Are they reading your blog?

By Caitlin Kelly

The first time I posted here — July 1, 2009 — I was shaking.


I’ve been writing for a living since university, and had grown very accustomed to attention and feedback for my ideas, photos and writing. Unlike many bloggers, this wasn’t my first attempt to gain eyeballs, just the latest iteration.

Would anyone ever show up?

Today, this blog has more than 5,400 readers worldwide, in Ghana, Malaysia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the Middle East, India. Crazy, but gratifying.

I’ve also been fortunate to have had my posts chosen six times for Freshly Pressed, which showcases a selection of WordPress bloggers every day. If you haven’t ever made time to read any of them, I urge you to. I always find something lovely or thought-provoking.

Every day, five to 15 new people find Broadside and decide to follow.

I’m honored, and really enjoy the diversity of readers, and comments.

For those of you hoping to grow your audience, some things to think about:

What’s your goal?

If all you want is to create an on-line record of your thoughts and work, I’m not persuaded that’s a blog that will ever gain much traction or many readers, while LinkedIn is professionally useful for this purpose.

Some people say they want their blog to be a place to process their feelings. Which is fine — it’s your blog. But if your real desire is to attract lots and lots of eyeballs, you’ve got to be a little more focused. No one, I assure you, has time or energy to read rambling navel-gazing better suited to a long private conversation with a friend, or a journal entry.

Every time you post, consider the question — what’s in it of potential value to your readers?

How often are you posting?

The metric I’ve read is to post three times a week, which I’ve consistently maintained. Some people post every day, which is too much for me to absorb as a reader and too much to produce as someone — like you! — with a busy life and many other interests and commitments.

If you’re pooped trying to make it all up without help — use links and timely, much-discussed news stories as inspiration.

Two women knitters with blogs, holding up thei...
Two women knitters with blogs, holding up their knitting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you showing other bloggers a little love?

I don’t follow a ton of blogs, but I look at the site of every single person who signs up to follow Broadside. I make it a point to visit the sites of people who “like” a post so I can “like” or comment on theirs.

Are you making your blog visually inviting?

I’m dismayed by how few bloggers seem to understand a basic principle — we’re visual creatures! We want something pretty or interesting or memorable to look at and think about, not just a big fat pile ‘o words. Zzzzzzzz!

Include photos, drawings, sketches, video to illustrate your posts. Since few bloggers bother to do this, yours will immediately stand out from the crowd.

How’s your punctuation, design sense, theme choice and layout?

I won’t read any blogger who simply throws down a huge chunk of copy, (especially white on black), without one single paragraph to break it up visually and intellectually.

It’s like yammering on without taking a breath. NO one anywhere in the real world gets away with that shit.

English: A Saturday afternoon barbeque for the...
English: A Saturday afternoon barbeque for the Progressive Bloggers on Parliament Hill, East Block, Ottawa, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you living an interesting life?

If your life is pretty quiet and routine, are you still offering readers some fun, quirky or moving insights into it? What value are you adding to my day in return for my attention?

Elizabeth Harper, an ex-pat American from Georgia now living in Cornwall, posts some of the most beautiful photos I’ve seen on the web. I keep her posts in my email forever just to go back and look at them. They’re like 17th century paintings.

Do you reply, quickly and authentically, to comments?

I try to reply to every single comment. If someone has made time to read long enough to care, to care enough to comment, that’s a hell of a compliment. Replying is polite.

Are you funny?

We all could use a good laugh — and I don’t mean simply plugging in a pile of gif’s. I mean seeing your world, and sharing it, in a way that makes us laugh along with you.

Are you too angry?

I get it.

Believe me, there are many, many things to rant about. But it’s got to be balanced out by something lighter. If all your blog is about is yelling and screaming and bitching and moaning — even if your target(s) are 100% deserving, you’re not likely to grow your readership into the thousands, even hundreds. It’s just too tedious after a while.

Tone matters

Your blog can be whatever you choose, of course. But which voice? Meditative, poetic, sassy, smart-ass, challenging, wise?

