Blogging Tips: Starting a Blog
*updated August 2018*
I’ve been considering it for a while, and I’ve finally decided to start a new series on my blog, offering tips and guides for blogging, coding, social media and design. I was umming and ahhing as I’m by no means an expert on this. I’ve been blogging since 2013, and coding is still fairly new to me, but I do get quite a few questions and I’ve definitely got a few tricks I've picked up that I’d like to share with you.
So I know that a fairly large portion of my audience are fellow bloggers, I’m also aware that some aren’t, and some of these tips may be useful to some of newbie bloggers too. It also seemed like a fairly good place to start, you know, at the beginning.
So you want to start a blog? But… how?
There is SO much to learn about blogging - I’m definitely still learning - but you don’t need to know it all to start a blog. I certainly didn’t. But there are definitely a few things worth knowing before you click publish the first time. Hopefully this guide will tell you all you need to know about getting started.
Pre-warning: This post is a long one (nearly 2k words!), so I’d probs recommend grabbing a cuppa and something to eat before you sit down to read this...
Blogging Tips: Starting A Blog
What will I blog about?
I’m assuming if you're wanting to start a blog, you probably have something in mind. But if not, have a little brainstorm: what do you like talking about? What do you like reading on other blogs? What subjects are you knowledgeable in? What do you enjoy?
When I first started blogging, I wrote a blog more because I wanted a creative outlet and to learn some new skills than because I actually had something to talk about. Looking back at my old content now, this really shows. I wrote a few posts on beauty (now deleted because they were that bad!) purely because that’s what everyone else in the blogosphere seemed to be doing. In reality, I completely suck at make-up and don’t really know what toner does or what a cut crease is.
Now I post content I actually care about and enjoy writing. It’s way more helpful to readers because I know what I’m talking about and this has definitely been reflected in my stats. So moral of the story, stick to what you know and what you enjoy, not what everyone else is doing.
Do I need a niche?
This is a hugely contested topic in the blogging world, and because of that and the amount of posts already out there, it's not something I’m going to go into great depths about. When you start blogging, you might find it quite difficult to stick to a niche. I’m still not sure if I have one or what mine is to be honest! Sure, niches CAN be useful for attracting specific readers and building a community, but your audience might like a bit of variety too.
If you're blogging about a very particular subject, this niche will help your traffic. If you're looking to write more of a lifestyle, personal blog, don't worry too much about it and just write what you want!
When you start out, I think it’s better to pick a few categories you might want to write about (as an example, mine are student life, travel, style, and lifestyle) and then aim to keep your content within these categories so it is organised and easy for readers to find what they’re interested in. As you go along in blogging, you’ll discover what content does well, what you enjoy writing and your blog will evolve to reflect this. Don’t be so strict when you start!
Your blog will only ever be as good as your content. Good content makes for a successful blog. I read somewhere when I was starting out that before you click “Create blog” you should have a SOLID list of ideas (I’m not talking 3-4, I’m talking 50 or so). I have a list at the minute of about 200!! If you can come up with 50 blog posts you want to write, then you’re more than ready to start blogging. When I began I had a list of only around 20, but 50 seems like the basis of a strong blog. It's also great to come back to when you're got a lack of inspiration.
The next step would be to write around 10 of them, but don't publish them until they're all ready to go. You won’t start getting followers until you’ve got a bit of content on your blog as your readers won’t know what they’re following you for. Also, designing a website is rather difficult without content as you won’t know how it looks if you don't have some content to test it with.
I haven’t mentioned choosing a name for your blog yet. You may have one in mind, you may not. I’ve actually gone through a few names for this blog (The Life & Lies of Hannah, Bows and Diamonds, That Girl From Norfolk, and my current Hannah Emily Lane). Most bloggers go through a rebrand at some point, but it’s not something I'd recommend doing frequently. Try and pick a name that you’ll want to stick with. Also, pick a name that is available on all social media to keep consistency and make it easier for people to find you.
Now you have a name (hopefully) and some content, the next step is to build your blog. You have a choice of platforms you can use for this: the 2 big ones being Wordpress and Blogger, but Squarespace is also growing very quickly in popularity.
It’s free if you don't mind having a blogspot subdomain (i.e. hannahemilylane.blogspot.com). If this doesn’t bother you, then you won’t ever have to pay a penny. Also, if you do decide you want your own domain, Blogger is much cheaper. Google will continue to host your site, so you don’t need to pay expensive hosting fees. Domain-only will set you back less than £10 a year (usually). If you want to learn a bit of coding, Blogger is a good platform for that, as you can edit your own CSS and HTML directly. I’ve learnt so much about code through customising my own design and there’s so many tutorials out there for blogger so it’s easy to learn.
