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What Every Blog Needs

 What Every Blog Needs
Every blog is its own creation and inherently unique in that way. But there is a formula for the look of blogs. Below I’ve listed what every blog needs, plus some additional sections that you may want to think about when creating or updating your blog.

Navigation Bar

     When it comes to your navigation bar, less is more. You don’t want the navigation bar cluttered with too much stuff. If it’s too cluttered, people will have a hard time finding things. Keep it simple. You probably don’t need a button that says home because clicking on the header sends you home. If you can put some of the stuff you were gonna put in the navigation bar in the sidebar that’s a great option. Only the most important info needs to be in the navigation bar. Make the navigation bar easy to understand, don’t put different names for things. I have small navigation bar and one sort of odd name, The List currently, but I am thinking about changing it to newsletter because that’s easier for people to understand. When you see The List what do you think? Leave it in the comments below.

Site Icon/Favicon

     Every site needs a site icon. It’s the little icon next to your sites name in the tab bar. It adds that little bit extra piece of professionalism. Amy Lynn Andrews has a great tutorial about installing a site icon.

Homepage

     Deciding about if you’re going to have a homepage or the blog as your home is a decision that needs to be made. I find it helpful, if it’s just a blog then your blog can be the home. If you have a business, having a homepage is great and people can decide where they want to go from there.

Photo

     You’ll want to have a picture of yourself somewhere on the site. Most people have a picture in their sidebar and one on the about page at a minimum. Also, if you don’t have anyone to take the photo for you, use the timer on your phone, so you don’t have to take a typical selfie, unless that’s the look you’re going for. If you blog is casual, I would say that kind of photo is fine. If you’re going for a more professional look, get a friend to take a picture or use the timer on your phone.

About Page

     When writing the about page, it’s all about your reader/client. Help them to understand what you bring to the table and how they will enjoy reading your blog or using your site.

Contact Page

     Your contact page could include all your social media, a contact email and/or a contact form that could be easily filled out. Also, a link to your FAQ page is always helpful, just in case you’ve already answered their question over there.

Email Sign Up Page

If you have an email list or are hoping to turn your blog into a business, you’ll need to create a page that people can use to sign up for your email list. This page can be used on your social media as well. Having a sign up in your sidebar is helpful as well. The more opportunities people have to sign up the better.

FAQ

     Once you start getting a lot of the same questions asked you can start making a FAQ page. If you get the same question at least five times, I’d add it to the FAQ page. If it gets too long, you can have a table of contents at the top, that links to different sections of the page.

Services/Shop

     If you have services or an online shop, you’ll want to have some sort of link to that. You’ll want to have a link in your navigation bar, a special graphic that links to it in your sidebar and a link in the footer.

Social Media Connections

     Be sure to share your social media links in your sidebar and if there is room, share them in your footer as well.

Start/Begin Here

     If you have any evergreen posts you want people to start with or are helpful to them to read first in whatever topic, you can have a page that’s called Start or Begin Here, it’s helpful for first time readers.

Archive Page

     Once you have several blog posts written up, you can start creating an archive page by subject and/or category.

Sidebar Essentials

     Sidebars are definitely an optional part of the blog. If you choose to have a sidebar, you’ll want it to look clean and not too cluttered with ads, you only want what’s important. Having a picture with a short bio that links to the about page, newsletter signup, social media and links to must do things for your readers. Important items can be a shop link, popular posts, and/or expanded social media like a few Instagram photos.

Footer

     Footers can be jammed packed, so I would just hold the essentials or be very minimal it’s all up to the look you want to do. A lot of the items mentioned above in the sidebar section can also be used in the footer. At a minimum for a footer, you’ll want links to your privacy policy and/or disclaimer. If you want a bit more, adding your social media, contact info, email sign up list and a brief description of what you do is good, too.
Remember when creating your blog, it can be anything that you want it to be. It’s your creation. There are sections that are expected from most readers and it can be frustrating when those sections are not included or are hard to find. It’s your decision to decide which of those sections are essential for your audience. For me, this is what every blog needs.

Blogging Tools

 The blogging tools I use to get organized, remember ideas and plan for the future.

There are so many different online tools that help me with blogging. I’ve talked about a few in the before post prep blog post. There are blogging tools that help me write posts, research posts, create graphics and communicate with other bloggers. So let’s go through some of my favorite blogging tools and without them blogging would not be much less organized.

Brainstorming Blogging Tools

First, let’s start with research. I always get ideas from other bloggers, either I agree with them or I disagree with me. Ideas I get can come from something they’ve written about or something that I thought should have been written about in a post that I read. There are three tools I use to help me with research and brainstorming.
Pinterest – this gives me inspiration, whether it’s the way a post was written, the graphic, something said in the comments or the topic itself.
Feedly – I have several bloggers I read regularly and get all sorts of inspiration and motivation from.
Pocket – I love saving articles to read later and saving articles that I’ve read but want to save for research, inspiration or to do what the article said.

Writing Blogging Tools

Second, it’s time to actually write the post. Now that I have a spark of an idea, I usually start writing in Evernote. I have a note all with ideas of blog posts to write, so if I get an idea I usually write it there first or start a new note to get the blog post started.The great thing about Evernote is that you can search notes later.  You can see if you’ve already written that idea down or saved an article about it for reference. Once a draft is written in Evernote, I copy and paste it into WordPress. I use the EditFlow calendar and schedule when the post will go live. I will use one of a few graphic design programs either Canva, PicMonkey, Photoshop or Illustrator, it just depends on what I want my graphic for the blog post to look like. Lately, I’ve been using Illustrator more and more. I will use the Yoast SEO plugin to help edit the post and make sure it’s SEO friendly. I use Grammarly to make sure that there aren’t any huge misspellings or grammar errors. Sometimes I will use Click to Tweet in my posts. It’s a really great way for people to share a tidbit of the post that you’ve already written. They just click on it and it tweets out from their account for them.

Sharing Blogging Tools

The third thing to do once the post is written is to get ready to promote the post. I only use Pinterest and Twitter for promotions. I use Instagram for behind the scenes look. So I’ll schedule a couple of tweets to go out over the course of a few days and pin the graphic to a couple of my boards and a few group boards that I participate in, once the post is live. This is probably where I’m lacking the most in motivation. It’s hard to be consistent in social media without paying for some sort of app like Tailwind, Coschedule or Buffer. Lately, I’ve been using Tweetdeck for scheduling my tweets and that has been working out great.
Those are some the tools I use daily for blogging. I will be writing about the tools I use for my business soon. What’s your favorite tool for blogging and why? I’m always interested in what other people use.

After Post Checklist

 After Post Checklist

Here are 19 things you can do when your blog post is about to go live. I like to call it the After Post checklist because I’ve finished writing the post and most of the to-do list items below have to do with social media. So if you think tweeting and pinning your posts are the only things to do after you hit publish, this after post checklist is for you.
1. Pin your post to Pinterest
     Be sure to use a short permalink when pinning on Pinterest. For example, yourwebsite.com/short-permalink, instead of yourwebsite.com/01/01/2017/title-of-the-blog-post-link. Amy Lynn Andrews has a great post explaining permalinks and how you choose them.
2. Schedule the post to pin to many group boards
     If you’re signed up with a service that lets you pin to multiple boards, schedule those pins to go out. If you are not signed up, you can set a calendar reminder to pin to some various group boards over five to ten days after your post goes live.
3. Share and pin on Twitter
     Share the post on twitter at least three times the day your post is live. Also, pin a tweet that includes a photo at the top of your twitter profile. This helps the post get more exposure when someone goes to your twitter profile. You’ll only want to keep this up until your next post goes live or until you have something else that needs to be pinned.
4. Share on Facebook Page and in Groups
      If you have a Facebook Page, be sure to share it there the day it goes live and if any groups you are in have a post available for sharing posts be sure that the group is the right audience for the post and share away.
5. Scheduled to be shared on Twitter more times
     Share it on twitter over the next 7 days at least once per day. Use a program like Buffer or Coschedule to schedule out your tweets. If you’re not signed up with those programs, TweetDeck is twitter’s free version of those apps and all you have to have is a twitter account to login.
6. Share on Instagram
Use a post and/or use the link in your Instagram profile to share the post. Always change the link in your profile to your newest post or relevant content. Use bit.ly to shorten.
7. Interact in the comments
      Be sure to interact in the comments, especially the first week the post goes out. That’s when the most eyes are going to be on it. If you don’t interact with your readers, they may perceive that you don’t care about their opinions or that you do not want to help them. Remember they take the time to read your post and comment, take some time to give back to them as well.
8. Schedule the post to go live
     Once you’ve finished editing your post, you’ll want to schedule it to go live. If you have the right settings in WordPress, you can also send out a tweet, facebook post, etc the second it goes live. You change that in Settings > Sharing.
9. Periscope or Facebook live about your post
      Depending on how interactive you are with your audience and what’s included in the post. Going live is can be really beneficial. If your post has a great content upgrade that gets people to put in their email addresses taking ten to twenty minutes to go live about your post, it could potentially get you some email addresses.
10. Check your analytics to see how much engagement your posts are getting
     This doesn’t have to be after every post, but at the end of every month check the engagement for the current month’s posts. See which posts are getting the most views and comments. This will help you to see if there are any patterns and which topics are the most popular. This information can help you create an editorial calendar that is catered toward what your audience likes to see. If you put out a lot of posts, doing this weekly may be helpful.
11. Repin your post after 1-2 months
     Always follow up on Pinterest. Pins can gain newfound momentum months later. You’ll want to keep as much content as possible in front of your audience. You also never know when something will take off. It’s a concept called “looping.” If no one is pinning this content, you can repin it a while later and get it in front of your audience again and this allows your older content to stay relevant in your audience’s mind.
12. Check your analytics for traffic
     Figure out where the traffic for your post is coming from. Are you driving the traffic there from facebook posts, tweets or pins? After a few months, you can figure out which social media platform is giving you the most traffic. This can help you focus in on using that platform more. This doesn’t mean putting all your eggs in one basket, but you could put forty percent of your eggs in one basket.
13. Tweet or email anyone mentioned or involved with your post
      If you share a post or quote or mention anyone in any way, be sure to let them know you shared about them. This can be in a tweet just to them or in a tweet to your audience mentioning them, this way can make it easier for them to retweet it. This isn’t for them to retweet the tweet, but to just let them know that they have had an impact on your work.
14. Add links to any old posts that may be related
     Adding older posts at the bottom of your post in the way of “P.S.” or “check out these older posts, if you’re interested in (post’s topic)” is a great way for your readers to stay on the site longer and get them great information. Sometimes, you have to do these days later if you’ve forgottten about a post you’ve written a while ago. This is why I like adding it to this checklist.
15. Thank people that share your post
      If someone shares your post on twitter or Pinterest or wherever and you see it, always thank them.
16. Make it easy to share.
     There are a few ways to make your posts easier to share: have sharing buttons at the bottom of your post, a click to tweet within the post and/or make sure the permalink is shorter rather than longer.
17. Bloglovin’/RSS Feed
     Be sure that your blog is on Bloglovin’ and there is a way for people to sign up for your RSS Feed.
18. Share your post in a Twitter chat
     If you have the opportunity when introducing yourself in a twitter chat be sure and share your most recent post.
19. Can this post be expanded upon or made into a series? Add any ideas to your blog post topics list.
     Always ask yourself this question at the beginning or ending when writing your post. You want to always be making a list of possible blog post topics. It doesn’t mean you have to use it, but having a running list is always a good idea.
This after post checklist is by no means exhaustive and you don’t even have to do everything that is listed here for every post because this list is not a one size fits all. Most of the to-dos on this list can be applied to most posts, but not to all posts. But you still want to check the after post checklist after every post to be sure that you’re doing everything possible to get your posts seen by new people all the time.
Is there anything I missed? Is there something you do after you’ve written your post that isn’t listed here? I’d love to hear about it.
P.S. Here’s what to do before you start writing a blog post.
 (Also, this post mainly focuses on social media and I specifically left out SEO to-dos after you’ve written your post.)

