My blog turned two in February (!) and I’ve been looking back at some of my old posts just for kicks. All I can really think is Wow, this thing has come pretty far. Yes, it still has awhile to go but for someone who didn’t know a single thing about blogging, I do have to give myself a tiny little pat on the back for making it into what it is today.
Just within this past year, I’ve seen it evolve in so many different aspects—pictures, content, writing and design are just a few. All of this stems from gaining more knowledge and experience about blogging, learning to connect with readers and keeping up with a constantly changing environment. Blogs that I found to be inspirational when I first started have slowly disappeared of my reading list as I am constantly finding new ones that are more relatable to my lifestyle, creative endeavors and where I’d like to see my blog go. In addition to this, statistics mean a bit more to me now than they did last year. Therefore, utilizing and finding new channels to promote my site has been important. I’ve learned so much more about marketing, communications, statistical analysis, design, social media platforms, writing, photography, typography and so on just through having this blog.
I am inspired everyday and learning something new is now a daily need for me to grow and be successful, both on this blog and personally. I’ve found that I really do enjoy giving advice and hopefully someone out there can relate to what I’ve encountered, take my knowledge and apply it to their lives.
When my blog turned one, I posted 10 Things (+1) I Learned from My First Year of Blogging—a very real beginners guide to blogging. These points build upon the ones in that post to help take your blog one step further.
Now, I’m no blogging-connoisseur but the reason I am doing this is to give advice to any bloggers (or those thinking of starting a blog) who might feel they could use this information to vamp up their blogs or implement something they are not doing, to see if it helps. These tips are based on the experiences I’ve had in the past couple of years while launching the blog and I wanted to give a real insider’s perspective into what it takes to blog, what is expected and how to continuously make your site better.
1. Purchase Adobe Photoshop CS, Adobe Photoshop Elements or a comparable design and editing software.
If you’ve been a blogger for over a year, who uses pictures, images, graphics or text and you’re not using any type of design or photo editing software—it’s time. Photoshop CS is expensive; if you can afford it maybe through school or an employer, I suggest you buy it. Photoshop Elements is a lot cheaper. It doesn’t have half the features Photoshop CS does, but it is a lot easier to use and good for beginning graphic design or picture editing. I guarantee that my blog would not be what it is today without this software. I use it every day and am constantly learning something new on it to help me grow my creativity skills. If you really enjoy blogging or are serious about what you’re doing, you need to invest in an editing software. There are hundreds of classes, tutorials and websites dedicated to helping you learn how to use it so don’t worry about that. If you have to forego a pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on or a couple months of Starbucks to build your piggy bank for this software, please do it.
2. Purchase your domain.
After a year and half of www.whatjocraves.wordpress.com, it was time to discard the “wordpress.com part”. For $20 a year I have www.whatjocraves.com. It really is one of the first steps in branding your blog by making it yours. Just based on the way it looks when the URL is typed out, it gives your blog or website a more professional and legitimate look. It also gives people a sense that you are serious about your blog and that it’s current. Lastly, it is a lot easier to communicate the site name either by word of mouth or print.
3. Create or invest in a professional blog design or template.
I can’t even begin to stress how important this is. I have come across quite a few blogs that have completely turned me off from even perusing through the site because it is either filled with all sorts of “stuff” (for lack of a better word) or one that is unaesthetic looking. This makes the blog difficult to navigate through and it lacks uniformity. I promise, you’re content might be great but if your site is not easy on the eyes, doesn’t capture attention or is difficult to navigate through, people will pass it up. Everyone has their own opinion of what looks good and what fits their own personality. You might be creative and tech-savvy enough to build your own blog but if you need a bit of help, reach out to a designer. It’ll cost you but if you’re serious about your blog, it’ll be worth the investment.
I’ve taken a stab at designing my blog multiple times. After about two years, I’m happy with what I have right now—it’s clean, simple and easy to read. As someone who enjoys graphic design and building blogs, I’ll probably update mine when I feel like it could use a change.
I’m not going to delve too much into the concept of blog design right now because I have plans to create a more detailed and better post explaining this. However, here are some highlights:
- Attention grabbing, simple header.
- Engaging, subtle color palette.
- Display social media icons.
- Keep it to one or two fonts.
- Make it interactive (tabs, side bar information, archives, Twitter feed, Instagram feed, etc.)
- Try to keep images the same size.
- Copyright yourself.
- Create specific tabs for easy accessibility to your content. (i.e. Outfits*, Tutorials, Travels, Recipes, DIYs, etc.)
- Have a Frequently Asked Questions and Contact Information page.
- List of posts that are popular or currently trending. This allows your readers to see if they like any other articles you’ve posted and what others are following.
All of this is to give your reader a sense of who you are, what you stand for and what you can offer to them. You want to keep them engaged with your site so they keep coming back and having a friendy user-interface that is easily navigated and aesthetically pleasing helps this.
*If you’re a fashion blogger, I highly recommend having an “Outfits” tab so readers can click on it and see all the outfits you’ve worn in one place. This gives them a sense of your style and they can click and choose which one they’d like to enlarge or know more about.
