The other day, a friend called me and asked if I could share advice about setting up a blog. She was now working from home and had a lot of extra time on her hands.
She wanted to devote some of that time to finally publishing her work and growing an audience online. Maybe, she thought, she could eventually turn the blog into a part-time income stream.
I imagine that there are many more people just like my friend who’ve been thinking about starting a blog and now are finally ready to take the leap.
So I decided to write up this post sharing the top seven tips I’d tell myself if I was starting a blog today.
I’m drawing on my experience from many years of blogging (I started my first blog when I was fourteen and have turned several of my blogs into income streams), and also my experience as a web designer and copywriter.
If you just want to blog as a hobby, this guide probably isn’t for you.
But if you’re interested in turning your blog into a business by building an audience and eventually promoting your own products and services or earning money through advertising, then these tips will help you get off to a running start.
Let’s dive in.
Please note: This blog post might contain affiliate links, but I only recommend services I think highly of and/or have personally used. Thanks for your support!
1. Create Your Own Website
When I first started blogging, I used free platforms like Blogger. At the time, I was just blogging as a hobby, and I wasn’t concerned about growing my online audience or possibly turning my blog into a business.
But when I become more serious about blogging, I decided to buy my own domain name (for example, my website now is “nicolebianchi.com”) and invest in setting up a self-hosted website.
I’m so glad I did!
Free website platforms usually look less professional as the free services have limited options for updating the design and customizing the website. They also often don’t let you advertise any products (even your own), don’t let you embed email forms, usually don’t offer support if you run into problems, and don’t give you a personalized web address.
Self-hosting, on the other hand, means that you buy your own domain name and a hosting package. It’s like buying a house, rather than renting an apartment. You will have full control over the design, your website and blog posts will rank higher in Google searches, and if you ever need any help, you can always contact customer support.
Even if you plan to blog on a website like Medium or you want to build a presence on a platform like YouTube or Instagram, I still recommend setting up your own website.
It will give you your own place on the Internet that you have full control over — for example, people can read your about page to learn more about you or they can browse your books or see what services you offer.
I wrote an article here sharing my tips for how to set up a website. I have a self-hosted WordPress website.
2. Invest in a Reputable Web Host
Once you’ve decided to set up your own website, make sure that you invest in a reputable web host.
One big mistake I made when I created my first websites was going with the cheapest hosting service I could find.
At the time, I really didn’t know any better. I didn’t think my websites were going to grow such a big audience that a cheap web host wouldn’t be able to handle the traffic. I also didn’t know that my cheap web host wasn’t going to be able to protect my sites from malware.
Well, I put off moving my websites to a more secure, high-speed host, and one day several of them did get infected by malware. It was an absolute nightmare.
The cheap web host did nothing to help. Even worse, at one point they took one of my websites offline because they said it was getting too much traffic, and they couldn’t handle it.
Thankfully, I found a fantastic new web host called WPX Hosting (affiliate link) that transferred my websites and removed all the malware for free. Now, they make sure my websites load lightning fast.
Since I have several websites, WPX Hosting is perfect for me, but you might like to check out a hosting service like SiteGround (affiliate link) that has packages if you’re just setting up one website. They’re currently offering a special price of $0.99 for three months of startup hosting.
Whatever web host you choose, make sure that your website will be secure and that your web host will be able to handle spikes to your traffic. Sometimes this can happen unexpectedly when you have a blog post go viral. It’s always better to be prepared than have your website crash.
3. Choose A Niche
It’s tempting when you first start a blog to write about every topic that interests you. But this will often make it harder for you to grow an audience.
For example, let’s say you write a blog post about how to play guitar, then you write a movie review, and after that you share a recipe. Someone might have loved your guitar tutorial, but they’re not interested in reading movie reviews or recipes.
All three of those posts are targeting three different audiences. That will turn most visitors away.
Instead, you need to choose a “niche”: you need a unifying theme that ties your posts together, a larger story that they fit into.
I struggled with this when I first created my website nicolebianchi.com. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to blog about. I tried writing movie reviews and self-improvement articles and sharing NYC travel tips (I was living in New York at the time).
But even though I’d given myself free rein to write about anything I wanted, I found it difficult to come up with new blog post ideas and find an audience. Ultimately, my blog lacked direction. I realized that I needed to pick one topic and zero in on a target audience.
I decided to blog about the craft of writing. More specifically, I was going to share copywriting and storytelling strategies that would help people write compelling words and reach their audience online. Once I chose that “niche”, my blog took off and has grown to over 5,900 email subscribers.
When you’re first starting a blog, it might take you a little time to find your niche. You might need to write about several different topics before finding the one that resonates with readers and that you want to commit to.
