So you want to start a blog…
With Rangers news relatively slow right now, I wanted to go a different route today. I’ve been at this blogging thing for close to 11 years now, and over that time I’ve had a good number of people talk to me about how to start their own sites. Pat was the most recent when he launched Scouting Hockey’s Future. The questions usually kick up around the start of every season, so I figured I’d put together the most frequently asked questions I get and provide what I did.
It’s worth noting that what I did may not be for you. That’s fine. Everyone has their own way of doing things. I’m also going to assume that you aren’t reaching out to the likes of SBNation, Bleacher Report, or other “pro blogging” companies, and you want to do this on your own. You can probably skip numbers 1 and 4 if you are going to a blogging conglomerate.
0. Don’t expect to make any money. I cannot stress this enough. This should be approached as a hobby, not a profession.
1. Find hosting, buy a domain name, and figure out a design
This is your first step. You can probably get some cheap hosting for the first year of the site, but as it grows, hosting does become more expensive (I pay a lot). A domain is about $15 a year, nothing crazy. I recommend going to GoDaddy – their customer service is spectacular and they have easy stuff to follow to get it going. Plus, if you host with them, they install WordPress (your blogging software) on your site for free. Major bonus. They do all your setup for you.
The design piece is a little more challenging. There are a ton of WordPress themes out there. Find one you like and install it. You can usually customize it too. There are a lot of good plugins that help you along with this, and most are free.
This step is the most challenging step and is usually the road block for a lot of people. You do not need to have technical knowledge. You just need to be able to spend time figuring things out. It’s not going to be laid out for you in simple, easy to follow instructions. It requires work on your part. But it is worth it.
2. Decide on your blogging frequency and style
Your audience will build naturally, so don’t necessarily worry about that out of the gate. The most important piece is get into a rhythm. Are you blogging once a week? Great. Once a day? Better. Twice a day? Make sure you can support it. Pick a frequency and stick to it. Consistency and reliability go a long way. Also post about every bit of news there is, especially when you first start off. That is in addition to your blogging frequency.
Your style of writing should feel natural. Don’t try to have a persona or be someone you’re not. Real life social rules apply here. For example, I don’t want to be a reporter or a journalist, and my writing style reflects that. Find your voice.
Also remember that this should be fun. If you aren’t having fun, then maybe this isn’t for you. You aren’t going to make any money, and bloggers have no real clout, even if we pretend like we do.
3. Get on social media
Twitter is the big driver here, but Facebook and Instagram shouldn’t be ignored. Instagram allows you to post on multiple social media platforms, which is a plus, but that’s only for pictures. Get on Twitter and engage with other people. Engagement draws followers, which draws people to your website. Just…don’t buy followers. Not worth it, and you’ll get ridiculed. I promise.
4. Invest in SEO and security
This is low-key one of the most important aspects. You’re never going to be able to compete with the SBNation sites in this, as they have entire teams dedicated to SEO and making sure their sites are listed first. Plus there are hundreds of those sites and they all link to each other, which is a big aspect of SEO. My recommendation here is to use some free WordPress plugins that assist in this. Your SEO ranking will grow over time.
Security is big as well. WordPress isn’t the most secure application out there. There are free plugins that assist with website security, and your hosting platform should be able to help here as well. Again the blogging conglomerates have their own teams here.
If there is one area that you should consider investing some money, outside of your hosting and domain name, this is it. Getting it right the first time and getting into good habits goes a long way.
5. Engage in your comment section
Yes I said it. Read the comments, especially early on. When you only have a handful of people commenting on your posts, you’ll need to engage them in order to further the conversation. Don’t feed the trolls, but engage those who bring in good comments. Eventually you’ll get enough people where you won’t need to (or want to) read the comments, and at that point you’ve created a nice little community.
Even as the site grows, you should check in on the comments. Yes, you’ll want to ensure people aren’t running around yelling at each other unchecked, but you can also get a good amount of writing ideas from comments. I’ve certainly done this, and continue to do so.
Yes folks, I’m reading the comments, even if I don’t reply to them all anymore.
6. Reach out to other bloggers
Most of us are decent people and will help you get your site off the ground. Just don’t be an ass, and also don’t expect a response immediately. As I said, this is a hobby, not a job. We have actual jobs that support our families and pay our bills, and blogging, social media, etc, will always take a back seat to that.
A common question I get is related to link exchanges. Back in the old blogging days, everyone used to have a blogroll where we would link to other blogger sites and whatnot. Social media has kind of removed that aspect of blogging, so I usually politely state that it is better to reach out via social media.
7. Try to get your work syndicated elsewhere
Yardbarker is good for stuff like this. Bleacher Report too. These types of sites run with your articles, but redirect to your site. It’s mutually beneficial.
8. Cite. Your. Sources.
Don’t steal other people’s work. That’s plagiarism. If you saw a post or a snippet of an article caught your eye, link to it. If you like the format of someone’s post and want to do something similar, throw them some credit. You can even be shameless about it. Just do the right thing. You will never be criticized for over-citing your sources. You will, however, piss people off if you don’t cite anyone, and then you can kiss #6 and #7 goodbye.
9. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Remember that bit about fun? If you enjoy writing, then you won’t mind the slow start that every site has. Growing a following takes a while. Just be consistent, smart, engaging, and not an ass and you’ll steadily grow.
I certainly missed some things here, but these are really the main points. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions about how to get your own site up and running.