I’ve been volunteering my time with helping a number of new personal finance bloggers over the last couple months, and realized that I’m just repeating the same things. I also remembered that Jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity wrote 25 Steps to a Wildly Successful Personal Finance Blog, so I decided to add my own learnings from the last year of blogging.
Jim really helps to walk you through from setting up a domain and WordPress site, to plugins and blogging methods to help get you moving. Some of our steps overlap, but I’m going to focus more on design and communication, while Jim focused on setup. Also, feel free to add your own in the comments, or point me to other lists of tips and tricks.
So here they are:
- Focus on your content. I repeat, focus on your content. Try to pick a decent theme at first, but work on getting ANY well-written and well-formatted content out. Fix the theme later. Some of the biggest sites have butt-ugly themes, so that should tell you something about the value of content.
- Learn proper spelling and grammar. Firefox has a built-in spellcheck (I think. At least mine seems to), or you can type up your articles in a word processor program first. I’m surprised to see even big name bloggers misspelling words or using the wrong word (lose vs loose, then vs than). Don’t lose your credibility over something so simple as spelling and grammar. If you’re not a native English speaker, ask for help.
- Don’t be afraid to ask other bloggers for help. We all had to start somewhere, and we’re very willing to “share the wealth” of readers and advertising dollars. But also recommend that you’ll need to be proactive. Only you can make your site succeed.
- Join the Money Blog Network forums. The best of the best PF bloggers go there to swap stories, tips, hints and tricks for blogging, monetization, statistics, optimization and other topics. Read through ALL of the forum posts to learn a wealth of information. Be sure to utilize the search before asking a question though.
- Don’t use the default WordPress theme. However, be careful of themes that are “made for newbies”. These themes have extensive custom option screens where you can pick color themes or rearrange the site layout. You’ll learn in a couple months that it’s incredibly difficult to customize these themes. I personally went through 4 major layout changes before finding an easy-to-customize theme that I liked.
- Be prepared to learn XHTML and a little bit of PHP to customize your theme. You don’t have to be a techie (I’m not), but you need to be willing to learn.
- Everyone suggests researching webhosting companies, but for your first year, just use a web host that can get the job done. I use Dreamhost, and it’s fine except for the 20,000+ visit days. Also, try the coupon code “777”. If it works, your first year is only $7.
- If you’re serious about your site, get your own domain name that somewhat relates to your topic (obviously cleverdude.com doesn’t relate to finances). Jim recommends GoDaddy.com, but I have my domains through Dreamhost. Do some research about registrars though. You don’t want your decision to come back and bite you. Check out Millionster’s article on Finding a Good Web Host. This can also apply to a registrar.
- If you choose to host through blogger.com or wordpress.com, be prepared to find customization and advertising limited compared to fully hosted sites. You can make it work, but all the big bloggers recommend getting your own domain AND unix-based web host.
- People will tell you that you should have a 3 column theme for best monetization. Basically, choose the type of theme that YOU like to see, but keep your readers in mind. I found that I like 2 column themes more since they look less cluttered, but you might have different opinions.
- Don’t use the default WordPress permalink structure. That might look something like “”http://www.yourdomain.com/?p=4“. Change your permalink structure to something else like this custom pattern “/articles/%postname%/”.
- Remove the Meta sidebar item from your theme. This includes the admin link. If you need the admin link, then bookmark it.
- When your blog is new, you don’t want to show people how new it is. Remove any Calendar and Archive sidebar items until you get more content.
- Install the Subscribe to Comments plugin. You definitely want to allow readers to keep up to date on responses to their comments.
- Get an About page. Be personal with it. Let people know why they can trust you. Don’t try to sound too professional unless you really are a professional (and certified) financial guru.
- Sign up with Feedburner to be able to track and publicize your RSS feed.Use Gmail to consolidate all of your email accounts.
- Make an image for your email address rather than displaying your address as text. It makes it that much harder for bots to spam you.
- Install a keyword/tagging plugin. I use Simple Tagging. Basically you want an easy way to add keywords for search engines to catalog your site. You can also create tag clouds with this plugin.
- Install Spam Karma to prevent comment spam. It’s better than Akismet. Ask other bloggers to help configure the settings.
- Always keep backups of your theme pages. You can either back up the specific file before you update it, or have a rule to back up the whole directory on a specific schedule. If you’re good enough with Unix commands, you can run a script to automatically back up the directory and email it to you!
- If you need to know how someone formatted something, look at fellow bloggers’ source code and stylesheets. You can see the stylesheet someone is using by viewing the source and looking in the header for the .CSS file.
