I’ve written a couple posts on getting blog traffic, specifically for book blogs which can sometimes feel a bit different from more popular niche blogs like fashion, lifestyle, travel, and finance. For example, in 2019 I shared 5 tips to drive traffic to your book blog. This year, however, I’m presenting what I feel are some of the most fundamental ways to get more page views for your blog, if that happens to be one of your goals for 2020.
Comment on Other Book Blogs
This is the number one way I see other book bloggers, including rather large ones, say they increased their blog traffic. Admittedly, if you follow some of the big bloggers’ “methods,” it will be time-consuming. Some of them comment back on the blog of literally every single person who comments on their blog. This is admirable if you can swing it, but also really not necessary! Just make sure you’re engaging authentically with the community and commenting because you want to and have something to say, and you’ll soon begin building relationships. After all, no one can find and comment on your blog if they’re not aware you exist, and commenting on their blog is a good way to say “hi!”
Write Original Content
There are a lot of book blogs, which is fabulous, but it can also make it hard to stand out from the crowd. So what will inspire someone to follow your blog over another blog? In many cases, the answer is original content, and I’ve seen many bloggers say they prefer reading this and that one of their goals for the new year is to write more of their own.
I spent nearly the whole of 2019 preaching the good news of Pinterest for traffic–because with a medium amount of effort, Pages Unbound went from getting 500 page views from Pinterest in 2018 to getting nearly 9,000 in 2019. That is to say, I didn’t even do Pinterest “right,” and I saw a significant increase in this source of traffic. Bloggers who are really committed claim to have 1,000+ page views for their blog daily. So if you go from not using Pinterest at all to using it moderately, this could also be a new source of traffic for you this year.
Taking a break and having a life outside of blogging is fine (actually, encouraged!). However, I do think consistency is key for maintaining an audience for a blog. When bloggers I like and follow simply disappear for month, I admit I often forget about them. Posts titled things like “I’m Back!” frequently pop up in my reader…and I have no idea who the blogger is or when they left. Scheduling posts ahead of time can help with this, as can posting consistently in general. You don’t need to be some sort of super blogger posting daily, but posting several times a month keeps you on readers’ radars and helps them get to know you and become invested in your content.
Revive and Boost Old Content
This is a great method to help boost traffic if you’re short on time. If you’ve written something interesting that was popular in the past (or you think should have been popular but just didn’t get the attention it deserved at the time), try updating it and resharing it to get new traffic. This can mean updating lists of books with newer books that have been released, tweeting out seasonal content, or even just linking back to old posts in a new one you’ve written.
What are some of your best suggestions for increasing blog traffic?
In 2018, Pages Unbound received 523 pageviews from Pinterest referrals. In January 2019, I decided I was going to take Pinterest more seriously.
While I was skeptical that content from book blogs could really take off on Pinterest, many bloggers in general swear by the site and say it is their single largest source of traffic. After I stumbled across a few actual book bloggers, including The Uncorked Librarian and Lovely Audiobooks, saying they receive a reasonable amount of traffic from Pinterest, I figured I had nothing to lose (besides maybe my time).
The result: In 2019, Pages Unbound received over 8,000 pageviews from Pinterest.
Concrete Steps I Took to Increase Traffic from Pinterest
Honestly, if you read any article or blog post on how to get traffic from Pinterest, the ideas are generally the same: set up a business account, set up rich pins, post appealing graphics, make sure the graphics are vertical, etc. and so forth. I did all this, but here are some of the more concrete steps I took:
I created uniform board covers.
I don’t think there’s any actual need to create uniform board covers to succeed on Pinterest, but a lot of the “serious” Pinterest users have them. Board covers with the title of the board make it easy for people to see what each board is about, and your profile looks professional and attractive to potential followers. It’s an easy thing to do to update your profile.
I created a book bloggers group board.
(Good) group boards are important to help get other users repinning your content so it gets more visibility. The general rules of a group board are that for every pin you add, you must pin one other person’s pin. Other rules might include not spamming the board with your content and posting only vertical images, not horizontal or square ones.
I noted in an earlier post that I had trouble finding book or book blogger group boards, especially ones that are accepting new members, so I started my own. (You can request to join the book blogger group board here.) I’ve since found several boards hosted by others to join, some of which are great and some of which are a bit spammy. Some of them also trend more towards romance books, so I more recently started a YA/MG specific group board here that I’m hoping to grow.
I started pinning every day.
