When announcing the current three-month blogging challenge where I'll report on progress and stats for a brand new site launch, I mentioned the three-month clock wouldn't start until launch. But that doesn't mean nothing's happening. A lot of pre-launch work goes in on the backend before a new blog launch, and today I'm going to share that plan (plus a couple of downloads).
Here's the basic pre-launch checklist I'm working through.
Blog / Marketing Plan
This is where you should start when launching a new blog. It's where you write up a brief mission statement so you can stay on target. It's where you lay out who your target audience is, what they hope to get from the kind of site you're planning to launch, and how you plan to help them reach those goals or solve those problems. It's also where you begin laying out a marketing plan for the blog.
You can use my blog business plan outline as a guide. It's set up as a series of questions for you to answer to make the process as easy as possible.
You don't even have to fill out every section. I didn't in mine. For example, I have a simple cost breakdown but didn't do a broader financial plan because I don't intend to monetize this blog (or at least not heavily) right away. During the challenge period I'm mostly concerned with traffic, building the email list, and building the social media profile.
This plan includes a short-form marketing plan which simply looks at each goal, the overall strategy for reaching that goal, and the tactics I plan to implement to see that strategy through. You can certainly do a more detailed marketing plan. And if this is your first blog, you probably should.
I mentioned in a previous post that those suggesting this challenge didn't give me hard targets to work towards. I was originally going to leave it that way and simply report progress. But in this plan I did set several measurable goals to give you an idea of where you might start for a first-time blog launch.
If you want to use my abbreviated plan as a guide, you can download it below. While I'm not linking to the domain live on the site until launch, you will get to see the planned domain name in this document. Note though, this was written more for your benefit than mine. I do a lot of my detailed planning on note cards, white boards, and in Todoist for everyday reference instead.
You'll notice some sections talk directly to you and outright mention the challenge. That's to give you a better idea of why I made certain decisions (some of which you can directly replicate, and some you probably shouldn't -- which I explain in the plan).
Once you have your broad plan mapped out, it's time to think about your content strategy. This again takes a look at who you're hoping to reach with your content. But it's also about your goals for that content (increase traffic, convert readers to subscribers, convert visitors to buyers, etc.) and what types of content you plan to use on your blog.
At least that's what I've included for you in an example content strategy summary which you can download below. You will very likely want to cover more than this in yours -- some things I'm simply not ready to share or am still hashing out as they're related to the site's design. For example, your content strategy should also explore:
- Key messaging and branding elements;
- Your blog's style guide (especially if you have multiple contributors);
- Your SEO plan;
- Your editorial calendar.
While I'll have an editorial calendar, I don't plan to share that publicly. Some of that content will involve waiting on confirmation from third parties (such as for interviews or quotes), so I want to maintain a bit of flexibility. But it will largely involve one long-form post early each week and one weekly round-up post later in the week. As of now, I'm aiming for Tuesdays and Thursdays for blog posts, coupled with daily Twitter updates and possibly Pinterest (will use it early on and decide about a month in if it's worth continuing).
Another pre-launch activity is getting accounts set up and established before new content goes live. This includes:
- The site's Twitter account (registered months ago though never used);
- A Pinterest account for the pen name & site;
- A MailChimp account for the newsletter / email post subscriptions.
If you don't already have them, now is when you'd also want to set up a hosting account and account with a domain registrar (I recommend HostGator for a new shared hosting account if you're only running one blog, and NameSilo for domain registrations -- no upsell BS like so many others).
In addition to getting the basic accounts set up, profiles filled out, etc., I'm going to use this pre-launch period to start building followers (specifically on Twitter). With any luck I'll get to half my Twitter follower goal before the site even launches.
The Site & Content
The biggest pre-launch task, which I have yet to begin, is the site's design. I'd started work on the design previously when I intended for it to be a fan-oriented site. But with that changing, design elements have to change too (for example, the entire color scheme and structure because site features are going to be different now).
This process involves more than the base design though (which I'm building on the Divi framework -- love it, and it's what I use for most new projects these days). In also involves:
- Updating your WordPress settings (comment & registration settings, permalink structure, time zone, etc.);
- Adding any plugins you'll need (anti-spam and SEO plugins would be the bare minimum I'd suggest -- Anti-Spam instead of Akismet, and Yoast SEO are my recommendations);
- Coming up with your blog category structure;
- Planning your page and navigation structure;
- Creating any pre-launch marketing materials;
- Writing the copy for your static pages (about page, homepage, comment page, comment and other policy pages, any landing pages you might need such as for subscriptions, guest post guidelines, etc.);
- Writing your first few blog posts.
For pre-launch posts, I plan to write three that will go live on launch day (I normally aim for five, so this is a scaled back starting lineup). However, I plan to write several other posts ahead of time so I'm not stressing over writing in the first few weeks when I'm in the most aggressive phase of promoting the new blog. So we're looking at having 7 - 9 posts written and ready to go by launch day.
Having half of these be round-up posts will simplify the process. I highly suggest setting up at least one type of shorter-form series from the start. Remember, all content doesn't have to be long content (and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit -- saw this claim yet again this week). Mix it up with long-form content, guest content, quick tips, round-ups, and Q&As -- anything that will help your readers.
Product / Feature Development
The few weeks leading up to your blog's launch is also a great time to think about products, tools, and resources. Don't just launch with a few posts. Have a freebie ready to go as incentive for email opt-ins. Have a few simple downloads ready to accompany posts. Maybe you'll even have time to whip up your first premium product.
In my case, one of the goals I set was to have a freebie created for newsletter incentives by the end of the three-month challenge. But honestly, I'd be surprised if I can't squeeze one in before the site even launches. Keep in mind, they don't need to be all-out e-books. Your freebie could be as simple as a:
- tutorial (think 3-5 pages);
- expanded version of a listicle blog post;
- a collection of quotes or tips from others.
I'm still working out my editorial calendar, so I don't know what my first free resource will be. But what I do know is that it's going to tie into one or more of the early blog posts.
That said, I don't believe in gating all content upgrades by locking them behind opt-ins. So there will likely be more than one freebie ready to go, and the opt-in incentive will be the biggest (or otherwise most appealing) of the bunch.
And that's the plan -- what I'm working on before the new blog's launch, and things you should focus on during the pre-launch period for your own blogs.
Are you working on a blog launch of your own as you follow along with this challenge? Have you recently launched a blog? If so, leave a comment and let me know if I left out any of your pre-launch activities.
Jenn has 18 years experience writing for others, around 13 years experience in blogging, and over 10 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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