This is a guest post by Mitch O'Conner.
The Art of Planning Your Blog
Thinking of starting a blog? So is everybody else. According to BlogPulse, there are over 174 million blogs on the Internet as of October 2011, and over 7,000 new blogs are created every day. On the other hand, a 2008 Technorati survey indicated that 95% of blogs end up being abandoned - meaning that the vast majority of bloggers either post very infrequently or completely give up on their blog within a very short amount of time (sometimes after a couple of months, sometimes after a single day).
But this doesn't mean that there's less competition - it simply means that blogging is hard. It takes a lot of work to develop and maintain a blog, and even if it's well-operated, there's still no guarantee that you'll get a lot of traffic or see any income being generated. This is why it's almost impossible to overstate the importance of planning. The more you think ahead, stay focused on your goals, and keep your basics covered, the higher your chances will be of becoming successful with blogging.
What Will You Blog About?
- Personal Blogs - These are the most traditional, "online diary" sort of blogs. Basically, a personal blog is for sharing ideas, reflecting on life and just communicating thoughts in general. These blogs rarely see extensive traffic or income, but it's not impossible to become popular if your content is engaging enough.
- Genre Blogs - These are blogs that chiefly discuss a specific topic such as politics, fashion, home improvement, parenting, music, and travel.
- Business or Organizational Blogs - These are blogs that are part of a larger business or organization, such as a large corporation or non-profit club.
Of course, these categories can overlap. There are plenty of "genre blogs" that also promote specific products that the blogger is selling. So, if you're just looking for a unique communication outlet that allows you to make posts over 140 characters long, then you don't need to do quite as much planning. But if your endgame is to make a profitable site that you can eventually sell if you want to, you'll have to consider many more things.
The first of these considerations is your niche market. Your blog has a much better chance of becoming popular if you're serving a marketable need that's under-serviced. Does the world really need another blog about poker? Well, maybe.
If you can provide excellent, expert insight into the game as well as keep readers informed of everything going on in the poker world in an engaging, unique way, then you could probably pull it off. But you might have more success creating a blog about something with a little less competition like antique clocks, dog training, or Halloween costumes.
One of the best ways to decide this is to ask yourself what you're interested in and what you have expertise in. This will help ensure the longevity of your blog. Market research is important here as well - if you're really serious about creating a profitable blog, you may want to take some marketing classes to get expert advice about niche markets.
There are a few basic things you should decide on before you even start writing:
- Platform - Blogger and WordPress are the two most popular free blog hosting services. They aren't the same though. For example, if you're blogging about Halloween costumes, you'll likely need a lot of image storage. WordPress offers three gigabytes of image storage as opposed to Blogger's one gigabyte.
- Posting Frequency - How often will you post? This a point of contention among bloggers, but it's important to keep your site updated and active. Posting frequency also depends on your niche; again, if you're blogging about Halloween, it'll probably please your readers if you post more often during the fall.
- Topics - Are you going to plan topics ahead of time or "shoot from the hip"? This depends on your personality - if it takes you a long time to create a quality piece of content, then be sure to set aside the necessary time.
Your blog will never be successful if nobody knows it exists. As Bill Gates famously stated in 1996, "content is king." Ultimately, your excellent content will be the factor that draws readers to your blog. However, there are some tactics that are (arguably) necessary in order to succeed. These tactics involve getting noticed on search engines, and are known as search engine optimization, or SEO.
SEO often involves internal linking, creating a sitemap, executing a backlink building campaign, and performing keyword research. Keyword research is especially important, as it can aid in your market research as well as your SEO.
For example, sticking with our Halloween blog example, you could use a tool like Google Adwords Keyword tool to find out what people are searching for in relation to Halloween. If you find that a phrase such as "adult Halloween costumes" is getting a very high number of searches on Google, you can incorporate that phrase into your content in order to rank more highly in the search engine results pages.
How will your blog make money? If you're actually creating and selling a product, then you have a source of income right there. But if your blog is mainly content-oriented, you'll have to plan out your money-making strategies. The most important aspect to remember here is that your blog can't make money if you don't have readers. You have to attract a decent amount of traffic for any of the following options to work:
- Sell Ad Space - Pay-per-click advertising is a setup where an ad is placed on your site and you get paid each time a reader clicks the ad. Tools like Google AdSense can help you place these types of ads.
- Branded Products - If you've established a brand, try using a service like Cafe Press to create t-shirts, mugs or other items with your logo on them.
- Affiliate Programs - Back to the Halloween blog example. You can promote other Halloween sites or products and receive a commission for any sales made through your blog. A site like ClickBank can help you with this.
- Membership Fees - If your content is in very high demand, you could create a paid, "members-only" section of your site, or compile some of your content into ebooks for sale.
Of course there are plenty of other ways to monetize your blog. Deciding early how you want to make money will help your blog take shape.
It's important to establish milestones and set reasonable goals as you go along, but keep your mind on the big picture as well. Are you blogging about a topic that's going to be obsolete in a year? Is your blog only going to be popular at certain times throughout the year?
Your Halloween blog will be popular in the fall, but after Halloween is over, you'll have to be prepared to somehow keep your readers interested. Blogging about horror movies, timely and interesting costume ideas, fun party themes and homemade candy throughout the year can keep it interesting. So, be sure to consider your topic's staying power and how you can creatively monetize your blog at all times.
Clearly, planning a blog takes a lot of time and consideration. Once your blog is live, be prepared to work hard, but don't forget that blogging should be enjoyable. Don't hesitate to hire outside help if needed, and be sure to adapt to changes in the market and public interest.
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