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One of the most rewarding parts of running a blog is the community that springs up around it. Making your blog more interactive could be one of the best things you do.
Here at Blog Tyrant I feel so fortunate to be able to read and respond to dozens of comments on each post. Those comment threads are regularly more valuable than the articles themselves.
And while comments are great, they aren’t the only way a blog can be made more interactive.
In this post I’d like to take a look at how some people are building more interaction on their websites and how we can apply similar tools, principles and ideas to our own.
Why make your blog more interactive?
Before we get into the “how” I thought it would be useful to have a talk about a few reasons why making your blog more interactive is so beneficial.
It can really help people
The most important thing for me is that an interactive blog can genuinely help people. Experiencing some human connection (even over the net) can be extremely beneficial for people, especially if the content is helping them with work, life, family, depression, etc.
It helps you develop content
Interactive content often leads to more content opportunities as discussions and debates can provide questions or fuel for extra content. This is a great way to involve your tribe and/or save time on content creation.
It can improve sales
An interactive community makes your blog or website appear more trustworthy and as such you have a larger and more engaged audience to launch products and make money from the blog.
It can motivate you
I try really hard to respond to every comment and email that I get because I know that everything I have is due to the readers of this site. It’s something that gives me a lot of motivation to produce honest content and be as genuine as possible, especially when I get harsh feedback.
It’s good for SEO
Google likes to see websites that are regularly updated and comments, social shares and other forms of interaction can often play a role in how well you are ranked on Google compared to other more stagnant websites.
Some blogs really benefit from their community in big ways, so it’s definitely something we should put a little bit of effort in to.
How to make a quiet blog more interactive
Let’s take a look at some fun ways that people have made their blogs more communal places and how we can apply some of that creativity and cleverness to our own websites. As always, if you know of something cool please let me know in the comments.
1. Use design techniques to encourage interaction
It’s good to start with some basic design characteristics that encourage people to interact in some way. As with many areas of blogging, if you don’t get the design right you can undo a lot of your previous hard work.
For example, here on Blog Tyrant I try to make the comment count prominent by putting it high on the page, and I have edited the code to make it a little bit more interesting than the usual “10 comments”. You can do that on your blog by going Appearance > Editor > Single Post and then looking for code like this:
php comments_popup_link(__(‘Get the Top Comment, Quick!’, ‘am’), __(‘1 Awesome Comment’, ‘am’), __(‘% amazing comments’, ‘am’)); ?
You just want to change the text to reflect your preferences. As always, make sure you copy the original code before making changes in case something goes wrong.
You can also include some subtler design elements like this one from the Guardian:
Whenever an author gets a comment that she or he likes they can add a little badge that highlights it to other readers and sort of promotes it as being something worth noting. On other blogs I’ve seen similar things where the best comments gets highlighted in a different color. We’ll look more at this kind of thing below.
One of the main things you want to think about from a design point of view is that your interactive sections should be simple to use and easy to find if you want anyone to pay attention to them. As always, take a look at what others in your niche are doing and see if you can improve.
2. Add a membership/premium area
Something that has been becoming more and more popular on blogs these days is a membership section where users pay a small price (or just create an account) to access premium content and forum areas. This works so well is because it gives the content an exclusive feel and people often find themselves wanting to be part of that club.
One successful one that comes to mind is the my.copyblogger.com which was launched by Brian and the team after running a very popular blog for many years. It was a way to consolidate masses of content and allow new subscribers to access it in a very deliberate and clean fashion.
A word of warning though – you’ll want to make sure you have something distinctive to put inside these types of member areas or you run the risk of having it look bare or not all that different to the blog itself. As long as your content is perceived as valuable, though, this shouldn’t be a problem and you could simply “upgrade” your content with videos or podcasts, etc.
You can achieve this kind of thing with plugins like Wishlist which allow you to create a password-protected area and drip feed content to people over different periods of time. Here’s a guide by Yaro that I’ve personally read and enjoyed a lot that has a lot of good information about making a quality membership site.
