There are two broad factors you’ll need to get in alignment in order to create a successful history blog.
The first falls under the category of “technical issues,” which refers to securing and installing a domain, hosting, blogging platform – consider these all the pieces that must be in place in order for your blog to be discoverable online.
The second factor to address is content. What will you write and how often will you write it? It’s probably not feasible to cover the entirety of human history.
You’re going to need to decide on a niche and focus your efforts there. Consider the following 10 Steps for creating a Blog your road map to creating the most successful history blog in, well, history.
1. Decide on a Niche: History is a pretty big topic. Unimaginably, beautifully big. There’s no way a single person writing could do it justice. Before anything else, sit down and ponder how you could focus on an area of particular interest. We’ve all read about the global stories in high school history class. What you need for a successful blog is to target like a laser a small niche and uncover the cool and quirky things about it.
If you’re having trouble choosing a specialty for your blog, try reducing the big picture by a factor of two or more. Here’s an example. Let’s say we start with the general idea of history. Narrow that down to North American history. Another step would be to narrow it even further to Missouri history. This is still a formidable topic, but it is starting to look manageable. Maybe you want to target even closer and blog about 19th century Missouri history. Use this process with your own interests to choose a topic that’s interesting to you and not too broad.
Here’s a secret. Audiences love the little quirky stories. Remember, the broad strokes of history are created by millions of tiny incidents.
2. Domain: With a topic in hand, let’s jump into the technical side of things. Before anything else, you need to pick a domain. This is the www.YourCoolHistoryWebsite.com (yours will be different) that appears in the URL at the top of your computer’s browser. Consider this your new blog’s home address on the internet. At this point in cyber history, choosing a domain that reflects the content of the website isn’t as critical as it used to be for search engine rankings. Still, it would be a good idea to pick something catchy and easy to remember.
You could go one of two ways here. Incorporate your own name and plan to build it into a brand or go with something memorable. A good example of the latter would be the Comedy Central show, Drunk History. The creators have established a clear schtick that makes it quite obvious to even the most casual of observers what they’re in for. Obviously, you can be quite serious about your topic. We’re not suggesting you adopt the tone of Drunk History, though it’s not a bad idea to keep in mind that people do love humor, and history has a reputation in some quarters for being a bit dry. So, figure out what domain name you want and proceed to step three.
3. Hosting: If it were only so easy to just pick a domain and wish your new history blog into existence. Unfortunately, it’s not. The good news is you don’t need to drop $500 into the pocket of your local web design company to get your blog up and going. As technology becomes ever easier for the average person to use, we’re here to tell you that, yes, you can do it all yourself and at a lower cost than you might imagine. Upfront expenses to get your site live online is about $15 to buy a domain for a year – it needs to be renewed annually – and anywhere from $5 to $10 monthly for a website hosting company services. The good deal is that you often get a domain free when you sign up for hosting.
Hosting refers to the place online where all the files and content associated with your blog will be stored so they are accessible to people online. There are dozens and dozens of companies that offer hosting, so many that it’s probably silly to appear to endorse any particular one. However, don’t spend too much time obsessing over the detailed offerings of the various plans.
We get no endorsement fees whatsoever for this, so feel it’s not a terrible idea to throw a few names out there: Hostgator, Bluehost, Namecheap. You won’t go wrong with any of these and might get a free domain for your blog in the process.
4. Blogging Platform: You’ve got your domain and hosting in place. Now it’s time to install the blogging platform. We won’t waste time with much discussion here. WordPress is what you want. More than 74 million websites run on this free software, including 19 percent of the self-hosted variety (that’s what you will have). WordPress is far and away the most popular website platform on the internet. You should be able to find instructions for installing it to your domain when you log into your host dashboard. If not, contact tech support. They will install it for you.
5. Theme and Plugins: This is the last bit of technical stuff. Promise! Once WordPress is installed and running, login and navigate to the ‘themes’ section. Themes are a group of design elements that allow you to control how your website looks to the world. There are hundreds of free options right there in WordPress. Browse until you find one you like and follow the installation instructions.
