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Aaaand we’re back with Part II of the Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners!
I’m Nicole, I’m wine-drunk, and I’ll be your host for this week’s episode. And last week’s. And next week’s. Etc. until end of Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners in three more weeks. Literally don’t even worry. I know this shit like it’s my job.
It is my job. I make money from blogging.
I’m writing this mini-series in celebration of a year of writing Uninspired. Since you’re at Part II, I’ll assume you’ve read Part I or have at least been to Uninspired before. Therefore, I won’t ramble about my purpose and blaaah blah blahhhh. I will tell you about my purpose, but I won’t ramble about it. I’ll probably ramble, but not about my purpose, I promise.
I always ramble. You guys know me by now. I’m rambling now; promise kept.
So, just to keep you guys up to date, Uninspired is still a twenty-something blog, and I still help twenty-somethings balance all the parts of their life they want to enjoy now, plus future-planning. And a lot of you need a side hustle because as millennials, your main jobs that you’ve been educated four, six, eight years for aren’t going to pay you enough to survive. So, I’m teaching you how to successfully create a lucrative side hustle in blogging. You can blog about the things you love, because that’s how you make money without feeling like you’ve put any work in. That’s what you guys helped me do this year.
Sorry, there’s something in my eye. *tears*
So, let’s take a look at our table of contents:
The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners has already covered all the boring, behind-the-scenes nonsense that keeps your blog safe and running smoothly. In this segment, we’re covering design.
- WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
- Web Hosting
Designing Your Site- YOU ARE HERE
- Plugins and Widgets
- What is SEO?
- Anatomy of an SEO-Friendly Post
- High Quality Photos
- Social Media
- Pinterest (not social media!)
- Link Building
- What Affiliate Marketing Is & How It Works
- Networks to Join
- Media Kits
- How to Approach a Brand
This series is going to take us all the way through January, because classes are starting and I’ll have to plan ahead to make sure I have enough content to get us through the semester. BUT– the whole series is already ready to go! So, I did something super cool for those of you who can’t wait to get a jump start on your goals, and put the entire series in one convenient e-book that you can have, for free, today. Just sign up for my email list on the form below, and you’ll get it to your inbox within minutes!
Alright, we in this b!tch.
The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners:
Designing Your Site
By this point, you should have a hosting site like SiteGround, be using WordPress.org to run your site, and you should have your five points of legal documentation. Not that anyone reads that. But they’re there if someone tries to sue you because their mille crepe cake turns out, well, like mine. Finally, it’s time to make your site look awesome. By the time you’re done, no one will ever want to leave your site because it’s just THAT aesthetically pleasing.
I’m being dramatic. It’s the wine. Truthfully, I don’t want you to focus too much on your site’s aesthetic. Trends will always change, and your personal tastes will always change. Your site will never feel perfect. Honestly, design is the hardest part of running Uninspired for me because I’m a perfectionist and I can’t make this part perfect. But if I spent all my time, energy and money on my aesthetic, I’d have nothing left for my readers, which is the important part.
I’d be pulling a classic Entertainment 720. Remember, from Parks and Rec? Tom and Jean Ralphio started this company with an amazing aesthetic, but they failed miserably because they forgot to put any effort into their actual customers. So, do a good job, but don’t obsess.
On that note, let The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners show ya what to do.
To use that party metaphor from Part I again, your blog’s theme is just that– the theme of your party. It dictates the overall style of your site– what your pages look like, where your menus and widgets go, etc.
Like WordPress.com, the .org also offers a variety of free themes you can use, but that’s not the recommendation of the Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners. One of the biggest perks of switching is that you can upload themes from anywhere and customize them 100%. You could even make a theme yourself if you wanted to. (But if you could do that, you prob wouldn’t be reading this) So if you’ve come this far, keep making good choices and get a good theme.
Let me introduce you to Themeforest.
Themeforest has over 10,000 WordPress themes. They’re not free, but like I said in Part I, you gotta spend money to make money. If you spend even just $20, you’ll have more design freedom and your site will look more professional. That’s how you get brands to work with you so you can make that money back.
My theme right now is from Themeforest, and it’s called Taste. There are some things about it that I’d like to customize, for sure. I want it to be full screen, I want the headings to be more cohesive, etc. But you know what? I want you to get what you need from Uninspired more than I want you to think it’s pretty. I’ll get to those things eventually. It’s a good exercise in calming my type A personality.
