Last updated: April 18, 2019
Ultimate Guide to Blogging
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Thinking of starting a blog to promote your business, make some money, or maybe just for fun?
From its humble beginnings as an obscure hobby for internet geeks, blogging has exploded in popularity.
Today it probably seems like everyone you know has a blog, from your employer and coworkers, to your neighbors and friends. Their blogs are on every topic you can image, from the general to the incredibly obscure.
Blogs can be not only a fulfilling hobby, but can also help you achieve goals like marketing your business to new customers, increasing sales and conversions for your e-commerce store, or making new connections with people who share your interests.
No matter what kind of blog you want to start, or what your goals are, this guide is for you.
Starting your very first blog can be overwhelming. There are so many details to decide and questions to answer.
What should you name your blog? How do you create a great-looking website? What do you blog about, and how often? What happens if you get writer’s block? And how do you promote your blog to a wider audience than just your real-life friends and family?
First off… Relax. Take a deep breath. You don’t have to learn every detail all at once.
That’s why we created this guide just for you. We’ll walk you through the process of starting your very first blog, step by step — no prior experience or technical know-how required, beyond basic computer and internet skills.
From naming your blog, to setting up your website, to growing your audience of readers, this guide will walk you through exactly how to create your first successful blog from scratch.
Ready to begin blogging? Let’s get started.
This is a very long, detailed guide for those who like to know everything about a subject before starting. If you are looking to get started today, we also put together a simple six step illustrated guide to start your blog within a few hours.
Step 1: Plan Your Blog
Picture a blogger. What kind of image comes to mind?
Maybe you’re imagining a chic geek sitting at Starbucks typing away at their MacBook Pro, or someone jotting notes on their laptop at a conference.
Whatever the person you’re imagining looks like, chances are they’re doing one thing: writing.
The truth is, actually writing blog posts takes up a relatively small portion of a blogger’s time. If you ask a long-time blogger what it takes to start a blog, “writing” may be the last thing on their list. There are a lot of other tasks to get out of the way before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more likely).
And before you even begin to create a website, the very first thing you should do is a bit of planning.
If you’re the kind of person who always brings a list to the grocery store, you’re probably nodding along — maybe you’re even excited about the prospect of creating plans and lists before you jump into writing your first post.
But if you’re more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, you might think planning out your blog sounds like a boring waste of time. Why not just get right to it?
Well, if you’re not blogging for any particular reason, then there’s no reason to plan.
“Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
But if you’re blogging for a purpose — if you have any kind of goal you want to accomplish — then you need to plan a little, or you’ll end up wandering like Alice in Wonderland.
Even if you’re starting a blog for fun, you can still set goals. Improving your writing skills, working out your thoughts or emotions on a topic, or recording events in your life for your family are all just as worthy goals as building brand awareness or capturing sales leads.
But no matter what your reasons are for starting a blog, you’ll only accomplish what you set out to do if you name your goals at the beginning.
Don’t worry; you don’t need to create a multi-page business plan or get into minute detail researching your audience demographics (unless you want to!).
In this guide, we’ll just walk you through the basics of blog planning. After reading this chapter and working out a few goals, you’ll have a solid direction to take your blog in, making your path much easier in the long run.
First you’ll need to decide a general topic for your blog.
If you’re blogging for your business, you probably already have an idea of what topics you’ll be blogging about.
But if you’re starting a more personal blog, you might have a few different ideas.
Say you’re interested in knitting, Star Trek, and growing orchids. Why not start a blog about all three?
Since those are your main interests and hobbies, you probably know a few people who are interested in them, too. Maybe you have Trekkie friends, and a few friends who are into gardening, and also a knitting group that meets on Wednesdays.
But do you have any friends who do all three? Probably not.
Think about those friends reading your blog. Your knitting group members will be bored silly when you post about attending a Star Trek convention, and your Trekkie friends will probably click away when you share your tips for reblooming orchids.
Since only about ⅓ of your blog posts are interesting to them, they’ll likely give up in frustration and unsubscribe altogether.
If you try to write about such disparate topics on one blog, you’re guaranteed to alienate or bore your readers eventually. That’s why when you’re blogging, it’s important to focus on one topic: so that you can consistently connect with your core audience.
Once you know the general topic you’ll be blogging about, how do you know specifically what blog post topics will keep them interested and engaged?
One effective way to do so is by creating reader personas. When you use personas, whenever you write a blog post, you’re writing with a specific person in mind as your reader. That specific person should exemplify your typical or target audience.
How do you create personas? You can:
- Collect data on your existing audience. If you’re a business and have demographic data on your customers, you can use that data to create accurate reader personas for your blog.
- Make up your personas from scratch. This works well for new blogs who have yet to build an audience. You can always adjust it as you go along.
If you’re starting a blog for your business, gather all the data you can on your current customers and clients. You can even do interviews with your best clients and use them as your personas.
Going back to the knitter/Trekkie/gardener example, you might decide to focus on blogging about knitting.
In order to focus your writing and make sure you’re writing posts that will connect with the right readers, you decide to create a typical persona of your typical reader. Your reader persona might look something like this:
Sara is a beginner knitter with less than 2 years experience. She loves reading knitting blogs for inspiration and ideas for her own projects, to learn new skills and get better at knitting. She also reads reviews to decide what yarns and knitting tools to invest in.
If you have a diverse audience, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one persona; try using 2 or 3. It’s better if they have overlapping interests so that you can write posts that appeal to all of your personas.
If your personas are very disparate, it defeats the purpose of helping you focus your blog topics.
