How to start a blog: the first nine things you need to think about

Writing the content is usually the easy part! Angelica Malin covers everything else you need to know to start a blog, including images, how to use WordPress, social media and Analytics

 

At first glance, starting a blog may seem daunting, but it’s much easier than you think. Once you master the basic platform, layout and tone of your blog, you may find the writing comes rather naturally.

The most important thing in blogging is giving yourself time: time to think about the content, structure, style and tone, before diving straight into it.

You might find that you start two or three blogs before finding one that really sticks. And hey, that’s OK. You’re not expected to get it right the first time, but the act of writing, creating, allowing yourself the freedom of expression, will always be a fun and beneficial process. If you’re looking to break into blogging, here are my eight steps to get you on the road to success.

1. Use WordPress if it’s your first blog

There are lots of platforms to choose from. If you’re new to blogging, my top pick is WordPress as it’s one of the most easy-to-use but has advanced capabilities too. It has the best of both words: relatively simple to upload a post, and yet there are some really professional looking WordPress sites (some of the biggest UK magazines and newspapers use it, including the one you’re reading now!). In short, with WordPress the blog can grow with you.

2. Match the design to the content

The ‘theme’ of a WordPress site means the basic design and layout that controls the look of the blog. Some themes focus on images, more like portfolios, and others can be customised heavily. Start with a simple theme and then as the blog develops, you may want to pay for a Premium Theme to give the blog a more unique look.

Some themes allow you to include ‘widgets’, such as Facebook Like boxes and ‘Follow on Twitter’ options. These are great for making the blog look more personal and professional, and for driving reader interaction.

The theme you choose is crucial and should be determined by the content of the blog. If you’re starting a food or photography blog, for example, use something visual with good space for photographs.

If it’s more of a news-based blog, use something that allows you to have lots of content excepts on the homepage at once.

Give yourself time to play around with themes before you make your blog live. You can ‘preview’ them all before they go live,, and sometimes you need to step away from it from a day or two before choosing.

I recommend sticking with a theme once you’ve picked it, instead of changing it often, as this helps build up a more professional appeal.

3. Find your blogging voice

This is an important one. The main reason many blogs start and fail is because their author can’t quite find the right tone. If you don’t know the style of your blog, the writing will feel inauthentic and eventually you will lose interest as it doesn’t quite ‘flow’. If the blog is chatty, be chatty, if it’s more formal, that’s OK too.

The tone of the blog will often match the subject matter. Lots of food and restaurant blogs have quite an informal tone that invites the reader to feel as if they are dining with the author, but fashion blogs can have stronger, more authorative tone as they set themselves up as sartorial visionaries. Whatever the content, find a tone that works for you.

4. Put time and care into the images

People like images, whether’s it’s a blog, Instagram on Twitter. You don’t have to invest in expensive equipment (though if you’re serious about food or landscape photography, the Canon 5D is amazing), as you can take very good photos on the iPhone.

Try getting an Olloclip lens for wide-angle and fish-eye shots. This will make the photos stand out on the blog. You can also use an editing app such as Snapseed to edit and crop the phone photos. And if worst comes to worst, Instagram always helps.

5. Research your audience

First you need to figure out who, exactly, you are trying to target in your writing. Is it foodies, politics fanatics, footie fans, style seekers or a certain age group?

Once you’ve pinned down your audience, do some research as to where this audience spends their time online. Find other popular blogs in your field and look at where their content is getting the most interaction, whether that’s on Twitter, Facebook or comments.

Research how other bloggers promote their articles and whether there are any additional tools you can use. For example, you might want to promote your posts on other blogs or on certain Facebook groups.

6. Get return visitors

Once you’ve found an audience, the aim is to get return visitors to your site. An email newsletter sign-up is great for this. Create a ‘subscribe’ button on your blog. It’s important once you’ve started to build up a following to really engage with them: ask them to follow you on Bloglovin’ and encourage others to comment on your articles.

Competitions are always good for interaction. Run a competition on your blog encouraging readers to interact with the content or subscribe.

7. Use social media

The importance of social media cannot be understated, but it’s also important to look at what, as well as when, you’re posting. People respond better to visual things on Facebook, such as great photos, and readers often like humour on Twitter. It’s worth investing some time into research on social media habits. Buffer has some great articles on this.

8. Use Google Analytics

It’s vital to know the reading habits of your audience. Take the time to really study your stats and see where and when your readership is strongest. This will help you to create a content matrix and schedule. If food articles are most popular, write more of them, or post more content early in the day.

The stats will change depending on style of content. If articles are more popular in the mornings, aim to have it scheduled for 6am to catch people on the tube. Readers may like fashion blogs more in the evening when they have time to browse them. Look carefully at your WordPress stats and find the time that is best for you to post on social media.

9. Create regular features

People like routines. One of the best ways to build up the online following of your blog can be with regular content, features that you run regularly around a certain topic. With fashion blogs this might be ‘outfit of the day’ or for food blogs it could be ‘recipe of the week’. Create something that people will expect and look forward to.

The more regular content you have, the better for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation – meaning that Google will rank you higher in its page results). Don’t be afraid to discontinue a series of articles if it’s not working, too; sometimes it’s trial and error before finding something that catches people’s attention.

Angelica Malin is editor of About Time