Concise Answers to Your Top Beginner Blogging Questions


Don’t let blogging overwhelm you.

By Leo Babauta

Blogging can be a mighty confusing endeavor for newcomers.

And yet, in my experience, it’s one of the most rewarding, life-changing things you can do, from the comfort of your own home.

If you’re just starting out as a blogger, or contemplating making the leap, don’t let the technical side of blogging, or all the confusing options, hold you back. I remember how overwhelming everything was at the beginning, but several years and 160K readers later, I’ve learned a ton and I’m ridiculously happy I stuck with it.

So take heart, new bloggers … the learning is fun and the experience is delicious. As always, if I can help, I will … and in that spirit, I’m going to give you some brief, concise answers to the most common beginner blogging questions.

1. What’s the best blogging platform?

A: There isn’t one best platform. There are many excellent ones, and each has its strengths. One of the most popular, and a great choice for a professional blog, is WordPress, but others love other platforms, such as Movable Type. For the less technically inclined, I’d recommend Tumblr over Blogger (which I started on) or Posterous.

2. How do you create a blog?

A: The easy way is to sign up for a hosted blog service, such as WordPress.com, Tumblr, Posterous, Blogger, Typepad, or one of the many others available. It’s usually free, and all you need to sign up is an email address. Give your blog a name, and you get assigned a “subdomain” (such as zenhabits.blogspot.com).

You can also sign up for a web host, such as Dreahost or Bluehost or MediaTemple, for a fee. They usually have popular blog software available for easy install through their online control panels, which aren’t hard to figure out. If you go this route, you’ll need to buy your own domain, through your webhost or via a service that sells domains (Godaddy or Namecheap or others).

3. How do you make a blog skin or design?

A: Most of the above-mentioned blog software comes installed with “themes” or designs that you can choose from, for free. Often you’ll be able to customize the themes if you play around with the options in the blogging software.

There are also thousands upon thousands of free (and paid) themes available on the web, for any of the popular blogging software platforms.

4. How do I choose a good niche or name?

A: Pick a topic that a) you know a lot about and b) you’re passionate about. Don’t pick it just because you think it’ll be popular.

As for picking a name, I suggest brainstorming all kinds of names and words associated with your topic until you find one that reflects your main message and is memorable. And also that has a domain available.

5. What are the benefits of or best reasons for blogging?

A: Too many to fully name, but just to get you started, you’ll:

  • Be able to express yourself, and share what you know and think with the world.
  • Interact with smart and interesting people around the world.
  • Learn a tremendous amount about yourself.
  • Learn a lot about anything you’re interested in.
  • Perhaps make a career out of it.
  • Have a helluva time.

6. How do I get my first readers?

A: You’ve written a few posts but no one even knows you exist. You’ll need to connect with others, somehow, to share your posts with them. Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, along with email, and commenting on other blogs (but not spamming them with lots of links to your posts) are great ways to connect with others and share the best of what you have on your blog. As you connect with more people, they’ll naturally start checking out your blog.

7. How do I get more readers or subscribers?

A: OK, you have a few readers, but you want more. Hundreds upon hundreds, thousands and thousands! Well, take it easy. Blogs don’t just explode overnight.

The best answer is just to provide useful and/or really interesting content on a regular basis — daily, weekly, or somewhere in between. As you continue to provide amazing content, your readers will share what you have, and others will start to find you. It’s slow growth, but better than spamming people.

8. I have readers but no one comments — how do I encourage comments?

A: Write posts worth talking about. Interesting, thought-provoking, bold posts. And ask for your reader’s opinions.

9. Should I hire a professional designer?

A: In the beginning, it’s usually not necessary. The basic themes that come with your blogging software are enough for now. And you can find thousands of free ones on the net. Writing great content is more important than the perfect design.

Later, when you have thousands of subscribers and a modest income, you might consider paying for a professional design.

10. Where do I get topics to write about?

A: From your life, and what you know and love. On my blogs, I write about what I’ve learned through actual experience over the years, through experimentation and research and reading and talking to others and finding out what works and doesn’t.

