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Blogging 101: How to Start a Blog, Find Readers and Achieve World Domination in 10 Easy Steps

Jul25

by

Amy!
Oh.. wait.. I guess I shouldn’t be so casual. I read your blog, so I feel like I know you really well, but im really just some random stranger who you most probably think is kind of stalkerish. But im not! so lets start again.
Good Morning,
I have a question to ask you, but it is not your usual advice smackdown question.
(You know what? screw this. Back to the friendly-I-know-you-to-well-but-you-probably-think-im-a-crazy-person speak)
So.. Amy.
This isn’t actually a smackdown question, but I thought I would email this address as you probably check it daily. Yeah?
I am starting up a blog. I am usually to shy to bare all the gory details of my life, but I’m moving overseas soon. I thought it would be a good idea to document the highs and lows of the move and how I try to squish my life around this giant thing. But I need help! I have a blogger account, which is free (and that’s fine for me to start off with) but how do I get people to come and read my blog? I’m not the kind of person that likes to go and blatantly advertise my life on other peoples accounts. I also only have two posts at the moment, so its not the most interesting thing in the world.
I noticed on your blog that you had comments into your second month. What did you do? I also would like to know the process of getting your own site. I know you use type pad and have probably brought your own domain name (ok.. starting to feel kind of stalkerish!) but how do you go about this? did you buy one right off the bat and decided this is what you wanted to do? or did you use a free one for a while to get used to the whole concept of blogging? Did you pay somebody to design the page (which looks great btw) or did you score a free makeover with a friend?
I would love any information you are willing to share, as you have excellent writing skills! (and I secretly want to be able to write like you do, and I also look up to you. But im not going to say this because I don’t want your head to get as big as your belly :)
Kind Regards,
Ashlea