Advantages: Easy to use, cheapest platform, customisable
Disadvantages: Some restrictions with design
The free version is very restrictive, and you don’t get access to plugins. If you’re not fussed about your own domain, go for Blogger. If you’re happy to buy your domain and pay for a premium account or hosting (I'd recommend hosting it and installing wordpress), and you want access to loads of plugins, Wordpress is your friend. Wordpress also allows you to edit code and there are some great templates out there too. It's by far the most customisable platform out there - you can pretty much do anything you'd want with it! However it may take some figuring out.
Advantages: Totally customisable, popular among bloggers, plugins for ev-ery-thing
Disadvantages: Relatively expensive
Squarespace is growing in popularity quickly because of the sleek, attractive designs and easy functionality. It does look good. There is a monthly fee though. Unfortunately I don't know too much about it, but if you give it a Google or a Pinterest search you should find plenty of information!
In summary, I definitely prefer Blogger. It’s easy enough to use, not as restricted as people seem to think it is and it’s free or cheap if you want your own domain. I would recommend having a read up about which platform you should use, as it’s hard work to swap once you’ve started so you need to make the best decision for you.
*Update - August 2018*
I have actually switched from Blogger to Squarespace since originally writing this post, so I can offer far more insight into the differences now...
You can read more about the reasons I switched to Squarespace in this post here.
I am a huge fan of Squarespace, I have to admit. It's not cheap, but for me it is worth it. I love how easy it is to customise, how beautiful the themes look, how easy it is to put a post together and the functionality of it.
I will write a post in more detail very soon.
Advantages: Lots of great features, beautiful designs, intuitive to use, no need to know coding
Write a blog business plan
If you want to take your blog seriously, a good business plan is a must. Even if you don’t, it’s a good exercise to do anyway, as it helps you focus your blog a bit more.
Coming up with your own business plan template is hard, I used this one, and it’s perfect. Just remove the sections you don’t need, and Regina has also included helpful descriptions of what each section should include.
Personally, the two things that stand out for me in a quality blog is an attractive design and nice photos. Writing is obviously very important too, but the design of a blog should never be overlooked, as it can make readers click off the page before they're even started reading!
The most important things in your design include:
- Good navigation - readers can find exactly what they’re looking for, and other posts to read are not hard to find or out of sight.
- A unique and eye-catching logo
- An unobtrusive colour scheme
- Easy to read fonts
- White space to make it easy on the eye
- Quick loading times i.e not more than 5 seconds
Buying a template is always an option, and if code looks incredibly daunting to you then this might be the way to go. If you’ve got a few hours spare though, learning to understand your CSS stylesheet and basic HTML is such a worthwhile thing to do. Then you will be able to make small changes to your own template and make your blog personal.
I will be posting tutorials for the HTML you need to know and CSS guides and tips, so stick around for them! For now though, I’d highly recommend xomisse, she has some invaluable guides! I’d recommend using the simple, default template and then customising bits of that to how you like it.
*Note: If you're playing around with your HTML code, ALWAYS back it up first*
A good place to start for designing your blog by yourself is by making your own header. You can do this with PicMonkey, Canva, or the Adobe Creative Cloud apps. Make a Pinterest board if you're stuck for inspiration, but make sure your header reflects YOU and has your blog name in it.
Set up your social media
You should have already checked that your handle is available, but if you haven't already, you should go ahead and set up these accounts so no-one can steal them! It’s good to have a profile picture that is consistent across all social media so people recognises you, and a quality cover photo/graphic too. Don’t forget the bio! Summarise who you are and what your blog is about. People see all this and make judgements before reading any of your content, so don't disregard it!
Some people use their personal social media to promote their blog, some set up separate ones. There's no right or wrong way to do this. My personal recommendation is to set up separate ones for your blog, so you can set up a clear, consistent brand. Though it certainly won’t do any harm to promote your blog on your personal social media now and then!
Most of my traffic comes from social media and it’s how I discover other blogs, in particular through Twitter and Pinterest, and increasingly Instagram. I will do a more in-depth post about how to use social media in the future, but for now, I would recommend being active and engage with people. Join in twitter chats, use appropriate hashtags and comment lots - engagement is the biggest aspect of growing your platforms.
The social media I would recommend starting with especially are Twitter and Instagram. Additionally, Bloglovin is great for people to follow your blog and for you to follow theirs. Pinterest is also well worth getting involved on and is another good place to promote posts. It’s worth noting that when it comes to social media, it’s better to do a few platforms really well than put less effort into 10+ different platforms. Though it is worth signing up for an account to ‘reserve’ your username should you want to use it in the future.
Ready to go
So you’ve got a website, you’ve got posts lined up and your social media ready.
My next bit of advice would be to just go for it. Publish those posts you’ve written, get involved in the blogging community and put your blog out there for people to discover.
A lot of blogging is trial and error. You learn so much as you go along, so don’t worry about starting off perfectly. The best way to improve is to just do it. Don’t be afraid of getting started!
If you have a new blog, let me know as I’d love to check it out!
And if you have any questions about anything, you can either drop me a comment or email or reach me on any of my social media sites and I’ll do my very best to help.