Starting a blog? I will give you my 100 learned lessons

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You can learn a lot in six months time. This is what I have experienced with WPjournalist, when I started with it.

Not only am I promoting my own business, building websites for clients, with a blog. I also really enjoy to share what I learn with others.

Creating content is the most enjoyable thing for me. Writing, but also making videos with Powtoon or discovering new tools that make your website (and your life…) a little easier.

And when it comes to this, WordPress offers a lot of options!

Obviously, I am no Neil Patel yet ( a top blogger in the field of online marketing) who sometimes receives 600 comments (!) to a blog.

But in those six months you can, with hard work and the right strategy, start a blog which is successful.

Starting a blog…

But how do you do it, start a blog? Let me draw from my own experience and look at what I have learned.

Here you have my one hundred learned lessons which will make your blog successful. I have – to keep some overview – divided them into five categories: website building, content marketing, social media, email marketing and general.

Website

Here you will find what I learned about building a website:

  1. At some point I let myself be convinced to build a website with – you probably don’t know it – Expression Engine. It worked fine for a couple of years, but after updating the cms once, the whole site crashed and I had to look for an alternative. This is when I changed to WordPress. Never had one day of regret! It is flexible, user friendly, you can build and manage it yourself. In short, the best start for a successful blog.
  2. What I do consequently: every day I try to improve something about my blog. Enlarge the font, add an eBook, try out a new plugin, optimize article images so the page will load faster. If you do this every day, your website really becomes much better. And it is fun to see your website grow.
  3. Look at other websites how they do it. If I see good examples of how they have made a frontpage or an ‘about us’-page, than I apply it to my own website. I have almost literally copied my bio in the sidebar from Backlinko this way. Just take a look.
  4. Looking for a theme for your website? Go to Themeforest, the best marketplace in the world. By far.
  5. Look for a good hosting party. I have gone through many, both Dutch (like Yourhosting and Savvii) and foreign (Siteground). Both are not bad! But if I may recommend you one to start with: Antagonist. When I hosted a website for a client with them, I noticed how fast the website is. And they are also known for their friendly support.
  6. When you start out with a blog, you come across a lot of questions. Use the forums and tutorial websites to solve your problems. WPbeginner is a good consulting program, or Webtalis which is a Dutch source.
  7. If you have multiple websites, than consider a subscription on ManageWP, with which you can host multiple website at the same time. The first 5 websites are for free. With one click you can for example update the plugins on all your websites. With the paid version you have more options, like backups to Google drive.
  8. Get a domain name. However convenient the Blogger or WordPress.com blogs are, your own domain name and hosting will give you more freedom of choice and options to expand your website. You are not dependant on other parties.
  9. Make backups of your website. There is nothing worse than that your website has suddenly disappeared. Make sure you have a backup on your server, but also save it to your computer ánd Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. I can’t say it often enough…
  10. This doesn’t need to be done immediately, but it is fun to design a logo for your website. I myself did it after four months and had a friend create the design. She is a designer and works with graphic programs, like Photoshop, a lot. Do you think hiring a designer is too expensive? There are also websites where you can design your logo online like at Logogenie.
  11. Look at your sidebar critically. It is not necessary to fill it up with all kinds of information, something I also did in the beginning. Because it looked really interesting. Read my blog about this, Make your WordPress sidebar a top priority: 9 tips.
  12. A lesson in photography on the website. A lot of websites use many of the same stock photos. Be a little more original. No SEO photos. But be aware: Search for photos with the same atmosphere and appearance. Otherwise it will end up looking a messy collection and it won’t have any unity or balance. Take a look at the free images.
  13. You need a photography program. I use Paint.net. It’s free and it meets my requirements.
  14. I have started with improving the ‘about WPjournalist’ page. Your visitors want to find out about the owner of the blog, or what their motives are. Write something personal, something special about yourself. To give an idea you can read this article: Storytelling: turn the ‘about us’ page into a heroic story
  15. Use a notification for cookies on your website. It is required by law. There are simple plugins to do this, like Cookie Notice.
  16. State on your website somewhere ( I have put it in the footer, at the bottomleft) what your website is about, what visitors can expect when they land on your website. My central message is: how can I get more out of my website.
  17. ace terms and conditions and a privacy policy/disclaimer on your website. It looks more professional and it might prevent you getting sued. Because from the 28th of may 2018, the GDRP is active. A new regulation which protects the privacy of website users.
  18. Take your readers serious. I have encountered a couple of times that I replied to a blog through the answering form, but never received a reply. Hmmm… So answer every question or remark that you receive from your readers, even if they are critical sometimes. Spam you can just delete off course.

