Launching a new blog can be a challenge. That's especially true if you don't already have a strong online presence you can harness in promoting it.
While I remember what that was like, I launched my first blog way back around 2004.
Things are different now.
I get that. There's more competition. Blog marketing options have changed. There are different "rules" to follow if you want to stay on the good side of Google.
And I'm occasionally told I'm out of touch (even though I've launched well over 100 blogs -- my own and for clients -- in that time and continue to launch new blogs every year).
Last year, I let readers pose challenge suggestions for me -- big projects you wanted me to tackle to show you how to do something or simply prove that I could. Then I asked you to vote on those suggestions.
You chose for me to launch a new blog and document its progress over the course of three months (today through April 9th).
That 3-month blogging challenge starts now.
I launched a new blog this month. And I'll use that blog launch to help you work through a similar process.
Over these next three months, I'll share updates with you every week or two letting you know how the new blog is progressing. I'll let you know what I've done, what's planned, and how you can do the same in building your own new blog.
So, if 2017 is the year you'll finally launch that blog you've been thinking about (or you want to improve and grow your existing blog), pull up a chair and let's get started.
During the challenge, I'll offer tips and tutorials to help you succeed, recommend and provide resources to make the process easier, and share my mistakes so you can learn from them without making them yourself. (And I've already made a couple of those.)
Introduction to the 3-Month Blogging Challenge
Here's the gist of how this challenge will work:
The blog will be tied to the public relations niche. This is my primary area of expertise.
It's also a niche where I've done well in the past. I've competed well with SEO in this niche. I've landed some nice media coverage. And I've monetized it effectively.
I know this industry. I know the competition. And I know what my readers will be looking for.
I'd suggest the same for any of you.
Choose a niche where you have some non-blogging background, where you know the players, and where you know your audience. That will put you well ahead of the game as opposed to choosing some random niche just because someone told you that you could make money with it.
I'm going even narrower than that though. This is more of a micro-niche site. It deals with a very specific aspect of PR -- writing press releases. I already talked more about the site and its mission in my pre-launch blog plan post, so I'll just summarize here:
The new blog on press release writing will serve to teach small business owners how to write better press releases of their own.
That's it. It's an instructional blog for the most part. And budget-conscious small business owners are the primary target readers.
But they're not the only target audience.
It's also to teach freelance writers how to write press releases for clients -- expanding their service offerings. And larger companies can use the site and resources to train new employees if they decide to move press release writing in-house.
Specific resources will target those different reader groups.
What's the domain name?
I can't share that with you here because sending traffic from my existing sites isn't allowed (see the rules below).
What I will say is this:
I registered a fresh domain name.
I did not purchase a recently expired domain that already had a bunch of backlinks pointing to it.
The idea is to replicate most of your situations, and most of you aren't going to lay out cash for that. You're going to come up with something not currently registered.
When choosing a domain name for your blog, you'll generally choose between a keyword-rich domain name or a brandable one.
And 9 times out of 10 I would choose a brandable domain.
This time is #10.
I went with a keyword-rich domain. Here's why:
An exact-match domain name was available for a highly relevant phrase that gets 8-10k searches per month in Google.
It's also a phrase I know I can compete for rankings with after evaluating the competition, even if I don't make first page rankings during the challenge itself.
Now, some people avoid keyword-rich, or exact match, domain names entirely because Google took issue with them a while back.
But the thing is, Google specifically went after exact match domain names with low quality content.
Basically, people were getting these domain names that perfectly fit the search queries, loading the sites with crappy content, and still managing to rank.
In theory, that shouldn't happen anymore.
And, in theory, I won't be publishing crap.
So all's good. In this case we're talking about a blog with quality content written by someone with extensive professional experience in the niche -- exactly the kind of content Google wants ranking well.
I'm not worried about it. If it concerns you, choose something brandable for yours. Like I said, normally I'd be with you 100%.
You can read more background on the new blog by downloading the blog launch plan (.pdf).
I want to mimic the experience of a totally new blogger to the best of my ability.
The idea is to put myself in your shoes as much as possible to show you what the process looks like when starting from scratch.
In other words, I can't leverage all the things I normally have going for me -- my name, my professional reputation in this specific niche, my other web properties, my existing social media followings, etc.
As such, there will be a few rules for this challenge. For example:
- I may not include my full name on the new blog.
- I will not share the domain name or post a link to the site on my other sites, social media accounts, or properties where I already have visibility (like older forum profiles or bios on third party sites).
- I will mostly keep the site info to myself (meaning I won't go telling colleagues who have a wide reach in the hopes they promote it for me).
Along those lines, I should note a few things up front:
The Name Issue
I was torn between going with a first-name-only approach or writing anonymously.
Because one of the income streams is service-related, I chose to go with my first name. It adds a slightly more personal touch that will help when convincing people to do business with me.