- Rather than trying to display all those social bookmarking links (e.g. Digg, Delicious, etc.), install the Share This plugin.
- Create a separate WordPress installation to test out changes to code and plugins before applying to your main site.
- Enable the WP-Cache plugin to ensure faster page loads and less processor utilization. If you’re changing your page content, be sure to refresh the cache.
- Utilize the WordPress DB Backup plugin to make regular backups of your database.
- Install the Google Sitemaps plugin to create sitemaps for Google.
- Use Google Webmaster Tools. You’ll want to register your new sitemap with Google, and also create a robots.txt file to block crawler access to certain directories. Check out others’ robots.txt files by adding the filename after their domain url (e.g. http://www.domain.com/robots.txt).
- Respond to user comments. Don’t feel that you need to respond to all of them, but try to reply when someone has a good comment or is asking a question. You can send a direct email, leave a comment response, or both.
- Don’t over-monetize your site. Don’t have Adsense, Payperpost, and Linkworth and every other ad network on your pages. Pick and choose your advertising carefully, because there’s nothing that will drive away readers more than an over-monetized site (except maybe for bad content).
- Don’t keep looking at your stats. I’ll refer to #1 again: Focus on your content. So many new bloggers (me included) will keep looking at their visitor numbers, Adsense earnings, Alexa ranking, Pagerank (it doesnt’ update often), and any other stat they can get their hands on. I now look at my visitor stats about twice per week now.
- Speaking of tracking stats, sign up with StatCounter, and Google Analytics. Why all 3? You’ll notice that each service tracks visitors differently. Personally, I like Statcounter’s summary page, but I like Google’s reporting tools. Eventually, you’ll pick one that you like.
- Don’t make your site traffic stats public until you get a couple hundred visitors per day. Even then, it’s your choice to make them public. Some advertisers want to know your traffic numbers, but you can just send a screenshot then.
- Be careful about using images. Only use images whose owners have authorized for re-use, and be sure to give proper attribution. You can read more about my own mistake here.
- On the same vein, read up on Creative Commons licensing. There’s still some disagreements about licensing of content and images, but be prepared. For example, you can’t just use any image you find on Flickr (see link in #38).
- Learn from your mistakes. You WILL make mistakes, so be prepared to learn from them and move on.
- Try to present controversial points of view sometimes. What makes reading our sites interesting is being presented with new ways of looking at things. But be careful not to openly offend. For example, I purposely don’t swear, and don’t allow swearing on my site. I also try to avoid using stereotypes (e.g. Hispanics do this, Italians do that, etc.). Not a pretty outcome if you do. People are touchy.
- Do your research. People want to learn something, or be entertained. If you’re trying to educate, then get your facts and math straight before publishing the article. If you have a little fact wrong, people will focus on that and lose the essence of your article.
- On the other hand, don’t over-analyze and never end up posting the article. Basically, don’t try to be too perfect.
- Utilize the Post Timestamp feature in WordPress. If you have the time to pound out a bunch of posts, then do so, but don’t publish them all at once. Change the timestamp for each article and then post. That way, you can even get posts written and published for the entire week at once! (or at least for the next day).
- Be selective with your blogroll and outbound links. As you get bigger, you’ll be contacted by other sites to be added to your blogroll. Don’t feel obligated to add a site just because they asked you, or if they added you to their blogroll. Otherwise, your list will get too long and become useless (too overwhelming for readers). Add sites that you read daily because they have good content or thoughts. I personally ask newer site owners to wait a few months before contacting me for links. I’d like to see that they’ll 1) stick around and 2) have good content.
- Network with your fellow bloggers. I use AIM to chat with other bloggers, as well as use the MBN forums. Also volunteer to write guest posts for other sites, and participate in carnivals. But be sure you link back to the carnival when it’s published!
- Have a consistent posting frequency. Posting daily when you’re new can be overwhelming, and might be why so many bloggers fail. Pick a schedule (e.g. Mondays and Wednesdays each week, or weekdays only, etc.) and stick to it.
- Let your readers know when your schedule will change. For example, if you will be posting twice as often, or if you’ll be going on an extended vacation, let them know. However, you can also refer to #44, since you can post-date articles to cover you while you’re out.
- Let readers know your commenting policy. There is some discussion about the ownership of comments on blogs, but my stance is that I can edit or delete your comment when I want. I don’t allow spam links or swear words. Therefore, I’ll either edit the comment or delete it completely.
- Be patient. Success never happens overnight.
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