I’ve been writing my blog for a little over a year now and people are starting to ask me questions about how I got started, what I did at the beginning, how they should set up theirs, etc., etc. So, I decided I wanted to write a post about this now, while it’s still fresh in my mind. I’m still relatively new to blogging and I feel I’m in many of the ‘beginning stages’ myself. Some days I feel like I don’t know all that much about blogging, however, as I start telling people what I’ve done already and share my feedback and results, I realize that I know much more than I give myself credit for! I guess I have learned a few things along the way! So, here it is…
If you’re at all interested in starting your own blog, this is my recommendation for how to start and the steps you should consider taking. Of course, every blog and every blogger has different goals, but this is what has worked for me so far. Keep in mind, I have three young kids at home with me all day, so the time that I can spend on my blog each day is very limited. Everyone’s rate of growth will be different based on how much time can be spent on their blog…and some of it just comes down to luck. Overall, I’m happy with the growth I’ve had based on the amount of time I’ve put into it. I’ve read my fair share of ‘how to’ blogging articles over the past year, but this is the path I took and what has worked for me. I hope it helps!
First, I’ll start with a little background: I started my blog in March 2013 on the Blogger platform. For the first several months, I was only sharing my posts with my family and friends on Facebook. They gave me a lot of positive feedback and that encouraged me to keep it up. They held me accountable! After about 5 months of only sharing with friends and family, I finally decided that I wanted to start growing my audience, so, in August, I changed the name of my blog to what it is now (my old blog contained our last name and was a little vague). At the same time, I also transferred my blog to the free version of WordPress so I could have a more ‘professional’ look. For the next several months, I worked on growing my audience and doing the best that I could with my ‘free’ site…but there was only so much I could do. So, finally, with the encouragement of my blogging friend Courtney at Family Gone Healthy, I decided to take the plunge…I wanted to try to monetize my blog. (Up until this point, I didn’t think it was worth it because my page views were still so low…but they were growing.) Because you aren’t allowed to place ads on the free version of WordPress, it was time to setup my “self-hosted” blog. I signed up for domain hosting at Bluehost, transferred my content and stats from WordPress.com to WordPress.org (which I did all by myself-something I’m proud of-but you can also pay to have this done for you), and that brings me to where I am today!
So, here is my “How to Start a Blog: A Beginner’s Guide”
Pick a Topic
I’m guessing if you’re thinking about starting a blog, you already have a topic in mind. Just make sure it’s something you’re passionate about or else you’ll quickly run out of things to write about. Before you start, make a list of blog topics you would like to write about. If you can’t come up with an entire page, you may want to reconsider. I’ve been blogging for over a whole year now and my topic list is still a full page long… I just don’t have enough time in each day to write as much as I want to!
Set up your Domain
After you’ve chosen your blog topic, you need to come up with a name AND domain. Ideally, you want these to be the same for consistency purposes and so people can find you easily. You want something that’s unique, but also specific to your topic. I chose my name: “Real Fit, Real Food Mom” because I knew that I was going to be writing about real food and my love for running and fitness. I also wanted to include ‘mom’ because that’s obviously a big part of my blog (and my life) as well! Search online for your name ideas and come up with something that hasn’t been chosen already. Once you think you have a couple name/domain ideas, run them by a few people first to get their opinions. Then, when you’re ready, sign up with a web hosting company. I chose Bluehost because the rates are low and I knew a lot of other bloggers already used them. You can sign up here:
(Note: I will earn a referral commission if you use the above link, so even if you’re not ready to start your blog today, I would be so appreciative if you came back to this page to sign up when you are ready. Thank you!!)
