Congratulations, you are thinking about launching a blog! Or, maybe you just did launch your blog. Either way, you may be thinking, ‘now what?’ Guess what? I was in your shoes a little over a year ago, and even as I pushed ‘publish’ on my first blog post, I really had no idea what it took to actually run a blog. After 1 year, I am still trying to figure it out… however, if I could go back and mentor my brand new blogger self, this is the advice I would give myself. Read on to find out part one of Sunshine Whispers’ Tips for the Brand New Blogger!
Tips for the Brand New Blogger!
- Start with a self-hosted domain on wordpress.org: If your blog is seriously only a hobby or your personal online journal, then go ahead— sign up for that Blogger account, mess around with the style you want and have a great time. However, if you are serious about blogging and think that at some point in the future you may want to make money from your blog (ie: turn your passion into a business), you absolutely must start off on WordPress.org with a self-hosted site. Technically, you could monetize your future blog from Blogger. However, there are so many bloggers I know of who started with Blogger and then had to make the somewhat painful transition to a self-hosted site a year or two later.
- Hire a great company to host the site for you: Once you have purchased your domain name and registered it, I would highly recommend hiring a reputable company to do web hosting for you. There is nothing wrong with using one of the bigger hosting companies at first. However, I cannot oversell the customer service offered by a smaller, boutique webhosting company. I use TechSurgeons and could not be more pleased. Not only do they do a great job, but about 6 weeks ago, when I was a space cadet and forgot to renew my domain name, the owner of TechSurgeons actually took vacation time to help fix my problems. That is not customer service you can find on a larger site.
- If you want your blog to eventually make money, spend money now on a web design: If you want the world to take you seriously, you probably need to invest in yourself (ie- take yourself seriously). Unless you are an experienced web designer, this is a job you will want to out source. Web design services don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Also, you aren’t tied to your first design choice. My advice? Start with a simple blog design that fits your minimum requirements. Then, once you figure out your personal style (and once you decide to put ads on your site), you can invest in a more personalized design.
- Regardless of where you start, try to purchase a design that is based on the Genesis Framework. This is a phenomenal website foundation on WordPress.org that comes with a lot of built in support and solid coding (which is great because I still am lost when it comes to coding). There are lots of ‘child’ themes available and I have found that most of the blogs I love are built on this framework.
- If you want a good recommendation for a starting website design company, I used Designer Blogs and was very pleased. Their premade blog themes start at $50 (really a great price) and you can add to that with a custom accessory menu. Who knew blogs came with bling?
- When I was ready to invest more in Sunshine Whispers, I hired Stephanie Jones at Jornie. She is the amazing web designer (and Mom to 5 kids under the age of 7!!!) behind the current look for Sunshine Whispers. Seriously, I could not be more pleased with this design.. and Stephanie is both super nice to work with, but also very patient and helpful. She still answers questions if I have them.
- Stock Photos: Unless you are a professional photographer, you will want to use stock photos in many of your posts. This can be a touchy subject among bloggers.. but here is my personal take: 1. In general parenting or faith posts on my blog, stock photos look so much more professional, because they are professional photos. These photos tend to draw in more readers. 2. I have plenty of photos of my daughter on the site. It is kind of unavoidable since she is the one doing the crafts and activities with me. However, in order to protect her, I often use stock photos of kids when I can. The reasoning is that these kid ‘models’ were compensated for their work and/or their parents signed some sort of consent.Here is a big tip though– you can’t use all photos on the internet, just because they are on the internet. Seriously, this can land you in serious legal trouble. Most photos on the internet are protected by copyright laws and if you use them without obtaining permission, you can get slapped with a hefty fine. So, most bloggers subscribe to stock photo services that provide legally usable photos. Here are my two recommendations:
- Dollar Photo Club: This is the service I personally use. There are hundreds of thousands of images you can download for $1 an image. Once you have ‘paid’ for an image you can use it over and over again (although that would be kind of boring.. but you can do it). I will not lie, some (many) of the images are totally cheesy. However, I have never not been able to find a good image for even the most random blog posts.