Keeping your reader personas in mind as you brainstorm and write posts is a powerful way to connect with your audience. Instead of writing just for yourself, it will help you to imagine exactly what your target audience will find interesting.
Next, let’s create some effective goals for your blog.
In order to be truly effective, goals should be S.M.A.R.T. That stands for:
- Instead of wishing for lots of website traffic, set a goal to reach 500 daily visitors, or 5,000 monthly visitors.
- By setting goals that are measurable, you’ll be able to keep track of your progress. Instead of saying you want to “build brand awareness,” set a goal to increase pageviews, or conduct surveys beforehand to measure brand recognition and set specific, measurable goals to increase it.
- Your goals should be a stretch, but not so completely sky-high that you have no hope of attaining them. Take your resources into account, and keep your goals realistic.
- There’s no point in setting a goal to get millions of blog readers if it does nothing for you in the long run. Will your goal increase your business revenue, improve your life, or help you to better yourself? If your goals is just numbers for the sake of numbers, there’s no point in investing your time and energy to achieve it.
- Make sure to set a date for your goals. If your goal is to get 500 daily visitors but you don’t set a time limit, you could be working towards it forever. If you don’t make your time limit, you can stop and analyze what isn’t working, and adjust your goals to better fit your needs and resources.
Are you stuck wondering what goals you should set for your blog?
Only you know why you’re truly starting a blog, so a list of examples won’t help.
Instead, try brainstorming on your reasons for starting a blog. Create a list, a word cloud, or a sketch. Write down some ideas on what you want to get out of your blog, and why you want to start one. Then, take those ideas, and try to expand them into S.M.A.R.T. goals.
For example, you might come up with:
“I want to start a blog in order to market my self-published novel to new readers.”
That’s a great ambition, but as a goal, it’s not very specific or measurable. It may be attainable, but since there’s no way to measure it we’ll never know. It is relevant to what you want, but it’s not timely. Ultimately, this goal isn’t very helpful.
So let’s turn that into a S.M.A.R.T. goal:
“I want to use my blog to sell 100 copies of my self-published novel within the first month.”
That’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Now you’ll know whether or not your blog succeeds in its purpose — and if not, you can work on making it better.
Yes, you can start a blog for free.
But for some things, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is unfortunately true… and for everything else, you’re investing your time instead of your money. Which is more valuable in the long run?
Your possible expenses will depend on your blog, of course, but some of them might include:
- A domain (“www.yourblogname.com”)
- Web hosting
- A premium website theme, or hiring a website designer
- A logo design
- Registering your blog name as a trademark
- Hiring writers, editors, or social media managers
- Stock images for your blog posts
- Third-party services like email list providers
- Premium plugins for advanced website functionality
- Hiring developers for custom website functions or troubleshooting.
You could do everything on your own, but for many people, that’s just not feasible. Time is a precious resource.
You may decide you want to save your time and use it on what you’re best at (blogging), while saving time by hiring others to do things that you’re not so good at, don’t enjoy, or would take you much longer (perhaps design or development).
And when it comes to web hosting, you really do get what you pay for. Free website builders and hosting plans have many downsides, such as limited control over your content and design, unprofessional appearance, and very low resource availability (like storage and bandwidth) that limits your website’s growth.
You might not have a big budget to start off with, but if you can budget just $10 or $20 a month to start with, you can purchase a domain and hosting.
If you can budget more than that, you may be able to spring for premium or custom designs and other investments that can help take leaps forward in building a successful blog.
Next, you’ll want to work on some basic branding for your blog. Your blog’s brand includes your title and tagline, but you also want to decide on some brand style basics so that your blog has a cohesive look, style, and tone.
Deciding on these things ahead of time will help your blog to be unique and memorable to your readers from the beginning.
Without a cohesive and consistent style, your blog is at risk of being bland and forgettable, and may come across as unstable and unreliable to your audience.
Big brands might have huge teams working on creating their brand image, but you can also create a basic brand for your blog without investing a lot of time or money.
If you’re starting a blog for your business which already has branding, great. Just make sure you use the same branding for your blog.
If not, you can build your own simple brand easily. Let’s get started.
First, you need to choose a blog title.
You may already have a name in mind, but if you’re stuck on what to call your blog, try some brainstorming exercises.
Start by brainstorming possible words to use in your title. Don’t judge or edit yourself yet; just write down whatever words come to mind. You can use a list, word cloud, image board, or other brainstorming technique.
You can also look up more words in a thesaurus if you’re feeling stuck (but make sure you completely understand all the meanings, uses, and nuances of unfamiliar words so you don’t give your readers the wrong idea).
Next, narrow down your list. Try combining words, such as an adjective and a noun, or even creating a portmanteau (examples of portmanteaus include “liger,” from lion and tiger, or “mockumentary,” from mock and documentary).
Once you have a list of possible names, research by searching online to make sure your name isn’t already taken, or very similar to any existing names.
Even if it’s not an exact copy, you could still get in legal trouble if people could easily get confused between the two. You want a unique name in order to stand out on your own.
You’ll also want to check and make sure your domain name is available (i.e. “www.yourblogname.com”). Ideally, you want your domain to be available without having to resort to using dashes or other domain extensions besides .com.
A tagline clearly and succinctly explains what your blog is about and why visitors should care. It’s an easy way to communicate your value at a glance, and make sure you’re connecting with the right audience.
Don’t worry about trying to be too clever or cutesy, since that can result in vague taglines that confuse your audience.
You can start by using the same brainstorming exercise you did above to find words you’d like to use in your tagline, and then start to string them together into a phrase or a sentence.
