How to properly start a blog and how to write about things that people actually search for. I will do my best to explain the process, as seen through the eyes of a new blogger, from picking the right platform to creating blog posts that are planned to drive traffic of interest.
I will state this upfront…there is no clear recipe but we can achieve (come close to) success by following the best examples of successful bloggers. I've done my research and studied them closely so this article will portray my understanding of a “good blog” that is carefully planned from start to finish.
This post will be regularly updated with fresh content.
Picking the right blogging platform
This is the very foundation of your project and has no clear winner for me but that's because I'm a web programmer and I like to "roll my own" platforms.
Everything here depends on many factors like how much are you able to invest, how technical are you or how much would you sacrifice features for simplicity.
Types of platforms
Fortunately, when it comes to blogging, we have so many options that I could write an entire article on this subject alone but I will try to stay short and blaze through.
When it comes to platforms you have two choices:
Hosted platforms (SAAS)
Usually in SAAS (software as a service) style which will cost you a monthly fee. They're perfect if you have the money and don't want to waste any time because you can start right away.
The downside of the hosted platforms is that you can't customize them fully. Usually, they won't allow you to upload plugins or modified themes. This is a big minus from me because I like to customize my blogs down to the tiniest detail.
If, however, you don't care too much about customizations or you are a beginner, I would recommend going for a hosted platform because you will have less to worry about.
There are some free hosted platforms out there if you just want to blog without any sort of marketing interests. They can prove to be quite effective in aiding your main project and we will learn about the process in a moment.
Self hosted platforms (scripts)
A self-hosted blog is one that you can install on a remote server. Some hosting providers offer "1 click" installs but, most of the time, you will have to get your hands a bit dirty and install them yourself.
This option involves some technical skills, like setting up a database and a web server, but it's more scalable, customizable and usually much cheaper. A 1Core, 2Gb RAM VPS can go as low as $3.35/mo and it can power your blog for months or even years to come.
What hosted blogging platforms are out there?
I will start with the most popular ones with the first being the obvious one.
[HOSTED][PAID][$4 - $24] Wordpress
Wordpress.com is the most popular platform for blogging. You can host a free blog with limited functionality but, if you want to be serious about it, I recommend the $8 package. Lowest plan is at $4/mo but I found it to be too restrictive even for basic needs…which you will encounter no doubt about it. You can't add a custom domain on a free blog and you will have to use one of their subdomains: xyz.wordpress.com. The custom domain is available with the first plan for a monthly price of $4.
The platform itself is quite advanced and has some unique features. It's more like a community of bloggers and the audience is easier to engage. The fellow bloggers are responsive and they can follow your blog easily which is a big plus especially for a new blogger.
Looking at the plans I can see that the SEO tools are only available on the biggest one sitting at $24. This is a clever marketing strategy because you will need that package for guidance early on - at least until you learn how to outsmart it (by reading this post).
Also, the plugin installs and custom themes can only be enabled on the business plan.
ATTENTION! - the billing is on a yearly cycle so…be prepared to commit and be sure you have plenty of patience, subjects and determination to write for a year otherwise it will be a waste of time and money.
In short: popular, advanced, reliable, they know bloggers, community, quite basic unless you pick the highest (Business) plan.
[HOSTED][PAID][$19 - $199] Ghost
Ghost started, with a Kickstarter campaign, as an alternative to Wordpress. I'm talking about the scripts and not the hosted platforms. It promised a lot in that campaign but failed to deliver the promised features. Years later, it is still one of the simplest blogging platforms out there.
Their packages have the same set of features with the only thing differentiating them being the support level, number of blogs you can create and the "Views" limit. The plans start at $19 monthly if on the annual cycle or $29 for monthly. The biggest plans (Team and Business) also feature dedicated environments meaning that you will have no busy neighbors to worry about - the server resources are dedicated entirely to you.
In short: minimalistic, simplistic, easy to get started, expensive, not too many features
Medium is a popular platform where you can create your own publication. You have little control over the platform itself and it seems to be preferred by people who just need a place to write without any sort of monetization ambitions.
It is a well-designed platform (except for those comments that I never really understood), carefully crafted for simplicity and accessibility. I wouldn't recommend it for a blogging platform for beginners unless you just want to exercise writing or you really know you need it.
Medium used to support custom domains but they seem to have paused that feature. It's a big minus from me here.