The Essential Elements of a Blog Post

 The Essential Elements of a Blog Post | Here are my 16 tips for creating a great blog post. You don't want to forget these tips when writing your next blog post. Click through for 16 tips on making your blog posts great.

 

It’s important to have a list of things to double check in order to make your blog post the most effective it can be. I’ve put together a list of tips and questions you can ask yourself about every post that is put out. Not all of these tips need to be used on every blog post, but if there is the opportunity to use as many as possible it will make your posts more useful for your readers and for sharing. Every single one of these tips/questions is helpful and useful in improving your blog posts.

An effective and engaging post title that includes post keywords and encourages people to click on it

     The post title is one of the most important parts of writing your post. This helps people decide if they want to read your blog post or not. The post title needs to be SEO friendly as well. It needs to have keywords so that it is easier to find in search engines.

Break up longer posts so that they are scannable

     When breaking up longer posts into scannable sections, it lets readers scan the whole post and see if it’s useful for them. After scanning the post, they may go back and read the whole thing. Each section could be anywhere from 4 -6 sentences.
     If a post is just large blocks of texts, it’s harder to read and it makes people not want to read it as much. If you divide the blocks up and put in sub-headlines to help divide the paragraphs up, it can make a big impact. The sub-headlines that include keywords makes your post more SEO friendly.

Start well

     Start your first paragraph with strong keywords. Keywords near the top are weighted heavy for SEO. This will help your post be higher in the search engine. Getting your post on the first page of Google is great, too. More people will see your post and may want to read it as well.

Make your site “sticky” by linking internally

     By linking to older posts on your blog, also known as deep linking, helps people to stay on your blog longer. This also lets people learn more about that particular topic as well. By exploring your site it increases your page views. So linking to other posts is something that should be happening a lot. When creating new posts, always be thinking about how you can relate that to an older post.

Use good anchor text

     Anchor text is the visible portion of a link. For example in this link, Finding Your Niche, the words “finding your niche” is the anchor text. When you use strong words that are also keyword rich, as opposed to using “click here”, you are “casting an SEO vote” for the page you are linking to. You can also “vote” for external links as well. So for friends or a fellow blogger colleagues, you could use a positive SEO vote by using rich keywords. For sites that you don’t want to cast a positive vote for you can use words like “click here” or “read this for more info.”

Encourage comment interactions

     There are a few ways to encourage comment interactions: asking a question at the end, inviting people to leave comments, and/or being opened ended. Sometimes people need to have a little nudge towards making a comment. Encouraging comments also grows the community in your blog. Responding to comments also encourages readers to comment more because they see that you are interacting with fellow readers and them.

Add SEO images and alt-tags.