Well, so maybe you didn’t mean it as a Smackdown question, but it’s a question I get a lot, so…I’ve promoted it to Smackdown Worthy. (Your embossed certificate is in the mail.)
Let’s break this down into two parts — first, the logistics of getting your own domain and some general design advice, and then the much more complicated question of How To Get Eyeballs To Your Blog.
Back when I started blogging — and lord, we didn’t even call it blogging, we were ONLINE JOURNALING, yo — I was inspired by a handful of journals I’d already found and read, all of which were hosted on their own domain and used Moveable Type. The sites were gorgeous and had great domain names and I decided that if I was going to start a site, I wanted my own domain and I wanted to be able to stay at that domain forever and not URL hop. I chose Typepad for exactly this reason: it was built around Moveable Type but saved you from having to host your blog or install any software, AND you could map domain names. (Meaning I could buy amalah.com and have it map and point to amalah.typepad.com, so no one would ever know the pain of typing ALL THOSE EXTRA LETTERS.) (Now you can do this with both Typepad and WordPress.)
I’m not super-familiar with the latest version of Blogger, so I don’t know how easy it is to move a Blogspot blog to your own domain later on. At the time, you essentially had to abandon your old blog, import everything and then leave a sad-little “I’ve moved!” entry at the top for all eternity at the old site. I imagine they’ve improved this — anyone?
Now, when it comes to registering your own domain — the #1 Most Important Thing I Will Ever Tell Anyone Ever is to pleeeeeeeeeease spring for a PRIVATE registration. It does cost extra, but it. Is. Essential. If you do not specifically sign up and pay for a private, third-party registration, your VERY PERSONAL INFO is available to ANYONE who does a WHOIS search on your domain name. Your full name, your home address, telephone — anything you provided to the registrar when you bought the domain — is added to the public, open and searchable WHOIS record for that URL. I use GoDaddy.com to manage my domains, and a private registration is a measly extra $9 a year. Treat yourself.
(Any blogger out there with their own domain who isn’t sure if they did that private thing or not? Check here. If your address pops up as the owner, HIGHTAIL IT over to your registrar and find their private registration option.)
(One bit of secondary, not-as-important bit of advice — before you register a domain or sign up for a hosting plan, pick your blogging platform, and find out what registrars/hosts make the whole domain mapping or install process easy for their users. Poke around FAQs and Tech Support sections in search of step-by-step instructions with screenshots, or talk to other bloggers and find out who they used.)
Now, when I started amalah.com, I didn’t have the kickass design I’ve got now. I used a basic, ready-made template that Typepad offered. (A template that, bizarrely enough, was ALSO light green, pink and white. Hmmm.) I played around with the templates A LOT back then, figuring out how to change colors and fonts and upload my own masthead images. Whenever I got bored, I redesigned the site. I upgraded to the top tier Typepad account that let me really get in there and muck with the code, and while I am not a programmer by any means, I taught myself CSS and HTML and only seriously messed things up five or six times.
Eventually (this year, just shy of the site’s fifth anniversary), I plunked down money for a professional design. (An insanely reasonable amount, I must add — much less than I’d actually budgeted for.) I was tired of my own crappy graphic skills and my multiple amateur redesigns and code-monkeying had left me little choice but to blow the whole thing to hell and start over, and I figured I deserved to have it rebuilt right this time.
If you are planning to spring for a professional design, start with friends or friends of friends with sites you like. (You’ll want to approach a designer with a handful of stuff you like to give them an idea of the aesthetic and layout you want.) Find out who designed their site, and if they did it themselves, ALWAYS offer to pay them for a makeover. If they are willing to do it for free, great, but it’s a arduous, time-consuming process (plus if you think you’re going to be picky and ask for a lot of tweaks, just realize that you’re going to be a pain in their ass and they deserve to be compensated for putting up with you).
Okay. Now on to the REALLY important stuff, whether you’ve got your own domain or a humble Blogger account — how the heck do you get people to read (and comment) at your blog?
One quick note here, about the comments you mentioned seeing on my old, ancient archives…I deleted a LOT of my early entries. Early, embarrassing, badly written, commentless entries. Poof!
The two most important weapons in a newbie’s arsenal are: your blogroll and your comments. So your blog is about moving overseas? Find some expat blogs! Link to them. Use these links to get to their blog (instead of a RSS reader) so the referral will show up in their stats, and sooner or later some of them will click through and check you out, and possibly add you to THEIR blogroll. These don’t have to be Big Popular Blogs — you’re more likely to get linked and noticed by smaller to medium-sized bloggers. (Oh, and please don’t email blog writers and ask if it’s okay if you link them on your blog. It is. Really. You don’t have to ask. Conversely, never straight up ask that anyone link to you. That’s considered rude.)
The same goes for comments. If you want comments, YOU MUST COMMENT. Don’t think of it as “advertising” yourself — think of it as participating in the community. Be it the expat community, the people-sort-of-around-your-age community, the fellow-cubicle-dweller-with-lots-of-time-to-dick-around-on-the-Internet community. Keep your comments witty but relevant. Avoid both the simple “Ha! I totally agree!” mindless comments AND the “Ha! I just wrote about this too! Here’s the link!” annoying self-promotion comments.
When you get a comment, either click through to the commenter’s blog and return the favor, or reply in some other way (i.e. via email or publicly in your comment section). I did this for YEARS, y’all, until my comment numbers crept up to a level that replying and reciprocating became a full-time job in and of itself.
I still try to publicly answer questions or clarify anything that’s been misunderstood, but I can no longer reply personally to all my comments, just like I can’t really link to everyone who links to me or, some days, even come close to answering all my email. It…can really suck, honestly, know that I can’t be a super-great and accessible community member, but that’s NOT to say that commenting on a popular blog means you’ll automatically be ignored. I AM extremely familiar with most of my regular commenters — at Blogher I immediately recognized a slew of them when they provided their Internet handle — and if your comment makes me laugh (or cry), I will definitely click through to check your blog out. As will many of my other readers. I found a TON of blogs that I still read and am friends with the authors through their hilarious comments on other blogs.
It’s a fine line with commenting — you want to be genuine and thoughtful and not overtly self-promote-y, but…commenting IS a great way to show off your voice and writing and what you’re all about beyond your own blog. Use it wisely.
And finally, it’s tempting when you first start your blog and are unsure if you’ll ever get any readers, to 1) tell lots of people in real life about the blog without making sure you’re really okay with that, or 2) write about people in real life, assuming they’ll never see it anyway. There can be problems with both scenarios. Perhaps you don’t realize until too late that it’s stifling to know your coworker or mom are reading and you can’t write as freely as you’d like. Perhaps your coworker tells another coworker without asking you and ugh, you really didn’t want THAT coworker to know about your blog.
And of course, no matter how anonymous you are or how few people you tell about your blog, DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING ABOUT ANYONE WITH THE ASSUMPTION THAT THEY WON’T ONE DAY FIND IT. Trust me, they will. And they will take it badly. Stay as anonymous as you want, but keep yourself accountable. Think before you hit publish and weigh the possibility of very hurt feelings or a damaged friendship against whatever satisfaction you’ll get from that post going live.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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24 Responses to “Blogging 101: How to Start a Blog, Find Readers and Achieve World Domination in 10 Easy Steps”

