Years ago, my father discovered a small joy in expressing his outrage at random political events by writing his allotted three letters per month to his local newspaper editor.
His letter would run, and then a few days later somebody would write a differing shot across the bow. For a retired guy like my dad, this excitement equaled a soap opera drama. After devouring every possible political magazine, televised commentary, and news website, he always had more to say. But there was only so much politics the rest of the family could stomach at the dinner table.
What my dad needed was a blog.
I had already started a blog by then. So had millions of others. Back then, blogging was an outlet for self-expression for people like my father. Now, it’s also an increasingly sophisticated and effective way to incorporate strategic content marketing into a digital outreach plan to grow a business or brand.
Breaking into blogging
Blogs are powerful search engine optimization (SEO) tools for businesses of all sizes. Simply put, that means the people who want to read what you have to say (and possibly buy your goods or services) will be able to find you more easily if you have a great blog.
Depending on your goals, blogging can also be an effective path to success — which explains its growing popularity. Today, there are more than 460 million blogs posting content on the internet across the globe. The number of bloggers is expected to reach nearly 32 million by the end of 2020 in the United States alone.
If you’re thinking of jumping in and starting a blog, these numbers might sound like some daunting competition. But don’t feel overwhelmed. You’re not competing with the entire online world. No matter what knowledge base, presentation, story, or topic you decide to focus on, you are presenting a unique perspective.
You’re already doing the first step to creating a successful and rewarding blog, which is beginning your research! Learning the best practices developed over the last decade by professional writers and marketing consultants like myself will start you off on the right foot.
While it can take time to see results from content marketing, blogging can help you meet and exceed your goals, if done properly.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- The history of blogging
- Different kinds of blogs
- Top reasons to start a blog
- Step-by-step process to starting a blog
- 9 best practices to build readership
Skip forward to the how-to if you’re ready. But I like to start at the origins so you can best figure out how this popular activity, with both personal and professional benefits, fits into your goals.
The history of blogging
The origins of blogging only stretch back 23 years, but that might as well be eons on the internet. It’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a time when people of all sorts made their wisdom just a click away.
There’s a blog for everything: cooking with butter, “The Mandalorian” television show, traveling across America in recreational vehicles. You name it and there is likely a person or a business publishing articles about it online.
According to Statista, there were approximately 35 million blogs in 2006. That number ballooned to 173 million by 2011. The number of blogs has more than doubled in the last decade, and every day sees new blogs created by the thousands.
You may already know the word “blog” is short for “weblog.” It was first coined back in 1997 to refer to the task of simply logging all of one’s activity on the web in an organized way. Back then, the internet was just being built! I can hear the dial-up sound now….
Before long, blogs became a way to offer a personalized journal online, instead of written in notebooks hidden under pillows. People could write whatever they wanted and share it with the world.
At first, it was less about making money and more about self-expression. But along with the rampant increase in blogging, the reasons for publishing your writing online have changed. With plenty of online tools available, blogging is now a critical component of comprehensive digital marketing plans for everything from freelancers to large corporations.
Combined with social media and email marketing, a blog is a must-have tool for growing your audience and improving your bottom line. Blogging also happens to be a rewarding, fun experience.
Different kinds of blogs
What kind of blog are you considering starting? There are many kinds, including:
- Personal blogs, like what my father eventually set up
- Business blogs, which you can find on a growing number of company websites
- Professional blogs, when the personal blog expands into a moneymaker
- Multi-media blogs, which incorporate videos or photography
- Microblogs, which are super-short
- Collaborative blogs, where a team of writers works together under one banner
Just like Franklin Covey suggests in the perennial bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you should always start with the end in mind. This includes understanding what category of blogging you’ll fit into. Knowing your category will make it easier to figure out how to structure your blog in the future.
With every kind of blog — just like all content marketing initiatives — you’ll have to be patient as you work toward your goals. Marketing expert and popular professional blogger Neil Patel reports that it can take up to 400 published blogs to dramatically increase the number of qualified leads for a business.
Blogging to grow your business is a long-term investment. Blogging for your own personal enjoyment, however, can grant instant gratification with your very first post.
Top reasons to start a blog
There are many reasons why blogging is so popular — perhaps as many reasons as there are blogs.
