How to build and grow a blog. In 2018? Why would you want to?
Blogging is so passe these days, right?
It’s an old-school form of social media. It’s not where the action is anymore, right?
In reality, a blog is still one of the best platforms for building long-term authority and social media influence.
And unlike building a following on a platform like Facebook, you’re not at the whims of an algorithm change when Zuckerberg changes course.
It’s the reason why Gary Vaynerchuk social media strategy continues to include a blog despite using every other social media platform.
Yes, with a blog you will rely on SEO and of course, you need to play nicely with Google. But provided you don’t do anything unethical to manipulate the rankings you’re pretty much set for years.
And the good thing about blog content? It can be perennial in Google’s eyes meaning the older it gets the higher in the search rankings it will feature.
It’s not just about search traffic, however. Blogs are still important for a load of other reasons.
Why blogs are still important
A blog is the best online platform to make money from
Some bloggers are making millions each year, some make hundreds of thousands and a lot just make pocket change.
The point is, blogs can be profitable and many bloggers monetise their blogs using:
- Affiliate marketing
- Own products
- Brand deals
- Sponsored posts
- And more
And if you have a big blog you can build other platforms by directing your audience to follow you elsewhere too.
A blog is great for passive traffic
If you have a blog and you update it regularly with well-written content and information that people need you will be found in search engines.
SEO is a huge source of traffic to people who want to be found online and people are using search engines more each year.
You own the platform unlike a Facebook page or YouTube channel
You own your blog. It’s yours to keep, sell or do what you like with. No one can remove you from it or delete it because you said or did something wrong in the eyes of someone else.
A Facebook page can be taken from you at any time. So can a YouTube channel or Twitter handle.
With a blog, you own the URL and the content that’s on it. You can create multiple sources of traffic like search, social, email and direct, so if one fails (e.g. Google decides on an algorithm change) you have others to depend on.
Using other social networks to build influence comes with the risk of being de-platformed or de-monetized. If you own the platform no one can take it away from you.
This is not to say you shouldn’t use social platforms (you should!) but depending on them comes with risk.
A blog is still one of the best places – if not the best – to be an authority on a topic
If you write consistently good content about a topic – or topics – over time you’ll begin to build authority in that sphere. And rightly so, since writing articles week-in-week-out requires intelligence, experience, research and valuable time.
Who has any form of authority on Facebook these days? Chances are they have to pay for traffic to get eyeballs because organic reach is so low.
Who are the authorities on Twitter? The ones that are on there are not an authority based on what they do on Twitter, that’s for sure.
You can build authority on YouTube and a podcast but arguably a blog is better than them both. Besides, a blog can include audio and video too.
How to build an influential blog in 2018
If you want to build an influential blog that you own then you have to invest both time and money.
Very rarely do I pay other people to do anything related to this blog unless it’s technically out of my depth.
I prefer to do it myself even if it takes me longer than an expert because it’s a learning process and once you successfully tackle an issue it’s easier to fix the next time.
You need WordPress.org
WordPress powers a quarter of the internet. It’s the most popular CMS in the world. It’s also free.
A number of other blogging platforms are available to use but they don’t come close to WordPress.
You need the self-hosted WordPress.org not WordPress.com if you’re being serious about building an influential blog.
Good hosting is non-negotiable
Building an influential blog will mean that your traffic will grow too. Some bloggers have millions of visitors per month and while I wouldn’t expect too much in your first couple of years, you will need a good host who can accommodate you in your growth.
Over the years I’ve used a lot of different hosts and take it from me there is a huge difference between the cheap and the premium ones.
Don’t try and scrimp when picking a host. Go for the one that is not the cheapest but has good customer care, uptime, speed and can accommodate growth.
The best host I’ve used and continue to use so far is Siteground. They have different levels of service to choose from.
I have their premium shared service “GoGeek” which includes priority customer service which means I can live chat with their staff within minutes. They have great backend technology which ensures your site will run fast.
If you don’t want to look cheap buy a premium theme
I’ve seen countless so-called professionals using free WordPress themes and their site looks amateurish at best.
For a WordPress blog to look good you can either do two things.
1. Get a designer to create a completely bespoke design for you
This will cost you anywhere from $3k – $15k depending on who does it and what your requirements are. The design will be original and no one else will have it. It comes at a price however and if ever you need to make updates it could cost you more.
2. Buy a premium theme from a site like Themeforest
This will cost you around $50 for a high spec and feature-rich professional theme that is ‘off the shelf’ which means other people can buy it too. That’s why they are so cheap.
It’s optimised for search, social, video, mobile, advertising and speed. It’s constantly updated with new features by the theme’s developers and they’re always on hand if you have a query.
I paid $49 for it. If I were to ask a developer to create me a theme like this bespoke it would cost upwards of $20k easily, perhaps more.
That’s why I don’t understand people who are serious about raising their influence use a free and cheap looking theme. It pays to invest.