If you use your life, and what you know and love, as your source of topics, you’ll never run out of things to write about.

11. How do you make money blogging?

A: Mostly you don’t. Most bloggers don’t make a dime, or at least not much more than a dime. If you build up a good-sized readership over time, by consistently producing good content, you can make some money — a part-time job, perhaps, or even a full-time job eventually.

Usually bloggers make money though ads, selling ebooks, affiliate links (recommending products and getting a percentage of sales for the referral), and by selling their consulting or freelance services.

12. I’ve read the blogging is dying – is that true? Would I be wasting my time blogging?

A: Those articles are written just to be controversial. Obviously blogging isn’t dying — more and more people are discovering blogging every day, both as bloggers and as readers. My own blogs continue to grow in readership despite minimal promotion on my part, simply because more people keep discovering me. Blogging is growing rapidly, and should continue to do so for awhile.

Of course, it will also change. In 5 or 10 years, it’s not going to be exactly the same as it is now, just as it isn’t the same now as it was 10 years ago. Microblogging services such as Tumblr and Twitter will change blogging, and what results will be something a bit different.

But sharing thoughts and information, having a global conversation in a form that’s much like blogging … that’s going to continue in some form for awhile, and now is as good a time as any to get into it.

13. What’s the most important blogging question I’m not asking?

A: You should be asking, “How can I most help my reader?” Bloggers get caught up in technical things, like blog platforms and widgets and themes and plugins … or in numbers, like visitors and pageviews and subscribers and comments and ad revenues … but this is the wrong mindset.

Focus instead on how you can help people. Make your reader the center of your blog, and find ways to help your reader succeed (at whatever you’re teaching). The rest — stats and money and all that — will come later.


Beginner bloggers: We’re in the closing hours of the signup for my A-List Blogging Bootcamp, “Blogging 101 – How to Create a Blog that Rocks.”

It’s aimed at complete beginners, and will teach you the basics to start a fantastic blog that will grow as your blogging skills grow. Deadline to sign up is 12:00 NOON, EST, on Feb. 13, 2010 … so sign up now!

The (nearly) Ultimate Guide to Better Writing

Become a better writer overnight with this FREE eBook
  • Find daily inspiration
  • Improve your writing overnight
  • Get started, even when you don’t feel motivated
  • Complete what you start
  • Get WTD updates
Fill out the form below and get your copy immediately!



42 Responses to “Concise Answers to Your Top Beginner Blogging Questions”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Michelangelo Bucci says:

    My problem with all the bloggin advice I’ve read so far is that they only apply (or so it seems) to blogs with a theme. I have got a very small personal blog (something like 10-20 visitors per day) in which I write down my thoughts on the world. My question is: how can you make a good (succesful) blog writing about interesting (instead of useful) topics? I would just like to have a few more readers, not to explode as a blog, but, though I am trying hard, I am not able to understand what my readers like to read about (I also tried asking, but got basically no answers). The craziest thing is that I get comments on seemingly random posts, while whenever I try to encourage discussion (leaving open questions, for example), I fail.

  2. Leo Babauta says:

    @Michelangelo: Interesting is good but it’s hard to be consistently interesting and not useful. :)

    Interesting is often interesting because it’s useful. For example, tech bloggers are interesting when they give insight or make bold predictions, but these are also useful.

    Humor is an exception. I don’t recommend it for most bloggers because most people don’t do it well enough to gain a strong audience.

    In the early days, don’t worry about what your readers like to read about … write about what you’re most passionate about. Just make it interesting or useful.

  3. Great post, Leo. I’ve been RSS subscribed to Zen Habits for a long time now. I have one question – does your blog title or tag line have to include keywords that are pertinent to you blog? I have started a blog for Social Media neophytes, but am having a hard time describing what I’d like to accomplish in keywords alone…Thanks for your insightful post for beginning bloggers!

