The Definitive Guide to Starting a Blog (And Making Sure it’s Successful!)
Thinking about starting a blog? Great! For the past months I’ve been thinking about writing a tutorial capturing what I learned in My Lead System Pro (MLSP) about blogging. (MLSP is an online business education and marketing platform that, in my opinion, is the best on the planet). Then one of the Co-Founders wrote this Guide to Making Blogging both extremely simple and profitable. After reading the blog I was blown away at its comprehensiveness! I have a couple of great Blogging Courses I purchased but this blows them out of the water! So, I decided to publish James’s Blog because there was no way I could serve my audience any better. Here’s all the tips and tricks you will ever need to make Blogging profitable for you. The following is James Finale’s Blogging “How to” masterpiece!
You may be looking for a technical tutorial on how to buy hosting and a domain and get your blog setup. I’m going to touch on these steps briefly, but setting up a blog has become extremely easy these days. Especially when compared to even just a few years ago.
Many hosting providers offer a ‘one-click setup’ to get a WordPress blog up and running.
(Heck, here at MLSP we offer MLSP Sites, which is a one click blog setup providing you with thousands of dollars worth of premium themes and plugins.)
What I really want to cover here though are the 3 biggest mistakes that new (or even experienced) bloggers make when starting a blog. If you make these three mistakes during this startup process, it’s all for nothing. These go way beyond tips on starting a blog, these are flat out necessities. The technical side of it has become the easy part. THIS is where the magic happens.
I want to not only discuss these 3 mistakes here but also give you a roadmap on how to avoid them altogether. This will make your blog stand out from the masses and give your readers the best experience possible. More importantly, give them reasons to keep coming back.
NOTE: This is a massive article at over 10,000 words. It covers a TON of very important information. Because of this, we have made the 32 page PDF version of this article available for download!
Download the 32 page PDF ‘The Definitive Guide to Starting a Blog’
Use the links below to jump to specific sections of the post. NOTE: If you already have a blog setup, skip to ‘The 3 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Starting a Blog‘
- The Technical Side of Starting a Blog
- The 3 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Starting a Blog
- Defining Your Target Market
- Figuring Out Your Site Structure
- Basic Keyword Research
First let’s take a look at the technical steps of actually how to start a blog, getting it setup, and creating your home on the web.
The Technical Side of Starting a Blog
I’m going to break this down in to 5 simple steps that you can complete in probably 20 minutes. That way we can get to the important stuff.
- Choose a Blogging Platform
- Choose Your Hosting
- Choose Your Domain Name
- Install WordPress
- Themes, Plugins, Design & Writing
1. Choose a Blogging Platform
This one is easy. In my opinion you don’t really have a choice here. You are going to want to use WordPress when starting a blog, and you want to host it yourself. (Easier than you may think.) What is the difference between hosting it yourself and letting WordPress host it for you?
Let me clear this up. If you go to wordpress.com right now, you can create a blog for free and have it hosted at WordPress. The issue with this is that it SEVERELY limits you on what you can do. It limits which plugins you can use, which themes, and if you want to start getting to a professional level with them, you will either start paying for more advanced features through them or host your blog yourself.
Now, if you go to wordpress.org right now, you will see a button that says ‘download WordPress.’ Basically – in the old days, you would download WordPress and have to go through a bunch of technical steps to get it running on your own so that you have complete freedom. These days it can be done in one click without downloading anything. This is what we mean by a ‘self-hosted blog.’
So, step 1 here is easy – you want a self-hosted WordPress blog. Let’s figure out how to do that.
2. Choose a Hosting Provider
A hosting service provides you with server space to host our blog. It’s basically your blogs home, and as with any home, you get what you pay for.
There are a ton of choices when it comes to choosing a hosting provider. There are some super cheap options, some very expensive options and some options who specialize in hosting WordPress sites & blogs (if you are starting a blog with wordpress.)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Before we make some recommendations here, I need to point out that, if this is not the first article you took a look at before starting a blog, you may notice a lot of people promoting Bluehost as a great option for hosting. Now, while they aren’t necessarily the worst option out there, they are far from the best. (I have some sites personally hosted with Bluehost and I’m moving away from them as soon as I find the time to do so.)
The reason why you see them promoted so much is that they have the best affiliate payout among hosting providers. That means the people that promote them get paid whenever someone signs up from their recommendation. Hard to give an unbiased review when you get paid to promote a service…
Below are some suggestions for hosting your WordPress site. The first 3 typically provide ‘shared hosting’ services, meaning your blog will be sharing a server with many other sites. This is fine for beginner blogs and some small businesses that don’t expect a lot of traffic.
If you plan on relying on your blog for business, you probably won’t want to go for the cheapest option. Or you may want to look into a ‘managed hosting’ service like the last one we talk about here.
NOTE: All of these options provide one-click installs of the WordPress platform and are great for beginners. Keep in mind if you go for the cheapest plan, as you progress and build your blog, you will most likely need to upgrade your hosting with these companies or move elsewhere. All of them have professional level options.
Click Here to View Some Hosting Options
3. Choose a Domain Name
The next thing you’ll want to do when starting a blog is pick a domain name for your site. A domain name is the friendly naming system for giving addresses to web servers and web pages.
In simpler terms, it’s the name you type into your web browser to go to the websites you want. For instance, apple.com, or facebook.com.
Your domain name should be based on what your brand is online. So, if you are branding yourself, you’d use your name. If you have a business name, you’d want to use that.
Also, you want to try your best to get the .com version of your domain name (instead of, say, .net or info) as .com addresses have been around the longest. They are pretty much the default when people think of domain names.