Alternatively, try answering the following questions:
- What is my blog about?
- Who am I writing for?
- What makes my blog unique?
Combine your answers into a phrase or sentence, and you’ve got a tagline.
If you’re really stuck, you can also:
- Search for tagline generators online to get you started (though these will tend to be very generic.).
- Browse your favorite blog taglines for inspiration.
- Hire a copywriter to write the perfect tagline for you.
Next, let’s decide on some basic tone and style guidelines for your blog, so your look and style is cohesive.
For this step, looking around first at your favorite blogs is a great way to gain inspiration.
To create a brand style, you could decide on your blog’s:
- Colors: Choose one or two colors you want to use on your blog.
- Values: What values do you want your blog to embody? These could be business values and/or personal values. Some examples might be empathy, trustworthiness, honesty, transparency, diversity, etc.
- Tone: What tone of voice will you use when writing blog posts? This should match up with your chosen values (for example, you probably wouldn’t want to use a sarcastic tone if your values include honesty and trustworthiness). Some examples of tone might include “friendly and casual,” “knowledgeable and professional,” or “whimsical and playful.” Choose two to three words (more could be confusing or even become contradictory).
- Visual Style and Imagery: What kinds of images will you use on your blog? This should also mesh with your values and tone, but be a bit more specific. Will you use clean and professional stock photos, or playful cartoons? Maybe you’ll stick with colorful, geometric patterns and words and avoid photos. Using images of a similar style will help your blog posts to all look like they’re part of the same blog.
- Fonts: What fonts will you use? You might decide to stick with your theme’s default fonts (more on choosing a theme later), but you can make note of what those fonts are so you can use them on any other materials you create (such as e-books, social media images, media kits, business cards, etc).
You don’t have to determine all of these, but the more detailed you get now, the more cohesive and consistent your brand will be.
Choosing things like values and tone can also help you come up with topics to blog about (more on that later), and help determine what angle or point of view from which to tackle difficult topics.
Save your brand information in a document for easy reference.
Now you’re ready to start blogging with style.
In the next chapter, we’ll move on to some of the technical details of actually setting up your blog.
Step 2: Set Up Your Blog
First you’ll need to decide on the software you’ll use to manage your blog.
Why do you need software?
In the early days of the web, websites were all hand-coded from scratch, and if you wanted to change anything, you had to do it manually on each page.
Today, blogging is made much easier using software.
Software applications that are used for creating websites go by many different names, but we’ll be talking about blogging platforms, which are specifically for creating blogs.
Blogging platforms make it easy to:
- Set up your own blog, even with limited or no technical knowledge or coding experience.
- Update your entire website with a click.
- Organize and manage a huge blog with many posts and pages.
- Add and edit images and other multimedia.
- Change the look of your blog with templates and themes.
- Optimize for search engines so potential readers can easily find you.
- Work together with multiple users on one blog.
- …and many more benefits.
Blogging platforms can be divided into two main types: hosted, and self-hosted.
“Hosted” means that your blog is hosted for you on the platform’s own servers, and you don’t have to purchase your own hosting elsewhere. There are many free hosted blogging platforms available with limited features, which you can usually upgrade for a fee.
“Self-hosted” means you purchase your own hosting plan, and install the blogging software on your own server. While there are many blogging software applications available for free, you’ll have to pay for your hosting plan.
Each method has its pros and cons.
In general, a hosted website is quick and easy to set up, but doesn’t offer you the same degree of control or professionalism as a self-hosted website.
Hosted websites will often show ads on your website, which you have no control over and don’t see any revenue from. They may also have strict limits on storage space and bandwidth, and limit access to more advanced features (such as analytics) which you may want access to down the road.
With a self-hosted website, on the other hand, the sky’s the limit. You have complete control and ownership of your blog and all its contents (including the ability to display your own advertising and reap the profits).
However, a self-hosted website may require a bit more time and technical expertise to set up and maintain.
Some hosted blogging platforms include:
- WordPress.com: One of the world’s most popular blogging platforms. Basic plans are available for free, but you’ll have to pay to access any advanced features.
- Blogger: A blogging platform by Google, with a distinct look. Again, there are limited free plans, which you can upgrade for a fee.
- Tumblr: A unique social media network and blogging platform that’s popular with a younger crowd.
- Squarespace: A combination website builder, hosting platform, and blogging platform that’s also designed for e-commerce sites.
Here at WhoIsHostingThis, our favorite solution is self-hosted WordPress (also known as WordPress.org).
WordPress.org is the same software as WordPress.com, but instead of having your website hosted for you, you purchase your own hosting plan and install the software on your own server.
This has many benefits over hosted blogging platforms (including WordPress.com). With WordPress.org, you can:
- Use plugins to extend the core functionality of WordPress.
- Choose from thousands of premium themes from any source, or design your own custom theme.
- Edit the source code to customize the look and functions of your website.
- Display your own ads and earn money from your website.
- Use advanced third party services like Google Analytics.
- Purchase whatever type of hosting you want for your storage and bandwidth needs.
- Open up an e-commerce site with any compatible software you choose.
WordPress.org has another advantage over other options: It has a huge community of expert users, developers, and designers all around the world, so it’s easy to find just the theme, plugin, or assistance you need (or hire someone to create or provide it).
Using WordPress.org does require a bit more setup and maintenance than hosted options, but we believe learning WordPress is worth the huge benefits when you’re serious about starting a blog.
With that in mind, the rest of this guide will focus on starting your blog using self-hosted WordPress.org.
