1) A pre-existing "interested" public: A great deal of Britain-based far left (and some not-so-left) bloggers are alumni of the good old yahoo group, UK Left Network, which sees its 10th anniversary in April next year. For all its faults (and they are legion) it did establish networks of familiarity between a pretty disparate group of comrades from all kinds of backgrounds. So when anyone from the forum set off to write a blog, there was a small audience who were guaranteed to drop in to see what was being written and perhaps leave a comment.
To demonstrate how small this audience was, here's the stats for the first month of this blog's life (running from 12th-31st December, 2006):
Of course these numbers aren't massive by any means, but without that pre-existing relationship to the internet-traveling left chances are the initial audience would have been much lower. Knowing there was an audience was enough to convince me I wasn't simply crowing into the void, which is a powerful impetus for any new blogger. So, who you are can matter.
2) Self-promotion: It may have worked for Kevin Costner, but blogging is never a case of 'build it and they will come'. Again drawing on my patience as UKLN mod and (once upon a time) Weekly Worker spammer of promoting both on a wide variety of forums, I spent a long time identifying and adding other left blogs to my blogroll. Whenever I'd rattled off a post I would systematically go through comrades' blogs and leave one or two comments, which in turn would drive some traffic my way. And if I was hanging about a particularly benevolent comrade's blog, they would stick me on their blogroll.
While we're talking about blogrolls, being added to them can have a self-sustaining dynamic. New entrants to the field invariably look to established writers to see who's worth adding to their own rolls, so if you're included on enough chances are you'll be linked to by new comrades. Ubiquity pays.
3) Regular posting: This cannot be emphasised enough. I've come across plenty of bloggers who bemoan the lack of audience or comments for a particularly well-crafted post, but when you look at their archives they rarely post from one month to the next. One reason why Socialist Unity, Liberal Conspiracy, Iain Dale and the awful Tory Bear get decent audiences is because there's nearly always something new every time you visit. Of course, most bloggers don't have the time to post two or three times a day but regularity is what will keep an audience. For example, after an initial flurry of posts I got bored with blogging in 2007 and wrote very little most of that year. Here's the figures from January to mid-September to illustrate:
When posting was, in some cases, down to once a month it's unsurprising so few swung by the blog to see what was happening. For all intents and purposes by the time I started blogging regularly again in late October it was like starting out again from scratch. Therefore, if you want to hang on to an audience you've got to keep them supplied with product.
4) Originality: I don't claim to be a creative genius, but I write the bulk of material posted on here and I do occasionally offer original think pieces or slightly different takes on things. The recent post on porn falls into this category, as do old posts such as Marxism and Chicken Sheds, The Perfect Vagina, and Marxism and Michael Jackson's Death. Also, as unofficial Socialist Party internet correspondent for Stoke I like to think the blog offers a glimpse of the SP (and Stoke!) others cannot. And the extended blog commentaries on Lukacs' History and Class Consciousness and JS Mill's On Liberty help bring in the numbers, especially around the time undergrads have to start handing their essays in. Pure coincidence, of course.
It's worth bearing in mind originality can catch the eye of bigger bloggers, who might then give your post a plug and drive audiences your way.
In sum, a pre-existing internet "clique", plenty of self-promotion, regularity of posts and a bit of a dose of originality explain, to me at least, why I've managed to build an audience. But there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I'd be interested to hear readers' thoughts on how you've built and retained viewers and where (if anywhere) you think you've gone wrong.