Plugins

Here you will find what I have learned about plugins:

  1. Just a small but special chapter about plugins, because these offer all kinds of extra functionalities to your website. So great! I mentioned before that you need to backup your website. A good and free backup plugin is Updraftplus or BackupWordPress.
  2. A place I regularly visit is the WordPress Catalogus, with an overview of all available plugins. There are thousands. Your journey to get more out of your website begins here! But think about that not all plugins are compatible with your theme. So try and test.
  3. Another address for great plugins is Codecanyon.
  4. SEO (you will read further in this article) is crucial for any website. I install WordPress SEO by Yoast for all my own websites. Developed by a Dutchman!
  5. WordPress needs to be secured really well. A security plugin that everyone needs to use is Akismet to avoid spam and uninvited guests. There are also plugins that protect your site from hacks, such as Wordfence and iThemes Security.
  6. A good plugin to optimize your images is WP Smush.
  7. Do you want a good popup plugin to promote your newsletter? Optin Monster is a good one but expensive. I have really searched for this quite a while, and found one! A good value for money plugin that I have purchased myself is Layered Popups for WordPress.
  8. The best way to make a website faster is a cache plugin. The two that I use are WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache. Recently a lot of good reviews have appeared about WP Rocket, which you have to pay for, but the reviews are very good. You could also use a CDN, like Cloudfare.
  9. I will also name this one: Jetpack by WordPress. This is a plugin developed by the creators of WordPress and it has a lot of functions, from analysis to speed improvement. Kind of like an all in one solution.
  10. If you want to, you can get all the plugins to develop a top website for free. But by the time you start earning money with your blog, you could consider doing something in return for these developers. By making a small donation. They often have a donate button on their website.
  11. At a certain point, you will have a link on a page that no longer works. There is a ‘smart’ plugin available that detects links that no longer work: Broken link checker.

Content Marketing

  1. Writing articles or making backups. Put it in the cloud. Much easier, because you always have access to for example Google Drive or Word Online/Drive anywhere. Here you can also place your article, backups, etc. A small disadvantage that I noticed: sometimes Word Online is not available.
  2. Make your website more personal with a bio about yourself: a short piece about yourself. You could place it in short in the sidebar. Should you want a more extensive ‘about me’ page, than you could create a click through in the sidebar leading to a more extensive description.
  3. Where I think of my best topics? Not behind the computer, but during running. Then I am totally relaxed and I can think of creative topics. Walking or bicycling is also an option. Or anything that relaxes you…
  4. Write every week. Many visitors look at the article dates. This way they can see if your blog is current. There are also websites which don’t show a date. Readers then have no idea how old or dated the information is. So always add a date.
  5. Use a content kalender. Here you can make a schedule of what you publish on your website and when. You could make a schedule of your articles, but also of your social media. Here you can download one: Content kalender.
  6. The header is the most important part of your blog. Practice in creating headers and don’t make them longer than 60 characters, otherwise Google will cut them off in the search results.
  7. Use numbers in your header, like mine above. It will convince your readers more. Make your header clear, readers need to know what you mean instantly.
  8. Which rules I apply to create better headers? The ones from Copyblogger help me to create better headers.
  9. Do you also sometimes lack inspiration to create a header? I sometimes use Portent.
  10. To search for inspiration, you could look at the headers in magazines or newspapers. Or take a look at other successful blogs.
  11. I have learned that people are quick to judge spelling mistakes. Recently my sister corrected me, what else, a primary school teacher. Before you publish, check your article for spelling mistakes. WordPress has a built in spell checker, but it often doesn’t catch all mistakes. And did you know that websites with a lot of spelling mistakes are rated worse by search engines?
  12. I use Buzzsumo when I don’t know what to write about. It gives you an overview of the most shared, and popular content. It delivers good topics which are sought after.
  13. Personalize articles, write about your own experiences. I now use the words ‘I’ , ‘me’ and also ‘you’ more often, because readers feel more addressed this way.
  14. I often begin or end an article with a questions to the reader: it will result in more interaction with your readers.
  15. Take your time to write. Producing a lot of content is fine, but you shouldn’t just do it to fill up your website as fast as possible. The best content is created by giving it attention. I know bloggers who spend 20+ hours on an article. I have also spent more than 20 hours on this article, spread out over a couple of weeks. How to create more time? By getting up a few hours earlier… Really think about which topics you use.
  16. Sometimes whilst writing, I realise it is a bad article, not worth publishing. It is hard to accept, but in this instance you need to decide not to place the article. Just throw it out, and start again!
  17. What I have also learned: don’t linger on a subject but be straight to the point, so say what you want to say. People don’t have much time and if it doesn’t remain interesting, they are quickly distracted and leave your site.
  18. Use the Content Explorer by AHREFS. Enter your search word and find the most shared topics of the moment of every branch or niche. This way you don’t have to think of a topic yourself, ahrefs does it for you!
  19. Write a blog that will go viral. Something you have put your heart and soul into, an article you know a lot about, which shows real expertise, of more than 2000 words. A viral article will put you on the map and you will have years – yes really – of pleasure from this because people keep coming back to this page.
  20. If you really want to make some big steps forward with content and online marketing, than consider a course with cursus bij Digital Marketer. In the Ultimate Marketing Library you will get access to various courses to get more out of your website. I have done it myself.
  21. Make your own video about your website? Here is one: Powtoon, a tool to create animation videos. I have also written an article about it. Make your own tutorials for your website. I have bought Movavi screen capture, with which you can film your own screen. This allows you to make great tutorials and explanatory videos about how something works.
  22. The best tips to become a better writer? Read: Become a better writer. 

