In the first post in this series about blogging with WordPress (and making money from it!), I looked at how you can find a niche for your blog if you want to make money from it. In this second part, I’ll walk you through the process of getting your blog ready to go.
You may think this is a simple case of installing WordPress, getting yourself a suitable theme (our magazine-style Issue theme would be a good place to start), and starting to write.
But if you’re going to be successful, you need to spend some time preparing your blog.
You need to think about its audience, its design, how you’ll make money, and how you’ll grow your audience.
In this post, I’m going to help you get your blog ready. I’ll work through the things you need to consider before you get started, and help you pause and take stock before you dive into writing your first post.
In the follow-on posts, I’ll delve into these topics in more detail, looking at how you can use social media to grow your audience and the methods you could use to monetize your site, for example. But here I’ll encourage you to take the time to think about your blog before you start adding to it.
I’m also going to encourage you to configure some tools and plugins before you start so that your blog is working for you right from the outset. These include SEO, security and performance tools.
So let’s get started!
Considering Your Audience
The first thing to consider is your audience.
Your blog will only be successful if you truly understand your audience – you might even be a member of it, or have been a member in the past. For example, if your blog will help people to learn something, there will have been a time in the past when you didn’t have that expertise, and you were a learner too. Think about what you needed then and what would have brought you back to your blog time and time again.
Or if your blog is on a topic you love, think about why you love it – how can you highlight that in your blog and enthuse others as much as you yourself are enthused by the topic?
If you’re not quite sure of the answers, or you worry that you’re too close to the blog to see it objectively (and this is likely), then find people who are potential members of your audience, and ask them.
If it’s a community you’re already a member of then great – talk to them, ask them what kind of content would really help them and encourage them to keep coming back to your blog. If you’re not a part of the community, seek it out and become a part of it – this is the best way to immerse yourself in your community of readers and understand them better.
Do this before you start setting up your blog or adding any content (if you’re not working with an existing blog). This is because if you have an idea that you love but your audience doesn’t, you can nix it before you’ve wasted any time or energy. And if your audience gives you suggestions and ideas that take your blog in a new direction, you don’t have to retrofit that to an existing blog.
Subscribe to other blogs, read relevant magazines, attend events for your community – get to know what they want both by seeing what’s already going on and by asking them directly.
Don’t be shy or embarrassed about your blog idea – you need to get out there and talk to people about it if it’s going to be a success.
Once you’ve done your audience research, revisit your original idea and tweak it (you might even need to rip it up and start again). This will help you not only find that niche but carve it out.
Your Site Design and Structure
Now you know what your audience wants and what you can give them, it’s time to fit your blog’s design, content, and structure to that.
I’ll cover content in the next part of this series so we won’t be going into that in detail here, but let’s take a look at the site design.
Think about what your audience wants and how you’ll make it easy for them to find it. This incorporates visual design and structure, which should complement each other.
At the beginning you’ll be reluctant to think of yourself as a brand, but if your blog’s successful, that’s what it (and maybe you) will become. This will evolve over time, but it’s worth taking time now to think about your brand and how your site looks and feels.
- Other blogs serving your community – what is it about them that appeals?
- Less successful blogs – what puts people off?
- Physical resources and brands that your community interacts with.
- Your audience and the other sites they’re likely to use. For example if you’re blogging about DIY your audience will also be looking at the big box DIY stores’ sites, and you can take design cues from them. But if your site is about interior design, then you’ll need to look at higher end stores and designers’ sites.
- The tone of your site, which includes its visual tone and also the tone of your content (serious? playful? whimsical? matter of fact?). The two should work together.
Once you’ve done this, it’s time to get yourself a theme. In the early days it’s likely you’ll be downloading a third party theme, either free or premium, and customizing it yourself. As time goes on you may need to learn how to make major customisations to it or hire a developer to do this. And if your audience expects a professional, high-end design, you may need to hire a web designer right at the outset.
