Blogging for Beginners
There are an awful lot of guides on blogging for beginners out there. Some are excellent, some less so. Here, I offer my own thoughts and experience based on what I've learned from starting and growing 2 blogs of my own over the last few years and from my 13 years in customer and marketing roles when I was in corporate.
Blogging is what helped me to go from the girl who dreamed of having her own business but never really believed it was possible, to not only believing it, but actually doing it. If this guide can help you in some small way to do the same then it will have more than fulfilled its purpose.
What to Expect...
Before you dive into the guide, I just wanted to say a word or 2 on how I've created it. Essentially, I want to be clear on what this guide IS and what it ISN'T...
You see, this guide is based on my own experience as I've started and built up my 2 blogs. I talk about the tools that I use or have used. You won't find comparison tables and reviews here, just recommendations based on what I have found to work well.
Do you dream of making it big in blogging?
...Of creating a community of likeminded people who love you?
Perhaps you want to turn your blog into a business that you can run from wherever you want - whenever you want?
Do you daydream about handing in your notice and walking away from 9-5 for good?
Then read on!
Let's start with the first and most important question you should ask yourself before you do anything else...
Business or Hobby?
Your answer to this question is going to determine how you manage your blog from here on in so it's time to get really clear:
Do you EVER want to make money from your blog?
Your answer is going to impact things like your niche, your blog name and even the tech you use so if you do want to make money - even if it's a 'well, maybe at some point, if things go ok', then start planning for that right away. It's MUCH harder to go back and change things later.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For the purpose of this guide, I'll be making the assumption that you want to make money. I'm a business strategist after all!
Choosing a niche for your blog
Let's just get this out there from the start. If you want to make money from your blog you NEED a niche. And for the avoidance of doubt, a blog on 'Cooking, being a Mom and Travel' is NOT a niche.
There are 4 key things to consider when you choose what your blog (and business) is going to be...
PASSION - choose a topic you love and feel passionate about.
ABILITY - choose a topic you know something about! (Well, duh...)
SPECIFICITY - the more specific, the better (honest!)
PROFITABILITY - there's specific and then there's just plain random. Is this a topic that's going to be profitable?
For more help on selecting your niche, check out my post, 'How to Find the Perfect Niche for Your Online Business'.
Creating your ideal client
I'm calling them 'ideal client' here for the sake of simplicity. You might prefer 'ideal reader', 'customer avatar' or 'target audience'. They all mean the same thing and it's important you know WHO they are for you.
You've decided now what your blog is about so spend some time getting really clear on who you'll be writing to.
Consider their demographics such as sex, age and location.
Now think about the fuzzier stuff like what their hopes and fears are. What are the key challenges they're struggling with in your niche and what feelings are these struggles inducing?
Create as detailed a picture as you can. The person you create is who you will be thinking about EVERY time you write any content.
For more help on creating your ideal client, grab a free Ideal Customer Template to get you started...
Choosing a name for your blog
Ok, so you know what your blog is going to be about and who it's for, now it's time to name your new baby! Here are a few considerations before you take the leap...
Is the domain name available?
Your domain name and the name of your blog/business should be the same so as to avoid confusion with potential customers. Make sure the domain name you want is available before you rush out and get your logo and business cards printed...
Is your blog name easy to spell?
It can be tempting to use clever puns or 'in-jokes' when naming your blog.
The easier your name is to remember and spell, the more people will actually be able to find it and enjoy your content.
Will it stand the test of time?
If this is going to be your business, then choose a name that is going to last. Leave room for your business to grow.
Avoid current 'buzz' words and trends.
For more help on choosing your blog name, take a look at my post '3 Tips for Choosing Your Website Name'.
Registering Your Blog's Domain Name
Once you've chosen your blog name, you'll need to register the domain name which will be your blog web address. There are a number of companies which provide this service but I use and recommend Namecheap.
The cost will generally be up to $10 per year.
Choosing a CMS for Your Blog
First of all - what the heck's a CMS??
Well, it stands for Content Management System - and in case that's still as clear as mud, I'm talking about the tool you'll use to manage your blog. Think WordPress, Squarespace, Medium and the like...
Now I don't want to tell you what to do...
Who am I kidding? That's exactly what I want!
There, I said it. There's a reason that 27.5% of ALL websites are currently run with it.
