The allure of becoming a big-time blogger is obvious: Front row seats at Fashion Week, lucrative brand partnerships, the flexibility to work for yourself, and an authority-free platform to voice your opinions and share your personal style. Oh, and then there’s the fact that some bloggers are earning six-figure incomes. But before you become Chiara Ferragni-level successful, you need to start at the beginning.
Like any startup, new bloggers need to create a website, build a brand, find their tone, and attract followers, all on a shoestring budget. Trust us, that’s even harder than it sounds.
To help, we came up with 50 practical (and cheap) tips and tricks that’ll propel you in the right direction. Whether it’s outfit snaps you want to share, or recipes, this advice will set you up for success.
1. Choose your blog name.
Coming up with a name for your blog is actually way harder than it sounds. You need something short and snappy that will resonate with your readers and make sense based on the content you plan to produce.
Make sure your name is available on all social media sites and the blogging platform you want to use. If you plan on paying for a personalized URL (like http://www.stylecaster.com) rather than the URL generated by your free blogging service (more on that below), also check to see if the URL is available. You can check this by typing in your desired name at GoDaddy. This site will let you know if the name’s free, and give similar alternatives if it isn’t. It might be a good idea to buy your domain name straight away–through a site like GoDaddy–even if you don’t intend on building a fancy website. Otherwise, someone else might snap it up.
2. Use a free site to start your blog.
When you first start, you might not always have the money to pay for a website to be developed or for web hosting. Instead, use a free blog site like Blog.com, Blogger.com, Penzu.com, WordPress, or Svbtle.com. For something a little more slick, you can pay to build a website or blog on Squarespace.com. On the other hand, if your blog is going to be more like a photo diary, you might want to create an account with Tumblr.com. All these services come with easy-to-use templates that let you customize the look and feel of your blog, change colors, fonts, and more.
3. Make a basic font-based logo.
If you have Photoshop, make a logo simply by picking a font you like and typing your blog name. “Hide” the background and save it as a .gif file. Of course, that’s the amateur way. if you’re interested in something a little more professional, watch this tutorial. If you don’t have Photoshop, don’t despair–you can download a free trial of the program which will give you plenty of time to create your logo.
4. Clarify your content strategy.
It’s important to have a vision for your blog. Are you planning on sharing only outfit photos? Will you be writing your travel stories and sharing tips? Will you share your shopping picks? How often will you post? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? These are all things to consider so that you can set the right tone from the beginning. The clearer, the better.
5. Make sure your photos are high-resolution and crystal clear.
Big, beautiful, clear images are the absolute hallmarks of a successful blog. Take the time to make sure your photos fit this description. To be successful, you’ll need a DSLR camera, or a friend who has one. If you’re willing, you can also find an up-and-coming photographer to shoot you on sites like Craigslist.
6. Use Instagram like a pro.
Hashtags just become your new best friend, blogger! Using the symbols on Instagram and Twitter are a must if you want folks to discover you, so use relevant tags with every photo. A warning: Hashtags can get annoying, so only use a few that are relevant.
7. Learn basic analytics.
How are you going to know whether people are visiting your blog and what they’re clicking on if you don’t know how to look up your stats? Google Analytics is the best free platform to check your blog’s success. The main number you want to look at is “Unique Visitors,” which shows how many new people visit your site in a given timeframe. Of course, it’ll probably just be your friends and family reading your blog to start, but with time and effort that number could really grow.
8. Find your tone.
As a rule, witty, conversational, and friendly styles of writing are what people like to read on fashion blogs. If you’re a strong writer, you might already have a distinct tone to go with, otherwise spend some time reading the websites and blogs you like to learn how to emulate their style of writing. Practice makes perfect, and there’s no better time to start practicing than now.
9. Pin everything!
Sign up for a Pinterest account and create pinboards for EVERY photo featured on your blog. By doing this, you create a whole new opportunity for the millions of Pinterest users to find your content. When a user sees your photo and clicks on it, they’ll be directed to your blog immediately. Make sure you fill in the description and name of the photo before you pin, as this will help people find it.
Pinterest newbies should watch this tutorial before getting started.
10. Tag your blog posts.
If your content management system has a space for tags, use them! Most free blogging sites, like WordPress, have a strong community. By tagging your content it helps other WordPress users to find your posts, which means more traffic for you!
Photo: The Modern Tog
11. Name your photos, and use the Alt Text field
SEO (search engine optimization) can be huge factor that determines whether your blog is successful. Good SEO means your blog posts are ranked higher in search engine results. So if you blog about different ways to wear ankle boots, and someone Googles that term, a good SEO ranking will position your post at the top of those search results. One way to accomplish this coveted spot is by naming all of the images featured on your blog. If someone comes across you picture on Google images, and clicks through to your blog, you’ve just scored yourself a new reader.
If you created your blog on WordPress, click on the image in your post and then click edit icon, which looks like a pencil. The most important field to fill in here is “Alternative Text.” Here you should write something short, descriptive, and keyword-heavy. See the example above.
