There has been some confusion about blogging (or its fancier name “content marketing”) in recent years. The web is littered with daily articles and videos tips, advice and even high-priced courses and personal coaching on the subject of blogging. Courses by guru bloggers showing how they make money blogging are being churned out all the time.
Yet a lot of folks claim that blogging an antiquated model that at this point in time is “dead.” So what’s the real status of blogging in 2015?
To me, there are two types of bloggers.
One type is more idea than reality, the notion of the “professional blogger,” — one who replaces their traditional job income with earnings made solely from blogging. It’s the dream and promise of the Internet age, available to anyone with an idea and a few bucks for a domain name and web hosting.
Only a small group of bloggers make an acceptable living from blogging and it’s an unrealistic business model for most of us. The rarity of people supporting themselves by being a “professional” blogger is the source of the “blogging is dead” cry.
The second category of bloggers are those who run real businesses and use blogging as a tool to connect with current and future customers. Because I work mostly with small businesses and nonprofits, this particular sermon is for folks running real businesses who wish to connect with customers.
Blogging is definitely relevant in 2015. It presents a real opportunity for people to see who you are, what you’re all about and want you know. They can get to know you through your blog.
Someone may might read what you have to say and decide to ask a question or ask for your insight. Blogging is the beginning of a conversation with your customers.
I launch about one or two sites, sometimes three, each week for clients. Almost all of them have a blog. Below I detail the major steps. I also have new videos that walk you through each step on the latest version of WordPress. Because I paid to license these videos, you must register on my site to view them.And of course, if you don’t want to mess with doing any of this, I offer professional website management.
Let’s begin with the technical part of blogging: setting up your blog.
How to Set Up Your Blog
One of the reasons that blogging is so popular is that it’s relatively easy to get started. The actual process to set up your blog will vary depending on the technology that you choose. We’re going to look at the steps from a general viewpoint. Your hosting service, blog technology and even your blog theme will have their own tutorials and instructions to follow.
Your Domain Name
First, you’ll need to choose your domain name. Your domain name is your website address. MyGreatBlog.com is an example. Your domain name needs to be something that is relevant to your business. For example, if you’re a fitness coach you don’t want your website to be Ilovepuppies.com. It just doesn’t make sense.
Here are three additional things to consider as you choose your domain name.
If you are the business, you’re going to be the name and face behind your brand. In this case, you might register your name as the domain name. (You should register your name as a domain anyway. It prevents someone else from using it and you never know when it can come in handy.)
Keywords are helpful. If you can get keywords in your domain name, that can help motivate people to click on your links and visit your site. For example, a fitness coach might have www.fitnessforweightloss.com as a domain name and do quite well. Actually, that is a fitness coach’s blog and she’s done a good job. She’s missing a few things, but we’ll talk about those in a bit.
Finally, if you have a name for your business, register that as your domain name. Consistency is always helpful. It tells your readers what to expect. This can also be helpful if you have or plan to have multiple businesses or product lines.
Your Hosting Provider
Next, you’ll need to select a hosting provider for your blog. Most hosting providers offer a variety of blogging platforms to choose from, as well as other types of platforms such as forums and many others. It is important to have an idea of which self-hosted blog platform you want to use in order to make sure your host offers it.
Because WordPress is such a popular, powerhouse blogging platform and most hosts offer it, we recommend and assume that you will host and install WordPress yourself. Don’t worry. The blog install is straightforward and WordPress there is an abundance of guides and tutorials on this site if you get stuck.
Often, you can register and host your blog with the same provider. You don’t have to, but you can. For example, at GoDaddy.com you can register your domain and get a hosting package. Explore your options and look for a hosting provider that is known for their reliability and customer service.
It’s what this site is hosted on and what I use to power my TLC managed website service.
After you get a domain name and hosting, you will want to focus on setting up your WordPress blog.
Your WordPress Blog
Your hosting provider should have specific instructions for installing WordPress. Hosts use different systems so to make the process easier, simply follow the instructions of your host.
It’s also important to point out that you can hire someone to do this for you about $5 at Fiverr.com if you don’t want to do it all yourself. However, be sure to change your admin password once they’re finished.
Now that you have your domain name, hosting, and your blog platform set up, it’s time to fine-tune the look and functionality of your blog.