Start on WordPress.org
Of course, this is up to you…but it’s what I recommend. Don’t bother with Blogger or the free version of WordPress. Yes, it will cost you some money up front (due to the costs of self-hosting), but you’ll have so much more flexibility with the available plug-ins and themes, which will help make your site more unique and personalized. If you think you will ever want to grow and monetize your blog, do yourself a favor and just start with WordPress.org right away. You’ll save yourself a ton of time and energy going forward. (Believe me, I know what I’m talking about on this one!!) It was scary for me to put money into my blog at first, but I look at it like this: It’s my hobby and my new passion. Even if I never made a single cent from blogging, it’s worth it to me! If I took up a new sport, or any other hobby for that matter, there would be some initial costs for equipment, membership, etc. I now look at my blogging costs like that. For me, personally, I enjoy blogging and it makes me happy, so I didn’t mind spending a little money up front…after quite a bit of thought and discussion with my husband…ha! (Though, I’m not going to lie…I am hoping to make all of my money back by the end of this year and then some! I’ll discuss that more later on in this post…)
Set up your blog
Once you’ve chosen your topic, name, domain, and signed up for WordPress, now comes the fun stuff! Now you get to pick your template (theme), create a personalized look for your site, add plug-ins, and so-forth. Here are some popular WordPress.org plugins that I use:
- Akismet – Eliminates the majority of your spam comments. This is a must…unless you have time to go through and individually delete a ton of spam!!
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – Setup a Google Analytics account first. This will give you important traffic/usage data for your blog. Even if you don’t use it for anything right away, it’s good to have up and running incase you need to give your numbers to an advertiser at some point.
- J Query Pin It Button for Images – If you hover your mouse over the larger images on my blog, you’ll see a ‘pin it’ button pop up. This makes it easier for people to pin directly from my blog onto Pinterest.
- Related Post Thumbnails – At the end of each blog post, you’ll see “You May Also Like” with related post images/links. This is a great way to keep people on your site longer and looking through older blog posts.
- Subscribe to Comments – Once I stopped using ‘jetpack’ (long story – had to do with setting up my MailChimp e-newsletter), my ‘subscribe to comments’ check box was no longer available. This plug-in adds it back in. If someone leaves a comment on my blog and checks this box, they’ll get an email if I (or someone else) replies directly to their comment/question.
- W3 Total Cache – This helps to speed up page loading time. Does it work? Beats me! However…I’ve seen it recommend several places, so I’m sure it’s good to have! 😉
- WordPress SEO by Yoast – This will help with search engine optimization. Just fill out the information under each blog post and it helps you improve your search engine rank by making sure you meet certain guidelines.
Once you’ve set up the basics, go ahead and write that first post. Just make it a short introduction post about why you’re starting your blog. Go ahead and share with your friends and family! See what they have to say! For me, this was extremely nerve-wracking to do, but I’m so glad I did. My friends and family gave me great feedback right away and that was all the motivation I needed to keep going. 🙂
Set up your Social Media Accounts
You’ll need somewhere to share and promote all of the wonderful and exciting posts you’ll be writing! Here are my tips for each platform:
Facebook: Create a “page” (with the same name as your blog) so you don’t constantly bombard your real life friends and family with your hobby/passion. While I want to share my new-found knowledge about real food with anyone and everyone, I know not everyone is interested in hearing about it!! 😉 I shared my new recipes on my personal account for a few months, but quickly realized that I was probably ‘bothering’ people, so that’s when I set up my Facebook page. I invited my friends and family to ‘like’ my page. Many did, many others did not. Don’t take it personally. 🙂 (I have a few close family members and friends who have not ‘liked’ my page. I’ll admit…it puzzles me…but I try not to over-think it. I assume they have their reasons!) 🙂
Even though Facebook is making it harder to share posts with all of my followers these days (because they want pages to pay to be seen), it’s still my favorite platform (and I’ve never spent a single cent there). It’s where most people are throughout the day (seemingly) and I have the most interaction on Facebook. When you post, people want to know you’re a real person. Not everything you share should be a link to your blog. Share personal tidbits, industry information, small personal victories/setbacks, pictures of you doing something related to your blogging topic, etc.
I feel like the most important aspect of Facebook is to have great follower interaction. If people are clicking through to your links, commenting, and ‘liking’ the things you share…you’ll continue to see a decent reach. (I typically reach 20-50% of my followers with each post.) One miscellaneous tip: You’ll see pages sharing a new blog post, but will then write “link in comments.” I don’t like to do this for two reasons: One, it makes people work harder to find what they’re looking for and you’re likely to lose them in the process of searching and, two, if someone likes what they see and decides to ‘share’ the post on their timeline…the link won’t show up in the shared post! So, right off the bat, any possible new traffic to your site will be lost because the link was in YOUR comment section and not in the actual post. Don’t do it!
