The Blogger’s Guide to Blogging

A blogger's guide to blogging from Mental Health @ Home

There are lots of blogging gurus out there who will tell you how you should blog. That’s not what this page is about. This blogger’s guide is for regular, personal bloggers who are looking for a bit of help making their blog the best it can be. What you “should” do matters far less than what you want to do and what works for you and your blog.

Blogging Basics


Your Gravatar should match your domain name

Your Gravatar is the picture and username that get displayed in other bloggers’ notifications if you follow, like, and comment on their posts.  That Gravatar should be connected to your blog site, so people can click on it to go visit your site. 

But if you’ve changed your domain name and the wrong site is connected to your Gravatar, people who click on it will get a message that your site no longer exists.  Not good, right?!

  1. In the app, go to “Me” at the bottom of the screen, or in the browser version, click on your Gravatar image near the top right of your screen. 
  2. Go to “Account settings.” 
  3. On this screen, look for the box for the “Web Address” (and below this, it says “Shown publicly when you comment on blogs.” 
  4. Make sure the domain name listed here is correct.

How do you use pingbacks?

What the heck is a pingback?  If you include in one of your posts a link to someone else’s posts (note: it has to be the link to the post on their actual website, not the version shown within the WordPress Reader), when you publish the post, they will get a pingback, which appears as a comment on whatever post of theirs you linked to.  It’s a handy little way of notifying other bloggers that you’ve mentioned them.

If someone has disabled pingbacks, they won’t be notified that you’ve linked to them. Some blogs (like mine) have pingbacks enabled for posts, but not pages.


copyright symbol

You automatically have copyright over content that you produce. You can put a statement on your site asserting your copyright, such as what I’ve got in the footer, to provide clear notice to others; however, this isn’t required to establish your copyright.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a piece of American legislation that allows copyright holders to submit a DMCA takedown notice, and the website’s host can then take down the material that violates the complainant’s copyright. The post how to deal with plagiarism goes into detail on how to do this.

How will you know your content has been plagiarized? Most likely, you won’t, or you may stumble on it by accident. On several occasions, I found out because I had internal links in the post, and I got a pingback when the plagiarizer posted my content.


Design Customization

For bloggers who are self-hosted or have the WP Premium plan or above, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is a great way to customize the appearance of your blog. It may seem daunting at first, but it’s actually easier than it looks, and it’s really useful in making your blog look the way you want it to.

Some design possibilities with CSS

I’ve used CSS to make all of the headers on my site look the same way, and I’ve used it to fine-tune the formatting on my site’s pages. It means I can change all of my headers quickly and easily in one place.

Your CSS styling won’t show up in the editor; you’ll have to preview your post/page to see the CSS implemented.

There’s a set number of properties in CSS, and a great place to look all of it up is W3Schools. Even if you know nothing about CSS, it will tell you exactly what to do.

CSS code gets entered into your theme’s customizer, while CSS classes are named in the advanced block settings within the block editor. There’s more detail on CSS in the post Customizing your blog with CSS.


Using custom colours on your blog

If you want to experiment with colours on your blog, you’ll probably do that using hex codes, which consist of a hash sign and 6 hexadecimal characters that represent a specific colour. You can enter hex codes in the WP editor to modify the colour of headings, regular text, backgrounds, separator blocks, etc. You can also create a CSS class and style all elements of that class with a colour of your choice. Using CSS improves page loading speed somewhat compared to changing the colour for individual bits of text within the WP editor.

Have a graphic you want to borrow a colour from? The site Image Color Picker lets you identify the hex code for a specific area of an image. With that, you can reproduce the colour on your blog or when designing graphics on a site like Canva.com. You can find colour palettes with hex codes in various corners of the internet, including the site Wondernote.


Growing Your Blog

Time and effort is the tried and true way. The more blogs you interact with, the more people are likely to interact with you in return.

WordPress

The best way to boost your traffic from WordPress is to interact with other bloggers. WordPress will give you some organic “sit back and wait for it” traffic, but to really get things moving, it’s best to actively engage with other bloggers. Read other people’s blog posts, leave meaningful comments, and get genuine conversations going.

Your posting frequency also makes a difference. Regardless of a blog’s quality, posting more frequently will generate more traffic. If you have 100 followers who all read every post (which never actually happens), posting 5 days a week gets you 500 views, while posting 1 day a week gets you 100 views. Your blog hasn’t gotten worse and your followers aren’t less loyal; it’s just simple math.

It’s important not to go too overboard with self-promotion on WordPress, or you can just come across as spammy, which won’t help you get viewers. If you’re an ultra-high-frequency poster (as in 10-20 posts per day), you run the risk of some people unfollowing you because you’ve basically taken over their WP Reader feed.


Search engines

Search engine traffic takes a while to get, and it’s best to be consistent with your search engine optimization (which is discussed in the SEO section). Even if you don’t have access to SEO plugins, there are still basic on-page strategies you can use. Still, Google isn’t going to fall in love with your blog quickly; it takes time and consistent posting.


