How to Start a Successful Blog
Quite often I find myself giving advice on how or where to get started on creating a blog, so thought it was about time to put all of my tips in one place.
So I have two blogs. A food blog, Tastefully Vikkie which reaches well over a million hits a year and The Carpenter’s Daughter which is still young and reaches 5k a month. I treat the latter more like a CV to my stronger 17k+ YouTube following. They’re polar opposites really, so I can offer what I’ve learnt over both, but also from seeing other people’s blogs over the years.
My DIY blog isn’t as popular as my YouTube channel because I don’t have time to take good photos of each step. Instead, I believe DIY is more important as videos for visual learning. Why? That’s how I learn best.
A food blog is more about recipes with great photos and it’s also popular because we all need to eat to survive. But, the main idea is find out what you what to write about and whether you want it to focus on your lifestyle, (i.e, an all rounder parent blogger) or specialise in a specific niche.
BUT WHAT IF I’M PREDOMINANTLY A YOUTUBER?
As said earlier, I use my DIY like a CV. It’s also another platform where I embed my YouTube videos in each post because it’s got a higher chance to be found in a google search.
Also, most of the time brands contact me because they’ve found my blog and “contact me” area. Reaching out to me through YouTube isn’t as accessible and has probably happened to me once over both YouTube channels combined.
First think about what you’d like to write about. Make sure it’s a topic you love and you can offer useful evergreen content. Things that are still going to be valid years from now.
You might want to be a family blogger that incorporates tips on juggling children, family recipes, days out to work around you. I personally think this is a good option as you’re more likely to be a good fit with many brand opportunities that come your way.
Because I renovate my whole house, it creates more opportunities as opposed to specialising in, say metalwork. If you want to specialise in just food, that’s fine, but I know that if see a camping travel opportunity, despite us being regular campers, a brand is less likely to choose me.
Of course, you can always rebrand later on or add a travel section to your blog for example. But I think the important part of being successful is to be able to offer solultions to peoples’ problems (tips, diy, etc) alongside being able to tell a story.
Also, ask yourself these questions:
- Why are you so unique?
- What can you offer?
So, let’s look at my YouTube channel, The Carpenter’s Daughter, and why I think it’s been popular.
- I’m a novice and have had no training, giving the every day home owner more hope that they can too.
- My Dad is a pro and have him as a reference when I need it. Also, my father in law was a site foreman.
- Being a novice, I can put things in simpler language that’s easier to understand.
- I DIY to save money and money is something we all relate to. Things aren’t getting any cheaper.
- My story is that I’m learning as I go along because I’ve found many tradesmen dear, so I tackle something and share my struggles and successes.
- I’m also honest when talking about the tools I use. If something gives a bad cut, I say it. Tools aren’t cheap and I don’t want people to waste money if they can help it.
Why I think my food YouTube channel isn’t as popular:
- It’s just me cooking a healthy recipe with no other story
- I was a Slimming World target member when I started filming on YouTube, so people can’t follow along with my weight loss journey.
- Try not to have a name longer than three words.
- Make sure it’s self explanatory and explains what it does. But also try not to pigeon hole yourself.
- Make sure you can get a .com or .co.uk domain for a more professional look as opposed to .net .blog
- Try the best you can to pick a name that isn’t taken across social media platforms. And bear in mind Pinterest and Twitter have limits to how many characters you can use for your social handles.
SELF HOSTED OR FREE BLOG
If you have a bit of money to spare (we’re usually talking £50-80 for the year), then I’d recommend going self-hosted.
A free blog usually means you can’t have your own domain name (i.e blogname.wordpress.com) and doesn’t look as professional. Although I certainly know full time bloggers who have a free weblink address, so there’s exceptions to the rule.
But, there are things to consider. For example, self hosted websites can get hacked, so you’ll need to back them up in case you lose everything. I pay for an updraft plus Wordress plugin so it does it automatically does it for me, and have it linked to a paid Microsoft cloud service. This is the kind of thing I think you should worry about when you have a lot to lose.
WORDPRESS OR BLOGGER
I’ve tried both and personally prefer WordPress. It’s slightly more complicated to back up your blog. With Blogger, it’s just the click of one button and downloads all of your posts and pictures. (With WordPress, you have to download posts and pictures separately). But I don’t think Blogger looks as professional and feels it’s very limiting. If you’re a technophobe, then you might get on with Blogger. But note, I am NOT a whiz on computers.
