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Are you looking to start a blog? I would love to share a few things with you that I’ve learned over the past few years and wish I had known when I first started out. Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful and won’t have to learn as much through trial and error as I did!
Go for it!
Have you been thinking about starting a blog for a while and are hesitating? Go for it – you won’t regret it. Blogging is a fun, creative outlet that has something for everyone. Your blog is your little space on the web. Have fun with it. If it isn’t for you, you might stop after a while, but you, and your readers, will have learned something from the experience. And if it is for you, you’ll keep going. Either way, good things can come of it!
If you plan on blogging regularly and want your blog, either now or in the future, to grow, purchase your own domain and hosting service right away.
It’s worth it! I started off blogging really informally, using the free WordPress.com service and no domain. Then, I realized that I really needed my own domain for anyone (including friends and family!) to be able to regularly find my blog. I had to have my own URL that made sense and could easily be associated with my blog. Soooo… I got my own domain. Flash forward a couple of years: I’d started blogging more regularly and had mastered the basics. I was ready to do some customization. BUT, WordPress.com doesn’t allow for a lot of customization, so I needed to upgrade to a hosting service that would allow me to us a customizable service. I had to completely rebuild my site, including redoing all the graphics, and rerouting any outdated links. It was a painful process. Worthwhile, but painful.
So please, START OFF with your own domain and hosting service. It will save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run, and, if you start with a small plan, is really quite affordable.
Purchase your domain and hosting through BlueHost.com. You’ll pay a set price for the domain, which you’ll have to renew periodically, and a monthly fee of less than $6 per month for the hosting. When you go to the BlueHost site, click “get started now”, and BlueHost will guide you step by step through the rest of the process. My husband and I have used BlueHost for several sites; it has affordable rates, has a simple setup process, and has worked smoothly for us on our sites. If your site grows and picks up a lot of traffic (e.g. over several thousand unique views per day), you might need to upgrade to a dedicated server or some other more advanced hosting service to keep your site running smoothly.
Once you’ve purchased your domain and hosting service, you’ll need to choose which website builder to use (this is not an additional fee, but is included in the hosting service).
I’ve been using WordPress.org and am very happy with it. It’s pretty easy to use and includes lots of customization options. If you aren’t that creative with graphic design, no worries – you can find a template you like, often from the free templates provided, and don’t need to customize the graphics etc. If you do want custom graphics and changes to a template, WordPress.org has the features for you, or a graphic designer you choose to customize your blog look. WordPress.org also has a lot of “plugins” and “widgets” that you can install to help your blog function effectively and make complicated sounding things like “sidebar customization” or “SEO” pretty simple.
Develop a FOCUS from the beginning.
I began my blog without having any clue what direction I was headed in. I wasn’t intending to keep it an informal blog for personal updates geared toward friends and family, but I wasn’t intending on turning it into a serious hobby or monetizing it. I didn’t have a clear scope of topics I intended to write about. I knew that I would write, and that’s about it. After a couple of years of sporadic writing (sometimes I posted almost daily, but other times wouldn’t post for six months or more) about a wide variety of interesting, but completely unrelated topics, I had decided that I wanted to blog more regularly and consistently and, in order to do so, had to have a “niche” or particular set of topics I intended to write about. I chose faith, family and parenting as my main focus. These are topics I care deeply about, and writing about them comes naturally, especially since, with two young children and a third on the way, so much of my life in consumed by faith, family and parenting.
Whether you intend to keep your blog for friends and family or open it to a wider audience, to write regularly or just whenever you feel like it, make sure you have your goals clear from the beginning. Your blog needs to have an identity, and that means you need to know where it’s headed. Maybe it won’t get there for a long time, but what you write, the way you write and how you design your blog will be most effective if you have a clear idea of your purpose in blogging. Yes, you can do what I did and revamp your blog several times along the way as you develop a clearer and clearer idea of what you want from your blog, but having a clear sense of your blog’s identity from the beginning can save a lot of time and energy.
Social networking is important.
For many reasons. If you intend on strictly keeping your blog for friends and family, it might not make that big of a difference, but if you intend on reaching a wider audience, social networking is essential.
- Social networking is an immediate way to start broadening your audience. If you want people to see your content, you need to show it to them. It’s highly unlikely that someone will stumble upon your blog by accident; it’s much more likely that they’ll see a comment or link related to it through a social network site, click through and enjoy what they find. So use social networking. Pick one or two social network sites to focus on at the beginning. I suggest Facebook and Pinterest. Then, you can gradually add others as you go along. I know many other bloggers start with more social networking sites from the beginning – I personally would have been completely overwhelmed trying to deal with more than two at the beginning, so that’s completely up to you and what you can do. I’m a part time blogger, so that factors in as well; if you’re blogging seriously and full time, you’ll probably have the time to start out with more social networking sites at the beginning.
- Social networking is a great way to find an online community and/or create your own community around your blog. You’ll get to know other bloggers and readers, engage in great discussions, and learn, learn, learn. I have learned more than I can say from other great bloggers out there and from my readers.
- If you intend on monetizing your blog and writing any sort of sponsored posts, you will usually need a foundation in social networking to get enough traffic to make any revenue, and/or to get paid by companies for sponsored posts.
ENJOY your blog. Whether you are blogging seriously or just as a hobby, make sure you enjoy what you write about. If your blog is stressing you out, something’s wrong. Step back: reconsider your goals and whether they’re realistic. Sometimes you might decide you need to change your goals; other times, you might realize you’ve gotten side tracked from your goals and remembering why your blogging helps.
Be patient. If you want to build an audience and even try monetizing your blog, it’s going to take time, consistency and patience. Readers aren’t going to find you instantly, but they will find you. Monetization, if successful, usually happens pretty gradually. It is possible, but doesn’t come easily. Sure, there are some really incredible bloggers who end up with tons of readers and thousands of dollars of revenue per month within their first year of blogging, but those cases are VERY few. If you end up with that luck, be happy, but if you have to wait longer and be satisfied with smaller figures, don’t get discouraged. Remember all the other reasons why you’re blogging. Be patient and keep trying. (Disclosure: I have monetized my blog, and make some supplemental revenue through it, but as a part time blogger writing seriously, but still mainly for inspirational and informational purposes, monetization is not my main goal).
I’m sure there are lots of other things to say about starting a blog, but these are some of the things I’ve learned over time that, in hindsight, I which I’d known from the beginning. I hope you find some of them helpful.