I’ve already written beginner’s guides to Twitter, WordPress, SEO, and Blog Monetization, and the BlogWorld Blog also had a 101-level guide to Podcasting. Today, though, I wanted to back up even farther and write a mini guide for brand new bloggers. I can’t tell you how many people I met at BlogWorld LA 2011 who are new and totally overwhelmed. We were all new bloggers once, and it’s tough. This is the guide I wish someone had written for me when I started blogging.
What is Blogging?
First, let’s start by defining what blogging really is. Easier said than done. In my opinion, a blog has two components:
- The content is regularly updated, rather than being static, with content arranged chronologically.
- Readers can interact with the content through comments, voting, social sharing, etc.
Not all blogs are updated daily or even weekly. Not all blogs have posts that are structured in a traditional format. Not all blogs have comments open. Not all blogs feature Twitter/Facebook/etc. share buttons. Some blogs feature the author’s opinions very prominently. Others are more objective news sources.
There’s a really great post by Darren Rowse on Problogger about what a blog really is. It’s pretty old, but still helpful. I recommend you reading this post to learn more if you don’t understand the different between a blog and another kind of website. Remember, the definition of a blog isn’t set in stone.
Your Blog Content
Despite the inability to firmly describe what defines a blog, one thing is certain: you can’t have a blog without content. Individual pieces of content are called “blog posts.” You can also record video posts or podcasts.
A mistake that I commonly see: people confuse the words “blog” and “blog post.” If you write one post per day, don’t say that you are writing one blog per day. Someone can hire you to “write ten blog posts” but they likely wouldn’t hire you to “write ten blogs” (if they do, that means you’re going to be VERY busy, since that means you’re writing for ten individual websites). Basically, “blog” is the website and “blog posts” or just “posts” are the articles.
Many bloggers choose to blog in a specific niche. A niche is a specific topic, so all of your blog posts will revolve around this topic. It does go a little farther, though – your niche also includes a specific target market. Essentially, you want to ask, “who will be my reader?” and write posts for that group of people. David Risley wrote a great post about how to evaluate the viability of a niche (if you want to monetize your blog) that I recommend checking out.
You can also blog in a more journal style. Online diaries are extremely difficult to monetize unless you’re a celebrity or well-known personality, but there are no rules to blogger. You can write about whatever you want.
Your Blog’s Sidebar
Most blogs have a sidebar, and some have two (one on either side). You can put whatever you you want on your sidebar, but here are a few things that bloggers typically include:
- A way to subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed
- A way to subscribe to the blog’s mailing list
- A search bar
- A list of the most recent posts
- A list of the most popular posts
- The categories
- A list of the most recent comments
- Social profile buttons
- Links to niche resources
This is not by far an exhaustive list. You can include anything on the sidebar that you want! Keep in mind that the sidebar real estate “above the fold” (i.e., viewable before a reader has to start strolling) is more valuable, so put your most important stuff at the top or sell ads placed in these spots for more money.
A blogging “platform” is the program you’ll use to update your blog. I mean, you can do it manually by updating the code of your website every day, but this is super inefficient, even if you are awesome at coding. You want to choose a blogging platform.
The two most common platforms are WordPress and Blogger. Both have free versions so you can start a blog without paying for your own domain name and hosting, but your URL will be blogname.wordpress.com or blogname.blogspot.com. I highly recommend that you pay for your own domain name and hosting (there are options available for less than $5 per month) if you want anything more than an online diary. It’s hard to monetize if your blog doesn’t look professional.
WordPress and Blogger are both easy to use and have great service, so check them both out before making your decision. They’re also not your only options if you want to blog on your own domain name, but they are pretty widely used because they’re free to download and put on your own domain. Here are some other options:
- Typepad is an easy-to-use option, though this is not a free content management system for bloggers (though your monthly fee also include a domain name/hosting, so it isn’t a bad deal)
- Moveable Type is free for bloggers
- Tumblr is an option, with a great built-in community, but you don’t have the option to use your own domain (all blogs are blogname.tumblr.com)
- Squarespace is an option that’s super easy to use, but with customization limitations
- Drupal is a traditional content management system that can be used for blogging and is loved by coders
There’s a really great post about blogging platforms on Practical Ecommerce that I recommend you read. My heart lies with WordPress!
Your Blogging Goals
I always recommend that brand new bloggers start by defining your blogging goals, since that will dictate the type of content you write, your monetization efforts, etc. Here are some goals you might have:
- Teach others something you know
- Inspire readers in a certain area
- Provide entertainment
- Promote a business, product ,or service
- Establish yourself as an expert in your field
- Make money online
- Vent your feelings and voice your opinions
- Network with other people in a specific niche
Many blogs do more than one things on the above list, but it helps to establish your main goal so you can ensure that every single blog post you write helps you achieve that main goal. A good way of figuring out what you goal is to ask yourself this: When my readers think of me and my blog, what impression do I want in their minds?
Do you want to be the opinionated girl who teaches others about gardening? Do you want to be the blog that has the awesome country music community? Do you want to be the go-to source for information about new ice cream products?
Some Final Tips for Blogging Beginners
If you have more questions, I’d love to answer them for you – just ask in the comments section below. Here are a few more tips for beginning bloggers:
- Be consistent. You don’t have to blog once a day, but it helps to establish how often you’re going to blog not only to help you maintain a schedule, but also to help your readers know when to expect new content.
- Give your readers a way to sign up for a mailing list. Even if you don’t email them right now, collecting those emails one by one is going to help you in the future.
- Have pages that talk about who your are, what your blog is about, and how to contact you. Make sure they’ll all linked clearly in your navigation menu.
- Use 5-10 tags with every post to help readers find more posts on your blog relating to the same subject (and to help with SEO).
- When designing your blog, make sure that it looks good in every browser, especially Internet Explore, which has a tendency to break websites that look awesome in other browsers.
- Make sure you have a mobile version of your website. It’s really easy to use a plugin to create an automatic mobile version if you use WordPress.
- Don’t overwhelm with categories. You want your options to be clear, but if you have 50 categories, it’s hard to keep them all updated. Instead, go for main categories that are broader and subcategories to help further organize content.
- Use pictures to help make your blog more personal (if that makes sense for your niche and writing style).
- Make sure your blog is search-engine friendly. Our SEO guide can help you with that.
What tips have I missed? Experienced bloggers, help me out!