I will have to share my name privately with any clients coming through the site if formal contracts are involved, and it may come through on invoices (via PayPal), though I believe I can customize how it displays -- possibly not the emails they get though.
In the interest of full disclosure...
I have shared the domain name with one person (and don't plan to share it with anyone else).
I did that because the subject matter was of interest to them in their own business.
It was shared with them knowing not to tell anyone else about it. And they don't have an audience in the specific niche of the site, so it's not as if I was trying to exploit something like that.
My Author Photo for the New Blog
Because I'm offering services as a monetization method on this blog, I already mentioned I was including a name. But I also felt having a photo was vital in that case (plus I believe in using headshots rather than logos in social media profiles in most cases).
People want to do business with people, not faceless brands -- especially when we're talking about one-on-one freelance services.
I didn't want to use a photo that was already associated with other sites or social media accounts, and I wanted it to (hopefully) not be obvious if someone who knew me stumbled across the site.
To try to get around this, I opted to use an older one that will (I think) be different enough to not cause issues. For example, while I wear my hair both curly and straight, I almost never photograph it straight. So I chose a photo where it was. I also picked one where I'm not looking directly at the camera, so hopefully that'll help (even though that's not ideal -- eye contact matters when it comes to trust).
I think it'll be fine. But look... if anyone does see it and recognize it, I'll swap it for something else and tell them to keep their mouth shut about my ties to that site until the challenge is over. Not a big deal.
I just can't talk about good PR practices on the blog while betraying them with a total lack of transparency. If I'm building site authority and selling services based on personal experience, there needs to be an actual person behind the site. So I'm hoping this plus the first-name-only choice will give me the right balance.
I launch small blogs in a variety of niches all the time without ever putting my name on them.
Yet this feels incredibly restrictive already.
I'm not sure if it's more the "being watched" aspect in that I have to share information I normally keep private, or if it's that I have to go out of my way to avoid promotional strategies I'd normally employ.
For example, guest posting can't happen until after the challenge, because most would require my full name with a post (and even my photo would be obvious to any PR colleagues who read those blogs -- it would mean avoiding every blog in that industry).
That's the one area where I'm at a disadvantage here -- not that I can't leverage my existing network, but that I have to avoid normal promotional opportunities specifically to avoid that risk. But I'll find ways to get creative with it I'm sure.
The Blog Content
Again, I'll just share a summary here because I've talked about this elsewhere already.
You can download my blog content strategy (.pdf) for this new site if you'd like to know more about what's planned.
I generally like to launch a new blog with around five posts on launch day. I'm launching this blog with only three posts.
That was partly a result of a lack of time, partly in line with my three-posts-per-week plan for the site, and partly because there won't be heavy promotion through my existing sites where I'd be able to push more content more quickly.
My basic plan is to go with a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule there.
Monday and Wednesday will feature "normal" blog posts.
One of those two posts will be tied to a series I'm working through on press release formatting tips (covering tips for different parts of a press release in each post, and later turning them into a collective downloadable guide).
The other will cover anything else I want to teach about press release writing or related topics like press release distribution or other media relations issues readers might come across.
The Friday posts will be resource collections linking to third party sites (one part about sharing helpful resources, one part about getting the site on the radar of other players in the niche).
There will also be a collection of downloadable content.
I launched the blog with a press release outline and a basic press release template for example. Both are viewable on-site, but they're also available as .pdf downloads.
I set up an email opt-in which will be used for email blog subscriptions.
I honestly don't intend to put much effort into this during the initial three months. It's not vital for what I'm hoping to do with the site right now.
Pushing opt-ins is something I'll do more aggressively once I actually have traffic coming to the blog.
The plan as of now is to turn the blog series I mentioned into a free download for subscribers (I'll expand it a bit). So that's when I'll offer an incentive and start pushing that more.
I was hoping to have more content ready to go for the launch, but I simply ran out of time.
That meant either pushing the launch back to February or launching light. I didn't want to make you wait any longer, so I went with Option B.
A bit trickier to start with on my end, but c'est la vie. I'll make it work.
Mistakes I've Already Made
With as many times as I've gone through the blog launch process, you'd think I'd have it down, right?
But I still make mistakes just like anyone else.
Being under a time crunch, the pressure of knowing I have to share this stuff, and trying to finish the pre-launch when I was supposed to be enjoying downtime on my vacation (meaning I wasn't feeling the usual excitement) led to a bit of sloppiness and laziness.
So, here are some early lessons for you. Don't do these stupid things I did:
Pre-launch Social Networking
Because I can't use my existing social media accounts to promote this blog, the plan was to give it its own Twitter account (since that's the network I most often use and I know it does well for this niche).
But... I totally forgot to start building followers in the weeks leading up to the launch.
Now, if you do this, no biggie. Do it when you launch. But with a three-month limit on reaching certain goals, I'm already screwing myself over.
The earlier to you start building a network and interest in what you plan to share on your blog, the easier your launch promotion will be.
