Philosophy: Blogging is trial, error, experimentation and development of more than a following; it’s development of your voice.
You’re reading this, so you know what this is. If you don’t, it’s a blog (short for weblog).
If you want to start one of your own, but don’t know where to begin, fear not. I didn’t either. I did a lot (and by a lot, I mean a ton) of research on blogging before I began.
I didn’t create this post to over inform you and confuse you even more, so we’ll keep it simple.
First thing’s first.
Decide Your Niche
…and have a general idea of your audience. Once you do this, you’ll be better prepared to choose the right platform.
If you don’t know what you want to write about, but know that you want to write, take some time and figure out what your “thing” is. What do you talk about a lot? What do people ask you about? Is it cake decorating, woodworking, financial advice? What do you have a lot to say about? Whatever it is, begin with that.
My advice at deciding your niche – or what you want to write about – is to get moderately specific, but not too specific. It can be more than one thing, especially if those things relate.
I have a lot to say about my kids and writing. I also apply a lot of philosophy to those things. The Philosophy Mom was born. There are a lot of parenting blogs out there, but not many that apply philosophy. I got my topic and I made it more specific.
Right about here is where I suggest doing some surveillance. A little recon mission, if you will. Check out some other blogs in the niche you’re considering to see how they’re doing this and what they’re posting about. Don’t steal their ideas, but make note of what you like and don’t like about what you see.
Have Fun With Your Brand
Branding doesn’t have to be complicated, especially if you’re doing this for fun. Just think about how you want to present your content and stick to the images and colors that go best with it. Try to be consistent. This is how people will recognize you. I found it takes some time to create something in the way of a brand and settle into it.
Choose a platform
Your platform is where you’ll blog. I’m a die-hard WordPress fan. The structure is easy to navigate. The tools are easy to work with. It looks professional. It has a ton of themes to try. It’s free.
You can also upgrade to a paid version and get a customized URL. Your URL is your blog’s web address. It’s what you type into the internet browser to find your web page. A lot of other platforms require you to host your own blog (which is big money and can be a big headache) in order to get a custom address.
I tried self-hosting. It’s a lot of expense for slightly more freedom to create. WordPress.com is just as good for novice bloggers, in my opinion anyway.
Create Your Account
Go to WordPress.com and create your account. It’s that simple. You can literally begin blogging right away. Or, you can take this a step further and plan a little.
Choose a Theme
I always have fun messing with themes. Your theme is how your blog is laid out and how it looks. Different themes offer different components to work with.
Some are designed like magazines, some specialize in featuring writing content. Some are for showcasing pictures like a portfolio and some are designed for e-commerce. Just because it’s designed specifically for one type of blog doesn’t mean it can’t be used for something else.
WordPress.com has several free themes and premium (you pay for it) to choose from. Most of the elements inside of the theme can be customized. Download the one you like and try it out. If you don’t like certain options with one theme, you can always switch.
I made the mistake of initiating my blog with two posts ready to go. What I should have done, and what I recommend doing, is to have about 10 or so posts typed up and saved as drafts.
That way, you have a good head start on content and you can keep posting as you’re working on your next several posts. I was scrambling for awhile. My first post went live. I had my second scheduled to publish two days later and then I had nothing else ready to go.
You want to try to avoid long stretches between posting. The more you post well-written content, the better your blog will do. It’s all about consistency.
A post doesn’t go live to your page until you publish it. You can work on multiple projects at the same time and let them hang out until you’re ready. I take my free (I use that term loosely) nights and get a good majority of my posts written. I go back later and add photos , tags and edit grammar. I then schedule them to post on certain nights and they go live all by themselves without me having to do a thing.
Photos were always the single hardest part of blogging for next to actually writing the content…until I discovered a couple secrets.
You want your photos to be clear and professional looking. You can not steal them from the internet on Google images because that’s copyright infringement and that breaks the law.
If you’re not a photographer, and I am not, nor will I ever be, it’s really difficult to get decent pictures that enhance your writing.
I tried taking my own. Bleh. I tried forraging for free stock photos (those, you’re allowed to “steal” and use) but it took forever. Then I turned to the app store on my iphone. Jackpot.
I use 5 different apps for pictures , somewhat inter changeably. PhotoShop Express, WordSwag, HD Logo, Canva and Unsplash.
Here’s how I use them:
PhotoShop Express: I use this app when I take a quick picture with my phone that I then want to make into something semi-professional looking. There are filters to choose from. You can crop photos and mess with things like contrast, saturation, opacity and blur.