Look, I'm no tech wizard but I've never struggled to use WordPress and I've never even considered moving. There are various levels of service you can choose but I've only ever had the free version and have never had any issues.
I'm not an affiliate but I am a satisfied customer!
For more help with this, take a look at my post on 'How to Make Your First WordPress Blog Awesome'.
Choosing a Host for Your Blog
If you DO decide to go with WordPress then you'll have the choice of going with their hosted option OR getting your site hosted elsewhere. In order to monetise, you'll want to choose the latter.
So your next task is to find a good hosting company. There are plenty to choose from so I suggest doing some research to find which suits your needs the best.
My own recommendation is Siteground. They are very reasonably priced (their cheapest option is just £6.95 per month), they have a reputation for great customer service and they're easy for a non-techy like me to get set-up!
Once you've set up your hosting you'll have access to your control panel (known as your cpanel) where you can do things like setting up an email address for your domain name.
Choosing a Theme for Your Blog
There are a LOT of decisions involved in setting up a blog, amIright??
Your WordPress theme will basically form the basis of the layout and appearance of your blog. There are both free and premium options so if your budget is tight you may decide to choose a free one to get started with.
It's relatively easy to switch themes so you can always upgrade later if you decide you want to.
Tips for choosing your theme
I use and would happily recommend Thrive Themes. They're not free but at only $19/month (paid annually), I think it's an absolute steal. You get all their (regularly updated) themes along with a host of great tools to help you create landing pages, collect leads and much more. (And no, I'm not an affiliate ).
You can select your theme in the Appearance section of your WordPress Admin Dashboard.
How to Set Up Your Blog
Ok, you're nearly ready to go! Before you get to the fun stuff of making your blog look pretty and you know, actually writing some posts, you just need to go through a bit of set up to optimise your blog's performance. In this section I'm going to take you through the Dashboard menu of your WordPress Admin page.
Jetpack comes as part of any WordPress website and gives you a number of features to choose from. Primarily, you can use it to view your blog stats (although you'll also want to set up Google Analytics, which gives you a much more comprehensive picture of your statistics).
You'll come across an awful lot of jargon as you set out on your blogging journey. Widgets are something you'll want to get to grips with sooner rather than later because they're incredibly helpful!
You'll use widgets to add elements to certain areas of your blog, such as the sidebar or footers. Your widgets can also be accessed through the Appearance section of your Dashboard.
You may find that some widgets have been added already as part of your theme. I tend to remove everything and then start afresh!
Take some time to explore the widgets that are available and decide which you want for your own blog. Some widgets are available as standard and some will become available when you use particular plugins or themes. Here's what I tend to start with:
Other options to consider might be:
Your Blog Menu
Every blog needs a menu to help your readers to find their way around. The number and location of your menus are determined by the theme you choose. They can be created and edited through the (you've guessed it!) Appearance section of your Dashboard...
You can customise your menu as you please, adding links to posts, pages and even other websites if you so desire! You can also create sub-menus.
Here are a few examples of what you might include in your menu:
Plugins allow you to add extra features and functionality to your blog. There are literally 1000's to choose from but don't overload your website with them or it will slow it down considerably.
When you click on 'Add New' in the Plugins menu, you'll have the option to search the database or to upload one directly from your computer.
Here are some of the plugins that I use and recommend:
As your blog grows you'll probably continue to add more as you discover new functionalities that you need.
You shouldn't need to do much here, this is where you'll check that you blog name and address are correct and you can also set your timezone.
Most of these settings can also be left as they are. It's worth checking and updating your list of Update Services. These are services which WordPress will notify each time you update your blog and they can help to increase your traffic.
Check out this post for more info and an up to date list.
This is where you'll decide whether you want your blog to appear as your homepage or whether you want to create a separate homepage.
You'll also decide whether your posts will appear in full or in summary on your blog feed. I recommend just showing a summary. This is a cleaner look for your readers AND it encourages them to click to the actual post (and increase your views) rather than reading it on the home page.
Leave the Search Engine Visibility box un-checked. You definitely want search engines to be indexing your site!
Lastly, you'll get the chance to customise the messages that are sent when someone subscribes to your blog or follows comments on a post, via WordPress.
