In early 2017 I started blogging and it was literally a life changer for myself and my family. A few weeks in and I was hooked. What first started as a hobby out of curiosity quickly developed into a passion, and thereafter a means of income for my family. In a few short months, my husband Josh and I began to realize that we could indeed take this new venture, something that we both enjoyed doing, and turn it into an actual full-time gig.
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The freedom that blogging has provided for our family has been tremendous. Many people dream about having an online business, but just don’t know where to start. Since beginning to see success of our own, we have always wanted to share with others what we’ve learned about creating a blog, in hopes that others may also find success and achieve a positive impact in their own lives.
For Josh and I, it has been rewarding to say the least, but it certainly hasn’t been without a ton of hard work and dedication. Were mistakes made? Indeed. As with becoming successful at anything new, there was a learning curve. Yet, there are inherent core values that we adhere to with our blog, which I believe are ultimately the foundation that has and continues to drive its success.
When we started out, we were certainly faced with many questions and ironically, in recent months, Josh and I started to hear some of those same questions from others, like:
These are just to name a few; there are many more questions that we had and that we currently hear from aspiring bloggers.
We’ve learned quite a bit in our first year and the guide below shares with you some of that knowledge which may be especially useful for those who are brand new to the blogging game.
Don’t get me wrong — in the beginning it can and will seem quite overwhelming. With so many moving pieces, it can be difficult to know where to even start. But, hear this → The most important thing you can do is execute. Research is certainly key, but eventually you have to take that first step and then keep moving in order to see results.
That has been our approach and has proven to be successful for us. So, how do you do that? Let’s dig in!
STEP BY STEP TO GET YOU STARTED
- How We Got Here
- Choosing Your Blogging Platform
- Creating A Domain Name
- Hosting Your Blog
- The WordPress Admin Tool
- Choosing A WordPress Theme
- Recommended WordPress Plugins
- Standard Site Pages
- Important Google Tasks
- Build An Email List
- Social Media
- Create Great Content
- Content Promotion
- Monetize Your Blog
When I started to blog in early 2017, I was somewhat naïve to the blogging world and as you can imagine, I felt a bit lost. However, I knew that I wanted to write and felt that I had a message worth sharing with others. The first thing I did was setup a website to have a place to house my writing and I was hopeful that from time to time some readers may actually stumble upon it. It wasn’t long before I quickly came to realize that there is a “blogosphere” and a whole sub-culture of bloggers. I also started to understand that when it comes to blogging, there are best practices which have already been established and that I should be adhering to. I began feeling excited that with good content and the right actions, my writing could actually become more visible to the general public.
Soon thereafter, Josh began to take interest in what I was doing, and the opportunity to turn my hobby into a business became more and more apparent. Fed up with his career in corporate marketing, Josh and I decided to team up full-time and work toward our dream of self-employment.
Almost a year later and we’ve seen our traffic grow exponentially while beginning to make a profit. I wouldn’t call us the experts quite yet, but we understand what it’s like at the beginning — wondering where to start and how to turn an idea into a reality — and we are here to help you get started and lay the right foundation for your blog, just as we have successfully done.
So, let’s say you have your idea and you want to create a place where you can share your voice. Where do you go to begin? There are several choices for a blogging platform, including many reputable ones like Blogger, Wix, Tumblr, and WordPress which all have a free version. You could conduct research for days, evaluate the options, and still feel as though you are not sure about the best path forward.
Thankfully, there are some well-established best practices that make these types of decisions a bit easier. WordPress.org is the industry standard for blogs, and they have earned a solid reputation. Many well-known brands (The New Yorker, The Walt Disney Company, and Time, Inc. to name a few) actually have built their websites on the WordPress.org platform. WordPress.org also has countless display themes, plugins, widgets, add-ons, and supported integrations which all enable you to customize your blog however you would like.
Don’t be tempted by WordPress.com, which is the free version of the WordPress platform. There are tremendous limitations with WordPress.com, most notably the lack of design theme choices and just a handful of standard plugins that are offered. The options available for these two elements are seemingly endless with WordPress.org and they are ultimately what allows for you to layer in specific functionality and design your site exactly how you want.
These same limitations for customization also apply with the other free platforms mentioned above. Blogger is owned by Google, so if they ever decide to get out of the blogging space you will need to find a new platform. With all of the free blogging platforms mentioned, you will also run into some type of constraints when it comes to placing ads on your site, which can ultimately serve as a revenue stream.
Monetization may seem like something that is far off right now, but it’s important to have the correct foundation in place from the start if you may eventually consider trying to generate an income with your blog down the road. Migrating from one platform to another after you’re up and running can be a daunting task, and all but impossible depending on what platform you are moving from.
