When you first start a blog it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the whole thing.
There’s just so much to think about – domain names, hosting, content strategies, logos, WordPress themes, SEO, networking, software, equipment, advertising… the list is endless!
And while I do my best to clear up those kind of topics here on Blog Tyrant, I also feel like we come up short a lot of the time.
This post is all about giving you a concrete list of shortcuts, resources and tips that you can refer to as you progress along your blogging career.
It’s not a roadmap (not even close) but more like a list of references that you can use to take your learning further while knowing that you’re looking in the right place. Hopefully someone can learn from my mistakes!
I’m also going to add to this list every now and then so feel free to bookmark it, share it and leave any suggestions that you might have in the comments section. Oh, and read to the end to find out how you can get some cool stuff!
Commence eye straining!
NOTE: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if you sign up at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.
How did I compile this list?
Whenever I do these kind of recommendation posts I always have a good think about what makes something good enough to be mentioned. This time I thought I’d tell you about that thought process.
If I promote a paid product using an affiliate link it means that I’ve used the product myself and genuinely think it will help my readers. The company must also have quality support staff and a genuine refund policy.
If I promote a website, tool or service that is free then I’m less strict with how much I’ve used it. I can’t have extensive experience with every single helpful program on the web. In those cases I take recommendations from a small circle of trusted bloggers and internet marketers, and I’ll always test it out first.
So this list of blogging tips has been compiled with the idea that I want to save my readers as much time and as many mistakes as possible. Hopefully you guys can learn something from the steps on the journey that my friends and I have already taken.
The shortcuts, tools and tips for blogging in 2014
As always, leave a comment if you disagree or if I’ve missed something that absolutely needs to be included.
I’d love to add to this list over time and if you mention something worthwhile I’ll make sure I mention you!
I’m going to divide this all up into rough sections so it’s easier to find stuff that is relevant to your needs. Let’s do it!
1. Getting set up for blogging (the right way)
Your setup is vital to your long term progress. The place and method of your start up phase can either make or break you. Here’s some tips on getting it right from the beginning.
- Get your own host and domain name
I always start with this because all other tips pale in comparison. If you’re not hosting your own blog with your own branded domain name then you aren’t taking it seriously enough. I recommend BlueHost to all new bloggers – it’s where I got started.
- Run your blog on WordPress
Once you’ve got your own domain and hosting you’ll want to use WordPress as your blogging platform. It’s the most versatile and popular free software there is. The possibilities are endless, and you’ll find yourself shocked at what you can achieve.
- Purchase WhoIs privacy
You can buy this for around $5 a year when you purchase your domain name. It prevents people from seeing your full name and home address when they look up your domain details.
- Start networking from day one
This is something I emphasize as often as possible on my blog. It has made a huge difference to my blog’s success and my own personal happiness. Greg has something to say about it too.
Expert tip on networking
The biggest blogging shortcut anyone can take is dirty, filthy networking. The antithesis of ‘business card guy’, authentic networking is getting in touch with people doing interesting things with absolutely no agenda.
In fact, if you can make your first email or gesture a helpful one, you’ll already be ahead of 99% of people. Bloggers link to other bloggers when they support them, that’s how the game works. People feel safer mentioning, featuring, and supporting people they know over random strangers. Network before you need it with a friendly email that is A.) Short, concise, to the point, and B.) Doesn’t ask for anything! (Seriously, could you imagine pulling the same thing in person? It’s crazy).
I have a “schmoozing hour” during my day where I try to email at least 1 new person I’ve encountered online, or try to send out a few helpful emails to people I’ve connected with in the past. In blogging as with everything else, it’s a little bit of what you know and a little bit of who you know.
– Gregory Ciotti, Sparring Mind.
- Know your brand
What is your brand? Who are you trying to reach? What is your end goal. Make sure you think about these things before you get started building something. You don’t want to be figuring this out as you go.
- Start building a mailing list
You need to grow a mailing list and consider it to be your first, second and third priority. This thing is your saving grace. I recommend AWeber.
- Get a proper logo and branding identity
Don’t skimp on this. Spend the money and take the time to develop a logo and branding identity that will represent you for the long term. Here’s an article on why logo design doesn’t cost $5.
- Use a pop up opt-in form
I know a lot of people think that pop ups are the root of all evil but, in fact, they don’t really cause many problems and they bring you a lot of new subscribers. It’s worth giving one a try.
