A get this question via email and it also came up at a recent luncheon with a good friend. Dun dun dun, get ready, this is it! “What do you think are the keys to blog success?” My friend Natalie was the one to ask it most recently. She and I met working in the same office 13 years ago and she told me she was thinking of starting a blog and my response was “Great! Absolutely!”
Natalie is that gal who not only has impeccable taste but also painted her own two story house all by herself without any help and while the babies napped because she couldn’t stand that the house they bought was salmon pink and she wasn’t going to shell out thousands to a professional, I love that kind of tenacity.
Natalie threw a few questions my way, good questions, ones that I’m sure a lot of new bloggers have so I answered them and I thought I’d repeat them here. If you want to start just a hobby blog then by all means ignore everything I say but if you’d like to see yours grow to a business or you’d like to work with brands in your niche, then here are ten tips that will improve your chances for success.
1. Be Clever. Pick a good name that sums up who you are. This is increasingly difficult these days since all the common words and their combinations are taken, so you have to put on your smarty pants cap. You can have a .blogspot or .wordpress but I think it’s better to research whether the .com or .net is available first, and also check the USPTO to make sure the name you like isn’t trademarked already.
2. Be Smart. Speaking of trademark, seriously consider securing a trademark for your blog name as you build your brand. I know bloggers who’ve been perfectly fine not doing it, but I’ve also heard plenty of sad stories of bloggers having to change their blog name upon a cease and desist letter, and getting one of those is “zero fun” as my kids say. So do the research up front to avoid that hairy situation. You can trademark your brand for somewhere in the $400 range with a company like LegalZoom.
3. Be Unique. Write like you think and like you speak, because no one else can do it in that way. Write about what you know, what probing questions you have about the universe, or about your fixation on (fill-in-the-blank). Personal experiences are unique so start there. Even if it’s just a few tips and you’re not an expert, a little experience is valuable information, so share it.
If you’re a niche blogger (photography, fashion, design, food, etc.) stay mostly on topic, but don’t be afraid to mix it up with snippets of your life, something random, or a self deprecating moment, readers love when you share the personal side, we’re all human! If you’re stumped or have writer’s block, here are 50 things to write about to push you through.
4. Be Patient. Producing good content that is unique and useful is the most valuable thing you can contribute. Be prepared to write that good content for six months and go completely unnoticed. Once you’re discovered, you’ll provide readers with a lot of good content to share, and they will share it, if it is unique and inspiring, so keep your focus there.
5. Be Visual. Good writing is great, but pretty pictures are killer. We’re blogging in a Pinterest world and there’s no denying the power of that social media phenomenon. Having shareable images is one of the best tools for getting your content out in the world and pretty pictures always always help! Wanna take better pictures? I learned how. Here are my ten basics for better home photography.
6. Be Clean & Organized. Your blog design should not be too busy or distract from your content. White space is calming and gives the eye a place to rest with all the commotion going on with content or ads. Consider a white backdrop or subtle wallpaper, nothing glaring or flashy or too bright. Your blog layout is a reflection of your style – clean and simple always trumps busy or cluttered. Make sure you have an About page with a picture and a 2 to 3 paragraph narrative, we want to know who you are, your interests, why you’re blogging! Absolutely have a Contact page for readers to connect and for future opportunities (see #9)! Also, I really like this article by Katrina of Pugly Pixel on Ten Tips for Blog Layout.
7. Be Nice. Blogging is not high school, there is zero tolerance for meanness. It’s best to treat others with kindness and respect in your comments and your writing. Encouragement not criticism has always been my motto, be gracious and give people the benefit of the doubt before judging. Unless judging is the main theme of your blog, then by all means, do your thing but expect opinions to fly!
8. Be Social. Make friends in your niche by socializing through comments or joining link parties or tweeting or commenting on Facebook. Most of my blog friendships were initiated through comments online but solidified when we actually met at a conference, so once you’ve been blogging a few months, consider attending one, they’re a wealth of information, inspiration, and it’s great to match faces to blogs.
9. Be Professional. In the online world, you can get noticed pretty quickly if you do something unique and it gets circulated in social media, so if you do get that email from a magazine editor or publisher, be quick to respond and do so with courtesy and professionalism. They are always looking for high resolution quality images so considering taking photographs with that in the back of your mind!
10. Be Passionate. So cliché, but so true. Don’t blog to get rich or make money, blog because of your desire to share your skills, thoughts, passions, quirks, and your unique take on the world. There’s plenty of room for blog success, just be sure you stay true to who you are, or really, what’s the point? :)
Whether you start on Blogger or WordPress is completely up to you, personally I think Blogger is more user friendly and you can jump right in. WordPress has more bells and whistles but also learning curve to go with it. Be sure to install a Statcounter, or Google Analytics in the beginning, it’s the best way to track where your traffic comes from and those stats will come in handy in the future when you seek sponsors, advertisers, and the like.
A final note, be realistic about time management! Others who you live with have to tolerate your blogging, so set up boundaries from the start, how many hours you plan to dedicate to your new blog. (I wrote about balance and time management in this ‘Growing Your Blog’ series). Managing a blog can quickly absorb every aspect of your life, so keep it in check, and be sure to step away often because that’s where the most “blog worthy” material comes from – inspiration from living life!