Have you ever wondered how to start a blog?
It's time to stop dreaming and start doing! My practical guide is packed with tips on blogging for beginners, from the creative (choosing a name) to the technical (SEO)!
This post contains affiliate links for the products and services I have used. Image Source: Jill Levenhagen
I started Hello Little Home almost five years ago ... phew! That seems like a long time now, but I had been thinking about starting a blog for many months before I actually published anything.
It took me a while to get up the courage to start blogging, but I'm so happy that I finally did. I love having a creative outlet to share my interests, and I even make a little money.
Blogging is hard work, but it's also a lot of fun. It's exciting connecting with my readers (especially when they try one of my recipes or ideas!), meeting other bloggers, and working with brands I love. I also enjoy coming up with new ideas ... that's why I started my blog in the first place!
I've talked to a lot of people who are interested in blogging over the years, so I thought it would be fun to share some practical tips for how to start a blog.
How to Start a Blog
I'm going a little off my usual topics today to share my favorite tips for how to start a blog.
These are the key things that I've learned over almost five years of blogging—my best blogging advice—and I'm sharing it for free. My hope is that this post will inspire you to create your own blog!
This guide is filled with lots of practical advice and blogging tips for beginners. I'm covering:
- Where to Start? Finding a Niche
- Choosing a Blog Name and Domain
- Choosing a Publishing Platform and Host
- Setting Up Your Blog
- Where to Find Help Getting Started
- Creating Awesome Content
- Taking Good Photos
- Search Engine Optimization
- Publicizing Your Posts
- How to Make Money Blogging
Where to Start? Finding Your Niche
The first thing to consider when starting a blog is to determine what you are actually going to blog about. It seems obvious, I know, but it couldn't be more important.
Here at Hello Little Home, I write about food, DIY projects, decor, beauty and style, travel, and more. My goal is to inspire my readers to bring a little bit of creativity into their everyday lives.
So, how do you choose a topic? Start with what you love.
Let's say you adore quinoa, and you'd like to start a food blog all about quinoa. Before settling on quinoa, dig deeper. Ask yourself just how many quinoa recipes you can come up with. Even if you only share on recipe a week, that's 52 quinoa recipes per year.
Maybe you really do love quinoa that much, but perhaps you should consider expanding your focus to something like healthy grains (make a little room for freekeh and farro!), or even wider to healthy meal ideas. The point is to pick a topic you are passionate about, and that you won't get sick of writing about.
I love quinoa and freekeh! Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Freekeh Salad
Here are some questions to ask yourself before choosing what to blog about:
- What are you passionate about?
- Will other people find your topic(s) interesting?
- Can you come up with lots of post ideas around your topic?
- Are there other bloggers writing on the same topic?
- How will your blog differ from other blogs that write about the same subject?
- Will you get tired of writing about this topic eventually?
- Will you outgrow your topic of choice?
If you've read anything about starting a blog, then you've probably heard about finding a niche. For example, instead of writing about food in general, a good niche might be vegetarian recipes or even more specific easy vegetarian recipes or gluten-free vegetarian recipes. Choosing a niche makes it easier for your blog to stand out among the thousands of other blogs out there.
You don't have to choose a narrow niche—just look at my own blog. But I can tell you from experience that choosing a broad list of topics (instead of a well-defined niche) can make promoting your blog a little more challenging.
Finally, a quick word about money, which we'll also cover more later: do not start a blog solely to make money. Blogging is a lot of hard work, very competitive, and it can take a long time to make a dollar or two. Choose something you love writing about first, and if you're putting out quality content, money will follow.
Choosing a Blog Name and Domain
Once you've decided what to write about, you'll need to choose a name. Things to consider:
Choose a name that's short, memorable, and easy to understand and remember.
Pick a name that describes what your blog is all about.
Find a name that contains keywords for what you write about, if possible. If you call your blog Amy's Easy Vegetarian Recipes, you may get more search traffic than if you call your blog Amy's Apron Strings.
Come up with few ideas, because the URL for your first choice may not be available.
Choose a name that can grow with you. You may be a new mom, but that doesn't mean you should name your blog Neck Deep in Diapers or All About Mommy. Select a name that will stand the test of time, because it will be challenging to rebrand your blog later.
Now that you have a few name ideas, you need a domain. A domain is your blog's web address, and it should match your blog's name. (For example, Hello Little Home's domain is HelloLittleHome.com.) This makes it easy for readers to find your blog.
I purchased my domain name through Bluehost, the company that hosts my blog (more on that in the next section). When you visit Bluehost's site, you can find out if the domain name you want is available or not. If it's not, brainstorm similar names and try again until you find one that works.
