6.21.2021

Atheist Revolution's Guide to Starting a Kick-Ass Atheist Blog in 2021

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Atheist blogs may have peaked, but that does not mean we couldn't use more of them. In fact, I'd argue that the declining numbers of active atheist blogs has left a void that could be filled by some new ones. I cannot tell you whether you should start a new atheist blog; you are the only one who can decide that. All I will say on that subject is that you need to have reasons for starting an atheist blog that don't involve the pursuit of fame or fortune. An atheist blog is unlikely to accomplish either.

I have been writing Atheist Revolution since 2005, and I have made pretty much every blogging-related mistake there is in the years since then. In this post, I am going to imagine that I was deciding to start a brand new atheist blog today (which I am definitely not) and share as much of what I've learned as I can cram into one post. Why? I'm doing so in the hope that someone thinking about creating an atheist blog might find it helpful. I didn't know any of this stuff when I was starting out. I'd like to save others the hassle of my trial-and-error learning where possible. And yes, I have a selfish reason too: I'd like to see more high-quality atheist blogs.

Initial Blog Setup

You will need to make a number of initial decisions, and it is easy to get bogged down with some of them. I'm keeping this section as simple as possible by highlighting just a few of the bigger ones.

Blogger or WordPress?

The first thing you'll need to decide is which platform to use for your blog. I chose Blogger. If I was starting fresh today, I'd probably choose WordPress. Which should you pick? Consider the never-ending iOS vs. Android debate for a moment. iOS is more limited in terms of customization and is aimed at people who just want things to work without having to do much tinkering; Android is better suited for those who love to tinker and are willing to invest the effort in customizing their experience. Blogger is more like iOS, and WordPress is more like Android. If you want something simple that will stay out of your way for the most part, Blogger is worth considering. If, on the other hand, you want to have complete control over how every aspect of your blog looks and functions, WordPress is likely better.

A blogger who maintains a self-hosted blog using WordPress is going to spend far more money to do so than they would with Blogger. What they will get in return for their investment are near-infinite customization options. Ultimately, the question of which to use may boil down to what you can afford and whether this is something you expect to value enough to learn how to do it.

I am in the camp of just wanting things to work without having to tinker, and this is the main reason I am still using Blogger. That said, there are a number of frustrating limitations with Blogger (many of which have to do with Google's abysmal lack of support for their products) that would push me toward WordPress if I was starting today.

Custom Domains

I believe that both Blogger and WordPress will let you get going for free by using either a .blogspot.com or .wordpress.com domain. If this is your first experience with blogging, this is what I would suggest initially. If you stick with it, you will probably want to buy a custom domain at some point, but you can do that once you've decided that you like it enough to stick with it. I suppose you might want to do it earlier if you think you have the perfect name for your new blog and want to make sure nobody else takes the domain you would like to use for it.

Blog Appearance

When selecting a template/theme for your blog, I'd encourage you to pick one that is responsive, simple, fast-loading, and uses a basic white background with black text. Blogs are text-based, and you want your writing to be easily readable. These days, it is critical that blogs load as quickly as possible. This means stripping away all the non-essential fluff and going minimalist. It doesn't matter how good your blog looks; Google will penalize you if it doesn't load quickly on aging mobile devices. Avoid anything pretty that doesn't contribute directly to the functionality you need (i.e., minimize the widgets, plug-ins, etc.) since they all take time to load. Use the built-in commenting system rather than a third-party system. You can always move to another system later if you decide the extra features are worth the exta load time.

Preparing to Launch Your New Atheist Blog

As tempting as it may be to start writing posts on your new blog, this falls into the category of things I would do differently this time around. There are a few things I would recommend doing before you publish your first blog post.

Set Up Google Analytics, Search Console, and Bing Webmaster Tools

You selected your blogging platform and created your new blog. It looks the way you want, but it is empty. Add Google Analytics to your blog, and enter your blog in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. This will involve adding your sitemap, and be sure to add both your sitemap.xml file and an RSS/Atom sitemap. All of this will make it more likely that your blog posts will be indexed so they can appear in search engines and will let you measure traffic.

Jot Down a List of Topics

You are about to launch a new blog. Why should others check it out? What sort of content will they find there? Generate a list of 5-10 topics your blog will focus on. This will help you figure out how best to assign categories/tags to your posts, but it will also help you start thinking about keywords you will want to use and how to describe your blog to others on your social media accounts. This is your opportunity to craft your niche. It may change over time, but having this list initially will make it easier for you to begin marketing your new blog.

Write Your Pillar Posts

Write at least one "pillar post" for each of the topics you identified but do not publish them on your blog yet. What is a pillar post? Think of them as examples of your best work. New visitors are about to form their first impressions of you. This is your opportunity to make a great first impression. If one of your topics will involve your personal journey to atheism, your pillar post might provide the definitive overview of that journey. If one of your topics will be secular activism, one of your pillar posts might explore why you are so passionate about this topic. I would recommend that your pillar posts be somewhere in the 1,000-3,000 word range and that you use headings to make them easier to read and give you an opportunity to use your keywords. The relationship between post length and SEO is anything but clear); however, having some longer posts on some of your most important topics may be helpful.

Write a "Press Release"

I don't mean that you need to write a real press release (unless you want to), but I would suggest that you write a clear description of what you plan to offer on your new blog that will be suitable for distributing to anyone who might offer to help you out (e.g., established bloggers) and your social media accounts. Think of this as announcing your new blog to the world. I think it is worth having it ready to go at this stage even though I would not distribute it yet.

