To blog or not to blog? This is the question.
Feeling like a tiny fish in a crowded ocean? Lots of blogs, lots of good content wherever you turn your head and wondering where you could fit in?
Blogging can still be a very good way to get your stories heard if done properly.
The good news is starting a blog is easy peasy. The growth part needs lots of research, commitment, and a bit of marketing budget.
But, no worries, this guide is meant to lend you a helping hand and give you a framework for starting and growing a blog.
You’ll be seeing six main chapters:
The content is pretty straight forward, full of checklists. I don’t want to write the longest guide on blogging. I just want you to better visualize how you can get from A to B. Definitely the topics can be developed further, but right now you do not need to go into every detail. It will get too overwhelming.
Now, let’s hit the road!
Chapter 1: Crafting a Blog Identity
The purpose of this chapter is to come up with answers to the following questions:
- What to write about?
- Who to write for?
- What’s the size of your niche?
- Who is your competition?
- Which are your blogging goals?
- How to name your blog?
Ready? Let’s go!
What to write about?
My first suggestion would be: write about a topic you are really familiar with. This way you’ll be able to deliver lots of good quality content, that will bring added value to the reader. Else, you’ll probably end up writing content that’s already out there, because you’ll use it as your own writing source.
It will definitely be easier to write about something that you know, and even better, that you love.
Now, let’s say you are just good with writing and passionate about a topic, but not quite skillful in other areas. There are ways to make some noise in this blogging world as long as you:
- Write with passion about what makes you tick
- Your topic and subtopic generate enough monthly searches
- Properly identify your blogging goals
- Properly identify those people that care about the topic
- Manage to bring some added value to the content that is already there
- Have a focused marketing plan
Now, let’s say you are an expert on “alpaca haircuts”. Is this something people would be interested in? Is there room to grow to some other subtopics? We’ll be covering this topic a bit later on.
Now, if you’re curious about “alpaca haircuts”, it seems that there are at least 250 global monthly searches out there. Who would have thought?
When you look at the traffic, well, it’s only 86. Why so?
Probably because the results are showing lots of images that won’t be generating clicks.
But I’ll go more in-depth with this analysis in another chapter.
Who are you writing for?
It’s time to find your tribe now. Are you writing for:
- Working moms in the UK passionate about healthy food?
- Dog lovers in Japan?
- Succulents growers in Scandinavia?
- US business people in search of ways to avoid burnout?
In marketing terms, this is called your target audience, but I’ll refer to it as your “tribe” because I feel it expresses more.
You will have to understand:
- The demographics of your tribe: age and gender
- The localization and language of your tribe
- What are their problems, fears, emotions around the topic you chose
- Where can you find the people in your tribe?
- What kind of sites do they like?
- What kind of social media do they consume?
- Are they part of some Facebook groups?
The answers to these questions will help you define how you communicate with them, where you communicate (besides the blog), and even how to design your blog (eg: pink and girly fonts for very feminine topics).
What’s the size of your niche?
A blog’s main traffic is organic traffic. So, remember my alpaca example above?
You need to be very careful with your selection of topics.
Here are some free tool recommendations that can help you understand the trends, and search volumes for certain searches.
It helps you understand if a certain topic is trending or not, see its evolution over the year, and its geographical spread.
It helps you:
- See the volumes of certain searches in Google in various languages
- Assess the difficulty of ranking for such a keyword (on a scale from 1 to 100)
- Discover new keywords
- See who you compete against on that particular search term/query
- Discover similar websites to a certain website
- Understand how many backlinks are needed to rank higher
- Which content gets more social media engagement
It’s pretty similar to Ubersuggest, except that it does not offer backlinks and competition data. It’s merely a keywords discovery tool, that can give you volume insights.
What’s extra is the possibility to do Youtube and Amazon searches as well!
It shows you:
- Which topics have grown lately
- Topics in the same category that are growing
- Monthly search volume
They boast they “surface rapidly growing topics before they take off”.
I subscribed to their newsletter, and I receive quite interesting trending topics in my inbox.