Medium also wants to be, and is, in control of your content. Since there are no custom domains, all content from users will sit on their main domain. Every link you post will have the
rel="nofollow" tag so, no link juice leaving from this platform.
I would use Medium for:
- company announcements and PR
- hobby blogging
- to increase my reputation as a writer
- to vent online without any real goals
In short: accessible, simple, has analytics, few features, no plugins or themes, no customization
Blogger is a platform that was acquired by Google some years ago. It is free and offers quite a few customization options. It's not for the PRO blogger out there but definitely a giant and reliable tool for many bloggers with modest expectations.
Blogger is free, you can point your own domain at it and it has the same "community" feeling like wordpress.com. You don't have to worry about scaling or servers with Blogger which is a nice thing. Blogger also has an analytics page to monitor your traffic.
In short: accessible, simple, has analytics, few features, no plugins or themes, some customization options, some monetization options (Adsense)
Other notable hosted platforms that I won't cover in this article:
What blogging platforms (scripts) are out there?
Again, the most popular spot is reserved for Wordpress. It is the first engine to take blogging seriously and it changed the internet since then. It has a market share of more than 60 percent and, not without reasons, is still the most popular platform today.
Wordpress is not the sharpest tool if you ask me (as a programmer) but it was the first one. It has thousands of plugins, themes and entire businesses around it…in other words: Wordpress has a lot of traction and inertia behind it
This script can be used as a simple blog, a full-blown CMS or even an eCommerce platform by implementing powerful plugins such as WooCommerce for example.
If you're just starting out and want to go for the self-hosted route I highly recommend starting with Wordpress. There are thousands of tutorials covering Wordpress and you can't go wrong with it.
In short: mature, powerful, popular, thousands of plugins and themes, extremely customizable, requires MySql database, spaghetti code (last I checked).
Ghost is also widely used despite its simplicity. I would recommend Ghost if you prefer an environment with less magic, minimalistic in nature. Ghost does not support too many features and/or plugins but that's one thing that keeps it light and fast. The readers also get fewer distractions.
If you don't mind coding from time to time and you think that "less is more" (just like I do) - pick Ghost otherwise…don't as it doesn't have too much to offer.
The Ghost admin is also light and basic. You write articles in markdown syntax which I love. WYSIWYG editors like the one that powers Wordpress tend to get too verbose for my taste and markdown is a fresh breath of air in this regard.
Code releases take place quite often but without major changes or new features so don't expect to see a lot of new things in Ghost as I haven't seen anything mentionable in 8 months of using it.
As I previously mentioned, Ghost failed to deliver the features that got it funded on Kickstarter. Here are some early screenshots but don't get too excited because you won't see those dashboards anywhere in Ghost:
Don't get me wrong because the script is nice - I'm using it - but it failed to deliver.
In short: light, somewhat customizable, quite popular, some premium themes, minimalistic, works with local database (SQLite) or MySql.
Jekyll follows a new trend that I wanted to include in this tutorial even though I'm aiming at "blogging for beginners".
Static websites can be hosted free (Github Pages, Netlify), they are the fastest ones (Google will give you a hug) and they are pretty much impossible to hack.
In short: Good for programmers, fast, customizable to the bones, complete control, static, un-hackable, Google love, requires some advanced skills
Other notable blogging/CMS scripts that I won't cover here:
How to find the best blog topics to write about
An often mistake among new bloggers is the lack of a clear roadmap for their project. Most struggle with identifying their target audience.
If you're just starting, I urge you to take a step back and try to see your audience. This part is crucial because, once you get a clear picture, you can go ahead and study them. Try to discover what they like, what they share the most and what they lack - the secret is in these 3 points. Knowing them will give you plenty of topics to blog about.
If you're not sure about your audience, write about things you are good at, get some visitors and try to capture some feedback to see what brings them on your site and…do more of that.
How to find out what your audience needs
I'll go into more detail here because this step is important. Feeding the right content is all you need to know. If you master this bit of the job then you're in for success.
- Join Facebook groups related to your subject - you will find here all sorts of discussions from people that make your audience. Try to participate and be "in the community", after a few days you will start to see patterns and identify good topics to blog about.
- use your main keywords and subscribe on Quora - the platform will notify you when someone has posted a question about those topics. The question itself is a topic to write about.
- use BuzzSumo to find the most popular pages - enter your keywords and see what pages are the most popular/shared. If it works for them, chances are, it will work for you.
