Personally I am a big fan of checklists and to-do apps. Whenever I have a project that I am working on or just starting out with, I open my Evernote and organize the steps I need to take in a clear manner. In this blog post, I will share the ultimate checklist for starting a blog that contains all the steps that you need to take up front, during the process and when your blog is up and running.
This starting a blog checklist is organized in three main sections, namely the Research Stage, Building Stage, and Maintaining & Future Stage.
The research stage is all about setting your goals, finding your topic and preparing for the next stages. The research stage is arguably the most important stage, any steps you skip here you will regret later. The research stage is also a problem for many people. Some people can’t put the work in the research stage and skip the entire stage altogether, whereas others can’t get past this stage because they overcomplicated things and never get started.
1. Determine Why You Want to Start a Blog
The first point sounds so obvious, but you have to determine from the start what it is why you want to run a blog. If you more want to start a personal diary and share that with friends on the internet your approach is vastly different from when you starting a blog as a business.
Personal goals should be clear from the first moment as they should translate to goals for your blog, without personal goals or aligned goals you are just writing in the void. Be sure that you are realistic in your expectations and reasons of why you want to start a blog. As much as I would like it to be otherwise but building a blog is not an easy task. It takes a substantial amount of work to build and to grow and there are no guarantees that people will actually read what you have to say.
This leads to a very important aspect, you have to be in it for more than just the money. You have to be very passionate about what you have to share. So passionate you can tirelessly write awesome content without many people even reading it, only slowly attracting more visitors over time.
Starting a blog is awesome and is a good play in the long run and there are guys earning a lot of money off their blogs, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is a name that comes to mind. But Pat worked for many years before he saw any money coming from his blog, if you are looking for quick cash there are probably other ways that work better.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Determine your why and step by step the how will become clear.
2. Carefully Pick a Topic
Ahhh, finding the right topic, a nightmare for many people looking to start something online. What should you write about and how should you pick a topic, how important is choosing a topic, and are there such things as wrong and right topics.
Choosing the right topic depends on the strategy you have set out for your blog. If your blog is more like a niche site you will want to do keyword research to find a find a topic where competition is not too strong but that still has enough monthly searches. A personal blog, on the contrary, is a different story. You would be surprised to learn what people are interested in to read.
One thing I would always advise is to not pick any topic that you are not enthusiastic about yourself. It is likely that it takes a lot of time to grow your blog and you don’t want to run out of steam before you start making progress.
Secondly you will want to choose a topic where you can provide value to other people. I can write how I tie my shoes every day (actually I don’t here in Vietnam), but it is likely that not a lot of people care. It is not solving an imminent problem they face. Value does not necessarily have to be hard value, you can also be your visitors funny voice or distraction during a long day.
3. Map the Environment
When you have a general topic that you are enthusiastic about and where you feel you could add value, you want to map out current offerings on the internet. Who else is blogging about the same topic, how do they do and where could you differentiate yourself. Are you they using other media to get their message out there and how could you do things better, clearer, more in-depth etc.
Don’t only look to the top bloggers out there in your topic. The internet is a big space, especially when you are blogging in English. Don’t copy other big names but rather research their style, sub-topics and other specifics to help you to craft your idea.
Remember competition is not a bad thing, it means that there are people looking for the kind of information you are planning to offer. Find a way to do it better and you are golden.
4. Set Monetization Strategy
Closing down on the specifics of your business idea is very nice but frankly quite useless without a monetization strategy. The right monetization strategy depends on the type of blog that you run and the strategy behind your blog itself. Figuring a way to get paid is something you have to do before you write down your first article, without having a strategy in place to get paid you run a hobby project and not a business.
Having a monetization strategy in place does not necessarily means that you have to enforce this strategy from day 1. If your personal situation allows it, you can put making money off your blog on hold until you have grown an audience.
5. Set Final Strategy and Goals
In the final stage of the research phase, you want to combine all the previous steps and develop an actionable plan for your blog. This might too much or too serious, but remember, if you want to succeed you have to take building a blog very serious.
Translate an actionable plan into concrete and measurable goals. Don’t be too harsh on yourself but try to be realistic. Likely you will have to adapt goals as your progress, but it is important to know from the beginning what you are working towards.