Now that you’ve picked the perfect theme (or at least you think you did until Millennial Pink goes out of style…shit) it’s time to work on your branding. Your theme isn’t the same as your brand. Your party might have a tea party theme, but there are lots of ways to brand that. Switching back to blogging, that tea party theme could have a Mad Hatter feel in the branding, with a cartoonish logo and green, silly fonts. Or, you could go more Downton Abbey with pastels and refined cursive.
Just a heads up: some bloggers base their whole career on helping other bloggers brand. So, The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners only has a very brief overview. I’ll break it up like this: voice, taglines, colors, fonts, logos, and photos.
Your voice might feel like a strange thing to put first in your branding section. But it’s really important! Your voice is the tone you convey from the language you use. The best piece of advice I’ve heard about finding your voice, (and I’ve heard it everywhere!) is to write like you’re speaking directly to your ideal reader/customer. Finding your ideal reader will help you brand the rest of your site.
My ideal reader is a college-educated woman in her early twenties who lives in the US and is super motivated to go out in the world and succeed– get her first apartment, kill it at the career she loves, fall in love– but she wants some help. She likes sarcasm, floral patterns, wine and junk food. Having an ideal reader helps me hone in on Uninspired’s purpose– to help this girl get where she wants to be in life. Give her recipes so she can learn to cook in that new apartment. Show her some DIY projects so she can furnish it. Give her some dating tips and help her laugh at douchey guys instead of crying over them.
So, who is your ideal reader?
Are they male or female? How old are they? Where do they live? Are they married? Do they have kids? What are their struggles and goals? What do they like? Hate? By answering these questions, maybe even giving this person a name, you’ll decide on your voice. Did you ever read a blog and immediately get the feeling you could be their friend in real life? That’s their voice coming through! You connect with your readers through your voice. When they connect with you, they believe your advice and consequently, they take you up on your product and service recommendations.
The next part of branding is that catchy little sentence you want people to think of when they think of your blog. Mine is “creating a thriving community of twenty-somethings.” It explains what I do, how I’ll help the reader, and it’s concise. Now that you have your ideal reader in mind, it should be a little easier to come up with a tagline that will hook them.
When I first started Uninspired, I didn’t want to come up with a tagline. It felt kind of like I was writing a cheesy commercial. But I did some research and learned why it’s necessary. People have short attention spans, especially in this instant-gratification era. So they’re not going to read my whole About page or a few of my posts before deciding if they want to hang out here. If you don’t make your point clear immediately with a tagline, readers will just leave. They don’t need to put that kind of effort in when there’s another blog doing the same thing as you, with a clearer purpose statement. Don’t lose your reader that way. That is an official decree from The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners.
Now that you know who you’re writing to, The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners wants to help you pick out the more detailed aspects of your brand, like the color scheme. Sticking with the same colors in everything you do with your blog helps people recognize your brand across social media sites.
So, are all colors created equal? Nope!
Strangely enough, color psychology exists, and it’s used heavily in marketing. Certain colors evoke certain responses from certain people, and you want to choose colors for your brand based on your audience. Now that you have your ideal audience in mind, that’s easy!
Everyone likes blue. It’s gotten a reputation as the color of trust. And that’s clear based on all the major brands using blue in their branding. Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, Venmo, LinkedIn, Pandora, Zillow…those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head! They want you to trust them, so they subliminally message you with blue.
Uninspired is green and pink. Green evokes creativity, which I want you to feel instead of, duh, uninspired. Pink is linked to femininity, which makes sense given my ideal reader. But it’s also linked to calmness, which I want to give you while transitioning into adulthood, and innocence, which I want you to still feel even though you’re grown up.
Also I love flowers, and flowers are green and pink. *shrugs*
Check out this post for more info about color psychology and how you can use it in your branding!
The fonts you choose for your site should also be cohesive throughout all your posts, images, products, etc. Here’s how The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners suggests you choose them:
(PS– are you tired of me referring to this post by name as The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners?! Me too, but it’s my focus keyword. We’ll get to that in Part III.)
You should have three standard fonts. One for headings, subheadings, and body text. The ones you’ll find in my Pinterest images are Playlist Script, Lato bold, and plain Lato. I picked Playlist Script (the cursive one) because it’s fun and playful, but still readable. It characterized my site really well– fun, but has it’s shit together. I chose Lato for the subheadings and body text because it’s a good contrast from the cursive.
Is your ideal reader a burly, lumberjack kinda guy who loves hunting and fishing? Probably not if you’re reading my site. But if that was the case, you wouldn’t want to use Playlist Script on your blog. You’d want something bold!
Your body text should be plain like Times New Roman or Arial. They say serif fonts (with those little edges at the tips of the letters) are better for body text because they’re easier to read.
