Do you really know what your readers think, want, like or need? Instead of guessing, take the time to ask a few questions. You’ll be amazed what you learn. People love to share their opinion if you will just ask. In addition to learning a few things, you may even earn the right to invite them back to see the results of  your study.

Depending on how much information you are trying to collect, you can do something as simple as asking a question, or more complex, like conducting a poll or  full blown survey.

The Question

This is a simple strategy to execute. Instead of closing a blog post with a statement, ask a question. Many times the question will go unanswered, but every now and then you will hit the right topic on the right day and a conversation will ensue.

To increase the chances of an answer, push the question to social media with a link back to the original blog post or selectively ask a few friends to answer the question to get the discussion strategy. DO NOT abuse this practice. Don’t send a DM every day to the same five people. Instead, use it selectively when you have something you really think will generate response.

Consider adding the Disqus plugin to your blog to manage comments. In addition to screening for spam, this plugin notifies you of new comments and connects users, so you can see what other discussions the respondent has been involved in elsewhere on the web. It also manages threaded replies well, so visitors can comment on the original post or a sub-theme that evolves from a comment or conversation.

The Poll

Polls are typically comprised of one multiple choice question. More a novelty than a real data collection tool, poll plugins give respondents immediate feedback on how they stack up against others. While you don’t know who responded, it does give you some insight into what your visitors think.

Instead of the basic WP-Polls plugin which I found a little challenging to use, I like PollDaddy. Like many online tools, there is a free version which is just right for beginners and an upgrade with more customization features. The setup  and poll creation is easy, and adding the poll to your blog, website or Facebook page is simply a matter of pasting the embed or short code.

You can allow people to respond more than once or restrict votes. There are several display options and the responses are stored online. Test the example below to see how it works:

The Survey

A good survey takes a little planning, but certainly delivers the most actionable data. There are many free or inexpensive survey tools.

For shorter surveys, FormStack and even a GoogleDocs spreadsheet which you convert into a survey form will do the trick. Each of these tools will create links and embed codes for your website.

For long surveys which I hope to convert into some type of white paper pr report, my favorite  tool is Survey Monkey. I like it because of the data analysis capabilities. It’s easy to slice and dice data on the fly. You can collect up to 100 responses before you have to switch to the paid version.

In addition to data collection, if your survey is interesting enough, you can invite people to sign up for the report from the study. This gives you an opportunity to collect their email address and invite them back at a later date. Their responses to your survey questions will also allow you to do some targeted marketing, sending them only relevant content based on their answers to particular survey questions.

The bottom line? If you want engagement, ask a question. How do you learn more about your visitors?