A Blog You Can Trust

Alan Kotok, far right, asks a question at a news conference with university research executives at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 9 July 2014. (Science Coalition)

First published, 4 January 2016. LinkVehicle.com

Here’s a thought experiment: remember back to the last time you clicked on a click-bait headline (like the kind that end with, “You won’t believe what happened next.”) Yes, you opened the page, but how did you feel about it? And have you returned to that site since?

That headline may attract a few more readers, but imagine what it says about the site that published it, and imagine further that it was your blog. You pour your life into your blog, recounting experiences, offering analysis of the day’s events, or in my case providing news about the overlap between science and business. Is that how you want to be known?

But the success of your blog isn’t only about your content. It’s as much about your readers and the relationship you build with them. Here are a few ideas, from more than five years of blogging, about building a relationship based on trust with your readers, and the benefits to both your blog and your readers.

Know thy readers

To build a trusting relationship with your readers, you first need to understand your readers almost as well as you know yourself. Your blog’s readers and people like them devote their valuable time and attention to your blog, and you want to make the experience worthwhile. Few, if any, bloggers have the resources to put together focus groups, but maybe the next best thing is to meet in person the kind of people you’re trying to reach.

From time to time, I go to conferences and seminars of scientists or entrepreneurs — like many of the people who read my blog, Science & Enterprise — to get stories for posts, but also to meet and talk with meeting attendees. From those encounters, I hear first-hand about their needs and interests, and when writing posts I can visualize these real people in my mind.

From those meetings it became clear early on that the audience of scientists and business people I try to reach are very smart people, who are constantly pressed for time. Thus, blog posts on Science & Enterprise get quickly to the point and treat readers like professional colleagues. Stories use straightforward language, provide plenty of links for documentation, give both sides of controversies, and don’t sugar-coat bad news. And the text in most posts rarely exceeds 500 words, with no — repeat, no — misleading headlines.

Your blog’s readers may not be Ph.D. scientists or business people with M.B.A.s, but why not treat them with that kind of respect? I can’t imagine too many visitors would mind. And you’ll likely get that same kind of respect returned by the readers.

Manage the total visitor experience

Your blog is more than headlines and text, of course, although writing them may consume most of your blogging time. People coming to your blog, particularly for the first time, will make their first, and maybe lasting, impressions on their total experience when they open your blog. Will they find long loading times, with distracting overlays or auto-play videos? Try loading your blog with a browser you don’t regularly use. It will give you an idea of the experience encountered by first-time visitors to your blog.

Another part of the visitor experience is comments. Many, if not most, bloggers like comments since they indicate the blog’s content is engaging visitors. But without policies in place to filter out irrelevant or disruptive comments, people with too much time and too few manners can ruin the experience for your more polite visitors. Consider moderating all comments before they get posted, putting filters in place to keep out spam, and posting rules of acceptable behavior.

At Science & Enterprise, our rules are simple: keep your comments brief, civil, and relevant, otherwise take them elsewhere. We encourage interacting on social media, with links to our posts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Social media offer an environment that encourages engagement and interaction, while providing the ability to mute or block disruptive comments. For us, social media make it possible to build traffic on the blog, while engaging readers, but without burdening the blog itself.

By posting content designed with respect for the reader, we believe we’ve built a loyal, growing, and engaged following worldwide. ACI Scholarly Blog Index ranks Science & Enterprise in the top 9 percent in community activity of all 15,000 blogs in the index. And just from posting links on social media we have a Klout score, measuring social media engagement, in the top half of all blogs on the Web. The results suggest that if you treat your readers’ time and intelligence with respect, they’ll respond with their time, attention, engagement, and respect.

About the author. Alan Kotok is a Washington, DC-based reporter and writer on technology, business, and public policy, and editor and publisher of Science and Enterprise, a blog with news about the value chain connecting scientific discovery with the marketplace. Kotok previously was managing editor of Science Careers, the online employment, career development, and funding portal of Science Magazine.