For example, if my name was Jonathan Snow, and I was branding myself online, I’d try to get jonathansnow.com. If that wasn’t available, I’d have to get a little creative. Perhaps something like jonathansnowonline.com or jonathansnowlive.com. Or go with a different extension (like .net or .org) Notice I’m still trying to keep my name in the domain, as that is what I’m trying to brand online.
When purchasing a domain, typically you will be able to get one for free (at least for the first year) from your hosting provider when you purchase hosting for your site. After that, it’s usually only between $10 and $20 A YEAR for the domain.
If you aren’t purchasing hosting from anywhere and just need a domain (for example if you have a blog hosted with MLSP Sites or WordPress.com) then we recommend you go with Godaddy. You can get started with a domain through them for under $12 for the first year, then it’s $15 a year after that. The great thing about Godaddy is that they give you access to settings and customization that most places don’t let you touch without buying full hosting.
4. Install WordPress
Like I said above, the technical side of starting a blog has changed quite a bit. Gone are the days of having to download the WordPress platform, connect to a server via FTP, create a database, upload and connect everything… whew! Every host mentioned here provides a one-click install for WordPress.
For instance, to set up your WordPress powered site on Siteground, you simply access your cPanel (settings panel) and scroll down to find the Autoinstallers section. There, you just click on WordPress and their setup wizard takes you the rest of the way!
This is pretty much the same process for any major web host out there today, but if you have any questions about your specific host, the four mentioned here have amazing customer service and they can (and would be happy to) help you get it all taken care of!
DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO STARTING A BLOGDownload the free 32 page PDF today and avoid the 3 most critical mistakes most bloggers make!
5. Themes, Plugins, Design & Writing
So you’ve got a blogging platform, a host, a domain and you are ready to rock! Now it’s time to let the creative side of you shine!
One of the many reasons why WordPress is the best platform for you to choose from is the extendability of it. You literally have thousands and thousands of developers working on creating plugins and themes for WordPress so you can accomplish everything you want on your site with very little effort! You do this by choosing a great theme and installing some powerful plugins.
Themes – The first thing you are going to want to do is pick out a theme. I HIGHLY recommend you go with a premium theme. These average around $50 each and are typically either a one time fee or you pay annually for ongoing support. The reason why you’d go premium (rather than a free theme) is that they are usually always being worked on & improved, and always have some form of support.
Plugins – WordPress plugins add functionality to your blog. For instance, you can have a plugin that adds ‘social share’ buttons to your blog, one that allows you to add popup forms, ones that add tracking and so much more.
The WordPress plugin repository right now has over 49,000 plugins to choose from! BE CAREFUL THOUGH! Poorly coded plugins are the number 3 reason behind WordPress websites getting hacked (number 1 is actually having a cheap and vulnerable web host… hint hint). If you are choosing to go with free plugins, make sure they have great reviews, are updated consistently and are used on a very high number of blogs.
For instance, Akismet (which is an anti-spam plugin) is installed on over 3 million blogs, has 5 stars with great reviews, an active support forum and was just recently updated. (This is a great plugin!)
There are literally thousands of options when it comes to WordPress Themes and Plugins. I’m going to recommend a few here, but in the end, you need to make the decisions on what to use based on what YOUR blog is meant to accomplish.
Here at MLSP, we highly recommend the Genesis Framework. It’s basically a two part system. You have the main framework that handles all of the functionality, and then you choose a ‘child theme’ that handles all of the design.
This makes is super easy to change themes, edit styles and redesign your site without ever having to change (and potentially mess up) the functionality because you never have to touch the overall framework. On top of that, there are so many child themes to choose from, you can start with one that needs minimal changes to fit your needs.
Genesis is one of the most well-known and highly recommended WordPress theme companies in the world. It is expertly coded, super lightweight (fast), secure, reliable and highly extendable.
This blog you are on right now uses the Genesis Framework
If you want to go with something a bit more advanced that comes with a drag-and-drop page builder, then Divi is a good option. It’s developed by Elegant Themes and has almost a cult like following. I’ve seen some beautiful sites built on Divi. (I’ve also seen some pretty rough ones. Just because you can do so much with Divi, doesn’t mean you should. Remember, keep the end user experience in mind! Do you really need 18 moving objects on your sidebar?)
IMPORTANT TIP: Divi uses something called ‘shortcodes’ in order to achieve its page building functionality. They are specific to their theme. This means that if you decide to use Divi, and you use their page builder on all of your pages and posts, you are pretty much locked into using their theme. It will be VERY difficult and time consuming to change themes. Is that a terrible thing? No, Divi doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. But it’s something to be aware of when starting a blog.
If none of these fit the bill for you, you can always take a look at themeforest.net. It’s one of the most popular WordPress theme repositories around. Again though, just like the WordPress plugins, make sure to do your due diligence before you purchase your theme. Check the reviews, look at support, see how active the community is around it. (Poorly coded themes are actually the number 2 reason sites get hacked!)
With so many options available, it’s nearly impossible to recommend a plugin for every possible feature you’d want on your blog. I’m going to cover the basic necessities here.
The most important thing to remember when looking for plugins is:
- Make sure they are secure and well maintained!
- Plugins cause bloat and can quickly slow down your site. Is it something you truly need?
- If you have a plugin that you aren’t using or doesn’t provide value to you or your target market, get rid of it!
I’ll split these up into the functionality you are trying to gain from the plugin.
Building Your Mailing List
If building your mailing list through your blog is a top priority, then I highly recommend that this is an area where you shell out a little money for a premium plugin. They may cost, but the return on investment will be well worth it. In this field, there are 2 huge players. Optinmonster and Sumo.
