There is more than one way to skin the cat, so to speak, but after ten plus years of blogging, more than five of which have been professionally, I like to think that I have a little wisdom to share. Am amazingly funny friend of mine is planning to start their own blog soon. I won't spoil the surprise, but their idea is killer, and I know once they get going their site will kick ass. I've been giving her random advice during setup, but I thought it might be more helpful if I sat down and organized it into a post. Now my friend, and anyone else who might find this interesting, can pop over and reference the info as needed.
Here we go! I'm going to go through the steps that I think matter most one at a time. Good luck!
Come Up With an Idea
First things first. Anyone can start a blog about anything, but the ones that stand out are often a little bit nichey. If you want readers to follow your blog, the best thing you can do is pick a topic and stick to it. Ideally, your blog should have a clear theme and mission right out of the gate. Try to narrow it down as much as you can.
Name Your Blog
After you pick your concept, come up with a name. Try to pick a name that clearly describes what the blog is all about. Being vague or artsy might feel clever at the time, but it will reduce your chances of gaining readers through social media, SEO, and word of mouth. People on the internet are trained to look for key words. If you have a vegan blog, put "vegan" in the title. If your blog is about dogs, resist the urge to name it after Mr. Cuddle-Bottom. Try using the word "dog", or the name of his breed instead. Keeping your name short, easy to remember, and easy to spell is also really helpful.
Pick a Platform
There are zillions of articles out there that will detail the vices and virtues of different blogging platforms. Instead of getting into all that, I'm just going to break down the most popular ones by my personal opinion of each. If you want a second opinion, just Google "best blogging platforms".
- Wordpress: From a purely technical and logical standpoint, Wordpress is arguably the best platform out there. It's totally customizable, has great SEO, and comes in a range of prices. You can run your blog for free, or spend a bundle having it custom designed. If you are a DIY type of person, get ready for a challenge. Learning to work Wordpress takes time, effort, and help. There are a lot of resources out there for folks who take this on, but anyone considering Wordpress should know that there will be some serious elbow-grease involved to create a good looking, optimized blog.
- Blogger/Blogspot: My least favorite, blogs on this platform tend to be buggy and badly designed. There are exceptions, of course, but in my experience, Blogspot kind of sucks.
- Typepad: My personal favorite, and the platform I've been using for most of my blogging career. Typepad is inexpensive (or free), very simple to use, and somewhat customizable. It's a really great middle-ground between high-tech Wordpress and low-tech Blogspot. Plus, Typepad customers have access to an A+ support team (one I was part of once upon a time). Being able to access help from real live people through email and tickets is absolutely priceless! As the platform continually upgrades to meet changing demands I still find myself writing in with questions - all of which are answered promptly by Typepad experts. You can visit a variety of Typepad blogs to get an idea of what the platform offers by browsing their Featured Blogs.
- Tumblr: Tumblr is a great option for creating what I would call a micro-blog. The platform doesn't offer the same capabilities and customization available through Typepad, Wordpress, or even Blogger. Tumblr focuses on sharing content through hastags and re-blogging so it's a good match for anyone who wants to break into an audience that is already on the platform. Visual blogs that feature lots of photos, memes, and short bursts of text tend to be popular on Tumblr. To get a better idea of what I mean - go check out some of Tumblr's most popular blogs.
- Even more: There are loads of other platforms to choose from beyond the four classics I have listed here. If you want to branch out a little, here is a list to get you started.
Consider a Dot-Com
You can always move your blog over to a dot.com later, but if you are serious about making your blog look professional, it's a great idea to start it on a dot.com address right away. It costs a little extra, and varies in difficulty depending on your platform. Since it is much harder, and more annoying, to do it later, my own blog was sitting at a Typepad.com address for years - even after it became fairly successful. If I could do things over again, I would have sprung for my .com url to begin with.
Stockpile Some Posts
Depending on how often you plan to add posts to your blog, I'd recommend stockpiling anywhere from ten to twenty posts. This will not only give you some much needed practice, it will help you "find your voice", and launch the blog with some firepower. Write your posts, then save them as drafts inside your platform.
Create a Blogging Schedule
This is incredibly important. Delivering fresh content on a regular basis is one of the keys to running a successful blog. For most blogs, I'd say that posting once per week should be the minimum. However, some blogs with more elaborate setups, or super-lengthy posts might find twice a month to be a more realistic schedule. If your posts are short and easy to produce, consider posting multiple times per week. I wouldn't advise posting more than once a day, at least not at first. Though quantity is helpful, quality is more important. Plus, readers can get turned off by bloggers who beat them over the head with content.
Be honest with yourself about how much time you have to dedicate to your blog. If you are too busy to post twice a week, that's OK. Choose a schedule that works for you, one that you can keep up with without stressing yourself out. Whatever schedule you choose, stick to it like glue. Scheduling posts ahead of time is essential to keeping up with a schedule.