  1. Mrs. Higrens Jul 25 at 12:01 pm Reply

    I so wish I had known some of this before starting my own blog. IMHO this page should be a permanent link on the Advice Smackdown & Amalah home pages.

  2. Erin Jul 25 at 12:11 pm Reply

    Yeah, somehow they’ll totally find you. People at the company I used to work for found me. How? Beats me! I thought I was super sneaky and I never told anyone at work about my site. You can’t even Google my name and find it. I barely told anyone in my personal life I even have a website (except my mom like 5 years ago before it was a blog and wouldn’t you know, she remembered!) So anyways I don’t know who those coworkers are IRL just that they left some hilarious comments along the way and I’m glad I kept my work-related-complaining to a minimum and NEVER named my employer. So I’ve been moderately careful ever since. Or at least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself til someone at my current job starts leaving comments! ;)

  3. Jezer Jul 25 at 1:20 pm Reply

    About Blogger–My domain name (that I bought through GoDaddy–wholeheartedly recommend, btw) points to the same ol’ Blogger account that I started out on 4 years ago. It’s not a complicated process, surprisingly enough. It’s also easy to customize your header and layout on Blogger with just a rudimentary understanding of html. Blogger has come a long way in the last few years, thank goodness.
    (Is it OK for me to say that I’d be happy to walk through the process with anyone who’s having trouble with that?)
    Thanks for posting this question. Not your usual Smackdown fare, but very relevant for a lot of us.

  4. ashley.marie Jul 25 at 2:40 pm Reply

    Oh, I LOVED this advice!
    I don’t think I’ve ever even commented here before, but I’m so glad you answered this. And you totally gave it the time and space it needed, it’s a BIG question.
    Thanks!

  5. Miss Britt Jul 25 at 3:17 pm Reply

    There should be a handbook or something for new bloggers. Great advice!

  6. Tessa Jul 25 at 3:32 pm Reply

    Ashlea,
    I’m typically a big ol’ chicken, and therefore, wouldn’t open my big mouth to say things like this, so *please* don’t take this badly, and realize that this is meant to be helpful.
    (And, to go along with the chicken issue, I do not have a blog, so take what you will with a grain of salt, but I read many blogs, so this is from a reader’s standpoint):
    Be aware of grammar, punctuation, and word usage.
    I realize that everybody’s written “voice” is different, and if the casualness is your style and you’re comfortable with that, go for it. Just be aware that this may impact readership.
    I only bring this up because I have stopped reading a couple of (enjoyable, for the most part) blogs, because I was not able to overlook the persistent grammatical errors. The occasional typo – no big deal, but when the brain has to constantly interpret what you’re meaning to say…it can bug some people.
    Ok, I’m getting my chickens**t self back into the corner to lurk now. Again, this wasn’t meant to be harsh, and I wish you the best of luck!

  7. Isabel Jul 25 at 4:42 pm Reply

    Great advice, as always Amalah!
    Something that I’m just learning about this week that I’d like to pass along…make sure you always download the latest version of whatever blogging software you chose to use. I’m a tech-idiot and never did update out of fear.
    I just learned this week that I was hacked into by some crazy spammers who are using my (hard earned) google ranking to push viagra online.
    So yeah, make sure you’re secure. There are loads of meanies out there.

