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10 Things You Need To Do First When Starting a Blog

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So here’s the latest installment of my Blogging Tips for New Bloggers (From a New Blogger) Series!  Hopefully these pointers, along with my original 15 Blogging Tips for New Bloggers will help others out there who are just starting out on their blogging journeys.

You’ve got all the basic blog starter stuff covered: decided on a name, determined your niche, whether or not you’re going to be self-hosted, what you want your site to look and feel like, and all that jazz.  Now what??

Before you get to hitting away on that keyboard and proudly clicking that Publish button (which is a huge accomplishment, by the way!), here are a few things you should familiarize yourself with to get the most out of your blog!

 10 Things You Need To Do First When Starting a Blog | Where The Smiles Have Been

[Full Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  I truly appreciate any and all support!]

 

10 Things You Need To Do First When Starting a Blog (with 2 BONUS Tips!)

 

#1 ) Learn All About SEO

Search Engine Optimization (more commonly referred to as SEO)….your soon-to-be blogging BFF. This is what gets you listed in search engines’ organic results and helps people find your site.  It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!

It basically sets up your site so when people go to Google (or any search engine, but especially Google) and type in something in the search bar (“how to make a cat hair scarf” for example) your stellar post and captivating images on how to make a scarf out of cat hair will show up higher in the search results (hopefully on the first page), and therefore will be more likely to bring people to your site.

Hooray!  You didn’t have to pay for any advertising to boost your page and people were still able to quickly and easily find you!  That’s what you want.

Google has a very in-depth guide on SEO if you’re ever in the mood for some {not so} light reading.  However, I believe in working smart and not hard, so I instead use the wildly popular free plugin called WordPress SEO by Yoast to take care of the majority of my SEO….and I love it!  It’s popular for a reason: super easy to use and gets the job done like a champ!  Green dots have never made me so happy….

Without learning what SEO is and how to set up your posts so they’re fully optimized, you will struggle to bring in traffic, so take care of this ASAP.

 

#2) Make Your Site Mobile Responsive

More and more people are checking out the inter webs on their tablets and smart phones, so make sure your site is easy to view and navigate on devices of all sizes, not just desktops.  If your site is hard for people to read and/or find things, they will leave.  QUICKLY.  And probably never return. #nobueno

I mean, do you like spending your precious time on a site that’s all jacked up and looks like it was developed by a toddler?  If not, then why do you expect that your readers would?

Mobile responsiveness also improves your site’s potential to earn money (if you want to be monetized, of course).  Not only does it look more polished and professional, but ads and affiliate links will be displayed correctly and hopefully attract readers to click on them, which then earns more easy, passive income for you.

Here’s a handy site to quickly check out how your blog looks on various devices.

There are plugins out there that can do a decent job of making your site mobile responsive (like Jetpack), however, they leave much to be desired in terms of keeping the look and customization of your main (desktop) site.  One way to get around this is by using a theme that is mobile responsive on its own….and this leads us to my next tip….

 

#3) Get a Theme That is Flexible

Since you’re starting a blog, you’ll probably want to personalize it and make it yours and not some generic, copy-and-paste job.  There are lots of great themes out there for free or purchase that allow for customization.

I would recommend one that can be tweaked fairly easily, especially if you plan on doing most of the design work yourself (I did!).  Look for things like color options, widgetized areas, mobile responsiveness, navigation menus, layout options, etc.

Personally, I use the Genesis framework with the Adorable child theme and I am very impressed by both.  I made all of the graphics and nearly all of the design adjustments myself (aside from a little mobile responsive tweaking, but it was Fiverr to the rescue for that!).  Everyone loves having options and flexibility, so find a theme and/or child theme that suits your needs.

 

#4) Install Google Analytics

I waited to install Google Analytics until a few months into my blogging life, and I really regret not getting it done sooner.  This is a free tool that provides tons, and I mean TONS, of great information about the traffic coming to your site as well as your visitors and their online behavior.  Everything from how many visitors check out your site and how long they stay, to search terms that lead people to you and your post rankings….it’s all there.

Plus, if you want to monetize your site, most affiliate/ad networks ask for Google Analytics information because it’s pretty much the industry standard.  You can also connect it with Google Adsense, too (once again, if you’re monetized) to tweak your site and/or promotion strategies to try and earn more revenue.

It can, however, be a little tricky to install correctly, at least for a non-techy like me.  I ended up hiring help on Fiverr to get all the tweaks set up so my information was accurate….and it’s been the best five dollars I’ve ever spent!

