“Blog” is short for “weblog”, which refers to a log of events that is kept online. Over time, “blog” has become the go-to term for online articles presented in a reverse-chronological or diary format. Entries are called “posts” and they are shown so that the latest post is found at the top of the page.
The word “blog” can also be used as a verb. For instance, to blog about something is to write a post about it and publish it online. Doing this is referred to as “blogging” and the people who do this are called “bloggers.”
Now that you know the terminology, your next thought may be why people may use a blog. As it happens, there are multiple uses for a blog.
What is a blog used for?
Blogs are generally split into two categories – personal and business. While both serve the same broad purpose, to keep their readers up to date, the subject matter differs widely. The primary purpose of a great many blogs – both personal and business – is to generate revenue.
Personal blogs almost exclusively contain posts that are relevant to the blogger writing them. While there are some personal blogs that have more than one author, a vast majority of them are made up of posts written by a single blogger.
Business, or commercial, blogs are just what the name implies. Generally, the posts are all related to a business and the products or services that said business offers.
That is not to say, however, that personal blogs cannot be financially rewarding. In fact, they may be even more directly so than a commercial blog. To understand how that works, you need to be aware of the different ways that blogs can make money, which is referred to as monetization. More people than ever before are supporting themselves with online businesses. There are so many ways now to accomplish monetization of a private blog. You can find more information about that from this Recurring Revenue Summit.
A business may use many of its blog posts to tell readers of any new products or services it might be offering or to provide information on existing ones. These posts may be purely informational, allowing current and potential new customers to make informed decisions before making a purchase.
In the same way, many posts on personal blogs will not contain anything but free information. But the content of those blogs will be interesting or useful enough to keep readers coming back regularly for more of the same. After all, it doesn’t cost them anything.
How do blogs make money?
A commercial blog may offer some of its products or services for sale in a couple of different ways.
1. BUY buttons lead to a specific product and will often direct a reader to an order page to make their purchase.
2. Links to various products, possibly with photos, could be placed on various pages of the blog.
A personal blog also has multiple different ways to generate revenue. We will go into a little more detail about them in the next section. Suffice it to say that there are many bloggers who have managed to cultivate a variety of revenue streams with their blogs.
1. Ads can be placed on blogs that will pay the blogger when enough readers click on it.
2. Sponsored posts are those that a blogger is paid to write about a company or specific products.
3. Affiliate marketing is a combination of the previous two. A link in a blog post will take the reader to a product page of a commercial website. If the reader then buys something on that website, the blogger will receive a commission.
It is worth noting that both sponsored posts and affiliate marketing links must be disclosed by the blogger. That is so readers will be aware that the blogger is being paid to write about the products or services of a company.
What is the difference between a blog and a website?
There are usually a couple of major differences between a blog and a website. Basically, a blog will only be a series of posts, while a website can oftentimes be more complicated.
For instance, either a person or a business may have a website that consists entirely of its blog. That is because it is possible to automatically display information on every page of a blog. So a business may have its contact information and hours of operation visible, no matter which posts a viewer happens to be reading. For that matter, a blog can have multiple static pages.
Most often, though, a company will have a home page with that information, as pages for various products and possibly other items of interest. Each page will usually be accessed by either tabs or links that are visible on every page of the website. Personal blogs may be part of larger websites.
Another major difference between a website and a blog is that websites often contain a lot of static information that does not need to be edited frequently. For instance, if a company selling water filters has a page about how their water filters work, that is unlikely to change. Blogs, on the other hand, usually add posts on a regular basis.
In any case, it’s important to know that a person or business may have one, the other, or both. The fact that blogs have pages with fresh content on a regular basis is one of the most vital factors in search engine rankings. Rank directly affects the number of people who will see your website or blog. Search engines place a very high value on frequent updates. All other things being equal, websites – including blogs – that publish new content have a much better chance of being found by people who are searching for those types of products and services.
How do you start a blog?
Creating and maintaining a blog is not at all difficult these days. There are a few blogging basics you need to know before starting one of your own. The following is a quick overview of the elements you’ll want to think about carefully. Before you start spending any money, you should think about this carefully.
1. Buy a Domain Name
What is a domain name? Your domain name is what your blog or website will be known as, often yourdomainname dot com. Of course, your domain name can be .org for organizations, .net for networks or quite a few other types of designations.
