A lone laptop sitting on a corner desk

With almost everyone competing for the attention of Internet readers, it’s a wonder that anyone is heard. However, one tried-and-true method of building a following and standing out above the din is blogging. In fact, what’s most remarkable about blogging is that, unlike other forms of Internet media, it eventually generates traffic virtually on its own.

But how does it work? How does one turn an idea into a revenue generating body of work? The key lies in understanding what fuels a successful blog, how to build a functioning site, and what it takes to build a loyal readership.

Learn the Process

Before you begin, it’s important to understand what successful blogging looks like. Many assume that it’s much like starting a band, in which one moment of discovery turns your creative venture into a big-time hit. However, the reality takes far more patience and diligence.

There are millions of blogs on the Internet, each one with a specific topic, audience, and volume of content. Among them, a very small percentage have found notoriety in their respective community because they successfully built an audience over time.

The manner in which they accomplished this varies between them, but three common factors helped their rise. The first is quality content. Blogs like Gizmodo and Lifehacker consistently deliver interesting, engaging, and useful posts to their readers. The second is search engine optimization (SEO). Each of these posts was optimized for Google’s search index so that those searching for information on a particular topic would find them easily. The third is volume of posts. One after another, successful blogs created these optimized posts over a broad array of topics in order to deliver value to a wider audience.

Over time, readers began to recognize them as an authority. Their reputation preceded them, simply because one satisfied reader after another found them, enjoyed the content, and recommended it to others until the site had enough traffic to consistently rank high on Google’s search results.

Choose Your Topic, Identify Your Readers

Part of the key to this success lay in the specificity of their topics. A blog doesn’t build authority unless it taps its information wheelhouse. An unfocused blog will lead to a diluted reputation and an incoherent audience, which makes your job creating blog posts and tailoring content unnecessarily challenging.

Instead, find your niche. For business blogs, this will likely be the industry in which you do business. For personal blogs, this will be some kind of passion or area of occupational specialty. Maintain this consistent subject, whether it’s medical centrifuges or home cooking tips, and mine it for a range of topics related to the lifestyle associated it. For example, a blog on medical centrifuges might cover both maintenance of equipment and advances in medicine.

Once this subject matter is established, identifying your audience through reader profiles will help you understand how, when, and where to publish content. Who would read your blog? What job might they possess? When do they visit your blog? How old are they? What are their interests? All of these can help you understand what and when to publish. A stay-at-home parent would likely be browsing your cooking blog after the kids are at school and before preparing meals. A single, 32 year-old urban dweller will likely be looking at cooking as more of a hobby. Each characteristic gives insight that can help you tailor your approach.

Select Your Platform

With a coherent and focused approach, building your blog is the next step. In the world of online blogging, there are two primary options: those hosted on a web-based platform, and those hosted on a private server with an installed platform.

The first one offers the easiest setup and the least amount of technical knowledge. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a platform is a piece of software that allows you to control the appearance of your site, the content of your posts, and virtually every aspect of your blog. Common platforms include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Homestead and Blogger. Setting up your blog with these services is a simple matter of signing up for a free account and learning the platform in order to start posting.

The second option mentioned is a bit more arduous for the less tech-savvy, but is effectively the end-game solution for a professional blog. First, server space is leased through an Internet hosting company. The content platform is then installed on the server, after which time you and your writing team can access it through a username and password.

The added bonus to this approach is control. The ability to edit the CSS and other technical aspects of your site frequently requires a premium membership, whereas privately hosted blogs are yours to modify as you see fit. In addition, since web-hosted blogs often require a fee to access premium features, it is possible to actually save money on a privately hosted blog, even after monthly hosting and domain registration fees are accounted for.

Set a Schedule and Commit

Once your subject, audience, and blog are in place, the real work begins. Establish a writing schedule so that readers know when to expect content. This will also help develop a steady stream of exposure that will keep your blog on the minds of your readers and help build a habit of consistently writing.

As you begin to develop a following, keep track of analytics that indicate which posts, subjects, and types of content were successful. Increased numbers of returning visitors and a low “bounce rate” are key indicators that your content planning is working. Once you identify a pattern of successful content, use it to further define your audience and cater to their needs.

Finally, continue this process over a long period of time. As mentioned earlier, building a readership takes consistency, a volume of optimized posts, and the consequent reputation of both. Commit to your blog, cultivate a following, and never stop innovating your approach. In time, your blog will act like an investment, earning a regular return for your business through traffic and revenue.

Despite the many components listed here, blogging is not a particularly difficult practice. All it takes is a little knowledge, commitment, and writing acumen to turn a passion or body of knowledge into a marketing asset. Identify your topic and audience, build a platform that suits your needs, and practice blogging best practices, and watch your numbers grow.