Blogging sounds simple enough, right? That is exactly what I thought eight months ago when I decided to start a blog, but within those eight months I compiled a list of five things I wish I knew before I started.
When I say “blog” here, I am talking about a full blog site, not just an added feature to bulk up content on an existing website. Full blog sites are essentially like online magazines, since they’re made up of articles and their primary goal is to share those articles with readers.
I have always written blog articles for my graphic design business, Stellen Design, where I discuss design trends and explain the design process on certain projects. However, the purpose of those articles was essentially to boost my credibility as a designer, help with SEO (search engine optimization), and share my process with my clients.
Then one day I got the crazy idea to start a lifestyle blog with my husband. I always loved reading other blogs and I loved sharing recipes and travel inspiration with friends and family, so why not put all that into a blog? I also thought it would encourage my husband and me to keep trying new recipes and traveling to new places.
And thus The Bear and The Blonde was born. Our lifestyle blog centers around all the things we love in life: food, travel, the outdoors, and living our best lives. My goal was simple -- if I can get this blog to pay for itself and fund some of our travels, it’s totally worth doing! I thought that all I had to do was come up with four new articles a month, post them on Pinterest, build some traffic back to my site (where I would have ads placed that generate income), then BOOM, goal accomplished.
Boy, was I wrong! After I launched the site in June, I realized Pinterest was a hard algorithmic nut to crack and I needed to find other ways to drive traffic to my site, so I enrolled in an online course. The course has been super helpful and, combined with my own trial and error, I’ve gained a better understanding of what it takes to run a successful blog. I am by no means an expert blogger, as I am still navigating the waters myself, but I’ve learned a lot in the process and I know others could benefit from my tips.
Here are my five things to know before starting a blog:
1. Have a niche: I did not do this step. I wanted our blog to be a true passion project and, to me, that meant not putting limits on things. I work with all my design clients to hone in on their niches and I personally didn't want to have one on our blog. But, now that I am paying attention to SEO, I see how it can be helpful in getting your site to rank.
The Bear and The Blonde: A journal of experiences from two creative, food-loving, adventurous people
We talk about travel, cooking, healthy living, the outdoors, and issues in our daily lives. It’s very vague and broad. The problem with this is that Google doesn't think we are experts at any of this stuff. And Google is right -- we are just two people going through life like everyone else, who wanted to share some thoughts with the world.
The Baking Bear and Blonde: A collection of gluten-free baking recipes that are guaranteed to crowd-please
In this scenario, we would only talk about gluten-free baking recipes that are crowd-pleasers. Everything on our blog would be about gluten-free baking, a very specific topic. This would tell Google, “these people know what they are talking about with gluten-free baking.” And in the end, Google would rank the blog higher when people were searching for gluten-free baking recipes.
Do I think having a niche is better for SEO ranking? Definitely! Would I go back and change my own blog? Probably not, unless my goal was to generate serious income from blogging. But if you are just starting out with your own blog, I think that having a niche gives you a big boost.
2. Know your audience: Draw up a profile of who you want your audience to be. Make sure your look and messaging are appealing to that audience. We know most Paleo blogs are not appealing to your 90-year-old grandma who makes casseroles every Sunday, but that’s okay! Knowing your audience will help you create posts that appeal to the people who are most likely to visit your page and help you generate revenue. This is something I always tell my design clients, too -- knowing your “target market” is key to your success.
3. Come up with an SEO strategy: Like anything in business, if you don't have a strategy in place, you will probably end up wasting precious time and resources. Having an SEO strategy means knowing what “keywords” you want to rank for on Google and other search engines. From there, developing a pillar article with several supporting articles around that set of keywords will help build your ranking. Think of when you do a brainstorming bubble. The center circle could be, “How to Spend Two Weeks in Germany,” and stemming from this you would have several supporting articles like “Best Foods to Eat in Germany” or “Sights to See in Germany.” In this scenario, the ranking goal would be “Germany Travel.” This will also save you from aimlessly writing about dozens of topics that don’t contribute to your blog’s ranking or reach!
4. Add YOAST to your site: Yoast is a plug-in for Wordpress that guides you through the SEO steps, making it easier to get the best rating you can. It’s a great tool, but you’ll get the most out of it if you do a little research on proper SEO techniques for blogs before you even write your first post! That way you are familiar with terms like “meta data” and “alt text,” which are key pieces of information to using YOAST. If you don't know this stuff in the beginning, you will end up having to go back into every post to optimize it for SEO, like I did. Pain in the buns, but super necessary.
5. Get ready to be UNCOMFORTABLE! I really mean this one! Blogging can make you feel very vulnerable since you are putting yourself out there just hoping people will like you. That is scary for almost everyone. You also have to be open to things you might not usually do.
For example, once I was starting to learn more about SEO, I knew I had to change my blog titles from things I thought were cool, like “Iceland, Majestic Beyond Belief” to things I felt were a little cheesy, like “5 Best Things to Do in Iceland for First-Timers”. But, the truth is, no one is searching Google for “Iceland, Majestic Beyond Belief,” yet a lot of people are looking for the best things to do in Iceland.
Another example: I am not someone who likes to share pictures of myself, but I downloaded “Plann” for Instagram planning and tracking, and it’s shown me that our top pictures are the ones I was the most hesitant to post because they are of my husband and me. This blogging experience has taught me that going outside your comfort zone can have big benefits, if you’re willing to feel a little uncomfortable.
With all that being said, I have loved every minute of this new blogging business venture. It is definitely more work than I had imagined, but it’s also very fun and rewarding. I get ecstatic every time I see someone sign up for our mailing list who I don't know personally, or when a friend tells me they loved an article.
If you are thinking about starting a blog, do it! Take my tips, do your research, draw up a plan, and get to sharing your voice.