The tool offers you why/what/when/who/how questions around a specific topic. It’s a total goldmine!
Now, let’s say you made a list of keywords. You can refine this list even more if you type the search terms in Google search and see what other related terms are suggested by Google itself.
This is a tool that can be used mostly for research, but you’ll need to check the volumes as well.
If you aim big, the best content tool out there is Ahrefs, which is a paid tool.
I used it in my Alpaca example.
- Volume data on keywords searches
- Competition data in terms of pages with traffic, keywords they rank for, backlinks, ads, and landing pages
It’s a complete tool if you know how to use the data.
Now, when you make your list of keywords, make sure to target keywords that have more than 500 searches a month in your desired location and traffic higher than 100 (! not every search results in traffic, I’ll explain this later on.). Now, your purpose is to rank on the first page. Why?
Who is your competition?
You need to understand who you compete against. You’ll need to do some spy work, and Ubersuggest and Ahrefs can help you with that.
Here are some steps for the spy work:
- Make a list of 20-30 keywords you want to rank for with monthly searches >500 in your niche that are not very competitive (see Keyword Difficulty in Ahrefs or SEO Difficulty in Ubersuggest to be less than 30)
- Check these keywords in Google search and see what blogs show up on the first page of organic results.
- Analyze the quality of the content, the structure, the media used.
- Check the social media profiles for the competition, how many followers are there, which are the main hashtags used.
- Investigate if there are Facebook groups on the topic and join them. Follow the conversations to understand the needs of the people in the group.
- Are the bloggers promoting products and services of various brands?
Such research can help you understand how the best players in your niche write and engage with followers on social media. From now on you need to figure out how you can write better, and come up with answers to questions left unanswered or with unsatisfactory answers.
Don’t be discouraged if you discover lots of competitors. If you can create better and original content, you can definitely make your way in.
This means that the key to success is a unique perspective on the topic.
Which are your blogging goals?
Now, let’s say you found your niche and your tribe.
Now, what’s your “why”?
Why do you want to blog?
- Is it to educate?
- Is it because you just want to make your voice heard?
- Is it because you just want to explore your hobby or talent?
- Is it to earn money?
Now, the moment you know the answer to this question, you’ll need to make sure the whole content strategy will help you prove your “why”.
If your answer to the question is to earn money, we have some monetization advice in chapter 6.
Now, how can you figure out if you can monetize a certain topic?
This can be revealed by your competition research. You’ll need to pay attention to the following:
- Are the bloggers mentioning that they are affiliates of certain brands?
- Are some of the links in the articles affiliate links?
- Do the blogs have banners promoting certain products?
- Do businesses often advertise with bloggers in your market?
- Are there Youtube videos in your niche marked as having “sponsored content”?
- Are there Instagram profiles in your niche that promote certain products and services?
If the answer is “yes” to some of the questions, then you might consider yourself lucky.
How to name your blog?
I’ll keep this one short.
Your blog’s name is more than just a URL. It needs to be memorable and catchy. It can be something with no meaning at all or something that resonates with your niche and audience.
Here are some tips for finding your brand name:
- Brainstorm 20 names. You can use Brandroot for inspiration.
- Look for the names in Google search. Maybe that word has a different meaning than you would expect, or you might discover some artist carrying that name. See what images show up. Try to translate the word with Google Translate. Make sure it does not represent some twisted thing in Korean or Italian, you get the point (if you plan to go worldwide).
- See if there is a domain available for that name. Ideally, you will need a”.com” domain. And it might be difficult to find one available. There are also some other options: “.io”, “net”, etc.
- Ask friends and colleagues to vote for the remaining names. You could also ask for an opinion in a relevant Facebook group.
- Buy the domain name.
Next, you’ll have to get a logo designed. There are tons of freelancers that can do it pretty cheap on sites like UpWork or Fiverr.
Chapter 2: Blogging: the Technical Stuff
Now that you have your name and blog topics, it’s time to get a bit technical.
Below we have a shortlist of steps so that you can have a blog up and running in less than a day.
