How to Setup a Blog — A Beginner’s Guide
A blog usually follows a certain format. As the blogger adds new content, the home page will be updated with the newest post at the top, in reverse chronological order. Comments, post archives, categories and tags are also common parts of a blog.
Nowadays, blog software goes as far as providing more features than just a blog. A picture is worth a thousand words, so to understand what I’m talking about, refer to WordPress Design Inspiration, which is my collection of well-designed web sites using WordPress, the most popular blog software out there.
As you notice, nowadays you can design your WordPress theme to look like a web site, but the sole purpose of the gallery is to display what has been done with the blog software.
This post will guide you through the process of setting up a blog. The only presumption is that you are already familiar with web browsing and using email.
1. It Starts with a Goal and Purpose
Upon searching for how others actually do it, I’ve come to a conclusion that most are not doing it right. That’s one of the reasons why I start writing another document of this type.
It never begins with your audience. That is so misleading.
A new blogger should consider the goal and purpose first. What do you start a blog for?
If you only want to post your pictures and update your family members about your life, perhaps you may not want to go through the hassle of buying a domain, hosting and maintaining your own blog software.
Business owners who want to integrate a blog into their marketing mix need to consider about branding, naming and other factors.
So, think about your goal and purpose first for some years to come. Do you intend to make money from it? Your answer will determine the direction you should be taking later, and the process you have to go through to set a blog up.
2. Identify Your (Future) Target Audience
Find a group that you may target with your blog. If you have a plan to monetize your site later, you need visitors. As you are targeting the global audience, you can zoom in on a little niche and still find enough people to serve.
It never is a good idea to be the one and only “Wal-Mart.” Even Wal-Mart needs to have storefronts in many cities at the same time. If you think about your web presence — in this case a blog — as a store, aiming at everyone certainly is not going to make people interested in what you have to offer.
Instead, think in terms of specialty stores. A bean bag store may not work in a small town, but once you are able to reach the Internet citizens, there are enough customers for perhaps hundreds of such stores. You get the idea.
A quick tip: Narrow down your target audience, even as specific as an individual. Later in all of your blog posts, you should write as if you are talking to this specific person. Create a profile of such individual and know him/her really well.
3. Pick a Subject
As you identify your target audience, right now you should have at least slight ideas about what your subject would be.
Again, if you are to start a personal blog, you are free to blog whatever you want because the blog is entirely yours.
However, if you plan to serve a market, actually the market is the owner of your blog. You have to make them feel like home and stay subscribed to your blog. In rare occasions, people read your blog because of the controversy and personality of the blogger, but more often than not, people are interested in the information.
Blogging requires you to update your blog regularly. Unless you are able to outsource or hire writers to do that on your behalf — which introduces quite a new challenge by itself — you might want to consider the following:
- Choose something you are interested in. Because you are going to spend several hours a day doing it, you’d better be sure that you still can do the same thing two or three years to come. After all, this is going to be your business.
- What are your expertise? Do people come to you to ask for your opinions on certain topic? If so, what is it? This may lead you to topic ideas that you should be blogging about.
- Find the missing links. Do a bit of research on search engines to see what kind of information others are offering in the topic of your choice. If you think you are able to improve on what you see, you may have picked a niche.
Use keyword research tool to determine if there is enough demand for the topic and perform simple competition analysis to gauge your competitions.
Finally, it is worth repeating that you need to ascertain yourself that you will be able and are interested in blogging about the subject matter consistently over a long period of time.
Being passionate is a big plus and if you continually feel you are obligated to write, most likely you will not do it. Better realize that upfront, rather than abandoning your blog after investing so much time and effort.
Outsourcing the writing is possible but it may be hard from the personality standpoint, especially when the audience already develops a bond with you as an individual instead of with the blog.
4. Name Your Blog
Naming is a topic of its own. Some bloggers prefer to choose a clever name, while others like to at least give a hint about what the topic of the blog is about from the name.
Each of them has its own benefits and drawbacks. With clever title, a blog may sound interesting but people may not be clear about the topic of the blog.
Generally, I do think clarity wins. Nowadays, people have too many things on their plates, so it helps if you are able to get across your message quickly. However, you can pick an easy to remember name like “Google” and still market it successfully.
Once you decide on a name, if you want to host a blog on your own domain, check a domain name registrar to see if the name is still available. It is recommended that you pick a .com version of a domain as most people think about dot com when they think about web sites.
If you want a .net, also acquire the .com version, or otherwise other people may benefit from type-in traffic as your blog becomes popular.
5. Decide Where You Want to Host Your Blog
Professional blogs and business blogs should go with self-hosted blog — also referred to as standalone blog platform. That’s a general rule of thumb as it benefits you in terms of control, branding and also search engine optimization.
The drawback if you go this route is, you have to pay monthly fee for hosting and annual domain registration fee. The blog software itself is free of charge.
Blogger and WordPress.com are free. For the latter, you could not use a blog to promote affiliate products or put up ads. Blogger, as one of the Google’s properties, even integrates AdSense into its collection of gadgets.
Hosted blogging platform is not flexible design-wise as the hosts don’t allow modification of the provided templates — if enabled, the feature would be very limited — for security reason.
