I started this blog while in business school in 2008. Originally, I was writing about how in two years, with two kids, we graduated with two MBAs. Our story was unheard of, and it seemed as though we received several questions about how do we do it. Meaning, what were our days like, how did we manage childcare, etc. I had never blogged before, but over the past three years I transformed this blog from a few random posts a month, to a mommyblog which I redesigned and programmed myself. I receive lots of questions about how to get started blogging, so I will go through the steps I took to get this blog up and running.
The most important thing about starting a blog is creating content. Your visitors come to your site to see new content each visit, so try to provide fresh images, stories or information on a frequent basis. Understanding your brand and boundaries are secondary and these two things develop over time. Your writing style will evolve into your own voice, and you will stamp your brand onto the web. For me, I try to post daily, include a picture with every post, and only post pictures taken by me or Hubby.
1. Web Hosting
I recommend hosting your own blog. An online host stores all your files, and allows you to have total control over your blog. I use ICDSoft as my hosting account (they also register the domain name and provide unlimited email addresses at your desired domain name). Since I manage a few hosting accounts, I get a volume discount and pay only $32.50 a year for this blog. I like this company because they have 24/7 technical service. I’ve been with them since 2004. The advantage of a host over a free account such as blogspot, is that you have unrestricted access to the behind the scenes. This means you can edit your site and have fun if you custom design your blog. I also recommend downloading and using Fire FTP for easy transfer of files.
2. The Name
Selecting your domain name is a very important thing. Ideally, your domain and blog title are the same, so people can easily find your blog. For example, if your blog is called Jo’s Words, you want your blog domain to be joswords.com. It could be hard to find your blog if your domain name is jos-words.myblog.com. Who can remember that? Plus, when someone talks about your website, they’re not going to say I visited “Jo’s hyphen Words dot com.” Also, try avoiding using words that when merged create a double letter scenario, such as theelephanttimes.com – looks funny, huh? Sidenote: Google has launched blogsearch, solely for searching just blogs. Super cool.
I believe, the shorter the name the better. For example, target.com is an excellent domain name. A name that represents your brand is best. Think about the imagery already associated with words and connect them to your brand. For example, you already think of boldness and power when you hear the word ‘red,’ and soft, creamy goodness when you hear ‘butter.’ Try to select an easy term that summarizes your brand. If you can, select a .com name since that what folks will assume is your domain extension. Avoid alternate spellings of words in your name. Basically, keep it as simple as possible. All in all, you want the name to be memorable and easy to spell and pronounce. You can search for available names and help build a name here.
3. Blogging Software
WordPress is by far the best blog publishing tool out there. It’s free, super easy to download and has tons of resources and support. WordPress supports several plugins, which extend the functionality of your blog to do almost anything. Here is a list of essential starter plugins for any website. I would strongly recommend becoming a little familiar with basic html code. HTML Code Tutorial has been my fall back resource. Here is a good place for when you’re just getting started and learning the terminology.
4. The Look
Now that you have all the components, you may want to dress them up a bit. Worpdress provides designs or skins called themes. You can easily search and install your favorite theme (in the WordPress admin panel) to create the look and feel you desire for your brand. Here is a breakdown on the wordpress anatomy, and here is a good theme tutorial if you later decide you want to build your own theme.
I have been unsatisfied using cookie cutter templates, so I took a Photoshop class and learned a little bit about graphic design. I designed my custom theme in Photoshop and then converted it to the appropriate code, which is called CSS. I still frequently use this CSS guide. Another fun thing to play with to design your site is creative fonts. My Fonts has tons of fonts (this is where I search for desired fonts), and Fonts101 lets you download them for free. After you download the font, save it to C:\WINDOWS\Fonts for use in Photoshop. To include designer fonts on your blog you could use plugins, such as Anyfont. If all this sounds like gibberish, but you really want a custom designed site, I would reach out to developers on elance.com, or you could use really expensive folks like Voce, who completed the latest redesign of Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman, which has millions of visitors a month.
5. Promote and Publicize
After you’ve written a few blog posts and have some good content, it’s now time to announce your blog to world. First, go to Google’s Feedburner to allow your readers to subscribe to your blog. Make sure to enable the email subscription option, located under the publicize tab.
Leverage social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to share links to your posts. This will help drive new traffic to your site. Include links to your social networks on your blog using the AddThis plugin. In addition to your online community, don’t forget about your offline world. Tell your friends about your blog face to face. In fact, create a card for your blog and hand it out to potential new readers. Continue to enforce your brand by creating a favicon and an iPhone icon for your blog. Take some time to think about what your blog’s logo will look like, and then use that for your image consistently. Finally, you can even promote your own posts on your site. When you write a post that’s related to a previous post, include the link to your related content or use a related posts plugin.
