Skip this post if you’re a seasoned blogger. But if you’re thinking of starting a blog — like my wise and witty friend Don — here are a few pointers.
“How do I start a blog?” “What should I name it?” “How can I get more subscribers?”
I always feel sheepish when someone asks such questions. I’m a self-taught blogger, you see, so I’m not an expert — and I’ve made lots of dumb mistakes.
But the other day it occurred to me: Maybe I can at least help others avoid the same mistakes?
I won’t cover the technical side of setting up a new blog (because if you choose WordPress, you can do it in three steps). But I’m happy to offer some things to consider before you even click “Get started.”
Before you start blogging
Create a blogplan. What is your purpose? Who is your audience? What results do you want?
Yes, I know you just want to make your Big Blog Debut. But trust me — these questions are worth asking, because they’ll help shape your content for years to come. Here’s a handy Blogplan form to help you get started.
Choose your blog’s name. I really, really wish I’d given this step more thought. (HeideBlog. Seriously? I’m sure you can do much better.)
Start by looking at your blogplan. (I *told* you it would be useful!) What are your main topics? Jot down a few keywords.
Now … who’s your audience? Do you want your title to sound factual, clever, quirky, or edgy? Keep this tone in mind as you brainstorm names.
Sometimes a great name will come to you right away. But if you get stuck, check out Cheri Lucas Rowlands’ wonderful post on choosing a blog name.
Vet your blog’s name. Do a quick Google search for any identical or similar domains. (Because you won’t be able to use the name if someone else has already registered it … and you don’t want to be confused with something similar but undesirable.)
Also, give your URL that critical all-lower-case read. “My Pen is My Sword” may sound like a fine idea inside your head, but the URL mypenismysword, is, well … enough said.
Set up your blog. Again, I won’t cover the technical aspects — but this fine tutorial can answer your questions about widgets and wedgies.
Before you post a single word, consider privacy. Readers respond to authenticity, and this online community can be wonderfully supportive. But still … be careful of oversharing. You can’t control the flow of information once your post is live, nor can you predict who might see your post down the road.
This is especially true if you’re mentioning someone else. People have very different privacy barometers, so what seems innocuous to you may feel like a horrible breach of trust to someone else.
I err on the safe side by using only friends’ first names, unless I’m promoting their work. In some cases I’ve even changed a name or two, to protect the innocent — and in other cases I’ve decided not to publish the post at all. But that’s just me. Use your best judgment.
Before you post a single word, write your first three posts. The first post is easy, because that’s the one in which you’ll introduce yourself. But what will you say after that? Writing the second and third posts can help you get a sense of your voice, and where you want to take things.
Post them a few days apart … and your blog is officially up and running!
Taking the next steps
Although starting a blog is fun and fairly simple, a lot of bloggers quit at this point. Some get discouraged by the lack of traffic — because every single blog starts out with a low visitor count — while others find that their well quickly runs dry.
Don’t give up! Take a course at Blogging U. Challenge yourself to post something just once a month, if that’s all you can muster. But don’t stop. You’ll soon find that the rewards are well worth it.
Well, those are my hard-earned lessons in starting a blog. Still got specific questions? Please leave me a comment. Otherwise, I’ll leave you for now with these excellent suggestions from the kind folks at The Daily Post.
How can I encourage my readers to comment on my posts? Seeing your post out there in the world feels great. Not receiving a single comment in response to it? Less so. If you’ve ever felt frustrated about the lack of activity in your comments section, check out Michelle’s tips on making your blog a welcoming space for discussion and interaction.
How can I make sure my blog doesn’t get me into trouble in real life? Many bloggers share extremely personal stories on their sites, whether they discuss relationships, family, past trauma, health issues, or other sensitive matters. Elizabeth’s post on keeping your blog from complicating your real life is essential reading for anyone who wonders about the limits of sharing.
How do I get my blog’s main topics to appear on my site’s navigation? Letting readers find the posts they’re after is crucial, which is why so many of you want to add your main categories to your site’s primary menu — this comes up time and again in our Community Pool. The solution? Category Pages! Krista’s how-to covers all you need to know about them.
What’s the best way to tag my posts? Adding tags to your posts takes seconds, but it ensures that people can find you in the WordPress.com Reader. To maximize your reach — and your time in the spotlight — head over to this post on tagging strategy.
How can I experiment with my layout without annoying my readers? Whether you’re a brand-new blogger or a veteran, you know that your blog’s appearance is always a work in progress. But it doesn’t mean you have to confuse your visitors with constant changes — heed Andrea’s advice and start a test blog, and you’ll be able to implement only those changes you’re sure about.
Where can I find cool blogs to read and follow? From Discover to tag searches, the WordPress.com Reader is your one-stop destination for finding great blogs and specific posts on topics that interest you. Cheri’s Reader pro tips will help you zoom in on stuff you’re likely to enjoy and keep your past favorites within easy reach.