The most important tasks for bloggers — and what to skip: Survey results

A million two years ago, I sent out a survey asking blog readers what were the most significant elements of blogs they loved to visit, and what was by contrast less important.

I'm not sure why I didn't post the results except that a month later, I had a baby. But other than that.

I got just seventeen responses, so that might have been part of it. But I think the seventeen responses were useful ones, so I'm going to go ahead and post the results now. Here's hoping it helps us all as we prioritize our limited blogging time!

The most important elements, ranked

Click any image to embiggen.

This was a multiple-choice question where survey takers could select as many responses as they wanted. As you can see, "meaningful content" came out on top as the most important element of a blog or blogger, with 16 who chose it as valuable. Second, with 12 checks, was "replies to commenters" — so, social interaction on a blog itself. In third place were tied "opportunities for writing, such as blog carnivals" and "comments on other people's blogs." About half of respondents considered "frequently updated content" important. Other items ("interaction on Facebook," "speedy responses to email" [phew!], "interaction on Twitter," "weekly memes [such as Wordless Wednesday or Sunday Surf]," and "reliable posting schedule") were less highly valued by most respondents. Zero respondents checked "product giveaways" as important.

This next question used the same items from question 1 but allowed respondents to rank them according to a Likert scale of 1-5, with 1 being "least important" and 5 being "most important" and 3 being neutral. This gives a little more nuance to how valuable each item is. I'll talk about them in order of importance (the righthand average number) rather than the order in which they're on the survey above:
  1. Meaningful content received mostly 5s. It was the only one marked so strongly as important.
  2. Replies to commenters (on one's own blog) were solidly 3-4 and quite a few 5s. I'd call that strongly important. These were the same top two responses in the first question.
  3. Frequently updated content received mostly 3-5, with 4 as the dominant answer. This seemed more important here than in the first answer.
  4. Comments on other blogs received a range from 2-5, but interestingly had a strong presence for 4. I'd call that fairly important.
  5. Speedy responses to email was a mix of neutral and important, placing it as also fairly important. Uh-oh.
  6. Promotion of other blogs' posts was 2-4, but quite a few 4s. This sort of thing confuses me, because memes scored low, but one of my memes is Sunday Surf, which does just this.
  7. Opportunities for writing (blog carnivals, etc.) was interesting, because there was an almost even split between people who thought it was really important and people who thought it was really not. I'm imagining it depends on individual respondents' attraction to blog carnivals. This is the sort of question that would benefit from a larger sample size!
  8. Reliable posting schedule was a solid 3. I hope that means that I can keep being unreliable?
  9. Interaction on Facebook and on Twitter were interesting in that there was no consensus — I wonder if the mixed results denote which respondents favor which social media (and some who favor none). Pinterest wasn't around when I made this survey. I know! That's how long it's taken me to post the results!
  10. Weekly memes were mostly unimportant or neutral to people. I'm still doing mine, though, because they're (mostly) easy and fun.
  11. Product giveaways were very unimportant to most people. Here's where a bigger sample size of a wide variety of readers would help me again, because I know my giveaways get a lot of pageviews and entries, meaning they do drive traffic to my blog if not regular readers. I guess the takeaway here might be to do giveaways if they interest you, but that you don't have to, and in any case, don't do them so much that you alienate your faithful visitors.

Priorities, priorities

Next, I did a series of either/or questions where I asked respondents to choose one element or the other as more important. Obviously, people might consider both pretty dang important, but I wanted to force a choice. These are all taken from the elements previously discussed.

Click any image to embiggen.

So, in this instance, meaningful content wins handily over frequently updated content.

If one has time only for writing content or replying to comments, slightly more people would prioritize writing new content. However, this one was really close, so a larger sample size could sway it either way! I was surprised how many people voted replies to comments as being more important than writing new posts. Since I don't always do that replying-to-comments thing… But I like it when other people do, so I get the appeal as a reader!

I am terrible at emailing people back, so I had to know. If I could write a post or respond to (potentially your) email, which would you choose? Most people said "new content" over emailing back. Saved.

This was another really close race, where new content beat out social media interaction on Facebook, Twitter, etc., by a nose. Obviously, they're both important for blog readers (at least, the ones who are on those particular social media platforms themselves).

The final question asked whether reading and interacting with other blogs (through comments and content promotion) was more or less important than writing new content for one's own blog. This one surprised me by more people saying interacting with other blogs was more important.

