Building + Rebuilding a Blog in 2017

 

I recently rebuilt my entire blog (again), and I’ve learned so much about my personal blogging style and the way I like to share my writing. My blogging journey has been so long that it would take a while to go through my entire history, but in order for this post to make sense, I’ll give you some background about my blogging experience.

Blogging Platforms

I started my very first blog way back in 2008, as a way to share writing tips and book reviews. After a while, I started to receive a good amount of traffic, and I started working with authors to review books for them. I kept that blog going for a long time, like many, many  years. I wasn’t always posting consistently, but it was on a free platform, WordPress.com, so I didn’t have to worry about the maintenance.

I think that WordPress.com is a great platform for someone who wants to try out blogging without a big commitment. However, although they have added a lot of new features over the years, it is very limited. The ways that you can monetize your blog (make money off of it), are very limited. If you violate the terms of service, you risk having your blog shut down immediately with no warning. This happened to me once when I accidentally included a line of affiliate code in a few blog posts that I transferred over. After that, I decided to get serious about mastering self-hosted WordPress sites.

WordPress itself is a free, open-source blogging platform. If you host your WordPress site on WordPress.com for free, then there are some limiting factors. Your blog will also have the word Wordpess in the title, unless you pay for an upgrade to have your own domain name mapped to your site. If you are like me and you love the WordPress software, but want more flexibility, the best bet is to self-host your own WordPress site.

The self-hosted software is commonly referred to was WordPress.org to distinguish it from the hosting site. If you self-host, then you have to sign up for a hosting plan. I’ve tried a few, but my personal favorite for beginners is GoDaddy.com. I used GoDaddy for many years. I currently use WPEngine, a premium hosting service. To be perfectly honest, it’s quite advanced for me. Luckily, they have good customer service. My blogging needs are relatively simple. The only time I’ve run into a problem is when I added a security certificate to my site. Don’t get too bogged down in the details, as it’s all a lot easier than it seems.

If all of this sounds foreign to you, don’t worry. It took me quite a while to become comfortable with the tech side of blogging, and I’m still learning more and more every day. Technology aside, an important part of blogging is branding. Back in the early days of blogging, could just log on and post. Blogging was like having an online diary where you posted your thoughts randomly, with or without pictures snatched off of the internet.

Blogging Branding

I used to use whatever pictures popped up in a search (this was even pre-Google), because I didn’t know anything about copyright laws, the FCC, or monetization. Nowadays, bloggers have to be much more careful about posting only original content, or content that we have the right to use. Further, it’s important to create a cohesive, modern brand to keep your readers engaged on your blog, and on other social media platforms that help to drive traffic to your blog.

Back in the day, all that one needed to create a successful blog was quality content. There wasn’t much competition, so you could build an audience easily. Now, the internet is busy and faster than ever. You can’t use other people’s imagery (pictures, videos, etc.) without taking a big risk, so you have to spend a lot of time ceating original information and graphics to share with your audience. We’re becoming a much more visual society, so the visual elements of a blog have to draw readers in. Lastly, bloggers can’t just write. We need to use social media to drive traffic, whether that’s by sharing pins on Pinterest, videos on YouTube, or gorgeous pictures on Instagram. All of this is a lot of work!

The good news is that, although blogging is a lot more work in 2017, there are also more resources available to help, and there are a lot more rewards for building a successful brand. In the early days of blogging, most people were blogging just for the love of writing, and made little to no money for their efforts. Although I received a few free books from my first blog, that was about it.

With the power of the internet today, and social media, bloggers and vloggers can turn their hobbies into a full time income, or they can use blogs and social media to grow thriving businesses. Today’s companies understand that “influencers” can help them to connect with their core audiences. Even if you don’t think you’d ever want to work with companies, building a strong personal brand and controlling your image online can help you advance your career or connect with people who enjoy the same things that you do.

I’ve had so many blogs and online personas that I was pretty all over the place. My first blog was based around me being a teacher. My next one was based around my natural hair journey. Yet another was based around my legal career. Do you see the problem? All of these narrow niche blogs weren’t sustainable for me. I still care about all of the topics I wrote about, but I’d rather talk about many different interests. This goes against popular advice, which says that we should niche down. In other words, many online marketers suggest that bloggers find a narrow niche and dominate it.

I think that, instead of focusing only on one niche, the best thing to do today is to build a personal brand. By infusing yourself and your personal interest into you brand, you can transfer that good will to any blog or business! That means that if you build a personal brand in addition to your business, you can sell that business and still have a loyal following. Let’s take Oprah, for example. She is her brand. That means that even though her show, The Oprah Show, has ended, she has transferred the goodwill from her audience to other businesses, like movies, her own television network, brand deals with companies like Weight Watchers, and O magazine. That’s the power of having a solid personal brand.

