Blogging has come a long way since its early days; what was once considered the fanciful domain of hobbyists and diarists is now actually a fully-fledged industry of full-time professionals and freelancers. As advertisers discover the potential of the digital space, bloggers who can boast a large readership are becoming increasingly influential.
It’s not as simple as it sounds, though. For a beginner, knowing how to engage and grow an audience is the most difficult part, and it is essential to understand and master the tricks of the trade before you consider how to become profitable.
Luckily, we have put together some of the best tips on how to create content, grow your following and eventually monetise your blog. Read on, and you’ll be making a living from your keyboard in no time.
1. Figure Out a Problem to Solve
Once you have done the technical bit and set up your website, the first thing you need to do is decide what you’re actually going to write about. The style of your content will vary depending on what kind of blog you have, but the principles of researching topics are essentially the same – you need to write about things that provide some form of value to your readers.
What this means is that you need to solve a problem in some way, shape or form. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be written in one particular format or even that the reader has to be actively asking the question. Take these three examples:
1 A guide on how to hang drywall
2. How to talk to girls if you’re shy
3. Why Lionel Messi is better than Christiano Ronaldo
While the first example is a straightforward instructional piece where the reader is seeking the answer to a very linear question, the second is more open to the interpretation and style of the writer. In the third example, the reader probably hasn’t searched for this specific topic but they are now intrigued as to why the author thinks Messi is better, thus creating the 'problem' that only reading the article can solve. Regardless, in each instance, the writer has answered the reader’s question.
2. Make Sure Your Content Makes Sense
How you generate ideas will depend on the type of blog you have, but it needs to be consistent. If it is a personal one – about, say, Game of Thrones – then most of your articles will be about, well, Game of Thrones. If it is a business blog, though, then it is wise to try and create a strategy, and ensure that your posts tie into your overall goal: the growth of your business.
For example, if you run an affiliate marketing agency, then it is a good idea to write blog posts extolling the benefits of being an affiliate marketer. This can include giving tips and advice on how to improve, as well as motivational pieces that get people interested in affiliate marketing.
3. Do Your Keyword Research
Let’s say that your blog is about surfing. When you register your website with Google, you will get access to a keyword planner (as well as several other highly valuable tools). This allows you to see how many people are searching for a particular word or phrase each month. For example, 50,000 people may have typed 'surfing' into Google in the last month.
The problem is that this is a very broad term, though. What keyword planner allows you to do – by employing a touch of creativity – is break down the searches. Using the suggestions the tool gives you, think about what else people might search for; instead of just 'surfing', try 'best places to surf' or 'best surfboards'. You can easily construct articles around these sub-topics, and it will benefit your Google ranking (which we will discuss later).
4. Study Forums
Join as many forums as you can find that are related to your niche and browse through them regularly. What kind of things are people talking and writing about? What kind of questions are they asking? Get an idea of what is relevant and what people are interested in, and then create an article around it.
5. Listen to Your Audience
It may sound like common sense, but listen to what your audience is telling you. Read through your comments and engage in discussion with them – take on board their suggestions and utilise them in your next post. For example, if you publish a post about tech entrepreneurs and someone in the comments argues that the article is slanted in favour of men, your next post can focus on women in tech.
6. Write ‘Evergreen’ Posts
Although it can vary depending on the niche, blog posts generally have short life spans in terms of the interest around them and the traffic they attract. This is mainly because of their fleeting relevance; if you write a post explaining why FIFA 18 is better than FIFA 17, then that’s great, but by the time FIFA 19 comes out, it will be irrelevant.
The exception is what is known as an ‘evergreen’ post. These posts have a much longer shelf life because they remain relevant to the reader without the need for updating. Examples of evergreen posts include product reviews, how-to guides or explanatory articles.
Don’t just focus solely on producing evergreen pieces, though. You should still write topical, contemporary content that interests readers and keeps your short-term traffic ticking over.
7. Pay Attention to the Tone
When writing a blog piece, you should imagine that you are having a conversation with your audience. Generally speaking, people enjoy reading things that are easy to understand; loosen up your writing and try to come across naturally.
That said, you should use your judgement, too. If your blog is about law, for example, and your target audience is lawyers, then you are clearly going to be using language and terms that are very specialist. In this instance, writing in very simplistic terms would more than likely alienate your audience and undermine your credibility.
