Blogging is a great way to pass along knowledge, meet new people, and build relationships while also chronicling your own lessons, undertakings, and successes. I couldn’t be happier about the life that my own blogs have taken on, or more grateful for all of the new friends I have made over the years.
That said, the success and relationships I’ve built have not been without flaws or hiccups along the way. There are so many things that would have given me a smoother road to success had I known them before I’d actually started blogging… hopefully some of you can avoid making the same mistakes! Though there are so many things I wish I’d known, let’s avoid making mistake #11 and instead focus on just 10 of the things I wish I’d known before I started my first blog.
1. Having a specific niche matters. A lot.
When I started my first blog, I joined the world of virtual writers with lots of enthusiasm and lots to say – but about many different things. All of that unbridled gusto resulted in a blog that was a bit, well, all over the place for lack of a better term. That lack of focus not only failed to gain a solid following, but also resulted in a blog that was a bit difficult to read and follow.
Lesson: Give your blog focus – you need a niche that will allow you to draw from your own experiences and expertise while writing consistently. Your expertise and focus is your ticket to drawing a profit from your blog, by the way…
2. Blogging isn’t free.
If you’re serious about blogging as a way to earn an income, you’ll need to remember one of the cardinal rules of business: sometimes, you have to spend money to make money.
Blog platforms can be free, though using a blog with a branded extension (ie; yourblog.wordpress.com) leads to lacking credibility – but serious bloggers own their own extensions. Regardless of your URL, you’ll need to invest in developing a brand-worthy, unique design, purchasing the right web host and plugins, marketing to gain readers and awareness of your blog, and absorb development costs for proper programming.
All of these things cost money upfront – but if you want others to invest in you, be it with monetary investments or their time, you have to invest in yourself.
Lesson: Legitimacy and professionalism come with upfront costs – but if you run your blog well, these investments will pay off in dividends.
3. People will steal your content.
Sure, there is copyright protection as well as media laws to protect intellectual property, but good luck proving that your blog content belonged to you first! In most cases, there’s not a whole lot you can do when someone steals your content, although you can add a watermark to your images and add copyright text into your footer.
That said, just hope that people at least have the decency to take your concepts and not your words. Bloggers do find inspiration from others – it’s part of what signifies your blog as a success. That said, inspiration from an idea and stealing full paragraphs and words are two very different things.
Lesson: Prepare yourself ahead of time for the worst, but hope that people will be respectful and give attribution where it is due.
4. Good SEO and Social Media Marketing knowledge will help you go a loooong way.
To help your blog be found, you need for it to show up in search results.
To make that happen, you need a solid SEO strategy and SMM (social media marketing). This means relevancy to your keywords, potential guest posts, banner ads and other marketing and advertising efforts, and more. There are tons of ways to go about it – just make sure that you do something. These SEO and SMM tactics are critical to your success.
Lesson: Before you start your blog, develop your SEO and SMM strategies so you can exercise them from day one.
5. Google changes, all the time.
Even if you have a fabulous SEO strategy today, there’s no guarantee that it will work tomorrow. Google constantly evolves its algorithms, so it’s best not to rely fully on Google to gain new readers. Instead, focus on providing quality content to build a loyal readership. Build data collection forms into your blog so that you can collect email addresses to build your email list. Offer referral incentives, run sweepstakes, etc.
Lesson: Whatever you can do to build your own readership base and grow your list organically is to your benefit – you can’t rely solely on Google.
6. Write your posts in conversational tone.
Business and formal tones make for (generally) boring, flat reading. People choose to read blogs – there isn’t a requirement in most cases. That said, you need to write in a way that appeals to them… which, in most cases, means adopting a more casual, conversational tone.
Lesson: Loosen up and have fun! Write like you speak – your readers want to get to know you.
7. Being consistent is important.
Most people, myself included, started blogging as a hobby.That said, we partake in hobbies when we have time in between all of the “life stuff.” Often times, those hobbies are inconsistent at best – but that inconsistency leads to blogging for our own enjoyment and fails to actually secure readers. After all, if I were to write this and then not write again for two weeks… and then a month after that, what are the odds that you’d keep checking in? I’d like to think that you love my blog so much you’d stick with me, but the (sad) reality is that you’d likely move on after not too much time.
Lesson: When you blog, be consistent – it’s critical to building trust with your readers and to building your readership.
8. Analytics are crucial.
Starting a blog without installing analytics software is like having a conversation with a wall; what’s the point of talking to someone if you aren’t learning from them and listening to what they have to say? Even if your readers aren’t commenting on your blog posts, that doesn’t mean they aren’t giving you information.
Google Analytics is free and so easy to install. It will give you information about how many readers you have, how many repeat readers you have, what people are reading, and what posts people quickly abandon. You’ll learn where your readers are coming from, which search terms they are using to find you, and more. It’s kind of like your personal guide to what to write next.
Lesson: Take the time to learn how to read and understand the numbers – then fine tune your blog and future posts to cater to the audience represented in those numbers; doing so will greatly improve your blog’s success.
9. Blogging could turn into a business.
To be fair, you aren’t going to make a ton of money from your blog on week one; you need to gain traffic and a readership, have a history of posts, and have enough context for your potential advertisers to qualify your blog as a likely source of revenue (that is worthy of their investment). That said, once you are established, there are tons of ways to monetize your blog and turn it into a business, from things like AdWords participation to sponsored placement, ad marketplace sales, and more. Get creative and be open. For more information on monetizing your blog, check out my recent post.
Lesson: Consistency and creativity win the race. Look for opportunities and keep building your blog’s popularity, content, and quality to gain new monetization opportunities.
10. Blog design matters.
They say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in reality, that cover sells.
Your blog’s design provides the readers with a first impression – and that first impression is important. An outdated, amateur design screams that you are a newbie and likely an amateur yourself. In contrast, a professionally designed blog with a great layout, intriguing color palette, and well-chosen fonts will give an impression of a legitimate blog that is worth someone’s time. Your design alone can often secure new readers – though, of course your content will keep those readers. Tip – some themes clubs offer multiple blog designs/templates at affordable prices, Elegant Themes for example, offers 87 themes at only $69/year (my detail review here). Go check’em out.
Lesson: Invest in a professionally designed blog upfront to give your blog its best chance of success from day one.