Advice on how much or how often to pin each day to “succeed” varies, but my basic rule in 2019 was to attempt to pin something every single day. I pin my own post of the day to a minimum of two boards, and then I log onto Pinterest and repin others’ content there, even if it’s only four pins or so.
I missed some days, and I wasn’t always consistent. Some days I pinned a lot, while others I pinned practically nothing. This is definitely not the “ideal” strategy. But since I had NO strategy for Pinterest in 2018, pinning at least a little each (or most) days in 2019 noticeably improved my reach and my traffic.
I created more pinnable images for the blog.
Of course, in order to pin things, I needed content to pin. In 2019, I made it a point to try to have a vertical pinnable image with the title of the blog post for any discussion post or book list posted at Pages Unbound.
(I have made some graphics for book reviews, and I see other book bloggers who have pinned images for reviews, but my experience is that these do not do nearly as well as discussion posts or other features–especially any type of list. If you have time, promoting your book reviews on Pinterest is worthwhile because you’ll probably get some traffic, but it’s not where you should put your focus if the time you can commit to social media is limited.)
I signed up for the Free Trial of Tailwind
Tailwind is a paid service that lets you schedule pins, join tribes to get your pins shared, see analytics on your pins, and more. It is fabulous because you can take an hour or two and schedule pins (at suggested optimized times!) for basically the whole month and then forget about them. You can also use features to ensure that you are pinning a single pin to all the boards you want, without overlap, and at staggered times–so I can pin something to 13 groups boards but schedule it so it only is pinned to one board a day. (People who are serious about Pinterest but don’t have Tailwind seem to get the same result by keeping elaborate spreadsheets detailing what they pinned, where, and when; without Tailwind, I just wing it and miss the opportunity to pin my content to all relevant boards.)
I wrote more about my experience with Tailwind in this post, and I really liked it while I had the trial. I just struggle with the idea of paying for it month after month when I make absolutely no money from this blog. But if you are monetizing your blog, or if you simply have the disposable income to spend some money on your blog, I would recommend checking it out.
Insights for Book Bloggers on Pinterest
Book lists do particularly well. If you think of Pinterest as a search engine more than social media, this makes sense. People go on Pinterest for ideas and inspiration, not necessarily for book reviews or even bookish discussions. If you have limited time to promote your content on Pinterest, start with any lists you have.
Seasonal content does well. Similar to the first idea, people like lists of books related to holidays, seasons, etc. Books to read in winter. Picture books for St. Patrick’s Day. Whatever. Make sure to start promoting the content early though. I’ve seen recommendations to start promoting 45 days before the actual holiday.
Think of content that will do well with a “general” audience. The people visiting your blog from Pinterest are not necessarily other book bloggers. This is exciting because most of us know other book bloggers are usually our main audience. But this also means you have to think about what will appeal to readers/visitors who might not even know what a book blog is, much less be interested in the usual book blog discussions and debates.
Pins with lots of covers do well. This is probably related to lists doing well, but if I create one pin for a list with a lot of book covers on it and one pin that has a single image, usually the one with tons of covers does better.
How to start a book blog, review books, and have a successful book blog
After doing some research on blogging and finding relatively few resources that were specifically about how to start a book blog, I decided to put together this guide for those thinking about diving into the book blogging community. (Especially since some of the top results on Google are things like “How to Start a Book Blog in 6 Easy Steps” that cover only the very basics and seem to be articles written by paid bloggers for clicks, not by people who have ever actually started or run a book blog!) I started Pages Unbound in 2011 with very little idea of what I was doing, so I hope other new bloggers feel they don’t have to do the same!
Table of Contents: 17 Steps to Start a Book Blog
Choose a blog name.
Choose a blogging platform.
Choose a theme.
Write an about page.
Write a review policy.
Write some posts–and schedule some posts in advance.
Decide whether you will rate books.
Read other books blogs.
Add widgets to your sidebar.
Make graphics for your blog.
Decide which social media platforms to promote your blog on.
Start a review archive page.
Participate in the book blogging community and comment on other blogs.
Work on SEO for your blog.
Apply to get ARCs to review.
Consider whether you want a co-blogger.
Host a blogging event.
The Basics of Starting Your Book Blog
1. Choose a Blog Name
Once you’ve established yourself under a certain blog name, changing it can be hard, so you’ll want to put some thought into this. Choose a name that reflects what your blog will be about, and also do some research to check whether it’s an original name or whether there are other variations. (For instance, someone started a blog called “The Page Unbound” several years after we founded “Pages Unbound.” This could be confusing to both of our audiences.)
