This post originally appeared on famousbloggers as a guest blog.

Putting up a blog is something that can now be easily done in minutes, but building a successful blog is another thing. It requires more time and pondering, more careful planning, and of course, more strategic blogging.

Here are five practical tips to get you started. The first tip tells you how to prepare; the second gives pointers on how to create content; the third teaches how to blog; the fourth offers tips on how to expand your outreach though social media; and the last is about “joining the community”.

Tip # 1: Preparation

Before putting up a blog, make a plan

One of the most important keys to making anything successful is having a good plan. Think of all the blog essentials and carefully craft a blog site that makes up a full package.

Site Design and Structure

  • Tell people what your blog is all about through your site design. If, for example, your blog is about food, it would help to have images of mouth-watering dishes or fresh fruits and ingredients on your home page. If your blog is about finance, give it a business-like feel or use images and icons of money, graphs, etc.
  • Choose your colors and themes wisely. Avoid offensive colors that might cause people to avert their eyes from the screen. If your blog is heavy on text and would have people reading, it is not advisable to use negative color themes or using white or other light colors on text against black or other dark backgrounds.If, for example, your blog is about art or photography, keep your background plain or simple to emphasize your images. Also, choose colors that will also complement and represent the focus of your blog.
  • Make your blog organized. Keep a good tab of your categories and tags, and make sure all pages and topics are arranged accordingly. Organize categories based on blog topics, content, and other criteria. Make your site easy to use. Don’t make your widgets too long and group them according to priority, frequency of use, or similarities (ex. group tag and category clouds together).
  • Use images, videos and other media. An all-text blog is essentially boring. Since you are starting out, it is important to catch people’s attention and make them stick. Using other media will also generate more traffic to your site.
  • Stuff your homepage with the essentials. Here are the things that your blog’s home page should have:
    • Tab linking  to the About page
    • Search box
    • List of posts (It can be a tab that links posts straight to their pages, or a link to page that lists or archives your posts.)
    • Widget for top posts
    • Widget for recent posts
    • Widget for related posts
    • Tag & category clouds
    • Blogroll and links
    • Email and RSS feed subscription boxes
    • Social media buttons (ex. follow me Twitter, like me on Facebook, etc.)
    • Feedback and share buttons (“like”, share on Twitter or Facebook, Digg It, Stumble Upon, etc.)
    • Public email address

Choosing a Domain Name and a Hosting Company

Choosing a domain name is like choosing a business or company name. The domain name refers to the first part of your URL or uniform resource locator. It is usually preceded by “http://www.” and suffixed with a TLD or top-level domain (ex. “.com”, “.net”, “.edu”). Like the site design, it has to say something about your blog.

Here are a few tips in choosing a domain name:

  • Avoid using a domain name that is far from or is unrelated to what your blog is about. For example, do not use “chocolatesandmallows.com” for a website on cars.
  • Using keywords in your domain name will help optimize your blog for web searches. For instance, a blog about surfing can use “surfingtides.com”.
  • Refrain from using abbreviations. Using full words or full names (such as full company name for corporate blogs) is more effective and is easier to remember.
  • For better and easier recall, use “.com”, as it is the most popular and most common.
  • To avoid confusion, don’t use “.com” anywhere in your domain name if you intend to use other TLDs such as “.net” or “.org”.

Once you’ve made your pick on what your blog would be called, you can already buy a domain name from aweb hosting or a domain name service provider. Here are some tips:

  • If you intend to use your own server for your blog, it is better to buy a domain through a separate domain name service and choose one that will assign you a static IP address.
  • Purchasing a domain even though you haven’t put up a site is fine and is probably more advisable, as you would have the security of knowing that you already have the name that you want.
  • When purchasing, you will be asked to enter your preferred domain name to check its availability. If your first choice is already taken, the service provider usually suggests a couple of alternatives. You can also buy domain names that have or are about to expire.
  • After buying a domain, you will have to register it. Choose your service provider carefully. Entrust your blog only to those with good background and reputation. Serverpoint.com and Godaddy.com are good starters.

Keyword / Market Research

So you have already planned what your site would be about, how it would look like, what it would be called, and how you’d get a domain. The next thing to plot out is how to penetrate your target market or audience, what keywords to use, and how to use these keywords to get your desired traffic.

In the cyber world, market research is usually conducted through keyword research. As with traditional market studies, keyword research shows what people (in this case, the internet users) look for the most, what exact words they use when they think of these topics, and how much these things or words are “searched” through search engines.

In other words, keyword research lets you know your audience’s language. It reveals the keywords your audience uses when searching about a particular topic. And since search engines are keyword oriented, you will have an idea of which ones to use in your articles so as to get traffic off them.

