A couple of months ago a Facebook friend PM’d me and asked for tips about starting a blog. And when I posted my blog about 500 (and 1) Followers, another friend on Google+ asked me how to get that many followers. Well, look, I’m no expert at blogging, as I said, I just do this for fun. But I have helped a few others set up blogs, including my friend Chace, my brother James, and my Godsister Brianna, so I figured it couldn’t hurt for me to put down a few of the recommendations I usually make for bloggers, so I’ll have a handy link to point to in the future.
Please note that this is meant to address those who wish to be become semi-serious bloggers, by that I mean someone who wishes to write regularly for public consumption and hopes to build an audience who reads their blog. If you just want to use your blog as a personal journal, just writing when you feel like it for your own enjoyment, and don’t care if anyone else reads it or not (which was my attitude towards blogging for the first few years I did it), then you don’t really need much advice. Just sign up to one of the free sites and start writing. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re trying to earn money or build a business through blogging then you should seek professional advice, as that’s above my pay-grade. Heck, if you can figure out a way to make money doing this, then let ME know. But this is just for those who, like me, like to write and want to consider themselves a “blogger.”
Register your own domain name.
You don’t need to set-up your own full website (although you can), but you should get your own domain name. That way no matter what service you end up using for your blog (WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, etc.) you can keep using your same domain if you ever decide to switch to another service. As for the domain name itself, pick something simple and easy to remember, something that clearly states what your blog is about. Looking at some of the bloggers I follow as an example, a blog about American politics from a liberal perspective: American Liberal Times. A blog discussing and reviewing the classic soap opera Dallas: Dallas Decoder. A blog for music news and reviews: Welcome To The Music Club. A single sexually active woman in her 40’s writes about her dating life and sexual experiences: On The Prowl At 40. A woman who has struggled with weight issues writes about embracing herself and body-positivity: A Girl With A Lot of Gut. A blog about positive life-stories and general good news: Kindness Blog. Or just use your name (real or pseudonym) as your blog title like Ann St. Vincent or Nikki Skies. I don’t have any one particular subject that I focus on, I write about everything from politics to racial issues, to movies to comic-books, I just like writing, so I came up with I Blog A Lot. Self-explanatory, eh?
I use 1and1.com for my domain registration, the prices are decent and they offer free private registration. I’ve also used GoDaddy, which has the advantage of giving you the option of registering for multiple years at time, instead of having to renew every year. I must stress that I’ve only used those sites for domain registration, they both also offer website building and hosting but I can’t comment on those services.
Pick a blogging platform.
The two main free platforms are Blogger and WordPress (although they have extra services that cost money, like domain mapping, removing ads, and premium themes, all of which I use, but they’re not essential). I’ve used both in the past and just feel more comfortable with WordPress, although I can’t really give any specific reasons why, I’m just used to it by now. But I have some friends who use Blogger and swear by it. Tumblr is also free (and offers free domain mapping if you own your own domain, as well as a selection of premier themes), but I don’t recommend that for serious bloggers, it’s not really built for commenting and engagement. It’s more comparable to Twitter, but with moving pictures and videos. If you’re just blogging for fun, then Tumblr may be a good place to start. I’m on Tumblr, but mostly just use it to promote this blog. Typepad used to have a free service but now they just have various levels of paid services. I only follow one blog on Typepad, The Slack Daily but I don’t see anything in the design that you can’t get from the other services for free.
Okay, you’ve got your blog set up. Now it’s time to start writing. It sounds simple, but this is actually the hardest part. You can find a bajillion articles online about finding the perfect topics, fighting writer’s block, etc. My main advice is just to keep it short, although admittedly this is an area I continue to struggle with myself. We’re living in an ADHD culture, people don’t feel like reading or have time to read long posts. Try to keep your posts within 2-4 paragraphs. If you must go long, then break the monotony by adding pictures to visualize your subject. I always begin each post with a picture at the top, that comes in handy when you’re sharing the direct link somewhere. And if as you’re writing it’s getting long and you can’t think to cut anything out, then add some pictures in between paragraphs, such as I’ve been doing here. Just to break up the “Wall of Text,” because many readers will just click past when they see that.
So hopefully the pictures will catch their eye and keep them reading (you’re still reading this, aren’t you? It worked!). Another thing you can do is split the blog up. If you’ve got a long topic, write half of it in one post and end with TO BE CONTINUED, and then write a Part II the next day, or whenever. Make it a long series of posts on one topic if you must. And another important thing, if you’re trying to be a serious blogger, is to blog regularly. Obviously every blogger’s situation is different, it will depend on your free time and what subject(s) your blog is about, so before you even get started try to figure out what the bare minimum frequency that you can do, and then stick to that schedule. Whether it’s blogging once (or more) a day, once every other day, three times a week, once a week, whatever. When it comes to attracting an audience, then a regular schedule is key. If they know that if the check your blog everyday, or every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, whenever, they’ll find a new post, then they’ll be more likely to come back. I do recommend trying to blog as often as possible for at least the first month. If you could blog at least once a day for that first month, that is great. Then you can slow down in the 2nd month and after if you need to, because at least then there’s a backlog of content available for new readers.
Share your posts.
You want to make sure you tag your posts properly, so they’ll show up in web searches. But you can’t just wait to be discovered. You have to share what your write. Use social media, even if you don’t really like it, it’s a necessary evil. I have my blog set up so that all my posts automatically post on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Tumblr. I also use Pinterest (another reason why I always add a picture at the beginning of all of my posts) and Stumbleupon. If you belong to any message board, post links there if you’ve written something that’s on-topic. You can also use LinkedIn and Instagram to share your posts. There’s also Reddit (but they’re very strict about so-called “blog-spam”, so you don’t want to post just from your own blog and too often). Anywhere you can attract eyeballs, take advantage of it.
Another very important step. You know the old saying: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You? If you want people to read and follow your blog, then you need to read and follow theirs. Look up other bloggers, especially ones from whatever platform you’re using (if you’re on WordPress, follow other WordPress blogs, if you’re on Blogger, follow other Google Blogs). Subscribe, read, comment, click “Like,” or “+1”, share links to their blogs on your Social Media platforms. If you write a post about something that was discussed in another blog, include a link to that person’s blog so they’ll get a trackback. Sharing is caring.
Probably the most important piece of advice. Just wait. As the other old saying goes: Rome wasn’t burnt in a day (or something like that). Don’t be constantly checking your stats, trying to see how many hits you’re getting or if you’ve got any new subscribers. Just keep writing and doing your thing, the hits will come when they come. Some bloggers build audiences quickly, others slower, there’s really no way to force it or predict it. I’ve written posts that took me hours to finish and I thought were great but that got very few views, while other posts that I just wrote in a few minutes and didn’t really put much thought into it have practically gone viral. Occasionally I have tried to catch a trend, like when actor James Garner died last July I quickly wrote reviews of two of his movies, My Fellow Americans and Barbarians At The Gate, thinking that people would be doing web searches about him when they heard about his death and that may lead them to my blog, but neither post got many hits. And I’m still baffled as to why out of all of the much better posts I’ve written my FEAR OF A WHITE RAPPER post is the one that got freshly pressed, and led to me getting over a hundred new subscribers. You just never know.
So that about covers it. There are a few others things, like whether or not to moderate comments, that you’ll just have to figure out for yourself as you go along. I guess my last piece of advice would be to HAVE FUN. Don’t get too serious about it. Writing should be enjoyable, and it can be if you have the right attitude. So go for it, and good luck!