A colleague and friend, Darren Sanefski, has started a new design blog, called Blogging Gestalt Design, and he was asking for some advice on how to get started, what to do on his blog, how to get it noticed.
I thought I’d answer him in the form of a blog post because his questions are ones any new blogger or blogger/journalist would ask.
One note before I get started: Don’t feel like you need to do all this in one day. Don’t be overwhelmed. It’s a checklist, but the world won’t end if you spread it out over time.
You’ve started you blog … now what?
- Introduce yourself: I advocate a first post that explains who you are, why you are blogging, and what qualifies you to blog on that topic. That may include your education or work history or interests, depending on your blog topic. Think of it this way: When you meet a new person, you explain a bit about yourself. You’re meeting your readers (or potential readers) in this post.
- Set up an “About Me” page: This should include your name (real ones, please) where you’re from (town or community; we don’t need your street address), why you’re blogging and what qualifies you to blog on this topic. Yes, this may seem to duplicate your introductory blog post. That’s OK. The way blogs work, that introductory post will soon fade from sight, but your “About Me” page will stay. My preference is to have a truncated about me blurb on the main blog page that links to a separate “About Me” page. This way you give every reader a taste of who you are, but those who want more can get it, without clogging up your front page. Include a real picture.
- Contact me: Set up a separate page (blogging platforms such as Word Press or Blogger should allow you to do this) for contact information. Some platforms may allow this to come in a form that pops up and allows people to e-mail you. I’d advise setting up a free e-mail account through Google or Yahoo or your blogging host and using that just for your blog. That way you’re not giving the whole world your personal e-mail.
- Read other blogs in your niche: Early on, perhaps even before posting on item, I’d suggest reading blogs in your niche topic area. You want to know what’s out there, who is writing about your topic and what they are saying. Blogging is a conversation, so reading other blogs in your niche is a way to ease into the conversation without seeming like the dork who jumps in with the awkward aside. To find blogs in your niche, do a simple Google search for your topic. When you find a blog you like, click on the blogs in that person’s blog roll (the list of blogs usually on the right side of the blog.) When you reach one you like, check out that person’s blogroll, and so on. I’d suggest setting up an RSS feed to the blogs you like through a service such as Google reader. Here’s how to set it up, and some more tips for finding blogs in your niche.
- Set up a blogroll: This is a list, usually on the right sidebar of your blog, of blogs that your read or like or recommend. It gives your readers a sense of what you find worthy in a blog, and it can help your blog get noticed. If someone lists me in his or her blogroll, I always check out his or her blog. (I find out because it comes up as an “incoming link” in the back end of my blog where I view the traffic stats.) By listing a blogger in your roll, he or she may check out your blog and even blog about your blog. But do be choosy with your blogroll. You want it to be blogs that you really value because you’re giving them a stamp of approval.
- Claim your blog in Technorati: Technorati is part search engine, part blog-ranking tool. If you join and “claim your blog,” you’ll end up on its list, so people can find you there. It also gives you a list of your “interactions” — the number of times other blogs link to your blog. The more interactions, the better because the assumption is your content must be good if lots of blogs are linking to it. Unique interactions (links from different blogs) is best, compared to a bunch of links from the same blog. (A higher number of unique interactions can boost how your blog indexes in Google searches, meaning how close to first it comes up in a search for a particular word. Claiming a blog is just a fancy way of saying you grant Technorati access to examine your blog for new content. It entails letting spiders crawl on your blog, which may sound odd, but don’t fret. They are virtual spiders. Get more details on the benefits of claiming your blog and how to do it here.
- Join social media: If you’re not on social media yet, join. My favorites are Twitter and Facebook. Social media are a way to expand your readership, tap into the community of readers in your niche and give people a heads-up that you’re blogging. Here are specific tips on how to use Facebook and Twitter to promote your blog. For whatever social media you use, be sure to set up a profile and include your blog link and bio information. Many people, including me, won’t follow folks on Twitter whose profile isn’t filled out. When you post on your blog, tweet a link to your that post. Post the link on Facebook. That way you’re bringing your news to the readership, rather than making them come to you. You’ll also want to friend or follow people interested in your topic. Here are ways to find liked-minded people to follow on Twitter. I’d also suggest putting a Twitter badge on your blog that displays your tweets in real time, and creating a blogroll of your social media links (Facebook, Linked In, etc.) if you’re open to connecting with people through them.
- Think SEO: SEO, or search-engine optimization, is a way to help your blog come up in search, such as a Google search. It’s a way of making a computer, which handles searches, understand what your blog is about, so your posts will show up when people put relevant keywords into a search. This means writing headlines that say what you mean, so a computer can understand them. (A computer won’t get clever stuff like puns or alliteration or irony.) This also means using keywords relevant to your topic in the headline and first graphs when possible. (Don’t go overboard; remember, you want humans to understand your blog, too.) If your blog is really about your keywords, using those words should come naturally. For example, my blog is about journalism, media, newspapers and news, so I tend to use those keywords a lot without much effort. More SEO tips.
- Start writing: If you haven’t started blogging, start now. Don’t wait until everything is perfect about your blog. Unless you have unlimited time to spend on it, your blog won’t be perfect — ever. It’s a work in progress. Improve as you go, learn, discover. Sure, read over posts, spell check them and watch for errors and clunky writing. But don’t obsess. It’s a blog post, not a novel.
- Link to other blogs: When you’re writing a post, link to other bloggers who are writing about your topic. Build on what they are saying, debate it, applaud it, expand on it. Linking to other blogs inserts you into the community of your niche, and bloggers whose blogs you link to will likely check out yours. If they like what they see, maybe they’ll link to one of your posts. Here are more tips on linking and getting inbound links. Remember: The more unique inbound links — that’s the number of different blogs linking to your blog — the higher your blog will index in Google. This is especially true if the blogs that link to yours are quality blogs with a lot of unique inbound links of their own.
- Respond to comments: Once you get comments (and it may take a while — don’t sweat it), respond to them. Blogging is a conversation with your readers. It’s not broadcasting like TV or even newspapers. You say something; readers talk back; you respond and so on. If you respond to comments early and often, you’ll likely get more comments and deter the trolls who just aim to stir up trouble. More advice on responding to comments on your blog.
- Have fun: Blogging should be fun. Unless you end up some type of blogging rock star, you likely won’t make tons (or any) money. But it’s a great way to help figure out what you think and express it to the world (or at least a few dozens friends). Don’t worry about traffic at first. When I started this blog in December, I was jumping up and down if I got 30 pages views a day. In time, page views grew. But the real value of blogging, at least to me, is connecting with other people and getting to “talk” with them about a topic I love.