The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Blogging
I have played guitar since I was 16 years old.
When I first started, it seemed impossible. I couldn’t even strum a chord, let alone string a few together and play an actual song.
And yet, with practice and the passing of time, I turned an impossible into a possible. I became what I would consider a good guitar player, and these days I have loads of fun singing and playing guitar in my band.
You may be wondering what this has to do with blogging. Well, just like playing guitar, blogging is something that you can pick up easily enough – but mastering it is another thing altogether.
There is a fine line between a blog that is nothing more than a time suck, and a blog that can help you generate a full time income (directly or indirectly). The problem is that there is too much information out there. It is far too easy to become paralyzed into inaction.
With that in mind, I set out to produce a relatively brief guide that would focus solely on the core fundamentals of successful blogging, which you can find below. Enjoy!
Is Blogging Worth It?
Before we begin, I want to address the primary question that may be holding you back from starting your own blog: “Is it worth it?”
The short answer is an emphatic yes. Blogging itself is such an adaptable tool that it can be leveraged to benefit nearly any business. It doesn’t matter what you are trying to do online – blogging can help you.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
- Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income generates tens of thousands of dollars every month in affiliate income. He also has other revenue streams – some of which are also blogs.
- Corbett Barr is a serial blogger. He cut his teeth over at what is now corbettbarr.com, before moving onto affiliate marketing, consulting services and eventually information products via Think Traffic (read Corbett’s fascinating story here).
- Marcus Sheridan created a blog for his ailing fibreglass pool company and ended up with more client referrals than he could manage. Then he launched The Sales Lion which he used as a tool to launch his own social media consultancy and public speaking business.
- Fraser Cain owns Universe Today – a news blog dedicated to the space and astronomy niche that pulls in a six figure yearly income through advertising.
- Keith Snow’s Harvest Eating gives away tons of free advice on local and seasonal foods, whilst operating an integrated membership site.
I have very deliberately included two blogs above that have absolutely nothing to do with making money or online business in any way shape or form. That market is arguably the hardest to make money in, because it is so saturated. Thanks to Chris Guthrie for making the very sensible suggestion that I should include non-MMO blogs in my examples above.
Oh, and then there’s also the rather less high profile example – me. I am certain that if I hadn’t launched this blog and stuck with it over the past 12 months or so, I wouldn’t be where I am now. This blog has been arguably the main contributing factor to my success to date, for a number of reasons:
- It sends me more prospective freelance blogging clients than I can serve
- It connected me with a great developer who is helping me create my first WordPress plugin
- It gave me a means by which I could connect with countless experienced and influential people
- It has led me to develop real friendships with some seriously awesome people
And let’s not forget that quite simply, I love running this blog. The simple joy of running a blog should not be ignored.
It doesn’t really matter what you are trying to achieve online – having a blog can almost certainly help you in achieving that goal.
Choosing Your Path
I understand that many of you are not willing (or able) to invest any more than a few bucks in blogging.
I get that – when I first started out, I was very selective with the investment I made in my blog. Essentially, I was afraid to invest, for fear that I would not see a return. That is why I am offering this guide completely free of charge – so that you do not have to spend any money on learning how to blog well.
However, if you are willing to invest some money in your learning, I would heartily recommend that you stop reading immediately and grab yourself a copy of Start a Blog that Matters. This is an online course developed by the aforementioned Corbett Barr, and I cannot recommend it enough. I have been running through the course material over the last couple of months, and it has revolutionized my approach to blogging (which some of you may well have observed with interest).
If you are willing to purchase Corbett’s course, you don’t need this guide. He covers literally everything – it by far the most accomplished and complete information product I have ever bought.
With that said, if you’re not ready to make that jump just yet, please read on!
Picking a Topic
Many of you who have contacted me already have your own blog, whilst others love the idea of blogging, but are simply not sure what to blog about.
When first starting out, I personally feel that you should just jump in at the deep end and see what happens. Your first blog may not be a success, but it will be a huge learning experience.
Whilst you can spend days and weeks deliberating over what you should blog about, I would recommend that you follow this simple decision-making process:
- Find a topic that you like writing about
- Consider potential monetization methods
It can (and should eventually) get a lot more complicated than this, but I do not want you to get so embroiled in theory that you never actually get around to starting your blog.