Your Blog Design
There are thousands of WordPress themes or templates. Some themes are free, some aren’t. The true power of WordPress is that it’s infinitely customizable. Between themes, widgets, and plugins, you can do just about anything with your blog design. Let’s take a quick look at Themes, widgets, and plugins so you can see how to get started.
Themes – If you visit http://themeforest.net/category/wordpress you can see a variety of professionally designed themes for sale at reasonable prices. Premium themes generally come with:
- Unlimited color and style options
- Sliders and other visual effects
- Social media integration
- Niche specialty features such as restaurant menus, directories, store catalogs and a lot more
When choosing a theme think about how you’re going to use your blog. You’ll need to consider what blog style and colors will best suit your topic and audience. For example, someone that blogs about money may want a more subdued blog theme. A fashion blogger may want a theme that is more vibrant or trendy.
If you’re unsure, you can install the theme and see how it looks. You can also spend some time looking around at other bloggers’ sites. Take notes on what you like. Then find a blog theme that supports your prioritized preferences.
Widget Areas – Many themes provide and support customizable areas that allow you to add content, features, and functionality to specific areas of your theme. Depending on the theme, these places may include your front page, sidebar, header, footer, and other areas.
Plugins – These are extensions, which can be installed on your blog to add functionality. For example, you’ll likely use a plugin to integrate social media into your blog or you can install a plugin that works as an email sign up form. This simple screenshot of a ClickZ.com blog post shows at least two plugins.
As we move through this book, we’ll talk more about how plugins can help you build and maintain a loyal following. Once you have your blog up and ready to go, it’s time to start adding content.
Next, we’ll look at the top tips to help you create a blog that people want to visit and will recommend to their friends.
5 Top Tips to Build a Loyal Following on Your Blog
Establish a Writing Plan
Good blogs are well planned. This may sound like a bit too much work or structure; however, people respond to structure. They like to know what to expect. And it’ll help you create more valuable and interesting content for your readers go enjoy.
So, what goes into a writing plan?
You’ll want to determine a blogging schedule. How many blog posts are you going to publish and when are you going to publish them? For example, will you publish one blog on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings? Or three posts a day?
It’s important to know that quantity does impact your traffic. It’s good to publish at least a post a week and preferably more. However, you also want to make sure that you’re not overwhelming your readers. Five posts a day may be too much.
The other consideration is how much content you can actually produce. It’s more important to focus on quality than quantity. If you can publish one or two great posts each week, then start there. You can always add more posts to your week once you develop systems.
Deciding What to Write About
The next component to consider is your blog post. What are you going to blog about? To create a loyal following, it’s essential that each post provide value to your audience. Think about your audience and ask yourself the following questions. (You might want to grab a pencil and paper and start jotting down blog post ideas as you go.)
- What are their interests?
- What motivates them?
- How do they prefer to use information?
- What challenges do they have?
- What information do they like to collect, share, and respond to?
For example, a blog about nursing might talk about self-care as many nurses spend their time caring for others and set their own needs aside. Nurses may care about nursing career opportunities, how to overcome common nursing challenges like working nights, or they might prefer posts with a humorous angle.
You might also consider the format that your blog posts might take. For example, you might create checklists, worksheets, infographics, memes and cartoons, or written posts.
Finally, consider looking at other blogs in your industry. What do the bloggers write about and how can you offer something different while still offering value?
When you create blog posts, it’s important for each reader to feel like you’re talking to him or her directly. Write as if you are talking to a friend. Use the word “you” and “I” when you’re writing and embrace your personality as part of your posts.
Keep It Fresh
In addition to making sure that your content provides value to your reader, it’s important to stay fresh and relevant. That can mean a variety of things. It can mean publishing different types of content. For example, you might publish a cartoon post on Monday and a video on Friday.
Keeping it fresh may also mean stirring up controversy by weighing in on current hot button topics. It might mean sharing industry news or talking about trends. Make sure that you stay on top of what your readers are interested in and provide content that supports them.
Involve Your Reader
Get your readers involved by giving them something to do. Invite them to comment. Ask them to share your content on social media. Give them the opportunity to email and/or print content that they want to keep.
Create and publish great content to gain and guide loyal followers. However, just because you have a blog, doesn’t mean that anyone is going to visit it. You have to spread the word and promote your blog. Let’s look at that next.