  8. TasterSpoon Jul 25 at 6:26 pm Reply

    Ha! I totally agree.

  9. Muirnait Jul 25 at 7:17 pm Reply

    I love the choice of today’s question! I always wonder about stuff like this, but I’ve never really tried to be a “popular” blog. I used to comment on Amalah.com all the time but when there were hundreds and hundreds of comments I felt (and feel) like I didn’t have anything to say that hadn’t been said innumerable times before…but I still want people to remember me heh.

  10. Claire Jul 25 at 7:37 pm Reply

    Seconding what Jezer said–it is fairly easy to switch from a Blogger domain name to your own personal one. I just did it a year or so ago and while I couldn’t tell you how to do it, it didn’t cause any undue headaches.
    Also, seconding what Amy said about people finding you online. In a splendid and embarrassing display of immaturity, I blogged all sorts of unpleasant things about my roommate freshman year of college. She found it. I apologized and I have reformed my ways, but I still have trouble looking her in the eyes when I see her around campus. Don’t be me.
    My own advice? Have fun blogging and don’t worry TOO much about gaining a huge readership. I’ve been blogging for five years, I don’t have many readers, and I’m okay with that. I’ve become a much better writer and I enjoy have an outlet for my thoughts, stories, and the funny links I find around the internet. Blogging can be fulfilling even without Internet Fame.
    (Possibly I am just saying that to make myself feel better.)

  11. Blythe Jul 26 at 5:41 am Reply

    Ashlea,
    I started a blog when I moved overseas too. I recommend registering with the Expat Blog site:
    http://www.expat-blog.com/en/add-blog/
    You’ll get traffic and, even better, you’ll find others who are going through the same cultural adjustments at the same time. I’ve felt really lucky to connect with some fantastic people this way.
    Best of luck with your blog and your move!
    (Check out my blogroll if you’d like to see some other expat sites, particularly those based in Europe.)

  12. e.darcy Jul 26 at 5:49 am Reply

    I think that the most important thing to remember in creating a blog is well, not to remember-but to FORGET that you have readers.
    Write as if no one reads, if you get a big head on your shoulders, thinking you’ve got all of these fans-it starts to become a daunting task to write. You lose it, you’re not fresh, and you aren’t interesting.
    So-forget those page views, visitors, blah blah blah. and write from the heart-people will find you. They always do. You’ll gain fans from near and far-some will make themselves known, others will stay in the dark until you’ve sparked something in them.
    Oh! and also-be careful what you say when you have added the link to your website, because uhh.. I didn’t, and I should have stayed more anonymous sometimes. Oops
    Set your boundaries, find your voice, and go with it…

  13. Ashlea Jul 27 at 3:27 am Reply

    Amy,
    Thanks so much for all the information you have given me! It’s great to know all this stuff, but it is really hard to find it in one place. I am still coming to grips with the private/public debate, but I try to leave things a bit anonymous.
    Thanks to everybody else for the really great tips! I have a lot of extra things I can Google now.
    Cheers!

  14. superblondgirl Jul 27 at 9:01 am Reply

    This is such great advice – I know from experience that the being active in the community thing is HUGE. If I’m commenting a lot and reading a lot of blogs, I do find that I get more traffic and my blog feels like more of a dialog than just me writing notes to myself (and, of course, if you disappear for a while, you have to start the whole thing over again and that sucks – don’t disappear!) The idea of clicking over to your favorite sites from your own blog versus your feed reader is awesome – I never even thought of that and honestly, I usually just read in google reader and never even go over to lots of sites. I am totally stopping that as of right now! This is a great column – definitely “best of” advice, here.

