Advice for New Bloggers: Creating Your Blog

Blogging and recording - all at once

Creative Commons License Jacob Bøtter via Compfight

Three years ago, I was in the new blogger shoes.  (Exactly three, as it happens — Modern Alternative Mama is three years old today!)

I wanted to start a blog, I was about to start a blog, but I had no idea what to do after that.  I figured I needed a name and a place to ‘put’ my blog, and topics to write about.  But…then what?  How did I get an audience?  How did I let people know I was out there?  How was I supposed to build a good blog?

Now…I know a lot more than I did then. :)  Much of it was through trial and error.  And much of it took a long time to learn.  I’d love to share some of my experiences with you, in hopes that you, if you’re interested in blogging, won’t make the same mistakes that I did.

I also have to confess that this post isn’t entirely driven by my desire as an “I remember when” blogger.  It’s also driven by mistakes I see newbies making today.  Mistake #1: Begging big bloggers you don’t personally know to help you out by sharing your blog or page or participating in link exchanges.  I get these a lot.  And I always want to tell bloggers why this is not a good idea!  Today I’ll get a chance. :)

Create Your Blog

To create your blog you need:

  • A Name
  • A Theme
  • A Host

That’s it.  The rest (how to make a professional blog) we’ll talk about in a minute.

A Name

Choose something that’s meaningful to you.  I chose “Modern Alternative Mama” because I’m a mama who’s living in modern times, but who chooses an alternative lifestyle.  It explains exactly what I’m about.  There are tons of blogs out there and tons of different names.  Think on it for awhile and ask your friends and family to help, because your blog name is how you’ll be known around the “blogosphere.”  Make sure it represents you and your theme well, and that you would like being referred to that way.

A Theme

What are you blogging about?  Crafting, natural living, parenting, technology, etc.?  What is your overarching theme?  Defining your niche allows you to identify blogs that are similar to yours (which is important and I’ll tell you why later) and gives you general guidelines about what to post.  You don’t have to be exact on this — mine was just basically “all things natural living.”  I couldn’t narrow it down.  But I know, for example, that I don’t blog about technology or quilting or pop culture.  Give yourself some guidelines.  And remember: you define your blog, not your audience (once you have one).

A Host

Go with WordPress.  Just do it.  I have been at Blogger, Squarespace, and WordPress.  I have dabbled in Livejournal and Xanga.  Go with WordPress.  It is the best platform for professional bloggers with the most options and add-ons for those who need them.  It can be overwhelming at first, but you don’t have to use everything.  If you intend to earn money from your blog, you will need the functionality that WordPress offers.  Save yourself the time and headache of moving platforms and just start on WordPress.

Make Your Blog Beautiful

You need two things to make your blog beautiful:

  • Eye-catching design
  • Excellent content

If you’re blogging for fun or for family members and don’t care about earning money or growing your traffic, you can just choose a free theme and add a couple of your own pictures and call it good.  If you are hoping to be a professional blogger and earn some decent money, you should invest in a professional, personalized design.  There are several companies that will do this, and it will cost $500 – $1000.  I know; that’s a lot.  You may be able to get away with less if they do just a custom header/logo for you and you use a standard template.  That might be $100 – $300, which is probably more manageable for a new blogger.  Our design company is Hello Voom.

Some design tips:

  • Use a white background, or at least a very light colored one.  Dark colors look amateurish.
  • Use lots of high-quality photographs in your posts and in your header.
  • Keep your sidebars uncluttered.  Lots of buttons and random ads looks unprofessional and is hard to navigate.
  • Typically, one sidebar is better than two — the less cluttered your design, the better.
  • Have links to popular posts, archives, etc. so your site is easy to navigate
  • Have a prominently featured ‘search’ bar and a good search plugin (Relevanssi is good)
  • Feature no more than 6 – 8 ads (that ‘uncluttered’ thing again)

Most of all, pick a style that is uniquely ‘you.’  The blog should represent who you are and what you are about.

Content

Write good content and do it on a regular basis.  Update your blog at least weekly, and 3 – 5 times a week is even better.  If your blog is not updated regularly then your readers will not come back.  Decide on a regular posting schedule up front and stick to it as much as possible!  If you want to update every Monday and Thursday, then do it.  Plan for it.

Write content that is full of excellent photographs, which uses subheaders and bullet points and bolded sentences or phrases to make it easy to read for people who are skimming, which most will.  Write content that is easy to read and free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Posts that are most popular are very practical posts, like how-to, DIY, tutorials, etc.  Unique or unusual practical posts are even more popular.  Rants on hot-button issues also tend to be popular, but you have to be careful with those — if you are too passionate or take too strong a stance, some of your readers will be alienated.  It takes someone with a careful, balanced approach to be able to handle hot button issues without too much alienation happening.  Still, you define your blog, so if that’s your thing — do it.

Choosing regular themes is a great idea too.  I do “Monday Health & Wellness” and “Recipe Collection” for regular themes.  Modern Alternative Kitchen does “Meal Plan Mondays” and “Ingredient Spotlights.”  Choose a regular theme or two that fits into your overall ‘theme’ of the site.  Bonus: on that day(s), you will already know generally what you are going to write about.