Choosing a Publishing Platform and Host
Image Source: Flickr/Alejandro Pinto
- Blogger is free and hosting is included, but you are basically renting your blog space. Google owns Blogger. They could decide to close Blogger tomorrow, and your blog could be gone.
- WordPress*, on the other hand, is free software that you download and use to create a blog. If you choose WordPress, you own your own blog. There are costs associated with having a WordPress blog, because you need to choose a company to host your blog. (*I am talking about WordPress.org, not WordPress.com, here, which is a whole different animal. I do not recommend WordPress.com. It's free like Blogger, but you don't have a lot of flexibility with it, and it cannot be monetized. If you want something totally free, go with Blogger.)
I've had a Blogger blog in the past, and I liked the easy to use platform. However, now that I have a WordPress blog, I would never go back. Here's why:
- I own my site and have total control over who hosts it.
- WordPress can be completely customized to make your blog look exactly how you'd like.
- The WordPress platform is simple to use and full of great features.
- WordPress has thousands of plugins that make it easy to add features and functionality to your blog.
- It's easy to monetize a WordPress blog.
- WordPress is constantly being updated.
- Google pays very little attention to Blogger, and we've all seen the fate of other projects that Google has neglected (hello, Google Reader).
If you choose WordPress, you'll need a host ... this is where the expense comes in. A blog host provides space on their servers to store your blog and all if it's content. It's an absolute necessity.
I use Bluehost for my blog, and because it's so affordable, I'd recommend it for new bloggers.
To be totally honest, there are some issues with Bluehost. Their customer support isn't always the most helpful, their load times aren't the greatest, and my blog has been down a few times in the past year, which is very annoying. BUT, they are very affordable when you are just starting out, and you can always switch to a new host when you start getting more traffic and making some money.
If you go with Bluehost, I highly recommend that you purchase you domain name at the same time as you purchase your blog hosting. My domain came free with hosting!
Setting Up Your Blog
Once you've purchased a domain name and set up hosting, you can start setting up your blog ... everything from creating a blog header to setting up your sidebar, choosing fonts, writing an about me page, and more.
You'll want to choose a theme first of all. A theme basically creates the look of your blog, from the layout the fonts. For a long time, I used a free themes. I was happy with the first one, but the second free theme I used slowed down my blog and was all kinds of wonky!
Recently, I upgraded to a paid theme, Foodie Pro (along with the Genesis framework), and I couldn't be happier! This new theme is sleek, fast, and optimized for SEO. It's definitely worth the small investment, and I wish I had used it from the start.
Okay, you've got a domain name, a host, and a theme. Now it's time to start customizing! There is a ton of info out there on how to do this, so I won't go into too many details. Google was my best friend when starting my blog, and it can be yours, too! 😉
Help Getting Started
Does all of this sound a little overwhelming? I remember being very confused about all of my options when I was trying to figure out how to start a blog.
I wish I'd had access to Food Blogger Pro!
Food Blogger Pro is membership site with over 300 instructional videos and a community of over 2,000 bloggers. It was started by one of my all-time favorite food bloggers, Lindsay from Pinch of Yum, and her husband Bjork.
What I love about Food Blogger Pro for beginners is that they'll walk you, step by step using video courses, through everything you need to set up a blog from picking a domain to publishing a post. It would have made my life so much easier five years ago!
Then, once your blog is up and running, you can use Food Blogger Pro to help grow, improve, and monetize your blog, too. Here's an overview of some of the topics covered:
There is a cost associated with a Food Blogger Pro membership, but it's a great resource, and you can pay monthly if you wish and cancel at any time.
I've taken a bunch of the Food Blogger Pro Courses on everything from SEO to social media, and I especially loved the photography courses. I learned everything from how to use my camera in manual mode to how to use props in my photos. It was so helpful in improving my photos!
Tip: Food Blogger Pro is only open for enrollment during certain times of year, like NOW. If you miss the window, join the waiting list to be notified when the next enrollment window opens. And you don't need to be a food blogger to benefit from Food Blogger Pro! Sure, there are some things that are 100% food related, but most of the lessons can be applied to other styles of blogs, like mine!
Creating Awesome Content
Okay, so you've handled the not so fun parts of starting a blog. Now it's time for the good stuff: creating content!
If you are anything like me, you've got a million ideas running through your head. One thing you'll want to do is create some sort of blogging schedule. Decide how many days a week you want to post and on what days you'll post. Be realistic with yourself!
