10 things I wish I knew when I started blogging
Hello there! This is my first post for the Blogchatter Blog Hop. Can’t imagine that the newbie blogger looking for friends and guidance in the Blogchatter in 2018 is now a 4-year senior blogger sharing tips and tricks of the business. So here I am sharing from my experience, the things a new blogger needs to know to take their blog to next level.
1. Writing for myself versus writing for my audience
Most bloggers say that they want to help their readers in some way through their blog. It could be by sharing parenting tips, motivational talks or product reviews, or travel itineraries as in my case. But they also say that the blog is their personal space, and they will write what they want to write. That’s a dilemma every blogger faces. For a long time, I refused to take positive feedback from ace-bloggers thinking this is my personal space. So, I’ll stick to first-person narrative style of travelogues that nobody can discover on the internet.
What I was spending so much time and effort on was not a blog but a journal. I had to change my style to suit the genre of my blog and be discoverable. I had to research what the audience is looking for, and how really can I add value to someone’s life through my blog.
So, what about self-satisfaction and honesty? Well, that comes from choosing a topic you are genuinely passionate about and can help people with. This is important because “success” in blogging takes time. Only if you choose something that you are not truly passionate about, can you stay motivated in this journey.
2. Try out with a free platform but decide soon
Free platforms like Blogger, Wix are great to begin with. It’s as simple as opening a social media account. The problem begins when you try to customize the layout, optimize it for SEO or speed-up the website. If you are not sure that blogging is your calling, you may start with these. But decide soon, preferably within the first year of blogging and move on to self-hosting. I started with Blogger. After reading other blogs I spent humungous amount of time trying to customize the layout of my blog through html codes. It took up so much time that I couldn’t do what I loved the most – writing.
Tip: If you are starting with a free platform, choose WordPress.com. It’s because you can take the advantage of numerous plugins developed only for WordPress. And many hosting providers like Siteground has a free migration tool for WordPress users.
3. Move to self-hosting if you want to take your blog to the next level
Once I moved on to WordPress.org with SiteGround as the hosting service provider, I have got good riddance from that frustration of failed attempts of coding. It was initially a scary decision, given the work involved in migration and also the investment. I told myself, “People do buy expensive things for their hobbies, why can’t I get myself a hosting service”? I hired a freelancer to do the migration and after a few initial hiccups my blog in its current form was ready.
If you are planning to move to self-hosting I strongly recommend Siteground. It’s the fastest and has 24/7 customer support. The only problem is that the renewal charges are huge. So, it’s a good idea to buy a 3 –year package at once. The second best in terms of performance is Bluehoust. It is also one of the most popular providers among bloggers. Here are a few other hosting providers for bloggers in India and their pricing.
- FastComet ($9.95 per month – $19.95 per month) – Now available at 70% discount
- Hostgator (Rs. 99 per month – Rs. 6289 per month
- GreenGeeks ($9.95 per month -24.95 per month) – Now available at 70% discount
- Bluehost (Rs. 499 per month – 6719 per month) – Currently available at upto 60% discount
- Siteground ($14.99 per month – $39.99 per month) – Currently available at upto 55% discount
I’ve mentioned the regular pricing in brackets, but they are often available in heavily discounted prices.
4. Learn SEO
I can’t stress on how important this is. Especially for someone who is not an “influencer” and don’t boast of a huge social media engagement, SEO is the key. You see, when you publish a new post and share it on your social platforms you get a lot of traction. But within a few days it fades away. To bring readers back you write one more, and you have to keep writing to establish the authority.
But if the posts are search optimized, people nowhere in your social media circle will visit your website looking for the exact information on your article. Who knows, they love it so much that they click through to various related posts, subscribe to your newsletters and become your regular readers. Well, even if that is not so, you at least get readers who you have no social contact with.
Also, these are targeted audience who came here looking for exactly what you wrote about. Naturally, their engagement rate is higher than the social media platforms.
I bought Keysearch subscription for keyword research. That indeed helped me choose the best long tail keywords and make SEO work for me.
5. Optimize website design for speed and usability
It’s said that a webpage needs to pass the 3 second test. There are so many sites out there sharing the same information. Why would one wait for my site to load, if it takes a long time? Even search engines penalize slow websites. Which is another reason to choose a fast server-space like Siteground. Now if I remove all colors and pictures from my webpage, of course it’s speed will improve. But what about the reader experience? Who loves to read a travel blog without photos or some byte-sized pictures?
So, striking the balance between speed and user-experience is the key!
Over the years I experimented with the homepage design, using widgets, having a sidebar versus not having one, headline design, image sizes etc. to understand what works best for my blog speed and audience experience.
6. Choose the right name
This will always remain at the top. Especially because I thought a lot before buying a domain and asked friends. Almost everyone said this is a cool name to go with. But all of them were non-bloggers. In practice the name is just not right for this blog. To begin with, the spelling mistake is not cool. It seemed cool when I started off, but not when brands and even fellow bloggers mention my blog as “Backpack N Xplore”. I have to remind them saying the name of my blog is Backpack & eXplore. The blog url and all my handles are backpacknxplore. I don’t know why it seemed so cool to me when I started off.
Also, brands assume it to be a backpacking blog, for obvious reasons. Well, it’s not. What I really meant is “pack your bags and go out to explore”. Somehow the meaning is not well-conveyed through the name of the blog. But now I have established a reasonably good name already, my posts are ranking well on search engine, and I am afraid of disturbing everything by changing the name.