You may be wondering how to analyze whether or not a blog has the potential to be monetized. To give you an idea, here are a list of the main potential monetization methods:
- Product creation
- Affiliate marketing
Any blog can utilize advertising, so theoretically, any blog can be monetized. But ideally you will pick a topic that is more conducive to higher profit margins. For inspiration, you can see the list of high profile bloggers above, in which I highlighted the monetization methods that they use.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by this process and whether or not your chosen topic is financially viable, consider this – when I launched Leaving Work Behind I had no idea as to how I would use it to generate income, yet now it serves as a referral machine for my freelance writing business and makes money via affiliate marketing and my freelance writing guide.
I am so glad that I pushed on without a clear plan at the beginning, rather than getting overwhelmed and not even starting. That approach won’t be for everyone, but it worked for me.
Choosing a Blogging Platform
Gone are the days when you had to manually code your site. Now you have a host of “content management systems” to choose from that make the process of building a website and publishing content online a piece of cake.
First of all, you should run your blog on self-hosted WordPress. Not Tumblr, not Blogger, and not WordPress.com (click here for an explanation of the differences).
The cost is pretty nominal – $10 or so for a domain name, and a few bucks a month for hosting. Having a self-hosted WordPress blog will mean that you are in total control of your site, which is not the case with hosted platforms.
Speaking of hosting, I have tried all of the major hosting providers (such as BlueHost, GoDaddy and HostGator), and recommend WestHost over them all. Great reliability and support at an extremely reasonable price – look no further. To get a 30% discount on Westhost, click here and use the coupon code LEAVING30 on checkout.
The technical process of creating your first blog is probably a whole lot easier than you realize. I created a ten minute video to show you just how easy it is:
If you’re interested in learning more about WordPress and how to master it, check this out.
Choosing an Email Marketing Service
I want to make something very clear at this early juncture – collecting your reader’s email addresses will be one of your most important priorities as a blogger (if not the most important priority). With that in mind, you need to get your hands on a quality email marketing service that will handle email broadcasts, autoresponders, and so on.
My preference is AWeber – it also seems to be the favorite of most bloggers (in my experience)
The whole idea of email marketing may seem intimidating to you – it certainly did to me. I’ve gone through several different methods of engaging with my email list, and have only recently settled on something that I’m really comfortable with (general ranting). If you’re looking for a simple approach to list building, check out this post: 5 Reasons Why Everything You Know About Email List Building is Wrong.
How your blog looks will become a very important factor in marking you out from the crowd as a blogger to follow, but when you are starting out, it is of secondary importance to producing great content and promoting your blog.
By all means, spend some time making your blog look pretty, but don’t go overboard, spending hours and hours on a design that no one is going to see is rather pointless. Think of your initial design as the first step in a continuous evolution, rather than the finished article.
If you are on a limited (or non-existent) budget, consider starting with a free theme. Personally I think the Twenty Twelve theme packaged with WordPress by default is great. However, if it’s not to your tastes you can find plenty of free themes in the best free themes of the month series I run over at ManageWP.
If you have a few bucks set aside for a premium theme, my firm recommendation is WooThemes. This very site runs on the Canvas theme, which is an awesome framework that can be customized to produce something truly unique.
When choosing a theme, focus on something that is clean and uncluttered. Please refrain from going for anything particularly striking or “flashy” – it’ll typically result in a blog design that is not conducive to reader retention. Social Triggers is a great example of how a clean and simple design with plenty of whitespace offers an experience that is easy on the eye.
Fundamental Engagement Factors
There are a few things on a blog that you need to get right in order for it to perform ably. I have been asked for advice on countless blogs, and I find the same mistakes more often than not. Here’s a quick list of fundamental engagement factors that you should adhere to:
- Make it absolutely clear to visitors what your blog is about.
- Build an engaging About page.
- Create a Start Here page.
- Make sure that you are easy to contact.
- Have at least one prominent email signup form on every page.
- Make your site easily navigable.
- Do not clutter up your sidebar.
- Keep the most important elements on your blog above the fold.
- Provide plenty of relevant internal links (i.e. links to other posts on your site) in your blog posts.
I could go on forever, but these are what I consider to be the key factors. Make sure that you follow them all.
Your content should be awesome. But you already knew that – what you are wondering is how to create awesome content.
The best advice I can give you is to simply write blog posts, and read other blogs. I learnt the basics from Copyblogger, and really furthered my skills after going through the Write Like Freddy course, but my main advancements have mainly been through observation and practice.