A quick anecdote; when I first setup my blog I started with WordPress.com and quickly began to realize the limitations as I became savvier at blogging. For me, I was very restricted with how I could structure my content and as mentioned, there was a lack of plugins available to display all of the elements that I have on my site today. Transitioning from WordPress.com to WordPress.org wasn’t too painful, although there were some hiccups along the way that certainly could have been avoided had I started with the best platform from the onset.
One last point; because WordPress is an open source platform, you not only have the mutually beneficial support from the masses, but you also have the ability to customize your blog as you see fit right down to changing the code. Don’t worry, if you have zero coding ability you can still easily customize your blog with the various themes and plugins. More on that coming up.
One of the most important steps in setting up a blog is choosing your domain name. It’s important that the name stands out, can be easily remembered, and provides some context on what your site is about. Remember, your domain is the first impression to your audience and one of the key elements that your brand will be built around.
Thinking long term is also important when choosing your domain. Give consideration to whether or not the content that you may start with publishing today will be the same type of content down the road tomorrow, and if the domain accurately reflects that. Don’t place yourself too far inside of a niche if there is a chance you may expand outside of it in the future. Changing a domain means losing a great deal of your SEO equity (basically what Google thinks of your site, and how they rank you in search results); this can take some time to rebuild. Not to mention the rebranding efforts that will be needed should you decide to go through a domain change.
Some Additional Considerations for Choosing a Domain:
- Keep it simple and concise. Again, you want your domain to be memorable so try not to get too creative with long domains (no more than 14 characters is commonly recommended), or inserting things like numbers or hyphens. Users will forget hyphens when typing a domain, and be unsure if they should type the number out when first hearing it. (This one I did not stick to.)
- Go for a .com. Although there are numerous domain extensions available, the most recognizable and trusted is still .com. Internet users as a whole are more inclined to trust and use .com sites; it’s been around the longest and is still the most vastly used domain extension.
- Act quickly. As strange as it may sound, good domains go fast. If you find a domain that you like and it works well for your site, grab it. You can buy domains for a relatively low cost. The last thing you want when you find the perfect domain is to lose it and have to start over or settle for something else.
Use Tools to Help You
There are some great tools out there that will help with choosing a domain for your site. Domain generators like Lean Domain Search will take the keywords you enter and provide back numerous combinations for a potential domain name. You can read more about domain generator tools, domain extensions, and common best practices around selecting a domain here.
You will also want to check your domain across social media channels to ensure that there are no existing profiles with the same name. While you can slightly modify a profile name if a duplicate already exists (you could do something like add ‘the’ to the beginning of your profile name, i.e. ‘the jthreeNMe’), be cautious of potential brand dilution that this may cause with both you and the competing profile(s). KnowEm is a tool widely used that can check your potential domain name across social networks. It will also look for associated trademarks in order to avoid any legal issues with your new name.
There are a ton of places to buy and register domain names. I like Namecheap; they’re affordable, have an easy to use site, and their customer service is excellent.
With your domain name chosen and purchased, it’s time to select a hosting partner to setup your blog. Contrary to using WordPress.com or other free platforms like Blogger or Tumblr who host the blog for you, with WordPress.org you will be self-hosting your site. This means that all of the files, content, and images associated with your blog will reside on the servers of your hosting partner, instead of the blogging platform itself.
The biggest benefit to self-hosting is that you own your site and all of your content, giving you the freedom to monetize your site by running ads, joining affiliate programs, partnering with other brands, or adding an eCommerce feature in order to sell products of your own.
Many free blogging platforms have limitations around how you can advertise on your blog, and they actually own your site and content, which means they can shut your site down or lock you out whenever they choose. In this case, free comes with a cost — the loss of potential revenue from your blog by not self-hosting.
Don’t worry, the process of self-hosting is very easy. There are many good self-hosting partners to choose from, and I will walk you through the process with the one we use and recommend now to get your self-hosted blog up and running.
Setup Your WordPress Blog with SiteGround
SiteGround is the hosting partner that we started out with for hosting our site. After researching options, we chose SiteGround for both their price point and reviews. I can tell you that their customer support is nothing short of spectacular. In the handful of times that we needed to engage with them, their responses came very quickly and the staff was always knowledgeable and professional. I never walked away feeling like I didn’t get the answer I needed.
This type of customer service can make all the difference. The SiteGround website also has numerous tutorials that are easy to find and understand; if you ever get stuck, chances are you’ll find the answer here.
