Blogging Resources

So I am by no means a “blogging expert” compared to some of the other guys and gals out there who are very successful in the blogging space.

Nor do I currently blog about blogging.

However, in the many Facebook groups I have come across, I am seeing posts on folks joining the blogosphere who don’t know where to start or feel overwhelmed. 

I can relate to that as while I am super excited about blogging and just thoroughly enjoy decompressing after a long day by creating content online, there is just SO much information out there on blogging!

I literally cannot count the number of articles I’ve read on SEO, Pinterest, choosing a niche, etc. 

So where does one start?

That’s where this post comes in to hopefully help take the stress out of starting your new blog. I wanted to create a one stop shop with some humble, free, and (mostly) simple advice I have learned since starting Marking Life Merry. 

This post is geared toward the WordPress platform. However, some of the tips are general even if you are not using WP!

Choosing A Reputable Hosting Company

Now you can absolutely start off with a free WordPress.com site but truly, the best thing you can do is purchase your own domain name. This way, the blog name is YOURS and you will have far greater functionality using WordPress.org (which is for self hosted sites.)

When researching a hosting company, research just enough that you feel comfortable with your decision but not so much that you end up driving yourself crazy over making said decision. I say this because I almost ended up choosing a domain hosting company that actually wasn’t as good as some of the major bloggers were cracking it up to be.

I am an intense researcher…so when I started reading some comments and reviews, I decided to do more research before just jumping the gun.

I ended up going with Dreamhost because that was the best choice for me (and I’m so glad I did!)

I encourage you to choose the hosting site that you feel will best suit your needs.

This post contains affiliate links, which I will talk about in more depth in the next section. Basically, this is a link where the blogger (me, in this case) gets a small commission if you make a purchase through the the link. You aren’t charged anything extra for purchasing through it, however!

If you *are* interested in checking out Dreamhost, you can do so here: Dreamhost Sign-Up. Plans start at $2.59/month!

Again, I really do encourage you to choose the host that’s best for you

Affiliate Links 101

Really quick, I want to give you the low down on affiliate marketing (short and sweet, I promise) if you are new to blogging. As I briefly mentioned before, affiliate links direct your readers to a link with your referral ID attached. If they make a purchase, you will get a commission. While the commissions are usually small, it all adds up! Affiliate companies do not charge the consumer more for purchasing through an affiliate link. 

That’s why it is SO important to only promote products you believe in and actually love. 

Here are a few examples so you can see what those types of posts look like:

Cat Wall = Cat Win.

The Best Cat Scratcher that Doubles as a Lounger! The Meowch.

Note: I made my first affiliate sale after just under a month and a half of blogging from the cat scratcher post! That means you can, too!!

It is equally important to always disclose those affiliate links. By explaining to your readers that they are not being charged anything additional if they purchase from your link, you are being honest (and compliant with the FTC!) which should be two of your main goals if you are a blogger!

I also created a disclosure page that I can link to when I am posting affiliate links.  Again, just be sure to keep it real and don’t recommend anything that you wouldn’t stand behind. I have already have had a few brands on Instagram comment that they’d like to collaborate but in looking through their feed and at their products, they really weren’t a good fit for me.

Affiliate Companies

There are SO many affiliate companies to choose from out there. A few that I am signed up for are:

Amazon Affiliates – Amazon has EVERYTHING. This is why their affiliate program makes it so easy to create links to just about anything you are writing about.

CJ Affiliates – Commission Junction is a very popular affiliate site just because of the vast variety of advertisers that it boasts.

FabFitFun – I have been a member of FabFitFun since 5/2018 and absolutely LOVE their subscription boxes. If you are not currently a FFF member, check out this post and take a look at all of the goodies you get for only $49!

Some other Affiliate companies out there include but are not limited to: Awin, Rakuten, Shopstyle, RewardStyle, and ShareASale.

EllDucos (the founder of Boss Girl Bloggers) has a REALLY good e-course, Mastering Sales With Ell, that I highly encourage you check out if you want some more information on monetizing your blog. 

