06 June 2009

Blogging Tips : 10 Reasons Why Questions Work & 12 Tips on How to Ask Them

Today’s task in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challengeis to ask your readers a question.

10 Reasons to ask Your Readers Questions

questions.jpgAsking readers questions is a fantastic way to grow you blog for a number of reasons - here are 10.

  1. It gives readers a sense of community and participation - there’s nothing like coming to a blog where readers are interacting to give a blog a sense of being alive.
  2. It increases Blog Stickiness - people are more likely to return to a blog that they’ve contributed something to
  3. Question posts don’t take a whole lot of effort to write (although can take some moderation)
  4. Question posts are fantastic for helping you to gauge where your readers are at on certain topics.
  5. Getting reader responses can fuel future post ideas for your blog
  6. They open up opportunities for followup posts as you summarize the answers, pick up conversations and even answer the question yourself etc.
  7. Well worded questions can often rank well in search engines. Pick a question that people are going to be asking when they search the web for answers and optimize your page for that question and you could rank quite well.
  8. They can be great for generating incoming links to your blog as other bloggers pick up the conversation on their own blogs.
  9. When a reader comments it gives you means to enter into conversation with that person (either by responding with a comment and/or via email). In the early days of a blog it can especially be good to do this as those few readers you have can help to spread word of your blog into their network.
  10. Reader answers can sometimes be used as actual posts. I’ve promoted the comments people have made on my blog to actual blog posts (with a few extra comments of my own and giving credit to the comment leaver of course).

Some bloggers resist writing question posts because they are scared that nobody will answer the question. This can certainly be a little disheartening - but if you construct the post well and include your own answer to the question then at least there is something there of value even if the conversation doesn’t emerge.
Remember that only around 1% of blog readers tend to leave comments - so if you don’t get a lot of responses it doesn’t mean that no one is reading your blog - keep trying.

12 Tips for Asking Your Readers Questions on Your Blog

When it comes to asking your readers questions there are no real rules as to the type of questions and how you should go about it. However, here are 12 tips that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Keep the question relevant to Your Blog’s Topic
  2. Ask a question that builds on a previous post - for example, on DPS I wrote a post about the pros and cons of shooting in RAW vs JPEG. The post was quite popular so I followed it up with a post asking readers what they shot in.
  3. Ask questions that are answerable (this might sound dumb but sometimes questions are so hard to answer that people don’t)
  4. Ask questions that readers will want to know the answer to - so ask a question on a hot topic which you think readers will want to have insight into what others think or do.
  5. Suggest to your readers some possible answers - I find that when I give some options to choose between that it can help a discussion get going.
  6. Sometimes either/or questions (where there are only two answers to choose from) can be great for generating a debate - they are easy to answer and a great way to help train your readers to comment (the RAW/JPEG question post answered above is an example of this).
  7. You may like to try using a Poll tool to give your readers a way to vote on a number of options
  8. Controversial questions can be a great way to get a conversation going - but be aware readers could get fired up.
  9. Be willing to share your own answer - but if you’re confident you’ll get people responding you might want to consider holding off on your own answer and do it in a follow up post (this means 2 posts instead of 1 but also means you won’t skew your reader’s answers)
  10. Do you have a frequently asked question that you don’t know how to answer? Ask your readers for their opinion - you might learn something. I often use ‘community workshop’ type questions where I simply pose a question and ask readers for advice on the topic - the comments section really becomes the resource (see examples below).
  11. Sometimes more personal (yet on topic) questions can be worth asking. For example don’t just ask what people ‘think’ about some sort of theoretical question - but ask them what they ‘do’ or about their own lives. For example a while back I asked readers to tell me what their favorite lens was at DPS - it was a question answered by over 200 people - at the time it was my most commented upon post.
  12. Follow up your question posts with summaries of answers - if you get a lot of responses it can be well worth your time to collate the answers in a new post. This shows your readers that you value their answers but also creates an interesting post. For example - with the question post on what readers favorite lenses were I wrote a summary of popular DSLR lenses. The response from these two posts was fantastic as many readers not only had a say on a topic but enjoyed reading what others were doing.

Having all that in mind - your homework for today is to go back to your blog/s and ask a question of your readers.
Once you’ve done that, come back to this post and share the link with us so we can check it out and see how you’ve approached it.
PS - Some Examples of Question Posts I use ‘reader questions’ regularly on my photography site. In fact they are among the most popular posts on the blog in terms of page views and in terms of generating comments.
Following are a few ‘reader question’ posts that I’ve run on DPS - I hope that in sharing them you’ll get some ideas for different types of questions to ask:

  • Which Digital Camera Manufacturer is Best? - a question that there really is no one answer to and which caused some real debate. I followed it up with a summary post - Best Digital Camera Manufacturers.
  • Win a Prize By Telling us About Your Digital Camera - in this instance I offered a prize for people to answer the question (they answered in the DPS forum).
  • What Digital Camera Do You Use? - another question aimed at getting readers to share their own experiences of gear that they use. This gave me valuable data on the type of reader I had but also provided me with great data for a follow up post.
  • What Shooting Mode do you Shoot in Most? - asking this question then gave me an opportunity to link to posts that I’d previously written on the topic at the bottom of the post. I also followed it up with some posts on the same topic as the question itself really opened up a topic that some of my readers hadn’t explored much before.
  • How Would You Photograph a Funeral? - this is a ‘community workshop’ type post where I posed a question from a reader and let my readers give their advice and tips. I find these question posts particularly effective as they not only answer a reader’s question but the answers from the community become a fantastic resource. Other examples of this include ‘How to Photograph Grandma‘ and ‘How do I Photograph Kids?
  • Share Your Best Shot Ever - this post simply asked readers to share a link to their best photograph. It gave readers a chance to show off their work a little - it was very popular.

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