I began blogging when I was just 13. Since then I have started 5 sites, written hundreds of posts, read thousands of others, tested, tweaked and experimented. I am frequently asked for advice by people considering starting their own blog.
To save you the enormous amount of time, energy and money I have spent learning the ropes, this post is a goldmine of the practical advice I wish someone had told me. Learn from my mistakes to avoid making too many yourself.
If you want to learn how to get 1 million views in 3 days, stop reading now. If you want to learn how to growth hack and trick people into subscribing, stop reading now. If you want to make £1000 a day from advertising, stop reading now.
On the other hand, if you want to write about stuff that matters and connect with people who actually care about your work, keep reading. If you don't, then send this to someone you know who does.
- Do not even start unless you are serious. The internet is cluttered with millions of defunct blogs. No one needs you to add another one. Consider why, how and when you will post before starting. There is a lot more to blogging than writing the posts, so it can be time-consuming. You will usually find me fixing crawl errors or tweaking font tracking on a Saturday night. Most of the work is behind the scenes and confusing.
- Are you prepared to constantly be learning and improving? Blogging involves a lot of skills you are probably new to. Are you prepared for your ego to be smashed? However smart you think you are, there is a nerd out there who disagrees and has the Google Scholar links to prove it. Are you prepared for criticism and insults? I have been told I bring down the IQ of everyone who reads this, told to burn myself, called unoriginal and a 'clone' and worse. I have even received messages insulting people in my life via my blog. This is the reality of being visible on the internet. Are you prepared to be vulnerable? Are you prepared to realise no one cares about what you have to say? Because they don't - not yet. Are you prepared to make them care? If it is yes to all of those, then roll up those sleeves and let's begin setting up your site.
- First, you need your domain via a hosting service. The costs of this can be high, but as a reader of my site, you can purchase a high-quality BlueHost plan for half the usual price via this link. To start your blogging journey, simply choose the name of your site and sign up. A slice of the internet will then belong to you. If you can get your name (because you have a weird Jewish surname like me) or something close, that is often a good choice. Avoid using numbers, hyphens or mispellings in your URL. Should the .com be available for you desired name, jump on it. Even if you are not planning on starting a blog today, grab your name if it happens not to be taken.
- Next, you need a platform. Squarespace is my choice and I recommend it to anyone. In the past, I have tried Wordpress, Blogger and coding my own site - all were disasters. If you are starting blogging, the superior customer support is amazing. I still use the live chat about once a week - it is the fastest way to solve any issue. The reps are the most helpful and knowledgeable I have encountered from any company. Medium is a good platform too, though I do not recommend it as your primary one. If it closes down - like Vine- or becomes obsolete - like Myspace- you are screwed. A website belongs to you unless the entire internet goes down.
-Be aware that blogging is not free. Paying for the platform, hosting, domain, software and equipment can be extremely expensive. However, I recommend buying a premium package straight away. Why? Because it forces you to either not start or to take it seriously. If you are not willing to pay, reconsider why you are doing this.
- Get the design just right. The degree of control you get over the site design on Squarespace is also extraordinary. I spent about 24 hours designing this site, plus another 10 since then. If you are not fussed about perfecting every detail, use a default template. I use Skye, although there is little resemblance between the original and my current site. For a clear, simple design, I recommend removing the sidebar and keeping the icons at the top small. Black font on a white background is best for readability. Choose a widely available font (here's a helpful list.) Stay away from extremes of size, boldness and spacing. I use Lato - easy to read and widely available.
- Create a rough outline of your niche. Opt for topics you are passionate about and feel excitement over. Don't go for a niche just because it is popular or to attract a wide audience. Be at least a little specific, to begin with. As your readers grow fond of your personal voice and perspective, most will be happy for you to branch out. In essence, a blog is either about a topic, or it is about the author. This site started off about minimalism and now has wandered off towards many other concepts.
- Start off with two pages - the main blog and an 'about me' one. Use the latter for a short bio and some contact information. For ensuring the trust of your readers, it is nice to include at least one picture of you on the 'about me' page. If you are uncertain, use one where your face is covered or a drawing.
- Write your first post. Make it a bit more than 'hi this is my first post!!' No one is particularly interested. Use your 'about me' page to introduce yourself, then start with something engaging.
