Blogs are not exactly big news, they’ve been with us for a while now, but they are one of the simplest types of websites to create and the easiest to maintain. Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes, focusing on every conceivable topic out there. Not all blogs are good, of course, but when blogging is approached the right way and well-executed, this can be a truly elegant way to do content marketing for just about anything you might have to promote or sell.

The thing is, you have to make a commitment to blogging if you want to succeed because there are a whole lot of blogs out there. How many? Well, according to highly respected uptime monitoring service Pingdom‘s findings, in 2011 there were 555 million websites around the world and out of these, 70 million were WordPress blogs. That means that well over 12% of sites online at the end of 2011 were not WordPress blogs. This doesn’t include any of the other types of blogs out there on sites like Blogger, Blog.com, TypePad, Tumblr or even the many blogs being run on a custom set up. So take it from us, there’s a ton of competition out there and if you’re serious about personal branding then you’ve got to blog the right way from the get-go. That’s what we want to talk about today.

Let’s Say You’re an Absolute Beginner at Blogging

In order to make sure everyone can get something from this article, I’m going to write with a focus on blogging newbies. That way, even if you are just starting out in the blogosphere, you can create something successful. If you’re already blogging then you should still be able to take away some great tips, but you may know some of the things I’m covering here.

That being said, the first thing you need to know about running a successful blog is that it is not going to be easy to reach the peaks of fame. Starting a blog is easy. Making posts is easy, but writing great content in your own voice? That’s a bit more work. You can get there, but as I said earlier it is going to take a real commitment. It’s also going to take courage on your part to face your fears and learn how to communicate in an open and authentic way just like the best bloggers do. Remember that you do not have to be famous or super talented in order to be interesting to other people. In fact, sometimes the more ‘normal’ or ‘average’ you are, the more people can relate to your life. Play to your strengths and when you notice what people are responding to, go with it.

For newbie bloggers, the best news is that you do not need to spend a fortune to be successful. Yes, this is a business. Yes, you will need to invest in order to see it flourish at some point. For right now, though, you can still enter the blogging world for free using a popular blogging platform and start publishing your own content.

Blog on Topic & Stay Focused on One Theme

This is absolutely essential to succeeding in blogging and it really cannot be emphasized enough: you must pick a topic and/or theme. We know it’s hard, but it has to be done. Out of those 70 million WordPress blogs mentioned earlier, we are betting that the vast majority of them are filled with random and infrequent posts on an assortment of topics that are probably not all that engaging. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people will come to your blog, read the About section first and study it to see what it’s about – they won’t. Instead, make your blog’s title show what it’s about and make sure every post reinforces the general theme and topic of your blog.
This is an excellent example of a tight focus for a blogger and it’s also something that is obviously quite personal to Noah’s Dad, Rick who does the blogging. Combining an area of passion with blogging is always a smart idea and Rick can pull from every day life experiences in order to come up with blogging content, too. This is probably why Rick’s blog has been cited by FOX News, Time.com and The Huffington Post.
Specifics are very important when blogging and you want to keep that in mind. The more broad your blog’s topic or theme is, the greater the risk that the visitors will not truly understand what you are going for. Starting a blog about owning a dog, for example, is not nearly as potent of an approach as starting a blog about owning a Rottweiler or Shi Tzu or any other specific breed. The more you focus, the easier it will be to convince your visitor that you have valuable content they are going to want to read and interact with. That means the greater the chance that you will succeed at building a loyal audience passionate about what you post. That’s the route to blogging success.

