Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod used under a Creative Commons license
I recently wrote a social media marketing 101 post here based on a presentation I did.
Following in the same vein, I’ve adapted a blogging presentation I did for the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba.
Blogging isn’t scary
A lot of people think blogging is scary. It really isn’t. A lot of people also think it has to be a personal diary. Nope. It can be about whatever you want. Do you love cars, knitting, crafting, books, photography, sport? Pick a topic, blog about it.
Generally speaking, if you don’t like writing you won’t like blogging. Unless you choose to blog about your photography or artwork. Then your blog will largely be visual without much writing.
It’s super easy to start. Even my dog has a blog.
Find your passion
Blogs work best if you have a passion. When I started this blog I didn’t have a hot clue what to write about.
Although I have lots of passions, it was hard to pinpoint one I felt comfortable writing about.
Then I got lucky. I headed up a project to redevelop my employers website. And I started my blog as a diary of that work.
I didn’t name names. I didn’t even have my name on it at that time. But when the project was done, I kept on writing.
Your blog doesn’t have to be about your work. It could be about your hobby. Or your dog. Or cat.
A blog is a way to have an online home. Nowadays many employers are looking online at potential employees. Blogging is a great way to showcase your talents.
Your posts don’t have to be long. I regularly post just photos on my dog’s blog. If you have a camera or an iPhone, then you’re good to go!
Discovering your passion can take a while. But the important thing is to start. You can always delete posts afterwards. Some of the first blog posts I wrote aren’t here anymore because I cringed when I read them.
When I first started my blog, I spent a lot of time reading posts on ProBlogger, run by the brilliant Darren Rowse.
I like to refer to Darren as the ‘king of bloggers.’ He makes a living from blogging and has excellent advice about pretty much every aspect of blogging.
I highly recommend his 31 Days to Building a Better Blog. I did it back in 2008 and it changed my blog completely for the better.
So, how do you create a blog?
There are hundreds of different tools out there and it seems like more are being born every day.
The most popular places to create your blog are probably Blogger and WordPress.com / WordPress.org and Tumblr.
I’ve used them all. And the reason I did is because I’m the type of person who likes to fiddle around until I feel comfortable with something.
You should totally experiment to see which platform you like best. You can always delete your blog. I usually post dummy content to get a feel for things.
My advice is to see which one works best for you.
A note about WordPress
There are two types of WordPress – .Org and .Com.
WordPress.org involves money because you have to pay a company to host your blog for you (usually referred to as ‘self-hosted’ blogs). Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress.com all host your content for free.
I pay around $100 per year to host my blog. When I first started, my blog lived on Blogger and it was just a natural progression to move to WordPress.org. It was kind of what you did back in 2008. Nowadays, I don’t think it’s necessary because the choice of platform is so vast.
For example, I recently signed up for an invitation to join Medium created by Ev Williams who founded Blogger and Twitter. Medium is a new way to write (or blog).
And Mashable (one of my favourite social media blogs) just posted eight resources to help you build your website (or blog).
So – just to confuse you – bear in mind there are many more tools out there than the ones I’m mentioning. For ease, I’m just talking about the most popular platforms right now.
If you’re totally petrified about starting your blog and experimenting, I’d recommend Tumblr because it’s super easy to get started. And there isn’t a heck of a lot to learn.
Note: the blog themes/templates on different platforms are not compatible.
There are a billion free blog templates (or ‘themes’ as they’re often called) online to help make your blog beautiful. Just Google ‘Blogger templates’ or ‘WordPress templates’ and you’ll see what I mean.
Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr each have a library of templates to choose from. And they’re free.
Of course, if you’re clever with code and web design you can create one yourself.
There are two kinds of theme: free and premium. Premium themes cost money – usually less than $100 but often more than $10. The great thing about premium themes is that they’re usually designed by a professional and have more features than free themes. But that’s not always the case.
The bummer about premium themes is you can’t download them, install them, fiddle with them and decide it you like them. You have to buy before you can try. Free themes offer far more flexibility.
WordPress.org offer a massive free theme directory. I’d recommend starting there if you choose to go with a self-hosted blog.
The theme I use on this blog was free – I just customized it.
Again, WordPress.com has a great library of free themes to choose from. Just keep an eye out when you’re looking through their library because they also offer premium themes which are included in the same directory.
Most of the ones on their site are crap but if you’ve got time and patience, you can play around with them. You need to be logged in to your Blogger account (using your Google account) to see the themes so I can’t link to them here.
Tumblr has loads of fab themes on their site. Like, WordPress.com, they’ve mixed together free and premium themes so just make sure you focus on the free ones – unless you have a few spare dollars and want to purchase a premium theme.
A note about responsive themes
With such a wide range of devices being used to connect to, and read content on, the web a ‘one size fits all’ blog design isn’t a cool idea. Once upon a time people just used a computer to look at your blog. But that isn’t the case anymore.
Responsive design is a massive trend at the moment and it’s one that’s here to stay.
Responsive blog themes will automatically adapt to look their best on whatever device a reader is using to view your blog.
When you’re choosing a blog theme, I recommend looking for one that’s described as ‘responsive.’ Don’t assume that all blog themes are responsive or will look good on an iPhone. You need to seek them out.
