New bloggers and veterans alike face steep challenges when starting new blogs. There are just so many blogs out there, many with well established reputations, that making an impact becomes more difficult every day. If you're not approaching your new blog with a solid plan in place, then you're setting yourself up for failure. There's just too much competition these days. You can't get by just winging it.
When we start new blog projects, we want to get right into it. We want to install WordPress, pick a theme, and get to the writing. That's the fun part, after all. But when you're just starting out it's not the most important part. Before you write the first word for your blog, you need to consider a number of other factors.
These are the five that I advise all clients to take before they even soft launch their blogs.
1. Pick A Teaching Strategy
Oh, what's that you say? You want to start a tech blog that discusses the latest news about Apple, Android, and more? I'm sorry to inform you that your blog will almost certainly fail. Having worked in the tech blogging business for more than five years now, I've seen so many blogs start and stumble. It's not enough to blog the news and share your opinions. You have to provide far more value to the reader.
The rule of thumb: If you're not teaching people something they didn't know, they will leave and never return. If they come to your page and see the latest news and your opinions, they just won't see the value proposition. But if they come to your page and see heaps upon heaps of tech tutorials and tips, then they might stick around. If there's a chance they can find something they can put to use in their everyday lives, their chances of becoming a regular reader increase.
Teach them, and they will appreciate you. They'll Like you on Facebook and share your articles on Twitter. And that's how your spread your message. Your opinion on the news is not remarkable, and so people will not remark on it. But your knowledge and teaching skills? Now those are remarkable.
2. Set Aside Time To Learn
It's not enough to jump into a blog using only the knowledge you already possess. Yes, that knowledge provides a good baseline. If you know a lot about gadgets, then you can teach people how to better use them. But eventually your well of knowledge will dry up. You'll need to find new information that you can then teach your readers. That means finding time, if not once a day then at least a few times a week, to study up on your topic.
One of my clients has started a DIY home improvement site. He knows plenty about fixing things so that you don't have to spend money on an electrician, plumber, or carpenter. But shortly after starting his blog he got so many questions that he didn't have the answers to. It was then that he realized that he needed to become a veritable expert on home improvement. Now he can tell you all the different kinds of bathroom faucets and which ones work best for your house or apartment.
Let's put it this way: if you don't have the passion to learn more about your topic, then you probably don't have the passion to blog about it in the first place. Your base of knowledge can get the ball rolling, but you need to continue pushing it if you're going to stand out and succeed.
3. Determine Your Posting Strategy
Doesn't it sound foolish to start writing posts on a blog if you don't have a strategy for what you're going to post and how you're going to present it? It certainly does. Again, you can't just slap up posts and expect people to assume you know what you're doing. In fact, a slapdash effort will hurt your credibility and signal to people who you do not know what you're doing.
Creating a posting strategy works on many levels. It helps inform what you will post, when you will post it, and how you will present it. Let's take a look at them individually.
What you will post. What kind of information do you plan to present? Will it be in-depth how-to guides? Quick tips and tricks? Rumors and speculation? It might be a combination of the above and more. But whatever the case, make sure you know what you're going to cover before you start covering it.
When you will post. The old mantra is that you have to post every day. In fact, if you want to attract the most attention you'll post multiple times daily. Unfortunately, this just isn't realistic. There's only so much information to share, even if you continue learning. Decide on a posting strategy. Maybe it's quick tips on Mondays, in-depth guides on Wednesdays, and a fun post on Friday. Maybe it's a how-to guide twice a week. Whatever it is, make sure you plan it out in advance.
How you will present posts. This will depend on your strengths and your topic. If you like teaching with photos, then make sure your blog has plenty of high-resolution, illustrative photos. If you're a word person, make sure you can teach people with precise language. There are some topics, of course, that don't work with certain media. My client with the DIY blog won't get far if he uses only text.
4. Determine Your Referral Strategy
What is a blog with no readers? A private diary. Surely you don't want your new blog to end up like that journal you've kept tucked away for years. that means going out and creating ways for people to find your blog. It's not like it used to be, but there are certain strategies that, with a little tweaking, still work. Here are a few I highly recommend.
Guest blogging. In addition to creating content for your blog, you have to create content for other bloggers as well. Many blogs these days, such as BlogTap, take guest posts because there are too much advantages of guest blogging. You can take advantage of this by writing quality content for their blogs. In exchange you'll get a backlink. That will not only send some new visitors to your blog, but will also help improve your search rankings. Just as you offer something valuable to your readers with your blog, make sure you offer something valuable to a fellow blogger with a guest post.
PPC. Yes, you might have to spend some money on this new blog. Pay per click ads are becoming more and more prominent in Google searches. This goes especially for mobile search, where you might see three PPC ads and only one or two organic results above the fold. Finding your money keywords and purchasing a PPC campaign can bring instant traffic to your blog. In fact, many PPC experts call it the easiest traffic you can buy.
On-page SEO. While you'll help your search referrals by guest blogging, you also need to take care of certain on-page SEO elements. This isn't very difficult. It means writing search-friendly headlines (containing keywords) and using a few SEO WordPress plug-ins that take care of the SEO elements for you. Also, a rule of thumb for tags and categories: use few categories, and set them for the search engines. Tag liberally, and make them work for humans.
Social media. You might find that Facebook and Twitter send you more traffic than Google. But these days having presence on Google Plus have become one of the must have things. If you're missing out on these elements, you're turning away traffic. Make sure to set up accounts on both and stay active. That means interacting with readers. If you're just sending out your RSS feed, you're not taking advantage of the traffic that social can send you.
5. Hone Your Writing
Bloggers need not be great writers. It doesn't hurt, of course, but most blogs don't become popular because of the pristine English. They become popular because the author displays passion, knowledge, and depth. At the same time, that's not an excuse to completely ignore the writing aspect. While people might not visit a blog specifically because of the writing, they will certainly leave a blog that is poorly written.
Best-selling author Stephen King broke writers down into four categories: bad, competent, good, and great. This isn't a bad place to start, but it's his remark about bad writers that falls flat. While he might be right that you can't make a great writer out of a good one — greater writers are born, not made — he also believes that you can't make a competent writer out of a bad one. I believe that you can. There is just one precondition:
Check your ego
If you are a sub-par writer and admit that to yourself, you then have the self-awareness necessary to improve. It doesn't take much, either. Basic English tutorials are available at sites like Answers.com, among many others. Start there for the building blocks. Then expand from there.
- Read your writing aloud to yourself. You'll be amazed to learn how much you can improve just by hearing how awkward your sentences sound.
- Take notes on what you read. Find something interesting? Write it down in a notebook so you can refer to it later.
- Freewrite. When you have a spare 10 minutes, sit down with a notebook or word processor and type whatever's on your mind. Don't stop to correct mistakes, and don't delete anything. Don't even break for paragraphs. Just write for 10 minutes. The next free 10 minutes you get, read back what you wrote and see if there's a nugget of usefulness in there. Then start to work on that.
As long as you can demonstrate a level of competence as a writer, you can run a successful blog. With enough experience, you can even transform yourself into a good writer. And that's when the opportunities really start to pile up.
That might not be an exhaustive list, but it's plenty for new bloggers, or veteran bloggers trying new projects, to digest before diving in. The good news: once you've take care of these tasks, you're probably read to start building the content on your blog. That must be a relief. It really is the fun part.