I started blogging in 2007 on a personal finance blog that I thought nobody would ever read. Three years later, and much to my surprise, that little blog became a top 10 personal finance blog with more than 3000 readers. I’ve since sold that one and started a number of other blogs and even a blog consulting/development business. Through this, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about blogging. I know from experience what it takes for a blog to be successful and what things can make a blog fail.
I was reading a brand new blog the other day and my mind went back to 2007. I remembered how new everything was, and how I had no clue what I was doing. I remember thinking that if I just published articles, people would find my blog. It didn’t take me long to realize blogging was far more than just creating a site and publishing a few articles. Blogging could easily be a full-time job and required a lot of work.
Looking at that new blog made me think of a few things I wish I had known when I first started blogging. These 12 blogging tips are things new bloggers absolutely need to know when starting a new blog. Not new to blogging? They may apply to you as well.
1 – Start on WordPress
Fortunately, starting on blogger, blogspot, or a number of the other free blogging services wasn’t a mistake I made, but I’ve seen many others make it. Don’t get me wrong, you can be very successful on these platforms and I’ve recently seen a number of very popular blogs running on blogger.
The problem is, they will limit you.
Using WordPress on your own domain running at a blog hosting company will avoid this. With this set-up, the sky is the limit. You can add any type of widget, make your site look however you want, and run any type of ad or affiliate offer your heart desires. You have complete flexibility.
I fully understand that many people starting new blogs don’t have a lot of money, but starting a blog like this in really inexpensive. This is particularly true if you start with a blog hosting company like Bluehost.
With Bluehost, The domain name is free, and hosting is only $6.95/month. That’s it, no other required expenses. You can very quickly cover the $6.95/month cost with Adsense or a few affilate sales.
2 – Less is more
A very common mistake for new bloggers is to over do it and their sites end up looking way to busy and cluttered. Choose a simple and clean theme. Limit the number of buttons to the bare minimum and avoid using banner graphics that flash or change. Keep your header simple, clear and easy to read. Here’s a few quick tips:
- Use a theme that has black text on white background. While light on dark themes can look gorgeous, they’re hard to read. I personally run Thesis. Trust me, there’s a reason books have used black ink and white paper for thousands of years.
- Place simple and easy to see social media icons in your header or at the top of your sidebar. They should blend with your site colors, but not so much that they aren’t visible.
- Place social sharing buttons at the top and bottom of your posts. I recommend using the actual buttons from the social media sites.
- Put a picture of yourself at the top of your sidebar, and tell your readers how to subscribe to your blog. I’ll talk more about building emails lists below.
- Limit your header graphic to 200 pixels high, no more. People come to your blog to read your content, not see your amazingly large header graphic.
- Use standard web fonts – Either a Helvetica or Times Roman like font. Please don’t use one of the artsy look script fonts – they are way too hard to read.
- Above all, make the focus of your site your content. Don’t add anything to your blog that pulls your readers away from your content and make your content easy to read. If you want a good read on making your site usable, read Don’t Make Me Think.
3 – Focus on writing great content
I hate to use the cliché, but content really is king. Content is the core of your site, and frankly in comparison to it nothing else matters. You can have an absolutely amazing looking blog design, but if the content is terrible the blog will fail. However, the opposite can be a recipe for success. You can have a terrible looking site, but if the content is amazing, the blog will be highly successful.
Trent Hamm who runs The Simple Dollar has had the same basic site design since I first started visting the site in 2006. Don’t get me wrong, Trent’s design isn’t bad at all, but it very basic and probably would not win any design awards. But note how many readers Trent has: 93,000. 93,000….let that number marinate for a minute. Trent isn’t very active on social media either. His success is due 100% to him writing high quality and useful content. He focuses on providing value to his readers, nothing more.
Don’t write about what you want, write about what people want and need. Help your readers, and your blog will grow.
4 – Be active in social media
The importance of social media participation increases everyday, especially for new bloggers starting out. Social media participation is becoming pivotal to the success of new blogs. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and now Pinterest (follow me)are changing the way people use and interact with the web. Additionally, Google factors in social media activity into their search engine rankings, meaning that if an article you write becomes successful in social media, it will help it rank higher in Google.
Google is still the number 1 generating of traffic for my blogs, but Facebook and Pinterest are right behind it. Which leads me to another point. There are many different social media sites. Being active on all of them would literally take up your entire day. I targeted 4 or 5 initially and then based on which one’s worked best for me, I narrowed that list down to 2. Facebook and Pinterest are currently my key focus sites as they have the best return on my time investment.
5 – Use keywords
Speaking of Google, make sure you are using keywords when you write articles. I cannot even begin to list off the number of new bloggers I see on a daily basis that don’t do this and it’s hurting them.
What’s the first thing most of you do if you want to learn how to start a blog? I’m guessing most of you would head to Google and type something like “How to start a blog” right?
When Google indexes your articles, it looks for keywords in your title, in your content headings, in your text, and in the text associated with your images. If most people are typing “How to start a blog“, why in the world would you name your article something like: How does one begin a blogging page? Name your article: “How to start a blog” or use Google’s Keyword Tool to research other similar searches.
Also, use the same phrase in your article a few times as well. If you include images, name the image files with the phrase and make sure the image description has the keyword phrase too.