Use plugins to optimise your site
WordPress has a ton of useful plugins to download either for free or for a cost that can improve your site in any way you need.
I currently use 31 plugins on this site. That’s quite a lot but it’s what I need to ensure that it does what I want it to do.
Integrate with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn
If you want your content to spread on the various social networks and on Google then you have to ensure that your site plays nicely with each one.
- Use the Open Graph protocol so your content looks good when shared on the Facebook platform
- Verify your site with your Facebook page
- Set up Instant Articles
- Install the Facebook Pixel for tracking and, if you intend to, advertising on the Facebook platform
- Confirm your personal account with your publication so it has more validity in the eyes of Facebook
- Set up Google Analytics (connect AdSense and Adwords accounts)
- Claim your site with Google
- Connect to Google Console
- Set up AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
- Set up Open Graph to display cards when your content is shared on Twitter
- Set up the universal website tag code for Twitter advertising
- Verify your site with Pinterest
- Add Pinterest code to track analytics
- Set up ‘Rich Pins‘ to provide more metadata within the pins shared on your site
- Add LinkedIn Website Demographics tag to begin tracking LinkedIn users that have visited your site
Set up a CDN and caching system for a fast site
A CDN (Content Delivery Network) can increase the speed of your website by distributing the contents of it from multiple locations.
A cache allows you to serve a static version of your website to visitors which makes it much quicker and effective.
WordPress sites are increasingly becoming bloated to cater for all the new functions they are required to do. This can slow them down so using a CDN and cache can dramatically speed them up.
A good host (like Siteground that I use) will have CDN and caching options you can use. Some charge extra, some don’t. It depends on the host you go for.
It’s true, content is harder to get visibility these days because there is simply more of it and some of it is of high quality.
But it’s not impossible, just takes more time, effort and strategy.
Find a niche
We are in the era of the long tail these days. If you want your content to feature in search engines and to among a specific group of people you better niche up.
If you’re into fitness you better find something else you’re into and combine the two. Fitness and paleo for example.
Or if you’re into digital marketing you should find your own area of expertise because being a digital marketer means you’re one voice in the sea of digital marketers.
Having a niche, an edge, point of differentiation, or whatever you want to call it, is important in the social media age.
There are too many people saying the same thing as the next person. Regurgitating someone else’s words or copying someone else’s approach.
To gain influence in the social media age not only should you niche yourself but you also have to be yourself too because there is only one of you. And no one can compete with being you.
SEO is a great form of traffic. Once you’ve built up enough good articles you can reap the rewards of them via search for many years.
Creating an article that features well for SEO has some requirements;
- Keyword rich with search terms
- It’s written well
- Is 2,000 words long at least
- Makes use of internal and outbound links
SEO takes time to reap the rewards so you have to play a waiting game.
I try to take the mindset that any SEO type articles I write will take at least three or four months to start paying off.
I’ve seen bloggers who have written content for years and then suddenly stopped for six months and their traffic continues. It’s passive and requires little to no effort to maintain.
Viral content – or content shared on social media – will also allow you to grow your influence and expose you to a new audience.
Content optimised for social is usually different to content for search engines. That’s not to say either cannot help the other, however.
I’ve written an article specifically for search and it ended up doing well in social and vice versa.
To optimise an article for social it should have certain requirements
- Catchy headlines so people click
- It must have an emotional trigger: people feel compelled to share
- It must be something that people wouldn’t feel embarrassed to share
- Lists based posts do well in social
Again, unless you’re BuzzFeed, it’s difficult to tell how well an article will do in social. And of course, distribution matters too.It also depends on which platform you want the article to go viral. Facebook is the daddy in terms of driving traffic but it’s short-lived, so don’t discount sites like Pinterest which can send traffic from the same article for years.
Pinterest requires a different approach however because it’s a visual platform, therefore, the image that you’re sharing (and that links back to the site) must be appealing to users.
Personal development and professional articles do well on LinkedIn whereas a link to an article going viral on Twitter doesn’t really happen these days.
Point is, you should be looking to create all kinds of content for each platform if spreading yourself far and wide is your thing.
If your audience is suited to a specific platform then focus on going viral on that. For example, B2B audiences will likely be more suited to LinkedIn, Twitter and Google.
Consistency is key
Finally, you have to be patient especially at the beginning.
It takes time to become an authority in Google’s eyes and even longer to become an influencer in the eyes of others.
Consistency is key. It’s a grind. You’ll often hear of successful bloggers with millions of readers talk about the first six months of blogging when no one read them.
Over time you’ll begin to create a snowball of traffic from search, social, link referrals and from people who have memorised your URL and come back regularly to see what you’ve been up to. At this point you’ll be able to take your foot off the gas (not for too long) as your site is established.
Until then, however, the grind is real but building and growing an influential blog in 2018 onwards will pay dividends.