5 Ways to Promote Your Blog
Getting people to visit your blog is essential to building a following. And of course, to get traffic to your blog you need to write great content. Let’s look at a few ways to promote your blog and then we’ll look at how to turn your blog visitors into loyal readers and customers.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest can help drive traffic to your blog. You may already have accounts with social media sites. You’ll want to consider whether you should create a separate account for your blog.
If you want to keep your personal and professional life separate, it is a good idea. However, if your personality is your blog, for example Perez Hilton, then your social media accounts should be under your personal name.
You can use your social media page to interact with others who are interested in your topic and to drive traffic to your blog. In addition to interacting, sharing, and commenting on relevant information, you can share snippets from your blog and link to your posts. This will help drive readers to your blog and help you develop a following.
What keywords do you think people will use to find your information? For example, if you’re blogging about penny stocks then someone might search “how to make money with penny stocks.” If you have posts on that topic, with those keywords, your blog will show up in their search results.
You can identify potential keywords in a number of ways. One is to pay attention to trending topics and hashtags on social media. What keywords and hashtags are people using? You can also use keyword tools like Google’s Keyword Tool, https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner.
Use keywords in your blog posts and your title where they logically fit. Don’t try to pack your posts with keywords, it doesn’t work and can backfire on you. And you always want to write quality content – focus on your readers first.
Great blog post headlines entice people to open your posts. They’ll share, link to them, and like them without even reading the content. Great headlines often pique curiosity or they evoke an emotion. Here’s one that might make readers feel like they have to click and learn more:
Form Inputs: The Browser Support Issue You Didn’t Know You Had
It’s from Smashing Magazine, http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/05/05/form-inputs-browser-support-issue/, and if you’re a website designer then you may be clicking on this headline immediately to learn what you don’t know.
Study headlines that you click on. Ask yourself why you clicked on it. What attracted your attention to the headline? Also, think about what your audience might be interested in. And finally, pay attention to the headlines that your readers respond to. We’ll talk about how to do that in just a bit.
Consider seeking guest blogging opportunities. As a guest blogger, you’ll write and publish content for other bloggers. You gain a new audience and the opportunity to promote your own blog. Make sure that you’re posting on blogs that are relevant to your blog topics.
For example, if you’re blogging about fitness then you might guest blog on a sports nutrition website. You want the audience to be people who may be interested in your blog but you don’t want to post for the competition.
Troll the Blogosphere
Spend time surfing the web and find other bloggers who are relevant to your own audience. Start commenting on their blogs. Begin developing a relationship with relevant bloggers and provide thoughtful comments. Generally speaking, comments will attract attention from other commenters and blog readers. You can generate traffic, and opportunities, when you interact with other bloggers.
Once you have people coming to your blog, you are in a position to begin profiting from their visits. As a blogger, there are many ways to profit. They include, but aren’t limited to:
- Selling Ad Space on your blog – the more traffic/visitors you have the more you can charge a company that wants to advertise;
- Selling your own products or services, including information products; and
- Promoting affiliate products or services and earning a commission from the sales.
For any of these models to be effective, it really helps to create a community of followers. You want your visitors to come back to your blog again and again. Let’s look at two key ways to accomplish this.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It essentially means that people can subscribe to your blog posts. They can receive each new post you update in a reader, such as Feedly, or in their email box.
The good news is that WordPress already comes with an RSS feed set up. You just have to go into your “Appearance” area on your blog’s dashboard and look at your widgets. Click on RSS and a screen like the following will pop up:
The “RSS Feed” is usually something as simple as http://example.com/feed, where “Example” is the name of your blog. The best way to get people to subscribe to your blog is to:
Invite them to subscribe. Include a call to action in your blog posts that says something like “Want to make sure you stay on top of all our latest content? Click here and subscribe.” Make the “here” a link so they can easily click and go.
Another way to leverage your following is to build an email list. Email is useful because you know that each message you send arrives in your subscriber’s inbox. Email is personal and you can use it to share more information that is valuable, drive traffic to your blog, and promote or sell products or services.
Here’s a quick example of an email message from a blogger. As you can see, it’s personal, conversational, and promotes a webinar. It’s a perfect example of how you can leverage your following to earn money and build a blogging business.
In order to be able to leverage email, you need to convert your blog readers to email subscribers. You have to motivate them to sign up for your email list. To do this, many bloggers create what’s called an “Opt-in.” An opt-in is an offer that your visitor wants. It can be an eBook or report. It might be a video training series or it can be a free product or service as well.
