Yikes, you’re a blogger! What do you do now?
The next step in your “how to blog” journey is setting up the physical blog and getting it organized and functional. You have to decide on a WordPress “theme”. Themes provide the initial coding for the general structure of the blog, both its appearance and functionality. There are lots of themes out there. Some are free and some you have to purchase. Unlike blogging platforms, themes, in most cases, are easy to change if you discover one you like better down the line. There are free themes that come with WordPress. I believe that the current default is one called “2015”. I used the free variation of “Weaver” when I started out. Some themes are specialized to work better for photographers with a sort of gallery setting, others work better for a magazine style blog. Start out with something very basic and free (like “2015′”) until your blog fleshes out a bit to see where you are heading before you invest in purchasing a theme. I used free Weaver for over a year. As you advance in your blogging, WordPress provides “plugins” that can modify your blog and add numerous special features but in the beginning stick to the basics. Too many plugins will slow your blog’s loading into a browser so you will want to choose carefully after you have some experience with your blog theme.
Once your theme is installed and you have looked around at what it provides, you need to decide how your blog is going to look and what structure it will have. Decisions need to be made such as whether or not to have sidebars and how many. Sidebars are where you will place ads for monetization, widgets for text blocks, email list sign-ups, blog rolls, archive listings, etc. Study other blogs in your niche to see what they provide and where they place the blog elements. The make a list of the features you want for your blog. Take note of the parts of the blog – the header (which is all about branding), sidebars, footers, archives, and blogrolls. You shouldn’t copy another blogger’s blog exactly but it is a good idea to see what others in your niche are doing. Pay particular attention to those who are successful in your genre to get a feel as to what a that type of blog needs to function and be informative. This research will give you an idea of your audience’s expectations and what information you need to include so spend some time doing it. Don’t consider it wasted time. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel so rely on what has worked for those who came before you. If certain things appear to be working for other bloggers, do the same while being sure to put your own special touch on it. The fastest path to success is following the path laid out by somebody that is already there and doing a good job at it.
A blog is different than a website. The main difference is that the old style website was comprised of static pages and a blog’s content is dynamic. That means that the pages of a typical website stay the same in appearance and content where a blog is more fluid. The home page of a website is always the same – same pictures, graphics, text. But the home page of a blog is dynamic, meaning it changes automatically every time you post. Depending how your blog is laid out, the change can be a completely new page comprised of your most recent post or a collection of your most recent posts with the first few lines of the post and possibly a thumbnail photo (featured image) from the post. I opt for the chronological listing with a thumbnail and a few lines of each post. It gives a new visitor a quick look at the type of content I offer. You only have a minute to grab their interest with that home page so don’t bore them but instead intrigue them!
Create a Title and Tagline!
You need to have a title and a tagline for your blog. In most web browsers, your Title and your tagline will appear at the very top of the screen. It’s not critically important to the function of your blog but you don’t want it to look like you didn’t bother to edit it. Attention to detail is a sign of professionalism. Professionalism will instill a sense of trust in your blogging abilities with the visitor and give them a reason to trust the opinions and information that you put on your blog. Readers will put more faith in what you say in your content if your blog has a look and feel of a professional operation. The Title is not your url. It needs to be readable, understandable text. Don’t try to be overly creative or cute. The best choice is your blog name, plain and simple – mine is “The Wilderness Wife”. Next you’ll want to create your tagline. Keep that plain and simple also. Essentially it is your blog’s one line “elevator pitch”; just a quick line that will tell the visitor the general content/theme of your blog. Mine is “Living, Cooking, Crafting in the North Maine Woods”. That clearly tells people what my blog and I am all about.
Next “The Header” – The Big Visual on your Blog
The first thing you see on a blog is the header. It’s right there at the top of the page. For me it’s the first thing I notice about the blog and that first impression really sets the tone for the blog. If it’s poorly done and cheesy looking, it gives me a negative feeling about the whole blog. Often I don’t go any further and move on to another blog. Yes, it’s a rush to judgement and in many ways unfair but if I don’t get a professional, tasteful feeling right from the start, I make the assumption that content is going to be poorly done also. For a tech-related blog it needs to sleek, contemporary and clean with a high tech look. For a food blog, it needs to be inviting and warm with a kitchen or food theme. A lifestyle blog needs a header that reflects the subject matter covered such as health, the outdoors, sports. But whatever your niche, that header is part of your branding and one of the things that people will remember about your blog so make it memorable! I tend to be a very visual person and when I think of a blog, I can picture that header in my mind first. It’s the one constant that is right there at the beginning every time I visit the blog. Other things on that home page change but the header is a familiar face to returning visitors so make it a pleasant one. If you don’t feel you are good at graphics designing, hire some one more skilled. You can go on Fiverr.com for a very cheap cheap rate and get something that is professional looking.
The “About Me” page – let your reader know who you are
You will need an About Me page. This is very important page for a blog and particularly for the beginning blogger. It’s the first opportunity you have to connect with the reader, and potential brands, on a personal level. Tell them a little about yourself, your family, your life experience, your kids, your pets; anything that you think will draw them in and make them want to know you as a person and become part of your story. Make it conversational and fun, like you’re chatting with them over a cup of coffee. Include lots of pictures to hold their interest. Tons of text looks overwhelming but if bright, fun pictures are interspersed amongst it makes it a whole lot more readable to the reader. Don’t make it dry and biographical. It’s not a resume for a job! It doesn’t have to include every detail of your life but include the things that make you interesting as a person. A note of caution – although you want to become friends with your reader, not all readers are as kind and friendly as we would hope. This is a complicated world and there a lot of troubled people out there in cyber space. Before you expose too much of yourself or your children to the outside world, give some real thought to your comfort level and your family’s safety. Put very general information but don’t include where you live, where your kids go to school, where you go to church, etc. More general info like the fact that you go to church, your kids are in elementary school is enough info. Don’t get to detailed!
A cautionary note here, and I speak from experience on this one. If you are wanting to make a living at blogging, you must be easy to contact by email. You want to put your email address on your “about me” page and on your “Contact” page (which we will be discussing next). But there are people and software that scan the internet looking for email addresses to gather into mailing lists that will send you tons of spam. The problem is as an entrepreneur blogger you do not want to miss out on any opportunities and brands will be approaching you by email. Here is the solution that a lot of bloggers use: rather than put your email address in the standard format “[email protected]”, display it as suzysnowflake at xyz dot com. The brands will get the info but the software looking for your address will not. I didn’t have that information in the beginning and I get an overwhelming amount of spam email everyday. Some erroneous emails can be scanned out by anti-spam software but I don’t want to be too tight in my settings as to lose any opportunities that might be in my inbox.
The Contact page
This page is pretty simple to create. Just give basic ways that readers and brands to contact you. If you have a brick and mortar store or business location that you want people to come to you can provide that information. If you work from home, you do not and probably should not put that information out there for the cyber-world to see. Same thing with a telephone number – if you have a business number and want to receive calls that’s one thing, but putting your cell or home number out into cyber space can get you a lot of unwanted attention. I put my email in the format that I discussed in the “About me” section. If I want further contact with a person or a brand after screening their email, I will give them my number or a address if needed.
There you are – your blog has an established presence on the Internet. In our next session we will discuss the post – how to pick a topic, how to employ some simple SEO (search engine optimization) to make Google, Bing, and Yahoo happy, and some helpful posting hints.
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