Keyword research tips:

  • Google, considered as one of the top search engines worldwide, has tools such as Analytics and Adwords to aid people doing keyword or market research.
  • There are also tools such as Keyword Discovery, Wordze and Wordtracker, which provide estimates on the number of times that internet users make searches on certain keywords or phrases.
  • Choose a niche, research it thoroughly, and target this niche by using their language or the keywords that they mostly use.
  • Based on your keyword research, write on topics that would be most interesting for your niche, or choose those that they search about the most.
  • Find related keywords to expand your market.
  • Look for websites or other blogs related to yours and see if they would be interested in linking to your post. You can build relationships with them to increase link prospects and site authority.
  • Search for money-making prospects for your blog by looking for related products and services to review or accepting ads on related products and services that will be interesting to your clients and that have high cost per click (CPC).

Now that you’re done with the planning, it’s time to focus on your blog’s content.

Tip # 2: Creating Content

Don’t just write blog entries. Write compelling articles

Blogging means using words, but successful blogging entails using the right words effectively. It requires enough and proper knowledge of your audience to know the entries and information that they need and want. Study them through keyword research; take note of posts that they read, comment on and share the most; and ask them what they want to know through forums, threads and posts.

How to write a compelling article

  1. Have a powerful headline. Use power words but not too much. Grab people’s attention with your title and make them click and read on. Just make sure that your title is consistent with your article.
  1. Capture the audience with your first paragraph. Draw them into reading the rest of your article by following through with your headline and further enticing them with promising content.
  1. Give them what they need. Give them the content and information you promised in a way that still keeps them reading. Provide them with useful information and avoid “filler sentences” that can bore your readers.
  1. Tell a story. Start by raising an issue, continue with answering it and providing backup or proof, then end with reaffirming the solution to the issue you raised. It pays to plan before writing by having an outline and visualizing how to start and end your article.
  1. Make your article easy to read and understand. Internet users have limited attention span when it comes to web content, so the key is giving them what they want and need within that limited time that you have their attention.Bold, italicize or highlight important words and phrases. Use lists and subheads to (1) break down boring bulks of text, (2) help readers easily absorb your content, and (3) facilitate better recall. Use simple words and short paragraphs of only 2-3 sentences each.
  1. Talk to your readers in their language. Aside from using the keywords that they use, write in a way that they can best relate to. Converse with your readers in a more personal rather than business-like manner, except if you really intend to have a professional-sounding or business-like blog.
  1. Enrich your entry with various media. Don’t settle with just words. Grace your article with images or videos to further its appeal and complement your textual content.
  1. Edit before you post. Check for spelling, grammar or factual errors. Fix your format and make sure that you don’t post entries that can negatively affect readers’ trust.

Tip # 3: Blogging

Engage with your readers

In the previous tip, you learned how to create entries that attract readers and lure them into reading your entire post. This time, we will discuss how to get your readers attached to your blog.

When browsing through various blogs, you’d see that there are some which are rarely visited, while others are brimming with life and activities. What sets them apart? Reader engagement. How do you acquire this? Here are a few tips:

  • Make your readers feel that you care—that you’re writing not just for yourself or for your other agenda (such as making money), but for the readers. When writing, always keep your readers’ interests and needs in mind.
  • Give your readers something informative, something useful, something entertaining, or better yet, something that combines these three.
  • Stay within the area or topic of your blog. Don’t suddenly talk about flowers if your blog is about sports.
  • Publish regularly. Keep your blog active, fresh and updated.
  • Take care of your readers by making them feel that you notice and appreciate them. “Talk to them” in your posts, ask for their opinion, answer their questions and reply to their comments.
  • Keep track of what your readers are most interested in by knowing how to use analytics. This tool shows which posts get the most traffic and which ones keep getting traffic even long after they have been published. This information will give you an idea of which topics would be most useful and interesting for your readers.
  • Give them something they won’t forget. There are successful bloggers who host special activities in their blogs such as contests so as to attract new readers, revive inactive ones and increase active reader involvement.
    Successful blog contests involve:
    • Clear set objectives – Know exactly what you want to attain through this contest: more readers? more social media followers? more email or RSS feed subscribers? product sales? more active reader engagement? Based on these objectives, carefully think up a contest idea along with the mechanics.
    • Well-thought of game plan – There are various contests that you can try: photo contests, skills contests, challenge contests, raffles, etc. Whatever you choose, make sure to pick one based on what you think would be popular to your audience.
    • Partnerships and use of other publicity tools – Use social media, team up with a fellow blogger in your niche or engage sponsors.
    • Sustained engagement – Use (1) multiple entry steps that allow contestants to explore your site and (2) attainable goals that will make people think they can do or win it (your contest). Be careful not to alienate your readers with too long and complicated procedures or too difficult questions.
    • Specialized apps – Depending on the type of contest you choose, look for a web application that can make the contest run smoother and easier.