The first step in setting up your self-hosted WordPress blog is to buy a hosting plan.
There are three main types of hosting to choose from:
- Shared hosting: You share all of your server’s resources with other customers’ hosting accounts and websites.
- VPS hosting: You still share a server, but each customer’s data is on a separate virtual private server, or VPS, giving you better security and access to more resources.
- Dedicated server hosting: You have your own server, along with access to and control over all of its resources.
As you’ve probably guessed, each type has more resources than the previous type — and costs more money.
For the vast majority of beginner blogs, it’s safe to start with a shared hosting account. You’ll save money that way, and you can always upgrade your hosting plan if you need to as your website grows.
Many web hosting companies offer two or three levels of shared hosting plans. If you’re unsure of which plan to purchase, you can always start with the lowest plan and upgrade later on.
Once you’ve decided on a type of hosting, you’ll need to choose a web hosting company. You want to make sure they meet your requirements, and then check online reviews to make sure they’re reliable.
It’s important to take your time choosing a web host, because it can be a time-consuming and tricky process to switch hosts later down the road.
Some features you’ll need to look for include:
- Number of websites allowed: Some hosting companies limit the number of websites or domains you can host on your plan, so make sure if you want to run multiple websites you can.
- Storage space: This includes all the files you’ll be hosting on your account. If you plan on running a blog with a lot of large files or multimedia, such as a photography blog, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of space for everything.
- Bandwidth: Bandwidth refers to the quantity of data that can be transmitted in a certain amount of time. With limited bandwidth, your website will load slowly for your visitors, and may even be shut down if you get too much traffic.
- Email accounts: Make sure they offer enough email accounts for your needs. Many hosts offer unlimited email accounts, but some will limit them for entry-level plans.
- MySQL database: You’ll need to have at least one MySQL database for each WordPress installation. The vast majority of hosting plans include at least one.
- WordPress installation: Many hosting plans include easy one-click installs so you don’t have to install WordPress manually. Some even offer pre-installation of WordPress when you purchase your plan, or even specialize in WordPress hosting.
Sidebar: Should you look for unlimited storage and bandwidth?
While hosting plans advertising unlimited storage and bandwidth might seem ideal for running a blog, look closely at the host’s terms of service.
They may not place an exact limit on storage and bandwidth, but it’s not exactly “unlimited.” With shared hosting, you’re sharing the storage and bandwidth on your server, and your web host will expect you to respect the needs of your server “roommates” and not hog all the resources for your own blog.
Usually the terms of service will specify that your storage and bandwidth use line up with the normal usage of the average small personal or business website.
The vast majority of websites won’t have a problem with these policies, but high-traffic or otherwise resource-intensive websites should upgrade their hosting to avoid issues, such as your site being taken down.
Other features you may want to look for:
- Customer support: How do they offer support? Many web hosting companies only offer support via online tickets, or live chats. If you prefer phone support, you’ll need to make sure your chosen host offers it.
- Site backups: While it’s important to always maintain your own backups (more on that later), it’s convenient if your web hosting company also performs periodic automatic backups. Some hosts charge an extra fee for the convenience, though.
- Security features: How will your web host keep your data safe? Some web hosts go into detail about their security policies and practices, while others leave it a mystery.
- Green web hosting: Web hosting companies run data centers that use a lot of energy and can have a big impact on the environment. You can reduce your own carbon footprint and encourage the industry to be more environmentally friendly by choosing a green web host.
When you’ve found hosting plans that match your requirements, be sure to check out the real customer reviews at WhoIsHostingThis.com to help you make your final decision.
This step usually goes hand in hand with purchasing web hosting, but if you want you can choose to buy your domain and hosting from separate companies. Your web host can host your blog even if you bought your domain at another registrar.
However, the easiest way to set up your domain is by buying it from your web host at the same time you purchase your hosting account. Many hosts even offer a free domain registration as a feature of their hosting plans, sometimes just for the first year, and sometimes for life.
Another extra feature to consider as you purchase your domain and hosting is whether or not to also purchase WHOIS domain privacy.
Whenever anyone registers a new domain, their name and information is added to a public record called the WHOIS database. This includes your full name, address, phone number, and email address.
Having your information displayed publicly puts you at risk not only for spam and sales calls, but also identity theft, fraud, and harassment.
In order to protect your private information, we recommend purchasing domain privacy. Most web hosts offer domain privacy for an additional yearly fee, usually about the same price as the domain registration itself, but there are web hosts who offer it for free.
Now that you’ve decided on your web hosting company, plan, and domain, you can go ahead and purchase your hosting. You’re now ready to start setting up your website for blogging.
We’re almost ready to start blogging, but first we’ll need to set up your website so you have somewhere to blog.
If you chose a web host that offered WordPress pre-installation, you should already have it set to go.
If you chose a web host that offers one-click installation of WordPress, you can do so by logging in to your web hosting dashboard and installing WordPress from there. The exact process will vary depending on your web hosting company, so check their website support documents or contact them for details if needed.
When you install WordPress, you’ll set up your own login username and password, or they’ll be emailed to you. You can manage your new WordPress website by logging into to your dashboard at www.example.com/wp-admin.
Before you start blogging, you’ll need to set up a few things on your website.
From your WordPress dashboard, you can access your main settings by clicking on the main menu item Settings > General Settings. Here, you can enter the blog title and tagline you created earlier, as well as change general settings such as date format and language.
WordPress comes with a nice generic theme pre-installed which you’re welcome to use, but if you want your website to stand out you’ll need a more unique theme — one that fits with the brand you created in the previous chapter.