- Develop your voice
One of the hardest things to do is develop your voice as a writer. Work on it constantly. Remember, you want to keep your posts as informal and friendly as possible. It will encourage engagement.
- Keep backups and learn about security
Blogs aren’t always secure. It’s good to know a bit about it without freaking yourself out too much. Make sure you always keep backups just in case something goes wrong. Services like Sucuri can also help put your mind at ease.
- Develop a free giveaway
Bloggers have been doing it for years and it still works. Write a hugely useful eBook or email course and give it away for free in exchange for email subscribers. It will give you a big boost.
- Focus on long-form content
Long articles (2500+ words) are the things that can really help you break through. Yes, they take a long time to research and write. But in today’s blogging world you need to stand out and provide extraordinary value. Try to do at least one massive article on your new blog before you start guest blogging and advertising.
- Know your audience
Do you know who you are targeting? It’s a very important step that a lot of bloggers overlook. Here is a good article by Danny Brown about how you can get to know them.
- Work hard to get your About Us page solid
The About Us page is probably the second most visited page on your blog. Make sure it’s personal, detailed and has a clear call to action.
2. Content and strategy for successful blogging
This is where we go into more details about content strategy. It needs to be a really defined process that has deliberate goals and outcomes.
- Fast track your knowledge with Neil Patel’s guides to everything
For a while now Neil has been collaborating with other authors to produce these massively useful free guides on things like content marketing and SEO. A good place to get genuine information.
- Outsource as early as possible
Outsourcing allows you to be more prolific and avoid tasks that you don’t like doing. Sites like Freelancer help you do it so easily and with protections in place.
- Research your keywords
Is your target keyword going to bring the most traffic? What is the competition like? Use a tool like Market Samurai or Majestic to learn more about your targets.
- Plan your content strategy
Don’t just publish random posts. Make sure you have short, middle and long term goals for each of them. Make sure they fit into a strategy that results in earnings or growth.
Expert tip on writing
Stephen King became one of the most successful writers by writing what he likes, what he has in his head. Imagine if he had tried to write what he thought we would like!
Yet that’s what many new bloggers end up doing – writing what and how they think their readers want to see on their blogs.
I did that too and, as a result, had to scramble my first blog and start over. Once I started writing the way that felt much more natural, Traffic Generation Café was born.
– Ana Hoffman, Traffic Generation Cafe.
- Write for other people more than yourself
In the beginning you want to write for your own blog in order to get more traffic. It’s actually a lot wiser to put one or two pieces of amazing content on your blog and then try to get guest posts elsewhere to attract more readers.
- Learn how to write headlines
Headlines are so important as they are what get people onto your blog in the first place. Learn to write them and practice regularly. Jerod has some good tips.
- Focus on evergreen content
You want to aim the majority of your articles at beginners and focus on topics that remain relevant for the long term. This will attract more people over a longer stretch of time.
- Set up Follow Up messages for your email subscribers
Follow Up messages are automatic messages that you send to subscribers after they give you their email address. For example, you might want to give them a free eBook.
- Experiment with paid advertising
Yes, you can build a successful blog without spending money on advertising. But if you want to grow it faster and treat it like a real business then paid marketing is a good idea. Experiment with Facebook ads and see how you go.
- Don’t just write
Written word is the heart of blogging. But it’s not the end of it. You need to incorporate photos, videos, podcasting and other formats to compete on a wide scale.
- Know your competition
Go around to the best sites in your niche and see what their most popular content is. Try and think about ways you can make content that is different, new and better than what is already out there.
3. SEO and Google
This is an area that seems to enthral and confuse bloggers. Some of these tips have crossovers with other sections but I felt it was important enough to talk about it separately.
- Have a basic understanding only
If you are just getting started out with blogging I beg you not to get too bogged down in SEO stuff. It’s not necessary. Just learn the basic blogging SEO and then worry about growth.
- Focus on attracting links by being awesome
The main point of SEO these days is to develop content that gets attention naturally. Don’t risk buying links for your main site.
- Check your link goodness with Neil Patel’s SEO tool
This is a really valuable tool to check your site speed and SEO factors. It’s free and will give you some actionable lessons to follow.
- Use an SEO plugin to re-write titles and descriptions
Sometimes when you publish a blog post you want the title and description that appears on Google to be a bit different. Use a plugin like All in One SEO or Yoast to re-write those bad boys and get suggestions.