I recommend setting up an editorial calendar. For Hello Little Home, I use the free WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin. It helps me to plan out my posts for the future and to see what I posts I have coming up, and it couldn't be more helpful.
The WordPress Editorial Calendar Plug-In makes my blogging life so much easier!
When coming up with blog content, try to find ideas that are unique or that have a fresh spin. If you've ever spent time on Pinterest, you've probably seen the same ideas popping up over and over. Before posting something, ask yourself if you have something new to add, or if your XYZ is better than everyone else's XYZ.
Here are some tips for finding blog post ideas:
- Take a walk or read a book. Inspiration is everywhere.
- Go window shopping.
- Check your Google Analytics to find out your most popular posts.
- Read other blogs.
- Recreate a restaurant meal.
- Add your own spin to a popular idea.
- Expand upon a past blog post.
- Talk to real life friends to see what they're interested in.
- Check out what's popular on social media.
This should go without saying, but if you are looking to others for ideas, you should be looking for inspiration, not copying them.
I keep a running list of post ideas in my iPhone notes app. Then, when I'm working on my editorial calendar, I pull out my notes and have tons of ideas at my fingertips.
Once you have an idea, it's time to craft the perfect post. As far as I'm concerned, there are three things that make a great post:
- Your story. Write about what inspired you, what makes this topic unique/great, and why should others care about it.
- Good photography. A beautiful photo is eye catching and will draw readers to your content.
- Clear instructions. Whether you are writing a card-making tutorial or a smoothie recipe, make sure it's easy to understand and that your readers can recreate it.
Taking Good Photographs for Your Blog
Beautiful photography is an extremely important part of blogging for creative niches, like food, crafts, interior design, fashion, beauty, travel, and more. Pictures tell a story and draw readers to your posts.
One of my blogging goals a couple of years ago was to improve my photography, so I worked my way through the courses in Food Blogger Pro. It was been truly helpful, and I think my photos have improved a lot.
If you are serious about blogging, I recommend saving your money and buying a DSLR camera. Learning to use one will help you take better photos. I use a Nikon D3100, a great starter camera, and I love it! My camera is a few years old; if you want a newer model, check out the Nikon D3400.
Although I recommend a DSLR, I truly believe that good photography starts with the photographer and not the camera. Here are some tips for getting better photos no matter what type of camera you're using:
- If you're inside, turn off all overhead lights. Indoor lighting adds an unnatural cast, weird shadows, and overall unprofessional look to your photos.
- Shoot in natural light. Take your photos near a window with good light, and your photography will be instantly improved.
- Avoid shooting in direct sunlight or outdoors with the sun directly above you. Your photos will be washed out and overexposed.
- Learn how to use your DSLR in full manual mode. You'll have way more control over how your photos look.
- Use a tripod if your hands or unsteady or if your photos are blurry.
- Choose a focal point for your photo and focus on that spot.
- Remove clutter from your photos, both around the object and in the background. Less is usually more when it comes to photo styling.
- Zoom in or move closer to your subject.
- Learn about the Rule of Thirds.
- Take more photos than you think you'll need and try different angles.
- Practice, practice, practice, and practice some more!
Editing can make the difference between a so-so photo, and one that's truly eye catching, so don't skip it. You can invest in expensive software like Lightroom or Photoshop, but there are plenty of free resources, as well.
To edit my blog photos, I use PicMonkey. It's free, although I think it's worth upgrading to the Royal version for access to additional features.
When editing your photos, make sure to resize them for your posts (save a HIGH RES version of every photo just in case HGTV comes calling, too!). Generally, you want the width of the photo to be equal to the width of your blog's body. Smaller photos will help your blog load faster, so resize the photos before uploading them to your blog.
Search Engine Optimization
If you want people to find your posts, then you need to know about search engine optimization (SEO). I'm definitely not an expert on SEO, but here are some basics.
The Importance of Keywords:
- Every post needs a keyword. A keyword is what people type into Google and other search engines when they are searching for content (for example, "chocolate chip cookies"). Your keyword should describe what your post is about. If you don't use keywords properly, then people will never find your posts.
- The keyword needs to be something people are actually searching for. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that if I didn't use keywords that people were actually searching for, then even if I used keywords properly in my posts, I would never see any traffic. Duh, right? I highly recommend using a keyword research tool (I use SEMrush) to see how many people are searching for your keyword, what websites are ranking for that keyword (if the top 10 results are all Martha Stewart, Food Network, etc., you probably need to find a different keyword), and to find alternate keywords. You can also type your keyword into Google (pay attention to what autopopulates the search bar as you do this) and look for related searches at the bottom of the page.