This is where you'll adjust the settings for the Comments section of your posts. Here are the settings I'd suggest:
Next, you'll create some rules for comment moderation:
You'll be able to find an up to date list of words for your Blacklist by doing a basic Google search for 'Comment Blacklist'.
Now, we move to Avatars. You'll set up your own avatar for when you comment on other people's blogs and you'll set the rating of your blog.
This is where you can adjust the settings for your media library. I've kept mine as standard, so not much to do here!
These are the links created when you publish a new post or page. You can choose the format that each of these links will take.
I suggest keeping it as simple as possible with just the post name.
You'll also be able to adjust permalinks on an individual basis for each post.
The settings here allow you to automatically share your posts to social media when you hit publish. Just connect the channels that you want to use.
I actually don't connect my channels in this way because I use CoSchedule to promote my posts on social media, but this is a great option if you're not using a separate scheduler.
Creating a Brand
Think of your brand as your blog or business personality. It's what will make you stand out to your ideal clients and what will make them remember and come back to you.
A Word About Logos
Do you know what matters LEAST about your brand right now?
Seriously, so many people get OBSESSED with creating the perfect logo when they're just starting their business or blog and I'd go so far as to say that it's a bad idea! It's still too new.
Wait until the dust has settled and you and your blog have got to know each other a little better and THEN if you still want to, go ahead and get a logo.
And anyway, your brand is so much more than a logo.
Just as your characteristics help you to stand out as a person, they will also do the same for your blog.
Try choosing 3 of your core character traits and building these into your blog branding; the images you use, the colours and of course, the content you create.
It can be super helpful to ask friends and family what they think your main characteristics are - often they may be ones that you don't see in yourself.
What do you stand for?
What do you stand against?
These beliefs will help your ideal clients to find you so make sure you don't try to hide them.
Perhaps your Mommy blogger. What are your thoughts on breast feeding v bottle feeding? What about natural birth v c-section?
Are you a food blogger? What does food mean to you and why? What are your thoughts on Meat Eating v Vegetarian v Vegan etc?
Whatever your niche, whatever your beliefs, they should be woven into your branding through your content.
If your brand should be anything, it should be consistent.
You want pink unicorns everywhere? Go for it!
Just don't randomly change to hippos one day with no explanation... It'll just make you look a bit weird and erratic.
It's unlikely that your core characteristics or beliefs are going to drastically change anyway, so you're probably good when it comes to those.
The area when it can be trickier to stay consistent is the look and feel of your brand. In fact, in many ways the more traditional understanding of what branding is.
Your brand needs to look consistent. Your blog should be recognisable from your posts right down to your social media images.
I have created a Brand Guide for my business where I have referenced EVERYTHING which makes my brand what it is..
If you'd like help in creating your own Brand Guide then check out my post, How to Make a Brand Guide for more info...
The Pages You Need for Your Blog
Ok, it feels like we've got some really strong foundations laid for your blog now - hurrah!
Let's start adding in some of your most important rooms (not sure this analogy works, but you get me, right?)
There are a few vital pages that you just create and add to your blog from the start. These are they...
'About Me' Page
If your readers land on one of your posts and like what they see, then there's a good chance that they'll want to know more about you. We humans are nosey beggars after all!
Your 'About Me' page will give people a chance to get to know the 'real you' and to feel more connected to you. And that can only be a good thing, right?
For more info on how to write an awesome 'About Me' page, check out my post and video on that very subject... How to Write an About Page that Will Make People Want to Work With You.
'Contact Me' Page
This is for all those people who love your stuff and want to a) tell you or b) work with you!
A 'Contact Me' page makes it super easy for folks to, you know... contact you.
As mentioned in the Plugins section of this post, I use a plugin called Contact Form 7 to create a simple form that people can fill out and which then comes through to my email inbox.
'Work With Me' Page
As the name suggests, this is the page (or pages) where you will lay out your products and/or services.
If you just have one main income stream then this is the page where you'll tell people all about it. If you have multiple options then you may decide to use your 'Work With Me' page as a highlight reel and then link through to more detailed sales pages from there.
Writing Your First Blog Post
Aaaagh! You're finally ready to go! This is it. The baby blog is ready to be born.. (too gross?) and all that's needed is that first post to put out there to your waiting audience...
Shouldn't I write a bunch of posts before launching?
There are many schools of thought on this. Some bloggers will advocate holding back the launch of your blog until you have several posts under your belt so that when people first start arriving, your blog appears more established.