To get started, go to SiteGround’s website and choose See Plans for Web Hosting. There are three different tiered hosting options to choose from. I recommend either the GrowBig or GoGeek options, as they allow for your site traffic to grow. The lowest StartUp tier only accounts for ~10,000 monthly visitors, which may sound like a lot now but you’ll be surprised how quickly you get to that number. Plus, with the higher tiered options comes their SuperCacher tool, which will vastly improve the speed of your site.
Once you’ve chosen the right plan for you click the Get Started button.
Next, you will be asked to enter your domain. If you have already registered your domain choose “I already have a Domain”. You can register your domain with SiteGround if you choose, but as a good practice it’s recommended to keep your domain registration separate from your site host.
It isn’t too difficult to switch hosting partners, but transferring domain names can be cumbersome and complex. If you ever decide to have multiple domains, it’s also much easier to manage them under one provider.
Registering your domain separately from your hosting environment ensures that you aren’t investing all of your tangible assets from your blog with one company, and allows for an easier transition should you choose another host in the future.
After entering your domain click proceed to head to the next step.
Here you’ll be asked for your billing information. In this step, you can also select from the 12, 24, or 36 months term options. A few add-ons are also available before finalizing purchase.
After your payment is processed you will receive a confirmation screen. You can proceed to the SiteGround Customer Area from here where you can setup your username and password, and access the dashboard and cPanel.
After entering the Customer Area for the first time, you will receive the popup below asking if you would like to have WordPress installed on your account. Select this option and then proceed. This is essentially a one-click WordPress install, one of the great perks from SiteGround.
In the next screen, you will be asked to enter your login credentials for WordPress, and then choose one of the free WordPress Themes. Choose any theme you would like, you can change this later if you choose. I’ll be discussing themes in detail below.
Finally, you’ve reached the last screen, where you will see the link to take you to the WordPress Admin tool. You can now go to your blog domain and see your new site!!
Now that your WordPress site is setup on your hosting environment, next up is familiarizing yourself with the WordPress admin tool. The admin portal can seem a bit confusing at first, with many menu options to choose from. You will likely be spending more time in the admin tool than on your actual blog itself and after a week or so of poking around you will become a pro.
When you first login you will see the dashboard view. This page will give you a high-level glance into your portal with jump off points into a few key areas; you’ll also be notified of any necessary updates or alerts from here as well. As with many places in the admin tool, you can customize what you see on the dashboard by using the Screen Options menu on the upper right of the page.
Before publishing any content, you will want to apply the proper setup of your Permalinks format under the Settings menu. This will determine how the URL’s of your blog will be structured. There are many options to choose from, but be sure to select the Post name option for optimal SEO. You’ll want to confirm this setting prior to posting content in order to avoid having to set up URL redirects on published content later if you decide to change this setting down the road.
The Posts section is where you will likely spend the bulk of your time. This is where all of your articles and blog posts will be placed and can be viewed within an organized table. You can easily add new posts from here, and filter through your published or drafted content.
Similarly, the Pages section is where you will be able to create static, traditional content areas for your blog such as an About or Contact page. More on the types of standard pages you’ll want to consider is covered below.
The Appearance section is where you will be able to start customizing some of the design areas of your site. From here you can apply your blog’s theme, add widgets, and setup your site menu.
You’ll want to become familiar with the Plugins area as well. There are countless plugins available, allowing you to add functionality to your site that will benefit both you and your audience, as well as to help optimize its performance. I’ll be discussing some recommended plugins to start with under a separate section below.
WP101 is an excellent resource for familiarizing yourself with the WordPress admin tool, they have video tutorials on their site, a few of which are free. You can access their video on the WordPress dashboard here, which leads into a few other video tutorials before prompting a membership. Their basic package is fairly economical, and their lessons are very straightforward to help you understand all of the areas within the admin portal.
Now that you’ve setup your WordPress.org site, established a domain name, and placed your site on a hosting environment, it’s now time to choose a WordPress theme in order to bring your blog to life. The theme will be the design guide for your blog and there is an endless amount of options to choose from. Many options are free within your WordPress dashboard, but as in most cases free comes with limitations. Splurging a bit for a paid theme will provide you with a beautifully designed website that has a professional look right out of the gate and it won’t require as much customization.
The first thing to do before selecting your premium theme is to install a WordPress Framework. Think of your blog from this perspective: WordPress is the steel body of the car, the framework is the engine and all of the internal parts, and the theme is the paint job and the rest of the aesthetics.
Having a framework in place lays the foundation for the theme with core code elements and SEO best practices, which in turn allow your site to be taken to the next level beyond the standard WordPress foundation. The additional benefit of the framework is that it enables you to easily switch themes without losing any of the core features and functionality of your site. Each framework has numerous “child” themes, which are compatible with the framework. When changing to a child theme that’s compatible with your existing framework, you can generally keep your settings, options, and configurations intact, making a design transition much smoother.
