Starting a Blog is easy. Starting a Blog in 2012 is a little bit more complex.
There’s a Blog about anything and everything out there, right now. It’s hard for someone considering a Blog to come up with a new and/or different angle. The topic can be as obscure as your brain can fathom, and odds are that a Blog covering that exact topic already exists. Pushing that further, it’s somewhat hard to even define what, exactly, a Blog is in this day and age. Afterall, you can Blog on your Facebook page, you can micro-Blog with Twitter or video Blog on YouTube. You can even Blog using tumblr – which is a hybrid online social network and Blogging platform – or you can Blog for an existing online publisher like The Huffington Post. For this post, I’ll define a Blog as an online journal that you either house on your own server or is being served via the Blogging platform’s servers. Lately, I’ve been sent links for a lot of new and freshly-minted Blogs, and there are some "best practices" that may help others down this fuzzy path.
How to start a Blog in 2012:
- Choose the right platform. The default choice for a great Blogging platform is WordPress. My recommendation is to go with it (full disclosure: this Blog is powered by MovableType and it’s way too late in the game to make the switch to WordPress, but I would if it could happen seamlessly). Do the hard work of figuring out if a hosted solution is best for you. My general recommendation is to use the free version until you start seeing uptake by the community. No point in spending the money if you’re not generating readership and/or going to stick with it.
- Design matters. While we do live in a world of RSS feeds and links tossed around via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, the best Blogs are designed well. They look good and read well. WordPress makes this (somewhat) easier because you can buy and customize themes. If you’re serious about Blogging, get very serious about having it look great. It’s hard for people to get excited about a plain Blog. Design matters. Always.
- Great names. It can be funny, quirky or a play on an existing meme, but figure out a relevant, cool and timely name for your Blog. I believe that people like saying, "Six Pixels of Separation" much more than, "Mitch’s Blog." Finding a name is never easy, but when it’s done well, it makes the Blog that much more shareable. People like sharing things that not only sound cool, but that make them look smart. Your name matters. Try to avoid names with a number in it ("is it ‘2’ or ‘two’?" – it can be confusing) and watch out for a multiple word title, where one word’s last letter is the same letter as the next word (like: mikesstand). You’re trying to make it easy, not confusing for people to find you.
- Secure your domains. In a world where finding a domain name can become an expensive and frustrating endeavor, refer to the last bullet point as your guiding light: the more unique, strange and funky the title, the more likelihood you’ll have of being able to secure the URL. A trick would be to use one of the more reputable domain name websites to see if your choices are available prior to choosing it (and, if it is available, please make sure to grab it on the spot – you don’t want to come back a week later and find that someone else already grabbed it).
- Write a full bio. I’ve seen countless WordPress bio pages that are simply left blank. Write a full bio and make it as robust as possible. People want to know who they’re reading. Make it crisp and clever. A great bio is critical.
- Read first. Most people will tell you to start writing. I would argue that if you want to start a Blog in 2012, start with reading. Read everything. Blogs, books, newspapers, magazines, tweets, etc… Get a feel for the industry that you’re going to Blog about and form a perspective. Along with that perspective, it’s equally fine for you to start commenting in other online spaces before starting your own Blog. Commenting in other (more heavily-trafficked) spaces will give you insights into how people feel about your way of thinking (especially if your comments get other people excited about commenting and adding to the discourse).
- Write. Write. Write. If you want a successful Blog, you have to write. You have to write a lot and you have to post frequently. You have to do this, not to cram content into a Blog, but because only through the frequency and habit of writing will you get good. Only through the frequency and habit of writing will you begin to find a voice. Only through the frequency and habit of writing will you begin to build an audience. Here’s a truth: you won’t find your voice over time. I simply don’t believe that a writer arrives at this strange destination called "their voice." I think a strong voice simply evolves over time. But none of that happens without writing. You’re not writing for writing’s sake. You’re writing to exercise your critical thinking skills. When you do that often enough, great writing will start to flow.
- Watch what you write. Spelling and grammar count. I recently came across a new Blog that was started by a lawyer (it said so in their bio). It was littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. I type fast and I make mistakes (and there is a great group of people who send me notes and leave comments, so that I can correct my mistakes), but overall, the flow of the writing has to be readable. I’m not talking about the random misspellings or grammatical burps (it happens). I’m talking about text that is both unreadable (and somewhat laughable). Poor spelling and bad grammar undermines your content and your critical thinking. Take the time to either proof your own work or find someone who will take pity on you and do it. Spelling and grammar mistakes will directly impact your credibility. Trust me on this.