Twitter: I’m still learning the ropes on Twitter. I’m getting better, though. The biggest tip I can share is to use hashtags! Seriously, I’m shocked at how many more followers I gain each day now that I use hashtags not only in my tweets, but also in my profile. You can see my profile here. Just as an FYI, since my blog name is longer than Twitter allows, I had to shorten it for my ‘handle.’ So, on Twitter, I’m @FitRealFoodMom. Make sure to fully set up your profile picture, cover photo, and profile info. I like to include the city I live in so people in my area know that I’m a local blogger. And don’t forget to add your website link!! My biggest issue with Twitter is staying under 140 characters. If this post is any indication, I’m wordy when I type! 😉
Pinterest: If you share recipes, crafts, projects, etc., you’ll want to be on Pinterest! Same main tip as the others–make sure to fully set up your profile and then verify your blog web address. Start pinning your posts to a variety of boards. Also, pin other bloggers’ content: it helps people make their way to your profile so hopefully they will start following you! If you can find some relevant group boards to join (especially those that already have a large number of followers), that can be VERY helpful to bring more attention to your pins (and get you more re-pins). Also, the descriptions that you write under your pins are searchable, so include as many keywords as you think would be helpful if someone was looking for a specific topic/recipe. I’ve read hashtags are unnecessary with Pinterest, but I know many bloggers still use them. Anyway, I’m no expert when it comes to Pinterest, so I’ll stop there…but it can be an excellent way to bring traffic to your blog on a daily basis. It’s especially great to bring attention to older blog posts because people will keep coming back, hopefully, over and over again!
Speaking of Pinterest, I’ve created a board for Blogging Tips & Resources, if you’d like to follow it.
Google+: (Update 10/14/14 – Google+ seems to be dying out, according to this article. I’m not surprised…but I will leave this paragraph the same until I know 100%.) Google+ is MUCH different than your other social media accounts. On all my other social media accounts, I use my blog’s name. For G+, you want to use your REAL NAME. I’ll admit, this one was hard for me. Google wants to create ‘authorship’ so it learns who can be trusted and to connect everything you do and write across the world wide web. Until recently, I never associated my full name with my blog. However, as I started growing and making more connections in the ‘real world’ (and even had an article in my local newspaper published about me), I realized that I no longer could stay ‘anonymous’ anymore. Make sure that your name is in the “By:” line of each blog post on your website so everything matches up.
Then Verify Google authorship. This will help your blog come up in search engines. (Update 8/29/14: Google Authorship is now a thing of the past according to this article: Goodbye Google Authorship.) Think of G+ as a way to increase your Google ranking with organic searches…and less as a direct traffic referrer. The more active you are on Google+, the more Google sees you as an authority figure in your category!
Some tips for your G+ account: First, set up your profile picture with a good picture of yourself. Then choose a cover photo. If I find someone without a cover photo, I don’t even bother looking any further than that. If they don’t care enough to fully setup their profile…then I assume they must not be a ‘serious’ blogger. Also, make sure to fully complete your profile. Your blog’s name should be filled in for ‘Employment’ and make sure to come up with a SHORT tagline in the “Story” section. These two pieces of information are the most important to complete as they will show up on your ‘hovercard.’ Basically, when you hover over someone’s picture or name, a box will pop-up…that is the hovercard and it’s how people will determine if you’re worth following or not. Make sure it’s good! I also included an “introduction” about myself on my profile, as well as my top five posts with links. It’s just a nice way for someone to check out your blog if they come to your G+ profile! Don’t forget to add links to all of your social media accounts, as well!! For an example of all this, checkout my full Google+ profile here.
