How to start and grow a blog (part one: strategy)

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a number of friends ask me for advice around starting and growing a blog from scratch.

Like with most things in the social media space, a five-minute conversation gives you the headlines, but not the detail you need to optimise your blog and the role it needs to play to be relevant.

So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to give you my roadmap, starting from the very start and going all the way through to the finer details that are often neglected on the way.

The topics I’ll cover include:

– Devising a strategy for your blog (types, purpose and goals)
– Picking the platform (and associated technology) that is right for you
– Optimising your blog (plugins, RSS options etc)
– The content planning and refinement process
– Promoting your blog
– Building a community in and around your blog
– Other tips, tools and tricks

To start things off, I want to look at how you establish a purpose and strategy for your blog.

Let’s get to it…

Devising your blog strategy: Important questions

The first question to answer, even if it is just to confirm a general thought you’ve already had, is why do you want to start a blog?

Brian Gardener lists seven good reasons on his blog:

1. To teach – sharing your knowledge and the benefits that come from that
2. To drive traffic / boost SEO of a website – a very commercial and functional reason
3. To help others – primarily personal blogs which share tales from struggles and triumphs
4. To change the world – rallying people to join you on a crusade to change things e.g. political blogs
5. To stay connected – building relationships by publishing and sharing information that your networks appreciate
6. To make money – creating content to generate revenue-generating traffic
7. To have fun – usually driven by passion around a specific niche topic

When I started this blog, I did it to have fun and share knowledge (and stay connected). In recent times, teaching has been part of it too.

If your goal is to make money or drive traffic to a commercial website, your blog’s output and DNA will be very different.

The team at Zemanta created this neat graphic to illustrate their version of blogger types which is worth a peek too:

The second question to ask yourself is which type of blogger type are you?

This might seem obvious, but it will help you devise the strategy for your blog.

According to Technorati, there are five common types of blogs:

1. The hobbyist – people who blog for fun and non-monetary benefits
2 / 3. Professional part-time and full-time – independent bloggers who use blogging to supplement a full-time income or use it as a primary source of income
4. Corporate bloggers – blogging as part of your day job (on and off official company properties)
5. Entrepreneurs – people who blog on behalf of a company they own, focusing on the industry they’re in

By identifying which one of these categories you fall into, you can start to get a picture of the goals you want to set for your blog.

Devising your blog strategy: Purpose and goals

To give you some context, the strategy for my blog was made up of two words: be useful. That was it.

This was based on understanding on why I started my blog and what role it would play in my life (and how much time I wanted to invest in it).

By making ‘be useful’ my manifesto, it made me really focus on the content I’d eventually produce.

But that isn’t the only way to go.

You might want to entertain, or initiate debates, or report on the latest news from your area of interest. Or, you might have a combination of them all. The key here is to think about why you visit some blogs more than others. And then apply it to yours. What benefit are you providing which makes your blog something that people will want to frequently visit.

In terms of goals, avoid things like views and shares to begin with and focus more on the processes you put in place to deliver a product you’re proud of.

There is often a lot of trial and error involved too. The first 6-12 months of any blog is more a personal education than anything else.

Getting the balance right

The first few months of any blog is tough work. The excitement that comes from starting one fades quickly as you wrestle with the reasons why you started.

Is this blog for me? is it for my readers (of which there are a total of four at the moment)?

Make learning your initial focus and have your long-term aim as your beacon as they both have equally important roles to play.

Summing up part one

Ironically, I’ve started this series of posts on what you might think is the most un-exciting topic.

We’re not picking out themes or blog names. Instead, we’re establishing what type of blogger you are and how that shapes the purpose and goals of your blog.

Once you’ve established this, you’ll have something to aim for and it will shape everything else your blog ends up standing for.

Looking ahead

The next post in this series will focus on which blogging platforms are out there and which one might be best for you.

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