I have grown my audience from a meager 1,500 visitors in the first 18 months of blogging to 500k views on a single blog post.
But I must state that the first days of running a blog are disappointing and discouraging. You publish high-quality content only to get a handful readers.
Building an audience can be painfully slow.
Nevertheless, blogging is one of easiest ways of building an online presence and creating a recognisable brand.
As opposed to traditional business websites, blogs are dynamic. Having a blog gives you a great platform to showcase your skills, products or services. It can also make you an authority in your industry.
If properly integrated for lead generation, the blog would soon generate you new business.
When I began blogging about four years ago I didn’t have anyone to guide me through the process. I made lots costly errors and tried out so many different things until I found what works best for me.
Below is my list of 14 tips for creating a successful blog.
#1 Let the audience define your blog
Almost every article you read about blogging advises you to first define your audience down to what they have for lunch. I have found this approach to be highly ineffective.
How do you define an audience that you haven’t interacted with?
Instead of cracking your brains on who exactly your readers are, I recommend you start writing everything for everyone. Then go through your web analytics every four months and find out the demographics of your audience.
Most free analytic tools can define the nature of your audience, such as its age, location and taste. The tools can also tell you the time a visitor spend on each page.
Concrete data would better guide you in defining your audience and help you choose a niche as opposed to assumptions.
It is through analytics that I discovered that three-quarters of my readers are between 18-35 and about 15% above 50. I chose to major in lifestyle because articles on this area would get me the highest engagement.
The most shocking revelation I got from the data was that, despite curating content for a Kenyan audience, the highest amount of traffic to my blog originated from US and UK. Kenya was number three on the list.
#2 choose the right platform
Deciding on the best blogging platform is the first major step towards creating a successful blog. There are many platforms to choose from. My fortunes turned when I switched from Blogspot to WordPress.
Over 60 % world’s websites are powered by WordPress. This is because the platform has thousands of retina-responsive themes, plugins, widgets, numerous tutorials and forums.
There are two types of WordPress sites. The first is WordPress.com which allows you to set up a www.yourbusiness.wordpress.com. The second option is WordPress.org where you create a self-hosted blog.
#3 Choose an appealing theme
Have you ever visited a website only to find colored text on top of images, an annoying background or a blog so jumbled that you have no idea on how to navigate through it? I bet you are very unlikely to go back to such a blog because of the torture reading through is.
A theme is an interface between your content and your audience hence the need to make a good choice there. It is advisable to hire a web designer who will tweak your theme so that it is appealing.
If unable to hire one, go through online tutorials on choosing the best theme. In particular, take the time to learn about the power of colors before settling on one for your blog. For example, blue is easy to the human eye, and that’s why major websites and apps use it.
Pick a theme that is responsive, mobile-friendly and allows for some level of customization. It should also offer great customer support. It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, use captivating images on every post to reinforce the message.
#3 Purchase a memorable domain name
A domain is the name of the URL used to access your blog. When was the last time you searched for something on Google only to find a website with .worpress.com or blogspot.com at the end appearing on the first page?
Exactly, such blogs rank poorly across all search engines. Registering a domain will only cost you about 10 US dollars a year, but it makes a huge difference. Generally, a .com domain is more appealing to users compared to .biz, .net etc.
Having your name as a domain can work to your advantage if you are already a popular figure otherwise choose one that best describes what your blog is all about in fewest words possible.
For a business blog, ensure it describes the nature of your business but still specific enough to differentiate it from similar establishments.
My first blog address was lammergeyer.blogspot.com. Lammergeyer is a bearded vulture. Although the name is unique my readers had a hard time recalling it and new visitors had no idea of what the blog was all about.
I later changed it to markmaish.com which is easier to remember.
#4 Get reliable web hosting.
You may come across lots companies out there claiming to offer web hosting at 30-70 US dollars a year for unlimited storage or bandwidth, which often isn’t the case. In mid-2016 I moved my blog to a local web hosting of such kind in a bid to promote local entrepreneurship.