If you find yourself getting behind, just take a deep breath and relax. Don't give in to the temptation of writing a "garbage post" just to meet your quota. Instead, try to regroup and give yourself a reasonable goal. Writing a new post with the next three days, for example, will take the edge off, and give you time to produce something of value. As a follow-up, it's good to commit to writing another small stockpile of posts as soon as you can, getting you out of that "I need a post right now" situation. Also, try to avoid making a speech about your absence. In my opinion, it's tiresome. You'll only be calling attention to your mistake. It's better to just move past it.
Write an About Page
Keep it short, expressive, and helpful. Your About Page should tell your readers what the blog is about, who is writing it, and what they can expect to find there. Include a photo if you can. People like to read blogs written by other people, so go ahead and show them your face.
Give Readers an Easy Way to Follow the Blog
People are lazy. It's not their fault. It's just their nature. Give them a way to follow your blog with as little effort as possible. Here are a few ways to do that. (I suggest using them all.)
- Include a link to your RSS feed so that people can subscribe via email or reader.
- Offer a newsletter email list. You can create fancy, engaging newsletters, or you can send out weekly or monthly summaries of your blog posts. Make sure to let people know what the newsletter will be like and how often you will be sending it out. Email subscribers are your bread and butter, your most loyal fans. Treat them well and NEVER abuse the sanctity of the email list. By the way, Mail Chimp is my favorite email list service.
- Create Social Media accounts JUST for your blog. Make sure the usernames match your blog name, and use the photo from your About Page (or your logo) as your avatar. Use Twitter, Facebook, and G+ to keep followers updated on your latest posts. There is a lot more to using social media, but we'll get to all that another time. For now, just make sure you have the accounts available and that they are linked to your blog.
- Make all of these options easy to find by linking them on your blog's sidebar and in your About Page.
Make Your Blog Pretty
Design is very important. You can make it elaborate or sparse, but no matter what, a good blog design is three things:
- Easy to read - Avoid fancy fonts or too many differing fonts, especially in the text of your posts. Make the text large enough to see, but small enough so that it isn't annoying. I use 11 pt Trebuchet in my posts. Don't clutter your posts or sidebars with too many links, too much text, or too many distracting images. Less is more. Keep things as simple as possible to make sure the important links and info are easy to find.
- Easy on the eyes - Bright colors can be fun, but they can also be really irritating. When in doubt, use white, black and gray, especially if you feature a lot of photos. When using color, try to use muted tones and neutral colors. Make sure that your images are all clear, high-quality, and matching in size and shape.
- Easy to remember - Establishing an overall style can help make your blog memorable and recognizable. Your photos and graphics should maintain a uniform style, as should your writing. (This usually happens naturally with most writers and photographers anyway.)
Basically, minimalism is best. The less clutter there is on your blog the more readers will focus on your content. Excessive widgets, advertisements, and links can make your blog ugly and hard to navigate. Also, never ever EVER add anything that automatically pops up or plays sounds when someone opens your site. It's the WORST.
Launch With Care
First impressions only happen once. It's a good practice to let your blog move along quietly until you've published a small amount of really good posts. Five is a healthy number to start with. Post them on your decided schedule, and let the blog gods take the wheel. After you have five posts up, start inviting your friends and family to visit your blog. Don't be shy about asking them to not only visit, but to also subscribe by email, RSS, or social media.
While it's totally fine to ask for their support, remember to be polite, and not to push your luck. Not everyone will want to read your blog, and that's OK. Offer it, politely, once in a while, but don't freak out when you don't get a big response. Not everyone loves Alternative Steam Punk Dubstep as much as you do.
After sharing your blog with your social network, you'll want to branch out and announce its presence to the internet. You can do this several ways:
- Submit your link to the DMOZ directory
- Submit your link to search engine directories: Yahoo, Bing, Google, etc.
- Suggest your link to Alltop
- Create a Site Map
- Submit your link, and individual posts to networks like Stumbleupon and Digg
- Join forces with other bloggers that match your subject. For example, being a member of The Austin Food Blogger Alliance has been incredibly helpful to me.
Keep Up the Good Work
If you post quality content consistently and continue branching out through social media and connecting with other bloggers you will slowly but surely build a loyal readership. Use Google Analytics or in-platform analytics to keep track of your progress, and stay positive. Everything else will fall in to place as you become a better writer and a better blogger over time.
I'll be posting more articles in this series sometime soon. Some subjects I hope to cover in more details are: social media, photography, design tips, getting past writer's block, finding your voice, how to make friends and influence people, how to take advantage of your blog's success. Please let me know if there are any other subjects you'd like to see. You can reach me on social media or by email. My contact info is available here.