How To Start A Blog: A Writer’s Guide

While blogging requires writing as an essential skill, most traditional authors (with a literature background) have a tricky relationship with blogging.

What’s happening?

Good news: As a writer, you’re really well-placed to leverage your idea generation, storytelling, and narrative skills to start a blog.

Reality check: Establishing a blog that gets a sizable readership and earns sustainable revenue will require you to acquire numerous new skills. But you can learn ’em on the job!

Don’t you worry.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to the complete process for setting up a blog sprinkled with examples of few successful author blogs. You’ll also get a blueprint for ensuring it garners attention and can turn into a sustainable business. Let’s begin by understanding writing.

Table of Contents

What Writers Need To Know About Blogging

From here on, I classify writers into two categories for simplicity: fiction and nonfiction.

  • So novelists, poets, songwriters, screenwriters, storytellers, or any kind of creative writers out there — I’ll address you guys as fiction writers.
  • Journalists, freelance writers, nonfiction authors, copywriters, technical writers, critics, and the like — you’re clubbed into the “nonfiction” umbrella for the purpose of this article.

So which kind of writers will find blogging fruitful?

Seth Godin, laid down this advice for authors in 2006, “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”

For all kinds of writers irrespective of the stage of their careers, Godin’s advice stays relevant today. Starting a blog is, hands down, going to magnify your career opportunities.

Why?

Well, the democratization of distribution means you can publish your writing and connect with your audience without any middlemen. You can build your audience and regularly keep in touch with them. With sufficient existing readership, you can self-publish your books and keep cent percent of the profits from the sales.

A nurtured relationship with an existing audience is a priceless leverage. It will lead people to buy your thriller novella (or watch your show) on the day of its release because they know you and read one of your blog posts — even if the thrillers aren’t their usual taste.

Further whilst refining your writing chops through posts, you can still monetize your blog and earn some nice income on the side. How cool is that?

Now it’s time for the red pill:

Whether you’re a fiction or nonfiction writer, starting a successful blog requires you to become a proficient content creator. While writing skills help, most writers from a literature background fail to put in consistent work. On the other hand, even casual writers with imperfect grammar keep reaping rewards from blogging.

Ah!

Let’s get back to our writer’s classification to understand the reasons why both kinds fail.

Nonfiction Writers vs. Fiction Writers: Common Reasons For Blog Failure

Maria Popova, an author and blogger writes to over 5M monthly readers every month at BrianPickings.org. On the Tim Ferriss Show, her advice to anyone that wants to start a blog is to “write for yourself” and not an audience.

“Write for yourself. If you want to create something meaningful and fulfilling, something that lasts and speaks to people, the counterintuitive but really, really necessary thing is that you must not write for people.”

While Maria reckons you to “not write for an audience”, if you treat blogging as a business — which it eventually becomes if you want to sustain its practice — you need to teach a subject matter to an audience and solve their problems. 

But remember writing solely for someone shouldn’t end up costing your enthusiasm, else you’ll lose the long-term game. I recommend you to find the intersection between what your audience likes and what you like 

Fiction writers generally use their words to weave creative worlds, which are a figment of their imagination. They are majorly a source of entertainment and inspiration for readers. Unless you already have a name through your published books, finding an audience by writing fiction is challenging. You’re better off starting a paid community or an email newsletter for the same.

Nonfiction writers are better positioned to blog because of their existing understanding of their audiences. They might have even interacted with and heard the issues their readers run into — so you can address those. Besides, your blog can serve as an organic extension of the ideas in your books and garner the attention of newer audiences online.

Both kinds of writers could use some research on what people are searching for online — related to subjects they want to write on — and package their ideas in certain frameworks. It’s majorly done for getting traffic from search engines such as Google and could lead you to find success with blogging quickly.

While I’ll discuss these ideas later, I want to address a question some of you might be thinking right now.

“I want to write for myself, on subjects I care about, and publish articles whenever I feel like it. Tell me how can I have success with such a blog?”

Uhmm, you can’t impose yourself on the world, can you?

Which brings me to my next pointer.

Make Mindset Shifts

If you’re a writer that wants to thrive as a blogger, you might need to change your beliefs and your relationship about the craft.

Shipping Often Is Not An Artistic Crime (Not At The Cost Of Quality, Though!)

Compared with a book, blogging requires you to serve your readers more frequently — with consistency. It might call for letting go of perfectionist tendencies and overcome limiting beliefs about your writing skills. You can probably adapt the philosophy entrepreneur Gary Vee emphasizes, ‘Document, Don’t Create.’

Simultaneously remember that a blog is not a publication. There are numerous blogs churning out mediocre articles by the second, so without depth and quality your posts won’t get any attention.

Success blogs are libraries of helpful and evergreen articles that remain relevant for years. Put in a little extra effort than others, but don’t keep pruning an article’s draft for months — push it to publish. 

For some benchmarks, a blogging survey revealed putting 6+ hours and writing comprehensive articles that cover subjects in depth is proven to generate “strong results.”

Treat Your Blog As A Business

While writing is essentially an art, successful blogs are structured businesses. To succeed with blogging, you’ll need to hone your marketing skills, network with other niche publications, and build relationships with people besides writing. 

You need to devote a serious amount of time to working on your blog business, not in it. Indeed writing can take a back seat when your blog starts to grow. While it’s something under your control, you’ll need to get comfortable with the idea of hiring other professionals (such as writers, editors, designers, marketers, and even programmers) to help you.

