As a website owner, you’ve probably heard over and over again how important it is to build a community on your website. And while it’s true that engaging and maintaining a thriving online network is an important part of increasing sales and building perceived authority throughout your industry, what happens if, despite your best efforts, all you’ve got are crickets chirping on your empty webpages?
In fact, there are a number of different things you can do to boost community engagement, whether you measure this idea via blog comments, consumer product reviews, forum posts or any other metrics. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Check your site for technical errors
In some cases, a lack of community engagement may come from the inability to do so, not from a lack of desire! To prevent this from occurring, run regular website diagnostics to ensure that broken links, misbehaving script files, or missing 404 pages aren’t prohibiting your community from interacting with your website.
2. Eliminate barriers to engagement
At the same time, you’ll want to minimize barriers that discourage online engagement. If, for example, you use a WordPress plugin that requires users to sign up for accounts before leaving comments on your blog posts, you’ll likely see lower rates of engagement than if your system were more open and accommodating.
3. Make your site pretty
Face it, appearances matter. If your website looks like it was built in 1996, you’ll have a tough time convincing readers to spend time hanging out on and engaging with your site.
4. Identify desired engagement behaviors…
When attempting to encourage online engagement, take the time to determine exactly what that means to you. Do you want readers to leave comments on every post on your site? Or do you want them to share your posts on their social networking profiles, where conversation often develops more naturally?
Whatever the case may be, knowing what specific type of engagement you want to see will enable you to structure your site in a way that encourages these behaviors.
5. And then ask readers to take them
Once you know what type of engagement you want to see, ask for it! People are more willing to help out the website owners they perceive to be valuable, so don’t be afraid to end your blog posts with sentences like, “If you enjoyed this post, please take a second to share your thoughts in the comments section below.”
6. Publish regularly
Nothing kills engagement like a website that’s perceived as “dead.” If you want readers to continually come back to your site, be sure there’s new and interesting content available for them to digest.
7. Create damn good content
Community engagement isn’t something that happens spontaneously. It often happens as a response to the perceived value of the site itself. If you want to build up your online community, give your readers something to rally around by focusing on the types of high-value content that are likely to provoke discussion and be shared virally.
8. Be the first to publish on new industry topics
If you really want to spark discussion on your website, be the first to post something on your industry’s latest news items. It isn’t easy to beat larger, more established sites to the punch, but the effort needed to do so can pay off big in terms of your site’s credibility and perceived authority.
9. Post videos rather than text-based articles
Online video viewership is at its highest level ever, and there are plenty of people out there who would prefer to consume this type of media over any other content published online. To take advantage of this trend and boost community engagement on your site, consider sharing more video content overall, especially when it comes to your blog posts.
10. Share related posts at the end of each blog entry
Listing related articles at the ends of each of your own posts is a great way to keep people on your site and engaging with other pieces of your content. You can do this by manually coding a selection of links into each blog post you publish, or you can use a plugin or script that generates a list of related posts automatically.
11. Ask structured questions at the end of blog posts to encourage comments
There’s a reason you see so many blog posts that end with questions like, “Do you agree or disagree?” Simply put, it’s because they work! To prompt your readers into engaging with your blog content, end a few posts with pointed questions designed to stimulate conversation. (Just be wary of doing this in every post or the effect won’t be as strong!)
12. Respond to comments on your blog posts
One of the single easiest ways to improve engagement on your website is to take the time to follow up with anyone who takes the time to leave a comment on your blog posts. Responding to comments demonstrates respect for the effort readers have gone to in order to interact with your site, making it much more likely that readers will return to your site in the future.
13. Enable commenters to subscribe to comments
Although some blogging platforms include comment subscription features as a standard offering, it’s a good idea to add this type of tool if your blog system doesn’t already have it. Plugins like the WordPress “Subscribe to Comments” feature increases the likelihood of blog comments turning into full-fledged conversations by notifying readers whenever their comments receive responses on your site.
14. Interview community experts
Oftentimes, the type of content you post to your website’s blog will determine the strength of the engagement you see as a result. And in this case, one type of blog post that tends to generate the strongest level of user excitement is the interview. By exchanging ideas with other authority figures in your industry, you’ll build engagement from both your fan base and those that follow your interview subject, creating a significantly higher potential for community interactions.
15. Share controversial viewpoints
Alternatively, if you really want to get people talking, share a controversial viewpoint on your website. Make sure your assertions are well-researched and well-reasoned, but otherwise, don’t shy away from rocking the boat, as this type of content is virtually guaranteed to improve community engagement.
16. Give out freebies
People love receiving free things, which is why giving out online freebies, including things like ebooks, whitepapers, or other training materials, is an easy way to strengthen the bonds that exist between you and your audience. And when these people think more highly of you, they’ll be more likely to frequent your site and engage with your content.
17. Run giveaway contests in exchange for comments
One other technique that can be used to encourage community participation is to run giveaways that make readers eligible to win a small prize if they’re selected at random amongst the post’s comments. When tied together with any of the content strategies listed above, this is a great way to generate a serious increase in interesting comments.
18. Solicit community feedback on the types of post your audience wants to see
Don’t know which topics will resonate most with your audience members? Boost online engagement by asking readers to fill out a quick survey detailing the subject matter they’re most interested in.
19. Find ways to recognize exceptional commenters
In addition to respecting your readers’ contributions by taking the time to respond to their comments, go out of your way to recognize those who have contributed the most to your website. Do this by featuring great comments in future posts, awarding a monthly “Top Commenter” title or taking any other action that recognizes readers who have taken the time to engage with your site.
20. Bring social media conversations back to your site
Social networking websites are set up for optimal engagement, but keeping the conversation on these external sites can make your own pages look dead. To prevent this from occurring, publicize all new blog posts on your social media profiles and encourage social networking followers to leave responses on your home site.
21. Don’t whitewash critical conversations
Occasionally, you may receive a critical comment on one of your blog’s posts (or, perhaps more than occasionally if you regularly feature controversial posts!). And though your first instinct might be to delete negative criticisms, bear in mind that you might ultimately see a backlash from readers who perceive you as tailoring their conversations to your particular needs.
Don’t feed any trolls that stop by your site, but also avoid deleting well-reasoned, critical comments from your site’s overall conversation.
22. Optimize your website’s speed
If you want people to engage with your website, make it as pleasant an experience as possible! Nobody likes spending time on a site that’s slow to load, so take the time to implement site speed best practices. Not only is doing so great for user engagement, it’s an important part of optimizing your site’s natural search performance, too!
23. Host live events
Nothing is more engaging than the opportunity to interact directly with a website’s owner, so look into webinars or Google+ hangouts as a way to connect with your audience members.
24. Follow up with email correspondence
Realistically, boosting online engagement isn’t just about the on-site activities you take to encourage reader participation. It’s also about the things you do away from your site that show your readers how much you value their interest in your brand, and that includes responding to any email messages you receive from your followers. It might seem time-consuming, but really, if Seth Godin can respond to every email he receives, so can you!
25. Measure engagement
Finally, although engagement can feel like an ephemeral thing, it’s important to measure whether or not the activities you’re undertaking are paying off in concrete improvements towards the target engagement metrics you care most about. Taking the time to regularly analyze your own activities and compare their impact against your site’s overall ROI will help to ensure you’re getting the maximum possible return from your engagement investments.
Of course, these are just a few of my favorite techniques for boosting community engagement online. If you have other tactics that have proven successful on your own websites, share your recommendations in the comments section below!
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Thinglass