One blog with a very consistent tone, is Truth and Cake, written by Rian, a 30-something American woman who married a Canadian man and moved to Vancouver. She’s wise but not dull, encouraging but not sappy, firm but not bossy. I love her choice of header photo — snappy pink heels and all.

Another is Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot, by Australian writer Nigel Featherstone. I enjoy his meditative voice and gentle questioning of almost everything. Every time I read one of his posts, my blood pressure drops.

Are you obsessed with being Freshly Pressed?

Easy for me to say, right?

Yes, being FPed will boost your visibility, big-time, probably adding hundreds of new followers within hours. But it’s not the only measure of your blog’s value. If your readers are reading, commenting, talking to you and to one another, it’s working.

Some blogs are just never going to make the FP cut: they’re too specific, too sexy, too curse-laden, too shout-y. Be yourself, but be realistic about the mass appeal of what is more likely to get picked by the WP editors.

Aim for the intersection of personal and universal

This isn’t easy, but it’s what works best.

I’m not a widow, but I’m eager to read what Niva, a TV writer in Los Angeles, is writing at Riding Bitch; her header photo speaks volumes about her spirit.

I’m not an educator, but I enjoy reading Mindful Stew, written by Paul Barnwell, a thoughtful high school teacher in Kentucky. Terrific bloggers manage to find a way to make their concerns matter to the rest of us, even if we don’t share, and never will, their specific experiences.

Are you passionate about your posts?

One of the worst habits I see in many other blogs is the written shrug. If you’re really that bored, tired or distracted, why inflict it on your readers? Bloggers like this annoy me. They want attention, but haven’t done anything special to warrant it, sort of like the five-year-old at the playground yelling “Mommy, watch me! Watch me! Watch me!”

OK. I’m watching, already. Whatcha got for me?

Are you open to differing points of view?

I’m happy that we’ve had some pretty heated (civil) discussions here. A perky, chirpy echo chamber is boring.

How much are you willing to reveal about yourself and your thoughts?

Possibly the most essential element, and one that’s damn hard to do well! Too much emotion and it becomes grossly confessional. Too little, and we never really get to know who you are, just some coy cipher. Yes, discretion is important, certainly for professional reasons. But a tidy/polite/buttoned-up blog becomes a big snooze.

Have you given your posts time to cool down?

It’s rare I write a post and hit publish. Many are refined for days, sometimes weeks.

I’d skip sex, religion and politics. But that’s just me

I rarely post on religion or politics, and almost never about sex, (sexual politics, yes.) Most of the time, it’s not worth it to invite/wrangle trolls and craziness.

What do you think?

What’s working for you?

What do you enjoy here at Broadside?

Here’s my last post about how to blog better, with tips…it got 96 likes, so it might be worth a look if you’re new here.

75 thoughts on “Are they reading your blog?

  1. This post gave me a serious reality check! Thank you so much for this post, I feel like this is a walkthrough on how to survive the blog world. Thank you so much for this post, and your an inspiration to me as well.

  2. Nemesis

    What do you enjoy here at Broadside?

    Secretly? The ‘PyjamaPartays’. For the AbFab vicarious insights into MatureGirlyness.

    Ok. So I’m an AnthropologicalVoyeur.

    More generally? Interesting stuff I might not otherwise consider. Rather like attending an impromptu, convivial DinnerPartay with fascinating guests.

  3. I like you. I’m sorry to say that I just find you a likable person, which means you have a likable voice, and I enjoy reading your writing even when the topic is really not of much interest to me. It’s hard to quantify that into actual advice, isn’t it? Just write like someone someone else would like to hang out with. But it’s not a bad start.

    I’m pretty sure I will never, ever be Freshly Pressed. But that’s cool. I just keep plugging away. It helps me, and if what I have to say speaks to one other person, I’m good.

  4. I like posts like this. As for my blog, it had accidental success three years ago when an outside article was written by a former ally of Tony Alamo. He linked to it and retracted his original stance. This was totally unexpected and I have decided that was its own success that brought enough merit to make my navel gazing worthwhile. I never really meant for it to be public, but just available for those coming out of the cult– specifically, Tony’s remaining wives (my co-wives) and under aged brides who might decide to leave, or other former polygamists.
    I wanted it to be found only by those searching for it. Now that I am unemployed and working on my writing, I’m using it as an experimental platform to see what topics work, what topics don’t work; but I’m still weaving in backstory, because that is why people (not my intended audience, but others) came to begin with. So, it’s very unfocused.

