The idea of starting a blog can be at once both tantalizing and intimidating. Cyberspace is chock-full of interesting, smart, funny and quirky blogs that make it look so easy. They might even inspire you to try your hand at it. Many dream of reaching Internet stardom with a blog that rocks the cyberworld. But compared to the many successful blogs out there in the crowded blogosphere, you may question whether you have what it takes to stand out. It's also disheartening to survey the vast graveyard of abandoned and forgotten blogs on the Internet. You may know several people who have started one or even multiple blogs, only to lose interest or find that they don't have the time to keep them up.
First, let's be clear about what a blog is. The name comes from the term "web log," and like a written log, a blog consists of a series of entries. These entries are traditionally short -- usually a few paragraphs long -- and the blogger ideally will update the blog with new entries frequently, such as once a day or more. Blog topics can range anywhere from politics to dating, from technology to knitting. And some blogs don't have a particular focus at all. The simplest blogs are run and written by one author, like Heather Armstrong's blog, Dooce, while others are collaborative blogs like TechCrunch.
Several free platforms make it easy to start a blog, such as WordPress.com or Google Blogs (formerly Blogger). These programs offer simple design templates and walk you through the process, so they're perfect for users who aren't particularly Web- or design-savvy.
The other option is to set up a self-hosted platform, which you can get from a Web hosting company like HostGator.com or Lunarpages for a monthly or annual fee. The free platforms will keep your blog under their domain name, whereas self-hosting will allow you to have your own domain. Self-hosting gives you more control over your site, and so is best for those who aim to make money from their blog.
This brings us to the all-important question of what your goals are in creating a blog. On the next page, read about what to aim for when starting a blog.
Before you make the leap and start a blog, to maximize your chance of success, experts recommend that you should first examine your motivations and goals. For instance, are you starting a blog for the primary purpose of making money or improving a business? Or are you passionate about a subject and want to provide a forum for others who share your passion? Perhaps you have expertise in your passion and want to help educate others about it. It could be a mix of money and passion that drives you.
No matter what your goals are, they will help define the best strategy for your blog. We've already discussed a little about choosing between a free blogging platform and self-hosting your blog. This decision will largely depend on your goals. Next, it's important to think about the topic of your blog.
One of the most important tasks in starting a blog is deciding on a suitable subject, as it will dictate your focus and hopefully help you attract an audience. Experts usually recommend settling on a narrow topic, something they like to refer to as a niche. A niche can give you an edge in the crowded blogosphere. For instance, if you're interested in writing a blog about movies, consider that there are hundreds of blogs about movies and Hollywood already. Unless you're Roger Ebert, you'll need to find a way to stand apart from them. Examples of niche blogs would be ones specifically about independent films, horror flicks or morality in movies.
However, it's also dangerous to choose a topic that's too narrow, because there might not be enough of an audience, or you might not feel confident that you'd be able to produce enough content for the blog. So, instead of writing a a blog specifically about Spider-Man movies, for example, consider widening it to comic book movies.
Blogs are typically more informal than most types of publication, tending to strike a conversational tone. Unlike corporate memos, academic papers or news articles, blogs are warmer and more personable. But that doesn't mean blog writing isn't a craft. Like all publications, you'll want to strive for clear writing and avoid obscurity. Indeed, this is arguably more important for blogs when compared to other publications, because your readers seek short, efficient posts rather than lengthy articles.
Once you've decided on a topic, it'll be much easier to find a voice for your blog. Your blog's voice is basically the style of your writing. You'll want to develop a personalized voice for your blog that reflects a unique personality. This is important, because what often keeps blog visitors coming back is that they appreciate an author's writing voice. So, for a comic book movie blog, for example, readers will initially check it out because they love comic book movies, but they'll continue visiting it on a daily basis because they love how the author expresses a loving respect for the subject.
Your exact voice may depend on the topic of your blog. For instance, it would make sense for a medical blog to strike a more serious tone, whereas a blog about video games might be more upbeat. To avoid offending your readership, you may want to avoid inappropriate language. However, if you write a humorous blog meant for college students, this rule won't necessarily apply. Likewise, writing about your pointed opinions on controversial topics will obviously risk alienating some readers. But this won't apply if you write a political blog for readers who share your ideology. And, of course, if you write the blog for your company, you'll probably want to be careful what you say and strike a more professional tone than the one you use for your personal blog.
Another important rule of blog writing is frequent posting. Although blog readers do seek short, easily digestible entries rather than articles, they also appreciate new posts that are regular and frequent. If you take breaks and fail to update your blog with new posts for days at a time, you risk losing your readership.
Can blogs make money?
We've already touched on how your goals can help drive your blog strategy. This is especially important if your goal is to make money. And don't quit your day job yet -- blogging will likely provide only a modest supplement to current your income.
Although it's possible to make money with your blog, it won't be easy. Of course, there are examples of people who started their blog as a hobby and now make a living off of it. For the vast majority of us, however, making a significant amount of money from a blog will take a great deal of planning, promotion and patience. Professional bloggers will be the first to tell you that it's not a way to get rich quickly.
You can make money from your blog either directly or indirectly. The direct route typically involves putting ads in your blog and getting paid for every blog visitor who clicks on the ad. Instead of random banner or pop-up ads, it's become more popular to use unobtrusive ads that are also geared toward what your blog readers will be interested in. For instance, Google AdSense will place ads on your site that are relevant to your blog's content.
There are several ways to indirectly make money with your blog, as well. You could use a blog to promote your business, for instance. If you're an author, writing a blog can help you gain fans and sell more books. Similarly, if you're a freelance writer, a blog can showcase your talents to attract more work. Others use their blogs for self-promotion to get consulting work or public speaking events.
Whichever way you want to make money with your blog, you'll need to devote a strong effort toward promoting your blog. Some promotion techniques recommended by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger include guest posting on other blogs, frequently commenting on other blogs and letting other bloggers know when a new post of yours might interest them.
If we haven't scared you from starting a blog, at least now you know that it can be hard work.
- Aggar, Michael. "Blogging for Dollars." Slate.com. Oct. 1, 2008. (July 15, 2011) http://www.slate.com/id/2201325/
- Amazon. "Make Money Advertising Amazon Products." Amazon.com. (July 15, 2011) https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/
- Aulia, Michael. "Introduction to Blogging Series." Craving Tech. June 19, 2008. (July 15, 2011) http://www.cravingtech.com/introduction-to-blogging-series.html
- Gunelius, Susan. "Blogging All-in-One For Dummies." For Dummies, 2010 (July 15, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=EgERnpPX0K4C
- Rowse, Darren. "How I'd Promote My Blog If I Were Starting Out Again." March 11, 2008. (July 15, 2011) http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/03/11/how-id-promote-my-blog-if-i-were-starting-out-again/
- Rowse, Darren, Chris Garrett. "ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income." John Wiley and Sons, 2010.
- Walker, Maisha. "Your 10-Step Guide to Blogging, Twitter, and Wordpress." Inc.com. Jan 25, 2010. (July 15, 2011)
- Weinberg, Tamar. "The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web." O'Reilly Media, Inc., 2009. (July 15, 2011)