Blogging for fun
My father has no aspirations of making money through his political blog. He’s interested in sharing his opinions, staying creative and active as he ages, and connecting with people who share similar points of view. It may be old fashioned to not turn everything into a side hustle, but fun is a perfectly good reason to start a blog.
While writing on a regular schedule may seem daunting at first, you may discover that what you share will provide a lot of joy, interest, and learning opportunities for people all over the world. Blogging is a rewarding hobby.
Using blog posts to attract new clients
You can also embark on content marketing through blogs to grow your business without spending money on advertising. Blogs help potential customers find businesses through online searches with the help of SEO.
Let’s say someone discovers you through a web search. That doesn’t mean they are immediately ready to spend their money. There are three hurdles you must overcome to gain their business:
- Awareness, which you’ve already accomplished by them simply finding your site
- Gaining trust, which is necessary for them to understand your brand and believe that you’ll provide what they need
- Offering the deal, because you don’t want to leave qualified leads on the table
Blogs provide opportunities for all three steps, and we’ll get deeper into the how soon. Here’s one quick way: collaborating with other content creators. If you have a blog, you’re better positioned to offer guest blogs to other bloggers with complementary but different audiences.
Guest blogging lets you direct the content of your blog at a new, targeted audience. For example, I wrote blogs for a company in Colorado that grew hemp and produced CBD-infused oils. They partnered with a yoga website, and I wrote an article specifically explaining how yoga teachers can use CBD oils.
Blogging to strengthen relationships with existing clients
Building brand loyalty isn’t easy, but it’s worth it when you see how effectively it supports your professional growth. There’s a popular theory among inspirational entrepreneurs: You don’t need millions of customers to launch a successful brand — you only need 1,000 true fans.
This philosophy states that you only need to earn $100 from each of these fans to hit six figures. To do this, you must create a strong relationship with every one of them. Blogging can help with this effort, as your long-form content and unique point of view can be a powerful way to connect with loyal fans.
Blogs are often a valuable component of a sales funnel, too. Readers come to your site for the free information, then see they can get a free e-book or attend a free webinar if they provide their email address. They recognize that you’re giving them answers or offering entertainment value, and they’ll reward you in return.
Blogging to educate your community
It really doesn’t matter how many vegan blogs there are — I’m still going to search them all for awesome recipes to create during holiday dinners. There’s always something to learn, and people are always searching for more information on the topics that interest them.
When you use blogging to educate people, you should be doing the work you love. This is where passion comes in. This blog category should include the kinds of topics you talk about when someone corners you at a cocktail party. Your published blogs can help you share what you wish everyone knew about the topics most important to you.
Using a blog to position yourself or your company as experts
It’s one thing to blog because you love sharing your knowledge. It’s another thing altogether when your wisdom and experience can transfer to your company or brand. Regardless of the industry, blogs let you position yourself as an expert whom people trust.
Share information you’ve learned at industry conferences, whether they’re online or from past, in-person events. Talk about the trends that your customers care about.
Starting a digital career as a blogger
Take it from me; writing blog posts for a living isn’t so bad. You can make money as a digital nomad, working remotely anywhere you wish in the world — depending on various visa requirements, of course.
Once, in Bali, I was signing into a yoga class when I overheard a woman who said she had received a free class in exchange for mentioning it on her blog. Good for her!
Along with bartering, blogging can be a source of income in other ways, which I’ll cover soon. You hear the stories about bloggers living the life of their dreams, but it’s not as easy as it may seem. There’s a lot of work needed to build an attentive and loyal audience, but there’s no time like the present to start.
Step-by-step process to starting a blog
1. Find your niche
The first step is either the easiest or the hardest, depending on what kind of blog you want to start. Suppose you own a business or are expanding a company’s marketing strategy. In that case, your niche should be obvious: Focus on your industry and the lifestyle around the products and services you sell.
If you’re an individual who thinks you’re not too shabby of a writer and want to try creating a personal or professional blog, determining your niche may prove tricky.
- Who am I trying to reach? Know your target audience by creating a brand persona of the type of person who wants to read your blog.
- What gets me excited? If you don’t love what you’re writing about, it’ll show.
- Does this also excite my envisioned reader? Even personal blogs should be written for the reader and not a purely self-indulgent activity.