- steal great ideas from other bloggers - steal ideas not content! Subscribe to some popular blogs in your niche and start analyzing their posts. Their popular topics can be your popular topics.
How to pick the best blog titles
Now that you have an idea of the content you wish to publish it's time to start working on the content. A good title will make the difference between a dead post and a highly popular one.
I will have to discourage you from targeting highly competitive keywords in your posts at this stage and, instead, hunt the "long tail keywords".
What are long tail keywords
A long tail keyword is one that starts from the base keyword (the competitive one) but has more words in it and it's more descriptive, targeting fewer things but being more precise at the same time.
For example, let's take a highly competitive base keyword: how to train a dog. You will probably spend years trying to get a top position in search results for this keyword without success.
Let's find some long tails for this one. Go to google search and start typing the base keyword. When you stop, you will notice some suggestions.
What do you think those suggestions represent? It's what people actually search for in relation with your base keywords but, the longer and more descriptive they get, the less competitive they become which means you will have a much easier time ranking well for them.
Once you copy these long tails search for the main keyword by hitting submit. Now go to the bottom of the results page to see some related searches.
We have about 15 - 16 candidates but which one is the best to use in the title? The best tool for this job would have to be Semrush and I will show you why.
From these keywords we just grabbed, we will have to find the one that:
- has the lowest competition
- best CPC (if you're doing content marketing/adsense)
- and a trend that doesn't seem to be dying
From these 2 results, we can already see a clear winner.
- how to train a dog to sit has a volume of
- how to train a dog not to bark has a volume of
So the same number of monthly searches for a much less competitive keyword. I would go for how to train a dog to sit.
Usually, the aim would be to find keywords with a competition between
Now that you have your target keyword it's time to create that title. Don't just use only your keyword in it. You need to spice it up a bit in order to make it unique. Here's a nice resource that I use from time to time to spin some interesting titles:
And the results:
That's pretty impressive and the suggestions seem to be catchy as well.
How to write a blog entry
If this was 2005 I would say "just write something about it" but the game has changed so much. For a blog post to be of quality, you will have to write a lot on the subject, trying to cover all aspects and corner cases.
The search engines have got much smarter. They can identify how much of the subject you are actually covering in your entry by focusing on the semantic search. One that covers as many aspects as possible will probably rank higher.
Google is all about being relevant to the user. This is how they make money. If you can be relevant to all aspects of that subject, chances are, you will do better than the competition.
The question is…how to find all those corner cases of a subject? Enter LSI keywords…
What is Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI keywords)
I can't answer the above question without talking about LSI keywords or Latent Semantic Indexing. These keywords are simply words that go hand in hand with your main keyword. Look at how we generated those long tail keywords - they are quite the same but not exactly.
As you can see from the above graph, the keywords may seem related but their topic is not. To identify the LSI keywords I use lsigraph which is dead simple. I'll go ahead and see what they suggest in order to cover how to train a dog to sit.
WOW! 83 suggested keywords related to my topic.
I can definitely eliminate many of those but still, if I manage to cover at least 10 or 20 of these keywords in my blog post it could make a huge difference.
Don't use them word for word just for the sake of writing something. Use them as a guidance to build your chapters and structure your content. Write naturally about your main subject and you will see that some of those keywords will simply make sense in different parts.
How long should a blog post be
Depending on the subject…it differs. If you want to cover everything by following this guide, I would recommend using 2,000 words or more. I've seen some highly ranking pages doing 8,000 or 10,000 words per post. The numbers are going through the roof, these pages are becoming little books now.
The ideal blog post length seems to be between 2,000 and 3,000 words
Do your research, study the competition and see the top 3 of them that rank highest on the subject. Ideally, you would write better and longer content…covering much more aspects than they did. It's called the skyscraper technique and I see it applied to malls in my country - each new mall has to be much bigger than the previous ones in order to gain any sort of traction.
Good blog entry example
With so many words, it is crucial to introduce some sort of structure. As you can see in this post, I'm introducing a lot of sections, categories, subtitle and graphic material.
Plain text is boring. Unless you post educational material that must be digested, don't do the mistake of simply throwing text in your posts just for the sake of feeding search engines. I told you they got smarter and this subject will lead to my next one: Dwell Time
If your page is not engaging, the visitors will leave. How much time they spend on your website, the Dwell Time, is a thing that Google pays close attention to. The actual user interaction will tell Google about the quality of your content.
Be engaging, structure everything, take care of your design and don't bloat your page, make sure your website loads fast, do videos, do graphics etc.
Proofread your post
Yes, it's a ranking factor. Poorly written content with bad grammar and filled with typos will not rank high. Trying to read such content is annoying and will scare your visitors which negatively impacts the above factor: Dwell Time.
To proofread your post I recommend Typely (what did you expect?). It is designed to guide you through the entire process of writing. You can keep an eye on the reading ease of your content, the sentiment, vocabulary, typos, sexism, cliches, jargon, redundancy, repetitions, useless variants and many other important aspects.
How to promote your blog post
So it's live. Now what? This is a step where many make the biggest mistakes. People seem to belive that Google will crawl their content, rank it high and the traffic will go nuts. Not really! Your job is only half-done and it's time to babysit your post.
Create social media posts
Your content is long and it has all the information in it and it's time to post it on social media but make sure you continue reading for some more tips and mistakes often made by others.
You see, most bloggers will take the URL, post it on the social media accounts and call it a day: "I shared it everywhere". It's a big waste and missed opportunities to do that. This article has 4,000+ words and I bet I could extract from it about 20 Twitter messages to post - with screenshots and all. 20 instead of 1. Do the same for all of your accounts and extract as many posts as you can.
Use a social media scheduler to post
I use Buffer but the options are many. Each social media has its ways and you must study them to be effective. People on Twitter, for example, seem to have a much lower attention span and it's recommended to post the same thing 3-4 times the same day at intervals.
Once you have enough content on social media you can keep those posts on a never-ending cycle, feeding your followers non-stop from as little as 10 blog posts with 150-200 extractions for social media promotion.
But why bother if I'm just starting out, I have no followers, anywhere? This may be true in some cases but not in all. For example, Pinterest and YouTube are search engines which means that you don't need any followers or fans to get traffic back to your post. A search engine ranks and drives users by content.
I don't know how to make pictures or videos - I don't either, I just use the right tools.
For pictures, I highly recommend Canva.
Just pick related stock images, copy the important extractions from your article and create as many cards as you can for Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. A Gruelling task I know…you will thank me later.
For videos - try Lumen5
Lumen5 can import your content and will let you highlight some important phrases. By using machine learning, the selected phrases will be coupled with some pictures that are relevant. Once coupled, the text and images are on top of each other and a video is created. It may not be the "best video eva" but you have 20 videos on a search engine like YouTube now. Don't forget to write lengthy descriptions in the video description because they will help your video rank better - and always place a link back to the post.
Create backlinks for this post
I mean, try to create backlinks for your post. It's time to gather our competitor's links and see who is linking to their pages. We now have a better article which is far superior as opposed to our competition so we should go ahead and try to reach out.
Don't try to write on the forums or comments section, you will get banned, flagged and removed in 99 percent of the cases. Use a tool like hunter to find relevant contacts from that page. If it's a publication where multiple authors are writing I would try to grab the author's email or someone from the editorial staff.
Time to prepare your pitch - be polite, make a compliment by sharing something from their post and let them now that the content they are linking to is outdated and they could do a better service to their audience by linking to your post instead.
You will get few results with this technique but the value from those results outshines everything else. You just de-linked a competitor and backlinked yourself on that page.
Spot and search for more backlink opportunities
Your posts contain a lot of images right? From time to time, right click on them and select "Search Google for image".
When sharing your content on other publications, people will often grab a graphic as well. If that post has no link back to you you have the perfect excuse to contact the and ask that they "at least" place a link to your article if they stole that image.
Keep trying to gather backlinks by staying alert to discussions about the subject - don't let your post die - it should always be a work in progress.
Watch for ranking changes
You did all this effort and it's time to keep an eye on your rankings. Search engines update the results at different intervals and you need to stay on top of those results.
There are different tools for monitoring the search engine ranks and I recommend Ahrefs just because they seem to be doing a good job and you get a bunch of other useful tools in your plan. These tools are quite expensive but, if you're serious about SEO…you need to invest in SEO.
Update often and stay relevant with your content
Search engines seem to rank higher content that is frequently updated because they consider it as being up-to-date. Being fresh will keep your bounce rate lower as well simply by staying relevant with time.
The Caffeine update to Google's algorithm introduced this ranking factor and it favors recently updated content, especially for time-sensitive searches.
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