Social media

Social media traffic will be very dependent on how much effort you put into the platforms you’re on. WP allows you to autoshare posts to Twitter and Facebook, but if you’re not very active on the platforms, you’re not going to get much traffic.

I’ve done posts on promoting your blog on Pinterest and participating in Twitter comment threads. Personally, Pinterest is my preferred platform, and it consistently brings traffic to my site.


Evergreen content

The staying power of evergreen content – graphic of an evergreen tree

There’s nothing wrong with diary-style posts, but the time span during which they’re relevant is relatively short.

Evergreen content is the kind of posts that can continue to draw readers long after they’re published. Evergreen content is appealing to search engines, and is also more likely to show up in WP Reader search results.

My older evergreen content now makes up a substantial proportion of my daily traffic, while older diary-style posts or things like blog awards get no traffic at all.


Promotion

Email marketing is something lots of blogging sites will tell you to do, and do early. For me, though, it just doesn’t feel like a good fit, and WordPress itself is the best communication tool I’ve got. Remember, you don’t need to do things simply because a lot of people are telling you that you should.

These are a few places where you can list or syndicate your blog:


Images

The data that you associate with your images can boost usability and help with SEO. There’s more on how to manage images in the post Using Images in WordPress Blogs.

Alt text

Alt text is used to describe what your image looks like. This is helpful for visually impaired readers so they know what your image is, but it also helps search engines to know what the image is about. It’s also important for search engine optimization, and your graphics may appear in Google Images searches based on your alt text.

Image title

When you upload an image to WordPress, it will automatically assign a title for an image based on the file name of the image. Having a descriptive title rather than IMG1234, it’s more search engine friendly, but more importantly, it will make life a lot easier if you’re trying to search through your media gallery to find a particular image.


Copyright and images

It’s great to use images on your blog, but you don’t want to violate someone else’s copyright. This post on images & copyright goes into more detail. 

creative commons logo

Creative Commons Licenses allow others to use a creator’s work in a certain way based on the type of license.  The different licenses are based on whether:

  • the work can be used commercially or only for non-commercial purposes
  • others can adapt your work or not
  • users of the work must attribute it to the creator
Google Images

A common mistake is around Google Images. Unlike the free image sites like Pixabay and Unsplash, Google Images is a search engine, not a source of images. Any pictures that come up in a Google Image search belong to the website where Google found them, not to Google itself.

Fair use of book cover

In some cases, images protected under copyright can still be used under “fair use” when discussing things like news events or historical figures. The Social Media Examiner has a helpful article on this.

If you use a book cover when doing a review, that’s considered fair use.


Free image sources

free images - background of pencil crayons in rainbow colours

Useful image tools


Maintaining Your Blog

Tips on maintaining a blog garden

Blogs could do with a bit of maintenance work every now and then to make sure everything’s in good shape. Your blog is your garden, and you’ll want to take care of it!

Every weekend, I review my posts for the pasts week, and if they relate to older content, I’ll build some internal links.

I also like to check for broken links on my site. I have a lot of links to other sites, and sometimes those site URLs will change unexpectedly. Internet Marketing Ninjas has a handy tool for this.

Every so often, you may want to get rid of unused tags, images, or posts that are no longer a good fit. Clearing out images can also free up a lot of storage space, which may be important depending on your WordPress plan.

Giving older posts a refresh can help them to continue to draw regular visitors. You can also refresh older content and republish it, as your current readership may not have been around when older posts were originally published.


Monetization

How easy is it to monetize a blog? The short answer is, it’s not. Anyone who tells you that it is probably isn’t being very honest. Here are a few of the options:

Blog monetization options: ads, affiliate marketing, selling a product/service, subscription content
  • Affiliate marketing: Amazon’s affiliate program is one of the more common ones; CJ Affiliate (Commission Junction) is another option.
  • Selling products/services: You can sell on your site, or try to drive traffic to buy your products on Etsy, Amazon, etc.
  • Subscription-only content: You can do this on WP, or some bloggers use Patreon for their subscription content.

You can also include donation buttons for sites like Buymeacoffee.com and Ko-fi.com.

Considering upgrading to the WP business plan? You can read my reflections on upgrading. It’s an expensive option compared to going self-hosted, but there’s the reassurance of knowing that if you break something, WordPress will fix it. My own preference is to pay so I can have certain things be not my problem, but of course, that’s not going to be the right choice for everyone.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to making your site more appealing to search engines, so that you will show up in search results and people will make their way to your blog. Some SEO work requires a plug-in like Yoast, which is only available for self-hosted bloggers or for bloggers on the WordPress.com business or e-commerce plan.

However, there’s still a lot you can do to up your blogging SEO game even on the WP free plan. The post Easy SEO basics for bloggers provides tips on some things that you can easily implement.

You may have come across the terms on-page and off-page SEO. On-page refers to things you do on your site itself, and off-page refers to how much your blog gets around on the web. Off-page would include links to your blog that are found on other sites, or shares of your content on social media. On-page SEO strategies are easier to implement, since you’re the one in control of what happens on your site.