- How is your blog first, better, or different than others? Do your research and discover your own authentic voice and value. You likely have skills that can help people overcome their challenges in worthy ways. Provide high-quality, useful blogs, and you’ll get noticed.
- Will this niche help me reach my goals? Let’s say your goal is to make money. You’ll be more likely to generate income through affiliate marketing, for example, if you cultivate your blog in a niche rife with those kinds of opportunities — such as tech, beauty, or self-improvement.
2. Brainstorm your blog’s name
Once you know what you want to focus your writing on, you’ll need to come up with a name for your blog. Many people will simply use their first and last name as their brand, but that could make it more challenging to sell your blog if it becomes an asset. It also may be inappropriate if you plan to work with a team.
If you plan to launch a business blog and your brand is already established, you don’t need a special blog name. However, if your company’s name is quite a mouthful, it can be more effective if you pick a name for your blog that’s short and sweet.
Aim for your blog name to be under 14 characters. It should be easy to spell, so don’t try to be clever with puns or homophones. Avoid generic words like “makeup” or “travel,” opting instead for a name that’s specific and unique. Also, steer clear of hyphens and numbers — you don’t want to lose readers simply because they messed up your URL and can’t find you.
Sit down with friends or associates to come up with a list of 10-20 possible names. Then, search for each one to see if it has already been taken.
3. Register your domain name
If you or your company already have a website, you can skip this step! If you are okay with using a free URL from your blogging platform — which is common, but can look amateurish — you can also scroll past this section.
My dad’s blog URL ends in tumblr.com. He’s writing for fun, so there’s no need to register his own, branded domain. But if you need a domain name that looks professional, keep reading.
You’ll want your blog name to be as close to your domain name as possible, but the stars won’t always align. You may have to get creative to make it work unless you want to buy an already registered domain name, which can be expensive.
To see if the domain you want is available to buy, visit a domain name registrar like Domain.com, BigRock, or Namecheap. There, you can search for your desired domain and find out if someone else has already purchased it. If it’s available, you just have to pay a fee and it’s yours!
With Constant Contact’s Website Builder, you can purchase your domain name and build your blog site all in one place.
Choose a dot com domain as your first option, although dot blog or dot net domains might also work. Multi-year registration packages often provide the most affordable rates, but you can also choose a shorter term for your domain registration — just be sure to set up auto-renewal so you don’t risk losing your home on the web due to a missed bill or expired credit card.
4. Pick your platform
Once you’ve got your domain registered and hosted, you’ll need a blogging platform that makes it easy to design your blog without necessarily having to learn code. You’ve got several options.
Constant Contact’s Website Builder
If tech feels overwhelming to you, Constant Contact’s Website Builder is a great option. Powered by A.I., its user-friendly design helps you generate a professional-looking blog in minutes without spending time coding or setting up the backend. You can even use their LogoMaker to brand your new blog with a unique image.
Another nice feature of this platform is the ability to connect your social media accounts to promote your blog and drive engagement. If you plan to sell products in association with your blog, you can also incorporate an ecommerce platform and set up an online store.
Unlike other blogging options, Constant Contact’s platform is designed to get you up-and-running efficiently. That way, you can get back to writing!
WordPress is a popular blogging framework because it offers free and affordable templates integrated with powerful blogging tools that make it easy to build out a professional-looking website. It can take some time to learn the backend of the program, but once you’re set up, adding new blogs is quick and intuitive.
More than a third of all active websites are run on WordPress, with a whopping 50,000 new sites launched every day.
Along with professional-looking templates, which we’ll focus on soon, this platform is also popular because it offers free plug-ins like Akismet and Yoast SEO. This added software performs tasks like filtering spam from your comment section and automating some SEO work.
My father chose Tumblr because it’s the most popular blogging platform in the world, with more than 488 million sites in 2020 — compared to the 77.8 million on WordPress.
If you sign up for Tumblr, you can post social updates, much like on Facebook. You can also tag people in your target audience using Tumblr’s tagging system. It lets you connect with people who are interested in your niche to build an online community.
Because it’s so simple and offers a limited range of options for plug-ins and customization, Tumblr is best used for microblogs.
Founded in 1999 and now owned by Google, Blogger was one of the first widespread blogging platforms. It’s possible to use it for free and let Google host your site if you accept a URL that ends in blogspot.com.