Use the coupon code MLSP10 when checking out and get 10% off of your first order!
Both of these plugins offer some amazing features. Popup forms, Exit intent forms (these pop up when the reader goes to leave your site), widgets and more.
What really makes these plugins powerful though are the targeting capabilities. Remember, congruency is key when you are trying to get someone’s email address. You can show different forms based on the content the reader is consuming, where they came from, if they’ve been to your blog before, and more. There are so many options and it’s so easy to use that within just a short period of time, you could be using your blog to collect emails like a seasoned pro.
NOTE: If you choose to go with Divi, then you will also have access to their list building plugin called Bloom. It’s missing some of the features that I feel are super important (being able to redirect the user after they opt in for one) but it’s still a great plugin.
Social Sharing & Following
Another action you want your readers to take is to share your content and potentially find and follow you on your social media accounts. There are a ton of plugins out there that can help you with that.
If you use Genesis, they have some of the easiest plugins you can add that are specific to their framework. Genesis Simple Share puts share buttons on your posts in just a couple of clicks. Simple Social Icons allows you to put links to your social media accounts on your blog with really nice looking icons very quickly. These are both super simple and super lightweight.
If you are using Divi, you also have access to their sharing/following plugin Monarch. Monarch allows you to do the same things Simple Share and Simple Social Icons does, but you have a lot more options. They also allow you to connect to your social media accounts via API so that you can show people how many followers you have already. (Very cool if you have a pretty large audience). While they have some great training to set this plugin up, There is some technical setup, just be forewarned.
Again, there are a ton of plugins that will get you this functionality. Just keep the plugin do’s & don’ts in mind when choosing one.
Comment spam is one of the biggest headaches for blog owners. While there is no way to 100% stop comment spam, there are some plugins that do an amazing job that keep you from having to worry about it.
Akismet is a plugin from Automatic (the wordpress guys). It is one of the most popular plugins for WordPress, and for good reason. There is a free option, but if you want to donate a little bit, they’d be happy to take your money.
WP SpamShield is another great option. This plugin is extremely simple to use. Just install it and activate it and you’re good to go!
WordPress sites get hacked all the time. With WordPress running over 25% of the websites online today, it’s a huge target. While there is no way to completely lockdown your site, there are definitely steps you can take to harden your site, and a great security plugin can go a long way.
Wordfence is my personal favorite here. They have a free option, but again if your blog is a big part of your business, it may be worth putting some money down to get the premium version. It has a great firewall, is updated continuously as new threats emerge, scans your site daily for malware, has login security, brute force lockdowns and more. I can’t recommend these guys enough.
Another great option is Sucuri. They too have a free and premium option. They are a bit more expensive than Wordfence, but they are a very popular and reputable option when it comes to site security.
Other Must Have Plugins
Jetpack: I am a huge fan of this plugin suite. It’s really like 40 plugins in one. You activate it and just turn on the modules you want to use. They have social sharing, widget visibility (we’ll talk more about this), more widgets, shortcode embeds, database backups – I can’t list them all here. It requires a free WordPress.com account, but it’s well worth the time it takes to get this plugin setup.
SEO: Yoast SEO – this is the industry standard when it comes to getting your blog optimized for search engines.
Tracking: If you are building a blog, you should be tracking who’s coming to your blog. Google Analytics is the best way to do this. There are a lot of options out there. There are free and premium options here like Google Analytics+, MonsterInsights and Google Analytics Dashboard. Find the one you like best!
As you build your blog, plugins will come and go. Remember, only install what you absolutely need in order to keep your blog running quickly and smoothly!
(NOTE that if you are an MLSP Sites user, we have either provided access to all of these plugins & themes or taken care of their functionality for you!)
This pretty much takes care of the technical side of setting up your blog.
Now let’s get in to the important stuff! The next part of this article can make or break your blog. These blogging tips can make the difference between a successful blog, and a blog nobody every sees! Let’s get started…
The 3 most common mistakes people make when starting a blog:
Look, starting a blog is a crucial part of any business, especially when you are practicing Attraction Marketing. It gives you a hub, or a home base to add value to your target market, build a brand, and build an audience.
While there are a ton of tutorials out on how to physically get a blog up and running, the topics covered here are largely overlooked as a whole, which causes all sorts for issues in the long run.
You see, because it has gotten so easy to set up a blog and start writing, MOST people don’t put any thought in to WHY they are blogging, or WHO they are blogging for! THIS is where this information will be priceless for you.
These are the 3 most common mistakes people make when starting a blog:
- Not Defining Your Target Market
- Not Figuring Out Your Site Structure
- Not Doing Basic Keyword Research
Throughout this post you will see snippets from some training I did at a recent MLSP VIP Workshop. (I smuggled the video out… shhh) I encourage you to watch those if you want to go deeper in to what we are covering here.
NOTE: This article assumes that you are (or will be) using WordPress as your blogging platform. The screenshots, videos, and walkthroughs covered here are around the WordPress platform, which we can not recommend enough.
If I were to breakdown this process in to it’s simplest form, it would be this: Figure out who you want to server, and then figure out how you can serve them. Once you do this, everything else falls in line. Before you begin any type of content creation, marketing, or monetization strategy, you have to know who you are talking to!
If you come from a place of service to your community & target market, then every piece of content you create will naturally be created out of a need to help that community. Your content will be created in order to solve your target market’s biggest challenges, concerns and problems.
