Running a successful blog: from initial idea to finished website

Running a blog is fun and exciting, but it can also be challenging. In this article, I will share my insights of blogging about Poland, explain how I found over 60,000 visitors from more than 80 countries in the last two years and provide some handy hints and tips on writing, promotion and SEO.

With a lot of excitement and energy, I launched a Spanish language blog and website in October 2013, created in my spare time after work at Making Waves. The blog, called lapoloniadelospolacos.com (Eng. “the Poles’ Poland”), is devoted to Poland, analyzing the country’s past, present and future.

After almost two years and over 100 posts, around 120,000 visits and over 60,000 visitors from more than 80 countries – here is why I did it, what I did and how I did it.

Why I started blogging

My main goal was to use the blog as a tool for personal branding and to pursue potential opportunities related to Poland within communication and research. In addition, it was a way of motivating myself to write regularly and improve my journalistic skills in Spanish. There was no similar project about Poland in Spanish around, so I gathered that it would have a place on the market. Last but not least, I did not discard a potential monetization of the website, even if it was not the most important aspect.

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The content

Lapoloniadelospolacos.com is not a tourist guide, although it contains articles about particular places in Poland. It is not a personal blog, although it sometimes refers to a particular event I attended or something I experienced in the country. It is certainly not a news site, although it features analyses of news articles.

At the same time, it contains more than just regular blog posts. It has a video page with documentaries about Polish history. There is a section with over 50 quotes about Poland from notorious people, past and present, from all over the world. There is also a compilation of images from Poland, a bibliography and a list of interesting articles about Poland that have appeared in English-language and Spanish-language media since September 2013. Finally, there is an encyclopedia, on which I keep working, with cultural terms and entries on famous Poles.

I write about interesting or little known aspects and episodes of Polish history, for example about what defines Polish society today, Polish traditions and customs, Polish cinema, music and arts, Poland’s economic development and the relations between Poland and her neighboring countries.

The most viewed page is the historical essay “Why the Nazis didn’t destroy Krakow”, based on works by different authors and on information from a guided tour I took in the former Jewish Ghetto, led by a researcher from Columbia University.

I get the background information from books, online articles about Poland, the Polish press, conversations with Poles, events I attend, leaflets I get when I visit places as well as my own observations.

The majority of my readers come from Spain, Poland, Argentina, Mexico and to a lesser extent from the USA, UK and other Spanish-speaking countries.

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Choosing a language style

I usually write in a formal journalistic style, typical of analysis journalismI avoid using 1st person except when I refer to a personal experience, and I try to be as impartial and unpolitical as possible. I like Anne Applebaum’s, Tymothy’s Snejder and Edward Lucas’ style and journalistic approach to Poland and eastern/central Europe.

I make an effort to use the active voice and have been working hard to use varied sentence length, to make the text flow better. It is not an easy aspect to improve but it is really worth it.

Promoting the blog

I regularly share my articles on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, and have a Facebook page dedicated to the project where I share other stories, news and videos related to Poland. I also post links in over 20 relevant Facebook groups that correspond to my target audiences – for example Spaniards in Poland, Spaniards in Krakow, Spaniards in Warsaw, Poles in Spain, Poles in Latin America, Latin Americans in Poland, Poland in Spanish, Business in Poland and Modern History fans.

I also try to create a community around the project by interacting with the readers as much as possible and make sure I reply to their comments, suggestions and questions when it makes sense to do so.

Challenges

I faced many challenges as I developed the website: it is not so easy to get new Twitter and Facebook followers. It is even more difficult to engage users to contribute content on the site or on the Facebook page. It takes a lot of energy, good organization and time management skills to publish frequently and continuously. Interviews require a lot of work before, during and after the interview.

There are also technical and editorial challenges: today any online media should include good infographics that add value to the text, but it is really difficult to put into practice if you can’t do it yourself and have no budget for it. It can also be very time-consuming to find relevant pictures for blog posts. In addition, finding useful free map tools with the option of adding linkable pinpoints is a chimera.

Hints and tips

Lapoloniadelospolacos.com has taught me a lot about writing, blogging and, above all, how to approach a long-term project. Here are my top hints and tips for running a successful blog.

  • Make sure you save any ideas for potential articles that comes up in your mind. The best ideas may come when you least expect it.
  • Focus on quality rather than on quantity if you want to stand out. They are many blogs out there with a high publication frequency and low quality content.
  • Write regularly if possible. Make it a habit. The more often you write, the easier it gets.
  • Revise your text in the morning, if possible the day after you finished writing it, before you publish it.
  • If you are in a writing mood a particular day, write as much as you can.
  • Have a 4-5 day break from writing every few weeks.
  • It is said that you need at least 1,000 hours of practice to be good at something.
  • Be patient. Hard work pays off but it may take a long time. Often the challenge is not only to work hard enough but also to have enough patience.

SEO-related tips to take into consideration

  • Try to write catchy titles with a maximum length of 55 characters.
  • Use questions and numbers in some titles.
  • Use H3 headers in most articles.
  • Write short paragraphs and use spacing between them to ease readability.
  • Use bold and italics in every text.
  • Use fonts that are easy to read.
  • Insert pictures in the body text of most entries.
  • Use tables and bullet points, if relevant.
  • Insert embedded videos, if relevant.
  • Try to write proper picture captions that add value to the article, I fill in the Alt Text field for every picture on the website.

My top 5 favourite blogs

If you want to start blogging, make sure you read other peoples’ blogs – it is a great way to start interacting with other bloggers and to find information and inspiration. Here are a few of my favourites (in English):

FT Data  – Journalism based on data and graphics
Eastern approaches – The Economists’ blog on Eastern Europe
Tuckermax.com – Funny, silly, even outrageous stories
Apt. 2B Baking  – A blog about baking
Budget bytes – A blog about low-cost cooking

Feedback and achievements

Readers have referred to my website as interesting, varied, entertaining and accurate, and many have recognized the hard work behind it. Some readers accused me of being too positive about Poland, whereas others told me I am too critical, in particular of Polish society today.

The project is a work in progress and I am constantly thinking of how to improve it. Nevertheless, it has already accomplished some achievements: numerous public and governmental institutions connected to Poland have shared my articles and referred to them in social media. A Huffington Post contributor, for example, referred to one of my blog’s entries that analyses the success of the Polish educational system. I have also reached a first agreement with an institution through which I will get the needed funds to publish a book in Spanish about Poland’s history, culture and society.

For me, this feedback and achievements make it worth the effort. In short, it may be hard work at times but it is very rewarding to run your own blog – I would definitely recommend it!

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