There are many free themes available from the WordPress.org directory, and you can also purchase premium themes from third-party websites. Be sure to read customer reviews before investing in a premium theme.
You can install your theme by navigating to Appearance > Themes from the main WordPress menu.
WordPress uses a system of “widgets” that allows you to customize the blocks of content that appear in your sidebar, and sometimes in your website’s footer, header, or other locations, depending on your theme.
From the WordPress dashboard, you can click on Appearance > Widgets to customize your sidebar using a drag-and-drop editing system. Be sure to use widgets that will be useful to your website visitors, but don’t overwhelm them with too much clutter.
Some widgets to consider might be a list of blog post categories, a text widget that explains the purpose of your blog, or a search box to allow your visitors to easily find specific posts.
Plugins are an important part of WordPress that allows you to add various functions and features to your website.
There are thousands of plugins available from both WordPress.org and third-party websites, both free and premium.
We recommend starting off with a few basic free plugins for your new blog:
- Jetpack: This plugin comes already installed with WordPress, so all you have to do is activate it. It links your website to your WordPress.com account (you can create one for free), and adds many features to your blog, including basic analytics and a contact form.
- Akismet: Akismet is the most popular anti-spam plugin. It will protect your blog from spam comments, which can number in the hundreds or thousands per day. Akismet is also pre-installed with WordPress, so you’ll just need to activate it and then sign up for an Akismet license, which you can do for free.
- Yoast SEO: Yoast SEO is a free plugin that optimizes your blog for search engines. It will help your readers to find you when searching for your blog topics through Google, Bing, and other search engines.
- BackWPup: It’s best to be prepared just in case anything happens to your website, and the best way to do that with WordPress is with an automatic backup plugin. There are a multitude of backup plugins out there, but a good free one is BackWPup. You can connect it with a Google Drive or Dropbox account to automatically save your backup files there, or have them emailed to you.
- Simple Share Buttons Adder, or DiggDigg: You want to make it as easy as possible for your readers to share your blog posts with their friends, and one great way to do that is with a social sharing plugin. With these plugins, you can choose and customize your social icons and where they appear on your blog, among other options.
You can install these plugins by navigating to Plugins > Add New, and searching for them by name. From the plugin menu, you can also browse all the other plugins available from the WordPress directory.
An About page is one of the most important pages on any website. It gives curious visitors answers to who is behind the blog, and allows you to build a connection with them. Be sure your About page focuses on your readers and answers their questions.
To set up your About page, click on Pages > Add New in the main menu. Name it “About,” and write a few paragraphs about yourself and your new blog. Click “Publish” when you’re finished.
Another necessary page for any blog is your contact page, so your fans can get in touch with you. Create another page by clicking Pages > Add New, and name it “Contact.” Tell your readers how they can contact you, whether via email or social media. You can also add a contact form using the “Add Contact Form” button.
Your blog is now set up and ready to go! Read on to find out how to get started writing your very first post.
Step 3: Get Started Blogging!
Now that your blog is all set up and ready to go, it’s time to start writing your first post.
Your hands hovering over the keyboard, you stare at the blank screen and…
…you don’t know what to write about.
“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Gene Fowler
What topics should you blog about? How do you keep your readers interested? And what if every topic you can think of has already been blogged about by someone else?
Blogging isn’t easy, it’s true. But there are ways to make it easier, including methods and tools to help you create interesting blog posts your readers will love.
If you’re stuck staring at the blank screen every time you try to write a blog post, here’s how to get defeat your blogger’s block and get started writing.
Thanks to all the preparation you did in the first chapter, you don’t have to pull ideas out of thin air. You’ve already gotten a head start by creating your reader personas.
Think about the ideal reader you imagined or researched, and what they would like to read about.
- What challenges or frustrations are they facing that you can help with?
- What common questions do they have?
- What are they searching for online?
In addition to using your personas to spark ideas, try to capture any stray ideas for blog topics that pop into your mind as you go about your day. You can keep an ongoing list using a Google Doc, a Trello card, a tool like Evernote, or write your ideas down in a notebook you carry with you.
You can also set aside some time to use brainstorming techniques like:
- Mind mapping: Start by writing one idea in the center of a blank sheet of paper, then try to think of related ideas. Write related topics branching off from your central idea, and keep branching off from each of those. Trying using a tool like us.
- Free writing: Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and just start writing whatever blog-related ideas come to mind. Don’t judge or edit your words yet; just keep writing.
- Research: Check online to see what kinds of blog posts already exist in your niche. What’s missing? Could you write about the opposite, or a related topic?
- Random input: Try browsing through a magazine, flipping open a dictionary, or watching a TV show and writing down whatever words strike you. Come up with ideas based off those.
- Group brainstorming: Get together with a friend or two, or your team or staff, to bounce ideas off of.
Once you have a big list of ideas, you can start refining them into blog post topics.
Sidebar: Your very first blog post
What should you write for your very first blog post? While you could simply use one of the topics you’ve just brainstormed to kick off your blog, another option is to write an introductory post.
An introductory post should introduce yourself, explain why you started a blog, and what your plans are for your blog’s future. You can even list the next two or three topics you’re planning to post about.
With an introductory post, new visitors who come across your blog will understand it’s your first post instead of hunting around your website and wondering why there isn’t more content. After reading about your future plans for the blog, they may also be intrigued and want to stick around for future posts.
Planning your blog posts ahead of time using an editorial calendar will help you to:
- Keep you posting on schedule. If you don’t plan ahead it’s easy to forget, but a calendar helps you to remember to keep blogging on schedule.