- Use long-tail keywords. When looking for keywords, keep in mind that long-tail keywords (basically, longer more descriptive keywords) are generally better. For example, there are a million chocolate chip cookie recipes out there. Instead of using "chocolate chip cookies" as your keyword, try choosing something like "dark chocolate chip cookies with walnuts". Again, use a keyword tool to help find the perfect long-tail keyword that people are actually searching for.
How to Use Keywords in Your Posts:
- Use your keyword in your post title. Using the above keyword example, your post would be titled Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts.
- Use the keyword in the first sentence of your post. Don't wait to use your keyword until you are three paragraphs in; use it right in that first or second sentence.
- Use the keyword in the post URL. Also , for SEO purposes the structure of your URL's should be like http://website.com/choocolate-chip-cookies (no dates, numbers, or other extraneous info).
- Repeat the keyword at least three more times in your post. The amount of times you use the keyword will depend on how long your post is. Don't go overboard. You should be using the keyword naturally, not trying to cram it into every sentence.
- Use the keyword in a heading. Try to use the keyword in a heading somewhere in your post. For example, you might create a heading that says "How to Make Dark Chocolate chip Cookies with Walnuts".
- Add a few related keywords to your post. Find a few related keywords (like "dark chocolate cookies" or "homemade chocolate chip cookies") and add them to your post once or twice. Again, use the keyword tool to find these.
- Name your photos using your keyword. Your camera will automatically name your photos something like "DSC_0085.jpg". Change that name to "dark-chocolate-chip-cookies-with-walnuts.jpg". Use dashes between the words, not periods, underscores, or anything else. If you are using multiple photos, add a number to the end of the name, like "dark-chocolate-chip-cookies-with-walnuts-2.jpg". You must rename the photos before uploading them to your blog.
- When uploading photos to your blog, fill in the ALT text box. The ALT text box is meant to help visually impaired people know what is in the photo. Google also uses this description when people search for photos and Pinterest uses the ALT description to add a caption when someone pins something from your blog. At a minimum, you should add the keyword ("Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts") to the ALT Text box. It's better though to add a full description to one or two photos that people might pin (for example, "These Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts are the best chocolate chip cookie recipe! You'll love these homemade chocolate chip cookies with... "), then write a caption for the other photos that describes what's in each photo for people with visual impairments (For example, "A plate of Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts and a glass of milk.".
- Bonus: get the Yoast plugin. If you are using WordPress, get the free Yoast plugin. Basically, you put your keyword in it and it tells you if you're using the keyword correctly in your post. So helpful!
In addition to these tips, keep in mind that Google also takes user experience and page speed into consideration when ranking pages. So a well written post that loads quickly will rank higher than a poorly written post that takes forever to load.
It takes a while for new blogs to gain traction from Google and other search engines, but if you follow these steps for all of your posts, eventually it should pay off.
Publicizing Your Posts
Your post is published, and all you're hearing is crickets. Don't just publish, make sure you're spreading the word, too!
Start by setting up social media accounts, preferably using your blog's name as your username. This will help people find you easier, and it's something I wish I'd done for all of my accounts.
There are a lot of different social networks out there, but these are the ones I spend the most time on:
- Pinterest. Huge for any blog with visual content (food, crafts, decor, etc.), Pinterest can drive tons traffic to your blog. For best results, make sure to use long, vertical images on your blog vs. squat horizontal or square images. They will show up better on Pinterest.
- Facebook. Instead of using your personal page, you'll want to create a Facebook page specifically for your blog.
- Instagram. Instagram is a great place to show off your beautiful project photos and to connect with readers and other bloggers.
- Twitter. I don't get a ton of traffic from Twitter, but it's good for connecting with companies and other bloggers.
- YouTube. Video is becoming more and more important in the blogging world. If you like shooting videos for your blog, YouTube is the place to be!
Keeping up with social media can be labor intensive. So after I scheduled my posts on my blog, I use Hootsuite to schedule my social media posts. You can use Hootsuite for free for up to three social media accounts, but I mainly use it for Twitter. Then, I manually post to Instagram and use Facebook's scheduling tool for my Facebook posts.
I use Tailwind to schedule my pins to Pinterest, and I love it! Tailwind is a pin scheduler, and every time I publish a new post, I go into Tailwind and schedule my pin to my boards (personal and group boards) that I'd like my post to be pinned to. I also share my pins with other bloggers using the tribes feature. It saves a lot of time, especially once you have more content, and ensures that you are pinning consistently. You can get one free month of Tailwind to try it out with this link!
