I’ve been thinking about starting a blog series featuring blogging tips for a while now. I guess I’ve been hesitant because I don’t want anyone to be under the impression that I think I know everything about blogging. I still learn something new every single day. There really isn’t a set of rules for maintaining a blog – what’s right for me, may not work for you. Ultimately, the key is in making it yours – and part of the fun of it is just learning as you go along. Truth is, people expect much more from blogs these days – things have become so much more visual, plus there is a lot more pressure to get everything right straight from the get-go.
One of the most important things I learned during these past 2 years of blogging is that social media is the key to getting your content out there! During the earlier part of my blogging journey, I didn’t even have Twitter account (don’t make the same mistake I did).
When I first started blogging 2 years ago, I literally knew nothing about WordPress, photography, editing or writing a review (not to mention creating YouTube videos! ). PR, Google Analytics, SEO and the word ‘sponsored’ definitely wasn’t even part of my vocabulary back then.
There is, however, something to be said about learning how to do certain things in your own time and in your own way. I personally love helping people, it gives me joy knowing I made life a little bit simpler for someone. BUT, and this is a big but – I also find myself respecting those bloggers who struggle and discover how to do certain blogging-relating things by themselves, more than the bloggers who just expect everyone else to help them find the shortcuts. Also, I never have and never will support copying (whether you are copying photos, content or just someone else’s style of writing) – it’s not acceptable and I have lost respect for a number of bloggers in the past because of this.
I’ve decided to document the things I’ve learned along my blogging journey and will continue to do these ‘Blogging Tips’ posts for as long as I can think of valuable tips. This blog post has been in the making for about 6 months now and I’ve scribbled down tips as they’ve popped into my head. I won’t have a certain ‘theme’ to each blog post i.e. Photography, Online Resources, Public Relations and Social Media as I think it might start to get a bit too confusing having to keep tabs of all the tips relating to a specific topic.
I hope you enjoy this new series on the blog – whether you are an existing blogger, a newbie blogger or just a curious reader.
I thought I would start with the below 2 questions because they are probably 2 of the first things I struggled with as a blogger:
♥ WordPress or Blogger? Very similar blogging platforms, and yet they are so very different.
Blogger – Free, reliable, easy to use for beginners, but limited features and limited template customisations. All Blogger sites are on Google servers and cannot be self-hosted, that means Google has the final say & overall control over your blog. Though it is unlikely your site will be shut down by Google, the fact that someone else holds the key to your online kingdom is a tad disconcerting.
WordPress – The biggest advantage to using WordPress over a platform like Blogger is that you truly own all the rights to your website. You can choose between a self-hosted site or one hosted by WordPress. WordPress software is free, extremely flexible & feature rich, highly customisable (especially with web design / development knowledge), easy to use, plus a wide variety of free and premium themes are available. With WordPress, though, you do run the risk of your website being hacked – so that has always been a worry of mine. It hasn’t happened to me thus far, touch wood!
♥ WordPress.com or WordPress.org? The main difference is web hosting – .com is hosted by WordPress themselves, and .org is hosted by your preferred web host. WordPress.org is the DIY option of the 2 with a lot more plugins available, plus you can modify the source code later down the line should you wish to make changes to your blog.
I chose to go with WordPress.org (hosted by a South African-based company) as customisation was very important to me from the very start.
♥ PR samples are not gifts, there is always an expectation that the product will be featured on your blog and / or social media platforms. I must admit, when I first started receiving products from brands I used to refer to them as ‘spoils’. Thinking back, though, I couldn’t have been more wrong – they are not spoils, nor are they gifts because a particular brand “likes you for your personality”. At the end of the day, it’s all about business and numbers, brands want to make a profit from sending you a product and I completely understand & respect that.
♥ Many bloggers feel PR samples are an integral part of blogging and I can totally see why – blogging about all the latest releases and buying all the products yourself can get extremely pricey! BUT I do think it’s important to think about what type of blog you want to have and what your readers will enjoy seeing / reading. Do you want to be seen as the blogger who only features products that are sent by brands OR do you want to also feature products that have been purchased by yourself? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with only featuring PR products but based on my own experience, I know my readers appreciate the fact that I don’t ONLY feature products that have been sent to me by brands. I don’t sit back & wait for brands to send me product, if I see something I like in the shops, I’ll buy it – finish en klaar. I think that might just be the first time I’ve spoken a word of Afrikaans here on the blog, haha!
♥ Don’t be the blogger who complains on social media about a brand not sending you free product or not wanting to work with you. To be honest, it makes you look like a douche. There are many brands who haven’t contacted me – and I appreciate the fact that my blog might not be appealing to everyone. Trust me, it can get a real overwhelming, real fast when 10 brands send you something in 1 week and all expect a product review. I’ve accepted that I can’t feature everything that is sent to me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stress me out or make me feel guilty.