If you have a business, you will probably want a domain that includes the name of your company. Unless it’s very unique, someone may already have a dot com domain with that name. So your choice will be either choosing a different extension, such as dot biz, or including something else in the domain name, such as the name of your city.
If you don’t have a registered business, then you should try to make your domain name reflect the content of your blog. This allows people who are searching for specific information, products or services to find your blog easily.
In addition to adding regular fresh content, your domain name is another crucial factor in having search engines bringing visitors to your website. Make sure that you choose a domain name that is:
- Relevant to your content
- As short as possible
- Easy to spell
If your domain name does not reflect the content of your blog, you will be attracting visitors who are looking for something else. That is a complete waste of your efforts. A short domain is best as it lends itself to marketing material and memory better. Furthermore, if your domain name is not easy to spell, you will lose all of the potential visitors who are spelling it wrong.
If you already have a website that you will just be adding a blog to then you already have a domain name. Simply add the page with your blog so that it will, very likely, read yourdomainname.com/blog. Otherwise, you will need to buy a domain name. If the one you want doesn’t already belong to someone else, they are usually quite inexpensive.
2. Buy a Web Hosting Plan For Your Blog
Just like a website, you will need a web hosting plan to host your blog. Think of it this way, your domain name is part of the address (URL) that will point visitors to the exact spot where it lives on the Internet, while your hosting company gives it a house to live in.
The only difference from real life is that you can keep your address as long as you keep renewing your domain name, but you can point that address at different houses when you switch hosting companies. Many hosting companies sell domain names, which makes it a lot easier for novices to get their domain name pointed at their blog.
Types of Web Hosting
Just like houses, however, your hosting company will have plans of different sizes at different prices. You will need to be familiar with various criteria in order to be able to make an informed decision about which plan is right for you.
- Free hosting – There are actually companies which offer free hosting for your blog. Some, like Google’s Blogger, will allow you to point your own domain name at it, so many visitors will not even realize you are using a free service. Others will have ads of some kind or, alternatively, make you use a paid plan if you want to attach your blog to your own domain name.
- Shared hosting is like having an apartment in a shared building. It’s cheaper and requires very little in the way of technical skills. Shared hosting is a good choice for websites that have low to moderate traffic. Most people who are just starting out, even for business, will choose this option. All it means is that your blog is sharing server space with other accounts.
- There are a couple of potential downsides to these plans, since you can have bad neighbors sharing your common space, just like in real life. Fortunately, there is only a very small chance of them affecting you, because most hosting companies are good landlords.
- One possible consequence of shared hosting is that other accounts on your server will start hogging resources – memory, processing power, disk space, etc. – to the point that your own site will start getting sluggish when loading pages. Most hosting companies not only reserve a large cushion of resources for unexpected spikes of activity, they are also super-efficient at allocating resources to where they are needed. Websites that start to outgrow their plans are usually notified and asked to upgrade to a plan that will accommodate greater needs.
- Another potential outcome is that one or more accounts on your server will get blacklisted for something like sending out a lot of spam. Since sharing servers means you have the same ISP address, emails from your account could get diverted to spam folders, as well. It’s easy to avoid this problem by making sure the hosting company you choose has very strictly enforced policies against that kind of behavior.
For a low cost solution, without the headache of shared hosting, iThemes hosting is an excellent choice.
- Dedicated hosting allows you to have a server all to yourself. That means all of its disk space, memory and processing power is yours to use as you see fit. Additionally, you will have your own ISP address. With dedicated hosting, you can avoid the problems mentioned above, but it does come at a cost. Plans can run into hundreds of dollars a month and the maintenance of your server will require some technical knowledge you may not have.
More Hosting Considerations
- Operating System You will usually have a choice between Windows and Linux hosting, and the Windows plans will often run about $10 – $20 more than the Linux ones. If you will be using any Microsoft programs with your blog, then you should go with Windows servers.
- Storage refers to how much disk space your blog will take up on a server. If you will be posting a lot of photos and videos, for instance, that will take up more space than content that is mainly just text.
- Data transfers This is often referred to as “bandwidth”, though it is not exactly the same thing. Bandwidth is how much data you can transfer at once. Data transfers in hosting plans refer to how much you are allowed to use altogether each month. So if your plan allows only 1GB of data transfers every month, and you have a blog post go viral, you may very well exceed your plan limits.