Nonfiction writers are better blogging candidates but both kinds need to hone their skillsets. More importantly you need to be comfortable with changing your relationship with your craft, else blogging will become a struggle. Once you make the ‘mental’ leap, take the first step for starting your writing blog below.

Confused What To Blog About As A Writer? Here Are Three Options…

You may think starting a personal blog and sharing your everyday lifestyle will be a hit on the internet. But unless you’ve an existing following through your body of work, you’ll have a hard time to get eyeballs on your writing.

Fiction writers might feel sharing characters from an upcoming novel might excite potential readers — but there’s a lot of noise on the internet now. There will be few takers without an existing following for it.

I reckon the best way to start a blog is the marketing exercise of choosing a niche. It calls for finding a narrow and focused topic that not only interests you, but has sufficient market demand to make it profitable. Let me share three broad directions you as a writer can specifically consider to make your blog financially lucrative:

Follow The Literary Citizenship Model

Jane Friedman, a publishing commentator and blogger, introduced me to this term which refers to pursuing activities that encourage reading, writing, and publishing. It can include book reviews of the authors you like and bring attention to their work, but you need not limit it to a book blog.

You can expand it to become a writing blog that shares advice on how to become a better writer, tips for outlining a novel, fleshing out characters, and even include reviews of writing software. For example: Bryan Collins, a nonfiction writer and author, reviews writing tools, shares practical writing advice, and interviews other writers at ‘Become A Writer Today.’

The picture has text about Bryan Collins as well as an explore section with several columns, there is also a picture of Bryan on the right hand side corner

Mark Mcguinness, a creativity coach and poet, also manages a blog.

how to start a poetry blog

While you can substantially expand your literary network going down this path, only do it if nerding out on the nitty gritties of “writing” and talking to other authors interests you. You also need to bring a unique angle to cover these worn out subjects.

Solve Problems Of Your Existing Readers

This one is a great fit for nonfiction writers, especially if they already have an idea about the pain points of their audience. Tim Ferriss, for instance, became a pop culture phenomenon after the success of his first book, The Four Hour Work Week. It discussed principles for being more productive, experimenting with lifestyle, and the like.

His blog used to cover similar subjects to his book for which his tagline was “experiments with lifestyle design.” Indeed six of his ten most popular blog posts till November 2017 were related to getting more done fast.

the top ten most popular blog posts

Joe Pulizzi, a content marketer and nonfiction writer, who recently debuted his thriller novel series ‘Will Pollitt series’ with his title ‘The Will to Die.’

Comment On Current Affairs Through Thoughtful Slow Pieces 

No, I don’t want you to cover current events. News articles will probably fail to garner attention as you’ll compete with numerous other media publications with thousands of employees doing the same thing.

If you want to simply bring attention to the writing you find it interesting, take a leaf from Brain Pickings, a blog by writer Maria Popova. She started it as a weekly email to her friends. Example of how Maria Popova started her blog.

Not a diary of your life. But a well thought epiphany based on your life’s learnings. Ben Thompson, an analyst, started Stratechery with commentary on tech and media.

Sharing your journey and personal anecdotes

Mix it up with interviews, book giveaways, reader contests, and roundups.

Write At The Intersection Of What You Love And What People Are Willing To Pay For

If you need more specific advice and direction, then The Create and Go team shares three steps for choosing a blog niche in this video.

Buy Necessary Software

Oh did I forget to mention that as a blogger you’ll need to get comfortable with adapting new software?

I’m sharing the basic paid ones here, but you’ll need to find your way through numerous other marketing, publishing, and project management software. Every step you take trying a new tool makes it less scary, I promise!

Get A Domain

The first thing you’ll need to spend money on after choosing a niche is choosing a domain, where you’ll host your blog. It’s also going to serve as your brand’s home. So: 

  • come up with a memorable name (such as WaitButWhy.com),
  • keep it succinct as longer names are harder to type and remember,
  • don’t use hyphens as they are difficult to remember and correlate with spam.

Note that certain hosting companies might offer a free domain with their higher-tier hosting plans. But such a bundled package can cause additional technical headaches if you decide to change your hosting company. I use and recommend Google Domains to rent your domain. 

A few obvious combinations for your blog’s domain that you can try if you’re feeling lazy (or facing a creative block):

  • FullName.Com (example: ChintanZalani.com)
  • FirstName.Blog (example: Tim.blog)
  • CompanyName.Com (example: EliteContentMarketer.com)

I prefer a ‘.com’ or ‘.blog’ extension or top-level domain (TLD). The reason is .com is the global standard and web users are habitual with typing it, or using keyboard shortcut ‘ctrl + enter’ when browsing through Chrome to automatically fill the ‘.com’ for a domain. On the other hand, ‘.blog’ is a fairly new and memorable extension, though a tad expensive.

With that said, feel free to use the TLD for your country, such as .in for India and .co.uk for the United Kingdom if you aim to target the local geographical market primarily.

Suppose your name is “Mark” and you want to use a funky domain name such as “MarkWrites.com.” To check the availability of this domain, plug it inside Google domains and let it whip its magic.

A screenshot of google domains with markwrites.com written in the search bar

Damn. The domain is already registered (and so will be the case for a majority of common names). There are alternative extensions shown below, but I won’t recommend using .app, .net, .org, or any such ones.

A screenshot of google domains stating that markwrites.com is also registered

You can then consider a domain using your full name (such as MarkScully.com), changing the order of words (maybe try WriterMark.com), or a creative variation (weird example: MarkWordsmith.com). Feel free to experiment and sit with domain names for a day or two, but not more.

