If you have Internet access and a passion for something, chances are at one point or another you’re going to want to start a blog. Like anything else where there are a lot of people all trying to do the same thing, it can be difficult to find any measure of success or notoriety. However, if you keep your expectations reasonable, focus your interest on creating something fun and professional, and are willing to put in some serious virtual elbow grease, you may find your blog visitor count start to creep up steadily.
The main thing to keep in mind is that blogs take work. It’s not just writing something, clicking the “Post Now” button and then sharing the link on social media. Successful bloggers put in a lot of time, effort, and money into not seeing a ton of ROI right off the bat. So before you quit your day job to become the next Arianna Huffington, take a look at the tips below for getting started and really take the time to ruminate on what’s involved with serious blogging. If you’re still full steam ahead, be sure to check out our Designer Elements collection to really make your Internet home look fresh and professional.
Before You Start
#1 – Thinking Cap On
Before your fingers hit the keys, really think about why you want to start your blog in the first place. All writing begins with at least one specific purpose: to inform, to entertain, or to persuade. Your own purpose may include all three! Once you’ve determined why you want to write, the next step is to figure out why you want to write about the specific subject you’re blogging about. Is your subject about something like cooking, traveling, crafting, or something else where you lend a lot of know-how that you want to pass on to others? Or maybe your blog is more personal and you want to share your experiences to help other people going through the same thing?
The answer to these questions may seem very obvious to you up front, but it’s good to go deeper if you already know right away why you want to write and write about the subject you want. This will help you create a framework for what your posts will be about and in turn generate consistent posts on a regular basis as you find new inspiration within your subject matter.
#2 – Know Your Audience and Your Brand
Now that you know your own “whys,” it’s time to figure out your audience’s “whys.” First, who should be reading your blog and why should they care? Presumably, you want your blog to generate traffic and acquire readers. If you don’t know for whom you’re writing, your blog is just a diary. Knowing your audience is also going to help you define your brand and voice, which is the heart of your blog, your identity.
When most people hear the word “brand,” it’s almost always in a business context. However, a brand is not just limited to companies at all — everyone has their own personal brand that’s evident from the way they dress, speak, carry themselves, etc. Your brand is your personality, which is what the people you interact with associate with you. Without a brand/personality, your blog isn’t going to generate a ton of interest. What do you want your blog to say and how do you want it to come across to your audience? Once you’ve determined that, it’s up to you to be on-brand with all of your posts.
#3 – Go Niche
If the nature of your subject matter means that you just can’t target a wide audience, that’s okay! The blogosphere is saturated with blogs of all kinds covering a wide variety of subject matter, which makes it tough to stand out. Where is there a need for your blog and how can you fill it? Finding your niche is crucial to forging a path to success. For example, let’s say you want to start a cooking blog. The problem is that there are millions of cooking blogs out there, so you have to separate yourself from the rest by finding that niche. Now, say you’re also a movie buff. Maybe your niche is creating a dish inspired by a popular film and your blog is updated weekly with a new recipe plus a write-up on why you were inspired to create this dish from this film. With plenty of people out there who also love movies and food, you now have not only found your niche, but also your target audience and a wealth of inspiration and post material. Think big, but start small.
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Let’s Talk Logistics
If content is the heart and soul of your blog, logistics are the body and mind. You could be creating world-class content, but we’re visual creatures no one’s really going to delve much into what you have to offer without a little consideration for aesthetic and organization.
#4 – Location, Location, Location
The first and probably most obvious place to start is where will you be hosting your blog? There are a myriad of resources out there: Squarespace, Wix, WordPress, Tumblr and Weebly are just a few that offer maximum customization to really let your blog’s brand shine. Most are either free or offer free trial versions so you can try them out and choose the best base for your brainchild. Just note that if your blog really does take off, you may have to consider paying for your own domain on another host with high-traffic capacity. The last thing you want is your blog to be crashing constantly because you have so many visitors!
#5 – Feng Shui Your (Virtual) Space
In keeping with your blog’s identity, it’s time to design your layout or CSS if you’re code-savvy. If you aren’t but still want to learn, Udemy, Coursera, and GitHub are just some of the online resources that can teach you to code for free. For everyone else, there are tons of licensed premade and customizable layouts, backgrounds, and icons available that you can plug in and adjust as needed.
Websites for blogs rarely just have the blog and nothing else. So consider adding other pages like an “About Me” to introduce yourself and let your readers get to know you, plus a contact page so readers can reach you. Connecting with your audience is important as it establishes loyalty, which encourages audience growth. You can also have a separate page that includes where your audience can find you on social media, if it’s not part of your contact page. Creating other spaces for your audience to visit apart from your main blog gives your site a fuller look while also allowing your audience to engage with you in multiple ways. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase your brand.
#6 – Get Visual
When blogs first came on the Internet scene in 1997, they were nearly universally text-based, because there just wasn’t enough bandwidth to host anything more than that. Twenty years later, with higher Internet speeds in homes and more bandwidth, bloggers now have the opportunity to create mixed-media blogs that include videos and images that accompany the text portion of their blog—and so should you. No one wants to read a wall of text on what’s essentially a flat rectangular light bulb—they didn’t in 1997, and they don’t now.
