How to Start a Blog

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A lot of people are starting blogs these days. And a lot of people seem to have professional aspirations when starting them. As someone who stumbled into a professional blogging career without really meaning to, I can tell you the road to create a successful and sustainable blog is long, winding and often thankless.

There’s a lot info out already out there on the nuts and bolts of starting a blog. I personally recommend that you use WordPress and host it on your own domain. If you’re going to do something, you may as well take it seriously.

The focus of this post is how to generate a large readership.

1. Select a Unique Brand and Concept to Focus On

This submarine’s most blogs before they even get started. Most bloggers start out writing about one thing: themselves. This is fine if you just want to use your blog as some sort of online journal and don’t expect anyone to read other than your friends and family. But if you have higher aspirations, you’re shooting yourself in the foot before you even start.

Even though every major blogger ends up creating a large personal brand for themselves (Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta, et al.), their blogs are still built on the foundation of a core theme or idea that is expressed easily. Their blogs are built with a value-add for readers in mind, not pontificating about their own lives and random thoughts.

The first question I ask a lot of beginning bloggers is “What’s your brand?” and this stumps a lot of them. That’s fine, it stumped me for a long time too. But you need to be able to answer it clearly and effectively. My blog is about self development for men, particularly improving their relationships with sex and wealth. Boom. Done. In sales, this is called the “Elevator Pitch” and it’s crucial if you’re going to get anyone to stop and pay attention. You need to have an idea that when random people stumble upon your stuff, it’s immediately clear what you stand for and why you’re writing. The brand also needs to speak to the readers and their interests directly.

Examples of strong blog brands: Fluent in 3 Months, Get Rich Slowly, Lean Gains.

All three blogs present an obvious idea that appeals to the interest of a reader immediately. You don’t have to hunt around to figure out what the site is about. And even though all three sites’s writers have large personal brands and share a lot of personal experiences, they are not the central focus of the blog.

2. Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everybody

Once you’ve settled on your brand and your niche, stick to it. In fact, if possible narrow your focus as far as possible without making yourself insignificant. The result is paradoxical. The more you hone in and master a particular territory of a larger subject, the more people will be interested in your perspective and give you credit for having something unique to say.

It’s often not until you have a massive following that you can start to branch out into other areas and get more adventurous. The perfect example of this is Tim Ferriss. Tim’s Four-Hour Work Week focused on one specific point: setting up an internet business so that you can make money without working. Even though he had plenty of other stuff to talk about (living around the world, fitness, nutrition, etc.), the main idea and point of his initial work was how to “hack” a passive income for yourself.

Once that core idea caught on and his audience became massive, he was then able to start applying that to other subjects such as fitness and nutrition. But if he had started out with a blog and/or book that was about business, traveling, cooking, fitness, etc., it would have been that much more difficult for people to grasp his central idea and their interest wouldn’t have stuck as easily.

For years I wrote about pick up and dating. It wasn’t until I narrowed the focus on of my site to meeting women and dating through emotional connections that my site and brand took off. From there, I was able to expand into a broader category of self development for men.

3. You Will Live and Die By the Quality of Your Writing

Every time you write and someone reads it, you are temporarily transporting them into your mind. You are giving them a unique mental experience and if you don’t make that experience enjoyable, you will lose them. It’s as simple as that.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare or anything, but you need to be conscientious in how you’re expressing yourself. For instance if you’re writing about fitness and citing a lot of nutritional data, then your readers likely don’t need nor expect you to be a wordsmith. But you sure as shit can’t suck with a keyboard.

Great writing is necessary but not sufficient. It, by itself, won’t make you hugely popular. The combination of writing, brand and engagement is what makes you popular. But bad writing will kill your blog off faster than just about anything.

What if you’re not a great writer? Most people aren’t when they start. There are a few exceptions (journalists and novelists spring to mind). But a lot of people such as myself, we figured it out as we went along.

You have to love to write. It has to be something you would do regardless of whether there’s an audience there or not. Before I started blogging I was a forum whore. I had thousands and thousands of posts across half a dozen forums ranging from politics to music to tiny local dating forums. This prepared me in a major way for blogging more than any English class did.

But at some point, you must take your writing seriously. Read literature. Study the greats, analyze books, attempt to mimic great writers as an exercise. Write short-stories and fiction in your free-time helps as well.

This is a skill you must practice and craft over a period of time. If you want to become a successful blogger then you have to take it seriously like anything else. If you wanted to be a computer programmer you would continue to study programming and learn new programming languages. If you wanted to be a web designer, you would study up on design principles, new software and practice them continuously. It’s no different with blogging.

4. Post Often

Some bloggers only post a few times a month. Others post a few times a week. A few even post a few times a day. Generally speaking, the less you post, the higher quality the post will have to be. I prefer to post a few times a week because it generates more return visitors, greater reader loyalty and it seems to be my personal sweet spot. Honestly, I would post every day if I had the time to keep up with it.

I strongly believe that when starting out you should always err on the side of posting more often.

One difference between blogging and other forms of internet business that many people don’t realize is that blogging takes far more time to reach “escape velocity.” What I mean by that is that in other forms of internet business, you can strike gold or capitalize on a great idea fairly quickly.

Blogging requires at least a year or two to develop the level of consistent readership required to make any sort of respectable income off of it.

Generally speaking, the more you post, the more your baseline readership will grow. The more you post, the more likely you are to catch new readers’ attention, the more likely you are to be shared, the more likely you are to be linked to.

When starting out, posting quality content as often as possible is the lifeline of your blog, everything else is secondary.

A lot of people get into blogging and spend as much time on their SEO or marketing as they do on their content. This is a mistake. If your content is awesome, then a lot of the SEO and marketing will take care of itself and/or be rendered moot in the long-run and you’re wasting time. If you write amazing posts, people will naturally share and link them. If you engage your readers effectively and often, they will automatically trust you and you won’t have to market to them (much).

5. Aim to Affect People Emotionally

You can have the best information or advice in the world, the coolest stories, the funniest anecdotes, but if you don’t frame your content in such a way to move and affect your readers on an emotional level, you’re not going to get a whole lot of traction out of your content.

Affecting your readers on an emotional level requires that you pour your own emotions into your posts yourself. Or as my favorite high school teacher used to say, “Sometimes you just need to give a shit.”

Write with power. Write with conviction. Reach through people’s screens and grab them by the throat. It’s this “no holds barred” attitude that keeps them attached to you.

This may sound simple but it is surprisingly rare among bloggers. I really believe this is what separates a lot of bloggers from a mid-level success from becoming truly popular. Most bloggers don’t put their heart out on every post. They don’t risk themselves in everything they write. And because of their lack of emotional investment, the readers feel a lack of emotional investment as well. Therefore they don’t come back.

6. Don’t Shy Away From Controversy

In many ways, being controversial is one of the best marketing tactics one can employ — better than any squeeze page, link exchange or social bookmarking bonanza. A recent New York Times study found that their most shared and linked content also happened to be their most polarizing content. It’s a fact one must always keep in mind.

Although I believe there’s a fine line. Don’t be too cynical. Don’t cry wolf. Don’t pick fights and be controversial only for the sake of controversy. I think that’s unethical and can lead your readers down some unscrupulous paths.

But at the same time, don’t ever shy away from a controversial opinion or laying what you believe out there without apology. Again, this is something that separates low- and mid-level bloggers from a lot of the big boys (and girls): the fearlessness of letting thousands of people know your unbridled opinion and then weathering the onslaught of criticism and discussion in return. You can’t be loved without being hated. Or as one marketing guru used to say, “If you aren’t pissing someone off by noon, then you probably don’t matter.”

Successful blogging requires a large time investment, an emotional investment, and maybe most of all, it takes brass balls. It can be thankless but it can also be inspiring and uplifting. My blog has led me to affecting more people in the world than I ever would have believed possible five years ago.

And even in its own way, blogging can degenerate into another grind — like anything, I suppose. At the root of the matter, you must love it and live for it. And like anything, you won’t know until you get out and try it for a while.

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53 Comments

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  • Reply

    ben

    3 months ago

    Hi Mark, recently came across your blog and have really been enjoying reading your posts (as well as learning), I’m someone who has started a blog (though I don’t write on it often) however it is on Google’s ‘Blogger’ as opposed to WordPress. Is Blogger a sufficient site or would I be better off going to WordPress if I wanted to start blogging more regularly and seeking a wider audience?

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      Blogger is fine for small personal blogs. I think if you want to get more serious about it, I would recommend getting your own domain and switching to WordPress. WordPress has an “Import” function which will let you import all of your current posts.

      • Reply

        ben

        3 months ago

        No worries, thanks ^_^

  • Reply

    Kevin

    3 months ago

    It’s cool if you’d rather keep the information close to you chest, but any chance you could share some traffic numbers, to put the ‘success’ of your own blog in perspective?

    • Reply

      Jean

      3 months ago

      He already said this website has 300k monthly visits. Back in July the website went offline 4 times in one week because of servers overloading and all. This website is booming!!! Damn atomic bomb that is :)

      • Reply

        Kevin

        3 months ago

        Maybe I’m wrong, but I think then he was referring to the crazy spike in traffic he got from the ‘America’ article. I’d be interested in knowing what his typical stats are.

        • Reply

          Mark Manson

          3 months ago

          The America and India articles brought in 1.7 million visitors across about two weeks.

          Traffic has settled down to more like 150-200k per month. Looks like it’s going to stay there.

          • Jamie

            3 months ago

            Unique or total page visits? If you don’t mind me asking.

          • Mark Manson

            3 months ago

            That’s unique visitors. Total pageviews each month is around 500k-700k.

          • Zach

            2 months ago

            I know you said SEO pretty much takes care of itself once people are sharing your articles etc, but anything else you did to get such a large readership???

            I’m in the process of getting exposure to my new site now and could use the advice.

  • Reply

    Nick

    3 months ago

    Hi Mark,

    Great post. I have a question for you that might fall into that nuts and bolts category. What kind of proactive link building do you recommend? If any at all? I personally fell into the trap of trying to learn everything from article spinning to how to use things like Bookmarking demon, etc.

    I think I wasted a lot of time on that stuff and wonder today if I could have put my sites at risk if I used any of it beyond experimentation. I use onlywire now to post to just a few sites that I want cultivate. But in your opinion…is that a waste of time these days? Are we back to just needing to write great content and not worry about posting to Ezine and those types of sites? Thanks again for your post.

    Regards,
    Nick

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      A while back I approached similar blogs to mine and asked for a simple link trade on our blogrolls. These days I ask to do guest articles on people’s sites. That’s about it though.

      95% of the links you’re going to be able to create yourself with SEO tactics are going to be crap for traffic.

  • Reply

    andrew

    3 months ago

    Been a long time reader Mark and am glad you are getting the attention you’ve been getting. Sometimes I feel like I know you better than my friends.

    Anyway I feel like you got a shoutout by J Cole on Lil Wayne’s new mixtape – when I heard it I got a little excited. Is there another famous Mark Manson that he could reference to?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrq2E9KwhWE

    1:45. Cool stuff

  • Reply

    Superman

    3 months ago

    300K a month? That’s a lot more than Roosh’s blog if I’m not mistaken. Wow!!!

  • Reply

    Jack

    3 months ago

    Superb post, so inspiring, I’m going to work on my writing until it moves people! Yeh nigga! :-)

  • Reply

    Dr Feelgood

    3 months ago

    Interresting! Can you tell us what the sources of income for your blog are and which percentage each one contributes to the overall income of your blog?

    I would also be interrested in how long it took you to get the number of readers up to 10 000, 50 000, 100 000, etc. readers, and how many hours of weekly work that took respectively. I’m clear that the work hours alone don’t get you there, but it gives us a point of reference.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      Most of my income comes from my products these days.

      10k per month took a couple years. 50k probably another year. 100k like 6-8 months more.

      Readership grows very slowly, but it grows exponentially.

      • Reply

        Dr Feelgood

        3 months ago

        Thanks!

  • Reply

    Kwjibo

    3 months ago

    God I love this blog

  • Reply

    Elliott Crane

    3 months ago

    Hey Mark. Do you have any advice on how to display your idea in a way that you are able to “risk yourself” and “emotionally invest yourself” for topics that aren’t easily seen in that light. I feel like I might have just kind of figured out the answer to that question while typing that answer…
    P.S. You never responded to my email. Should I send it again or assume you aren’t interested?