- Don’t be shameless about your self-promotion. Whenever it’s time to self-promote, I get a pit in my stomach. I love Blogging, I love sharing, but I hate beating my own chest. Choose how you’re going to self-promote, but before you do anything ask yourself: "if this message showed up in any one of my streams, how would I feel about it?" As a way to not feel too self-promotional, I use my other social media spaces for self-promotion by asking a question in hopes of provoking some kind of reaction. This feels like I’m adding value to someone’s stream without it being a "look at me! Look at me!" moment.
- Don’t be scared of analytics. Most Blog platforms offer some kind of analytics. You should also be running Google Analytics as well. If the thought of web analytics scares you, please go and check out the work of Avinash Kaushik (his Blog, Occam’s Razor, is treasure trove of great insights – as are his two books, Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0). You should be measuring everything from readership and referral traffic to keywords. I particularly like keyword analysis, because this can give you some immediate insights into the type of words people use to find your content. Write more with those keywords in mind.
Take it slow.
It is quick, free and easy to build a Blog, but building an audience and finding that elusive voice is a long, hard and desperately lonely journey. Make sure you are ready for it. There will be times when you will question if anybody is reading your Blog and if anybody cares. It’s not easy, but keep at it. If you believe that you have something useful to share, odds are that there are others – just like you – out there as well. It will be a decade that I have been Blogging and still, to this day, I wonder if anybody really and truly cares (like, what would happen if I stopped Blogging tomorrow?). It’s fine and normal to have those feelings, but keep at it. Why? Because if you care enough to Blog, it means that you have something to say. If you have something to say and you’re Blogging it, it means that you want to share and connect. Ultimately, the world needs more people like that.
What would you add to this list?
Mitch – a great list to start. I’d add three more points:
Know Your Audience
No matter if you’re a personal or business blogger, it’s important to know who your readers are. By recognizing who they are it can help you write better content and also spur ideas for new content from their feedback, comments, and input.
Know Your Keywords
If you don’t want to go for full-on SEO, do this one thing: know the keywords that relate to your post. You can easily look up keywords on Google or other search sites and incorporate them into your headline, leading copy or tags. It’s the minimum you can do to help naturally boost people finding your blog.
If you use images from other sites, or use a phrase from another writer, give credit. It may sound obvious, but by giving credit you can avoid copyright issues or allegations of plagarism. No harm in sharing to make your point better, but give credit where credit is due.
Now, off to restart my blog. Thanks, Mitch.
Be original and keep it fresh. If you have already read numerous blogs that all say the same thing – why would you want to say it again? Why would you blog about an event that has become old news, especially if you have no new (original) content to add? Or more importantly, why would anyone want to read it?
All good points.
The fact truly is the more you write the more opportunity there is for new readers to find you. I’m always amazed at the people (such as yourself) who post once or multiple times a day.
My blog does well, but I know when I blog more often I’m rewarded.
Don’t be afraid to share old posts to keep new traffic flowing. If you wrote something relevant six months ago, share it again in the social media.
Use photos (I, ironically, don’t do this enough) and make sure you have a good bio photo so people can visually connect with you.
Excellent Mitch! I loved every word of it and will highly recommend that folks read it. I’ve been meaning to write my own post about how and why to blog and I expect that I will but now I’ll definitely include a link back here.
With a couple of years experience and two blogs, the part that was most important for me to read was the last section. I’m surprised when someone tells me how much they like my blog and I never knew they read it. It’s also frustrating at times with my communications blog to see numbers growing slowly despite great content even if my motto is “Genuine. Organic. Change.” I appreciate knowing what your experience is like when it’s a place that I go to for inspiration.
Build a relevant twitter following – this will help get your blog noticed.
Post to your LinkedIn and Facebook pages.
Are there blog catalogues you can be part of?
BTW I stopped updating a blog two years ago, and some days it gets more traffic than the new one I started a month ago. That’s really frustrating!
Love it Mitch. I think you have two typos in your Design matters paragraphs.
“The look good and red well.”
Please delete this comment. Just wanted to give you the heads up and could not find an e-mail to use. Keep up the great work
Consistency seems critical. But a lot of guys start a blog with the impulse of a teen who just found a cool band name. The Japanese call this a three-day monk. So don’t be one.
Thanks for the post!
