As you can probably tell, I’m a pretty big fan of blogging. I wouldn’t be doing it myself if I wasn’t, now would I? In fact, a huge amount of my daily life is focused on blogs. When I’m at home, I have 16-Bit Dad to work on, and whilst I am at work, I spend my time optimising business blogs for companies. So yeah, they are very important to me, both professionally and personally. That’s why I love to find new bloggers who are just starting out!
However, as someone who is still relatively new to blogging personally, having only had 16-Bit Dad going for about a year and a half, I know how daunting it came be to get one up and running. That’s why I wanted to go over my top 7 tips that can help your blog hit the ground running.
I should point out that this is largely going to be focused on WordPress, since that is where my knowledge and experience comes from.
Self-Hosted Is An Instant Win
When you’re in the planning phase of a blog, or just getting started, then it can be really tempting to sign up to WordPress.com and get a free blog. However, I seriously wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re looking to run a blog seriously, rather than just as a diary for you and your friends & family, than forward planning is important. You see, with a free WordPress.com account, you don’t actually own the blog, nor do you get full access to the WordPress system.
You are tied down to the themes that WordPress.com allow, can’t use most of the plugins and don’t have access to the true backend of the blog. This severely limits your ability to grow and expand in the future. On top of this, unless you pay for a premium account, you are stuck with a WordPress.com subdomain (for example, example.wordpress.com). This is bad for two reasons;
- You can’t have a properly branded, memorable web address.
- Your blog will effectively never have any equity, so brands and SEO agencies will be far less likely to work with you.
As stated, you can get passed the web address issue with a premium account, but this then ties you in even further to WordPress.com’s limited version of the blogging system. How? Well, because you buy the domain through them, so technically, they own it.
Therefore, it is far better to just go self-hosted from the beginning. Yes, this means you’ll need to put some money up right at the start… But it is probably a lot cheaper than you think. The cheapest premium WordPress.com account will set you back £3 per month (billed annually), totalling £36 per year. On the other hand, there are some hosting companies that will offer the first year plus the domain for a total of £11 per year, and then £25 each year after that. So, it’s actually cheaper to go self-hosted than to use WordPress.com’s Premium account.
Most of these hosting providers also have “one click install” for WordPress, which will setup the system for you with full access to everything it has to offer!
Okay, so this is one very important reason why you need to be self-hosted. As I explained earlier, with a free WordPress account, you don’t get access to plugins. This is actually a huge limitation, especially if you want to grow your traffic from Google. You see, there is a plugin called Yoast SEO, which is designed to help you get your website optimised to Google’s best practice guidelines. In fact, a number of base-level technical SEO issues can be fixed simply by installing the plugin, like canonical tags.
It also gives you complete control over every aspect of your blog’s SEO, which you don’t get on a free blog.
Even at my day job, whenever a new client comes along on a WordPress website, the very first thing we tell them to do is get Yoast installed. There is a premium version of the plugin, but unless you’re a big company selling hundreds of products, the free version is more than enough!
So, as soon as your self-hosted blog is set up, go to the Plugins section of the Admin section, click on Add New and search for Yoast.
Get A Decent Responsive Theme
I wouldn’t expect many bloggers to be that up to date with all of Google’s various changes and algorithms, nor how the world of SEO really works. However, one thing you really need to be aware of is that Google announced the beginning of the “Mobile First Index” last week. This basically means that it will come and crawl your website as if it were on a mobile phone, and determine how good your website is based upon that. Because of this, you need to have a truly mobile-friendly blog now, in order to get good traffic from Google.
The easiest way to do this is to install a responsive theme. There are a lot of free responsive themes available, but I’ll be honest, most of them aren’t that good. They can be poorly coded or designed, leading to Google looking upon your blog unfavourably. However, they can be a good starting place if you don’t have the spare cash available to buy a theme.
If you do have some spare cash around, then I would definitely recommend looking at buying a good theme. Personally, I would recommend Divi or Extra by Elegant Themes, because they add a lot of functionality to WordPress, whilst also making page building really easy as well. Extra even adds in a smart little review box (which you can see in action in any of my reviews, like this one). A membership to Elegant Themes costs $69 per year but gives you access to both Divi and Extra, as well as their amazing plugins, Bloom and Monarch. Also, once you’ve paid for the first year and installed the theme and plugins you want, you can cancel your membership and keep them. You just won’t be able to update them.
