This blog was 2 years old last month and in that time I have learned many, often expensive lessons. In order to help you avoid some of the costs and frustrations that I went through, here are 6 things I wish I knew before I started blogging.
1. Everyone starts from scratch
Most blogs start off with no readers, no subscribers and no comments and things don’t change much for months. Yes, Seth Godin started off by writing his first blog post, sitting next to his Stanford friend, Google founder, Sergey Brin — but that’s not how most of us begin.
It took me 2 years of blogging here, before Google starts delivering targeted, unique visitors each day. I had 400 posts published and almost 20,000 back-links, before I had my first 1000 unique visitors in a day from Google. However, an effective social media strategy can really get things moving whilst the search engines get their act together.
2. SEO is less and less important
Google is fickle. It changes the rules so often, that SEO has become less relevant. Today, you’re better off investing your time on social networks, than messing around trying to keep Google happy.
3. Some will use your comments section to sell rather than engage
As soon as you start to develop a large readership, people will try and tout for business in the comments section of your blog. I switched comments off in June 2013, because people were spamming the crap out of the comments. Also, unlike when blogs were invested, today we have social networks as a powerful way to comment on what we read.
4. The price of a blog theme is usually the least expensive part
Well-known bloggers tend to use blog themes that have been professionally redesigned and had a lot of custom code added to them. Sadly, this includes those bloggers who make a big deal of selling the theme on their sites, but a much smaller deal of explaining that their site is not an accurate example of what a typical user, who doesn’t write CSS or HTML, will get when they try and use that theme on their blog.
So, you see a great looking blog from a blogger you trust, you buy the theme they recommend and learn VERY fast that the look you fell in love with, had almost zero to do with the theme. This is often the start of an expensive, frustrating process; for those of us with no interest in learning how to write code.
Find something you like right out of the box or hire a blog designer. The latter usually works far better, unless you want a blog that looks just like thousands of others. It’s hard enough to stand out, without looking like a clone of other blogs, using the same theme.
5. Most plugins suck
Most plugins add very little value to your blog. They are also a primary source of tech issues and they s-l-o-w your site down too. I started off with around 20 plugins. Today, I have just 6. You can often massively increase the speed of your blog, simply by removing unnecessary plugins. The first plugin I install on a new WordPress blog, is always the Akismet spam filter.
6. If your blog is commercial, invest in professional grade hosting ASAP
When you pay $10 a month for hosting, you get $10 worth of service and speed. However, when you spend $50 a month, you still get a very similar service to that $10 a month provider. If you are serious about the commercial value of your blog, get it onto a dedicated server or if money is tight, get on a cloud-based server as soon as you can afford to.
The increased speed, reliability and 24/7 one to one tech support is worth every penny. When the BBC put a link to my blog on their homepage last year, instead of me gaining a stack of new readers, my site went down under all the traffic. Today, it would keep working.
Finally, I recommend you either start a business blog or start taking your blog seriously. The rewards are huge… but only if you give your blog everything it needs.