Help Blog Readers Keep Up With You

Filed as Guides on August 26, 2008 9:55 am

I’m a fan of Groklaw, but like any long-running soap opera, I tune out for weeks – okay, months – at a time and then check back in. I love the copyright news and litigation insider bits, but sometimes, unlike an ongoing soap opera, I don’t know what is being talked about. I can’t catch up.

Lately, there have been a lot of coverage dealing with SCO, IBM, and Novell. Two of the three I know, but the fourth I don’t recognize. Even if I knew all three of the acronyms, I don’t know enough of the story to follow the current blog posts.

In the legal world of who did what to whom and why, I’m trying to catch up. Why?

That’s what I keep asking myself.

A blog is a chronological vehicle of expression as well as communication. The most recent post may be the latest in a long back story that can go back for days, weeks, months, even years. However, I just landed here. I need to get caught up fast!

Which begs the question:

Is it my responsibility, as the reader, to keep up with the story, or should the blogger play a role in helping bring me up to speed?

Helping Your Visitor Catch Up With The Blog Story

Personally, I think it’s important to help my new visitor become a reader and fan by helping them catch up with the story. How?

People get burned out with redundancies, and I’m not a fan of repeating myself endless, so how can we help make the process simple and easy?

Back links to the previous or originating story helps defines the ongoing series by linking them together. I do this often, such as in the example of my recent series on WTF Blog Design Clutter.

As we’ve looked at the various ways bloggers clutter their blogs, we need to evaluate whether or not every picture of our friends and fellow bloggers, month we’ve blogged, recent comment, and tweet is really that important to our blog readers. If they are, then we must not only keep them, but promote them. Ensure they are not lost in the clutter of ads and feeds that we stuff into our blog’s sidebar…

In 73 words I’ve included seven links to related blog posts, allowing the reader to click and catch up with the story line. I’ve not bored readers who have been following the series, as they can skip the links, but new visitors have a way of catching up with the backstory. They don’t have to hunt through your blog to find out what you are talking about.

Inclusion of related posts within the post content area is also important. Links within the content that connect back to previous posts you’ve written on the subject help, as do related content links at the bottom of the blog post content, acting like a directory of the information the reader needs to know to catch up and uncover more of the story. There are a variety of WordPress Plugins to add related posts to the bottom of your blog post, however you often have little control over what posts appear, and from where. Related posts are so important to me as a way to help my blog readers, I insert them manually into my blog posts.

If the ongoing story plays an important part in the purpose of your blog, put the key post links that summarize the situation into your blog’s sidebar with an appropriate and helpful title directing the reader to read the history of the story.

Maybe you have a huge amount of content on the story, so much so it deserves its own post category or even a specific Page with a site map directory following the timeline of the subject’s development and coverage on your blog. Link to the Page or category within the first and/or closing paragraph of your blog posts to lead the reader to the source and history.

Don’t Assume – Spell It Out For Us

Write your blog posts with the assumption that someone will be reading this information for the very first time. They don’t know what’s going on, and a good blog writer can help them catch up without slowing down the process of telling a good story.

Use HTML code to define your acronyms. Acronyms are supposed to be wrapped in the <acronym> HTML tag with definition. A dotted line would appear under the tagged letters and the hovering mouse reveals the tip balloon with the spelled out meaning of the abbreviation, such as over HTML.

<acronym title="Cascading Style Sheets">CSS</acronym>

Not sure of what an acronym really is? Have you been using it so long you’ve forgotten what the letters stand for? Luckily, there are sites to help us track down the meaning behind the alphabet soup of letter: Acronym Finder, Acronym Search, and Acronym Database.

Why not go a step further and put the acronym in a simple paragraph, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), to remind us of the essence of the jargon. You only need to do this in the first or second usage of the acronym within a single web page’s content.

Using acronyms and backlinks or instrasite links helps, but include a summary of the basic history for us. Start with a brief summary paragraph of what has happened so far, bringing the reader up-to-date. This also creates a powerful, keyword-rich lead in, and can easily be skipped by avid fans eager to get to the content of the next post in the series.

Covering a subject over the long term course of your blog establishes you as an expert in the subject. This isn’t just a one-off rant. You are serious about the subject, thus you are an authority. The more authoritative reference links and connections to you can make to the history of what you’ve written, the more that authority is clarified and quickly acknowledged. By summarizing, linking, and displaying related posts, you are showing the world you know what you are talking about.

And they can say they knew what you were talking about.

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  1. By Steve Hall posted on August 26, 2008 at 11:06 am
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    Outstanding tip on acronyms (and abbreviations), Lorelle. Coming from a military background, I’m all too familiar with the proliferation of TLAs (three-letter abbreviations)–too many of which are presumed to be known to the readers. As someone who is fairly new to the geek-speak of HTML, CSS, php and the like, I always appreciate it when an author takes the time to educate, as well as inform.

    I try very hard to maintain the practice of spelling out any abbreviation or acronym the first time I use it; however, I can definitely see the value in using the tag, especially for more ubiquitous terms. Thanks for the reminder!

    Reply

  2. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on August 26, 2008 at 4:05 pm
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    @ Steve Hall:

    TLAs? Oh, funny. Yep, that’s a great description. If we don’t help our readers keep up, and lead our visitors to water, I think we are missing out on a good chance to add value to our blogs. While you may be only as good as your last movie, I think bloggers are as good as the collection of their posts, not their last posts. :D

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  3. By Shrinidhi Hande posted on August 26, 2008 at 10:45 pm
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    I have started publishing a dedicated post at the end of each month giving a summary of all posts published during that month.

    I believe this kind of approach helps readers catch up easily…

    your views please…

    Reply

  4. By jhay posted on August 30, 2008 at 9:18 pm
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    I’ve seen bloggers doing this with the extensive use of their archives and categories. They use php magic and some widgets to do this.

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