I thought it would be helpful to create a resource page that bloggers or would-be bloggers can use to see the products and services that I use with my blog. The list will be continually evolving as I find different resources and tips worth mentioning.
An Introduction to “Blogging Like a Pro”… er… sort of
At first, I really just wanted to tell stories. But then my blog grew. And I got sponsors. And then I started making real, paying-the-mortgage money. And these days, it’s my dream job.
I started blogging on April 1st, 2010. Yep, April Fool’s Day, 2010.
Looking back, it’s something that still makes me laugh, because I started kind of as a “let’s just see where this thing goes.” I posted a few “before” pictures on Facebook thinking I was going to have “after” pictures to add to that same album in no time.
If you’re paying attention, that was 2010. And this is 2017. And those after pictures are still yet to be added.
So, blogging just came out as a way to express the funny things that were happening as I learned to remodel. When my ex-boyfriend and I split up (we lived together for a few years), I started remodeling the house by myself. And it was still a lot of fun.
After getting the hang of things, I switched from Blogger to WordPress, and that’s when my knowledge for blogging like a pro really started to expand. I learned more about my audience and how to create a niche (DIY, home repair, decor, storytelling, sarcastic, etc.), and how to better make money from things I genuinely used all the time. I started my own side business while I was in grad school, offering customizing other blogger’s WordPress and Blogger templates (and I still do this, but it’s more based on referrals to allow me to only select the clients I want to work with). Sponsors started to take notice and wanted to work with me, too (I was using a lot of their products in many cases, so it seemed like win-win). People started to think of me as an “expert” when all I tried to do was find ways to explain the things I was doing to repair my house.
So, if any of that sounds like you, or something you’d like to do, or you’re curious about blogging and want to sort of “skip ahead” in terms of the learning curve, I’m including lots and lots of resources below to tell you exactly what I use on a daily/monthly/annual basis to keep my businesses going.
By the way, this page contains a few affiliates, which just means that I make a small commission off of things I recommend if you buy them based on that recommendation. If one of the reasons you’re reading this page is to learn tips and tools for blogging like a pro, that’s the first lesson: be honest with your readers and make sure material relationships are disclosed. There’s nothing dishonest about referral codes if you’re giving your genuine opinion (just don’t be one of those bloggers who says they’ve used something when they haven’t, or try to hide paid links. Big no-no and considered bad form by other bloggers, too. For more info, please see my disclaimer page. And thanks for supporting this site!
Photography Tools and Equipment
Some of the blog tools I’ve purchased are a few years older (and therefore outdated), so these are the newer and more widely available tools that are basically the same thing.
Creating A Blog
Domain and Hosting
Start brainstorming a blog name and think about how that would look as a URL, aka your domain. Try to keep it short, because you’ll be typing it a LOT as you blog (I kind of wish I’d thought of this in my own blog name!). A good tool for figuring out if it’s taken already or not is domai.nr. It will even give suggestions if the .com is unavailable.
Quite frankly, there are quite a lot of options for finding your host, but this is one of the most important investments you make, so it’s worth doing your research. The speed of your host can make or break search ranking.
Bluehost is a company that gets recommended a lot, mainly because they are an inexpensive option if you’re brand new to blogging and aren’t sure if you really want to invest heavily before figuring out if blogging is right for you. That’s a totally valid thing, so don’t think you have to immediately invest hundreds to get started. I didn’t use them myself when I started, but I hear it’s good for beginners and really easy to set up (and the whole point of this page is to help you get the inside info, so even if I haven’t personally used it, I still want you to have resource info!). Host providers charge on a sort of tiered scale, and the larger you grow, the more space on a server you’ll need. So, this is always a viable option to plan for your current small blog needs and make growth decisions later (I’m a procrastination advocate, in this case!).
Siteground is another hosting company I’ve heard great things about, but they are pricier. If you’re the type that wants to find a company to start with and not switch from (which can be stressful, especially if you’re growing or your site is crashing from too many visitors!), this may be a better bet than something like Bluehost (everyone I’ve known has switched from them eventually, even if they were the right fit at first). Usually, the pricier hosting options offer loads of additional benefits, such as 24/7 support, chat support, free migration, better security, and more.