- Stay consistent. Instead of having topics all over the place, you can be strategic in what you post and stay true to your goals.
- Take advantage of seasonal events. When you’re planning with a calendar, it’s easy to plan relevant content for your readers during holidays and other seasonal events.
- Coordinate with a team. If you’re blogging with a team or with staff or employees, it’s much easier to coordinate together if you plan ahead with a calendar.
- Save time, because you’re not scrambling at the last minute to post something.
As you start filling out your editorial calendar with post topics, you’re probably wondering: how often should I post?
The conventional wisdom used to be that you had to post every day. But the real answer is: it depends.
It’s true that posting more frequently tends to boost your search engine rankings and get you more readers, but that’s not always the case. There are so many factors to search engine rankings, and other ways you can optimize and boost your rankings.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to post every day, or even every week. If you just don’t have the time or resources to be able to post that frequently, that’s okay. You can still have a successful blog.
Generally, the lowest frequency you should post to your blog is once a month. Any less frequently than monthly, and your readers may wonder if you abandoned your blog, and you may not get any search engine benefits at all.
Besides monthly, you could also consider posting:
- Three times a week
- Twice a week
The exact frequency that works for you will depend on your blog, but the important thing is to be consistent in your posting schedule.
If you post daily for a few weeks, and then disappear for a month or two, your readers may think you abandoned your blog, and follow suit. On the other hand, if you post consistently, your readers will come to anticipate it.
To keep your readers engaged, you don’t need to be an especially experienced, expert, or eloquent writer.
The rules of blogging are different than other forms of writing. The most important rule to remember is to keep your blog posts scannable.
Think about how you read online. When you’re looking through your Facebook feed to see what your friends are up to, checking out the latest tweets on Twitter, or reading the news, do you read every word on your screen?
If you’re like the vast majority of online readers, you’re not actually reading; you’re scanning.
Because of the huge amount of information competing for our attention online, we can’t read every word. Instead, we quickly determine what content is worth our time and energy by scanning it.
A wall of text will scare away online readers, but that same text broken up into scannable pieces will attract more readers.
To make your blog posts scannable, use:
- Short paragraphs. Online readers hate seeing a wall of text, so make your paragraphs shorter. Try starting off your blog post with a very short paragraph to grab attention and hook them into reading the rest.
- Shorter sentences. Instead of writing convoluted sentences, see if you can break up those sentences into a few shorter pieces that are easier to read quickly.
- Subheadings. Breaking up your post into smaller sections with headings makes it easy for readers to scan it to find out exactly what your post is about, and skip to the sections they want to read.
- Lists. are very scannable, and a great way to organize information.
- Bolds. Emphasize your important points with bolded text so readers will see them at a glance.
According to Copyblogger, only about 20% of people who read a blog post headline will go on to read the rest.
Arguably, the headline is the most important part of your blog post since without an attractive enough headline no one will go on to read your post.
The copywriting trainers at American Writers & Artists recommend that a title should follow the four “U”s:
A perfect blog post title will tell your reader that your post will be useful to them, create a sense of urgency, be unique from other headlines, and very specifically and accurately describe what the post is about.
Writing magnetic headlines is an art form in and of itself, and can take time to master. When you come up with your blog post titles, ask yourself if they follow the four “U”s, and if not, how you can tweak it.
On the web, articles with images are read and shared more than just plain text.
For that reason, it’s important to include at least one image with each blog posts. WordPress has a function just for this: for each blog post you create, you can set one featured image.
Using a featured image for every blog post has many benefits. They can:
- Grab a visitor’s attention and convey instant meaning in a scannable way (“a picture is worth a thousand words” is true in blogging, too).
- Make it easier for your readers to share your posts on visually-oriented social media networks such as Pinterest or Instagram.
- Get each blog post more clicks, favorites, and retweets on Twitter, and more clicks, shares, and likes on Facebook.
Copyright law for images and photography created by others is very stringent in most countries, even online.
Just because you find an unattributed image online doesn’t mean you can legally use it on your own blog. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to take the risk of getting hit with a lawsuit for using a copyrighted image.
Luckily, there are plenty of places you can find images online for free that are legal to use:
- Flickr Creative Commons: All the images uploaded to Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Be sure to double check the license and follow any requirements, such as attributing the creator.
- Pixabay: A hand-picked database of high-quality free photos and illustrations that don’t require attribution.
- MorgueFile: Despite the morbid name, this is a good site to look for completely free photographs that don’t require any attribution.
- Canva: A free image creator and editor with lots of templates for creating your own graphics.
Images aren’t the only way to grab your reader’s attention. Try to spice up your blog and grow your audience by experimenting with other multimedia options.
Some other multimedia options you might consider:
- You can easily create your own using a tool like Canva or Piktochart.
- You can create your own using a tool like Podbean, and publicize it using SoundCloud.
- Expand your audience by posting videos to YouTube, or share relevant videos with your audience by embedded them in your blog posts.
- Try putting together a Slideshare presentation as a blog post, or including a WordPress image gallery.
Step 4: Grow Your Audience
Without your blog’s audience, you might as well just be writing in a private journal.
Blogs exist to be shared and read — but how can you reach out to your ideal readers and help them find your blog?
There are countless strategies and tactics for reaching new readers and growing your audience. Several popular tactics are listed in this section, but don’t feel like you have to do them all.
While many self-proclaimed blogging gurus will tell you what you “need” to do in order to grow your blog’s readership, the truth is that not every tactic will work for every blog. Your audience is unique, and the tactics that work best in other industries or niches may not work for you.
