12 Blogging Questions You Must Answer Before You Start
While it’s easy to provide a list of helpful resources, they don’t really get to the core of what a newbie needs to know when diving into blogging. I realized this when my cousin, a technology neophyte, asked for help in starting a blog.
To fill this need for a newbie blogging guide, here are 12 blogging questions you must answer before you start. These questions apply whether you’re blogging as an individual, a business (B2C or B2B) or a solopreneur.
1. Why do you want to start a blog?
This may sound like an obvious question but blogging takes a lot of hard work beyond just expressing yourself in writing, so understanding your motivations will help focus your efforts.
The major blog motivations are:
- To make money
- To establish yourself in a specific niche
- To tell your story
- To support your business
Test drive blogging – Before you invest the time and money, experience the process.
- Start a blog on a free hosting option. I recommend trying WordPress.com. While the free version isn’t good for building a business or media entity, it’s useful for getting a sense of what’s involved.
- Write articles for existing blogs. This gives you the benefit of blogging experience without the worry of maintaining your own blog. If you’ve got a website, you can link to it in your article.
Understand a good blog post can take several hours to write and about an hour to convert into a blog post when you include editing, formatting, links, images and optimization for search and social media.
2. What do you want to blog about (aka your focus)?
This is the blog focus question that aims to get you to refine your thoughts—even your mother’s not interested in just whatever happens to pop into your head on a given day.
Among the questions to consider are:
- What is your area of expertise?
- What sets your stories apart from other bloggers on your topic?
Whether you want to accept it or not, people will categorize your blog. The benefit is people understand the topic and are interested in it.
BUT at the same time you must distinguish it from everyone else writing on that topic. If you’re just another blogger on a broad topic, it’s difficult to break through the noise to get people to listen to you.
3. What are the major blogs covering the topic (aka the competition)?
As with any product, consider your competition. Don’t say there are no blogs in your category because:
- Every piece of content (including social media) is a competitor for your reader’s time and attention.
- If people don’t understand your category, you must educate your audience before you can persuade them to read your blog.
Do your homework to find out:
- What are the main blogs in your category? If you’re not sure, check Google and Alltop.
- Does your blog overlap with topics covered by top blogs and media sites? At a minimum, start receiving some of the top newsletters such as Huffington Post, TechCrunch, etc., even if you don’t compete with them. The goal is to observe what they are doing in terms of content creation and presentation as well as what they’re covering.
4. What will you call your blog?
How will you identify your blog? Include the sitename (note: this isn’t necessarily the URL) and tagline. Once you decide, it can be difficult to change your name.
- Make it easy to spell. Skip URLs that have dashes or are difficult to remember. Also consider if it’s available on the major social media networks.
- Check that the URL is available. Ultimately you want to self-host your blog. Domain names are not expensive—generally less than $35.00—so grab yours sooner rather than risk losing it later.
- Think obvious, not cute. Your blog’s name needs to hook people’s attention or they’re gone. Don’t make your blog name an obscure reference that no one will get.
5. How will you brand your blog?
Before you object that you’re a lone blogger who doesn’t need branding, consider that a brand is more than a logo. It gets to the personality of your blog and how it’s represented.
Your blog brand is core to building confidence and trust in your content.
Regardless of budget size, consistency is the key to set your blog apart in terms of branding. (BTW—Here’s how to do branding on a budget.)
Not sure how to represent your blog brand? Build a mood board. Go through old magazines and select photographs and type that you like.
Start with a text treatment and a photograph. Alternatively, use a low price service like 100Designs. Unlike your URL, you can start with something and modify it over time to keep your initial costs down.
6. What will your blog design look like?
Blog design differs from your brand. It focuses on how the information in your blog is presented.
Among the factors to consider are:
- Blog theme. This is the underlying architecture of your site. It defines how your content will be formatted into webpages. A theme is independent from your content. You can use a free theme or a premium (paid) version.
- Content organization. This refers to how your blog’s menus and other navigational elements work to guide your readers to the information they’re looking for.
- Post formatting. This includes the typefaces, margins, colors and other ways that you format your content to facilitate content consumption.
Need a blog design help? Here are 31 design points to get your blog on track.
7. What is your writer’s voice?
As a writer, how will you set your content apart? For many bloggers, this is a difficult concept to grasp. Voice includes a range of writing characteristics such as vocabulary, punctuation, idioms, contractions and the like.
How will you transcribe your personality and culture into your content? For example, I write informally and use contractions to make the reader feel like I’m talking to them. A blog on legal matters, on the other hand, would use a more formal third-person approach.