As for me, I currently use BigScoots and think they are AWESOME. They are a little bit pricier than Bluehost, but they are very fast at handling issues, and they can scale up as your site grows. I like it because I get both a small team where I’m familiar with the person handling my requests, and a large enough team to help out when sh*t hits the fan (you never want to have just one guy who might be taking a nap when you need them most, ha!). In my opinion, they’re the best of both worlds.
Selecting a Child Theme
As I mentioned, I designed my own blog’s entire site, but if you’re not quite willing to make an investment in a custom site design (either by the MANY hours it will take to learn how to code or by paying a pro like me), the next best way to get a professional-looking blog is to go with what’s called a “child theme” that fits your needs. Personally, I use the themes that are built on the Genesis Framework, which is made by StudioPress (they also offer hosting options, just FYI). I like that they offer one big package now, but Genesis is well-known for being user-friendly and has some pretty nifty add-ons for customizing to your blog’s needs.
In their Theme portal, you can choose from a long list of really great child themes. Some are made by StudioPress directly, and some are designed by third party web designers like me, but are packaged and made for resale. I originally intended on doing the same thing with my own business, but I’ve since started licensing some of my ideas to other designers, developing partner plugins (I’ll get to that in a sec), and continue to build custom blogs and websites for friends and referrals. If you’re looking to maybe skip the designs that are kinda ugly (just in my opinion), here are the designs I think are great for new bloggers (the home, lifestyle, fashion, or food niches, especially):
Aren’t sure which one to go with? Some of my favorites are included in this handy quiz, to help you narrow down your options!
To customize any of these, I recommend the Genesis Design Palette Pro plugin. It helps color coordinate your site to your logo!
After setting up your website, it’s time to start blogging. And I mean before you apply for ad space, sign up for affiliate programs, etc. The reason why is that ad companies of all kinds, especially the really good ones, require you to prove that you have steady traffic and influence already. You can’t do that unless you’ve got followers, right? So get started and create something, already! But as you do, especially if you’re on WordPress, you’ll learn of other tools that help you plan your calendar, share things on social media, block content scrapers, and more. Here are some of my favorite plugins (some free, some paid):
The free version of this plugin is great, but the pro version helped me simplify and get rid of other plugins that were weighing down my site. It does social sharing, pin-it hover, and a tool call Framebuster — which prevents people trying to make money off of your content (it happens way too much… very worth having this!).
I just recently discovered these guys and their plugin helps me keep my site working optimally. It’s a little tough to go into if you’re a beginner, but this helps with things like Amazon affiliate links, no-follow fixes, and more. I’m a blog designer myself, so I don’t like to pay for things that I can figure out on my own; these guys do the stuff I could spend hours tackling myself, but it’s much easier to outsource to them (and cheaper).
By far the best plugin I’ve found for SEO help. Search engine optimization isn’t easy to learn, so I love anything that gives me a cheat sheet. I use the pro version now, but for many years the free version was also great!
Next, you’re going to need to focus on growth. One of the ways is by using social media, and at first it won’t seem like a huge deal to just share your stuff as you go along. But as you grow, social media maintenance can eat up a lot of time. There are some tools that make this a lot easier to manage day to day, and these are my favorites.
I have quite a few followers on Pinterest. Most of that following came just as Pinterest was made available to the public (for a time, it was invite only), and it is part of my income strategy.
- For scheduling pins at optimal times where people will see it the most, I like to use Tailwind. What it does is help me better plan my pins and gives me analytics to figure out what works and what doesn’t on Pinterest and Instagram. I also use their tribes feature to help share my popular pins and collaborate with other bloggers. It’s part marketing, part time management, and part networking. And if you click on that Tailwind link above (also here) and sign up, it gives you one free month to try it out for yourself!
Advertising and Affiliates
As you might expect, some of my income comes from advertising directly on the site — in the sidebar, in the footer of my page, etc. These are filled by AdThrive, who is incredibly great to work with! You have to apply to join, but it’s far easier to have someone else taking care of filling ad space for me than managing it on my own, and I make more money with having them involved than I did trying solo. Win-win.
Getting folks to sign on for your email list (and sending them posts about what projects you work on, downloadables, etc. is another important part. For email service, I use a company called Flodesk. I use them because it’s 1) run by women (I love supporting women-owned businesses) 2) inexpensive and 3) very intuitivelly designed! If you’re interested in a similar service, you can use my link for 50% off!
This page is a work in progress, so that’s it for now but there will be more!