Do You Already Have An Existing Website?

If you already own a domain (that you probably bought a few years ago?), I recommend you to start your own blog on it.

The reason is it might have an existing authority in the eyes of Google as it prefers aged domains. So your writing and promotion efforts to get visitors on your blog will bear fruit a few months quicker than a newer domain.

Already Have a Website For One Of Your Books?

Then I strongly recommend you to buy a new domain to host your blog. It keeps things separate between a new prospect interested in learning more about your book and ordering it vs. your diehard readers who want to read your latest blog posts.

For instance, Tim Ferriss, four-times New York bestselling author, used to host his blog at Four Hour Work Week. But he shifted his blog, podcast, and shows to a new domain tim.blog.

Should You Register A Domain Under Your Own Name Or Under A Company’s Name?

This depends on your goals associated with your blog. If you plan to keep it strictly as your “personal” space only sharing your voice, then it makes sense to use a personal name. 

But if onboarding multiple authors and creating a media company in the future appeals to you, then you should consider registering and buying a company’s domain.

Purchase A Hosting Package

Once you settle on a domain, it’s time to get a hosting package for housing your website. Now you could go with a cheap hosting such as Bluehost (or something even cheaper). While they are sufficient for most beginners, I recommend building your site on WordPress and buying WP Engine to host it. 

I’ll discuss the tech stack in the next section in detail, but I use the same infrastructure at Elite Content Marketer.

While costly as compared to other options, WP Engine is a managed WordPress hosting. They provide concierge IT service and are run by WordPress experts. You won’t need to bear the burden of security, backups, updates, website performance, and general website management. 

Premium Studiopress themes with the Genesis framework and technical support to troubleshoot your problems also bundled in their product. It lets you peacefully work on your blog without hassles. On their ‘Startup’ plan, your blogging business can scale to a considerable 25k visitors/month at $30 per month. You can get two months free on paying annually by using my affiliate link.

A screenshot listing available plans with a large red box around the first one saying go for this one

While WP Engine is relatively expensive, site owners that want to use WordPress will find their bundled products incredibly valuable. Your hosting infrastructure is optimized for WordPress, your website will load at a blazingly fast speed, and numerous maintenance tasks will be taken care of.

Note On Hosting: All my other sites besides this one are hosted on Siteground. The reason is the company offers cheaper hosting and comes with free custom email addresses. It’s perfect for a writing portfolio site kind of a thing, which gets lower monthly traffic. If you’re short of budget and don’t feel like going for WP Engine, then Siteground is also a great choice.

Get A Free Custom Domain Email Address

WP Engine doesn’t offer free email accounts that occasionally come with other hosting service providers. You can consider taking an affordable G Suite subscription for the same. But Zoho also offers a free custom domain email address.

1. Head over to Zoho custom domain email address.

Custom domain email address for your business

2. Plug your domain in the text field and click on the ‘Add’ button.

Glad to have you on board - sign up

3. Then enter your account details.

Glad to have you on board - set up

To complete the process, you’ll need to verify your mobile number by sending a text message. And finally verify domain ownership for which there are three methods that you can explore on the official Zoho website.

Set Up Your Tech Stack

Now it’s time to start setting up your website and blog business on the top of it. Here are a few steps you can follow to hit the ground running.

Install WordPress

Most writers wonder where to start a blog? There are free options such as WordPress.com, Blogspot, and Medium, but they have limitations. 

Most serious bloggers do use WordPress as their content management system (CMS). But they don’t start a free WordPress.com blog. Instead they install it through the cPanel, which is a web interface offered by hosting companies to manage your account.

Why use WordPress over other website builders?

It’s an open source software whose inner fabric was weaved for bloggers. Now though it powers 37% of the websites on the internet because it offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to design.

You can also extend the functionalities of your site, without writing a single line of code, through WordPress plugins. To customize your website, you simply need to use its drag and drop visual editor.

Note that if you’re a writer who finds using new technology challenging in general, WordPress won’t be a piece of cake either. Take it from Brian Jackson, an experienced WordPress developer and ex-CMO of Kinsta (a premium WordPress hosting company):

A screnshot of Brian JAckson's tweet featuring Tom Ellis as Lucifer

Even without being as user-friendly, WordPress remains a powerful CMS that I recommend you to use. So here’s how to install WordPress through the WP Engine cPaneIf you’ve chosen Siteground, then here’s their guide on installing WordPress.

You can install WordPress from their cPanel as well, though.

Choose A Theme

Next you need to choose a theme which consists of templates and stylesheets to create a consistent appearance across your website. There are numerous free themes on WordPress, but if you buy WP Engine you get free access to premium StudioPress themes.

There are numerous advantages of using a paid/premium theme over a free one:

  • They offer much more flexibility to play with the look and feel of your website,
  • Technical support is available if you get stuck (for instance, I fixed the compatibility issues of this site’s theme with a plugin by posting on the theme’s forum).
  • Such themes are proficiently developed and are lightweight, so your site can run smoother and faster.

Now depending on your taste and how you want to brand your blog, there are numerous themes using the Genesis framework you can choose from:

If you’ve chosen Siteground as your hosting service provider and don’t have access to premium themes, then you can try installing a free WordPress theme. Feel free to explore from the dashboard, but I recommend setting up filters. Try only those that have been recently updated and reviewed by a few hundred people.

