The ‘How’ of Blogging
So you want to start a blog?
Before you do, make sure you understand exactly why it is you’re doing this. What will distinguish your blog from the other 156+ million currently out there?
What’s your unique angle?
What do you plan on sharing with the many readers you hope to attract?
Will it be worth their while to take the time to read what you’ve written?
What is your purpose? What are your goals?
Once you have a clear picture in your mind of where you’re headed, that’s a large chunk of the work done. Now you have to find yourself a platform.
Free blogging platforms
WordPress and Blogger are two of the most popular options available, although Tumblr and Posterous both have their benefits too. At the end of the day it’s what you feel comfortable with.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with WordPress, then here are a few technical tutorials on starting a WordPress.com blog. It is a very basic step-by-step instruction process which is perfect for those of you just starting out.
- Sign up for a WordPress.com blog
- Change basic settings
- Change the appearance
- Make your first post
- Add widgets to your sidebar
If you opt for the fully-free version of WordPress or similar, you will probably be attracted by the lure of free hosting. Don’t be. Your blog URL will always end in yourname.blogspot.com or yourname.wordpress.com rather than just yourname.com. This is fine if it’s just a personal blog, but if it’s a company affair then you’ll want to self-host so that you can drop the .blogspot bit and look a bit more professional.
In order to go this route, you’ll have to install the WordPress content management system onto your own website. It might be a good idea to employ the services of someone with a little back-end know-how to do this for you, unless of course you’re a techno coding whizz, in which case you’ll find the whole thing easy as pie to execute.
Good to know is that if you do currently have a free blog with WordPress and you want to swap over to hosting it yourself it’s easy enough to import your content.
Key components for your blog
Before you get started on posting you need to make sure you have all the necessary bits and pieces to make your blog is functionally easy to navigate and looks professional.
- Header/banner + tagline – It should be clear to new visitors what your blog is about and what they’re going to get from it.
- About page or bio – If your writing intrigues people will automatically want to know more about the person behind it. This is not the time to be tall dark and mysterious. Create a separate and detailed page that gives your readers the background and includes contact information.
- Calendar or archive – Newcomers to your blog may want to dig around in your older posts. A sidebar that lists your most popular posts is a nice place for them to start.
- Sharing – Make it easy for people to share your posts on Facebook, Twitter (or just about anywhere else) by adding a plug-ins like Add-this.
- Readability – Unless yours is specifically an image driven blog (photographer illustrator) – and even then you’d do well to pay heed to these tips – you need to give some thought to its readability. Don’t make the text too small or choose a font that’s too design. Serif fonts such as ‘Cambria’ and ‘Times New Roman’ work best. Think about newspapers magazines and books there’s a good reason why they’re so easy to read.
- Colour is also of utmost importance here. White on black is a big no-no for instance as its jarring on the eyes and will send your readers scuttling for a dark room long before they’ve finished the first paragraph.
Making it pretty
All the platforms mentioned above have a variety of themes to choose from. A theme is essentially the look and feel of your blog where you decide on things like colours and design header images (the bit that goes behind your blog name) etc.
You can either design on-the-go by trying things out until you find something that works for you or you can employ the services of a professional to create you a snazzy look and feel that will make people sit up and take notice.
WordPress has thousands of free themes and at least as many premium (paid) ones. The problem with the free themes is that often their functionality isn’t optimal and support for them is hard to come by. If you have a modicum of common sense and computer savvy then by far the best template to use is Thesis. You don’t need a PhD in coding to use it either as it’s literally a paint-by-numbers way of taking your blog from zero to hero in a couple of hours. And if you do find yourself stumped then the support documentation will provide you with everything you need to know.
And now that I’ve given Thesis a plug I’d be remiss not to mention Elegant Themes and Woo Themes, both of which offer a vast number of great looking templates that can be easily customized with a little technical know-how.
Something to keep mind however is that you can only use commercial themes if you are on a self-hosted platform.
How often should you post?
Consensus varies greatly as far as this goes. Some schools of thought say if you’re a new kid on the block you should post daily while others believe that once or twice a week is plenty.
I’m inclined to go with the latter because given the busy-ness of most peoples’ lives nobody has the time to read what you have to say every single day. No matter how interesting or entertaining your missives may be. I’m also inclined to be put off by people who bombard me too often. So for me once a week is fine and twice is plenty. Go for quality rather than quantity.
The more time you spend blogging, the more value you build for readers over time and the greater the chance there is of them finding you. In time your efforts will snowball. You have to be patient though. Blogging is a long-term commitment and can take as long 18 months before your labour bears fruit. Finding your voice and a niche you feel strongly enough about to keep you writing week in and week out all takes time.
Another thing to think about before you start a blog is who are the people that are likely to send you traffic. Identify key players in your industry and aim to build relationships with them.
If you build it they will come:
- Post regularly and consistently.
- Link to relevant blogs resources and sites. Otherwise known as “link love”, paying it forward is a great way of creating synergy among your peers.
- Try out a series or weekly feature.
- Interview people who interest you. Run Q&As.
- Comment on blogs/sites that have some relevance to your own blog.
- Make sure your readers have the option of signing up for e-mail or RSS delivery of your posts.
- Always post links to each new post on your social profiles.
- Offer to guest blog for others. Provide them with even better content than you would post on your own blog.
- Be patient.