4. Learn to read and write basic HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) or CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).
Not only is this is extremely useful if you ever want to start self-hosting your site but you can also use it to design and personalize your site, display side bar images, photos, social media icons, Twitter or Instagram feed and so on. If you’re unfamiliar with HTML or CSS, take a class, look at tutorials or read about it. I started off by taking a few classes and then practicing it on my blog. It’s something I’ve been trying to incorporate more into my everyday skill set and will most likely take more classes soon. Once, I finally switch over to self-hosting, I’ll be able to get a lot more creative with the overall look of the blog and what I can do with it.
5. Get on the social media swing (and don’t get off).
This is a must in pretty much anything that you do these days. If you have not already adopted various social media channels, you need to get on it right away. This is the fastest form of communication and if you ever want to keep up with an ever changing environment and connect with individuals, you need social media. Here’s a list of some of the more common types of social media:
- Google +
- Blog Lovin’
- Chictopia (fashion bloggers)
As a blogger, you need to utilize these platforms as much as you can. Even if you are not getting thousands and thousands of followers, keep using them. The more you are out there, the more people are aware that you exist and word will travel faster. You’ll eventually find that social media becomes a part of your everyday life and that you look forward to communicating with individuals through these platforms. As of right now, I’m a huge proponent of Facebook however, Twitter is slowly starting to warm up to me and I try to tweet as frequently as I can.
In addition to this, you want to connect your social media platforms. For example, if you tweet something, make sure it’s on your Facebook as well; connect your Pinterest or Instagram to your blog Facebook page (if you can) and make sure that these media icons are displayed on the front (Home) page of your blog; if you have Pinterest put your blog and twitter names in the “About” section at the top. These are just a few ways to inter-correlate them all but make sure you do it, it helps to build a stronger connection between these platforms and your website while at the same time building your brand. You also want to participate and comment on other blogs, forums and seek out new ones that interest you. Being an active promoter of your blog is a must, especially if you’ve put so much effort into making it look and sound great, you want others to see and get something out of it.
6. Keep outfit pictures (of yourself) to a minimum. For fashion or style bloggers.
In addition to an unappealing blog design, nothing turns me off more from a style blog then when I scroll through a post and see 10+ images of the same person, wearing the same outfit. I get it – the outfit is really cute and you’re really good at posing. If you do want to post more than 4 or 5 pictures – combine images (collages) or try to make the post layout more appealing by adding color or text. You can also take close up shots of various items you might be wearing or the scenery around you and incorporate that into the post. This will break up the images plus give the reader something different and more interactive to look at. Now, there are certain blogs that will require many images—photography, recipes, DIY, décor, etc.—putting more images on these types of blogs is absolutely fine (this point is really for fashion bloggers documenting their own style).
7. Write something in each post. Don’t just upload pictures.
I don’t know about you guys but when I come across a fashion blog where they only have images of themselves plus where they got their clothes from, with no engaging words or phrases – it’s a bit unsettling. (If this is what you want to do, I suggest starting a Tumblr page not a blog). I mean, there has to be something going on in your life or about the outfit that you could write about. Even if it’s like “Took these pictures on the way to the park. Love how the belt makes this dress more fitted and accentuates the waist.” or “Gosh, I love chocolate-covered marshmallow cups.” I don’t know. I’m sure you can think of something better but definitely write a little bit. It provides for more relatable, engaging content that people can connect to and won’t get bored of.
Say you tried a new body lotion or you traveled to someplace awesome – don’t just post the image and let the reader figure things out. Say a little something—Why is this lotion better than another one you tried? Where exactly did you travel to take this image? We all have thoughts, and the reason people come to your site is because they’d like to know what they are and provide their own. So give them something to work or think off of.
8. Edit your pictures.
My definition of “edit” is not photo shopping yourself or someone else to the point where they are completely misconstrued. By “edit” I mean brightening, cropping, adding text, changing color curves and so on. You want nice, clean, decipherable pictures when you post them. Of course, images taken by your phone or Instagram aren’t going to be clean and crisp but I’m mainly referring to the ones you take with your camera (digital or SLR).
Once simple way to do this is in Photoshop Elements:
- Open your image using Photoshop.
- In the Layers tab, copy Background Image by right-clicking and choosing Duplicate Layer.
- In the Layers tab scroll over the drop-down box that says Normal and choose Soft Light. (Sometimes Soft Light might be too dark of an overlay so you can just choose Lighten).
- In the top menu bar click on Enhance – Adjust Color – Adjust Color Curves.
- In the top menu bar click on Filter – Blur – Gaussian Blur (choose 2.0-2.9).
- Crop image (if necessary).
Here again there are tons of tutorials out there to help you edit images. I tend to add a Photo Filter on mine since I like my images to have a bit of a tan-ish tint to them. (If you guys are interested in a step-by-step detailed tutorial on how to do this, just let me know).
