The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Blogging: 11 Steps To Starting A Successful Blog

how to start a successful blog

So, you want to start a blog. You’ve thought back on all those essays you wrote in high school, have convinced yourself you’re a good writer and thought “how hard could it be?”. You probably heard about that one girl from English class who makes 6 figures just from blogging and thought, “why can’t I do it?”. Or you might have some really strong opinions about the current state of the world and think you can solve it through writing. Well, if you think it’s that easy, you may want to reconsider.

Blogging isn’t easy. You don’t just write one blog post and suddenly readers come surfing through the floodgates of the web to read about what you have to say. In fact, it’s very likely that not a single person will read your blog. It can take months, even years before you get any traction. Most people give up at this point, which is why the internet is full of unfinished garbage.

Don’t get me wrong; we never said it was impossible. We just said it wouldn’t be easy. Nothing worth pursuing in life is ever easy. If you are serious about blogging and want to go for it, we highly encourage you to do so. There are tons of ways to make a living through blogging; but if you’re going to move forward, it’s important for you to understand what it takes to blog successfully.

If you don’t want to waste months of your life creating your blog only for it to become nothing more than an online diary that only you and your mother read, you’ll want to take the necessary steps. Here we’ve laid out 11 steps you need to follow in order to make your blogging dreams come true.

#1: Find Your Niche

find your niche blogging

The first thing you need to do before you even turn on your computer or put pen to paper is to figure out what it is exactly that you will be writing about. You may already have some ideas like writing about fashion, cooking tips, sports events, or movie reviews. Chances are though that whatever it is you want to write about, there is already a successful blog online that is covering that topic and has already established itself as the go-to source for reading about the subject.

Find Your “Why”

Take some advice from Simon Sinek, a world-renowned author, motivational speaker and business consultant. In his book Start With Why and in this compelling TED Talk speech, Simon explains that people and companies who are in the business of persuading others, whether selling their knowledge, a service or a product, often communicate to their audience in the following fashion: “Here’s what we do and here is how we do it. Want to buy?”. However, Simon suggests that you start with explaining why you do what you do, followed by how you do it and then showcase your finished product or service. Simon Sinek explains that people are much more interested in the story or purpose behind a brand, rather than its product or service.

So, take Simon’s advice and start with “why”. Why are you creating your blog? Did you get fired from your job and one day decided to be your own boss? Did you lose a loved one, go through a terrible break up or are you simply bored with your life? Do you have a passion for what you’re writing about and decided to share your findings within your field? Whatever it is, think about your story. Imagine yourself 10 years from being interviewed by Oprah or Ellen Degenerous. What would be your reason for starting the blog that led you to fame and fortune? What would you be famous for writing about? Find your “why”.

Here are a few tips for finding your “why” and for finding your niche:

  • Follow your passions or interests
  • Use your education or experience
  • Identify problems that you can solve

#2 Treat Your Blog Like a Business

treat your blog like a business

If you hope to make money from your blog one day, you will want to treat it like a business. This will be a significant income source one day, so you should treat it as such. If you’re not in it for the money though, good for you; but you probably still want people to read it, and readers are valuable. With a large enough audience, financial opportunities will be inevitable. Even the starving artist who refuses to sell out cannot resist a large paycheck; so skip the BS and treat it like a business.

Determine Your Target Audience

Just like in business, you’ll want to evaluate the market before you jump in. Find out who your target audience is. Determine who’s interested in what you’re going to blog about. Of course, this means you have to give in to stereotyping and generalizations. It seems wrong, but most marketing professionals know this is necessary for capturing the right audience. In fact, you’ll come to find that these stereotypes and generalizations are mostly accurate when you look at your demographics in Google Analytics (we’ll talk more about this later). So, if you’re blogging about fashion, assume your audience is mostly young women and form your writing style and topics based around this group. If you’re blogging about hip hop music, it’s safe to assume that most caucasian baby boomers aren’t going to be reading your blog. You get the idea.

Research Your Competition (SWOT Analysis)

When starting a business (or a blog) it’s important to research your competitors. In order to do this effectively, you should conduct a SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym often used in business schools, which stands for the following:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

In a SWOT analysis, you should start by analyzing your own blog. This may be difficult, considering your blog is more of a concept at this point since you haven’t actually started writing yet. However, doing so before you begin blogging can help you identify several holes, both in your plans and in your competitors’ blogs. You can analyze your blog’s hypothetical strengths and weaknesses by determining what exactly you plan to achieve with your blog and what subjects you intend to cover, then comparing those qualities to your competitors.

Strengths

Some strengths might include the fact that you have a different outlook than your competitors on a particular subject, or that you intend to bring more personality to your blog.

Weaknesses

Your weaknesses might include the fact that you’re only one person who can’t possibly write as much as competitors who are large corporations, or that your competitors simply have more readers. In turn, by identifying your blog’s weaknesses, you can figure out ways to counter them or supplement them with alternative solutions. These alternative solutions can be added to your list of opportunities.

Opportunities

Opportunities can be anything that helps give you an advantage or helps even the playing field between you and your competitors. Your education, experience or connections within the field are all opportunities. For example, perhaps you are part of a very large Facebook group of bloggers who can share their insight, knowledge, blog posts, links and more. These are things that you can use to your advantage that perhaps your competitors may not have at their disposal. This is an opportunity.

There is one opportunity, however, that will be difficult to discover but it is without a doubt the most important opportunity you will have. That is, determine untapped markets within your industry that competitors have overlooked. Say, for example, that most food blogs discuss a variety of delicious foods, but you notice there aren’t any food blogs that discuss marijuana-infused foods, which is a rapidly growing market due to recent marijuana legalization in several states in the US. Identifying opportunities like this will help you narrow your blog’s niche even further and give you an edge that other blogs simply lack.

Threats

Threats are anything that stands in the way of you achieving your blogging goals. These can be your competitors, government agencies, laws or regulations, or other hurdles and limitations. The sky isn’t always the limit, but you just have to figure out a way to get around those limits. Is what you’re going to be blogging about a legal subject? Is it taboo or unethical? You may want to steer clear of these subjects, but if you’re really passionate about these types of subjects and are determined to blog about them, just be prepared for criticism. Does a particular competitor have something you don’t? Figure out what that is and find an alternative solution. In turn, that threat just helped you identify a new opportunity.

How Would You Monetize Your Blog?

Like a business owner, you should ask yourself, “is there really enough demand for this that will make me money in the future?” Unless you’re blogging about something like dirt, chances are your answer should be “Yes”. However, it’s always a good idea to ask around for a second opinion or do some research to determine if there is enough demand.

Once you’ve figured that out, think about all the different ways you can monetize your blog and turn it into a revenue stream. Here are several ways that Entrepreneur suggests for you to monetize your blog:

  • Affiliate marketing – sell other people’s products on your blog and get a cut of the money
  • Advertisements – get paid to advertise other websites on your blog
  • Sponsored posts – let guests pay you to post their own articles on your blog
  • Email marketing – sell your own products and services by building a subscriber list
  • Digital products – let readers download ebooks, brochures, etc. for a price
  • Consulting – establish yourself as an expert in your field and offer paid advice to others

You don’t have to worry about any of these right now, of course. Businesses won’t express significant interest in your blog until you start getting thousands, even hundreds of thousands of visitors per day. However, it’s a good idea to keep these options in mind when determining your blog’s focus area or niche.

#3: Build Your Website

design your blog website

Once you’ve carefully planned what direction you’re heading with your blog and the particular subjects you will cover, it’s time to start taking action. All the careful planning in the world will get you nowhere without action. Now it’s time to start building your website.