When you share a blog post on G+, this is the “best” way to do it (according to multiple sources on G+):
- Upload a picture (not a link)
- Write a personal note/call to action first
- Add the link to your blog post
- Add 2-4 hashtags that are relevant to the post (#peanutbuttericecream #realfood #organic) These are searchable hashtags, so you want them to be there on every post!
- Share to “Public”
Try to be active in multiple communities…and not just food (if you’re a food blogger)! That’s how you grow your audience and number of followers. Also, try not to use G+ as a place only to share links. Be active and engage with others. This is the best way to grow and allow other people to find you! I find my growth on G+ to be much slower than on Facebook, but I know it’s because I spend less time on it. If only I had more hours in each day… (Once you sign up, make sure to follow me and say ‘hello’ so I know to follow you back!)
Instagram: I’m very new to this one! It’s fun, but don’t look at it as a way to bring a lot of traffic to your blog. It’s fun to add pictures and share what’s going on in my daily life. I also enjoy keeping up with other bloggers, as well as some of my family and friends. My biggest tip with this one? Again, use hashtags! This helps new people find you so they can follow you! Here’s my Instagram profile.
There are other ways to promote your posts (StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, etc.), but those listed above are the five most popular (and the ones you should definitely have some sort of presence on).
This is a category where I can say I’ve come a LONG way since my beginning photos…but I also know I could do so much better. Like, a lot better.
Hopefully, you can tell that the picture on the left is my ‘old’ photo and the one on the right is my ‘new’ photo. Both of these pictures show my homemade Alfredo sauce, but I clearly spent a couple minutes longer setting up the ‘scene’ for my newer photo…and it makes all the difference, don’t you think? Again, my pictures could still be much better, but I’m happy with my improvement. I’m still using my iPhone for all my photography, so I have to work with what I have…and I only have so much creativity and patience in me!!
Focus on taking good pictures from the start!! I’ve noticed that since I’ve started putting more effort into mine (prep, lighting, editing), I’ve seen quicker growth and more shares. I bought some plain white plates and bowls from Target and a few placemats/chargers. Those simple ‘props’ make a huge difference in how my pictures look. Since I cannot claim to be an expert food photographer (not even close), I will share what my blogging friend Annemarie with Real Food Real Deals wrote on this topic: 10 Tips for Taking Great Food Photos. Utilize her tips! Seriously!
And don’t forget to reduce the size of your photos before adding them to your site. Even though I was in charge of the company website at my previous job (before kids) and re-sized every photo to THREE different sizes before uploading them to the website, I forgot all about this when it came to running my own website. If you don’t re-size your photos before uploading them to your site, your pages are going to take much longer to load. I typically reduce my photos to 500-600 pixels wide. If it’s a ‘supporting picture,’ I will re-size it to 400 pixels. I’ve gone back and re-sized some of my old pictures, but that’s such a pain, so I just make sure to always re-size going forward. I use PicMonkey for my photo editing. It’s free for the basics (or you can upgrade), easy to use, and has some fun features. Check it out!
If you plan to grow your site (and I know not everyone does), then I really urge you to monetize right from the start. I wish I had done this sooner. I know I wouldn’t have made much, but…you can’t earn any money if you don’t have your blog set up to earn anything in the first place! I monetize in two ways: by placing ads on my site and through affiliate programs. I’ll be honest and say that I’m really just winging it when it comes to making money from my blog. I keep thinking that, some day, I’m going to spend the time to better optimize my ad locations and sizes, as well as figure out all the available monetization options out there…but that always gets put on the back-burner since I’d rather focus on sharing fun new content and recipes with you! 🙂 And, really, if I was looking to make a real income, I would just go get a job!! However, with all of the time and work I spend writing new posts and recipes, I admit that it’s nice to get a little something back from it these days.
My Amazon Associates affiliate account is where I’ve earned the most money so far. However, this is not the case for everyone. Each blogger has a different audience and there is not one best way to make money from your blog. For me, it makes sense that I earn the most money from Amazon (and, again, I want to reiterate that we’re not talking big bucks here…my traffic is still too low to be making much!). I blog about real food and part of that is sharing the products I use to prepare this food. If I share how much I love my stainless steel smoothie straws and then someone clicks on my link and buys them (or anything else!), I earn a small commission. The more products I “sell,” the higher rate I earn. I will only share a product that I can 100% stand behind and I never write my posts in order to sell something. If I’m sharing a product on my blog, it’s because I love it and I want everyone else to know about it!