I’m using Authority Pro that came with WP Engine and been happy with its customization features. I love the possibilities that arise with the addition of Elementor Page Builder, which brings me to the plugins.

Install Plugins

Most premium themes might recommend you to install a few plugins for their functionalities and customization options to take shape completely. Begin with them, but additionally install a few more plugins below to improve the functionality and user experience of your blog.

1. Elementor – While the dedicated visual editor inside WordPress is decent, Elementor offers useful formatting features. You can not only craft professional looking pages for your site through it, but also modify the layout of your blog posts.

I use a premium version of Elementor as it comes with additional customization design elements and marketing capabilities. But its free version might prove sufficient for you in the beginning.

2. Add To Any Share Buttons – To get floating social share buttons like the one in the left sidebar of this site (and the ones at the beginning and end of this article), you can install this plugin. It offers about 100 social sharing sites to choose from including LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, WhatsApp.

3. ShortPixel Image Optimizer – Graphics are an indispensable part of blogging. Including a screenshot, photo, GIF, or any other visual element for every 200 words helps get more shares and engagement. But every one of these images also slows down your page.

ShortPixel optimizes your images — compressing them without compromising the quality. I purchased a premium plan from the company that will let you compress 10k images — their pricing is super reasonable for the performance they offer. You can begin with their free version that gives you 100 credits every month.

4. Yoast SEO – As you’ll see later, you need to optimize your articles for search engines by inserting keywords in prominent places inside them for them to perform well. It’s termed as ‘on page SEO.’ However it could quickly become tedious to remember each tiny detail.

The Yoast SEO plugin provides a technical optimization checklist for your articles and your site to ensure your content and other website assets are taken care of from an SEO perspective. Here’s an example of the Yoast SEO box for the Grammarly Review article.

The Yoast SEO interface with a keyphrase, a google preview and several other options

5. WP Last Modified Info – As you build an archive of content, updating your older articles to make them up to date and relevant will become essential. In such a scenario, adding the updated date to your articles will keep your readers and search engines friendly.

WP Last Modified does this job automatically with every update you make to your site. By using a shortcode, you can even paste the last modified info anywhere on your blog. Once the plugin is installed, you can edit the metadata about the ‘Last Updated’ from the right sidebar of your article’s dashboard.

Updated on: Apr 17, 2020

6. WPForms LiteIt’s a drag and drop form builder to create forms such as the one used on contact pages. It’s useful especially if you offer services and want people to fill certain information before they get in touch with you. The plugin also sends weekly summaries of the number of contact form entries you receive. Here’s an example:

7. Autoptimize – Your website’s speed is of utmost importance to ensure a memorable user experience for your visitors. Autoptimize whips its magic minifying and compressing your CSS, JS, Images, Google fonts, and the like — the result is better performance.

8. Akismet Anti SpamWant to keep comments open on your blog posts? You should as it’s helpful to get value-adding insights from your readers and create a feeling of a community on your blog. Unfortunately comments also invite a lot of spam comments, and Akismet can detect and protect your blog from spam.

Register And Configure A Google Analytics (GA) Account

Unless you measure the sessions to your site and behavior of users, you won’t be able to know and improve your performance. I recommend registering and configuring a GA account. 

You need to install a tracking code in the header of your site for letting the tool start tracking the visitors to your site. WP Beginner has done a great job at explaining how to install in on WordPress in this video.

To start navigating the interface smoothly and generating insights from its reports, I recommend checking out the Unit 2 and Unit 3 from the Google Analytics for Beginners course.

Create Necessary Pages For Your Site And Press Publish!

Any new visitor to your website should be able to discern your mission, your background and story, and find you trustworthy. They should probably get introduced to your best work so far and if you sell any products or services, then get to know their details as well.

You can get started with drafting these pages for your website to create a welcoming experience for your readers.

1. Homepage – The first page where a visitor lands and forms an impression about you and your blog is the homepage.

Many writers simply keep their latest blog posts as their homepage. If you don’t offer any services and are just getting started, then it’s okay to do the same. 

Otherwise you can take cues from the succinct homepage of author Scott H. Young. He puts us a smiling photo to welcome his new visitors. To  establish credibility, he uses two social proof elements: media mentions and his book that’s ‘The Wall Street Journal Best Seller.’

He also offers a free ebook on ‘learning faster’ in exchange for joining his email list — about which I’ll talk in detail in the next section.

Ideas for learning, working and living better

Such a page design is easily replicable using Elementor. Once you’ve created a page, you can set it as your homepage from Settings >> Reading in WordPress.

2. About Page – This is going to be one of the most visited pages of your blog — a new reader might be curious to know more about you. Many marketers recommend that the about page should solely be about the audience and share how you can help them through your writing — I reckon you can weave your story into this narrative and make it personal as well.

The International Freelancer run by journalist Mridu Khullar has a balanced ‘about page’ with details of both the blog and the author. It introduces the blog’s brand first.

A screenshot depicting the about us page for international freelancer with a picture of two women

Then laces some testimonials from her readers and customers.

the international freelancer for the love of books

And share highlights of Mridu’s writing career at the end. I would have loved to read it in first person, though.

About Mridu page with a selfie of a woman

3. Contact Page – You can use a simple contact form with CAPTCHA to prevent spam mail on the contact page. It’s also okay to not have a contact form at all. Right now, I have a CTA button that lets people mail me directly with their requirements on my hire me page

4. Blog Page – With most WordPress themes, there’s a templated blog page and it automatically starts showing your latest articles (which are called as posts). You can set the Posts page from the same place where you also set your homepage — the reading settings.

reading settings with a small box at the bottom of the page

5. Newsletter Page – While not compulsory, a newsletter page could serve as another invitation page for your readers to subscribe to your weekly newsletter. Author and entrepreneur, Nat Eliason, uses the following newsletter page for getting people to subscribe to his ‘The Monday Medley’ he sends every Monday.

