Blogging is a media business, even if it doesn’t get much respect from other media outlets. Dismissing something as “just the internet,” ignores the real opinions of 3.5 billion people. The internet is not a game – it made billionaires and millionaires out of everyone from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, PewDiePie, and Ninja. It disrupted every part of this world, and bloggers are a key part of this formula.
You wouldn’t know it when starting a blog though. All that weight on your shoulders at the beginning gets deflated fast when you post your first blog post only to find out nobody sees it. We all start somewhere, but if you keep grinding away at it, you can use a blog to build any business. It’s how you fill an ecommerce page with relevant search-friendly content, like I did with Vape Chemist, Cardfellow, and others over the years.
If you’re serious about building a blog, whether it’s for yourself, to spread an idea, change the world, or sell a product, the fundamentals don’t change. Here are the five pillars to get you started.
Also check out these 10 blogs to learn more about the blogging business.
1. Subject Matter Expert
People always say to write what you know, but you don’t ever have to pigeonhole yourself. Applying a journalistic process to your writing gives you the opportunity to write about subjects that may not necessarily be in your direct wheelhouse. You don’t have to know all the answers – you just need questions. From there, you have to find a subject matter expert (SME) who can answer those questions.
It’s nice to run around giving speeches about how you’re an expert, but most people are just talking heads. Go out into the real world and explore. You’re going to learn new things, meet new people, and gain perspectives and wisdom you’re not born with. And dig in to find as many sources as possible. Use Wikipedia as a jumping off point (everyone does) and dig into as many sides as you can find for each story. If you can’t find it online, pick up the phone or get in your car.
2. Audience and Publication
This should probably be number one, because it’s hard to write when you don’t know your audience. Of course, that’s the exact issue you’re having that got you to this blog post. When you’ve been blogging for several years, you’ll inherently know your audience. They’ll show up in crowds, and even if they’re smaller crowds, Google Analytics and other tools will keep track of them over time. That’s great for you, but what about clients?
Anything you publish off your own blog will be published on another publication. Since that publisher owns the publication, you’re speaking to their audiences. You need to know which publishers are interested in the topics you’re writing about. For example, I get zero interest from an outlet like Wired or The Wall Street Journal pitching articles about marketing, cannabis, or vaping. They’re simply not interested, so you’l;l need to stick to publications targeting the exact audiences for the topics you’re discussing.
3. Brand Style Guidelines
Once you know your topic and audience, it’s time to find your voice. Actually it’s probably better to say “choose” your voice. Think about Robin Williams and Jim Carey – both comedians went very dark and depressing in their work to contrast their manic, slapstick style of humor and be taken seriously as artists. You can choose from a range of voices these days, and that’s what makes you a valuable content writer.
Different brands selling the same product will have different voices. One VPN provider may be consumer-facing, while another is enterprise-facing. Conglomerates will always have both, and this means one in-house writer may need to master both a professional, academic tone and a humorous, entertaining one. The topic and publication can also affect tone, as Cracked, Buzzfeed, and Marijuana Business Daily will all require a different tone to appeal to its audience.
4. Search Engine Optimization
SEO is hands-down the most important skill to understand as an online blogger, especially for brands. You need to know how to dig into internet search trends to learn how people are searching for content. From there, it’s important to optimize each blog post for SEO. If you’re on WordPress, Yoast is the most essential tool to getting started with SEO, and that’s only the beginning these days.
On top of SEO basics, you also need to understand how Google’s AMP and Rich Results programs. AMP is essentially a mobile-first initiative that keeps web pages mobile-optimized. Rich Results uses structured data to support carousels, search boxes, and more in the Google search results. And then there’s voice search, RSS feeds, SEO optimization within platforms like YouTube and Amazon, and so much more. The deeper you go down the SEO rabbit hole, the more effective you’ll be as a blogger.
5. Social Media and Influencers
Once you’ve published your blog, it’s time to find anyone influential in the space. This means you need to know who all the influencers are in social media platforms like Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and more. Influencer outreach is a lot like PR, and it gets your blog in front of the right people. If one (or more) of these influencers reads your post and likes it, they’ll share it with their audiences, which are much larger than yours and spread your reach far and wide.
If you don’t already have a social presence, it’s time to learn. Not only is it an essential part of marketing your blog, but it’s also a skill in and of itself. People (usually women) who are able to build a social following of 10k or more on any given platform are usually able to negotiate their way into events or to get free products to review. Sponsored post offers will start coming in, and more. At this point, you are a legitimate blogger and can make career decisions for yourself.
Blogging is a legitimate business in and of itself, and it’s a service used by a lot of other industries. Understanding how to blog for SEO, build a social following, and research any topic gives you an advanced blogging skillset many don’t have. If you use these tools to your advantage, you can carve a niche for yourself among all the online noise.
And of course you’ll need passion. No business is ever easy to start, and there are bloggers who have been in this game for a decade or longer who still don’t have direction. You have to wake up every day hungry and wanting it, or you won’t last in this business.