Purchase Your Domain

Your domain is one of the most important aspects of a successful blog. Your domain is essentially your brand. Your brand name is what your readers will refer to when they’re telling their friends about your blog. According to GoDaddy, there are 10 things you should consider when finding the right domain name for your blog:

  1. Make it easy to type
  2. Keep it short
  3. Use keywords
  4. Target your geographic area or industry niche
  5. Avoid numbers and hyphens
  6. Be memorable
  7. Research it
  8. Use an appropriate domain name extension (we prefer “.com”)
  9. Protect and build your brand
  10. Act fast

Websites like GoDaddy, HostGator, Google Domains, Squarespace, Wix and Weebly are all great domain name registrars for your blog. However, we highly recommend GoDaddy.

Get Web Hosting

Once you’ve purchased your domain, you’ll need web hosting so you can get set up with with an actual site. GoDaddy and HostGator offer great web hosting services and will get you set up with WordPress. However, there are more affordable web hosting services out there. Our friends at MetaPixel offer very affordable web hosting services, as well as custom email setup.

Design Your Website

In order to design your website, you may want to hire a web design company or a freelance web developer to do it for you. Although it is possible to design it yourself, doing so can be tricky for those of you who have little experience in website design. If you are determined to save money and do it on your own, Design Bastard wrote an interesting article on how to design your website without coding for you beginners out there.

#4 Come Up With Ideas for Blog Topics

create blog ideas

In order to write interesting content, you’ll need to write about interesting topics. This should be an easy process if you’ve given enough thought to your blog’s niche. However, if you’re still struggling to find ideas, here are a few tips to help you find interesting blog topics:

  • Steal ideas from other blogs within your niche
  • Use personal experiences that might be relevant to the subject
  • Use the knowledge you’ve developed from your own training and education
  • Brainstorm with friends or colleagues, or just ask around

#5 Write Compelling Content

write compelling blog content

The key to every successful blog is writing compelling content. No matter how fancy your website design is, no matter how interesting your blog topics might be, if you don’t deliver your content in a compelling way, nobody is going to read it. Here are some tips:

  • Write Eye-Catching Titles (# of ways to do something, How to’s, Cliff Hangers)
  • Use Plain English (No Slang, unless you can define it)
  • Keep It Simple (assume your readers only have a high school education)
  • Know Your Audience (Imagine reading your article from a reader’s perspective)
  • Entertain (Be Funny, Scary, Cheerful)
  • Identify a Problem (tell readers how to solve something)
  • Check your Grammar
  • Back It Up With Facts or Data

#6 Write Long and Thorough Articles

write long articles

If you want to establish yourself as an expert in your field, or you just want people to think your blog is legitimate, then you need to be detailed and meticulous. The more details you provide about your subject matter, the more your readers will trust that you know what you’re talking about. Not only will this help your readers understand the subject better, but it will help your article get ranked higher in the search engines.

Write 1,500+ Word Articles

Yes, you read that right. Longer articles actually help you rank higher in search engines. How? Well, nobody knows exactly how or why, but a study conducted by Neil Patel, a world renowned blogging and SEO expert, explains that although there is no magic formula for the word count of your blogs, there is significant evidence that shows more lengthy articles get better ranking on search engines, higher indexing by search engine crawlers, and more sharing by readers. He concludes his study by suggesting a word count of 1,500 words or more, however, some suggest a word count as high as 3,500. As you can see, there is no definite answer here. Don’t focus too much on the word count, just do your best to be as detailed and thorough as possible when writing your blogs and you’ll find you’ve surpassed the 1,500 word target.

Assume Your Audience Has No Knowledge On The Subject

It’s ideal to use terms within your copy that are commonly used within your industry, but you should always assume that your readers don’t know all the lingo. Using certain terms or phrases can help you seem like an expert, but be sure to define all of them at least once in your blog. You can avoid repetitively defining terms by simply linking to the original article in which you defined it, or you can create a glossary of terms and link to it. Writing a glossary is a great way to get links from other websites (more on this later) and shares from readers.