Now that you know who you’re writing to, what you’re trying to say, and what it’ll look like, it’s a great time to pick your logo! Your logo is, obviously, one of the first things people see when they look at your website. So choose VERY carefully. Once you put it on stuff like your header, business cards, etc., you’ll have to replace it all if you change your mind.
If you’re artistically inclined, the best way to go is to design your logo yourself. You won’t have to worry about anyone else having the same one, and you won’t have to pay for it.
If you’re well, not artistically inclined, my second best suggestion is to hire someone to make you a personalized logo. Fiverr is a great place for that because it’s super cheap. Fiverr actually has lots of services or bloggers, and they all start at just $5 (a fiver, if you will). You can hire someone for as little as $5 to make a logo that no one else will have. It’s an awesome deal that I wish I’d taken advantage of when I was looking for logos.
I got my logo from Etsy, which is another solid option. However, Etsy logos are pricier, and it’s even more expensive to get one made just for you. A lot of Etsy shops have created templates that they just plug your site’s name into, which is what I did. I love my logo, but someone else out there might have it.
Photography has been the bane of my existence since I started this blog. It just doesn’t come as naturally to me as writing or marketing. But I have learned a few things for the Ultimate Guide to Blogging For Beginners!
You can take decent pictures with your iPhone. There are guides all over the internet to help you take better pictures with your phone (like this one!) so you don’t need to buy an expensive camera to look professional. However, it does help.
My wonderful parents bought me a Canon EOS Rebel T6 for Christmas, and I’ve seen a major difference in my photos. I’m obsessed with taking food photos now because seriously, the food looks clearer in the photos than it does in real life. It’s amazing.
As far as editing goes, I do suggest investing in Adobe Creative Cloud, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom. If you’re a student (or *ahem* have access to a .edu email address) you can get a student price of less than $11 per month for both.
You should also invest in Canva, a simple web-based photo editor. There’s a free version, but if you have the $12/m to spare, Canva for Business has made my life so much easier. When I edit my pictures to put them on Pinterest, I can save templates, fonts, and colors so I don’t have to start from scratch every time. When you’re posting three times week, or stockpiling posts like I like to do, it’s such a relief when my photo-editing process is simple. If you have more than one person on your blogging team, you can create a “team” so they have access to the branding.
3. Plugins and Widgets
Back to the party metaphor (I know it’s a simile but you don’t just say ‘back to the party simile’ unless you’re a liiiittle pretentious, sorry), widgets and plugins are like face painters or bouncy houses. They make the party a little better. Widgets add content to the sidebars of your blog, and plugins are more like programs that you download.
So, here’s a list of the plugins and widgets I use and what they do for Uninspired.
Sumo– has TONS of tools to automate your site’s growth. Seriously a lifesaver. Tracks Google Analytics, helps grow your email list, has social share buttons, and more. I don’t visit my dashboard without using Sumo.
YoastSEO– tells you exactly how to make Google rank your posts higher. Another lifesaver! It tells you if your posts are easy to read, if you’re using your focus keywords enough (you know, ultimate guide to blogging for beginners), if you’re linking to the right posts so your sitemap is neat and tidy, and way more.
MiloTree– converts your visitors into social media followers via a little popup
jQuery Pin It Button– adds a button to your photos that allows readers to pin them to Pinterest right then and there
Easy Recipe– allows you to add printable recipes to your posts
Search– adds a search bar to your sidebar. This is actually super important. Back to that instant gratification thing– if people can’t find what they’re looking for immediately on your blog, they’ll leave.
Image– puts a picture on the sidebar– most bloggers use this as a space to add a photo of themselves, so their readers can see them without traveling the long journey to the About page.
Text– has a ton of uses! A text widget is how I’ve included that little bio on my sidebar. You can also use them to insert html for ads or other things (like Twitter, see below) you want on your sidebar.
Categories- allows your readers to see all the posts in each category you write about. For example, you can click “Mental Health Monday” in my sidebar and see all the Mental Health Monday posts.
Twitter– technically, this is another text widget, but with the code for a mini Twitter feed. My twitter is literally gold, so I don’t want you guys to miss out on any of it. To get a Twitter Widget (please say that out loud), go to your Twitter account settings, and scroll down to Widgets. Hit “create new” type in your URL, then choose the feed option. Copy the code it gives you, and paste it in your text widget. Voila!
So, was that a mouthful or what?! Part II of The Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners is my longest post on Uninspired by far! Part III will be available here on Sunday, 1/21.
In the meantime, leave me any questions you have in the comments. If you’d like, you can also email me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy blogging! I know you’re going to be amazing. And don’t forget to download the e-book version of the Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners!