If you’re planning on launching your own blog sometime in the future, here are a few observations based on my first month in operation. Even if you’re not planning on starting your own website, these principles could prove useful in tackling your next major project. Note I am using blog and website interchangeably, because I firmly believe in hosting your blog under your own domain as opposed to someone else’s platform.
Let me first start with a few technical choices before moving on to more general lessons learned.
Why I Chose WordPress
My first blog post spoke to the differences between Drupal and WordPress. Even though I still run a few Drupal websites for freelance clients, I have moved my personal website over to WordPress. The biggest difference? Now I actually enjoy working on my website. Drupal will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first platform to introduce me to content management systems. The experience on WordPress, however, is unparalleled for someone without a ton of development experience. The support community, and the number of plugins, is excellent for someone who wants to start a website without getting bogged down in programming.
The lesson: Just because you’re familiar with one way of doing things does not mean it makes sense to stick with it.
Goodbye Conventional Web Hosting
My first websites were launched on HostMonster. When the promotional period ended, I went to InMotion Hosting. Web hosts like these tend to charge a few dollars a month for web hosting if you commit to a three-year plan. When the period ends, you’ll often see the prices double or more. Instead, I took the plunge and signed up for a plan with Amazon Lightsail, a component of Amazon Web Services. I no longer have free access to phone support. If something breaks, I’m largely on my own. Amazon is sometimes criticized for being too developer-focused, but a simpleton like me figured it out, and I get my own virtual server for a fraction of what I would be paying with competitors. I no longer have to wonder how much my price will jump up once the promotional period has expired.
The lesson: Don’t let someone talk you out of trying something new just because they found it hard to do.
Say No to Expensive Email Marketing
Building a blog is only half the equation. You need to give your readers a way to subscribe. When I first launched my website, I was using FeedBurner to collect subscribers and disseminate new blog posts. I’m thinking long-term though and want a way to email targeted segments of my subscriber pool. I tried out Mailchimp, Moosend, MailerLite, and ConvertKit. Of these, I really enjoyed ConvertKit the most. It was the most accessible for blind users, but the price was too expensive for where my website is now. Instead, I paid a one-time fee for the Mailster plugin on WordPress. The developer has been responsive to feature requests, and I have generally enjoyed putting together an auto-responder campaign. When paired with Amazon’s Simple Email Service, I am saving literally hundreds of dollars in email marketing without sacrificing quality.
The lesson: If you invest a little time up front, you could save a huge sum of money in the long-term, money that can then be redirected to other expenses.
And, hey, why not pause and subscribe to my newsletter now?
General Lessons Learned
In future posts I will expand on the points above, go into a little more detail for anyone serious about starting their own website. For now though, let me touch on a few points that have helped me stick with the website, because it is too easy to feel discouraged when you feel as though no one is reading your material. Again, a lot of these points are cross-applicable to life outside of building a website.
First, I have not gotten too swept up in doing everything at once. I have a day job, and I have enjoyed breaking up the website development tasks into manageable chunks. One day I’ll focus on designing the comment system the way I want. Another day I’ll keep working at my newsletter design. The other morning I devoted time to reading about search engine optimization. I have not allowed myself to get overwhelmed by everything the website needs to get to a perfect state. I have accepted it is a living entity and will always keep growing.
Second, while I care about search engine optimization, right now my primary focus is just to populate the website with content. I will soon pay someone to help ensure the website looks visually appealing and work to highlight strategic keywords, but I relaunched the website from square 1 and want to focus on creating quality content with as minimal stress as possible. This is me controlling the website instead of the other way around.
Next, I have recycled content from the old website where it makes sense. Some of the stuff I wrote before was frankly atrocious. I clearly need more friends with blunt opinions to keep out bad writing. Whether or not the new material is spectacular will be for you to judge, but by deciding to publish new articles on Mondays and Thursdays, I have settled on a schedule that allows me to keep producing at a fairly easy pace. The more I can pre-schedule new articles, the larger the buffer, and the less pressure I feel to write under deadline, thereby allowing me to slowly concentrate more on writing my novella.
Regarding the posts themselves, I’ve gotten mixed reviews on the subject range and word count. My stock answer has been to say I am still working on finding my voice, and this is mostly true. Yet, it is also true that I never set out to box myself into one topic. I don’t want to be just another financial education website. I want to be a central hub of advice for young people. I’m not sure if the strategy will work, but right now, the primary motivator is still a desire to keep the website a painless project in the background. This is also why I have not worried about word count. Long form writing will always do better, but I recognize I do not always have the two to three hours it takes to write a good post that surpasses a thousand words.
In terms of promotion, I have not shared the website with anyone beyond my circles on Facebook and Twitter. This might explain why, despite a few hundred unique views, I only have eight subscribers to my newsletter. I don’t think the website is ready for a full marketing strategy, but I did not want to build a foundation in the dark either. By building the website in this fashion, I can generate a little feedback while I work to give the website solid legs.
I do have one major accomplishment to report. They say commenting on other people’s websites should be part of your marketing strategy. I’ve been commenting on a major financial blog I have been closely following for a few months now, and one of my comments prompted an invitation to write a guest post on their website. I am equal parts excited and intimidated. If I can pull off a good, solid guest post, it could mean new traffic for my own website via a well-established blog that pulls in thousands of readers. The best part of this accomplishment is that when I engaged the blogger, I did so out of a natural desire to have a dialogue and not out of any covert strategy to land a guest post.
If you found this helpful, please leave a comment. I hope to write another update at the six-month mark. I’m thinking of the sort of material that would have encouraged me to keep at it. A lot of guides out there speak retroactively. It’s easier to write about your success from a place of, well, success, but maintaining a running update might help people appreciate how a little hard work and a little risk really can yield great results. No, things do not always go right, but digging yourself out of the mistake is half the learning experience. And, hey, if I can help you avoid similar setbacks, so much the better.
The biggest takeaway at this stage has been to keep the website an enjoyable project. I want to work on adding a store. I want to add services. I want to learn the strategies to make my website rank higher on popular search engines, but for now it is enough that the website keeps me happily busy. I’ve been struggling a little with sadness recently. I don’t think it has anything to do with COVID, but whatever the root of my personal struggle, working on the website gives me something tangible I can keep working at in my spare time. I hope it has been as fun for you to read it has been for me to write. If not, you know where to leave your feedback!