I hear it from time to time. People complain that they blog but they have no readers. Is there anything that can be done about it? Now seems like a nice time to have a look at this topic.
First take a step back and get over your bad self. No one owes you their readership. I can already hear you asking what the heck does mister 300+ subscribers know about this? First off I didn’t wake up the day after I started this blog and have 300 subscribers. It is a gradual process. I can also tell you that those numbers are directly proportional to the amount of effort put into blogging. I don’t post every single day and I’m not enough of an insider (e.g., engadget or techcrunch) to be a story breaker and send my numbers through the roof. It is all about being in a niche.
All that being said, there are things you can do to help your blog out. I’m no wordsmith or copy master (no need to tell that to you regulars!) No, this is a tech blog so lets get into the tech of it all.
Tip #1: Offer your readers a way to subscribe
Subscribing to blogs is what makes them fun. I don’t want to go surfing to some site to find out if it has been updated. I want it to let me know when there is something new. Likewise, offering a subscription to my stuff keeps my site on the radar of other people. I don’t have to rely on them thinking hmmm wonder if he’s put up something new.
This tip seems like it would be a no brainer. Dead wrong. For most technology blogs it isn’t a problem because we live this stuff but the other bloggers out there need our help in a big way.
My wife is into cooking. I’ve helped her subscribe to several blogs related to that. Now it’s not like she can’t handle the task. I mean it’s essentially copying a URL to your feed reader. Thing is, on more than one occasion it was near impossible to find the feed URL! Once, before Firefox had the brilliant auto-discovery icon in the URL field, I had to look at the source html to find the feed! Unacceptable for anyone. Put a link to your feed right there on your page.
Sidebar: If you still don’t get why RSS is cool, watch the video: RSS in Plain English
Tip #2: Make it easy to subscribe with popular feed readers
Many people use things like Google Reader or Bloglines as their feed readers. A nice thing to do is make it even easier for these people to subscribe to your feed. I use a block like this one to allow people using these popular readers to subscribe quickly:
There is no sophisticated coding here. Just go to the RSS Chicklet Generator, enter you feed in the field and click the ‘Generate HTML’ button. You’ll then have a block of code you can cut and paste into your blog template. Easy.
Tip #3: Offer an email subscription
Not everyone has a feed reader or wants to use another piece of software. Don’t lose these people as subscribers! If you’re your still following along and have implemented the above solution you have already done this. Rmail lets you get feeds right in your inbox. You could take it a step further and add some text around it indicating how brilliant you are that people can get an email every time you post something new.
Tip #4: Put the link to your feed at the top of the page
Do not make people hunt for the link to your feed. Put it right there at the top, ‘above the fold’ in newspaper parlance. In the worked of the web, ‘above the fold’ is on the first screen. Scrolling for the feed URL = bad.
Tip #5: Make sure you are using auto discovery
This is a bit technical and most blogging platforms such as Blogger or WordPress handle this pretty well. Still, it’s very important and worth mentioning.
Auto discovery is the magic behind the scenes of your blog that lets modern browsers like Firefox 2 and IE 7 discover your feed URL. If you use Firefox I am sure you have noticed the feed icon in the address bar. It looks like this:
The code needed to do that will look something like this very simplified version:
<title>This is my Blog</title>
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”RSS”
In the <head> section of your page you should have a <link> element. Written just like the one above with all the other necesary bits of ‘rel’ and ‘type’ will work the magic.
Tip #6: Make sure auto discovery and other links are pointing to the right feed
Have you signed up for Feedburner? If so you might want to comb through the code on your blog. More than likely it is still pointing to the wrong feed. Look at your links and make sure they point to Feedburner’s URL. This gets a bit tricky in the case of auto discovery. With most blogging platforms you can find the auto discovery code (see tip #5) pretty quickly. Blogger however likes to obfuscate the code behind one of their template tags.
Here is how to fix this in Blogger:
1. View you blog in your web browser
2. Right click on the page and click ‘view source’ IE or ‘view page source’ Firefox
3. You’ll see all the code behind your web page similar to the screen shot below
4. Copy all the text between <head> and <title> tag
5. Go to your Blogger dashboard
6. Click the ‘layout’ link next to the blog you want to edit
7. Go to the Template tab and click ‘Edit HTML’
8. Delete the line that says ‘<b:include data=’blog’ name=’all-head-content’/>’
9. Paste all the code you copied in #4 right in the spot you created in step #8 (see the picture for details)
10. Now look through the code you just pasted and find the <link> element similar to the code I outlined in tip #5 above.
11. Carefully delete the link that points to Atom. This just confuses things.
12. Replace the href with your Feedburner like this:
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”Tech Life Web Test Blog – RSS” href=”http://techlifeweb.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss” />
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”Tech Life Web Test Blog – RSS” href=”http://www.feedburner.com/myfeed” />
Don’t mess with any other parts of the line. You need that trailing “/” so leave it. And, to be clear, ‘myfeed’ should be the actual feed you created over at Feedburner.
13. Click preview to make sure you blog looks ok
14. Click ‘Save Template’
Tip #7: Offer full feeds
Some services like Feedburner allow you to offer partial feeds. This is where only part of your content is in the feed and the reader has to go to your site to read the rest. There used to be a battle over this but guess what? Full feeds won. The war is over, peace has broken out across the land and the soldiers have gone home.
You can beg borrow and plead for subscribers but if you don’t make it easy for them you might as well pack up and go home.
Next in this series: How Come I Have No Readers? Part 2 – Search Engines