For many, blogging conjures up fears of being chained to one's computer spending countless hours on content that no one will read. But it doesn't have to be that way. From an online journal at 1,000 words per post to a simple 140-character Twitter feed, blogging has taken center stage largely because of how useful it has proven itself to be in almost all areas of business. Blogging can also be profitable according to research by Technorati, an Internet search engine for searching blogs, which reports that for blogs with 100,000 or more unique monthly visitors revenue averages about $75,000 annually. As a companion to my popular series on Blogging, here is a step-by-step guide to getting your blog from zero to thousands of readers.
Note: This guide doesn't touch on micro-blogging, the type of short blog posts that can be found on Twitter or on other social networking status updates. For more information on how these blogs can be helpful, read 5 Ways to Actually Make Money on Twitter.
Step 1: Determine why you are blogging.
In my post "To Blog or Not to Blog", I outlined the four reasons why a website exists to aid a business: 1) to build a brand, 2) generate leads, 3) generate direct sales, or 4) generate advertising revenue. A blog can also support any one of these goals. Which goals are you trying to accomplish with your company website and which are you trying to accomplish with your blog?
Define what success looks like? If your goal is branding, what awareness studies will you do? If your goal is advertising revenue, how much do you hope to make? How many readers and page views do you need? For lead generation, how many phone calls or e-mails do you want to get from your blog? These goals can change, but it is important to put a stake in the ground and then measure against it. Also, take a look at How Twitter Helps a CEO Run His Company for a peek at how micro-blogging (Twitter) helped this CEO gain feedback about his company.
Step 2: Determine the "concept" of your blog.
What is the niche you will write about? Who will care? Once you know WHY you are blogging, you can think about WHAT to blog about. You may go back and forth between Step 1 and Step 2 for a few rounds before making your final decision. Some people start with an idea for a blog but when they put it to the test of actually generating revenue the idea changes. Step 1 and Step 2 must work in tandem and you have to know that there is an audience for what you have to say.
Your blog concept can be very narrow, attracting a small but passionate niche of readers and few, if any, competitors, or it can focus broadly on a topic that is widely popular but has a lot of competition. Much of your decision may rely on the resources available to you and ultimately your goals. Do you have a large marketing budget, staff and resources for your blog? Do you already have access to a large audience of readers (thousands to tens of thousands of readers)? Do you have a long period of time (2-3 years) over which you can consistently devote 5-10 hours per week of writing and marketing efforts to slowly build your blog audience and subscriber base? If you answered no to all of these questions you may want to consider focusing narrowly since creating a very unique voice or speaking on a unique topic is a much easier and faster way to break through the noise than writing about the same thing that everyone else writes about.
Step 3: Will your blog be separate or integrated into your site?
This is actually two questions:
1. Will your blog be under the same domain name as your site? The benefit of this is that you will get more (search engine optimization) SEO value out of the content of your blog. Some advise putting your blog under a different domain and linking generously between the two sites in order to gain "link popularity." But link popularity is not necessarily the most important element of SEO (nor will it help you much to have many links between two sites neither of which is itself highly ranked). Having a larger amount of keyword-rich content on your site is usually far more important. Having your blog hosted under the same domain name as your site will add all of your blog content to your site content when search engines determine where to place your site in the rankings. For more about Search Engine Optimization read this detailed guide or my blog post on the topic.
2. Will your blog exist within the same software as your site? If your website is built within a Content Management System (which is usually a very good idea because updating is made easier) it is typically most useful to have your blog constructed within that same CMS. These programs, including Drupal, Joomla and WordPress, will typically allow users to build both a website and a blog. The benefit here is that you only have ONE login to access and update all of the content of your site. Plus, there's only ONE system to learn. See my post titled "Build Your Blog" for a lot more detail on different options for building your blog, including free vs. paid, self-hosted vs. blogging-company hosted, WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com, etc.
Step 4: Decide what you will write about.
There are several decisions you'll need to make somewhat in tandem:
1) Frequency – Look at your resources and determine how often you can comfortably write content. Do you plan to pay someone to write content or write it yourself? While blogging frequency varies widely, the most typical frequency is daily, weekly or monthly. The more often you post, the more traffic you'll get.
2) Content – Now comes the part where you actually have to write something. It will be harder than you think. My strong recommendation is to compose your first five posts ahead of time and post them according to the schedule you devise. From there, you can determine if your frequency is realistic. Don't forget the power of headlines - a great headline will do a lot to attract readers. A great resource to help you with headline writing, copywriting or even blasting writer's block is CopyBlogger.
NOTE: It never hurts to take a cue from the experts. We've rounded up a list of 19 bloggers who not only provide great tips for your business but are also provide good examples of how to do it right.
3) Content Organization – Some content can be organized in topic categories while it may make sense for other blogs to be listed by date. If your style is more of a personal journal like the author of Dooce.com, categories won't make as much sense. Dooce blogger Heather Armstrong writes about whatever is on her mind at the moment so chronology works best.
4. Call to Action – How will you engage your readers to reach your ROI? Here are some phrases to include in your blog:
• Join my email list
• Download my ebook
• Buy my product
• Sign up for my service
• Call or email me for a consultation
• Buy advertising on this blog
• Connect with me on various social sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace etc.)
• Visit my store or office
• Come meet me at this live event
Integrate the calls to action that make sense for your needs into both the content and design of your blog. Your calls to action should impact your success goals from Step 1. If success for your blog is just having 10,000 readers per month, then your calls to action will focus heavily on marketing to new audiences and keeping existing readers happy. You can accomplish that by making content easy to find, highly engaging and being available to your audience.
