How to attract readers to your website

Recently, one of my tweeps (whom I'll call Barack) sent me a DM, asking for some suggestions and/or advice on a topic near and dear to all of our hearts. I responded in a series of DMs. Upon reflection, I think that what I said might be of interest to others. So, before I paraphrase Barack's question and give you the same info I gave Barack, let me just note that there are a few differences between me and Barack.

1) I've been doing #FridayFlash for more than a year. Barack has not been doing #FridayFlash that long, nor has Barack been on Twitter as long as I have.

2) My Twitter stats can be found on my Twitter page - number of followers, number of tweets, number of lists I'm on, etc. Barack's numbers are rather lower.

3) I make no claims to be an expert on anything related to writing. I don't have an MFA or an agent. Knowing how to make a decent martini does not make one a bartender. However, just as martinis existed long before the invention of the swizzle stick, some truths are eternal and universally applicable.

Anyway, on to Barack's paraphrased Q & my A's:

Q: Less than satisfied at low readership for my #FridayFlash(s). Any suggestions as to how to attract readers to my website ... you're good at it!

A1: Not sure that my skill has a lot to do with it. Partly, it's that I have a longer history w/ #FridayFlash, so more people know me.

A2: Also, b/c of time, other activities, special events, tweetchats, etc., I have more followers, so I reach more people with my shilling.

A3: Finally, there is "the McDonald's effect". Where time is limited, people tend to flock to familiar vendors that reliably deliver quality.

A4: Am I dishing out the best fiction in #FridayFlash? Hardly, but I think people feel that time spent at my place won't be time wasted.

A5: How do you build a reputation for consistent quality? Patiently, and by always trying to be better this week than you were last week.

A6: I'm sorry, I wish there *were* a magic formula. Just work hard, be polite, be friendly, be *good* and above all be willing to get better.

Was I off-base? Did I miss anything? If Barack had asked you the same question, how would you answer?

UPDATE, 10:41pm: Before I posted this, I sent it to "Barack" and invited him/her to express an opinion about my advice, which I promised to run, unedited, as a guest blog post. Barack just sent me the response. Who is the mysterious Barack? What did he/she think of my suggestions? Stay tuned for more details!

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  1. Great post Tony. The only thing I would add is if you want more readers and more traffic, the you need to visit other blogs and leave comments on others people's work. You can't just sit back and expect people to find you with zero effort to give a little something back. There are people I read every week who don't read back, so guess what? I'm going to stop reading them. It's a give and take thing, and yes it takes time, but as you say, being consistent helps. There are no magic pills.

  2. What Rachel said is good advice, of course, but I'd go back to the root of the question and ask why we want more readers at all.

    I ceased thinking about the number of hits on my blog or RTs on my tweets a while ago, 'cause it's too easy to get caught up in it and make that the focus, rather than concentrating on the writing that might eventually, y'know, pay.

    If I do #FridayFlash, it's just for the hell of it, and I'll read around a bit for the same reason. We're all time-limited in a sense, yeah?

  3. I wanted to add that I meant I was gong to stop reading those people who never comment back because as Simon said, "we're all time-limited." I have a busy life and can't devote as much time as I'd like reading every #fridayflash or #Tuesdayserial, but I always make the effort to read those who read me. I think that's only fair.

    But really in the end, it is about the work. I've had a few of my #fridayflash pieces published, and that, in the end is the bottom line and definitely more important than traffic or RTs.

  4. Interesting observations. I'd had my fiction rejected by publications before I started posting them here. I saw #FridayFlash as a way of getting comments and critiques, so I could figure out what I was doing wrong. In recent weeks/months, most comments have been fairly positive. However, on my most recent one, I had several people say that I screwed up the ending. It was good for me to take another look at what I'd written, from their perspective. I still liked the original, but it's good to seize these learning opportunities.

    I've come to realize that not everyone likes those kind of "this is what you did wrong" comments, btw.

  5. Tony,
    I think you offered up some very good universal advise for any niche blog (in this case creative writing). You ultimately need to put in your time before seeing any increase in readership or comments.

    Back when I used to have that thing called spare time, I had a system for my Friday Flash reading. On Friday I would monitor the #FridayFlash hashtag in Twitter and read stories from the people that I enjoyed interacting with. I'd also keep an eye out for Re-Tweets from the people I normally read and check out their recommendations.

    When the big list was released on Mad Utopia, I scanned it quickly and opened a new browser tabs for all pieces fitting in my preferred genres (Fantasy and Action were my priority). I would go back and read through those tabs at different points during the weekend.

    In the event that someone commented on something I wrote, I would do my best to reciprocate.

    So to make a long response short, I think you offered Barack good advise. With time and participation I'm sure more readers and comments will come.

  6. I think it was very good advise. Very accurate. I find that making the time to read and comment on as many flashes as possible can make a difference when first starting out. People see your name and a lot will go to your site if you take the time to leave a comment on theirs. Plus, you just might learn something from someone else, and for me, it's all about the learning.

    Thanks for posting this, Tony.

  7. Yep, you're right, plus what other comments here say about reciprocating. I've seen some fridayflashers who consistently do not comment on anyone else's blog, then wonder why their numbers fall.

