Last weekend I was walking with a friend at a mall in our neighborhood, one that had been rumored to be “going downhill” in recent years. As we passed the entrance to a well-known upscale department store, I noticed a “Clearance” sign and pointed it out to my friend. “Oh, yes,” she responded, “it’s an outlet now.”
Before we left the mall, we slipped into the store to have a look, and it was incredibly … sad. Where once had stood beautifully adorned mannequins and meticulously arranged displays were now crammed-full racks bearing labels like “Petite Medium Skirts.” And of course, there wasn’t a helpful sales person in sight.
Not that I have a problem with outlet stores—I love me a bargain barn as much as the next girl. No, it was the contrast between the store as I remembered it and the state it’s in today that I found unsettling. And it occurred to me how easily a similar decline can happen with a blog.
So many of us start blogging with the most elevated of intentions: to engage our audience, to share wisdom, to ignite insightful conversation. But as life gets in the way and enthusiasm wanes, it’s so easy to slip into a mass-production mentality, leveraging whatever content fodder is handy when we do post and letting the blog “run itself” the rest of the time. And then we wonder why our traffic dies.
To save your blog for a similar fate while there’s still time, it helps to keep a few simple principles firmly in mind.
1. Stay organized
Unlike many of their low-budget counterparts, good department stores are well-organized in a way that provides a positive shopping experience for both browsers and hunters. Take a look at your topic categories and tags and ask yourself if they still make sense. Your categories and tags are important signals for anyone searching or browsing your blog, so they’re an important part of that first impression. You also might want to take a look at any “mega-categories” and see if they’d make more sense if you subdivided them. For example, a huge category called “Social Media” could be broken up into “Facebook,” “Twitter,” “Blogging,” etc.
2. Take inventory regularly
Good department stores take inventory regularly and rotate items in and out as needed. By auditing your blog every couple of months, you can weed out any outdated content that needs to be taken down, like that post announcing a contest that closed two weeks ago. The regular audit/inventory is also a great opportunity to identify little gems that could be leveraged into, say, an e-book or a webinar.
3. Stay true to your audience
There’s a reason why you don’t see babydoll tees at Talbot’s or power suits at Forever 21: the stores know their customers, their tastes, their lifestyles. In much the same way, you as a blogger need to stay focused on your audience and continue providing content that feeds their needs. Finding out these needs isn’t always easy, and they can and do change over time. If you feel that you might be losing touch, reconnect with your readers directly through polls, surveys … or if you’re a Google+-er, you can set up a Hangout and conduct an impromptu focus group with key customers.
4. Be there, be helpful
If there’s one deciding factor that separates a quality department store from an outlet, it’s service—the friendly associate who’s there to help you find what you need and be on your way. As a blogger, it’s vital that you listen and respond to comments, questions, and feedback, even when it’s not exactly positive. If someone’s confused by a term you used, explain it. If they want to know where to get more information on a post topic, give them a few resources. It’s this kind of service that lets you build real relationships with your audience—relationships that will keep them coming back.
So, is your blog more “department store” or “bargain outlet” … and if it’s the former, how do you keep it that way? Let us know in the comments—we’d love to hear from you!