Home or away: good places to start a blog
So you’ve decided your business needs a blog. But where? Your own site or someone else's? Wordpress or Squarespace? Tumblr, LinkedIn or Medium? What about guest blogs? Does Instagram count as a blog?
In this article, we’ll find a home for your blog. We'll also look at options for sharing your posts in other places to get more readers.
Where to blog depends on why you blog
You need to start with a clear idea of why you’re blogging, and what kind of articles you plan to write. If you haven't worked that out yet, then you might want to check out parts one and two of this series.
So - where should you start a blog?
- Your own website?
- A public platform?
- Someone else's site?
The right answer might be “all of them”.
Your own website
You need some place on the internet that explains what you sell and how people can buy it.
Some people choose to just have a Google Business page, or a Facebook page, but that’s a little risky. Your entire web presence is at the mercy of their product manager’s latest whim. You have limited control over looks too. It’s hard to look sophisticated or hip, when you have to work with Google’s playschool colour palette.
I recommend you have a site of your own, under your own domain name: for example emilyobyrne.com, not emilyobyrne.wordpress.com. Websites don't need to be expensive or difficult to create. Here's how you can build a website in an afternoon.
And once you have a site, you might as well stick a blog on it.
If you sell services rather than products, your blog is likely to be the biggest part of your website. As we talked about in part one of this series, it's essential to being found.
Here are some options to look at for creating a blog of your own.
The blog you already have
If you have a website or online commerce system set up, you may have a blog already. Website on Wix or Squarespace? You have a blog. Shopify store? You have a blog. Teachable school? You have a blog. Check the site specific help to find out what you need to do to enable blogging features and get started.
All in one website builders
If you don’t currently have a site, I’d suggest you start with one of the many website builders on the market. These services include a wide range of templates and a content manager to set up posts and other pages. You don't need to write any code if you don't want to, and web hosting is included in the package. Some even let you buy your domain name and your Google Apps through the same service.
Take advantage of free trials to see which one works for you. Some of the tools offer free accounts, but these don't generally allow your own domain name. There will be other limitations too. Paid accounts aren't expensive - they start from around 10USD a month.
Here are some good options to start with:
- Squarespace. Good ecommerce features as well as blogs, galleries and landing pages. It’s what I use for my own site.
- Wix Similar features to Squarespace. Might work out cheaper depending on which features you need.
- Wordpress.com This popular tool started just for blogging, but now offers a lot more. There's a huge choice of 3rd party plugins, to tailor your site exactly to your needs.
Host it yourself
Some people choose to manage their own web hosting, and install Wordpress, Ghost or another content manager. You’ll need to have (or hire) a bit of technical know-how to go down this route. I can't see the advantage: I’m not sure I can make a better call on the right hosting supplier than the tech bods at Squarespace or Wordpress. But feel free to try and convince me!
Build it yourself
If your own copy of Wordpress isn’t flexible enough, you could build your own site. And if you’re a web designer or a developer you probably should. A Squarespace template isn’t going to impress your potential customers like a site showcasing your own designs and code. You can take shortcuts though. Start with something like Bootstrap to get the basics in place, and give yourself more time for tweaking the design details.
For most people, there’s no need to go down the self-build route. A bit of coding knowledge is useful to put special tweaks into your site. I use snippets of HTML to add tools like SumoMe and to create anchor links to jump people down a page. I either copy it from the plugin help pages, or I refer to W3Schools to work out the code I need.
For the rest of it, I leave well alone. Time spent coding is time you could have spent on creating blog posts or promoting your articles in new places.
Which brings us to...
There are lots of places to publish articles outside of your own site. It can be tempting to just go with one of these platforms and not have a blog of your own. No bother with hosting and domain names and all that.
But think back to why you’re blogging. You’re doing this for your business. You want to attract people to your website.
LinkedIn or Facebook or Medium want to attract people too, and that's why they want your posts on their site. Medium is a whole business built on the work of people like us. Make sure you get value out of the work you do. Go ahead and make use of their services, but use it to bring readers back to your business.
