Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How To Start, Run, And Maintain A Blog

How to Start Blogging
If you want to start a blog, but are unsure where to begin, let this be your guide. After starting websites, running forums, and blogging I hope to offer you insight in how to begin and manage a successful online publication. Along with what you should do there are many pitfalls and things to avoid. This will be presented in a timeline format with thoughts and tips throughout; read it all first, then use it as a step by step guide.

Follow the timeline closely; even if you are ready for the next step do not move on. The time between is meant as a point to reflect and think about your decisions and actions while not overloading you. It may not be mentioned, but the absence of things to do in each step is as important of the ones that are there, only focus on what is written.

Day 1 - Ask yourself; can I do this? Anyone can run a blog if they have the drive. Over the next week think about these things:
  • Topic - What are you going to write about? It can be broad or specific, but choose something you are passionate about.
  • Time - Do you have the time? You will need to set aside at least 30 minutes to an hour every day.
  • Environment - Ensure you can focus for the time you have set aside without distraction.
  • Learn - Having an open mind, being able to take criticism, and having the ability to learn new things are needed.
  • Money - Realize that you will not earn money for a long time; if ever! The topic and writing has to be enjoyable without a profit. (Although, you can earn money with hardwork and dedication.)
  • Anonymity - Be prepared to have your name all over the internet and possibly in print.

Day 7 - Ready? By now you should have a topic and know if you have what it is going to take to make this happen. Over the next week a lot of forward thinking is needed to make decisions to best set you up for the future. Don't stress about it though, things can be changed later, but I have found doing this upfront makes life easier down the road.
  • Brand or Individual - Decide if you are going to write as yourself or a brand. Your work will always be by you and have your name on it, but do you want people to talk about "Your Name" or "Brand" when discussing the articles?
    • Brand - I recommend going with a brand approach if you plan to have more than one writer and/or if your topic is more specific and specialized.
    • Individual - Use this direction if you want to write about broader topics (including personal things), or are going to work alone. It is very possible your name will end up becoming the "brand".
  • Name - What are you going to call the blog? Whether you are going to use a brand or individual approach will impact what name you choose. The goal is to be as simple, informative, memorable, and consistent across as many different social networks as possible.
    • Domain - Your official blog/company name, or a shortened version, needs to be available as a website address (URL). I recommend using .com as your top-level domain while ensuring that the domain name is under 15 characters as well as descriptive to what you are writing about, or who you are (your name). Head over to who.is to check domain name availability; do not purchase it at this time. You want an address that could be verbally told to someone that allows them to get to your site easily; avoiding hyphens and odd spellings is recommended.
    • Twitter - If you already have a Twitter account and are going to write as an individual, and already primarily Tweet about your topic, you can use that. Otherwise you should create a new account using your personal handle, or brand name/domain name. To check availability go through the signup process to choose a username.
    • Facebook - You will need a Facebook page with a custom username. To check if a name is available go to "www.facebook.com/xxxxx" and change "xxxxx" to the name you would like to test.

Day 14 - It is time to launch the blog!
  • Platform - Choose a platform that you are comfortable with, that is stable, and going to be around for years to come. Some good ones are Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr, and TypePad. I have used all of these and prefer Blogger because it is easy to use as a beginner and offers advanced functionality when you want it.
  • Domain - Once you set up the blog shell you want to purchase the domain and link it up to your new blog. Each of the services mentioned above allow you to purchase a custom domain and have it automatically linked up. (If you already have a domain take a look at your blog's help and FAQ sections on how to set it up.)
  • Template - Choosing a template is an extremely important decision. It sets the tone and style of your website and can be just about anything you can imagine (dark or light background; font style, color, and size; one, two, or three columns; square or rounded corners; and many more). It is easy to get caught up in what looks pretty or flashy, but the focus is your writing and you do not want anything to take away from that. Look at the style of major news websites, other blogs, and and this site; they all have light backgrounds with dark type. I suggest you use this type of template. Of course do what works for you, the choice is yours and needs to be a reflection of you and what you are writing about. Do not place any advertising on the site at this time.
    • Commenting should be set up to post the comment without moderation. People like to see their comments right away and it encourages more conversation. Because you will not moderate beforehand you want to set it up to notify you when a comment is made so you can review it after that fact and remove it if needed because of extreme profanity or spam. I recommend using the built in system at this time, but in the future you may want to use a third party commenting solution such as Disqus, IntenseDebate, and Facebook Comments.
  • Post - Make your first public blog post. An introduction of who you (and your team) are and what you will be writing about is a good start.

Day 17 - At this point you should only have the one post. Verify that it is up and public by visiting from another computer or browser, and have a couple friends take a look from their homes and phones. If all is well we can move on.
  • Social - If you have not done so yet; set up Twitter and Facebook. There are a ton of services and apps that can automatically post your blog entries to each network, post your Tweets to Facebook, and the other way around. Avoid all of those. You want to post to each network manually which forces you to be more hands on and "social" with your readers.
    • Begin following people on Twitter that talk about your chosen topic. Converse with them and retweet from time to time. Do this very slowly and do not follow more people than you can read and stay up to date with. I found I can engage with around 100 people.
    • Fill out your contact information on your Facebook Page (website, email, phone, etc.).
  • Short URL - Space is limited on Tweets and using a link shortening service can save you space. Goo.gl, bit.ly, tinyurl.com, or ow.ly will get the job done. Pick one of these or one you found on your own, but do not use one that offers to make you money or that has any other oddities.
  • Post - Make your second post by writing about your chosen topic in any way you like. Include at least one photo or video to give it some life.
    • The post title should descriptive and contain the primary words that describe what your entry is about. Once it is live go view it and see what the text displays in the browser's tab. Does it have your blog name before the post's name? Or, just the post's name? If the blog name comes before it you should consider adjusting your template so that only the post name shows.
    • Learning how to edit images is a plus so that you can create images like the one on this post. There are many free programs for image editing that you can use; Microsoft Paint works well.
  • Submit - Let the search engines know your website is out there. Submit your base address (www.example.com) to Bing and Google; the other search engines will find you in time.