     Adding keyword rich text to your images makes them searchable and more likely to be found in Google, rather than just using “IMG_1003.” If someone is making an image search and the title of the image is something other than “IMG_1003,” it will pop up. In addition, adding alt-tags to your images adds the description when the image is pinned to Pinterest. A lot of people don’t mind using the description that is originally there especially if it’s a good one. Filling your alt-tag with keyword rich text is helpful for Pinterest searches. For example, you could use something like below for your alt-tag.
The Essential Elements of a Blog Post | Here are my 16 tips for creating a great blog post. You don’t want to forget these tips when writing your next blog post. Click through for 16 tips on making your blog posts great.
 
Above is the description you will find when pinning any picture from this post.
I’ve pointed out below where you can add your alt-tag information with WordPress.

 

The Essential Elements of a Blog Post | Here are my 16 tips for creating a great blog post. You don't want to forget these tips when writing your next blog post. Click through for 16 tips on making your blog posts great.

Include a share-able quote or excerpt

     I’m not always the best at doing this, but including a quote from the post or small excerpt in the form of a picture is a great way to use the application, Click to Tweet.  If you have WordPress, there is a click to tweet plugin. I think Click to Tweet is a great program, but what not a lot of people share when suggesting it is that it is freemium program. You get 5 free links to share per month or unlimited per month for $5 a month. It’s about the price of one coffee per month. The Click to Tweet plugin is easy to use and a great way to easily integrate Click to Tweets into your blog posts. This also makes your blog posts easier to share for your readers. If you don’t want to pay for Click to Tweet, I suggest at the end of the month add Click to Tweets to your most popular posts from that month to make them even more shareable.

Create a pinnable image

     Pinnable images are vertical, include the title of the post on them or a quote from the article. Pinnable images have alt-tags that are filled in attached to them. You want to make sure your image is a representation of your brand and not just something you make to get more pins. Once people start recognizing your style, you’ll get more pins.

Proofread

     Proofreading is essential to not having misspelt words and incorrect grammar in your posts. Reading the post out loud can help with flow. Some people like to print out their posts to make sure they completely free of error. I like using the program Grammarly to help in finding misspelt words and grammar issues because I’m not the best writer.

Double check the SEO with a plugin.

     I use the SEO by Yoast plugin. It turns green when your post is SEO-friendly, if it’s not it will be yellow or red. It will give hints on how to make the post more SEO friendly. That is one of the reasons that I enjoy this SEO plugin so much. The SEO by Yoast plugin is the blogging industry standard for SEO. I highly suggest using it, if you have WordPress.

Check links

     Make sure that all the links are working properly. As a reader, I’m always disheartened when I click on a link and it doesn’t work, especially if the post I’m reading is new. If you use WordPress, the Broken Link Checker plugin is a great go to. It will constantly check your site to see if links are working properly.
 

Create an easy URL

     When making your url for the post, be sure it’s easy to type in for people and that it’s SEO friendly. A simple post URL makes it easier to share and for people to remember it. If your post ends up having a long URL, using a site like bit.ly to shorten it when you share is a great idea.

Call to Action

     Ending your post with a call to action for your audience helps to keep them on the site longer and it adds the power of suggestion for them to do something on your site. What would you like your reader to do at the end of a post? Buy an ebook, a product or sign up for a course? Read another post? Leave a comment? Sign up for a newsletter? You want to keep your reader on your blog longer by suggestions for them to do something.

Don’t write what you skip

     I read a lot of blogs, I skim a lot of blogs, too. Don’t write what you would find skippable. Don’t feel like your posts need to be filled with filler, just to get a longer post. Express what you need with only the words you need. If you happen to write a short post that day, it’s a short post. Let it be.

Promote your content

          Create a schedule to promote your content. If you don’t promote your content, people won’t be able to find you. It can be awkward at first to promote your content, but it’s needed to grow your readership. Don’t be shy sharing what you have written to the world. You have something to say and someone out there needs to hear it. Use programs like Meet Edgar, Buffer, Hootsuite or CoShedule to schedule out your post shares. But remember not to fill your social media profiles with just your content, share what you find interesting and helpful as well.

Ask the ultimate question

     Before the publish button is hit don’t forget to ask yourself – Is this post helpful/useful for my reader?

Plugin Suggestion

This list has a lot of information to remember, some of it is inherent in writing well, but some of it needs to be in a checklist. I’ve added some of this content, along with other checklist items into WordPress with the Pre-Publish Post Checklist plugin. I find this plugin really useful because if I hit publish before all the items are checked off. WordPress asks me if I still want to publish and it helps me not to  forget something I wanted to do with the post. The checklist can be made with any items you want and it’s optional for the checklist to remind you if you finished them all or not.

What’s one thing you never forget when writing a blog post?

 

Before You Start Your Business, Ask Yourself These Essential Questions

There are some essential questions that need to be asked before starting a business. Here are some essential business questions you can use as a jumping off point for starting your own business. Starting a business is always a stressful time, these questions can help.