Try Harder Than Most: Stay Consistent, Go Deep

At first blush, this might sound a little rude, but it’s the truth. You do have to try harder than most bloggers are willing to if you want to stand out from the crowd. One of the psychological pitfalls that new bloggers fall into is congratulating themselves for even starting a blog and then for each time they make a post, regardless of its quality level. While it is definitely something good to do, plenty of people start blogs, make a few posts and then fizzle out later on. This is the Blogging Cycle of Doom that Jon Morrow brought to our attention.
Beat any impulses to procrastinate by laying out a scheduled plan you can stick to for the first several months of posting. Remember that it can take quite a while to get any measurable audience viewing, much less participating in, your blog. What you want to do is make sure you are ready for the down cycle and have a plan for handling the urge to avoid blogging. Write posts in advance and schedule them at regular intervals just as most blogging software allows you to do these days.
Be realistic, plan and then stay consistent in your execution. How often you post is not as important as the fact that you do so consistently and that what you post is quality content that fits with the topic or theme of your blog.
Another point I want to make is that you need to go deeper than the average blogger. In the same way Rick focuses not just on parenting, but on parenting a child with Downs Syndrome, you want to give yourself an extra edge by going further and being more specific. Learn what it is in your niche that people respond to, in terms of good content. Are they responding mostly to posts rich in scientific data and facts? Are they lavishing praise on simple, easy to understand guides to doing things? Know your niche as well as you can and find out what people are responding to. Find a good post and write an even better version of it.
In case you’re wondering why we advise going through this much effort for something as simple and freely distributed as a blog post, consider the fact that good blog posts today (such as the one on Rick’s aforementioned site) get quoted by the media.
This is the heart of it: create a resource with each post. Instead of simply quoting Wikipedia and some other blogs in your niche, watch a video and paraphrase the most salient information it offers, then cite it in your post. Or read a book and share what you learned from it, citing it. Go further and do your own experimentation. The bottom line here is that those who really push the envelope in blogging will be the ones who are still known names when those 70 million other blogs have faded into oblivion. That’s the crowd you want to be in. So don’t just skim the surface, dive deep.

Use Social Media to Expand Your Blog’s Reach

Anyone following Top Marketing Strategies for any length of time knows we have been getting more in tuned into social media, and that say’s a lot considering how much we have avoided it for years, so it should come as no surprise that we’re recommending you use social media platforms to expand the reach of your blog. You will still need good old fashioned SEO in the mix, but you need to be syndicating your blog’s content across sites like Facebook, Google+, Twitter and so forth. Don’t try to get involved in all of them at once, but pick one or two that you can stick with and master. This is very important for helping people discover your blog and it also gives them one more way to interact with you, the blogger.

The advantage that social media offers you is that right now it’s still free. It’s a great way to do content marketing and actually help people. When you really help people by providing content they enjoy or learn from, they are going to spread it. While it’s not the same as organic search traffic you get from quality SEO efforts, social media buzz can drive a significant number of visitors to your site in bursts. Some of those folks are likely to stay around for the long haul so don’t leave social media out of the equation. It’s one more essential you will need in order to build a serious audience you can profit from. Additionally the search engines want to see your content syndicated via social medium, this shows that your content is interesting, and liked and wanted.

Bring in Videos Because People Love ‘Em

It does not take a marketing genius to realize that people love a good online video. Sites like YouTube are immensely popular because they pack a lot of fun into a few minutes. They can do the same thing with information. We are not suggesting you load up your blog with tons of videos, you still need to focus on good quality hand written posts, but videos are a nice supplement if you can make decent ones. It is worth the effort to put in some time researching the best ways to create videos if you don’t mind being on camera or if you blog about a topic that lends itself well to being featured in videos. We have some great video marketing recommendations that can help you out.

Another option you have when it comes to getting videos on your site is curating. You might not want to make your own videos or even outsource them, but curating is not nearly as labor intensive. The idea is that you find relevant videos that make sense for the theme or topic of your blog and you post them, citing whomever made them. This is not typically expensive and still provides value for your visitors while not requiring quite so much work from you. This is another example of our ‘work smarter, not harder’ motto.

Keep Things Personal & ‘Real World’

Of the many bloggers out there today, a very small percentage are truly adept at being personal with their audience. This is especially true when we bring marketing into the picture. Here on TMS, we try to share portions of our lives with you so that you can see who we are and that we are, indeed, real people just like you. You need to be doing this, too, and even those who blog for a company should try to inject as much of the raw human element into their blog as possible. The goal here is not to show yourself off, but rather to let readers know that you are more like them than they might initially believe. Technology can distance us so really using it to be authentic when interacting with each other is more important than ever before.

One of the best ways to show authenticity is to share moments in your life via images. Clearly, sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr have found out that images interest people in a big way. You can harness that power yourself and all you really need is a digital camera or even the camera on your smartphone. Making sure your photos look good is a separate challenge we don’t have time to go into for this post, but there is a lot that can be done to improve less than spectacular photos using a site like Pic Monkey. It’s free and offers a wide range of tools designed to make your photos look more presentable or even artistic. Of course, Photoshop is another option if you have the money to spend on it.
So if you can’t take tons of photos relevant to your niche, then consider purchasing them from one of the web’s many outlets for licensed images. Keep your images on track with the topic of your post and give people a little eye candy. It goes a long way towards dressing up your site and helps people feel as if you’re going the extra mile. A word of caution here, though: don’t try to snag random pictures from a Google Image search. You’re bound to run into copyright issues and that could spell the end of your blog or at least cause you major grief. Stick to images you can purchase if you won’t be making your own.

