Introduction to Blogs
You may have heard of the term ‘blog’ and may be curious to know what they are and how you can start one of your own. Over time, you will be able to use your blog to share your thoughts and ideas, promote yourself and your business as well as earn money. Successful bloggers make thousands of pounds from their blogs – in fact, you can earn a full-time income from your blog and much more. There has never been such a simple, inexpensive and valuable communication tool as a blog to share ideas, exchange information and build businesses. Blogging, when combined with the potential of social media, represents a powerful tool for massive exposure for your products, services and information.
A blog can be described as an online diary or journal where you can express your thoughts and share them with the world. Successful blogs are frequently updated and typically consist of short, informal posts that may be deeply personal, controversial or informative (or all three at once). The word ‘blog’ is actually short form for ‘web log’. The individual who writes a blog is known as a ‘blogger’ and the activity of maintaining one’s own blog is referred to as ‘blogging’. Not only does blogging allow you to explore opportunities in immeasurable and unexpected ways, it also forces you to introspect, organise your thoughts and analyse your topic in depth.
When the concept of blogging originally started, it was simply a place where the blogger could type his or her thoughts. Blogs tended to contain information pertaining to daily life or mundane issues. As these entries later became fodder for online diary entries, interesting writers gradually gained a following and the hobby of creating blogs was born. Not every blogger writes about their personal life; many bloggers write about their hobbies, passions, experiences or businesses. Today, you come across blogs that are written on a range of niche topics including cooking, travelling, investing, trading, sports, scandals or gardening and many more.
The following article will explain how to select a blog topic, register a domain name, optimise your blog and use promotional strategies.
Difference between a Blog and a Website
While there are several similarities, there are also basic differences between the two. On the whole, blogs are easier to set up and run compared to websites. Websites consist of pages (but they are not arranged date-wise as in a blog) and require additional software to help publish content, while blogs usually have an inbuilt publishing functionality.
Before we discuss the fundamentals of starting a blog, let’s read on to understand why blogging is an excellent activity to pursue:
- Personal development: You are likely to become a better observer, thinker and writer. Sharing our thoughts with others forces us to think more deeply regarding issues surrounding our lives. As we create blog posts on a regular basis, we learn to improve our style of writing to create maximum impact and communicate our views in a clear and consistent manner. By default, you will begin to think more intentionally about who you are, what you do and where you’re going. You are more likely to develop an eye for meaningful things. Blogging will help improve your powers of observation because meaningful things are often hidden in the most mundane of activities.
- Blogging leads to inculcation of healthier habits: In order to become a successful blogger, you need dedication, commitment, discipline and time management. These empowering habits help us get the most out of our lives. If you do not already possess these valuable attributes, blogging as an activity will provide opportunities to develop them.
- The opportunity to meet new people: As your blog attracts more followers (we’ll explain how you can work towards that), you will enjoy the opportunity to interact with more people online through the comments section, social media or forums. The blog community becomes engaging, fulfilling and meaningful. You will also feel encouraged that your blog is able to inspire others to think about the subjects that you have chosen to discuss. Blogging is an interactive exercise and you get the opportunity to gain fresh perspectives on significant subjects.
- Zero investment: You can start with £0 and you need never pay anything more. Most businesses require an initial outlay of funds but blogging requires zero investment. You don’t stand to lose any of your hard-earned money. At most, you may have to pay very little money (just a few pounds) for your own domain name, and it’s worth it.
- Income earning potential: If you monetise your blog and it begins to be successful, you stand to earn a significant income from your blog. You must just be careful that the prospect of the money alone should not drive your blog content. It’s the other way around – your content should attract income. Even if your blog begins as a hobby, it’s nice to have a hobby that provides monetary returns.
If you’ve been thinking about starting your own blog but haven’t begun working on it yet, the following section details some exceptional benefits of blogging:
- Strong online identity: If you intend to go back to work, blogging is an excellent way to reinforce your online presence. Prospective employers prefer employees who are active online in a relevant manner – it puts you at an advantage over the competition. A successful blog helps you establish and strengthen your online identity. When someone searches for you online, they will be able to get an accurate and complete picture of who you are, what you do and how you can help.
- The potential to grow into a successful business: A blog can start off as a simple and innocuous hobby and mushroom into an extremely successful business if you are willing to commit to it. The trick is to provide your readers with informative, useful and relevant content.