Getting value for your effort is a lot to do with picking the right platform to share your articles. Don’t plan to share your articles everywhere. Pick a couple that are likely to be where your customers hang out.
Bear in mind that if you post somewhere you may well get responses. You might not want to manage comments and replies on more than a couple of platforms. Also bear in mind that you don't always have to share the full article. You can just share a link and an image, to people have to come back to your site to read. Some of these platforms work for links or articles. You can experiment and find out which options work best for you.
- Medium is a good place to republish whole articles. There's an import tool to pull in your blog posts, and category tags help to put them in front of the right readers.
- Tumblr is great for setting up a blog quickly. It's easy to post images and quotes - it works better for short articles. It’s free and easy to get started, and if you really don't want to manage your own website this is a good place to get started. Tumblr has its own community, which may help to find you new readers. I’ve not had as much success there as on Medium, but that’s probably down to the kind of content I share.
- Facebook is either perfect for your business or a waste of time. It depends on whether your customers use Facebook or not. You can choose to post full articles with Facebook Notes, or just share links back to your own blog.
- LinkedIn has a blogging feature, LinkedIn Pulse. The audience is more likely to suit business-to-business bloggers. If you don’t choose to post or re-post whole articles here, you can just share links, like with Facebook.
- Youtube is the obvious starting point for your video posts. As well as giving you somewhere to put videos that you then use in your blog, you can also pick up viewers through Youtube itself.
- Vimeo is another good place to put video content, and there are no ads, but it might be less good for picking up new viewers. You don’t hear of people losing an afternoon on Vimeo so much, do you?
- Slideshare is like Youtube for slides. Put slide shows here and embed them in your blog posts or on your LinkedIn page. Describe and tag your slides carefully so they get offered to new readers.
- Instagram isn't a traditional blog platform, but lots of businesses use it like a blog. If you sell clothes, for instance, you might post your new collection as a series of images on Instagram. You could use the same pictures in a single longer blog post on your main site. Linking back to your blog on Instagram is tricky. You can't add links in the captions. You need to tell people to follow the link in your bio to get them back to your site.
Pro tip: Instagram forces you to post from a phone or tablet app. You can’t use your browser. save yourself hassle and use Latergram to set up your posts. Edit the images and sort out the captions on a full size keyboard, and simply post them from your phone when you’re ready.
Other people's blogs
Blogs, newspapers, magazines, and special interest sites are all hungry for content and may be open to publishing your posts.
This is a great way to get your posts in front of a much bigger audience than you might get on your own blog. It's hard to do this as your only blog platform though. It's easier to get a guest post published if you can show samples of your work - like your own blog.
Besides,what are you blogging for? Not to increase readers of the Huffington Post, I expect. If you’re blogging to grow your own business, then your guest posts are about attracting readers to follow you back to your own site. So you need a site.
You also need a site to talk about the products and services you might not be able to mention in the guest post. Editorial guidelines vary, but you might not be allowed more than a link back to your own site in your byline.
Make the most of this link. Consider sending people to a landing page, with a promotion directed specifically at readers of that publication. You might offer a discount code or a free download - in exchange for an email address, of course. This is how you can capitalise on all those new readers you pick up with a guest post.
Guest posting can be time-consuming, especially as you may not be able to republish the post exactly as is on your blog. You can find out more about get into guest blogging in these articles:
- How to Get Guest Posts Published on Top Sites - Content Marketing Institute
- 8 Myths about Guest Posting Exploded - Bryan Collins at Become a Writer Today
- How to Become a Columnist: The Ultimate Guide to Guest Posting & Syndication - Kevan Lee at Buffer
So - to sum up:
- Start with your own blog on your own site.
- Add other platforms and guest posts to reach a wider audience.
- Choose your extra platforms based on your target audience, as well as the type of content you want to share.
So far we’ve focused on conventional text-based blogging. But you might find that pictures, audio or video suit you and your customers better. We'll look into those different kinds of posts next week.