Everyone and their cat has a blog. Not all blogs last forever. If you're serious about starting one, make sure you can answer the following key questions:
1. Why do you want a blog?
You may want to have a blog as an online diary, to supplement income, to vent frustrations, to offer opinions, to educate, to encourage, to write what you like but can't sell, to promote something (a book, article, talk or event), or to build your writer platform. Or you may want one simply because you're bored. Or... because everyone's doing it!
"Launching a blog successfully encompasses many factors," says award-winning blogger and relationship columnist Jennifer Brown Banks. "But perhaps one of the most crucial factors to consider is the goal for blogging; don't do it simply because everybody else is doing it. That's so 90's!
"Decide if the blog is being created for recreational purposes or professional objectives. Is it to entertain? To educate? To increase awareness and gain support for an important cause? To build a writer's platform?"
Banks points out that the goal behind launching a blog will govern the direction of the blogger, the tone of the blog, the language, the strategy, and the topics covered. "Identifying the central goal (and adhering to it) enables the blogger to work smarter, not harder and have fewer detours in their journey."
2. Who will run it?
Maintaining a blog includes initial set up, regular posting, moderating and responding to comments. Will you do it yourself -- do you have the time, energy and inclination? Can you do it yourself -- do you have the know-how?
3. Can you be a good employer?
If you employ another person to run your blog, can you handle the legal, financial and regulatory requirements of being an employer? The mental and physical rigours of being responsible and professionally accountable for another person? Supervising their work, dealing with ill health and holiday hiccups?
4. Why would people read posts by you/your employee?
Is it the Fun factor, the Cool factor, or the Usefulness factor?
5. Will you invite guest posts?
Guest posters bring ready-made readership, but come with a price tag.
6. Will you accept and display advertising?
There are many forms of advertising: direct ads, affiliate links, corporate sponsorships, etc. But securing advertising is not easy. First advertisers need to find you. For which you need to be successful. For which you need to be making money. For which you need advertisers. You also need to know the going rates for blogs in your field and keep your own rates competitive. Then you need to give advertisers value for money -- no cheating on a few pixels, dumping ads in an invisible location or claiming technical difficulties during crucial business periods.
7. How will you promote it?
People need to reach your blog. Are you willing to spend money to market it? To divert your energies from the main reason for starting a blog?
8. What will it be about?
Banks advises that it is important to have a genuine passion for the topic. "Without the passion, it will be very difficult to maintain momentum and go the distance."'
Along with passion for your subject, you need clarity about its scope and focus. Instead of a broad field like cooking, select a niche area like festival foods, or exotic herbs, or international recipes. But don't narrow it down so much that you run out of things to say.
9. How will it be different from other blogs on the same topic?
Your blog needs to stand out of the crowd and be worth readers' time. Infuse it with your voice and your perspective to keep readers coming back for more.
10. Where will you host it?
Your own website on your own domain gives you flexibility on design and content, but requires some technical knowledge. A third-party website gives you less control over design but comes equipped with all necessary tools and is easy to set up with limited know-how. Keep in mind that many web hosts may provide built-in blogging tools; check with your web admin if you're not sure.
11. What will be the type/style of posts?
Personal experience/opinion posts are easy to read, useful in provoking discussions and generating 'buzz' and traffic. How-to posts are great resources, offering practical take-away value, but tend to be one-sided. Essay-type posts offer reflective/critical analysis or examination. Cartoons, podcasts, videos, etc. make a blog interactive and dynamic, rather than static and one-dimensional.
12. How often will you post?
Posting on your blog is like making an appointment with your readers. A no-show is always a disappointment. Regular posts maintain your discipline and avoid surprises for readers. Choose a comfortable frequency, but once established, stick to it consistently and with commitment.
13. How will you ensure you have content that can sustain the momentum for many years?
The strongest enthusiasm will fizzle out eventually. Ensure you have a strategy for those times when the creative juices are flowing sluggishly or you don't have enough to write about or life gets in the way.
14. Will you use images? Where will you source these from?
Blogs without pictures are dull. But don't rip off photographs from the Internet. Budget for them. Either get an amateur photographer friend to help out or buy from iStockPhoto.com, Fotolia.com, etc.
15. What will you call it?
A blog needs a name suitable to its theme, tone and style. Your blog name will spearhead your "brand" identity, make it memorable and hook readers into visiting it. Keep it reasonably short, punchy and unambiguous. A name like "Banana Party" doesn't tell readers whether it is a serious resource about bananas, the fruit or a whacky one about bananas, the madness.
16. How long will posts be?
They should be as long as required, but roughly the same length. Too long, and the message will be truncated and lost. Too short, and vital points can be missed. Blog posts are often cross-referenced over the Internet via email, shared over Facebook, retweeted via Twitter, etc. Remember: the title of the post forms part of the "permalink" of that post, the permanent URL that gets assigned to the post for reference after it goes into archives. If your title is too long, it may create a convoluted web address that is difficult to hyperlink and share.
17. What will the design and layout be?
To make a good first impression, make sure your blog isn't too "busy." Leave plenty of white space. Use fonts, colours and contrasts that are easy to see and pleasing to the eye. Keep less able users in mind and steer clear of seizure-inducing flashing effects, fast-moving marquees or elusive page jumps.
Designing your blog in keeping with your existing website branding builds upon recognition, familiarity and trust. Conversely, making it over in a completely different fashion can bring a breath of fresh air and vibrancy.
18. Will you link with Analytics?
You'll be curious about how many visitors your blog gets every day, where in the world your readers live, which referring websites most of your traffic comes from, which of your posts are most popular, which ads are getting the most clicks, etc. You'll also want to ensure that anyone with any operating system and using any web browser or mobile phone can view the posts correctly, that the page performance is quick and doesn't keep readers waiting, hyperlinks are not broken, bread crumb trails are not dead, and robot files can search through your post directory. This means analysing your blog data by linking it to web analysis tools like Google Analytics, Omniture, etc. Can you keep up with technical nitty-gritties like page loading times, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques, click-throughs and conversion rates?
19. When will you end it?
Everything that starts must come to an end. Your blog is likely to come to an end when your main aim of starting it is met. Which is why it is very important to have a solid answer for question #1.
Blogs can keep your free hours occupied, hone your writing skills and perhaps even become the foundation of a career. Blogs can be fun.
For the serious punter, blogs can be a great way to connect with readers, establish your credentials, build a list of publication credits, keep your finger on the pulse, or simply entertain and share your passion with others. Being the proud owner of a blog comes with its highs and lows. You may find yourself without an audience. You may find that people abuse and mock you. You may find that you don't have much to write about. Or you may find yourself beating off advertisers with a stick. You may find an agent, a publisher and a six-figure three-book deal within a year. You may even find a new purpose to life.