- Choose a hosting provider. Go for shared hosting, because you won’t be needing something with bigger capabilities, at the beginning. There are plenty of great hosting providers out there, we have some recommended ones here.
- Choose a blogging platform: go with WordPress, because it’s the most popular blogging platform in the world.
- If you go with WordPress, you’ll need to pick a WordPress theme. On wordpress.org you can find plenty of WordPress themes. Make sure you pick something that has good reviews and has been updated recently. Go to the homepage of the theme and see previews, features, pricing. Most of the themes are free. If you need some advanced features, you’ll probably need an upgrade. But, in the case of blogs, you won’t be needing lots of options.
- Set up your blog: URLs, blog categories and tags, sidebars, etc. If WordPress is your choice, you can do this in less than an hour if you follow our complete WordPress blog setup guide.
Chapter 3: Blog Content Research and Planning
In the first chapter, we talked about how to choose your niche and identify topics that are not too competitive. I usually gather my ideas in Google Sheets in a file that looks like below:
I often take note of the most inspiring articles that show up on a particular keyword and make notes such as:
- There is a featured snippet showing up
- Videos and images show up for the search term
- This is a zero-clicks keyword
- The biggest competitors are A, B, C and they have more than X links pointing to the article.
Based on this research you can prepare a content calendar and prioritize the topics that have the highest chances to rank. Also, you will realize that certain topics require some different types of content as well, such as videos or infographics.
Such a framework will help you better understand your market, stay focused and publish consistently.
What else do you need to think of when blogging?
- On-page SEO strategies. Here’s a checklist that will help you optimize your articles and increase their chances to show up in the organic results. There are some WordPress plugins that can guide you with this: Yoast SEO and RankMath.
- Link building. It’s not enough to have very thorough and original content that provides value to the end reader. You will need to have endorsements from other sites, meaning links to your posts (or backlinks in the SEO jargon). How can you acquire them? Through consistent link building strategies, and here’s a guide on how to plan for this.
- Growing a base of subscribers. Now, if you want to get subscribers, there are two main ways of doing this:
- Preparing a newsletter and making it possible for readers to subscribe on your blog.
- Developing long-form guides and ebooks that can be downloaded after providing an email address.
This is a very basic approach, but if you want to optimize this, here are several tricks that you can employ.
S T A R T W R I T I N G!
Chapter 4: How to Grow a Blog: Let’s Talk Marketing
This is a topic for the ones that want to grow their blog and are willing to invest money, besides time and creativity.
The honest truth is that there is a ton of valuable content out there for most of the niches. Blogging has grown a lot for the past 10 years and competition can be fierce. Metrics such as keyword difficulty, which reflect the competition around a keyword, tell just fractions of the truth. This is why you need to give your content a boost via some paid efforts as well.
If you wait for your SEO efforts to show, it can take months or years, it depends on how well you do it. But remember: your competitors are probably doing SEO at the same time.
So, let’s do a list of marketing strategies that you can use to get your voice heard out there.
Now, let’s see which is the anatomy of an online paid ads campaign:
- The ad account – now, before opening an account, make sure that your audience can be targeted there. Let’s say you want to run Quora Ads, is your audience on Quora? Or maybe is it on Twitter?
- Conversion tracking implementation – this will require a tiny code to be implemented on your blog for tracking purposes (this is provided to you by the platform you’ll use: Facebook, Google, etc.)
- Audience targeting – understand who you can target in your chosen platform. There are tons of options: gender, age, interests, income, keywords, companies, job titles, countries, followers, connections, specific Youtube channels, etc. For example, on Facebook, you can target mothers in the UK, aged between 25 and 40, that are interested in traveling.
- Creatives – each platform gives you the option to create and upload ads in various formats and sizes: text, images, carousels, videos.
- Bidding – every time you want to show an ad to someone on, let’s say, Twitter, you will be competing with someone else. There are algorithms that decide which ad is the winner. The algorithm will look at your bids (amount of money you are willing to pay to show up), quality of your creatives, previous engagement with your ads, and more.
The setting up is not hard, the moment you understand a platform, it will get easier to move to the next one.
