This is actually blog number 3 for me. The first one was a free one on wordpress.com, which is great if you just want a hobby/journal style blog. I went for the cruelty-free/budget beauty niche, but I still wrote crappy posts about my life. Like one of my zero readers will actually care. So, if anyone knows a bit of something about how to start a blog, it’s me.
I wasted money on my first blog – I bought a domain name and a premium account even though I didn’t actually own the blog. Ridiculous. Don’t make my mistake. By all means get a wordpress.com account and get a domain name (you can transfer it if you decide to go self-hosted) but don’t bother buying a premium package – if you can spend money on that, you’d be better off spending that money on buying web hosting.
Then I moved said blog over to a self-hosted website. I initially went with Bluehost, as many bloggers recommend, but I didn’t like that I could only get hold of the customer support team at like 3am, so I switched to GoDaddy and they were cool. My blog fizzled out because I knew I eventually wanted to make money but didn’t feel comfortable with ads and didn’t know a thing about affiliate marketing.
I learned a lot from this blog – making blog graphics, plugins, and social media, but I was rubbish at it and hated taking photos because I was bad at it – I saved up and bought a DSLR because I magically thought that would make my photos incredible. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Ironically, if I’d bothered to read one of the million articles about how to take great photos on your iPhone, I’d be in a way better position than I am now, photography-wise, and £300 richer. Still, I learned a lesson and my DSLR is there when I decide to learn how to do it properly. I’ve bought an e-course from Groupon about photography, which one day I’ll get round to doing.
Man, I’m lazy when it come to photography, especially when I discovered stock photos (more on that later).
btw, I’m not claiming to be a super successful blogger. My blog is 6 months old, and I’m not getting nearly the amount of traffic as a lot of other bloggers, but in terms of the basics, I’ve read a lot of articles about blogging. Traffic is something that can fluctuate massively depending on the time of year, niche and your social media presence. I’ve only just set up some of my systems so I thought I’d list all the useful articles and products I’ve discovered so you don’t have to spend all night searching through Pinterest trying to find out how compress images and speed up your website.
It’s a NIGHTMARE trying to figure out which host to go with. As I said before, I couldn’t get along with Bluehost, but for me, there was a time zone issue – I had no problem with the service, though I was only with them for about 24 hours.
GoDaddy were fine. They hosted my (terrible) blog for a year and I had no issues.
Now I’m with Hostgator, purely because I watched a ‘how to blog’ video on YouTube and the guy recommended them. I’ve only had 8 minutes of downtime in 6 months which is good.
The problem with deciding on hosting is that there are so many to choose from, and if you look at the reviews, there are so many pros and cons it’s hard to decide – everyone in the blogging world seems to love Siteground, but there are a lot of terrible reviews for them out there. Le sigh. For a good, cheap hosting for a site in its infancy, like mine, Hostgator is great.
I’ve ever used WordPress (both .org and .com) and I love it. I get that it can be complicated but it’s simple once you’ve got it (I’m the least tech savvy person EVER) and plugins are a godsend. The other alternatives are Blogger (free from what I understand, but like wordpress.com, you don’t actually own your site and Blogger can take it down at any time) and Squarespace, which I know nothing about. I think that it’s simpler to understand but harder to customize. Go with WordPress, it’s great.
AKA how to make your blog pretty. I went with a Genesis parent theme which, if I understand it correctly, is a blank theme that comes with things like built-in SEO and its own special plugins. Then you purchase a child theme to go over the top and make it pretty. I went with Pretty Chic and I lurve it.
What the heck are you going to blog about? Check out these awesome posts on finding your niche:
If you’re not desperate for immediate success (if you are, blogging may prove disappointing…) you may need to try blogging about a few things to find out what you love to write about. I don’t know how I happened across personal finance, but it turns out I can waffle about it for hours.
The best thing about WordPress are the plugins. They’re little bits of code that make your blog awesome. It can be tempting to go for all of them but they can slow down your loading speed, so I’ll just list the ones I personally use:
Akismet – spam filter. Invaluable and free!
BJ Lazy Load – saves you bandwidth and makes your site faster because it only loads the pictures in view
Bottom of Every Post – if you want something to appear on, you’ve guessed it, the bottom of every page, this simple plugin is great. I also use Top of Every Post – I’ll let you guess what that does.
Broken link checker – it, erm, checks for broken links.
Content views – puts all your posts in a grid format – check it out in action.
Convert-a-link – this converts links to affiliate links if you use Affiliate Window.
Disqus Comment System – some love it, some hate it. I’m not bothered tbh – I get that it can be a pain if you don’t have an account though.
EWWW Image optimizer – it, er, optimizes images by shrinking ’em.
Genesis 404 – allows you to customise your 404 page – I added a Content Views grid to it.