- Customer outreach: While a static and redundant website is not appealing, a regularly updated blog can help attract readers. If you have an existing business, starting a blog is a good way to engage with more people and increase the number of prospective clients. As the expert, you will have the opportunity to offer advice, provide solutions and help people make decisions through your blog. Blogging is one of the quickest and most sure-shot ways to build trust online.
- Feedback and exchange of information: A blog is an effective way to receive feedback on your product, services or views and exchange ideas with others. Successful bloggers build interactive networks with the community.
- Improved SEO and online traffic: As a blogger, when you write a number of valuable and informative articles around a topic, Google takes notice and you automatically get preference in the SEO sweepstakes. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it has a critical impact on driving traffic to your website. Search engines will prioritise your website because they will have identified your blogs as a source of key information for the subject in question. Moreover, blogging is one of the most cost-effective ways of attracting clients (compared to paying for expensive marketing campaigns).
- Establishing your credentials as an expert: A frequently updated blog helps establish your credentials in your field of expertise. A rambling and incoherent blog will be unlikely to attract readers but relevant and useful blog content will help you demonstrate your knowledge effectively.
There are roughly 20 million blogs currently on the Internet (and still growing) and it’s important to make your blog unique if you want your voice to be heard online. For example, you may read an extremely successful blog and think to yourself that you can create a successful blog – and yes, you certainly can. However, it’s equally important to recognise that it takes a lot of effort, time and endeavour to transform your blog into a successful venture.[st_box type=”warning”]Don’t get stressed if you do not have previous writing or technical experience – you do not need either to start your blog. For instance, you must be prepared to invest free time into writing your blog. Every successful blog once started out simple and basic, so all you need is a starting point and a willingness to learn and persevere. Failures and setbacks along the way serve as valuable learning experiences.[/st_box]
Step-by-Step Guide on how to Start a Blog
Choosing the Correct Blog Topic
Choose to write on a topic that you are passionate about because this will ensure continued enthusiasm and interest from your side. Do not blog about subjects that you think will attract an audience. This is why niche blogs tend to be more popular compared to blogs where people ramble on about various topics. The reason behind this is that most people search the Internet in order to look for a solution to a specific problem. This could be related to entertainment, sports, automobiles, education, parenting, among several other things. So when your topic is geared towards a special niche subject, there are better chances of attracting readership. In effect, a niche blog narrows down the target readership but also keeps them coming back to read your blog.
Writing about a topic that you are passionate about achieves several objectives at once:
- You will be more inclined to work harder on your blog in order to make your content stand out.
- There is less likelihood of running out of ideas or the content becoming stale.
- Your interest and enthusiasm will shine through your blog. If we write on a subject that fails to evoke our own interest, the dissatisfaction is likely to communicate itself to readers.
If you choose to go the profitability route, in that you write about topics that you feel will attract an income sooner, you are likely to run of steam after a few blogs. In order to identify your passion, think about the subjects that interest you, that you like to read about and that you like to discuss with family and friends. Once you come up with a list of probable blog topics, try coming up with a list of 10 topics under each subject. The subjects where you are unable to come up with 10 topics are probably not for you.
The trick is to try to find a gap in the online market within your interests. The biggest problem to overcome in blogging is that you are always likely to find a thousand (or even more) blogs already written about the same topic. For example, if gardening is your forte, you can research the Internet to see if there are niche topics that are still to be explored. Perhaps you could try focusing on a particular geographical area or a specific type of gardening aimed at urban dwellers, for example.
The important thing is that there should be a need for information that you can offer and you should be able to satisfy that need. In order to get an idea of how to establish yourself in your chosen niche, read other blogs on the niche and also read the comments, etc. This will help you position your content in a way that helps it stand out from the rest of the pack. In fact, when you begin to position your content in a unique way, there are better chances of attracting advertisers who are usually looking to target a certain section of the audience.
Ideally, the topic that you choose should be one that you don’t mind debating and discussing with others; it should also be a topic that you are not overly defensive or sensitive about. If you find that you have made a mistake with your topic, then you can easily stop your blog and sit down and re-evaluate your interests and passions to choose the right one.
How to Choose the Correct Domain Name for your Blog
To begin with, let’s explain what a domain name refers to. A domain name is your online address (similar to a physical address) where readers will find your blog. Once you have registered a legitimate domain name, no-one else can use it as long as you keep renewing usage. The Internet can be compared to a place and the domain name is the address of the building or flat number.
The selection of a good domain name is rather similar to choosing a business or company name.
Carefully chosen domain names work best for blogs because online users find them easy to remember. Although the words URL and domain are used interchangeably, they are different.