Rebuilding a Blog on WordPress

With all of this in mind, when I took a good long look at my business in December of 2016, I realized that my neither my blog or my brand fully aligned with the image I want to project. I’ve also written about how I was petty burned out and needed a break. I did something that I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that others do, which was shut down my website completely. I also cleared out my social media and completely stopped taking new legal clients or marketing. I have other streams of income, so I was able to do this. Obviously, if you depend on your blog for your income, you’ll want to rebrand while continuing to “work” your blog.

I dabbled with the idea of switching from WordPress to Squarespace, but that platform is just not for me. For one, I like the flexibility of being able to change to different hosts if I’m not happy with the service on a host. With Squarespace, I would be stuck only with Squarespace. That would also make me vulnerable to their pricing structure, and I would be limited to whatever themes they have to choose from. With WordPress, there are literally thousands of themes to choose from, and lots of developers that can help me take my blog to the next level when I want to add more complex features to my sight.

I think that plugins are another huge plus to WordPress. I actually don’t use a lot of plugins on my site, but there are always many to choose from whenever I want to spruce up my site. WordPress is an incredibly powerful platform and most serious bloggers and many world-famous corporations depend on WordPress to run their websites. I honestly can’t think of many downsides to running a blog on WordPress, but I’m pretty biased since I’ve been using it for years, but I really thought for a while about the decision. Most Squarespace sites that I’ve ever seen has been a bit “off” somewhere, with ill-placed graphics, images that aren’t resized well. That doesn’t usually happen with WordPress sites because premium themes are so well-built.

The cool thing about the hosting provider that I use, WP Engine, is that I can revamp my website in a staging area before the changes go live. This keeps me from “breaking” my blog, or just plain not liking any changes that I do make. I can try different themes, plugins, font changes, and upload graphics all in the staging area in an exact copy of my website. Once I’m happy with all of the changes, I can then deploy those changes to the live site, and seamlessly update my website!

Alternatively, I can put my WordPress site in “maintenance mode” while I make changes. I use both methods, when needed. I had shut my blog down by putting it in “maintenance mode,” but I also made changes in staging instead of making them to my live site, just to be safe.

Choosing a New Theme

I’ve been a long-time fan of BluChic and I have used their themes since 2013. I absolutely love the way they design feminine, professional themes for WordPress. But, I decided that it was time for a change. I once tried a theme by Restored316, another company that makes beautiful, feminine WordPress themes. Restored316 themes are a little different because the run on the Genesis Framework. I was actually trying Restored316 because I won a free theme (yay, me!), and luckily I already owned a copy of the Genesis Framework. (If not, I would have had to purchase it also.).

The problem that I ran into with the theme I selected is that it had a lot of hero image areas, which required high-quality pictures taken at a wide angle. I had professional pictures, but not enough high-quality wide shots to fill out the beautiful design of the theme. I spent so much time trying to make it work, before I realized that I needed to move on. I’m still a huge fan of those beautiful themes, and I definitely recommend them to any blogger who is looking for a feminine premium theme and doesn’t mind using Genesis with WordPress.

I follow a number of blogs, so I started checking out who they were designed by. Tow of the bloggers/YouTubers that I regularly follow were using pipdig themes. I clicked onto their website, and I immediately connected with the simplicity of the themes. They themes all have a clean, easily customizable design that works really well for lifestyle websites, and the overall vision that I was going for. I usually analyze things for a long time, but I purchased a pipdig theme pretty quickly. I’m very happy with the one I chose, which is called Style & Light. I only noticed one feature after the fact that I would have liked that was not included. But, that’s okay. This blog theme allows me to focus on writing blog posts, as opposed to many WordPress themes that are built more like static websites.

As you think about how you want your website to be built, I think it’s totally okay to draw inspiration from bloggers and vloggers that you admire. You don’t have to (nor should you) copy everything that they do. You are uniquely you, and your website and brand should reflect that.

Brand Colors and Graphics

As I shared, we live in a highly visual world, and brand colors and graphics are a primary way that you communicate your message to readers. For this site, I’m focusing on business, branding, and building a beautiful life. Beauty, to me, is reflected in soft colors like pink and balanced with muted colors like gray, which pops of other Spring colors, lots of white space, and images of coffee cups and computers to represent what it’s like to do business day to day.

I really enjoy photography, and I own a Canon t6i, but I am not a professional. I believe in utilizing the services of professionals, where available, to get a “leg up,” and to stand out in the blogging space. I use stock photography to help me tell my brand story. The stock images on this site are from a company called Haute Chocolate. They upload around 50 new images to their already substantial membership site library every month.