    By tracking stats. I’ve observed certain patterns that indicate I should divide up content to separate blogs. But many professional bloggers say don’t do that. Keep it all together until you go pro. I’m not even trying to go pro, so, I’m keeping it all together right now. Therefore, it is a work in progress.

      1. What surprises me is that my science-y posts get very little attention. I have some theories on that. If I do separate out a topic to a new blog, it will definitely be that. I think science posts probably have too many complex dynamics to really tell what is going on by what I see on my life-blog.

        Your blog has a personal element, but it’s very newsie. My favorite posts are related to writing and making money.

      2. I’m glad you obsess aloud. It is the type of insight which keeps me interested, but with a tempered realization that I’m not quite up to that level of chutzpah.
        Yet. 🙂

        I’m still trying to catch up to the idea of working for a decent wage, and most recently, single parenthood. Nothing new for the rest of America, but major shock here. So much to learn.

  5. Caitlin, thanks for putting together such a great piece. It’s wonderful! When I began my blog here just 2 months ago, yours was the first I choose to “follow”. I’m so happy I did. I’m certainly a better blogger for it. Keep’em coming!

  6. Thank you for this! Your timing is perfect, as I only joined a few weeks ago and still finding my way and my “voice”.

    As for what I enjoy about Broadside … for me it’s as simple as good writing. Clean, clear and with a bit of personality and jazz hands on the side (well that’s how it comes across to me anyway).

    As for me, I think I’m going to find it challenging to figure out how to walk the line between over-sharing and truth-telling as I start blogging about my IVF journey in the coming days. I’d like to make my blog interesting even for those people with no interest in fertility. That may be difficult!

    Thanks again.

    1. Jazz hands. Love it! 🙂

      The IVF thing is very specific, indeed, but I am sure you will find a large and sympathetic audience among women with the same challenge. Good luck with it!

  7. My goal is just to spread word that I write and that my work is available…or at any rate it will be available. So far, I’ve got 282 followers, which I’m very happy about, and there are periods where the growth on my blog is huge.
    I might want to consider some changes though. I’ve been using the same semi-creepy format for nearly two years. Perhaps I should switch things up.

      1. I struggle with reading blogs with black backgrounds … maybe it’s my aging eyes, but I’ve always had trouble with it right from the early days when eyes were younger. 🙂

  8. Caitlin,
    Thanks for the shout-out. When I teach my digital media students about storytelling, they often struggle advancing beyond simply sharing their experiences. Why would/should other people care? What’s the big idea? I’m glad Mindful Stew seems to resonate with people having vastly different experiences and locales.
    As for your blog, I’ve especially enjoyed your posts about the writing and blogging process; they have given us readers outstanding insight into the struggles and triumphs of being a writer.

  9. Thanks for these great tips and for the shout out! I’m flattered you read my blog and mentioned it here. I still feel like I’m learning how to blog but getting better at it with practice. I also think my blog will get more focused as I become more focused.

    I love your blog because it provides such useful information (writing, blogging, money, news, social awareness), asks great questions that make me think, is entertaining (the trivia post!) and tells us about you too. I’ve noticed even when you write about yourself, you provide information that’s useful to others. It’s just very informative, full of personality, and never dull. I like the straightforwardness, “no BS” aspect of your writing too.

      1. themodernidiot

        Take your time. Things we wait for in life are always sweeter. And yeah, that Kelly chick’s pretty okay stuff 🙂

  10. Yours is one of the blogs that I always find myself taking the time to read. Your voice is authoritative, informative, and fun. I always like your topics, although I don’t know that you are confined to a specific theme (maybe that’s by design). Anyway, it’s no wonder to me you’ve been FP’ed and have so many readers. Well worth a few minutes of our day to read it!

