Three years ago I decided to start my own blog so, as a good student, I signed up for a blogging workshop. One of the first things they asked was to set up a goal by answering the following set of questions:
- What kind of a blogger do you want to be?
- What are you going to blog about and why?
- Who are you writing for?
- What is the main goal of your blogging adventure?
I haven’t quite figured out what exactly I want to do with my blog. Since I have always been in love with books and science fiction and fantasy world, the answer to the first two questions came easy. But, to be honest, I didn’t give much thought to any of the questions, and that was mistake number one. So I rambled long and hard.
After some time, I learned the lesson the hard way. Now I can proudly say I understand “How to start a successful blog” journey, so I wanted to share with you some of the important issues you need to consider if you are serious about stepping into the magic world of his majesty, the blog.
Lesson number one: Answer all the questions!
What kind of a blogger do you want to be?
It is quite logical to assume that, if you want to start a blog, you prepared all the answers. But sometimes, you may hurry up a bit and skip some important steps. Firstly, you have to make a deal with yourself about what kind of a blogger you want to be. Is your blog just one page on your personal website with occasional posts? Or is it something you want to see growing? You must embrace the fact that blogging is time-consuming and it requires a lot of research, energy, and heart. Are you ready to write one post per week? This is directly connected to the question number two:
What you are going to blog about and why?
When starting a blog, you can choose between two approaches.
The first one would be to blog about something you are passionate about (the approach I embraced). The good side of this approach is that, although it requires tons of research (and in my case reading or rereading), the interest you have on the chosen topic is a powerful tool. However, by using this approach, you can only hope you’ll gain followers with time.
The second approach suggests choosing an attractive niche from the start, with a specific angle. When aiming at an attractive niche, you are pursuing followers who already showed interest in the topics you will be covering. This is probably better approach if you want to monetize your blog someday in the future! Of course, this doesn’t mean that the passion is excluded from the second equation. The best blog posts are always those that radiate energy and passion.
Who are you writing for?
Okay, you know what kind of blogger you want to be and what topics you want to cover. But then, a sudden and unpleasant thought hits you hard – who am I writing this for? Why would anyone care about what I have to say? Let’s take a deep breath first. Have in mind that it all comes down to your readers and the content they are interested in. After finding your niche and the topic you can imagine yourself writing about in years to come, you must make sure that people will be interested in the content you will be providing. You can do that by checking out the “competition” (similar blogs) and finding out how many times people search for terms related to your topic. The tools you can use to do so, such as Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends, are perfectly explained in our blogging eBook, which you can download for free!
I didn’t answer this question completely. Although I knew that I was writing for all the sci-fi and fantasy book lovers, it was only a small part of the question. Is there anyone blogging about this topic? Should I consider a two-language blog? (I used only my native language, which considerably shortened the list of my readers.) What does my target audience want to read about?
What is your goal?
Do you want blogging to become your full-time job someday? Are you perceiving it as a hobby, and doing it to make connections with people who share your passion and interests? Or maybe you want to gain recognition as an industry expert? Whatever your goals are, make sure that they are specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and time-related (S.M.A.R.T.). 🙂
Lesson number two: Deciding on a blogging platform!
After successfully answering to all of the important questions, you should decide on a platform to host your blog. The choice lies between hosted and self-hosted platforms. What is the difference? Hosted blogging platforms are ideal for people who are just starting and don’t want to bother with the technical aspect. The most popular ones are Tumblr, Blogger, and Medium. They represent a great solution, but there is always a catch. By choosing a hosted platform, you are basically giving another party the rights to your name, and if someday one of these platforms change or shut down, there is nothing you can do about it. Therefore, I highly recommend choosing a self-hosted platform, such as WordPress. Although it will be a bit difficult in the very beginning, and especially if you don’t have required technical knowledge, it is worth trying. First, you will have your own little place on the internet, and you can decorate it however you want to! Secondly, you will have your own domain name (we’ll discuss this a little bit later) and will need to choose a hosting plan, but you are completely in charge of everything that happens on your blog!
