So, you’re planning to start a blog? And you’re going to use WordPress? Good choice!
Despite a lot of upstarts and competitors, WordPress remains the default choice for the majority of bloggers out there, both corporate and personal, and the stats speak for themselves: According to Wikipedia, “WordPress was used by more than 23.3% of the top 10 million websites as of January 2015.”
But that great first choice can quickly yield to a headache inducing number of choices when it comes to setting it up. With thousands and thousands of extensions and plugins, it can be easy to a) feel overwhelmed and confused; and b) get so distracted you forget why you joined in the first place, which is to blog!
Assuming that you’re blogging because you want to build an engaged audience of readers (which you may or may not want to monetise in the future), let’s run through the basic set-up, which is genuinely simple. We’ll break it into 5 components: Listing building, Social Sharing, SEO, Analytics, Comments.
1. List building / Calls To Action
So, first up, let’s make sure you’ve got your blog ready to start building up your email list. Otherwise you’re losing a potentially valuable long-term reader every time someone visits.
Why is building an email list so important? Because it’s the number one driver of traffic to just about every successful blog.
Now you’re convinced, let’s make sure you’ve got a couple of basic tools to ensure you’re able to build that list.
MailChimp is the preferred choice for millions of bloggers, probably because it is completely free for the first 2,000 emails you collect; and it’s also very user friendly and very easy to integrate with WordPress.
All you need to do is sign-up for a new account at MailChimp, then head back to your Wordpres admin panel. Navigate to ‘Plugins > Add New’
Click on ‘Install now’ (my screenshot says ‘Update Now’ because it is already installed) and you’re halfway there.
Next, look back at the left-hand navigation menu and you should see a new item ‘MailChimp for WordPress’ there. Click on ‘MailChimp Settings’:
You’ll be on a page that asks for an API key. Click on the link saying ‘Get your API key here’:
It will take you to a new window, back into your MailChimp account, where you can create a key. Copy and paste it into the ‘MailChimp API Key’ box and hit ‘Save Changes.’ You’ll know if it’s worked because it will say ‘Connected’:
Final step now. Go to ‘Appearance > Widgets’:
Finally, click on ‘MailChimp for WordPress form settings’ and tick the list you want people added to. Voilà, you’re now fully integrated!
Sadly, you’re going to need to do more than this to get people subscribing to your blog. Passive sidebar sign-ups just don’t cut it. You need to really grab the attention of your potential readers!
There are three options here (and many blogs use all three – successful blogging is not about being coy)
- The Top Bar
- The Pop-Up
- Scroll Triggered
If you want a super quick and easy set-up, then I recommend you try the free and supremely easy to use SumoMe. They have a good tutorial, so I won’t replicate it here.
However it’s worth noting that with SumoMe, in under 5 minutes you should be able to have a Top Bar, Pop-Up and Scroll Triggered newsletter sign-ups running on your site.
2. Social Sharing
Once you’re ready to start signing people up to your newsletter, you need to make it really easy to drive more traffic to your site in the first place. And social media is definitely one of the most important ways to achieve this without spending a ton of money on paid marketing.
With social sharing and social media plugins, you have just about endless options, and it can be easy to waste hours researching them, testing them and moving on to the next one. Having spent a way too many hours doing this myself, I can say with some confidence, it isn’t a great investment of your time. Not right at the start.
So make life easy on yourself, and just get up and running with the basics that you need. I’ve got two – you guessed it – simple recommendations here.
- The first is to use SumoMe for your social sharing buttons too. It’s already installed now, so it cuts down on the bloat of adding separate plugins, provides decent analytics, enough customisation options and most importantly it works well.
However, if you don’t like how it looks or just want to try another route, I can also recommend ‘ShareThis,’ a veteran plugin that’s been around since 2005. You can also check out this post for even more options.
- Try using ‘Click to Tweet’ to highlight key quotes or summaries of your posts in the actual body of your text. They look like this:
That’s it. Don’t overthink it. Move on to an even more important channel – SEO.
Winning on Google is still basically winning online. With over 11 billion searches conducted every month, they’re a major factor in whether you’ll ever get traffic or not.
So you really, really want to ensure your blog is being found by your target audience when they’re searching on Google for terms relevant to the topic(s) you write about.
Not surprisingly, there are a very large number of tools out there to help with your SEO strategy. Almost all of them should be used before you even start to type a post, let alone before you get to WordPress.
So I won’t cover your full ‘SEO strategy’ here – that’s for another post (or several). Instead, to get your started, there’s really just one WordPress SEO tool you need: WordPress SEO by Yoast:
Once you’ve installed it, you’ll see in your posts editor an additional few boxes below the visual editor which look like this:
All you need to do is add your keywords or phrase to the ‘Focus Keyword’ box and hit ‘save draft’ in the top right of your editor, and it will tell you how well optimised your page is for that term. Basically it acts as a simple checklist to ensure you’re doing all the right things like adding correct meta descriptions, alt tags to images etc.
When you’ve covered the basics, it rewards you with a lovely green light:
Not getting a green light? Just click on the ‘Page Analysis’ tab and it will show you where you’re going wrong and what you need to change.
Now once you hit publish, you stand a much better chance to being rewarded by Google in the search results, and enjoying a constant stream of longtail traffic who find you while searching for the keywords you’ve optimised for.
The next thing you should set up is a way to tell if what you’re blogging about is working!
This is where analytics comes in. Again, I have two major recommendations for your basic set-up.
This will give you many of the key stats you need to know, such as Traffic Sources, Sessions and bounce rate. That being said, I would recommend you take the steps so that you can access your WordPress data in the actual Google Analytics dashboard (much more full featured and very powerful). Not repeat existing information, you can check out this handy guide on how to do it.
SumoMe will also give you a couple of other cool analytics features. Assuming you installed it earlier, choose to also install ‘Content Analytics’ and ‘Heat Maps’.
These will then let you see how much of your content people are actually reading (‘Content Analytics’) and where people are clicking (‘Heat Maps’).
This information lets you make more informed decisions on how you structure your site. For example, if you want people to click on a link to download something, but you notice they’re not scrolling far enough to see it, you know to move it higher up the page!
Wow, you’re nearly set-up for building an audience on WordPress using only free plugins, which have been tried and tested by millions of others.
To be honest, you could call it quits here, as some major sites have actually disabled comments all-together because of low quality and spam; plus many blogs rely on the inbuilt commenting system that comes with every WordPress blog.
However, if you do want to try and build more of a two-way community or solicit feedback from your growing audience, and to really filter out spam, (plus show your readers related content they might want to read next), then I would take an extra few minutes to install Disqus.
To get Disqus set up, you will need to create a new account with them (or log in to an existing one).
Just click on ‘Configure’ once it’s installed, then follow the step-by-step instructions. In total it should take less than 10 minutes to get up and running. Once installed, it should look like this:
If your blog is new, it probably won’t have the ‘Also on’ recommendations to begin with. Have a little patience – once you’ve created a few posts and Disqus starts to build some information about them, they will appear!
In total, you can probably have your entire site up and running – ready to build your audience, all for free – in under an hour with these tools.
I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments, so please share!
Ps. Now you need to create some amazing content content to give people a reasons to come. Check out this checklist for creating high performing content, every time you write.