  4. 7thWoman says:

    My question is, how do I lose the 15 lbs I’ve gained since I’ve become a daily blogger who spends all her free time (and some not so free) writing entries and interviewing for entries. Hmmmm… If I COULD make money at it, maybe I could afford to go to a gym…. If I could use my laptop on the treadmill.

    ;-)

  5. Michelangelo Bucci says:

    @Leo What I meant is: I like to comment and examine facts that happen in my country, town or simply in my life, because *I* find them interesting and I’d like to get other people points of view on such topics. I consider the opportunity to think quite useful, so basically I agree with you, but what I don’t want to write about in my blog is stuff like “How to…” or “Ten tips to…”. Do you think that there is a way to write a good blog without an underlying theme/topic? It is difficult, for example, to get readers through guest posting, for example.
    On a side note: actually my blog is not exactly “in the early days” (I have been blogging for more than two years), but consider that, since I write in Italian all the numbers should be divided by at least 10 :)

  6. SICWorld says:

    Well i’m in the Bootcamp and pretty stoked about it.

    This is a good leader post for the Bootcamp and I hope I can get all these things sorted on my blog.

    The bit that I relate to the most in this is “what to write about”. I lose my focus on what I originally set out to acheive. I end up writing posts that I know don’t quite hit the mark. Hopefully that will change in the next few months.

    It’s really easy to get lost in all the technical things. Having said that, you do want your blog to be user friendly and look nice. It takes me hours to do something simple, but I guess you learn a lot in the process.

    It’s also easy to get lost in Twitter, Facebook, friendfeed etc. Keeping focused is the hardest element.

    “it’s a big wide world of distraction out there”

  7. Kim Murdoch says:

    Your advice to pick 6 gradually introduced habits for 2010 (vs. a litany of typical resolutions launched simultaneously) resonated with me. Tired of resolutions that lost traction before snow melt, figured your approach was worth a spin. Habit #1 for Jan./Feb. is to write daily; still going strong 43 days later.

    Daily writing platform is a blog whose focus largely follows my interests, experiences, and random curiosities (who knew other city dwellers also wondered what happens after you flush).

    Sometimes helpful, occasionally funny, always real. Intentionally opted for a meaningful title that allows flexibility as each day, I get a little bit closer to figuring out what it’s all about.

    So glad you have traveled this way. And thankful you send enough guidance to assure the journey is worth taking, but not so much direction that I lose sight of my own path.

    Take good care,
    Kim

  8. Brad says:

    This is a great post – especially tip #6.

    I’ve been blogging for about a year and that was one of my main challenges.

    (Oh, an easy-to-understand guide to switching from Typepad to WordPress would also help.)