8. Have a Unique Voice
As touched on previously, what will set you apart from everyone else is your writing voice. This can be difficult to convey as a beginner, as the majority of people won’t care about you per se; only what you’re saying. As you build up followers and increase your audience, though, your personality will start to become more and more important.
How you do this is, of course, up to you. There is no right or wrong way to make your writing stand out, but make it your own and keep it that way – people will come to expect consistency from you.
9. Don't Ignore the Layout
Rightly or wrongly, most people get turned off when they see a large block of text on their screen. They want to read something that flows and is a touch more aesthetic; this means bullet points, statistics and images (properly credited if necessary, of course).
If you have the design capability, infographics are also an increasingly popular way to get information across visually and can complement your text perfectly. Either way, ensure that when people are looking at your website, it is appealing and easy to navigate.
10. Use a Working Title - Then Get Rid of It
Before you start, create a title that reflects what you want the article to be about. For example, if you want to write a piece about why Volkswagen engines are better than Ford engines, use that as your working title. Refer to it as you write, as it’ll keep you within your boundaries. Don’t be tempted to go off on a tangent about Renault engines, as although they're interesting, that’s not what your article is about. Once you have finished, then change your title to something that is catchy and SEO-friendly (see further down).
11. Always Edit Your Work
Once you’ve finished writing, the temptation may be to hit 'publish' straight away – don’t. If possible, take yourself away from the article for at least a couple of hours and then come back and read it through again. Does it flow naturally? Is it structured correctly? Does it read well?
Importantly, give it the spelling and grammar treatment – the odd typo will always get through and that’s fine, but nobody will take you seriously as a professional blogger if your work is littered with mistakes. There are countless free resources online that will check these things for you, so there is no excuse.
Don’t spend too long editing, though. Go over the steps above and then publish; don’t overanalyse every sentence or spend all night thinking of different ways to say the same thing. Your article will never be as perfect as it could be, and if every blogger spent as much time as they’d like to scrutinising their own work, nothing would ever get published. Besides, if you read something back a month later and notice a mistake or an easier way to say something, you can simply edit the text.
12. DON'T PLAGIARISE
This one is pretty simple – DO NOT PLAGIARISE. Aside from the fact it’s theft (especially if you are making money from it), you will also get penalised. And we mean properly penalised – Google is not your 10th grade chemistry teacher, after all. It will spot plagiarism from a mile off, and there will be no explanation when they mercilessly remove you from the first page of the search results, rendering those months (and potentially years) of meticulous SEO work utterly useless.
Don't panic, though. You can still cite other sources, as long as you do it properly (this applies to data and research, too). Remember: you wouldn’t neglect to credit your sources in a university paper, so don’t do it on your blog.
13. Learn about and Understand SEO
Unfortunately, blogging isn’t as simple as just writing a great piece and then waiting for the readers to flood in. To be found on Google, you have to adapt and tailor your content to make it search engine-friendly – a practice known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
There are many facets to SEO, and it is much an art as it is a science. The techniques involved are constantly evolving as Google updates and changes its algorithms, to the point that some critics are questioning its perceived importance in 2018. This is irrelevant, though. It is always good practice to implement SEO, especially as it costs nothing and is proven to attract organic traffic (ie: not through paid advertising or social media). Make sure you learn as much as you can - Moz and HubSpot are good places to start.
14. Post Frequently
Ensure you are posting frequently – as often as possible in most cases. Google will not give you preference if something new only appears on your website once a month. As a minimum, you should be looking to post new content at least once a week.
Don’t mistake this for quantity over quality, though. Google values content that is fresh, unique and original – don’t compromise on the quality of your work. Many bloggers like to write several pieces as 'insurance' and schedule them for posting at a later date, giving you some breathing space later on if you are busy or struggling for inspiration.
15. Focus on Quality Instead of Length
Although optimal content length is the subject of fierce debate in the SEO community, it's a good idea to go off the assumption that the longer a piece is, the better. However, the key here is to understand that Google is more interested in the quality of the content rather than how long it is.