2, Choose a Blogging Platform
First, decide whether you want to go paid or free for your blogging platform. Free is a good place to start if you’re not sure about how long you’re going to keep blogging or you’re just on a budget. The two most popular free platforms are WordPress.com and Blogger. While I personally recommend WordPress.com for ease of use (and ease of converting to paid WordPress.org later), you should research both platforms and decide which will be most useful to you.
If you know you’re going to be serious about blogging, it could be good to go paid from the start. At least pay for a domain name. That way you won’t lose any followers if you change blogging platforms from, say, Blogger to WordPress.org and end up changing your URL.
3. Choose a Theme
Think about two things: the tone of your blog and user readability. Pick (or pay for) a design that represents the spirit of your blog: playful, serious, focused on mysteries, obsessed with fantasy, etc. However, make sure it’s easy to navigate and that your text will be easy to read. (For example, avoid light fonts on dark backgrounds. Also check if you can change the font size if the default is too small.)
Also, I discuss this more in the intermediate tips on using graphics, but do keep in mind that you should adhere to copyright laws and should use images for your blog theme that you have paid for the right to use, that are your own images, or that are explicitly free for use online.
4. Write an About Page
Readers consistently say they like to know about the blogger behind the blog. While you don’t have to get too personal if you don’t want to, you should still say something about yourself and the general purpose of your blog. Allow your readers to get to know you and what they can expect you to be writing on your book blog. If you’re comfortable with it, consider adding a photograph for an even more personal touch.
5. Create a Review Policy
As a book blogger, even a newbie one, you’re likely to get requests from authors and publicists to review books or feature other content on your blog, such as author guest posts or interviews. Instead of waiting for people to email you and then panicking, decide up front whether this is something you are interested in and then list your guidelines on your Review Policy page.
Some things to include in your review policy:
What posts you will consider. (Only reviews? Only author interviews?)
What genres you are interested in and what genres you don’t want to review.
Whether you will post negative reviews or whether you will post only three star reviews or higher.
Whether you will post the review somewhere other than your blog (Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.)
How quickly you expect to read and review book requests.
What formats you will accept. (Only print books, Kindle books, PDFs?)
The email address people can contact you at. (I recommend creating a blog-specific one, instead of using your personal email.)
Decide how often you want to post on your blog (three times a week? once a week?) and consider writing out at least three weeks’ worth of posts before your blog goes live. This will save you a lot of stress trying trying to post consistently and keep you from scrambling to create content. New bloggers often report blogger burnout when they fail to schedule posts before they launch.
7. Choose Whether You Will Have a Rating System
Many, but not all, book bloggers use a rating system on their book reviews to give their audience a quick indication of how much they enjoyed the book they are reviewing. There are pros to including ratings (for instance, other people seem to like them) and cons (for instance, sometimes people seem to skip the review and just check the rating). Krysta and I didn’t use ratings on our blog for several years. And it was fine. However, you probably want to be consistent with using or not using them from the start, and you’ll also want think about what graphic you’ll use for the rating. In fact, many people don’t use stars at all, but some other image that goes with their theme like tea cups, cats, muffins, etc.
8. Read Other Book Blogs
If you’re not really reading other book blogs, now is a good time to start. While there’s always room for creativity in the blogosphere, there are also conventions. Find out what other bloggers are doing and what readers might be expecting from your blog. If you want to break the mold and do something wildly different, that’s great, and now you’ll be doing it as an informed decision.
The Details of Starting Your Book Blog
Once you have the foundations of your book blog, it’s time to start thinking about the details: making the user experience good for your readers and getting visitors to come to your blog.
1. Cultivate a Great Sidebar
Don’t overwhelm visitors with too much information in your sidebar. Think about what information will be useful to them, and put the most important things towards the top.
Consider including in the sidebar:
a brief bio (save the long version for your About page)
a search bar for your blog
a way to subscribe to your blog (email or WordPress feed)
links to your social media pages
a blog button if you have one
a list of your most recent posts
a list of popular posts
information about any special events you have going on
Consider omitting from the sidebar:
the tag cloud (No one really uses this to navigate.)
a calendar (I can see your recent posts.)
recent Tweets (I can just follow you on Twitter.)
too much information about favorite books or other fun facts
You can also choose not to have a sidebar at all. Some bloggers feel that sidebars clutter their space and prefer to include information like how to follow them on social media elsewhere.