Plugins

So the vast majority of the plug-ins I use are actually FREE plugins (aside from one awesome plugin that I pay for.) These plugins allow me to have the feel I want from my site! Please note there are *many* more out there to choose from.

Share button plugins:

AddtoAny – I used this one for a while without any problems! This plugin is relatively simple in style and allows you to choose from SO MANY platforms for your readers to share.

Social Warfare –This is my current share button plugin. I will say that I originally purchased the Pro version for the “Pin it” save feature on my images but it did not work with my theme. I ended up going with Tasty Pins, which I love and will talk about in the Pinterest Plugins section. While I requested a refund, I have to say Social Warfare was quick to respond and take care of my request. The free version works wonderfully for my share buttons!

Social Pug – This is another popular one! They have a bit more style options to choose from. I had strange random dots above the share buttons when I tried it and that’s why I ended up deactivating and going with Social Warfare.

Editor Plugins:

Elementor –This plugin is a post and page builder and is super easy to use.

BeaverBuilder – Another very popular page builder plugin!

Note: I have recently switched to using the Gutenberg Block Editor (WordPress’s editor) and prefer it now that I’m used to it.

Pinterest plugins:

Tasty PinsThis plugin costs $29 and while it isn’t free, it is completely worth it. Any image will instantly become “pinnable” and you can actually add a Pinterest text description on any image! You can disable pinning on any image that you do NOT want pinned and can even “force pin” certain hidden images.

Social Warfare Pro – So I already mentioned this plugin under the social share plugins but the pro version gives you more advanced features and also does the same thing as Tasty Pins. It is also $29 a year

Note: While it isn’t a plugin, I highly recommend Tailwind. Even if you don’t opt for a paid version, when I signed up for the free trial, Tailwind Tribes helped my pins gain traction immensely!

Other Important Plugins

Yoast SEO – If you do not download any other plugin, download Yoast. This plugin will help ensure your blog/website is optimized for search engines. Yoast allows you to easily create a meta description and add search keywords. 

Akismet Anti-Spam – Before installing this plugin, I quickly realized how many spammers are out there. My posts had spam comments that made no sense at all. These spammers are commenting for the sheer reason to get clicks to their links. Ain’t nobody got time for spammers! Enter Akismet! 

Instagram Feed – This plugin will pull in your linked IG account and show your Insta photos right on your blog! 

Monster Insights- This handy dandy plugin will pull your Google Analytics right into your WP Dashboard!

WP Smush –Worried about images needing optimized? Worry no more! You can set a max height and width for your images and never have to worry about your images slowing your load times again! 

Responsive Lightbox & Gallery – I have tried a BUNCH of the lightbox plugins out there (including the intrinsic one built into Elementor) but this is by far my favorite since you have more customization options. 

Email Subscription Platforms

To be radically transparent, I am still trying to grow my subscription list (and traffic, for that matter!) However, it is still very important to have an opt-in form embedded on your site. 

Sure, your readers may decide to bookmark your page (like I do with my favorite blogs.) But even if they do, how will they know when a new post comes out that may interest them? Especially if they don’t follow you on social media? Enter email subscription platforms!

When starting out, most are FREE! You can even completely customize them and automate a welcome message to go out to all new subscribers!

Popular choices:

Mailerlite – This is the platform of my choice. It was super easy to sign up and customize my opt-in forms and a welcome email.

MailChimp – Another very popular platform. I also tried this one and found Mailerlite to be much more user friendly.

ConvertKit – Many bloggers swear by ConvertKit! However, the lowest plan isn’t free and costs $29/month. 

An important note: To comply with the CAN-SPAM act, you need to list an address on emails and you will see that your address will appear in the footer of the above email marketing platforms. If you don’t want to provide your actual physical address, you can purchase a PO Box! ConvertKit is the only exception to this since they will let you use their address versus yours.

Themes

First and foremost, there are SO many free themes out there. I started with a free theme that I found on WordPress before I ended up purchasing one.