Another factor you need to consider when choosing marketing strategies for your blog is what you’re able to do.
You should enjoy, or at least not mind, carrying out the strategies you choose. For example, if you start a Facebook page for your blog, but hate using Facebook, you may find that you avoid updating your page, or abandon it altogether.
You also need to keep your resources in mind. You may want to be on every social media platform and even enjoy them all, but do you have the time to keep them all updated on a consistent basis?
As you consider the strategies below, remember you want to try ones that…
- …will enable you to reach your ideal audience. There’s no use promoting your blog on Twitter if none of your potential readers are there.
- …you enjoy, or at least don’t mind doing. Don’t force yourself to do tactics you’ll hate, because it will take the fun out of blogging, and it will likely eat up a lot of time, especially if you tend to procrastinate tasks you don’t enjoy.
- …you have the resources to maintain consistently, whether this means the time to do it yourself, or the money to hire someone to do it for you.
Try just one or two strategies at first. If they help to grow your blog’s audience, stick with them. If not, abandon it and try another tactic instead. If you try everything at once, not only will you wear yourself thin, but it will be difficult to tell which tactics are working and which aren’t.
With that in mind, here are some marketing strategies for you to grow your blog’s readership.
Social media and blogging go hand in hand. Many of your visitors will expect you to be on social media, making it easy for them to keep up with all your latest posts and updates, and you can easily reach new readers as well.
Facebook is still the most popular social media platform. According to Pew Research, 71% of internet-using adults use Facebook, so having a page for your blog will make it easy to keep in touch with your audience and connect with new readers.
Tips for promoting your blog on Facebook:
- Set up a Facebook page for your blog — don’t just use your personal profile. Facebook pages come with a lot of benefits, including useful analytics on your audience.
- Most social media experts agree that posting 2-3 times a day is ideal.
- Images and videos get more engagement on average than text-only updates.
Twitter is the second-most popular social media platform, and is a great way to keep in touch with your readers and reach new ones.
Tips for promoting your blog on Twitter:
- Seek out and follow relevant users who match your ideal audience description.
- Engage often by replying, retweeting, and interacting.
- Promote other valuable related content, not just your own.
- Don’t be afraid to tweet the same blog post several times, and tweet your archives, to reach new readers.
- Images get more engagement than text-only tweets.
- Consider joining — or starting — a Twitter chat in your niche.
- Use appropriate hashtags in your tweets.
LinkedIn can be a great tool for promoting business blogs, or blogs geared towards a professional audience.
Tips for promoting your blog on LinkedIn:
- Share your blog posts as LinkedIn updates, or experiment with using LinkedIn’s publishing platform to share content.
- Promote your business blog posts on your company page.
- Consider adding a “Blog Manager” or “Blog Editor” position on your profile and showing off your best posts as media attachments, or adding posts to the publications section of your profile.
Pinterest is a great visual way to share your blog posts. Make sure you have an interesting and attention-grabbing image with each post, and you’re ready to go.
Tips for promoting your blog on Pinterest:
- Use a tool like Canva or PicMonkey to create images, or add text to photos including your post title, your blog’s name, and even a shortenedURL.
- Interact with others and build your Pinterest network by following boards and liking and commenting on pins.
- Consider starting a shared board to collaborate with other bloggers.
Google+ is a popular and useful social media platform, especially for tech-related blogs. If your updates get a lot of +1s, it can give you a boost in your search engine rankings, helping even more readers to find you.
Tips for promoting your blog on Google+:
- Circle and engage with people with related interests.
- Images and multimedia tend to get more engagement than text-only posts.
- Take advantage of formatting options. Use *asterisks* for bold text and _underlines_ for italics.
- Don’t forget to add hashtags to your updates.
Good old-fashioned networking is another way to grow your blog audience.
Some people might consider “networking” a dirty word, but it doesn’t have to mean being phony or using people for your own benefit. Networking really just means meeting new people and developing genuine, mutually beneficial relationships.
Follow these steps to systematically develop a network to grow your blog:
- Identify influencers in your niche. You can do this by searching for related blogs, or searching for people on social media.
- Learn about them. Subscribe to their blog, and follow them on social media.
- Get on their radar. Leave thoughtful and useful comments on their blog, and begin interacting with them on social media. Just be your genuine self — no need for any false flattery or fakeness.
- Develop the relationship. Drop them an email, or ask to interview them for you blog. Get to know them, and be helpful.
Another popular way to promote anything online is by guest blogging.
Guest blogging used to be one of the most popular strategies for getting more traffic to your blog or website.
But since skeezy marketers started taking advantage of the tactic and posting poor-quality content in order to boost their search engine rankings, blog owners became much more cautious about accepting content.
It’s much easier to get a blog post accepting if you already have a relationship with the blog owner, so this is a good strategy to use in combination with networking.
Tips for successful guest posting:
- Do your research. Know what topics and writing style will appeal to the audience.
- Read the guest posting guidelines, and be sure to follow them.
- Have an interesting author bio that entices readers to visit your blog.
- Consider creating a special landing page to entice those visitors to subscribe to your blog.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It means using techniques that will help your blog to rank higher in search engine results, which will help readers who are searching for your content in Google, Bing, etc., to more easily find you.
Advanced SEO can get complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. You can get solid results just by learning the basics and incorporating them into each blog post.
Try these basic SEO tips:
- Use a WordPress plugin like Yoast SEO to help you optimize your blog.
- Choose a keyword for each blog post using a tool like io. Use the keyword in your title and in yourpost.
- Rename your images with keywords, instead of generic names like “IMG_3298.”