  11. Hi Caitlin – I don’t know how you do it – actually I do. You work very hard. I follow you because I have read your articles in the NYT and you always have something interesting to write about. However, I’d like to consider a different perspective – if I had tons of followers, which I don’t, I would feel so obligated to write more than once a month and keep that base going strong and keep them interested. I would be a case of nerves for sure. I also have to keep up with the artwork and poetry (one is always giving in to the other), so I am torn, no question. However, I do faithfully comment on the blogs I follow which I also keep to a manageable number. Re the visual: being an artist, I am always “looking” but I don’t need a visual to read a poem or a book or a blog that interests me. I also had a bit of a reality check/epiphany this year: there is absolutely no one waiting breathlessly for my next piece of art, a poem or piece of prose. That took a bit of the pressure off.

    1. It’s funny — I am aware that millions (gulp), OK thousands, of people worldwide read my NYT stuff, but it never registers personally. It’s weird freelancing for them, because (ugh) I never get a raise in my rates, no matter how well read, nor will they hire me (I’ve asked.) So, to me, it’s just one more outlet…

      I don’t think much about having a lot of followers because I don’t know how many people read the blog. Very few comment, which I wish would change. I value greatly those who do – like you!

      Nerves? Nope. Books scare me to death, but blogging is the fun part of my day.

  12. I love this post. Funny, when I started writing my blog it was going to be completely different. But as I sat down to write, it became something other than I imagined. Instead of a place to post my lessons, cool tech tools for kids, discussion on better teaching practices, it became personal. The more I read other people’s blogs, the more I had to say. (I’m a big fan of Mindful Stew too) The more I wrote about teaching, the more I realized that the lessons I learn are lessons that are universal to us all. Thanks for your honest writing and your responses to comments. Cheers to you and your blog!

    1. Thanks!

      Blogs, when well done, are such a powerful place to share insights and ideas that have “no place” elsewhere — so much of what I post here may end up (or not) in an article or book, but probably not. It has made me more aware that my paid writing is really like being a tailor — making stuff to other people’s requirements. This is mine.

      Good luck with yours!

  13. There was a time I blogged three times a week little stories about my cat. It became difficult to maintain the pace with so much mail and it eventually became just once a week. He had a steady little following. I started the wordpress site originally to do Author interviews and to advertise progress on my own books but that soon changed to a sort of ramble about my life once my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I confess Caitlin that I have no idea whether I rambled during that period though the readership did jump.
    Despite being a serious subject I always tried to inject humour into my posts, and still do, just breaking away to a serious subject I have strong feelings about once in a while. The readers have become friends and it’s often been the same ones who comment though just recently there seem to be a few new followers.
    Like you,I have the courtesy to follow blogs back and always respond to comments. I enjoy the interaction. Maybe I won’t hit the heady height of being freshly pressed but In hope my readership will increase and I can continue to entertain to a degree. Your site is one I’d love to emulate as you have such a variety of interesting topics combined with little insights into your personality. You have hugs personal warmth that radiates out from the blog so it’s easy to understand why you’re enjoyed by so many.

    1. Thanks for the kind words.

      I’m amazed you could even blog through your wife’s illness. And you make an interesting point, that a blog’s content can — and often does — change with circumstance. I’ve fudged it by keeping it general from the start, although I do focus often on work, money and relationships.

  14. Thank you, Caitlin for incuding me here especially since I’ve been such bad blogger over the last year or so. I’m coming back to GOTJ, I promise!

    I began blogging mostly because I wanted to share my stories with my daughter. It’s funny, I don’t think she reads it very often, but it gives me a feeling a completeness somehow to know that there are hundreds of links to me written with heart and thoughtfulness (mostly) that she can access should I leave this earth too soon.

    While my posts tend to be from my perspective, I try to write in a way that invites others to consider their own experience.

    I’m in Wales right now taking loads of photographs and storing up bits of experience for my writing. Think of me as a squirrel gathering nuts for winter. I’ll be thinking of you later this morning when I visit the birthplace of Henry Tudor, who became Henry the VII, the first Tudor King.

    1. Love the squirrel image! I often think of myself, when reporting a big story, like a game dog bounding back through the brush with something in my mouth — look what I found!!

      Enjoy Wales…dying to hear details and see your photos.