9. BRAND yourself. Everywhere.
When you have a blog or website, your goal is to ensure that everything you put out there, people associate it with you. Here are few things you can do:
- Purchase your domain.
- If you have signature look or logo on your blog, try and use the same design on your Facebook and Twitter pages, business cards, media materials, etc.
- Connect your social media platforms together.
- If you are using Pinterest and pinning your own images to a board, remember to include your website URL when it asks you for a description. This way the URL keeps getting carried over with each Pin, connecting it back to your site.
- If you have a tagline, utilize it everywhere. I have my “where design+style talk yummy” line on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and on the blog. This is part of my brand as it helps distinguish what my blog incorporates and it’s catchy.
- Have business cards.
10. Try to maintain a regular schedule of posts and topics.
If you want to keep building your blog, increasing your readership and promoting it, you need to add a little something to it at least once a week or every week and a half. This way your readers have something to look forward to when they visit your site and it stays current. For example, if you have a travel blog – post pictures from a recent adventure one week, the next week – tips on traveling to this spot, the week after a piece on where you’d like to go next. If you have a fashion blog, try and post at least one outfit a week and the next you can talk about trends, the week after a collage on shoes. If you have a cooking blog, post a recipe once a week or review another recipe. If you have a lifestyle blog, there are so many different variations you can take to post something at least once a week.
The possibilities are endless, the point is that you want to stay consistent and up to date with your site. I saw my blog suffer when I stopped posting for a month, then started reposting, then stopped again for a couple weeks. When you do this, you lose readers as it shows your inconsistency and gives off the vibe that you no longer have an interest in your own blog. This is definitely something I’ve decided to avoid doing as it takes a really long time to get your readers to “trust” your posting schedule again. If you are planning on taking some time off, say so on your blog. Let your readers know that you are taking a break or maybe post a quick, simple piece. This way people know that you’ll be back and so will they. People like some kind of consistency and it helps to make for eager fans.
11. Good grammar is sexy.
I’ve never been one to have good grammar. In fact, English/Grammar was probably my most difficult subject and it really wasn’t even until graduate school that I actually became semi-decent at writing. For all you grammar-nerds out there, if you’re thinking “Why is she talking about this? Her grammar/punctuation skills are not that awesome.” I’m sorry, I do try but I still make mistakes. I have had a couple readers e-mail and tell me when something is misspelled—thank you, I really do appreciate it. I highly recommend spelling and grammar check before you post a piece. I understand that with blogs people write their thoughts, therefore not everything is going to be MLA style. However you want to use “your” and “you’re” properly and try and stay away from “wanna” , “kinda”, “tho” or “sorta” (these are just a few of the more common grammar errors that I’ve seen) as these are not real words, in any way. You want to make sure that what you’re writing is understandable and easily read. Mistakes are bound to happen but try to minimize them. You never know who is going to come across your work, therefore you want to make sure that it is always up to par. If you need someone else to proofread your writing, by all means get someone else to do it.
12. Utilize Pinterest.
If this isn’t one of the best social media platforms created, I don’t know what is. This channel is over-pouring with ideas, designs, color, recipes, tips, creativity, thoughts…everything. It is such a great source for inspiration regardless of what you are doing. I understand the idea of “pinning” images may sound ridiculous to some but as a blogger, writer, photographer, a person—this media channel is extremely useful as you’ll never know what you’re going to come across and be inspired by.
13. Your writing style and content should be original.
If you’re funny – be funny. If you don’t use big words – don’t use them. The point of a blog is to showcase you, your personality and your encounters. If you’re blogging for a company then of course it’s going to be more about the company and you will write from that point of view. However, every blog has its own style – don’t fit into the norm of how other blogs similar to yours are written. This will not help distinguish yours from the thousands of other ones out there. Yes, it’s absolutely okay to look to them for inspiration but it’s like what your Mom used to tell you when you were younger and in a candy store “You can look but don’t take.” Like I mentioned before, people read blogs to gain another person’s perspective on something or to learn from them, not to keep reading what they can find in tons of other sites on the web. Every person’s life is different, use that difference to make your site original and note-worthy.
In addition to learning all these things, I’ve come to realize that my passion isn’t just in fashion but I absolutely love design. Now, I’m no graphic designer but I’ve been slowly teaching myself a few skills and tricks to make my posts a bit more aesthetically pleasing. This past year, I’ve been working more with different colors, fonts, type, text, designs and so on. Since, this is something I really do enjoy, I decided to start Design Bash. Right now, it’s just a Tumblr page where I showcase a portfolio of my work. One day, I hope to turn it into something more but I have a long way to go and need to take more specialized classes. However, it’s a start that I would never have been inspired to do if I hadn’t felt the need to make my blog better.
Now, go on with your bad-selves and try and apply some of these tips to your blogs or sites.
If you have a question about anything that I briefly touched upon here or need advice on different tutorials, websites, design layout – please feel free to contact me. I’m also open to giving advice on blog designs so shoot me an e-mail if you need some help or would like me to take a look at your blog.