  9. ANNA CORTEZ says:

    Hello Leo..thanks for your book Zen to Done..been prioritising and you are so right about the big important things first..it’s made a difference to a project (book) I am working on..stopped multi-tasking as you are also correct this is no use..I have various medical appointments which take up time for life and also work on tephones four evenings as an Auric Healer Adviser/Dream Psychologist/Interpreter (poorly paid but helps vets bills)…to keep head above water as I am retired from Local Government 20 years early (Thyroid)..now have only two pukka pad s each with three sections for the studio and one for the project..got rid of all little notebooks as I was always losing them..I have bad eyes so you will only see me now and again..going to read old Blog of DSivers for a few momenets soon about India as I am way behind with him too but he knows the score with me thank-G-d..I have no extra time at present for a Blog but upon reading this I realise that when my book is complete I have a subject I could write about for life on a monthly basis say which there is a huge ‘niche’ for..my English and grammar are not so good now but will perhaps get into the swing of this at a later date..not too late though ..had to teach myself little I.T. to use this laptop as I live in remote street full of ‘sleepyheads’..elderly I mean..not being nasty..it’s great!..People I paid and trusted did not do their job correct last time so doing most of it myself learning as I go along like DS did but he more clever than me though I can see why he did this now…take your book everywhere from room to room every day in between housework, making calls to friends, studio etc.,. That’s me got one habit nearly together. Your book ‘Zen to Done’ is so easy to follow but the decisions, doing them, getting into routine is hard but not too bad for me as I was a Girl Guide and used to discipline..long time ago..Ha!Ha! Have got a note of your boot camp too and will read. So you and Derek Sivers are great supports for me as I still go back to Derek’s notes to see if I am not missing out any small things..been trying to creep into myspace slowly as I am wary of the internet due to bad experiences by friends which had serious consequences….I have mentioned your book in the studio and also in myspace page. Amazon have sent me a reminder of your other books which is good so I won’t forget so I will get your other books one by one..find your style easy to read and follow…thank-you..you had a real struggle I read your story and was most impressed..a great inspiration to all like me who ‘need’ to use my brain for what I was meant to do for G-d..well thought out..DS’s Notes were the same…Took me two years of ill-health before I caught up with the help he offered but his perseverence paid off for me as he steered me back to the very thing I began 20 years ago..you are right about saying..finish what you started…as I never realised how much I missed writing and painting even more than making music.slightly anyway…I am a songwriter member of the I.S.A. and a small-time promoter which I love..do this on Satrudays but after I read your book I will know what next to do..got the big important job going every morning to get it out of the way..checking emails is another thing I do daily and don’t usually but will..about to fix my filing system out once and for all today now that I have the big job out of the way. you know all of this so I will keep it shorter next time..I need to learn when to stop ..sometimes I can’t… learning how to create web adverts, pages free as an extra signpost before Hostbaby to make up for my signpost which crashed some time ago with geocities and I did not know. Sales on CDBaby are creeping up slow but that’s without a signpost so there’s hope..if I have enough money I can survive..if I make more money then I can support Chabad.org and Cat Rescues who offered to help me when I could not cope with sick animal but ended up managing ok..so i don’t forget them..nor the cats who need new beds etc..So thanks again..I am off to read the DS Blog now, then a bit more of Zen To Done..am alone Fridays now and have no kids staying but still keep conact with them.. have managed to make people work around me as I always worked around their live being on my own but this has changed so all are still speaking to me..few friends but all treasureskind regards..Anna Cortez

  10. Jenny says:

    These are great tips! In regards to tip #11, you can in fact make money from your blog and it’s really easy. We work with a lot of bloggers who have had great success making money with the content they write in their blog. By writing good content and linking to merchants with quality products, it’s easier to make money thank you think.

  11. Meg says:

    These are some great tips! I wish I had found something like this when I was just starting out. :)

    Lucky for me, I’ve finally been gaining some traction. While most niches require you to share useful information with your readers, mine is really just talking about my passion. I love it! It’s a great way for me to practice my writing (both headlines & posts), networking, and an awesome incentive for photography. I’m hoping to sharpen skills with it and launch a freelancing career writing about cars. (My passion.)

    Then again, the way I write is also with my audience in mind, so remember who your audience is first (writing with the reader in mind, who happens to be a reader with a shared passion) and you’ll be okay. That was just a mini-revelation on my part, thanks, Leo. :)

  12. Deborah says:

    With reference to #11; I wish I’d read that before I parted with $285 that I can’t afford to attend your bootcamp!

  13. Mitesh says:

    Hi Leo,

    My question being why would you recommed the Tumbler Blogging Platform over Blogger?

    Mitesh

  14. Mitesh says:

    Hi Leo,

    Forgot to mention it, I already have a blog on Blogger. (http://miteshdabhi.blogspot.com/) If you’d be kind enough to tell me what you think of the topics I am writing on. You guessed it I’d live to be an spiritual book author

    Regards, Mitesh

  15. Hilary says:

    Hi Leo .. it’s finding that passion isn’t it? I started writing about mother – daughter balance of life – it’s just not me .. and not a route I wanted to pursue .. albeit I was ‘caring’ for my mother. What did come out was the fact that my letter writing to friends and relatives was considered so useful, interesting and informative .. hence up came Positive Letters Inspirational Stories; it’s not right – but it’s given me a really good foundation (225 posts later) .. and one I can develop out to other aspects .. lots of opportunities .. It’s finding something that others will be interested in …and as you say I’m slowly growing readers .. thanks loved those points .. Hilary

  16. Leo Babauta says:

    @John Incantalupo: I’m not a big fan of using keywords or SEO. The tagline really should be a way to reinforce the message you want readers to know about your blog, not keywords.

