What you need to know to run a successful blog

Successful Bloggers wear many hats.

You hear it all the time; ‘Content is King’ or ‘The Money is in the List’; but what you don’t hear all that often is ‘how to run a successful blog’. I’m NOT talking about choosing your Niche or How to make money from your blog; I’m referring to all the skills you have to learn to run your blog successfully.

Find out what you need to know to run a successful blog

You don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve read this

As a Blogger you need to ‘wear many hats’ and be skilled in numerous areas. Let’s face it; when you are starting out you will either buy WordPress Training or find free material online to get you up and running. Everyone tells you that WordPress is so simple to install and that starting a blog is easy; the road ahead looks sweet.

To run a successful blog requires time, patience and the ability to learn and implement new skills, almost daily. So, let’s start with the obvious…

Niche Selection and your Domain Name

I’m not going to go into too much detail about your Niche and your Domain Name here. The way I see it, these are things you need to have finalised before you start setting up your blog. You will need to learn about selecting the ideal Niche and which domain extension (TLD) will work best with your domain name. There is enough information on the Internet advising how to do this – Just ask Google!

Web Hosting

I can almost guarantee that whatever training you find, you will be told you need web-hosting (duh). Furthermore you need to ensure your Web Hosting comes with the cPanel Control Panel. cPanel is the industry standard control panel and while it is best to have this, you can use Web Hosting that offers other Control Panels or ways of managing your Blog. Either way, you will need to learn how to use the Control Panel and all the features within. Other than Quick WordPress Install, you should learn how to create Databases with PHPMyAdmin and MySQL. You should learn how to monitor traffic with AWSTATS, How to create Mailboxes, How your WebMail Works etc.

There are different types of Web Hosting too. Linux Hosting, Windows Hosting, Cloud Hosting, WordPress Managed Hosting, VPS Hosting, Dedicated Servers and more. In the beginning you don’t really need to know the differences, but as your blog becomes more successful you will need to learn about this so you can plan for the future. If you’re starting out, Linux Shared Hosting will suffice, which is basically the entry-level hosting offered by most Web Hosting Companies. The two companies I recommend are HostGator and RoseHosting simply because I have had experience dealing with them both. HostGator is definitely the bigger and cheaper of the two, but for a dollar ($1) or so more, RoseHosting offers better support and cheaper VPS Hosting when it’s time to upgrade. Both these hosting companies offer cPanel Control Panel and Support WordPress.

Installing Worpress

WordPress can be installed very simply using the Quick Install Tools found within cPanel (and other Control Panels). While you still need to know how these work, I highly recommend you learn how to install WordPress Manually by setting up a Database using PHPMyAdmin & MySql and then manually running a WordPress Install using ‘Security Best Practices’. Using a Quick Install Tool is great, but it leaves your site ‘more vulnerable’ to hackers and is the primary reason why you should learn to install WordPress manually.

Plugins and Features

With thousands and thousands of Plugins available, you need to decide what features are required to make your Blog a Success. You need to learn what plugins are available, what features they offer and how to configure them for the best results. As a beginner, this can be daunting simply because you don’t know what you need and even if you know you want a certain feature, you may not know it by name, thus making research difficult.

[boxibt style=”info”]TIP: If you see something you like on another WordPress Blog or Website, you should have a look at the source code of that blogs home page to see if you can find which plugins they are using. To do this, view the source code of the page and use your browsers search function.
(i.e. Search for the phrase: Plugins)

To find the page source using:

  • Firefox: Right Click > View Page Info
  • Chrome: Right Click > View Page Source
  • Internet Explorer: Right Click > View Source


View the Blogs Souces Code to see which plugins are being used
Finding Plugins in the Source Code – Click to Enlarge (opens in a new tab)

You must also learn that certain Plugins may not ‘play nice’ (work) with one another, or with your chosen WordPress Theme. With this comes the knowledge of how to identify and resolve these issues from within WordPress and by other means, if your WordPress Dashboard is inaccessible (which happens quite a bit while you’re learning WordPress)

FTP / File Manager and Basic WordPress Directory Structure

No matter how careful you are, there will be times when you cannot access your Wordpess Dashboard due to a plugin conflict or an update that goes haywire. In order to fix these issues you will need to access your site using either an FTP Client (File Transfer Protocol) or your control panel’s File Manager. Once you have accessed the domain via either of these, you will need to know the basic file structure of WordPress, so you can find the necessary files and folders. You will also need to know what to change or edit in order to restore your site.