A lot of people getting started don’t define their target market at all, and when you visit the blog of this type of person, you will notice isntantly. Blog posts are all over the place, covering a range of topics that don’t relate to one another and clearly were not created based on a need to help a specific group of people.
Let’s say you decide that your target market is people who love camping, and you want to be able to help them get the best gear for cheap, find the best camp sites, travel the country and experience the lifestyle of a ‘digital nomad,’ and you are able to monetize this buiseness through affiliate marketing. Now let’s imagine that you get a member of this target market to visit your blog, and the very first article they see is about why your local steakhouse serves the best ribeye. Hmm… do you think that reader is going to stick around when they came to your site for camping tips? Probably not. Do you think they’ll ever come back?
This is probably an extreme example, but you’d be surprised… and this is what we want to avoid. In order to avoid this, you need to become very clear about who your target market is. The first step in figuring this out is to answer the following questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you stand for?
- Who do you serve?
- How can you server them?
The first two questions up there are extremely important. You need to figure out what you are passionate about. What’s life all about for you? What do you like to talk about? What are your values? What’s important to you? If you don’t base your blog around something you are passionate about, you will lose interest quickly.
Once you pinpoint who your target market is, then it’s time to figure out what their biggest challenges, concerns, and problems are. What do they REALLY want?
There are some great resources that you can tap in to to start diving in to your target market’s biggest questions and concerts. You want to do some research here and make sure that you KNOW this information, and you are not just assuming you know it. Here are some great options:
- Social Media – Use Facebook and Twitter and look at hashtags that may be associated with your market. What are they talking about? What words are they using? What questions are they using? Are there any Facebook groups based around your target market that you can join?
- Reddit – Reddit is an online community that provides ‘sub-reddits’ or small communities of specific interests. There is a sub-reddit for pretty much every topic. Find your relevant community on there and join the discussion!
- Question & Answer sites – Question and answer sites like Quora, or Yahoo Answers can give you great insite in to the actual questions your target market it asking when searching in Google (or any search engine) – Find out from their mouths (or fingers..) what their most pressing questions are
- AnswerThePublic.com – This is an awesome resource that provides you with questions that your target market is asking in Google and Bing. This is such a great service that, while it’s free now, it probably won’t be soon. It even allows you to export the information they give you in a very nice visual data sheet!
These are just some examples, but bottom line is: Find out where your target market hangs out online, and join the conversation!
You should also think about who else is in the space. Who is the ‘top dog’ so to speak. If YOU wanted to find out these answers where would you go? Find out how THEY are serving the market (and maybe find out how you can do it better).
Let me start here by saying that a site structure is really just how you are going to organize the content on your blog.
A site structure for your blog is extremely important, not only for the search engines (SEO) but also for the user experience. It should be one of the first steps you take when starting a blog.
In my mind, there is nothing more important for any blog than providing a great user experience. So much so, that some SEO pros are now starting to replace ‘Search Engine Optimization’ to ‘Search EXPERIENCE Optimization’ because of the factors that Google uses to rank websites these days.
When we talk about site structure, we are talking about the way your content is organized.
Your site is only as good as the experience it gives users.
From categories, to tags, to pages and posts – everything should be created and organized with PURPOSE, and to provide VALUE to your target market. (Save the ‘what I ate for breakfast this morning’ post for twitter).
Why is a site structure important?
1. It Helps Google: A good site structure will give google clues as to what your site is about, what the most important content is, and how to find it. Good site structure can easily lead to higher ranking in the search engines because it makes it easier for the search engines to understand why your site is important, and who it will benefit.
2. It Helps Your Readers: A good site structure makes it easy for PEOPLE to find the content on your site that they WANT. If you give your target market and readers a great user experience, and your content provides answers to their questions, concerns, problems or fears, you will build a raving fan base just waiting to consume more of your awesome content.
3. It Helps With Congruency: A good site structure will keep you focused on the task at hand. You will know what you need to write about, you will know what your target market needs, and you will never find yourself writing content that doesn’t belong on yoru blog.
A side effect of this is that it makes it very easy to target your audience with relevant offers and content upgrades based on the content they are reading (for instance based on what category they are checking out, or what page or post). Super congruent offers = Higher conversions.
Remember, attracting new readers largely depends on whether people can find the content they want on your site. If they can’t, that back button gets pushed before they read past your first paragraph. When starting a blog, new readers are your lifeblood. Heck, for established blogs new readers are the lifeblood.
Let me give you a real world example of what you want to avoid.
This blog you are on right now was created 8 years ago. This was a time before Facebook was what it is today in terms of creating communities.
We used our blog mainly as a way to keep the members of our MSLP community informed on what was going on, any software updates, success stories, upcoming trainings and webinars, and not so much about creating value for our target market. Any little update we could write about, we did.
This blog WAS our community hub. Shortly after we started our Facebook community (which is insanely active and valuable) we realized that our blog had fallen in to a sad state of affairs where there was no reason for anyone to visit it. There was not real value add to our target market!
Here is the scenario you want to avoid! You end up with a log of blog categories because you didn’t put any time or thought in to them before you started, or they were just created on the fly as you wrote. You end up with ‘category bloat’ and your niche blog goes completely off track. You then turn to tags and sub-cateogries to try to bring order, and you just go further and further down the rabbit hole.
The end game? We had to go through a full content audit and remove about 75% of our content from this blog! That’s nearly 800 blog posts!
How to Achieve The Ideal Site Structure
There are a few factors that go in to creating the ideal site structure, but remember, the key here is to make it easy for your readers (and google) to find your most important and best content.
