Mistakes I’ve made a few.
Blogging for me has very much been a case of learning on the job. There’s been months of trial-and-error and days of try-it-and-see. I’ve made a fair few mistakes over the last 5 years and have decided to share them with you here so that you don’t have to do the same!
1. Not setting up a self-hosted site
I started blogging on Blogger, them experimented with Tumblr (for a day), then moved onto WordPress and only after several years did I finally work up the courage (and effort) to go self-hosted.
My advice to beginners would be that if at some point in the future you see can see yourself wanting greater control over the functions, features and design off your site, set it up as a self-hosted blog from the start.
I use the self-hosted version of WordPress for all my sites now, having endured the painful experience of exporting 40before30 from blogger to wordpress.com, then wordpress.com to my hosting company. It would have been much easier if I had simply chosen the right platform from the very start.
(NB I’m hosted by Dreamhost and you can get a 20% discount by quoting GIRLTWEETSWORLD at checkout. More info here.)
2. Not investing in a decent theme/web designer
If you do decide to self-host your site you will have more flexibility with the theme you can use. There are heaps of good free ones out there but if you really want to stand out (or are a sucker for details like I am) then consider paying for a professional one. (I’m a fan of the designs found on Themeforest.)
When choosing your theme pay particular attention to the small details, like how the social share buttons are displayed on the theme (if integrated) and how users will navigate from one post to the next. (I spent hours searching for a theme that had a ‘Next’ and ‘Previous’ buttons at the end of the post for Travelling Shopaholic. Eventually I found one I liked and didn’t have to pay a developer to customise the theme at all.)
If you have a set vision for the look and feel of your site consider engaging a designer. Just make sure you are confident they can deliver what you want; ask for samples of previous work, get personal recommendations if possible and ask thorough questions about their work process and delivery times.
I would also recommend working out a payment plan so you pay a certain amount up front and the rest on successful delivery. (I learnt the hard way about not paying 100% up front!)
3. Not picking a site name wisely
Whilst changing your site name several years down the line is not impossible (hello, case in point 40before30) it would definitely have been easier for myself in the long run if I had chosen a name for my site that didn’t expire on my 30th birthday!
When picking a name it might help to visualise saying it out loud and introducing it at a networking event; basically, make sure you have a name that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to put on a business card! Also picture what sort of brand and readership you may be looking to build around this name, as well as how the logo or header for the site will look. Check that a relevant username is available on Facebook and Twitter and that the domain is available to buy. All these elements are so intrinsically linked; don’t just consider the blog name in isolation.
4. Not auto-renewing my domain
So here’s a newbie mistake I didn’t expect to make after four years of blogging. There I was about to jet off on a big live-blogging project, I had content and tweets all pre-scheduled to go and the brand I was working in association with had also planned updates that linked back to my site. Except when I casually looked at the blog on my phone that morning to see if my post had gone live there was a white page of death and an advert to buy the domain! Despite receiving numerous emails from Google 1 month prior saying my domain name was about to expire I never did quite get around to renewing it. (I know! What a rookie!) Luckily for me no one swooped in to buy it before I realised and I had my site back up and live before the end of the day with no one the wiser.
If you can’t afford to buy your domain name for several years all in one go, select an auto-renew option or set calendar reminders (many of them) to make sure you don’t forget. Don’t risk four years of work like I did!
5. Not having a logo/branded header
I don’t know about you but I tend to judge a blog by its cover (home page) and a Facebook page by its cover photo (what can I say, I’m shallow!) I highly recommend putting a bit of moolah behind getting a good header and logo designed for your site.
I hired a freelance designer to work with me on Travelling Shopaholic. He asked me questions about the site and what I wanted the header to convey, plus things I had never even considered before that point. He was also familiar with bloggers so once we had picked the logo he sent me versions that could be used as a blog header, Facebook cover, Twitter profile, business card layout and a favicon (that’s the little pic that shows up on the tool bar tab when someone is on your site.)
Ways to source a designer include looking at freelancer sites such as Elance and People Per Hour. Also reach out to bloggers whose headers you like and ask who did them (if it’s not already stated at the bottom of their site). If you are looking for something a lot simpler (like your name) then Etsy have a lot of headers out the box for less than a tenner (that’s where I got the one on jaynegorman.com – but just pretend I didn’t tell you that!)
6. Not building an email list
When I launched Travelling Shopaholic I was quite intent on building the social media profiles and gaining an audience on these as it had worked so well for 40before30. But over time I have noticed that it’s my email subscribers who are more loyal – reading every post and giving me permission to be in their inbox.
Make it easier for people to sign up to your blog by embedding a subscription box in the sidebar or footer. If you don’t have a fancy widget you can do this very easily by grabbing the HTML code from Feedburner or Mailchimp (depending on your email provider.)
For an example of the Mailchimp sign up form see here or the box on the right. And why not join the list whilst you’re at it 😉
7. Trying to sell advertising instead of skills
Every blog/blogger is different and there is no one best way for making money from your blog but I can say that in my experience it has been far more lucrative to sell my blogging skills than make money from advertising or affiliate sales. A lot of new bloggers are often tempted to add banner advertising to sites but in my experience unless you have the traffic of the Daily Mail this is not the quickest way to get rich. My advice would be to think more strategically about what you want your blog to sell – if its content, skills or consultancy based, a sidebar full of adverts may not be the right approach.
(I’ll be touching on monetization – both on and offsite – a bit more in later posts. I’m still experimenting with different methods myself but if anyone has an example of their travel blog doing really well with Google Ads or affiliate sales I would love to hear from you.)
8. Not reading other blogs
At some point last year I got so bogged down in trying to produce content for my own sites as well as clients that I stopped reading other blogs. This was a huge mistake as whilst I was busy looking the other way the blogosphere was continuing to evolve without me. Whilst it is not healthy to constantly compare your site to others, there is a lot to be learnt just from reading them, from both a content and function perspective. The best plugins I use on my sites are ones I have seen being used by other bloggers. When you read other blogs think about how you use their site – what bits you like about it, the bits you don’t – and use that to shape the development of your own site.
9. Forgetting how to use social media
Social media can be a brilliant traffic source for a blog but that is not its main purpose. At some point, I ashamedly admit, I lost sight of why sites like Twitter and Facebook were created and stopped being social on them.
I wrote a whole ode to the twitter of old, when people were random and had banter, rather than strategic and salesy, and have made a conscious effort to follow my own advice. Not only am I enjoying the sites much more by being more natural but my following has seen a boost because of it. Sometimes it is better to sit back and let your content and community do the promotion for your work, rather than self-promoting and plugging posts all the time.
10. Forgetting to love what I do
It may be the best job in the world but it is still a job. The admin of running a travel blogging business is just as dry as any other. So every now and then I have to slap myself and say ‘Hello, your job for today was sampling and writing about cakes in Sydney, quit your griping woman!’
I think it’s important to step away from your blog sometimes and look at what you are doing and why. By stepping back, moving away from the keyboard, popping my blogging bubble; I’m reminded how much I love it.
Have you made any blogging mistakes that we can all learn from?