How to Start and Build Your Own Blog (with an All-in-One Handbook)
You’ve decided to start your own blog. That’s great!
A blog is an essential part of building your thought leadership and online presence. It’s how your brand, either as a business or individual, can grow from invisible to influential.
Whether you’re a business or an individual, you’ve made the right choice to start a blog.
Now, instead of focusing on how daunting this new process might seem, you can rest assured that this article and its corresponding ebook guide will help you every step of the way.
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Step 1: Understand the Purpose of Your Blog
It’s not enough to simply want to create a blog. You don’t want to start without knowing, in detail, why you’re doing it. Understanding the purpose of your blog is critical to maintaining it and seeing it succeed.
Know Why You’re Blogging in the First Place
Answer these questions before proceeding with your blogging efforts:
- What about blogging caught your attention?
- Why blogging instead of other activities?
- Do you have the time to blog consistently?
- Are you willing to make sacrifices to commit to your blog?
- What do you hope to achieve with your blog?
Only when you’re fully aware of why you’re blogging and whether you can fully commit should you continue with establishing your blog.
Have a Single, Overall Goal for Your Blog
When you establish a goal for what you want to see happen from all your blog writing, you are then driven to achieve it. Without a goal, you’re unlikely to have that same drive.
The best way to create a goal that sticks is to make it SMART. This means it should be:
Go into detail with your goal to include every important element about it. For example, there are 5 “W’s” you’ll want to answer: What, Why, Who, Where, and Which.
What do I hope to accomplish with my blog?
Why should I be seeking this goal?
Who will be involved in reaching this goal?
Where will all goal-seeking activities take place?
Which resources are needed and limitations involved?
You’ll want to be able to track your goal progress and determine when you’ve achieved it. This is why it should be a goal that’s measurable. Also, when your goal is measurable, you’ll have a stronger ability to stay motivated and focused on your deadlines and milestones.
You don’t want to set a goal you can’t achieve, which will only deter your progress. You’ll want your goal to be challenging to test yourself, but make sure it isn’t so out there that you will only be disappointed.
Your goal should relate to your blog and its elements. It should also fit with any other goals you might have. For example, as a business, you might have higher-level goals for your entire marketing efforts as a whole. Make your blog goal relevant to your marketing goal. As an individual, make sure your goal relates to the purpose of why you’re blogging in the first place.
When your goal has a deadline, you have more pressure to achieve it within a specific time frame. Use a deadline to focus on reaching your goal instead of getting lost in the unending blog process. It also helps you prioritize time-sensitive blog tasks over any other tasks you might have.
Your SMART goal is critical to the rest of your blogging efforts, so make sure it’s good to go before taking the next step.
Step 2: Decide on Your Blog Platform
The most popular platform for hosting your own blog, and maybe even your entire website, is hands-down WordPress – the self-hosting version. With an incredible 28% of the web using WordPress, it proves how effective and popular this platform really is.
You don’t have to be a business or professional blogger to use WordPress either. Personal bloggers often use the hosted version of WordPress and may advance to self-hosted after a bit of experimentation. That trial period might be your best option so that you’re not investing until you know you’re ready.
In case you’re not a fan, it’s important to note that you aren’t restricted to just WordPress.
Yes, WordPress offers more features and integrations than any other platform, which is a big reason why it’s the leader. The thing is: it’s not for everyone.
WordPress requires an extensive setup process before you can start writing. Choosing a domain name and purchasing the right web host can be nerve-wrecking. You have a template to choose, or you have to design it yourself. You also have to find the right plugins out of the vast number of them out there for your specific needs. There’s also a learning curve to get through. If you simply want to write right away, WordPress might not be for you.
Thankfully, you have other platforms you can select for more immediate writing. You can evaluate some of the leading blog platforms in this handy comparison chart by Karen Evans of Start Blogging Online. A big one she includes is Medium.
Medium is more of a community of bloggers. You don’t have to worry about design templates or choosing plugins. Instead, the only setup you need to focus on first is creating your account. After that, you can get started with your writing right away.
Other than what I’ve already mentioned, there are a few key pros and cons to Medium as a blogging platform.