Cite Your Sources

Another way to establish yourself as an expert and gain trust from your readers is to cite your sources. It doesn’t matter if you’re a certified dermatologist with over 20 years of experience; if people are going to trust your advice to put a certain acne treatment on their face, they’ll want to see where you got your information. It’s a good idea to use “.edu”, “.gov”, or “.org” websites as references for any specialized profession that requires a certification such as attorneys, medical doctors or accountants. For all other subject matter, “.com” sources should be enough. However, “.com” sources should come from reputable writers or leaders in the field.

When citing your sources, you can link to these articles within your copy, or you can cite them below your articles without links. Keep in mind, however, that it’s always best to keep readers on your website. If you do link to your sources, make sure the link opens up in a separate tab in the readers browser so that your article remains open. In some cases, this may require specific html markup. In WordPress, this is as easy as checking a box.

#7 Blog Often

blog often

When first starting your blog, it’s important for you to write as often as possible. This not only keeps your readers updated, but it also shows search engines that your blog is being updated consistently. Search engines like consistency. Why? Search engines like Google take priority in giving readers the best user experience possible. Blogs that provide a positive user experience for readers are rewarded with higher rankings.

As we previously mentioned, search engines reward blogs that provide readers with thorough and accurate information and compelling quality content. Search engines also reward blogs that are consistent. The more frequently and consistently you post blogs, the more information you are providing to your readers. In addition, every blog post provides another opportunity for your blog site to be found by readers.

How often should you blog?

  • Minimum: 1 per week
  • Optimal: 2-3 per week
  • Maximum: 1 per day

#8 Add Rich Media

blog photos

Make your blog posts stand out by adding images, videos, gifs and more. There are several reasons why this is a must:

  • Helps readers understand – media helps readers better understand your message by giving them a visual representation of the topic at hand (visual learners)
  • Entertains readers – media also provides entertainment for readers. Imagine reading a magazine with no images. Boring!
  • Search engines love it – as we’ve said before, search engines like Google reward websites and blogs that provide a positive user experience, and media does just that!

Here are several sources where you can find quality media for free:

  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Creative Commons
  • Wiki Commons
  • Pexels
  • Pixabay

Also, it’s important to remember the following tips when finding media online:

  • Media found on social sites are usually safe to use as long as you credit the creator
  • Never use Google media unless they are labeled for reuse and modification
  • Never use media from other blogs as they were likely paid for by that website
  • Never use or modify media from paid stock media services unless you pay for them (This can result in a lawsuit. Yes, this actually happens.)
  • Never use or modify watermarked media
  • Always credit the author or creator

#9 Optimize Your Blog Posts With SEO

seo blogging

Here’s where things get tricky. Unless you already know what SEO is, you will want to educated yourself on the subject. For those of you that don’t here is a quick lesson:

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is essentially a group of marketing tactics and strategies that aim to get your website or blog ranked #1 for any particular keyword. A keyword is any search term or phrase that users type into search engines to research a topic or find an answer to a question.

For example: if you are blogging about Bitcoin, you will need SEO to help your blog rank higher in Google for topics related to Bitcoin. Examples of related keywords you might want to rank for are:

  • “Bitcoin investing”
  • “Should I invest in bitcoin”
  • “Alternative cryptocurrencies to bitcoin”
  • “Bitcoin stock price”

Thus, you will want to write articles on these topics and try to get your blog ranked in the top search results for these keywords. As you might’ve noticed, the websites and blogs that rank the highest in search engine results pages get clicked on and read the most. Getting ranked in the top 1-5 results is optimal, but being ranked on the first page is ideal. If you are not on the first page of your target keyword, your readers are not likely to read your blog post.