2. Think about Graphics for Your Blog
Most blogging experts recommend having at least one image per blog post. Planning this out can take some time. First, you want to be sure you’re staying on the right side of copyright laws and not using images illegally. Secondly, you’ll want to think about branding your images and keeping the look consistent across posts. (Consider making graphics similar sizes, fonts, and colors.)
To get started, you might want some basic graphics so you don’t have to make an entirely new one for every single post (unless that’s something you love to do). So, you might make an image for use on all discussion posts, an image for use on all Top Ten Tuesday posts, etc.
If you have time to invest into making many graphics or you’re invested in using images for traffic growth, make a unique image for each blog post. To be really unique, you can use your own bookish photography. Otherwise, find royalty-free images and optimize them for sharing. This means putting the post title on the image and putting your blog name or URL, as well. If you’re going to be sharing a lot on Pinterest, expects recommend portrait-style graphics (long vertical images).
Few book bloggers only run blogs. Joining social media will help you both meet other bloggers and readers and help you promote your content. If you’re a social media fiend, feel free to join everything: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Riffle, etc. However, remember that the most valuable social media is the one you enjoy enough to actually use. If you’re going to start slowly or have limited time to devote to other outlets beyond your blog, I recommend Goodreads (of course) and Twitter as the places where the book community is often most active. (You can also read my posts on using Goodreads to drive traffic to your blog and using Goodreads to write better reviews.)
Note that there is also a large book community on Instagram (Bookstagram), but this site generally is not going to be a traffic driver back to your book blog. Join if you’re truly interested in taking book photography and interacting with other readers on the site itself, not because you think it will be a good way to promote your blog. And, if you are interested in joining, don’t worry about not owning “enough” or “beautiful” books. It’s perfectly fine to take creative photos of your ereader featuring book covers or photos of library books.
After you’ve joined, make sure your social media is clearly linked to in your blog sidebar, so people can find and follow you. Then add your blog URL to your social media profiles. If you’re on WordPress, you can also set up your blog so it will auto-share new posts on Facebook and Twitter. (There are also options for sharing other sites, such as LinkedIn, but most book bloggers won’t be using these.)
4. Start a Review Archive Page
One of the first things I do when I visit a new book blog is check out their review archives. I want to know what kinds of books the blog features, and whether I agree with the bloggers opinions on books we’ve both read. Make it easy for visitor to access your content by starting a page for your review archive, which you can choose to alphabetize either by author or by title of the book. You can also make archive pages for any other posts you routinely write and want to group by category.
5. Participate in the Book Blog Community
If you want people to read your blog, the single most useful thing you can do is read and comment on other people’s blogs. Write meaningful comments and connect with readers, and they’ll want to read your actual blog content. Alternatively, no one can visit your blog if they’re not aware it exists, so go out there and talk to other readers!
You can also join memes, read-alongs, reading challenges, Twitter chats, or other events that other bloggers are hosting. Big events include Bloggiesta (a few times a year) and Armchair BEA in May.
If you’re super serious about getting traffic to your blog or becoming known in the book community, start thinking about search engine optimization (SEO) for your blog and creating timely and unique content.
1. Complete These Quick SEO Tips
There’s a lot of information on the web about improving your SEO and getting traffic to your blog. The following tips are quick ideas to get you started:
Include ALT tags for your images. (Use the media editor in WordPress to do this.)
Compress images. Part of good SEO is making sure your site loads quickly. If you’re using lots of large image files on your posts, use a site like compressjpeg.com to make them smaller.
Use heading tags. Your blog post title will be an H1 tag. In your post, use H2, H3, and maybe H4 to structure your post.
Use keywords. Make sure you’re naturally including the words you think people would use to search for your post in the post itself. If you’re reviewing a book, for instance, you’ll probably want to mention the title and author name a couple times throughout the review, not just once.
Use links. Send readers to other related posts on your blog to keep them engaged and reading.
Update old content. Once you’re an established blogger, make sure your old content isn’t wasting away. If you’ve written an interesting discussion post or helpful guide, update it and re-share it on social media.
Indie authors and publicists may begin contacting you about reviewing their books very early in your blogging career. However, if you’re interested in getting ARCs from major publishers, your blog will probably have to be at least six months old, and you’ll have to demonstrate to publishers you’ll bring the book visibility by sending them your stats for follower numbers and average page views. Updating your blog frequently and having comments on your posts can also be useful.
Once you’re fairly established, you can think about hosting your own bookish event. This can be anything from a read-along of a book you enjoy or a book you want to read but haven’t yet, to an event where you focus on a single author/genre/series/etc. and collect some guest posts from other bloggers.