♥ Social media is key! Twitter is a great tool to promote your blog content and a way to chat to people. I’ve discovered some amazing local and international bloggers on Twitter & I am sure a lot of my blog readers discovered my blog via Twitter & Instagram. Join in with hashtag chats – the #bbloggers chat usually has a specific topic every Sunday night. This is something I still need to get into, as I tend to be a bit shy around people I don’t know (even if it is on social media) but I will try to join in next week Sunday.
♥ Don’t spam your followers with the same blog post update every half hour – this is something that really grates me. I usually only post or tweet about a new blog post once a day (and not every day) & although I can understand it may not be sufficient for most, I am very conscious about spamming my followers / readers with the same content.
♥ Try to be organised – taking photos on the day you are planning to load the blog post, will only stress you out & will probably decrease your creativity because you feel pressured. Plan your content & photographs, think about what exactly you want to say about the product. I am still quite the expert at procrastination (especially when it comes to filming Youtube videos) but I am trying to force myself to be more proactive. Also, if I spend a couple of hours on a weekend taking photos for all my blog posts coming up that week, it relieves the stress & I feel I am on top of things a lot more.
♥ Sign up for Google Analytics as soon as your blog is live online. It’s free and will tally up your daily, weekly and monthly statistics (unique views, bounce rate, users) for you. As your blog becomes more popular, brands might get in touch with you to do a product review & the bigger brands will probably ask for your stats to see if sending you product will be worth their while. Google Analytics is the most reliable & trusted stats provider out there at the moment. When I first started blogging, I didn’t even know about GA and lost out on about 6 months’ worth of stats because I didn’t sign up for it from the start. It can’t be back-dated, so those stats are lost forever unfortunately.
♥ I take pride in the fact that I never have, and never will ask for products to be sent to me by brands / PR companies. Do you want to be known that ‘that type of blogger’ by PR companies? I know I don’t. Trust me, the blogging world is a small world in South Africa & word gets around when a blogger acts like a self-entitled ‘VIP’…
♥ You don’t need to own the most expensive camera to take good photographs. Research ISO, shutter speed and F-stop & I can guarantee your photos will improve over time. Play around with your camera settings, there’s something very satisfying about learning how to do something the hard way. I own a Canon 60D DSLR camera (and use it for filming my YouTube videos too) and rotate between a normal 15-85mm lens & a 50mm lens. Some bloggers use their iPhone camera to take blog photos and if done the right way (never use the flash), it can look just as professional as a camera shot.
♥ If you use a phone to take your photos, download apps to edit photos (but don’t edit too much) and use filters that you think represents your style the best.
♥ You really can’t beat daylight – I own studio lights and find I prefer taking my photos in natural light as it looks way better. If there’s daylight or sunshine, use it! If you get the best shot you can from your camera, there will be less editing to do later.
♥ I use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom to edit my photos BUT I make sure not to over edit – I usually only add a bit of brightness and saturation. Photoshop can also be used to create those ‘Wish List’ collages where you feature various products in one picture. I also use Adobe Illustrator for vectors & graphics. For YouTube video editing I use Adobe Premiere Pro – I’m still very far from producing top quality YouTube videos but I’m slowly getting there. Every single thing I know about editing photos, videos and graphics I learned online – Google is your friend, always remember that. More affordable (and in some cases FREE) editing programmes are GIMP, Picasa or PIXLR.
♥ Maintaining a blog takes a lot of work – a blog post can take me anything from 4 to 6 hours to create. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes take up to 70 photos for just 1 blog post, only to whittle them down to 4 or 5 photos. I’m not even going to get into how long a YouTube video takes to prepare for, film and edit – trust me when I say, it is VERY time-consuming. Does posting regularly fit in with your schedule? Ask yourself that before you start a blog, because if you only plan on blogging 2 or 3 times a month, your readership will dwindle & people eventually won’t return to your blog at all.
♥ What makes a great blog? For me, it’s interesting content and beautiful photos. You want to create content that attracts visitors and encourages them to stick around. Focus on creating interesting & unique content and think about what your post can offer someone else. Work your strengths – do people find you funny? Make sure to include a bit of humor in your blog posts. Are you very knowledgeable when it comes to skin care or hair care? Add unique and helpful tips to your posts. It’s all about what makes you stand out from the rest!
♥ Draw attention to yourself by engaging with other bloggers – don’t get stuck in your own little blogging bubble. Blogging is a community, so networking with other bloggers is the next logical step to get your name out there. Leave meaningful comments on other bloggers’ posts, retweet their tweets, comment on their Instagram posts BUT don’t be the blogger that only leaves a comment for the sake of leaving a comment. I have received comments like “Great post! I’m going to buy this product!” on a blog post where I gave a negative review on the product and I just think: “Really…?” Interacting with other bloggers (in a meaningful way) will get you noticed and might even draw other bloggers over to your site.
I hope you found these blogging tips to be helpful & that I didn’t come across as being bossy or aggressive? Some things can’t be sugarcoated and sometimes you just have to call a spade, a spade. I already have more tips typed up and will post #2 in a few weeks’ time. Have a happy Thursday, everyone – the weekend is in sight!