Key Platforms for Blogging
WordPress, Squarespace, Blogger, and Tumblr are among the most popular platforms used by bloggers.
WordPress serves as a platform for some of the world's most famous blogs, including BoingBoing, The New York Times, TechCrunch, Mashable, and StyleWatch. You may either create a WordPress blog hosted by WordPress or use WordPress software to build a site on your own domain and hosting plan.
In addition to being free, WordPress offers a large number of themes and plugins that enable you to build a highly customized, highly functional website. If you have your own domain and want to build your own site, WordPress is probably your best option- plus you'll be in great company (take a look at the notable WordPress users showcased below).
If you would like to present a polished, fully-branded site, but do not want to be overwhelmed by choices (WordPress admittedly offers a lot of options and control), Squarespace is an excellent alternative.
- Your own domain (e.g. www.yoursite.com)
- Built-in SEO features
- Simple, no-hassle hosting
- Built-in analytics that require no setup
- Easily-personalized fonts, colors, and layout
- Ready-to-use ecommerce tools
- Optimized for mobile devices (not all WordPress themes are mobile optimized)
Squarespace plans range from $8.00 to $24.00 per month.
If you want to set up a very simple blog quickly and easily, consider Blogger. The platform offers:
- Quick setup
- Customizable layouts
- Automatic integration with Google Analytics
- Easy integration with AdSense
- Ability to feature the blog with a unique domain
Blogger has fewer distracting bells and whistles than other platforms and offers a down-to-earth, no-fuss experience. Though relatively simple, Blogger blogs are still highly customizable. Don't let poorly-formatted, rudimentary Blogger accounts lead you to discount the platform's value. Such awesome digital publications as PostSecret, The Sartorialist, decor8 and the official Twitter blog run on Blogger.
Tumblr is a favorable platform for multimedia bloggers with younger audiences and little interest in setting up their own sites. Using Tumblr, you can:
- Choose a well-designed, mobile-friendly theme
- Easily post text, quotes, images, video, audio clips, and links
- Very easily manage your blog and schedule posts using Tumblr's mobile app
- Showcase your tumblr-supported blog with a unique domain
Key Platforms for Vlogging
Many serious vloggers feature videos on their own websites, which don't have built-in audiences, then syndicate those videos to major video hosting platforms, which do have built-in audiences. It is very important to make your videos easy to discover and share, so your choice of platform(s) should be influenced by your knowledge of your target audience, what platforms they prefer when watching online videos, and how they typically share their favorite videos with friends.
The most popular video hosting platforms (with the most substantial communities of viewers and creators alike) are YouTube, Blip, and Vimeo. Many vloggers upload the same videos to multiple platforms to see which ultimately perform the best for them. Consider testing your own videos on multiple platforms before focusing on one in particular.
By far, YouTube is the most popular vlogging platform available. Given the platform's insanely-large audience (it is the second-most visited site listed on Quantcast after Google), it should only make sense that vloggers would feel the need to make an appearance.
Due to low barriers to entry and lots of competition, it is much harder to build an audience on YouTube than it used to be, however building up sizable viewership through the site is far from impossible. Many presently-successful YouTube personalities have gained audiences through sheer dumb luck and persistence. With a concerted plan, carefully-targeted audience, focus on quality, and willingness to address an under-utilized niche, you still have fairly good odds at building traction on the platform.
There are two ways to earn money through YouTube: ad earnings as a normal user through YouTube's Partner Program or earnings as a member of a YouTube Partner Network. As an individual vlogger, you are far more likely to earn money through YouTube's Partner Program than you are to earn money through a YouTube Partner Network. Those interested in joining a YouTube Partner Network are more involved in general entertainment than blogging- we have a separate course for that if you're interested. While you may ultimately earn some ad revenue through YouTube, avoid letting it become your primary source of income. Ad-related earnings made through YouTube had best be regarded as nice benefit with an uncertain future.
Blip is oriented around web series rather than one-off videos. The platform showcases content in categories such as pets, animation, comedy, drama, entertainment, and video games. Among other features, Blip offers a fully-customizable player along with convenient syndication tools that enable you to easily distribute your videos across other popular video sites, such as YouTube, Roku, and iTunes. Videos on Blip are monetized by ads alone; creators earn 50% of the revenue.
Though the site only gets a little over 3 million unique US viewers each month, the platform is well worth using, if just for the sake of being able to present a unique, customized embedded player on your site and easily push your uploads to other important online video platforms.
Vimeo is a video hosting platform with a focus on quality over quantity. In fact, if you want to upload large amounts of video footage, you must upgrade to a paid account. The site has attracted a more focused community of serious, independent film makers, making it less conducive to the typically informal, messy, and conversational format adopted by most vloggers.
This, of course, does not mean that Vimeo should be ignored as a platform. With nearly 20 million monthly unique US visitors, Vimeo boasts a sizable audience, and many of its visitors (depending on the subject matter and style of your videos, of course), may be interested in your work.
