Blogging Basics: Blog Setup for Success
The 101 on blog setup for success. From choosing your service to narrowing down a niche to outlining goals and (gasp!) writing your very first post.
Why am I writing this series on blogging?
In the time since I revamped Laura Schmidt Books as Voyage of the Mind, I’ve gotten to know a lot of new and prospective bloggers. Invariably, they’re seeking some kind of advice. What should I do if I want to start blogging? Do I want to start blogging? How do I start blogging? What’s the 101 on this, Laura? And while I have written shorter-form things like “Three Things You Should Know About Blogging,” I also wanted to take the time to share some more of the things I’ve learned in the roughly year-and-a-half I’ve been blogging. So I’m going to run a weekly “Blogging Basics” segment for all you bloggers out there!
This week’s piece covers the skinny on blog setup. I’ll “farm out” certain aspects I don’t feel totally qualified to discuss by linking to helpful articles you can read. (Such as services and providers and hosting — I am totally out of my element there, and I’ll admit it!)
Okay, let’s get down to business and talk blog setup.
We’ll start big. Why should you start a blog?
If you have thoughts in your head that you want to share with the world, not just with the people immediately around you, you should start a blog.
If you enjoy writing content, but don’t want to become a content writer, you should start a blog.
If you’re an aspiring author who wants to build a following and you like the idea of connecting with people via blogging, you should start a blog.
If you’re a published author looking to expand your audience, you should start a blog.
If you have a message you want to share with the world and need a platform, you should start a blog.
If you’re curious about blogging, you should consider starting a blog!
As you can see, there are numerous reasons to start a blog. Everyone’s reason is different. Some people start blogging for the “wrong” reason and discover the right one along the way. Like me! If you want to know more about my experience, you can check out “Voyage of the Mind — A New Vision.”
But, just for the sake of it, I’ll give some reasons that are probably not the greatest reasons to start blogging. Such as:
Starting a blog to make money. Starting a blog just to attract a following without actually wanting to blog. Starting a blog because it seems cool. Starting a blog because you want that “influencer” lifestyle.
Now, again, this isn’t to say you can’t start with one of the “bad” reasons and move onto a “good” one. I, for example, started a blog to attract agent attention. Yeah, check back on that one in a couple years. It wasn’t a great reason to start a blog, and it didn’t sustain me in my blogging practice. After a year-and-a-half of abject misery, missed targets, and failed goals, I reassessed my reasons for blogging. And that’s why I’m back here today, producing content every day, blogging happily away. (And even writing poetry!)
So, you’ve decided to start a blog. What next?
I suggest that you answer these questions:
1. What do you want to blog about?
2. Who are you blogging for?
3. What is your overarching goal in blogging?
Why do I suggest you answer these three questions?
The first question is about your niche. Now, I don’t particularly like the term niche, probably because my blog doesn’t really have one! But let’s face the facts: Most blogs have a niche. Whether that niche be grammar (check out this newly launched blog, Matthew Ward Writes) or short fiction and poetry or car repair help or whatever under the sun you’re writing about, if it exists, you should pin it down. It’ll make things easier going forward to have a clear focus.
The second question is about your audience. And this could be a pretty broad thing — for example, I aim Voyage of the Mind at lifelong learners and lovers of knowledge, though it has cross-appeal to lovers of all things literary. It could also be much narrower. The narrower the audience, the fewer people in that audience, but the easier it will be to hone in and connect with those few people.
For example, if you make a blog for single moms, you now have the relatively simple task of finding and connecting with single moms looking for advice. Whereas… lifelong learners? How am I supposed to look at someone and figure out if they’re a lifelong learner? I have to rely on them coming to me, whereas a blogger blogging for single moms can go straight to the source.
The third question is where I want you to, for once, dream big. Dream as big as you can and tell yourself what your overarching goal in blogging is. Maybe you are really in it to have fun. Maybe you’re trying to get your work out there. Maybe you’re growing an audience for that as-of-yet-unwritten novel. Or, maybe, you want to blog full-time someday. Whatever the answer is, put it out there for yourself. You don’t have to tell anyone else. In fact, at this stage, I wouldn’t recommend telling anyone else! But keep it close to your heart.
I don’t suggest answering a question like “How serious am I about blogging?” This is because I believe that if you start blogging at all, you should conduct blog setup as if you were blogging seriously — because there’s always the possibility that in the future, you will want to blog seriously, and you won’t want to have to go through setup all over again because you bungled it the first time around. Trust me, I’ve been through it, and trust me, you don’t want to go through it. So approach blogging seriously, for the time being.
The technical details of blog setup
Here’s where some big decisions come into play for the first time. You now need to settle on a blogging platform. I don’t feel totally qualified to write on this front, so I want you to read this article from WPBeginner instead. It outlines many of the major blogging platforms and some of their pros and cons. Once you find a few platforms that seem like a good fit for what you’re trying to do, I recommend conducting more research on each of them to narrow in on the one you want. Some options are self-hosted — offering you more options for customization — and others are hosted by the platform, making set-up quicker and easier but limiting what you can do with your site.
