A Dead-Simple, 5 Step-Guide to Creating a Blog (That’s Free)

I was hanging out with some old college friends over the holidays.

In talking with my old buddy, he told me he had taken the time to read a few of my blog posts.

Startup Stock PhotoFunny, I thought, I have a reader. There’s one!

Anyway, he told me he and his wife were thinking about starting their own blog and enjoyed my post about free stuff you can use to make your blog post awesome. So through the course of this brief conversation I had gained a reader and proved myself to be an inspiration. What’s next?

They have a great idea too but had a bunch of questions about the process of bringing that idea to life. Where do you begin? How do you tell the story? How do you start your SEO work?

As it turns out, bringing a blog about is way, way easy. But the ease of bringing your story to life isn’t the best part. The best part is it’s all totally free. The only thing you have to spend on this project is time, which of course is very valuable.

So let’s not waste time.

Step One: Go Get a Free Blog Platform

First of all finding a free blogging platform is easy – just check Google. There’s plenty of free blogging platforms out there, the most popular being Blogger and WordPress.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Blogger and WordPress as platforms. PostSecret – a viciously addictive blog composed of deep dark secrets sent anonymously via post cards – is a Blogger blog. WordPress itself is synonymous with blogging – the two just go hand in hand.

The number one problem I have with those two popular options is they are not beautiful by design. They allow for all kinds of customization from common users which leads to some pretty awful looking pages.

Also, they are fairly limited in way you can make the clunky formats look clean and professional. It becomes maddening the ways Blogger and WordPress are limited just when you become comfortable with the platforms and attempt to take them to the next level.

Startup Stock PhotosI realize the irony of this as I type this post into a WordPress window but still – even the steps you need to take with customizing the full version can be frustrating.

WordPress and Blogger are what happen when you try to take a customizable situation and open it up to the world. Nice try, good attempt but it’s a horror show sometimes in what people will produce given an empty slate and open microphone.

On the polar opposite of those guys is Medium.

Now, I‘ve written before about Medium and my thoughts haven’t changed in the slightest.

Medium is a drop-dead simple, minimal and beautiful blogging platform that is right on the edge of being amazing.

It’s straight structure, lack of sidebars or distractions, and ample styling within the framework of it’s form is a thing of beauty. Two quotes come to mind when looking at Medium:

Form follows function,” and “Beautiful things work better.” Medium is the combination of the simple meaning of the former and the minimalist nature of the later.

Additionally, Medium lets you submit and share articles within communities so it’s got a built-in social aspect which makes finding like-minded people easy. The communities I have right off the bat — Medium calls them channels — deal with technology, humor and design, so I think that’s a reflection of the types of writing going on here.

But a deeper search into Medium will reveal all sorts of interesting blogs brought together by writers on various subjects. Take Gardening Kicks Ass for example.

Garderning Kicks Ass is a pretty interesting collection of stories maintained by one of the writers at Medium. When writers pull together articles from other writers in collections like this it’s called a Publication. This kind of collaboration and user-centric content maintenance and organization is really cool.

So if you’re looking for a blogging platform – especially to try it out first – go with Medium. You won’t be disappointed.

Step Two: Figure Out What to Blog About

After you’ve got your platform figured out, now you have to figure out what you Startup Stock Photoswant to write about. Most of the time people think about stuff like music, politics, or film to pick as a topic and that’s perfectly fine.

If you’re thinking about blogging, you probably already have an idea of what you want to write about. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes you just want to write and that’s a great thing. I want to take a second to talk about this with you.

If you want to write about several things you like or perhaps nothing at all, that’s ok.

Sometimes, people just want to write and they’re not sure what they want to write about. They just get the itch. There is something they want to shake loose. And that’s no problem – just start writing on a subject that you feel comfortable with at the time. When tomorrow roles around, write about something completely different.

Over the course of a month, bang out some quality draft posts that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. It’s your world. Go crazy.

Here’s something you’ll learn about writing that’s important:

Writing is a process – not a project.

The benefit of this kind of activity is eventually, as you keep your fingers skipping across the keys and pumping out content, you will find yourself naturally sliding onto a rail and moving in a direction. You’ll unconsciously find your voice and discover your passion without knowing it.

Without knowing, it you will tell yourself what you like. It’s awesome. Trust me.

In other cases, people know what their passions are and that’s a great thing. If you’re one of those people I salute you. It’s tough to find that.

Regardless, you’ll eventually find what you want to write about and settle on it. Then you’ll get to the fun part –  writing the damn thing.

genMegaPhoneStep Three – Blog with SEO in Mind

This is the part where you sit down and write. Just write it out. Come up with an outline and work from there or just bang out the words. Whatever you do write.

By this part, it should happen on its own as long as you stay focused and keep working at it. If you’re struggling at this point, get back to planning out your writing.