Day 18 - Submit your post from yesterday to Facebook and Twitter. For Twitter you can use a format like "Post Title - short url - Additional text", or whatever comes natural to you; do not use hashtags (#). Submit the link to Facebook with additional text that is different from the title, but still on subject. Try a sentence or two that is engaging, a question, or speak about the time of week or day in a way that relates to your post.

Day 20 - It is now time to learn some HTML that will help you with formatting and spacing on your post. All the services mentioned above do not require you to know it to post, but if you hit a snag it is good to be comfortable with very basic coding so you can look at the code and see what is going on. It can also be very useful when making custom things for your template design. Head over to W3Schools and click your way through the HTML Basics menu on the left side.

Day 21 - A little design/template work. As a blogger you want people to be able to get a hold of you and know who you are. In addition, finding you on other networks should be easy.
  • Contact Information - Create a page for it or put it in a side column. Ideally you should have your name, address, email, and phone number available. If you are not comfortable with all that at least give your name and email. Ensure you use the email from your new domain; not your personal one.
  • Networks - Provide links to all your subscription channels; Twitter, Google+, Facebook, RSS, and subscription by email (through your RSS feed).
    • Google+ is currently only open to individuals. Even though you can not set up an account under your brand (if you set up that way), it is an excellent network to start interacting with and to share your posts.

Day 22 - Create a new post on your blog and share it on Twitter, Facebook, as well as Google+. Keep on interacting with people on Twitter and follow people and companies that interest you. Start to build a network on Google+ like you did on Twitter. With Facebook you can use it as as a Page and Like pages that you would recommend to people that like what you write about. They will show on the bottom left of your Facebook Page and when you go to the homepage they will be incoming posts that look the same as your personal version. Like and comment on those posts to help build your network.

Day 29 - Building a network is very important to your success. Being trusted and known in your topic will take you a long way. Do not be afraid to share other people's content on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter! Go ahead and find another article or post that relates to your topic and share it to your networks. Now it is time to make another post on your blog and share it.

Day 30 - Open accounts with Reddit, Digg, and StumbleUpon and start interacting with posts and people that are most around your blog's topic. Do not post any of your own blog posts at this time; just get a feel for, and become part of, the community over the next month.

Day 35 - Write an article on your blog and share it on your networks (don't share on the day 30 ones though). Continue blogging on a regular schedule and keep interacting with your social networks. It is important not to burn yourself out, or to ever apologize for missing a post. Start out by posting every week and see how that goes; if you have two writers this would be two posts a month each. If it is to much or you think you can do more, then adjust your frequency as needed. What you want to avoid is going all out doing daily posts then getting tired and not doing another one for six months. I won't have it in the timeline anymore to blog. Just keep on writing!

Day 40 - If social sharing buttons did not come with your template you will want to add them for Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to encourage your readers to share. There are buttons that incorporate most of the sharing networks; AddToAny is one. These are added using code snippets that modify your template's post section. In addition to these you may wish to add widgets that sit in a side column where visitors can interact directly with some social networks.

Day 60 - You can now begin adding your post to Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon in addition to Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. Keep active within the groups and keep interacting on other people's things. You will loose credibility if all you do is post your own things and not talk to anyone. If you are not able to stay active on all these networks then cut one or two out. You may want to consider joining some networks or websites that are specific to your niche. Be sure not to spam them in any way. As you learn more you will find many opportunities to promote your blog in various ways; stay true to this plan and avoid them. Avoid putting reciprocal links on your website with little badges, widgets, and images. Stay away from the marketers, experts, and SEO (search engine optimization) specialist that say they will get you more traffic. You should perform SEO because it is a good thing, but learn and implement it on your own when you are ready.

Day 70 - Your posts should be an information gateways in addition to the article you have written. Start to link to other webpages that provided your information for a news story or to further explain a concept or brand.

Day 90 - Add some advertising. Limit it to around three ads per page from a reputable contextual ad network. If you are not sure what ad network to use and are looking for the easiest to implement go with Google Adsense. Ads should be as seamless as possible and not distract from your writing. Never mention for someone to interact with an ad; you can get kicked out of programs by doing that. Within the settings you may have the option to exclude certain types of advertisements. I suggest you not allow ads for sensitive topics such as dating, politics, and religion.

Day 120 - Start learning about your incoming traffic if you have not done so already. Where is it coming from? What social networks or search engines are working for you? Is there a certain kind of post or granular topic that people like more? There are many free analytic tools to use for web and social traffic; try some out and use one or more that fits what you want to know. Don't become a slave to the stats, but be sure to use them to tweak your strategy to grow your readership.

As long as you remember to write good original content, engage with your community, and to keep your blog clutter free you will be fine. There is so much more to learn! Be patient and enjoy writing and the rest will come in time. Feel free to ask me any questions along the way.