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I’ve had a question recently from Phil on the subject of blogging, and what advice to give someone who has just started out doing it. This post hopefully summarises what I’ve learned personally in the 18 months that I’ve been doing it.
My own platform of choice is WordPress. I have to say I’m not familiar with the other major product(s) out there (i.e. Movable Type is probably the main contender for the blogging throne) – so can’t offer too much one way or the other on the benefits or comparisons between them. That said, the sheer amount of plugins available for wordpress make it a no brainer for me personally. I have only found one scenario to date that I’ve had to get my hands dirty with the php code. This illustrates both the flexibility of the code base, and the modular approach to development. Both very important things. It’s also imperative that you grab your own domain – even if you aren’t a serious blogger yet, you may gain enough traction in the blogosphere that propels you to internet stardom – so don’t get caught with pants down at Google Towers.
For the majority of bloggers who are happy to use a pre designed theme, this won’t even crop up. That is also another strength of using WordPress as a platform. Take a look around for WordPress themes- Google boasts over 8 million results, so even for a custom design such as this one, chances are you’ll find that someone else has already created something very close in nature to your design. That at least gives you a starting point to work from if you are going to pimp your site out with a custom theme. Doing so will give you brand equity. You gain an automatic boost in authority the minute you give your design a fresh and unique look, not to mention the recognition from others.
If on the other hand you are happy with the work someone else has put into a design, then so much the better, that will mean you can get up and running really quickly. WordPress install 5 minutes. Custom theme installation 2 minutes. Once you’ve got your server sorted, it should be a really simple process to get up and running. Sadly though, many blogs tend to fall off the bandwagon – it’s one thing setting one up, its quite another maintaining a blog.
Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to be prepared to slowly and surely build content, and backlinks to your site. If you have an existing site that is bringing in traffic – super. You can leverage this to promote your blog and push traffic towards it. It’s not until you have blogged consistently and regularly with fresh content that you realise exactly what it is all about and see the benefits.
For webmasters that are still using good old dreamweaver or alternative to add new pages to their site, blogging boosts your productivity ten fold, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the jump sooner. Ideas that you have online for articles can be scribbled down in a draft post in a matter of seconds for you to come back to and flesh out.
Set aside time in the day / week until you get going. This way you’ll be in the right mindset for creating great content.
If you can blog for three months solid, you can blog for as long as you want. There’s something quite therapeutic about putting your thoughts down in (digital?) ink, and knowing that you have a loyal band of readers interested in what you have to say is extremely rewarding. (You guys rock btw). I promise that once you get your first backlink or comment from an A-list blogger, it will probably make your day. Sad as it is, this is what motivates us to keep going.
I’ve read in various places that you should maintain consistency between your posts. However sometimes you’ll be in the zone with your writing and other times you wont. Best plan is to space out posts with WordPress’ post in advance options. This helps you to balance your writing with your life.
It can take a while to get into a rhythm with your content. I started out blogging with many paragraph “thought posts“, but now tend to put more time and effort into each post. Effort in = result’s out. I have to say that one thing I didn’t realise when I started out was that my writing skills would be tested, and that I would start to consider blogging as a form of journalism.
If I was to give a new blogger one tip, and one tip only, it would be to treat your blog like a newspaper. Keep content fresh, encourage community and break news early. Make sure that you are regularly creating content consistently. It’s only through the cycle of blog > promote > link > repeat – that you’ll gain traction.
At the start I was blogging for me, just to get thoughts written down, and this has now changed slightly with both my readers actively shaping future posts and the direction of the site. I’ve met a load of great people through my site (you know who you are folks) – and again this wasn’t something I expected or anticipated.
Later in this article (if you are still with me) I’ve mentioned how you can use both listbait and linkbait as hooks to bring visitors in to your site, and keep them.
Believe it or not, how you link when you first start out will have an interesting impact on your success. To get yourself off to a positive start, you should link out like a loose leaf. You will gain referral links, and traffic off the back of other people’s site via trackbacks and pingbacks.
I also tend to mix up the type of posts that I do and gauge opinion on them, keeping an eye on statistics using something like segmentation reports within Google Analytics or alternative as I posted yesterday. Measurement should be a vital part of running a blog successfully.
Website statistics give you insight into where to concentrate your efforts, and save you from writing articles which don’t gain much popularity amongst your readers, they also highlight the parts of your site which are winning (longer reads, more backlinks etc), and let you see what people are searching for more frequently via the search engines. Mining search engine analytics once you have got some content on your site is a great way to come up with further ideas for articles.