Respondents' thoughts on the survey

In the final-final question (I forgot there was a sort of bonus), I left a paragraph form open for any respondents who cared to elucidate their previous responses or add any thoughts. Here are the eight comments received (all were anonymous):

Q7 [importance of reading vs. writing] Interesting...New content is important but if you don't come out from your own blogging world to make 'friends' then it's a bit self-centred! I don't I mean it that harshly as there are some great blogs that I just want to get more info from them and couldn't care if they never did anything else but write content. But blogging community is fun.

Agreed — if I didn't interact socially, I'd get a whole lot more writing done … but I wouldn't enjoy blogging half as much as I do with the interactions.

That last one is hard [reading vs. writing again] -- I think there is a balance there between working on your own blog/content and interacting with others that must be found, but is a challenge. For me, my time is often spilt 50/50 or more heavily toward interacting, mostly because it feels easier than writing new posts (in my head, anyway), but my ideal would be 75% writing and 25% interacting.

If your content is good, I really think all the rest is nice, but not necessary. There are many bloggers I follow for their great content who I've have never actually interacted with. It would be cool, of course, and I totally appreciate it when it happens, but it ABSOLUTELY does not turn me away from a blog to not be interacted with.

I like the ideal of 75/25 as well — that sounds very reasonable: still social, without letting it take over all your writing time. And I agree that sometimes I'm just thrilled to bits to have a blogger respond to a comment I've made or even drop me an email — but it's not something I'd expect or get annoyed if I didn't receive it. That said, if I've followed a blogger for a long time and I never get any interaction, then that does turn me off. What do you think?

When I think "meaningful content," I don't necessarily mean anything terribly serious. It doesn't have to be a deep thought-provoking article. It can be a short personal tale. But as for frequent updates, when bloggers go a long while between updates I wonder and worry about them.

That said, I can't read everything everyone posts, either. I have my priorities when it comes to blogs I read. Some I don't want to miss a single word and some I only read casually. I try to comment on nearly everything I read these days, though I don't sweat it if the article has a lot of comments already. Commenting often has become my own little good deed.

That's lovely, and I agree with so much in here. In some seasons I'm a commenting warrior, and sometimes it's one of the things that gets dropped for other priorities moving into the way.

I like replies to comments but sometimes it isn't really necessary. So I wanted to clarify here. A short, way to go, type comment really doesn't need a response.
I like to reply to comments on my blog in a thoughtful way, but don't really know if that person even gets the message.
I do like to get a reply to my comment sometimes, but don't notice too much if I don't.
Every now and then it's nice to be connected with.
But, I don't ever have too many comments to deal with....

Once I asked people how often they subscribe to comment threads, and the subscription rate was quite low overall — something like 26%. I was surprised, since I'm a serial subscriber, unless it's a post like a giveaway or at a super popular blog where my inbox will just be inundated in perpetuity. I know some bloggers email their comment responses to make sure the commenter receives the reply; I don't do that, and it's more challenging with the native Blogger commenting system (on Hobo Mama), anyway — not everyone has a connected email address (hint: get one). But it did relieve some of my guilt about not always (often) responding to comments, knowing that so few people were going to see my comment responses anyway.

For q4 and q5 [commenting courtesy & email courtesy vs. writing new content], I really think they're both equally important.

However, I do focus on creating new content first.

Replying inline to comments is something I'd like to do more of and plan to change my platform so I can do so. Right now, the time it takes to reply is often a blocker for me and I only tend to reply to direct questions or if I am really moved to do so. I also take the time to reply to comments via email (even though blogger doesn't provide email addresses and I have to hunt around for them), especially to a new visitor, though often not immediately.

I always respond to emails, though often that might take more time (sometimes weeks).

This person is putting me to shame. That isn't hard, though.

If you are passing this info on for others, especially for people who are starting a blog - I'd like to say - please include an "About" of some sort. The first thing I do when I go to a new blog is look for information on who's writing it, why they're writing it, what it's about (including a picture is an extra bonus!). It makes a big difference when I'm deciding what blogs to follow - even if the "About" is a three sentence profile.

You listening, bloggers? Create that "About" page!

This one's addressed to me in my Hobo Mama hat:

I read your natural parenting blog for your insight in your writing. Your posts are among my favorite. I also appreciate that you reply to comments and e-mails. I like the opportunities to write for the Carnival of Natural Parenting. The giveaways, tweets, and memes aren't that important to me. From my perspective those missing from your blog wouldn't diminish the quality of content (although the Wordless Wednesdays are fun to see, but I don't click your blog just to see them.)

