James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.

How To… Increase Your Blog’s Readership (Some lessons learned and suggestions welcomed)

Somewhat contradictory to the title of this post, having lots of readers doesn’t have to be a fundamental aim of start a blog. In fact, I would imagine that most blogs have very few readers initially, mine certainly didn’t.

Why do so many people start blogs? Often, I think it can be a helpful way of organizing your thoughts, focusing your mind and energy. It might be to share a specific adventure or challenge with close friends and families or a catalyst to get a burning opinion off your chest.

However, if you’re interested in making any kind of living from your website or using it help create opportunities like speaking events, then it’s natural to want to maximize your traffic and readership. This has been a slow realisation for me and even if I had aimed to do this from day one, I wouldn’t have had the tools or knowledge to go about it.

In case you’re curious about my readers (you!) whilst reading this article, I’ve uploaded a variety of statistics from 2013, here.

1. The Most Important Ways To Increase Readership

  • Write well
  • Write frequently
  • Persevere

Focus on that, and the rest will follow.

(I try to remind myself of this whilst tinkering endlessly with HTML and CSS because something refuses to line up properly.)

* * *

If you want to try other things, then you could start with this (by no means exhaustive) list…

2. Be Able To Describe Your Blog In A Few Simple Words

Conservation, Fieldwork and Citizen Science.

That’s my attempt, although I would be interested to know if you agree. Trying to narrow down your topic is a valuable exercise. If I could add more without it getting confusing, then I would probably go with:

Motivation, Adventure, Expeditions and Environment

Have I forgotten any?

3. How To Help People Discover Your Site

A never ending challenge, is helping potential readers discover your site.

Perhaps the most effective way is to have your posts and pages rank highly in search engine terms, a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As far as I can tell, it’s a big, complicated topic and it’s far better to focus on Point 1, than spend your time tackling this behemoth.

The small number of really useful things you can do though are:

  • Write interesting and descriptive article titles (I’m terrible at this, but I really enjoy Tom’s)
  • Add an SEO plugin, which will do a lot of the work for you.
  • Submit a sitemap to search engines, like this, for example.
  • Remove dates from your permalinks, to make your content ‘timeless’. If you’re not sure what this means, then there’s some helpful information here.
  • Install Google Analytics so that you can see what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Focus on Point 1 instead.


4. Know Who Your Audience Is.

There’s probably three types of readers with respect to this blog.

  • The first group are visitors with an interest in conservation and fieldwork. Perhaps students that aspire to work in science, or conservationists working in the field. These are the people that I hope would find my website interesting and so I need to make an effort to reach out to them. In the same way, with similar interests, I would probably find their stories (or website, or twitter accounts etc) interesting.
  • The second group consists of people who probably wouldn’t describe themselves as having an interest in the above topics, but maybe that’s because they haven’t come across them yet, or haven’t been inspired by them. In the humblest way possible, these are the people this blog hopes the encourage and reach out to. I feel this is something useful I can do and is one of the reasons I continue to run this website.
  • The last group – and by far the largest – are people with no interest, who are unlikely to be interested no matter what I do. Of course this is fine, and to be expected. My niche is small and quite specific. If I wanted to appeal to a truly large number of readers, I should probably write about something else entirely. Speaking of which, have you heard the latest celebrity gossip? It’s shocking.

5. Using Social Media To Expand Your Readership

Last year about 30% of my traffic came through social media (A full break down of all my stats if you’re interested, here). It’s probably the easiest and most straightforward approach for attracting readers. Whats-more, you probably already know how to use/have accounts on many of the platforms.

Start off with:

Then think about these (I only use some of them):

It might also be worth submitting your pages to some of these sites:

Your time can definitely be much better spent out in the field, working or having adventures rather than updating all these social media sites. Instead try something like Buffer, Hootsuite and the Instagram App‘s share function to manage it all for you.

I often have a bit of a love/hate relationship with a lot of social media. On one hand I really enjoy getting feedback and encouragement on the projects I’m involved with, but on the other hand it feels a lot like marketing.

6. Encouraging Readers To Keep Coming Back (Newsletters)

Again I would refer to point 1. It’s all very well to have lots of people discover your site, but the articles have to be interesting and engaging for those readers to come back.

You can of course make it easier though, and a good method is email newsletters. Here’s mine.

I send out a monthly email using a free service (for small time users like me) called Mailchimp, which is much more personal than the articles on my blog. I share my projects and expedition plans, highlight the most popular articles and ask for feedback on ideas. It’s important not to use this method excessively, because it’s very easy to become annoying (and very easy to unsubscribe)!

In turn, I really enjoy receiving newsletter from some of the blogs I follow.

Recently, I’ve also set up an automated weekly blog update for people who don’t check blogs regularly and would like to hear about the most recent articles by email. No one has really started using it yet though! Is it a good idea?

7. Guest Posts and Traffic

I’ve hosted a lot of articles from scientists working in the field around the world. I started the fieldwork project because I really enjoy reading about exciting adventures. They’re far more exciting than what I get to do a lot of the time, and so it attracts a lot of readers.

Another way to attract readers is by being invited to write on other websites. It presents your work to a new audience, and if they enjoy it, they might check you out further.

Two of my best articles in this respect are ones that I wrote for Escape the City and Sidetracked Magazine. Both websites far far bigger and better than mine, and I think a lot of readers found me through them.

8. If You Have Nice Photographs, They Can Help Attract Readers Too

  • I upload all of mine to a flickr account. I get several hundred extra hits a day through this, and people that view conservation/expedition related images might well like my writing and website too.
  • You can send your Instagram images to flickr too.
  • Don’t forget to label/tag them, instead of leaving something like ‘IMG_4276’. This way it’s much easier for search engines and ‘real people’ to find them.
  • Lastly, reduce the file size – there’s nothing worse than a website that never loads.



9. Some Final Assorted Suggestions For Increasing Blog Readership…

  • Show an interest in other people’s blogs, and they will show an interest in yours. Do this honestly, though.
  • Use Tags and Categories sensibly, to help readers navigate.
  • Have a nice logo? (I don’t).
  • Don’t be afraid to watch what your peers do, and see what works for them.
  • Upload videos and short films, these make a nice change to written content. (More on this soon).
  • Be positive and write positive things.
  • Don’t give up.

10. Other Websites With Much More Useful Tips Than Mine