Below is a snippet of a presentation I did at the latest MLSP VIP Workshop covering the importance of site structure (Note: MLSP members, you can find the full video in your members area)
The best way to do this is to organize your site in a ‘tree-like’ structure (or ‘pyramid’ structure. With your Homepage on top, followed by your individual pages, categories and cornerstone content (pillar posts), followed by sub-categories (if needed) and tags, and then finally at the bottom tens to hundreds to eventually maybe thousands of blog posts.
An extremely effective way to make sure your readers find the most related and BEST content is to GUIDE THEM THERE! Crazy huh? You want to link from posts at the bottom of your tree up to the posts/pages at the top of your tree – remember, this is where your pillar posts are! (We’ll talk about pillar posts a little later)
Moz’s article on internal links talks about three reasons why internal links are important:
- They allow users to navigate a website.
- They help establish information hierarchy for the given website.
- They help spread link juice (ranking power) around websites.
With all of your posts and ‘sub-pages’ linking up to, say, your main piece of content (or pillar post) in that category, it will not only make it easier for the search engines to determine what your most important posts on a topic are, but it will also drive your readers to find that content – and THOSE pillar posts are where you make fans for life, because they provide immense value that answers your target market’s most pressing questions & concerns.
MLSP PRO TIP
There are a few things you can do when starting a blog to instantly add some internal and relevant linking to your blog. NOTE: These tips will ONLY work if you have a good site structure.
- Add Breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs give visitors a hierarchical representation of where they are on the site. There are many plugins that will put breadcrumbs on your site, but my personal favorite is to just use the breadcrumb functionality provided by Yoast SEO. (The industry standard SEO plugin for WordPress that, if you are not using yet, you should get installed on your site) Based on the theme you choose to use, just simply turning them on puts them on your blog. For example, Genesis (the main framework we use on MLSP Sites, and the most popular theme framework for WordPress) automatically integrates Yoasts’ breadcrumbs on your site when you turn them on!
- Add a Related Content Plugin – A related content plugin will show links to related content on your blog based on what the reader is reading. This is covered a little bit later when we talk about taking advantage of a good site structure. The only downside is that, typically, with these plugins you can’t manually decide which related content to show. This is why manual internal linking is still very important. (Note: Not all related posts plugins are created equal. In fact some take such a huge toll on your server that they are banned from hosts like WP Engine. We recommend using the Jetpack Plugin which comes with a related posts module – Jetpack does the heavy lifting on their servers rather than yours)
NOTE: While these are great options to quickly get some internal links when starting a blog, nothing will beat manually linking to content in your blog yourself. You know what is the most relevant content to your reader, and you should take advantage of this and link deep in to your blog whenever possible, as well as to corresponding pillar posts!
Keep Your Blog Balanced
When you are creating content for your blog (remember, this is after you’ve already decided on your categories) you want to make sure that you keep your content well-balanced throughout your blog.
If you find that you are writing every post on one specific category, maybe you need to split them up in the multiple categories? If you have categories you’ve never written in, do you really need them? Do they answer a questions your target market needs? If not, get rid of them, if they do, bite the bullet and get some great content in there. This helps maintain an accurate reflection of what your site is about to both Google and your readers.
Basic Keyword Research
We’ll talk more about keyword research later, but need to touch on it here because it all ties in to your site structure.
Keyword research is a practice search engine optimization (SEO) professionals use to find and research actual search terms that people enter into search engines. Search engine optimization professionals research keywords, which they use to achieve better rankings in search engines. (definition provided by Wikipedia)
To put that definition in even more layman’s terms, you want to make sure that you are using the language that YOUR target market is using. It’s important that the words you are using in your structure (and even in your blog content) matches what your target market is actually searching for! Proper keyword research will help you find out what search terms are used by your audience when they are actually searching for an answer to their problem.
We are going to go a bit deeper in to Keyword Research below, but I wanted to touch on it here because it is an important step in setting up your site structure below.
(I’ll even show you an example of how, back in the day, we failed to do keyword research and just by naming one category wrong, we missed out on over 26,000 searches a month. Just by using the wrong language!)
DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO STARTING A BLOGDownload the free 32 page PDF today and avoid the 3 most critical mistakes most bloggers make!
WordPress Categories and Tags
Below is a snippet of a presentation I did at the latest MLSP VIP Workshop giving a quick walkthrough of categories & tags in WordPress (Note: MLSP members, you can find the full video in your members area)
One of the most common topics we get asked about when someone is starting a blog has to do with categories and tags. How many categories should I have? How many tags? Are tags the same as categories? Are they the same as meta keywords? Let’s chat a little bit about the importance and the function of these 2 features of wordpress.
Bottom line: Categories and tags exist for you to be able to ORGANIZE your content in a meaningful way that will allow your blog to make more sense to both your reader AND Google. If you keep that definition in mind while creating them, you are going down the right path!
What Are Categories
Categories are used to create large groups of content within your site. They bundle content together that has a similar HIGH LEVEL topic.
If you think of your blog as a book, categories are your table of contents, and tags are your index. I love this analogy!
A major difference between categories and tags is that categories are ‘hierarchal’ – that’s a fancy way of saying they can have subcategories to bundle small groups of content, where tags are not. The ability to create subcategories should really only be thought of as a way to make it easier for your reader to find the content they are most interested in.
By creating categories and subcategories you end up creating that ‘tree-like’ structure that we discussed above, and with a little bit of keyword research, the names of your categories should be based around what your readers are searching for! When starting a blog, you want to figure all of this out BEFORE you start creating content!
What Are Tags
As we said before, if categories are your table of contents, tags are your index. You can use tags to ‘micro-categorize’ your content.