Here is a simple example to illustrate the point:
For example, myownblog.com is a domain name while https://myownblog.com is called a URL.
Here are some tips for choosing a good domain name for your blog site:
- Short, sweet and easy to spell and pronounce: Keep the domain name short and sweet and choose a simple spelling that most people can type easily. Also avoid using words that may have multiple spelling options. This reduces the likelihood of misspelt words and improves the chances of your blog being found by customers. The eventual objective is to facilitate easy communication. The goal is easily attained when people do not have to stop and think about how to pronounce or spell the blog name.
- Include keywords in the domain name: Keywords are important words or phrases that people key in when they search for a product, service or information on the Internet. Every search on the Internet begins with a keyword. Intelligent usage of keywords can help effectively drive traffic to your blog. Some keywords receive millions of hits on a daily basis while others may get only a few hundred. Similarly, high ranking keywords can be extremely competitive because hundreds of online businesses may already be using them to drive traffic. It’s worthwhile doing some research on the concept of keywords and finding the best keywords for your blog name. You can consider using popular keyword search tools such as Wordtracker and Google Keyword Tool. Choosing the correct keyword for your blog domain name achieves the following objectives:
– You will get an idea of the most effective keywords for your blog and a sense of the kind of words that you should consider using in your domain name.
– The tools will clearly indicate the keywords that are frequently searched on the Internet and the competition for those keywords.
Also try using the keyword towards the beginning of your domain name rather than towards the end. For example, if your blog deals with apartment gardening, apartmentgardeningtips.com is better than tipsforapartmentgardening.com.
Keywords are important tools for improved SEO. SEO is important because search engines like Google will show your blog or website as the place to go to when a user types in a keyword to search. Paying attention to SEO is crucial because you not only want to establish a blog, but you want it to be found and read by readers. Incorporating keywords in the domain name helps improve the chances of being found by search engine spiders that trawl the web for relevant content when a user types in a keyword.
It’s a good idea to use your own name in your domain name. After all, you may be hoping to become a popular household name over time and then it pays to have a name that you have registered. If your name is difficult to pronounce or spell, simply use the middle name or even a nickname. After a lot of work on choosing a domain name, you may try registering it only to find that it has already been taken. Do not get discouraged if this happens – simply go back to the drawing board and think of alternatives. As far as possible, please do avoid numbers and hyphens in the domain name.
Try to mix and match the keywords or rearrange the words. Try not to use very complex, technical or niche words in the domain name because this will only be targeted by a section of the users. Also ensure that the name you choose is available on social media sites as well. Namechk, Panabee and Knowem are effective name checking tools that check for the name across all social media sites.
Once you’ve chosen a domain name, you should also select a suitable extension. While ‘.com’ is the most popular (and the most recommended), there are other options available:
.org: This is often used by non-profit organisations and non-commercial entities
.net: The extension is typically used by technical websites and businesses
.co: ‘co’ is an abbreviation for company, community or commerce
.info: This is for informational sites
.biz: The ‘biz’ extension is used by commerce, e-commerce or business websites
.me is typically used for blogs that contain content that is personal in nature
Once you have decided on a domain name and found it to be available for your blog, you need to register the name.
Registering the Domain Name
The domain name can be registered with one of the large number of hosts (they offer domain registering services) available on the Internet. It’s important to select a reliable blog hosting service that offers fast response times and prompt guidance in case of questions or problems. Once you go onto their websites, all you need to do is to follow some simple instructions to register your blog. You may register your blog for a single year or multiple years. The charges are nominal – what you’d typically pay for a couple of cups of coffee. It’s advisable to select a blog host that uses a user-friendly and simple interface; it can be intimidating to navigate complex screens.
Ensure that you remember to correctly renew your registration for your domain otherwise you could lose access to your blog. WordPress.com (there is also WordPress.org for self-hosted blog sites) is one of the most popular hosts for blogging sites. You do not have to pay any fees upfront, it’s free unless you want to upgrade to their premium version which offers many other features. Other popular blog hosts include Blogger (owned by Google) which is also free and offers several customisable features. It’s a great place for beginners to start posting blogs.
Other blogging sites include TypePad, WIX, Tumblr, Joomla, Squarespace and Medium. Many reputed site hosting services offer 24/7 support to customers.