6. Pick a Name for Your Blog
Naming a blog is not an easy task. I receive many questions of people that somehow are not able to come up with the perfect name for their blog. What is important when deciding on the name of your blog is that the domain name is still available and that the name is relatively easy to remember and spell.
Be sure to make sure that the name you choose is still available, check out this article for more information about domain names.
7. Set Your Budget
Before you can continue to the next stage be sure to set a budget for the building stage. Building a website can be practically free but if you make use of all the tools and offerings out there you can easily spend over 500 USD for your first year. Although I think you should treat your blog as a business and therefore seriously, 500 USD is a bit overdue.
In the beginning, you should be careful with your spendings but not too frugal. Be sure to prepare some kind of budget and the aspects that are important for your the success of your business.
After the research stage we will move on to the building stage, this is the stage where you are actually going to build your blog and grow your audience. The building stage is hard work, but if you have done your research well you will reap the benefits.
1. Get Hosting and A Domain Name
Always go with self-hosting opposed to a free blogging platform. Self-hosting means that the content and the feature of your work is in your own hands, you will have way more flexibility and functionality.
Don’t have a hosting account? I host all my websites with SiteGround and for a good reason. If you sign up for SiteGround you will receive a free domain name, click here to sign up and claim 50% discount!
If you already have a hosting account you can also purchase your domain name and point this domain name to your current hosting account. Be sure to check this article and instruction video for more information.
2. Get a Premium Theme or Framework
I would also highly recommend getting a premium framework. I have made this mistake for a long time and once I finally took a leap I felt stupid for not doing so earlier. A premium framework is SEO friendly, safe and secure, has a strong backend and significantly improves the look and feel of your website. My websites run on the Genesis Framework, purchase Genesis once and you can install it on an unlimited number of websites!
3. Create Your WordPress Site
Next step is creating your WordPress site, this can be daunting if you have no technical experience. Recently I made a tutorial on how to make a professional website in Genesis. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to receive my written guide and head over for the instructions and video! Bonus, I toss in a free Genesis Child Theme, saving you the same price as a year of hosting!
4. Create Your Own Identity
While creating your website and drafting content ideas you want to consider your identity. Identity is much more than just a logo but should extend to general appearance and tone of your brand. You will want to create as much synergy as possible and creating a consistent identity is far more powerful than a professionally designed logo or homepage.
I get a lot of questions of people who are just starting out but are overfocusing on their logo, either looking at spending a money on a designer or spending countless of their own hours to get it right. Sure when you start a marketing agency your logo is crucial for your success, but for a blog not so much.
Focus on your style of writing, the interface, and colors of your website, your tone, other media that you use. Make these consistent and you will create a strong identity over time. When you get more popular and more professional you can always hire a designer or developer to spice up your brand.
5. Create Social Media Profiles
After you have created a website you will want to create social media profiles that are consistent with your brand. You don’t have to be on all of the different social medias and what is right for your depends on your topic and where your audience hangs out.
Creating a Facebook page about your business, a Google+ account, Twitter and Instagram are a good start. If your blog has more professional (corporate) content you can also set up LinkedIn for your business. Especially Google+ is important, under your Google+ account you can claim authorship for your websites, thus showing Google that you are legit, in the future this will help you to rank better.
Social Media provides social proof for new visitors, creates buzz and is increasingly more important in Google’s algorithm. Don’t try to do everything, social media is nice but ultimately what is on your website is far more important.
6. Create Your First Content
Now it is time to write your first content and you want to enter the blogging space with a boom. Write an in-depth and high-quality article on your topic to show everybody what you are about. It is best to go for a long form article and aim for 2,000 words at a minimum if you are not able to at least write 2,000 words your article is not in-depth enough.
Research the topic you are planning to cover in your first article if you can’t add any distinctive value find a different topic. Put your audience first, determine what they could be interested in and serve them in the best possible way.
7. Immediately Promote Your Content
I have been here, I had always thought that I first should create more articles instead of writing just a couple and start promoting them first thing. Once I realized that quality supersedes quantity I was able to let go of my fear of putting myself out there. Since then I have noticed direct results and I realized that you should start promoting as soon as possible.