Thoughts on Making Your Blog

These are the two most important things: creating your blog, and making your space beautiful.  No matter how awesome you are or how awesome your blog might be, if you can’t write well and create a functional, easily navigated blog with regularly updated content, people won’t come to your site.  When I’m checking out new blogs for potential guest posts or contributor spots, the following things will make me skip over them every time:

  • Infrequent updates — If I have to search through your archives and I notice you posted 5 times last month and not for three months prior, I assume you are not serious about blogging and I move on.
  • Not visually appealing/no photographs — It seems that you can’t create “professional” and easy to read posts.
  • Poor writing skills — I can teach “blogging style” but I can’t fix plain old poor writing (bad grammar, sentence structure, misspelling, etc.)
  • Uncertain theme — If I can’t tell if you are really “real food” or not because some recipes seem to be and others are full of canned ingredients, I skip it.
  • Poor handling of sensitive issues — If you are rude to people who disagree with your stance or respond rudely to commenters, I skip it.  Bloggers must be professional and treat their readers with respect.

The first one is the one I check for first, always, and the rest may or may not be deal breakers to me depending on if they are the sole issue or not.  Often times I find multiple issues with a blog.

Once you have created an excellent quality, visually appealing blog with regularly updated content, you’re well on your way to being a successful blogger!  What you need now is an audience — and how do you get one of those!?  Read the next post in the series to find out!

How did you decide on your name and themes?  If you’re experienced, any advice for new bloggers?

Comments

  1. says

    Great advice! And it’s nice to get tips from someone who is blogging successfully! One question: What is it that WordPress has and Blogger doesn’t that makes it more functional for earning money by blogging? Just curious!

    • Kate Tietje says

      Hi Alix,

      WP has an entire ad manager! It accepts the graphics and links and rotates them and tracks them. It has a plugin you can choose that puts in affiliate ads as a “default” if you don’t have paid ads to fill all the spots (so you don’t have to constantly switch them out). There are tons of plugins, too, that allow you to add affiliate links to posts automatically or host a store and other things like that, making monetizing easier. I’ll talk more about that in future posts.

      • Valerie says

        Hi, Kate,

        It looks as if you are not using the WordPress.com blogging site, but the WordPress platform on a separate webhost account. Is this the case? It is my understanding that it is possible to mask a WordPress.com blog with your own domain name, but WordPress.com has limitations that hosting a WordPress platform blog on a paid webhost does not. Since you do not mention this distinction, I suspect you host your blog on a paid website/domain host.

        I thought this might be an important detail to point out for new bloggers that might not be familiar with all the options. :)

        • Kate Tietje says

          I am not sure about all these details. My site is definitely on a paid WP site though. My husband and designers handle all the back-end stuff so I don’t often worry about it. :)

  2. Lindsey says

    I have a question. I started on Blogger but now wish that I was on WordPress since I have found out all that it has to offer. Is it just murder for your blog to switch platforms? I have been worried that I would lose all my subscribers if I switched, but I truly do not enjoy the Blogger platform. What is your opinion on switching platforms once established?

    • Valerie says

      Lindsey,

      I was totally into WordPress and webhosting several years ago. At that time, there was a way to download the content of a Blogger blog and upload it to a previously set up WordPress blog. There were detailed instructions for doing it on the WordPress.org site. I even did it for a friend or two. It wasn’t perfectly simple, but doable. It definitely helps if you have someone who knows what they are doing to do it. I seem to remember there were some issues if not done just so. I’ve only just recently begun to try to get back into blogging, so I’m quite out of shape on the practice.

      • says

        My questions more centered on my readers. Do you think I will lose a lot of readers if I switch platforms? I have all my subscriptions in Feedburner so I guess I could transfer those. I just didn’t know what it would do to a fan base to change platforms, not that I have much of one yet but it is growing.

        • Kate Tietje says

          You shouldn’t lose readers by switching platforms. Your web address will work the same on the front end, just the back end will be different. And your feeds won’t change either.

        • says

          Lindsey, it depends if your address can be kept with a different platform…if not you may need to change your name. What you could do is keep the Blogger site for x amount of time with the redirection to your new site/name if it isn’t available.

  3. Deborah says

    Truly, I was not understanding the whole blogging thing. I would love to know what the motivation is behind blogging, or YOUR motivation? You are providing a great “service” to us, but what do you get in return? Also wondering what is expected or appreciated of us, as readers?

  4. Valerie says

    Kate,

    My problem is finding just the right title and tagline. I tend to be all over the place. I have trouble being focused and concise. This also shows in my writing. I have been known to draw things out. My interests tend to be all over the place, and I wax philosophical. How did you find your focus?

    On a separate note: It would be great if you had an option to subscribe to post comments. :)

    • Kate Tietje says

      Over a looooooooong period of time, lol. I wanted to blog about everything. I eventually noticed themes emerging that I blogged about a lot and also what my readers seemed to like, and I began to focus on those. It evolved into an entire “natural living” mindset and trying to give voice to some issues that don’t get talked about much in many places. There are now certain topics I’d occasionally like to discuss but I reject because it doesn’t fit the tone or theme of MAM. Basically pay attention to what you blog about a lot — and develop your focus based on that.

  5. Linda says

    Nice, helpful tips in your post today! One question–hoping you are encouraging people to use wordpress.org and not wordpress.com for their blogging platform–meaning the self-hosted type of blog that you actually own and not the one hosted by the WordPress site which is not fully controlled by you, the blogger. The difference between the two is so confusing especially to newbie bloggers. Just thinking that if anyone is going to put a lot of work into developing something online, it would be a good idea to have it as their OWN asset and fully customizable and not have it at the mercy of another website. Just my two cents. (I have my WordPress websites hosted at Hostgator but there are a lot of great hosting companies out there too.)



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