6. How to Make Money
I don’t recommend starting a blog with the intention of replacing your day job income, but you can bet that it can take up as much time as your day job if you really love blogging. I recommend signing up for Google Analytics. Analytics will keep track of all your blog statistics such as page views, unique visitors, time on sight and bounce rate. These stats are important if you want to generate ad revenue. I use Google Ad Sense to place banner ads on my site. I only make a few dollars a month, but it’s enough to cover my hosting fees.
The best way to make money is to have unique and useful content. For example, my blog is targeted to a niche audience. I deployed this survey last year to better understand my reader demographics. I know my average blog reader is an affluent, highly educated young adult black female who is married an attended an HBCU. This is a very specific niche category, and I can use these demographics to better target advertisers, should I ever go that route. Additionally, I use the survey results in my 2012 media kit. If you ever want an advertiser to take you seriously, create an easily accessible media kit.
7. Plugins I Use
AddThis Social Bookmarking Widget – Help your visitor promote your site. The AddThis Social Bookmarking Widget allows any visitor to bookmark your site easily with many popular services.
Akismet – Used by millions, Akismet is quite possibly the best way in the world to protect your blog from comment and trackback spam.
All in One SEO Pack – Out-of-the-box SEO for your WordPress blog.
Broken Link Checker – Checks your blog for broken links and missing images and notifies you on the dashboard if any are found.
Content Extract – Provides PHP functions to provide extended extracts functionality.
Dashboard: Scheduled Posts – Displays scheduled posts on your WordPress 2.7+ dashboard.
Get-a-Post – Display a specific post (or Page) with standard WP template tags.
Google Analytics for WordPress – This plugin makes it simple to add Google Analytics to your WordPress blog, adding lots of features, eg. custom variables and automatic clickout and download tracking.
Google XML Sitemaps – This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog.
Jetpack by WordPress.com – Bring the power of the WordPress.com cloud to your self-hosted WordPress. Jetpack enables you to connect your blog to a WordPress.com account to use the powerful features normally only available to WordPress.com users.
No Self Pings – Keeps WordPress from sending pings to your own site.
Search Everything – Adds search functionality without modifying any template pages: Activate, Configure and Search. Options Include: search highlight, search pages, excerpts, attachments, drafts, comments, tags and custom fields (metadata).
Search Meter – Keeps track of what your visitors are searching for. After you have activated this plugin, you can check the Search Meter section in the Dashboard to see what your visitors are searching for on your blog.
Theme Test Drive – Safely test drive any theme while visitors are using the default one. Includes instant theme preview via thumbnail.
TinyMCE Advanced – Enables advanced features and plugins in TinyMCE, the visual editor in WordPress.
WP-PageNavi – Adds a more advanced paging navigation to your WordPress blog.
WP Super Cache – Very fast caching plugin for WordPress.
8. Details for the Advanced
For those of you who will venture into creating your own theme, make sure to reset your css file by using a global css reset.
9. Writing Tips
As your blog content develops, write about the things you are passionate about. Try to use proper grammar and have someone spell check before you post. I am notorious for posting typos because I’m not patient enough to wait for Hubby to proofread all my posts. I have found that having great photography composition makes a big difference as well. Readers return for the experience you create on your blog, and images emphasis your words and bring your stories to life.
Write at least five major “pillar” articles. A pillar article is usually a tutorial style article aimed to teach your audience something. Generally they are longer than 500 words and have lots of very practical tips or advice. This article you are currently reading could be considered a pillar article since it is very practical and a good “how-to” lesson. This style of article has long term appeal, stays current (it isn’t news or time dependent) and offers real value and insight. The more pillars you have on your blog the better.
Write one new blog post per day minimum. Not every post has to be a pillar, but you should work on getting those five pillars done at the same time as you keep your blog fresh with a daily news or short article style post. The important thing here is to demonstrate to first time visitors that your blog is updated all the time so they feel that if they come back tomorrow they will likely find something new. This causes them to bookmark your site or subscribe to your blog feed.
You don’t have to produce one post per day all the time but it is important you do when your blog is brand new. Once you get traction you still need to keep the fresh content coming but your loyal audience will be more forgiving if you slow down to a few per week instead. The first few months are critical so the more content you can produce at this time the better.
Visit other blogs, leave comments and publish a blogroll.
The easiest way to find readers for your blog is to visit other blogs with similar content to yours and comment. Look for blogs that have similar topics, since your hope is that those readers will also have an interest in your blog. Make sure to comment with your name being linked back to your blog so people can visit your blog. After you have a community of blogs that you frequently visit, share the love by linking back to them in the form of a blogroll. If your blogroll is extremely long, create a post about your favorite sites and then place a link to that post on your homepage.