The Regular Blogger’s Guide to Blogging

The regular blogger's guide to blogging - graphic of WordPress logo and cogs turning

While the title for this page may seem a bit odd, there’s a reason for it. This blogger’s guide isn’t about what the blogging gurus advise you to do, or the gazillion and two rules that you’re supposed to follow. Those rules may work fine for people whose primary focus is monetization, but for the regular blogger, they’re mostly just an unnecessary source of stress.

Here you’ll find lots of tips and ideas, only some of which will be interesting or useful to you, and that’s okay. There is no one right way to blog, and my single biggest piece of advice is simply you do you.

Blogging Basics

When you’re first getting started with blogging, you’ll probably hear other bloggers mention things that will puzzle you at first, until eventually, you figure them out. Here are posts I’ve done on some basic getting-started topics.

My main piece of advice would be to ditch the shoulds, and you do you when it comes to your blog. That’s important for blogging sustainably and avoiding blogger burnout.


Blog Content

Everyone has a different style of planning/approaching their content. Personally, I schedule almost all of my posts ahead of time; it just makes my life easier.

Some types of content, like diary-style posts, are relevant right now, but not so relevant a couple of months down the road. On the other hand, so-called evergreen content is the kind of posts that can continue to draw readers long after they’re published. It appeals 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. Your mix of time-sensitive and evergreen posts will depend a lot on what your blogging purpose is.

For those posts that have evergreen appeal, going back and giving them a refresh can help them continue to draw traffic. You can also refresh older content and republish it, as your current readership may not have been around when older posts were originally published.


FAQ

  1. Why do some notifications link to sites that no longer exist?

    This is often a Gravatar issue, and the person doesn't have their Gravatar connected to their current blog URL. They likely don't even realize this is the case. Here's how to check if this is an issue for you:

    1) In the WP 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) Find “Web Address” (below this, it says “Shown publicly when you comment on blogs.”
    4) Make sure the domain name listed here is correct.

  2. Why can't I like or comment on someone's blog?

    Your comment may have accidentally got caught by WP's Akismet spam filter. It's also possible that the person has blacklisted you to prevent you from commenting.
    The most common reason, though, is an issue with your browser settings—specifically, cross-site tracking and/or third party cookies.

    If you’re using Safari, go to the “Safari” menu > “Preferences” > “Privacy” tab. “Prevent cross-site tracking” needs to be unchecked.

    In Chrome, go to the “Chrome” menu > “Preferences” > scroll down to the “Privacy and security settings” and click on “Site Settings” then “Cookies and site data”. “Block third-party cookies” has to be turned off.

  3. Where do spam comments go?

    WordPress's spam filter is called Akismet. You have a comment spam folder; it lives under My Sites > Comments. Akismet catches a lot of the spammy comments left on your site by individual spammy visitors as well as spambots. It will also occasionally send legit comments there, so it's good practice to check it regularly.

  4. What's a pingback?

    Pingbacks let other bloggers know you've mentioned them. 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. 

    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.


Blog chat

Every Sunday on MH@H there’s a post about blogging. Often these are blog chat-style posts, where I provide an intro to the topic, and people share their thoughts. Blog chats have covered:


You automatically have copyright over the content that you produce. If you want, you can put a statement on your site asserting your copyright (e.g. © 2020 YourNameHere) but it’s not required to establish your copyright.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows copyright holders to submit a DMCA takedown notice to the website’s host, who can then take down the material that violates the complainant’s copyright. Trying to deal directly with the plagiarizer is annoying and unlikely to be effective; you’re better off doing a DMCA notice.

How will you know your content has been plagiarized? Most likely, you won’t, or you may stumble on it by accident. Several times, I’ve gotten pingbacks because the plagiarizer didn’t remove the internal links I had put in the post.

Related posts:


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’s daunting at first, but it’s actually easier than it looks once you get used to it, and it’s really useful in making your blog look the way you want it to. It’s also a very convenient way to change multiple occurrences of something all in one place (e.g. making all headings looks a certain way across the entire site).

There’s more info in this post on customizing with CSS, and the site W3Schools is an awesome resource.

Your theme/plan may or may not let you change colours for fonts or other elements of your blog. If it does allow you to and you want to experiment with colours, it’s useful to know about hex codes. These consist of a hash sign and 6 hexadecimal characters to represent a specific colour. You can enter hex codes in the WP editor to modify the colour of elements like text, backgrounds, separator blocks, etc.

Have a graphic that 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. Wondernote is a good site for colour palettes with hex codes.


Growing Your Blog

Time and effort—it’s the tried and true recipe for growth. Unless you’re one of the lucky few that manages to amass followers super-quickly, getting your first 100 followers may well feel like watching paint dry. Growth strategies will differ depending on where you’re trying to get that growth from.

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.