As far as a typical vlogger should be concerned, Vimeo is not a monetization platform. The only means by which you might make money through the site are by winning the site's annual competition, garnering donations from users (via a tip jar feature to which only those with paid accounts have access), or providing pay-per-view videos on demand (another feature only available to paid account holders; plus Vimeo takes a 10% cut of pay-per-view revenue).
Key Distribution and Hosting Platforms for Podcasting
Of the major platforms (and distribution frameworks) utilized by podcastsers, iTunes, Lybsyn, PodcastPeople, and WordPress stand among the most commonly-utilized brands.
By far the most common means by which audiences discover new podcasts, iTunes is more or less mandatory for those who wish to build up a sizable body of listeners. If your podcast cannot be found via this directory, many listeners will never find it all.
Build up a sizable arsenal of episodes and have a cohesive plan in place before making your iTunes debut. In your first eight weeks distributing podcast through the directory, you may be featured in its "New and Noteworthy" section. The prominent placement afforded by this opportunity can help you gain a significant number of listeners before having to vie with thousands of other podcasts for attention. Don't ruin your odds of being selected for the privilege by sporadically publishing lackluster content under a muddled brand.
As iTunes is not technically a platform, you will still need to find a place to host your podcasts (popular options are discussed below). There is no fee associated with sharing your podcasts through iTunes. For more information on getting started with the directory, visit Apple's official guide to making a podcast.
Libsyn is a podcast hosting service that offers built-in publishing tools, an RSS feed for iTunes (this makes it possible for your iTunes offering to automatically update when you publish a new podcast), a public site for your podcast, and premium services such as advertising programs, subscription plans, and mobile apps.
Plans range from $5 to $75 per month. Basic plans cover hosting of your podcast files, the creation of an RSS feed, and a dedicated page along with basic statistics. If you shell out for LibSyn's most expensive plan, you'll get 1500MB of storage, plus enjoy advanced statistics, a smartphone app, and media transcoding, which lets podcasters upload high-res master files that are automatically converted to appropriate formats.
For advice on making the most of LibSyn, check out our interview with Rob Walch, LybSyn's VC of Podcaster Relations.
As with Libsyn, PodcastPeople will host your audio files and create RSS feeds that can be pushed to various podcast directories such as iTunes. PodcastPeople also makes it easy to incorporate ads and sponsors into your work, open up management of your podcast to multiple people, and review advanced analytics. Plans range from $0 to $59 per month.
If you already pay for hosting for your general website, there is no need for you to pay for podcast hosting services services like Libsyn. It is very easy to publish a podcast and push it to iTunes directly through your WordPress site. For full procedures, visit the official guide to podcasting on WordPress.org.
Key Platforms for Promotion and Audience Engagement
Before creating an account on a social media platform for the sake of promoting your work, carefully consider the needs and preferences of your audience and whether your readers, viewers, and/or listeners would actually want to hear from you on that particular site. For guidance on choosing relevant platforms, see our guide to choosing a social network that attracts your target audience. If you are not willing to seriously invest in a platform (that is, create a complete profile and regularly post a baseline amount of genuine, unique, high quality content), do not bother creating anything more than a placeholder account (to make sure that you reserve your brand name's username and URL).
While Google+ can be a nice place to post updates, its real value lies in Authorship and Hangouts.
Google Authorship enables you to connect your Google+ profile with content you publish online. Doing so makes it possible for yourGoogle+ profile photo and a link to your Google+ account to appear alongside listings of your content in Google Search results.
In addition to reinforcing your personal brand, the presence of your photo will make your content stand out amongst other, less visually-engaging search results. Links to your Google+ profile from search results may also encourage others to follow you on the platform.
Other SEO-related benefits associated with authorship may emerge in the future, so getting set up is well worth the minimal effort required.
Hangouts On Air are one of the most efficient means by which you can meet with fans face-to-face, provide one-on-one coaching and consulting, and hold webinars. Using Hangouts On Air, you can do things like:
- Record meetings and events for later publication on YouTube
- Easily exchange written chat messages and links
- Share and watch YouTube videos while conversing with others
- Share your screen
- Remotely control others' screens
- Add silly accessories to your face (uh... just for fun)
Twitter is the ultimate place to engage in live discourse with fans, followers, and complete strangers. Use the platform to chat with your audience, ask for ideas and feedback, and share useful, relevant information.
Using Twitter, you can actively engage with those who share your content. By running a Twitter search for your site's domain (or the URL of a specific post), you can see who has tweeted links to your content.
In addition to using searches to find out what others are saying about your work, you can use them as an excuse to:
- Thank people for sharing your work
- Ask people what they think of your content
- Ask for others' opinions on the stance you took in a post, video, or podcast
- Ask about people's personal experiences with the subject covered in content they shared
In other words, you can engage with others who share your work to spark fun, interesting dialogue about the subjects you cover.
More generally speaking, Twitter is the ultimate site for tapping into live discourse on the subjects you cover. By monitoring tweets containing keywords relevant to your work (such as "antique lampshades," "vegan dessert," or "alien conspiracy") you can catch breaking news within your niche and get an idea of people's concerns, opinions, problems, and interests relative to the subject area you cover.