For example, say I had a blog that taught people how to market online and had categories like Social Media Marketing, Blogging, Copywriting, etc.
Now lets say I wrote some posts under Social Media Marketing about marketing on Facebook, I could tag that post with something like Facebook Marketing. Then, whenever I wrote a post (regardless of what category it was in) that had to do with Facebook Marketing, I would use that tag. I now have a group of content that has to do with Facebook Marketing that my readers can easily find.
I CAN NOT STRESS THIS NEXT POINT ENOUGH: TAGS ARE NOT META KEYWORDS!
We see this all the time. We read through a really nice blog post and then we get to the end and there are 100 tags at the bottom of the post and only vary by maybe a word, or a space, or a plural word.
This is typically done because the author thinks that this helps with ranking on Google. It doesn’t. At least, not when doing it that way. Tags are great for using your most popular keywords to group related content. But, let’s say you are writing posts that have to do with how to use hashtags. Don’t use #, hashtag, hash-tag, hash tag, hashtags as individual tags – that does nothing to help you organize your content, which is the sole purpose of tags. Just pick one and stay consistent.
Bottom line here – don’t use tags as a way to ‘keyword stuff’ your posts like people used to do in the old days. It simply doesn’t work like that.
Take Advantage of a Great Site Structure
Below is another snippet from the MSLP Workshop where I cover the benefits of congruency that having a great site structure has.
Particularly, some of the most powerful ways to take advantage of the awesome job you just did on your site structure is through utilizing internal search, related content, and targeted offers & lead magnets.
Make your Internal Site Search More Reliable
With wordpress, having a search bar on your site is as easy as dragging the “Search” widget to your sidebar.
Having internal search is important for many reasons, but at the top of that list is making it easier for your readers to find the content they want! Remember, it’s all about the readers. If you don’t have any readers, you aren’t blogging, you’re journaling… in a locked diary.
MLSP PRO TIP
If you are using Google Analytics on your blog (which you should be… everyone should be) you can activate Site Search, which will track the search activity on your website! You can actually see WHAT YOUR TARGET MARKET IS LOOKING FOR when they are on your blog.
- Sign in to your Google Analytics Account
- Click on Admin and navigate to the view that you want to se up site search on
- Click on View Settings -> Under Site Search Tracking, set it to ON
- Finally, in the Query Parameter Field, because you are using wordpress, you want to put “s” (without the quotes)
Make Related Content Work FOR You
Related content plugins are great as they do a lot of heavy lifting for you in regards to linking to/showing related posts to your readers. Typically this is done toward the bottom of the post, as seen in this image.
This is created by the Jetpack plugins’ Related Posts module (Jetpack is like 40 plugins in one and created by the team behind WordPress. It’s awesome) – It heavily relies on not only clean and well written content, but also your categories and tags to display the most relevant content to your readers. If your structure and content is all over the place, who knows what they’ll see!?
Easily Target Your Readers with Congruent Offers
This one is a killer. A solid site structure let’s you use your categories and tags to target your readers with HIGHLY congruent offers, lead magnets and optins. How? Well there are many ways.
There are a ton of great premium plugins out there that allow you to show optin forms based on what category the user is in, what tag they are looking at, and more. Optinmonster and SumoMe are two of the best out there when it comes to this.
A super simple way to do it is by using the Jetpack Widget Visibility module. Activating that module gives you options on all of your widgets to show or hide them based on tag, category, page, author and more.
SO, if you have a content upgrade that is perfect for people interested in Facebook Marketing, and a different one thats great for people interested in Snapchat, you can EASILY show your Facebook offer to those browsing articles related to Facebook, and the same for Snapchat. The possibilities are endless here, but one thing I can guarantee you, the more congruent, the higher the conversion.
Note: We have a great tutorial on the Widget Visibility module over on the MLSP Sites blog.
Wrapping up: Steps to Setting Up Your Site Structure
Here are the steps you can follow today when starting your blog to get off on the right track. Or, if you already have a blog, maybe it’s needs some rearranging or cleaning up? (Note: If you are deciding to change things around, make sure you don’t break any links on your blog. If you are removing posts, try to redirect the old link to another piece of relevant content on your blog rather than just leaving a broken link)
- Create an Overview of your Pages Create an overview of the different parts of your blog – list the pages you will have, list the categories and topics you are going to cover. The category names and the overall flow of your site should be clear to EVERYONE – not just you! It needs to make sense to the reader, or else they’ll leave and most likely never come back
- Organize your content like a tree, or a pyramid On the top of your pyramid is your homepage. Beneath that are some category pages or some pillar posts, under that maybe some sub-categories, and then dozens, if not hundreds, of blog posts that create value for your target market. Take advantage of this organization by linking between your articles, and especially linking up to the ‘head’ or top of your pyramid to your pillar posts!
- Name your categories/sections and tags (Using keyword research!)You want to make sure you do some keyword research before coming up with the names for your categories and tags! Pick the right names for your categories and you will be in prime position to never veer off track with your content. Use this same technique when coming up with post titles and content as well! Remember to put yourself it the shoes of your target market. What are they searching for? What words are they using?
Following these steps will get your blog off to a great start. Creating a super congruent and easy-to-understand site structure is so very often forgotten or ignored today that just putting in some time to get this right can easily set your blog apart from others.
Now, let’s talk a bit about basic keyword research.
Basic Keyword Research
You may or may not have noticed that in the line above, the word BASIC is highlighted. That’s what we are going over here – BASIC keyword research.