    @Deborah: First, we’d be happy to give you a refund. We’re not trying to rip anyone off and definitely don’t want unhappy customers. Second, the bootcamp is meant to help beginner bloggers hit the ground running, not to get you to make money blogging … that’s something you should worry about later, once you’ve established yourself as a blogger. It’s definitely possible, but you need to lay the foundation first — which is what our bootcamp is about.

    @Mitesh: I’d recommend Tumblr over blogger for a number of small reasons. I’ve tried both and I like Tumblr’s feel and ease of use better. For short posts and links/photos, it’s much easier, and I’ve seen some great longer-post blogs using Tumblr. I like Tumblr’s interface, the templating style, the reblogging feature, and more.

  17. Mark Keyser says:

    Hi Leo… I am just getting started as a blogger and have not posted a blog yet. I have been reading all your posts and those of your guest writers for some time now. But let me ask you one question, should my first blog be one of introduction to let people know who I am and why I am posting? If other expert writers wish to comment on this, that’s OK with me.
    Thank you all (Leo) in advance for yur reply.

  18. @ Mark: Leo can chime in if he wants to.

    I think it really depends what your goal is. Every blogger is going to have a specific objective. But really, such a post may not be necessary. Ideally, you want your blog to have an ‘about section’ conveying to potential readers what it is your blog offers and maybe a little about yourself.

    Also… for your first post, it doesn’t really matter what you do, you’re not going to mess things up — you probably will have a very small audience at that point.

    I would say this though… if your objective is to garner a large audience and eventually make money, I recommend that your blog posts be very useful to the readers in some way. As it’s very rare for a personal blog to become very successful.

    Hope this helps.

  19. Deborah says:

    Thx, Leo, I’m going to remain in the bootcamp and then look for your further courses; I’m in the nether region of a non-newbie (blogging for a couple years now) but having started without a firm foundation; am sure I can pick up some good info from this “beginner’s” course that I can build on later. And be making money within a year :-D

  20. Kathy says:

    Hi, Leo. Thank you for all your help, in so many areas, over the years.

    How do you deal with the fear? I am afraid if I blog it won’t be good enough, I’ll post too seldom and lose my audience, I’ll run out of things to say about my topic– that I’ll get into it and just not have quite enough to sustain it. Is it doable, even with all the other things (demanding full time job, family, other writing projects) that claim my time and attention? I guess if you can do it with 6 kids, that’s my answer.

    Also, where do you get the pictures?

  21. Blogging is great for seo, but you also need other things in order to boost your seo.
    I would suggest MoreViews,

    It’s a great seo service provider!

  22. Andy says:

    Lovely post and very encouraging. One thing I would say is don’t be put off by picking a niche which is already crowded, if it is what you are truly passionate about. Just because there are many popular blogs or sites within a niche doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it, you just need to be prepared to work hard, work clever and don’t expect instant success.

  23. This is a great lead-in post to the blogger bootcamp. I wish I could attend it, but can’t seem to make the price work with my current other commitments. Hopefully, I can attend one on a future date.

    I do however find posts like these to be very helpful in the meantime, as well as the case studies you have been posting in anticipation of the bootcamps. I came across this blog early on, when I was starting out, and have implemented many of your suggestions which has helped me expose the blog quickly to thousands of readers around the world.

    It’s been much more difficult to translate visitors to subscribers, and it’s been much harder than I thought to get people to comment. Those are the two biggest challeneges, and require patience and persistence.

    Thanks again!

  24. Scott Boice says:

    What is the best way to find free images for posts? There are a lot of sources out there what do you reccomend?