It’s a good idea to look around and see how other people host events first. For instance, what times of discussion questions or activities might go with a read-along? How long should the event last? How many people can you expect to participate? Start planning and scheduling from there.
If you want guest posts, I recommend approaching some bloggers you think will be interested in the topic of the event and sending them an email specifically asking if they would like to contribute something. (Also include details like when you would want the draft, how long the post should be, whether you will be linking to their blog and social media, etc. so they can make an informed decision.) If your blog is still smallish, you may have trouble getting participants if you just send out a general call for guest posts. Approaching specific bloggers to guest post will help ensure you get content and your event succeeds.
Krysta and I asked other readers for guest posts when we first launched our (kind of annual) March Tolkien Reading Event. Now that we’ve been blogging for several years, the event is big enough that we get participants from putting out a general call for guest posts.
Yesterday I posted six questions to get you thinking about how you can come up with original discussion posts for your blog. Today I want to expand on the concept of creativity. We all want our blogs to be unique and offer our readers something they can’t get anywhere else. Sometimes, that’s our original voice or our thoughtful opinions. But sometimes we want to offer new things: new features, new posts, new ideas. If that’s where you want to head with your blog this year, try out some of these creativity exercises below.
In this short (6 min) TED talk, Shimpei Takahashi explains the word association game he uses to invent new toys. Looking for connections between seemingly unrelated things will help you come up with new ideas for your blog!
In this longer TED talk (27 min), Tim Brown introduces listeners to even more creativity exercises, focusing on the idea that playing can facilitate imagination. He also emphasizes the need to feel secure in taking risks, so make sure you settle down to brainstorm in a way you’re comfortable!
Freelance Writer Mariana Ashley suggests writing a comment on your favorite blog–but not posting it. Instead, you have to turn the topic into a post for your own blog. This exercise will get you started thinking about an idea but challenge you to make something meaty out of it, rather than leaving it as a comment.
Scientists believe that the color blue may boost creativity, while red can help people concentrate. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, try changing your surroundings or just the background of your Word document and get creating!
Do you have a blogger friend (or just a friend familiar with your blog)? Try writing down some ideas from your brainstorming session and sharing them with someone else. Writer and artist Julie Niedlinger advocates this “idea switch” because someone else with fresh eyes might have some insights on how to take your ideas farther or even in an exciting new direction.
Take a Break
Sometimes great ideas some to you when you’re not trying to think of them. We’ve all had experiences coming up with amazing ideas while in the shower or half-asleep. So if you’re stuck, step away from the drawing board. Take some time to relax; try coloring or something else restful. You can also just surf the web or watch TV; you might be inspired by a news event or a cool article you run across. The best writers always have their eyes open!
Yesterday one of my tips for Top Ten Tuesday was for bloggers to schedule their posts ahead of time. It saves on a lot of stress and means your blog will still have content even if you are too busy one week (or one month!) to read or review. At the suggestion of Laura from Colorimetry, I am outlining here some advice on how to make a schedule that works for you!
1. You need content to schedule.
This means you’re going to have to read. If you have something like summer vacation when you read more than during the school year, take advantage of it. Write reviews soon after reading the book—or at least take really good notes—but don’t get excited and post them right away. Save them! You can also write a lot of memes ahead of time, as the blogs running them will often list the topics or questions several weeks in advance.
2. Decide what your schedule will be.
Do you want to post once a week? Four times a week? Will you always post reviews on Wednesdays and a meme on Saturday? Having a regular schedule means that both you and your followers will always know what is going on, and they will know when to check back for new content.
3. Get a calendar.
If you have something on your computer or your phone like Windows Calendar you can use, do it! Seeing your posts visually laid out means you can make sure you don’t review 5 mysteries books in a row or that you don’t have all your discussions posts clustered in one week. Using a digital computer instead of on paper means you can easily move titles to a different date if something comes up—like an author wants you to review their book the week before it is released. If you have different types of post you are scheduling, feel free to color-code them. Here is a week of my calendar from March:
4. Figure out how the scheduling feature on your blogging platform works.
On WordPress, you can change the date a post is published in the little box near the top right corner of the post you are editing. Make sure you press “OK” beneath the date. Then make sure you hit “Schedule” (which will replace the normal “Publish” button). Otherwise you’ll just have a draft. Here are instructions for Blogger.
Schedules can be broken. Even though you have dedicated followers, they will understand if you get busy or get behind—because they do, too! And no law will be broken if you suddenly decide to do a review on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
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