Newsletter page with the picture of a man at the top right hand side corner

6. Privacy Policy Page – With numerous instances of data mishandling and stricter data privacy laws, you absolutely need to create a Privacy Policy page from the get go. It’s supposed to inform users how you and third-party entities might access the personal information and other data you collect from them.

You also need to inform about how tools such as Google Analytics can set cookies on your website. 

While professional legal help in your locality is advisable, in the beginning it’s okay to use templates from tools such as the WP AutoTerms plugin. For benchmark, you can refer to Ryan Robinson’s privacy policy page here.

7. Terms & Conditions Page (T&C) – What happens in case of misuse of the information and services provided by you? The terms and conditions page can limit your liability. The WP AutoTerms can create a templated T&C page for you. But I highly recommend help from a professional attorney for drafting this one.

8. Disclaimer Page – This is the page where you inform your visitors how you make money from your blog. If you plan to monetize your website with affiliate marketing and displaying ads, then you should disclose that here. Again depending on your locality, cybersecurity laws might vary and professional legal help is advisable. You can take cues from my disclaimer page, though.

Other optional pages that your writer’s blog can use are:

  • Resources Page – This is where you can share free ebooks, online classes, cheatsheets, headline swipe files, writing templates, and the like. You can often also send a bundle of these and ask for a visitor’s email in exchange for sharing your resources.

Neville, a copywriting agency owner has named his ‘blog page’ itself as resources because each thing he publishes is a detailed guide. He has also created a spreadsheet with a collection of his copywriting training articles that he offers on his ‘resources page.’ 

100% Free Copywriting Guides

  • Products/Service Page – If you’ve got to sell any books, online courses, classes, templates, worksheets, then you can create a page listing your products. Here’s the ‘Shop page’ of The Writing Cooperative where they share their digital and physical products.

A list of several products and services offered by the blog

  • Start Here – As a blog grows, it might have lots of articles and resources — so a new reader gets overwhelmed. This page can smoothen the onboarding of you new site visitors as they provide jump off points. 

Alternatively you can also create a services page if you offer writing/consultation help to entrepreneurs and other writers.

New? You can start reading here - with a bunch of links to various articles

  • Portfolio Page – If you offer freelance writing services, then a folio page showcasing  your top pieces can come in handy. A new prospective client could get a quick glance of the publications where you’re published. However as a writer who also blogs, generally your published blog posts could also suffice for your portfolio.

And once you’ve drafted all the necessary pages for your writer’s website, you’re ready to roll with the content. Press publish once you’re satisfied with the overall appearance of your website pages and your shiny new website will be live!

  • Portfolio Page – If you offer freelance writing services, then a folio page showcasing  your top pieces can come in handy. A new prospective client could get a quick glance of the publications where you’re published. However as a writer who also blogs, generally your published blog posts could also suffice for your portfolio.

And once you’ve drafted all the necessary pages for your writer’s website, you’re ready to roll with the content. Press publish once you’re satisfied with the overall appearance of your website pages and your shiny new website will be live!

Pick The Marketing Channels You’ll Focus On

Once your website is live, I recommend you to understand the marketing channels at hand for growing your readership. For this article, I’ll introduce you to four mediums. Here’s the first one:

Email

Relying on shiny new social media platforms and search engines would mean being a slave to their algorithms. Websites can get shut down overnight after an update because they were too reliant on them for generating traffic and revenue.

Compared to third-party channels, email offers more control. People share their emails only with people they trust, so it’s a great way to kick off an intimate relationship with your reader. Indeed any blogger that earns a decent income will tell you that “the money is in the list.” Probably that’s why even ‘The New Yorker’ continues to have over ten email newsletters.

Sign up for the NewYorker's newsletter

So sign up for an email marketing suite. I recommend ConvertKit as it’s tailor made for creators and has a user-friendly interface. You can leverage advanced features such as segmentation and tags to organize your contacts and personalize the emails you send them. It even lets you use autoresponders. 

Another option is to leverage Mailchimp, which is an established name in the industry and lets you build an audience of 2k contacts for free after which their paid plans start. It’s not as user-friendly as ConvertKit, but you can always make a switch once you touch the free version’s limit.

To collect the emails of the visitors that land on your site, you’ll need to set up an optin. I recommend offering bonus content as content upgrades on articles that start getting some traction — they will convert the best. For example, if you write an article on writing exercises, you could include a few bonus ones in your upgrade.

Depending on the subjects you write and competition in your niche, a simple pitch such as the one by Maria Popova below can also work though. She places an optin in the left sidebar:

Sunday Newsletter with a big yellow subscribe button

You can also place the optin below every article you publish on the blog such as this one:

Sunday newsletter with a big yellow subscribe button

Another option is to create email courses around the pain points of your audience and share the lessons with your audience in exchange for signing up for your newsletter. Henneke has built an enviable relationship with his readers through his email newsletter. It’s definitely got to do with her 16-part email writing course, which acts as the first point of contact for many of her readers.

A banner for Enchanting Marketing with a woman at the bottom left of the screen

For adding these opt-in forms, I recommend you to use a tool such as Sumo.