It’s easy to connect your Blogger site with Google Adsense, which provides a way to generate income. Blogger also comes with Google Analytics already connected — a free metrics tracking system that every blog should integrate, no matter the platform on which it’s hosted.
Of course, if you want to skip the tech and just start writing, Medium is another great option. This blogging platform lets you include up to five hashtags on your posts so people can find your work.
Because it’s behind a paywall, you can get paid based on the amount of time people spend reading your posts. Don’t get too excited, though. Sure, some writers make almost $50,000 a month writing for Medium, but most walk away with just a few bucks. Only the top 6.4 percent make more than $100.
5. Integrate SEO
If one of your blogging goals is to attract new customers and convert more leads for your business, you’ll want to spend time understanding SEO for your blog.
When you optimize your content for search, you make it easier for search engines to find your blog, understand that it’s relevant for a search term, and display the most useful information to the person searching.
For example, if someone searches for “best fried chicken in Atlanta,” then a restaurant in Atlanta that sells fried chicken should provide content on their website that answers that query. Including relevant keywords for searches you want to rank for is one important SEO best practice. Those words can be in blogs or woven into the copy of the main website.
Keywords are just one part of SEO, and you can perform your own keyword research to determine how your target audience looks for you. Try the Google Keyword Planner tool, which is free, or one of the many paid tools available online.
You can also play with Google’s autocomplete feature on the search bar to determine popular long-tail keywords, which are typically more specific and can help you rise to the top of the search results page. Be careful though, as your own search habits and history can influence what shows up.
You’ll also want to optimize your images for search by filling out captions and image alt text with appropriate keywords. Don’t stuff your blogs with these phrases — use them sparingly and naturally.
Plus, be sure to check your post URL settings on whatever blogging platform you choose. You may be able to include post titles or useful words and phrases in your post’s urls, rather than a long string of numbers and letters. This can also help search engines more easily discover your content.
Still, the most important thing you can do to improve your blog’s SEO is to provide engaging, educational, and entertaining content that is valuable to readers. If you succeed at connecting with readers, it will become easier for others to find you, too.
6. Create an editorial calendar
You may have noticed there’s a lot of preparation required as you learn how to start a new blog. But this planning will pay off by making it easier for you to continue publishing for years to come. The next step in the process is to create an editorial calendar for yourself or your blogging partners.
So many small business owners I work with skip this step because they don’t take the time to spend an hour brainstorming. But that hour saved now will cost you much more in the future — especially on busy days when it’s tempting to put your blog on the back burner.
To succeed in your big goals, you must break them up into smaller steps. An editorial calendar can simply be a spreadsheet that lays out a publishing plan for the next quarter or year.
Be sure to include:
- Date of publication
- Title of the blog
- Research you’ve already done on the topic
- Author, if you have more than one person writing for your blog
Try to have at least 25 posts ready to write at all times. This makes it easier to keep a consistent schedule for blogging.
It’s better to publish once a month on the fifteenth day than publish twice in the first week and release nothing else for the next two months. Try for biweekly or weekly blog posts, especially when you first start out.
7. Plan your layout
Remember those templates you researched when choosing your blogging platform? It’s time to use them to design a branded look for your blog’s website.
Make sure whatever theme or template you use, it is mobile-responsive and has plenty of white space around the text so your readers’ eyes are drawn to your words. To improve readability, break up your text using subheadings, breakout quotes in italics, bulleted lists, and relevant images.
Include a logo on your blog homepage. If you don’t have one, you can create one using Constant Contact’s LogoMaker.
You should also make your contact information easy to find on your site, possibly by placing it in a bio at the end of each blog.
Decide how you want to stylize your blog and stick to it. This final planning process will also make it easier for you to publish consistent blogs for your readers.
8. Start writing
With all this planning complete, you should know the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your blog. That means it’s finally time to start writing!
Unless you are planning a microblog, aim for well-researched posts that range from 1,000 to 2,300 words long. Make most of your blogs substantial.
Use a conversational tone and pretend like you’re writing directly to the persona you identified earlier. Consider your brand’s voice so that your target audience will understand and relate to your content.
