Did you know that most bloggers quit within the first year? You probably know someone who started a blog with a bang only to fizzle out in exhaustion a couple of months later. To succeed in blogging, you need a solid strategy on several areas from how to start a blog to how to level up your blogging game in the first year.
While there is plenty of noise on the steps involved in setting up a blog like how to register a domain, find a good host, etc., there is little to none for new bloggers on how they can organize the actual blogging process for smooth functioning.
That is why I’m writing this post with an aim to provide you a realistic roadmap for your first year of blogging. In this post I’ll be covering:
- Three things to consider before starting a blog
- How to start a WordPress blog
- How to create your own blogging roadmap
- How to write your first blog post
- What to expect on the first year
- Tips for speed blogging
But before we get started, let’s take a step back and get clear on some fundamentals.
NOTE: This blog post is about 2500 words and covers everything from the fundamentals to practical steps for a new blogger. The post is primarily aimed at starting a blog using WordPress but the principles discussed here are applicable for any blogger. You can skip to the section that you need by using the table of contents.
What does blog stand for? What is the difference between a blog and a website?
A blog stands for weblog and blog posts are the individual web pages on a blog.
Websites and blogs exist for different purposes. Most websites are built with the intent to sell something online. Some websites are built to provide static information about a company and its products. The content on websites is usually not updated frequently.
Blogs on the other hand are focused on creating brand awareness. If you are a business owner, the brand is your product or service. If you are an individual, the brand is you.
What are the benefits of blogging?
We live in a very competitive world, unless you deal with highly classified information, blogging can be beneficial for any business or individual for a number of reasons. The following are some reasons why you need to blog:
5 reasons why businesses should blog:
- To rank better on search engines
- To find potential customers and build a rapport
- To keep current customers by keeping them valuable information
- For leverage over your competition
- To establish authority
5 reasons why individuals should blog
- It helps you make your own mark in a competitive job market
- It can generate passive income
- It can help you network with like-minded people
- It can open up new opportunities
- It helps improve your writing skills
- It builds your authority
Is blogging dead with YouTube and all?
No, blogging is not dead. While YouTube is all buzz, personally, I wouldn’t recommend skipping blogging altogether.
Blogging is still an effective long-term content strategy to drive traffic to your website. You own your blog while you don’t really own your YouTube channel as it is a video-sharing platform by Google. Besides, editing and optimizing a blog post is much easier than a video.
What’s the difference between free and self-hosted blogging platforms?
With free blogging sites your blogs are hosted and managed by the platform itself. You don’t need to worry about security and backup. But you’ll have limited control over the blog. Also you’ll have to settle for a sub-domain provided by the platform (eg: something.wordpress.com). These platforms are okay for hobbyist bloggers. Some popular free platforms are: Wix, Weebly and WordPress.com.
Self-hosted platforms offer you more freedom. You are solely responsible for setting up and managing the site. But you can customize it however you want. For anyone who is even partially serious about blogging, self-hosted platforms are a better deal. WordPress.org is the most widely used open-source software for created self-hosted blogs.
Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals, let’s jump right into the next section.
3 things to consider before starting a blog
Define your “Why”:
We all have our own reasons for blogging. For me, blogging is a way of reenforcing the lessons learnt in my area of expertise by teaching someone else. It helps me to stay disciplined too and I don’t plan on monetizing it. Now if you haven’t done this already, take 5 minutes to think through these questions:
- Why do you want to blog?
- What do you want to achieve blogging 5 years from now?
- Do you need a blog to promote your product? Or is it for personal branding?
- Are you looking to make some extra money and when do you want to achieve this goal? Is it going to be a hobby?
Choose Your Niche
A niche is that one topic that you’ll be writing about in your blog. Most new bloggers write about random topics. This is a huge mistake as you’ll end up losing the audience.
Think of your blog as a restaurant and your niche as the cuisine. Now imagine that you only serve two dishes a month. Whether to choose to serve Indian or Chinese or Italian depends on what you feel like serving. Would your customers stick around to second-guess your menu each week or would they run to a competition that promises to serve what exactly they are looking for? This is why it is important to choose a niche.
Know the Key Players
Some niches are highly competitive. Knowing the top content creators in a niche is important. The next step is to analyze what they do. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Make a List of Blog Ideas
One of the reasons most people give up on blogging is because they run out of topics to write. They either feel that a topic is too obvious and feel silly to write about it as even a beginner in their niche could answer that question. Or they feel that the topic is too intense that they don’t have enough expertise to write about it. But let me guarantee you, there is no such thing as a silly topic. Just take a look at Quora and you will find people are asking very basic questions on any niche.
To make a list of blog topics, you could use a pen and paper or use a mindmap to brainstorm. There are also plenty of places on the internet to look for blog ideas. I like to start with AnswerthePublic. Quora and YouTube are my other go-to places for blog topics. Whenever you Google something, keep an eye out for blogging ideas on the people also asked and related searches sections in the search engine results page(SERP).
Do Keyword Research
There are two aspects in writing web content. One is writing for your audience, the second is optimizing your content for SEO. Keywords are what people type on search engines to look for information.
Everyday, search engines bots (Google’s search algorithm) crawl millions of web pages. They look for keywords in your content and index pages. Later, when someone makes a search, the algorithm looks through its index and ranks the most relevant keywords on the first page. That’s why it is important to include these keywords in your content.
