What would I do if I were starting a blog from scratch?

starting a blog

By Mark Schaefer

Here is mind game successful bloggers play with each other. “If you had to start over right now, how would you do it?” So here is my answer, an amalgam of stuff that worked and stuff I learned from mistakes I learned along the way. If you are just starting a blog from scratch, here are the foundational steps I would take to do it.

1. Don’t obsess with a niche

Let me state plainly that yes … it is important to have a niche. You eventually need to carve out a little place on the web that you can make your own.

But if you don’t know what that is, don’t let that stop you. Maybe you won’t discover your niche until you have blogged for six months, or a year. Maybe you will discover your niche based on an insight from a blog comment, maybe your niche will shift over time.

When I started my blog I thought I knew my niche and found after six months that I hated it. So I changed it. Over years of blogging and 1,500 posts, I learned that my blogging niche is not writing about  Facebook, or strategy or SEO. My niche is me. My niche is the perspective I bring after being in business for more than 30 years. I think that is legitimate but it took me awhile to figure it out.

2. Stop making excuses

Everybody gets busy. And when that happens, if blogging is the first thing that drops off the table, you will never, ever become a successful blogger. If you write consistently – let’s say two hours a week – blogging will become easier over time.

You will find your voice, you will find your audience, your confidence will grow, you will become more efficient. But none of this will happen if you don’t stick with it. Carve out at least two hours a week if you are serious about this and never miss.

3. Spend time building an audience

It can be pretty depressing to pour your heart into a blog and know that nobody is reading it. I am speaking from experience. I get as many page views in a week that I got in my first 18 months of blogging put together! {grow} was a lonely place for a long time.

I learned that “Build it and they will come” is a great movie line but a lousy blogging strategy. Blogging is not just about writing. I had to spend time finding and nurturing my audience. Here are a few posts with ideas to help you do that:

4. Read

There are about 10 blogs that I read consistently and a lot of other resources like Marketing Profs, Social Media Examiner and The Full Monty that I scan for ideas and trends. Being an active reader helps you to be a better writer. However … don’t try to BE like somebody else. Follow your own path.

5. Make it look professional

If you want to grow your blog and maybe even build it into a business, the site should look professional. If you are spending a lot of time on your blog, why put it in a cheap-looking container? I often recommend to new businesses that if they only have a little bit of money to spend on marketing, spend it on a great-looking website. It is your front door to the world.

6. Stick to a schedule

Whether you decide to blog once a month or once a week, it’s important to be consistent. If you are trying to build an audience, they need to know when to expect something new from you.

7. Become a blogger, not a writer

Even if you consider yourself a good writer, that doesn’t mean you are an effective blog writer. There is a big difference in what we might have learned in school and what readers on the web expect. So spend a little time learning how to write for the web. Here are some resources to help:

8. Be yourself

To stand out you need to be original. To be original, you have no choice but to be yourself. Does that seem obvious? It’s not. It took me years to figure that out. Being yourself takes courage. I am still working on this and probably always will be.

9. Think about SEO in context

Optimizing your content for search may not be your top priority. Some people are going to have a twinge of anxiety at this piece of advice because SEO is a sacred cow in our business.

Hear me out. For some businesses, SEO is essential, especially if you are trying to gain traffic to sell a discreet product like a clock or a computer.

But what if you are trying to become a thought leader who aims to build loyalty? That doesn’t take “traffic.” That requires an audience. There’s a difference. And to build an audience, you need to serve them consistently with quality content, not necessarily keyword strategies. I recently wrote about the goals of different kinds of content (hygiene, hub, hero). The type of content you create and the relative importance of SEO must be in context with your goals as a writer. There needs to be a blend of priorities that fit your strategy.

10. Know when to pivot

When I started my blog, I thought that finding a niche meant being “on message.” I was afraid to sway from my core theme.

Within a few months, I was bored. Everything changed once I allowed myself room to grow … and I am still growing! My blog is different than it was six months ago. It is radically different than it was two years ago.

Some of this is because I am responding to changes in my audience. Part of the reason is because my interests have changed. But hopefully I am always staying interesting and relevant.

I don’t see myself stuck in a theme or a niche. I am evolving. I am “pivoting” month by month, year by year.  Once you have found your niche, don’t be afraid to alter it. Don’t be afraid to {grow}!

Well, those are some things that helped me when I started out and these are ideas I would use to start again. Which of these ideas had an impact on you?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy NatalieDee.com

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