Search

While search engines can wreak havoc overnight, they are a stable growth channel for a blog for the most part. Google specifically is the top source of traffic on the web (the chart below is courtesy of SparkToro), so it would be stupid to say no to its generosity.

percentage of referals visits sent by top 250 referrers, June 2019

Alongside email, I recommend you to learn the ropes of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Moz and Backlinko are great places for the same. 

From personal experience, SEO boils to optimizing your articles for search engines by finding relevant keywords your audience is using. Then, promoting them to build links from other authoritative sites — that act as votes for your site. Which brings us to our next channel for growth.

Guest Posts

Guest posting, which just means writing articles as a guest author, for prominent publications in your industry work well to solicit these links or votes. Indeed guest posting isn’t about links alone. It also helps in establishing your name and brand, and connecting with new readers.

While guest posts were infamously cracked down by a Google executive, carrying them in a non-spammy manner won’t lead you into trouble.

As a writer, you’re probably used to sending query letters and introduction mails. That’s what guest posting will require you to do, so it’s a genuine fit. I’ve built the authority of this site and got a few articles to rank on the first page through this strategy. I used to link back (where contextually relevant) to articles at Elite Content Marketer to get votes for the site.

So how can you get started with guest posting for other sites? Sam Oh from Ahrefs does a great job at explaining how to go about it in the video below:

Social Media

While bloggers that earn more prioritize SEO over social media platforms, social media remains the most popular channel among marketers.

Why?

Because everybody hangs out on one or more social media — it’s a great place to interact and connect with fellow writers, readers, and business folks. Let me show you the order in which you can consider social platforms.

Twitter

The microblogging website is great for relationship building and building thought leadership. While it’s okay to share your blog post links on the platform occasionally, treat it as a platform to connect and engage with fellow writers, editors, and readers.

Masoom, a freelance SaaS content writer, also recommends using Twitter chats to share your insights and learn from others. And reading content that catches your eye on the platform.

A tweet describing how content writers can use twitter

Pinterest

When you combine a visual search engine with social media, you get Pinterest. The best part about the platform is it can send decent organic traffic to your site — more so if you’ve a visually appealing niche such as travel, cooking, fashion, home decor, quotes, and sometimes even business.

Personally, I’ve found a few articles such as copywriting examples and writing exercises) gathering a handful of clicks by promoting on the platform. Shreya Dalela, the founder of The Creatives Hour, managed my Pinterest account and shared a detailed account on how to use Tailwind for growing your Pinterest audience here.

Instagram

If you like clicking pictures of your food, space, and yourself, then Instagram can serve as a visual storytelling platform for you. Jordan Makelle, a writing coach and musician, occasionally shares her music and personal stories on the platform.

Here’s an Instagram post where she beautifully blends her 2020 travel plans with not putting off dreams and goes on to pitch her cold emailing course.

A screenshot of an instagram post by Jordan Makelle

While I won’t recommend putting direct links to your blog posts on Instagram (you can add links only once you’ve a certain number of followers, anyway), it’s a great visual branding platform. Occasionally popping up with updates about your products or your blog isn’t a bad idea.

YouTube

If you’ve got some video editing chops on the top of your writing skills, then YouTube could pair up real nice with Google. It will help you build a formidable brand and help in improving the engagement on your site by embedding your YouTube videos in your blog posts. Again, don’t expect a lot of direct traffic to your site from it, though.

You can consider the marketing channels that appeal the most to you. I strongly recommend SEO and email as they are the most dependable of all and layer with each other nicely. 

Also don’t try to attack all the platforms above simultaneously, else you’ll stretch yourself too thin. Just pick a couple, master them in a year, then experiment with another platform from the above list.

Conduct Keyword Research

Now it’s time to document your content strategy. If you’re scratching confused what it means — it’s simply an actionable plan you can follow for growing your blog. 

For businesses, the content strategy calls for laying down the characteristics of their target audience, goals they want to achieve, details of the competitors, and the strategy they plan to follow. If you want to learn more about content strategy, enroll in this free HubSpot course.

As a beginner blogger though, you’ll be fine with choosing a niche and using a spreadsheet as an editorial calendar for managing your content pipeline. Here’s the one I use and available for use to you here.

A project management software such as Trello could work well on the top of it to keep tabs on the whole editorial process.

Once you’re ready with the tools above, I recommend performing keyword research.

What’s that?

It involves researching your market and finding out the EXACT topics your readers are searching for. You want to target those subjects that are searched considerably and consistently round the yearthey are evergreen. 

You can put the keywords you find with their relevant details (such as their monthly search volume and the difficulty in ranking for them) in the ‘Keyword Research’ sheet of your editorial calendar. 

Keyword research is dependent on the marketing channels you’re targeting and specific tools are available for each one. But the search giant, Google, is the undisputed champion for bloggers as it sends the lion share of visitors to their sites. Let me show you two ways to find relevant keyword phrases for your blog.

Research Quora Or Niche Forums

First you can broadly figure out the subjects your readers are interested in. Scouting niche forums and questions asked by people on Quora and subreddits related to the subjects you want to write is a great way to do the same.

Suppose you’re a writer that loves vegan food and wants to start a blog on recipes, vegan lifestyle, and the like. Head over to Quora and plug vegan recipes to find out the burning questions of people related to veganism. 

They are great jump off points to start your research.

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Plug Your Subject Inside Ubersuggest

While Google and all major search engines have become really smart and deliver relevant results, they are still powered by algorithms. As a writer, you’ve still got to serve them the EXACT words your readers are using to help them understand what you’re writing about.