 

#5) Set Up Three Must-Have Pages

Every blog is different, but they all should have at least these three main pages in addition to their bread-and-butter content:

  • About:  Humanize your site.  Use this page to let visitors know who you, the Blogger, are, as well as a little background behind your blog: Why did you decided to start this blog?  What do you write about?  What would you like to quickly highlight about yourself to strangers?  Showcase your personality and engage your readers.  Oh, and include a picture of yourself, too (preferably a real headshot as opposed to an avatar)…..people like to have a face to go with a name.
    • Check out my About page for more ideas (as well as lots of random facts you always wanted to know about yours truly!).
  • Contact:  Provide an easy way for readers to get in touch with you in case they have a question, compliment, complaints (hopefully not too many of those), or are advertisers reaching out with opportunities.  You can include a contact form  (once again, there are plugins for that!) and/or your email address.
    • If including an email address, don’t type out your email straight-forwardly like thisisme@iamcool.com….you’re just asking for spambots to flood your inbox!  Instead do something like I did or include your email as part of a graphic.
  • Policies:  This is to protect yourself as well as your readers.  Clearly list your expectations regarding terms of use, copyright, privacy policy, etc.
    • Better safe than sorry, so I include a lot of info in mine.

 

#6) Have Social Media Share Buttons on Every Post

This was a great reader suggestion on my first blogging tips post, and I couldn’t agree more!

You want people checking out your site because you’re writing great content, right?  Well, hopefully your visitors think your posts are awesome too, so make sure they have a way to share your posts with their friends on the various social media sites.

I use the free Jetpack plugin for my buttons at the bottom of each post, as well as a plugin called Frizzly for the buttons that appear when you hover over an image (great for all of us Pinterest lovers!).

Also, make sure you have links to your blog’s social media accounts that are easily accessible too.  Mine are located at the top of my sidebar as well at the end of each post (and on my About page, too, just for good measure).

 

#7) Allow Readers to Subscribe

Not only do you want readers sharing your posts to hopefully generate more traffic, but you also want them coming back to your site again and again!  The best way to do this is to allow them to subscribe and get an email sent to their inbox keeping them up-to-date on the current happenings of your blog.

Some bloggers send out emails with every new post as an RSS campaign, while others use weekly/bi-weekly/monthly newsletters to send out not only info on new posts, but also affiliate promotions, giveaways, and any other fun applicable stuff.

There are lots of different plugins out there that collect email addresses for this purpose (again, Jetpack is a common free one).  Lots of folks use ones with pop-up boxes, but I’m not a big fan of those as a reader, so I use a Mailchimp sidebar widget as well as periodically using Hello Bar at the top of my site.  I also have a sign-up form on my blog’s Facebook page, too.

Don’t forget to use great call-to-action language too (“Sign up now!”) to encourage folks to subscribe to your awesome stuff.

 

#8) Install a Spam Blocker

If you are going to allow comments on your site to interact with your readers, you MUST install some sort of spam blocker.  Seriously, I can’t stress this enough.  If you don’t, prepare to be inundated by spambots advertising cheap knock-off Nikes and male enhancement products!

There are lots of different plugins available out there, and I use a popular free one called Akismet.  As of drafting this post, it has blocked 30,569 spam comments without me ever seeing or being bothered by them….yes, over thirty thousand!

Every once in a blue moon, one of these suckers will sneak through and I’ll have to manually mark it as spam, but Akismet is a beast.  You need a spam blocker, like yesterday.

10 Things You Need To Do First When Starting a Blog | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

#9) Use Internal Links Like Crazy

You’ll come to learn about a very important term in blogging known as bounce rate.  This is basically the percentage of people who come to your site and only visit one page or post before leaving on their merry way.  They bounce right along.  That’s not good, so the lower your bounce rate, the better.

While there’s no real “good” or “average” number to shoot for due to the variety of niches (mine is generally between 35-40%, which I think is pretty good), you just want to try and keep it as low as possible.

The easiest way to do this is by loading up your posts and sidebar with internal links.  These are links that direct visitors to other content *on your site.*  Now, you need to make sure these links make sense and flow with your content, so don’t just cram the links in there like sardines.  However, don’t be shy in highlighting your past great content either so readers (especially new readers) stick around your site for a while.  Also, utilize your sidebar and footer as well to showcase recent and popular posts.

Also, when adding external links, make sure you set those up so they open in a new window.

 

#10) Back That Thing Up!

Now just because this is listed as #10 here does not mean this is not as important as the others.  No, I may have saved the most important item for last with this one: BACK YOUR BLOG UP!  Did you catch that ok?  Let me say it again just in case: BACK IT UP, PEOPLE!  Seriously folks….an ounce of prevention and all that.

Once again, there are lots of plugins out there that can do this automatically for you.  Some are free but they usually don’t do a complete backup (i.e. they leave out your comments or media files, among other things).  I use a paid plugin called VaultPress that is $5 a month but it is worth every. single. cent. for the peace of mind that it provides.  I now can rest easy knowing that a complete and thorough backup of my entire site is saved everyday, automatically.

Any unforeseen acts of God (i.e. fire, flood, or tornado), a rowdy toddler (i.e. rogue sippy cup spilt on laptop or tantrum-induced smashed laptop), and/or bad luck (i.e. stolen laptop, blue screen of death) will not be able to wipe my blog off the face of the interwebs.

I also use Dropbox to save other files I want to keep (blog-related or not), such as my blog’s main graphics, raw photos of projects, printables/Silhouette cut files I provide as free downloads, bazillion photos of my son, etc.

