The first question you must ask yourself when considering how to blog is whether or not you should blog at all.
If you want to blog because you have a need or desire to communicate, then you’re on the right track. If the sole reason you want to blog is to get good search engine rankings, then don’t because you’re probably about to engage in a time-wasting effort that will probably fail.
It’s true that blogs can be a valuable tool in your search engine marketing arsenal but if you view the medium as marketing tool rather than the communication medium it is, you’re taking the wrong approach because your motivation is probably not enough to sustain a successful blog in the long run.
Which brings us to my second point: Commitment. Producing content is hard work and since content is what blogs are all about, publishing a blog is by definition hard work. So that’s the second question you must ask yourself before even considering how to blog: Do I have the commitment to blog?
So you’ve determined that you’ve got something you need to say and you’re committed to publishing a blog over the long haul; you are now ready to plan your blog.
Find Your Niche
You know what topic your blog will address. Do some research online to try and find blogs covering the same topic. How many are there? How do they address the topic you will be blogging about? This research will give you an idea of what your audience is already reading and how you might create a niche for yourself among the competition.
Plan Your Publishing Schedule
In the publishing world it’s called an editorial calendar. The primary reason blogs require so much hard work is because readers expect regular content: Generally once a day but at least once a week. You can see from this blog how tough I find it to keep to such a schedule; but, you know, do as I say…
Another benefit of creating an editorial calendar is it will help you identify appropriate seasonal content. If you review products on your blog, for instance, you’ll want to identify the seasonally-appropriate products for which your audience will expect reviews.
Keep It Brief
There are exceptions to every rule but in general, it’s best to keep your blog posts short. Write short, declarative sentences. Use paragraphs of two or three sentences. Break up blocks of copy with headlines and subheadlines. Use bullet points.
The reason you’ll want to keep things brief is simply because it’s easier for your reader to read on a screen. It is also because tend to scan rather than deliberately read online.
Use First Person
Blogs are an inherently intimate and casual medium and the vast majority are written in first-person, so meet the expectations of your audience and write in the first-person. Don’t be afraid to let your personality come through your blog posts.
Chose Your Blogging System
I’ll reveal my bias from the outset: I use and love TypePad. TypePad is a hosted blogging service owned by SixApart; the company also owns the blogging service LiveJournal and the blogging software Movable Type.
My very first post on this blog, in fact, compared TypePad to blogging software Radio Userland.
I’ve used Google‘s Blogger service extensively and it has two primary things going for it: 1) It’s free, and 2) It’s simple to use. But perhaps because it is easy to use, I find it far less flexible. Lastly, it has no statistics program so you can’t tell how many people are visiting your blog, where they’re coming from, or what search phrases they used to find you in the search engines.
TypePad, on the other hand, is far more flexible but just as easy to use as Blogger and not that much more difficult to learn if you want to get your hands dirty. TypePad supports categories; blogger doesn’t. On the sidebar to the right, below the Archives section, you’ll see Categories with a bunch of links beneath it.
I can assign each post to one or multiple categories and those posts will then be archived in the appropriate category. That helps readers follow only the subjects that interest them and, happily, it also his helpful in search engine marketing efforts. TypePad supports podcasting but with Blogger you need to figure out a workaround.
Those are just a few of the things I like about TypePad. You pay a little more but then you get what you pay for.
Configure Before You Launch
This may seem obvious but I don’t know how many times I’ve found a live blog that is still getting the kinks worked out. As a result, the posts tend to talk more about the technical aspects of the blog than about the topic the blog was created to address.
That’s a great way to lose potential readers. Get your blog ready for prime time before you launch it live.
Be Two Weeks Ahead
If you can, try and write two weeks worth of content before you publish your first blog post. That will help to keep you ahead of schedule and make your life a lot easier.
After you launch your new blog, tell people about it. Submit your blog to the search engines and blog directories. Ask other related blogs for links and give them in return.
Create Great Content
The best thing you can do over the long term to build a successful blog is to create great content. if your blog posts are useful, insightful, compelling, entertaining, or all of the above, you’ll go a long way in developing a following.