Now, if you want to find out some other promotional strategies, we have the right article for you: 12 Powerful Marketing Tactics on a Low Budget.
Chapter 5: Understanding Blog User Behavior: Let’s Talk Analytics
Google Analytics is a free tool that helps you understand the user behavior on your website or blog. It’s a total goldmine, I’m tellin’ ya! You can deploy it on a WordPress blog via MonsterInsights.
Every report in Analytics is made of dimensions and metrics. Dimensions are qualitative attributes of your data, such as: landing page, city, country, user type (new vs returning), device, campaign, etc. Metrics are quantitative measurements that are related to a specific dimension. You can have time on page by country, users in a specific city, etc.
Now, I want to suggest 6 essential reports that you can check on a monthly basis.
- Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels – this will show you if your readers came via search results, social media, other websites (referral traffic), etc. You can look at the evolution over time and see how your marketing efforts are paying off.
- Audience -> Interests -> Overview – this will show you the interest of your audience. In here you can realize if the traffic you get is the traffic you actually want.
- Audience -> Geo – this will show how your users are spread across countries. If you’re selling products on your blog, you can analyze which users are more valuable. Also, you can analyze metrics such as session duration and understand which users are finding your content more interesting.
- Audience -> Demographics -> Overview – here you can view your users by age and gender. You might realize that if your target was women under 40, you also attract men between 35 and 44. This will impact the way you communicate in the future, and also how you design your blog.
- Behavior -> Site Content -> Landing Pages – here you can see your most performing articles.
- Conversions -> Goals – in order to view the reports here you’ll need to work a bit more in defining some goals. One goal could be how many ebook downloads you have, or how many subscribers, how many clicks on banner or button, etc. In conclusion, a goal represents a completed activity (or conversion, in the marketing language 🙂 that contributes to the success of your blog.
You can always add more dimensions to the reports above and filter what you care about most.
Google Analytics helps you understand how your blog performs, and how your users interact with it. Based on its reports you can refine your goals, targeting, and content.
Now, one thing you should bear in mind: metrics beat tools. If you haven’t decided on the metrics you care about more, no tool can help you with decision-making.
Chapter 6: Blog monetization
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Here are the 6 main ways to monetize your blog traffic:
- Affiliation – such a system allows you to get a commission if you generate a sale for someone else’s product or service. on another site. Every visitor you send to a partner website gets monitored, via some parameters in the link, and that’s that! The process is really simple. You just need to partner with relevant brands and have enough traffic.
- Accept paid sponsored posts – if you grow big enough, other blogs and brands will be willing to pay to write an article for you.
- Selling an eBook – let’s say you have lots of readers interested in a specific topic of your site. Now, why don’t you make a content upgrade of that topic in the shape of an ebook or guide? Make sure that the content is worth paying for, it brings value to the reader, and there isn’t a similar thing on other blogs.
- Selling a course – is your knowledge a good fit for a course? Let’s say you talk about wood carving on your blog, or about baking cupcakes. You can prepare a tiny course on the topic and sell it over on your blog, or on platforms such as Domestika or Udemy. Such a project can be very consuming, this is why you could do a survey in advance, and ask readers if they would be willing to enroll in such a course (and pay for it). Also, check if there are similar courses available, and how many people have enrolled there.
- Running ads on your blog: take it with a grain of salt. Ads might alienate your readers. You must find the right balance so that you won’t ruin the readers’ experience. We have written a more detailed article on the topic, as well as the technical aspects of adding ads to a WordPress site.
- Selling a subscription: you could prepare a paid newsletter that contains cool hacks on gardening, or drawing, for example. For a 25$ yearly subscription, your readers can have access to exclusive and original content. And this is just an idea, there can be plenty like this one.
I hope this guide has been helpful to you. Building a blog can be easy peasy, from the technical perspective. The parts that focus on finding what to write about, who to write for, and how to grow a blog, are the most time and energy-consuming.
The key is to focus on the audience’s needs and to strive for delivering content that has a unique perspective. It’s not going to be easy. But if you do it with passion, it will be fulfilling.
Happy writing, future bloggers!