Your stats page is broken. It must be. Because you put up three posts today and you’ve only had 42 hits… and you’re fairly certain at least ten of those are pity clicks from your mum. But how can that be right? Your content is good. At least, your book reviews are certainly better than some of the tosh you’ve read on Goodreads lately. So what’s holding up the traffic?
Well, the first problem is that you’re on your stats page. The second is that you’re looking at days, rather than weeks, or better yet, months and years.
Before starting Lectito, I worked for a print magazine where, among other things, I looked after the magazine’s website. Over the three years I worked there, I saw the site grow from a small, intermittently updated blog, to an integral part of our publishing cycle with a substantial following. I learned a lot (mostly through trial and error) working on that site, and I’ve learned a whole lot more since launching Lectito.
So for those seeking a larger, more engaged readership, here’s what I know:
Time + quality content + passion
= genuine readers
Let’s break it down:
Engagement vs. traffic
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I want to get something straight: if you’re thinking purely in terms of traffic, you’re doing it wrong. High traffic is good because it means more readers who will potentially engage with your content. But engagement is what you’re really after. If 10,000 people read your post and not one of them comments on it or even ‘likes’ it, that’s… not great. You’ve failed to elicit a response from your reader. Far better to have 100 people read your post and for 25 of them to like it and 10 of them to leave a comment or ask a question.
So, instead of looking only at your traffic, think about your stats in terms of how much of your traffic is engaging with your content. And it’s not just likes and comments you should focus on. Also pay attention to how many posts and pages each reader is looking at and (if you have Google Analytics) how long they’re spending on your site.
Engagement takes precedence in social media, too. Having thousands of people follow you on Twitter, Instagram, etc. is good—not because it makes you look like one of the cool kids, but because it improves your potential reach. And this is why you shouldn’t pay for followers—those ‘followers’ are just a number. They’re not people who are genuinely interested in reading and engaging with your content. Same goes for people who ask for follow-for-follows—they’re all about numbers, not readers.
But, Margot, I hear you cry, not everyone who enjoys a post likes or comments on it! It’s true, but the ones who do are statistically more likely to come back. They want you to know that they’ve taken the time to read your work and like what they see. They’re your real readers, and they are the ones you should focus on.
There is no silver bullet
Crowds of engaged readers are not going to flock to your blog overnight. Make peace with it. There’s no magic tag, no secret layout, no one post that’s going to start your as-yet-unknown book blog trending.
If you started a book blog or are thinking of starting a book blog with a view to building a readership of millions and making a fortune through online advertising, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it ain’t going happen. Book blogs appeal to a fairly niche readership and there are already thousands of bloggers established in that space.
That’s not to say that you can’t make money through your book blog—if that’s what you want to do—or that, given time, you won’t amass a loyal band of readers. But you shouldn’t get disheartened when your blog doesn’t crack 10,000 views on day one. If you have hundreds of genuine readers reading your content each month, that’s amazing! Thousands? Incredible! Tens of thousands—congratulations, you’re running one of the world’s most successful book blogs! And I’ll bet you worked really hard over a long period to get there.
For those who aren’t there yet, that’s not going to change today, this week or even this month. However, there are plenty of things you can do that will help grow your readership over time. Below are just a few:
Write solid content
When bloggers focus too much on stats, they start thinking in numbers instead of words, and quality content is the first thing to go. If I visit your book blog and all I see are a bunch of giveaways and puff posts (’10 pretty covers’, ‘Books on my TBR pile’, ‘See my latest book haul’) but no actual reviews or other pieces I can learn something from, I’m not coming back. Also, spare your readers the posts where you tell us how many followers you have (‘OMFG!! I hit 500 followers!!’). The second I see that headline, you’re back to 499. The ‘look how many followers I have’ humble-brag (‘you guys are amazing, I love you so much!’) reads as a little bit insincere and a lot un-profesh. As a reader, all I take away from that is that you’re in it for the numbers. If you really want to show your readers some love, reply to their comments, check out their blog and leave some comments of your own.
Because here’s the thing: readers are greedy. They don’t care about you; they care about what you can give them. They couldn’t give two farts that a publisher sent you a much-coveted ARC, or that you’re in a reading slump because work has been hectic or you have exams. What they want is information: insightful reviews that help them make informed reading choices, interviews that bring them a little closer to their favourite authors, news about upcoming titles, etc. By far the most popular posts on Lectito are those where I share my expertise or ask others to offer theirs: Book Blogger Q & As, tricks for making more time to read, tips to improve your book reviews and advice for writers. Not every post needs to be groundbreaking; even something as simple as sharing your favourite Bookstagram accounts has value. In short, when you sit down to write a post, the key question you need to ask is: what’s in it for my reader?
Building on that, let’s talk about post frequency and length. To build a following of genuine readers, you need to post regularly. But that doesn’t mean pumping out a post every day or two in a desperate bid to stay relevant. That strategy might get you more readers in the short term, but posts rely on substance for staying power. In three months’ time, no one’s going to be digging around for your contribution to the ‘Three quotes in three days challenge’ or a 150-word review riddled with typos that you smashed out on the train to work. Really informative posts can be days—even weeks—in the making, and these are the ones that will continue to draw readers to your blog for years to come. It may take time, but in the long run, posting one considered piece per week or per fortnight will bring you far more genuine readers than posting for the sake of posting every day.