An Unintended Delayed Launch
An even bigger "oops" -- I planned to launch the site on January 1st. (And, as you know, it is not currently January 1st.)
I had everything ready to go that evening (a bit later than planned), so I figured I'd put up the launch post (this one) and make it official the next day.
Why? Well, I don't remember why I didn't put this post up that day.
But it's good I didn't. Because, like a damn dunce, I forgot to disable the "Coming Soon / Maintenance Mode" plugin that was keeping the finished site private until launch.
So... don't do that.
Check, and Double-check, Your WordPress Settings Folks
No big deal though, right? I got the site up the next day as soon as I realized my mistake with that plugin.
So the blog should have officially launched on the 3rd. And I was going to make the three month period run through April 3rd as a result.
But nah... we're calling today launch day and the challenge will run through April 9th.
"But that's not fair... you're probably already indexed in Google and blah, blah, blah" you might be thinking.
Well, no worries. The site's not indexed. No one's going to it. I haven't done a single thing with it since the 3rd (that's the laziness part).
Why is it not indexed yet?
I stupidly forgot to change my WordPress settings that discourage search engines from indexing the site.
Yeah. Don't do that either.
I'm off to a roaring start, aren't I?
But... today is launch day. Today is Monday -- the start of a fresh content cycle. And I'm just now starting to feel excited about this project (and others) for the New Year. So it's totally going to be OK.
Now that the blog is launched, here's what I'll be working on next:
- 3 blog posts for this week, plus outlining next week's posts
- Working on the first premium guide to sell through the blog
- Getting the new Twitter account for the site moving -- follow relevant people, post helpful resources, promote existing posts, etc.
- Posting comments on relevant blogs (have to avoid PR industry blogs due to recognition there, but I can focus on more general interest business blogs that post related content)
- Creating one or two additional free press release templates to make available for download (ungated)
- Focusing on linkbuilding in general for early content
Ready to Launch Your New Blog?
The whole point of this challenge is to serve as an example -- let you watch the process of launching and building a new blog so you can do the same in your own niche.
Now, I've gone over the blog pre-launch process in more detail already (tied to the original niche I planned to cover, but the process is the same). So I won't go into all of it here. But I do want to give you a quick rundown of tasks you'll want to tackle before you get to your own launch day.
Here's what I did leading up to this launch and what you can start working on today:
Disclosure: Some links below are affiliate links. You can read my full no-BS affiliate linking policy here. But basically, I only post them for products and services I've used, or still use, and would happily recommend.
- Work up your blog business plan. Guess what. I have a template for that. Download it here.
- Choose a niche. (Actually, I chose one, started building the site. changed my mind, and chose another. Close enough.)
- Choose your domain name. (I recommend NameSilo if you're looking for a new domain registrar. Love them. Every domain I have other than this site's is with NameSilo now, and AllFreelanceWriting.com will be moved there early this year too.) -- Use coupon code WRITER1 to save $1.00 on your first new domain registration with NameSilo.
- Set up a hosting account. (I recommend HostGator if you need a basic shared hosting package.)
- Install self-hosted WordPress. (Follow WordPress.org's easy 5-minute installation instructions.)
- Choose a theme (the blog's design). There are plenty of free ones available through WordPress, but I generally recommend premium themes because the designs tend to be better and you'll have much more flexibility with their features. I'm a big fan of the Divi theme from Elegant Themes. This site is built on it. NakedPR is built on it. My horror author blog is built on it. My upcoming site with Lori Widmer -- Freelance Writing Pros -- is built on it. And the new blog for this challenge is built on it. As you can see from those examples, you can do a lot with it. I'm totally in love with Divi. And I've been a happy Elegant Themes customer for years.
- Take care of branding elements (like a logo and tagline) and your basic WordPress settings such as permalink structures. Then add any plugins you'll want to use. Confused? Read my three-part blog series to get you started: WordPress for Writers - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
- Write your launch content. No silly "Welcome to my new blog!" posts please. Jump right into offering real value to readers. After all, with a brand new site, no one's there yet to care about your welcome spiel. Get something up that will earn you some Google love and social media shares. Save the "here's what my blog is about" stuff for your About page.
- Along those lines, put up any copy you need beyond your initial blog posts -- an About page, a Contact page, and a homepage if your blog itself won't be there. Also consider landing pages for any products you're selling or giving away and a Subscribe page to push email opt-ins if you see fit.
- Set up any social media accounts or other third party accounts you'll need.
- Add your site to Google's search console, Google Analytics, or other tools you'll use.
That should cover the basics. (And it really doesn't take as long as it might look here. I launch most of my new blogs with no more than a week of pre-launch work, and I've launched plenty in less than a day. The exception, like in this case, is when I want a more heavily-customized design or want to create more resources up front.)
Get your new blog set up whenever you're ready. And follow along here for next few months for more tips, tools, and marketing ideas to grow your new blog.
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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