Think about what your audience might want to get their hands on. What type of information could you offer them in exchange for their email address? Your opt-in should:
- Solve a problem for your blog reader.
- Be in digital format – so that it can be accessed online and/or delivered via email.
- Naturally fit in with your blog topic.
Once you’ve decided on an opt-in offer, and created it, you’ll want to create a sign up form to place on your blog and you’ll want a system to deliver the material to subscribers. Many autoresponder services automate the entire list building and management process. An autoresponder is an email delivery system that allows you to schedule email messages in advance.
There are at least half a dozen providers that are well rated and easy to use. Search “autoresponder” and explore your options. As with any tool, you want it to be easy to use, function well with your existing blog technology, and provide the features that you need to be successful.
Most autoresponders offer a sign up form creation tool and walk you through how to position the form on your blog. When placing your form on your blog you want to decide what your ultimate goal is.
For instance, if your goal is to build your email list and market to your blog following via email then you want your sign up form to grab attention and take priority on the page. At the very minimum, you want it to be one of the first things that a visitor sees. Below is what visitors see when they visit WritetoDone.com. The sign up form is larger than the header and it’s positioned before the first blog post.
Decide where on your blog you’d like the sign up form(s) to be positioned. Remember, that whatever your primary goal is, you can also include a call to action in your posts to help motivate readers. For example, if your primary goal is to get people to sign up for your email then include an invitation for them to sign up at the end of your blog posts.
Before we wrap this up, there are a few other ways that you can leverage a loyal following. We talked about selling advertising space on your blog as well as promoting products or services within your posts. You can participate in Google AdWords and affiliate programs. These programs help you place relevant ads in your blog’s sidebar.
Here’s what the sidebar looks like on the blog DumbLittleMan.com. You can see different types of ads including Google Ads and a banner ad for AuthorHouse.com.
Benefiting from your loyal following is about monetizing. How do you plan to convert visitors into buyers? Identify your primary blogging goals and then start building content that attracts readers and makes them want to become part of your blogging community.
Pulling it All Together
We’ve delivered a lot of information so let’s break it down into steps to make it more manageable. Consider creating a business plan or blog plan so that you have goals and a direction to follow. Use the following steps to help you create your blog plan and begin building and leveraging a loyal following.
- Identify your blog topic or niche. What are you going to write about? Research other bloggers in your niche and explore options for how you can make your blog unique and valuable to your audience.
- Register your domain and get hosting for your blog.
- Install WordPress and create your blog design. Leverage plugins to make your design suit your needs and make navigation easy for your visitors. For example, if you want to have an image heavy blog you might use an image gallery plugin like Huge-It Gallery https://wordpress.org/plugins/gallery-images/screenshots/
- Profile your blog audience. Who will read your blog and what information will they be looking for?
- Create your content plan. What are you going to publish and when are you going to publish it?
- How are you going to promote your blog? Use plugins to help you build a community. Social media plugins, blog comment plugins, and bookmarking functions help make it easy for people to interact and share.
- Monetize your blog. Remember why you are connecting with visitors: it’s to get more clients. How will you lead customers to your product or service? Consider focusing on one tactic initially.
- Identify your goals. For instance, you might decide that you want to publish 20 posts a month as a personal goal and your professional goal might be to have 100 visitors a day within the first 60 days of your blog launch.
- Install analytics. We haven’t talked about this yet. Analytics is a system that will tell you how your blog is doing. It will tell you how many visits you get each day, where those visitors are coming from, what they do on your blog, and much more. Google Analytics, google.com/analytics/, is free and easy to install. Create a plan to review your analytics at least once a month.
- Create Systems. Now that your blog is up and running, it’s time to create efficient systems. Plan your content in advance. Make sure that it’s written and scheduled ahead of time. Remember to integrate your goals into your content plan. For example, if you’re going to promote an eBook in your email this month, consider a few posts that provide supporting information and make the promotion a logical step in the eyes of your readers.
Your systems should also include reviewing your analytics and tracking the results of your various marketing and income generating efforts. Know what’s working and what isn’t so you can repeat your success.
Blogging your way to success begins with building a following and focusing on publishing content that your audience finds helpful. Your efforts will pay off in connecting with visitors on a level that traditional advertising cannot deliver.