By the way, focusing on one single keyword like “blogging” went out years ago. Most people type in keyword phrases when searching, not single keywords.
6 – Use images
In the past year or two, the web has become extremely visual. Pinterest’s huge success is the perfect evidence of this. Social media research has proven that images are liked and clicked on far more than plain text.
You should always use images in your articles to accent them and make them visually interesting. Images also offer a visually appealing way to break up the monotony of text. Have you ever visited a website and saw nothing but a huge wall of text? Most likely you moved on, I have many times. But, take that same wall of text, and insert a few images and the article suddenly becomes much more interesting and suddenly more readable.
At a bare minimum, you should have an image at the top of your article and I recommend inserting a few images lower in your articles as well.
Tip: Make sure you size your images before uploading them. Nothing slows a site down more than uploading a 3000px X 3000px image and then displaying it at a size of 200×200. See, the big image is still downloaded by each visitor, the browser just resizes it when it displays.
7 – Use headings
Returning to the wall of text, blogger’s should also use headings to break up article text. Most web visitors don’t read your entire article, they skim it (sorry if I just burst your bubble). Headings allow visitors to more easily skim. Headings, also make your articles look less intimidating, again resolving the wall of text issue.
Google also likes headings and gives more emphasis on keywords found in headings. Having headings and using keywords in them will help your articles rank better on search result pages.
One key point on headings, Google likes your site organized hierarchically. So if your theme makes your site name an H1, and your article titles H2, your article sub-headings should be H3. Don’t make the mistake of using H1 or H2’s for your subheadings in this scenario. This breaks the hierarchy and Google will ding you for it.
8 – Build a list
Internet experts all agree that the real money is in the list. From day one, you should provide your readers with a way to subscribe to your posts via email. I used Feedburner email initially and recently migrated to Mailchimp. This subscription option should be above the fold and easily visible on your blog. You can see mine right at the top of the sidebar under my picture.
Also put this subscribe area on more popular pages of your blog, like category pages and your about page. Don’t make your visitors hunt for how to subscribe. I place mine at the top of the sidebar, on my category pages, on my featured pages, on my about page, and at the bottom of every. So basically everywhere.
Initially just publish your articles out to this list. Services like AWeber and Mailchimp make this really easy to set-up. As your list grows, you may want to consider publishing a weekly or monthly newsletter. The newsletter can be used to provide summaries of your articles for the month, provide exclusive member only articles, and also make product recommendations and share discounts.
Also, to encourage visitors to sign-up, I recommend giving away a freebie to anyone who signs-up. Often this is a small eBook providing additional content not available on your blog. I’m hard at work on mine now.
9 – Use your sidebar to keep visitors on your blog
One of the top mistakes I’ve seen is new bloggers doing is filling up their sidebar with essentially useless stuff, things like:
- Banner ads and banner affiliate offers
- Insignificant blog award graphics
- Recent posts – Visitors see your recent posts anyway, why show them again in your sidebar?
- Tag cloud’s and blogrolls – Both of these went out a few years ago.
- Most popular posts
- Featured posts from your high top categories
- Links to your epic content
- Search – I’m always shocked when people don’t have this.
10 – Keep at it, even when you think nobody is reading
This is probably the most important item in this whole list. At some point, it could be weeks, months or even a year or more, you’ll feel like nobody is reading your blog. Because of this, you’ll get discouraged and want to quit. I mean why continue to invest the time and effort when nobody is reading it and you’re not making any money?
When you start feel like this, write more and work even harder. Use the frustration to make you want to work harder. The amount of time for each blog to reach it’s point of success varies by blog topic and by individual but if you continue to learn, continue to improve and continue to write, success will happen.
Contrary to popular belief, the number of blogs that skyrocket in popularity all the sudden is very small. Blogs grow slowly over time and sometimes it can take a year or two to begin getting a reasonable amount of traffic. Blogging is a long term investment and you have to be willing to hang in there. That’s why it’s so critical that your blogging topic be something your passionate about.
I am not even close to considering this blog successful and frankly I still consider it a very small blog. But, I love the topic. I love writing about blogging and sharing the technical tips I learn. I love helping others be successful.
11 – Optimize your time
I recently wrote about how you could find time to blog. We all have time, it’s just a matter of priorities. If blogging is important to you, than you need to make it a priority. Finding time to dedicate to your blog is going to be one of your biggest challenges, especially if you blog part-time like me.
Since finding time to dedicate to your blog is tough, it’s critically important that you optimize your time. Spend your time where it matters most. Generally this is going to be on things like:
- Writing content
- Marketing your blog
- Tweaking your blog to make it user friendly and sticky. Sticky just means keeping people around for a bit when they visit.
12 – Keep the number of categories small
Finally, keep the number of categories on your blog small. I would say no more than 5-10. Nothing worse than visiting a blog and seeing the category listing in the sidebar two pages long. I mean where do you start? Create some basic high level categories and stick to them as much as you can. Doing this will make your blog significantly easier to navigate and also allow you to feature your categories in your menu bar or in your sidebar (I do both).
Also, give a good amount of thought to your categories up front. Changing and maintaining categories isn’t the easiest thing to do on a blog.
For you more experienced bloggers, what additional tips do you think new bloggers need? Any thoughts on the one’s I’ve listed? Add a comment!