Most bloggers obsess about growing their audience, when they should be focusing on improving engagement levels. Remember, an engaged audience is a buying one, and that’s great news for the only figure that really counts: your bottom line.
Improving this engagement is a gradual process. Great content is fundamentally important, as always, but so too is the way you interact and connect with your audience — the more you connect with your audience, the stronger the relationship between blogger and reader becomes.
Why should you care about the strength of this relationship? Well, because building relationships is a great way to establish the loyal readership you require for sustainable success — you’ve heard of the 1,000 loyal fans principle, right? It’s these loyal readers who will instantly read the new material you publish, share your articles more enthusiastically, and open their wallets to buy the stuff you’re selling.
Today I want to help you boost your audience engagement levels by showing you five ways to interact with your audience, as well as a plugin to help you implement each strategy. Let’s dive straight in, shall we?
Active Commenting Section: Disqus (FREE)
A great place to start interacting with your audience is through your comments section below articles. WordPress includes a commenting system by default, which works well enough but is quite limited when compared with the many feature-rich commenting plugins available — as a result, most blog owners will install a commenting plugin.
This comes down to personal preference, but I’m a big fan of the Disqus Comment System plugin, which to date has over 1.5 million downloads. Why am I such a big fan of Disqus? Well, not only does it look great with a simple-but-stylish layout, but it makes it incredibly easy for visitors to leave a comment — they can sign in using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or a Disqus account. Minimize friction, maximize the number of comments left.
Disqus also supports threaded comments, making it possible to respond directly to the comments left. Throw in an up/down voting system that encourages people to leave sensible comments — nobody likes a down-vote, right? — and you have the perfect commenting platform to promote a meaningful discussion.
Encourage Discussions with Polls: Responsive Poll ($14)
You can use polls in a number of ways to encourage interaction with your audience. For a start, you can use them to get direct feedback from visitors: you could run a poll to see what topics your audience would like to read more on, for example. It’s also a great way to add interactivity to your posts: consider asking a topical question, letting visitors cast their opinion, and then watch a heated debate ensue in the comments space — if you want to create a quick post that will encourage debate, this is a great solution.
One of the better polling plugins I’ve encountered is the Responsive Poll plugin, which costs $14 over at CodeCanyon. The results of your poll are displayed in responsive, animated graphs, of which there are seven styles to choose from: bar chart, pie chart, doughnut chart, line chart, radar chart, polar chart, and bootstrap progress bars — all styles look great. Polls are fully customizable, and you can select as many possible answers as necessary.
You can insert a poll right in the middle of your content using a simple shortcode, plus you can use the same shortcode to add polls to any widget area — at the time of writing there is no dedicated widget, but this is being worked on by developers.
Generate Buzz with Contests: ContestHopper (FREE)
People love getting things for free, so use this to your advantage: running a contest with an awesome prize can generate a lot of buzz for your website. However, if you haven’t ran a contest before, knowing how to get one up and running can seem intimidating. I’d recommend installing the free ContestHopper plugin on your website.
ContestHopper lets you add a clean looking contest form to your website. You can display this anywhere on your website using a shortcode, or using a dedicated widget. Your contest form is fully customizable: you can set the headline and header text, including background color and fonts — from over 600 Google fonts — and also the timeframe of the competition. You can also specify the entry requirements — what details must be left, entry limits per person, and whether a double opt-in is required to validate entry.
After entering, the plugin will allow the user to share the competition on one of the major social channels — you can reward them with more entries for doing so. Finally, when the competition timeframe has expired, the plugin will select a winner at random.
Direct Communication: Contact Form Generator ($15)
Sometimes a visitor will want to reach out to you, but won’t feel comfortable leaving their query in a public environment like the comments section. The easiest way to receive messages from visitors is to install a contact form plugin. Most of us will already be familiar with a number of contact form plugins — most notably the free Contact Form 7, and the premium Gravity Form plugins — but today I want to offer up something different: the Contact Form Generator plugin, available for just $15.
Contact Form Generator is a powerful form builder plugin, allowing you to create great looking contact forms using an intuitive drag and drop interface. All forms are fully responsive, and have an almost unlimited number of customization options. You can quickly and easily style your forms — you can choose your desired font from a selection of 600+ Google web fonts, as well as having complete control over font, background, border, and button color.
You can configure your form easily, simply by dragging and dropping elements as you please — you can add checkboxes, radio buttons, and drop down lists to you form. There is a slider to determine the width of each element, too. There are also advanced elements like time, date, URL, and captcha, with the plugin validating the format of each entry before accepting a submission. Finally, you can integrate all the major autoresponder services, including MailChimp and AWeber.
Extra Channels of Communication: HelloBar (FREE)
Since the earliest days of the Internet, webmasters have understood the importance of growing an email list — there are few better ways to further your interaction with your audience. An email list allows you to communicate with subscribers directly through their inbox, which extends your reach beyond the confines of your website and the content you publish.
A number of email list plugins exist, with many treading a fine line between being too intrusive, and not grabbing enough attention to attract subscribers. HelloBar is a fantastic solution to this problem, attracting just enough attention without feeling overbearing.
The HelloBar is a simple opt-in form that drops down from the top of the page. It can be integrated with nine autoresponder services — including the big ones, AWeber and MailChimp. If you don’t yet have an autoresponder subscription, HelloBar will store your captured email addresses for you.
The HelloBar itself is fully customizable — you can edit your message, fonts, font color, and button color to maximize conversions. A demo version of your bar is displayed, allowing you to play around with these customization options in real-time. The bars themselves look fantastic, and with all the colors available you can create something striking while still fitting in with your website’s color scheme. You can even create multiple HelloBars and run a/b tests to see which one performs best — The HelloBar dashboard lets you set up how frequently each one is displayed, as well as tracking results.
When you’re happy with your design you can add the HelloBar to your website by using a simple HTML code, added just before your closing tag. You also have the option of downloading your own preconfigured WordPress plugin, downloaded from the HelloBar dashboard — simply download and activate this plugin and the HelloBar will become instantly active.
So there you have it: five simple plugins to improve your interaction with your audience. If you’re serious about building a loyal community to keep the visitors flooding in, these are all great strategies you can employ — they can even offer some protection against the very worst impact a Google algorithm update could have on your website.
And don’t forget: interacting with your audience is fun — perhaps the best reason of all to connect with your audience more often!
Can you recommend any other interaction-boosting WordPress plugins? Let us know in the comment section below!