Starting a blog is simple if you use a site like Blogger or WordPress.com. You just enter your details and away you go. Or you can have more control over design and plug-ins with a WordPress blog on your own hosted site. In either case, there are other things to think about, which are best done at the start.
Here are some suggestions…
Sign up for a hosting package
There are plenty of webhosts that offer easy installation of well-known blog engines. I like Dreamhost, which provides a solid foundation for the start and for future expansion. It also offers a simple “one-click” method for installing a number of popular blogs and other goodies. The cost is about £80/$90 per year.
Install a blog engine
If you’re going the route of hosting your blog on your own webspace, I’d recommend WordPress, which has been around awhile, works well, and has a huge customisation potential through themes and plugins. Read the how-to information, browse the plug-ins and choose a theme.
Browse successful blogs
Don’t just read the posts and comments; cast an analytical eye on the site, paying close attention to everything: the writing, multimedia, pages, graphics, design, links, advertising, navigation, ease of subscription, cross-links to social media, etc. See what works and what doesn’t. Make a note of features you like and those you don’t.
IPR and copyright
It’s all well and good if everything you post on your blog is 100% homegrown from your own brain and skills. However, it’s likely that you’ll want to pull images, videos, text and other content in from elsewhere on the web. Make sure you don’t present anyone else’s content as if it were your own. Most things are OK to use as long as you use the expected method (e.g., embedding YouTube videos) or if you provide credits, references, links and/or other information that identifies the original owner. However, if you really can’t tell if it’s OK, do one of these: provide just a link rather than the thing itself, ask for permission and wait for it to come, or leave it alone.
If you’re going to mention products for sale on prominent ecommerce sites, sign yourself up for affiliate programmes like Amazon‘s and any others you feel likely to use in the future. Then, always use your unique links to the products to make sure you get your share if anyone does click through and buy the product. There’s also Google Adsense, which places adverts on your blog and gives you a small kickback if anyone clicks on them.
Publish some initial content
Get something published quickly: your bio and photo for the “about me” page and a couple of blog posts. Even if you don’t have much yet, make sure there’s something worthwhile for early visitors to want to come back.
Establish your brand
Sign up with Gravatar for an avatar that will move around the web with you and make sure your comments on other blogs (and your own!) will be recongised. If you’re trying to make a name as an individual, use the same photo you use on your bio page. If a business, use a logo that works well in various sizes.
Comment on blogs
Find the most popular blogs to do with your topic. Subscribe, read and make comments regularly, always including your blog url. Spread yourself around, discuss, engage, make a name. Be nice, but be knowledgable — add value and you’ll get people coming to check out your blog. And don’t neglect replying to comments on your own blog. You’ll get lots of spam, but the real commenters who actually engage with your ideas are very valuable and deserve nurturing.
Put your url on all webpages, business cards, letterheads, adverts, email signatures, promotional materials. Make a list of anyone who mentions you online and ask them to include your blog address. Send an announcement about your new blog to anyone relevant.
Use social networking
There are loads of easy ways to interconnect most of the best-known social media and networking accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter. You have a better chance of catching readers by spreading your nets around. Tweet every new blog post; “follow” appropriate people (many will follow you back); put links to your accounts on your blog (there are also plug-ins to link them automatically); get yourself on various directories like WeFollow; use available apps to publish your blog on other site profiles. Make it easy for people to find you!
Use the tools designed for the job
There are loads of tools designed specifically for bloggers to collect information on readers and also to make it easy for readers to subscribe by newsreader or email to your blog. Most WordPress themes come with RSS feed buttons in place to allow people to subscribe directly, but you may want to consider using Feedburner instead, which collects lots of useful data and allows you to customise how a subscriber will view your feeds when read in email or a newsreader. There’s also Google Analytics for more data and another view. The more you know about your readers, the more you can put your efforts into the right strategy for satisfying them and for getting new ones. Also make sure your blog is visible to ping and aggregator sites like Technorati and Pingomatic.
Post, post, post.
Post regularly. This may be once a day, once a week, or slightly less often, but try not to let long stretches go by between posts. We all suffer from writer’s block on occasion or find we’re swamped with other things that seem more pressing. Not all your posts need to be groundbreaking or brilliant. There are lots of strategies for writing (or videoing or podcasting), which will depend on what you want to do with your blog, and if you plan to post frequently, you may want to take longer posts and break them up into shorter ones you can post on different days. Or you can use those times you set aside to write to create posts that will be published on specific dates (WordPress does this for you).
There’s lots of good advice out there, so don’t lose heart. As long as you have a reason for you blog — you have something you want to say — you’ll find your voice and a way to make it work. But above all, don’t expect huge numbers of readers to come flocking in overnight. It takes time to build a reputation. Good quality posts published regularly will gain you a loyal readership.