Jon Morrow (of Smart Blogger fame) goes so far as to say not to write any posts at all on your own blog until you have written guest posts to grow your following. There's definitely logic in this too - his argument being that writing your own posts is a waste of time until you have an audience to read them...
My take? I say just go. Launch it already! Write that first post, hit publish and START. The sooner you hit publish for the first time, the sooner you'll start attracting readers, the sooner your post will start rising up the search rankings, the sooner your site will start building domain authority (DA) and the sooner your confidence will grow and in turn, your blog!
What should I write about?
ANYTHING. Just get 'er done.
Contrary to what your racing heart is telling you, this does not need to be a masterpiece. What it does need to be, is DONE.
Because until you've done your first post, you'll never be able to move on to your second... and third...
How long should my posts be?
This is another question I see often from beginner bloggers. In a nutshell, your posts should be as long as it takes for it to achieve its purpose! Don't cut stuff out because you can't be bothered and equally, don't waffle to pad it out...
Longer posts (of 2000 words or more) tend to perform best in search IF they are also high quality and valuable content.
For a more detailed look at blog post length, have a read of my post 'How long should a blog post be?'
For more help with your first post jitters, take a look at my post '5 Simple Rules for a Killer First Blog Post'.
How to Start Building Your Blog Traffic
Ooooh, now we're getting to the nitty-gritty!
You've read about all these bloggers who are getting millions of views per day and yet you hit publish on that first post and ... crickets!
Before you take early retirement from the world of blogging, there are a few things you can do to start helping your ideal clients to find you.
PS. Notice I said IDEAL CLIENTS there - not just anyone. Please don't be lured into the game of doing anything to get any views no matter who. It's a total waste of your time.
Traffic Building Tricks to Avoid like the Plague!
So now you know what NOT to do, here are a few of my tried and tested traffic building strategies for you...
This is just touching the surface, but if you really want to dig deeper into ways to grow your traffic and your online visibility in general, then I highly recommend taking a look at the 3 posts below where I give you a ton of ideas and strategies...
How to Monetise Your Blog
This is it! This is where everything comes together and you start to see a return on all that hard work! (Because building a successful blog IS hard work - don't let anyone tell you otherwise! It's super fun, it's completely addictive and it's hugely rewarding too though!)
So you're creating regular, high value content, you're a whizz on social media and you're getting likes and comments outta the wazzooo. How the heck is that supposed to make you money?
Well, you'll be pleased to know there are a ton of ways that you can monetise your blog. Here are just a few:
What about Google Adsense?
Yep, a lot of people make money by using space on their blog to advertise 3rd party companies. Google Adsense is probably the most popular tool for doing this.
Seeing as you're asking, I would say don't. At the very least, not yet.
You see, making any kind of serious money with ads takes a TON of traffic. You're not there yet and so for the time being those ads are just going to be a distraction (and probably a bit of a turn-off) to the audience you do have.
The space you'd turn over to Google ads would be MUCH better used to promote your own stuff... oh no, here's that cough of mine again... ahem....check out the sidebar!... ahem, ahem...
I've written a whole post on how to make money blogging so to get all the juicy deets, go check it out!
You made it! Thanks so much for coming on this journey with me. I've really tried to think of everything that I struggled with myself when I was just getting started with my first blog.
If you have questions left unanswered, do let me know so that I can continue to update and improve this guide for future readers.
You really are embarking on a wonderful adventure! You'll have days when you're on top of the world and you'll have others when you feel like giving up. That's normal, I promise. On those bad days, please feel like you have a blogging friend in me. Shoot me an email and pour out your frustrations. I'll definitely be able to empathise and I may be able to help!
You'll see below that I've created a bunch of resources on blogging for beginners - some free and some not. If you'd like to continue this journey together then do take a look and of course, feel free to ask any questions - I'll always answer.
More Blogging Resources
Blog Post Checklist
A step by step guide to help you get more traffic and engagement from your blog posts.
First Blog Post Ideas
Four of the most popular first blog post ideas to give you inspiration for yours!
Blogging Class (Self-study Course - £197)
Your complete strategy for more traffic, engagement and income.
Blog Clinic (£24.99)
In depth, personalised feedback along with practical, easy to follow tips on how you can step up your blogging.