Even though I'm scheduling my posts, I still spend time on each of these networks (relative to how much traffic they drive to my blog). You can't just set it and forget it. Make sure to share other blogger's content, too, while you are at it!
Other ways to drive traffic to your posts:
- Link up your posts at Link Parties. There are tons of link parties out there. Basically, you link up your post at the party, and hopefully, other bloggers that link up visit your post from there (and you should reciprocate and read other's posts, as well).
- Share your posts in Facebook Groups. Bloggers have created tons of Facebook Groups to help promote each other's posts, all with a different purpose (from stumbling each other's posts (see below) to pinning to bloggers looking for roundup post content and more.
- Adding your posts to Pinterest Group Boards. In addition to pinning your posts to your own boards, you can get invited to contribute to Group Boards. Pinning to these boards will open up your pins to a much larger audience.
- Commenting on other blogs. Leaving a comment on someone else's blog, can often lead to them visiting your blog in return. Just make sure you are genuine about it!
- Adding your posts to submission sites. If your photography is good enough, try adding your posts to sites such as Food Gawker or Yummly.
I hope this gives you some ideas of where to start promoting your posts. These tips are really just the tip of the iceberg, so make it a point to constantly read and learn about other promotion techniques.
How to Start a Blog and Make Money
Image Source: Flickr/Pictures of Money
I purposely put this category last. Although making a little extra money is nice, when you're thinking about how to start a blog, it's more important to getting the blogging fundamentals down first.
There are a lot of different ways to make money as a blogger. Whether you want to make a few extra bucks or even earn an income, the key is to diversify. Don't rely on one source of income, because you never know when it will dry up.
Here are some of the most popular ways to earn money as a blogger:
- Sponsored posts. One of my favorite ways to make money through blogging is writing sponsored posts. Basically, a company will pay you to write about their product. You can get sponsored posts by working directly with a company (or PR person) or through a third party, such as Social Fabric (my fave), Clever Girls, and many others. When working on a sponsored posts, it's important to only write about products you've actually used and liked, be authentic, and find a way to write about the product in a fun to read, organic way. It's not a review, so make it about more than the product.
- Advertising. Ads are a good way monetize your blog, however you will need huge page views and multiple ads to make a lot of money. If you are just starting out blogging, Google AdSense is a good place to begin. Once you are more established, you can also sign up for other ad networks. I currently use MediaVine, and I love it!
- Affiliate marketing. With affiliate marketing, you get paid when one of your readers clicks an affiliate link you've posted and makes a purchase (or other desired action). You must sign up with an affiliate company to get these specially coded product links. Amazon Associates is very popular because they sell almost everything. I also work with other companies, such as Rakuten LinkShare and Pepperjam. With these programs, once accepted into the network you also have to apply to individual company's (i.e., J Crew, Nordstrom, etc.) affiliate programs. If you're not accepted to an affiliate program the first time you apply, try again in a few months if your traffic has improved.
- Product Review. It is against FTC guidelines to accept payments for products reviews, however you can accept a product and write an honest (unpaid) review about it. You can also try to turn an unpaid review into a sponsored post (for example, creating a recipe with a product vs. just writing about how much you like it) by negotiating with the PR person who approached you. To be honest, my posts take a lot of time to write, so I rarely accept products for review unless it is something with a high monetary value. It's just not worth my time.
- Freelance work. If you are a good writer or photographer, blogging can lead to freelance work. If this is your goal, treat your blog as if it is an online portfolio and only post the highest quality content.
Another thing I want to mention about sponsored content: a lot of companies will try to get you to work for them for free. For example, they'll send you a cheap product and then expect you to craft a post around it. It can be really hard to say no, but ask yourself is really worth your time, and also, what are you getting out of these free posts? Many companies will promise they will promote your posts to their network, but I've found that this rarely leads to traffic back to my blog. Be very picky!
Tip: It's also very important to know that per FTC guidelines you always need to disclose that you were paid or are using affiliate links (preferably at the top of your post), and you should code all affiliate links and links in paid posts as "nofollow" per Google guidelines. If a company ever approaches you and asks if you accept "do follow" links in paid posts, always say no. It's not worth ruining your Google page rank for a few bucks.
Finally, I want to remind you to have plenty of patience with yourself!
Blogging is a lot of hard work, and it can definitely be frustrating when it feels like no one is reading your posts. Be kind to yourself, keeping improving, and you will see growth. I promise!
I hope these tips have helped you learn how to start a blog! Let me know if you have any questions or would like more information ... I'm happy to help if I know the answer!