How to Start a Successful Blog

When I get requests on how to build a business on the side to restart your life, I most often recommend to start a blog. I do this because that’s how I changed my life and because I know it’ll work for you as well.

Even though I didn’t know how to start a successful blog back in the days, my first blog really was game changing.

I started earning money while being employed and was able to quit my job without the risk of being broke within 8 months.

Nowadays I get approached by many people who want to know how to start a successful blog. They don’t know what to blog about, they don’t know their own skills, they don’t see much traffic on their blog or they don’t earn money from their blog.

Let me say that blogging isn’t easy. For the first 2 months I didn’t see much traffic either. Money started coming in after 5 months, not right away. Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint.

1. The Concept of Your Blog

The first part of this „How to Start a Successful Blog“ tutorial is to define the concept of your blog. This is very important, because starting a successful blog is a long-term project.

Know Your Topic

What will you be writing about? Will you blog about a passion of yours? Will you showcase your skills and experience? Or do you want to use the blog as accountability tool to acquire new skills?

There are countless reasons to start a blog, the point is to know your personal one. When you have intrinsic motivation to build your blog, your chance to succeed is high – simply because you’ll do the necessary work.

Blogging requires consistent action, so you better care about the topic you’re engaging in. When I started my first blog, I wrote about my learning progress in building online businesses.

I was inspired by Pat Flynn, who was blogging about building his business, so I started to write about how I built my online business. I said to myself, if that guy can be open about building his business and people listen to him, I can do this too.

Define Your Brand

When you want to know how to start a successful blog, you need to be aware of your brand right from the beginning. This will affect whether people will pay attention to your blog or just ignore you.

It’s normal for brands to evolve over time, thus you just need to build the first version of your brand and of how you position yourself with your blog.

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. – Jeff Bezos

It starts with finding a name and the tag line (a brief description) for your blog. Most often, the blog name will also be the URL of your blog.

To find a good name, there are two approaches.

Find a Name Based Upon Keyword Research

The name of my first blog was „My Great Online Business“, which came from doing keyword research. I wanted to ensure that people care about the topic I’m writing about, so I did keyword research. The keyword „great online business“ had ~1,000 monthly hits, so that made me sure people where interested in my topic.

The tool I used (and still do) was Long Tail Pro, created by SEO expert Spencer Haws. It was very easy to use, even though I was just starting out, and thanks to Spencer’s great support and documentation, I knew pretty fast how to analyze the competition of keywords and thus to determine whether I could rank in Google’s Top Three or not.

If you’re blogging, keyword research is a part you shouldn’t neglect – even when people say keyword research is dead. Search engines will always be there and thus keyword research is too.

You can use the free Google Keyword Planner to estimate search volumes for keywords, but the Google Keyword Planner doesn’t help you to analyze the competition.

Long Tail Pro is my favorite keyword research tool and I credit lots of visitors to it. In fact my blog got 32,889 visitors in 2013 because of Long Tail Pro (more on that later). The link is a affiliate link, which means I earn a small commission on the purchase at no extra charge for you.

Thank you very much if you consider using it, you’re helping me to continuously provide information to my audience!

I want you to know that I didn’t include Long Tail Pro because of this commission, but because I believe that it’ll help you to start a successful blog.

Using Your Personal Name as Blog Name

The other approach that you can take to name your blog is to use your personal name. This has the benefit that you’re building your personal brand and become known by your name and not by the name of your blog.

While some people want to become known by their name, others won’t be happy with that and prefer a made-up name.

I don’t see any disadvantages to any of those methods, there are lots of examples for successful blogs with made-up names as with personal names.

Smart Passive Income is a well-known blog that doesn’t use the name of his host, whereas Lewis Howes is a famous entrepreneur and podcaster using is personal name as blog name and domain name.

I personally decided to stop blogging at my first blog My Great Online Business and merge it to my personal blog with my personal name. This was because I decided to rebrand myself as Restart Strategist and the blog name My Great Online Business didn’t do any good for that.

Benefits for Your Readers

You need to understand that blogging isn’t about you, it’s about your readers. If you want to know how to start a successful blog you need to constantly deliver benefits and valuable information to your audience.

What will readers take away from consuming your content? What problem can you solve and what questions do you answer? Why should people read your blog?

This ties in to the branding concept, because it’s the benefits for your readers that will keep your readers on your blog. It’s the benefits for your audience that will make your readers share your content and thus that control the success of your blog.

