There are so many things that a potential blog network owner should do before actually showing the world their sites, and I think that most people who decide to start a network, are really unaware of the challenges that they will have to surpass.
Thanks to the prodding of Ahmed Bilal, I have come up with this list of forty-six things you should do before launching a blog network.
1.) Building a network costs money, even if you build the sites from scratch. Get together enough capital to keep the whole thing running for six months. It will take at least that long to get really noticed by the world, and especially by search engines.
2.) Create a list of expenses, and add a fifteen percent buffer zone. Things like hosting costs, business supplies, and business cards all add up quickly.
3.) Are you hiring writers? Designers? Developers? Budget properly for each of these expenses. It can be very hard, especially early on to find people willing to work for you at the rates you can afford, but if you cast a wide net, and work hard at selecting the right people for the job at a price you can afford, you will be more successful.
4.) Spending money on advertising to get the word out there? Make sure you budget for each type of advertising separately. Banner advertising, paid posts or reviews, text links, press releases and even some social media attention can cost a fair bit of money. Don’t over extend yourself early on.
5.) Write a list of goals you would like your network to reach every month for a year, and then every half a year after that. Be realistic, not conservative, and not ridiculous. If you make your goals too easy, you won’t push yourself as hard.
6.) Don’t let yourself fail. Put a support system in place. Have friends ready to cheer you on, and find others willing to give a helping hand if needed.
7.) How will your blogs be different? What will make them unique? Positioning your blog is key. Will their be more posts per day than your competition? Will you have a well known writer or celebrity writing on the blog?
8.) Every blog should have content before being launched. If you show the world blogs with no content, they probably won’t come back. I suggest having at least half a dozen posts on a blog before you even begin to promote it.
9.) Every blog should have a proper about page. Check out the Five P’s of improving your about page.
10.) Check every feature on each blog. Can you comment, search, and properly view the archives?
11.) Check over your design. Does it work on all the major browsers? What about the major operating systems? Not only do you have to worry about inconsistencies between Internet Explorer and Firefox, but also OS X and Windows.
12.) Find proper hosting, don’t skimp and go cheap, or you’ll just end up changing later. Get something good, keep it within a certain budget, but find out about their support. You don’t want to have your site go down when social networking traffic comes to any of your blogs. And if for some reason they do go down, you want to be assured that they will get them back up as quickly as possible.
13.) Think about expansion. Will you need to get a dedicated server down the line? If so, begin to think about data organization, and your ability to transition.
14.) Document the steps you took in setting up your blogs. What databases did you create, which sites are they for, did you use any custom scripts? Documentation can be the key to managing your blogs properly, especially if you are using things like Subversion, shell scripting, or special PHP scripts.
15.) Set up e-mail accounts for the network, making sure that each one works. email@example.com should not bounce! While this can lead to a fair bit of spam management on your part, a key goal in building a line of communication is making sure those that want to contact you, don’t have to think hard or search for long.
16.) Add a contact form to the blog network site, and/or each blog in the network and make sure it works correctly.
17.) Can you easily check your e-mail? What about when you are away from your normal computer? Don’t just think that because you have a desktop mail client set up that you are set. Make sure you have some way to access it away from home.
18.) Create accounts with the major advertising companies. Google’s AdSense, Text-Link-Ads, Azoogle and others. Even if you aren’t planning on using them right away, you will have them set up, and most have a newsletter which informs users of new products or services that might help you monetize your blogs.
19.) Find out the best affiliate programs in your niche, and sign up for them. There are affiliate programs for pretty much any niche you can think of, and while many of them may not pay well, it is still an advertising option which may benefit you at one point or another.
20.) Add your advertising to each blog, making sure you can easily manage its colors and positioning. You will most likely have to change your advertising a few times before you find the right sized advertising unit, and place it in the best converting spot, so make it easy to change.
21.) If you are going to be advertising with AdWords, spend time researching the proper keywords for each of your sites. Even if you aren’t going to be using AdWords, keyword research is key, and can help bring advertisers to your site at a later date.
22.) Use proper permalinks to make your blog more search engine and user friendly. I suggest /%category%/%postname%/, but others use /%year%/%postname%/ or just /%postname%/. I don’t know which one is the best, but in having the category in the URL, I am hoping it brings forward another keyword for search engines to see. The option for this is under Options and then Permalinks.
23.) Remove the calendar from the sidebar of your design. No one uses it. Don’t believe me? Look at other networks and professional blogs. I doubt you will see many calendars in the sidebar. This is because calendars are a horrible way for users to find what they are looking for. Categories, tags, and search are much better, and more direct. The space that the calendar took up could be better used.
