So you want to blog. Why?
Do you own an ecommerce business and need a site-based blog to bring in more traffic?
Do you want to start a standalone blog and make money?
Or do you want to freelance blog for other blogs?
Whatever your purpose, if you are going to be a success at this blogging business, you will have to follow some key steps – 11 of them in all.
1. The Writing Part – Re-live Your Youth
You may have gotten all A’s in your English courses, and your instructors may have told you that you really write well. That’s great – it means that your grammar and composition skills are nailed. Now you just have to work on style, one of the biggest factors in successful blogging.
You will not be writing an analysis of the themes in Moby Dick, so you will have to lose that academic style and replace it with a much more casual tone and simpler structure and vocabulary. The best bloggers write with a 7th grader in mind.
Here are the “rules:”
- Shorter, simpler sentences, with fewer descriptive words – this is known as a “punchy” writing style. Reduce the adjectives and adverbs that made your academic style so worthy. You are on a different “ballfield” now. (Re-read Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea – this is what you are aiming for).
- Remember those long paragraphs in your essays and papers? Those are gone. Now you have to think in terms bolded sub-headings and bullet points – points are made quickly, and the reader should be able to scan down your piece and decide if it is worthy of a full read.
- Study samples from the big name blogs to get a feel for writing style – Lifehack, Lifehacker, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post – you’ll get the idea. Pick a topic and try writing in the same style. It takes practice but you’ll get better at it.
Don’t start a blog; don’t freelance yourself out; don’t publish a blog anywhere until you are pretty certain you have style nailed.
2. The Niche
Isn’t this a great term? In the biological world it means “the environment in which an animal or plant exists that lets it survive and reproduce”.
I think that’s a great analogy. Your niche might be one of several:
- If you are a business, your niche is the product or service you sell. Neil Patel is a prime example. His business is content marketing and his blog QuickSprout is dedicated to helping others market their content.
- If you are a standalone blog, your niche might be far-reaching. Look at Buzzfeed or Huffington Post and see the the variety of topics – anything that might interest some humans on this planet.
- If you are a freelancer, you don’t have a niche – your topics are determined by your clients. Your niche is just “blogging.” Be prepared for lots of research and a few long nights. You can’t write about that which you do not understand. If you have a contract with a home décor website, then you’d best learn all that you can about home décor.
A niche of expertise is always good. If you are a freelancer, but you have a specific area of expertise, then write on it and submit your blogs (for pay of course) to other blogs in your niche area. Or start your own blog dedicated to that niche.
3. Nailing the Purpose
Whether you have your own business blog or you write for others, every post must have a purpose:
- You are solving a problem for others, lending your expertise on the topic
- You are educating others – you are the expert and you are giving information, data or advice
- You are entertaining others
- You are inspiring others
Not one word until you have defined your purpose for the post.
4. Finding Your Audience on Social Media
You have to develop a persona that comprises your audience. Who is your typical customer (or reader)? Identify that individual fully, give him/her a name, and then write directly to him/her.
The other part of “finding” your audience is knowing when and where that persona “hangs out.” 99% of all people on social media, for example, use Facebook and Twitter; the next two largest uses are YouTube and Pinterest; then comes LinkedIn. But you want to fine tune this even more, so you learn things like:
- Millennials are primarily on Facebook and Twitter with YouTube trailing behind
- Career professionals hang out on Facebook, Twitter but also on LinkedIn
- Women hang out on Facebook and Twitter but also Pinterest
There is a wealth of research on times of days and days of the week that are best for publishing your content on various sites – do this research and don’t “waste your breath” posting when and where no one will find you.
5. SEO Strategies
There is a bit of a learning curve here, but if you are going to be successful, for yourself or others, you have to learn and implement those strategies that will get you found and ranked by search engines.
Even if you are freelancing, your post should reflect those strategies, so that it will be found when generic searches are conducted in the niche. There are a number of sites and blogs that address this, and you should master the basics first before moving into more sophisticated tactics and strategies. Here are just a few basics to get you started:
- Links Back to Yourself: Every post should have links back to pages on your site (if an ecommerce site) or back to archives in your blog. The more clicks back to you, the higher you are ranked. Word of caution: don’t be excessive about this – that’s annoying. Even when you post on Facebook, get a link in there. If you guest post on several other blogs, get links in (as many as are allowed). Even if they are not allowed in the post itself, get one in your bio.
- Keywords: These are critical for SEO. You need a focus keyword/phrase that will appear in your title, 3 times in your content, and once in your meta-description. Secondary keywords can be placed throughout the content.
Finding the best focus keyword will involve some research, but it is easy.
- Check out Google AdWords, io, or other keyword planner sites.
- You can also just search Google using a keyword related to your topic and go down to the bottom of the page – there you will find long-tail keyword phrases which tell you the terms others have used to search your topic.
