I'm excited to finally get this post written! I frequently get emails asking for advice on starting a blog, and I always wish I had the time to respond with a really helpful answer, more than just a paragraph. Now I can direct readers to this post. There's obviously a lot more I can learn about blogging, but I definitely have a few thoughts I can share. One of these days I'll do a post about blogging beyond the basics. Until then...
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What is your blog about? Cooking? Parenting? Crafting? Government? Boogers? Whatever it is, make sure it's "you." Maintaining a blog is a lot of work, and if you don't love boogers enough to write about them several days a week -- until the end of time (or you quit) -- don't start. If you don't have the passion for your topic, you don't have much to offer your readers... and, they will soon be gone.
I personally LOVE coming up with ideas and giving advice. I always have. It may sound weird to some, but that is "me." When I get a phone call from a friend in need of ideas or advice, I get a rush. Really. That's how much I like it. People ask me all the time if I ever worry that I'll run out of things to write about, or ideas to share on the blog, and I can easily say "no." I feel confident that I can spew out ideas for the rest of forever, assuming I'm never bound by duck tape and gagged with a smelly sock. That may be a big assumption. Clearly, a blog about ideas would suit me well. And it has.
So, think about where your passion lies, and blog about it. One word of caution I have is to not get caught up in the linky party or giveaway trap in an effort to gain readers. I've seen several great blogs quickly go downhill because they became obsessed with hosting giveaways and linky parties. Their content suffers and I don't know about everyone else, but I take off in a flash. See ya. It's fun to host giveaways every once in a while. It's fun to host linky parties every once in a while. But unless you are a blog dedicated to those things, that is NOT why the majority of your readers are coming to you. They are coming for your content; to revel in your passion. Don't leave them hanging. What you want is readers who LOVE reading what you write about, not readers who sign up because they have to in order to enter the giveaways. That's not how you build an audience. I do giveaways now and then, as a treat to my readers, to build some excitement, and hey... to get some free stuff for myself. I may do a linky party someday; haven't yet. But, I want to keep it minimal. I know that's not why y'all are here.
Anyway, my whole point... write about what you love and stay true to your blog.
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The truth is that whatever you choose to blog about, there are probably already a zillion other blogs on the same topic. So spend some time thinking about ways your blog can be different than the rest. If you're doing a craft blog, see if you can come up with some ideas that most other craft blogs don't do. Recently I stumbled on a craft blog that was dedicated to little boy crafts. I thought that was so clever, because really... lots of the crafty stuff we see is more appealing to little girls. Look at other blogs in your same genre and change yours up a little. Maybe if you're doing a cooking blog, you could host monthly reader submissions, where they submit their recipe for, say, lasagna. You try it, pick a winner, and give them a prize! That sounds fun... never heard of anyone else doing it. Ya know what I mean? Maybe the premise of your blog will be basically the same, but just see what you can do to come up with something different, like the submission contest I just mentioned.
For me, I knew there were a ton of women's blogs giving their readers "ideas." Nothing new. But, I decided to do a few things different. First, I wanted to have a post every day, not just a couple times a week. Second, I wanted to give even new and undiscovered bloggers a chance to share their ideas on my blog. As opposed to only accepting guest posts from superstar bloggers. Third, I wanted to address topics beyond just cooking and crafts. If I wanted a post on infertility, potty training, or complimenting people, I would do it. I wanted each day's post topic to be a surprise to the reader. So, that's that. That is what my goals were as far as "setting myself apart," and unless I'm delusional, I think that my readers have liked it.
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I love reading a blog where the personality of the author shines right through their written word. You feel like they're right in front of you, sharing their thoughts. The posts are more engaging and easier to read... is that redundant? Either way, let your personality shine through. Let your readers build a connection with YOU while they read your content.
I get emails, all the time, from professional writers wanting to offer their content. Now, they obviously have their place in the blogging world, but their professional articles don't fit here. Part of my vision for this blog is to have people feel comfortable. To have women introduce themselves, and share with y'all, just as a good friend would. Nearly all of us are women; many of us are mothers. There is a lot that we can share to help each other out. When a post is overly professional, it is hard to relate to, and not an easy read. So, my advice... keep it casual. People will love it. That doesn't mean you need to be a foul-mouthed yucky; just be you, in a good way, casually.
If, for some reason, you have really bad spelling (and won't use spell check), can't remember the difference between "lose" and "loose," or have a hard time organizing your thoughts, maybe you should wait on the blog thing. Readers are fairly forgiving of misplaced commas and the like. But don't you dare mix up "their," "they're," and "there." You'll be in a world of trouble from the grammar police. There all over the internet. ;)
...did you catch that?
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Write content that YOU would want to read. Avoid the painstakingly obvious. It stinks to get really excited about a post title, only to find the content obvious and worthless. Hmmm... I don't know, I imagine that someone, somewhere, could think that about any given post I write. You'll never please everyone. But really, put effort into being creative. Let's say you are doing a post called "5 Great Games for Kids." In my mind, I'm like, "sweet!" I open the post, and the games suggested are Ring-a-Round-the-Rosie, Mother, May I?, Simon Says, Hide and Seek, and London Bridge. "Okay, really??? That's what you have to offer??" No, thanks. See what I mean? The Internet (and, magazines, for that matter) tend to be full of the obvious. Make your blog stand out with GOOD, creative, helpful, inspiring content.
