The Secret to Writing a Great Blog Post That Gets Lots of Comments

This post originally appeared on the HighQ Solutions blog.

I was in London last week and some colleagues and I were discussing blogging. One asked a very pointed question: How do you get people to comment on a blog post?  The short answers is, you don't.  You never will. Occasionally, when the stars align and you've written a brilliant post on a hot topic, then and only then, you will get a comment or two.  But even then, it is very likely that at least one of those comments will be correcting your grammar.

When I attend conferences there are always a handful of people that come up to me and say they read and enjoy my blog.  About half of the time they will follow with a discussion about something I have written in the last few months.  These are the comments that people don't leave on the website.  At first, I was bothered by this.  I thought, "Well, why didn't you just say that when I wrote it?"  But I've come to think of blogging as starting a conversation with whole group of people, many of whom I have never met.  Some of those people will continue that conversation with other people they know.  Some of them will run into me at a conference and will continue the conversation with me directly.  And some of them will only continue the conversation silently in their own heads. I have come to see any continuation of a conversation that I start as a sign of a successful blog post.

But still there is the question of how to write a blog post that interests people and gets them to continue that conversation? There is no short answer here, but I have a few tips:
  • Forget about any other kind of writing you do.  Blogging is not journalism, it's not letter writing, and it's certainly not legal writing.  In fact, I would argue, blogging is less like any other kind of writing and more like speech.  Write the way you speak, without the "ums" and pauses, of course.
  • Read your finished posts aloud. This engages a completely different part of your brain and you will find that you stumble over words and phrases when speaking aloud that didn't trouble you when you were reading silently to yourself.  These are the areas to rework.
  • When you rework your post, make clarity of purpose your only concern. You will find that otherwise unacceptable punctuation, grammar, spelling, and formatting sometimes gets your point across more succinctly than writing "correctly" does.  Go with it.
  • Be personable. Remember, this is a conversation. Nobody wants to talk to a boring person, no matter how interesting the subject.
  • You are not reporting the news.  This is a big one for external facing law blogs to remember. If you are reporting content that you found on Lexis or the New York Times, then chances are your audience has already read it somewhere else, written by someone who actually writes for a living. Why compete with professionals? Link to those other articles for the details and instead write about your take on the subject. 
  • If you are funny, use it.  If you are not, please don't.  When using sarcasm or satire, always make it very clear. I don't care how obvious it is to you, someone will not get it and that can be very dangerous. Make sure Sarcasm or Satire are included in the Tags on your post when you use them.
  • Be provocative.  Never lie, or argue against your actual position (unless doing satire - see above), but it doesn't hurt to take a slightly stronger stance than you would otherwise. Nothing gets attention like a bold statement confidently made.
  • Don't forget to use the title. Only on a personal blog can you choose your own title, usually you have an editor giving your post some boring title that YOU wouldn't even click on. The title should get your audience's attention, but it also creates a frame that sets up their expectations.  Use those expectations to your advantage, make people see things differently than they expect from your title.
  • Choose topics that bother you.  Things that happen, that surprise or upset you; things that you find yourself day dreaming about at inopportune times; ideas that get stuck in your head; these are the best topics, because they will also get stuck in the heads of your readers.
  • Publish immediately.  When you feel you have your ideas down, publish.  Do not sleep on it.  Do not wait to see what you think the next day.  You will hate it.  You will see every flaw and error.  If you wait, you will never publish.  If you cannot publish, or you are not done by the end of your writing session, then start over from scratch the next day and publish as soon as you're done.
  • Don't write too much.  You do not have to be comprehensive. Set up the conversation.  Throw out a few points to think about and then let it go. Remember, you want to start a conversation, not finish it.  (This post is already too long and chances are good that you haven't actually read this far.)
  • Leave the audience with a rhetorical question, a bold statement, or a thoughtful turn of phrase.  Give them something short and concrete that summarizes your post. Find a phrase that sticks in your mind and it will stick in theirs too.
Which leads me back to the issue of comments. After writing a blog for about three years, I think I now understand why my favorite posts, the ones I'm most proud of, are the least likely to get comments.  I think it is precisely because they make people think.  Readers are left with an idea that is new to them.  It is probably an idea that I have spent days or weeks formulating, and I've just dropped it on an unsuspecting public.  If I have expressed myself well, and gotten my ideas across, then the readers too will have to sit and mull over my ideas for a while.  By the time they realize they have something to say on the subject, they are no longer on the page, or near a computer.  They may not even remember where the original idea came from. But when they see me at a conference, or a seminar, or on a train, or waiting in line for a bathroom, that's when they will come up and say, "I read your blog."  And then our conversation - the one that I began writing by myself, weeks or months earlier - will continue, as if we were old friends who had simply paused for a moment.

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Nick Holmes said...

One of the reasons many good blog posts don't get comments is that Twitter (in particular) has sucked out a lot of that conversation. These days you post to your blog and then feed it into Twitter (auto or manual) and the conversation then goes on on Twitter. That's not great as the conversation is lost to those visiting your blog via other routes. The conversation belongs on your blog - there must be an app for that.

Ryan McClead said...

Great point Nick. Someone needs to make an app that pulls tweets that link to your post and any replies to those tweets, directly into the comment section of blogger, wordpress, etc. Genius! How hard could that be?

Tim Baran said...

Great tips in this post for blogging in general. Sure, controversial posts and news sites will garner comments, but should that be the goal of lawyers trying to blog? Not necessarily. Managing and replying to comments takes time and it's hard enough to get lawyers to blog.

Re: mentions and comments on Twitter and other social networking sites; there are systems, like Disqus and plugins like "Twitter Mentions As Comments" that make them appear on your site.

Cheryl said...

Great tips! However, IMHO publishing right away is not a good practice. Personally, I like to sleep on my post and come back to it the next day to see if I can make it better. Also, i don't find that doing this causes me not to publish it. Rather it makes confident that it is ready to be published.

Ryan McClead said...

Cheryl, I completely agree and I do that in absolutely every other type of writing I do. But, for me personally, if I sit on a blog post, it dies. The moment passes. To extend my metaphor, it's like pausing to take a nap before calling a friend to talk, it does nothing but delay the conversation. If I'm writing about things that I'm thinking about right now, then I need to publish as close as possible to the time I'm having the thought. By tomorrow, I will probably wonder what I was so worked up about the day before.

Federico | Gana Dinero said...

Great tips in this post for blogging in general. Sure, controversial posts and news sites will garner comments, but should that be the goal of lawyers trying to blog?

Carla said...

Amen, write the way you speak! Blogging should be a natural extension of your personality. And therefore, your posts should reflect you and your business.

Anonymous said...

@ "This post is already too long and chances are good that you haven't actually read this far."
That is an impossible statement - especially with the 'you' in it addressing the user.
Wouldn't it have been better to say 'most readers'?


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