The user interface is as simple as it can get. Its ease of use makes writing your articles distraction-free and simple. With only a few formatting options to choose from, you don’t have to spend excess time adjusting your article’s layout.
The blog community will help you with promoting your articles and expanding your reach. If your content draws the right attention, you might get invited to add your article to a publication, which will greatly increase your content’s exposure.
It’s free unless you want to take an extra step to become a member, which is completely optional at this time. For all that Medium offers, it’s amazing that you get it 100% for free.
You don’t get your own domain name because your profile name will simply be attached to the Medium domain. This all means that Medium has control over your account instead of you. While self-hosting a blog would require a financial investment, you’ll have full ownership of your content, unlike Medium.
There are no design features whatsoever. Every account on Medium looks the same. The only way you can stand out is with your profile description and image. You don’t have any say in any other design elements.
The poor analytics are really quite useless. You can’t connect your blog to Google Analytics, so you depend on Medium. However, you only get a glimpse into who’s visiting and reading your articles. You can’t see day-to-day because the table isn’t clickable, and you can’t see which traffic source led to which action. If you’re expecting to measure your blog’s performance over time, Medium might not be the right place for you.
Is That It?
Are you opposed to using WordPress or Medium? Or do you want to know what other options are out there? You’re not restricted to just those two platforms.
In fact, some of the other blog platform options you can choose from are:
- Blogger – Owned by Google, Blogger is an easy-to-start platform because all you need is your Google login (which is free to create). You don’t have the same technical requirements as WordPress, so you can focus your efforts on your writing instead. The biggest negative of using Blogger is its design and functionality limitations: no plugins; only a few design templates available.
- Tumblr – Although it’s more of a social network than a blogging platform, Tumblr is probably the best place for bloggers who plan to create short-form content. It’s easy to use right away because you don’t have any technical obligations at all. Some of the biggest negatives are: not suitable for businesses or professional writers; no plugins available; not the right place for anyone who wants to write full articles.
- Weebly – Weebly is a full-on website builder, not just a blogging platform, so it’s helpful for those who want to go beyond just blogging. It’s a great WordPress alternative for businesses / professionals who want to have their entire website attached in one place. As someone who has used Weebly in the past, I think their drag and drop design feature is their biggest selling point. Perhaps it’s not as extensive as WordPress or as community-oriented as Medium, but it comes at a close third place.
If your blog’s purpose is more for journaling or recreation, the rest of this article might not be for you. However, if you’re serious about creating a professional-level blog for your business or yourself, the rest of this article is critical to your success…
Step 3: Create Your Strategy
If you’re serious about creating a long-term, influential, and effective blog, you need to have a full, established strategy. This isn’t a quick and simple task if you want to be thorough, which you should be.
You’ll want to create this strategy before you begin writing to help you start off strong. These are some key strategy development tips to follow:
- Add your goal. Put your goal at the beginning of your strategy, and make it prominent. You’ll want to keep your goal in mind at all times, so it might help to put your goal on a notecard or piece of paper and hang it somewhere noticeable.
- Create your reader personas. Who do you want to see reading your articles? Create reader personas of your ideal audience to know how to create focused content for them.
- Research your competitors. When you want to gain the upper edge and bring in traffic to your blog, do a good amount of research on what your competitors are doing with their own blog. Use Buzzsumo to see what content is doing well for them and use that to create content that’s even better.
- Add the content types you’ll create. Are you sticking to just blog articles? Or will you also be creating, say, videos and podcasts? Your strategy is the place where you list the different content types you’re planning on creating with your blog.
- Include content categories. Your blog may be focused on your industry, but all industries have subcategories. For example, marketing blogs can include writing, social media, email, SEO, and more categories. You’ll want to establish which categories you’ll write about and add them to your strategy.
- Know what metrics you’ll measure. There are a lot of metrics you can track for your blog, but they’re not all relevant to your goal. Choose the metrics that matter to you, and describe how you’ll track them over time in your strategy.
- Add resources that’ll help you. Topic idea generators are just one example of the tools you’ll want to include for quick and easy reference. You might also consider adding tools you want to try sometime in the future but can’t invest in yet. For example, you’re going to need a reliable blog calendar, so you might want to try CoSchedule once your blog is more established.
