“I’ve decided to launch a blog,” you excitedly say. “Oh really?” Your friend says. “When?” Your smile slowly fades as you stare into the distance, thinking of all the tasks that have to be done. Your heart starts to race, and your palms get sweaty. You look back at your friend. “In a few years,” you answer, still stressing about the mile-long list of pre-launch tasks.
Yes, launching a blog is a huge, exciting, scary undertaking, but you don’t have to live in a constant state of stress before you launch. There are really only 13 critical things to do before you launch, and we’re going to cover those today. Want to be sure you don’t forget any steps? Get your free copy of the launch checklist (with extra tips) below!
1. Choose Your Web Host
If you’re just starting a new blog, and you want to self host it (which you should do), you’ll need to find a web host. Without a web host, your website will ever get off the ground. The nice thing about hosting is that it doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re a new blogger. Many hosts offer budget hosting (also known as shared hosting) options for anywhere from $3-$10 a month. Just be sure to compare what’s included in your monthly cost.
There are plenty of web hosts out there, but not all of them are created equal. If you’re using WordPress, look for a host that specializes in WordPress websites. Ideally, the host you’re looking at should offer a one-click WordPress installation to make things easier.
2. Pick Your Blog’s Theme
After you install WordPress on your web host, you need to choose a blog theme. A theme dictates the layout and appearance of your blog. It’s both fun and frustrating to pick a theme because there are so many options. It’s like walking into a candy store and being told to choose just one piece of candy (or maybe that’s just me?).
When it comes time for you to choose a theme, you’ll find that there are two broad categories of themes: premium and free. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford a premium theme, don’t sweat it. There are some free themes that are just as nice as premium themes. The only thing about free themes is they’re more common on websites, so your blog won’t look quite as unique.
Another thing to consider when choosing your blog’s theme is your ultimate goal for your blog. Do you want to monetize your blog by selling products on it? You may want to try a theme that’s optimized for on-site selling. Do you want it to focus solely on being a blog and leave the products on another platform? Find a theme that focuses on blogging.
3. Determine Your Niche
While it is possible to blog about everything and the kitchen sink, it’s not advisable. Most of the popular, successful blogs have a niche and a clearly defined audience. There’s a reason for this. Blog readers like to know what they’re getting into when they visit a blog. If you blog about web design, then your readers will expect to see a post related to web design when you publish. In this scenario, if you stick with your web design niche, then you meet your readers’ expectations, and everyone’s happy.
Don’t make your audience guess what your next post will be about. That has the potential to frustrate them, and that’s not something you want to do. You can avoid all of this by determining your niche before you even launch your blog. Find the place where your passion and your knowledge intersect. That’s a great place to look for your niche.
4. Determine Your Branding
“I have this great logo and these three awesome colors, so my branding is all set.” Um…no. It’s not. Branding is so much more than just the physical appearance of your blog and your social media picture templates. You do need to have things like fonts, colors, graphic templates, and a logo ready when you launch, but branding doesn’t stop there. True branding, the branding that will make your blog stand out, is all about creating a cohesive experience for your readers. How can you do this? Through your blog posts, through how you interact with people online, and through your social media feed.
Think about what you want people to say about your brand and create your colors, font, logo, and brand experience from that. So if you want people to see your brand as sophisticated and modern, choose a proper color palette and define what being sophisticated means to you. How would you act so people describe you as sophisticated? Going in with a clear branding vision can save you lots of time in the future. You won’t need to redo your graphics or overhaul your website just a few months after the launch.
5. Complete a Blog Business Plan
Spend some time thinking and planning your blog’s future. View it as a business and ask difficult questions to really hone your blog’s purpose. Questions you may want to consider include
Why do you want to blog? Do you want to monetize your blog? How will you monetize it? What impression do you want your blog to give first-time readers? How will you use your email newsletter? Where do you see your blog in one year? What about five years?
One thing you can do when making a business plan for your blog is look at other blogs in your niche and see what they’re doing. Don’t copy what they’re doing, but get an idea of what works. Are the bloggers selling ebooks or ecourses? Do they offer just online products or do they sell physical products? Looking at what other bloggers are doing can give you ideas for how you can make your blog successful. Just be sure to make it yours and don’t steal ideas or products.
6. Get Active (On Social Media)
Get the word out about your launch before it happens. This is a great way to build excitement and anticipation around your launch. You can release previews of your blog posts or opt-in incentive. You can give your followers a glimpse at your branding methods or design. The best thing about getting active on social media is that you don’t have to post everything yourself. Use a social media scheduler like Buffer or Hootsuite to post things while you work on your blog (or sit on the beach sipping rum punch. Whatever).
Join a Facebook group in your niche and become active in it. Don’t just post your own things. You need to add value to the group, so ask or answer questions. Be present and show an interest in other people. That interest will likely be reciprocated over time.
Another avenue to drum up interest is Twitter. Find Twitter chats related to you niche and hop in. The first few chats you join may be overwhelming, but you’ll get the hang of it, especially if you use Tweetdeck as your secret weapon. It lets you streamline your feed so you only see the relevant hashtag for the chat.