Keyword research is just something you can’t avoid when starting a blog, and it’s a continuous game that you will be playing throughout your writing. Not only does it keep you focused on creating the content that you know your target market wants, but it helps you speak the same language!
DISCLAIMER: Keyword Research is a HUGE part of SEO. People get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for SEO services – and they do this because it’s not easy. The amount of data you can scrape these days about search tendencies, backlinks, competition, ranking, shares – is staggering. We are going to discuss why keyword research is important, and show you some free tools to get you on your way. Later I’ll mention some more advanced tools you can use if you really want to go down that rabbit hole… careful though, it’s got teeth.
SEO has changed so much recently, a lot of it due to the search engines just getting insanely smart, but also to the advent of social media. Social media has changed the game in not only the way people consume content, but also how the share it, and how traffic is generated.
I love Gary Vaynerchuk’s quote from his new book:
It just goes without saying that if you’re in business, you’ve got a blog. If you’re putting out content on social networks, you’re blogging. Bloggers used to have to use SEO to get people to comet to their blogs, but now they can simply bring their content straight to their readers. It’s a huge improvement over talking to yourself and hoping that you can get someone to come along and pay attention.
Basically, there are so many ways these days to get your valuable content in front of your target markets’ eyes. Through social media, social media ads, much more powerful email options. There are a ton of ways to drive traffic to your blog.
With that said, I firmly believe that at least some form of keyword research is a requirement when both starting a blog, and just as important, when creating content.
And this isn’t just blog content. This is ANY content – videos, Facebook lives, tweets, instagram photos – Keyword research should play a part in everything so you can be SURE you are speaking the same language as your target market.
DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO STARTING A BLOGDownload the free 32 page PDF today and avoid the 3 most critical mistakes most bloggers make!
Why Do At Least BASIC Keyword Research?
- Your goal when conducting keyword research is to identify the topics that matter the most to your target audiences, and then discover the exact language they use when they search for answers or solutions to their biggest problems, concerns, fears, and questions.
- Keyword Research will also give you the ability to craft headlines and topics that you KNOW your target market will click through when they see it. While click through rate is a big factor in ranking, this also plays a HUGE roll in links on social media, or email subjects.
- It tells you the exact language that your audience uses when they describe their biggest desires and challenges in your niche or industry
KEEP THIS IN MIND. YOU COULD DO THE MOST AMAZING KEYWORD RESEARCH IN THE WORLD – But if your content is not good – IT WON’T MATTER.
SEO has evolved way beyond stuffing some keywords in to a post and writing some text around it. You have to understand your target market and provide unbelievable value to them, and for that, content is and always will be king.
The Keyword Research Terms
In order to understand the different levels of keywords, lets take a look at this illustration and lay out some terms.
Keywords (or Key phrases) can be broken down into three categories. The Head, the Middle (or mid-tail) and the Long Tail keyword.
Head Keywords – This is a keyword that’s searched a ton, and is extremely hard to rank for – though, at this point, I’m not really sure why you’d want to try. For example, this would be like someone going to Google and just typing in ‘Apple.’ You have no idea as to the intent of the person who searched that! The fruit? The company? Some Norwegian band you haven’t heard of? (Of course not, but you get the idea… although there may be. Hang on. Wow, Apple were a British psychedelic rock band from Britain in 1968 – they have a wikipedia page, so someone may be searching for them…) But, if they type in ‘Apple iPhone 7 Cases,’ you know exactly what they are looking for (that is an example of a long-tail keyword, which we’ll cover in a minute)
Middle or Mid-Tail Keywords – Now we are getting somewhere. These are 2 to 3 word phrases that, if using the example above, would look something like ‘Apple iPhone.’ These are somewhat more difficult to rank for, but it is possible depending on your content (how good it is) and your strategy (how deep are you willing to go?) – A great use for Middle or Long Tail keywords though WOULD be for your categories, tags, and pillar posts.
Long Tail Keywords – This is where the magic happens. Long tail keywords are more specific, less competitive and less popular. This makes them much easier to rank for. Also, as a side effect, they have a much higher rate of conversion if someone googles a long tail keyword and lands on your site… that is, IF IT’S CONGRUENT. When starting a blog, you should be placing most of your attention here.
Basically, long tail keywords are those four, five, six (or even longer these days) keyword phrases which are very very specific to a question or problem your target market has. And believe it or not, they make up 70% of all searches today!
Think about it – when you go to Google to search for ‘ how to start a blog,’ what do you type in the search box? Blogging? Probably not. Users have become accustomed to being able to type in a specific problem or question into the search box and get an immediate answer. They are doing long tail searches, which is why you should be thinking about optimizing your posts (headlines, content, etc) so you are speaking to their need!
There are many reasons why you should be focusing on long tail keywords, especially when just starting a blog.
- Less Competition – There is less competition for long-tail terms like ‘how to start a blog with wordpress’ than there is for a head term like ‘blogging.’
- More Relevant Traffic – With that in mind, it also gets more specific on the user intent. The new SEO requires caring about your users and solving their problems. This is why smart long tail keyword use helps you with search engine results. Again, going back to the example above, if someone googled ‘apple,’ we don’t know what they are really searching for (maybe that 1968 psychedelic rock band?). But if they search for ‘apple iPhone 7 cases black’ – we know exactly what they are looking for.
- Potentially More Valuable – If a user that searches for a term like’apple iPhone 7 cases black,’ they are much further in to the buying cycle and much more likely to be ready to buy whatever product or service comes up.
Below is another snippet from the MSLP Workshop where I cover the basics of keyword research and some tools that can help you along the way.
Free Keyword Research Tools
If you are looking to start doing keyword research, the first thing I would do is install Keywords Everywhere.