These images match well with my logo, brand colors, and overall vision. Although it costs to purchase the membership, it comes with a license to use the pictures for branding. I would recommend reading the terms of service and use policy for Haute Chocolate, and any other stock photos, before signing up or making a purchase. You want to make sure that the photo license allows you to use the pictures in the way that you intend to. Stock photographers sometimes provide a full release, but most of the time the provide a license that specifies how you can use the images. The photographer retains the copyright to image.

As an example, most stock photography companies will allow you to use photos for social media, and websites, but won’t allow you to resell the images, transfer the license to your clients, or use them for any “offensive” purpose. Just as important, many stock photographers won’t let you use their images for a commercial project. The good news is that most people, like me, only need to use the images to create a cohesive experience online.  I also mix in my own photography, and I don’t think anyone should rely solely on stock photos. Modern, aesthetically-pleased styled stock photos are really convenient, though. You can check out Haute Chocolate’s styled stock photography here.

I’ll be talking more about brand colors in later post, but I suggest that you think about your core audience, and what image you want to project. I also recommend that you use Pinterest or Etsy for inspiration. If the whole branding thing is overwhelming you, keep it simple with black, white, and one accent color. You can always change it up later, and you can always hire a professional to help you define your brand imagery, and design a logo.

I kept the same logo I had designed by Miss B Fab. It’s versatile enough that it still serves my purposes, and the colors still match my branding. Yes, I could have possibly designed a logo myself. But, I had spent so much time trying to do so, that it wasn’t worth it. I’m glad I hired help, and I will likely hire professional help for my next logo design. It’s okay to DIY things, hire help, or do both. I like a lot of the design and technical elements of blogging, but when it gets to be too much, I hire help.

For graphics, I primarily use Canva. There are free and premium versions of the service. But, it’s basically an online graphic design services that brings makes the tools that professionals use easily accessible for anyone. You can design using templates, crop, resize, change colors, and lots more. This is really helpful if you’re trying to get the right image sizes for your blog or social media. You can also save your brand colors in the premium version, so your designs will be consistent. In both the free and paid versions, Canva also saves your designs for you, making them easy to copy and clone.

There is so much more that I could go into about DIYing your website design, but instead of trying to explain everything here, I’ll be doing a series of posts about blogging and branding. Be sure to sign up for my mailing list to be notified when that series launches.

Defining Blog Pages, Topics & Categories, and Widgets

Once you’ve chosen a theme and gotten your blog and design elements set up, you want to also write some posts! You could launch your blog with only one post, but I think it’s good to have some content for people to explore when they arrive on the page. You’ll need to set up a few blog pages, define your the topics/categories that you will write, and upload some pictures of yourself along with the graphics that you created.

I struggled with this, and actually started working on this part before I picked out a theme. If you don’t have anything to write about, you’ll be wasting your time on designing, etc. For this blog, my front or home page has my blog posts showing. I also like to have, at minimum, an “about” page, a contact page, and a resources page. With the exception of the blog page, pages are static and won’t change regularly. This is evergreen content that users will click on to find out more about you, link to the resources that you mention in your posts, and contact you. Your blog page will be automatically updated as you add new blog posts.

The categories are a bit tougher. When you write blog posts, they fall into different “categories” that help you organize them, and they help readers find valuable information. This is lifestyle blog, but that covers a lot. I could literally write about anything. I had to think about not only what interests me, but also what interests my target audience.  Categories that I plan to use for sure are Writing, Blogging, Travel, General Lifestyle, Language Learning, and Brunch. Other topics that I’ll talk about are business, law, and fitness. Those things will generally fit into one of the other categories. Remember, this can also be changed, and I can guarantee that I’ll be changing my categories until I get the “just right” feel.

Widgets also enhance your blog. I try to keep it very simple with widgets and I try not to use too many that will direct people away from my site.

 

Preparing for Launch

As I write this, I’m in preparing for launch mode and it’s a lot of work! I’ve never actually been this organized before creating a new blog. I usually just change things haphazardly, but this time I’m doing things in a specific manner. I’m also not just changing my blog, but also rebranding my social media. Although I finished installing and designing my blog, I still have a few steps to take. I’m writing content, planning out my social media posts, and making sure that all of my legal disclosures for my site are written and posted before I go live. If you’d like to read more about what steps to take before launch day, let me know in the comments!

This was a lot of information, but hopefully, it was helpful to you. I’ll be sharing more blogging updates for those of you who want to build a blog, or rebuild your brand.

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