Your foundation for success: how to plan a powerful blog
But you don’t need to plan your blog, do you?
You’re pretty smart.
You’ll just start blogging and figure it out as you go along.
If you change your mind about your blog later, it’ll be easy enough to fix it – you can just delete bits off and put new bits in.
Anyway, you’ve seen this great blog post called, “Start Your Blog in 4 Minutes Flat and Make $10,000 a Week,” so it can’t be that hard, right?
And now – welcome to reality.
Yes, it’s true – blogging is easy. Click a few buttons and you could be writing your first blog post in 4 minutes.
Yes, it’s true – some blogs make $10,000 a week. Or more. But they aren’t the ones that started in a few minutes! Most bloggers earn nothing, or very little.
Blogging is easy.
Successful blogging is what’s hard.
If you start your blog without a strong foundation, it will crumble and fall. If you build properly from the ground up, you can get it right first time. If you’re bright and eager to learn new stuff, you can build a successful blog.
So, what makes a successful blog?
Only you can decide. What do you want to get out of blogging? How do you define ‘success’?
- Do you want to change the world with your opinions?
- Do you hope for fame and thousands of admiring fans?
- Do you have a business, service or product you need to promote?
- Do you need to earn an income from your blog, or is money not that essential?
- Do you want to feel a glow of satisfaction at having helped others?
If you want several of these, which is the most important priority?
What do you want to blog about?
Choosing the right blog topic is crucial to your success.
Don’t be tempted to blog about something you know very little about, just because it’s more likely to make you money – your lack of enthusiasm will result in bland, poorly-researched, low-value blog posts which won’t attract readers and make them come back for more.
If you’re starting a blog to promote your business, your topic area should be obvious. If your company sells dog toys, you won’t be blogging about classical music or fishing, however knowledgeable you may be on those subjects.
A personal blog can have any topic – but it’s a real mistake to decide to blog about ‘anything and everything’. Without a specialist focus, you’re unlikely to be successful, unless your writing is outstanding. Make a list of all the subjects you’re likely to want to write about, think about your blog target (money, fame, or whatever) then pick one and go with it.
What about a writer’s blog? If you are (or hope to be) a professional writer, you may decide to blog about ways to improve writing skills, or share your personal journey from starting out to publication. If you write non-fiction books, your blog should cover your specialist subject, to increase your following of potential buyers and establish your authority as an expert in your field.
Finding your niche
Your niche is a small sub-section of your main topic area. So if your topic area is Pet Care, your niche might be Training Your Dog. Successful bloggers focus on small areas – you’ll never be the world’s greatest expert on Inland Waterways, but you could become one of the top bloggers on British Canals.
Choosing your online identity
Sometimes your own name isn’t the ideal choice.
For example, if you have a very popular name, such as Peter Davies or Sarah Johnson, you’ll find it hard to be memorable and stand out from all the other people with that name. And if your name is hard to spell or pronounce, it’s less easy to remember. (You might have loved the actor who starred in 12 Years a Slave and Kinky Boots, but can you recall his name?)
You may wish to hide your identity for professional reasons (why is my dentist blogging about horror movies?), to hide a conflict of interest between your paid job and your new career, or for privacy, to keep your personal life separate from your future online fame.
If a famous person shares your name, you might prefer to use a pseudonym to avoid confusing your readers, especially if you want to blog on a related topic. So if you want to write about sport and your name happens to be Imran Khan, it’s better to change it first.
When promoting your business, your company name is more important than your own, so you may decide to write anonymously on your blog, unless your own name is part of your business name, such as Sue’s Homemade Cakes or Hoskins Tractor Co.
Choosing your blog title and domain name
Your domain is your URL or website address: www.blogname.com. Your blog title is the name of your blog.
Ideally, it will be the same as your own name, such as www.emilylock.com (if you’re promoting yourself as a writer, speaker or consultant) or the subject you’re blogging about, such as www.cookierecipes.com (for a niche topic blog). For a business, it should be the shortest available version of your business name, such as www.williams.com rather than www.williamsgardeningequipment.com (for a company blog).
Sadly, you’ll often find your first choice of domain name is taken already. This may mean someone has already registered your business name, so check it out. If your business is a finance company in Nevada and the other site is a puppet theatre in France, there’s no real confusion between the two. If they’re selling the same products as you in the same country, you need to rethink your business name. Some businesses invent a new word, like Google or Zoosk, so their dot-com site will be available.
Does it have to be .com? There are other options such as .co.uk or .eu , but unless your blog is focused on a specific geographical area, .com is the professional choice.
Once you’ve chosen your domain name, buy it as soon as possible before someone else grabs it. Resist the urge to pay for any extra services, as they usually aren’t the best choice for what you need.
You can get a free blog, with a free domain name, from sites such as Weebly, Wix, Blogger, etc. If you just want some fun playing at blogging, they’re fine, but you can’t use them for running a business, they can delete your whole blog any time they like, and your free domain name will be something like www.blogspot.co.uk/emilylock. If you want a successful blog, don’t waste your time with them.
Hosting for your blog
You own the domain name, but you can’t put anything on your blog until you have chosen a host.
Host companies such as Hostgator and Bluehost have computers which make your site available on the internet. You’ll need to pay them a yearly amount, but it’s cheaper if you choose ‘shared hosting’, where they can use the same computer for several sites, not just yours.
Unless you’re expecting your site to be so popular you’ll need a huge computer to handle all your traffic, choose shared hosting. You can upgrade later if you’re lucky enough to need it.
Choosing a platform and theme
The platform is a computer program which displays your blog. Your theme is the design you choose.
If your blog was a house, your domain name would be your street address, your host would be your landlord, your platform would be the building and your theme would be the wallpaper you select.
Choosing your platform is easy. There is only one good option for a beginner to start a successful blog: WordPress. This is because there is far more help for WordPress blogs available on the internet. Other platforms are not seen as serious blogs. Trust me.
You’ll notice that there are two WordPress sites. They’re both free, and your host will usually be able to upload it to your domain for you with one click. WordPress.com is much easier to use, and if you aren’t interested in making money from your blog, it’s fine. But if you want to earn an income from blogging, you need to choose WordPress.org and teach yourself how to use it.
Once you have uploaded your WordPress blog, you’ll want to choose a theme to make it look the way you want. The important thing for a successful blog is to choose a clean, easy-to-read design – no black backgrounds or swirly writing. Some are free themes, and they’re usually good enough. If you’re unsure, choose Twenty Sixteen to start with – you can change it later (after you’ve started writing blog posts) if it doesn’t suit you.
Premium themes have to be paid for, but there are advantages – they have more attractive themes, they are less likely to contain bugs (problems), and they offer excellent after-sales service, so if you can’t figure out how to make your blog the way you want it (and there will be a lot of times like that!), you’ve got someone to ask. I use the Lucid theme from Elegant Themes. They gave me brilliant support and I’d recommend them to anyone. Premium themes are the professional’s choice.
The next step
OK, so you’ve decided what you want to get out of blogging. You’ve chosen your blog topic and defined your niche within that subject. You’ve made a decision about your online identity. You’ve got the right domain name, found a host, uploaded WordPress and picked a theme.
So now you start writing your blog? Well, no. You’re building from the foundation upwards – and that foundation isn’t complete yet.
The next step is to plan the content you’ll include on your blog.
Don’t skip this – it’s important for success.