It was two months ago today when I clicked that glowing button on the WordPress homepage inviting me to “sign up now.” After much deliberation, I gave my blog a name, wrote my first post, and bolted full-speed ahead into blogland.
Wow. To think that just two months ago, blogger jargon like “link parties,” “trackbacks,” and “grabbing a button” might as well have been Greek to me….
I have learned a lot in these first two months as a blogger, and though I have miles to go, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on what I’ve learned thus far and share a few insights with those of you who might be just now shoving off. I hope you, dear reader, find it useful.
10 Tips for New Bloggers…From a New Blogger
1. Take quality photos.
When figuring out how to create my own blog, I often relied on my favorite blogs to serve as a guide. In reflecting on what draws me in to them, the common denominator was their photos: eye-catching, bright, and crisp. Thus, I aim to post quality images on my blog. This means I’ve received a crash-course in Photography 101 from my husband who is the Ansel Adams of the family with the fancy Cannon camera and three lenses. As you may remember from my recent post on craftgawker, I’m far from professional, but I now know enough of the basics to post photos I’m proud of, and that’s what matters to me. And you don’t necessarily need a fancy camera to take quality photos. You really can do a lot with even the most basic of digital cameras. Just avoid using your flash, use lots of natural light, experiment with your settings, especially ISO and exposure, and use a free online program like pixlr or pic monkey to edit and enhance your images. Here’s a great photography cheat sheet to help you out in a pinch.
2. Add a watermark to your photos.
After one month of blogging, I discovered the free online editing tool, pixlr, and it has rocked my watermarking world. I have found pixlr to be extremely user-friendly when it comes to adding cool effects (like going vintage), creating photo collages, and “branding” my photos with a watermark of my blog or post title. Why is watermarking worth your while? In our world of pinning and re-pinning, it’s easy for images to get grabbed without a direct connection back to your blog. By adding a watermark of your blog title, you’re providing a direct conduit back to the Mother Ship. Not only does it protect your images from theft, but it gives your photos that professional look.
Update: I created a video tutorial on “How to Edit Photos with Pixlr Express.” Click here to check it out.
3. Give credit where credit is due.
Was your DIY pallet headboard inspired by a pin? Show them some “link love” in your post by giving them a shout-out and direct link to their blog post. Want to create a round-up of holiday projects? Provide captions with hyper-linked text that lead people to the original source. Not only is this important from a legal standpoint, but it’s polite! I also try to drop them a comment on their blog to thank them for their inspiration and have received many gracious replies as a result.
Giving credit also pertains to your own photos. When uploading images, I recommend giving them a title (and alternate text) that matches your post title and mentions your blog name. For example, the image at the top of this post is titled “10 Tips for New Bloggers…From a New Blogger via The Thinking Closet.” That’s what will show up if someone pins my image directly from my site, and that’s much nicer than IMG_4567 or “Typing Hands,” especially when you want to ensure proper credit.
4. Link up!
I had no idea what link parties were until I started The Lil Journal Project, and we “linked up” our journal pages on Lil Blue Boo each Friday. Then, it seemed that everywhere I turned, there were linky parties. For those who don’t know, link parties are virtual gatherings “hosted” by different bloggers that usually take place once a week on a particular day; visitors to the party are invited to share one of their recent projects by uploading an image of their project that links back to their site. Think of it like a massive “show and tell.” Some hosts have rules that involve following the host or commenting on at least two links, and many hosts will feature one or more of their favorites each week. I have come across some great blogs by participating in link parties, as well as have been majorly encouraged by others’ visits to my own blog. You can click on my Link Parties tab for a comprehensive list of some of the most happenin’ parties around.
5. Comment on other blogs.
This is a big lesson I have learned. I used to be a “stand back and watch” kind of gal – - pinning neat projects online without the blogger ever knowing – - a “lurker” as the blogger jargon goes. Now that I AM a blogger, I realize how rewarding it is to know that something you worked on inspired someone else. After all, for many of us, that’s the reason we blog: to share with others…not to send our pumpkin cookie recipe into the silent black hole of cyberspace. So now, I’m a commenter. And I’m never turning back.