    But if all you're looking for is numbers, post pictures of your pets and sign up for animal lover traffic. Really, the point of writing is to develop relationships...and if you talk about your pets, Tony won't come to your blog. ;)

  8. Interesting post. I agree with everyone above. As someone with limited time who works on Friday, I am hard-pressed to tweet my or anyone else's work except off hours. Does it affect my traffic? Sure. I also don't have nearly enough time to read everyone's work, though I do read everyone who comments on mine as well as my list of regulars. It may take me all week, but I do usually read about 30-40 flashes.

    I think anyone who blogs has to ask: why? A lot of folks do it for #s and hits; others for attention from a 'niche' audience; others to build community. I'm mostly in the last camp. I also view my blog as a portfolio or journal of my writing and inner life. A living document if you will.

    I love #fridayflash (and #fictionaut) to gauge reactions to my work. It's in some ways more gratifying than seeing the pieces in publication. And about 2/3rds of my flashes have been pubbed or picked up. If I had to choose, I'd take the public commentary, because the aim of any writing is to move an idnividual to think/feel/act/react.

    Anyway, long ramble. Guess you got me thinking. Peace...

  9. The issue of reciprocity seems to be one that has a nerve pulsing underneath it. I used to be able to read and comment on most, if not all of the #FridayFlash stories on Friday or Saturday. For a number of reasons that I can't do anything about, that's no longer possible for me. Like Linda, I work days and I worry about what my curtailed reading might be doing to my traffic here. Of course, if Laura's right, then I've more or less lost the pet-owning fraction of the population already. (Or at least the cat owners.)

    Where all else is equal - by which I mean that all stories by all authors are of equal quality - then simple reciprocity makes perfect sense, i.e. "I'll read your story only if you read mine." It gets more complicated where there's a disparity in quality. Or rather, to be less inflammatory, a disparity in consanguinity. I really like your stories, but my stories just aren't to your taste and you stop reading. Should I forego the pleasure of reading your work because you don't read mine? If I'm only going to your blog in hope/expectation that you'll reciprocate, that's an easy call; where I'm looking for a good story and not just a numbers boost, I need to consider what I get out of reading you.

    I know from statistics that many more people see my stories than are moved to comment on them. That used to bother me a lot, but I've grown more sanguine (or more callused) about it. I know I'm not going to please everyone, so I just focus on writing the stories I need to write. I feel as though I'm slowly debugging my writing process, getting it ready for grander projects. That means that, as a tool for expressing an idea, my writing needs to fit *my* hand first and foremost.

  10. This is something not a lot of people talk about.

    Reciprocation is probably the best way of gaining a loyal readership. I'll admit, I'm guilty of not reciprocating a lot, but it's only due to lack of time on my part. I've made a conscious effort in the last while to take time in reading other writers blogs and leaving a few words, because I know that's the life-blood of a writer; to know that someone is actually reading their words, and commenting on them.

    Great post!

  11. Yo Tony!

    I hate to admit it but I start with reciprocation... And believe me, I wish I could read more but I do almost all my writing endeavors late at night and it can be draining so why not hit back people that have read me. On the weeks that I may not, I really do feel bad and may even tweet or update my status about it...

    One easy thing that I have done is to subscribe to all my writer peeps in google reader... Makes quicker reading a snap...

  12. I agree with everyone that reciprocation is a primary source of increasing/maintaining one's traffic; however, I try to visit new people once in a while, and as mentioned by someone, check out other people's recommendations of RTed stories.

    I do visit people who don't reciprocate, either because of the quality of their stories or because I'm hoping that some day they'll take the time to visit Randomities as well. Usually it's for both reasons but sometimes only for the first.

    I don't usually comment when I don't like the story, although once in a while I try to give constructive criticism if I feel the person won't take it the wrong way. I wish there were more of these comments on my stories, but I'm not complaining. I love the warmth and enthusiasm of my readership.

    Another great post Tony. I think your advice is right on the spot. :)

  13. That was absolutely great advice, Tony, and I bet naming this writer Barack has nothing to do with current higher reader rate :P

    I hate to admit, that I've also started reading/commenting back almost exclusively to people who read my flash and I honestly feel so bad about it, but working 3 jobs, one of which at home really doesn't help in this front :(

  14. Well, I'm guessing if you want to build a large audience for your #fridayflashes, don't go about it my way.

    As is known, I tweet pretty much but once about my #fridayflash. Some very kind members of the community RT on my behalf.

    This is deliberate on my part, not to limit my exposure but to leave my tweets more or less what people have come to know them for - haiku.

    In truth, even before I took my hiatus from #fridayflash, the comment stream was below those heady days of the Small Bright Creature. And I was never among the most commented-on #fridayflash writer.

    And that's OK. Things take time to build. If I am more known as a writer of over 1,200 haiku than as a #fridayflash writer, I do not object.

    I want an audience for what I write to grow - but not force-feed it. I don't believe forced growth lasts. I may be wrong about that, as I can be about many things.

    Your advice, Tony, write, write better, be polite, be friendly. All good. As others have said, read, read and comment. Also good.

    In truth, read and comment falls under "be polite" for me.


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