With that said, I’d like to offer up perhaps the most useful piece of advice that I think can really help you to create great content. It is simply this – be personable. You shouldn’t manufacture a personality (we can’t all be Johnny B. Truant or Ashley Ambirge), but don’t be afraid to let your true character shine through. Draw from personal experiences – use stories to bring your posts to life.
In essence, just be you. It’ll be far easier to write, and people will be naturally drawn to you, because your posts feel like more than just words on a screen. Your blog will have character and life. People like that.
Beyond that, you will want to sprinkle in well-established post types that traditionally perform well (known as link bait) – primarily resource posts, featured blogger posts, and list posts. Do so sparingly – the last thing you want to do is be accused of trying to “manufacture” an audience. For the most part, just focus on writing epic shit.
A Quick Note on SEO
Bloggers can waste a whole load of time obsessing over SEO. My advice to you is as follows – don’t.
As a blogger, you should not be engaging in any black hat SEO tactics. You should in fact be dedicated zero time to actively sourcing links. If you produce great content and network effectively, the links will come in time.
When it comes to SEO, just adhere to this this 7 step checklist, and you’ll be set.
It is in this section that I feel the most important lessons I can teach you is contained. I wish I had read the advice I am about to give you when I was first starting out – I think I would be a lot further along the line than I am now if I had.
Promotion starts when you’re still thinking about the topic of your blog. How unique and interesting your angle on your chosen topic is, the better you will be able to leverage your promotional efforts to greater effect.
With that in mind, you should put aside 45 minutes to watch this video interview between Corbett Barr and Derek Halpern – it is an absolute must-watch when it comes to better understanding how the topic you choose affects your promotional efforts:
Beyond that, you must go to the people. Find where your target audience hangs out, and go get ‘em. If you simply sit back and wait for the traffic to flood in, it won’t. Trust me.
You may be wondering how to translate this advice into practical action. When it comes to blogging, going to the people usually involves one or more of the following:
- Being active on social media networks
- Being active on forums
- Being active in the comments sections on other blogs
- Guest posting
- Networking with other bloggers
How well you exploit every single one of these areas is entirely down to your own work ethic. Having said that, the areas you absolutely must focus on are social media, guest posting, and networking.
At your blog’s inception, you will want to establish a base of content. After all, if you only have a handful of articles, a reader isn’t likely to hang around for long. But once you have say 7-10 articles on your blog, your main focus should be on guest posting. This isn’t something you’ll hear most bloggers say, but I strongly recommend that you publish just one post per week on your own blog, and focus on producing 2-3 guest posts per week.
You publish the one post on your blog per week to continue building your base of content and to demonstrate that you are not a fly-by-night blogger. You get the guest posts published on other blogs as a means of building an audience. Before long, your name will be on the lips on many of your prospective readers. Once you have an established audience, you can write more on your own blog, and less on others’, if you feel it will be beneficial to your continued growth.
If you want to know more about guest posting, you may want to sign up to the aforementioned Write Like Freddy course. If you don’t have the necessary budget, then why not download my completely free guest posting guide?
You can also broaden your audience by working on YouTube videos and podcasts. In all honesty, this is not something that I have any experience in, so I don’t have anything of value to offer on those fronts. If you are interested in learning more about those potential traffic streams, Pat Flynn is a great example to follow.
So What Are You Waiting For?
Let’s see – this is what you should be able to do at this point:
- Decide upon a topic for your blog
- Get yourself some hosting and set up a WordPress blog
- Get yourself set up with an email marketing service
- Find a good, clean theme for your blog
- Design your site with the key engagement factors in mind
- Start working on great content
- Spend the few necessary moments on SEO
- Promote your blog through various channels
If you follow those steps, you should have a burgeoning blog on your hands in no time at all. Don’t expect dramatic short term results, because you will probably not get them. My blog received all of 417 unique visitors in its first month of life. You have to pay your blogging dues.
However, if you stick with it, you can expect to reap some serious rewards down the line. Blogging will probably open up a multitude of opportunities for you – some completely unexpected. All it takes is a lot of hard work and the passing of time.
Fellow Bloggers – I Would Like Your Help!
Blogging is a huge topic, and I have attempted to distill this guide down into a relatively brief introduction to the fundamentals.
You may feel that I have missed out important factors, or you may disagree with my approach. I would love to read your thoughts, so please let rip in the comments section!
Furthermore, if you are a beginner blogger, you may have questions regarding the subject matter that I have covered. Please don’t hesitate to ask any and all questions that cross your mind!
Creative Commons image courtesy of JD Hancock