As we’ve suggested in a previous post on using images in blogs, try breaking up paragraphs in your post with a licensed relevant image. For posts that may require substantially more text than what you normally output, consider making a video instead. Maybe even scrap the idea of a written blog entirely and do a vlog! The media you choose to implement should relate to the subject matter of your blog.
Going back to the movie recipe blog example from earlier, cooking is a visual activity. A smart approach to this blog would be to create a video of yourself making the recipe while the text portion of the blog could be your inspiration for the recipe along with written instructions and ingredient list.
#7 – Make It Worth Sharing
Generating content is going to take up the bulk of your time and energy and the success of your blog rides on how much effort you’re willing to put into it. It’s totally okay to just want to blog as a hobby, but if you’re serious about making this into something more, make sure you’re able to put in the work to make consistent high-quality posts. Before making a new post, really ask yourself: is this worth sharing?
How to Grow a Following
By now, you’ve most likely created at least one post and are on your way to establishing a regular posting schedule. You may want to create more than one post before working to gather an audience so that they have ample material to explore. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to go beyond sharing your posts on social media. By the way, if you aren’t sharing your posts on social media yet, what are you waiting for?
#8 – Get Social
Sharing your posts on your social media is a great way to attract a small number of followers in your immediate circle. However, one of the pitfalls is that—we hate to break it to you—many of the people who check out your posts may be doing so out of mild interest (or even just to be polite) and may not pursue following your blog on a regular basis. It’s nothing personal; it just means they’re not part of your target audience.
As your audience grows, you’ll want to consider creating places on social media for your audience to gather beyond your personal social media—whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or somewhere else. Don’t pile too much on yourself by trying to grow multiple social media followings all at once—after all, your main task is to keep creating content! Pick one to focus on and start building your following on that platform.
#9 – Start Networking with Other Bloggers
So how do you reach your target audience without constantly bugging all your friends to share your blog with their friends? There are three great ways to do it:
1. Create high-quality posts on your blog
2. “Guest write” high-quality posts for other people on their blogs
3. Leverage your SEO (or search engine optimization) strategy
At this point, number 1 is a given. Your blog is up and running, you’re creating posts regularly and they rock. Now that you’ve gotten in the practice, you need to do the same thing…only on someone else’s blog as a guest writer. This is a great opportunity to tap into someone’s base of readers and followers while getting your brand out there.
Remember, when you guest write, you’re trying to appeal to more people, which means you might want to pick a topic with slightly broader appeal that you would for your own blog. That said, if you and the blogger you’re networking with are targeting relatively the same audience, you don’t have to do much differently from what you do on your own blog. You may need to tweak some things to be more cohesive to the other blog’s own brand, but you can still do that without sacrificing your own.
When networking with other bloggers for guest writing opportunities, make sure you provide good writing samples, and have lots of different original ideas for posts that they can choose from. Before all that, you’ll want to establish a relationship with that blogger’s content. Read their posts and comment thoughtfully on them. Interact positively with other commenters, too. This establishes rapport before you send them an email requesting to write a guest post.
It should go without saying that guest posting should be on blogs that you actually care about, and that have common interests with your own. When trying to build an audience, it’s tempting to guest post on any blog that will have you, but both bloggers and readers alike are attuned to noticing desperation. Be choosy and professional and you’ll grow an audience with which you’ll enjoy interacting on your posts.
#10 Your SEO Reputation Matters
What’s going to convince another blogger to let you do a guest post on their blog? Again, we can’t stress enough having high–quality posts. On top of that, you should be actively trying to increase your SEO ranking. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it’s basically the practice of getting your website and website pages to rank highly on a search engine index. The higher your ranking, the better—kind of like a reputation, but for search engines. Rankings are improved by tagging your posts with relevant keywords, linking to other high–ranking posts, having a great lead image, and having other people link back to you.
SEO rankings aren’t just important for guest blogging, either. When smart SEO strategy pays off, your blog can end up in the top search results on Google, Bing, and other search engines—this makes it much easier for new readers to find and interact with your content. Imagine that search engines are the maps we use for navigating the Internet—smart SEO keywording makes certain that your blog is a landmark on those maps.
While tackling SEO strategy can seem intimidating, luckily most blogging platforms have built-in SEO plugins like Yoast to help you get started.
Blogging and Beyond
Congrats! You’re running a blog with followers and—minus the few snags here and there that are inevitable with any project—you’re doing pretty well! As your following increases, now’s the time to start thinking about monetizing your blog.
First, decide whether you even want to monetize it. If so, how? You can choose to run ads on your blog, participate in affiliate programs with advertisers, perhaps create a paid membership of some kind where members can unlock exclusive content? Or start an email list with newsletters—not only will this keep readers engaged, but email lists are valuable commodities for other advertisers (just make your subscribers have opted-in to promotional emails). There are plenty of possibilities and the right one for you depends on you and your blog.
Starting a successful blog can be a daunting task, but every popular blogger before you went through the same steps. That’s not to say you’re guaranteed to be successful—lots of people do everything right and never see more than a few hits in the lifetime of their blog. Even with the right skills and great content, luck is still a factor. However, the more you keep to these steps and more importantly stick with it, the better your chances at finding success and creating a lucrative hobby or career out of blogging.
Ready to get started? Got some designs for your blog in mind already? Check out our Designer Elements collection.