How To Start A Blog
- Sep 05, 2017
- Category: Business
Months ago, when a friend asked me how to start a blog, I replied, "Just start writing! Create a basic website and post a couple articles. See if anyone connects with your words first. Then figure out the rest."
I was as naive as he.
It's not enough to just write and post. The internet is a big world, and the likelihood that others will stumble across your content—if not marketed and written properly—is as likely as discovering a handwritten note buried in a cave. It's possible, but it may take a very long time for someone to find it.
So here I am, months after poorly advising my friend, trying to make amends. I'm sharing all I've learned, especially in the past few months, since working with BluTxt, an SEO/web-designing firm that taught me the importance of properly coding and designing your website as well as what tags and keywords to use to drive traffic.
Disclaimer: I am still not an expert in all this. I'm sharing my experiences below in hopes it helps you gain some clarity. I may explain something incorrectly, so be kind, just let me know! That being said, here we go...!
To date, I have recreated my website, SabrinaMust.com, four times. FOUR TIMES! Mostly by myself. And none but the last version has been anything close to what it needed to be.
I was 21 (circa 2007) when I decided I needed a website to showcase writing samples, my resume, and my travel photography from my recent trips in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. I used some old-school, drag-and-drop program about which a friend told me in college. I'd stay up late in my studio apartment in Baltimore, working on it. I purchased a domain from GoDaddy.com because my sister Miya told me that's what I must do. The company's name worried me—sounded like a scam—but I trusted my sister so I called, and low and behold, I soon owned the rights to SabrinaMust.com. For years, that was my working site. It did what it needed to do...or at least what I thought it needed to do: Advertise my experience to whomever I sent the link.
I didn't yet realize how powerful the internet could be to promote your services/products to others.
About 7 or 8 years later (circa 2013) I needed to update a few website pages to include links to my books. Unfortunately, I suddenly realized the website platform no longer existed! There was no way whatsoever to adjust anything on the current site. Plus, I had accidentally deleted all my files off my external hard drive, so I didn't even have the original image files. (Not my proudest moment.) That's when another (ill-informed) friend recommended Wix.com. Since I no longer had the original files from all my travel photographs, I literally screenshotted the photos and dragged them into Wix. For a couple more years, that site, looking almost identical to the one I created in undergrad, was (I thought) good enough. Actually, let's get real, I thought it looked awesome! However, other than those who followed me on Facebook and had read my book, Must Girls Love, I reached no new audience. I chalked it up to "I just don't know what else to do."
Then, out of the blue, let's call it 2015, after taking a year or so off writing, I decided I needed to start a blog. My urge to create was brewing from within. And while the idea of being a "blogger" turned me off because I envisioned having to write articles like "The Top 10 Ways To Wear This Scarf", I figured I could do the blog thing differently. It doesn't have to be pointless how-to articles, I told myself. I could write about real issues that moved me and readers. From those posts, I'd generate a huge following. Again, though well-intended, I was misinformed. Like burying a love note in a cave.
I created a WordPress.org account and started copying and pasting text and photos from my Wix site to my new blogging platform. It was a lot to learn but eventually I got comfortable with it. And yet, despite all good intentions, I was doing it wrong. I was on a WordPress.org account, not WordPress.com. I didn't know how very different the two platforms really are—even though they seem so similar. Again, rookie mistake; no one else seemed to mention that was problematic, including GoDaddy.com when I called to review my options.
About a year later (circa 2016), after finally quitting a boot camp job that censored everything and anything I said and wrote, I was ready to bulldoze my way through the blogging world to make my dream come alive. That's when I realized my current site—the 3rd version on the 3rd platform—wasn't good enough. For some reason I didn't understand, WordPress.org couldn't link to Google Analytics, and I needed the stats from Google Analytics to share with companies/brands for collaborations. Without it, they couldn't track my traffic. In fact, without it, I couldn't track my traffic. So, I called up GoDaddy, and they guided me through exporting all my content from my old WordPress.org site to my new backend on WordPress.com that was on a shared hosting platform. I then focused on redesigning my pages. It was frustrating yet exciting. The hours I wasted trying to do it myself—I rather not admit.
