Traffic vs. Readers
Ordinarily we talk about building traffic. I happened to notice a post at SuccessfulBlog that used the phrase "building readership" instead, and that impressed me. I said in a comment there "Traffic may pay the bills, but readers are our reason for writing - if that were not so, we'd all just be spammers."
I'm sure there are people who will read this and say "I don't care - just click on the ads!". I'm also sure that those people won't last long in the blogosphere.
But don't get me wrong: whether we're selling T-shirts or running ads, many of us need and expect income for our blogging effort. That's OK, because building readership and increasing income aren't contradictory goals.
Using "readership" rather than "traffic" implies value. Just building traffic can mean trickery; luring people to sites with deceptive search engine manipulation, spamming other sites for links and so on. Nothing honorable there.
Building readership is different. A reader is someone who wants to be at our site, and they are the audience we write for. Of course, we all get accidental and misdirected traffic; that's a natural effect of search engines misunderstanding our pages. Those folks are just "traffic", not readers, though we may have the opportunity to convert them.
How do you build readership? I think the common thread of successful blogs is personality and involvement: the blog writers are obviously real people with opinions, strengths, and weaknesses. They interact with their readers, responding to comments and encouraging conversation. The successful blog writer is no different than the person at a party who everyone talks to: outgoing, friendly, a real person.
Inserting personality isn't necessarily easy. If your blog is technically focused, it's easier to drift into dry, impersonal technical writing. There is a place for that kind of writing, and it can even be mixed into a successful blog, but it's better to mix in healthy amounts of your own personal thoughts.
If you build readership, you are building traffic. It's good traffic too; the kind that comes back, the kind that recommends you to others. Keep yourself focused on that, and everything else will follow.
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