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.


Blog Content

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.


Gravatar Should Match Your Domain Name

The Gravatar is a basic that no one tells you about that can make it very hard for other people to find your blog. Your Gravatar is the picture and username that get displayed in other bloggers’ notifications if you follow, like, and comment on their posts. It should be connected to your blog URL, so people can click on it to 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. Find the box for “Web Address” (below this, it says “Shown publicly when you comment on blogs.” 
  4. Make sure the domain name listed here is correct.

On a quick privacy note, the email associated with your Gravatar will be visible to people whose blogs you leave comments on.


Commenting – Technical Difficulties

Sometimes people report problems liking or commenting on other WordPress bloggers’ posts.  It may be an issue with your browser settings that stops the site from recognizing that you are in fact signed in to WordPress. Specifically, it relates to cross-site tracking 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.

Besides that, occasionally WordPress will randomly decide to eat comments. The comment form is different for blogs that are on the business plan compares to other plans, and people seem to have more difficulty with them. While I don’t have solutions for you, know that you’re not alone if you’re having issues.


Comment Spam

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


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.


You automatically have copyright over 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, and it’s really useful in making your blog look the way you want it to. There’s more info in the post Customizing your blog with CSS, and the site W3Schools is an awesome resource.

One way I’ve used CSS is to make all of the headers across my site look the same way, which is far easier than changing each one individually.


Using Custom Colours

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 abobut 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 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 hex code palettes.


Growing Your Blog

Time and effort is the tried and true way. Unless you are one of the lucky few that manages to amass followers super-quickly, getting your first 100 followers will feel like watching paint dry.

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.


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. 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 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 social media, and in particular on Pinterest. Pinterest is my preferred platform, and it consistently brings traffic to my site.


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:

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.

Alt text

Alt text 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 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, 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, and if you’re downloading from, a site like Pixabay, you can select a smaller size to download.

Related posts:


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 your work or not
  • 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

Useful Image Tools


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, including ads & affiliate marketing
  • 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 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

Sometimes people will judge you for trying to make money with your blog, but let them judge away; there’s nothing wrong with running your blog in the way that suits you best.

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 you’re connected, and your site isn’t 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

Search Engine Webmaster Tools

Once you verify that you own your site, 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.

There’s more info in this post on Search Engine Webmaster Tools,and this WordPress article on webmaster tools has step-by-step details on verifying your site with Google, Bing, Pinterest, and Yandex.


Writing Tools

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

Grammar/spelling checkers:

Other tools:

Related posts:


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