If you haven’t heard about WordPress, here is a short explanation. WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL, which runs on a web hosting service. This is some technical mumbo-jumbo, but what you need to know is that it is really simple to use, it has cool plugins which help you manage your content and create the blog that suits your needs and purposes, and it comes with thousands of templates and themes you can use to make your blog unique. But it can also be extremely simple – the best for beginners.
Lesson number three: Register a domain!
Just like you have your business and home address, you need to have one in the online world for your blog as well. And this is where another deep breath is required. Remember that picking a domain name means creating an online identity for your blog, and it needs to speak volumes – about you as an author, about the content and the nature of your blog. It needs to be personal, appealing and it needs to have a call-to-action! If people can tell what your blog is about just by looking at your domain name, you have a winner! Back at the time, after one harsh brainstorming session with myself, I just wanted to get over with it. So wrong! As an epic fantasy freak, I decided to go with arween.me (like Arwen from “The Lord of the Rings” with one extra “e”). I must admit that it wasn’t one of my brightest ideas. Your blog equals your brand. It will become an important part of your personality, and you’ll want it to be perfect. So choose wisely!
If the blog is personally about you and if it is going to be representing yourself then .ME is the choice for you! If you are planning to be a company one day, then choose .com.
If you can not decide, ask for the feedback from your family and friends. And as soon as you get a pretty good idea about a domain name, check if it is available right here!
Lesson number four: Choose your hosting plan!
To build a blog, you will need a place where all your content will be stored. And that is the second most important decision (after, of course, registering your own domain name). Hosting packages vary from one hosting provider to another, so they can include different features, such as domain names, disk space, data transfer, free or paid email accounts or 24/7 support. It can be a little confusing, especially if you are a beginner. But don’t worry! As Sanja explained in our “How to Start A Blog” eBook, there are five things to look for in a hosting provider:
- They have a good reputation. Check forums;
- They offer 24/7 phone and/or email support;
- Their package includes email accounts;
- Their package allows for scalability if your blog grows;
- They offer security-monitoring services.
The physical location of the hosting server is of a great importance. For example, if most of your readers are from Europe, you’ll want your website to be hosted in some of the European countries. Good news is, if you are just starting out, some hosting providers now offer separate hosting packages that are completely optimized for WordPress and easy to use. For more information on choosing a hosting plan, check out our eBook.
Finally – time to start writing!
Blogging is a lucrative business. Our survey showed that 61% of bloggers have received job offers as a result of their blog, while 60% of them said that they have found new clients! Although it will take a lot of your time, the benefits are plentiful. You just have to be sure what do you want to achieve and go for it!
You decided on your blog topic, answered all the questions from the beginning, chosen the domain name and hosting server. Now is the time to pick up your proverbial pen or to very literally place yourself in front of a keyboard and start typing away! Remember, be yourself, write about what you know and love, and just keep on writing.
Here is a pinch of tips and tricks for blogging:
- Break up your posts into more paragraphs. A long, endless stream of thought is great if you are James Joyce, but not many blog readers have Ulysses marked down as their favorite book;
- On that note, also use subheads on longer posts and bullets for lists;
- The decision of the blog posts length is all yours! Do you want to write short (but genius) posts like Seth Godin, or you prefer in-depth posts which have a lot more than the prescribed 1200 words (check out Olivier Blanchard’s blog)? Just make sure that you are focused on delivering one key message;
- Use engaging headline which both introduces the topic and makes your blog post easy to find;
- Use images and attention traps to break the text up and re-capture your reader’s attention;
- You can italicize or bold keywords so people can find relevant information when they skim through the text.
Are you ready to get started? You can get all the necessary information and a plenty of advice in our eBook, which you can download for free here. Happy blogging! 🙂
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2013. A lot has changed in the blogging world since then, so we decided to update the post accordingly.