Tip # 4: Expanding Outreach

Make use of social media

You’ve learned about the importance of keywords in getting traffic through search engines, but don’t limit yourself with just search engine optimization. Use social media.

As of mid-2011, social media networking has surpassed pornography viewing as top activity on the internet. Facebook alone has over 800 million users as of the end of 2011, and is still counting. With a population this big, social media networks (SMNs) are undoubtedly among the best and most effective venues to get traffic and have more mileage. To penetrate this market, you have to create an effective social media strategy:

  • Plan. Set attainable goals in relation to your overall blogging objectives.
  • Research. Find out the social media sites and forums that your target readers most frequently use. Facebook and Twitter are sure-fire list starters.
  • Create and maintain relationships.
  • Attract and acquire followers. More followers or fans means you have more people to share your posts with.
  • Add Facebook “like” and “share” buttons, Twitter “tweet” or “share” buttons, and other social media “share” and feedback buttons to your every blog post. As mentioned in tip # 1, also add a “follow me on Twitter” and “like me on Facebook” button on your home page and if possible, on each of your pages.
  • Always post good stuff that people will want to click, read and share.
  • You can also buy Facebook fans from social media marketing service providers such as uSocial. Building your initial base of fans, followers and contacts isn’t easy; but if you already have followers, it adds up to your credibility and people will be more attuned to connecting with you.
  • Befriend other influential people in your industry or line of blogging.
  • Maintain good relationship with your followers.
  • Post regularly. If you find yourself scrambling for time, blog hosts and platforms such as WordPress have tools and mechanisms for automated or “timed” posting.
  • Follow people. You can also opt to “follow back” those who have followed you on Twitter.
  • Respond to Twitter “mentions” or thank followers who have retweeted your posts or followed your account. Do the latter through Twitter’s direct message option so as to not flood or alienate your other followers.
  • Reply to people’s comments and answer their questions. Basically, join conversations and really be a part of the community.
  • Join events for bloggers and for those in your industry or blogging topic.
  • Measure results.

Keep track of the following:

  • your followers, fans, or contacts, depending on the social media network – Make sure the numbers are always increasing.
  • the number of comments, shares and mentions of your blog or posts be it in social media sites, forums or other blogs – You can do this through Twitter’s @___ search and tracking system, Facebook’s sidebar stats on how many people are talking about your page, and through Google Alerts, which makes use of keywords and can send you email alerts whenever there’s a mention of your blog.
  • positive and negative mentions of your blog or posts
  • people or groups you’ve connected with
  • your blog traffic
  • Keep improving. Using the abovementioned data and tips from other users, keep improving your blog and your social media strategies. Keep experimenting. Adapt new methods. And listen to feedback from your online community.
  • Believe in it. Don’t just do social media marketing to join the bandwagon or sell, sell and sell. Use social media to build a community and connect with your readers. Immerse in their world and find out what they’re interested in.

Tip # 5: Joining the Community

Reach out to other blogs

Successful blogging doesn’t just involve good relationship with your readers. Being part of the blogging community, especially in your niche, will also help make you the successful blogger that you want to be. Here are some tips on how to make your blog more “social”:

  • Comment on posts in other people’s blogs or share links on related info or articles.
  • Link to other blogs.
  • Participate in blog events such as memes.
  • Write guest posts for other bloggers.
  • Write for the readers of the host blogger.
  • Ensure mutual benefits such as links to your blog, references, etc.
  • Introduce yourself to the readers. Tell them who you are, what you do, and why you are a “credible source” on the topic that you’re writing about.
  • Be courteous. Be careful not to offend the host blog’s readers.
  • If needed, have the host blogger read through your post before publishing it.
  • Have enough backups for your post.
  • Immediately contact the host blogger should anything go wrong.

Bonus Tip: Learn SEO

SEO or Search Engine Optimization refers to the practice of bringing or increasing site traffic to a website by improving its search engine rankings. It involves manipulation of various internal and external aspects of a site based on search engine’s criteria of evaluating a site’s relevance, credibility and authority in relation to searches that users do.

Simply put, SEO helps make your site search engine-friendly so that when an internet user makes a search, your website or blog would be among the top search results. You can learn optimization yourself or read blogs about SEO strategies.

With all that, putting up a successful blog might seem like a lot of work, but its rewards can also be limitless. We are in an age where there is so much (and still growing) internet usage that it would be no surprise if taking up space in the blogosphere turns out to be an excellent investment.

Just remember to take the right path and follow the right advices to avoid being among those who have blogged and failed. Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing and love your readers because without them, what’s the use of blogging?