On paper, the company offered me unlimited bandwidth and storage, however, a blog that was smoothly handling an average of 8,000 visitors a day suddenly could hardly sustain 100 without going down.
It took two months for me to move the blog back to a reliable host. For that period my blog would go offline at least 8 hours a day. I lost readers and my reputation was damaged.
I use inmotion hosting because they offer free site transfer, reliable service and have a very responsive customer support team.
#5 Prepare blog for viral traffic.
In my early days as a blogger, if you told me that I would one day get a 100k visitors on my blog post in 24 hours I would have doubted you. Back then, I would print out fliers promoting my blog and stick them on notice boards across campus only to get 200 visitors on a good day.
Many upcoming bloggers think getting high amounts of traffic is beyond their reach. As a result, they fail to prepare their blogs for a spike in traffic.
At least six of my articles have gone viral. To be honest, I felt all these articles were substandard at the time of publishing, and I didn’t see them attracting a lot of traffic.
It is viral traffic, however, that catapults your blog to greater heights, recruit thousands of new readers and grows your social media following.
Since it is almost impossible to tell when your blog post will go viral make necessary preparations to handle such traffic. The first step is to install a caching plugin. I use WP Super Cache and WP Heartbeat Control.
This serves your visitors with cached pages thus reducing the strain on your servers.
You could also integrate your blog with a free Content Delivery Network (CDN) like CloudFlare. This will boost your website loading speed and enable your blog to easily accommodate the spike in traffic without crashing your servers
#6 Write timeless and shareable content
Unless your blog is news-oriented, write articles that will still feel fresh and relevant 5 years after publishing. This means writing articles in present voice and offering nuggets of wisdom that can stand the test of time.
Go through your social media page and analyze the kind of articles you have shared. You will notice that most of them elicited strong emotions or awe.
People share content that makes them appear intelligent or informed. Strive to write articles that move your readers, makes them feel good about themselves or shocks them to the core.
The length of articles is also an important factor. According to a study done by BuzzSumo, long form content, which is between 3,000-10,000 words gets an average of 8,859 shares. Basically, the longer the better.
#7 Catchy titles
The truth is that most of us only bother to click on the blog link if we find the title interesting. As a blogger, you may write an amazing article but because of a poor title, it fails to gain traction. It takes me at least a day after writing to settle on the title.
I write a number on my notebook trying various aspects of the article and synonyms until I get the best one. I began doing this after changing the title of an article that had attracted a thousand readers only for the number to shoot to 50k in the next two days.
Nevertheless, avoid click-baiting. It is unethical and counterproductive especially when someone reads through only to discover your title was misleading. Essentially, articles that start with ‘How to’, Top secrets and X tips get the highest engagement.
#8 Configure SEO
Having created a blog, the next step is to check out your competition. Find out blogs in your niche and what they write about. If there are no blogs in your niche then that gives you an opportunity to dominate the search engines.
Publishing articles without configuring SEO is like hoping to increase sales to your store by closing the main entrance and operating from a hidden backdoor.
It just not enough to write great content you also have to make it discoverable. You can do this by creating sitemaps of your blog on all major search engines, installing plugins like Yoast SEO then filling focus keywords and metatags for every single page.
You can do this by creating sitemaps of your blog on all major search engines, installing plugins like Yoast SEO then filling focus keywords and metatags for every single page.
Submit your blog to all a major blog listing in your niche. Post teasers and links to your blog in forums like Reddit. This will help you net people who are not active on social media.
Whenever commenting on high-ranking websites, post a link pointing back to your blog hence creating high-quality back links.
A blog with fresh and unique content that answers queries that people search for a lot usually ranks high on search engines.
#9 Interact with your readers
Instead of simply churning out articles, transform your blog into an interactive online community.
Encourage your audience to share ideas, interact and post feedback. Leverage all the major social media platforms to interact with your audience.
In a day I get lots of messages from readers across the world. Today alone I have received emails from a student in Ghana, a Bangladesh soldier, a manager in New York and an entrepreneur based in J’bourg.
These are people who reach out to me with business proposals, seek clarification or advice on various issues.
