What can a blog do for you? A better question is, "What can't a blog do for you?"
If you're an aspiring writer, giving a voice to your work has never been easier, for example. A blog is also a great space to help jumpstart your career for showcasing past work, videos, images and clips to display for employers whether you're a photographer, designer or videographer.
On another spectrum, do you find scrapbooking to be expensive craft to keep and store family memories? Consider blogging as a simple way to maintain family videos, photos and stories that can be accessible forever. Friends and family, both near and far, will be able to stay up-to-date on all your adventures.
Here's how to get started expressing yourself online -- whether it's sharing family photos, writing about your travels, or stating your opinions.
Check out our writing and blogging message board for some tips and ideas.
Finding a place to blog isn't difficult, but you have to decide if you want to pay for the privilege or not. There are free places to blog, such as Blogger.com and Wordpress, where you can get easy step-by-step instructions on how to start. The only down side is that once you pick the name of your blog, it will have .blogspot or .wordpress.com on the end of it, just like the thousands of other people who blog there. Though if you're just getting started, this might not be too much of a concern.
Once you're more comfortable blogging and as you develop a following, you can start to research paid domains (available for as little as $10 a year for the name itself) with a URL that will be yours and yours alone.
Several downloadable software packages -- such as our favorite, the free and very popular Wordpress blogging platform -- make for very user-friendly blogs. Wordpress also has many add-on applications available, allowing you do do anything from creating multiple choice polls to adding photo galleries.
Pick a topic you know inside and out that exudes your passions. Be innovative so that you stand out as an individual, which will give your blog identity and character, setting it apart from others. It will not only keep you interested in blogging, but your enthusiasm and knowledge will shine through and make a bigger impact on your readers. This will encourage your visitors to come back as well as helping you keep posting after the novelty wears off after a few months.
Become an authority on the subject you are talking about. This may create some extra work and research, but if you want people to frequently visit your blog, you have to give them a good reason. That means being the first to break news, presenting innovative suggestions, being especially insightful, or sharing the latest information on your topic.
Don't consider yourself a wordsmith? Well, not all the good stuff on your blog has to be in writing. To your posts, add photos, videos, widgets (little tools, toys and games you can embed in your blog) or a linked list of your top 10 favorite songs right now.
The more you blog, the more opportunity you will have for traffic. Of course when you first start out, you don't necessarily need to post a couple of times a day or even every day. Blogging often will give you more practice, allowing you to find out if you can keep it up and help create a following for you.
Think of blogging like writing a novel. You may not always feel like continuing, but to maintain a blog, you need to be confident in your content and keep on posting. Don't worry about achieving perfection -- that will only hold you back.
Enable space for people to comment on what you've written and interact with those who have started a forum. Even if they are negative (as long as they aren't hateful or offensive), comments can be productive and even provide you with ideas for improvement. In addition, establishing a rapport with your readers will establish trust and interest.
And remember: this kind of conversation should be a two-way street. You can't expect people to stay interested if they're always ignored, so respond to some of the comments to keep your readership engaged.
Once you get your blog started and feel that you have established yourself, consider working out a way to track your site traffic. (A Google Analytics account is a good place to begin.) A tracking program will give you the statistics and feedback that will tell you how many visitors you're getting, where your traffic is being coming from, and what content is -- and isn't -- working.
When starting out, just focus on writing and generating interest. Making money should take back seat until you can at least get your feet wet. Get comfortable writing a blog post once or twice a week and perhaps build up to one or two per day. Regardless of the frequency, be sure it's something you can do on a regular basis without stressing you out too much -- keeping your own blog has to be enjoyable.
Once you've familiarized yourself with blogging, then you can start focusing on making money by using programs such as Google Adsense, Blogads or Chitika. You can also promote your favorite books, movies and other products -- and earn a little commission from any sales -- via something like the Amazon.com affiliate program.
If you see your blog easing down the road for success, you may even want to reach out to online or print media to help to promote yourself as a writer, expert, anecdotal source or a way for the press to reach out to a group of people with a specific interest.
The bottom line: There are no rules, and there are no limits on what you can do or achieve with your own blog. You just have to get started.
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