Launching Your New Atheist Blog

Enough with the preliminary steps! It is time to unleash your new blog on the world. I hope they are ready for it!

Publish Your First Post

There are a number of ways to do this, but my suggestion would be that your first post serve as a thorough introduction to your blog. This is different from your pillar posts, but it should be a good one too. Why are you starting this blog? What do you plan to bring to atheist blogging that isn't currently available? Tell your potential audience what they will find here. Remember that list of topics and "press release" you generated earlier? This is a good opportunity to use them. Your first post might mention those topics and can be coordinated with your "press release" too.

Select an Initial Posting Schedule

This will be different for everyone because it depends on your goals, schedule, and all sorts of other things; however, I will offer some suggestions. All things being equal, more posts mean more traffic. And yet, more posts mean higher chances of burnout and fewer eyes on each post (i.e., diminishing returns). I believe that a good target for a new blog would be to publish one new post a week. Too much? Try every 2 weeks. If your goal is to build an audience as quickly as possible and you have the time to do it, I think you can post as often as once/day. I would not recommend posting more than that, at least initially.

Posting at the same time of day and on the same day(s) is likely to help you initially because of how Google's indexing works. Some readers may also prefer a consistent and predictable schedule. I think it is fine to deviate from a set schedule if necessary, but I would recommend using one initially.

Get Posting

With your first post up and your initial posting schedule set, it is time to begin churning out posts. Remember those pillar posts you wrote? Do not make the mistake of posting them all at once. Intersperse them with other posts. Maybe you roll one out every month. As for what to write about, use the list of topics you generated as a guide. The fact that you've decided to start a blog means that you have something to say, so say it.

I would encourage you to give yourself permission to go off-topic from time-to-time. This can help attract readers who might not have been looking for an atheist blog, and topical diversity is one of the things that will help to sustain you over the long-haul. If you try to limit yourself only to atheism, you will either end up with a news blog (which will mean competing with the established ones who have teams of writers and churn out several posts per day) or you will run out of ideas for new content. I'd recommend that no more than 20% of your posts are off-topic, especially early in the life of your blog. Expect some negative reactions when you go off-topic, but don't worry about them. If you are writing for an atheist audience, you are going to get plenty of negative reactions no matter what you do.

As you are writing your posts, leverage the power of internal links. Specifically, you will want to make sure that your non-pillar posts link to your pillar posts whenever it makes sense to do so. This makes it more likely that readers will see the pillars and boosts their search engine performance. Picture a bicycle wheel where the pillar is the center and the other posts related to that topic are the spokes.

Distribute Your "Press Release"

There is no magic number here, but I would say that when you have 5-10 posts published on your new blog you should consider using the "press release" you wrote earlier. You might send it to a few established bloggers in the form of an email. You might distribute it on your various social media platforms. The idea is to let others who might be interested know that you have a new blog. Waiting until you have 5-10 posts means that those who visit will be able to see what you have already done instead of just promises about what you might do in the future.

Blog Promotion

If you have done everything described here so far, it is time to celebrate your hard work. You created a new blog, have published several posts and undoubtedly have several more written, and have let people know about it. You are on the right track. The most important thing you can do now is to keep posting high-quality content. As you do that, here are a few quick thoughts about how to promote your new blog going forward.

Use Social Media

Pick at least one social media platform where you can be active and establish a presence. You can promote your blog by sharing your posts, but you will need to do more than that to gain much traction. Interact with others, and don't be spammy. Your goal is to become a valued member of a community, and your value needs to be more than just your blog. You don't need to be on every social media platform, so start with one you enjoy and focus your efforts there until you are comfortable with it. You can add others that interest you whenever it makes sense to do so, or you can decide to stick with what you know. The fact that you aren't on a particular platform does not mean that others won't share your content there.

Visit Other Atheist Blogs

Connecting with more established atheist bloggers can be a tremendous help. Visit their blogs, leave comments on their blogs, promote their work by linking to it in your blog posts and sharing it across your social media accounts, and interact with them on social media. This gets their attention, and some will reciprocate. External links to your blog from other relevant blogs will help a lot, and you might learn some things that will make your blogging life easier.

Create a Blogroll

Back in the day, almost every atheist blog prominently featured a blogroll, listing the blogs read by its author. This was a great way to contribute to the community and show readers the bloggers whose work you value. Although some of us still do this because we see ourselves as being part of a community, the tradition of the blogroll has largely disappeared. Why? It may have something to do with almost every atheist blog migrating to Patheos, but that's just a guess on my part. Anyway, I think it is unfortunate and would encourage any new blogger to consider a blogroll.

Consider Writing a Guest Post

If another atheist blogger is open to you writing a guest post for their blog, do so. Ideally, the guest post might introduce their readers to you and your blog while giving them a taste of your work and giving you one of those precious external links from a relevant source.

Above All, Have Fun!

Most important of all, have fun. If it isn't fun, you aren't going to last long. Assuming that this is a hobby and not a business, I'm not sure there is much point in doing it if you don't enjoy it. If you find that you are enjoying it less, make some changes. Trying new things often helps me. Had it not been for my willingness to experiment, I would not have lasted for more than a year or two. After you've been blogging for some time, you may decide to change some of the topics on your initial list. There's nothing wrong with this. Ultimately, this is about you doing what makes sense for you. If some readers decide not to stick with you, you will pick up new ones along the way.