  15. Me being a beginner in here had absolutely no clue of how to sustain in the blogging world. This post of yours is certainly a breakthrough for me. I am surely gonna follow all that you have advised to. Thanks

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insight. I really enjoyed reading this post and I did click through and read the previous one as well. My blog is only a few months old and is still a baby so I am at the stage where I am finding what works and what doesn’t both in regard of content and frequency and so any tips that experienced bloggers can provide are fantastic.

    I read somewhere that you should post “one killer blog” a week and then the rest can be made up of fun/less serious works. I personally like this philosophy and have been trying to stick to the 3 x per week rule, however the only problem is finding the material for the “killer post” along with doing all the other things that we as writers do.

    For me I need to try to formulate more time management skills and I would also like to get into a position where my posts are written in advance to give me time to review them and also for breathing space between publications. I shall certainly be taking your advice on board and thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thanks for making time to read them — and commenting…

      I write 90% of my posts in advance, sometimes weeks in advance. That way I never feel the “oh shit!” moment that I haven’t posted nor have time nor have anything I want to say. It really takes the pressure off; I usually have four to six posts in the can (i.e. a week’s worth or two) and then can bounce off the news within minutes, which I like to do, when something hits hard — like the rapes in India or the latest boneheaded move by American politicians.

      I hadn’t thought of the “killer” post. I do try to post more fun/light things on weekends, when we all need a break, and sometimes post twice on weekends, knowing people probably have more time and attention for them.

      The challenge of “evergreen” posts — i.e. ones that CAN sit for weeks, even months — is that they can be too general and stale. I can’t stress too often (being a journalist) that using a news event is really a great way to springboard into a topic, and links and quotes also take some of the pressure off of writing longer.

  17. i was in a graduate writing class a bunch of years ago, before i started blogging, and the teacher mentioned blogs in a casual kind of way. she added, “if you write a blog, be careful what you’re writing, especially if your real name is on it. you might not have any comments, but always assume someone is reading because someone is always reading. you might never know who, and you might never know if it’s good or bad that they are reading, but you can be sure – someone is reading.”

    i wonder if she meant it to sound like a warning, because it sure did.

    1. It’s not a bad warning, though.

      I recently ran into a writing acquaintance at a conference who told me she reads it and commented on my candor. Hmmmm. I had no idea she was reading it because, like most readers, she has never commented. You can get quite seduced by the regulars who comment, and forget all those who do not — but who read and may be re-posting or linking to…who knows?

      Did it scare me? No, but it was a useful wake-up call and reminder that some of my friends and professional colleagues are reading it as well, not just random strangers in far-away places I will likely never meet. So I’m fairly careful about what I post here. It reads “balls to the wall” — and it is — but a blog also needs a powerful voice, so that’s a deliberate choice as well.

      It’s also useful to remember that libel is an issue to be careful about. What we post here is both permanent and public.

      1. i write mainly adult and sometimes intense fiction. last week, my sister told me she was reading my blog, and it sort of embarrassed me because i don’t prefer that she reads where i’m writing about a sexual predator. it made me feel strange to know she was reading.

        also, my ex-wife reads my blog and has attempted to use my writing in court against me, claiming that my fiction shows i’m a bad person and should not have any time with our children. i also wrote a post years ago about how christmas is depressing because i don’t get time with my kids that day. she also tried to use that in court and claimed it shows i am psychologically disturbed and should not be around children. luckily, it didn’t work. but with that kind of logic, i suppose there are thousands upon thousands of writers who should not be parents.

        oh well.

      2. Blogging is not journalism, or books — we have no editors, for better and worse. Some people would really benefit from having one, if only to protect themselves from over-exposure.

        I imagine most judges are more sophisticated than that. But the fact remains — this stuff is public and permanent and people will read into it whatever they wish. We can’t control that, so it’s our choice to face the consequences of candor.

        I used to blog at Open Salon but was so insanely and frighteningly flamed there — people mocked my resume, for fuck’s sake — that I ended up having to call my local police when one man threatened me with physical harm. Women who blog, and who are easily findable (who isn’t?) and who piss weirdos off are putting themselves at risk. I know what harassment in this fashion is against the law in many states, so I won’t hesitate to act again if necessary. But who needs that much bullshit — for no pay?!