So, decide upon a name that not only describes your blog correctly, but also stands the test of time. The use Namecheap to find and buy domain names at a cheap price. Now they offer hosting services too.
7. Invest on your blog
remember the obscene number of working hours I spent trying to customize blogger codes. Blogger, by the way, is a great platform for hobby bloggers, but it doesn’t support the plugins that make life easier for WordPress Bloggers. However, since I wanted a custom look and fancy things for my blog, I delved into UI coding. Result- complete burnout with a full-time job I already had.
A lot of people think that they shouldn’t put money into their blog as it is not making them any money. It might look strange, but this is a thought dominates the mind of people who have a well-paying full-time job and can easily afford to invest in the basic necessities – hosting, a paid theme, speed optimization etc.
Like any business a blog needs some initial investment. In-fact, why don’t you count your own work-hours as an expense? What is the salary you earn or expected to earn from a regular job of 8-9 hours per day? Aren’t the insane hours you spend in doing unproductive things also a cost equivalent to a per-hour salary? So, instead how about investing on a freelance developer for things like blog design, speed optimization etc.? Also, what about the incremental income you stand to earn from a successful blog?
Think about it and assess your blogging budget accordingly.
I decided to hire a freelancer for some technical aspects of my blog when I transferred the blog from Blogger to WordPress. I decided to buy a book on SEO much later to fast-track my SEO learning curve. Similarly, I bought Keysearch subscription for keyword research. That indeed helped me choose the best long tail keywords and make SEO work for me.
I just wish I made these investments earlier.
8. Learn Social Media optimization
I haven’t got the time or interest to invest in it yet. I was happy with the traffic I was getting on auto-pilot mode through SEO. Then came the pandemic and all my keyword research went down the drain. People were no longer searching about travel. Many travel bloggers pivoted to recipes and DIY which were booming at that time. Now here’s the problem for me. Google wouldn’t rank my non-travel posts well, no matter how good they are. It’s because this is an established travel blog. Second, even if I try to impress Google with my non-travel posts, it will take time. SEO takes time to kick-off for each blog post.
If I had a massive or reasonably engaged social media following, I’d still have readers for my non-travel posts. There was a talk in the travel community about how easy it is to get travel content viral on Tiktok owing to lack of competition. But I wasn’t in for downloading the app on my phone.
Thankfully all that has recovered, and my blog is doing better than ever before despite the frequency of my posts taking a drastic hit after several changes in my personal life.
9. Establish connections
While I have been able to make some great friends within the blogging community, I still struggle with brand connections. I must admit I have not done much towards it either. For a long time, I refrained from pitching hotels and tourism boards till I reach a certain number of page views per month. The target in my mind was 10K monthly viewership (excluding self-views).
Finally, when I achieved that, I started reading about pitching and also ordered a business card. I still kept procrastinating before pitching to brands, when the pandemic hit, and my plans were shelved. Then came my pregnancy, my baby and the plans remain in the dark.
My advice: Start early on this. At least read up, join some free webinars and courses to learn about pitching and invest time in finding the right brands to partner with. I have worked with a few brands but that’s just because they approached me through mail or Instagram.
10. Focus on monetization
There are 3 easy ways to monetize your blog even as a newbie. That’s even before you have established brand, network, client-portfolio etc.
I. Affiliate Marketing
Start this from Day 1. Here are a few affiliate networks you should begin with as a travel blogger.
- Amazon – The king of all affiliates
- Booking.com – The King of travel affiliates
- Cuelinks – An aggregator of affiliates. The best thing about it is the ease of joining and adding links. Unlike Amazon it doesn’t have a target of 3 sales in first 3 months for eligibility.
Disclaimer: I have sprinkled some affiliate links on this blog post for monetization.
II. Advertising through Google Adsense
I don’t think it’s worth signing up for ads unless you have a reasonably high stable traffic. Ads in fact slow down the website and affect SEO. I would suggest waiting till you have consistent 6000 monthly pageviews (excluding your own views) on Google Analytics.
Many top bloggers look down upon it and warn you against it saying this will get your site blacklisted. But when you get your first email from a client who wishes to put up a guest post on your site and pay you for a backlink, it’s hard to put down the offer as a newbie.
I do sell links to sites that are genuine and relevant to my audience. I also write partly or fully compensated promotional articles with full disclosure.
My only advice to newbie bloggers is – dont sell yourself short. Do not be ready to post free articles from businesses simply because they say they would promote your article on their platforms. Also, do not give in to talks like “this will need only 5 minutes of your time so why charge more than $10”.
Remind them that they are paying you not for the time you take to post their article but the time it took you to make your site worthwhile for them to email you for a paid backlink.
So that was my blogging tips for beginners. Hope you liked it. Please pin the post and share with your blogger friends if you did.
This post is a part of Blogchatter Blog Hop.
Hey Sinjana, these are really good and very important tips. The name of your blog is actually the window to your thoughts.
Thank you so much. Yeah, it is a window to your thoughts at that point of time. Time changes, so do people, but the domain will always be there. So decide on a name that will also stand the test of time is what I advice new bloggers 🙂
Thank you for sharing your journey with us; it is always a wonderful experience to learn from skilled bloggers.
Highly informative. But someone like me who can never understand much of this manages to be happy bloggers. Tell you jow. Here
Thanks! Happy blogging
This is such a detailed and helpful post, Sinjana, Well done
Glad it helps.
Awesome tips!!! Will surely wait for my 5000 montly viewership!!! Pray it happens soon!!!