This post is for writers totally new to blogging, about to start a blog, and/or feeling dissatisfied with their current blog.
Questions to Ask Before You Start
- What will distinguish your blog? What’s your unique angle? Most successful blogs have a very specific angle, topic, or audience. This makes it easier to attract attention and build a community around common interests or perspectives.
- Your blog is a body of work, like anything else you might create. And here, I’m going to steal questions right from a talk that Dan Blank gave at the Writer’s Digest Conference. Don’t think: “I’m going to create blog (a thing).” Ask: What is my purpose? What are my goals?
- The more time you spend blogging, the more value you build for readers over time and the more they find you. Your efforts will snowball. The only problem: You have to be patient. Are you willing to commit to blogging for more than a year? (It took me about 18 months before my blog was really going somewhere. It took that long to find my voice and the niche that I felt most strongly about, where I believed I had a unique contribution to make.)
- Ideally, before you start a blog, you think about who’ll send you traffic. Identify the notable community players, the people who you’ll build relationships with.
Key Components of Your Blog
Aside from the blog posts themselves, you should also have the following:
- Header/banner + tagline. It should be clear to new visitors what your blog is about and what they’re going to get from it.
- About page or bio. If your blog does its job, people want to know more about the person behind the writing. Don’t make them search for this. I recommend creating a separate and detailed page that also includes contact information.
- Calendar or archive. People new to your blog may want to dig around in your older posts. Make it easy for them to do so. Sometimes it’s helpful to create a sidebar that tells readers what your most popular posts are.
- Comment functionality. Your blog will grow, and you’ll build relationships, through an easy-to-use comment system. Most major blog platforms (like WordPress) can help you streamline your comment system to automatically eliminate spam activity. (I recommend a combination of Disqus and Akismet if you’re hosting your own site.)
- Sharing functionality. Make it easy for people to share your posts on Facebook, Twitter (or just about anywhere else) through plug-ins like AddThis.
- Readability. If your blog or site is meant to primarily be read, then don’t hamper readability by making the text too small, too tight or (worst of the worst) white type on a black background. Be aware that a lot of pop-ups, ads, or bad layout can also hamper readability and drive readers elsewhere.
For Each Post: Go Through This Checklist
- Improve your headline. If people saw ONLY the headline (like on Twitter), would they feel compelled to click on it? Is it specific? Is it intriguing or provocative? Does it offer a benefit? Is it timely or relevant? Why will people click on the headline? Remember, that’s often the only thing people see when they’re surfing online and looking at search results.
- Improve your readability. Consider adding more paragraph breaks (one-line paragraphs are acceptable), bulleted lists or numbered lists, images, subheads, quotes—whatever it takes to make your posts more scannable. Reading online is not the same as reading offline. If your post is very long, consider breaking it up into a series. Or, make it simple for people to save the post, print the post, or otherwise consume it offline. [This "rule" gets broken all the time successfully, but it requires the right readership and great content, among other things.]
- Improve discoverability. Make sure each post is categorized and tagged, at minimum. If your blog platform allows for it, adjust what title, description, and keywords are attached to your post for search engine optimization (SEO).
To Grow Your Readership
- Update consistently and on a regular schedule.
- Frequently link to relevant blogs, resources, and sites.
- Try out a series or weekly feature.
- Interview people who interest you. Run Q&As.
- Comment on blogs/sites that have some relevance to your own blog.
- Allow readers to sign up for e-mail or RSS delivery of your posts. (Try Feedburner if this functionality is not already baked into your site.)
- Always post links to each new post on your Facebook page, Twitter, etc.
- Offer to guest blog for others. Provide them with even better content than usual.
- Be patient.
The No. 1 Rule to Grow Readership
Offer great content. Period. Check this post for a wake-up call on all the advice I’ve just offered you: Are Blog Best Practices Bullshit?
Where You Can Start a Blog for Free
- My top recommendation: WordPress. You can use WordPress.com (with limited functionality) for free. When you’re ready to have your own URL/site, you can install the WordPress content management system onto your site, and seamlessly import your WordPress.com content.
- Tumblr. Great for curating stuff from elsewhere online. Excellent for visuals and multimedia. Here’s my Tumblr blog.
- Blogger. Owned by Google and still very popular.
If You’re Starting With WordPress
Here are my technical tutorials on starting a WordPress.com blog. It is a VERY basic, step-by-step instruction process for people who are completely unfamiliar with WordPress. I created this step-by-step for my university students, who sometimes have trouble figuring out how to change key settings in WordPress.
Additional Advice & Resources That I Love
- The Secret Ingredient to an Irresistible Blog (from Copyblogger)
- 4 Foundations of a Successful Blog (from ProBlogger)
- 23 Essential Elements of Shareable Blog Posts (from Chris Brogan)
- The 120 Day Wonder: How to Evangelize a Blog (from Guy Kawasaki)
- 10 Ways to Create a Better About Page for Your Blog (from Michael Hyatt)
- How to Grow Traffic to Your Blog (from Chris Brogan)
- One Simple Way to Generate More Comments on Your Blog (from Copyblogger)
- How I Sold My Blog for $20,000 in 8 Months (from Blog Tyrant)
If you’d like an extended version of the advice in this post (plus elaboration on how to create a self-hosted WordPress site), then download my PDF handout, Blogging 101.