3. Use a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress
WordPress WordPress.org (not WordPress.com) is one of the most widely used blog and website platforms. In fact, WordPress now powers 37% of all websites.
What is WordPress? WordPress is an excellent website platform for a variety of websites. From blogging to e-commerce to business and portfolio websites, WordPress is a versatile CMS. Designed with usability and flexibility in mind, WordPress is a great solution for both large and small websites.
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org – If you’re new to WordPress, you might be trying to understand how WordPress.org is different from WordPress.com. We know the difference between these two platforms may be confusing, so we’ll unpack all the differences for you.
- WordPress.org is where you’ll find the free WordPress software that you can download and install on your own web server to create a website. With WordPress.org, YOU host your own blog or website.
- WordPress.com takes care of all of the web hosting for you. You don’t have to download software, pay for hosting, or manage a web server. You will, however, be required to create an account on WordPress.com and many website features are paid upgrades.
There is a lot of information about how to use WordPress online, if you run into problems using it. It has a built-in blog format and a huge number of plug-ins that can be used to automate all kinds of functions. Some hosting companies offer WordPress as a website builder on their platform, so that may be a factor for you when choosing one.
What should I write on my blog?
The content you provide on your blog depends on how you would like to benefit from it. For example, if you are someone who really enjoys cooking and would love to publish a cookbook, then you could write posts about your experience with developing and making specific recipes. Photos and videos would add highly desirable visual interest.
If your blog becomes popular enough, it could be used as the basis for a proposal to a publisher about a cookbook you’d like to write. Don’t forget that your blog could also be earning money while you wait to be published in other ways we’ve touched on previously.
You could offer to write sponsored posts for the companies who manufacture the tools and utensils you use. In addition to sponsored posts, you could include affiliate links for those products to places where they could be purchased, such as Amazon. Many of the purchases those people make at Amazon within 24 hours will return a small commission to you.
You will be writing about those things anyway, so it should be easy for you to do in a very natural way.
If your blog is for your business, then the posts will obviously cover the products and services that you offer. The key to writing these posts effectively will be to focus on how they will help the reader. You don’t want to just list features, you need to go into very specific detail about situations where they would be useful.
Nothing will interest your readers more than finding out how they can improve their lives in some way – including ways to save time, money or effort. You should first attract their notice with a good headline. Ask a question, such as “Are you spending too much time in the kitchen?” before explaining how your product can fix that.
Human interest can usually be counted upon to hold the attention of your readers, too. If your company has gotten mail about how your service really helped them, feature that experience in a blog post.
Two things to remember when writing your blog
1. Only publish content that is helpful to your readers. Even if you only have a personal blog about what’s going on in your life, that’s what your visitors are coming to read. If you start randomly publishing posts about things which don’t affect you personally, you will very likely find your readership falling off.
2. Do not try to sell something on every post. You can certainly have ads, or links to things in the sidebar or footer. Each post should elicit your reader to action – sign up for your newsletter, or follow you on twitter.
There is one cardinal rule to successful blogging that no one can ignore. You have to be writing about something that interests you. If you are going to maintain a blog, then you will need to write a great many words about a specific subject category.
Even a fairly narrow niche category usually has enough aspects that can be written about and still remain interesting. But one thing is undeniable – if you are not interested in what you are writing, there isn’t much likelihood that anyone else will be either. And if you are not interested, you probably won’t want to write about it regularly, which is necessary for a successful blog.
Publishing Your Blog
Once you’ve built your blog, it will be formatted into the elements listed above. You will probably not be changing your header, footer or sidebars very often. The most frequent additions you will make will be to your Blog Post element. That is where you will write new content, which you can save as a Draft, to come back to later or Publish. Once you hit publish, the new content will be online for anyone to see.
It’s nice to know that most blogging platforms will let you revert posts back to Drafts, if you want to get a post off the internet for any reason. You should also be aware that there are places online which store records of content even after it has been deleted.
How do I get visitors to my blog?
Okay, so now you have a domain name and your blog has a home. You’ve used your hosting company’s website builder software to create an appealing blog and published content that makes you proud. All you need now are people to read it. While you can, and should, put your domain name on all of your emails and hard copy of any materials you give out to people in real life, the vast majority of people will find your blog through search engines like Google.
