. If you put ads all over the place, with flashing images and video and audio, maybe pop-up ads as well, and all the ads in prime territory (meaning the spots that readers look at first on a page), the theory is that you’re going to make more money. Unfortunatley, such ads can be annoying to readers, and one emotion you don’t want your blog to evoke is annoyance. If your blog is annoying, you won’t keep many readers for too long. What about successful blogs that do this? There are plenty of examples. I would argue that these blogs are successful in spite of these ads. They would probably have kept many more readers without them.
  • Traffic. You can (sometimes) draw a lot of traffic with flashy headlines and pictures, without bothering to write great content to match. That’s fine if you just want readers to go to your site once and never come back. But if you want them to stay, and to subscribe and keep coming back, you have to really deliver on your promises.
  • Other bloggers. Sure, it’s nice to link to other bloggers, and help them out by promoting their best content and even ebooks and other things like that. I’m a fan of staying connected with other bloggers and linking to them when relevant. But if you do so just for the sake of doing so, without thinking about whether your readers really want to read about another product being sold by another blogger, you’re making a mistake. Your readers come to your blog for specific reasons, to read about certain topics and to get useful or interesting reads. If you give them stuff they don’t want too often, they will stop coming back.
  • Your ego. It’s good to share some of yourself with your readers — it helps them connect with you, to see why you’re an authority on a topic, to learn about the personality of the blogger they’re reading. But there’s a difference between sharing yourself and just flat-out promoting yourself, and if you cross the line too often you’ll turn off your readers. I’ve crossed this line a couple times myself and when I find readers reacting a certain way to what I’ve written, I ask myself if my ego got in the way.

There are other considerations, but the most important one is the reader. Why? Because that’s the person who matters most, for most bloggers. OK, maybe you’re a blogger who doesn’t care if anyone reads his stuff. If that’s you, then go ahead and screw the reader.

But if you’re like me, and you actually want people to read and enjoy your writing, and want them to find it useful or at least worth their while, then you have to care about what your readers want. You have to picture the reader in your mind as you make your decisions, and ask yourself, “What would my readers want?”

If you do that, they’ll keep coming back.

How to Put Your Readers First, Just About Every Time

The process of putting the reader first start off when you first create your blog, and continues on from there, each and every day:

  • Blog topic and brand: What are you going to blog about? What are you going to call your blog? How will you brand the blog? The best way to answer these questions is to ask yourself, “Which readers am I aiming for?” Who do you want to read your blog? Is it a 20-year-old tech-savvy college student? A 60-year-old technophobe who loves books? A 35-year-old mother who wants to get into shape? What topics is this ideal reader interested in? What appeals to this reader? Answer these questions and you’ve gone a long way toward figuring out what you want your blog to be about.
  • Blog design: Too many blogs aim their design at making money. They put ads in the most annoying spots because it’s been found that’s where readers are most likely to click on the ads. Well, that’s also where readers are most likely to get annoyed by ads. Put your readers first when it comes to design: readers usually enjoy a clean, uncluttered look with easy-to-read text and not too many ads. Colors should be pleasing, not too loud or hard on the eyes.
  • Post topics: Every single post should be written with the reader’s interest in mind. What problems does your reader have that you can solve? What information does the reader want? How can you best help your readers? Often a blogger will write about unrelated topics without thinking about the reader. A blogger might write about things just to make money (like paid reviews) or to promote something he’s interested in. Those don’t help the readers.
  • Blogging memes: A related example is the blogging meme — something I never care about as a reader that exists just to promote someone’s blog or someone’s ego. A blogging meme is usually a question or topic where a blogger will “tag” other bloggers and they have to answer the question and tag even more bloggers, and so on. As a reader, very rarely will these memes be of interest to me, and they can actually be annoying if a blogger participates in them too much, and if you see them on all the blogs you read.
  • Ads: As mentioned above, it’s not a good idea to annoy your readers with your ads, even if that’s the best way to make money. Annoying your readers is one of the worst things you can do — it’ll hamper your growth and lose you readers and eventually mean lower ad revenues in the long term. Avoid placing your ads right at the top of the post (a common practice that is annoying even if it works). Don’t do in-text ads (ads that are links within a post) — they make reading a post annoying and cause the reader not to trust your links. There also shouldn’t be any pop-up ads or ads that flash annoyingly.
  • Promotional stuff: Often a blogger will be a part of a blog network or ad network or some other type of group thing. And he’ll do posts promoting the network that have no real value to the reader. That fills a blog with noise that will eventually cause a reader to realize that it’s too much work reading through your promotional posts to find the nuggets of value. He’ll unsubscribe.

There are many other ways you can use this question — What Would the Reader Want — to improve your blog and grow your readership. I’ve only covered a few, but I’m sure you can think of others. What questions/suggestions do you have regarding putting a reader first? Share in the comments!

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Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta is the blogger behind the superblog, Zen Habits, which is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of life.

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