This week I received an email from a longtime girlfriend who is interested in launching a blog. I was actually surprised by this, because Mary (name has been changed to protect the innocent) has a full-time job already and it is not marketing related. She had an idea for a blog and wanted advice on how to get a blog started.
My girlfriend is not alone. I receive dozens of emails each week from people wanting blogs and websites created for their “idea” and I can tell at least 75% have no clue what to do or where to start. The classic signs of this state of confusion are the words “thinking” and “maybe” and “possibly” and of course the phrase “not sure”. Let’s be realistic here and understand that thinking and maybe and possibly are all wishy washy and they do not equal a plan. To make money on the internet you need a plan. Without it, you’re blog will struggle and you’ll lose interest and you will inevitably waste money. I want to give you a blogging plan.
A quick check of Google search volumes shows that over 14,800 searches are done for “how to blog” each month. That is a lot of people looking for a blogging plan of attack. That also means you have over 14,000 people thinking about or potentially starting a blog each month. Lots and lots of competition.
My initial thought was to send her a quick how-to guide for blogging. Then I realized that this should be a teaching lesson for more than one future blogger. So I’m whipping my how-to guide into a blog post for the masses.
Let’s Walk Through the Process for Getting Started With Blogging
Pick a Topic – You’re blog needs to have focus and it needs to be focused on something you know and love. If you’re going to right about something a lot, you need to love it with all your heart. I love internet marketing, but I’m a geek. My girlfriend is a better example of a real-life, nongeek blogger. Mary is going to have a travel-focused blog which is perfect because Mary loves to travel.
Check Keyword Search Volumes – Before you finalize your blog’s focus, you need to make sure people will actually search on the topic. You may love to talk about your bottle cap collection, but it won’t generate any revenue if no one actually searches for terms related to your bottle cap collection. A quick visit to Google’s Adword Keyword Tool will provide an excellent source for keyword research and finding keywords and phrases people actually search for on the internet.
Register a Domain Name – You need to have a URL (www.something.com) so people can find your blog. There are lot of extensions available, but I tend to stick with the .com group. Few .com URLs are available because so many people are holding them hostage. Be creative, be unique, and if needed use dashes. I register my domains at GoDaddy. Search the internet for GoDaddy deals and coupon codes, but remember not to host at GoDaddy. They’re good for domain registration, but not so great at actual hosting.
Pick a Blogging Platform – If you’ve ever been to my website before, you already know I’m a WordPress girl through and through. There are other blogging platforms available, but WordPress is by far the best. You can go 100% free via WordPress.com, but you will be limited on your capabilities. You can go down the path of WordPress.org and have a world of opportunities available to you. You will have to self host your blog, but this is easy once you realize there are great hosting companies that do everything for you.
Pick a Hosting Company – Like my allegiance to WordPress.org, I am also a firm advocate of Blue Host. They offer one click WordPress installs, have great performance, and their technical support team is top notch. I have literally had to stop the technical team and explain I don’t need education on WordPress, because I’m a website designer. But the gesture is appreciated and their response time and performance applauded.
Pick a Blog Theme – As with everything else in my life, I am very opinionated here too. Do not be fooled into thinking free WordPress themes are all you need. Not only are they generic, they can come with hidden code that links to nasty websites. Invest in yourself and your blog by picking a solid WordPress theme. These would be called premium WordPress themes. My favorite (I stress favorite) premium theme provider is StudioPress. Their Genesis framework is functionally robust and has great performance. It is all we use at my firm when we create custom themes for websites and blogs. Should you not find what you want at StudioPress, you can visit ThemeForest.net to find hundreds of WordPress themes from a slew of theme developers. Be careful though, because not all ThemeForest designers will live up to the technical support provided by the StudioPress team. Some are very good and others not so much. Expect to pay at least $30 for a premium theme that is off the shelf and about $1,500 to $5,000 for a custom theme.
Pick the Right WordPress Plugins – WordPress is awesome, but WordPress plugins extend this awesomeness exponentially. Not all plugins are good and some are just stinky. Once I find a good plugin, I tend to use it over and over again for client websites. My favorite ones include:
- Akismet – The rock star of spam fighters.
- All in One SEO – Easy to use tool for search engine optimization.
- Contextual Related Posts – Provides a list of related blog posts based on content.
- Digg Digg – Easy to use share buttons for content distribution.
- Google XML Sitemaps – Produces a list of content for the search engines and updates them when new content is published.
- Gravity Forms – A premium plugin that makes form create simple.
- NextGEN Gallery – Easy to use image grouping and display. Don’t forget to add a lightbox.
- Robot.txt – Protects your WordPress core files from search engine indexing.
- Subscribe to Comments – Great for user engagement.
- Taxonomy List Shortcode – Good plugin for creating a A-Z index of your blog topics. You can see an example of this by clicking on the link in my sidebar.
- WP-DBManager – Back up and database optimization all in one. Yes you do need to optimize your database. It’s kind of like brushing your teeth WordPress style.
- SEO Smart Links – Creates automatic hyperlinks to your pages, posts, categories, and tags.
- Outbound Link Manager – Easy way to manage outbound (aka affiliate marketing) links in one page.
Connect With the Search Engines – Submit your XML sitemap (see plugin above) to Google and Bing. They both have some version of Webmaster Tools available for this process. Take the time to establish an account and then check back for errors or messages. Google and Bing have lots of information available, so explore and return often.
Find a Revenue Stream – Your blog should make money. If you’re good at blogging, you can make lots of money. You need to sell a product, service, or have ads. With the help of Google and the affiliate marketing network, getting advertisers is easier than you think. You can use the Google Adsense program to have their network of advertisers matched up to your content or you can go the affiliate marketing route. Affiliate marketing refers to placing ads on your blog and you are paid for each impression, click, or action resulting from your ad. Google has an affiliate network and other popular ones are ClickBank and Share a Sale. Pick one or more, but have a plan to generate revenue.
Use Email Communication – Stay in touch with your readers and give them a reason to come back to your blog by emailing them regularly. You can use a free service like Google’s FeedBurner to automatically update subscribers when you publish a new blog post or you could create custom newsletters with email campaign software from Constant Contact or Bronto or Mail Chimp.
Become a Social Media Goddess – Social media does work and it is more than a buzzword. These days everyone thinks they are great at social media although in all fairness, few really are. Just remember the goal is to connect with people and engage them. To succeed you just need to be honest, be open, and be present. Use YouTube, Facebook Pages, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Every time you publish a new blog post, it should be shared via the social media websites. Just don’t forget to read through some social media best practices and blunders before you start posting.
Analyze Your Traffic – Huh? This simply means pay attention to how many people come to your blog and watch what they do once they get there. Google Analytics is a free tool that has a ton of functionality, data points, and graphs. It will show you how many people visit your blog, where they come from, what keywords they search one, how long they stay, and even what pages or posts make them leave. Learn from the data and improve your blogging to improve your traffic and activity.
Give Yourself a Break – Blogging success does not happen overnight. You need to find your blogging mojo, get yourself in a rhythm, and learn what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t expect to see 1,000 hits a day in the first month. Be patient and be thorough and you will succeed.
Will Mary Succeed at Blogging?
I’m about 99% confident my friend will do just fine. Mary is smart, has an MBA, and is quick-witted. She is also determined. I’ve known her for well over ten years and I know this – if Mary sets her mind to something she will succeed. And darn it she better. Mary has a living girlfriend’s guide to blogging in me and I won’t let her fail.