- Shutterstock: Many bloggers rave about Shutterstock. I have not used them yet, but it is on my to-do list
- Photo Editing: So, by now you are probably thinking, ‘Wait! I just want to write great content!’ Well, here is the deal. No one will read your content unless they see it. Most of the time future readers will see your content via social media platforms like Facebook or Pinterest. That means, you need photos.. and great photos, with every single blog post. Based on information gleaned in blogging forums and my work with Jornie, this is what I can tell you. Every post on your blog should have the following photos:
- An image for Pinterest. I make just about every Pinterest image on my blog 650×975 (based on Jornie recommendations)
- An image for Facebook. The rules for Facebook keep changing. Here is what you need to know:
- Size: 1200×680
- Text: Preferably none. At most 20% of the image should be covered with text.
- This photo will not be on your actual blog post, but added as an SEO friendly option on your SEO Social tab (see below for plugin recommendations).
- A featured post image. This will likely be similar to the Pinterest image. Until the recent Facebook changes, I set this image at 975X650 and used it for Facebook. Now I will either use the Facebook image as this image (and not include it in the actual blog) or I will set this image at 650×650, so that it fits my theme better.
- A standard size for all other images. I set all other images on my blog at 650×650, unless there is a specific reason to make them smaller.
- Photo editing sites/software:
- I cannot tell you how pleased I am with PicMonkey. You can use this site for free, but there are limited choices and ads. The annual membership is not expensive ($33 a year) and you can do so much with this site.
- I really like Canva as well. I primarily use Canva to design my own memes or graphics. However, there are many bloggers that use Canva instead of PicMonkey.
- Adobe Photoshop. This is the gold standard for photo editing. I will learn how to use it… some day.
- Social Networking Sites: In 2015, there is really no blogging done without a social media presence and marketing. Unfortunately, there are so many different platforms, it is rather daunting to try and figure out how to use them all.. and then actually use them on a regular basis. Also, using social media as a blogger/business is very different than using these sites for personal use. The advice I received early on was to focus on one or two platforms at a time and then as you gain confidence/have more time/make money to hire a virtual assistant, you master the rest. Honestly, after a year, I only really use Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. However, here are the top social media sites you should strive for a presence on. Additionally, even if you don’t plan to use each of these sites yet, get an account set up with your blog name (or something close to your blog name). You can put social sharing buttons on your site and schedule your posts to be pushed directly to a number of these sites automatically… so it is like partial credit. Here are the social networking sites to consider as part of your blogging plan:
- Blogging Forums on Facebook: The absolute best place to learn from the wisdom of other bloggers is through blogging groups on Facebook. Did that get your attention? Well, it is true. There are Facebook blogging groups for just about every blogging niche. For my blogging niche(s), groups I rely on anytime I have a question are:
- Online Blogging Classes: Run, do not walk.. run to Learn to Blog Hangouts for many many free tutorials that have answered so many questions and provided so much educational support for me and lots of new bloggers. While you are there, sign up for the VIP Forum, where there is even more support. Seriously, between these two place alone, you could get a degree in blogging. However, once you have been blogging for at least 3 months, I highly recommend signing up for Kelli and Crystal’s online blogging class. Every second of that class is incredibly useful. I can personally attest that after applying even some of the principles taught in this class, my pageviews exploded!
- Plugins you need/want: Every blogger has favorite plugins that work well with their site. I have uploaded plugins only to never use them. Also, I have stumbled upon plugins later and wondered how I ever survived without them. Here is a short list of plugins I have found useful:
- Akismet- seriously, buy this plugin right away! It protects your site from spam and does a really great job of it.
- Google Analytics by Yoast- to track metrics and growth for your site
- Google XML Sitemaps- this will submit a sitemap for you, which is key for Search Engine Optimization
- Jetpack by WordPress.com- I know this plugin does a lot. I am not even sure about all it does. However, I have definitely found it very useful.
- Yoast SEO- really helps you optimize your blog posts for Search Engine Optimization
- jQuery Pin it Button for Images- a must have feature if you want to easily pin images to Pinterest
- Media Tools- helps manage your media library
- Simple Social Icons- Provides a way to link social networking sites to your blog
- TwitterFacebookSocialShare- like the name states, makes it easy for readers to share your posts on their social media
Phew, that is a lot of tips, right? I didn’t even scratch the surface really.
Next week I will share tips for the almost brand new blogger. In the meantime, I hope you found this helpful!
Thanks for reading and happy blogging!