WordSwag: This is app is somewhat limited unless you pay for it and I did not. It has several free backgrounds to pick from and you can then add quote text. I’m embarrassed to say I always loved the way quotes looked on Instagram but never knew how people made them. This is how.
HD Logo: Also free – the version I use. This app creates logos. It has loads of background images, but it also offers several editing features as well as a huge selection of icons and borders. You can add text also.
Canva: Canva is my lifesaver when it comes to photos. It’s where I create all of my featured images, which is the image that’s used to accompany a blog post. They have every template for every social media platform you could think of, so the image size can be customized that way. I use the Blog Graphic template the most. Some graphics are premium, but you can still use them. They’re just watermarked with the app’s logo unless you pay. I search by whatever key word accompanies that post and edit the text to match my headline.
Unsplash: This one excited me the most. Also free, Unsplash has all those images you want to steal from Google, but can’t. Seriously. Search anything you could possibly think of and I guarantee a beautifully focused, precision photo will appear for you to use at will. It’s amazing. I use this the most for the images within the content of my posts.
All of these apps allow you to save the images you create to your camera roll. I email those photos as an attachment to myself and save it to my computer. Then, I upload it to my Media Library and insert them into the posts.
Links are easy. I try to link back to previous posts at least once in each new publication. I either mention something i previously blogged about or I in between paragraphs, I’ll add the name of a previous post.
To link, all you do is highlight as much content as you want to include in the hyperlink, click the icon that looks like a chain, type or paste into the box the website to which you’re linking and click “apply”.
As a rule of thumb, I always set my links to open in new windows. That way, my readers don’t have to arrow back through pages to get back to the original content.
This one is up to you, but I try to keep my content formatted in short bite-size clips rather than long, rambling paragraphs. It was hard for me to do at first because I had to throw some of the rules of grammar out. With practice, where to to break blocks of writing comes naturally.
It’s easier to read if the content is clipped and images are inserted into the body of the post. When readers see nothing but words, they tend to scroll right through without stopping to read anything.
Choose a few keywords that describe the post. Those are your tags. It’s a way of sorting and categorizing your content. For instance, this post will be tagged: blogging, writing, how-to, tips, photos, apps, WordPress.
Tags also come into play when considering your SEO or search engine optimazation.
SEO and Key Words
SEO is a whole post (or ten) on it’s own, but it basically it’s the process by which a website increases traffic or hits on their site. A lot of bloggers fall into the trap of concentrating too much on SEO and their content suffers because of it.
Key words have a lot to do with SEO and they focus too much on repeating the same words over and over just to get hits on their site from search engines. Don’t fall into this trap.
Last, and arguably most important, is sharing. If you’re thinking of blogging, you know about social media. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter…Again, another post (or 20).
Some bloggers will tell you it’s more important to have one flavor of social media and forget the rest. Essentially, don’t spread yourself too thin. I have accounts with all of the above and I use them to share the links to my latest posts each time they publish. It’s how I began to drive traffic to my blog.
The most important thing about social media as it relates to this post, anyway, is to try to be consistent with your name and ENGAGE.
Consistency with your name is going to make it easier for your followers to find you. All but Twitter account is under The Philosophy Mom (that handle was already taken on Twitter, so look for me as @aristotlesattic). If your name is taken, try to keep it as close to possible to your blog’s name as you can.
ENGAGE ENGAGE ENGAGE. Engage. Don’t just post the link to your blog every so often. Follow people. Tag them. Ask questions to get a group discussion going. Share posts and pictures and links you find. and use hashtags to your benefit.
If my traffic is low and I want to drive it up, I’ll get on Twitter, search with a # and see what pops up first. That’s what’s trending. Then I’ll use that # and tweet something that relates to both that trend and my blog to start stirring up traffic.
Blogging is fun and it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. It can serve the purpose of emptying your mind or informing about any number of things.
Like anything, it takes time to grow an audience and develop a voice. Just how much time depends on just how much you post and work at it.
Find your voice and use it. As a writer, I think your voice is a melting pot of whatever you read. How the things come out onto paper usually mimics the words you’ve read on paper, to some degree.
Finding your voice and developing your style is one of the hardest parts of writing and blogging is no exception. A lot of bloggers crank out content without paying attention to the quality of writing, and that’s a shame. The writing doesn’t have to be Shakespearean prose, but for heaven’s sake, it’s not a text message either.
Blogging is a lot of trial and error and experimentation. My impatience has driven me to the brink of quitting several times now, but the challenge of seeing just how far my words can take me keeps me coming back for more.
If you have questions over any of the specifics I didn’t mention here, drop me an email. We can try and err together.