Don’t let some unforeseen mishap completely destroy everything you built just because you are too busy or trying to save a few bucks….BACK THAT BLOG UP!

 

TWO Bonus Tips!

Oh, I bet you thought you were finished now, huh?  Nope, I’ve got two bonus tips for those of you who are wanting to monetize your blogs!

***Bonus: If Monetizing, Set Up Ads/Affiliates ASAP

I realize not every blogger out there is interested in using their site to make money, but a lot of us (including myself) would like to generate some income with our blogs.  Why not get a little something in return for all our time and effort, right?  Especially if it doesn’t come out of our readers’ pockets.  I already talked about this is great detail, but I wanted to mention it again here.

If you are interested in monetizing your blog and earning money from it, set it up that way from the beginning.  It will be better for you and your readers.  You will earn money sooner, and your readers will be fully aware from the start what your site is about and what it looks like (i.e. banner ads or whatever you use).  No matter how big or small your blog is, it can earn money, so start early.

 

***Double Bonus: Learn All About No Follow

Speaking of monetizing…. If you’re going this route, you MUST learn about no follow links.

This is a little snippet of code (rel=”nofollow”) that needs to be added to all external links that you are advertising and earning money with.  It tells Google’s bots not to follow those links when they crawl your site, basically so people can’t pay for links to try and get higher ranking.  If you don’t add this code and leave those links as the default dofollow and Google discovers it, it will be bad for your site in terms of my first tip up there.

I know you’re probably like “Say whaaat?!  But Christine….I don’t know anything about coding!”  I know….relax.  The code is really easy to add, and it is just one of those things you have to do if your site is monetized.  Once again, plugins can add this code for you, or you can add it manually yourself (that’s what I do).

Say for example I want to use the made-up affiliate link shown below.  Here’s how the nofollow code would look:

<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/yadayadayadajibberjabber” target=”blank” rel=”nofollow”>

That’s it!  That’s all you have to do and you’re good in Google’s eyes.

 

Whew, now that was another doozy!  Anything else you would add?  Please share the great info below!

 

Let’s Connect on Pinterest, Too!

For even more blogging tips, follow my Pinterest board!

Follow Christine {WhereTheSmilesHaveBeen}’s board Blogging Tips on Pinterest.

 

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Where The Smiles Have Been

 

 

 

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Amanda

Monday 29th of August 2016

Thanks for all of the great information. I'm just starting out and am nervous/overwhelmed. It's a bit scary wondering if anyone will want to read my stuff. You've inspired me to keep going! I'm scared to pay for a wordpress site because I don't know if I'll ever be able to make that money back but I'm thinking it would be worth it. Do you agree?

keala

Saturday 19th of September 2015

HI! Great tips and thank you! I started a couple months ago and have been having a blast with my blog. I have tried installing google analytics but it isnt working. A few people mentioned using SumoMe for stuff, but it doesn't seem to be helping me at all and just complicating things.

Any advice on stuff like email subscribers? What plugn do you use to connect to your mailchimp? Becasue again, Sumome is supposed to do that for me, and sooo isn't! Really I have loved this series and will keep reading! Thank you and your advice is appreciated!

Christine

Saturday 19th of September 2015

Hi there, Keala! I'm so happy to hear you've found a little bit of help from these parts! :)

Yeah, I struggled with getting my Google Analytics set up properly too. I finally had to hire someone to do it for me....I'm so not a techy! I've heard of SumoMe but haven't ever tried it myself. For email subscribers, I use MailChimp and the plugin I have is MailChimp for WP (it's free). It works great! I also have MailChimp connected to my Facebook page so I can get subscribers directly from there too.

You still have a baby blog so don't be hard on yourself! (Love your blog's name too, by the way.) Just keep researching, find different things to try, and you'll find out what works for you. It took me a solid year (I just hit my one-year blogiversary this past May) to finally feel comfortable at this while blogging thing. Best of luck to you, and please let me know if I can be of any help! :)

Marla

Saturday 15th of August 2015

Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog. It looks great! Thank you so much for this post. I'm just starting out and it never would occurred to me to have a "policies" page. Now I just have to get to work!

Christine

Saturday 19th of September 2015

Thanks for the sweet note, Marla! I'm glad you've found this helpful! :) Yeah, I didn't put up a Policies page for a while when I first started, but you'd be surprised at how many times I've had to refer to it or use it in nastygrams to people who have violated my terms. It definitely comes in handy!

Bumbling Panda

Thursday 23rd of July 2015

These are some great tips! Thanks for making everything so easy to understand. I never quite got the whole no-follow thing before. :)

Christine

Sunday 26th of July 2015

You are so very welcome! Yeah, the no-follow thing is a little confusing at first, but once you start doing it, it really does become second-nature. Now it's no big deal! :)

Lora

Thursday 23rd of July 2015

I've been blogging for about a year. I agree with every tip. Thanks for explaining the no follow issue. I've seen this advice given by top social media influencers without explaining how to do it. I knew I needed to but didn't know how.

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