Starting a blog is a commitment that should be taken seriously. While you may be eager to get started writing and publishing blog content, you need to determine your blog’s purpose.
Before you decide what to write about, you need to figure out “why?”
Why is this content important? Why should people listen to you? If you really want your content to stand out, then you need to determine your blog’s “why?”. Ultimately, you’ll want this to align with your business’s purpose and inbound marketing strategy.
Once you understand your blog’s purpose and how you’re going to make a difference in your audience's lives, you’re ready to take the next step in setting up your blog.
If you already have a blog but it isn't performing as well as you want it to, the below checklist can help you audit your current blogging and come up with a fresh approach.
Let’s review a checklist of how to set up your blog:
1. Pick a Style and Template
Your blog content should appear consistent whether you're on the first page or the 100th page of Google. The consistency will give your reader a better user experience because it will be easier for them to navigate the different posts in your blog.
When picking a template, consider these three things:
First, using a responsive template, meaning the design and development should respond to the user's behavior and environment based on screen size, platform, and orientation.
Second, putting sharing buttons on your posts, including social media, email, and so on. 94% of people who share posts do so because they think it might be helpful to others.
And third, offering a table of contents with jump-to links that lead to specific sections in your post. This will enhance the reader’s experience, as it’ll allow them to skim your page’s content easily.
After you finish picking your template, choose a style for your blog. The majority of readers aren’t coming to your blog because of the fancy design – they're coming to your blog because of the content you've created. So don't lose too much sleep over this, and pick a simple style that will help your readers focus on the content instead of distracting visuals.
And speaking of style, consider creating image CTAs in a free tool like Canva. And once you choose a design for image CTAs, stick to it. Again, creating consistency will give your reader a better user experience.
2. Prepare Your Listing Page
Your blog listing page is the summary view of your blog posts.
Typically, a blog's homepage will be the listing page so that when someone visits the blog, they see the title, author, image, and preview of the blog post instead of the full blog post listed (think about how much time it would take to scroll through the homepage if it wasn't a preview).
As you prepare your listing page, think about how you want it to appear. Consider:
Adding a subscribe to blog CTA near the top of the page or in the sidebar.
The length of preview text. I recommend up to 100 words or one to two short paragraphs.
Whether or not you want a visual. I recommend using the most descriptive image that’s prominently featured near the top, also known as a featured image.
And any other specific things you or your team wants, like a feature that explains how long the article should take to read. If your team has strong opinions or experiments they want to try out, then listen and consider putting them into action.
3. Set Up Your Category Tags
When starting your tagging system for your blog posts, you're setting a precedent for your blog posts to come. You shouldn't have hundreds of tags on your blog even if you think you have hundreds of topics to cover.
When getting started, choose the least amount of tags that you need to cover your bases. You can always add more blog tags in the future, but you shouldn’t delete them, as that could affect past content that you’ve tagged.
Remember, your blog should support topics that you want your business to build authority around and be known for as a thought leader in the space.
Let’s say for example you’re an inbound marketing agency, then having general tags for topics like “lead generation,” “lead nurturing,” “marketing technology,” and “inbound marketing” would be ideal. This way people can easily find and read content as a part of this tag.
Here’s a pro tip: Try to keep your blog tags under 15. That should be more than enough tags to keep you busy and focused when just getting started.
4. Create Your Blog Author Bios
Whether you're working with teammates at your company or working with guest bloggers, having author profiles set up is a great way to attribute your posts. Additionally, having author bios allows for some SEO value by offering links to key educational content on your website.
Here ‘s a pro tip: Consider dedicating a site page for each author bio. You can even show other posts the author wrote.
Your blog author profiles shouldn't be paragraphs long. Instead, offer a few sentences on the author, a helpful link, and how to find them on social media.
5. Decide How You Want to Manage Comments
Before you publish your first blog post, you need to decide how you want to manage comments. Remember, blogging is a great way to engage your audience.
Here’s a list of practices to consider:
Allow Comments on All Blog Posts.
This will allow you to let anyone comment on your blog without being moderated first and without requiring a CAPTCHA. CAPTCHAs are used to identify if a user is human or a bot and to prevent spam submissions. Note that this doesn't mean you can’t delete comments that are spam after they’re posted.
Approve Comments Before Publishing to Blog Posts.
This setting makes sure that the blog author reads and approves the comments before they're posted publicly on the blog post.
Enable Comment Notifications.
This will make sure you do not miss a comment on your blog post. Notifications will let the blog author know when someone comments on their post.
Set a Level of Comments.
If you have threaded comments available on your blog, you’ll be able to directly reply and interact with your comments one-on-one.
If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend implementing an approval of all blog comments before they’re public. I’ve seen some pretty interesting comments in my day, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, I recommend receiving comment notifications. This way you can have a quicker response time, which your readers will appreciate.
In addition to figuring out the logistics of your blog comments, it's also important to figure out who is going to respond to these comments and when. Decide if it makes the most sense for the blog author to respond or another designated person (like the blog editor or your community manager).
And consider how quickly you want responses to your comments posted. There is not a right or wrong answer to any of these options, but setting up your plan before your blog content is public is valuable.
6. Set Up a Process for People to Subscribe to Your Blog
This process is two fold. You’ll want to create subscriber forms and create subscriber emails. Let’s start with creating a subscriber form first.
Subscriber forms allow your readers to quickly provide their email address to sign up for your email newsletter. If you’re just getting started and are unsure about email frequency for your newsletter, then consider offering a monthly newsletter round up of your blogging content to your audience.
Next, create emails that will be sent to subscribers once they sign up for your blog. There’s two things to consider here: a welcome email and ongoing emails.
First, send an automatic welcome email to anyone who subscribes to your blog. And make sure it’s from a real person; this will feel more human.
In this email, consider:
Thanking them for their interest.
Reminding them what they signed up for.
Allowing them to manage their subscription. It’s required by law to allow email recipients to easily unsubscribe from your marketing emails.
Offering some helpful links to your content.
Secondly, create an ongoing subscriber email template. Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating this template:
Include the title of the blog post. I recommend making the title a hyperlink by using the post’s URL.
Don't include the entire blog post in the email, but put enough preview text that entices the reader to read the rest of the blog post.
Include a featured image. This will help make your content more appealing.
Use CTAs that entice the reader to click into the post to read more. That could mean a clickable title or a CTA telling them to read the full article.
Allow the recipient to manage their subscription.
And that’s it, six checklist items to consider implementing before writing your first blog post.
Really take the time with each of these recommendations, as it’ll make things a lot easier to get started and grow your blog into a powerhouse of information.
Author of Inbound Content, HubSpot Principal Content Professor, Adjunct Lecturer for the University of Florida, and one half of Wild We Wander. Justin created HubSpot Academy's Content Marketing Course, which has awarded over 30,000 certifications to professionals since Nov. 2016. @JustinRChampion.