Get yourself in front of other people, don’t be afraid. Even with strong promotion it is likely that it will take a considerate amount of time to build and audience so you want to start as soon as possible.
8. Reach Out To Other Bloggers
You want to start with reaching out to other bloggers as soon as possible. Leave (valuable) comments on their posts, reach out to them to add value to them. The reason that you want to this is because likely their target audience is your target audience, meaning if they give you some traffic it is high valuable targetted traffic.
The degree to which you reach out to other bloggers also depends on the industry or niche topic you are blogging about. You should always consider what other places your (potential) audience hangs out and what is the best way of getting your blog in front of them.
9. Collect Email Addresses
Collecting email addresses is a very important topic and you want to start doing this as soon as possible. By collecting email addresses, you have a chance to reach out to people who left their email and put your content or product in front of them.
Create a clear homepage and center a call to action to collect emails. A good strategy is to give away something for free, as an incentive for people to sign up. Using services like GetResponse you could easily set this up.
I have written a Tropical Rockstar Guide, people that sign up for my email list automatically receive an email that contains a link to download my guide.
10. SEO and Backlinks
SEO should be high on the list of any blogger or online entrepreneur. SEO covers a myriad of topics but in essences means the ability of likelihood that Google sends traffic to your website. SEO starts with your domain name, content management system (e.g. WordPress, Joomla, etc.), theme or framework and your posts itself.
WordPress is great because it is very SEO friendly and in combination with Genesis very powerful. In order to monitor SEO performance of posts, you can use a plugin (Yoast SEO is a good one) and center your posts around a topic and or keywords.
Backlinks help you to create link juice to your website and increase your rankability in Google. Good backlinks could come from mentions from other bloggers, guest posts, social profiles, comments etc. Not all backlinks are good, backlinks from spammy sites could impose a penalty from Google, so be careful.
11. Track Your Performance
Remember that in the research stage we set goals for our website. In the building stage, you should implement a system to track and monitor these goals and your sites performance. Personally I use the Analytics plugin by Yoast combined with my Google Analytics account. Setting up is easy and it provides with valuable insights of your audience, their behavior and the source of your traffic.
12. Create a Google Search Console Account
The Google Search Console is a powerful tool that lets you monitor how Google crawls your website and how search traffic is directed to your domain. You can identify and fix crawl errors and monitor the performance of your website in general. For anyone who is somewhat serious about their website or blog, you should definitely use the Google Search Console.
13. Implement Monetization Strategy
During the research stage, I already mentioned that it is important to decide on the monetization strategy early on. When your blog is slowly getting traction you want to look at ways to implement this monetization strategy as soon as possible.
Monetizing, however, is not about implementing as soon as possible, you also want to find the right moment and make sure that you have enough traction and authority to do so. Monetization should never impede the growth of your blog. Giving your audience the feeling that you are ‘using’ them to push products to them could cause them to turn their back to your blog.
A blog should put the audience first, be useful and valuable towards your audience and find a genuine way to add value to them. Don’t go to fast but play the long game.
Setting up and running a blog is marathon and not a sprint. Play the long game and you will be rewarded.
– Joep van der Poel
Maintaining & Future Stage
In the maintaining and future stage, you want to make sure that you maintain and increase the reach of your blog. The focus should be on continuing what you have built in the building stage while looking for new opportunities for your blog and to add additional value to your audience. You also want to make sure that your blog doesn’t slowly die over time and that you keep up your momentum.
1. Focus on Security
Security of your blog is a big one, especially if you are making money with your blog. You want to make the sure that you protect yourself as good as possible. If the White House and the FBI can be hacked, so can your blog. That being said, there are a couple things that you can do to mitigate the risks. I suggest implementing the following:
- Don’t pick an easy username & password;
- Use a security plugin to limit login attempts, block IPs etc. I can recommend WordFence;
- Don’t use too many plugins and/or outdated (i.e. not compatible with your the installation of WordPress or not updated since a long time), they might pose a security risk;
- Keep everything updated, this goes for WordPress, Plugins, and Themes, but also your browser, OS, and other relevant software;
- Secure your home network, use WPA2 security on your router, change the router SSID and password, create a separate guest account and use a firewall;
- Be careful using WIFI on public networks such as coffee shops, airports, etc. If you have to use a public network you could use a VPN to encrypt your connection and to add an extra layer of security;
- Be careful with spammy sites, phishing emails, and in general, be careful with how you use your laptop.