How to Get Ranked Higher Using SEO

Unfortunately there is no formula for success when it comes to SEO. What works for one person might not work for others. The reason for this is because if you operate a website, you are at the mercy of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. These websites control the virtual real estate of their search engines and have engineered highly complex algorithms that virtually nobody can hack. However, there are tried and tested SEO methods and strategies that experts and even Google suggest you follow to help you get ranked. Here is a step by step process to help you optimize your blog and blog posts for search engines:

Optimize Your Blog Website

  1. Install Yoast SEO plugin (for WordPress only)
  2. Create a sitemap to help search engine bots crawl your site (Yoast will create this for you automatically. Type in your URL followed by “/sitemap.xml”. Sometimes your sitemap will be generated using slight variations of this end URL. If you get a 404 error, try typing in your URL followed by “site-map.xml” or “sitemap_index.xml”. For example, ours can be found at http://blogdaandy.com/sitemap_index.xml
  3. Build authority by getting links from various other websites and social media shares. For more info, check this beginner’s guide to link building by Moz.  

Optimize Your Webpages and Blog Posts

  1. Include keywords in your page text – For blog posts and for core pages including your Home, About, Contact and other pages found in your navigation bar, you should include keywords within the page text that are related to your niche. Tell readers what your website or blog is about using related keywords and phrases. Use Yoast to help you determine the optimal number of keywords. Yoast recommends a keyword density (total word count divided by # of keywords used) of 0.5% and 2.5%. Too many or too few keywords will ensure your blog post or page will not get ranked.
  2. Link internally to related pages or posts – place links throughout your text that point to posts or pages on your website that are related to the subject matter
  3. Optimize your meta tags – Optimize your blog posts and your core pages by editing each page or post and inserting your keywords into your Title and Description tags using Yoast. These are called Meta Tags, and will show up as a link in search engine results pages. For more info, check this quick and easy guide from Search Engine Watch.
  4. Optimize alt and title tags – Optimize all media (images, videos, gifs, etc.) by going to your media library in WordPress and inserting keywords in the alt and title tags boxes.

#10 Share Your Work

blog sharing

In order to get readers and build authority with search engines, it’s important that you share your work. Simply posting a blog and hoping readers will come is a bad SEO strategy. To get more readers and links to your website, you should distribute your blog through one or more of the following ways:

  • Other websites – Request your blog post to be featured on other websites or blogs (guest posting) or share the link to your post in comments and forums on other sites or blogs
  • Email subscribers – Build a subscriber list and email your latest blog posts to interested readers
  • Social Media – Share your blog post on social media in various ways:
    • Share it in a post on your personal profile
    • Create a social page for your blog and share it in a post
    • Share it on Facebook groups or other social media groups

#11 Track Your Progress

track blog stats

So, you’ve done everything we’ve listed out for you above, but you have no idea how well it’s working. Blogging without tracking your readers is like dieting and exercising without looking at the scale. What’s the scale for blogging? Google Analytics.

Use Google Analytics to track your progress and determine the following:

  • How many readers came to your blog?
  • How many readers actually read each of your blog posts?
  • How long readers stayed on your web pages or blog posts?
  • How readers found your blog in the first place?
  • What other pages or posts did users read while on your site?
  • Where are your readers located?
  • What demographics do your readers typically fall under?
  • What are your top performing pages?

Use Google Analytics to answer each of these questions and you will have a better understanding of your audience, your website’s performance, and how you can improve it. For more info on using and syncing with Google Analytics, check out the absolute beginner’s guide to Google Analytics by Moz.

One last thing about progress tracking. When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s hard to see any real progress when you weigh yourself every day. You aren’t going to lose 15 pounds overnight, and your weight is going to fluctuate day in and day out. That’s just life. It’s best to step on the scale once a week or every other week to see real progress. Now apply this to tracking the progress of your blog; only do it once a month.

Just Do It!: Start Writing Now, Don’t Procrastinate

Although we stressed the importance of carefully planning out your blog earlier on in this post, don’t let careful planning turn into procrastination or quitting. If you’re still serious about blogging after reading this article, then take an hour or so (or a day, maximum) to sort out the details and then get to writing!

“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.” ―Arnold Glasow

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” ―Dale Carnegie

“There is only one proof of ability—action.” ―Marie Ebner-Eschenbach