I started MH@H in October 2017, with no blogging knowledge whatsoever. I’ve come a long way and done a lot of research since then, and I want to share the blogging and writing tips I’ve picked up along the way.
These tips come from my own trial and error and the direction I’ve gone with my blog, but I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t help to try to constrain blogging with all kinds of “shoulds”; instead, you do you, and take what works for you from other bloggers’ advice and leave the rest.
New blogging tips posts are published every Sunday on MH@H.
Having problems with being unable to like/comment?
How to fix problems liking/commenting on blogs covers how to addresser a web browser cookies setting issue that could be preventing you from liking or commenting on other people’s blogs.
Are you new to blogging on WordPress? Check out A New Blogger’s Guide to WordPress.
The guide also has tips on using the WP block editor.
Blogging & Writing Tips – Page Outline
Copyright & plagiarism
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 with CSS
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) may seem daunting, but it’s actually easier than it looks, and it’s really useful in making your blog look the way you want it to.
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.
If I use CSS to make may a change to the size of my H2 headers, for example, it’s applied through my whole site, with nothing further that you have to do.
Some of the other things I’ve styled with CSS so far in this page include the shadowed outline around the info on the New Blogger’s Guide to WP and the alignment and dotted outline around the drop-down accordion.
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.
Note: CSS is only available for bloggers with the WordPress.com premium plan or above, or for self-hosted bloggers. 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: not as scary as it sounds.
Using custom colours on your blog
If you want to experiment with colours on your blog, hex codes 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 find colour palettes with hex codes in various corners of the internet, including this one from Wondernote.
You can customize your colours within the block editor, or you can create a CSS class and change the colour that way. Using CSS improves page loading speed somewhat.
Growing Your Blog
There are a variety of different ways to get more people to your blog. Boosting traffic from the WordPress Reader, social media, search engines, or elsewhere will require somewhat different strategies.
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 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.
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 taken over their WP Reader feed.
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.
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.
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.
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 blogs where you can list or syndicate your blog:
- Blogarama: a blog directory
- Bloglovin is a blog-reading platform, and it’s a way for non-WP users to follow your blog
- OnToplist blog directory
- Psychreg index of mental health blogs
The data that you associate with your images can boost usability and help with SEO.
Alt text is used to describe what your image looks like. This is helpful for visually impaired readers, 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.
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.
You can find more info in the post Using Images in WordPress Blogs.
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 or only for non-commercial purposes
- others can adapt your work or not
- users of the work must attribute it to the creator
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.
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
- CleanPNG: graphics with clear background
- Clipart Library: basic clipart images
- DeviantArt: creative artwork, some under a Creative Commons license
- Dreamstime: has a mix of free and premium photos
- Freepik: photos, vector images, and icons; must attribute all free images
- Gratisography: unique, quirky photos
- Pexels: photos
- Pixabay: photos and other graphics
- Unsplash: photos
- Wikimedia Commons: has all the images used on Wikipedia
Useful image tools
- Canva for creating your own graphics by combining various elements
- Preview app for MacOS: this app is actually far more powerful than a basic image viewer. You can adjust the image size in pixels, make other adjustments to the image, adjust the image quality, and convert between file types, including png, jpg, and pdf.
- Remove.bg lets you remove the background portion of an image
- TinyPNG: for those who can’t use plugins, this website will compress images for you.
- WordArt: create word clouds using their stock shapes or upload your own image – there are examples in this post on word clouds.
Maintaining Your Blog
Blogs could do with a bit of maintenance work every now and then to make sure everything’s in good shape.
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 sites will change unexpectedly.
Sometimes it’s nice to give your blog a trim and 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.
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 a post on options for monetization, but here’s a quick overview:
- Ads: Google Adsense gives you a lot more control than WordAds does, but regardless, you won’t make much unless you have massive traffic. The post can you make money with advertising on your blog? goes into more detail
- 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
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:
- 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 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.
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 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 people or no one at all clicks on your internal links, that’s okay; it’s having the structure that matters.
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 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.
- 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
- Internet Marketing Ninjas: checks for broken links on up to 1000 pages on your site
- 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
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.
- Do your posts say what you think they do?
- My anti-rules for writing: there are lots of things people say you “should” do, but I say ignore them!
- What’s Your Writing Process?
- Where do you get blog post ideas?
- Writing researched posts: tips on writing about subjects you’re not very familiar with
Useful writing tools
There are a number of tools available that can your blogging life a little easier, including:
- 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: another option that works in the block editor, but I’m not a big fan, personally
- Grammark, GrammarCheck & Hemingway App: let you copy and paste text into the website and get feedback
- 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.
The 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.
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.