- Establish your blog promotion plan. Even if you create incredible content, people still need to find out about it. Your strategy should include social media outreach tactics and future email campaigns once you’ve earned a few subscribers.
Those are the basics of a blog content strategy, but if you want to really dive into it completely, I recommend following the tips in CoSchedule’s article on the subject: How to Create a Killer Content Strategy for Your New Blog.
I also recommend this content strategy template provided by Buffer. It’ll guide you through every step. You can refer to their article or skip straight to downloading the template, which I recommend. The template is more immediately actionable than the article.
Step 4: Generate a Preliminary Content Calendar
If you want to build a blog that’s manageable and reliable, you’re going to need a content calendar you can follow. When you’re just starting out though, you don’t have to create something in depth and complex.
What You’ll Need at First
You’ll see articles out there about content calendars that say you need this extensive spreadsheet with color-coded sections and answers to every aspect of your blog process.
That’s not what you need to worry about when you’re building a brand new blog. You haven’t established everything yet, and your blog is likely empty of content or has very little published at this point. It’s not time yet to get into the nitty gritty details.
Instead, focus on these key elements, which you can add to any of the calendar options I mention later in one way or another:
- Know the category for each blog article you plan. This will help you maintain variety in what you publish. You’ll know what’s already covered last week so that you can publish something different this week. Variety is key to building and retaining an audience, which I’ll explain more in a later section.
- Know the dates for each step of your content creation process. When will you start your draft? When is the first draft due? The final draft? What is the scheduled publish date? Make sure you’re emphasizing the deadline dates for your drafts so that you’re better prepared to accomplish them.
- Have a place where you store all the content ideas you find. This doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to your calendar, but some tools make it easy for you to do so. Keep all the ideas you think of or find in one place where they’re easily accessible and organized.
- If using Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, etc, keep track of the file or folder links by adding them to your blog event in your calendar tool. This will make it far easier to refer to and find any relevant files for your next blog article. You might even consider adding any links to research you’ve done along with the blog draft.
The most important thing you need to concentrate on as a brand new blogger is:
Establishing a backlog of content ideas and organizing a realistic schedule for writing your articles about them.
You don’t need to get intense with all the requirements in your calendar because you need to get moving to the next stage: writing. You’re not starting a blog so that you can spend most of the time creating a complex calendar system. That’s why I recommend keeping it simple.
Initial Calendar Options
To start, give yourself a place dedicated solely to your blog calendar. This can be a new calendar in Google Calendar, a sheet in Excel, or anywhere that’s best for your preferences. While you’ll one day need to expand on your calendar’s features and processes, start out with something easy to follow and simple.
Your initial calendar can hold only deadlines you’ll want to follow for when you publish. You might only know of the topic category or a basic idea for that event, and that’s fine for now. Use the comments section in your calendar event or a new field in Excel to add any ideas you might have for that article.
Let’s take a peek at what this might look like in Google Calendar.
Another tool you can use as a calendar of sorts is Trello. Although it’s not a calendar itself, the way you can organize deadlines and content ideas makes it worth a try. It’s a simple drag and drop tool, and you can organize your blogging efforts from idea bank to draft to editing to scheduled… It’s completely up to you, but it’s a handy tool if a calendar tool or Excel sheet doesn’t work for you.
Getting More Advanced
When you are better prepared and established with your blogging activity, you might want to consider creating a more thorough content calendar. You can take the DIY calendar approach with Excel or Google Sheets, or you might want to invest in a tool, such as CoSchedule, that will take a lot of the manual work away.
Alternatively, if a tool like Trello and Google Calendar are working for you now, you should consider sticking to what works instead of making an unnecessary leap toward the more complex. Keep doing what works, and only switch when you need the complexity.
Do you think you have this calendar process good to go? Then it’s time to start the most important activity in blogging – the most anticipated stage you’ve been waiting for – writing your blog content.
Step 5: Write Your Early Posts
You can read more about starting a blog by downloading the free ebook! Access this all-in-one handbook now!