6. Leave your handprint on your blog design.
There are free and really easy ways to give your blog a custom and personalized look without even paying a dime. I still have the most basic (free!) WordPress account and was able to add a custom background, create a custom header, and customize my sidebar and footer to make this blog my own. There are lots of options out there, but I used the Japonizer background generator to create mine, and I used Microsoft Word, the twice aforementioned pixlr, and a free scallopped border I found to create my custom header. It’s important that your readers get a sense of “place” when they arrive to your site instead of “welcome to my generic blog template.”
Update: I have migrated to self-hosted WordPress and did a design overhaul since writing this post…so the details in this tip apply to my former WordPress.com site. Just so ya know!
7. Give your reader three or more ways of following you.
I know from experience that I like to have my options when following other bloggers. For example, I like to receive updates from my favorite blogs right into my gmail inbox, so I subscribe to those via email. For the 20+ DIY blogs I now follow, I like using bloglovin’, which sends me one email at the end of the day with updates from all of the blogs I follow; I can then choose which ones to click on through. Pinterest is another great option; if I come across a blogger with snazzy style, I follow them via Pinterest because it keeps me in the loop not only on their projects, but on all projects that catch their eye. So, of course, I offer these three methods on my blog, as well as a few others: Linky followers and R.S.S. feed for those who like to follow in a reader. Do I need to even mention Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for those of you social media mavens? When providing these options to your readership, it’s important they be visible at all times, either on your sidebar or menu. Just visit the host sites themselves to walk through the steps of adding their buttons to your blog.
8. When inspiration strikes, write it down.
This tip applies not just to ideas for posts, but the posts themselves. Even if it’s July and you have an idea for a Thanksgiving post, start a draft. I have several drafts cooking on the stove at one time. In fact, I started a draft of this post a couple of weeks ago! I just work on it bit by bit, as I’m inspired…and even if I’m not. After all, as the famous Louis Brandeis saying goes, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” And if I’m away from a computer when inspiration strikes, I grab a napkin a receipt, whatever is closest to me to write down the words before they fly away. Ideas are too precious to lose.
9. Post consistently.
I don’t remember where I first heard this tip, but many have shared it before me, and it’s a tenant I have aimed to follow from the beginning. My personal goal is to post 3 times a week. Not only is this good for me because it keeps me disciplined (which I am not naturally), but it’s good for my readers. They know what to expect from me. So, whether it’s once a week or once a day, try to be consistent. And of course, give yourself grace when you’re not.
10. Discover your writing style.
And how do you that? By experimenting! When I first started, I didn’t really know what I was doing. In many ways, I tried on the styles of some of my favorite bloggers in an effort to discover my own style. (In the writing world, this is known as “copy-change” where you copy someone’s structure, but change the contents to make it your own.) I’m still figuring out my blogger style, but here are a few things elements I know I like to employ:
- a catchy lead – I like to the pull the reader in within the first few lines.
- comfy casual – I aim to have a conversational tone in my posts, allowing my true writer’s voice to come through, quirky though it may be!
- incorporate a call – I like to give an opportunity for my readers to respond, usually at the end of posts.
- thorough and clear tutorials – I tend to like a lot of details and photos when reading tutorials, so those are the kind of tutorials I try to create.
Your style will be unique to you…so get on with experimenting to find it. Take risks. Make mistakes. It’s all part of the process.
What I love so much about blogging is the collaboration that can occur, especially through comments. So, please, if you have a tip to share from your early days of blogging or just want to say hello, do chime in!
Want more blogging tips?
I wrote a follow-up post to do this post one year later…on the dot! Check it out:
And here are some other reader faves:
Happy blogging, to beginners, veterans, and everyone in between.
Linking up here.