On Monday I talked about seven things I have started doing since lock down, quarantine, social distancing, whatever you want to call it. But starting a blog is not one of them – in fact, Sparkles and Shoes is turning eight this Summer! But as all of you may not be in the same boat, I thought this may be an apt time to share with you some advice in case you are thinking of starting one (and I would recommend it!)
In 2015 I published a post called So You Want to Start a Blog and then I followed that up with a post called How to Start a Blog, Part Two in 2016. These posts are still quite relevant but as the Internet is a constantly evolving place I wanted to not only combine these but also update a few things that have changed and add some additional things I have learned. And what gives me the right to share this wisdom? Well, a Swedish psychologist named K. Anders Ericsson famously reasoned that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at any craft. And in the last 7.5 years I have spent more than 10,000 hours on Sparkles and Shoes so today I am here to share some of those things with all of you, boiled down into 11 key points:
Define Your Why | The first step to starting a blog, you have to ask yourself a series of questions. What are you going to write about? What are you passionate about? What makes you happy? What do you know a ton about? Before you go through the whole set up figure out what means something to you. If you need a point of reference, the most popular blogs in the last 12 months have fit into one these categories: Fashion, Beauty, Home Decor, Parenting, Travel, Lifestyle, DIY, and Food & Drink but there are dozens of others!
Create a Brand | The first piece of this is to pick a name. I suggest running any potential names through a three point check – the t a blog name should be three things; brand-able, memorable, and unique. And when choosing a blog name I recommend not going above four words, five maximum. Once you come up with a list of names Google your ideas and make sure no one has already used them. I advise against using the name of any established blog brand, catch phrase, company, slogan, etc., even if it has not been used in years. You want to put your best foot forward and do not want your blog associated with anything other than you and the great content you will be publishing.
Choose Your Identity | Along with choosing a blog name, start thinking if you are going to use your real name when you write. This is the world wide web and billions of people will have access to your blog the moment you hit publish – are you okay with putting your name out there? For almost two years I went by Kelly Ann but as my professional life and blogging life merged closer together I took the plunge and associated my last name with my blog. It is completely up to you, but is definitely something to think about.
Research the Technical Aspects | Domain and hosting are the big two. And when you are starting out, there might be a bit of sticker shock around these. Do not be afraid to start with the free ones. If you are setting up a blog for the first time I would recommend going with WordPress. Blogger vs. WordPress is the big debate, even among established bloggers who has been around for years: I started on Blogger and after a year and a half I switched to WordPress and then found my favorite WordPress plugins but if I was doing it again, I would go WordPress from scratch. And then a few more techy notes:
- Hosting: If you are just starting out, and if you are reading this post you probably are, research a hosting starter plan (they usually start from $5 / month) and while you may not want to start spending money from the get go if you are not hosting your own content then you do not own it! Once you purchase a plan and complete the user registration you will be able to click the blue “Install WordPress” icon on the front page and follow the set up instructions. The instructions are very intuitive and the free “live chat” people are especially helpful in answering any questions!
- Domain: After selecting any hosting plan there will likely also be a feature to they will help you secure your domain name. I highly recommend a .com domain address.
- Email: You have already gotten this far so why not start off your blogging career with big boost of credibility. Included in your BlueHost package is an email address associated with your domain. I personally chose [email protected], much more credible than let’s say, [email protected] You can set up your email easily though your hosting manager but fear not, you do not have to use the odd email providers in the hosting app – I manage mine through the Gmail interface!
Pick Your Aesthetic | You will spend a great deal of time writing content for your blog, don’t you want it to be framed nicely? My advice is to look through blogs and pick out a handful that you like the look of. Why do you like them? What are your favorite aspects? After more than seven years of blogging I have found I have found the most successful blogs have simple themes with lots of white space. On this same note I would advise against animation, auto-play music, and please as a favor to me do not have white text on a black background. I would be remiss not to mention it an article on how to start a blog as it has been proved time and time again hard on the eyes and people will leave your site much quicker!
- Color Scheme: While I recommend building from white what is your pop of color? It used to be neon pink and now I have got for a grey and gold motif on Sparkles and Shoes, what colors do you want?
- Layout: In looking through other blogs I decided I really liked a layout with a top header, my blog’s content shown on the left, and a side bar on the right. There are four basic styles, see which one you like and find a theme that will cater to it.
- Design: There are intro designs available starting around $40 and I recommend searching Etsy if you are not looking for a big financial outlay. Custom designs can go into the thousands but mine was done by Aubrey Kinch in 2014 but she is so busy, she’s no longer taking new clients. If you want something a customised I highly recommend Lisette at High Note Designs. But don’t get too hung up on this – Sparkles and Shoes has gone through 7 iterations of designs so don’t worry, you will not be wedded to it forever.
- Navigation: Depending on the type of blog will you need categories – breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes if you are food blogger, or countries if you are a travel photographer. With WordPress you can immediately start writing and uploading content for your pages, for example your about page, you contact page, and put them all in your headers!