Case in point:

Now I use Ahrefs, a premium SEO tool for performing my keyword research. But I recommend you to get started with a free one: Ubersuggest. While the data inside all the tools is not accurate, it gives you a decent idea about the topic’s potential.

You can start by plugging broad keywords such as ‘Vegan recipes’ inside the tool.

You can get more specific and find out search volumes of narrower subjects as well.

Note the relevant details of all the keywords you add to the sheet including their monthly volume and their 

It’s even possible to plug a prominent blog in your niche inside the tool and find out the top keywords they are ranking for.

Why not steal the keywords that seem promising to you?

I recommend starting with about 25 keywords for the first batch of analysis. You can keep coming back to this sheet and keyword research after you’ve exhausted subjects to write.

Note: You can keyword research for Pinterest and YouTube also if you’re targeting these platforms for generating traffic to your blog. Separate tools are available for them. I recommend watching this tutorial for Pinterest. And Tubebuddy can really help you nail down relevant phrases for YouTube.

Prepare Your Editorial Workflow And Attack The First Subject!

Now it’s time to put together your analyzing side of the brain and weigh effort vs. reward for the keywords you’ve put up inside the sheet. You need to prioritize the keywords you’ll work on and add them to your ‘Content Calendar’ sheet. 

Remember I asked you to note down the SEO difficulty? Now you need to use that alongside the number of times a 

Next task is attaching dates to every article you want to publish. Remember you’ll need to adapt and operate from a ‘shipping consistently, but not compromising quality’ mindset that I talked about in the beginning of the article.

I’ve never maintained a consistent cadence at Elite Content Marketer because it’s never been a full-time project. There’s no magical blogging frequency to achieve success either — it depends on your niche, the depth with which you want to write, and the amount of time you’ve at hand.

What’s reassuring is there are examples all over the board of prolific writers that went on to become successful bloggers:

  • James Clear became successful writing and publishing articles twice per week for almost three years. He then dropped back to publishing once per week and published merely five articles in 2019.

  • Tim Urban publishes whenever he likes on his blog Wait But Why — once in a quarter or even year. His articles could even be a full book upwards of even 50k words (with funny stick figures) — so it’s impossible for him to sustain a weekly frequency.

I would recommend you to commit to a certain frequency and try to not break your promise. Don’t write whenever you feel like, but don’t force yourself to spit words in a Google Document when you experience a creative block.

Don’t go overboard in setting a quality of threshold and think that you’ll work only on your best ideas. The quality of your execution plays a major role in the final quality of your article; not just your initial idea, so let go of those perfectionist tendencies.

Once you’re set with your first twenty or so subjects in the sheet, write on the first subject. There are a few aspects to keep in mind when writing for an online audience:

  • Write in a conversational tone: You’re serving readers with short attention spans online. So feel free to use informal and casual language. Use contractions and behave as if you’re talking to a friend while writing.
  • Aid scanning behavior: Users don’t read articles word-for-word when reading online — they scan. You can interrupt this scanning behavior by using shorter sentences and paragraphs, bullets and numberings, and visuals and videos to break down the text of your article.

By all means, stay away from “walls of text” such as a single paragraph extending for ten sentences. An example is the article you’re reading right now.

Once I’ve prepared the first draft of an article, I like to run it through an editorial workflow (which I recently streamlined). An editor copy edits, points out mistakes in the Google Document, and adds comments. 

I find Trello, a project management software, pretty handy in running through the complete editorial process. I’ve designated lists for various stages that I want an article to run through ensuring it meets quality standards that I’ve set. 

It’s okay if you forego such an extensive project management workflow in the beginning. But if you’re methodical in your writing and publishing, I recommend you to grab the editorial template by Trello here (I’m using its modified version).

Once you’ve an article, you can choose to schedule it for a specific date and keep a few articles in the pipeline — ensure your readers have something to read consistently.

Promote Your First Blog Post

If you write and publish in a vacuum, then you’ll probably never reach your readers. There’s a lot of noise online with tons of blog posts being published every single minute. 

Lucky for you, you’ve already picked the marketing channels you’ll focus on. I already recommended you to learn the ropes of SEO and we also performed some keyword research. While it’s an ongoing skill you can master, just use your target keyphrase (or its variations) at prominent places in your article — the title, introduction, and if possible a subheading.

You could also share your article on social media platforms such as Pinterest and Twitter, especially if you’ve an existing presence on these platforms. Pinterest calls for designing a tall graphic for promoting your article. 

Even as a beginner, Canva will help you with doing the same through numerous templates. You can use a free stock photo service such as Unsplash for the background images of your pins. Shreya Dalela, the founder of The Creatives Hour, takes care of designing a graphic and putting it at the bottom of every article I publish.

If you know of any specific communities on Facebook or other websites, you can consider sharing your article there as well occasionally. But remain careful of the guidelines and rules of such groups — sharing links is generally prohibited and could get you banned.

You can also send the latest updates from your blog to your email subscribers. It’s a great way to start a conversation around the articles you publish.

For the articles on this site, I liked to bake in SEO while writing an article and relied on guest posts to promote them. 

For example, when I wrote the article “how to promote your YouTube channel”, I paid attention to the quality and angle of the top search results. I thought of sharing “free” ways exclusively to stand out from the peck. Then when I was writing as a guest author, I tried to find an opportunity to mention this article organically there.