The WordPress Reader will suggest posts to viewers based on its own recommendation algorithms, which takes into account:

  • post title, content, tags, and categories
  • total number of likes and comments, and who liked/commented
  • total number of followers, and who those followers are (the larger your site is, the more likely you are to get recommended)
  • how recently a post was published
  • How frequenly/recently a site publishes new content
  • the content of what you’ve liked/commented on
  • whether posts have links, images, or videos

Some people will play the follow/follow-back game, but you certainly don’t need to. The larger a blog gets, the more spammy followers you’ll accumulate. These people won’t actually read your blog. That, combined with the fact that a lot of your older followers will have stopped blogging, means that your reader numbers will be significantly lower than your follower numbers.


Search engines

Search engine traffic takes a while to attract. If this matters to you, you’ll want to be consistent with your search engine optimization right from the get-go, which we’ll talk about later on this page. 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 using. WP allows you to auto-share posts to Twitter and Facebook, but if you’re not very active on the platforms, you’re not going to get much traffic.

Twitter comment threads are a popular way to promote blog posts. Pinterest can also be very effective. It’s my preferred platform, and it consistently brings traffic to my site. You can also pay to promote pins on Pinterest.


Promotion

Email marketing is something lots of blogging sites will tell you to do, and do early. For me, though, it just hasn’t felt like a good fit, and WordPress itself is the best communication tool I’ve got. If you are interested, these are some tools that can help, such as Mailchimp, ConvertKit, and Constant Contact.

Some blogs allow other bloggers to pay to be featured advertisers on their sites. These are a few places where you can list or syndicate your blog:


Images

Using images effectively can make your blog more user-friendly and search engine-friendly. This post on using images has more details.

Alt text: This is used to describe what your image looks like. This allows visually impaired readers to know what your image is, but it also helps search engines to know what the image is about.

Image title: When you upload an image in 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, plus it will make your life a lot easier if you’re trying to search through your media gallery.

Image size: A large image will slow down your page loading, which isn’t good for users or for SEO. You can compress images using a plugin or a site like TinyPNG. If you’re downloading from, a site like Pixabay, you can select a smaller size to download. Mac OS’s Preview app and Shutterstock‘s image resizer also let you scale down your image sizes.


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 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, others can adapt the work or not, and/or attribution is required.

A common copyright mistake comes from using Google Images. 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.


Free Image Sources

free images - background of pencil crayons in rainbow colours

Some other useful image tools are:

  • Canva: create your own graphics by combining words, text, and other elements
  • Remove.bg: remove the background portion of an image
  • WordArt: this site lets create word clouds

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. There’s nothing wrong with trying to monetize, but it’s best to do it in a way that doesn’t make for a worse experience for your readers.

Blog monetization options, including ads & affiliate marketing
  • Ads: Google Adsense gives you a lot more control than WordAds does, but regardless, you won’t make much unless you have massive traffic.
  • Affiliate marketing: Amazon’s affiliate program is one of the more common ones, and what I use
  • Coffee sites: Buymeacoffee.com and Ko-fi.com let people give you donations, become regular subscribers, or buy digital content
  • Selling products/services: sell on your site, or try to drive traffic to Etsy, Amazon, etc.
  • Subscription-only content: do this on WP, Patreon, or coffee sites

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.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Related posts:

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 plan. However, there’s still a lot you can do to up your blogging SEO game even on the WP free plan.

SEO encompasses both on-page and off-page, i.e. what you do on your site, and what happens off your site, including social media shares and links back to your site. Let’s start with a few basic on-page tips:

Easy SEO basics for bloggers
  • 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 in the editor. 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 regular bloggers who write primarily to write; there’s no need to constrain your writing that way.

The one exception I would make to that is using long-tail keywords for post titles. Often people enter phrases or questions into Google rather than just a word or two. 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 your site is connected rather than stranded off on an island somewhere. There are three broad types of links:

  • internal: links between posts/pages 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: These 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 back to the original post. Even if few or no people click on your internal links, that’s okay; it’s having the structure that really matters.

I also regularly go back to my older posts to create links there to my newer content.

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.

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

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.

One way to see how your site is doing in terms of backlinks is by checking your DA (domain authority), a metric developed by Moz. 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.

Related posts:


SEO Tools

  • Ahrefs backlink checker: shows which sites link to yours; also has an extensive site audit tool
  • Check My Links: a Google Chrome extension that checks all the links on a page
  • Moz’s link explorer: shows backlinks to your site
  • Neil Patel’s SEO analyzer: gives feedback on a number of SEO areas
  • SEMRush: gives info about backlinks and does a 50-page site audit
  • SEObility: a free site audit tool to check your technical SEO—it covers a lot of pages and can be repeated daily

Webmaster tools allow you to see how often your posts are appearing in searches, what search terms are sending people your way, and various other bits of information about how search engines see your sites. To set these up, you’ll need to:

  • sign up with Google Search Console,  Bing Webmaster Center, and Yandex Webmaster
  • verify your site is actually yours, which you can do from your WordPress editing dashboard
    • click marketing (in the tools section) and then the traffic tab
    • scroll down to site verification services, which includes a link to a WP article explaining how to do the setup

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Writing Tools

There are a number of tools available that can your blogging life a little easier. For book-writing resources, head over to the MH@H Books page.

Related posts:


And finally, remember, it’s okay to blog your way. Blogging should be fun, so enjoy it!