There may even come a time where you need certain files customised to get a feature to work on your site. Again you will need to know where or how to make these changes…

HTML & CSS Basics

And; that brings us to the fact that you need to know some basic HTML and CSS coding. You don’t need to be a programming geek, but you do need to learn the very basics. There are plugins that can help with adding code snippets into Wordpess, but nothing will beat you being able to identify and replace certain code snippets to get something to work. Often CSS tweaks are required to do Theme Customisations like enlarge the logo area of your site, or change the colours of your Header Tags etc.

A great resource for learning HTML and CSS is:

Security and WordPress Management

I mentioned early in this post that it is best to Install WordPress Manually using the best security practices. Immaterial of how you installed WordPress, you need to tighten security and you need to learn what is required.

How you are using WordPress will influence your requirements, but essentially you still need to learn what security measures to have in place for your specific requirements (eg. A Blog will have different requirements to an eCommerce site).

The most basic of steps to maintain security on your WordPress site, is to install a Security Plugin. Then; you need to make sure WordPress and all your plugins (and Theme) are kept up to date too. Out-of-Date versions of WordPress, Plugins and Themes makes your blog vulnerable to hackers or it could simple take your site down due to new technologies not working with older ones. Now, you need to learn about which Security methods to implement and how you intend managing it all.

One of the best FREE WordPress Security Plugins available is WordFence. It’s easy to install and configure as the default settings are adequate for most WordPress sites. A personal recommendation is to go through and disable some of the notification settings. Decide for yourself which to enable/disable, but I personally disable the bulk of them (except critical notifications). In the beginning you may want to get these notifications so you can see what Wordfence is doing, but it can fill your mailbox pretty quickly. WordFence does have a PAID Upgrade, which you could consider later if you want. Personally I’m finding the FREE version adequate, but I do have other security measures in place too.

Backups and Dev Sites

Your Blog is up and running, it’s secure (as secure as you can make it), but something still goes wrong while doing an update or installing a new plugin. You may be able to fix the problem using methods discussed above, but if not… You need to learn how to do backups and more importantly how to restore your website/blog using these backups. Not all backups are created equal and you need to learn the different methods to prevent possible disaster. Again, there are plugins available to help with this, but you need to know which one(s) will work for you and how to use it/them.

To backup your site to various locations, try the FREE UpDraftPlus Plugin. This plugin will backup WordPress and your database to a remote location. It also has the ability to restore your site from the backup files. There a lots of FREE Backup Plugins, but many require you to pay for an upgrade in order to do a restore. The UpDraftPlus Plugin does both for free, but there are other Add-on’s or features you can buy, if you need them (eg. Site Migration or Site Cloning Add-on). Another plugin I use for Backups and Site Cloning or Migration is the Duplicator Plugin (Free Version).

This brings me to Development Sites (Dev Sites). Professional WebMasters/Bloggers never install/test a new Plugin or WordPress Update on a Live site. They use a duplicate site (Dev Site) for all their testing and then duplicate or migrate the changes to the Live site after testing. To do this, you need to learn how to setup a Dev Site and also how to migrate changes from the Dev Site to the Live site. This could also be seen as WordPress Management, but since it will probably involve you using a Backup and Restore Tool or a PAID Premium Migration Service I decided to mention it here. Bottom line, you will need to learn how to setup and use a Dev Sites. I use XAMPP which creates a test environment on my Notebook and I clone/migrate my sites using the Duplicator Plugin.

Graphics and other Media 🙂

Finally, here is something that isn’t that technical to understand, but technical enough to pull off correctly. Your Blog needs graphics for branding, graphics for attraction (nobody likes a bland looking page) and maybe some buttons to encourage engagement etc. You will need to learn how to use graphics for you blog, how to resize them and compress them to ensure faster load time. You will also need to learn how to optimise these images to improve you blog’s Search Engine Optimisation. Once you get started you will probably learn how to create banners and buttons from scratch or how to edit graphics you find online. You will also need to learn about the various tools out there that can help with creating and editing Graphics.

My favourite tool for doing this is YouZign. This is a Web-based graphics editor that makes it easy to create or modify images. What really appeals to me with YouZign is the fact that there are templates for almost everything. These include templates for Social Media Platforms (eg. Facebook Covers, Twitter Backgrounds, Ad Banners etc.) The fact that I sell these services to clients makes the cost of YouZign a no-brainer for me.