There are a ton of reasons to start a business, but with every business, there are a few questions that you need to ask yourself before you start. I’m going to go over some of the essentials business questions to ask yourself before you get started. These business questions can help you realize if you truly have a great idea, push you forward even more or help you realize maybe I need to go back to the drawing board.  

Essential Business Questions to Ask Yourself

What problem are you solving?
Why do you want to go into business?
Who is my ideal customer?
What products or services am I providing?
How soon will it be before my products or services are ready to sell?
How soon will I be making a profit?
How will I get customers?
How will I advertise to my customers?
How much time am I willing to spend on this endeavor?
How much time do I need to spend on this endeavor?
Do I have any obligations right now that will keep me from giving this business 100% of my attention?
What sacrifices and/or risks am I willing to take to make this business successful?
What are my financial goals – personally and for the business?
Where will my business be located?
Can I work on this business part-time before leaving my current job?
How much money do I absolutely need to start this business?
What are my monthly/yearly operating costs for this business and personally?
Who is my competition?
How will I differentiate myself from the competition?
What taxes do I have to pay?
What kind of insurance do I need?
How will I setup my business legally?
Do I need a permit?
Will I become an LLC or sole proprietor or corporation?
Do I support have from family and friends to start this business?      
 

If you’re thinking about starting a business, take some time, copy and paste those questions into a document and write out some answers. You don’t need answers to all of them the first time you sit down to do this exercise and you may need to do some research to get all the answers, but it’s definitely a starting off point. 

P.S. Be sure to get on The List.  

 

Before Post Prep

 Before Post Prep // This is all the preparations that are needed for getting ready to write a post. This includes two types of brainstorming, getting it on the editorial calendar and asking that all important question. To find out what it is, click on through.
 
There are a few things that can help you in preparing to write a post, I call it before post prep. This includes creating a list of ideas or post names through brainstorming and creating content upgrade ideas, which depending on how you share them can get people onto your email list. Here are a few ways to prep for a post.

Brainstorm Dump

     In order to have anything to write, you need come up with some ideas. There are two types of brainstorming – a brainstorm dump and smart brainstorming. When doing a brainstorm dump, write down anything and everything that comes to your mind. Don’t edit yourself. Editing is for later. I like to sit down and set a timer for 15 minutes and brainstorm. Sometimes I feel like I can’t write anymore and there are 5 minutes left, but I just try and keep writing. During this process, it’s important to remember not to edit yourself. Some of the best ideas can come out of something crazy you write down. This is why it’s called a brainstorm dump because you’re just dumping out ideas and not thinking about it.

Smart Brainstorming

     Smart Brainstorming is when you check your analytics and ask yourself a few questions: What are my top ten most visited posts? What are my top ten most downloaded items? What are my top ten most commented on posts? What are the top ten questions I get asked the most on social media or my blog? Once you have some answers to those questions, that’s when you can brainstorm some posts based on those answers. What can you go into more detail on in a particular post? How can I expand on that topic? Answering those questions is smart brainstorming. You need both types of brainstorming when coming up with what to post about.

The List

I always keep a running list of ideas in a note in Evernote. Whenever an idea strikes I write it down on my phone using the Evernote app. You don’t have to use Evernote, but whatever app you like to use or if you keep a notebook. I like to call it The List because it’s just a running list of ideas. Once I put it into my editorial calendar or create a separate note for it in Evernote to flesh out the post more. I remove it from the list.

Content Upgrade

     Having an idea for a content upgrade that is going to go along with the post you are about to write is always a good idea. If you don’t have any clue, checklists and templates are good places to start. Making content upgrades unique makes the material that is being posted always more interesting. Having a twist on it that isn’t the same as everyone else’s makes the material more appealing. Brainstorming content upgrades is always a good idea, then all you have to do is add the post or email to share them.

Be sure to ask the question

     The most important question to ask before you start writing a post is – Is this going to be useful/helpful for my readers? If posts are useful, readers will share them, come back for more and comment on them. The first thing before you start writing is – Is this useful? If it isn’t useful, then you need to go back to the drawing board and think of how you can make it useful in your writing or nix it altogether.

Plug it into your editorial calendar.

     Once you have your idea, be sure to put it into your editorial calendar. Sometimes, you can even make a series out of the different ideas you have brainstormed and checking what’s coming up on your editorial calendar or moving things around to fit your new ideas is always a good idea.
 
      Before you start your post doing these tasks helps to keep content ready to write and your editorial calendar full of ideas. I suggest every two to three weeks doing a brainstorm dump and once a month doing a smart brainstorm, which is also a great time to write down your analytics for your blog.
 
So the next time you have some 15 minutes to spare get out a blank piece of paper and just start writing.
 

 
Be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter, The List. I’ve started an Intro to Social Media series. You can sign up in the sidebar or here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Failure to Launch

Failure to Launch

 

So launch day has come and gone. It’s been a long time coming and I wanted to take a minute to explain my failure to launch. I also want you to know a little more about what you will find here on the Ashley Design Studio blog.