I do recommend taking time when choosing a platform. I didn’t — I jumped right in with WordPress.com without doing any research whatsoever. Now I’m in a position where I’m going to need to switch to WordPress.org, a minor hassle, and I also was in a position where I needed to make big changes to my theme, given WordPress.com’s limited editing capabilities. If I was doing the research today, I might well settle on Wix.com over anything else, though I’m not sure. I’d need to do the research! And I suggest that you do it too. Find the best solution for your blog. Don’t settle for anything less.
Once you’ve made your decision, figure out what plan you’re going to use. If you’re going for a self-hosted solution, there’ll be some small monthly fees for a domain name and hosting. (For info on the best hosting sites, check out this article from CNET.) Blogging does cost a little money. If you’re really not at all serious about it (I know I told you not to ask that question, but if you genuinely are just curious or want to try it out), I recommend setting up a “throwaway” WordPress.com free plan blog where you can give blogging a shot and figure out if you like it. Then you can return to the setup process.
When you’ve figured out your platform, your hosting, and your plan and gotten everything in order, you’re ready to move forward!
Setting goals for your blog
Okay, time to set some small goals. Because it’s always best to start small! For your first month of blogging, I suggest you forget about most of the numbers that are out of your control, and focus on the things that are in your control. That is, I highly suggest you create goals along the lines of, “I want to write 10 posts this month,” or, “I want to write 10,000 words on the blog this month,” or, “I want to get my blog and all its pages up and running this month.” Not goals like, “I want 5,000 viewers this month!” Save those goals for later.
If you want to set some kind of readership target during your first month of blogging, I recommend limiting it to a certain piece. Your best piece, say! Something like, “I want 50 people to read my first ever blog post.” Because then you can focus on promoting just that post, and this goal becomes a goal that’s much more within your control.
If you’re not already active on social media and have a big overarching goal for blogging, now’s the time to get active. I suggest building a following on at least two of the following five sites: Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. If you have no presence at all, start small, with one or two sites, and build a following there before developing the others. It’s better to have a large, active following on one site than to have small, unengaged followings on all sites at once.
I use Twitter as my main social media channel and have written quite a few posts on “Twitter tips.” Here’s the first one for you to check out. I’ve also written a bit about Pinterest. And here’s my ranking of the best social media sites for bloggers. Keep in mind that the ranking is largely impacted by my personal experience!
Anyway, here’s something heartening: Social media followings are largely under your control. There are lots of things you can do to grow your following. So it’s also great to create a few small social media goals for your first month of blogging. Goals like, “I want to reach 500 followers on Twitter,” or, “I want to tweet 100 times” are great ideas.
The end-goal of blog setup: Creating your first post
First of all, once you write your first post, should you hit publish right away?
Well, it totally depends. If you’re taking this seriously, then no. You should take the time to “hype” up your blog’s launch a little bit on your social media channels. But say you have no social media channels, and you’re blogging mostly for fun. Then there’s no problem in hitting publish and seeing what happens.
When I hit publish on my first blog post ever, people did read it. They came through the WordPress Reader. Back then, I had a very small Twitter following that consisted of my then-boyfriend, his sister, and a couple other souls who had followed me for whatever reason. They sure weren’t reading my blog posts! But I was heartened by the fact that someone read what I had written. It was a very cool feeling — one of the first times I’d thrown work out there for other people to explore and enjoy.
If I could go back and redo the process, I probably would take a week or two to drum up some support for my new blog. I’d connect with bloggers who are in my position now and see if they’d throw me a bone. Which, let me be honest, I’m throwing people bones all the time on Twitter, because I love seeing the new work that’s out there. (Hit me up @VoyageoftheMind and don’t be shy!)
But, whatever the case, make that first blog post about YOU. Make it about what you’re trying to do. Maybe you’ll express that by writing something that exemplifies your niche. Or maybe you’ll write a manifesto for your blog. However you go about it, make it about YOU. I can’t stress this enough. People read blogs not only to pick up new information, learn new things, and be entertained, but also to connect with the person behind the words.
Thank you for reading my tips for blog setup!
I know that there are a hundred nitty-gritty little topics I didn’t address, so if you want to address them in the comments, feel free! Tell me what I missed or what I got right. Let me know about your upcoming blog project! Talk to me about anything.
If you loved this post, check out any of the related content below, follow Voyage of the Mind using the buttons in the sidebar at the top of the page, or subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom. You can also toss me a tip on Ko-fi if you feel so inclined — buy me a funny virtual coffee for $2! I’d very much appreciate your support, however you choose to give it. Your readership, of course, is most important to me, so thank you for reading this article! I hope that it helped illuminate some of the right ways to go about handling blog setup struggles.
And… happy blogging!
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