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      Hey Elliot, send it again. I get a lot of emails, sometimes they fall through the cracks.

      To answer your question: insert your personality. Ramit Sethi is a good example of this. He writes about personal finance, saving money, debt, etc. But he inserts his own variety of humor and perspective on things. He finds a way to make it personal and his. He shares stories as well.

  • Reply

    Turner

    3 months ago

    This was a kick ass post and a topic that I have been reflecting on over the past few days as I have been doing my blog for about 8 months now. I feel that I have the components that you highlighted (brand, strong voice etc), I am more so having an issue with finding the correct audience (people who are seeking jobs overseas). Some of this issue may be resolving itself as I have cleaned my site so it doesnt look nearly as much like just a travel diary, but as you said, it takes time to work on a craft (ie 2 years before you might see anything). I have tried to post constantly, twice a week, but haven’t made much headway in terms of networking with other bloggers and having my worked shared. I think that, networking/finding the right people to spread your work, is a key point that could be considered as a number 6.

    Thanks for the focus.

    Turner

    • Reply

      David

      3 months ago

      Mark, an easy question I hope. I’m totally new to making videos etc. I’d like to produce my own short videos for YouTube – what equipment do you use? And if I want to write something at the bottom of the screen, how do I do this?

      Best wishes

      David

  • Reply

    Traindom

    3 months ago

    I agree with number two. I tend to follow advice from sites that specialize in a certain area, like fitness. I know that their stuff is gonna be in order because they don’t take a dip in an area; they go way deeper and arrive at more profound, innovative conclusions.

    I think the content is exponentially better when the blogger is knee-deep in his central theme. The idea that they obsess over and over and over a concept makes me think that their content will be much more enriching than someone who read a couple of books and had some experience.

  • Reply

    Andy

    3 months ago

    What I found is that all projects have a certain gestation period before they start coming to fruition.

    All of them. And there’s nothing you can do to artificially speed up the process.
    It doesn’t matter whether you are learning an instrument, or a sport or any skill or are building a blog or a business.

    Yes, it grows slowly but exponentially. But the initial growth period is always very slow and often long no matter how hard you work. In fact, you actually do have to work extremely hard every day while seemingly making no progress. This is the grind period, where most people give up. It can take anywhere between 6 and 24 months, or more, depending on how hard working and focused you are and how much natural talent and determination you bring, and prior experience you may have in similar areas.

    It’s like a snowball running down a mountain, picking up in size and speed until finally becoming a full-scale avalanche.

    But for the first couple miles it’s you who has to constantly push the snowball forward all the time before it starts gaining any momentum.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      This is absolutely true, but I would argue that the “gestation period” for blogs is longer than most projects if not infinitely long for some.

      Someone sent me a Ramit Sethi interview where he basically flat out says, “If you want to make money on the internet, don’t start a blog.” Listening to his logic, it made sense. If you want to make money, building up a freelancing or consulting business is going to get you there much quicker and easier. Blogs need at least a couple years to pay off in most cases.

      And that’s assuming that you’re a good writer, writing in a niche people care about, etc.

  • Reply

    Superman

    3 months ago

    What site brings you the most traffic outside of google and search engines?

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon, a lot of direct traffic (people bookmarked, etc.)

  • Reply

    DAN

    3 months ago

    So I think one thing that you missed that I have been trying to figure out is how do you gain income from a blog? For instance, I want to do a fitness/nutrition blog but how can I make money from it? Advertising?

    My friends have a business for pre-packaged meals(geared towards bodybuilders/athletics) that I thought would be a good business opportunity to capitalize on. But how do most bloggers make money? I’m assuming you need some sort of product/service which you are selling out of your blog, like your books/services.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      Products/services (either your own or affiliates), advertising, paid promotions, freelance writing, etc.

      Truth is 99% of bloggers don’t make much money.

  • Reply

    Jamie

    3 months ago

    I am wondering where you get most of your visitors from. Is it mainly search engines? Via the articles that went viral such as India and America? Or did a large portion migrate over from the entropy days?