If you’re in the mood to learn about HTML and CSS, W3Schools.com is a great place to start. I use their site to help figure out little things I can’t do.
Are you a great photographer or artist? I recommend using your own images on your blog. Images can really bring a blog to life.
I also use Flickr Creative Commons and Stock Xchng a lot.
Many bloggers use images they don’t have the rights to so please stick to your own images or stuff you’re allowed to use. And make sure you give credit to the original creator of that image if it’s not you. The cartoon I’ve used in this post was created by Hugh MacLeod. He offers his images for free under a Creative Commons license.
Optimize your images for search engines
Search engines can’t see what’s in a photo but they can read your file names so it’s important to optimize your images for search engines.
Because, on the whole, as a blogger you want your blog to be found. One of the ways to do this is to help your blog (images) appear in search results.
When you take a photo on your digital camera or iPhone, the image file is typically a meaningless number (or photo.jpg in the case of your iPhone).
Rename your image before you upload it to your blog. If it’s a photo of a black and white Shih Tzu dog, call the photo ‘Black and white Shih Tzu dog.’
Also, your camera or phone will usually take a photo that’s huge in size, often 2,000 pixels (or more) wide. Many blog templates are around 900 pixels wide. You need to edit your photo and save it at a smaller size. Why? Because – over time – large images will slow down your blog.
I use Photoshop but there are lots of other, free alternatives for photo editing on your computer. And there are lots of apps for editing photos on your smart phone.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
SEO is a BIG topic.
As a beginner, read On-page Optimization Methods Still Valid in 2013 to get a better understanding.
I can’t even begin to adequately cover SEO here because it’s such a vast and evolving topic. But if you want your blog to be found online, you should read up about it because there are some very simple, standard things you can do to help search engines discover your blog.
Another way to grow your readership, is to make it easy for people to know when you’ve written a new post. One of the ways to do that is set up an RSS feed.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary.
Right now I use Feedburner. It’s free. This tool allows people to subscribe to your blog posts by email or feed reader (a feed reader is a bit like another inbox). Why would you bother doing that? Because people have busy lives and don’t have the time to visit your blog every day to check for new stuff. Your job is to make discovering your blog posts as easy as possible. Feedburner sends alerts to each subscriber when you post new content.
There’s talk of Google shutting down Feedburner. I’ll cross that bridge when (and if) it happens.
WordPress.com, Blogger and Tumblr all offer easy ways for readers to subscribe to your posts without using Feedburner.
Writing for the web
Writing for the web isn’t same as writing for print. As a general rule, paragraphs are much shorter and text is more broken up so it’s easy to scan through.
Often paragraphs are only a couple of sentences long.
There’s a ton of research on how people read on the web. You should probably check out some of it and avoid writing huge chunks of text on your blog.
- Break up your writing with photos.
- Use bullet points.
- Make your content scannable.
- Use simple language – spell out acronyms and abbreviations.
Use links (or hyperlinks) to highlight certain words and direct your readers to other useful content.
Never highlight the words ‘click here.’ Your links should offer the least distraction to your reader. Take a look through this post to see where I’ve used links and which words I’ve chosen to link.
There are a few things you should always have on your blog:
- an about section with clear info about you and what your blog is about
- a photo of yourself
- contact details so people can get in touch with you
- categories – which help you to organize your content properly
- archives let your readers easily see a history of what you’ve written
- a way for readers to comment on your blog posts
- a clear blog name that’s easy to understand
Promoting your blog
On the whole, readers won’t just find you. You need to do a bit of work to let people know you have a blog.
- Include a link in your email signature.
- Network online and leave comments on other blogs (in response to others’ blog posts).
- Add your blog address to your ‘About’ section on your Facebook account.
- Add your blog address to your bio on Twitter, LinkedIn and any other online profiles.
- Add your blog address to your business card.
- Tell others! Yes, with good ‘ole-fashioned talking.
- Post (relevant) articles in groups on LinkedIn.
- Find (relevant) Facebook groups and post on their wall.
- Interview another blogger.
- Offer to guest post on another blog about a relevant topic or issue.
- Follow other bloggers on Twitter.
- Most importantly, write regularly. Every day, every week, every month? It’s up to you.
- And try to spell things correctly.
What do I write about?
Ugh. This is the hard part.
We get caught up in the idea that to blog means we have to be an expert. A person with great knowledge to share with the world.
When I started I blogged about what I was learning and the experience of developing a website. Apparently this was the key to my blogging. Once my employer’s website development project wrapped up, I needed to stay motivated.
So I signed up for a blog challenge (the one I mentioned above) called the 31 Day Better Blog Challenge by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.
Tasks included buddying with someone; critiquing each others blog; writing an opinion piece; writing a list post; creating a blog schedule; and developing an elevator pitch.
I’m still in touch with many bloggers I met during the challenge.
The challenge attracted thousands of people to Diary of a Web Gal. If it sounds too good to be true, I promise you it isn’t. When it comes to blogging you’ll only get out of it what you put in.
Darren no longer runs the challenge but all of the tasks are still in his archives and he’s written a book about it which costs $29.99
The moral of this story is that you don’t have to be an expert to start a blog. Write about something you’re learning. Even if it means writing about learning to blog!
If you lose motivation – remember you’re not alone. Sign yourself up for a blog challenge.
And if my dog can do it, so can you.