Ideally, try to write a minimum of 1,000 words, but don't add in paragraphs of waffle for the sake of it and compromise on the overall standard of the piece. Google will always prioritise a unique, well-written 600-word article over something that is longer but poor quality.
16. Accommodate Google but Write for Your Audience
As mentioned earlier, Google's keyword planner allows you to find out which search terms are popular. You can use a few of these keywords throughout your post, giving priority to the highest-ranking ones. Try to use your main keyword in the following places, too:
- In the title
- At the start of the article
- In at least one subheading
- In the alt-image tags (these are written descriptions of your images found in your CMS, as Google cannot 'read' images)
- In the meta description (the short description of your page that appears in the Google search results)
At the same time, be careful not to overdo it. Don’t 'flood' your article, as Google will suspect spam, and don’t alter your text to try and accommodate certain words or phrases; there is nothing worse than reading a bunch of keywords that have clearly been jumbled together into a sentence. Always remember: write for your audience, not Google.
17. Build Links
Link-building is another important part of SEO. When Google searches your site, it follows the links that are on your page to piece together authority; if you have no internal links, then the search stops there. Try to connect all the dots of your site as much as you can – link to your other posts in your text wherever it makes sense to do so.
Also, try to get high-ranking authority sites to link to yours (this, in turn, will boost your own ranking). The best way to do this is by writing guest posts for other more established sites in return for a link to your blog – a practice known as ‘backlinking’. It is also a great opportunity to network with other bloggers, as well as getting your work seen by a wider audience.
18. Consider Plug-Ins
Tackling SEO can be a tricky task at first, especially if you have no prior experience of it, but it is definitely worth it – especially when you make it to the coveted Holy Grail that is page one of the Google search results. SEO requires patience, but if it is done right, it will become a stable and steady source of constant traffic to your site.
That said, if you don’t have the time to become a guru – or you’re just not technically-minded – then help is still at hand. There are various plug-ins and add-ons that can help considerably at the start, such as Yoast or All-In-One SEO on WordPress – consider using them while you figure out the more complex stuff.
19. Promote in the Right Places
Getting ranked on Google should be your priority, but it’s not the only way to be found online. As already mentioned, being visible on niche-specific forums is a must. Don’t just spam every post with links to your own site, though – you’ll find yourself banned straight away and you’ll destroy your blog’s reputation. Instead, focus on becoming a valuable member of that community.
When people ask questions, answer them without trying to advertise. If you can offer real value in your posts, then members will start to respect you. Once you are established, then you can start to push your blog. The admins will likely even allow you to post a link in your signature.
20. Develop Your Social Media Presence
Love it or hate it, if you are going to be a serious blogger, then you have to be on social media. And not just Facebook, but Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, too. In fact, the more platforms, the better.
Take the time to make your profiles look professional, and share all your blog posts on each one (as well as any other relevant items you want to post). Building up followings on each platform can take time, but it only takes one article to be retweeted or shared by the right person and it can make a huge difference. Make sure you connect with other writers and editors on LinkedIn and follow established bloggers and publishers on Twitter.
Additionally, start posting on Reddit and Q&A site Quora. Reddit is notoriously against self-promotion, so don’t storm in telling everyone how great your blog is, but if you join a relevant sub-Reddit (smaller sections of the site that are about a certain topic) and offer value in your posts, you will build up credibility as an authority on the subject. This also applies to Quora.
Once you have a steady and respectable amount of traffic, you can consider monetising your blog. Whether or not this is your motivation is, of course, up to you, but it certainly makes sense to at least try and make a little bit of money, if not to simply cover the costs of your hosting fees.
Depending on your niche and your writing style, there are several ways to monetise a blog, including:
- Affiliate marketing
- Sponsored posts
- General advertising
And that, in a nutshell, is how you go from a blogging beginner to a sophisticated pro! Of course, not many people can blog full-time; hugely successful people like Charles Ngo, Neil Patel or any one of YouTube’s many millionaires may be able to live comfortably off the revenue their blogs and vlogs generate, but for the time being you should just focus on building up a readership.
That said, all the people in those examples started exactly where you are now. If you are a good writer – or, more importantly, you know how to engage an audience – and you are willing to take the time to learn about SEO and marketing, then you could just about have a shot of making it.
What are your experiences with blogging? Do you have any tips not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments…