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So you want to start a blog?
Blogging has been good to me over the years. Roostervane is actually the sixth blog that I’ve started, although it’s the first that’s ever seen any serious traffic.
Writing a blog is a fantastic creative outlet, a great way to develop your writing and thinking skills, and a neat way to meet people. Most of all, a blog can build your personal brand and share knowledge—an important thing for most of us making a career transition from a degree. What’s even cooler is that there are tons of people who make an income from blogging! If you can successfully build a crowd, you can earn your living off of this.
So, if you want to know how to start a blog, this is my guide for doing it. (Just a note that I use the web host Bluehost for Roostervane and I used it to write this guide.)
In this post
- Why start a blog?
- Things you should think about
- How to start a blog
Why Start a Blog?
Honestly, so many reasons! But here are a few that drive me:
- You love writing: First and foremost, I do. I get lost in the creative process, pouring my brain onto the screen. The fact that people respond to it is just the icing on the cake.
- Establishing authority: Blogs give authority–people believe them. You know this instinctively from the last time your mom forwarded you that clickbait crap-science they saw on Facebook. They believe it, because the internet says it. Now of course, we’re a bit more critical than that. But a blog still creates a sense of authority in whatever your niche is, and the more you write the more people see you as an expert in your subject. (I talked about this a bit in this post.)
- Educating: Most academics are educators, and starting a blog can be a great way to expand your education reach—even beyond your current students. Blogs are a great way to teach, and they’re non-threatening and accessible (when done well).
- People read them: Not sure about you, but my journal articles have been viewed a few dozen times. This blog gets up to 15k reads some weeks. Actually, this gets a little intimidating considering that some of what’s on here is my random thoughts about life. But people still engage with blogs in 2020.
- Building your brand: Yup, a good blog can be great for your personal brand. I won’t say much more than that.
- Career changes: Riffing off of the whole “establishing authority” thing, a blog can be a great way to set you up for a career shift. I know scientists who use blogs to build sci-comm careers, for example. I started blogging about non-academic careers before I ever anticipated working in this space, but now it’s a possibility!
- Money: Yeah, you can make money with a blog. Some people do this directly, through selling coaching, courses, or membership. Some sell offline services like speaking. I’m selling a book. And some people sell advertising or affiliate marketing. Some of the best blogs make over $100k . . . a month.
Things you should think about…
1. What’s your niche?
There are a few blogs that are personality-based, in which somebody shares their random thoughts. However, the vast majority of blogs that people actually read have a niche. As you may have guessed, Roostervane’s niche is turning degrees into careers. You can, of course, follow your passion and start whatever you want. But it’s worth checking out what some of your competitors would be and whether there’s a demand for your subject.
You can use a tool like Moz (https://moz.com) or Ubersuggest (https://neilpatel.com/ubersuggest/) to do some keyword searching—each gives some options for free. Keywords are words that people type into search engines. These are simple tools that will tell you how many people search keywords a month (for example, Ubersuggest says 1000/month search “PhD Jobs.”) They also tell you demographics of the searchers, link to some top posts, and give you alternate keywords to try.
Be specific in your blogging. Focusing on the 880 people a month who search “Physics for kids” is better than the 135,000 who search for “Physics.” Your niche should be focused, it should be something people want to read about. If you can find a community around it—even better.
2. Who’s your audience?
This is important, and connected to that keyword searching you did above. At the other end of your blog is a person who might take a few minutes to read what you have to say. Take their time seriously and try to appreciate what they are concerned about.
The age-old question in business is: “What problem does your customer have that you can solve?” This can be a great place to start.
Some problems you might be able to solve are:
- How do I run online learning?
- What does good course design look like?
- My kids suck at math–how can I help them?
- How do you use a preposition correctly?
Blogs that solve a problem do well. For example, from this list, the blog Grammar Girl was started by Mignon Fogarty who turned her grammar tips into a big-money online and podcast empire.
Who’s the audience for Roostervane? People who’ve done a degree who don’t know what to do with it. OR People who are struggling to create a meaningful career with their degree. That’s basically it. I’m guessing you fall into one of those two categories—unless you’re just here for this awesome guide to starting a blog.
3. What do you love to write about?
I got tired of writing one blog I started after a few posts. It’s worth thinking through what you like to write about, not just a few times, but constantly. A lot of blogs get started and then fizzle. Pick a topic you have a lot to say about and could see yourself writing about for a while. See if you can come up with 20 titles for posts could could write. Blogging shouldn’t feel like a chore.
4. What’s your voice?
I do own an academic writing voice—it’s in here somewhere. Every now and then I write something in the passive and then stuff academic-Chris back in the box. I don’t want to write Roostervane like an academic article. I want it to be fun, engaging, easy to read, and provocative. I use slang. Sometimes I swear.
You choose who your audience is, of course, and you might want to be more formal than I am. But—for the record—I wouldn’t read an academic sounding blog, even in my field. Save it for articles. Blogs should be accessible. They should break some rules! And even if you want to convey a very serious tone, it shouldn’t put people to sleep. Voice is important!
5. Where’s your personality?
A blog should have some of the personality of its author in it. Again, it’s not an academic article. Tell stories about your life. Give your opinion. Don’t be afraid to share your perspective!
The biggest mistakes smart people make when they start blogs
- Out of touch research: Yeah—I said it above. Few people want to read endless miles of research, even academics.
- Tiny text, huge paragraphs: Blog writing is a different medium. Keep it short, snappy. This isn’t Nature—half of your readers are sitting on the toilet!
- Trying to show off knowledge: If you want to start a blog that a few people in your field will read, that’s cool. Some fields might work well for this. But if you’re launching a blog you hope will be widely read—better to avoid a lot of jargon or nitty-gritty theoretical discussion. Make it accessible.
- They don’t care about looks: Whether we like it or not, humans are aesthetic creatures. It’s worth spending a bit of time (not necessarily money) to make your blog look nice. Or, find someone to give you advice who’s good at this.
How to start a blog
Okay, I’m so glad you asked. This is really where the rubber of hits the road… ready? This guide will use Bluehost as a template in showing how to start a blog. It’s my favorite hosting site, and I’ve used it a lot. But there are other options if you look for them.
1. Choose a Platform
There are some free platforms out there you can use for blogging. Wix, Blogger, and WordPress.com are all free options (not to be confused with the WordPress platform hosted on a paid host, which I’ll talk about below). Medium is a beautiful platform as well. Each of these options takes care of hosting for you, but you don’t own your own blog—it’s at their mercy. Your domain name will be yourdomain.wordpress.com or something like that. However, people do choose these options.
I’ve always preferred to pay for blog hosting–“hosting” just means the place your blog lives online. There are several advantages to paying for blog hosting, but here are a few of my favorites:
- a custom domain (ie. www.yourname.com) people remember
- customizable sites (ranging from your own layouts to premium designs)
- the option to monetize your site through ads, selling products, etc. (your monetization options are limited if you don’t own it)
- complete ownership of your site
- ability to build your following with email lists
- basic hosting is fairly inexpensive
I’ve used Bluehost for years to host for all my blogs, and I genuinely love them. Their customer service is fantastic. I’ve always had good experiences. Bluehost sites come with one-click WordPress installation–Wordpress is the world’s most popular site creation tool.
2. Register and and set up your site
Once you choose which hosting you’d like, the next step is to register your site and set it up. Here’s a quick guide to getting a Bluehost site up and running.
a. Choose your hosting plan
Select “WordPress–Wordpress Hosting” from the drop-down menu. You should see something that looks like this:
I’ve always just selected “Basic” and I’ve never had a problem with it.
b. Choose your domain (AKA your web address)
Assuming this is your first time creating a website, select “Create a new domain” at the next page. You can try searching for different domains here—you need to find something that’s not already taken.
- If you’re using your name, this should be a bit easier, unless you have a common name. I don’t. You can add middle initials or other words to find one that’s available.
- If you’re creating a themed blog, say “scienceforkids,” you’ll need to play around with some names to find one that’s not taken. You can also change the domain name extension to .net, .org., or some other ending to find something that’s available.
Pro Tip—Make sure you google what similar websites look like. Find out what people will see if they stumble to the .com site instead of your .org one.
Pro Tip 2—If you’re building a business, conventional wisdom is to pick a hosting name that says exactly what you do—which is good for search engines (SEO). By this logic, Roostervane would be “jobsforphds.com” or something like that. This is because most people search “Jobs for PhDs” in google, rather than “Roostervane.”
BUT—What can I say? I liked the challenge of building a brand. You can make your own choice.
c. Fill out your registration
Once you get an available domain, Bluehost will automatically take you to the registration page. Fill out your personal details under Account Information. This is straightforward. You can select your Package Basics. I usually choose 36 months—it’s cheaper in the long run and I have good intentions of keeping blogs going for a long time 😊
I do want to say something about the Recommended For You section you’ll see next on the page. You don’t need to pay for any of the extra things—unless you want to. HOWEVER, I do think that the “Keep Spammers Away” is worth paying for. It anonymizes your site and protects your registration information.
Finally, you fill out your credit card and submit.
CONGRATULATIONS! You now own a website!
d. Install WordPress
Once you’re through, Bluehost will automatically prompt you to install WordPress, choose a theme (just pick a free one for now), and several other things. Then you can Log Into WordPress and make it live for the world to see!
e. Design it
So, you should now be in WordPress–looking at the powerful system that will run your blog. Isn’t is beautiful? ahhh
WordPress is both powerful and simple–you can get your blog up and running pretty easily, but it also runs on some of the biggest sites in the world.
- You might choose to do some site design by clicking on Appearance > Customize.
- You can change your free theme by clicking Appearance > Theme—there are lots of great ones. If you’d like, you can pay for a Premium WordPress theme, but there’s no hurry on this. (I happen to use a premium plugin called Divi for Roostervane. It creates beautiful drag and drop design and is great for beginners.)
f. Launch it
You can do this in any order, but at some point you’ll have to make your blog live by clicking the button on your dashboard. You can post first then go live if you’d like.
From the WordPress dashboard, you can click on the Posts > Add New button to create a new post. Get writing and publish something! You may choose to add pages like ABOUT or CONTACT ME by clicking on the Pages > Add New button.
Can I tell you something I’ve learned, as someone who has agonized over the “Publish” button often? Your imposter syndrome will hit you, you’ll feel like you need to add a footnote. You’ll be embarrassed for people to see it. I’ve gone through all of that. At the end of the day, done is better than perfect. Or, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Get it up and share it with the world. The beautiful thing is, you can always edit as time goes on. Unlike a published paper, you’ll never need to print a retraction! If you find a typo next week–fix it!
That’s it! Your blog is live!
So that’s it, my guide on how to start a blog! I hope it’s helpful, and I hope to see your blogs online soon! Let me know when it’s up and I’d be honored to be one of your first readers! Post the link below.