I have tried to start this business so many times this year, but it always seemed like something would come up to stall the launch. And I was thinking about this in mid-September. Why am I having so much trouble getting this business off the ground? And it finally occurred to me – I was scared. I was scared about what people would say about my designs and my experience. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get any clients, I was nervous about putting myself out there.

You know that saying, “a year from now you will have wished you had started today.” Well, almost a year ago, I said I wanted to start a web design business. Not everything is perfect or exactly how I want it, but I’m launching now. I’m not completely ready, but I’m finally starting and putting myself out there.

I’m really excited for you to see what I have planned for the blog over the next few weeks. I have upcoming posts about getting a blog started, beginner mistakes you can avoid and my business story. Every Tuesday and Friday there will be a new blog post here. If you sign up for my weekly newsletter, The List, every Monday you’ll get an email about blogging, business and I’ll share some of my favorite links from the week about blogging and business.

I am also a web designer, so if you need a website I can help you with that. All of the websites I design are for WordPress sites. WordPress is very versatile and over 25% of all the websites on the internet are WP sites.

Have you ever failed to launch something? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

 

 

Branding – A Quick Overview

Branding - A Quick Overview // Branding isn't just about logos. Here I give an overview of the different aspects branding touches your style guide, blog, website, newsletter and more.

 

Branding consists of much more than just a logo, it represents everything that consists of  your brand. Some, but not all of the things which branding consists of are logo, logo variations, colors, fonts, graphics, images, emails, headers, social media profiles, photography and much more! This post will be a brief overview of branding. I will be going into more detail about different aspects of branding in future posts.

Overall Branding

Style Guide

Creating a Style Guide helps to keep track of the overall design of your brand.
The Style Guide should include the following:
      Fonts – Stick with a limited number of fonts, two to three at most.
      Colors – Keeping the color scheme small as well. This keeps it from looking to all over the place and cluttered, three to five colors at most.
      Patterns – If you’re including patterns into your brand, they should count as one of your three to five colors.
      Logo, plus variations – Including your logo and it’s other variations is very helpful when looking at your overall style guide. Having a text logo variation, graphic only variation, and a combination of the two is super helpful when it comes to logo variations. You could even have a few different colors in the graphic only variation, especially a black and white one.
      Social Media Icons – What change will your brand make to the social media icons to make them just for you? It may only be a color change or it may be more in depth. It all depends on how in-depth you want to take your branding. Be sure to check the social media guidelines for changing their logos.

Blog Styling

Navigation Bar Quick Tips

If your logo is clickable, skip the home link in the navigation bar.
Keep links all on one line for your top navigation bar. Otherwise it looks too cluttered and you only needs what’s absolutely important on your top navigation bar.

Sidebar

Helpful items to have in your sidebar:
     Picture + short bio to introduce you to your new readers
     Search Bar
     Social Media Icons
     Email Opt In Form
     List of Popular/Featured Posts
     Skip the blogrolls, post archives, and networking buttons. These are very distracting and can keep your reader from doing what you want them to do when they come to visit your site. (Having a separate page for archives can be helpful.)

Footer

Helpful items to have in your footer:
     Social Media Icons
     Categories
     Search Bar
     Email Opt In Form
     Site Credits, Privacy Policy and Terms + Conditions links

Pages

     All pages need to have a purpose, don’t have any useless pages
     Link everything that needs to be linked – social media, email and more
     Make sure that all the information on your pages is scannable and useful to your readers

Blog Post Branding

Post Title

     Make sure that it’s easy to read, use a serif or san-serif font
     Keep handwriting/script fonts to accents in graphics and design, not to post titles
     Permalinks should be easy to remember – theashleydavisproject.com/design-tips-for-bloggers, instead of theashleydavisproject.com/2015/10/08/design-tips-for-bloggers

Body

     San-serif or serif font for body text, no fancy or handwriting fonts, they can be too difficult to read.
     Text should be left aligned or justified, when text is centered it’s harder to read.
     Use H2, H3, or H4 headings to make posts more easily scannable. This also makes it more SEO friendly, since more keywords are peppered throughout the text.

Blog Post Graphics

   Be sure your images are the same width of your column, whether that image is vertical or horizontal. The images may be very large, but it looks clean and aligned, instead of all different sized images.
     Keeping blog graphics looking similar will help your brand be more recognizable, especially for Pinterest.
     Images that are vertical and taller than they are wide (800 x 1000) are more easily pinned on Pinterest.

Post Footer

     Make it plain to your reader what you want them to do next – leave a comment, share the post, download the content upgrade or read another post. Call to Action (CTA) – gives them something to do on your site, so they don’t leave your site so easily.
     Author bios are helpful if you have people guest posting on your blog.
     Adding a sign-up form for your newsletter, similar to what I have below, is another great option.
     If you want people to leave a comment, make it easy for people to do that and not have to jump through lots of hoops to leave a simple post

Online Presence Branding

     Profile pictures should be the same across all social media. Keeping the same profile picture makes it easier for your followers to find your profile and know that it’s you. That goes with profile names as well. Keeping them similar or the same is helpful.
     Design elements, post graphics should all be the same. If you have the opportunity to add your own design elements, keeping the same/similar to your brand is best for continuity.

