There must be something in the air this week. Within the past few days, three different people have asked me for tips on starting a blog. And while 8 months of blogging does not an expert make, I have learned some valuable tidbits in my relatively short blogging tenure (much of it through trial and error or hours spent googling). So I decided to create and publish a list of the 10 most important things I learned about starting a blog.
1) Choose a topic that you are passionate about. Your ultimate goal is to build a community around your blog and encourage participation through comments and feedback. Be knowlegable about your subject, and find your niche. Don’t be afraid to put emotion into your writing. Are you angry about a certain news story or topic? Then write about it, and don’t sugar coat your feelings. Do you have the urge to write about a controversial topic? Then go for it! Realize that you are not going to to please all of your readers all of the time. Don’t be afraid to have people disagree with your viewpoint.
2) Choose your blogging platform according to your needs and blogging goals. The two most common platforms are WordPress and Google’s Blogger. There are other platforms such as Tumblr that are worth investigating. I have experience with self hosted WordPress and Blogger, so I will offer my opinion on the pros and cons of each.
Self hosted, open source platform. The user maintains full control over the site.
Very flexible and customizable.
The vast array of options can be intimidating.
User (blogger) must sign up for and pay for web hosting.
User is in charge of security.
Very user friendly.
As a Google platform, Google is in charge of security.
Easy to get started.
Google hosts the blog and could theoretically take it down.
Less flexibility than WordPress.
I started my blog on Blogger, and I was up and running within an hour. After a month or two on Blogger, I decided to migrate my blog to WordPress because I wanted more flexibility. Both platforms are very good. If you choose WordPress, make sure to read about choosing a theme (the look and feel of your blog). There are free themes, and there are paid themes. Paid themes are not necessarily better. I use a free theme called Suffusion, which I highly recommend for its flexibility and ease of use.
3) Make sure you have ample time to dedicate to a blog. Blogs are like flowers. They need to be nurtured or else they will wither up and die. When I started my blog, I had no idea how much time I would need to dedicate to it. In the beginning, I spent a minimum of 15 hours per week on my blog. Now I spend approximately 4-8 hours per week on the blog, and I post approximately 2 times per week. Do not underestimate the time commitment required to maintain a thriving blog.
4) Find your own style and “voice”. Do not copy other bloggers’ style. Try to develop your own unique style, and don’t be afraid to get creative. Readers want to see something fresh and new.
5) You must market your blog if you want it to grow. The easiest way to market your blog is to comment on other similar blogs. Keep your comments relevant and make them valuable. Don’t just drop in a link and leave. That is considered spam, and is against blogger etiquette. Other things you can do to market your blog:
- Find guest blogging opportunities on other blogs.
- Get to know other bloggers in your niche and trade links (known as a link exchange).
- User Twitter and Facebook to promote your blog.
- Print and distribute business cards for your blog. I use Vista Print.
6) Don’t ignore the technical stuff. If using WordPress, make sure to install analytics to track your reader statistics (Blogger tracks this automatically). Pay attention to security issues. Learn about SEO (search engine optimization). Don’t be afraid to get geeky. Ask for help when you need it. I have outsourced several things on my blog from the header design to the migration from Blogger to WordPress.
7) Make use of good quality photos. Readers love to see nice photography. It you are not a photographer, pick up a camera and learn. Also, learn about copyright laws, sources for free images and blogging etiquette.
8) Don’t expect your blog to be an instant revenue generator. I’ve had my blog for eight months, and I have not even begun to think about revenue generation. I want to make sure that my content is strong and valuable before I enter those waters. And if I do decide to accept ads, I would keep it to a minimum and be very selective about the process. Readers don’t want to see ads cluttering your page, and my blog is, first and foremost, for my readers.
9) Pay attention to grammar, punctuation and your writing style. While blog writing is less formal than, let’s say, essay writing, it is not an excuse to ignore proper punctuation and grammar. Make sure your paragraphs are short and your blog posts are well organized and easy to read. My wonderful 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Betsy Howard, instilled in me the importance of proper grammar and punctuation.
10) Consistency is key. You’ve found your voice, your style and your niche. Now stick to it. Try to keep off topic posts to a minimum. Maintain a consistent look to your posts. Keep your photos the same size. And most importantly, post on a consistent basis. You don’t have to post daily, but try to post at least 2-3 times per week.
Here are some other good sources of information:
Lorelle on WordPress