With a little research, you can easily find many sources that will lead you to the Genesis Framework. There are many advantages with Genesis, here are just a few:
- SEO. The Genesis code base is built with optimal SEO in mind. Having a solid SEO infrastructure can be invaluable in the long run when it comes to readers finding your content.
- Error free updates. When updating WordPress (which occurs often), the update happens within the Genesis framework and not your theme. With no changes impacting the presentation layer of the theme itself, this means that nothing on your site will break for the user just because WordPress releases an update.
- Plugins and functionality. There are many important plugins that are only available for sites running on the Genesis Framework. Genesis also has made it very easy to adjust functionality in your blog by customizing widgets and layout options without having to mess with any code.
- Stability. Genesis is built by StudioPress, who has a team of developers that work on maintaining best practices within the code base. Because Genesis is so widely used, adequate maintenance of the framework is consistent, ensuring that it stays compatible across web browsers and new technology.
You can read more about the Genesis features here.
Once you’ve purchased the Genesis Framework, now it’s time to find a child theme that works for you. As stated, the theme will ultimately drive the aesthetics and presentation layer of the site. A beautifully designed site provides credibility and engagement to the site visitors, and will help to convey that you’re a serious and professional blogger.
There are countless child theme options for the Genesis Framework so you can select a design that fits with your blogging goals. While there are also countless places to buy themes online, you will want to make sure you are buying from a trusted source. You should consider if the provider has built the theme using best practices, and if they have a support team in place for any issues you may have.
As mentioned above, StudioPress is the creator of the Genesis Framework so you can be certain that any theme available on their site can be trusted and will be supported — you can view the themes available on their site here. We use the Genesis Framework with the Brunch Pro theme for our site today, and could not be happier with the outcome. Brunch Pro even has a demo site that you can explore which gives you an idea of the flexibility around the theme’s design.
We’ve gotten to the point of having the basic version of your blog in place, now it’s time to begin optimizing it by adding on some plugins. There are literally thousands of plugins to choose from, many that do great things by allowing you to customize your site and improve its performance. However, be selective with your plugins; if you have too many they can begin to drag down the speed of your site, so it’s important that you don’t go overboard. We currently have over 30 active plugins that do various things on our site today, all helping it to run efficiently. Here are a few core plugins that I wouldn’t be able to live without:
- Askimet: This is an Anti-Spam plugin. It prevents readers from publishing malicious content within your comments area. This is a widely used plugin, and helps from having to constantly monitor the engagement that your readers post on your blog.
- Broken Link Checker: A simple plugin that does exactly what you would expect, checks your blog and alerts you when any broken links are detected.
- Genesis eNews Extended: The eNews plugin by Genesis allows for you to insert an email opt-in form within a widget area of your blog if you are running the Genesis Framework. It has the ability to integrate with most email services like MailChimp and ConvertKit, and the opt-in form automatically matches the design characteristics of your child theme, making for a seamless integration.
- Genesis Simple Edits: Allows you to easily customize the info that displays above and below each post (like the date, number of comments, category, etc.), and also edit your footer links on your blog.
- Yoast SEO: Hands down one of the most needed plugins, the Yoast SEO plugin will automatically handle many basic core SEO needs for your blog. When creating new posts, the plugin will give you tips for improving SEO on each individual article before you publish. This one is pretty standard across WordPress blogs today.
- GA Google Analytics: There are a few ways to add Google Analytics to your site (which is imperative, more on that below). This plugin makes it about as simple as can be.
- Sassy Social Share: Great little plugin which allows you to easily add and customize the display of the social sharing ability on your site.
- W3 Total Cache: This plugin is designed to optimize the speed of your site. It’s a necessity, without it you’re bound to eventually run into very slow load times which will drive your visitors away. The settings can be a bit difficult to customize, so you should consult with your hosting partner on their recommendations and do a little research to get the best results.
- Wordfence Security: A very commonly used plugin, the basic goal of this one is to prevent your blog from being hacked.
- WordPress Related Posts: An easy way to help with engagement on your site, the Related Posts plugin automatically displays your similar posts at the bottom of each article you publish, allowing the user to easily navigate to more content with the intent of increasing their time spent on your blog.
- WP Smush: A great way to improve performance, this plugin will automatically “smush” your images to reduce their file size, allowing your site to run at a more optimal pace.
