These days, anyone can start a blog; nothing could be easier. Starting a blog that will stand out, however, is another story. So here is an insider’s guide to blogging to help you stand out from the crowd.

1. Identify your niche and target audience

You may be rearing to jump right in and get your blog started, but like with all great things you need to do your prep work. You need to identify your target market so that you can find out as much about them as you can.

This is a crucial task for effectively marketing your blog. The reason is simple: you are in a highly competitive environment. You have to focus your attention and resources to where you can maximize the impact. You can also deliver relevant and value to the right people.

For example, if your target market are new mothers, you can provide them with the information and services that can truly make their life easier while growing your business. It’s a win-win situation.

2. Select the right blog platform

The platform you choose for your blog will depend on what you plan to do with it in the future.

Do you intend to keep is as a sort of hobby, or do you eventually see it expanding into a business? The most common platforms for blogging are WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr.

These blogging platforms, along with their pros and cons, are discussed below and you can choose which one will best suit your needs:

For the typical hobby blogger with no budget, a good choice is either WordPress or Blogger. They are both completely free, easy to use and customize, and search engine friendly (Blogger is owned by Google).

However, you cannot self-host a Blogger site, unlike WordPress, which also has more storage space. On the other hand, WordPress is more vulnerable to security risks. Tumblr is also free and a favorite for social network friendly sites.

However, Tumblr is not easy to monetize, so nix that if you want an income-generating blog.

Popular paid platforms include TypePad and Wix, which are easier to monetize. Technically, creating a blog on Wix is free, but it has limited use until you use a paid service. Even for the paid services, both TypePad and Wix are generally less user-friendly than Blogger and WordPress.

3. Don’t make users think

Information architect Steve Krug said, “I’ve come to think that what really counts is not the number of clicks it takes me to get to what I want (although there are limits), but rather how hard each click is—the amount of thought required and the amount of uncertainty about whether I’m making the right choice.” He is referring to usability in terms of the user experience design of websites, as he succinctly explained in his book Don’t Make Me Think – Revisited.

Krug maintains that people prefer websites that don’t require them to think too hard. They like obvious choices, and websites that are easy to understand and navigate. Choose a blog template that is a no-brainer to use and make it easy for them to go to the Homepage.

The trend is towards simple, almost bare websites with clear, standard buttons, and a search function. Everything else takes a backseat to the content, which should be above the fold as much as possible.

4. Use tools that make your life easier

If you made a thorough study of your target market, then you probably have a pretty good idea of topics that your readers would like to see on your blog. However, knowing the topic and writing it are two different things.

Joseph Couch, editor at dissertation service Edugeeksclub, shares, “Blogging is difficult. You need to constantly churn out great ideas everyday on topics that your readers can relate to so that they keep on coming back.”

Here are some tools that will help you in this roadblock.

Content Ideator: The first, and probably most important, thing you’re up against is the title. You can use standard titles, of course, but the chances they will click on it is small compared to creating titles that are unique, specific, useful and/or urgent.

This free online tool helps you generate a great title. All you have to do is put in your keyword/s and choose from the suggestions. For example, when searching for the keyword “writing,” it came up with 500 suggestions, one of which is “Copywriting Catastrophe: 3 Warning Signs Nobody Is Reading Your Copy (Do You Hear the Crickets?).”

It is also a great tool for giving you ideas on how to develop the content based on the keyword.

Writefull: This lightweight app is a very useful copy editing tool. It checks selected phrases and shows you how often it is used in the database, the correct usage, synonyms, and feedback on your word choices.

It is a plugin for MS Word and Gmail, so you can use it on those apps. It is free, but unfortunately, is not yet compatible with Windows, so Mac users have the edge on this.

Canva: For newbie writers who can’t be bothered to figure out the intricacies of Photoshop, this is a viable alternative. It is an online image-editing tool simple enough for anyone to use and can get the job done well enough for blog site use.

You can add text, filters, and special effects quickly so you can give your site that added oomph. It is free for the single user, but if you need a team to work with it, you can upgrade to the monthly pal at $12.95 or yearly plan at $119.40. Try the upgraded plan free for 30 days.

Animoto: Many website designers advise keeping videos to a minimum on a site because it slows down loading, but there is no reason why you can’t link to one stored offsite. You can create your own videos with a click of the button using this free-to-try online app.