You need to state those benefits clearly on your blog. Make sure that a brand new visitor will understand these benefits within seconds when he comes to your blog. Include them in your tag line, in your graphics and in your headings – those elements that grab peoples attention when they open your site.

Who are You Writing for?

Who do you want to visit your site? If you know your ideal reader, you can cater to their needs. Get in touch with those people who are engaging in your field in forums, in social media or on other platforms. Listen carefully to what they are saying and look for opportunities to answer their questions.

In order to know how to start a successful blog you need to find your target audience and to define who you are writing for. If you’re writing for everyone, you’ll end up writing for no one, because no one will feel connected to your content.

You need to figure out who is interested in the topics you’re writing about and then answer their questions and engage in their conversations.

2. The Setup of Your Blog

After the concept is clear, it’s time to set up your blog correctly. This is a bit technical and a reasonable amount of request I get is related to technical stuff like this. You’re not alone if you’re worrying about the geeky side of blogging.

Most blogs are built with WordPress, which is content management system. It allows you to publish content easily without the need to code.

Hosting and Domain

In order to start a blog you need to set up a hosting account, buy a domain and install WordPress.

In the first step you chose a name for your blog and I highly recommend to use that name as your domain. Otherwise you’ll confuse your visitors since they expect the domain to match the blog name.

You can do get a web hosting account and domains at Bluehost or Hostgator, which are two of the biggest web hosting companies. Both have very helpful support and a great WordPress installation service.

In fact Bluehost and Hostgator do provide an installation routine that allows you to install your blog in less than 3 minutes. I tested that statement for Bluehost and this video proves that it’s true.

It’s your choice which host you go with, because both are great for starting a blog at low costs.

how to start a successful blog with Hostgator

If you use the links above to signup for Bluehost or Hostgator, I want you to know that these are affiliate links. Again, I truly believe that both are good choices to host your blog. As a little benefit you can save 25% off at Hostgator by using my coupon code „restartnow“.

Again, this affiliate link isn’t just here for the purpose of making money. I could easily have created an eBook out of this post, but I want to get you started easily. Thank you, if you use the Hostgator coupon or the Bluehost affiliate links!

Templates and Plugins

Choosing the right template, the right design for your website is pretty tricky. A lot of facts come into play here, yet this is crucial. That’s why you need understand the basics of creating your platform, if you want to know how to start a successful blog.

The template needs to support your brand. Imagine a new visitor coming to your site, without having ever heard of you before. You have a maximum of 8 seconds time to make that visitor stay on your site. If the template doesn’t transport your message clearly, looks confusing or amateurish, you’ve lost the visitor.

I made a big mistake in the beginning of my blog. Even though I got some feedback that my design looked nice, I now know that it actually caused a high bounce rate (people leaving my site directly). The new installed design dramatically decreased my bounce rate about 25%!

Here you can see that starting a successful blog is heavily related on your design. The look and feel of your website needs to please your audience, not you.

Take a look at how other sites in your field are designed and write down the principles behind their design. Is it simple? Which colors are used and what’s the psychology behind those colors? What functions do the sites have?

You’ll have to keep up with other sites in your field. However, I’m not saying that you need to spend thousands of Dollars on a custom design.

You can easily build a great looking website with premium themes. When you’re choosing a theme, make sure that it includes all functions necessary to support your brand.

My favorite themes come from StudioPress, I’m using their Sixteen-Nine theme on my site.

Themes based upon the Genesis framework are easy to set up and very well documented. As I’ve customized the theme a bit myself, I got in touch with their customer support to get some details about the theme. Their service was outstanding!

Those two links are affiliate links and I really appreciate it, if you use them to buy a Genesis based theme. Let me know if you have any questions regarding the themes in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them!

Creating the First Content

The last step in the blog setup is to create the first content. Those are the most basic sites like “About”, “Contact” and at least two blog posts.

Never open a naked blog to the public! People visiting your site want to see a minimum level of information, so this first content is your foundation to start a successful blog.

There are lots of posts on how to write “About” pages, so I won’t go into the details here. But I want to tell you the topics for your first two blog posts:

  1. The purpose of your blog
  2. The benefits for your readers

In order to start a successful blog, you need to answer people’s questions and address their objections against reading your blog. Probably one of the most common objection is “What’s in it for me?”.

Tell your reader what they will learn from reading your content, make them curious and explain clearly what you’re going to write about and why it’s worth to follow your blog!

3. Publishing Content

A very important answer to how to start a successful blog is the art of publishing content that your readers want to read.