Another plugin worth mentioning here is Jetpack. This is a very popular plugin which we did have installed early on. It will provide you with some basic web metrics to understand what is happening on your site (Google Analytics should be used for this instead, the data is far more robust), and give you some other features like related posts and sharing options (the other plugins mentioned above handle these features much better). The biggest detriment of Jetpack is that it can have a substantial impact on the speed of your site, slowing it down a great deal. Once we migrated the site from a WordPress.com platform to the WordPress.org version, we removed this plugin and haven’t looked back.
With your blog now in place, you’re ready to start building out some content. But before you officially write your first post and launch your site, you’ll want to add some basic evergreen content, or static pages. Here are a few to consider:
An About Me Page
Visitors who come to your blog will want some insight on the person generating all of the well-written content. Ultimately your writing reflects a bit about who you are and your readers will want to get to know you. So, show your face, be inviting and engaging, and give your readers a little of what makes you, you.
Letting your audience see a bit of your personal side will make them more inclined to come back and hear what else you have to say. Be raw, be honest. Take a look at my About Me page for some ideas.
As you get further into blogging, one of the key ways to increase your readership is through partnering and collaborating with other bloggers and businesses. Generally, these relationships are mutually beneficial as each blogger is able to tap into the other’s audience, generating more traffic to their site, or leverage the partnership to generate revenue.
Having a Contact page is not only a best practice to enable a way for your readers to reach out, it also allows for other bloggers or businesses who may want to collaborate with you to have an easy way to get in touch. Nothing too fancy; the page can have a simple form embedded using a plugin or just list an email address as on my Contact page.
Policies & Disclosures Page
Although at first it may sound like a bit much to have a Policies page when you launch your new blog, they are indeed a good idea in order to cover some broad terms for your site visitors. If you choose to become a part of an affiliate or advertising program like those offered by Amazon or Google (we’ll discuss these programs more under the monetization section below), they also require some type of disclosure to be displayed to your readers. A disclosure about receiving compensation for published content is required from the FTC as well.
You don’t need to get too impactful with the legal jargon, just be compliant. You can refer to our Policies page to help get you started.
Professional Email Address
A key thing to setup when you start your blog is a professional email address. Pretty soon you will begin communicating with your readers, other bloggers, or other companies to partner with, and you will want to do so with a branded email address that reflects your blog’s name.
You can easily setup a standard free email address with any service provider (Google is recommended as you can use your email address for the additional Google tasks below; they also provide cloud storage with Google Drive which will be linked to your email address), something like [email protected]. While this would be sufficient in many cases, you may want something a bit more branded when you start emailing with others.
Google offers an option for this as well. Although it isn’t free, the cost is only $5 a month per email address. With G Suite, you can setup a more professional email address like [email protected]. The process requires that you verify with Google ownership of your domain using MX Records. Sounds a bit complicated, but it isn’t too bad at all, and Google walks you through exactly how to do it. Many of the tasks will involve some setting changes with your hosting partner, Google has provided a guide for those steps as well. Simply find your hosting partner in this list and follow the instructions.
Once you have your custom email address in place, you’ll want to setup Google Analytics on your site. As mentioned under the plugins section above, JetPack does provide you with some high-level metrics on how your site is doing. However, Google Analytics is a much more robust platform and is the industry standard across the majority of websites in order to understand exactly who the users are that are accessing your site, how they are getting there, and what they are doing once they arrive.
Setup is fairly easy, you can use your new custom email address to create your Google Analytics account. Next, download the Google Analytics plugin and add your GA Property ID, this can be found by going to the Admin menu in Google Analytics, under the Property Settings, listed as the Tracking ID. Once in place follow the instructions in the plugin and you’re up and running.
Google Search Console
The last task you’ll want to complete with Google is to add your blog to the Google Search Console. This is an important step that you don’t want to overlook as it tells Google that your blog exists, and to begin indexing your content and website pages in order for them to show up in Google search results. After you’ve added your site to the Google Search Console, you will need to grab a bit of code and place it into your WordPress Admin to complete the process. You can do this using the Yoast SEO plugin mentioned in the plugin section above. Yoast has provided easy step by step instructions on what to do here.
Once you’ve added your site, you’ll also want to provide Google with your blog’s xml sitemap. The sitemap is what allows Google to read the content from your blog, in turn making it accessible for users when they conduct a Google search. Your xml sitemap is a URL (like: https://www.jthreenme.com/sitemap_index.xml) and is available from the Yoast SEO plugin. To add your sitemap, go to the Search Console homepage and select your site. On the left-hand menu, go to Crawl, then Sitemaps — you can submit from this page.