Most of them get shocked by how promptly I reply to all messages. When you correspond with a reader they feel valued. This fosters a strong relationship, recruits loyal readers and ambassadors who will market your blog through their networks.
Take advantage of your blog to collect emails and convert your readers to subscribers. The email listing will come in handy when you want to launch a new product or intend to send out a weekly newsletter.
#10 Develop a unique writing style
Ever read one of those corporate blogs, which are so stiff that you just can’t get past the second paragraph?
Give your readers a personalized experience. Let them feel like they are conversing with a friend seated right across the table. To achieve this, write every blog like it is directed to one person.
One of the main challenges new bloggers encounter is developing a writer’s voice. Most end up writing like their favorite writers. Actually, you can tell who their favorite writer is by skimming through a few of their pieces.
Unfortunately, when you write like a blogger with a wider audience people will think of you as a copycat and your blog as somehow inferior.
Finding your own voice takes time. Try as many writing styles as you can until you find one that works best for you. Whatever writing style you choose remember to use simple and clear language.
Unless your blog is meant purely for experts in a particular field, avoid using unnecessary jargon as it will lock out potential clients.
#11 Proofread before publishing
Typos errors are difficult to completely eliminate. Nonetheless, they erode your blog’s credibility. I have been roasted a couple of times by a section of netizens for committing glaring grammatical errors.
There is this one time I typed independence instead of independent. The targeted people hit back hard. Never before have I had such a long stream of nasty comments.
Have someone else edit your work before hitting the publish button. Otherwise, you could employ the use of grammar software like grammarly. This will help minimize the errors and thus project a professional image.
#12 Develop a tough skin.
Lots of people out here are hurting inside hence will use any opportunity to lash out at others in order to feel better about themselves. I know too well about this.
Criticism is an important part of the development of art. Sometimes you pour all your heart into a blog only to have someone post a long comment on how low they think of it.
At the start, I got lots of negative criticism. Many people would say that I was out of touch with reality and others would call me a plagiarist because, in their opinion, I couldn’t write what they saw in my articles.
It used to get under my skin. Sometimes it would take me weeks to get over the negativity and write again.
Things have changed a lot since, but I still get scathing comments. Nevertheless, I never hide or delete a comment on my blog, however nasty it is. This is because I no longer take criticism personally.
When someone says horrible things about your content, look at it objectively. They probably have a valid point. If anything, you learn more from negative comments than positive ones.
#13 Post great content consistently.
Do you have a particular blogger whom you read every article they publish?
This is because you know every article with their name on is worthwhile. Being a great blogger isn’t about writing one great article then publishing substandard ones for the rest of the year. It involves publishing amazing pieces regularly.
Readers follow religiously a blogger who posts amazing content consistently. It gets to a point they read anything you publish as they are certain it is amazing
Draw up an editorial calendar outlining the days you post. Having an editorial calendar will give your audience a clear idea on when to expect new content. You should publish at least once a week. However, you are better publishing three incredible posts in a month than six average ones.
#14 Invest some money into your blog.
Growing your blog organically is the best way of doing it. Over time you get to a point where you need a marketing budget. I promote every blog I publish on Facebook to help me capture a wider audience, which I wouldn’t organically.
Come up with a comprehensive marketing strategy on how to promote your content on Google Adwords, in addition to social media channels. This, of course, requires you committing resources.
One of the smartest choices I made for my blog was to invest in a good camera as I’m able to take high-res pictures of people I interview and places I review.
Acquire equipment that will boost the quality of your output. Make business cards for your blog, t-shirts, posters and other promotional material that you can give out to fans whenever you attend public forums. The initial cost may be high but the benefits of it, in the long run, will be more.
Above all patience is key to building your brand as a blogger. It takes time, effort and commitment to stand out in such a flooded industry. Remember it is not the most talented writer who ends up a successful blogger rather the one who consistently produces great content and packages it well.
Mark Maish is a graduate Civil Engineer, lifestyle blogger (www.markmaish.com) & Founder Konstrata Ltd.