Genesis Simple Hooks – this lets you add code to your site by putting the appropriate bit of code in the box that corresponds to the bit of your page you want it to appear. I use it to put in an affiliate disclaimer, but plan to use it to collect emails too.
Google Analytics by MonsterInsights – lets you link your site to Google analytics.
Insert HTML snippet – I use this to add an Amazon ad to my sidebar. Just add your code to a snippet and it converts it into a code you can put into a text box.
Jetpack – connects your website to wordpress.com – I use this for stats, but it has loads of other functions too. It can slow your site though so be warned. Useful if you want to transfer wordpres.com followers to your new site – just email support and they’ll do it for you.
jQuery Pin It Button For Images – add a customizable ‘pin it’ button over your images.
No Follow All External Links – makes all your links no-follow. This is great if you have a lot of affiliate links.
Official Mailerlite Sign Up Forms – allows me to easily embed email sign up forms into my site. I love Mailerlite and find it waaaay easy to follow than MailChimp. It also allows free automated emails so you can create an email course for free. Yay for Mailerlite!
Revive Old Post – automatically tweets out random posts.
Simple Social Icons – displays your, er, social icons so people can click through to follow you.
SumoMe – I use this for sharing buttons, but many people use the opt-in forms. I’m not a massive fan (I think they look a little spammy) plus you have to sign up to the premium account to link to Mailerlite.
UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore – Backs up your blog automatically. I link mine to Dropbox. I want to link it to Google Drive, but it’s way to complicated for me.
Wordfence Security – anti-virus and all that good stuff.
WP Super Cache – improves site speed.
WP-Optimize – removes spam and old post revisions, thus keeping your database squeaky clean.
Yet Another Related Post Plugin – I love this – it even adds related posts to my blog when it’s viewed in Bloglovin’ (my account is set to excerpt only because I can’t work out how to change it).
Yoast – invaluable but also a little irritating. It lets you optimize your SEO with a traffic light rating (there’s nothing worse than writing a great post only for it to have an amber light rather than green) as well as assessing your post’s readability (which is really hard to please). I LOVE that its available and so useful but it also makes me want to cry.
Wow, that’s a lot of plugins. BTW everyone is free, and although they have premium options, I haven’t spent a penny on them.
People you need to follow
If you mean business with your blog, you need to follow these people – subscribe to their email lists, follow them on Twitter and Pinterest and join their Facebook groups. They are GAME CHANGING.
Grammarly – this is great if you’re a lazy proofreader like me. It’s like a more advanced version of spellcheck. It’s free (but of course there’s a premium version, which I will invest in at some point – it identifies things like when you’re using passive voice)
IFTTT – this stands for If This Then That, and basically makes apps talk to each other. I use this to post all my Instagram posts to Twitter and also as a free version of MeetEdgar, by linking Google Calendar, Buffer and Twitter. Read more about that here.
Google for work – think of this as an awesome alternative to Microsoft Office. It’s web-based and you can share it easily with VAs or whoever. It’s great for things like staff rotas, because it’s easy to share, change then share again without having to mess about with emails. I pay £3.30 a month, which includes a email address containing my domain – with most email service providers such as Mailerlite, your email must include your domain*.
*Your web host will probably include a personalised email for free, but I found setting it up waaaay to complicated. I wanted all my emails in the same place rather than having to log in to my hosting every time, so using Gmail was the easiest option for me.
Boardbooster – this is a game changer when it comes to building traffic through Pinterest. I pay $15 a month (about £11 I think) to schedule/loop 1500 pins which upped my Pinterest game no end. It creates secret boards which you pin to, and then it distributes them onto your ‘proper’ boards throughout the day, showing Pinterest that you’re a very active pinner and therefore boosting your profile. If you want a more in-depth post about this, let me know in the comments.
Picmonkey – what I use to create Pinterest pins (I also use Canva, but I find Picmonkey easier for beginners. It’s a photo editing site (and FREE although the paid version is about £25 a year and well worth it for its storage facilities).
Stock Photo Sites
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they start a blog is using images straight off Google Images. YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT. You need to use images that have been designated as creative commons, and also check that you don’t need to link to the creator. Check out these awesome sites:
Ok, we’re at over 2000 words here and that’s a lot of info. To round things off I’ll leave a few links to posts I found useful:
The Pinterest secret every blogger needs to know (spoiler: it’s how to hide mahoosive images).
I’ll probs update this over time, but for now, that’s plenty to be getting on with. I’m just going to leave you with one last link – it’s to the video that I used to get my current blog up and running.
I don’t use everything the guy suggests (I don’t like popup and welcome mats for example) but there’s a TONNE of useful info.
All of these are FREE (well, they cost you your email address).