When you are running a business online, your computer is most likely the only tool you really use. Treat your computer as such, your income and the future of your business depend on it. The bigger your site gets to more likely you are to attract unwanted attention.
2. Build Sustainable Relationships
This goes for both your audience and other people in your industry. You can build a sustainable relationship with your audience by aiming to keep adding value and staying connected with them on social media, email and in the comment section or member area on your blog.
Stay on good terms with other bloggers and help each other out where possible. Ultimately success not only depends on yourself but also the people you are connected with.
3. Do Regular Backups
In case something goes wrong you might loose your entire site. Part of my plan with SiteGround I have a free daily backup that is available for 30 days of my entire account. If something happens to any of my websites I have the assurance that I can always restore and rely on a backup, that is an important peace of mind.
If your hosting provider does not provide such services you can do manual backups in your cPanel or you could use a plugin like Duplicator to make a copy of your entire site. Take backing up your data seriously, you don’t want to lose everything that you have worked so hard for just because a technical error.
A word of caution of you do customizations of your website yourself. Before you make any changes to your website, especially stylesheet and function modifications, be sure to first do a backup. A wrong entry could potentially make your entire website inaccessible.
4. Monitor Performance
Make it a routine to monitor the performance of your website, do not focus on every performance indicator but focus on what is relevant to your website. In the beginning, when you are still growing your website you want to probably look at analytics and monitor how many people visit your website.
As visitor numbers increase you want to monitor your conversion, this could mean email signups, purchases or any other relevant main call to action you have on your website. Analytics helps you to analyze conversion, how long are people staying on your site, where do they come from and how engaged are they with your content.
Keep an eye out for potential improvements and make adjustments where applicable.
5. Adjust Posts Based on Search Traffic
When you monitor search traffic you will get an idea of keywords that people use to find your website or blog. Use the extra information from analytics and the Google Search Console to anticipate on those keywords and where applicable update old posts to contain relevant keywords.
Use this strategy to identify high traffic generating posts and utilize their performance. Not only traffic numbers are important but also consider the quality of the traffic a certain post generates. One my most popular posts has about our reasons for leaving China, this post, however, is not be directly related to other content that I publish on Tropical U.P, meaning that most likely not all of these visitors are interested in starting an online business. This is important to notice and to consider and you will want to adapt to this with future posts.
Personally I am happy with the extra exposure that this particular post gave me, but on the other hand, I do realize that the particular audience that this post brought to Tropical U.P is not the direct target audience of this blog.
6. Experiment With Other Media
Content is not all about blog posts these days, video and pictures are getting more attention and cater to those who are not looking to read long posts and/or have short attention spans. Expanding your brand to different types of media is a great tool to get extra exposure for your brand and to reach a different audience.
Recently I opened a YouTube channel where I give people instructions on how to do certain customizations with their website. I just started so numbers are still low, but I have a feeling that in the long run this is the way to go.
Identify how you could branch out and how you could get your content in front of other people.
7. Identify a Possible Product or Service
When you run a successful blog you could earn a decent income with advertisements or something like affiliate marketing, but nothing beats to having your own product or service that directly solves a problem for your audience.
There are many ways to develop a specific service or product for your audience, but it is important to always keep the benefit for your audience as your priority. If you develop something for your audience you better make sure that it is a good product or service or you could potentially harm your brand in general.
Several examples of products or services could include, a high-value premium membership, a course, eBooks, a WordPress plugin, Website Themes, consultation or audits and much more. If you do this the right way it can only add more value to your brand as a whole.
So there you have it my 4,000 words 27 points starting a blog checklist! Thank you for bearing with me and good luck implementing this checklist to your blog. I feel that I could add more points to this list but in my opinion these points sum the basics and most fundamental points that you should take in consideration.
What do you think about this list and do you feel that I have forgotten something that you believe is crucial to add. I am interested in your opinion, leave a comment below! Thanks for being awesome and let me know how this works out for you.