Remember to connect your images and content with the ‘real world’, too, meaning the offline world. Bloggers so often forget this and it can really dampen their efforts to connect with readers. As into the web as most of us that do marketing online are, we often forget that most people spend the bulk of their day doing activities which do not involve the web. When you include more ‘real life’ stories and content, you can connect with them more easily.

Ways to Create Community: Google Hangouts or Forums

Most blogs will have comments allowed and we do recommend that you do this so people can leave feedback. Not all bloggers do this, but the majority do because it allows them to see how people are responding to their content. If you’re following the general tenants of this post then you also realize that you’ll have people interacting with your social media profiles, too. Still, if your topic or theme supports it and you have built up a decent following then you might want to go after setting up a forum. Software solutions like vBulletin can help you do this. It may take some looking around the find the best option to fit your needs, though.

While forums can be a very good way to keep your readers interacting with each other and establish a strong core audience who rallies around your blog, they are not for everyone. They do need to be closely monitored in order to avoid feuding and to help prevent trolling, but even with those downsides, for a lot of blogs they could be a powerful way to keep the ‘tribe’ strong and give them a way to stay engaged in your theme or topic until your next blog post comes out. Plus, if you have your own domain there are benefits to having forum content on it since the search engines often do find and index it which brings you more traffic over the long term if you do your SEO properly.

Google Hangouts are a similar way to get people socializing that may work for you and your readers. If you are already using Google+ to syndicate your content and get it out to a wider audience, then Hangouts are going to make sense for you. Hangouts operate differently than forums, though, because they are scheduled events where your readers will be chatting and, well, hanging out. Shure points out the importance of being reliable if you want to start using Hangouts to your blog’s advantage:

Podcasts or Apps Could Help You Expand Your Reach

Going beyond written content and images can be a smart idea for your blog. If you want to bring audio content into the mix, then consider a podcast as a relatively easy way to do this. This an area of content development where you can make things simple or take it up a notch or two – whatever makes sense for your topic, theme and personal style. Some people do read their blog posts into a microphone and simply syndicate it via a podcast. Or the smarter way to do it, is create an audio and then have it transcribed by someone else to create a blog posts from it. You will find you can create much faster by simply speaking, this is something we are doing now. This can work and is very easy to do, provided you are comfortable with speaking. However, if you want you can also outsource someone who is an excellent speaker and have them read your content. You might also consider doing interviews.

With interview oriented podcasts, you can get a lot of mileage because you are bringing in other experts on your topic. This means you do less talking and others help by providing you with content. You also are helping them by helping them reach out to your audience. If your audience is large enough, this can be an appealing offer for those with knowledge of your topic or theme. It will probably take time to reach an audience of size with any level of consistency, but by keeping at it you could develop quite a following for your podcast. Plus, podcasts can be archived and add that much more to your blog for people who come along later.

Apps are another potential way to expand the following of your blog and they can be a great way to reach those who are mobile on smartphones and yet do not like to browse the web using their phone. In an earlier post on creating apps, Troy went into detail on simple and very low cost ways to get the job done. You might consider doing this for your blog and making a great app that provides those who care about your topic or theme with even more value. Apps can spread in whole new ways and you can even syndicate your blog’s content through your app as well as show users of the app how to access your social media profiles, where to listen to your podcasts and more.

Both apps and podcasts are more ‘advanced’ than most newbies will be ready to tackle, but if you are in the early planning stages of your blog, it is a smart idea to keep these options on the table. When your blog takes off, you want to already have ideas you are ready to roll out and developing them alongside your blog is the smart way to approach this. After all, when done properly a truly useful and popular blog can easily become a full time income for you or at least a very significant form of revenue.

Yes, You Can Succeed at Blogging All By Yourself!

It will take time and consistent effort, but if you commit yourself and then follow through, it is very possible that blogging could be a path to success for you. Some of the top content marketing strategies being used today involve very heavy reliance on a blog – and that’s by large companies. However, you do not have to be a ‘big fish’ to swim in the depths of the blogosphere. If you follow this guide, you can grow and flourish with your blog and become an entrepreneur people are talking about. Jon Morrow is one example of this and so is Rick from Noah’s Dad. Stay focused and keep going even when it’s tough, that’s what you have to do.