- There is no requirement to share your life story a la moi, but completely impersonal blogs can be alienating. If you do not want to use your name, opt for a consistent pseudonym. On my old site, I was known by my nickname, Flower. That's what my readers thought of me as, and indeed many people in real life began calling me it.
- You DON'T need a million social media profiles. Ignore anyone who says you need to 'be everywhere.' An in-depth essay is far more valuable than endless tweets and statuses. Focus on your writing. Audit your existing profiles. I currently do not use any and it has only helped my work here. Read Deep Work by Cal Newport to understand the benefits of this.
- Decide on a posting schedule. This is vital and failing to do it is the biggest mistake most bloggers make. Without a schedule, your motivation will likely wane. Posting every day for a week then once in the next month is a terrible idea. Get into a rhythm and a routine with your posting. Over time, your readers will get used to it and might even come to expect your posts at certain times. Once a week is a good minimum. I opt for every three days - one day I plan and outline, the next I edit and proof, the next I post and promote.
- Work ahead. Bear in mind, I write posts in advance, so the third day usually involves a different one to the first two. It is a smart idea to be at least one post ahead at all times. At my most organised, I was a month (10 posts) ahead. Having a couple of drafts in case you are out of ideas is useful at the very least. Life will happen and it is inevitable something will prevent you from posting. Have a backup plan for this. I have only missed a post once when I had a fever and slept for three days.
- Keep a list of future post titles at all times. Ideas can come anywhere, at any time. A journal page or Evernote note is ideal for recording these. Follow your schedule and get into a routine. If you need some ideas, my patrons have access to hundreds of pages from my private notebooks.
- No one owes it to you to read your blog. If you get 0 views, being angry at the world is stupid. There are millions of sites you do not read, so would it be fair for the authors to be angry at you? Of course not. You ignore them because you don't care about the content or don't know they exist. Those are the two reasons why people are not reading your site either.
- Perform regular 80/20 analysis of your blogging activities. Ask yourself, what are the 20% of activities bringing 80% of the benefits? What are the 80% bringing only 20% of the value? Focus on the former, shrink the latter.
- Batch blogging related tasks together. I do this to save time and often enter a flow state in the process. On Sundays, I spend a few hours on maintenance related stuff: updating old content, answering emails, checking for crawl errors, etc. On Fridays, I spend the whole night reading other blogs and making notes from enjoyable posts. My promotional work fits within a 30-minute block each night. This is an efficient way to plough through the easy stuff.
- Speak to your readers as much as possible. Form relationships and make friends. It is an ideal way to find friends who share your interests. At the very least, reply to every comment and email.
-In the beginning, focus on being the one to start the conversation. Comment on other blogs, join conversations, email people who seem intriguing. Avoid spamming, elbowing your way into discussions or begging for a shout out. Stay thoughtful, considerate and polite. No one owes it to you to promote your post or give you advice. The time of other bloggers is as valuable as yours. Wherever possible, help them first. Suggest a post, answer a call to action, say how they have helped you (if it is true, don't be a suck up.) Read about the Canvas Strategy by Ryan Holiday.
- Same goes for your readers - never waste their time. Avoid bulking posts out with fluff and meandering. Stay on the point in your writing. As George Orwell said, never use a long word where a short one will do.
- Edit, edit, edit. Write your post. Then remove as many adverbs as possible. Remove unnecessary contractions. Check spelling/grammar. Remove overlong sentences and passive voice where appropriate. Remove overused words or cliches. Make more amendments. Read it out loud. Ask someone to proof it for you. Leave at least a day between writing and posting so you can check again. That is my routine and it works.
- Use the right tools. To save you the time I have spent testing dozens out, here are the essentials:
· Grammarly - Chrome extension for flagging grammar issues.
· Hemingway App - Enter your writing into this site and it suggests how you can make it more readable. There are some issues with it, so be aware of the edits you make.
· Mail Chimp - My email list provider of choice. Easy to use and never lets me down. You will also receive $30 in credit by signing up via this link, as a reader of my blog.
Thinking of starting a blog? Feel free to email me about anything not covered here. Otherwise, I hope this is helpful.