  25. Hugh says:

    This is a great list, Leo, especially for a guy like me who is just starting out in the blogging world. I will aim to keep things simple and, as you say, just produce consistently useful content. A couple weeks ago, a blogger (I think it was Jonathan Fields) asked the question, “Would you read your own blog?” I expanded it and asked myself whether I would not only READ my own blog, but would I COMMENT on it, SUBSCRIBE to it, or even PAY TO READ it? To me, those are huge thought-provoking and action-inducing questions to ask myself.

  26. @ Scott: This post explains it all,

    A Complete Guide to Finding and Using Incredible Flickr Images – http://www.skelliewag.org/a-complete-guide-to-finding-and-using-incredible-flickr-images-162.htm

  27. Abir.biz says:

    In short, blogging needs time to be mastered. Additionally, attracting visitors (especially your target – not random audience) also needs a lot of work maybe through social networks or through advertising (now doesn’t really cost much). However, something that really bothers me at times is when I find a website (I enter) and it turns out to be a blog full of ads to generate money and I don’t eventually get the answer that I was looking for.

  28. Thanks Leo! I think that this is a great post for beginner bloggers. The one thing I would also recommend is getting your own domain or atleast one that is related to your website. I get a lot of readers that just do a Google search: inspire to write (the name of my website). I see a lot of people using their name as the site. This is great if you have a name everyone knows (barackobama.com), however many people may not do a search under your name… just my two cents!

    Thanks again!!

  29. These are all great ideas. My readership is slowly growing, and I am really toying with the idea of buying a domain name. This article really helps.

  30. abbey says:

    These are all great ideas, thanks!

  31. Karen says:

    Though I’m not a beginning blogger, reading this post was helpful. Thanks, Leo and Mary, for the info and encouragement you share with us fellow bloggers.

  32. Mark Keyser says:

    Hi Leo,

    I am new to the blogging world and I have read all the information you have given to all of us (me). Out of fear, I have not posted a blog yet. A question, when I do post my first blog, where does it go after send it out? Does it just sit out there waiting for someone to read it?Do I need to send it to specific email accounts? God I know this makes me sounds ignorant…please bear with me.

    Mark

  33. Akmal says:

    Yeah I do agree with most of the things you wrote above. Since opening my own blog I have been having tough days trying to attract more and more people to visit my blog and leave their comments.

    Just today when I was having a talk with my friend he suggested that I should mainly focus on the content of my blog and that I should write posts myself based on my own experiences. I am amazed to find out how his thoughts are coinciding with your thoughts here.

    By the way I also posted your article on my blog too. Don’t worry your full name is also mentioned under the article. :–))))

  34. I started a food blog with the intention of having a place to record my cooking attempts as an amateur cook. Unfortunately traffic statistics quickly became an obsession.

    Thanks for the reminder that essentially, we blog because we want to share and discuss our interests and passion with other like-minded people. The rest are secondary.

  35. Ron says:

    I used http://www.moreviews.net

    for over 2 years now and it has been the greatest seo service and internet promotion service by far.

    They actually got me a partnership on youtube and over $64,000 from adsense in the course of 2 years. Thanks Much!

  36. Thank you for this run down, it will sure do wonders for my bogging. One of the things I’m still fighting with is no9. I think I should do it anyway, just for the fun of it.
    Anyway thank you great post

  37. Makk says:

    Thanks Leo! I think that this is a great post for beginner bloggers.

    I also posted your article on my blog too.

  38. ForexWill says:

    “As for picking a name, I suggest brainstorming all kinds of names and words associated with your topic until you find one that reflects your main message and is memorable. And also that has a domain available.”

    do you have any tools for searching nichie ??

    Thanks

  39. Casinos says:

    Nicely presented information in this post, I prefer to read this kind of stuff. The quality of content is fine and the conclusion is good.

  40. Stars are usually though to be style icons. They often set fashion tendencies in clothes, make-up and of course body art. Today you can barely find any famous actor or singer that has not made a tattoo. Hollywood celebrities are fond of tattoos but of course the choice of tattoosis usually individual. We will tell you everything about the most of celebrities and their tattoos, and what is even more interesting their meanings so you have a possibility see them for yourself at http://www.facebook.com/designstattoo