The important thing about your design isn’t just how it looks. It should also support the content. So if you’re going to be posting a lot of videos, find a theme that’s designed for that. The same goes for photo galleries. And if you need to incorporate advertising in your site, you’ll need space in your theme for that.
Your Blog as Part of an Ecosystem
So, you’ve got your niche, you know your audience (or you’re getting to know them) and you’ve installed and customized a great theme. Now it’s time to think about your blog as part of an ecosystem.
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Ecosystem, you’re probably thinking, what is she banging on about? But bear with me.
As you grow your blog and your audience, and as you find ways to monetize it, your blog will become part of something bigger. This will include the social media channels you use to promote your blog and engage with your audience, any advertising, and partners you work with to produce content or add affiliated links, promotions or sponsored content.
This will evolve as you grow your audience. In the early days it’s unlikely you’ll be working on your blog full time, so you’ll have to be focused, maybe identifying one or two social media channels and installing a simple advertising mechanism such as Google AdSense.
Whatever tools you choose to use, you’ll need to incorporate these into your site. This may come with your theme, or you may have to install plugins or add some code. The earlier you do this, the sooner they’ll start working for you. Even if you plan to keep your site ad-free at the outset while you grow your audience, it pays to know what tools you will use once the time comes, so you can easily integrate them later.
Essential Tools and Plugins
Having decided on your social media and monetization tools, or at least the ones you’ll be using at first, you then need to get them set up on your site. But this isn’t all you need to set up. You’ll also need to install and configure some key plugins to make your site more effective right from the start. Let’s take a look at these.
You want search engines to be finding your site from the day it’s launched.
First, make sure you’ve unchecked the Discourage search engines from indexing this site checkbox in Settings > Reading as soon as you launch your site. I know from personal experience that it’s all too easy to miss this step!
Next, install a SEO plugin. Our SmartCrawl plugin gives you all the tools you need to boost your search engine rankings, including sitemaps, custom descriptions and titles, the ability to configure different content separately, and Moz integration.
Take time configuring the plugin. Make sure the right content types are being indexed (and the ones you want to exclude are deselected) and add individual descriptions to individual pages. Consider setting up landing pages, maybe to work with your social media platforms.
Taking time to tweak your settings adds so much more than just installing the plugin and letting it do all the work – it will set you above the majority of your competition and increase the speed at which your site moves up the rankings.
If your blog is fast, it will have better SEO rankings and be less likely to lose visitors. Install and configure our Hummingbird plugin so that it performs as well as it can.
If your hosting isn’t great, then consider moving to a provider (or a plan) that can make your site run faster. And me sure only to use code from reputable sources, that performs well and is coded correctly.
Security and Backups
Once you start adding content to your blog, you don’t want to run the risk of losing it. And you certainly don’t want anyone hacking your site or for it to suffer from downtime due to security issues.
Our Snapshot Pro plugin lets you run automatic backups of your site at regular intervals and (importantly) makes it very easy to restore these if you lose data. And our Defender Pro plugin will protect your blog from security breaches and help you to harden it.
Get these set up before you start and hopefully you won’t need to worry about either of them again.
Depending on your social media platform(s) of choice, you may need to install a plugin to link these to your site. The major social media platforms all have plugins that let you display your feed on your blog and encourage people to like or follow you, and we have a selection too.
What’s even more useful when it comes to growing your audience is letting people share your content via their own social media channels. I’ll cover this in more detail in a future post, identifying the plugins you can use to do this as well as to link your won social media channels to your blog
You’ll also want to encourage people to sign up for regular updates, so they don’t miss new content on your blog.
Our Hustle plugin will help you keep in touch with your audience, letting them register for updates and newsletters, and letting you configure exactly how this works.
Taking the Time to Prepare Will Help Your Blog Succeed
Once you’ve got a great idea for your blog and you’re keen to get started, it’s tempting to dive in and start creating content straightaway without taking any time to prepare.
But if you pause and do the right preparation at the outset, then your bog stands a much better chance of being successful. ate some time to understand your audience, consider your brad, design your site thoroughly and set up the essential tools and plugins, and it will save you a lot of work in the future.