- Word of Warning: Keyword-stuffing used to be a primary way of improving SEO – no more – don’t stuff – you’ll get punished.
- Have a SiteMap: While this doesn’t relate to blogging per se, if you are an ecommerce site – take a hint. Having a site map helps spiders crawl around and find pages easily.
- Quality Content: Nothing takes the place of high-quality useful content that is always new and fresh. When that content is promoted correctly and readers see the value of what you write, then they will share with others and return themselves. The more clicks to your post, the better your SEO rankings are.
- Set Up Reciprocal Arrangements: Contact blog and site owners in related niches. Set up arrangements for reciprocal linking to one another.
The goal is increasing links to your content – the more links, the higher your ranking. There are plenty of more sophisticated methods for SEO – learn these first and the move on.
6. Consistency – Keep to Your Schedule!
Audiences are built slowly over time. You become popular with a small group of followers first, and that gradually expands as that small group decides that you are trustworthy and provide great content. Once you have won that small group over, they share with their communities, and your audience grows. But this ever-increasing audience also must be able to rely on you for regular postings. So set a schedule and stick to it – no exceptions. You will lose followers, whether they are yours personally or for an ecommerce business, if you become sporadic and unreliable. Even if you cannot find fresh content yourself, post a great piece of content from someone else (with permission of course).
7. Cultivate Influencers and Other Bloggers
Who are the big names in your niche? Where are the other blogs that are not competitors but are related in some way to your niche? Find them, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and engage them in conversations. Develop relationships with these people.
- Ask if you can re-post something they have published – they will be truly flattered
- Mention them in your posts, and then tell them you have done so, providing a link to that post.
- Submit your posts to them and ask if they will post – then their audiences become your audiences too. And get a couple of backlinks in to your archived posts that are related.
- Ask them to guest post for you. You look like an even better expert to your audience when you do this.
While social media is clearly critical to your promotional efforts, there are other things you need to do as well.
- Cultivating others as described above is a biggie.
- Posting at the right times on social media (covered above)
- Get yourself published on other blogs with backlinks
- Offer things in return for an email address/subscription to your blog. Build that email list consistently, because every post you create needs to go out to your subscribers, either in entirety or with a link to it. And put social sharing buttons in your emails too.
- Don’t be shy. Ask your readers to share your content. You don’t have to be annoying about it. Simply say, “If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends” and have the buttons for doing so right there. Think about scrolling buttons on your posts, so that readers can easily share at any point in their reading, without having to go search for those buttons.
This really deserves a separate category of learning to be a successful blogger, because it is just too important. A title is what entices people to read a piece of content. Your title and probably your first sentence are probably the most critical parts of any content you produce. There are a number of tools for generating catchy titles – use them if you are not a creative person yourself. Many are free. Check out some of the possibilities here. In general, you are looking for titles that:
- Incite curiosity
- Bring some shock value
- Appeal to emotions – awe, excitement, uncertainty, pain points, humor
- Provide lists – people love lists – just ask Buzzfeed of Lifehack.
10. Types of Content
Posts must be far more than just text. Unless you can keep your reader with you, you have failed. So, incorporate all different types of content and learn how to do it yourself – it takes too long to find someone else, and then you have to pay them. Technology today has brought you to a point where you can create virtually any type of content you want:
- Infographics – These are great visuals to provide a lot of content in a compact way. Just don’t crowd them up with too much stuff.
- Photos/Images – Always makes a piece of writing more appealing
- Videos – 3-4 minutes tops, but they are great for “how to” or telling stories
- Surveys, Quizzes, Polls – Audience participation is always a good thing and plenty shareable.
- Lists (already discussed)
Find the tools to create these content types and you will have posts that do get shared – a lot.
11. Post Length
Research does show that longer posts are more read and more shared than short ones. Certainly this is true when you are providing educational content. And if you format your post correctly, this is the way to go:
- Each point deserves its own bold sub-heading, so that a reader may scan it easily.
- A reader may not be interested in certain parts of your post, but as s/he scans down all of your sub-headings, there will something that piques an interest and s/he will stop and read that one point, and then perhaps share it because of that point.
- Other posts may be shorter, however. If, for example, your purpose is to establish a relationship with your readers and you want tell your story or the story of a customer, then that post may be shorter and involve photos, a video, etc.
- If your post is all about a survey or a poll, of course it will be shorter.
Use your judgment on this.
What makes a successful blogger involves a wide range of talents, abilities, and insights. You may have other thoughts on this topic. Please share them!
Leona Henryson is a graphic designer and social media specialist with a deep passion for blogging on all topics related to her educational and career backgrounds. Follow@LeonaHenryson and read more of her posts at LeonaHenryson+.