5 Easy Steps To Becoming A Successful Blogger

Sharing your opinion on the Interwebs has never been easier, what with Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media platform out there. But if you want to establish yourself as a brand, or an expert, you need some long-form to complement your 140 character gems. And for that, you need some kind of website or blog.

With an estimated 152 million blogs on the internet — and top bloggers reporting millions in earnings, the business of blogging is moving at the speed of — well, Like.

I was reasonably early to the party, starting my first site in 2009 following a layoff from Rolling Stone. Post-employment, I knew I wanted to continue writing, but the entrepreneur in me also wanted to build something (and the Jewish mother in me wanted to be part of an industry that was growing).

So I pivoted from print to digital, chronicling high-profile events and interviews (Prince, Bono) via my own Blogger site and social media channels — Twitter and Facebook, mostly. Seven years later, with a following north of 300,000 and a team of five, I blog about blogging (meta, I know), and count partnerships with Dell, American Express, and Ted Baker.

The industry has changed a lot in these seven years, but I've also observed patterns across the most successful of these websites.

So, here's my step-by-step guide to starting your own from scratch — and making sure it stands out.
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Step 1: Before You Blog…Consider These Questions

"To write well, you have to write what you know." This gem of advice from Drew Barrymore's character, Josie Geller, in Never Been Kissed is spot-on.

Before you start, consider these questions: What topic(s) are you writing about? What tone are you writing in? Will it be first person? Will you remain anonymous? How often will you be posting? What do you hope readers will feel when they read your site? How do you plan on getting those readers? Is this a hobby, or do you intend to make money?

The more you can decide up front, the easier it will be to design your site and then develop an audience for it. Pro tip: Select topics you love and are knowledgeable about, but cover them in unique ways.

“[The Infatuation] is relatable restaurant reviews from a friend you trust, as opposed to a fancy, professional restaurant critic,” says The Infatuation cofounder, Andrew Steinthal. “That was our unique angle.”
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Step 2: Pick a Platform

From WordPress to Tumblr to Medium, there is no shortage of writing platforms to choose from. Which you should choose depends on a few things: how much time you want to spend setting your blog up, how much money you want to spend, and who you’re planning to write for. Here's a guide to picking the right one for you.
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If You Want Total Control: WordPress

WordPress powers a whopping 25% of the web. It offers a way to build your own website, with little to no coding knowledge.

WordPress offers a free model (a .org where you can self-host) and a freemium model (with free subdomains). Because of its popularity and loyal community, WordPress features thousands of customization options, layouts, and plug-ins. It can be a little daunting for first-time users, but if time is on your side — and you’re super particular about how you want things to look — this is your pick.

For a step-by-step guide on how to get started with WordPress, go here.
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If Experience Or Time Isn't On Your Side: Tumblr

Yahoo-owned Tumblr is perhaps the easiest of all blog platforms to navigate. With speedy sharing between Facebook and Instagram, Tumblr is easy to learn (and free!), but does feature advertising. When picking your platform, keep in mind that Tumblr has one of the youngest communities on social media (28% of their users are under 24). Depending on your topic, this can be a great — or not so great — fit.
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If You Want To Maximize Exposure: Medium

If you’ve got thoughts and opinions to share, but don’t care so much about controlling every aspect of the experience, Medium could be a good fit. While Medium is super well-designed — and extremely share-friendly — it unfortunately doesn’t let its users customize themes or templates. However, setup and publishing is incredibly straightforward, and if you get enough love on a post, you might spot yourself on the Medium homepage, or in its daily newsletter — which is great for getting your name out there.
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Step 3: Create And Share The Content

If you’ve ever had a job in print editorial, you know that publishing an article can take weeks, sometimes months. Personal website content is no different. Move at whatever pace works for you.

Once you’ve started planning your content, that’s when the heavy lifting begins. Between writing the story, shooting images, editing images, coding your post, optimizing SEO, and planning your email/social media strategy, you’re looking at a pretty hefty time (and often monetary) investment.

Because social media now drives 31% of all referral traffic, it’s extra important to plan those posts and nurture that community — Facebook often drives more traffic than Google.

“As a publisher, Facebook is God,” says Brian Kelly, founder and editor-in-chief of travel rewards site, The Points Guy. “Facebook makes it very cheap to get your content in front of your audience, or new audiences."

On all social media platforms, you can now employ hashtags to help users discover your content. Your hashtags can be topical, or custom to your brand.

“Instagram has been massive for The Infatuation,” says Steinthal. His site started embracing a branded hashtag, #EEEEEATS, early on. "That really helped us become a globally recognizable brand. That hashtag has now been used almost 2.5 million times.”
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Step 4: Evolve As Needed

But consistency can often be as important as content.

“You need to commit to writing on an ongoing basis and to finding topics that are interesting to readers,” says entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who runs Blog Maverick.

And don't stress if you have to restrategize your original selections. As an industry that's less than 20 years old, we're all still learning as we go.

“Your topics will evolve over time as you grow and your audience develops,” says Rach Martino of her eponymous blog.

Take Miss USA 2011, Alyssa Campanella, of The A List, for example.

“My blog started primarily as a fashion and food blog,” Campanella, who now boasts 88,000 Instagram followers, says. “Soon, I found myself gravitating more towards fashion and travel based on my own interests and my readers’ interests.”
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Step 5: Get Money

There are a number of ways to make money with your own website. Just don’t count on it in the short term.

“You should never expect to make money off the bat,” says Campanella. She recommends that, after you find your niche and establish a good following, you consider joining an affiliate program. These programs allow you to make money based on clicks on your page, or commission based on sales from your pieces. From Amazon Associates to LiketoKnowIt, there are affiliates for every specialty.

Kelly also works off an affiliate model. While it helps with monetization, he warns it can be easy to go overboard, and just start pushing content to make more money. (Money is nice, but you don’t want to lose the reason you started writing in the first place!)

Other ways to make money include running ads, working with an influencer agency, like Instabrand, or even signing with a more traditional agency, like William Morris Endeavors.

While it won't happen overnight, brands may eventually reach out and ask you to endorse their products. Depending on your reach and fit, they’ll either offer you free products and/or payment. Either way, do your research, and make sure you’re only endorsing products you actually like and that fit your personal brand.

Like anything else, your success will depend strongly on how much time you invest in your site, the quality of your content, and the enthusiasm of your followers. Money shouldn’t be your goal, but it can be a nice bonus down the line.