As you’re writing, though, there’s some simple things you can keep in mind that can help you make sure you’re optimizing your post for search engines. There’s an excellent plugin for WordPress called SEO by Yoast that scores your post automatically. That’s free too.

Here’s some simple tips for writing a strong, clear, search engine optimized post.

Organize Your Writing

Regardless of what you are writing about, you need to do you and your readers a favor and organize your work. A pretty simple way of doing this is here:

  1. Title
  2. Opening paragraphs to warm up the post
  3. Meat of the Post
    1. Section 1
    2. Section 2
    3. Section 3
  4. Closing paragraph

You don’t have to always write in a numbered format or be instructional to have a structured post. You could just as easily talk about what you learned doing something and organize the couple of key points into sections. It’s just easier on the reader.

To be clear, if you don’t have any subheadings in your post, it’s going to be difficult for humans to read your writing. And humans are your favorite people.

Use Your Keywords

Your blog posts are going to be about a specific things or keywords relating to your topic. These keywords are important because they’ll help keep you focused on what’s important and help you get found in search engines.

Use these keywords in all the right places like the title of your post, the section headings, and especially in your post itself. To be technical, use keywords in your H1, H2, H3, page title, meta description, and in the copy.

Now, you’ve probably heard somewhere along the line of terms like keyword density with respect to SEO. While it’s true keyword density plays a role in SEO, it shouldn’t be abused.

If you were doing an album review, you’d probably use the artist’s name and title of the record in the headline. Then you would list a bunch of reasons broken out into sections as to why you think it’s a great album or not. Those sections are probably going to include the artist’s name and album title again.

After a while, just by being human, you’re going to use keywords in the right way.

Here’s a major takeaway: If you find yourself trying to work the system, you’re doing it wrong. If you are doing things like a human being, you’re doing it right.

Think about this whenever you’re trying to optimize anything for search engines and you’ll never go wrong.

Make it Pretty and Keep it Simple

There’s a thing out there called the Flesch Reading Test which to be brief scores how easy copy if to read. A lot has been written about readability and it’s relationship to SEO and to be honest, I don’t know if it directly contributes one way.

I can tell you this though, easy copy is easy to read. Good for SEO or not, do t for your readers and let’s all be happy.

Startup Stock PhotoIf you have to check how your copy scores, you can quite easily copy and paste your draft into some online Flesch Reading Test engine like this one. I’ve got another suggestion.

Keep your copy simple. The measure of a good writer is one that can distill a complicated subject into some simple terms. Don’t go overboard – make your sentences simple. Jack Kerouac once famously said “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

And while you’re at it, dress up your copy. It’s great to see pictures in your blog posts, they are free, and good for SEO.

HubSpot wrote a really great checklist for blog SEO. Read it here. 

Step Four – Reread, Edit, and Rewrite

Simple stuff here. Use spell check and edit your copy with intensity. Get it right before you hit send.

Ask a buddy to edit your stuff. Better your friend find the mistakes before your 50,000 readers.

Step Five – Never Forget the Most Important Thing

As you’re going through the process, it’s worth worth remembering the single most important aspect of writing. It’s the whole reason you’re doing this.

Here it is:

Writing is all about solving problems. If you think writing is about anything else, you need to rethink your understanding of writing.

Put it on a T-shirt, write it in a letter, or whisper it to a friend – it’s a single solid truth. That statement  — or at least a flavor or variation on it  — comes from many different sources and it’s completely true.

Stick to solving problems with your writing and you’ll always be on the right track.  Now go be awesome.

Stuff I linked to:

How to Grow Your Small Business with Email Marketing in 2015

I’m a huge advocate for small businesses. I still firmly believe in Beaver County and its small business community and I know those that adopt digital marketing strategies can outpace their competitors.

But what’s the best channel for delivering your message?

Let’s back up. I was talking to a work buddy the other day and he posed this question:

If you had one and only one way to communicate a message with your audience – given the audience was already baked out — what would you choose?

Social media, direct mail, cold calling, SEO, all of these were on the table.

I used my “go-to” response in this situation: Never ignore a channel of communication and always focus on the most beneficial. It’s a pretty good sentence. You can steal it and tell folks you made it up. It’s cool.

“But, fine,” I said at last, “if I had to choose one and only one channel with what I know about the audience, I’d stick with an email blast.”

Me, When I Suggest Email Marketing as a Only Option

Me, When I Suggest Email Marketing as a Only Option

With that, my friend looked at me as if I had just burst into flames. It was as if I suggested to my friend we spread the word by stapling fliers to rattlesnakes and tossing them at people while we screamed the product name in a crowded mall.

The look in my friend’s eyes told me that in some course of the polite marketing discussion, I’d gone completely insane.

My friend looked me hard in the eye and asked, “Come on, does anybody really read email anymore? Isn’t email dead?”