  15. Imanitsud Jul 27 at 10:12 am Reply

    Check out this book: “The IT Girls Guide to Blogging with Moxie” published by Wiley, by Scoleri and Reeder, I think are the author’s names. (FYI, One of Amy’s other sites, MamaPop, is highlighted in there…)

  16. The Horror Diet Jul 28 at 12:42 am Reply

    What a great article. And Erin (geekygirl), thank you for posting. I have tried to remain anonymous since I whine/opine about my personal health challenges, hoping that no one I know would ever read it. I don’t think that’s happened, but your post confirms my fear that it could.
    I wrestle with the option of writing under my real name. However, since I’ve been desperate enough to drink my own pee in the name of weight loss, I think not. Maybe someday I’ll be as brave as say, Heather Armstrong, and risk tons of hate mail and judgment for it. And yet at the same time, it would be freeing, to not have to hide behind a pseudonym.
    Thanks for this, Amalah. I’m a new reader of this blog and I look forward to more of your posts.

  17. judi Jul 28 at 10:17 am Reply

    amalah,
    you mentioned finding “like-minded” blogs and i’m just kind of curious if you have any speciffic resources for this – other than just clicking and clicking, of course?
    thanks so much!
    -judi

  18. Maia Jul 29 at 9:20 pm Reply

    Aliza Sherman-Risdahl, the “original Cybergrrrl” and author of The Everything Blogging Book, has good advice for new bloggers:
    http://community.adn.com/adn/node/124975
    http://everythingblogbook.typepad.com/blogbook/2007/04/informationweek.html
    And Jezer is right; Blogger has gotten a LOT more user-friendly in the last few years. You used to have to be an HTML wizard to make even the most minor modifications to your blog (I had to hand-code every line of my sidebar that wasn’t included in the template, and before I could do that I had to learn what coding was), but now they’re all about widgets and color palettes and a million other things that make customizing your blog super-duper easy. They’ve also partnered with GoDaddy so you can buy your domain name directly through Blogger if you want. A year ago I was thinking of jumping ship to TypePad, but I’ve found I’m still happy with Blogger for now.
    (And I’m not a paid shill for the Google behemoth, or for Blogger, or for Aliza. Cross my heart.)

  19. rachel beto Jul 30 at 11:12 pm Reply

    Okay, what if your hits keep going up but still NO ONE (except your devoted husband and understanding sister) will comment? I even give commenting “assignments” from time to time and still nada-zilch-zero. ????

  20. cindy Aug 01 at 4:46 am Reply

    This is great, thanks for doing this! Just what I was looking for. I have been thinking about upgrading (moving to my own domain, etc.) and am totally overwhelmed by everything I DON’T know. I’ve got lots to learn! This was really helpful :)

  21. Miley-Cyrus-Fan Aug 01 at 2:12 pm Reply

    hmm.. thank you very much. usefull information

  22. Renee Aug 01 at 8:41 pm Reply

    Just a note on comments and how to bring them in (this could get wordy. Stay with me):
    I read a LOT of blogs (I blog on Myspace, which is as good as not blogging at all and I’m okay with that, so this is a comment based purely on observation).
    I have found that the best way to bring in comments is to start commenting on the posts yourself. I kid you not, this works. When you’ve got a blog full of posts and every post says 0 comments, people ignore that section of your blog.
    If they aren’t going to click to read the comments, they’re not as likely to click to write a comment themselves.
    I’m not saying you do this haphazardly. Just add a little something extra in the comments section. Use it for your afterthought. Your P.S.
    Your OH I Can’t Believe I Forgot To Mention This!
    And when people DO start commenting, comment back. Then the readers COME BACK to the site later that day to see if you replied to them. AND it doubles the number of comments, making your blog appear more popular, which makes people think, “Hey, maybe this is worth reading, since a lot of other people are reading it too” 6 comments looks a lot more popular than 3. It’s Math, people, which I know, we all did better in English, but I think we can trust numbers, if only for the purposes of bringing in Da Noise.
    OR, you can just pull a Black Hockey Jesus and tell people to promote their own blogs in YOUR comment section. That was BRILLIANT!

  23. funnygirl Aug 07 at 8:52 am Reply

    I’m sold :)) +1

  24. MicroBlogginMom Oct 03 at 7:11 pm Reply

    Wow! This is awesome. After a year of “thinking about it” I finally just stared a new blog this week (using Blogger) and in the back of my mind, I was thinking how I wish there was an easy to ready manual to help me jump right in and follow through this time with my blog. Thanks Amalah for these wonderful tips. I am so excited to get this going.

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