It was not too long ago that blogging was all the rage. Everyone was beginning a blog and everyone was talking about this exciting new medium. Today you are more likely to hear declarations that blogs are defunct, passe, a vestige of an era that has already come and gone. I say “Stuff and nonsense!” Blogs continue to flourish. The very popularity of blogs is proof that there is a lot of room for more of them; we are a long way from the absorption point. We are a long way from the end of the blogosphere.
I am often asked for advice in beginning a blog and I am going to answer a lot of emails via this blog post. Today I want to tell you how I would begin a blog if I had to do it all over again. I’d do it in 6 steps.
#1. Choose a Theme
A good blog will have a defined theme and you will want to then stick with that theme, something that may be especially difficult in those early stages where your enthusiasm outstrips the site’s readership. The theme may be just about anything. It may be wide and it may be narrow; it may be niche and it may be general; it may be a hobby and it may be a vocation. When choosing a theme, there are 2 general directions to take: you can take a position of leadership or you can choose an area of interest through which you can invite other people into your journey of learning about it.
The theme you choose will help define the blog’s measure of success. Success may come through sheer volume of visitors or it may come through the authority gained within a specific niche or discipline. So choose your theme. Identify an area that is of particular interest to you or an area in which you are an expert. If that area is underserved in the blogosphere, you’ve found what you are looking for.
I always hold out Brian Croft as a guy who has succeeded well at this. He began his blog late in the game but very quickly gained authority by filling a particular niche–practical shepherding. He went from enthusiast to expert. His blog isn’t visited by millions, but it is visited by people within the demographic he wanted to reach.
#2. Choose a Service
Once you have your theme, you will need to find a service to actually host the blog. There are plenty of free services out there that will do a great job of it. I tend to recommend WordPress.com. By expending just a few minutes you can be set up and ready to go; all you need is an email address. If you are concerned about a professional look and feel, you may want to go with WordPress.org, a service you host on your own (which also means that you will need to arrange web hosting).
#3. Get Writing
You have your theme and your blog is ready to go. Now comes the tough part: writing. People who read blogs tend to skim rather than read, they tend to prefer shorter to longer. As you get established you would do well to focus on shorter, punchier articles. Leave the long, drawn-out expositions for another time. Focus on interacting with the ideas people are thinking about and on answering the questions people are actually asking. Be sure to link to other blogs frequently and seek to humbly improve upon what the more prominent bloggers have written. Do not try to draw too much attention to your blog yet. At the very least wait until you’ve got 20 or 30 good articles. For now just write.
#4. Build a Network
The spread of social media has allowed people to digest the content of blogs in a variety of ways. Along with your blog you will also want to create a Facebook fan page (not a personal page) and a Twitter account. You would also do well to sign up with Feedburner, which helps broadcast your content via RSS (a way that people can subscribe to the content); be sure to activate email subscriptions via Feedburner. Every time you blog, make sure that you link to it via Facebook and Twitter and encourage people to connect with you through these means.
#5. Choose a Schedule
Right from the outset you will find it valuable to maintain some kind of schedule. There is definitely a correlation between frequency of posting and the number of readers. However, since it is not always feasible to write every day or several times a day, seek to establish some kind of a schedule. When you do this your readers can build their own reading schedule. For example, if you make it clear that you will have new content every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you are serving me by telling me that I do not need to visit on Tuesday or Thursday. Blog traffic tends to be higher at the beginning of the week, so post your best content on Monday or Tuesday. Choose your schedule and, as much as possible, stick to it.
#6. Publicize It
By this point you have an established blog and have written at least 20 or 30 solid blog posts. You’ve proven that you can stick with blogging for a while and that you have something to say. Now you will want to get word out. To do that, put some effort into familiarizing yourself with other blogs in your niche. Interact with their posts and let the blogger know you’ve done so via Twitter. Try to interview some of the big players in your niche–substantial interviews that allow the experts to prove their expertise. Write reviews of the books or other media that are shaping the ideas in your niche. Post useful and thoughtful comments on other similar blogs. Let word get out, watch visitors come in, and seek to faithfully steward the opportunities you gain.
I know it is easy to say at this point, but this is how I would do it if I had to start over…