Expert tip on blogging SEO
One thing I don’t see too many bloggers using is the ability to separate their blog post title (headline) from the actual html title of their web page. Sometimes a blog post headline won’t work very well or look natural if you’re using “SEO-style” keyphrases. For instance, I wrote a large blog post on the topic of building your own social media strategy but didn’t really like using those words in the headline. I instead published the blog post as: “Social Media Supremacy: 10 Experts Reveal Their Strategies” while my HTML based title tag (which Google also picks up on) was “Social Media Strategy 10 Experts Reveal Their Secrets”
Since the Title tag and your H1 tag – which should be used for a blog post headline – are pretty much the most critical factors of on-page SEO that you can focus on this gives you more possible phrases to be ranking your blog posts for. And it means that to the average audience your blog post headlines don’t look like they’ve just been optimized for Google.
Both WordPress SEO by Yoast and All in One SEO plugins for WordPress will allow you to edit this manually on a post-by-post basis.
– Glen Allsopp, ViperChill.
- Don’t believe everything Google says
Glen from ViperChill has been doing some very interesting experiments with Google lately. I highly recommend you read this to further your SEO knowledge.
- Get on Google+
Google+ is now, in my opinion, the most important social network for bloggers. I think it’s going to have huge SEO implications in the near future. Here are my favorite Google+ tips.
- Set up Google Authorship
Want to get your photo underneath your result in Google search? It’s called Authorship and it takes 5 minutes to set up.
- Watch the Whiteboard Friday video by Rand
This is really the only SEO thing I devote any time to now, other than the odd article here and there. The weekly video by Rand will keep you in the know of what’s important.
- Keep your titles to the right length
Google results are like an advert. You don’t want it to be partially cut off. This tool will help you to discover whether or not you’re hitting the mark for that search result.
4. Design and technology blogging tips
A few tweaks to the style of your theme or the functions of your plugins can make a huge difference to how quickly you succeed. Here are some blogging tips that focus on the stuff that drives your blog.
- Limit your plugins
When you first get started on WordPress it’s tempting to trick your blog out with every plugin that you can find. Don’t. Keep it to a minimum. They slow down your site and can often cause security issues.
- Check your load time with Pingdom Tools
Wondering if you site is loading quickly around the world? This is the best tool to show you what your load times are and which elements are slowing you down.
- Get a WordPress theme that works
Your WordPress theme can affect your conversions, SEO rankings and site speed. Make sure you are using one that works. StudioPress and Elegant Themes work well.
- Quickly see if your site is down with Down for Everyone or Just Me?
A cool little site that will show you whether your site is down for everyone or just you. Can be a good place to start your troubleshooting if things go down.
Expert tip on important plugins
We obviously believe that our SEO plugin is the way to go forward for any blogger. Specifically, people should get acquainted with how to use the focus keyword and page analysis functionality.
Combine that with some basic keyword research and get cranking those quality blog posts. SEO plugins are important, because they take away hurdles for search engines, but a good long term ranking is only achieved with well written, well optimized content.
– Joost de Valk, Yoast.
- Install analytics early on
If you ever want to sell your blog you’ll need to be able to provide all the metrics and stats from a very early stage. Don’t waste time setting this up. I haven’t used it myself but a lot of my friends recommend Clicky for a Google alternative.
- Split test everything on your blog
Make sure you run tests on your opt-in forms and sales pages to see if you are converting as well as possible. Don’t just rely on guess work. Visual Website Optimizer is great for specific goals.
- Simplify your sidebar
Don’t fill your sidebar up with distractions. Keep it simple and focused on the main outcome you want from your readers. Less is more.
- Keep the emphasis on your content
If your blog has a design that focuses on the theme itself then you run into problems. Keep the focus on the words and the headline.
- Don’t try to be a designer
Design is a skill that takes years to master. Don’t try to be one yourself. Focus on blogging and pay someone else to keep your blog looking nice. It’ll save you time and money as well.
- Use Google Alerts for ideas and monitoring
Google Alerts is a really good way to get new ideas for articles, especially if you are in a time-sensitive niche.
- Get a good image editor
When you blog you’ll end up doing a lot of image editing. You can outsource that but you’ll probably want a free program like Gimp or a paid beauty like Photoshop to make things more streamlined.
- Use Survey Monkey to get information
Survey Monkey is a great and cheap tool that you can use to get some super valuable information from your mailing list. Good idea to do this at least once a year.
- Change your blog’s functions without CSS
The plugin Shortcodes Ultimate was suggested to me a few weeks ago. It allows you to add a whole host of new features without touching any coding.
- Photos matter
You can’t take photos from anywhere. Get good shots from Dreamstime.com or take your own photos with a proper camera. Always credit photos, even when they are royalty free.
- Try Scroll Triggered Box
This little plugin has been working so well on Tumblr. Thanks to @jamielucid for the recommendation.
- Redirect your comments
If you leave a comment on my blog you get redirected to a “thank you page” that then encourages people to subscribe. It converts at around 7%. There’s a plugin and tutorial here.
- Use a free sound editor for podcasts
If you want to get into podcasting you don’t need a fancy sound editor. Audacity is a nice one that gets the job done.
- Try Opt-in Skin
Opt-in Skin is a plugin made by Glen from ViperChill. It lets you create various opt-in forms and add them to your posts or sidebars with ease. Lots of pretty stats as well.
5. Blogging lifestyle tips
When you become a blogger a lot of things happen to your family life, your social life and your inner life. It’s important that you anticipate these changes because they can be quite serious.
- Exercise during the day
Studies have shown that exercising at the end of the day isn’t enough to keep you healthy and undo the damage that is done by sitting still for so long. Keep moving.
- Use an exercise ball chair
Exercise ball chairs are amazing for keeping your back and core healthy. Even after a couple of years as a full-time blogger I started to notice how bad my back was getting. This helped.
- Get out of the house
A change of scenery can make you a better writer. It can also help to keep the blues away. Find a cafe to write at every couple of days and make sure you leave the office.
- Be prepared for the long haul
Blogging as a career takes time where some other internet marketing practices (like PPC) can get results really quickly. Be prepared to work. Jerod knows what’s up.
Expert tip on hard work
I suppose there are “shortcuts” in the sense of reading sites like Copyblogger and Blog Tyrant to learn some things to do and not to do, but the most pivotal blogging shortcut would be to understand that there aren’t really any shortcuts. The sooner you understand this, the better.
Building an audience is a process, a grind, a day-to-day battle against your own fears and foibles. It’s a war of attrition. Sure, you can make a big splash and maybe even a quick buck thinking and acting in the short term … but to build something that lasts and that people really care about, you have to show up every day and do the work, even on the days when you don’t want to. That’s usually the part people really want a shortcut around. There just isn’t one.
– Jerod Morris, Copyblogger.
- Get on Skype with people
It’s amazing how much a bit of face to face contact (even over the web) can impact a relationship. You’ll find new partnerships and friendships emerging all over the place.
- Find one good forum in your niche
There are a lot of forums out there. I recommend finding one good forum in your niche and become active there. Some paid forums are excellent sources of information and shortcuts as well as a good place to find a mentor.
- Use the Pomodoro technique
This is a system developed to make you more efficient by breaking your day up into more manageable chunks. First heard about it on ViperChill and it works nicely for a lot of people.
- Attend conferences and meetups
I always rejected this as a younger man. I thought that the internet was there so we could avoid physical contact. But as soon as I started meeting people in person I found new projects and alliances popping up where they would never have otherwise. Try it at least once.
- Consider a co-working space
This isn’t for me but a lot of people love to get into a group working place and sit down with other creatives around them. It’s not usually free but it’s cheaper than office space.
- Don’t read other blogs too much
It’s weird advice coming from a blogger but I honestly think we don’t need to read so many other blogs. Make sure you only read if it’s for knowledge that you need and not just a distraction.
Conclusion (and some giveaways!)
As I said, I just wanted to make a list of blogging tips and shortcuts that could serve as a starting point if you ever need help on that particular topic. Undoubtedly, I would have missed some awesome gear! If you know of anything please leave a comment and I’ll add the good ones to the article itself with a link to your site as thanks.
These types of posts take a long time to put together. If you Tweet it out or share it on Google+ you’ll go into the draw to win either a brand new premium responsive WordPress theme from Elegant Themes or a copy of OptinSkin. I’ll pick two people at random by Friday and buy you either the theme or the plugin as a little thank you for the support.
So you’ve got a chance at three giveaways: a back link for leaving a great comment, a free theme or a premium plugin for sharing the article on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks Troops!