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If you want your blog to grow, your photography skills need to improve... unless you're already a pro. Looking back at the posts from the first year I blogged, my photography sucked (to put it lightly). I had no idea how crappy it was until I got better. And still... sigh... I have a LONG way to go. But, I can't tell you the wonders that good photography will do for your blog. You want your readers to share your content. If it's super great with crappy pictures, they will still share it. But they will share it a hundred-fold if you've got attractive photos to go along with it. Think of recipes. The best recipes could have the worst pictures and some of the worst recipes can have some of the best pictures. But, guess which ones people are most likely to make and to share? That's right. There are lots of great photography books out there, online tutorials, and classes you can take. Here's a link to some free online photography lessons, from Two Peas in a Bucket. Also, you could just do a Pinterest search and find some great ones out that other people have loved. The more professional your pictures look, the more professional your blog seems.
Image: Melissa Ford
The more time I have spent blogging, the more I have become opinionated about formatting. So maybe some of you don't care at all. But, to me, I love a post to be aligned to the left with the pictures centered. (I used to love centering all of my posts, but then realized it looked like I was writing poetry, which I was clearly NOT.) Posts that are aligned to the left are just easier to read. Also, using headings (with large font, bold, or underline) can help readers follow your post, and jump back around to key points. For example, you're explaining how to make Bacon Stuffed Bacon. Sounds good, right? Well, make a little heading for all the ingredients needed.
Bacon Fried Bacon
Directions: Fry your bacon. Wrap it in more bacon. Fry that bacon.
Headings help separate key information or explain what is about to be read. They also break up long blog posts and make them seem more readable. They're great. I love them. It seems like common sense, but I still think headings are under-used. Something that makes me absolutely queasy is a blog post that rapidly changes font colors. I would avoid that. Try to convey your cute personality through your writing.
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One of the best things you can do to help your blog grow is to study bigger blogs. What are they doing that you like? What do you not like? Look at lots and lots of them and take notes. Maybe they have some cool widgets that would be helpful to you. Maybe they are running a contest that is really exciting their readers. Maybe they are using an advertising agency that you've never heard of and want to look into. There are so many things you can learn! Obviously, you don't want to copy everything someone else is doing, but pick out your favorite things from several different blogs, come up with ideas of your own, and even learn things you would never want to do.
But... sometimes just when you're feeling excited about your blog, you decide to check out some other ones, and then you start to think, "Gosh. Mine stinks. I shouldn't do this anymore." That's when you get off their blogs and focus on your own. Blogging is not a competition. It's a fun way to express ourselves and share our passion with the world. There's room for everyone. Maybe your blog will never be HUGE, but it can still make a huge impact on your readers. So, focus on that. The minute I start to try and mimic someone else, is the minute I suck. You will always get the best response when you're being yourself.
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Is that lying? I guess, in some situations. But what I mean is: Put your best foot forward and be overly confident. It can get you far. Your blog may be as small as a pea, but make it look as big as the best. Obviously, money can be an issue. But, just do what you can to have a nice layout and an attractive header. When this blog first started, I designed it all myself. I read lots and lots of tutorials online and learned how to make a header and do a custom layout. It was great for my beginning blog look, but eventually I realized I needed to step it up. I started shopping for blog designers and found one who suited my taste. I think it ended up being $600.
Another year later, the time came again when things had to change. I had learned a few things and decided the blog would be more efficient and professional if it was designed differently. I hired Dan from Single Dad Laughing to design the blog you see today. I am still loving it. But each time, I always felt like the blog looked better than it really was! It kind of forced me to rise up and improve everything else. Besides motivating you to continuously improve your blog, a professional-looking blog attracts more people. It makes them think, "There must be some good stuff here."
When this blog was new, I didn't have any advertisers. But I didn't want advertisers to think my blog wasn't worth advertising on. Boo. So, I faked it. I advertised for my mom, my brother, and all of my friend's small businesses. For free. I made it look like a potential place to advertise for some of the small-time businesses, such as small Etsy shops. And, it worked. I had some small shops advertising on my blog, and as the blog has grown, I'm now able to get some bigger fish. And, there is more growing to do!
When the girls on the morning show Good Things Utah noticed my blog, they emailed me. They asked if I liked to cook. The truth was, I kinda did. Kinda. The blog hadn't been around that long, and I hadn't made lots of recipes. I would have never considered myself a "cook" enough to go on a TV show, that's for sure. But, I took a deep breath and faked it. I was scared out of my mind, but it worked. Not only did it help my blog, but it boosted my confidence. I started cooking like crazy, and now... as you've noticed, the blog has tons of recipes! And, I've done several other TV appearances and had many other opportunities, which have all been fun. I could tell you several stories about times I've had to pry myself out of my sweatpants and into my fancy pants to seem impressive. Inside, I'm totally unsure of myself, but I suck it up, put on my confident face, and things are better because of it. I learn a lot, get new opportunities, and things improve. Try it.
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There are so many great blogs on the Internet. There are also a lot of crappy ones. And by crappy, I don't mean new and undeveloped. I'm talking depressing, bitter, foul, make-you-wanna-die blogs. And, sometimes I can't believe how many followers those blogs will have, until I remember that "misery loves company." Sure, everyone has a bad day or a rough patch, and it feels good to let out a good rant. I do it myself sometimes. It's just so disheartening to stumble upon these blogs that are dedicated to their bitter attitude. Sometimes it's super blatant; other times it is a constant underlying theme. There was this great quote being passed around on Pinterest that said it perfectly... "Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate." Blogging is a fantastic platform; use it for good. And, whether you believe in luck, karma, or blessings, remember that goodness brings about goodness, not only to others but to yourself.
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Remember, never find yourself too cool to respond to your readers' questions and comments. Your readers will love to hear from you, and will be impressed that you addressed them specifically. Interact with them on your social media networks, such as Twitter or Facebook. Visit their blogs, if you can, and leave a comment. Be complimentary and humble, and all of those good things. Not only does it make you a better person, it makes people more likely to want to read your blog and tell others about it.
Last of all, have fun!
What are your best blogging tips?