This is the first in a series of How to Blog.
I have several different blogs that I write, in addition to this one. Orlando Canine Connections is focused on dogs, Orlando Connections focuses on Orlando restaurants, theme parks, etc. and JenniferGraddy.com focuses on travel, family, rants / raves and a few other topics that are near and dear to my heart. Because I run several blogs, I’m frequently asked to attend media events especially at new local restaurants or sometimes even the theme parks. I am usually not paid to attend these events, but they do supply complementary food, beverages, swag, admission and other items. Since I am ‘paid’ by these folks, I feel it is my duty to give them some love on social media.
Almost every time I post I’ma t a media event, one of my friends will say ‘I want to start a blog so I can get a bunch of free stuff or invitations to new restaurants openings’. Let me tell you, there is a lot to blogging that no one sees so I decided to write a blog post about blogging.
How Can I Start a Blog?
- Pick a Topic You are Passionate About: This is probably the most important advice that I can give someone who wants to start a blog. Without passion, you have nothing and you run out of things to write about. There is no cut & paste in blogging. The subject matter doesn’t have to be original, but the writing does. It is a big no-no to cut & paste from someone else’s blog into your own making it appear as though you wrote the post. And, it’s bad for search engine optimization.
- Select a URL: After you have picked a topic, you must select a URL (web address). Every URL needs to be unique so if you want disneyworldblog.com, too late, someone already has that one. I buy my URLs through GoDaddy or NameCheap. Both of these services allow you to enter a URL to see if it’s been taken yet or not. Ok good, now you have a subject and your URL.
- Select a Platform: Now that you have a URL, you have to select a platform. The two most common platforms are Blogger and WordPress although a few people use Tumblr, but I would advise against that platform if you want to appear professional. I personally use what is called a self-host WordPress platform which means that also get to choose my host (see #4). If you don’t want to have to choose a host, you can go with Blogger or hosted WordPress, however you’ll have a lot less features and functionality with these two platforms.
- Select a Host: There are literally hundreds of hosts out there. My two favorites are SiteGround and WPEngine. I host all my sites and blogs at one of these two hosts. I personally would stay away from GoDaddy (hosting), or anything owned by EIG including Blue Host, Host Gator, and Host Monster. Customer support at both of these is pretty poor especially if you run into a problem.
- Select and Configure a Theme: There are two different types of themes, paid and free. I personally stay away from free themes because they lack support and they can sometimes by buggy as well. A paid theme typically costs between $20 – $60 and is a one time fee (in most cases) so not a huge investment to get started. My favorite theme right now is Extra by Elegant Themes. I do all my business sites using Divi by Elegant Themes so it makes for an easy transition to use Extra. If Elegant Themes doesn’t have anything you like, ThemeForest is also a good place to look for a theme. I always look at the comments and rating before I pick a theme because I want to ensure I am getting good support to go along with my theme. Once you select a theme, there is some configuration that has to happen to get it to look the way you want it to look. You can either do this yourself of pay someone one to help. Be sure to select a theme that is responsive which means it works on a mobile device.
- Select Plugins: Plugins are what gives WordPress it’s functionality. There are plugins that do everything from social media sharing to eCommerce. You can take a look at my blog post about plugins, to see which plugins I recommend.
- Install Google Analytics: Google Analytics is free and will be necessary for you to track visitors to your website. If you want to really get into blogging and want to approach PR companies, they will want to know how many people visit your blog on an ongoing basis.
- Put a Backup in Place: I cannot stress this enough. Be sure you are have a backup plan in place, in addition to one your host might provide. I use UpDraftPlus plugin as my backup and it stores the files to my Dropbox, but there are a lot of other options. You do not want to be dependent on your host for a backup, should something happen to your site.
Ok, NOW you are ready to begin writing! Wow, that was a lot a work before you even write the first post.
One you have your blog configured the way you want, it is now time to begin writing. You can’t expect that you going to get invites to media events at first because you have not established yourself as a blogger. You want to put together an editorial calendar of topics that you want to write about so that you can everything straight. Let’s say you have a blog about restaurants, then you’ll need to visit a few restaurants before you can write about them. Be sure you take lots of great photos because blogs are pretty boring without any photos. You don’t need a DSLR to take good photos, but it does take some practice. If you are one of those people who are always taking blurry shots with your mobile phone, I’d recommend you spend some time improving your photos because no one wants to see blurry food photos.
One you have your first blog post done, now it’s time to promote it via social media. Blogging is not ‘if you write it, they will come’ in the beginning. You need to build up your audience and the only way for anyone to know that you have written a post is that you need to promote it via social media. I typically use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sometimes Pinterest as well as LinkedIn.
Still think you want to blog so you can get ‘free stuff’. Just remember, nothing in life is FREE.
In the next post, I’ll talk about how you can get more people to your blog.