You need to get into the reader’s mind, find out what they are interested in and talk about those topics. Don’t bother, it’s no rocket science to do this. Let me explain.

Attracting Traffic to Your Site

To restart successfully by launching a blog, traffic is one of the most critical components. To attract visitors almost magnetically to your site, you need to write about topics your audience is interested in. That’s one important trick how to start a successful blog that I learned early on.

A very reliable indicator for topics people are interested in is keyword research. This is calculating the amount of searches for keywords, that are relevant in your topic. The more people are searching for a specific term, the more people are interested in the topic – and thus the more potential visitors you can get.

I already said above that you can use the free Google Keyword Planner to get insights on what people are searching for.

However, there’s more to keyword research than just knowing the amount of searches per month. To benefit from those searches you need to rank your post or page in Google’s Top 10, preferrably in the Top 3 search results. Otherwise you won’t see any traffic coming from the keyword.

I find analyzing the difficulty to rank for a specific keyword with Google Keyword Planner quite hard to do. I tried it in the beginning, but it turned out that the competition was too strong in most cases.

Lesson learned.

how to start a successful blog with Long Tail ProNow I’m using Long Tail Pro since 8 months to do keyword research and it really simplified the process. I’m going with the platinum version ($19 per month) which calculates the competition and shows just one number. If that number is below 30 it’s a good keyword, if it’s higher I avoid it.

Thanks to Long Tail Pro I got 32,889 visitors coming from Google in the time between April ’13 and December ’13. That’s 60% of my total traffic! I earned the money spent for Long Tail Pro easily in one month. If you decide to purchase it you’ll have to do a one-time payment to get the standard version. I recommend to take the platinum version, you’ll easily earn $19 a month when you get traffic to your website!

Some people say that keyword research is dead, but I doubt it. Search engines will always be there in the future, thus search engines will stay important to drive traffic to your website.

Creating a Content Plan

As I continued to do research about how to start a successful blog, I came across a method that I didn’t implement myself. Yet I believe that it could have helped me to make my blog even more successful in the beginning, thus I want to share this with you.

Most blogs fail because the host doesn’t publish content consistently. I wrote a blog post every now and then, I didn’t have a structure for it. And that made it hard to get a steady stream of new content on my site. Heck, in October ’13 and November ’13 I might have written 6 posts in total, way too less in my eyes.

In order to publish regularly, you can set up a content plan. Announce fixed days on which you’re publishing a new post, so that your readers know when to expect something new on your site.

Create a list with topics and keywords that would make a good post and work through this list consistently. This ensures that you never run out of content when you need it. Weekly brainstorming sessions allow you to fill your list with new ideas and when you’re writing the posts, you just need to look at the list to find a topic.

There is no formula on how often to publish content. My rule of thumb is to only publish when I’ve got something to say. There’s enough noise in the Internet, so don’t publish a post in order to publish a post.

Some bloggers perform extremely well by publishing once every two weeks while others publish daily. It’s most important that you create engaging content that serves your audience.

Build an Email List

I can’t stress this enough, the money is in the list! You might have heard this statement before and it’s as true as it can get.

Building an email list basically means that you give your readers the option to subscribe to your newsletter. This is extremely powerful, because you can send information directly to your subscriber’s inboxes.

There are good posts on building lists out there, which cover everything you need to know. Personal branding expert Navid Moazzez has written an in-depth post on list building, as did Derek Halpern, the genius of Social Triggers.

I personally neglected my list for a long time, because I didn’t know better. The day I understood the value of having a big list, I started to build it.

Now you get the free Restart 101 when you sign up to my newsletter, which works as a solid lead magnet. In order to get signups, you need to give value to your subscribers.

My intention is to help people build businesses while being employed and my Restart 101 training is giving so much valuable information, that I got more signups than ever in January 2014!

4. Marketing Your Blog

How to start a successful blog also depends on how you market your content. You’re spending so much time creating it, it would suck if no visitors read it, right?

Promotion is everything in blogging! You probably need to spend more time promoting your content than writing it, to get traffic to your site.

Social media is an obvious way to share your content, but it’s more than that. Social networks turn into autonomous platforms to create generic content on that tells your story, not just for distribution.

You need to be present in social media, engage with your audience and talk about your knowledge. Of course you need to share your blog posts on social media, but do it in an exciting way. Create custom graphics, share background infos and read the #1 workbook for social media, if you really want to take your social media profiles to the next level.