Have fun with catchy headlines that will pique readers’ interest. Include keywords in your headlines, at least one subheading, and elsewhere in the body of each blog post.
I prefer to have a “writing day” to focus on completing a few blogs at once. You may prefer to take an hour or two every week instead. Take your time while writing so you can ensure proper grammar and limit typos.
9. Pick complementary images
While images aren’t necessary when publishing a blog, they help keep readers engaged and interested. For example, I’ve added images of some of the best blogs on the web throughout this guide. You’re checking them out, right? Your readers are no different.
Aim to include at least one image per blog post. Your images could be photographs, infographics, or even embedded videos.
Try to avoid using stock photos, which can sometimes look cheesy and fake. If your company has a marketing budget, consider hiring a professional photographer to capture images that complement your blog posts. If you are limited budget-wise, you can also take well-lit, high-resolution pictures on your own.
10. Edit yourself
The last step is perhaps the most important: editing. Do not — I repeat, do not — publish anything before you have given yourself some time to clear your mind and look at it again with fresh eyes. It is extremely difficult to edit your own writing, so consider giving this task to someone else, if possible.
Proofread your blog for any misspellings or confusing phrases. Consider running the copy through a program like Grammarly to catch typos, passive voice, and unnecessary wordiness. Cut inside jokes and terms that only people with specialized knowledge would understand. And ask for constructive criticism of your work so you can improve.
Hold your breath and click the publish button. You’ve done it! Some platforms allow you to schedule posts in advance so you can be ahead of your editorial calendar. Remember: Consistency is key. Stick to the plan and, with time, you’ll make progress toward your blogging goals.
Don’t forget to stay organized with your posts. If your blogging platform allows, create categories and include tags so readers can search for your posts more easily. Create opportunities for people to linger on your site longer.
I remember the first blog I published. It felt like such a big deal! But it’s akin to a tree falling in the forest with no one around — no one knows if you don’t tell them.
Whether you are writing for personal pleasure or to grow your business, you should use your blogs as an opportunity to connect with your followers on social media. Share links to your blog on all your social platforms as soon as you’re published.
A new blog should also be shared as part of any email marketing campaigns you’re running, as well as in any Facebook groups or subreddits you follow. For businesses, LinkedIn’s Blog Pulse offers guest submissions. Perhaps you can find podcasts related to your niche that will have you as a guest. Spread the word!
13. Engage with your readership
As your readership grows, you must also schedule time to engage with people who provide feedback on your blog. Reply to comments — both negative and positive — on your posts. Answer questions and ask for ideas for future blog topics.
You can build your audience by being authentic. Whether you are representing yourself or a brand, let your readers know that you appreciate their interest. Invite them to join your email list. Develop relationships that can convert to qualified leads and future business.
14. Collaborate with others
Always make the effort to expand your readership, since you’ll make more of an impact with your work if more people read your blog. One way to do this is by collaborating with other people who write or work in your niche.
Swap guest content with other bloggers or profile knowledgeable people in your industry. If you have a list of blogs you follow, share it with your readers.
You don’t need to feel like you’re fighting for readers with other blogs unless your business’ competition publishes them. Look for ways to expand your audience while staying focused on your goals.
15. Revisit your analytics
Speaking of goals, it’s a good idea to regularly monitor your blog’s metrics to see if you are successful. Even small businesses should have comprehensive marketing plans that include measurable goals and benchmarks.
These metrics could include:
- How many people visit your blog’s website
- Which blog posts get more comments and interaction
- The number of shares per post
- Percentage of new leads gathered through your blog
- Increase in sales attributed to blog posts
Track this data so you can optimize your next editorial calendar. With data-driven insights, you can tailor posts to match what your readers are looking for.
16. Consider monetization
As your readership increases, your blog will become more valuable. It may take less time than you expect before you can make money through your blog.
Monetization techniques include:
- Google Adsense banners and advertisements
- Private advertising sales with companies looking to reach your readers
- Offering individualized or group coaching sessions
- Developing an online course on your specialized skillset
- Writing an e-book and selling it on your website
- Incorporating affiliate marketing and sponsorships in your blog
- Directly selling products related to your niche
If your personal blog has become popular in specific circles, you may even be approached by companies interested in buying your site. Be open to the possibilities!