Also, there are limits to wordpress.com as opposed to wordpress.org. It’s dearer than self hosted (.org) if you ever want to do things like upload your own bought theme. You would have to you pay for their business package as a minimum (£20 a month). With self hosting, it’s usually around £5-8 A month.
It’s also hazy on whether or not you’re allowed to use amazon affiliate links to earn a little bit of pocket money. Affiliate links aren’t get rich quick schemes, but having them is a nice perk for writing free content and not to be abused.
WHICH SELF HOST SERVICE WITH WORDPRESS?
I no longer trust bloggers recommendations when I read them as many are affiliate links. Also, webhosts are regularly bought out and relying on the great reviews they’ve had in the past, so customer service reviews can be out of date. This is speaking from experience.
I would NOT recommend Bluehost anymore. I originally started a free wordpress.com blog for Tastefully Vikkie as I’d and read Bluehost were the best. I transferred my own blog to them and found they would juggle me along with customers while I’d be on their online chat. And that would be part of your excuse when I moaned about it taking half an hour to get an answer to one question.
After a few months, one day I had an influx of 10k hits and they couldn’t cope with the high volume of traffic, suggesting I needed to pay for a developer because my site must be too slow. There was very little on my site, so I then moved to TSO Host.
TSOHost wasn’t as cheap, but it is so much better. I can even call them if needed, but they too have now been bought out by another company and my food blog has been hacked twice in the last year.
Customer service is one of the most important things if you’re not a computer techie.
One of the key parts of blogging is photography.
If you can buy a DSLR where you can change the lens, then I’d recommend it. I use my Canon 750D because it takes photos, but also has a flip selfie camera screen viewer for youtube filming. But smartphones can take amazing pictures too.
Don’t race to try and get as much content out there as possible when you start. It’s best to take your time to offer the best quality you can, so you won’t feel the urge to go back and update pictures years down the line.
I almost never spend money – even props are jumble sale finds, but one ebook that transformed my photography overnight is Pinch of Yum’s Tasty Food Photography. It’s SO easy to understand and the only thing that helped me understand the ISO settings on my camera because she says what she uses and how she does it. It’s full of so much great info and takes an afternoon to read. It was the best $29 I spent. This is NOT an affiliate link, but it should be because I truly love this book!
Right from the start, you should never upload photos straight to to your blog without editing and shrinking them for web. I didn’t know this initially, but shrinking them will help the pages load faster, boosting SEO and people are more likely to stick around.
So what I do is (my way is FREE):
- Upload my images to Google photos to not only back them up, but brighten, rotate or crop and then I download the edited version.
- Then I upload them to a free website, Optimizilla online image compressor to shrink them , redownload them and then they’re ready to upload to my blog.
It might sound long winded, but bear in mind, when I’m at the Optimizilla stage, I only use around 4 of my best shots (for a recipe post). You can use Photoshop, but it’s expensive and very complicated. However, many I know use its little sister, Lightroom which you can buy on a monthly package which you can try for free. Lightroom offers miles more options like removing parts of the image (eg, a crumb on a plate), but I just don’t need it.
SHOOT IN PORTRAIT
I always shoot in portrait for my blogs because you can get more in the actual photo and better composition when laying out food and props.
Also, a key thing to note is that makes a blog page longer, meaning visitors need to scroll down the page and they’re spend more time on your blog. The less time someone stays on your blog, the higher the “bounce rate” is. A low bounce rate means they’re staying on your blog, so you’re more likely to be engaging and have a quick loading blog. This is why many bloggers keep the best part of their content until the bottom of the post – just like my recipes are.
This is another factor that helps SEO, and should up your blog’s Google rank, meaning you’re more likely to be higher up in a google search.
LINKING BACK TO PRODUCTS OR BRANDS FROM YOUR BLOG
Very early on, whenever I talked about something, I always linked back to where I bought it to help the reader. But I didn’t realise it would give my blog a spam rank. Most weren’t even affiliate links, so I wasn’t gaining anything from it financially.
Every time you link to a site, make sure it’s a no follow link that looks like this. That way you’re not giving away some of your website’ s credibility on to that site. It’s all to do with domain authorities and page rankings. The higher the ranking, the more Google says that site is trustworthy. *Note you can only check two blogs a day unless you install the Moz rank tool bar google extension. This also goes for Amazon affiliate links. I use a no-follow plugin and I just click a box to say “no follow” which edits the code for me. It’s very time consuming to go back and do this to every single link later as I once had to do.