24.) Make sure the wp-content/uploads directory is writable on each blog. This is constantly overlooked. To test, go to the area where you would write a post, and attempt to upload an image to your blog. If you are able to upload an image, then your permissions are set properly. If you are unable to upload an image, change your wp-content/uploads directory to 755, making sure it does so recursively. If you don’t understand this, make sure you find someone that does, or research CHMOD and Permissions on Google.
25.) Have a professional design for each blog in your network. Branding each blog is very important, and just as important is to properly brand your Network’s main page. Having a similar design is fine, and can make it easier to control certain elements, but if all your sites look exactly the same visually, then they may have problems building up their own unique brands.
26.) A professional logo design can set you apart, even if it is text only using an effective font. It can say a great deal about your network. You can easily find some amazing talent on a variety of web forums and usually these will be far better than what you can come up with yourself, and not cost too much money.
27.) Create a list of all competing blogs in the niches your network wants to enter. Research both the leaders, and the failures. Create a list of what you liked and what you disliked about each site. Add the things you liked to your blogs.
28.) Get the contact information of other bloggers in your selected niches, as they can be the best way to promote your pillar content, and gain links.
29.) A one man army rarely succeeds. Research the best places to find writers for the niches you are going to cover and in the languages you require. I highly recommend Freelance Writing Jobs.
30.) If you are going to have more than two or three writers, you will want to create a management system. Usually networks use a private forum where everyone can communicate. I have found that having everyone on the same instant messaging client works wonders, and that a private blog that is constantly updated isn’t a bad idea either.
31.) Unless they have been blogging forever, your writers are going to need some training material. Maybe on the blogging platform you use, or in writing for the web. Luckily, Performancing has a great list of articles all bloggers should read at least once.
32.) Check to make sure your RSS feeds work correctly. Using WordPress? There is more than one RSS Feed. Check the comments feed, the RSS 0.92 and RSS 2.0 feed, as well as the Atom feed. Different visitors may subscribe to different feed technology, depending on their personal preferences.
33.) Do you have a way to track your RSS feed statistics? Feedburner provides such a service, and even better, you can keep using your domain, now that their Pro version is free.
34.) Have you made it easy to find the subscription option on your blogs? Pushing content to a user is much better than having them try to remember to return.
35.) Create an account for each blog on Google Reader or a similar service. Add a variety of competing blogs, popular sources for news in your niche, and other good sources of information. Duplicate this niche focused subscription list for every one of your writers. Most services provide an export and import tool to allow you to easily replicate the lists you build up. Not only is this great for new writers, but it also allows you to influence the quality of the sources for your content.
36.) Research domain registrars. Just because you have always used the same one, doesn’t mean it is the best for your network. As you grow you will want a flexible domain registrar that is inexpensive, but will also be around for the long haul. Joe’s Domain Shoppe, might not be the best place to buy domains, even if they are only $1.99 each.
37.) Pick your domains carefully. Each one is a brand on its own. It should be easy to remember, interesting, and shorter is better. As I have mentioned before, I use Instant Domain Search, to come up with the domains that I use.
38.) Register for multiple years if you can afford it. Research says that longer domain registrations creates more trust from search engines because short term spammers don’t want to pay for multiple years of domain registrations.
39.) You and your writers are going to be cropping and editing lots of pictures. For Windows users, I suggest using Irfanview for cropping, sharpening, and other simple edits. It is free and doesn’t use up much system resources.
40.) Create an organizational system, using whatever software you feel comfortable with, to track your tasks, payment details, advertising and hosting accounts, and other important information. I would suggest a tool like Basecamp would be very effective as long as you make sure to update it often.
41.) You will have days where you can’t do everything you hoped, and there will be days where you are sick and can’t do anything. Make sure you and your writers have some content on reserve, find some people that can cover for you when you are sick, and create ways to automate the majority of the business functions. You’ll know that you have done well, if you can take a day off, and know that things will be fine when you get back.
42.) Create a backup routine for the files on the server, the database, and the files on your own work computer. I suggest daily for the database, weekly for the files on the server, and monthly for your own work computer. If you can back up more often, then do it. There is nothing worse than lost content.
43.) Test your backup system before launching. Test it again before upgrading or changing any software. I don’t know how many times I have tried to restore from a backup that didn’t work. Periodic testing of your backup and restore procedure can save many headaches when an emergency does happen.
44.) Test your ability to restore a backup. Even some compressed database files are too large to be managed through phpMyAdmin’s web interface. You may need Shell access or a server administrator that is able and willing to restore your database. Such restores may cost money!
46.) You should always have an exit strategy, as the blogosphere is unpredictable, and so is life. You may fall ill, run out of money, or just lose interest in continuing to build your network.
If you have made it through to the end of this list, then you are most likely prepared to launch your blog network onto the world. There will always be things that will pop up and create issues along the way, so the more time you can spend researching and preparing, the better of you will be. This list will also help give you the best chance for success, as it will help save you time later, and as we all know, time is the one thing you can’t buy more of.