Decide why you want to blog. I'm not looking for a profound answer or even one you have to stick with, but the answer to that question, at least to start, can point you in the right direction. If you simply want a place to write, and hope that someone reads it, you approach the project differently than if you seriously want to make money blogging. There are three basic reasons to blog:
- To promote an ongoing business. If you are trying to make money doing it, you have a business, whether your business is tutoring, writing, housecleaning or selling stuff. A tutor might use her blog to pass along helpful websites to clients or learning tips to make her sound like an expert to prospective clients. A writer could promote his/her published writing and showcase his/her talent as part of a strategy to land freelance work. A maid service could introduce their employees and offer helpful hints from professional cleaners as a way to market. A business that sells things could promote different products and make them easy to buy.
- To make money. For some people, their blog is their business. They find a topic that attracts readers and make money by selling ad space, using affiliate links or by attracting sponsors who provide products or money in exchange for reviews or other posts about their products.
- Because you like it. These bloggers write because they like to write, because they want to connect with people with similar interests, because they want to promote their viewpoints, or for other sometimes inexplicable reasons. These are hobby bloggers.
Decide whether to self-host or get a free account. If you already having a business website, adding a blog as part of it is the easy choice. Otherwise you need to decide whether you should have blogspot.com or wordpress.com as part of your URL. Doing so tells everyone that you are on a free website. Is that a problem? For a hobby blogger it is not. For a small local business, it probably is not. For a professional reaching out to a large audience, it marks you as not quite the big time. Web hosting isn't terribly expensive but it is like any other expense in life--you have to decide whether you can afford it and if so, whether it is worth it. This is a hobby blog. While I sometimes dream of being discovered and having thousands of people every day reading my reviews and purchasing books using my links, the reality is that I don't work at it hard enough for that to happen. I've looked at self-hosting (paying for a website that has my domain name) but for me, in my position, I don't see the advantage. The decision you make now does not have to be permanent, but if you change your mind later and move your blog you will almost certainly lose some readers in the transition.
Pick a blogging platform. Right now the big players are WordPress and Blogger. I use Blogger (and if you look at my URL you'll see blogspot.com is part of it, meaning that I'm using it for free). Blogger is easy to get started with and easy to use. They offer a large number of WYSIWYG templates that you can tweak. Besides that third parties offer other templates or backgrounds or page elements. If you are reading this at the time it was originally published, you'll see a banner in the top left corner of my blog that says "Hotbliggityblog" that will take you to the website where I got the free background I'm using right now. Other sites with similar offerings are Cutest Blog on the Block and Shabby Blogs. My understanding is that up to a point, Blogger is easier to use than WordPress, but that WordPress can do more once you get it all figured out. One advantage to Blogger over WordPress is that you you use the free version of WordPress you aren't allowed to have ads on your site. Blogger not only allows them, it makes them easy by offering an AdSense widget. I don't get rich from the ads on my site but I get about $50.00 per year from AdSense and about $10.00 per year from Amazon.
Design your blog. I'd suggest keeping it simple to start with. Use the free templates offered by the blog platform or pay a designer for a complete look. Once you are up and running you can add and change things. There are so many options that the choices are overwhelming. Pick something you like and go with it. You can and almost certainly will change it later.
Design a free blog or two or three. Unless you are thinking of changing platforms, use the platform you chose for your real blog. Make one of your free blogs the same as your real one. That's the blog you play with. Do you want to add a new background, change the color scheme or try a new font? Try it there first. If you like the look, move it to your real blog. If not, it won't matter, because no one can see it.
Start blogging. Yes, now you actually get to (or have to) say something. Here is another place where in my opinion, you need to keep the purpose of your blog in mind. If your blog is a business or is to promote a business then you need to make sure your writing is professional, without typos, grammar errors or misspellings. Some people find it helpful to compose posts in a word processor, such as Word, and then after running them through spell check and grammar check, paste them into their blogging platform. Writing a post one day and proofreading it the next, before posting also helps you catch errors. Hobby bloggers do not have to worry so much about that, which makes it easier and more fun to post on the fly. While I certainly don't advocate purposely making mistakes, I think worrying too much about them, for someone who is doing this as a hobby, can cause you to limit your writing.
Network. Whether we are hobby bloggers or promoting a business, we want people to read what we write; otherwise we'd use a journal. Make sure your Blogger and/or WordPress profile links you to your blog. Visit other blogs in your niche and leave comments. Often you will be asked to leave a URL. Do so. Participate in link-ups, memes, blog carnivals or other events where bloggers gather. While signing the link-up is important, it is also important to visit other participating blogs and to leave comments. If you are on facebook, consider sharing your blog posts there as well--and honestly, consider whether you should. If you blog frequently on a niche topic that most of your facebook friends aren't into, posting links too often could make them turn your feed off if you aren't a close friend. On the other hand if what you blog is about is who you really are to most of your facebook friends (a mom posting about her kids for example) you've practically got a built in audience already built. If your blog includes recipes and crafts, pinning them on Pinterest could make a post go viral.
Keep blogging. By its nature, blogging in an ongoing process. Unlike static websites, people expect new content regularly. Commit yourself to a certain number of posts per month and try to stick with it. It is better to have three posts a month, once every ten days than four posts the first week and nothing for the rest of the month. Blogging platforms allow you to pre-schedule posts, so even though you may have time to write today, and write six posts, you can spread the publication dates out over the whole month.
Use stat counters, but keep things in perspective. Both Blogger and WordPress will track how many people visit your site and what they do while there. You can also use Google Analytics, StatCounter and W3 Counter. All have free accounts available along with paid upgrades that give you more information. It is fun to see more and more hits on your website and if you have ads that pay based on the number of eyes that see them, it is nice to see those numbers going up too. However, you have to remember why you are blogging. I'm primarily a book blogger but several years ago I was teaching religion in my parish and put together a list of Advent links for my kids. I put them on my blog and submitted the post to some link-up and got (for me) a huge number of hits. I did the same thing during Lent. Those posts, and my updates of them are by far my post popular posts and every year during Lent I get a spike in hits to my blog. Does that mean I need more religious link lists? If my goal was to get hits, that might help, but I couldn't write regularly about Advent or Lent activities and I have no desire to write regularly about living the Liturgical Year with my kids. I enjoy the hits I get and then go back to what I enjoy--writing about books.
If you are an experienced blogger, what advice do you have for those thinking about starting?