3. Hold a contest for new and existing readers
One tried and tested technique that has been working for bloggers since the beginning of blogging is the good old contest. This is a great way to get old and new readers engaged and interacting in a more active way.
This can be an incredible way to get more interaction with readers as well as motivating new kinds of actions like we did in this post where we asked for comments, predictions and so forth.
An example that stands out in my mind is when ProBlogger held a competition to win a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and blog about the experience. At the time it gained a lot of momentum and interest around the web, and created a lot of new opportunities for people.
Make sure you check your local laws before holding any contests because some places have funny regulations, and always make sure that the prize and outcome is relevant to your niche and product. The idea is to make it fun and engaging while also showing off your content (or the content of your readers) to the people participating.
4. Specifically invite interaction
When I first started blogging I was really afraid of asking for anything. It always seemed like bad etiquette to specifically ask someone to subscribe or leave a comment or perform a particular action.
But, over time, I’ve started to notice that people really don’t mind so long as it isn’t happening all the time, and as long as the content that you provide is somewhat valuable. For example, I always ask people to leave a comment at the end of my blog posts, and usually throw in a second invitation to my mailing list when I notify them of new posts.
One place I’m starting to see a lot of invitations to interact is when I listen to podcasts. Podcasts like Radiolab or This American Life will regularly ask for feedback about certain stories, and often use voices and interviews from people who ring in.
One of my favorite podcasts, Reply All, recently did a show where they took phone calls for 24 hours and recorded the whole thing without sleeping. It was a lot of fun and helped to get some longtime listeners involved in the process of producing a show.
Boing Boing has an interesting feature where you can highlight some text and leave a comment or emoji on that particular section and then share it with friends.
I think bloggers could get a lot better at this type of thing – especially if it means including more reader creations in the posts themselves. I’d love to know if anyone has ever done this successfully.
5. Use gamification
Gamification is a technique being used more and more to make some dry topics seem a little bit more exciting and motivating by making them more like a game.
The human brain is hardwired to seek rewards, and all those little sounds and flashing lights you see when you “level up” cause a rush of dopamine to be released in our brains and help to keep people coming back. As a side note, that’s why young children shouldn’t spend much time on screens.
But, if you’re trying to help people achieve positive things in their life it might be a good thing. We’re seeing that in meditation apps, for example. Websites like Bodybuilding.com also have some cool ideas on this front:
This screenshot shows one of the popular members and how she has achieved certain weight loss targets over a certain period of time. Other members can track the progress and compare it to their own as motivation.
This type of thing basically works like an advanced forum and encourages people to interact by making certain goals and achievements public and making it a supportive environment. Blogs could also use badges for top commenters, active members, etc.
A plugin that can help you achieve this type of thing is De:comments which allows you to have voting systems, badges and other features within your blog comment area. You can expand on this concept by getting certain ratings to appear in Google search results .
Another type of gamification is things like quizzes which can give people new insights about their behavior. We did a quiz called Are You Ready to Start a Blog last year and, while the quiz could be better from the results output point of view, it was something to make the blog post a little bit more fun.
6. Embed content from other sites
This one is a little bit tricky because you have to be careful about how your source content so as to avoid copyright problems as well as duplicate content penalties from Google. That being said, there are some ways that you can do it effectively and ethically.
For example, if you wanted to write an article about Donald Trump’s recent activities you might embed a series of tweets that help to provide context or background to your position.
Hey America, awesome move. 1.5 million of you killed by guns since 1968 versus 5 killed by refugees, but you guys ban…..refugees!
— Jane Caro (@JaneCaro) January 28, 2017
All you have to do is go to Twitter, find the specific tweet and then click “embed tweet” and paste the code into your blog post. That way you get a live updated and clickable message that shows re-tweets, likes, etc. You could also link to your own tweets as a way to get conversation happening there.
One plugin that can help make this a bit easier is Embedly which allow you to embed content from dozens of sites with just a URL and without any need to style or change the design.
How interactive is your blog?
Is your blog a very interactive place? I’d love to know what you think makes a difference. Are there any tools or techniques you have used that had an impact? Please leave us a comment below.