I’ve previously also relied on a service, Quuu Promote, to promote my articles on social media on autopilot. It requires you to simply submit the RSS feed of your blog and sends your latest articles to the feeds of social media users that have requested curated content from them.

At the beginning, ensure that you’re taking out time to promote every new article you publish — create a checklist for every post based on the marketing channels you’re targeting. Here’s one by Ahrefs that you can make your own:

Once you’ve gained a decent following and your website has a decent level of authority, you can get away without any active promotion of your blog posts. They will get automatically picked up by your readers, other publications, and even achieve top positions in Google.

Here’s How To Monetize Your Blog

While you asked me, “how to start a writing blog”, you might definitely be curious about — how can you make money blogging? And you should, blogging takes a lot of effort. I’ll quickly introduce you to three potential ways in this article, the first of which you can start with implementing right away.

Consult Businesses/Coach Writers

The quickest way to earn from your blog is by consulting businesses.

And guess what?

As a writer, you already have an in-demand skill you can offer other businesses. Probably you’re already freelancing on the side and making a few hundred dollars delivering high-quality articles to your clients.

Even if you’re a fiction writer, your storytelling and narrative writing style could prove invaluable for other businesses. You’ll just need to develop an understanding of how to create content for a web audience. If you can top your writing skills with some marketing chops, you can command top dollar as a marketing consultant.

Besides serving businesses, you could also offer coaching and editing services to other writers and professionals. This is especially relevant for you if you follow the literary citizenship model. For example, Jane Friedman offers numerous online classes to her readers on getting published, researching agents, and the like

The Foundation of getting published

Affiliate Marketing

One of the most common ways people monetize their blog is by recommending the products they are using. If someone buys a product from your ‘affiliate link’, then you’re paid a commission for it.

A great way to start affiliate marketing is by referring to the latest books you read on Amazon. But that only pays one time and doesn’t pay as much anyway.

We live in a software economy and most professionals can use their convenience to smoothen their workflow and improve their productivity. 

For instance, I use RescueTime to manage my time, Grammarly to check the grammar of my articles, WP Engine to host my site, and numerous other tools. So if I find any genuine opportunity to include them in my articles, I do that. And I get paid if someone buys a software subscription through my link.

Sell Ebooks And Courses

The cash cow of blogging is selling your own products such as Ebooks, online courses, templates and swipe files, and other resources. For example, Sophie Lizard, the founder of Be A Freelance Blogger, sells her Ebook on pitching a blog post for 0.99$ on Amazon.

A kindle books about pitching blogposts

But that’s the very lower end. Premium online courses that deliver results for your customers could end up costing a thousand dollars. Generally such products also have an active community alongside that makes them even more valuable. Copyhackers, founded by copywriter Joana Weibe, sells courses priced at $997, for instance.

A list of several courses offered by Copyhackers

I won’t recommend you to monetize your blog through other means such as Google Advertisements or brand sponsorships. The first kind don’t pay as well and the second might involve a lot of hustling to generate a consistent income. Both of them tend to also affect the user experience negatively.

Save your energy on crafting words and designing new products for your readers — as a writer you’ll love creating anyway.

But understand that while you could start offering writing services quickly, monetizing a blog can take time. Your blog needs to start getting traction and you need to build your reputation. 

As a writer, be inclined towards serving people with your craft (while adding a tinge of marketing strategy to it) — and you’ll survive and thrive in the long-term.

Frequently Asked Questions About Author Blogs

Here are answers to few of the most common questions about starting a blog for writers.

Should writers have a blog?

Yes it enables you to write regularly and hone your craft. It also helps writers connect with other writers and build an audience — which are both valuable leverages for their careers.  

Is it better to start a blog or write a book?

Being a publisher author, establishes your credibility as a serious writer. But starting a blog a few years before you plan to write and publish your first book is a great idea. It can build your personal brand and provide an invaluable readership for your books.

Why do most blogs fail?

It takes at least six months of strategy backed writing and promotion to start seeing success with a new blog. But most bloggers quit once their initial excitement wears out.

What should I blog about as a writer?

As a nonfiction writer, you can address solutions to the problems of your readers. Fiction writers can share unique perspectives around their interests, pen down reviews and opinion pieces of their favorite literary works, and interview other authors. Occasionally consider taking people behind the scenes of your writing workflow.

What is the best blogging platform?

As a nonfiction writer, you can address solutions to the problems of your readers. Fiction writers can share unique perspectives around their interests, pen down reviews and opinion pieces of their favorite literary works, and interview other authors. Occasionally consider taking people behind the scenes of your writing workflow.

Final Thoughts

Blogging started as a form of online diary for people to keep an account of their personal lives. What started as a subculture has slowly seeped into the mainstream and tremendously evolved with the advent of social media. It remains a profitable venture writers should try though.

What’s more? The chances of your blog to become successful are much more than your first book. You don’t even need to be a gifted writer. You do need to get outside your comfort zone to learn the ropes of marketing, networking, and running a business, though.

Hope the breakdown in this article gave you clarity on how to make a writing blog for yourself. If you’ve any questions related to starting a blog, then please drop them in the comments below. I’ll try my best to answer them!

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Hey, I'm Chintan, a creator and the founder of Elite Content Marketer. I make a living writing from cafes, traveling to mountains, and hopping across cities. Join me on this site to learn how you can make a living as a sustainable creator.

2 thoughts on “How To Start A Blog: A Writer’s Guide”

  1. Hello would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re working with? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good web hosting provider at a reasonable price? Thanks, I appreciate it!

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