Plan Out Your Categories
It might surprise you just how important it is to get your categories laid out and finalised as soon as possible. The reason for this is that, if you keep changing and swapping out categories, Google will get very confused about your blog’s structure, and it will almost certainly lead to a whole bunch of errors on the site. These errors will then make it harder to rank in Google, meaning you’ll get fewer visitors because they won’t be able to find you.
So, once you’ve got your blog set up, Yoast installed and a theme sorted, the next thing to do is sit down and draw out how you want your categories laid out. Plan it carefully, so that you have all the categories you want and need, in a way that appears logical. This is called Site Architecture, which is a fancy term for “making your site work right”.
By getting this sorted before you start blogging and churning out posts means that you’ll be in a really strong position later on. It is, essentially, future-proofing your blog.
Install The Grammarly Browser Extension
This one is a little different, as it isn’t actually related to WordPress itself. Instead, this is a free extension that you can add to Firefox or Chrome (because who uses Internet Explorer anymore). Once installed, create a free account and choose the language you are writing in (for example, US English or UK English). From there, Grammarly will start running on almost every website you visit, including your WordPress post editor.
What Grammarly does is live-check what you are writing, highlighting grammatical mistakes and suggesting better ways to write something. This can be a lifesaver, as it can really help you improve the quality of your writing. It even sends you weekly summaries of the most common mistakes you made, so you can learn from them as well.
If you’re looking to be a serious blogger, who can either make money or gain a lot of followers, getting your grammar correct is actually really important. Badly written posts, or posts full of grammar mistakes, can be huge turn-offs for your readers. Therefore, I would highly recommend that you get Grammarly. After all, no one is perfect, so every little bit of help can really go a long way!
The blogger community as a whole is a wonderful community to be a part of. Bloggers often help each other with content suggestions, advice and even little freebies. But that’s not the only great thing about the community. If you are an active part of the blogger community, other bloggers can (and almost certainly will) turn into avid readers of your content.
However, the question is, how do you become a part of the community? That’s simple really. Go out and read other people’s blogs! Then, when you find posts and articles that are interesting, spark up a conversation in the comments. I’ve met a whole bunch of great people this way! Oh, and Twitter is a wonderful place to join in as well, as there are regular blogger chats throughout the week, and a lot of very nice and helpful people on there.
There’s also another helpful thing about commenting on other blogs as well. Most will use a comment form that asks for your web address. By putting this in, you actually get a link back to your website. This will be a “nofollow” link, so Google is supposed to ignore it, but it will still have an effect on how strong your website is, whilst also improving your Domain Authority (DA) score. This is a score that brands and PR agents use to decide whether they want to work with a specific blogger or not. So, growing and improving it is a must!
Install Revive Old Post
The next tip I have is one to do once you’ve got a few posts under your belt. I would recommend at least 15. There is another free plugin for WordPress called Revive Old Post. This plugin allows you to connect your social media accounts to it, and set regular intervals for the plugin to re-share your posts.
I use this, connected to my Twitter account, set to reshare a post that is 30 days old or younger, ever 4 hours. It will queue up all of the posts that match the criteria you set, and work its way through that queue one by one. This means that your posts can gain a lot more traction, being seen by people who haven’t seen them before. It can even use the tags you set for each post in WordPress as hashtags so that the post gets even more reach to potential readers!
Hide Tag and Archive Pages From Google
The final tip I’m going to share with you relies on you having Yoast installed, but is an absolute must (and something most people miss). WordPress allows you to add tags to posts, and also creates archive pages based on publishing date, author and more. These pages just relist the posts associated to this, like the homepage of a blog.
Whilst this may sound great, it is actually really bad from an SEO point of view. You see, each time a post is listed on another page, it duplicates the first few sentences of that post. Duplicate content is one of the biggest Google sins you can do and can lead your blog into some really sticky trouble. That’s why it is important to hide these pages from Google in a safe and correct manner.
Yoast gives you two ways to do this;
- You can disable these archive lists entirely, so they don’t even exist, to begin with.
- If you want the archive pages for your visitors, Yoast can set them to “noindex”, which will mean that Google will just flat out ignore them.
By doing this, you really help to make your blog stronger overall, meaning that you’ll do better in Google and likely get more traffic and readers!
And That’s All Folks
Those are my 8 top tips for getting your blog off to the right start. There is some financial investment needed, but it really is minimal. On top of this, by doing all of these, you’ll be in a better position to approach brands and PR/SEO companies for opportunities to work together. Therefore, it is a worthy investment that can pay for itself relatively quickly.
Do you run a blog? Are you planning one? Let me know whether these tips were useful to you in the comments below!