- Use keywords for your blog post categories and tags.
- Make sure your blog design is mobile-responsive and works well on mobile devices.
- Slow loading times could hurt your rankings, so make sure your blog loads quickly.
Generally, if you’re providing useful, quality content that people are linking to and talking about on social media, that will help to boost your search engine rankings. Posting new content often and being active on social media will also help you to rank higher.
Welcome to the Blogosphere!
Blogs may have started out as online journals, but building a successful blog today takes much more effort and hard work than just writing in a diary.
Our hope is that this guide will make starting your journey much easier, and set you on the path to blogging success.
Blogging may be hard work, but it’s also extremely rewarding. Whether your goals are to share your passions with a like-minded audience, or grow your customer base for your business, we wish you the best!
- backups: A backup is a separate copy of your website, stored in a different location. Backups are usually created at regular intervals, such as daily or weekly. In case something happens to your website, you can restore it using your backup files.
- bandwidth: In web hosting, bandwidth is a measurement of your website’s capacity to transfer data, usually given as a per-second rate. The higher your bandwidth, the faster your website will be.
- blog: A website that’s regularly updated with new content, called blog posts. A contraction of “web log,” blogs originally started as a kind of online diary.
- categories: WordPress allows you to organize all your blogposts into one or more categories, a type of topic label, which you can custom create.
- CMS: Content Management System. A software application designed for running a website or blog.
- CSS: Cascading Style Sheets. The language that’s used to style the look and formatting of HTML content.
- database: Blogging software applications such as WordPress use MySQL databases to store all your blog’s data, including all your blogposts, settings, author bios, etc.
- dedicated server hosting: A type of web hosting where your website is the only one hosted on a single server, and you don’t have to share the server’s resources with other customers’ websites.
- domain: A domain is the main address of a website, such as www.example.com or www.example.org.
- domain registrar: A company or organization that sells domain registrations (e.g. www.example.com), typically for a yearly fee.
- footer: The bottom of a website page, after the main content. In WordPress, footer content can often be customized using widgets, depending on what theme your blog uses.
- hosted blog: Blogs can be divided into two types: hosted or self-hosted. Hosted blog services provide web hosting for you. Hosted blogging platforms may be easier for beginners since less technical knowledge is required, but they can be limit your flexibility and options.
- hosting: see web hosting
- HTML: Hyper Text Markup Language. The standard language that’s used to create web pages.
- MySQL: A type of database management system. WordPress and many other CMSes use MySQL databases to store all your blog data.
- PHP: PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (a recursive backronym; it used to stand for “Personal Home Page”). A programming language that’s used to create dynamic web pages that are custom generated on the fly each time you visit them. WordPress and many other CMSes are written in PHP.
- plugin: The behavior and functions of WordPress software on a self-hostedblog can be changed or added to in many different ways by installing plugins.
- post meta: Information about a blogpost, including the author, date it was published, and any applicable categories and tags.
- post: an individual article or piece of content on a blog post.
- registrar: see domain registrar
- self-hosted blog: Blogs can be divided into two types: hosted or self-hosted. With a self-hosted blog, you purchase your own web hosting and install your CMS software of choice. Though starting a self-hosted blog requires more technical knowledge, it gives you control over every aspect of your website.
- SEO: Search Engine Optimization. Practices that help websites to rank higher in search engine results.
- server: A web server is a type of computer that stores and delivers websites to other devices (such as your phone or home computer).
- shared hosting: A type of web hosting where your website is hosted on the same server as other customers’ websites. You share bandwidth and storage with other websites on the same server.
- sidebar: Most website designs include a column on the left or right side of your main content. Sidebars often include content such as menus, search boxes, author or blog information, categories and tags, etc. You can use widgets in WordPress to customize the content of your sidebar.
- storage: In web hosting, you need storage space for all your website files. Just like on your home computer, larger files such as images or videos take up more space than text files.
- tags: WordPress allows you to label your blogposts with any number of tags. Tags help your readers to easily navigate your blog and find related blog posts by clicking the tag link to view all other posts with the same tag.
- theme: In many CMSes, including WordPress, you can customize the look of your website by installing different themes, or even creating your own.
- TLD: Top Level Domain. The extension, or end, of a domain. The most common TLD is .com, but there are many others including .org, .gov, .info, .biz, etc. There are also numerous country-specific TLDs including .us for the United States, .uk for the United Kingdom, .jp for Japan, or .ly for Libya.
- URL: Uniform Resource Locator. The address of a webpage, such as www.example.com/category/page123.
- VPS hosting: Virtual Private Server hosting. A type of web hosting where one server is partitioned into multiple virtual servers, giving you access to more bandwidth and storage. A step up from shared hosting.
- web hosting: All websites, including blogs, need to be hosted on a server in order to be available to access on the World Wide Web. Web hosting companies provide space on their servers, usually for a monthly fee. There are many different types of web hosting, including shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated server hosting.
- Whois domain privacy: Every registered domain and information on who registered it is included in a publicly-accessible database online. Whois privacy is a service provided by most domain registrars that hides your personal information (including your name, mailing address, phone number, and email address) from the public database, replacing it with the web hosting company’s information instead.
- widget: WordPress uses a system of drag-and-drop widgets to allow you to easily customize the look and content of your blog without requiring any coding knowledge.
- WordPress: A CMS that is one of the most popular platforms for running a blog.
- WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get (the acronym is pronounced “wizzy-wig”). A type of text editing tool for writing and editing your website text, images, and other content from an easy interface without having to learn to code.