MAKE SURE PEOPLE CAN SUBSCRIBE AND COMMENT ON YOUR POSTS
I use Mailchimp where people can subscribe to get emails everytime I share a new post. The first 2k subscribers are free, meaning it will send 2k emails out in 24 hours. It can be expensive as a paying member when you go over this. But I’ve never paid them a penny as I regularly remove people who don’t open my email. Some have said Mailite is much cheaper, but you can do it for free with the Jetpack plugin on WordPress.
As for comments, this is so important! If you want to eventually work with brands, this is the kind of thing they’ll be looking for. They’ll want to know how engaging you are to others. I don’t get many comments on my DIY, but I do on my YouTube channel.
BEING THE RIGHT FIT FOR A BRAND
I just want to point out that it’s not always about how many followers or subscribers you have. Don’t get me wrong, there are some PRs and brands that only look for that. Some only want to work with parents, some only millennials. It might also depend on the type of campaign they’re working on.
But, you might just happen to be the perfect fit because of your look, your blog or what content you right. So, poundland might want to work with budget minded bloggers. A cruise company may look for luxury lifestyle bloggers. I’ve worked with JYSK recently for their new Doncaster store opening because that’s my home town.
DOES PITCHING TO BRANDS WORK?
I almost never bother pitching to brands – not even on a gifting basis. And absolutely never for paid work.
Why? It takes far too long to write compelling emails and receiving very little comeback. That’s time I could spend on renovating. You might be perfect to work on a gifting basis, but I do believe when something’s offered to someone on plate easily, it has less value (ie, offering a free review for a product review). I’ve recommended other YouTube makers to brands when I know they’ve been ideal, but they’ve admitted they’ve ignored their emails.
One of the most frequent problems I’ve come across on my DIY blog though is, I get contacted by brands BECAUSE they’ve seen me document a DIY project that I’ve now finished. So I no longer need what they’re offering and it’s probably too soon to promote a product related it.
Start your blog for you and not for brands. With The Carpenter’s Daughter, I create content I know would be useful for me and I like to look back and see how I did something. (And sometimes we forget what campsite we went to, so we check where they were!). But, if you want to earn a learning from it, think whether your blog can offer commercial value.
Also, for my food blog, I don’t rely on sponsored blogposts to earn a living. Instead, I focus on writing good content and earn from people visiting my blog as it’s signed up with online ad agency, Mediavine (my food blog) and Gourmet Ads (with this blog). Notice the odd ad placed in the side bar or in the middle of the post. It’s the only way I can justify writing content for free and a bit of pocket money from affiliate links. The same goes from people watching my YouTube channel and having ads that show.
Earning a full time wage from traffic alone puts me in a stronger position to negotiate for a better price. If it’s too low, I can walk away and not risk tiring myself out. Very rarely (but it has happened), the brand has named the price without asking for my fee and it’s been higher than I would have asked for.
The thing is, one of the hardest things when starting is knowing your worth. I have a good idea what mine is now, but what brands, PRs (and bloggers) can fail to understand is that we all talk amongst ourselves. I know brands that have offered fees to bloggers in one niche, but have insisted to me there’s no budget when working with my DIY YouTube channel. The same goes for not going around telling everyone you’re cheap. PRs sometimes move from brand to brand and can recommend you to others.
Also, the reason I never work for free and why I think knowing your self worth is so important:
- firstly, PRs and brands don’t work for free.
- They’ve obviously contacted you as you offer some value to them.
- Some viewers and readers can be dubious, even if you are honest, so I’d rather earn a good chunk once in a while than having to state “sponsored” for £100 a video every week, risking my credibility.
- Time is money and any spare minutes leftover goes in to renovating my house or spending my time with my family. I’m almost always tired as it is, but I love to learn and share what I do (or cook)!
If you don’t know what to charge, there are loads of other bloggers in Facebook groups that are open and honest to help the blogging industry be more transparent. It’s still a relatively new industry and there’s many untapped niches, so it’s up to us to set boundaries.
For example, I’m still trying to educate brands and PRs that I know my self worth from working on campaigns. But when it comes to my DIY channel, I work even harder, so my fees are higher.
Also, the price of a tradesperson vs a chef is usually higher (unless you’re a Michelin star chef), so why in the blogging world should it be the other way around? My theory is that most tradesmen or women don’t have a blog, so I’m here to try and raise the bar.