Last Updated March 10th, 2018 — Thinking about starting a blog? This is a complete guide designed for those serious beginners willing to work hard to make it successful.
First published four years ago, this post has since helped tens of thousands of bloggers on their journey. It’s now constantly updated with the latest trends, strategies and tips.
I first learned about blogging back in college when I was lucky enough to sell a couple for 5-figures. Since then I’ve been so fortunate to work full time from my couch! I honestly don’t say this to brag, but just to show you how powerful blogs can be for changing your career or revitalizing your existing business.
Today we’re going to look at the quickest set up and hosting, and then move on to some really detailed strategies and tips for how you can make sure your blog succeeds this year.
Let’s jump in!
Disclosure and quick heads up – I started my first blog on Bluehost and have now partnered with them to get you a big discount rate. If you make a purchase through this or any of the links on this post I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only promote things I use and love myself and am always transparent about it!
Starting a blog in 2018 — A quick overview
If you want to start a blog quickly here is the best way to do it without mucking around. Watch this video for some explanation.
Here’s a quick summary of the process if you’re short on time:
- Set some short and long term blogging goals.
- Get a domain name and blog host from Bluehost (discounts included).
- Install WordPress as your free and powerful blogging platform.
- Add an opt-in form to start collecting email subscribers.
- Begin producing strategic content that helps people.
Now let’s go ahead and get into the stuff that is going to really help you with starting a blog and making it successful this year!
Starting a blog? Here’s 19 tips and strategies for serious beginners.
Time to get into the serious stuff.
Here are some of the most important things you’ll want to pay attention if you want to make this blogging thing work for you in 2018.
There are also some really great tips in the comments at the end so make sure you spend a bit of time looking around.
1. A self-hosted WordPress blog is still my favorite serious platform
Despite having a lot of cool stuff going on, I am still of the firm belief that blog hosts like Tumblr, Squarespace and even WordPress.com do not give you the control, ownership and customization options that you might need.
Start by getting your own blog hosting and installing WordPress.org as your blogging platform. But, just in case, here’s a quick summary of some of the most popular places to start a blog right now:
I recommend Bluehost for all new bloggers (get a Blog Tyrant special discount rate of $2.75 per month). It’s where I first got started as a blogger and is the chosen host for millions of bloggers around the world.
You can take a look at this WordPress installation tutorial where we go through the setup process – step by step. It should take around five minutes to get completely set up!
As I’ve said before, the one prediction I have for people using a free blog host is that one day you will want to migrate it to your own host. And that can be a really annoying process. It’s much better to set yourself up the right way from the beginning.
2. Prioritize visual content (videos, graphics, photos, etc.) if you want to get shares
Learning where to get images for your blog is a really important skill to have. An even better skill is to know how to take them yourself.
Visual content has been growing for years and it appears to be speeding up, not slowing down. We now have retina display tablets and our smartphones are getting bigger. Social networking sites like Facebook are favoring images and videos over text – never mind sites like Pinterest which are totally based around photos! If you’re not working with visual content yet it’s time to start.
(Just have a look how many shares and views these types of posts get on Facebook.)
It’s also vital to remember that YouTube is a search engine just like Google and we shouldn’t ignore it. If you create some simple video content to supplement your blog posts you will find that you attract a lot more views and, generally speaking, the stuff you make will appeal to a wider audience.
3. Growing a mailing list will protect your blog for the long term
Email is still the main form of Internet communication that most people use for work. And when someone subscribes to your blog they are giving you a direct line to their daily life.
There’s no need to complicate the process either. Develop a valuable free giveaway that people get when they subscribe to your blog, and then add a simple lead magnet like the one we use here at Blog Tyrant. It converts really well.
Growing a big mailing list will allow you to build traffic to new blog posts as well as promote any products or affiliates that you think will be useful to your readers. In that way, it is a very powerful way to make money.
But the main reason that you want to grow an email list is because you just can’t trust Google for traffic. And you can’t trust social networking sites that constantly change their policies. It’s only the mailing list that gives you a constant source of traffic, should something go wrong.
4. Learn how to analyze your competition to find big opportunities
When you first think about starting a blog it’s also vital to think about the other blogs that already exist in that space. Are you going to be able to compete with them in any meaningful way?
(A screenshot of the steady growth of BlogTyrant.com’s back links over the years.)
A quick look around and you’ll be able to see what keywords people are targeting, how many back links they have for their main posts and where those back links are coming from.
This is invaluable information as it helps you decide whether or not you can compete in certain niches and keywords. If someone has links coming from Harvard, Wikipedia and NASA then it is unlikely you’ll be able to outrank them in a hurry.
On the positive side, a quick search might show you where your competition is getting its links from and that can mean you can replicate them yourself or come up with your own similar promotional strategies. Clever!
5. Writing long content of at least 1,900 words works best
Long content has been working for years. One of the first posts I ever wrote on this site was several thousand words on how to sell a blog which, thanks to it’s length as opposed to any particular quality, went viral and helped to kick start this blog.
I feel really fortunate to get that attention, but also kind of know that if I’d just written a little 500-word update on the topic nothing would have happened. The whole thing would have fizzled out. Unfortunately, that is what happens to a lot of bloggers.
Forget about short little updates and start working on longer content that solves problems and provides so much value that people can’t help but share it with their friends. Here’s a little guide I made that might help you get started.
6. Spending a little money on advertising will skyrocket your success
For some reason, bloggers hate the idea of spending money on advertising. But if you look at the latest structure of Google, for example, you’ll notice how much of it is weighted towards ads. On my laptop they take up the whole screen before I scroll.
Spending a little bit of money promoting your best work can really make a difference. Here’s a small promo I’ve been running on Twitter lately:
The great thing about advertising on social networks like Facebook is that it’s low cost and there is a chance that people will share it of their own free will, once they’ve seen your advert.
Set aside $20 a week for a test and try to learn as much as you can about what gets shared, what your audience likes, where they are located, etc. This data can be super valuable for helping you decide what to write about next which, in turn, leads to more shares over time.
7. Making friends in your niche is essential as soon as you start
If you are going to start a new blog in 2018 it’s a good idea to start making connections with the big blogs and bloggers in your niche as soon as you can.
I’m not talking about spamming them with guest post requests either – I’m talking about making genuine friends that can support each other for the long term.
I can honestly say that without the support and mentoring of the bloggers in my niche, I would never have been able to hit any milestones along the way. It has all been thanks to their kindness and influence.
Start by finding the big players on Twitter and sharing their stuff. Mention it on your site and let them know about it. It’s a nice little introduction.
8. A deliberate blogging strategy is essential
Over the years blogging has become more and more scientific. Big companies have realized the value of blogs and other social networking sites and have been investing money to make sure they are get a good return on their spend.
One of the best ways to compete with this is to have a solid blogging strategy that helps you write hyper-useful blog posts that genuinely help people in your niche.
Remember, a lot of people give up on new blogs before they give it a chance to flourish – a long term set of goals matched to a strategy will help you avoid that.
9. Put mobile devices first when starting a new blog
Mobiles and tablets are now a primary source of web traffic the world over.
If your theme doesn’t respond well to the smaller mobile screens (use this to test) there is a good chance you will be losing valuable traffic as people click away to find something easier to navigate.
Google has even started removing non-mobile responsive sites from mobile searches in order to provide a better experience for their customers. Make sure you are thinking about your mobile users at every turn.
10. Outsourcing can make your blog better in less time
Ever since I chatted to Chris Ducker on Skype last year I’ve been more and more looking to outsourcing as a way to get things done. There are a few reasons as to why this will be even more important in 2018.
When you hire a freelancer you create more content which frees up time for you to focus on the tasks that really grow your blog.
Secondly, it gives work to someone who really needs it and, hopefully, is a lot better at that task than you are.
11. Be careful about how blogging affects your health
The science is in.
Sitting still for long periods of time is a lot worse for your health than first thought. In fact, researchers are now showing that sitting still can lead to early death as well as a whole host of bad diseases.
The bad news is that going for a run or to the gym at the end of the day does not undo the damage. This means we need to start moving regularly, working while standing up and taking regular short breaks to stretch the muscles and get the blood flowing.
Try to schedule these in and use a timer that goes off every 30 minutes to remind you to move around and let your eyes, brain and muscles have a rest for blogging.
12. Make your new blog’s security a priority
Internet security is already a major issue. Companies, small businesses and organizations all around the world are falling prey to nasty intruders on an increased basis.
So what can you do?
- Enable SSL on your domain
It’s important to have a secure HTTPS domain name for your blog. We have a tutorial here on how you can get it set up without too much trouble.
- Keep backups
Try to keep backups of your websites, blogs and important documents both on and offline. There are many plugins to help you do this.
- Use a good security plugin
I’m no expert on this but there are several security plugins and services around like WPCerber and Bulletproof Security. These can help lock-down your blog.
- Follow basic security procedures
Basic security procedures like avoiding public WiFi, not clicking unknown links in emails, having different and complex passwords, keeping software and plugins up to date, etc. go a very long way.
- Research regularly
Here’s an old post I wrote on the topic. Try to keep up to date with the trends as they change.
There is no need to be stressed about this issue, but it’s important to take step to make sure that you are protected from any bad stuff in 2018.
13. Finding a way to stand out from the crowd is really important
As more and more people start blogs we need to focus how to make ours stand out so as to create some point of difference that our readers can come to enjoy.
It’s not really necessary to be the first in your niche, but you do have to do something that is memorable and distinctive so that your blog gets remembered.
This might be as simple as injecting your own personal story in to your content, or it might be the development of a more consistent and focused brand that is aimed at a very targeted portion of your niche. Have a look how Nerd Fitness made a fitness blog that is just for geeks as the perfect example.
When you first thing about how to start a blog, just spend some time looking at your competitors and see what they are doing and how you might be able to solve problems in a new, exciting way.
14. Diversification of income is important in the long term
This is another one of those tips that have been around for a while but become more and more relevant with every passing year. If you start a blog in 2018 you should expect your income streams to change. That can be a really scary thing if you aren’t prepared.
For example, if you rely on Google AdWords from organic search traffic and your blog suddenly gets pinged in some update you might wind up with zero income for a while. The same goes with an affiliate product that you might be promoting with natural traffic vs paid traffic. That can dry up in an instant.
Try to think about diversifying your income streams so that you aren’t up the creek should one dry up. The best bet is a strong mailing list that you can use to launch your own products and affiliate promotions.
15. Buying blogs is always an option instead of starting one
Flippa is already killing it. But this year I think they will kill it even more (not sure what that means) because more and more people are going to be buying blogs to skip the initial stages of a blog’s life.
You see, when you first start a blog you have to do a lot of groundwork that takes time. Research, pillar articles, networking, logo creation, social media accounts set up, etc. It is a very time consuming process.
So what I’ve noticed is that a lot of people are skipping all this and buying blogs that are already pretty well established. I saw a four-month-old blog sell for $120,000 the other day.
This is not a bad strategy if you want to get straight in to things and you have a few thousand to spare. There is, however, a LOT to consider before you buy a blog so please do not rush into it. If you’d like to learn more about this idea please leave a comment and I’ll consider doing an article on it.
16. You’ll need to start planning for next year
I’ve always tried to emphasize the idea that you need to have short term and long term projects on the go.
It’s a terrible feeling being a self-employed and realizing that you’ve spent so much time working on a long term project that you have no short term money coming in to pay the bills.
Similarly, it’s an even worse feeling realizing that you spent so much time working on paying the bills that you’ve forgotten to launch those long term projects that are your main source of passion/interest.
So one thing I wanted to tell you about blogging this year is that you really want to start thinking about blogging in the next year. That means planning, researching and developing ideas now instead of later.
Keep working on the short term stuff but make sure your long term stuff still happens.
17. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will need attention
If you want to get a lot of traffic from Google you will need to stay on top of the changing SEO trends that happen every year.
Something I’ve been noticing is that blogging SEO is changing, but only in some ways. It’s almost like a car in that the design, colors and minor features change each year but the core remains the same. In this case the core is back links and the features are things like freshness, authorship, mobile-friendliness and so on.
The best ranking sites are still the ones with back links. I was going to write “the BEST back links” but decided against it as there are a bunch of blogs in my niche that rank with a huge volume of crappy back links, which is sad.
A screenshot of a blog that got 70,000 back links in two months. Legit?
The key here is to know your your niche. If you have a niche where the rankings are dominated by fresh results then you need to start working on getting fresh content, and so on.
The major thing to remember here, however, is that we will see more competition for organic links because more and more people are moving away from the old “link building” methods of the past in favor of a “quality content” approach to to SEO that sites like MOZ. tell us to follow.
The best way to “do” SEO is to make amazing stuff, promote it, and let the links and shares come naturally without any form of manipulation.
18. Tumblr and Medium can teach us things
At the very top of this blog post on the things you need to know to start a blog I mentioned that I still think a self-hosted WordPress blog is the best bet for serious, professional bloggers. Well, that doesn’t mean that we should totally ignore the other platforms.
I’m not saying that you need to go out and sign up for everything else right now, but I am saying that we should learn a few things from Tumblr and Medium which are innovative, sexy and coming up with some really big wins.
Take the Tumblr “Follow” button that slides out of the right hand corner as you scroll down the page. That feature is very hard to ignore and has played a big part in Tumblr being so “viral” among users of that platform. It has since been copied by a lot of non-Tumblr bloggers who have found it converts quite well.
One of the main lessons I think these new platforms are teaching us is that people want simplicity. Simplicity of design and layout, and simplicity of subscription and updates.
I’m going to be keeping an eye on these types of blogs in 2018 to see what they do to get even bigger. I might even muck around with a few to see if I can adopt any features over here.
19. Don’t try to be perfect when you start a blog
I have a tendency to want things to be perfect – launch dates, syncing of projects, image design, article structure, etc. – and that has resulted in a lot of lost opportunities for me.
Instead of getting things out there I’m mucking around behind the scenes on issues that only I care about. So, my mantra is going to be something like this:
Don’t spend 95% of your time tweaking the last 5% of your projects. – Click to Tweet this.
I’m sure a lot of people will argue that it is that 5% that makes the difference but I’m not so sure anymore. Be prepared to see a lot more stuff from me this year and expect it to be only half-polished.
What else do you need to know to start a blog?
I’d really like to know what you guys think about starting (or running!) a blog this year. Do you think there will be any big changes? Do you disagree with any of the points I’ve made above?
Please leave a comment below as I’d really love to hear what amazing ideas you have!
Top photo © Daniel Villeneuve.