Let me preface this post by saying that I'm not a "big and famous" blogger, nor do I have a lot of followers (less than 200 subscribers!), so my advice should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm also not a big seeker of followers, though it is nice to have readers and get comments on your posts. Everybody likes that.
The reason I'm writing this post in the first place is that I've been asked how to improve blog traffic by some of my blog design clients. So I will tell you what has worked for me and what I have observed in the blog world, and maybe it will help you too if you're looking for more readers.
Write well. This above anything else will bring you readers. As it should. Nothing sends me running faster than bad writing. Double check your grammar and spelling before you publish. Try to put a humorous spin on things. Spend a little extra time with a thesaurus when you write. Keep a notebook (or your phone, enabled with Twitter) with you and jot down things that happen or pop in your head that will make good stories.
Write a long time. This goes hand-in-hand with writing well, since the more you write the better you get at it. But at the same time, it will take you a while to get noticed by people and by search engines, and the trick is to be patient and keep writing. For years, I had zero comments for pretty much every post. Now I get a few, and it's nice, but it didn't start out that way.
Comment on other blogs. This one is pretty huge. Not only are you putting your link out there for other readers of the same blog to see and use, but the authors themselves will sometimes click over and leave a comment on your blog too. They may not become readers of your blog themselves, but it's always nice to hear from your blog-crushes every so often (in my case, Amanda O'Brian, Wendi Aarons , and Lindsay Ferrier. Hummanah hummanah hummanah.) The blog world is interactive. Use that.
Shamelessly self-promote using forums, business cards, twitter, facebook etc. I get a lot of traffic from a "post your newlywed blog here" forum I replied to more than a year ago. Who would have thought, right? But I figured I might as well put it down there since they asked, and lo and behold, people clicked. Sometimes I'll answer blog design questions in a Blog Frog discussion or forum and people will click over. If you're having business cards printed, you might as well add your URL. Set up your blog's RSS feed to publish to Facebook notes. All of these things will get you readers in some form or another. Just be sure that you want your in-real-life friends reading your blog - there are things I can't (or rather, refuse to) write about because our in-real-life friends and family read our blog.
Don't set your blog up so that only excerpts publish for RSS. I'm not going to lie, I am really lazy when it comes to blog-reading. There are only two blogs that publish excerpts I've deemed worthy of actually clicking over from Google Reader, and that's Jennepper's (because she's ridiculously hilarious) and Owen's (because he's a really good friend, great writer, and doesn't publish that often anyway). Otherwise, I usually drop them if I can't read their posts in their entirety on Google Reader.
Use links in your posts. If you've been writing for a while, you have an opportunity to link to yourself when you're writing a post that relates to something you've written before, essentially giving yourself a second "audition" for readership assuming they click over. In addition, you'll give the reader some context to what you're talking about (for example, remember when I went to work with urine on my skirt?) Plus, linking to others spreads the blog love, which is always nice, since others will probably link to you at some point too.
Giveaways. If you have something to give away on your own (like my blog designs, for example), it's just kind of fun to do it sometimes. If you do a giveaway, you can promote it in places like Tip Junkie's giveaway directory. In my experience, this will bring a lot of traffic (depending on what the giveaway is worth), but you may not gain long-term readers this way.
Guest posts. This one isn't something I've done myself, though I sometimes enjoy guest posts and I think I would be willing to sparingly. If you follow somebody and they follow you back and you generally have the same interests, see if they want to do a guest post and vice versa, so that you can generate traffic and followers from one another. Just be sure that 1) they're a good writer and 2) they won't be so off topic from your blog that nobody will care about what they write and neither blogs' readers will click over.
Drama drama drama. This is another one I don't do myself (if I can help it), but it's a surefire way to get comments and hits. Be edgy. Be controversial. Over-share. You'll get quite a bit of backlash for those things, but you will have traffic. The more people hate you, the more they'll love you. Not my preferred method, but to each his or her own.
Use your expertise to your advantage. Do you know a lot about organic cooking? Blog design? Nightlife in Dallas? Video production? How to create a strong password? Write about it. Publishing tutorials on things you're an expert on will bring in search engine hits from people searching for solutions to things. Plus, you can submit them to places like Tip Junkie and get even more hits from that.
Participate in (some) blog carnivals. Blog carnivals can be a blessing and a curse. They do bring in traffic when you have the opportunity to link up, and you usually get comments from others participating when you link. Sometimes, you'll earn readers that way if your writing is good. However, if a blog does it too often, I usually get bored with it. Play along sometimes but be sure to come up with your own content too.
Review wisely. Generally, I steer clear of paid (in products or otherwise) reviews on this blog. This one is mine. A product has to be ridiculously amazing paired with a fabulous giveaway for me to review it on my main blog (as opposed to my review blog) if I'm contacted by a company about it. My readers know that any product I talk about is just something I've bought and found useful, not something somebody contacted me about to review. I like to think that makes me more credible than some other bloggers out there who are being paid to review things. At the same time, the things I do review on my own get quite a few search engine hits. Review stuff that you're not being paid for and don't always review stuff you are offered. Think about it - when you realize you're reading a sponsored post, do you usually stick around to read the whole thing?
Stop caring whether your blog has traffic. This one's my favorite. Now, this is easy for me to say coming from a no-ad blog, since my livelihood doesn't depend on how many people read, but quite frankly I don't really care whether I get a bunch of hits or not. (And if I had to be honest, I'd really rather Survival Mode Parent get all the traffic!) I love having readers (friends!), and I really love having comments, like everybody else, but that's not why I write. I want to document our story, and as long as I'm doing that, the rest is just gravy.
How about you? What have you noticed increases your readership or traffic, and what keeps you reading a blog?