One of the most important things that you can do with your blog is to begin collecting email addresses from your readers. To be honest, this is something that we haven’t done a great job with yet. With Josh’s background in marketing, we’re aware of how useful a dedicated email list can be to a business and the impact it can have with effective communication.
The great thing about your email list is the simple fact that it’s yours. You can communicate with the members on your list as often as you want, even customizing the message to individual recipients when using the right email platform.
By growing your own email list, you will have an immediate audience that you can tap into whenever you want — whether to highlight a new post or recap posts for the week, your email list is a great resource for pushing traffic to your blog and bringing back repeat visitors.
These are also readers who have opted-in to receive communication, which means they have expressed an interest. From a marketing perspective, email has always been a top converter over other digital channels. If one day you decide to create products to sell from your site, your email list of qualified potential customers is a good place to start.
There are many platforms to choose from, but a few staples that you will continue to find amongst bloggers. A great place to start (and where we started) is with MailChimp; they have a free plan which allows you to have up to 2,000 email subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails per month. Perfect while you’re growing your list. Their next tiered plan is pretty affordable as well at just $10/month.
For bigger goals and plans right out of the gate, ConvertKit is a great option for that next level of service. ConvertKit is a robust platform which allows for enhanced marketing automation, and various opt-in form tactics intended to help grow your list quickly. The platform is designed for you to be able to set the criteria you want about your audience, decide on the various touch points for how and when to communicate with them (think of sending content by category to a subset of readers, or different communication based on if a reader opted-in for a newsletter vs. to “learn more” about something in particular), then automate the emails that get sent. Once it’s all up and running, you can evaluate what is working and what’s not, and make changes to your email program as needed. It’s a powerful platform that if used correctly will certainly help to grow your subscriber list and steer conversions.
The key thing to remember regardless of the email platform you choose is to incentivize your readers to subscribe. Providing offers for free useful items to download or a relevant email course based on your blog’s content, or anything really that helps meet a need that your readers can relate to, will help drive opt-ins substantially over a simple “Join My List”. Readers want an immediate payoff if they are going to hand over their email address. This is an area where we have been lacking with our opt-in method so far, and Josh and I have made a point to put a strategic focus on growing our subscribers in 2018.
Of course, you will want to link to your content from all major social media outlets (Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) in order to drive traffic to your site. The first step is establishing profiles for your blog on each platform, and then maintaining them accordingly. KnowEm and Namecheckr will help you to see what usernames are available across all outlets.
Each platform individually is a time vacuum and social media as a whole can be a full-time job alone. To properly maintain them, grow an audience, and actively engage with followers is a lot of work. But, it is also necessary to help build your brand and grow readership on your site.
Pick one and start slow, master it and grow it, then move on to the next one. You will hear a lot about Pinterest being the #1 traffic driver for bloggers, but if you’re a Facebook guru then start with Facebook. The goal is to create a presence and start using it effectively.
Dedicating adequate time to building your social media profiles will pay off, as they will ultimately become one of the primary traffic drivers to your site.
Bill Gates once stated that “content is king”, and over 20 years later the cliché is still true. You can have the best-looking blog in the world, a ton of bells and whistles, and do a fantastic job with social media — but without compelling content none of it matters. Good content is why readers will come to your site and continue to come back.
There are many aspects to blogging, as you may have sensed from the topics written about so far. But at the core, good content is the one fundamental thing that all successful bloggers have in common. While “good” can certainly be somewhat subjective as every blogger has their own style, there are basic principles that should be considered to effectively engage with your readers.
Know Your Audience
While I do write for the masses, I am well aware that the majority of my readers are likely moms. Knowing your audience is key in order to make your content relatable. The reader must feel that they can apply some pieces of the content to their own life so that they feel compelled to return for more. When you are finished drafting your article, ask yourself if the content aligns with the target audience you are trying to reach and will it effectively appeal to that group. If your content services directly to your audience with useful information designed to help resolve needs, readers within the niche will keep coming back.
Tell a Story
When possible, wrap your message into your own experiences. The underlying subject matter of a post will be more impactful if given anecdotally. The reader will feel like they know you more over time, and will be inclined to view themselves within the situations you describe, or relate them to their own experiences.
Make Suggestions, Propose Solutions — Be Useful & Unique
For your posts to be appealing, readers must get some sort of fulfillment out of them. This can happen in numerous ways and can be very simple. Be entertaining or educational, newsworthy or informative, provide a sense of community through unity (think of a “you’re not in this alone” mindset), or simply look to provoke a laugh. If the reader walks away continuing to think about what they’ve read, or with some knowledge that they can apply to their own life, you’ve done your job.