Ensure that your Blog Loads Speedily
In general, search engines prefer sites that load fast and give them preference in search rankings. The reading behaviour of online users is different from traditional readers. To begin with, they have short attention spans and will simply click on the back button or jump out of the blogging site altogether. A slow-loading blog site can put off readers and you stand to lose readership in the process. An efficiently loading site is more likely to attract traffic.
In order to ensure that your blog loads speedily, choose a reliable site host reputed for speedy processing times.
Optimise your Blog
At the end of the day, you want to keep readers coming back for more. Read on for some useful tips to optimise your blog:
- Try not to use the default template – it’s generally unimaginative and drab (on any blog hosting site). There will always be some free template options to play with – try these and see if you can upgrade the look and colour schemes, etc.
- Choose colours that are appropriate to your content. While shocking pink and yellow may look great for a teenage news blog, it may not be right for a blog that talks about inheritance tax. Games websites, for example, often use a black background to showcase their products. But this may not work at all for other users. While playing with your colour scheme, keep in mind your target audience and their expectations.
- Make sure that you include an RSS feed in your blog site: RSS is a modern web technology that allows users to track updates on their favourite websites and blogs. Users previously used bookmarks for tracking, this has been replaced by RSS feed. RSS originally stood for Rich Site Summary, but is now known as Really Simple Syndication. This way your readers are automatically informed every time you update your blog or add fresh content. Most blogging hosting sites do not include an RSS feed by default, you will have to add it in manually – this can be done in a few simple steps which will be explained on the hosting site.
The only thing is, you should ensure that you include the RSS feed (this is usually a conspicuous orange coloured logo) in an obvious location where a reader is able to spot it easily. As far as possible, do not tuck it away at the bottom of the blog page. In fact, the best place for RSS feeds is in the sidebar. If you want to offer a seamless experience to your readers, you can consider using FeedButton that allows multiple RSS feed reader buttons and aggregators with a single rollover button. The objective is to offer readers a simple way to subscribe to your blog.
If you are not comfortable with the RSS feed (although it’s a good idea to take time to understand it), you can also consider emailing your blog posts to readers who subscribe. There are several tools available to do this but FeedBlitz is one of the most popular.
- As the author of the blog, you must decide if you wish to offer full or partial feeds to your readers. The best way is to offer both types of feeds: One will be the full feed that will contain RSS adverts and the other would be an advert-free feed which can be read if the user accesses your blog. The choice of feed usually depends on the type of blog content and the niche market space that you are targeting.
Please do use the numerous tools available to track spam comments and feedback.
- Generate compelling and interesting copy when you provide snippets and descriptions to your readers. The snippet should be interesting enough (try incorporating cliff-hangers) to encourage the reader to click and read the full blog post. Please ensure that your sentences are grammatically correct and contain perfect spelling. If necessary, use one of the numerous spellcheckers available online to check your description before you publish your entry. Keep paragraphs short (100-120 words in a paragraph is a good rule to follow) and select the right font sizes. Avoid curvy and illegible fonts because it can be challenging to read; it’s best to use standard fonts in conventional sizes. It can be frustrating and exhausting to read through lengthy blog entries without paragraph breaks.
- Keep your blog interface clean, simple and user-friendly. Too many widgets (widgets are graphical elements on the blog page that help the user perform a function or access a service), for example, can make the blog page appear cluttered and messy. You can include the widgets that you need (it’s a simple process – just follow the instructions on the blog hosting site), but eliminate the ones that are not necessary.
- Keep the titles relevant, interesting and clear. Ambiguous titles can end up confusing the reader and they may not be inclined to click on the blog post. Keep the titles short and to the point. While SEO is important, pay attention to relevance.
- Post fresh content often: Google prefers sites that are regularly updated and tends to send valuable traffic to them. But how often should you post blogs? The answer to this question is usually dependant on the type of industry and type of service/product that you are discussing in your blog. However, according to a study by HubSpot, blogs that were updated and posted more than 16 times a month were more likely to receive 3 to 4 times the traffic compared to blogs that were updated less than 4 times a month.
So the best way to encourage traffic to your blog is to post about four times a week. The statistics above show how crucial it is to post fresh blog content on a regular basis. Observe the reactions to the frequency of your posting and determine your sweet spot.
- Spread your link and ping other sites: Whenever you add a new blog post, link to other blog entries and sites. For example, if you are reviewing a story or a book, provide a link to the original story. Similarly, bloggers have the option of pinging other sites such as FeedBurner to let them know that you have posted a new blog entry. In addition, you can ping Google Blog Search to let Google know that you have updated your blog. Most blogging host sites offer automatic ping features on the control panel. If you need additional help, you can use services like Ping-O-Matic that allow the user to pick and choose the sites that you wish to ping whenever you update your blog.