While you might not want to mess with plugins right away, you should at least be aware of their existence. A plugin is simply a small program you can add to your theme to perform a particular function. For example, you might want to eventually offer readers a chance to subscribe to a newsletter you plan to produce. A plugin is an easy way to add this functionality without hiring someone to re-code the theme. If there’s something you want your website to be able to do, there’s probably a plugin that can do it.
6. Decide on a Publishing Schedule: Some industries, internet marketing, in particular, suggest that it’s critical to publish new content on an almost daily basis. With history, the demands are not so strict. What is important, though, is that you pick a publishing schedule, make it well-known to your readers, and stick with it. Nothing kills readership faster than a blog that endorses a whenever-I-feel-like-it editorial calendar. One or twice a week is fine. You might even get by with one post every two weeks. If your posting schedule is more scarce than that, you probably won’t be able to gain any momentum with readers. In this frenetic online world in which we live, you will quickly fall off the radar if they don’t get something new from you at least weekly.
7. Pay Attention to Historical Anniversaries: We humans love to acknowledge historical anniversaries. You should do this either with a focused tie-in to your niche or a broader reflection of the world at large. Check out the Mary Evans Picture Library for a daily update of events worth noting. There are lots of celebrity birthdays, but you can also pay attention to the more historical stuff. For example, did you know that February 17th is the anniversary of the finding of the first dead sea scrolls? With just a little searching you will probably be able to locate other sources as well, maybe even one that pertains more directly to your topic. The bottom line is that, for whatever reason, our brains are wired to observe the passing of time by marking interesting/prominent events from the past. Take advantage of this quirk!
8. Uncover Local History: If, as you cast about for topics, you find that the pull of your local area has a strong attraction, make that your history blog’s focus. Often, hometown history is fascinating and has never had a local lad or lass take the time to collect and spread the information online. Where do you find these stories? Tracking them down is half the fun! You might pay a visit to your local library and ask about local archives and information. Take a road trip to nearby historical markers and locations. Search out the older generation. You might be amazed at the stories they have to tell. Someone needs to get that stuff down in writing before they move on to the next realm. Who knows? You might turn yourself into more of a local history buff than you ever thought possible.
Don’t overlook the possibility that your own family, especially if they’ve been in the area for a few generations, could be a wealth of interesting historical nuggets. Those old stories that grandpa tells over and over on the back porch? You may have heard them repeated so often you’re numb to the impact. Try and imagine what might be interesting to readers who have never been exposed.
9. Illustrations for Content: The truth about history blogging is that words alone aren’t enough. Research has shown that today’s online reader expects and demands visual content either in the form of photos, graphics, or videos. As you prepare each post, don’t neglect to include a few pictures or videos related to the topic. Keep in mind that it’s easy (and free) to embed YouTube videos in a post. With literally tens of millions available to choose from, there’s a good chance you can find something at least tangentially related to the topic at hand. Another option would be to shoot yourself discussing something related. At the very least, find a high quality image to put at the beginning of each post.
10. Proof-Read: There’s no hiding the fact that, even if you’re an uneducated amateur historian, the rest of the world will read your blog with the expectation that you have multiple doctorates in history and come from a long line of learned professorial types. In the world of expectations, sloppy writing and typos will kill your credibility. Worse, readers will abandon ship. While there is always forgiveness in our hearts for the occasional mistake, a post riddled with errors just has no credibility. What we’re saying is you need to have a proofreading process in place that yields consistently clean copy. If you have trouble editing your own writing, find a friend who doesn’t mind reading through each post before it goes live. Grammar and spell-checking software like Grammarly can work wonders.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes we amaze even ourselves. Looking back at our 10 Tips for Starting a History blog, we’re pretty impressed with our work. If you have a hankering to get a history blog online, start at the beginning of our suggestions and work your way through until the end. Do that and you might eventually be the owner of the most awesome history blog on the planet. Learn and implement a few basic SEO (search engine optimization) techniques along the way and get ready for a trickle of new readers that will eventually (hopefully) become a swarm. With blogs, the secret to success is to put your nose to the grindstone and leave it there. Keep writing. They will come.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "How to Start a History Blog – 10 Tips to Get you There" https://englishhistory.net/start-history-blog/, April 27, 2017