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.
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.
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).
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.
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!