Differentiating yourself is another key aspect. If you choose to write within a common niche (like parenting), there will literally be hundreds of other bloggers already in that space, all who are already doing a fantastic job with dedicated readers. To compete you can try to do what they are doing only better, and hope that some of their audience will also become yours. Not an easy feat if the reader isn’t getting anything different when they come to your new blog.
A better option may be to choose a sub-topic within the niche (i.e. a singular focus on parenting, like young children or teenagers). You can also look to write in a distinct voice, making yourself stand out by creating a tone not matched by the masses.
Organize the Content
A rule of thumb when drafting posts for your blog is to build the content out in a scannable format. Don’t get me wrong, this can’t always be the case — there will be times when long elements of text are needed in order to properly convey the message, and long blog posts aren’t always a bad thing. However, by breaking the content up within the post itself you’re allowing the reader to digest elements of your writing in chunks, which in turn allows for them to more rapidly consume and understand the text, making them more inclined to read the entire post.
Here are a few ways that you can make your content scannable within a post:
- Create lists. (like this one): lists are easy to digest. Lists make it easier to get across multiple relevant points. And although the audience may not always read the subtext of a bullet (like what I’m writing here), the core items which make up the list will be seen.
- Use headings and subheadings. when possible, break up thoughts within the main idea visually through the use of headings.
- Spacing and formatting. sounds simple, but building out multiple smaller paragraphs composed of a few sentences each spreads the text out on the page, making it easier to scan. Also, don’t be afraid to bold, italicize, and underline to enforce a point visually.
- Convey your point. make sure you get to your main point sooner than later in your writing. Make it clear, concise, and don’t bury it obscurely down in the details. Have a definitive message, and a defined conclusion to each piece.
- Imagery. compelling imagery is a necessary element of engaging content. Not only will these images work to draw people in while browsing your site, the same images will be displayed on social media when users share your content. Canva is a great tool that we’ve been using from the start; they offer a free option, or for just under $13 a month you get full use of the site.
Stay the Course
A critical thing to remember is to continue to execute. When you are first starting out, creating well written, engaging content with each and every post will be difficult. Eventually, you will hit a groove and realize what pieces resonate with your audience. Your process for drafting great posts will become second nature. Don’t give up, you will get there. The bloggers who become successful are the ones that continue to learn and develop, and don’t get overly frustrated with the process.
Posting on a consistent basis is just as important. Decide what your posting schedule will be, based on what you can realistically commit to, and stick to it. As you build a loyal following of readers they will begin to expect your posts to come with consistency; break the cycle and you’ll risk losing them. When we first started out I was posting on a daily basis. As the business began to gain traction, I scaled that back a bit to four days a week in order to allow time for growth in other areas like social media.
Once you’ve decided on the schedule that works for you stay with it, consistency is better than frequency.
Once you begin writing all of this great content, you’ll want to promote it and make sure it actually gets read. Ramping up a promotional strategy at the beginning can be tough, especially as you are spending most of your time consistently churning out posts in order to fill up your blog. The best way to strike a balance is to set time blocks for each. Once you have a good baseline of content in the bank, begin to allocate some of your writing time to promoting your blog.
The standard way of promotion is through the proper use of social media, and as mentioned before, Pinterest has historically been a primary traffic driver for bloggers. However, there are some other proven methods as well; here a few strategies that we have had success with in promoting our blog.
Join Blogging Groups — “Find Your Tribe”
You will be amazed to learn how supportive, encouraging, and helpful your virtual blogging friends will be. Join as many social media “groups” and “tribes” as you can and be an active and supportive participant. In doing so, you will in turn get active and supportive readers of your content.
I belong to a small tribe and we support each other in any way that we can. I also try to comment on several other people’s blog posts daily to engage with their content. By sharing each other’s content across social media platforms consistently, we are all helping to drive traffic to our blogs.
Take opportunities when you can to collaborate with fellow bloggers. As you begin to find your way around the blogging community, these opportunities will start to present themselves naturally. You may want to also take the time to actively seek out ones that you feel will be beneficial to both parties. Typically, this entails exchanging posts to be published on the other’s site, but collaborations can also be leveraged to help promote a product or service being sold.
A word of caution though, collaborations can take up a lot of your time if you take on too many at once. Be selective when appropriate to ensure each of you will receive some benefit from the efforts. Ultimately, the power of “sharing audiences” is a win-win for all bloggers, and will help to grow traffic to your site.
When it comes to social media, Pinterest has proven to be a key consistent traffic driver on a daily basis for many bloggers. For us, Pinterest is another one of those areas that we have yet to do a sufficient job with, and it’s another strategic focus for 2018. We’ve studied up and researched what to do while starting to scratch the surface, but have a lot more effort to put in for Pinterest to reach its full potential as a traffic driver for us. Fortunately, we’ve had a great deal of success through other social channels.