Other Media like Video (which I’m still learning to use) is also critical to a blogs success these days. With using video and slide-shows, you need to learn how to create this media and again how to optimise it for best effect. As mentioned, I’m new at this, so cannot elaborate further; just know there’s more to learn. If you are looking for Video Editing Tools, these are the one’s I know of (or bought), but haven’t used yet

  • Easy Sketch Pro
  • Explaindio Professional
  • VideoMotionPro
  • Cloud Movie Machine

All the above were purchased mainly because of ‘bright shiny object’ syndrome and with the exception of VideoMotionPro, I haven’t used any of them simply because I haven’t had the time.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Touched on above, Search Engine Optimisation is critical to a Blogs Success. If potential readers cannot find your blog you won’t have success. Whether you use PAID Methods to get traffic or good old SEO methods you need to learn them both. This is a huge topic and I cannot even begin to tell you what you need to learn, but if I were to suggest a place to start, I would say: Learn about ‘On-Page’ SEO and Copy Writing first. One of the courses on SEO I recommend is SEO Enigma. This covers all major aspects of SEO and a great course for beginners. It’s not the best course I’ve ever done, but for the price ($37 currently) it’s well worth the investment. SEO Enigma was updated to SEO Enigma Reloaded in 2015, so it’s pretty current, although I haven’t been through the updated versions training yet.

Copy Writing

There is one skill I’m sorry I never learned and that is Copy writing. Even as I sit here writing this post it plagues me and the only reason I neglected it was because I didn’t know better at the time. I have recently attended some introductory training on copy writing and firmly believe this is something you should learn early on.

The human mind is an amazing thing and something as simple as the choice of words you use and how you structure your sentences will make all the difference to the success of your blog, especially if you intend monetizing your blog or if you are using your blog as a business tool. Something as simple as a correctly worded Blog Title or eMail Subject (See e-mail Marketing below) can make all the difference as to whether someone reads your post or opens your e-mail.

Recently I have been using a Headline Analyser tool from the Advanced Marketing Institute to analyse and test my Blog Titles and e-Mail Subject lines. This is a FREE Tool which rates the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) of words. The higher the percentage score it gives the better. Below are the results for this posts headline…

  1. Blogging – How to run a successful blog (14% EMV)
  2. Blogging – What you need to know to run a successful blog (33.3% EMV)
  3. What you need to know to run a successful blog (40% EMV) [awp_icon name=”icon-checkmark” scale=”1″ type=”normal” align=”none” color=”red”]

Monetization Methods

I am only going to touch on this topic as there are so many ways to monetize a blog I simply cannot even think of them all. Some work better than others and some don’t work at all. I’m afraid it’s trial and error for most of you, but if you can afford it, get a Mentor or Coach to get you started. Believe me it will save you years of battling and in the end, probably cost you less. I monetize my blog(s) using Affiliate Marketing and Advertising Revenue via Google Adsense. A little known monetization method I use is SELLING my Web-Design and SEO Services to people on my mailing list.

eMail Marketing and Autoresponders

Picking up from my comment above, you need to learn how to setup a lead capture form on you blog to get people to sign-up to your mailing list. Having a list is critical to the success of your blog as this keeps people informed about blog updates and enables you to build a relationship with your subscribers. Ideally, you should make use of an Autoresponder Service, which will allow you to setup a sequence of pre-prepared e-mails, which can be sent out automatically whenever someone new joins your list. To get people to sign-up to your list, you will need to ethically bribe them, by offering them something of value (An eBook or Video Course if you’re in the online space or Discount Voucher or Coupon to use in your store if you have a brick & mortar business). Learning the ins and outs of eMail Marketing is critical to your online success and I suggest you start this straight away.

Legal Requirements

Lastly and deliberately left to last is the legal requirements imposed by both the country in which you reside and the country where your Website is Hosted. I left this till last because this is usually the last think you would think of; if you even thought of it at all. I bet hardly any of you read the legal conditions of your Web Hosting Firm – Guys, go and read this as it will affect you if you get into a dispute with someone.

Legally, if you have an opt-in form (Newsletter Sign-up Form) on your website you are probably legally required to have a Privacy Policy Page on your site. Furthermore it is a good practice and sometimes a requirement to have other legal pages on your site for your protection and to meet the requirements of local governments (yours and your web-hosts). If you run affiliate campaigns, you may need to have certain legal notification on your blog to ensure compliance. Learn what is required and make sure you implement what is necessary.[break]

I hope this post gives you some insight on what it is you need to know. With this knowledge you are armed with the knowledge to ask the right questions and find the information you need. Now you know what you need to know to run a successful blog – Happy Learning…

Fact is I’ve probably forgotten something critical along the way, so I’d love to hear from you.
Please post comments below…

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  1. Thanks Duane,

    Quite a list of things to know about online marketing businesses, enough to scare away any newbie…lol. Great insight, can tell you have been doing this stuff for quite a long time mate.
    Col Cooper recently posted…The big move – well maybe!My Profile

    1. Hi Col – I’ve been work with WordPress a long time (5-years I think), but only recently started blogging regularly (believe it or not). Mostly, I build WordPress sites for local businesses in S.Africa and once built clients expect me to do the SEO, so I had to learn that and everything else mentioned in my post.