There are two ways to make your blog more visible on search pages:
- Through organic search results
- Using direct advertising channels
Organic Search Results
It doesn’t cost you anything for your blog to show up on the first page of search results because the search engine considers your content to be a high-quality resource of the information someone is searching for. That is referred to as ranking high organically.
Search engines have come a long way from their early beginnings. Thank goodness, because the internet has far more content than it did early on. The primary purpose of search engines is to give people the highest quality of information that they are searching for. To do this, search engines are constantly developing the best algorithms that are capable of finding that information.
This practice has resulted in the specialty of search engine optimization (SEO), which is the process of tweaking online content to make it more likely to organically rank higher on search pages. There are several factors that contribute to organic rankings.
Search engines match the words people use to search for information to online content which contains those words. There are so many websites that use the same words so the search engines then determine which are the most credible and authoritative sources.
Having a keyword in a domain name, or anywhere in a URL, gives a blog’s authority a big boost. The frequency of keywords used in the content, as well as the context and use of synonyms, is also of particular importance. Frequency alone is not enough, that’s why keyword stuffing – using the same word – or words – over and over again with little sense or context doesn’t work anymore.
Niche blogs and websites – meaning those focusing on a specific topic – like parenting or personal finance, will very naturally have certain words spread throughout, adding to its authority. The more specific the topic, the more likely a blog will pop up on a keyword search for its content.
For instance, a blog that focuses on crockpot recipes will very likely get more hits from people searching for “crockpot recipes” than a general recipe blog that only has a handful of them. There are people who manage multiple WordPress sites in different niches, in order to generate a variety of revenue streams.
Blogs that link to well-respected websites, or have high-ranking websites linking back to them, will grow in authority and credibility. While quantity can certainly make a difference, quality is more important.
Search engines prefer fresh content to stale content. If you publish posts at least 3 times a week, it will be considered a fresh source of information. In fact, it’s widely understood that WordPress blogs tend to rank higher than blogs using other content management systems (CMS) because WordPress itself is constantly refreshing its platform.
For both personal and business blogs, there is one rule you must follow. Do not try to sell something in every post. When you offer useful information without trying to sell something, it lends authority to your blog. Not only will that keep your readers coming back for more, but that authority will also help to increase your search engine ranking. You may even get lucky and the post will be linked to by some high-ranking website. This will increase your credibility even more and probably bring you a many more visitors.
Advertising to increase traffic
Search engines offer the opportunity to buy ads for certain keywords. These are priced according to the popularity of the words and phrases, but there are many which can be bought for pennies.
These ads are placed in various spots of the search engine page. There may be a few websites at the top clearly marked as Ads, or there may be photos of items for sale on the side of the page under the word “Sponsored”. They are all links to specific blogs or websites. You can buy ads that will link people to your home page, or to a particular blog post.
Start your own blog!
You really don’t have anything to lose by at least trying it out. No need to buy a domain name or choose a hosting plan yet. You can just go to a free platform like WordPress and practice everything from choosing themes to adding pages and – most important – the writing itself.
When you feel you are ready for more, you now know:
- What to consider when deciding on a domain name
- How to compare hosting services
- Search ranking factors
- How to generate revenue with a blog
- Content focus
In fact, you know enough now to be able to give a very good answer to anyone else asking “What is a blog?”, so there’s no reason not to put all that newfound knowledge to good use. From here on out, it’s all just a matter of practice and maybe a little more research.
Since search engines are always changing their algorithm criteria, it’s probably smart to at least check in on the latest SEO tips now and then. Looking at similar blogs, even those of the competition, can also be really helpful. Start with the ones that are ranking the highest to see if you notice anything significantly different from yours – whether it’s the name, design or writing.
Blogging does not have much of a learning curve, almost anyone can do it. You don’t have to be intimidated by the idea of starting your own blog. The key to being successful at it, like so many other things, is taking the time to learn how to do it right and then making the effort.
There are many good reasons to have a blog, and many ways to benefit from having one. The information here should provide quite a decent foundation to get started. If you’re ready to take the plunge, iThemes is here to help you. Please join us at iThemes Training for free webinars.
Each week, the team at iThemes team publishes new WordPress tutorials and resources, including the Weekly WordPress Vulnerability Report. Since 2008, iThemes has been dedicated to helping you build, maintain, and secure WordPress sites for yourself or for clients. Our mission? Make People’s Lives Awesome.