If you are looking for a beautiful theme, there are a few places I recommend checking out.

One place is over at Beautiful Dawn Designs. I started following Tiffany for some blogging tips and found out she also makes beautiful, responsive themes.

You can also find a great number of amazing themes on Etsy, through independent sites (just google WordPress themes), and also on my favorite site for anything in the creative realm: Creative Market.

Just a note on Creative Market, sign up is free and you get 6 free “goodies” each week. I’m talking free fonts, vector images, and stock photography! It is so worth signing up for the freebies to use on your blog…even if you don’t make a purchase! Hint: The background image in the title images on this page was a Creative Market freebie.

Take a look at this weeks 6 free items by clicking here!

General Advice

Overall, I want to share a few simple yet crucial pieces of advice. These tips are ones that I have received from other bloggers and I think they are so very important.

Don’t give up!

It is so easy to let life get in the way of blogging or running your website. Too easy. “Consistency is key” is a phrase you will read and hear a lot in the world of blogging.

Think of it this way.

Let’s say you sell tee-shirts and are just starting out in the tee-shirt market. You have some customers who are regularly buying your merchandise. As a new business owner, you are very excited to have these customers and promptly fulfill their orders as soon as they come in. Every. Time.

A similar new company sells tee-shirts, too, and they also have some new customers. They fulfill the first two orders…but then miss a delivery date. Then they are consistent with the next few orders but miss two more delivery dates.

Which seller do you think customers will be more apt to buy from? You! The consistent tee-shirt company, of course!

This is way easier said than done. I work a full time job and sometimes the last thing I want to do after working all day and staring at my computer is to stare at a computer some more. BUT…I make time. I craft at least one blog post per week and usually post on weekends. It is a creative outlet for me and once I start, I get in the zone and am in my happy space.

My advice is to start with a small goal and just keep steady.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

This one is easier said than done. You will see SO many successful bloggers offer tips and tricks…and all of them are usually super helpful. However, you will notice that your traffic isn’t picking up despite doing everything they are telling you to do. 

You may see their site and sit in awe while looking at yours and feel like it is a piece of garbage.

STOP.

Everyone is on their own journey and it will take time to see results. If you are growing tomatoes, they don’t appear overnight! You need to water them daily and take care of them. Over time, you will end up with some healthy little tomato plants! Likewise with your blog or website!

Trust me, I sometimes have to check myself when this happens to me. Just remember that this site is yours and that is so special.

Sure your traffic may only get 50 views a month, but you know what? That’s 50 views a month more than you got when you started out! BOOM!

You don’t have to have one specific niche.

One phrase you are going to come across a lot is advice telling you to “niche down” and basically just focus on one specific topic. This isn’t 100% true. There are so many successful blogs that have multiple categories!

Now, I get where the advice comes from. Focusing on one or two main topics helps retain those in your audience that really are interested in those topics.

But what if you *like* writing about multiple topics?

Do it!

I love writing about travel, my cats, and providing money savings tips! While I may narrow it down someday, right now I am passionate about all of those things. So I’ll continue writing about them!

Engage with other bloggers.

Interacting and commenting on other posts, providing feedback on another bloggers’ design or theme, and just generally being supportive with others is crucial.

Not only that…but you never know when you may get a guest post opportunity to post on someone else’s blog, which in turn may lead more traffic to your site! AND help get your name out there.

A good place to find other bloggers is through Facebook Groups. A couple that I’m a member of are:

Boss Girl Bloggers, The Blogging Blueprint, and The Sway Facebook Group

These groups are filled with empowering women who will make sure you don’t give up on your blogging dreams!

One of the most helpful things I found after joining one of these groups was that I made a “blogging buddy” who I can run ideas by, ask for feedback, and we generally try to help keep each other motivated!

I hope this helps you at least a little bit on your journey and if you have any questions or would like me to take a look at your blog, please feel free to comment or shoot me a message on any of my social media accounts!

Happy blogging! πŸ™‚

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