If you like it, you can sign up for $8 a month for personal use if you don’t mind the Animoto logo in your videos. If you’re picky, you can go for the $22 or $34 monthly plan. All paid plans are paid annually.

5. Provide links to your other posts

Backlinking got a bad rap after Penguin, but internal links remain an important factor in search engine optimization.

For one thing, search engines don’t rank websites, but pages, so it is important to have internal links in pages other than Home to build the page authority. Linking to other pages in your blog reduces bounce rate and increases pageviews per user.

Further, linking to your other posts provides an easy navigation and point of reference for your users. No need to expound on a certain concept if you can link to it in other posts thereby giving you more room to focus on what you want to say and engage your audience.

6. Choose a suitable comment platform

Engagement is typically measured statistically, but actual comments, replies and likes are a better indication that your blog is an effective one. You can encourage users to engage that way by choosing the right comment platform. Below are some of the most effective.

Facebook: the new system requires the use of real identities, so no more trolling! It is also easier to go viral as comments also go into your Facebook stream

Disqus: simple to integrate third-party commenting system used by 75% of blogs; they must be doing something right. It is also mobile-friendly, which is a major plus

CommentLuv: allows users to link to their latest posts. This encourages a symbiotic relationship between users and blog sites. However, it does open a blog site to spam and abuse

7. Build your social media audience and promote in your network

You can use your blog and social media to increase your network by integrating it. You can:

  • Share your own blog on social networks
  • Repeat tweets periodically, at least four times throughout the day
  • Add a video or image
  • Add share buttons for up to four social networks
  • Add links to your social network pages to encourage followers
  • Use an RSS-feed aggregator like Alltop
  • Include an email subscription

8. Incentivize readers to take action

Who doesn’t like freebies? Some of the most successful blogs tie up with advertisers and sponsors on their site to give away stuff to new subscribers and members. All they have to do is to pay attention to the content and respond to the call to action. It’s been done for years, and it still works now. Get your target engaged and energized by running some contests and giving away some cool or useful stuff.

9. Measure the results

How do you know your blog is drawing in traffic? You measure it, of course. There are quite a few ways to do this, and below are the most useful ones.

Google Analytics: free web analytics service that tracks and reports traffic; it is the most widely used tool because it measures the overall impact of your website

Facebook Page Insights: tracks user interaction, including the time, day, and content type to post to garner the most popularity on the Facebook network

Twitter Analytics: provides a graphical overview of impressions and following over a time period, which is useful for guiding you in how to build your audience on Twitter

10. Test what works and what doesn’t

You need to test the effectiveness of your blog site for the same reason you test a gadget you just bought, to see if it works. If a gadget doesn’t work, you replace it or get a refund. Either way, you get your money’s worth.

It is the same for the elements in your blogs. If it doesn’t work, you need to replace it with something else that does so that you avoid wasting time and money. Testing also gives you valuable insight on your target audience.

An important element to test is your social media call to actions. You need to find out which ones succeed in engaging your audience, and what does not. You must understand that your readers are looking out for number one. They are only interested in what you have to offer if they see some value in it for them. You have to motivate them to take that extra step to engage by clicking on the call to action button or link. To do that, you need to choose an approach that works.

11. Keep of track of your brand mentions

Finally, you need to find out if your branding is helping you build a relationship with your target market.

One way to do this is to track how often and where your brand is mentioned on other sites. You can try one of these three tools, or find something else that works for you.

Social Mention: this free web app searches for mentions of your brand in over 100 social media networks, and analyzes how people feel about you. It is a simple yet powerful tracking tool

Social Radar: this paid app “listens” to chatter between influencers in Facebook, Twitter and other major social networks while filtering out spam and sales copy for your brand mentions, and you can compare to how you are doing against competitors

Brand Watch: a Twitter Certified Product, it nevertheless monitors brand mentions in more than 70 million sources in 27 languages, so it is quite comprehensive

There you have it, everything you need to do to create a successful blog. Don’t feel intimidated by these 11 tips, though. As a newbie blogger, you should take it slow. You can work your way through each item as you get a little more acclimatized to blogging. The most important thing is to know your audience and have clearly defined goals.

This is a guest contribution by Naomi Binford, a writer from New York City. She loves gathering tidbits of information on random subjects that fascinate her and sharing them with her readers online. You can connect with her via Twitter @NaomiBinford.

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