      The idea is NOT to scare any newbie away, but rather to educate them so they know what they are getting themselves into and know what questions to ask to get ahead. Not knowing what is involved or what questions to ask to get assistance held me back considerably and thus the reason for this post. There is still so much more I could have added, but I think this is enough to absorb in one sitting (maybe even too much).

      Thanks for your comments and compliment.

  2. Duane, your tips on how to run a successful blog are very helpful. The headline analyser is something that I am looking forward to trying, as well as the source code information. Great information!
    Roy Miller recently posted…Shiny ObjectsMy Profile

  3. Hi Duane,

    This is a great post; there are definitely a whole gamut of things that you need to get done as a blogger. I was surprised about the Legal requirements. I use Aweber which has a privacy policy notice at the bottom, so I’ve always assumed that covered any legal requirements. What do you think?
    Davina recently posted…How to Purge Yourself of Toxic PeopleMy Profile

    1. Hi Davina
      I’m no legal advisor, but from my understanding, you need to have a Privacy Policy on your own site. The privacy policy added by Aweber tells users how Aweber handles their privacy. It doesn’t declare your privacy policy! If you have a contact form on your website, you are collecting data too, whether you store this or not. Ad Networks (eg. Google Adsense) and some affiliate networks also require that you have a privacy policy to advice how you handle cookie data too. Like everything WordPress, there are plugins that can add this for you, but do your research before installing any (check ratings, No. of Installs and WP version compatibility etc)

  4. Wow, I didn’t realise that I was wearing so many hats!
    I’ve been building WP sites for a number of years, and nowadays I tend to do all of that automatically. Generally, if I want to find out the theme, I do as you say, but for people that are not as confident, then there are sites like that will show them the site theme and also the plugins being used. I also invested in a ‘legal pages’ plugin so that I always get the right pages for the type of site I’m building.
    Keith Reilly recently posted…Did You Know Windows 10 Has A Hidden Menu?My Profile

    1. Hi Keith – It’s a little overwhelming isn’t it? Every time I come back to reply to a comment I think about other things I neglected to mention in this post. Thanks for the URL you posted I’m certain this will help numerous people, myself included.

  5. Hello, Duane
    Wow! Tons of valuable content here, and on an advanced level – almost got scared off, but I hung in here just to let you know, Duane, that I did pick up some golden nuggets here: Finding Plugins in the source code; SEO (on-page); Headline Analyzer; Monetization; and will come back for more as I get comfortable with new learning!

    Haha – off to do my 2-minute power-pose to overcome this overwhelm. Seriously, tremendously appreciate this content – really stretches me!
    Susette recently posted…Pre-WMN vs: Post-WMNMy Profile

  6. Hi Duane,
    the information in this post at first may seem to be a bit overwhelming and I agree that to some extend it my scare “newbies” off, but on the other hand, you’re providing honest and truthful information of what it takes to run a successful blog, which I do appreciate! Notes taken and am looking forward to my coming back here! 😉 I also appreciate your time to pull this post together!
    Desana recently posted…How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Making MoneyMy Profile

    • Art
    • 11/09/2015

    Wow, nice post and very informative. This is the kind of content that will keep people coming to your blog because you are giving information to help solve your visitors future and current problems. And I agree wholeheartedly about wearing different hats, because and Internet Marketer you will need to know some of the basic technical stuff, this is a must!

    Keep it coming,

    Art recently posted…7 Tools for Internet Marketers — Which Are You Not Using? ( Part #1)My Profile

  7. Duane,

    After reading your post, I could only say, “Whew; I’m glad I don’t have to do all of these alone.” I tried for years to go it alone because I wanted to maintain control, but I listened to my Mentors and discovered that some of these only I could do, while some of these can be done much more efficiently by someone else.

    You shared a number of valuable resources that every marketer can benefit from. Thank you for reminding me about Headline Analyser. I forgot about it after a while. Excellent tool.
    Yvonne A Jones recently posted…5 Reasons Entrepreneurs Must Have a Success MindsetMy Profile

  8. Hi Duane…wow, great detail and love the “many hats” graphic and analogy! I picked up a few good ideas including the right click for source code and Headliner. I will have to put Dev sites on my to do list. I am amazed at myself that I have learned many of the items on your list and realize running your business from a blog certainly is more than meets the eye! Looking forward to future posts!
    Barbara Dowling recently posted…Add Content to your BlogMy Profile

  9. Hi Duane,

    I liked the tip you mentioned on right clicking and viewing the page info of a website to see the plugins another site is using.

    I recently had a plugin conflict on one of my sites that would not allow me to login to WordPress. So I had to use my FTP client to delete the problem plugin and then I could successfully login to my wordpress website.

    You certainly mentioned quite a few things here that are needed on a successful blog. 🙂

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