This particular post is a bit of a monstor, but contains a wealth of information worth reading that will hopefully keep visitors on my site for long periods of time, and encourage them to browse around for more articles on web promotion or one of my other topics. All traffic is not created equal. Some people will browse around and get a feel for you and your expertise before either linking back to you or engaging with your site. Comments and trackbacks allow you to see what you are doing right and when you are doing it. I’ve mentioned a few ways later under promotion that you can promote your blog.
When you are thinking about your content starting out, you should think hard about the direction you’d like to see your site in 5 years. If you can identify a small specialist sector that you could write 50-100 articles (to start with) about then chances are you are going down the right path. The secret is not to box yourself in with too small a niche, but not try and be too big and end up competiting against the larger sites like Techcrunch or Mashable etc.
If at the minute you aren’t too bothered about what you write about as long as there is content on your site – I don’t have a problem with that approach either. Sometimes a niche only becomes apparent when you start blogging, and see the number of articles in a certain category that you have written about before. For example, I didn’t set out with the intention of positioning myself as an expert in website promotion. However this is an area that interests me personally, and I enjoy writing about the stuff that I do know around this topic. As a result this site is slowly turning into a niche around that subject area – which is great. Sometimes you only learn from doing.
Listbait and linkbait
There are two schools of thought with writing for seo purposes on the web. Using either listbait or linkbait or going for the long tail with meaty content.
With people scanning content very quickly before performing an action – light and fluffy listbait posts (as I like to call them) can gain a shed load of backlinks and bookmarks on the web over a short period of time. 10 ways to become a superhero on the web. That sort of thing. Scan the frontpage of delicious or digg, and you’ll get the picture. However, the sort of traffic that is generated from these posts is of an extremely fickle nature. They tend to scan, bookmark and disappear. Or if they do stay around, they’ll be looking for the next sugar high pretty sharpish. Or in other words – if you create content that links off to other sites quite a bit, then your pageviews will suffer. You aren’t really gaining authority in your niche because at the end of the day you are collating other people’s work. A monkey could do that.
Listbait or linkbait can give you a foothold in the search engines. The amount of backlinks that it generates can see you ranking for keywords that you otherwise would have missed. It also can give your subscriber count a decent boost, and get your name out there.
My own views.
I tend to try and balance my content with enough linkbait to bring visitors in, but dispersed on my site are large and meaty articles well worth a read. These type of post can gain just as many backlinks, simply because people want to read them later. However, they do require much more effort on the part of the blogger. Perhaps the reason why it’s easier to simply fire out a piece of listbait rather than having to properly sit down and blog.
Once you’ve got your blog up and running, you are going to have to work at promoting it. I’ve blogged before on this one. But to add to that, RSS directories should be the first port of call. Get yourself over to the guys at DotSauce magazine for a list of places to initially get your RSS listed. Some of these directories require your blog to have a decent amount of posts, so if you are starting completely from scratch – hold off for a month or two. I’ve also posted before that content promotion is only half the story. You have to be prepared to promote your great posts on the various social bookmarking sites, and hunt for links in unlikely places.
As I mentioned earlier there are a shed load of plugins available for WordPress. I currently roll with the following:
Popular Posts – used to highlight the most popular posts on the site, according to pageviews.
WordPress Related Posts – Relates similar content together so visitors know where to go next – helps increase pageviews.
All in one seo – SEO plugin that gets rid of some of the problems WordPress has out of the box.
Feedburner redirect plugin – Allows me to use my own feed URL, but routes it direct to feedburner. I maintain control over my RSS feed.
Google Analytics – bring in Google Analytics for me automatically.
Subscribe to Comments – brings back return visitors to see what has been said in the conversation after they leave a comment.
WP Super Cache – Speeds things up nicely.
and XML sitemap – Generates an XML sitemap of all my posts, which indexes
The majority of these I’m using for SEO purposes. Anyone who says WordPress is optimised ok out of the box, is either lying or plain stupid. A simple implementation of the all in one seo plugin could boost your ranking significantly with little or no effort on your part. If you try a simple site:yourdomain.com query in google, you should be seeing unique content coming back for both the title and the description in Google. If your seeing something like this, you could probably benefit from an SEO plugin to make that description unique per page. I’ve also listed a few decent SEO plugin’s for blogging over on the forum.
Blogging can be an extremely rewarding part of your marketing strategy, and provide you with new contacts, site traffic and authority within your niche – but it’s not a silver bullet, and will ultimately take hard work, and great content to truly reap you rewards. So dig deep, go forth – and blog like a trooper.