As a beginner, the best way to start keyword research is to use the free Google Keyword Tool and Ahrefs Keyword Generator tool. Once you start adding content consistently and your blog gains some traction in the form of organic traffic, it would be best to invest in paid SEO tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush.
Once you find your target keyword, you’ll need to use them several times naturally in your content. Some key places to add your targeted keyword are:
- The URL
- The Title
- Within the first 100 words in your content.
- In an image ALT text
- A subheading
Create your own Blogging Plan
After you have created a list of blog content ideas and did keyword research, now it is time to arrive at an editorial calendar. James Clear the author of the best-selling self help book “The Atomic Habits” started out as a blogger. During his initial blogging days, he had a schedule. For 3 long years, he continued to publish Mondays and Thursdays every week. This not only helped him to build an unbreakable habit, it also set the expectations right with his audience. Blogging is a continuous process and you need to stay disciplined to succeed in it.
Setting up your WordPress blog
To start a WordPress blog, you’ll need to buy a domain name and a web hosting service. A domain name is the www address that we use to look for a website on the internet. A web host is the server where all the files related to your website are stored on the internet. To find the instructions on how to install WordPress, please contact your web hosting company.
Once you install WordPress, you’ll need to set up some important plugins for backup, analytics, security, cache. You would also need to set up some default settings for your WordPress blog. For a complete list of recommended plugins and settings, read my beginner-friendly, how to start a blog in WordPress guide.
Once you install WordPress, you’ll need to set up these 5 important pages.
How to write your First Blog Post
Now comes the main area that most bloggers struggle with – creating content. If you look at any piece of content in the web, you’ll notice that they follow a structure.
To make your content look bold and crisp. Structure it and create an outline. To create an outline, take your blog topic and brainstorm using the 5W (what, why, when, where, who) and 1H(how) method. The most basic blog post structure has a headline, an introduction, content section and a call to action (CTA). Let’s look at these elements in detail:
Headlines are the clickable links that people see on the SERP. Think of headlines as advertisements. Without attention-grabbing headline people will never click-through or find your content. Coschedule headline analyser is a great tool to check how effective your headlines are. Any score about 70 in the tool is great.
Introduction is also called hooks. If a headline got a reader to click at your post, the introduction is what is going to retain your readers attention. There are several techniques in writing a hook. Most writers start with a question or an interesting statistic. Some start with a compelling story. Keep your introduction short so your reader doesn’t have a reason to click-away.
The Main Content
Split your main content into small digestible subheadings. Break your content into short paragraphs in each subheading and add visual elements like screenshots and infographics.
Do you want your readers to leave a comment? Do you want them to try out a product? A call-to-action is letting your readers know what you want to do next. Some common call-to-action examples are: asking the reader to subscribe for a newsletter by offering a content upgrade, offering a trial version of your product, offering an irresistible one-time discount. Call to actions should be persuasive enough to get the desired results. As a new blogger, you can ask your readers to leave a comment or share the post. This way you can build your own network of followers.
What to expect on your first year of blogging
Blogging is a game of patience. One reason why most bloggers give up is they don’t know the realistic idea on how long it takes to generate traffic for a new blog. They put up a couple of posts and wonder why they aren’t receiving any organic traffic.
According to an analysis by Weidert Group, the best strategy would be to create between 55-70 high-quality posts to grow traffic.
A good strategy for beginners would be to create topic clusters and link it with a pillar post. Pillar posts are longer pieces of content that links to acts like a directory to other pages on your blog for that particular topic (a.k.a topic clusters).Pillar posts can range between 4000 – 20000 words. They are like definite guides. If you take a look at the top 5 results on SERP for any topic, they are usually designed as pillar posts.
As a new blogger, focus on creating valuable content about a single topic set and then create a pillar post. This way you stand a better chance to rank better on the SERP.
Tips for speed blogging
Here are some tips to blog faster:
Separate research from writing
To produce quality content, you need quality substance. This is where research comes in. There are three areas that you need to focus on while doing research for any blog topic: Audience research, Content research and Competition analysis. I would recommend looking at least the top 5 results in the SERP for your blogging topic and doing a content gap analysis. As research takes time, I would recommend you to have a couple of well-researched blog topics in hand with an outline ready. This way when you start writing, you wouldn’t go blank on what to write.
Make use of Voice Typing
What’s faster than typing? Talking. GoogleDocs has a speech-to-text feature integrated that works in Chrome browser. To use this feature, just go to Tools -> Voice typing and click on the microphone icon.
Don’t Edit While You Write
This is an area where even the most professional writers struggle in. I’m often guilty of doing this often too. But editing while writing is a sure fire way to slow down your writing process. There will be instances where you make spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and even feel that your sentences are not flowing well. Instead of pausing to correct, just continue to write your first draft. You can save the edits for later.
Make use of the Online Writing Tools
There are plenty of tools online to polish your writing. Once I finish writing my second draft, I use Prowritingaid and the Hemingway app to fine-tune it. There are several other ways to speed up your writing. For more tips, read how to write a blog post(when you are feeling stuck)
There you go, my ultimate guide on how to start a blog and what to expect in the first year. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Blogging is hard work and it can be really disappointing to continue writing in the first year when you have little to no audience. But once you push through this phase, there are endless possibilities on what you can achieve through blogging and how you can monetize it. So don’t lose heart and continue blogging.
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