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Blog like a professional

How to start a blog

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 28 November 2006
Advice How to blog How to do marketing Writing

I started the Articulate blog more than 13 year ago. Back then it was called 'Bad Language' but now it's part of the Articulate site. Over the years, it has had millions of visitors and I'm very proud of it. Nobody told me the whole thing would be so much fun. 

This post was originally published in November 2006 and I have updated it in March 2020 to reflect our current practices and fix outdated information. I contribute from time to time on Articulate but I also blog about my personal interests and obsessions over on Geekboss.

Blogging like a pro

  • Write often. When I started, I tried (*tried*) to write every week day. Nowadays, we publish less often but with the intention of writing more in-depth, long form content. Traffic still seems to drop off dramatically at weekends so I don't post then.
  • Keep a scratchpad. I use Dropbox Paper and Microsoft OneNote to capture links, ideas, to-do items and so on. When I actually sit down to write, I've usually got two or three ideas to hand and a bunch of links to explore. It's useful to have a few stub posts ready to expand or edit in case you don't have time to write a long piece.
  • Have a time to write. I tend to blog first thing in the morning, usually around 6am. That's just me. (See my post on how to get up early.) I know other people who write after work or in their lunch break.
  • Variety is the spice of life. I prefer to do posts of different lengths and styles. The 'how to' list is popular but I like to run longer, more formal articles and interviews as well as more personal observations. One of the pleasures of the blog is that I don't have an editor who tells me what to write or how to write it. To this extent blogging is a playground for me.
  • Contribute to the conversation. There are an awful lot of sheep on the Internet. With nearly 500 million blogs in existence (up from 60m when I started), you really want to try and be a sheepdog. In my opinion, it's important to say something new and something interesting to contribute that the conversation.
  • Be yourself. Voltaire once said, "if we don't find anything good a least will find something new." Ideally you want to say something interesting, Just be yourself. Some of the best blogs are the ones that are unique, idiosyncratic, and highly personal. The extraordinary thing about the blogosphere is that whatever you write about, there is an audience for it.
  • Show your face. I think it's good to put a picture of yourself, your e-mail address, and a little bit of biographical information about yourself on your blog. Sometimes a nom-de-plume is necessary but turn your blogging alter ego into a 'real' person too. One of the interesting things about the lonelygirl15 story was how accepting fans were when they realised that Bree was, in fact, an actress.
  • Get the technology right. If you're serious about blogging, you need to have a proper website address and not one from a free blogging company. I use WordPress software and WPEngine for hosting Geekboss. Articulate's blog is hosted on HubSpot.
  • Plug into the blogosphere. The easiest way to build traffic is to comment appropriately on other people's sites. The blogosphere is a reciprocal sort of place. Link their blogs and they might read and link to yours. Critical to all this is a good newsreader and a good selection of sites.
  • Linking and loving. I've always been impressed by people who email me nicely when I comment on their blogs. I wish I could find the time to do it - I try. Surprisingly, the blogs that I am 'closest' to in terms of mutual sympathy and mutual linking are also the ones who are, on the face of it, my 'competitors.' They write about the same stuff I write about. Actually, though there's no real competition and finding your online community is a good way to start building a reader base.

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  • Traffic is important but regular readers rule. Occasionally, you'll produce a post that goes ballistic. I've had 20,000 visitors a day on occasion. Reddit or some other site picks up a post and you're away. Only a fraction of those people stay and subscribe. It's very exciting when it happens but what matters is the number of people who keep coming back, who comment, who link to your site and who enjoy what you write. Write for yourself first, then write for them. The harder I try to get a traffic monster, the more elusive it becomes so I sort of forget about trying and they keep happening.
  • Don't forget search. Google is my number one source of incoming visitors. Remember to register your site with all the usual search engines. I use Google Analytics and Google Sitemaps to monitor what they are searching for and tweak headlines and content a little to make sure I'm delivering content that searchers want. Advice on interviews is very popular.
  • Use pictures. Pictures, cartoons and illustrations are essential. Just imagine reading your favourite magazine if there were no pictures. Yuck! A good picture illustrates the point you are making and draws in readers. It's really cool if you can use your own photos and I try to do that on Geekboss but, failing that, pick good stock photography from sites like Unsplash.
  • Write for the screen. Be conscious of how people read on computer screens. Check out Useit.com and in particular, how users read on the web. Also check out my posts about how to write for a blog and how to Write strong headlines. Headlines are important because most people read blogs using RSS readers and use headlines to decide whether to read the whole post. (My favourite: man bites robotic dog and Darren Strange's Bill Gates runs like a girl).
  • Give people different ways to read: Make the online visit easy to read - don't go for crazy colours or unreadable fonts. Many bloggers overlook email but try to offer an email subscription option if you can. For personal blogs, Mailchimp is a good start. Make sure you have a visible, easy to spot RSS subscription button. However, I would avoid the icon clutter that some blogs display when they try to accommodate every single blog reader and every single news aggregator. It's your site, not a billboard for other people's.
  • Schedule blog upgrade days. Maintaining a blog is not just about writing content. I try to dedicate a day every two to three months to upgrading the site itself. This means recategorising posts, checking for broken links, updating plugins, implementing new features and other engineering stuff. I know just about enough HTML and coding to tinker with a site's template but not enough to build a new template. However, there are plenty of people who can help with this stuff and one way to stand out from the crowd is to have a unique site design as well as unique content.
  • Monitor your stats. Anyone who is a true blogger will be addicted to their stats. But what is interesting is how I have changed the way I use them over time. Initially, I was obsessed by the raw visitor numbers. While these are still important, I am much more interested now in what brings people to the site, what posts they liked, whether they revisit and how often, what they search for and so on. I'm trying to use the stats to help me build a better site for my readers, not to gratify my own ego (well a little bit of that too.) On WordPress, check out Google Site Kit.
  • Market your blog. Occasionally people ask me to contribute to their sites, perhaps with by-lined articles or interviews. For example, I used to write a monthly column on Visual Thesaurus. This brought in a nice stream of new visitors who are interested in writing. I also make an effort to comment on sites and posts that are relevant to my readers and my areas of interest. This is probably the main form of blog marketing. It takes time but it pays long-term dividends. I still get new visitors from comments I wrote six months ago. However, the comments have to be appropriate, useful and link to a relevant page on my site. Comment spamming is naughty. Then there is the old fashioned kind of marketing. I like to my blog from my personal website, from my email sig, from presentation decks, in fact I mention it pretty much any time I can.

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See also: how to start a blog

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