You blog doesn’t exist in a black hole. There are lots of other blogs out there in your niche, and you need to get to know some of the bloggers behind them. Networking with other bloggers is great for growing your audience, getting word out about your launch, and (perhaps most importantly) making friends. Your blog won’t thrive if you don’t put in the effort to become part of the online community.
Take some time to start reading other blogs and leave thoughtful comments. Follow other bloggers on Twitter or Instagram and share their posts when you think your audience will benefit. Being a good netizen (you know, sharing and commenting on stuff that’s not yours, offering helpful advice to others) will encourage people to take an interest in you and your blog. You’ll find that when you launch, you launch with an audience. That’s pretty awesome.
8. Have Posts Prepared
You wouldn’t invite your family and friends (or the whole neighborhood) to an empty house for a housewarming party, would you? I hope not, so don’t do it to your audience. Before you launch your blog, you need to have at least two or three posts ready. You want your visitors to have a few things to read when they visit your site. It’ll give them a better idea of your writing voice.
Having an About or Start Here page as well as a Contact page is great, but people don’t really connect with you on those pages. They connect with you through your content. That’s where your personality really gets to shine. Having several posts published also gives people a little more confidence in your blog. Your readers don’t want to invest their time reading your posts only to learn that two months into blogging, you’re throwing in the towel.
9. Create an Editorial Calendar
While it may be tempting to fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to deciding what to write for your blog, that’s not a good strategy for long-term growth. What is a good strategy is creating an editorial calendar and sticking to it. An editorial calendar lets you see the big picture for your blog. You can plan out your posts month-by-month or every other month. Heck, you could even plan your posts for the year.
The real value in an editorial calendar lies in predictability. You know what posts you’ve got coming up, and you can write them well in advance (no staying up until 3 a.m. finishing the blog post you’re going to publish in a few hours). Want to reduce your stresss? Start an editorial calendar for your blog.
10. Create a Start Here page
While I’m all for About pages (and I had one for a while), I like Start Here pages more. They’re great for multiple reasons. First, they tell your first-time readers exactly where to go. I mean, the page literally says Start Here. Directing your readers to a central point works in your favor. You have the opportunity to point them towards whatever you want. You can pick your best (or most popular) posts and point readers to them.
You can also use your Start Here page to give your readers an overview of your blog. Tell your readers what your niche is and what value your blog will offer them. They want to know what benefit your blog can offer, and the Start Here page is the perfect place to lay it out. It differs from an About page because About pages tend to me more focused on the blogger and not the blog. While your readers do want to know about you, they’re really there to learn why they should read your blog. Use your Start Here page to convince them why.
11. Choose an Email Software and Test It
It may seem silly to start thinking about an email newsletter before you even launch your blog, but it’s really not. As you grow your audience, you’ll want to have a newsletter ready to send out. Newsletters allow you to connect with your audience on a more personal level and give them some extra awesome content. To send out your newsletter, you’ll need an email service or software.
There are several popular options to choose from, including MailChimp, ConvertKit, ConstantContact, and Aweber. Whichever one you choose, be sure to test the user experience before you have any of your readers go through the email sing-up process. You need to know what your subscribers will see, so you can work out any kinks in the system or email design.
12. Create an opt-in incentive
If you want people to sign up for your email newsletter, you’ll have better sign-up rates if you use an opt-in incentive. When you create your opt-in, keep in mind these two very important things. First, your opt-in needs to be relevant to your audience. So if you’re launching a food blog, you could share a super secret family recipe as an opt-in. You want your opt-in to be relevant to your audience and niche because that ensures that only people who are interested in what you have to say sign up for your newsletter. If you’re launching a food blog but offer an opt-in that focuses on knitting, you’ll attract a lot of knitting lovers who may not be interested in your food blog.
Second, you need to make sure that your opt-in is valuable. Don’t just create a hasty one-page checklist and slap that in an opt-in form. You want to wow your readers with your offer. If you give something away that’s really valuable, not only will your readers be impressed, but they’ll be more likely to buy from you in the future. I mean, if your free stuff is super duper awesome, they’ll believe your premium offers must be otherworldly.
13. Check Your Links
This task can be tedious, especially if you have a lot of links on your blog, but it’s necessary to prevent reader frustration. No one likes a 404 error (a.k. Page Not Found). It’s disappointing to say the least and frustrating at worst.
Imagine this: A reader hops onto your site and sees a link to a post your wrote titled My Five Best Tips for Making Awesome Pizza. This reader has been longing to make awesome pizza, so he excitedly clicks on the link, expecting to be rewarded with your five brilliant tips for awesome pizza. Instead, he’s sent to your 404 page and is heartbroken. He resolves never to visit your site again.
Dramatic? Maybe a little, but it show the importance of making sure that your links are in order, especially if you’re just launching. You want to make a great first impression, and broken links are definitely not how you do that. Set aside some time before you launch to go over your site and check every link. You’ll be glad you did.
Launch in Style
Don’t forget to grab your copy of the 3-page launch checklist (with extra tips) below! Follow this list of things to do before you launch, and you’ll launch a spiffy blog with a clear focus and an excited audience. After your blog’s launch, be sure to take a day off to celebrate and rest. You’ve earned it!
This post was originally published on blogmanual.com in 2015.