I also earn a little money from placing ads on my website. I currently run mine through Google Adsense and Sovrn, but there are a ton of other ad networks out there. (You can also sell direct–but I haven’t done this yet.) Google seems to be the most popular. (You need to apply and get accepted.) I’m not going to spend much time on this topic, simply because I’m not well-versed enough! If you’re interested in knowing more about monetizing, here is a helpful article from Jessica with the blog All She Cooks: Monetize Your Blog Effectively.
Just to give you a rough idea of where I stand on the money side of blogging… In total (and this includes every. single. purchase that’s related to running my blog since August of 2013), I’ve spent just a tad over $300. That figure includes hosting costs for three years, a privacy option, site backup, a P.O. Box for a full year (more on this later), photo props (white plates, bowls, linens, etc.), and more. I started to monetize my blog in December of 2013 by placing a few ads on the sidebar and signing up to be an affiliate for a couple sites. As of today, I’ve earned enough to break even! (I’m still waiting for a few payments to come in due to payment thresholds and a 2 month delay on payouts.) To give you a rough idea of my traffic these days (so you can compare), I’m at about 12,000 page views per month. (In March, I had over 18,000 views…but that’s because I was sharing new posts almost every single day! It’s been hard to keep that up now that the weather is getting nicer and we’re spending more time outdoors.) I know my blog traffic is still very small compared to so many of my fellow food bloggers, but I really am happy with my progress!
Making money from my blog is not why I write and share posts. I really just love spreading the word about why eating real food is important for our long term health! Seeing a little money being deposited in my bank account is just an added bonus for me. 🙂
Growing Your Audience
Start with your friends and family. This is obvious, but if you can keep the people that you know in real life interested in what you write, that’s a great first step! And it’s even better when they share your new posts with their friends and family. Once you’ve setup your social media accounts, the best way to grow is to comment and interact with other bloggers. Leave comments on their blog posts (I use the name “LeAnn @ Real Fit, Real Food Mom), leave comments on Facebook posts, Twitter replies, etc. Be social and engage! Of course, don’t leave a comment if you have nothing to add to the conversation…but if they share something you like, tell them! If the recipe looks delicious, say so! If you keep quiet, you’ll never see your audience grow. This is one of the easiest ways for people to find you. And don’t forget to engage with your own followers. If someone comments on your post, make sure to reply!
One of the great things about leaving a comment on an actual blog post versus a social media post is that those comments will be seen MONTHS after you make the comment. On my WordPress stats, I can see where my traffic is coming from and I often see a referral coming in from a post that I commented on months (many months) ago! And the bigger the blogger, the more traffic you could receive from that one comment.
Make friends with other bloggers. I didn’t set out to make friends when I started blogging…but I’ve found several along the way. We share similar interests and are passionate about our blogging topics (real food and fitness). Not only is it great to have someone to run questions by, it’s also great to have someone to talk to about all of this! Because, really, my ‘real life’ friends only want to hear so much about my WordPress stats and affiliate links and even my healthy food choices!! 🙂 And one of the great things about blogging friends? You can support each other and help each other grow! If I share a blogging friend’s recipe or post, even though I never expect anything in return, I often find that they will return the favor at some point in time. I know that the large majority of my followers found me when other bloggers shared my blog posts or gave me a ‘shout out’ on their Facebook page. It’s super important to find connections! I’m also a part of several groups–some on Facebook and some on Google+. These groups are filled with other bloggers and it’s a great place to ask questions and also share your experiences with others when they ask questions! Other bloggers can be your biggest supporters. Without their support, encouragement, and tips, my growth would be much, much slower.