Let’s start with a few basic on-page tips:

Easy SEO basic tips to help you up your blogging game
  • Image alt text: fill this out for each image, and try to make sure this matches what your post is about
  • Use headings: not only do these make it easier for search engines to understand what your post is about, headings make posts easier to read
  • Slug is what shows in your post’s URL once it’s published. You can change it under the permalinks section under document settings. These should be short, sweet, and to-the-point (with each word separated by a hyphen).

Keywords

Keywords are the terms by which you want people to be able to find your post/page. Keyword research is a big thing in the SEO world, and you can optimize your page for a certain keyword.

My own opinion is that it’s not that useful for the average blogger. The big SEO people are marketers writing content with a key goal of luring in maximum traffic to increase conversions of whatever it is they’re trying to get you to do/buy. If you’re a writer first, write about what you want and how you want; just tweak in terms of keywords afterwards if you feel the need.

The one exception I would make to that is using long-tail keywords for post titles.

Sometimes people will type whole phrases into Google, or ask questions. If your title matches that long phrase or question, your post will likely show up pretty high in the search results. The more specific you get, the less competition there is from other pages using those same terms.

Generic title: Aromatherapy and Mental Health

Long-tail keyword title: Does Ylang Ylang Help with Depression?


Creating links, both within your site and to other relevant sites, is a major component of SEO. Links show search engines that you’re connected, and your site isn’t stranded off on an island somewhere. There are three broad types of links:

  • internal: link from one post/page on your site to another post/page on your site
  • external: links on one of your posts/pages that point to a different website
  • backlinks: these are links on other websites that point to your site

Internal links

Internal links show that your site is well-integrated. Just as importantly, they help readers to find additional related content that they might be interested in. If I’m mentioning CSS in a post that I’m writing, and I remember that I did an early post that provided more information about that, I’d just create a link in an appropriate place where I use the term CSS.

Even if few or no people click on your internal links, that’s okay; it’s having the structure that’s most important.

External links

The internet is all about connection, and using external links helps to establish that your blog isn’t alone on an island. You might link to other bloggers’ posts if you’re doing prompts or blog awards.

If you’re looking up some background info for a post, include a link to the original source. Google considers Wikipedia to be an authoritative source, as you can see by their prominence in search results. Creating relevant links to authoritative sites like that boosts link juice.

If you want to create links to sites that you don’t really want to give link juice to, you can make the link nofollow rather than the default dofollow.

Backlinks

Backlinks are harder to get. You can build some yourself through accounts that you have on other web platforms, and also through things like guest posts and blog awards. There are more ideas on How to Increase Backlinks to Your Blog.

One way to see how your site is doing in terms of backlinks is by checking your Domain Authority, which is a metric developed by Moz that’s related to SEO. It’s a logarithmic ranking out of 100, so it’s harder to jump from 15 to 16 than from 1 to 2. It’s heavily impacted by how many people are linking to your blog and how much DA cred they have. Brands wanting to work with influencers may be particularly interested in your DA score.


SEO tools

  • Ahrefs backlink checker: shows you which sites have links to yours; Ahrefs also does an extensive site audit to identify problems on your site
  • Check My Links: a Google Chrome extension that checks all the links on a loaded page to see that they’re working
  • Moz’s link explorer: shows backlinks to your site
  • Neil Patel’s SEO analyzer: gives you feedback on a number of SEO areas
  • SEMRush: gives site audit feedback and info about backlinks
  • SEObility: a free site audit tool to check your technical SEO

Webmaster tools

Up your blogging game using search engine webmaster tools – Google search console logo

Search Engine Webmaster Tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools allow you to track how your blog is doing in search results.

They tell you what searches are leading people to click through to your site, and how many search impressions and clicks you’ve had.

Search Console will also show you errors that Google has detected when crawling your site.


Writing Tools

There are a number of tools available that can your blogging life a little easier.

Grammar/spelling checkers:

  • Grammarly: It’s available as a Google Chrome extension that checks spelling and grammar as you type. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well with the WP block editor.
  • ProWritingAid: works in the block editor, but not as effective as Grammarly
  • GrammarkGrammarCheck & Hemingway App: let you copy and paste text into their website and get feedback

Other tools:

  • Cliché Finder: paste in text, and it will point out any parts of it that are highly clichéd
  • OneLook Thesaurus: you can input single words or phrases.
  • Pomodoro Technique: aims to increase your daily writing word count by chunking work into uninterrupted 25 minute periods and then taking a break.  There are multiple Pomodoro apps available.

And finally, here are my anti-rules for writing. Remember, it’s okay to blog your way. Blogging should be fun, so enjoy it!

A Beginner's Guide to Self-Publishing from Mental Health @ Home

A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing is a mini e-book containing all the knowledge and tricks that I’ve picked up from self-publishing two books.  It’s available from the MH@H Store.