Keywords Everywhere is a free browser extension that you can add to Chrome or Firefox. It will show you useful keyword data like search volume while you are browsing google or performing searches on other sites.
For instance, if you googled a term and then scroll down to the bottom of the results, you’ll see set of ‘related search terms’ that Google gives you. Well Keywords Everywhere places the keyword information right next to those terms. It also allows you to ‘favorite,’ or save, those terms so you can export them later
What’s really cool about Keywords Everywhere, is that it taps in to a lot of other sites you may be using to conduct research like Answer the Public, Google Search Console and more! It’s just an all-around good tool to have running because it can continuously give you great keyword ideas and information on the side, and it’s free!
It’s super easy to set up:
- Install their add-on to your Chrome or Firefox browser. You can download the add-on for your browser at KeywordsEverywhere.com.
- Sign up for a free API key here.
- Add the API key to your add-on settings.
- You’ll immediately start seeing keyword data when searching on Google and other sites that they support. (Note: They also have some more in depth training on how to use the tool over on YouTube)
KW Finder gives you keyword suggestions, but it also gives you information on how competitive keywords are (both to rank for and for PPC advertising) as well as search volume data.
This tool goes even further in that it gives you the top Google results for each keyword as well as an analysis of their domain strength, number of backlinks, Facebook Likes, Google+ info, etc, to give you an idea of who is ranking for those keywords an how likely you would be able to compete with them
The drawback here is that while KW Finder is free, you can only do so many searches a day unless you upgrade. Their paid service starts at $20/month but you get a huge discount if you pay for an annual membership. You can check out KW Finder here.
So, if you can get past the name, this is actually a pretty great reasource. It’s also a resource that ties in with Keywords Everywhere (mentioned above) if you have that installed on your browser. Basically you go to keywordshitter.com, enter in a keyword, add positive & negative filters, and click on Shit Keywords! It will shoot out a collection of related, long-tail keywords real fast – and will keep going pretty much until you tell it to stop.
As an example, going to Keyword Shitter and and typing in ‘starting a blog’ as the seed term, once I hit Shit Keywords I’m given hundreds of long-tail keyword examples in a matter of seconds. These are keywords that I could include in nice long informative article perhaps that details the steps in starting a blog!
Start incorporating these results into your keyword research campaigns (or adding them directly into your content as relevant phrases) and watch yourself start to rank for more terms and pull in more organic traffic.
And, with Keywords Everywhere activated in my browser, I don’t even need to go elsewhere to get the search volume information for these keywords – it’s printed right next to them! (I probably won’t go after any keywords that are searched zero times a month…)
Answer The Public
Answer the public is quickly becoming one of my favorite sites, not only for keyword research, but also great content idea (plus they have a great website – just head over to answerthepublic.com and you’ll see what I mean…)
When you enter in a keyword idea in to Answer the Public, they take your keyword and they start adding questions (like how, what, when, where) as well as prepositions (for, without, versus, to) to come up with a massive list of keyword ideas. They are presented in a very visual manner, but you can download the list of keywords as a detailed list as well!
I’m not kidding, they come up with some amazing keywords for your searches. To be honest I don’t know why this site is free, but if it wasn’t, I’d be paying for it anyway.
To top this all off – remember above I said you should install ‘Keywords Everywhere’ first because they tab in to a lot of different sites? Well, this is one of them! Keywords Everywhere will add the search data right next to the massive list of keyword ideas that Answer the Public just provided for you!
Google has not hidden the fact that since the Google Hummingbird update, they have placed increasing emphasis on content that answers people’s questions. If you can include answers to your target markets questions in your content, you stand not only a better chance of ranking, but a better chance of SERVING your target market!
Use this tool to find out what questions your target market is asking, and provide answers for them. Use Keywords Everywhere to confirm that enough people are asking these questions to make it worth your time.
There are many other free keyword research tools out there, and more pop up all the time (like FAQ Fox and Ubersuggest). There are also some extremely advanced options for SEO tools that, if interested, will take your SEO to another level (like aHrefs, SEMRush and Long Tail Pro). However, as a beginner and when first starting a blog, focus on doing at least basic keyword research and create content that SERVES your target market better than anyone else.
So, like I said, this was a beast of a post clocking in at just under 10,000 words! I think if someone asked me to sum this up, I’d have to say that when starting a blog, in order to make it a successful blog, serious thought needs to be put in before even thinking about writing your first article.
You MUST figure out who your target market is. If you don’t, how do you know who you are speaking to? Who are you serving? Why are you creating content? Who are you helping?!
You MUST organize your site in a meaningful way with a site structure that is going to make sense to your target market. What are you going to be talking about? What’s most important to them? How can you organize it in a way that will allow not only your readers, but Google too as to what your site is about in a matter of seconds?
You MUST do some basic keyword research in order to fine tune what your target market’s pains, questions, concerns are so that you can create content that better serves them. Doing so will also make sure you are using the same LANGUAGE as your target market. When they search, or ask a question online, what are they typing in? What do YOU want to be found for.
As I mentioned before, the technical side of starting a blog is the easy part these days.
You can get an MLSP account that comes with MLSP Sites and have a blog set up in 1 click with all of the plugins, themes and technical training you’ll ever need.
But if you don’t pay attention to THESE 3 aspects, you will never succeed. I don’t care if you are tryin got start a beauty blog, start a weight loss blog, or a blog about raising dogs. This theory remains the same.
Did you get something out of this definitive guide to starting a blog? Have questions? Disagree with anything I said? Just want to say hi!? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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