Also, if you can, make local, real-world connections. I’m slowly working on this. I tend to be shy and don’t like to draw attention to myself, so it’s kind of hard for me to reach out sometimes, but I’ve been making more of an effort lately. I have contacts at a couple local farms, two food stores, and a running store. (One of these days I’m going to make some business cards so I can hand them out when people ask about my blog. I’m sure most people forget my blog’s name two seconds after I tell them! I know I would!) 😉 If you make local connections, start sharing their names and websites every time you use their products or go to their store. It always feels pretty awesome when a local retailer mentions my blog or shares a recipe with their own followers. I love sharing what I’m learning with anyone and everyone who wants to listen…but it’s even cooler when I know that my local audience is growing!! (I have to admit, when I mentioned my blog’s name to someone in a grocery store recently and she then told me she already followed me and couldn’t wait to tell her friends that she met me…I kind of felt like a bit of a celebrity for a few minutes! ha!) 🙂
The more you start making connections in your local area, the more people will see you as an authority on the topic. After the article about me came out in my local newspaper, I was contacted by a local health center to write a tip for their blog. Those types of things are pretty exciting to me and I love knowing I’m helping to promote healthy eating and real food in my own community.
My Final Tips
Be yourself. Be genuine. Write about what you know…and are interested in learning more about!! When I first started this real food journey, I bought canola oil thinking it was better than vegetable oil. I’m still learning to make better food choices every single day. I follow other real food blogs and read articles on health topics almost every day. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’m constantly learning, and I think that’s what helps me write my blog posts. I’m always wanting to share my findings with others. I know that if this is something I’m hearing about for the first time ever (at 32 years old), chances are high that many other people don’t know about it either!
I don’t think there are any real ‘rules’ in blogging. I mostly write about real food and fitness…but I have a few random topics that I’ve written about in the past and I have a few that I want to share at some point in the future. That’s what makes it fun. If you like to talk about yourself and you like to type, blogging is probably right up your alley! 😉
My biggest tip? Choose a name for your blog that reflects your topic(s) and have a great profile picture and cover photo on all of your social media accounts. You want people to know what you’re all about within the first 2 seconds of seeing your blog for the first time…and you want to make a good impression! Trust me, they’ll be a lot more likely to stick around if you take the time to do these two things well.
If you start to get a decent following, I highly recommend starting an email campaign. It took me quite a while to get this going. Having an email subscriber list ensures that you can reach your audience. No, not everyone is going to sign up…but I know I can’t rely on ANY form of social media to be there for my blog. My subscriber list is mine. If I want to send an email to every single person…I can! If I post on Facebook, the chances of reaching all of my followers there these days is pretty much 0%. Granted, not everyone chooses to read my emails or click on my links (and they can unsubscribe at any time), but I like knowing I have a way to reach them. I started my email newsletter with MailChimp. It’s free up to 2,000 subscribers. Maybe someday I’ll get there and need to start paying, but for now, it’s totally free! You can set up a simple template to use and then send out newsletters however often you think is appropriate. I send one email per week, which includes a quick update about what’s been going on in my life, any new posts from the past week, and sometimes I’ll even share a post from the ‘archives.’ It’s very simple and it only takes about 30 minutes each week, but it provides a great way for people to follow along with me, especially if they’re not on social media (or don’t get on often). Note: MailChimp requires a mailing address to be shown on all emails (to comply with spam laws). I don’t feel comfortable using my real address, so I setup a P.O. Box in the little town right next to where I live. It’s only $34 for a full year and I feel safer using it.
I know this seems like a lot of information, but there is so much more that I didn’t even touch on…simply because it would have made for an even longer post than what I just wrote! 🙂 Most of what is on my blog was learned by trial and error. If I wanted to add a specific feature, I searched online (or asked a fellow blogger). It’s been fun and quite the learning experience for me! If you’re interested in starting your own blog, I really hope this helped. Please let me know if there is something else you’d like to see added to this or if you feel like I’m missing something major. I tried to be as thorough as I could…but I’m sure I’ve forgotten something!
What tips would you add? Please share in the comments below!
And, again, if you’re thinking about starting a blog, but haven’t signed up yet, I truly would appreciate it if you used my Bluehost.com affiliate link! Thank you so much!