9 best practices to build blog readership
Sometimes, blogs go viral and gain thousands of readers in a day. I hope this happens for you! But in case it doesn’t, here are some best practices for methodically building your readership over time.
1. Never, ever plagiarize
New writers may not intentionally steal copy from other sources, but it happens — a lot. It’s not good enough to change a few words around. If another blog does a better job of explaining something, link it instead. If people discover you aren’t doing the work, you’ll lose credibility, trust, and readership.
2. Stay on brand
Let’s say your target audience consists of entrepreneurs in need of a CPA and your business has a very professional brand voice. If you make an off-color joke in your headline, you’ll confuse and alienate your readership. Conversely, if you write a fun, flirty fashion blog, you don’t want to be too staid in your copy.
Use your blog as an extension of your brand. Voice, tone, and content should be consistent with your website, social media content, press releases, and any other digital presence that represents your personal or professional identity.
3. Always prioritize your readers
Without readers to read your posts, you’ll be shouting into the ether. Make sure you understand their needs and do your best to provide solutions with your blog. Show them what they would lose without your goods, services, or expertise.
4. Do your research
I’ve written hundreds of blogs for small, medium, and large companies, as well as nonprofits, government agencies, and simply for my own personal enjoyment. But you can bet that I also spent plenty of time researching before I sat down to write this guide. Even experts need to research and refresh their knowledge on topics before writing useful, engaging blog posts.
It can be challenging to find respectable sources for your posts. If you want to share facts with your readers, make sure you’re relying on primary sources that check out. When in doubt, link to your source but always set the hyperlink to open in a new tab in the web browser. You don’t want to send anyone away from your blog prematurely.
5. Create evergreen content
Evergreen content is named after those beautiful pine trees that stay green all winter long, and it refers to content that isn’t connected with a time hook. News outlets love evergreen content, and you should, too.
Some seasonal topics will always be appropriate for your blog. But the more timeless topics you cover, the more useful your writing will be year round.
For example, if you own a lawn maintenance business, a seasonal topic could be tips for preparing your yard for the first snowfall. An evergreen topic could be a list of lawn tools every homeowner should own.
6. Keep your blog design simple
Your design should make it easy for readers to enjoy your blog without getting too distracted. Keep your sidebar uncluttered. Just because you can include a bunch of features doesn’t mean you should. And do your readers a favor — just say no to auto-loading music or noise that starts when they click on your site.
7. Use online tools to improve your content creation
Along with Google’s Keyword Planner and Constant Contact’s LogoMaker, there are many other online tools you can use to refine and improve your blog.
- Try scanning Answer the Public to generate new blog post topics.
- Integrate Trello to help manage your content creation if you’re blogging with a team.
- Use Constant Contact’s social marketing tools to schedule social media posts for the time of day when your readers are most likely to see them.
- Share drafts with your editing team through Google Docs.
- Keep a running list of future blog ideas on the Evernote app on your smartphone.
Use technology to make the process of blogging faster and more efficient.
8. Build a community
Whether you know them or not, the people who subscribe to your blog are developing a relationship with you or your brand every time they read a post. One way to build trust with your audience is to build a community.
Along with addressing all comments and feedback publicly, consider organizing a Facebook group or Discord chat where your readers can engage with each other. Use your blog to facilitate meaningful conversations that can make a difference in people’s lives.
9. Standardize your blog’s format
Once you have a template you like, save it so you can produce on-brand posts without having to reinvent your design every time.
Then, keep your writing style consistent. This can be as simple as following a checklist to ensure every post includes the following:
- Attention-grabbing title
- Interesting or relatable introduction
- Problem or question of interest to the audience
- Solution to the problem or answer to the question
- Summary of the main points of the post
- Call to action (CTA) that tells readers what to do next
When your readers know what to expect from your blog, they’ll be more likely to return and more comfortable sharing your blogs with their friends and family.
Want to learn more about how to create a blog?
I hope this guide has given you the inspiration and practical tips you need to get started publishing your first blog post! With the right planning and follow-through, you can begin a meaningful hobby or create a new level of content marketing to grow your business.
If you’re looking to dive deeper, check out Constant Contact’s Blogging 101 guide. It contains even more tips and best practices from industry experts on how to start and run a successful, engaging blog, no matter the topic.