Thanks, Bret… I’m just happy it wasn’t in the spelling and grammar part 😉
The one thing I’d add is a social platform – pick one and focus on it as a complement to your blog. The community is just as important as the content these days.
I have been writing my blog in my head, my sleep, on my commute for awhile. Your blog is very helpful in knowing that my thoughts about blogging and how to approach it are on the right path. I also appreciate [email protected]’s comments. As a marketeer, audience, keywords, and credit are very important too.
Right now, I am just tweeting but I discovered recently that my voice comes through much more when I just write my tweets about what is going on, what I am doing or learning in my job, and don’t overthink it. It’s also just more fun and that counts for alot.
Great post, Mitch and great comments from your community. I don’t know that I can add much beyond a “+1” for Richard’s comment on consistency and your guideline to “Write, write, write.” Building a successful blog requires commitment to your readers (particularly if you want that number to grow) and a commitment to continual improvement. In my experience, consistency and improvement follow from one another. The more regularly you write, the better you’ll get. The better you get, the easier it is to write. And so on.
Thanks, Mitch, for a thoughtful post. And thanks also for hosting such a fantastic community.
good article. What I would add is “Be thankful”. It´s as simple as linking back to any one´s web, publication …. whose content has helped you write a post.
And if you use someone elses images (I do it in my abstract art blog), name the authors and if possible tell them your using them.
Doing this you get two things: 1. your are thankful and ethical; 2. Your blog will be a place to find interesting links, which may help build an interested audience.
This is so true, especially the writing part! I am not that great of a writer and I constantly have to monitor what I type because this counts! Great post!
This post is great, but I disagree with the point about numbers in domains. With every other available domain name being squatted on, numbers in a domain are one of the best ways to find a memorable, interesting, and unique name. That’s my $0.02 for everyone that asked for it…
I have read recently that blogs are out, old school, not as relevant in these days of Twitter, Quora, etc. How refreshing to see you taking a different approach It also gives me just the shot in the arm I need to get mine up and running again.
Things to add:
Google Alerts – set up alerts for your name, your blog’s name and other blogs in the same niche so you quickly get emailed for any updates and can see how fast google is indexing your site.
Feed: Get a feed service that ADDS EMAIL to your RSS – Feedblitz and Feedburner are the two I recommend. Most readers can’t work out an RSS reader so a service that allows your feed to be read in other services (Facebook, SMS, twitter etc) and that encourages sharing is essential. Feedburner only does RSS to email; Feedblitz does the works including G+ and Pinterest.
And Mitch, I’d like to take up your challenge of getting you onto WordPress. We migrated a client’s Blogger site onto WordPress last month…. get in touch if you’re keen.
Thanks for the post Mitch! I’m a newbie blogger (one month strong)! I’m always looking for good tips on how to stand out.
By the way, I’m desperately hoping I wasn’t the lawyer with the piss-poor bio. lol
Good tips Mitch — the end I think should be it’s own tip and probably #1; knowing WHY you want to blog is key. So many answers to that question; the WHY will help determine the kind of blog you have and therefore help someone decide these HOW factors. This can be a lot of work; probably overkill for someone blogging for fun and not interesting in growing a business or community.
That said, if you do want your blog to make connections, to share and to grow, then – ala the bio/self-promotion (which I also find a chore) advice – you need to make that as easy as possible for readers with the right plugins. Still surprised every time I get to a blog and its social sharing buttons are network limited or just not there.
And on ‘take it slow’ – I’ll add this thought: how about starting a blog in 2012 .. for 2020? Like you said, it’s a journey. The ‘starting’ the blog, once you get past all these hoops and hurdles, is the ‘easy’ part; it’s maintaining a blog worth reading month after month, year after year – that’s the real challenge. FWIW.
I think choosing a great design is better than using default themes when we’re going to start a new blog. Thanks for your great points listed here.
Yep, I think numbers in domains in some cases are not bad, my domain is a good example, I think so.
You 3 points listed above are awesome, I think knowing our audience is the very first point when we want to start a successful blog. Many new blogger didn’t know that point or exactly, they ignored it so they would be failed soon.
Thank you so much for the useful info, I have always held back because I was afraid to start a blog and now I feel a little overwhelmed as I see how many are out there already. But I am going to take the step and any advice is always so welcome.
Thank you again for the great insights!
I believe at some point every person thinks about writing a book. Whether it’s a book about their life, someone else’s life or complete fiction on any topic, the thought occurs to everyone. My advice to someone considering it is to start small with a blog and grow into becoming a full-fledged author.
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