Step 5: Determing your process.
Will your blog be managed by a single person (i.e. you are a solo entrepreneur) or will each blog post be reviewed by senior management? Who will be responsible for updating blog posts? These questions will affect frequency. This article on Blogging for Business highlights the things to beware of in establishing your blogging process, matching it to your goals and maintaining transparency and authenticity.
Step 6: Design your blog.
Now that you have an idea of what your calls to action will be, you have some actual content that can be used and you know the purpose of your blog you can determine design. If you are working with a budget of less than $5,000, I would strongly recommend working with a pre-designed template. You can either modify the template as needed or use the template as is. A custom template can be expensive when done well or not very good if done cheaply. You will often be far better off getting all the built-in testing, browser compatibility, features and functionality of a well made pre-designed template.
You can find some free templates here and paid themes here.
Step 7: Building your blog.
What software will you use and where will you host your blog? You have two options: 1) Host your blog with a third-party blog service provider like WordPress.com or Blogger.com; or 2) Get the software (WordPress.org is the most popular) and host your blog internally or with a hosting company.
Hosting internally provides more control over your content, updates, and is currently the only option if you plan to generate advertising revenue with your blog. Read "Build Your Blog" for more details on this software and hosting decision.
If you are working with a budget of less than $5,000, the wise decision is probably to identify which software you can afford FIRST, and then determine your content and design based on what that software provides. If your budget is $5,000 or greater, you'll have more flexibility and should determine desired features first, then choose the software and create a design based solely on your needs.
Features and Functionality - Do your homework and identify what features and functionality you want to have on your blog. In these articles, I outline 8 fundamental features and 13 must have features. Do you want to manage your own comments or use a service like Disqus? Do you want to automate a battery of "share" links into each post or choose select ones? Will you allow people to subscribe to automatically receive an email whenever you update your blog? What service will you use to do that?
Step 8: Marketing your blog.
There are countless ways to market your blog, but the key is that you actually do it. Basically you are trying to find ways to establish both creditability and visibility for your content. People have to know your blog exists and is useful. You have to remind them that it exists as often as possible and in a non-annoying way. Many of the features that are included in a blog are designed to help you drive traffic. I break the marketing job into two categories: 1) getting new readers, and 2) building loyalty amongst your existing readers. For a list of the best ways to market your blog see my post here on the top ways to market your blog.
Step 9: Monitor your traffic and analyze your success.
Establish a process (weekly, monthly or quarterly) to assess your blog's success and failures with a keen eye on what's driving each. Are you getting a lot of traffic from particular places? Boost your presence there. Are you spending a lot of energy on a particular topic that consistently gets very little traffic? Perhaps you should either stop writing about that topic or consider if you are marketing to the wrong audience. Are you not generating the advertising revenue you had hoped? Perhaps you don't have a large enough readership, or perhaps you're not making an offer that's relevant to advertisers (audience demographics, pricing, ad placement, etc.). Perhaps your going after the wrong advertisers. Make sure you assess your blog on a regular basis against the goals you defined in Step 1.
• Tools for traffic assessment will include website traffic statistics software Google Analytics or the simpler traffic statistics software that should come for free with your hosting account. Ask your hosting company how to access it.
• Once you know your site traffic, you can also benchmark it against other sites with Compete.com and Quantcast.
• For advertising rates, search competitor sites for their "advertising rate sheets" for free data or you can use paid tools such as Nielsen Adrelevance, Nielsen @plan.
Step 10: Monetize your blog.
If you choose to take the route of generating revenue from your blog, I'd like to offer some sobering information supplied by Technorati. Based on the 2009 State of Blogoshopere and 2008 State of Blogoshopere, 72 percent of respondents have not monetized their blog. Only 4 percent of respondents derive their primary source of income from their blog. In fact, the median annual revenue for the bloggers who do have advertising was $200. That means 50 percent of the respondents earn less than $200 per year from their blogs with CPMs of $1.20 or less. The top 10 percent of bloggers earn an average of $19,000 annually. The top 1 percent earn $200,000 or more. The average annual income was $75,000 for those who had 100,000 or more unique visitors per month (some of whom had more than one million visitors each month). This should provide some grounding on what to expect from monetizing a blog both in terms of dollars and traffic thresholds.
If you're going to monetize your blog you should be aware of the options that are open to you. Most people think of monetizing only through selling ads but there are many other possibilities.
1) Supporting an existing online store. Zappos is probably the best example of this.
2) Selling your products and services. Blogs are often used to drive sales of information products (i.e. ebooks etc.) or services.
3) Selling products for other affiliates. Earn a commission from the sale of other people's products on your site.
4) Selling advertising. Do your own sales, hiring a sales team, or join an ad network. Here is a fantastic list of advertising networks from econsultant.com.
5) Pay per post. Companies will actually hire you to write a post for them or review their product on your blog.
WARNING: This technique is controversial and may damage the trust your readers have in you.
6) Arrange speaking engagements. The authority you establish in your blog can translate to your ability to speak on this topic to a live (or virtual) audience.
7) Paid writing and media appearances. Write for other publications or make media appearances.
8) Blog roundtables. Provide your opinion and feedback on products.
9) Event attendance. Sometimes all people want is your presence!
Let's face it, blogging is resource intensive but can be highly valuable. Make sure you're going to get your money's worth or else those resources might be better used elsewhere.