SEO

Here you will find what I have learned about SEO:

  1. Optimize every article for SEO with the SEO by Yoast. It is five to ten minutes more work, but will eventually get you more visitors. I have once experienced that an article accounted for 20 percent of all my visitors. It was number one on Google. So make your best efforts for one article and hopefully it goes ‘viral’.
  2. Optimize your images. There are enough programs available on the internet to do this, like Image optimizer. It still happens too often that images of 2500×2000 pixels are uploaded. It slows down your website!
  3. Check on Google Speed how fast your website is. Red colours mean there is still work to be done to make your website faster.
  4. Two other speed measurers that I use: GMetrix and Pingdom tools.
  5. I use the Google Keyword Planner to look for keywords. The planner shows which (combined) words are popular and are often sought after.
  6. Something I really like to do is write a really long and diversifying blog. Not only text, but also images, website screen dumps, links to external websites, use bold or italics for important sentences, add a Click to Tweet and play around with blank lines. Embed a video, bullet points. Not only does it make for better reading, it’s also great for SEO.
  7. Always check on Google Analytics how your article scores. If it is not often looked at, than the topic apparently isn’t interesting enough. Or not optimized enough.
  8. Also check how your website works on mobile: through the Mobile friendly tool.
  9. What I am now considering after six months: holding interviews with experts or invite guest bloggers to write for my blog. It gives more exposure and the interviewees or guest bloggers also often share these articles on their social media.
  10. You could also mail say five, or six experts with a specific question about a certain topic. You collect these answers and turn them into an article.
  11. After six months I have not yet structurally gotten round to it, but make sure your website gets backlinks. So links from other websites to your website. And the higher that website ranks, the better it is for you. Through the Open site Explorer you can see who is already linking to you.
  12. You can read about a good start to begin with link building in the article of artikel van 000.nl.
  13. You should not only keep sharing outdated articles through social media, but also update them once in a while. Google appreciates it and you can climb a little higher in the ranks again because of it.
  14. I have a lot of links referring to other websites. This way you don’t have to explain everything yourself and you offer your readers extra information if they want it.

Social media

Here you will find what I have learned about social media:

  1. Start Twittering or create a Facebook account. I also underestimated this in the beginning, but social media is extremely powerful to help you promote yourself and your business. If you don’t do it, you will eventually miss the boat.
  2. Focus on a limited number of social media and do it right. It will cost too much time to keep up with five different types of social media. Better to focus on 2 or 3. Fast success is not possible, but if you work in a focused manner, you will succeed. I know for sure!
  3. Use Click to Tweet. This is a tool with which you can place a quote or statement in your article, which users can share through Twitter with just one click.
  4. A fun but also handy tool is Tweroid. waarmee je kunt bepalen wat de beste tijd is om te t 5 uur middags.
  5. If you need some help with starting up Twitter, than you should sign up with Commun.it. Here I can see who has unfollowed me, you receive an overview of top tweets which you can retweet (good for your shares) and – this one is really great – you can send new followers a thank you.
  6. When I have written an article, I place it on social media several times. I use a scheduler which does this automatically, like Buffer.
  7. If you use Facebook or Twitter, the profile pictures at the top are often not so nice. With Graphicriver you can buy really nice pictures for a couple of euros.
  8. I get a lot of Twitter followers who are from different branches. But I only link back to the people who are in the same business. In the beginning, you could consider to follow everyone, because you start to build volume and that will attract new followers.
  9. A fun program to dress up Quotes on your website is Pinwords.
  10. Likealyser is a useful tool to measure how your Facebook page scores. You don’t need to sign up first, but after entering your facebook address you will instantly get a few indicators about how you score.
  11. I use Flare and your articles are really shared more often because of it. The social media buttons scroll along with you.
  12. Place your social media buttons in different places. I place them at the top of the header, with every article and on the side.
  13. Sometimes I read older articles on my website which I share again.
  14. Social locker is a smart and effective trick to gain more followers on Twitter or ‘likes’ on Facebook. With this plugin you can end an article or page, unless the visitor pays with a ‘like’ or retweet to get access to the article.
  15. Lately I regularly use a sentence shortener so I can get more words in my twitter messages. The best known is bit.ly. Google has its own shortener URL, goo.gl which also analyses information. Both are good choices.
  16. I sometimes place celebrity quotes on Twitter or Facebook. Readers prefer images, so I place the quotes in a graphic. Here you can read about four ways to turn quotes into images: Four ways create quote graphics.
  17. In recent months I haven’t had to invest much in photography. There are dozens of websites where you can download (stock) images for free to use on your website. I use, amongst others, Gratisography and Foter.
  18. A website where you can read a lot about how to score with social media is Social Media Examiner. For example how you can earn money with Facebook and the best strategies to gain more followers on Pinterest or Instagram. Very educational!