I have a whole section dedicated to blog hosting that addresses issues and provides how to information about this topic.
6. Create Your Blog
It takes some effort to install the blog in a self-hosted platform. However, WordPress is famous for its 5-minute installation and is truly not as hard as what people expect.
Here’s the process in a nutshell if you want to install a blog within your own domain:
- Register a domain name. Some hosting companies offer free domain for signing up with their hosting package. I usually centralize all of my domains at a registrar, so I never take this kind of offer.
- Sign up for a hosting account. Take your time to research and find a stable host. You are looking for a new home for your blog and that home is going to be your web presence, so don’t compromise performance and reliability for price.
- Point your domain to the hosting. When signing up with the hosting, you will get instructions on how to point your domain to the server. Wait for 24 hours or so for the domain records to propagate, but practically it may happen in the next minute.
- Setup a blog. A tool within your hosting account lets you do it with a few mouse clicks, but manual installation of blog software usually is not that hard either. Pick WordPress for easiest installation. It’s the most popular blogware anyway.
On the other hand, if you pick a hosting service, you only need to register an account with it and you’re ready to go. Your blog resides within one of its sub-domain.
Also at this stage, you may be interested to develop a unique design for your blog. It helps establish your brand and creates first impression to your visitors. It is critical that you follow through and don’t wait until you have developed a perfect design before you move to the next step. Not only because there is nothing as a perfect design, but there’s a lot to be done before you gain significant traffic and it is recommended that you start as soon as possible.
7. Start Blogging
At this stage, you have gone pass the setup phase. But it is just the beginning. There’s still a lot of things to work on, so let’s take a look at the steps you should be engaging in after this.
The next most obvious one is that you should plan for your blogging schedule and start posting regularly. As you gain audience, your readers will expect to receive updates from your blog every so often.
Don’t update for the sake of updating though. If you want to draw traffic and build audience for your blog, it is essential that your posts be well written. No, it doesn’t mean you have to be the next Hemingway, but focus on providing value to the readers.
As bloggers who have been there and done it say, “Starting a blog is easy, maintaining it is hard.”
That’s true. At the beginning where you have little to no audience, you may tend to skip posting just because you think no one will miss your posts anyway.
Consistency in posting is necessary. There is no hard number as to how often you should be posting though, but try to at least update every week.
While it is not advisable to plagiarize, you could find ideas on other blogs and just write a better post. Add value to the blogosphere. That’s the first step to growing your blog successfully.
8. Get the Words Out and Build an Audience
The difference between a blog and typical web site is its interaction. With a blog, readers can subscribe to your RSS if they choose to receive updated content from your blog regularly.
The key to get those subscribers back to your blog and make them recognize you as a brand, thought leader, go to person and expert on your topic is to regularly update your blog.
Besides that, it is also necessary to proactively promote your blog posts. Bloggers will notice good quality posts only if you bring them to their attention. Of course, the process will be much easier if you build relationship with those bloggers first.
To recap, you should be building your network with other influencers to get the words out about your blog. You may also use other blog promotion strategies to speed that up. When visitors come, your goal should be to engage them with your content and make them come back.
9. Find Monetization Options
It might come to a surprise for some people that monetization take place near the end of the process of starting a blog. I firmly believe that bloggers should focus on building value and drive traffic first before looking at various options to benefit from their audience.
I’ve seen bloggers who have ads on their site from the start. Usually they concentrate too much on making money they keep starting a new blog if the older one fail to deliver in the first few months — perhaps in a different niche they think will be much more lucrative.
On the other hand, I know a few bloggers who have built traffic to a level that practically they are the authority for that niche before they monetized.
I don’t recommend everyone to follow the latter model but the point is that it is important that you deliver value and build audience first.
Bloggers as publishers have a wide variety of monetizaton options. The most obvious one is to sell ad space. You can network with other ad networks and earn money with the revenue sharing model.
Affiliate programs are also another favorite method. The industry is growing significantly each year and you should claim a share of the pie.
Finally, creating your own product is not as hard as you may imagine. Bloggers are already content producers, so with a little bit of effort, they may create profit centers from the content by re-purposing it into e-books or other profitable formats.
10. Monitor Your Metrics
As soon as you install your blog, you should install tracking code in your blog theme. Although you may not need to track your traffic at first, it is nice to be able to see the growth of your blog over time during the last few months or years.
There are a lot of things to learn from web site metrics. For instance, and this is the obvious one, you will be able to find out what keywords you perform well on search engines. By “well,” I mean not only your blog ranks highly for that keyword in search engines, but also drive real traffic to your blog.
With that information, you can perform keyword research further to tap into long tail keywords and develop more content around that topic.
Web analytics also allows you to track traffic sources and conversions, if you set that up properly. By all means, it should be added to your blogging arsenal.
This article has gone into details about how to prepare and setup your blog, but it doesn’t end there. If you are a beginner, you also have gained a perspective about how your blogging plan should be and where each part of the process falls into its place.
As you may already realize, blogging is not the key to Internet fortune. It has that potential but it doesn’t guarantee it.
A blog just a tool that allows you to publish content and converse with your audience. Used properly, you may be able to develop a community and become a thought leader. The result is very rewarding and will serve you for many years to come.
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