If your blog, vlog, or podcast were a university, your Facebook page would be a traveling lecture series. Just as traveling lecturers can visit people in their hometowns, you can "visit" people's Facebook feeds and invite them to engage with your content (whether that involves responding to a question, joining in on a comment thread, viewing a video, or clicking through to an eternal site) while requiring minimal effort on their part. To make your Facebook page alluring rather than annoying, post a mixture of content (videos, status updates, questions, and links to other sites) rather than a stream of promotional links to your content.
Alas, traveling lecturers have limited audiences, and so do Facebook pages. The average Facebook post only reaches around 16% of the page's fans organically, so unless you want to pay to get views, your reach on the site will be limited. Adjust your time investment in Facebook accordingly- but do make a point of maintaining a presence on the site through an official Facebook page. As many people use Facebook as a search tool and link to brand names in posts, it is important that you maintain a polished digital property for your blog, vlog, or podcast on the site.
If you have a highly visual blog, Pinterest is a destination you would do well not to ignore. By incorporating images that are optimized for the platform into your content, you can boost your odds of garnering traffic and attention on the site.
Pinterest-optimized images are:
- Attractive and alluring
- Of high quality and resolution
- At least 100 by 200 pixels in size (ideally much bigger)
- Given descriptive file names (e.g. Purple-Stiletto-Pumps.jpg)
- Portrait style rather than landscape (or just plain long- the longer the better!)
- Sometimes captioned with a title to indicate that a pinned image leads to a tutorial or how-to
- Often stitched together to form a long, visual tutorial
- Often embellished words sharing a recipe or other interesting tidbits information (infographics do well on the site)
For more detailed advice, stop by our guide to optimizing images for Pinterest. To further encourage people to pin content on your blog, incorporate Pin It buttons into your posts or present them as overlays on images themselves.
In addition to encouraging others to pin your content, make a point of thanking those who do so. By entering "http://pinterest.com/source/YourDomain.com/" into your URL bar, you can review pins that link to your domain, follow those who pin your images (if you think they're worth following), and comment on their pins. Only follow people you genuinely wish to track. As a blogger, the people most worth following are those who will give you deeper knowledge of the needs, wants, and interests of your target audience.
Even if you do not have a very visual blog, you can build up your reputation using Pinterest by maintaining several boards related to your areas of expertise. If, for example, you blog about tech trends, you can maintain boards devoted to your favorite gadgets, tech tips, entrepreneurs, and prototype designs. You may also use the site to look for rising trends in the fields you cover. Pinterest is especially helpful on the trend spotting front with regard fashion, food, home decor, and style. Whatever you do, do NOT only pin links to your own content. Pinterest is about curation and inspiration, not self-promotion.
Key Platforms for Monetizing Your Work
Though you are likely to monetize your blog, videos, and/or podcasts through their native platforms (e.g. through ads, affiliate sales, and sponsorships), you can gain additional revenue streams by becoming involved with the following platforms.
Popular Payment Platforms
If you sell your own goods and services, you will need to be equipped to accept payments online. For an introduction to some of the most popular and functional options available, see our guide to accepting payments online.
If you want to run ads alongside your work, your best bet is to sign up with Google AdSense. In many cases (as with YouTube), Google AdSense is your only choice when it comes to built-in advertising.
Signing up for AdSense is not always easy- especially if you do live in a country that has been penalized for yielding high volumes of fraudulent users (which means applicants have to wait a pretty long time before being approved). In addition to a Google Account and a mailing address, you must also have a sufficient amount of content that is compliant with AdSense Program Policies. This means that if you apply to AdSense, but do not present a blog or website that has an adequate amount of high quality, non-spammy, valuable, original, legal, and non risqué content (e.g. at least 20 high quality posts), you are not likely to be accepted into the program.
Once a member of Google AdSense, make sure that your work continues to adhere to the program's policies and that you engage in no spammy behavior (such as any black hat SEO tricks). Should you get banned from the program, you might as well abandon all hope of ever being re-admitted.
If you mention products in your blog (be they books, electronics, or beauty supplies), you would benefit from signing up with Amazon Associates, which enables you to include affiliate tags in your links and get a cut (up to 10%) when people make purchases based on your recommendations.
Though Amazon Associates is the most popular affiliate program online, there are many more that you can utilize. In all cases, be mindful and respectful of your audience. Only recommend products that you genuinely like- and ideally, only recommend products that you own and use. Be very straightforward about your use of affiliate links and make it clear to your audience when you stand to profit from sales of a product or service mentioned within your content.
Amazon Kindle Direct
After building up a sizable amount of content, it is common for bloggers to produce books featuring compilations of their work. By making a book available as an ebook through Amazon Kindle Direct, you can immediately reach audiences and sell your work without first seeking out a publisher (worry not; a publishing contract may still follow should you gain significant traction). Should you want to self publish but also be set on selling a print publication, leverage the convenient services of a site like CreateSpace (also run by Amazon).
By occasionally making your book available for free (perhaps by utilizing programs such as KDP Select), you can increase your reach, introduce more people to your blog, and even drive additional paid book sales by making it possible to garner more word-of-mouth references and positive reviews. For more tips on publishing and profiting from books, check out our Online Authorship course.
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