That was nice to hear! Especially considering the sentence "I also appreciate that you reply to comments and e-mails." I'm so glad that's at least one person's perspective on my responsiveness level. I really do try, but I frequently get distracted by … you know … life from moving through my poor overburdened inbox. It's helpful to hear that about the memes, and makes me feel a lot less guilt when I miss a week for one reason or another.

By "meaningful content", I mean content that is meaningful to the blogger, not content that's "useful" or "important" or whatever to the reader. I think of blogging as sharing a slice of your life/self/mind. I want to read what the blogger has to say, regardless of whether its "on topic" or good SEO or anything like that.

Yes. And I think that's what becomes meaningful to others, when it's authentic for yourself as the writer.

My thoughts on the survey results

So what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree?

What made you feel relieved as a blogger? What made you feel pressured or lacking?

I know, for me, time management plays such a vital role in what I can possibly get done as a blogger who's also a mother, businesswoman, wife, etc. I often feel content on my blogs suffers because I spread myself so thin doing the other things: commenting, social media interaction, carnival hosting, and so forth.

Note that this survey was reader-oriented, so I specifically left off tasks that bloggers have to accomplish "behind the scenes" like promotion, finances, site design, research, photo editing, and so forth. I feel like that could make for another intriguing survey right there!

But if we want to know what readers wish to see from us, I think this survey is very helpful in clarifying our way forward.

For me, I was gratified to see how much emphasis was placed on quality content over most everything else. However, I was surprised (and perhaps should not have been) on how much value readers find in social interaction on the writer's own blog as well as on others' (presumably, in the respondents' minds, their blogs). I feel like I'm often pulled between either writing fresh content or interacting socially, and this survey seemed to confirm, in Dilbert's-boss-fashion: Do both.

Simple Blogging's recommendations

I first bought Simple Blogging: Less Computer Time, Better Blogging (affiliate link there), an ebook by Rachel Meeks of Small Notebook, for precisely this reason. I wanted to answer the questions (or see how she had): What daily tasks are most important for me to accomplish as a blogger? What can I let slide?

I was really intrigued to see Rachel's priorities include not using social media at all. She views it as the timesuck it is and prefers to interact with comments on her blog and others — but only within a manageable time commitment. And she has a whole chapter on dealing with email guilt. It starts with this wise analogy:

If you walked into a room and suddenly 400 people wanted to talk to you, what would you do?

Line them up and answer each person's request one by one? That sounds responsible. That way you wouldn't miss anyone.

But what if your children were with you? Would you make them wait patiently behind you while you acknowledged 400 people, one at a time?

No, you might take the first few and then say, “Thanks, that's all I can do,” and then go home with your kids.

Why do we expect that we can respond to every single email?

"If someone sent an email to me, then the right thing to do is respond."

There is only ONE of you. There is no end to how many emails you’ll get, and most of them want something from you: an answer, a favor, advice, help, and most of all, your time.

Now, her answer isn't never to respond to email (she has more helpful tips to help you manage the onslaught, though), but it is to take it easy on yourself when you see your blogging commitments stacking up.

She also has this to recommend in her chapter on time management:

Not all blogging activities are created equal.

There is networking, reading other blogs and commenting, as well as responding to your comments. And there is design, guest posts, emails, Twitter, Facebook, research...

If you come to a point where you can't do it anymore, there is one thing you should come back to focus on: writing posts.

So, yeah — she agrees with me. (Except that I'm totally all over social media.) I should really take her advice more seriously and concentrate on that content!

I don't want to spill all of Rachel's blogging tips here, so I'll refer you to her book. Again, that's an affiliate link, but I really did find the book very helpful as a time-management-challenged blogger, and the price of $8 is a total steal.

You can still take the survey!

If you didn't get to it the first time around and would like to take the survey now, here it is, still open. I'd love to get more responses — you can share it around with your readers, too, so we can all use the results to help us target our blogging efforts. If we get significantly different results, I'll post an update. (But don't wait with bated breath or anything, since it will probably be in two years or so!)

The above is a snazzy pop-up version of the survey, since I couldn't get the form version to embed correctly. If, say, you're on a phone, and you want a plain link, here you go: http://hobomama.polldaddy.com/s/blogging-survey

If you just love surveys, I've got a short one-question poll open at Hobo Mama, too.

Thank you to all seventeen of you fine souls who responded the first time around!

Bloggers and readers, let us know your thoughts about the results in the comments!


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...