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. I’m not a blogging guru telling you how you should run your blog with the goal of getting the most traffic and making the most money. This blogger’s guide is all about useful tips for regular bloggers who are just looking to make their site the best it can be.

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 talking about things that will puzzle you at first, until eventually you figure it out. Here are posts I’ve done on some of the basic, just getting started topics.


Your 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. 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.

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.


copyright symbol

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. The post how to deal with plagiarism covers how to do this. 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 of internal links.


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.

design ideas using CSS

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

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


Using custom colours on your blog

If you want to experiment with colours on your blog, one way to do that is with hex codes. What on earth is a hex code? They 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 headings, regular 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 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. 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

Diary-style posts have a relatively short time-frame in which they’re relevant.

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.

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.


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. Remember, you don’t need to do things just because people say you’re supposed to!

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. You can read more in the post Using Images in WordPress Blogs.

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.


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
  • others can adapt your work or not
  • attribution is required
Google Images

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
  • 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

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)

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. The post Easy SEO basics provides tips on some things that you can easily implement, while SEO Chat for Non-Beginners goes into more immediate-level concepts..

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 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 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.

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. There are more ideas here on generating backlinks.

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.


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:

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