8. How will you organize your blog content creation?
Since a blog is an on-going media entity, you need an on-going supply of posts published on a regular schedule to keep readers coming back to your blog.
To build your editorial calendar, you need to answer these questions:
- How frequently will you publish content?
- What topics will you write on regularly?
- What columns will be on-going features?
- Is there special information you will create?
- Will you have a variety of writers as well as guest bloggers?
Regardless of how much you know about your topic, you need to be on top of the latest developments. Set up Google Alerts for relevant keywords and topics.
9. How will you optimize your blog content?
You can write the best content in the world but it’s worthless if no one can find it. (Code for optimization.) For improved findability, think search, social and mobile.
To increase social media optimization, build your reputation on various social media platforms. This means engaging in the social media ecosystem. Also, get your Google+ authorship.
Optimizing your blog for search involves a variety of factors. Among them are focusing each post on one specific keyword term, making sure that the keyword is in the post URL, and linking to appropriate references, particularly authority sites. Check out what 15 SEO experts recommend doing to optimize for blogging. Also install WordPress SEO by Yoast plug-in.
For WordPress users, you can make your blog mobile-friendly by installing the WPTouch Mobile Plugin. This plug-in modifies the presentation of your blog’s pages and posts to fit your reader’s device.
10. How will you build your blog audience?
Realize that people aren’t waiting with baited breath for you to start blogging. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of blogging. It’s no field of dreams.
The biggest key to building your blog audience is to keep blogging. Most bloggers give up before their blog gains traction.
Consider how you’ll get the word out about your blog and attract an on-going audience for the content you create. Otherwise, you’re just writing for yourself. There’s nothing more depressing than putting your heart and soul into your blog only to have 10 people read it including your mother and your spouse.
Be creative when you consider your blog distribution options.
- Do you have a list of friends, business contacts and other connections interested in your content? This is easier to accomplish for established businesses. (Don’t forget to get permission to send them information or you’re spamming them.)
- What is your reach on different social media platforms? Do you have friends who will help you get the word out or swap favors? This works well when your contacts don’t overlap a lot.
- What other relationships can you use to attract readers? Brainstorm the people you can contact. Include business connections, your college network, the local PTA, your customers, and/or your former colleagues. Reach out to local business associations.
To help you, here’s a list of 37 blog distribution options.
11. Where will you get support for your blog
Depending on your skillset you may be able to create and maintain a blog in the beginning when it’s small and manageable. As it grows, however, you’ll need additional help.
Among the resources you’ll need are:
- Copyediting. It’s difficult to edit your own material. You think every word is golden. Therefore, I recommend getting help even if it’s only your spouse, friend or child.
- Creative. This means help establishing your visual brand and creating your logo. For most bloggers, this is limited to the startup phase. Alternatively, you can put something together yourself and modify it once your blog gets going.
- Technical support. While most of the technical bits are relatively easy, it’s helpful to have outside help available when things just don’t work like they’re supposed to. (I recommend my webmaster, Larry Aronson.)
- Marketing. For those of you who need help distributing your content including social media, it can be helpful to use outside resources.
If you have the budget for it, you can support your blog with targeted advertising on search and social media. The goal is to drive traffic to your blog.
Not on this list but of major support is having a blog buddy. This is another blogger with whom you chat on a regular basis and give each other support and pointers. It’s a two-way dialog.
Another useful resource is #BlogChat on Sunday nights at 9:00pm NY time. It’s a fast-moving Twitter chat that continues through out the week. It’s a good place to ask questions.
12. How will you measure your results?
Ideally, you should track your metrics back to your blog goals. To get started here’s a list of 65 blog metrics to get you thinking about what you need to measure.
The easiest and free option for blog metrics is Google Analytics. But avoid the biggest beginner rabbit hole: checking your stats every half hour. In the beginning they don’t change that much.
Here are 3 useful tips:
- Incorporate relevant links to product pages if you’ve got a business.
- Incorporate a call-to-action (aka CTA) to get readers to do something. Associate this CTA with a relevant, tailored landing page so you can measure results.
- For solopreneurs, include an email us link and use a special email address so you can track inquiries back to your blog.
While blogging can be fulfilling, the dirty little secret is that writing is only a small fraction of what you have to do to build a blog that attracts an audience.
To ensure that you understand what’s required when you start blogging, make sure that you follow this newbie blogging guide.
If you’re an established blogger, what else would you add to this list of blogging tips?
If you’re a blogging newbie, what other questions would you like answered?
Join me at Social Media Marketing World this coming Spring in sunny San Diego, California, where I'll be presenting a session on Blogging.
Free Blogging Guide —
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Based on Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley.
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