There are no hard and fast rules about how long your posts should be, but in my experience the posts that perform best are those with higher word counts, simply because they generally offer more information. That’s not to say that short posts can’t be informative or aren’t valuable, but if your reviews are only a few hundred words, how much insight are you really offering beyond what the reader can determine from the blurb? As a reader, I don’t just want to know whether or not you liked the book, I want to know why and I want you to support your opinion with quotes and examples—that requires a higher word count. Longer posts also rank higher in search engines, receive more link backs and are more likely to be shared.
It also pays to edit and proofread your work before hitting ‘Publish’. Posts riddled with errors look sloppy and rushed and send a message to your reader that your care factor is low. If editing isn’t your strong point, don’t stress. I’ve always had problems with spelling and typos, but I invested in a Grammarly premium subscription a few months ago AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE. (Have a play here.) Not only does it proofread my work for basic errors, it also points out advanced grammatical issues and suggests better word choices.
As a reader, I don’t mind if I don’t hear from you all that often, but if you hit me with ten posts one week then disappear for three months, I think: this blogger isn’t serious. Then I’m probably just going to forget about you.
Be realistic about how much time you have for your blog (including the time you need for reading, social media and visiting other blogs), make a posting schedule and stick to it. Sure, life occasionally gets in the way, but if you know you’re going to be busy during a certain period, write your content ahead of time and schedule it.
If you’ve been slack, resist the urge to write an apology post. While it’s comforting to imagine your readers eagerly hitting refresh on your homepage, in truth they probably only think about your blog when they get a new post notification. Apologising just draws attention to the fact that you’ve dropped the ball.
Being consistent also applies to your content. If you’re a book blogger who primarily reviews thrillers, a random post about the delicious quinoa salad you whipped up that afternoon, the announcement that you just got engaged or a rant about the daily discrimination you face as a practising Pastafarian isn’t going to appeal to your readers who are hanging out to know what you thought of the new Gillian Flynn novel. That’s not to say that these other things aren’t important, but rather your book blog isn’t the platform for them.
So, you’ve nailed the great content but no one’s reading it. That’s because when you hit ‘Publish’ your job isn’t even half done. Blogging is about community. To attract genuine readers, you need to be a genuine reader. Follow, read and comment on other book blogs. Sign up to receive their posts via email. Show in your comments that you’ve taken the time to read their post. Generic comments such as ‘Great post!’ or ‘Love your site!’ say: I didn’t really read this, but LOOK AT MEEE!! Ask a question. Start a conversation. When people leave comments on your blog, take the time to respond.
To connect with potential readers, you also need to have a presence on social media. But that doesn’t mean setting up accounts from which to spew links to your posts. Nor does it mean using Publicize (or similar) to do the spewing for you. It’s the digital equivalent of entering a crowded room, where everyone’s already engrossed in conversation, and yelling about the book you just read. A) No one’s going to listen. B) You sound like a crazy person. As at a real-life networking event, you need to gather your confidence, start introducing yourself to people and join their conversations. If someone does you the favour of sharing your work with their friends, thank them and when the opportunity arises, share something of theirs in return.
Social media can be a big time suck, so focus your attention on one or two platforms, ideally the one(s) you enjoy spending time on. For me, it’s Instagram. I follow a lot of book accounts, and I take the time to really look at their posts and ‘like’ them. If someone’s reading or just finished a book on my TBR list, I ask them what they thought of it. If they’re asking for reading recommendations, I offer suggestions. If I’m nudged for a tag, I do it and I tag other readers. When I really love a photo, I screenshot it and share it with my followers in my #sundayshoutouts. When I finish reading a book, I search its hashtag and talk with other readers about what they thought. On top of all that, I post regularly. And it pays off. Lectito’s still a new venture (just six months old) and a very long way from being instafamous, but its Instagram account has a lot more followers and much higher engagement than its Twitter or Facebook, where I don’t invest anywhere near as much time.
Passion is key
If you think that investing all this energy in building meaningful relationships within the book community seems like a waste of time and a lot of effort for a few page views, brace yourself: your blog is going to fail.
If you’re reading and commenting on other people’s work purely in the hope that they’ll do the same for you, it’s very quickly going to feel like hard work. More than that, people can spot insincerity a mile off. If you want to attract genuine readers, you have to be genuine.
This is great news for someone who loves talking about books, which, let’s be honest, is probably why you wanted to start a book blog in the first place, right? Your passion is your greatest resource. Running a successful blog requires a huge amount of time and effort, and it can be months, even years before you start seeing solid returns on that investment. You really need to enjoy it to make it worth your while. If you look at the really big book blogs—the ones with tens of thousands of followers—you’ll find that most of them have been around for a few years at least. These bloggers are quick to respond to comments and messages and their social media feeds aren’t all about them. Their enthusiasm gives them the confidence and drive to innovate and seek out new ways to connect with readers. Most importantly it’s clear from everything they post, both on their blog and elsewhere, that they love books.
The take home message
Think of your readers as people, not numbers. Next time you get the urge to check your stats, do something for your readers instead. Check out and comment on three other book bloggers’ sites. Share another blogger’s work on Twitter. Respond to posts in a Facebook group. Contact a publisher about an ARC. Work on a review. Start planning next month’s posting schedule. Or just, you know, read.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Let’s chat in the comments below.
Like what you see? Keep in touch:
And get the latest from Lectito delivered to your inbox.