- Include it under multiple categories: Once you publish a blog post, ensure that you include it in multiple but relevant categories so that you make it easier for readers to find your blog. For example, if you have just published a blog post on freelance writing, you can consider putting it under freelance careers, writing, as well as earning an income from home. Your titles and categories should be closely allied.
To summarise blog optimisation tips, you must consider including the following add-ons to your blog:
- An email subscription form: This is a must have because eventually you want to convert casual visitors into regular subscribers. As you do this, they will share your blog content through their networks.
- Social share buttons: It’s best to share the onus of distributing your content on everyone who is interested. This way you can expose your content not to just people in your own network, but also to hundreds of others who are not in your network.
- Comments section: Although having a comments section may attract spammers and negative reviews, etc, you must consider including one. The fundamental feature of a blog is to encourage a dialogue between the blogger and the reader.
- A search bar: An inbuilt search bar allows users to search for other content on your blog. It’s even better if you are able to incorporate keyword analysis tools because this will tell you which content is more popular.
- List of topics: Another way to customise user experience on your blog is to offer a list of topics to the user. Instead of making this a long, exhaustive list, you can consider categorising the topics so that the user is able to browse through the topics that pique their interest.
In general, remember that Google likes text, formatting, knowing where your blog is, hyperlinks, fresh content and experts.
Original, Engaging and Thought-Provoking Content
Write interesting, relevant and engaging posts for your readers to enjoy. To be honest, plugins, RSS feeds, layouts, links, etc play important roles in ensuring success, but the biggest and most crucial factor is excellent quality of blog content.
Keep your posts factually accurate (please double-check when you quote facts and figures), punctuated and ensure that you edit and proofread before you publish. In addition, try to include images – they help break the monotony of text and make the content more interesting to the reader. Give credit to your sources and include relevant links where appropriate.
The inverted pyramid for quality writing works very well for blog posts:
Ensure that your blog posts are well-researched. While there is a lot of information available on the Internet, you should also consider visiting your local bookstore or library for assistance. The main idea behind blogging should be to deliver relevant and engaging material that the reader will not be able to easily find out on his or her own. Here are a few cracking tips on how to create good blog posts for your readers:
- Read blog posts that are written on topics that are similar to yours. It pays to read the comments and feedback sections to understand the response and reactions of readers. It will also tell you what the readers want to know.
- Create an outline and plan your blog post before you publish it. Organise your titles, subtitles and decide on the type of content that you plan to include.
- Include quotes, statistics, stories and cliff-hangers to make your post more interesting.
- Keep sentences short and precise; every word, phrase and punctuation should add some value to the blog post. Read your blog post aloud to yourself and gauge if it’s interesting enough. Avoid technical jargon and keep it simple – overuse of big words can make the post seem pretentious. Keep the style conversational as opposed to stiff and preachy.
- Even if your topic has been written about before (chances are that someone would have already blogged about it), try writing from a new angle. For example, if ‘% reasons to start blogging’ has already been written about, you can write on ‘5 mistakes to avoid while blogging’. Introduce fresh perspective to your reader.
- Create a conclusion with a punch because merely restating main facts in the blog can be boring and everyone does it. To make the conclusion more interesting, add in a thought-provoking question, persuade the reader to your point of view or include a call to action.
As you start your own blog, you will need to navigate several learning curves along the way. You need to become familiar with plugins, images, hyperlinks, RSS feeds and marketing techniques and so on. You also need to inculcate discipline and dedication in your daily routine so that you are able to devote time and attention to your blog. This may seem like a daunting task, especially when it involves juggling a busy routine with raising young children, but it is doable and your blog has every chance of becoming successful and popular. The good news is that you can and must learn the nuances and techniques that help you create engaging and informative blog posts.
Blogging is no longer the fiefdom of technical gurus – anyone has the freedom to start a blog and make a success of it, if they are willing to invest effort and time. The good news is that you do not need to possess technical computer knowledge in order to start your own blog. It’s simply a matter of getting onto the Internet and following basic instructions. Blogging as an activity has gained popularity because ordinary folks are able to leverage the power of the Internet to reach hundreds and thousands of followers. It’s an interesting and empowering activity that helps you help others as well as yourself. Although monetary incentives play a crucial role, the biggest attraction of starting your own blog is that it changes you as a person and as a writer.
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