Get Social | Some would disagree with me on this one but while you are starting a blog, why not set everything up? If you want your blog to grow, social channels are extremely important, especially Bloglovin, a channel you have most likely not heard of if you are not a blogger. And I highly recommend making your usernames the same across all social media platforms.
- Facebook: Instead of a personal profile create a business page for your blog. This way people will be able to like your page, the same way they would like Taylor Swift or like Essie nail polish, and follow along with all of your updates.
- Instagram: Once you have a Facebook business account you can link it to an Instagram business account which will give you great insights into your audience and engagement.
- Pinterest: One of the best channels to drive traffic to your blog and like the firsrt two, sign up for a business account! (And a shameless plug for how I get more than 1 Million Monthly Pinterest Views every month – last month it was 1.4M!)
- Twitter: Create an account, there is no difference between a personal and a business account. Personally, I had a Twitter account I had signed up for years before but had not been using so transformed it into my blog’s Twitter account.
- Bloglovin: This is a platform that allows users to read, organize, and discover their favorite blogs. It works by aggregating RSS feeds to allow readers to discover and organize content. I really like this article from the Daily Post what the heck is Bloglovin’, and do I need it? I set up my BlogLovin account a few months after I started blogging and really wish someone had told me about it sooner.
Create Quality Content, Frequently | Once you start a blog it is fine to wet your toes with a few scattered posts, in fact I encourage it, but once you realize this is for you, take the plunge. Whether that is wading into it waist deep or catapulting off the 10-meter board, that is for you to decide. You do not have to do it all at once but if you are going to blog, commit. The first thing is to write frequently. I post Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday without fail and I have been doing it for the last two and a half years. From what I have come to learn, people expect it. Every weekday at 7am there will be a new blog post on Sparkles & Shoes. What it is going to be about? Well, that is up to me and while I like to keep my readers guessing, there will definitely be a post. This does not mean you need to post every day to be consistent, but find a pattern that works for you and stick with it. Are you a once every-other-week blogger? A M/W/F blogger? I want to know so I can plan how often to check back with your site. Speaking of posting frequently, every major platform allows you to schedule your posts ahead of time and no, in three and a half years I have never blogging I have never been up at 6am writing for a 7am deadline.
Remember That Pictures Matter | It is easy to say and if you are writing a fashion or travel post, you likely are going to have too many too choose from but for posts like this, sometimes pictures are hard. Just remember, no matter how riveting your words people want something to look at – give it to them! And for most blogging setups it will feature the first image in the post as a thumbnail preview and you will also need to choose a featured image, don’t leave them blank!
Learn the Basics of SEO | While I could have included this in the techy section I decided it needed to have it’s own callout as it is so important.As a very, very watered down definition Search Engine Optimization, often refereed to as SEO, is comprised of the things you do to the front end of your website (the part you can see and interact with / what you are reading right now) and backend of your blog to increase and enhance your site’s visibility in unpaid search engine results. The pluginWordPress SEO by Yoast has been my go-to for years as gives you very easy fields to fill out at the bottom of each blog post so you can set your focus keyword, SEO title, and meta description. Once these are filled in all you have to do is hit refresh and it will give you an SEO score; poor, okay, or good, based on a variety of factors like your keywords density (it should be between 2.0% and 5.0%), alt tags, the number of characters in your page title, the number of outbound links (you should have at least one), the number of words in the body copy (you should try and always have at least 300 words per blog post), and a variety of other metrics. If you achieve a “good” rating the amount of people who find your post organically usually multiplies! Let me know if this is something you would be reading a dedicated post about.
Source Everything from Day One | Have you ever heard that copying is the sincerest form of flattery? Maybe in terms of fashion but online it is called stealing. Plagiarism. Fraud. These are all scary words but I use them purposefully. If you are going to write a blog and really want people to read it, it needs to be original. That said, from time to time you will need to content that is not your own – whether a stock photo, images on how to style an item, or an image from someone else’s blog. Just because they are on the Internet does not mean they are free to use. Do some research and site the source, including where you got it from and a link to the original location. Downloading something from Google images and uploading to your blog is just so easy but if it is not yours, source it, do not steal.
Start Measuring | Install an analytics software (I am partial to Google Analytics) – it is free and while the numbers might be slow to start I do not have data on blog visits for nearly the first two years of Sparkles and Shoes and I really regret it! I have referenced my analytics many times before, in posts like Most Popular Posts of the Year, So Far and 5,000,000 Thank Yous! but the amount of data you can get from it is nearly limitless!
And there you have it, nearly 2,500 words on starting a blog and I feel like I could have kept going. Though for now, I will wrap it up and leave you with a parting piece of advice I have I shared in one of my past posts, a bit of advice, do not start a blog because your goal is to make money or get free things. Know that you are not going to become internet famous, at least not quickly, and if that is your goal, it is going to come off as insincere.
I hope you have found this helpful and please let me know if you have any questions!