Hi and welcome! If you are just hitting this post, have you seen Blogging 101: The Basics? If not, go there first. You can follow just what’s in basics for at least a couple months. During this time, you are going to figure out your writing style, which is honestly what will hold your audience.
It took me probably six months to find my voice. Was I funny? Was I informal? How long should my posts generally be? Writing online is different than writing a newspaper article, an essay… anything really. And the best way to get good is to practice.
Let’s say you’ve done that. You get what your blog is and isn’t, contentwise. You have a voice. You have three blog posts in your head (or drafted in your blog software itself) ready to go. Now it’ time to get into the more technical issues you’ve probably noticed, especially reading other blogs.
What ways do you want to make money?
There are some different ways to make money blogging and what you want to figure out at this point is what does and doesn’t feel sleazy to you.
I was confronted with this month 4 of blogging. I got an email from a potential advertiser. How much would I charge? What kinds of ads did I have available?
It was an excellent question, one I hadn’t even asked myself yet. After looking around at blogs, I realized I would feel comfortable with ads in the sidebar of my blog only. I didn’t like written ads in content (made it hard to read) and I wanted to have control over what ads appeared there. (Once this blog became a business itself, I yanked ads entirely.)
Now that was my answer. Yours may be different and that’s ok. You want to balance the making money part with the not being a sleaze part. Looking at what other bloggers are doing, you’ll see some things you like and some things you don’t.
Other things people will approach you with:
1) Sponsored posts. (Here’s a pretty comprehensive look at the concept.)
2) Getting sent products to ‘review’. (IE the sponsored post’s friendlier seeming cousin.)
3) Can someone write a blog post that gets published on your blog about X? (Sometimes people want this free, sometimes they seem willing to pay.)
4) Affiliate programs (where you get link(s) to share to a product online and, if someone buys, you get a cut. More here.)
5) Other things I can’t anticipate.
By deciding what you will and won’t do for money, you’re setting a precedence for your blog. And remember, saying no to something you don’t want means that when something you do want comes along, you can be ready.
(We’ve written in depth about some of these: Affiliate programs, Display Advertising, PPC Advertising, Ad Networks. Since I’ve never done sponsored posts, I linked above to someone who had looked into them more deeply. )
How big do you want to get?
Contrary to popular belief, seeing comments is not the only way to know your blog community is getting bigger. For example, on ours, we get maybe 1 comment for every thousand or so people who look at something something. Really! Below a screenshot of views from Google Analytics versus comments:
I will also say in our case, interaction is taking place more on social media for us so having comments on the blog itself is less important to me. To make this an anaology, I’ve built the internet equivalent of a small coffee shop in a small town.
But some people want to build the internet equivalent of a shopping center: a website with contributing members, product upsells, advertising revenue, etc. To become the go-to resource and community about X or Y. If you want to build the online headquarters for all base jumpers or the next HuffPost, you are looking at building an online community. (Yes, I like to feel Breaking Even has a small specific online community but we are intentionally small.)
If you want to create the large shopping center of a website, you’re going to need a few things.
1) Actively write in such a way that encourages people to leave the comments on your posts. This may include writing posts whose topics may be a bit controversial or even just opinionated. (Sometimes the term ‘click bait’ is used to describe sensational headlines that drive clicks.)
2) You need a robust commenting system. (My only opinion on this? Don’t make someone create an account on your site to leave a comment. Everyone hates one more password to manage. Let your commenters log in with Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. to leave their comment. I use Disqus because it lets people use whatever login or create one just for my site, among other features.)
3) You need to respond to comments. If you want people in your community interacting, you have to lead by example. If you have any commenting standards, make sure they are enforced.
4) You need some way for these people to contribute in addition to leaving comments. (IE they need to be able to not wait for you to start a discussion.) It could be as simple as a hashtag people use to contribute photos to a curated page or as complicated as members having their own subsites on your site.
Will your community evolve? Absolutely. But will a bit of planning and intentionality on your part of the ‘mall developer’ make the evolution and growth go much smoother? Yes.
How do you want people to get your information?
You probably have die hard fans now that want to get ALL your posts. You may want to add the ability for people to subscribe, via RSS or email, to your blog.
Your blogging system will have a way to do this but I just wanted to put it on your radar. Now that you have a following, make sure those people can see posts easily. Here’s a lovely example:
Do you like your software?
Do you like the way at the bottom of all our posts we have five related posts? Do you wish you too could have an online store to sell your t-shirts? You are going to start having ideas (now that you’ve gotten used to the writing part) about how your blog should work technically.
You’re going to want more than you ever thought you would. Make a list of what you want, put it in order of importance even. Maybe the software you’ve been using is not up to snuff. Or maybe it is and you just need to learn how to do what you need to do.
Now I’m sure some bloggers will argue with me that it’s best to start where you’re going to end up. But who still lives in the first house they’ve ever lived in or has the first job they ever had? Very few of us. We grow, we change, and as we know more of what we want, we can move towards it.
Once you have the writing part down for your blog and you start thinking of the technical stuff, that’s the good time to make the software decision. And you don’t need to worry about moving your posts. A simple Google search of ‘moving from X software to Y software’ will tell you exactly how to do it. And if you hate the idea, you can pay some nerd to do it for you in a few hours of their time. In other words, no endless copying and pasting, I promise.
So to me, those are the big second level questions of having a blog. I have my answers to them, and you’ll have yours. But just a reminder, just start writing and think of this other stuff once your blog’s content has a clear voice. Also, please comment with your blog URL so we can see it.