Newsletter Branding

     Whatever colors, fonts and graphics you’re using on your blog, you’ll want to carry those over into your newsletter branding. Mailchimp is great when it comes to having spots for graphics and changing the color schemes. It is a very visual newsletter company. They are limited in their font options, though.

This was a very brief overview of all the details that can be included in a brand. This doesn’t even cover the physical collateral that comes with a brand like business cards, letterhead, etc.


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Choosing a Blogging Platform

 Choosing a blogging platform

 

When choosing a blogging platform there are a few things to consider: Free or paid? Simple or robust? Small learning curve or big learning curve? It really depends on what you’re looking for. Do you want a blogging platform that’s simple to learn, free to use and easy to share what you’ve got to share? Or do you want a blogging platform that you’ve paid for, a drag and drop interface with customer support? Do you want the ultimate in content management software with a big learning curve, but ultimately an awesome looking website? It all depends on what you’re looking for.

There are so many blogging platforms to choose from. It can really be overwhelming at the beginning. I’m gonna break down the pros and cons for some of the most popular blogging platforms. This is not an extensive list of pros and cons, but more of a jumping off point. You can probably decide what you definitely don’t want in a blogging platform from this post. Okay, let’s get started with choosing a blogging platform!

Free blogging platforms

     Using a free blogging platform is a great way to get started especially if  you’re unsure about blogging or just trying it out for the first time. When it comes to being flexible and expandable, free platforms can be limiting. With free platforms you don’t really own the blog, the host owns it. Ultimately, they could delete your blog because of all sorts of reasons, but it’s definitely an element that could happen. Is it likely, probably not, but it’s a possibility. Usually, they don’t want their platforms to be used for making money. You’ll have to check the terms of use. It can be difficult to move your blog to a hosted site later on.

Blogger

     Blogger is run by Google and is a great platform for a hobby blogger that doesn’t want to invest too much into it. It’s a great platform to test the waters and maybe after a few months to see if investing more is what you want to do.
Cost: Free
Pros
     User-friendly and easy to get started
     You can use a domain name if you have one
     Free hosting
Cons
     Limited capabilities – to change the look a lot, HTML and CSS is needed
     If you don’t have a domain name, you’re stuck with the blogspot.com subdomain
    Google owns it. If they shut it down, you’re out of luck
    Not meant for very powerful sites

WordPress.com

There are two kinds of WordPress sites- wordpress.com and wordpress.org. They can get easily confused when starting out. WordPress.com used to be completely free, now they have updated to having optional add-ons for a fee. Even with the paid add-ons, it’s still not as robust as using a self-hosted WordPress.org.
Cost: Free + Paid Add-ons
Pros
     Easy to setup
     You can try out a limited version of the WordPress CMS for free
     Maintenance is taken care of by WordPress.co
     Simple customization is available
Cons
     No ads allowed
     Customization is limited – no plugins, limited themes
     Not optimized for search engines
     To use premium features, you will have to pay

Paid blogging platforms

With paid blogging platforms there is more versatility, flexibility and the options for design are endless. Some paid platforms come with varying degrees of support. You own publication of your blog and are able to make money without any penalties.

SquareSpace

Squarespace is the new kid on the blog block. It has a very easy to use drop and drag system.
Cost: varies from $5/month to $70/month
Pros
     User-friendly – drag and drop interface is easy to use
     Fast, 24/7 Support
     All Inclusive (domain name and hosting are including in fee)
     Responsive, beautiful, professional themes to choose from
     Offers Student Discount
     Provides SEO
     Easily integrated e-commerce store
Cons
     No apps, extensions or plugins
     Limited theme options
     It’s not fully customizable

WordPress.org

WordPress.org is a self-hosted platform. This requires it to be hosted on a web server that’s paid for either monthly or yearly. WordPress.org is a free and open source, which means everyone can contribute to making it better through free or premium, i.e. paid plugins. Checking the ratings and getting plugin recommendations is a great way to find good plugins. Plugins make WordPress.org robust and versatile.
Cost: $3/month to $200/month (bluehost, hostgator, eleven2)
Pros
     Customizable with plugins, widgets, themes, and HTML/CSS
     Compatible with lots of programs
     A very robust content management software (CMS)
     Monetization is available
Cons
    Updates and finding support are your responsibility
    Big learning curve if you’re not very techy
    Hosting costs can vary
     I use wordpress.org to run this site. There will be times on this blog when I make wordpress.org specific suggestions and have posts dedicated to WordPress only features. The plugins that come with WordPress make it a very robust CMS to use and I love the ease of the dashboard and options available. I enjoy it very much and that’s why I use it. I try to learn new things about WordPress to help me grow as a developer as well. I’ve been using it for years, but there is a bit of a learning curve when you’re starting out.
Also, I wanted to share a few blog posts about choosing a blogging platform, so you can see what other people have chosen to use.
Chantal tells us why to use WordPress.
Jessica explains choosing your blogging platform and shares 5 platforms options.
Ultimately, when choosing a blogging platform, the best platform is the platform that you will use. It’s that simple.
What blogging platform do you use? I’d love to know, please share with us in the comments.
P.S. Sign up for my weekly newsletter about blogging and business. I send it out every Monday.

