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!