The key thing with Pinterest is to gain as much exposure for your pins as you can, which will link back to your blog posts. There are a few primary ways to do this:
- Gain as many followers as you can.
- Join as many effective Group Boards as you can (Group Boards are boards that multiple people can post pins to and share pins from, widening the audience of your pins. Instructions to join are typically listed on each board; find ones in your niche that have lots of collaborators and pins in order to maximize impact).
- Create engaging imagery so that your pins stand out among the rest. Canva is a great tool for image editing that we use daily.
The most efficient way to boost your number of followers is to seek out other successful bloggers in your niche who already have a big following. Start following them (and re-pinning their pins). See what group boards they belong to and try joining those. Some of these bloggers and their followers will begin to follow you, and eventually you will begin to see your number of followers (and traffic to your blog) start to grow.
Simply put, monetizing your blog is finding ways for your blog to begin making money for you. If you have made it this far, you’ve invested a lot in getting your professional blog up and running, and the decision to monetize may seem like the logical next step. There are four main ways to monetize a blog, all which have their own benefits.
Here is a Breakdown of Each:
This is the act of placing a link on your blog which goes to someone else’s product or service, and receiving compensation if someone clicks from your site to theirs and then makes a purchase, generally as a percentage of the sale. There are many Affiliate Networks that you can join; some of the more common ones are Amazon, ShareASale, and CJ Affiliate. You may also find other bloggers who have affiliate links, which are designed to help support sales for their products or services — partnering with them to become an affiliate generally leads to great collaboration opportunities.
Probably the easiest and most passive way to generate revenue from your blog is by placing advertisements on it. You can go about displaying advertisements in a couple of ways, the most common of which is by joining Ad Networks like Google AdSense or AdThrive (as with Affiliate Networks, there are several out there). There are some downsides to using Ad Networks; typically, you have no control over which actual ads end up being displayed on your site. Rather, you select some criteria when signing up and the ads shown on your blog will relate to your selections, in turn ideally also relating to your niche. Another negative is that you will need a ton of site traffic in order to start seeing some decent payouts. Unlike affiliates who tend to usually payout a percentage of a sale, ads on your blog from an Ad Network will pay a fraction of a dollar based on the number of times the ad is seen (an impression) or clicked on. A very general rule of thumb is that around 30,000 page views in a month may result in around a $50-$100 payout on an individual ad.
When it comes to advertising a quicker way to see more impactful results is by partnering with private advertisers. With private ads, you charge a flat one time (or recurring monthly) fee and work directly with the advertiser. Fees are structured around size and placement on your site, the duration they will run, and can also include mentioning the advertiser on your social media profiles. Partnerships with private advertisers can come in the form of other bloggers who may want to drive traffic to their site in support of their product, or even with larger brands if your blog garners enough traffic for them to justify advertising there. If private advertisements begin to take off with your site be prepared to offer up a media kit, which should outline pricing scenarios based on ad types and have transparency about your blog’s traffic.
You can partner up with other brands or bloggers and charge a fee to write a post about them, their products, or any services that they offer. Sponsored posts are great because it’s content for your site and generally they are written as some sort of beneficial review which will relate to your audience. A one-time fee is usually negotiated for sponsored posts. Just make sure that you don’t go too overboard with them; the number of sponsored posts shouldn’t outshine your original content and they should align with the context of what you would normally write about.
Digital Products or Services
Creating your own products or services to sell on your blog can lead to the largest income potential if done correctly. This will also take the most time. To think of the product, execute it, and launch it successfully takes a ton of time and effort, which is why many bloggers never do it. The positive though is that it can lead to passive income in the long run, meaning once you’ve done all of the work up front and a great job with marketing, your product or service can continue earning you money in the future with minimal maintenance. Some typical products or services offered by bloggers are eBooks, online courses, memberships or subscription services, email courses, webinars, and digital or physical products.
So, there you have it, all you need to know in order to get your new blog off the ground. There is certainly a lot to getting started, and just as much if not more to continue to run a successful blog every day. When I first started I knew absolutely nothing about blogging, just that I wanted to write. It’s been a long and challenging road, but also extremely rewarding. As my passion grew I dedicated myself to learning as much as I could and working hard at it on a daily basis. Now, I am able to get paid for what I love to do, and have more time at home with my husband and kids as I do it.
It’s not impossible, with the right foundation to get you started anyone has the potential to be successful at blogging. I hope that this overview has given you that — if you made it this far, you have certainly shown dedication already. Now, it’s time to get started!!
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