Email marketing

Here you will find what I have learned about email marketing:

  1. Start soon or over time with a newsletter. Still the best way to get and stay in touch with your target audience. It creates a connection and you can use it as a sales channel.
  2. Even though not loved by everybody, it is smart to create a pop up on your website to attract newsletter readers. It will lead to more sign ups.
  3. Another way to get email addresses from readers, is an optin box in the sidebar. I myself have one.
  4. Once a month I send an extensive newsletter. But I have recently started with sending one biweekly. It is best to write once a week.
  5. Write an extensive welcome mail for new sign ups. Instead of the standard mailchimp message. Make it personal, place social media buttons and tell a little about yourself.
  6. I have developed a free eBook for new readers. Link it with a lead magnet, as it is called, to reward new sign ups.
  7. Pay attention to your email subject, the line people see in their mailbox. Make it look attractive so they are more inclined to click on it.
  8. Did you know that monday, tuesday, wednesday and thursday are the best days to send out your blog? And if you want to be even more specific: tuesday at 11.00.
  9. I am now thinking about an online product which I can offer through the website. It’s called a tripwire offer. It is a course or offer for around 7 or 8 euros and you can use it as a follow up in your newsletter. First they receive the free eBook, and after this you offer them the tripwire offer

General

Here you will find what I have learned about the general things with blogging:

  1. Don’t do everything at once. Start, after launching your website, with writing content for your website. That is your first priority! Your site after all, needs to gain body and volume. After this, slowly but surely pay more attention to other things like analysing the number of visitors, more comments on your website, expanding your Twitter account, etc.
  2. Be patient. It takes time to start and build a blog. I hardly had any visitors the first three months. If you keep working on and improve your website or blog, you will eventually have success. Persistence always wins.
  3. What makes a website successful? Create a niche. A small market which there is a need for. Don’t broaden it too much by writing about everything. Write about a specific goal that is familiar for others. At WPjournalist it is: How can I get more out of my website? Nothing more and nothing less.
  4. This is a tip I have also twittered once: Briand Dean of Backlinko says: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” So focus on your business! Don’t write too broad about things that are out of your reach.
  5. Think about your blog every day. How is it going, and what could be better.
  6. A really important one: read a lot of other marketing blogs. I have read myself blind for the past two years, and read blogs such as by Brian Dean (backlinko), Copyblogger and a more technical blog by WPMU DEV. By reading blogs about your area of expertise, you really learn a lot and it is also munition to write blogs of your own and to become an authority in that particular area of expertise.
  7. Oh, and this is my hero (well…): Neil Patel of Quicksprout. His style really speaks to me and sometimes I copy it a teeny tiny bit. He probably won’t mind, because his mission is to teach others.
  8. We’re almost there… My last tip: don’t lose yourself completely in blogging. The danger is that you spend all of your time on it, and that also can’t be the right thing. There are many other fun things in this world. Also enjoy those!

Conclusion

Well, that was quite a list. But definitely one of which I can say, will help you on your way to a successful blog. I have only just, six months, started out with WPjournalist, but i’m already experiencing great results:

* My number of visitors has doubled in the past two months.

* In a short time I have gone from 0 to 350 Twitter followers.

* The most exciting; the first newsletter readers are signing up.

Something that is obvious: if you want a successful blog, you need to persevere. I see that a lot of blogs quit after half or a whole year.

And I too have my moments where I think: what have I started, why do I put so much time and energy and blood, sweat and tears into this.

But this is a process you need to get through. If on a good day I get twenty new followers, my day is completely made right.

Are you also starting a blog? I wish you good luck and I really hope my 100 learned lessons can help you with this.

What have you learned from your own blog? I would love to hear about it.

Oh yes…

Go on… one bonus tip! Writing a blog of 4000+ words is one thing. But then you are not there yet. Almost just as important is that you need to promote the blog the days (and weeks…) after that. I am also going to do that. With the 11 strategies from The Day After: The Day After: 11 Things to Do After You Publish a Post. Which will probably result in another educational article…

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