Wow. I was indignant. I wanted to defend email marketing immediately, intelligently, and loudly.  But, I figured it’s a new year. It’s 2015. So it’s worth asking:

Can small businesses like the ones  all around the place I live still win the game with email marketing? Is email marketing still relevant for Beaver County small businesses?

Sure it is, here’s the proof.

Small Business Can Get Simple, Professional Email Marketing for Free

So let’s get this right out of the way, and it’s something I stress all the time when it comes to email marketing.

Email marketing can be totally free. Seriously. You can kick off your email marketing for 2015 without spending one dime. I promise. For small businesses with small budgets, free is a big plus.

And when it comes to email marketing options for small businesses, MailChimp is simply the best choice available, no question.

First of, MailChimp provides a free option for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month. There’s no credit card to enter or contract to sign. If you have an email address and the will to accomplish this task, you can email up to 2,000 of your friends six times a month at maximum. Is that enough?

MailChimp is the Best Free Option to Kick off Email Marketing

 

Well, try this. Go to Google and try and get a consensus about how often you should email your audience and you probably won’t find one because it doesn’t exist.

The frequency with which you hit your audience should be determined by your audience’s opinion of how often they want to hear from you. It changes from audience to audience.

So, all that said, six emails a month is plenty of sending to drum up some business. You can do some serious damage with six emails a month.

The service also has tons of free templates and a dead simple, drag-and-drop editor to help you make your email blast, so there’s no designing involved or coding. You can also upload first and last names, numbers, addresses, all the good stuff you need to make sure you personalize your messages like a good email marketer.

Plus the templates produce responsive emails, which is way important considering people are reading emails on mobile devices more than desktops these days. Finally, and this is coming from a place of experience, MailChimp’s deliverability is every bit as good as its highly priced competitors. Paying a bunch of money to some email service provider will get you no closer to your subscriber’s inbox. In some cases, MailChimp’s deliverability is better than pay services.

So it’s free and only cost the time you put into it. It seems to me that if you have a story to tell and want to build a unique audience, email marketing is a no-brainer.

Small Businesses Can Get Personal with Email Marketing

When you head over to Google and do a search on the top trends for 2015, you’ll find one term popping probably get a bunch of insights. Still, one answer remains on every list:

Content marketing.

Everybody loves a story and every brand has a story. The companies that have the ability to synthesize their message and pull together great content are going to outpace the competition.

The days of selling on the Internet nearly over. Digital marketing is evolving into a practice of engaging and educating consumers. It’s a trust game, just as it always was. The difference is, now it’s all out in the open and transparency is real.

Telling that story is quickly becoming paramount for businesses across the country.

And this is where email marketing comes in. No other medium allows you to engage your audience directly in a one-on-one conversation like an email.

Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are communities with personal aspects in terms of follows, friends, and connections, but email is different. Email is a chance for you to tell your story in brief and invite the user to take the next step and continue the conversation.

With an opt-in subscriber, you have an active listener. With a story to tell, you have a chance to start a relationship with your subscriber.

Content marketing can be made personal with emails in ways social media channels simply can’t.

Now, I’m not one to bash a marketing channel. I like Facebook and Twitter, I use both. I’m not even making the case that Facebook or Twitter are worthless in selling products, though some certainly have.

I’m only saying Beaver County Small Businesses have a story to tell and that story can be told personally through email.

Small Businesses: Email Marketing is Better Than Facebook or Twitter for New Customers

Lucky for me, I stumbled upon a website that provided me with tons of content relevant to my conversation. It’s worthwhile fodder for having a conversation as to why email is not dead.

According to emailisnotdead.com, people prefer email for commercial communications. Here’s a few quick facts from the site:

  • Email marketing isn't dead to small business. Courtesy freeimages.com

    Email marketing isn’t dead to small business. Courtesy freeimages.com

    81% of US online shoppers are more likely to make additional purchases, either online or in a store, as a result of emails based on previous shopping behaviors and preferences. – Harris Interactive

  • 68% of consumers find email to be their #1 preferred channel for recieving commercial messages – CG Selections “Nationaal Email Onderzoek” (2013)
  • 66% of consumers have made a purchase online as a direct result of an email marketing message – Direct Marketing Association (2013)
  • One in five (19%) of consumers said they read every email newsletter they receive just to see if something’s on offer. – Forrester Research “North american technographics survey” (2014)
  • In 2014 consumers delete less promo emails without looking, down 25,4% relative to 2010. – Forrester Research “North american technographics survey” (2014)
emailisnotdead.com

Much of the above research points to fact that email is still a great vehicle for companies to tell consumers about products and services. It’s a way we expect to hear from companies. Even McKinsey & Company, a multinational management consulting company with nearly 100 years experience in driving success in business, says email marketing is far and away better at getting new customers than other forms of social media.

Email is almost 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter – McKinsey & Company (2014)

So do you ignore other channels? Never. You need to tell your story in all ways possible. But email marketing is – and probably always will be – a viable option. Use it!

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