Naming Your Blog

Naming Your Blog

It can seem like a pretty daunting task to naming your blog or business. It took me months to come up with my blog and business name and it’s a rather simple, boring name if I’m totally honest. It’s not the most creative name, but people know I’m either an interior designer or a web designer, just based on the name. And once you click on my website you know that I’m a web designer that blogs as well.So what’s in a name? Naming your blog is a very important part of creating a name for yourself in the online atmosphere. Remember don’t overthink naming your blog so much that it stops you from taking the next step. If you change directions in two years or just really don’t like the name a few years down the road, it can always be changed. It’s just better if you don’t have to change your name. So please, take the time to really create a name that you love and a name that you think will endure. But don’t take so much time that it stops you from moving forward with your dreams. For example, I went with a pretty generic sounding name because I wanted it to be able to change later on. I can still have a design studio and not design websites, but I can consult on websites or social media profiles as well in the future or teach about blogging through courses or e-books.

To hopefully ensure that you pick a name you’re not going totally hate in a year, here are some great tips for naming your blog.

First and foremost, you want to do the “official” name check.

Here’s a quick rundown of the name check:

The Name Check

  • Is the name confusing?
  • Is the name easy to spell?
  • Is the name easy to say?
  • Is this name appealing to your readers?
  • Does it reflect your blog in tone and feel?
  • Can you grow the blog with this name?

Is the name confusing?

Does the name you have chosen reflect your brand? Does this fit along with the subject matter of your blog? You don’t want it to be misrepresentative of what you’re all about. Also, say the name out loud, does it make sense? If you have to explain the name or give a disclaimer along with the name, it’s probably not one you want to be using.

Is it easy to spell? Is the name easy to say?

Next, you need to make sure that it’s easy to spell and say. You don’t want to be spelling it out every time you talk to someone. I would say the only exception to that rule is if you’re using your name for your website. Even then, I would still think about it, if you have a super complicated name. You want your blog name to be easy to spell and say because you want it to be easily passed onto someone else. If it’s difficult to say or spell, that hinders the ease of sharing it.

Is the name appealing to your readers?

Be sure when naming your blog that you don’t use terms that only your specific niche may know. If you want people beyond your niche to find you, they won’t be able to because they don’t know that specific niche term you have used as your name.

Does it reflect your blog/business in tone and feel?

When coming up with a name, make a list of all things you want people to feel about your blog. While brainstorming names, check if the names go along with the tone and feel you want your brand to express. Do you want it to be professional, funny, serene or something else?

Can you grow the blog with this name?

Don’t be too specific with the name. If you’re not sure you want to keep with the subject of your blog or you think your business might expand into a different area, having a generic/broad name can be helpful. Getting people used to a new name can be difficult. It is possible to make the transition, it’s just not always the easiest transition.  For example, starting with smallfurnitureforminiaturedolls.com and later deciding to add in fake tiny food for miniature dolls and regular sized dolls. The current name does not reflect that change, but starting with dollaccessoriesandmore.com, allows for a broader subject matter in the future. Boxing yourself into one super small genre, in the beginning, is not a good idea.

Try your name

Depending on what your blog is about, you can try using your name as the domain name and the name of your blog. If your last name is popular, this may be harder for you because the domain may already be taken. You can also incorporate part of your name into the domain name, so it’s not just your first and last name. For example, Ashley Design Studios. I would also recommend buying your name as a URL even if you don’t plan on using it now, you might want it for the future. If you have kids, get their’s, too.

 

The Domain Check

Once you’ve come up with a name you like the first thing you need to check and see if the domain is available. Most people assume that websites end in .com, so I would definitely start by adding .com when you search. I like to use namecheap.com. I buy domains through my hosting service, but Namecheap is a great place to use for searching. They also have a mobile app that is great for when you’re on the go. Looking up names through my hosting platform is really annoying on the go, so the Namecheap app is super helpful.

The Social Media Check

When choosing the name of your blog or business, remember that you are going to have to have some sort of social media presence. Even if you don’t plan on using every social media platform, I would take the time to grab profile names on the major platforms; because you never know what’s going to happen in the future. The sites I would check first are Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If the name isn’t taken on those three platforms, it will probably be good for the rest. I would go onto grab usernames on Periscope, Snapchat, and Vine and fill out your profile with a link to your site. You don’t have to use them all, but if you want to start using them in the future, it’s not already taken.
Remember, even if you can’t come up with the perfect name for your blog, it’s okay. If you come up with a good name, that’s better than no name at all. You’ve got to pick something and then move on to the next steps in creating your blog. Don’t get so hooked up on creating the perfect name that you stall on starting your blog.
Have you decided on the name for your future venture? If you’re already sharing on the site, I’d love to check it out. Leave it in the comments below.
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