Maybe your niche will be very narrow — you might decide to only share guitar tutorials. Or maybe it will be broader — a self-improvement blog where you write about learning how to play guitar, taking your cooking skills to the next level, etc. Notice that even the latter blog has a theme and a specific target audience.
Which niche will you choose?
4. Start Building an Email List
Another of the biggest mistakes you can make when you first start a blog is not setting up an email list.
A lot of the time beginning bloggers focus on growing their followings on social media platforms or they just focus on publishing as many blog posts as they can.
However, social media platforms are not owned by you. While it’s good to have a presence on those platforms to reach new people, you don’t want to put all of your eggs in the social media basket. You could end up losing your whole following if your account is suspended or the social media platform shuts down.
The former happened to me on Medium. My account was accidentally caught in a spam filter, and my account was suspended. Thankfully, I was able to contact Medium, and they restored my account. But even if my account hadn’t been restored, I still would have been able to communicate with my readers through my email list.
Additionally, social media algorithms are constantly changing. Social media platforms often force you to pay in order to get your posts in front of all of your followers.
With an email list, you can communicate directly and personally with your readers. You can let them know when you publish something new. Otherwise they might visit your website once, forget all about it, and never return.
And since the people who join your email list are usually your most loyal fans, an email list is absolutely essential if you want to turn your blog into a business or just sell a product to cover your hosting fees. Your email subscribers can give you advice on what product would most help them and what resources they’d love for you to create.
(I’m currently putting together a comprehensive online course all about email marketing. Subscribe to my email list to get notified when it releases.)
5. Learn SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. If you want readers to be able to find your blog posts in Google and other search engines, you need to “optimize” your website so Google will send it search traffic.
When I was first starting my websites, I didn’t know anything about SEO and that prevented my blog posts from getting ranked in Google searches.
I was missing out on a huge potential audience who could have found my blog posts when they searched Google for the topics I was writing about.
I learned from my mistakes and started researching SEO and was able to increase search traffic to several websites. One food blog that I co-started and now help edit receives about 45,000 views a month with a big percentage of those views coming from search traffic. This allowed me to monetize the website with ads.
If you have a self-hosted WordPress website, you can install the free Yoast SEO plugin and follow their guide for optimizing your entire website. Even a small knowledge of SEO principles will help you increase your search traffic.
6. Master Copywriting
Copy generally refers to the text in an advertisement: those words that persuade the customer to buy a product or service.
But, as a blogger, you’re writing copy even if you’re not selling a product.
You might be trying to persuade someone to click a link to read an article or leave a comment or sign up to your email list.
By learning copywriting principles, you’ll know how to write more persuasively so you get your message out to the world whether that’s writing a sales page for a digital product or a more effective blog post.
In this article, I share several of my favorite copywriting books that are essential reading for bloggers if you want to grow an audience and eventually turn your blog into a business. These are the same books I read when I was first learning copywriting.
7. Let Your Personality Shine Through
In the book Story Brand (Amazon affiliate link), Donald Miller describes the research of Harvard Business Professor Amy Cuddy who has spent more than fifteen years studying how business leaders can make a positive first impression. Miller writes,
Cuddy distilled her research into two questions people subconsciously ask when meeting someone new: ‘Can I trust this person?’ and ‘Can I respect this person?’ In her book Presence, Cuddy explains human beings value trust so highly, it’s only after trust is established that a person begins to consider getting to know us further.
When someone stumbles across your website, it’s vital that you make a positive first impression so they’ll want to read more of your blog posts and eventually become a loyal fan.
How can you demonstrate that you can be trusted?
One of the most powerful ways is to show that you are a real person behind the computer screen.
Display photos of yourself. Maybe record a video. Above all, share personal stories in your blog posts and write in a conversational style, addressing readers as friends, rather than in a standoffish, overly formal tone.
This was something I had to keep reminding myself to do when I first started blogging because I was so used to writing in the academic style I’d been taught in high school and college.
In this article, I share how to write conversationally in order to connect emotionally with your readers.
I hope these tips will help you as you create a blog and begin building your presence online.
The Internet gives anyone the opportunity to start spreading their ideas and reaching people all around the world.
But here’s something very important to keep in mind: blogging is hard work, and usually it does take time for a blog to gain traction. Don’t give up if you don’t see success instantly.
Thomas Edison once observed, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
So follow the tips in this article, keep writing, and make sure you spend time promoting your work too. There is someone out there who needs to read that important message you’re sharing!
Have you started a blog? Share a link in the comments. And if you found this article helpful, please share it on social media or with a friend who you think would find it helpful too.