  18. Fantastic tips! I think a lot of blogging advice focuses a little bit too much on “writing about what you love,” which is fine, but if you want an audience, you also have to do something for them.

    1. I am no fan of “write what you love”. I work as a journalist, so have been used to pleasing editors and readers and book publishers and buyers for decades. I really think that blogging without giving a damn about your readers is selfish and short-sighted.

  19. I enjoy your writing style, well thought out, interesting and intelligent. With. All this, it still feels very human and from the heart, which ultimately connects people to you. They trust what you have to say, both as a professional and a human being. Another wonderful post ) best, beth

  20. Thanks for the tips, I’m knew to blogging and I think I’m going to take your advice and do a three times a week post from now on, I’ve been posting everyday, mainly because it looks bare, but it’s becomes a task and I more than anything want my blog to be fun, interesting and most of all helpful!! I love your blog by the way, could you tell me more about FP?

    Paula 🙂

    1. I doubt many people are sufficiently interested to read a blog every single day — as many of us subscribe to several.

      FP is a daily selection of the best of WordPress. It’s made by their editors. Can’t tell you more than that…They do have a list of tips on how to get picked.

  21. Désolée pour le français, mais je suis plus à l’aise dans ma langue maternelle 🙂
    J’ai commencé mon blog pour partager mon expérience de vie, de 6 mois au Canada: 3 mois à Vancouver et 3 mois à Montréal. Mes “followers” sont essentiellement mes amis et ma famille mais aussi quelques personnes de WordPress dont j’ai réussi à capter l’attention.J’étais même très surprise de voir que des personnes inconnues aimaient mes articles! Cela me convient très bien comme cela. D’ailleurs, je pense que mon blog se terminera en même temps que mon aventure canadienne. Écrire, partager, choisir les plus belles photos, les bons mots, essayer de faire rire ou sourire : c’est un vrai bonheur!

    1. Merci.

      C’est tres satisfaisant de decouvrir qu’on a des choses a dire a tout le monde, pas juste vos intimes. J’espere (?) que vous avez bien benefiait de votre petit tour du Canada, mon pays d’origine. Je suis nee a Vancouver et j’ai vecu a Montreal deux fois, comme enfant de 12 ans and quand j’avais 28 ans. C’est une belle ville — sauf l’hiver!

  22. All good stuff, though I believe far and away the biggest factor (aside from quality of posts) in increasing traffic/followers is posting frequency. Regular readers can decide whether or not to read a given post, so I don’t worry too much about turning them off with frequent posts, and posting frequently allows my blog to hit the radar screens of folks who are not (yet) regular readers.

    Unfortunately, I run up against personal and professional obligations that prevent me from posting as often as I would like.

  23. What a great post, with excellent guidelines. While I don’t know that I’ve ever actually found my blogging niche, I think I’m okay with that, for now. Who knows, perhaps the future holds something different. Meanwhile, I will continue to find my voice and learn from people like you. Thank you for that.

  24. Hear hear! I’m drawn to blogs that read like their author really dug something out of the depths to post, while being able to balance it for accessibility, alternate perspective, and when it comes down to it, the ability to communicate an entire story to their audiences as succinctly as possible.

    I’ve just spent 4 weeks digging a post out of me and redrafting it until it read like I had a point to make. It could probably use another couple of drafts after the 15 or so its been through, but my gauge for success is the kind of comments I get, and especially, whether people take the time to drop me an email, or reach out privately (social media chatter is good, but it’s private correspondence that is really telling). Been good so far!

    What do i enjoy about Broadside? You’re an unapologetic woman warrior. I’m still working on earning my Amazon sandals, so you’re an inspiration!

  25. Ahh, thank you so much for the mention, Caitlin. Not sure how I missed it! I’ve been on a bit of a blog reading fast this summer, whittled down to just a few because things are so busy and we’ve been travelling so much. But I plan to catch up and overindulge again when I have some free time. I’ve already caught up on a few of your posts. Lots of food for thought, as usual!

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