Blog hopping is another popular way to get people to your blog and build new relationships with other bloggers and influencers. Leave thoughtful comments on the blogs of the most important people in your field and add value to the ongoing discussions. This won’t get you any link juice, but people will start noticing you if you comment on their blogs consistently.

Commenting on other blogs worked for me in the beginning, but unfortunately I didn’t make it a habit and it slipped out of my focus. It’s definitely important and one of the 12 habits I’m developing in 2014. I recommend that you create a list of blogs to follow and to comment on, that you can go through periodically. When I was starting out, I did this together with my friend Navid Moazzez, and now both of our blogs are grown more than we ever expected.

Well, I think now you got a first impression on how to start a successful blog. Most of the topics could be expanded easily, since there are lots of facts coming into play. But this guide will get you started and will help you to see results faster than most other bloggers!

If you have a friend who recently started a blog that doesn’t get traction, do him or her a favor and forward this tutorial. 

I’d also love to hear, how you started your blog. What were your experiences and successes?

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Jan,

    This an awesome post, probably one of your best ones to date!

    This will be so valuable for people who want to start a successful blog from the beginning, very good step by step guide!

    It’s so important to remember that it takes hard work, dedication, patience and a lot of passion for what you do and what you want to be considered an expert in to start a successful blog and build your personal brand online. But if you are consistent and keep pushing and moving forward all the time, you will see massive results over time.

    This year has started off great for both of us, always happy to collaborate on projects with you :)

    Keep up all the awesome work!

    Navid

    • Jan Koch says

      Hey Navid,
      thanks for your great feedback!

      My goal was to compile the only guide that aspiring bloggers need in order to set up a blog that can grow and support their lifestyle. You’re right that consistency and determination are incredibly important to build a profitable blog and to see long term results. That’s why I’m focusing on intrinsic motivation in my post, a blogger needs to be passionate about his topic, otherwise there will be no consistency over time.

      You’re rocking 2014 so far, I can’t wait to see your branding bootcamp in action!

      Cheers,
      Jan

  2. says

    Jan, it’s clear that the most successful blogs out there havent gotten this big just because of pure luck. Most of them have achieved their status because of the blueprint for success that you mention here as well.

    By the way, what did you find as being the best number of emails that should be send to the email list? 1 per week, 2 per week? more?

    • Jan Koch says

      Hey Chris,
      thanks for stopping by!

      I’m glad to see that you recognize principles of the most successful blogs in this blog post, it means that I was on the right track writing this ;-) It’s just like Navid said in the comment below, knowing the principles is important for the start, but then consistency and determination needs to come into play to keep the blog growing!

      To your question: I’m emailing my list not consistently. They receive an email when I’ve got something important to share, that may be a post of mine, a free webinar or other relevant information. I usually try to not email more than once a week. However, I don’t think there’s one magic number, it depends on your audience and on the value you’re sharing with your emails. Once or twice a week should be fine with most audiences I think.

      All the best,
      Jan

  3. says

    Great long post that lays down a basic plan for a beginner.

    Comments are some of the best ways to connect with other influencers and getting some attention to your brand.

    Thanks for the post and keep up the good work over here!

    - Sam

    • Jan Koch says

      Hey Sam,
      I’m glad you like the post!

      You’re right, leaving comments on the blogs of influencers is great to build connections. The next step would be to connect with them on social media with those influencers who know you from your comments.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Jan

  4. says

    Hi Jan,
    Great post! I’ll add one word of advice for those who are just starting their blogs. If you’re not 100% sure that you will stay in the same niche, you might want to avoid using your name for your domain name. It’s great for branding, but if you try to shift away from one niche and into another, it kind of confuses readers who have gotten use to coming to your site and expecting one thing, but then don’t understand when you start shifting to something else. In retrospect, I should have set my blog name up differently, but it’s kind of a live and learn thing so you just have to commit to the direction you want to go and hope that current readers stay along for the ride.

    • Jan Koch says

      Hey George,
      thank you for sharing your experience!

      I think having your name as domain isn’t a problem when you’re switching a niche, because you can explain your shift to your audience and maybe keep a few of your readers when publishing the new content. When you start with a new domain, you’d have to start all over – when you go with your name, you already have an audience.

      You’re right, that a shift will confuse your readers and that’s why the explaination has to be clear on every page of your website. I think blogging is about transparency and it will make you more accessible as a person when people see how you grew over time.

      What would you have changed your blog name when you could start from scratch again?

      Best regards,
      Jan

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