You’ve taken the plunge. You found an idea or a niche that you are passionate about, you’ve made the decision to start blogging, and you even have your first couple of posts written. You’re a blogger now and you’re going to have millions of visitors and adoring fans in no time, right?
Stop. Before you even begin, think about where your users are going to come from and how you’re going to get found on the wide wild frontier that is the Internet. As a blogger, some, if not much, of your traffic will come from organic channels (ie. Google and Bing), so you need to set yourself up for SEO success before you even begin. No worries, I do this every day, so I’m here to walk you through what you need to know to get started.
How Do I Get Found?
In short, SEO is the practice of getting your site found in Google’s web index. The web index is essentially Google’s database of all of the pages on the Internet that it knows about.
There are many different parts of your website that affect SEO and how well your content is going to rank for searches about your topic. This topic has been written about time and time again, so let me point you to the most important resource I know of:
To get your site found and ranking better, thus bringing you more traffic, you need links to your site. Linkbuilding is always a hot topic in the SEO world, but to start wrapping your mind around how it works, check out these resources:
Domain Name and Hosting
When starting your blogging career, you must think about where you want your site to live online. First, if you really care about organic traffic and branding yourself as a blogger online, you should seriously consider buying your own domain name from a service like Moniker. Second, if you are really serious about blogging, you need to pay for hosting and get someone to set it up for you, or figure it out yourself. It’s really not that hard and I’ll link you to some resources below.
Choosing a Domain Name
Depending on your niche or the popularity (or lack thereof) of your name, .com domain names start around $8 per year and can go much higher. My main recommendations to people when they think about buying a domain follow the KISS acronym:
- Keep it short.
- Inform your readers of your topic.
- Stay on topic.
- Streamline your audience.
You want to find the most relevant domain name possible to your niche (and get niche-specific keyword traffic), or use it to create your name as a blogger (hence use your name as your domain name, if possible). If you look at the big bloggers today, they are a mix depending on their message:
http://michaelhyatt.com/ (Michael Hyatt about leadership, social media, and more)
http://www.problogger.net/ (Darren Rowse about blogging)
http://www.copyblogger.com/ (Brian Clark about content and marketing)
http://www.avc.com/ (Fred Wilson about venture capital)
Depending on your location and availability of domain names, you could have the pick of many top-level domains (TLDs as we call them). The main TLDs are, in order of preference:
- Country specific (ie .co.uk for the UK or .com.au for Australia)
Pro tip: If you want a domain name that is related to your industry, sign up using your Gmail account for an Adwords account and search for words that you think might be available. Look at the Keyword Ideas for more thoughts. Once you find one with some search volume in the “Local Monthly Searches” column, with “Exact Match” checked, run it through Moniker to see if the domain name is available.
Content Management System
The term “content management system” is probably unknown and scary to you. Don’t let it be. Simply put, your content management system is where you write and control the content that you are publishing onto your site. Think of it as your outbox for your ideas.
If you’re starting to blog and are doing the self-hosted route like I recommend, use WordPress.org. It has a great developer community for when you need help, a lot of plugins that you can easily install to customize the functionality of your site, and many themes to choose from (both free and paid).
The plugins you absolutely need are:
Hosting is the next key part to setting up your site. You can find hosts for about $10/month that are plenty fast for most sites.
You want to look for the following if you are not tech-savvy:
- Easy Installs (1-click is best)
- 24/7 Support
- Shared or Dedicated Hosting (shared for small blogs, dedicated for when your site gets big)
- WordPress Support
I’m not going to go into this one too much, as a lot of resources are available to you about conducting easy keyword research, and then there’s the more comprehensive SEOmoz Keyword Research section in the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which I recommend that all of you read.
But in a nutshell, you should strive to create content around keywords that people are searching for in your niche. You can look at the keywords that people are landing on your site with in Google Analytics, look at the posts that your fellow bloggers are writing, and use tools like Ubersuggest to find what Google suggests for others.
Before we get any further, I have to say that if you want to win online, the way to do it is this:
Create great content and let others know about it.
It’s not enough to just create great content, but that is the first step. You should think outside of just text content and think about other mediums that you can use on your site. Some bloggers do podcasts. Others do videos. Some publish infographics.
As a blogger thinking about outreach, I recommend shifting your mindset from “Who can I get links from?” to “Who can I make friends with?” As a blogger, your greatest linkbuilding asset will be connecting with your readers and nurturing the conversation, both on your site and across social networks. If your target market is on Twitter, be there and be engaged.
Here’s a good Beginner’s Guide to Twitter.
Link to Others
This point goes in with both the above linkbuilding point and the “make friends” point. One great way to get the attention of others is to link to them in your posts, then let them know that you referenced them.
Some “SEO experts” will tell you that you should not link out to other people. Don’t listen to them. By linking out, you make friends and you’ll receive back 10-fold what you give.
Finally, your blogging will be ineffective if you don’t track what your users are doing on your site. The easiest way to do this is also free: Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is Google’s product that allows you to track people on your site. It’s pretty easy to set up, as all you do is register with your Google/Gmail account and they give you a code to put onto your website. This is simple with Yoast’s SEO plugin for WordPress.
There are many tutorials available online for Analytics, but I recommend Grovo’s Google Analytics training course for beginners.
Don’t Give Up
Finally, don’t give up two to three months in. Or even a year in. It takes time to build a following on your site. Sometimes your traffic over time could happen like this:
And sometimes it goes slow and steady, like my personal site:
Keep publishing on a schedule and you’ll see returns. Remember:
Overnight success doesn’t happen overnight. The people winning now have been doing it for years.
I want to end this post by giving you a few more resources to help you get started.
And here is an SEO 101 presentation that I gave at a meetup in New York City:
What other questions do you have? How can I help you out?
John Doherty is an SEO Consultant in New York City with search marketing firm Distilled. With prior experience as a web developer and an international entrepreneur, he enjoys the dual challenges online of helping clients create user-friendly websites that are friendly to search engines, while also keeping in mind the ultimate business goals of making more money and expanding influence. You can find John on Twitter at @dohertyjf.