I finally hired a web designer in Atlanta, Georgia through Upwork.com. He was more expensive than the countless designers in India and Pakistan who applied to my job posting yet incredibly inexpensive compared to every other web designer in the States—only $200!!! I know, wildly cheap. I assumed it'd be easier to communicate with someone whose first language was English—especially since my vision for the site was hard to explain. Our agreement was he'd build out the foundation of the site, customizing the look, uploading whatever plugins I'd need, and then I'd add all the text and photos I wanted. My mistake was hiring an unknown whom no one recommended and who didn't have a track record. I put my trust in him, stupidly. The kid was more concerned with getting his $200 to pay rent. So I spent another crazy number of hours and days, customizing the look of the site. Again, because I'm not a web designer, I felt like I did a solid job. I didn't.
My goal, as probably 90% of you reading this blog post, is to monetize my blog. But I missed the marked for the 3rd time. Epic fails over and over.
MY INACCURATE BELIEFS:
- Writing and publishing content is enough
- Building a site on wix.com or any other non-hosted platform is enough
- SEO doesn't matter
- Email list building doesn't matter
- Scheduling blog posts doesn't matter
- Adding large photos that are high resolution is important
- A website homepage shouldn't have too much content
In 2017, I met Travis, the owner of BluTxt. And everything I knew about web development slowly unraveled. He ran a report on my site and confirmed that my site was operating super slowly, there was limited traffic, I had very few backlinks, I had way too many plugins, my images weren't compressed, my site wasn't hosted on the proper hosting platform, there was no cpanel... The list was endless.
Basically, my website was a shitshow.
I was ignorant. And while yes, you don't know something until you learn or are told, I do partially blame myself for my website debacle. I like to think I can do it all.
I should've taken the advice I give to my WriteLessBad clients: Spend your time doing what you do best, and hire a professional to craft your content.
Years ago, I should've hired professionals to build the website. Or at least hired professionals to do a few crucial steps to the website-building process. Not listen to friends (and quite frankly other bloggers) who didn't know anything about anything. I didn't even know that my site wasn't indexed; in other words search engines, like Google, didn't even know I existed! I was pushing out tons of content and no one was finding it, unless of course they followed me on Facebook.
I didn't know what half of the information Travis shared with me meant. Again, I'm a writer, not a web developer. Like many of you reading this article.
I thought GoDaddy had effectively directed me on what was best for my site. I was wrong. They sold me on a shared hosting plan that was limited and painfully slow, and I didn't have a cpanel—what I later learned is a web hosting control panel so designers can navigate and customize the site properly. The Atlanta web guy and everyone else giving me their two cents directed me to upload more plugins, to do this, to do that. In other words, almost everyone's advice was wrong.
I should have started my site from scratch again, had I known to the extent it was messed up. But the designers at BluTxt worked with what I had. They added a footer to help with the site's navigation and overall look, changed up the cover photos, cleaned up the plugins, and compressed all 20,000 images on my site (yes, 20,000). My site was the largest sites one of the BluTxt developers had ever seen. Not something of which to feel proud in this context!
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Pay for hosting that has a cpanel (BlueHost is to where BluTxt transferred me)
- Limit downloaded plugins as it slows your site
- Index the site with all search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo)
- Compress images so they don't overwhelm/weigh down the site
- Add Yoast SEO meta descriptions and tags (to help with SEO i.e. browser rankings)
- Add a title and alt text tag that includes your url slug to your post's featured image
- Determine what the most searched keywords are for topics you cover and include those keywords (phrases) throughout your content (to help with SEO i.e. browser rankings)
- Include at least 350 words per website page so Google can spider it, including your homepage
- Customize html so your site works faster
- Add citations, as in local SEO listings (name, address, phone number to sites like Yelp)
- Add backlinks (I just did it right there. These are urls within your posts that link to high-ranking websites)—these outbound links show your site is gaining authority which helps search engines rank your website higher
- Get your website url backlinked on other sites (i.e. if I guest post or have a piece published online, make sure those sites link SabrinaMust.com, again to gain authority to help ranking. See an example of this on my Thought Catalog profile page.)
- Collaborate with other bloggers, guest posting to get more exposure (which I struggle to do because no one wants to pay for content!
- Most websites are terribly designed and have no traffic. Trust me, BluTxt ran reports for me so I could see what kind of traffic others were getting, those with sites I thought I'd like to emulate. This taught me to search for the experts, those with a ton of traffic and then do as they do because they were obviously doing something right!
In other words, get a professional with a ton of experience to help build your site correctly the first time around!
Most likely, I still explained things inaccurately. I hope not. But I'm still learning, so it's very possible!
Any questions? Comment below. This post is intended to give some direction and possibly even get you thinking about ways you've gone wrong...! If you enjoyed it, click the share button up underneath the photo at the top of the page!