    It must be an awesome feeling knowing every word you write is being read by so many people.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      Most of my traffic is direct traffic, meaning they have me bookmarked or they type the address in directly.

      I do get some search traffic, but a large percentage of it people just searching for my name or for PM.

      And then yeah, I still get social media traffic from the America/India articles and other sharing.

  • Reply

    Ben Hebert

    3 months ago

    Agree completely that you should post often and worry less about SEO and marketing. Optimize after you have some traction and an established readership of some kind. Otherwise you’re attracting people to a site with nothing but crap on it.

  • Reply

    Liviu

    3 months ago

    I have just started my own blog on a very specific niche, as you’ve mentioned in the article (long distance relationship advice for men)…so far it’s been 2 weeks, and I feel totally overwhelmed…. :)

    What would you suggest would be a great strategy for getting readership, in the early stages?

  • Reply

    sheqo

    3 months ago

    Great article Mark! I agree with you on using word press as a host, they have been very helpful to me as a newbie. It’s not easy but I am noticing some improvement slowly but surely, following your the tips you outlined here should boost me some more. thank you.

  • Reply

    John F Shaw

    3 months ago

    Hi Mark,
    This is a fine example of a great professional blog with very accurate informative information within it.  I have a site showing people how to actually make their own blog site, set it up and the basics to getting started.  I’m going to link our sites if that’s OK as yours offers exceptional advise and details, devoid of ego and all the other BS out there.
    Kudos to you mate,

  • Reply

    John F Shaw

    3 months ago

    Hi Mark,
    This is a fine example of a great professional blog with very accurate informative information within it.  I have a site showing people how to actually make their own blog site, set it up and the basics to getting started. It’s http://www.howtostartyourownblog.com
    I’m going to link our sites if that’s OK as yours offers exceptional advise and details, devoid of ego and all the other BS out there.

  • Reply

    Carlos

    2 months ago

    Hi Mark,
    I would be very interested in a post how you structure your writing. From collecting the info to creating the article. I think you do it pretty awesome. Do you have some kind of technique or some kind of process before you write it down ?

  • Reply

    Ritika Rakshit (@ritikaaaaar)

    2 months ago

    #1 is especially true for me.

    The idea of a professional blog was a dream come true. However, due to another post of yours actually (Why Some Dreams Should Not Be Pursued) and by loooots of self analysis (due to 750words.com), I realized that I like writing to improve my quality of life. It makes me happier and a better person. And more importantly, I don’t to have or want to maintain a personal brand.

    Thank you for also being honest about the sheer amount of hard work it takes.
    1-2 years of blogging and slowly generating views with little acknowledgement is rough!

  • Reply

    Anne Selby

    2 months ago

    I am an author, first book published while I was ill in hospital getting treatment for leukaemia in May 2011. I wasn’t well enough to do any publicising or start blogs, in fact I didn’t get a website until quite recently. I also started a blog, mainly about my writing, how my books come about, the trials and tribulations of getting published, my thoughts on self publishing and I also review movies and other books. So I would say my ‘brand’ is writing and reviewing. I try to make my articles user friendly and I try not to be contentious although when you are critiquing that isn’t always possible. My second book is due to come out in August/September time. I don’t know whether I could blog professionally, but I have honestly little idea how to get a blog noticed or how to build a relationship up with readers. I know I have to do something different, I am just not quite sure what and it is important for an author to have a website, Twitter, Facebook and a Blog these days.

  • Reply

    Quentin Moore

    2 months ago

    Number 6 is a good one. On one of my sites I created an article on why Apple was going to end up like Palm. That one page gets 60% of the site’s traffic. :)

  • Reply

    Robert M

    1 month ago

    Hey Mark.

    Great post! I’m about to start a blog, but I don’t know which platform to use. I just finished reading the blog software comparison: http://startbloggingonline.com/blog-platform-comparison-chart/ (not sure how accurate it is), but it’s suggesting a WordPress.

    I have also heard good things about blogger.com and tumblr.com, but right now I’m kinda one step away from taking action. Would love to hear your opinion about the best blogging platform.

    Cheers.

  • Reply

    Kate

    9 weeks ago

    Great tip on “don’t avoid controversy”. It seems like these days all the media is powered by negative press. I guess if you cant beat em join them.

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