Why is it that posts I lavish the most care over frequently get the fewest comments? And the jokey ones I polish off in almost as little time as it takes to read it overwhelm me with an avalanche of responses?Chris @ Calmgrove
That question from Chris who blogs at Calmgrove, struck a chord with me because I’ve had the exact same experience.
In fact it happened to me very recently. I sweated blood over my review of The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood, struggling to explain why I loved the book and why I thought it was an award-winning novel. Yet it got hardly any reaction from my readers, generating significantly fewer comments than I see normally for reviews.
Three days later I published another post. It didn’t take me anywhere near as long to write. It was basically a list of books I’m looking to read as part of the 20booksofsummer reading event. All I needed to do was find some photos and write a few sentences about each book.
Imagine my surprise to find that it’s had five times more comments than the Hiding Game review.
Fortunately it doesn’t happen too often. If it was a regular occurrence I think I’d get very frustrated and downhearted. After all if you created your blog to share your love of books, is there any point writing those reviews if no-one is listening? I’m not dispirited though I am definitely puzzled. Why do posts I think will attract a good level of interaction, just wilt and shrivel, while others which I don’t expect to generate a reaction, thrive and create a buzz?
I’ve been thinking about this over the past few days. I haven’t ended up with any definitive answer but I did come up with a few possible explanations that I thought I’d test out with you all.
Readers Are Busy People
I suspect part of the explanation lies in the time it takes someone to read different types of content.
Blog readers are bombarded with scores of excellent pieces of content every day. Even with the best of intentions they’re never going to have the time to read everything. They enjoy list posts because they’re quick to read. The text is usually broken up into short blocks making it easy to scan.
Book reviews, or other longer pieces take more time to digest so a reader may decide to hold off reading that post until they’re less busy. Then the inevitable happens – their blog feed gets filled up with other content, the review post gets pushed down the list and overlooked. If it’s not read within a few days of publication, it may never get read.
Can we do anything to counter this issue? Absolutely: there are some tweaks that will make your longer pieces like reviews easier (and therefore quicker) to read. This involves breaking up the text into smaller chunks and introducing more “white space” around the words. The overall length of the post won’t change but it will give the impression of being quick to read. This is especially important now that more and more people are accessing content via a mobile device.
Here’s what you do:
- use short (ish) sentences;
- break up the text into short paragraphs and.
- add sub headings, bullet lists or images to break the text up further.
These few changes makes a huge difference in whether people read your article. If they’d don’t read it, then clearly they’re not likely to comment.
Maybe it’s the headline that determines whether a post gets a reaction?
The Internet is full of articles and statistics about the importance of the title (also known as headline or subject) in any piece of communication. It’s the first thing people see when they visit your blog or they get an alert in their email feed/blog reader that you’ve just published new content.
Copyblogger has estimated that 8 out of 10 people read the title. The question is whether what they see in those few seconds, makes them want to keep reading and then to comment. So is your headline going to inspire them to read on?
There are a multitude of theories and tips about how to write effective headlines for blog posts.
Some ‘experts’ say your headline should be specific so that you don’t mislead your readers. Others recommend being abstract. Nearly all agree it’s critical to use action words and emotional language.
I find writing a post title for a book review extremely challenging. Initially I just used the formula of book tile + author name. But I was advised that was too dull so I changed to a more abstract/emotional formula. Tough enough to do that but then there are two other factors you have to consider:
- Lengthy headlines can’t be read in their entirety on a mobile screen. If you have a long book title + a long author name and you also want to indicate the genre and the post is a book review you’re going to struggle with this. Personally I find long headlines that include multiple hashtags are a turn off.
- Very short headlines are also an issue. They won’t give readers enough of a clue about the content of the post. Plus search engines don’t ‘like’ headlines of just one or two words so your visibility in searches will be affected.
I tried quite a few variations to navigate through these different ‘requirements’.
One version used the book title only but not. the author name. For example:
Another version used the author name but not the book title. As in:
A third variety dropped both the book title and the author name. So we had “Complex World of Party Animal Holly Golightly [Review]”
These might have satisfied the guidance about making headlines more emotive/powerful but a) they took me longer to create and b) the result was often too vague to be fully effective I think.
So I’ve returned to the book tile + author name formula but now include just a few words to give an idea of the atmosphere or theme. For example we have:
No doubt the ‘experts’ would find fault with these but for now, it’s the best I can do. But I’ll be interested to hear from you all on the importance you attach to a headline when you see it in your blog feed reader. Are there any ‘must have’ elements? Or elements that make you click away instantly?
I’m sure the title and. the author featured in the headline have a big impact on whether someone decides to read the whole post. I can see from my blog stats for example that interest in my reviews of books by Welsh authors is markedly lower than other reviews.
What I don’t fully understand is what has the most influence on the decision to read a blog post and how all the factors work together. I’ve ended up with more questions than answers on this topic.
Question: Do newly-published or ‘about to be published’ books get more interest than those that have been around a long time? Instinctively I would say the shiny new ones are more likely to trump the older books, but that’s not borne out by my blog stats. Reviews of ‘classics’ have proved just as popular as the new titles.
Question: When is the optimum time to review a newly published book? Too early and perhaps people are not yet receptive to your thoughts. But if you wait until after publication and it’s a highly popular author, is there a risk that ‘everyone’ else has already reviewed that book so there is reader fatigue?
Question: How big a factor is familiarity with the author featured in the review? Are you more likely to read and comment on a review if you’ve heard of the author or if you have heard of the book but not the author?
Why Do Some Posts Thrive And Others Wilt: Your Thoughts
I don’t think I’ve solved this conundrum. Maybe there are just too many different factors at work to reach a definitive answer. Or it may be that I’ve overlooked some of the obvious reasons. Any insight you can offer would be helpful. Do leave a comment to let me know what you think.