Anyone using Blogger.com to host their blog follows similar steps. Click on your photo and hit “Properties.” Then simply fill out the “Alt Text” field
12. Reply to your comments!
You wouldn’t ignore someone who spoke to you in real life, so take the time to reply to every comment on your blog and your social media accounts. This makes readers feel validated, and it fosters a happy, inclusive online community. Plus, it’ll make them like you, which keeps ’em coming back (and, hopefully, sharing content from your site.)
13. Network by commenting on other bloggers’ posts.
Blogging is all about community, so start by commenting on other blogs, and Instagram photos. Be nice, and don’t leave comments asking others to follow you—that’s just annoying. A good way to be taken seriously when doing this is to make an intelligent comment, rather than just simply “love it!”
14. Shore up a bank of stories before going live.
Before you start directing people to your blog, make sure you’ve filled the site with content. Try and get at least 10 posts live before you start pushing your blog out on social media.
15. Link to your blog from social media.
Add a link to your blog in all your social media accounts. All top bloggers do this, including The Blonde Salad’s Chiara Ferragni.
16. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Check out other blogs to learn, not to compare—especially in the beginning when your audience won’t be as large as established sites.
17. Join link parties.
A link party is something a blogger hosts where other bloggers can add links to their own posts, kind of like free advertising. Here’s a great list of link parties you can join.
18. Create an App on the cheap.
So, your blog is going well, and you seem to be getting visitors. Congrats! Next, you might want to look into building an app. Try a free service like Build My Fire which lets you create basic apps without coding. If you want something more advanced, you can pay for a Build My Fire expert to help you. We played around in the platform for a while (see what we were able to do in five minutes above), and the steps are really straightforward. You’ll just need to select the widgets you want to feature, background images, logos, text, and more customizable details.
19. When all else fails, watch tutorials.
There’s literally a tutorial for just about everything available for free online. Type your query into YouTube, Pinterest, or Google, and be amazed at how many free resources are available.
20. Use your personal network.
If you have 500 friends on Facebook, and another 600 followers on Instagram, that’s exactly where you should start recruiting readers. Share your stories within your existing networks, ask close friends to share any posts you think are standouts.
21. Streamline your brand.
Synergy across all your social media accounts is important to maintaining a professional image for your blog. Use the same color scheme, the same logo, and keep your tone consistent at any of your blog’s touch points.
22. Create a custom 404 page.
Any time someone reaches a non-existent page on your blog (maybe because they’ve clicked a broken link, they mistyped the URL, or the page was deleted), they’ll land on a “404” page. The standard 404 page is pretty ugly, and doesn’t have a lot of personality, so you might want to invest some time (or money) into building one for your blog that reflects your brand and personality.
This page should help people find the information they’re looking for, provide other helpful content, and encourage your reader to explore your site further, rather than just abandoning your blog because they reached an error page.
You’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy to create this yourself, but here’s a tutorial that can help you along.
If your site is created through Blogger.com, use this tutorial.
23. Be consistent.
Be consistent with how often you post. Most blogging hosts allow you to schedule posts for a certain time, so you can make a point of posting every day at 9 a.m. This can help build a loyal audience who know when to look for your new posts.
24. Check your blog’s compatibility across different browsers.
Browsershots is a free service that makes screenshots of your web design in different operating systems and browsers. You should use it to make sure you blog looks good in all browsers–not just the one you’re using! When you submit your web address, it will be added to the job queue. A number of distributed computers will open your website in their browser. Then they will make screenshots and upload them to our central dedicated server for your review.
25. Craft killer headlines.
A great headline can be what grabs a reader’s attention, or causes them so skip over your post. Spend some time thinking up something clever that makes people want to know more. Here’s a solid article about what makes a killer headline.
26. Create an e-signature.
Will you be emailing brands, other bloggers, or publicists about your blog? If so, create a polished email signature for free using an app or online service. We played around with Exclaimer.com (shown above), which was really easy to use–and, most importantly, free!
27. Proofread, then proofread again.
Nothing says unprofessional like typos and grammatical errors all through your post. Take the time to proofread and use a spellchecker—this is a non-negotiable.
28. Use keywords in your posts.
Remember what we said about SEO earlier? Well, using keywords is another way to boost your ranking on search engines like Google. A cheap and easy way to work out what keywords you should be including in your post, use Google Keyword Planner. This will tell you the words and phrases people are actually searching for, and how often per month they’re being searched.
29. Be engaging.
Engage your readers with giveaways, competitions, and polls–they’re a great way to build a loyal audience. When you start getting some traction on your blog, you could even reach out to a brand to organize a joint giveaway. Rafflecopter is an easy and affordable service that can help you create a competition online.
30. Speed up your website.
A site that loads quickly is of the utmost importance–if a page is taking too long to load, readers might get impatient and exit. You can check your blog’s speed using Google’s Page Speed Insights. A score of 85 or above indicates that the page is performing well. Google also has a service that can help you speed up your website if you get a bad score. Find out all about that in the video below.
31. Add social media sharing buttons.
Sharing buttons are the social media icons that appear on blog pages, enabling readers to share your content directly from your site to their personal social accounts.
32. Add social media follow buttons.
Unlikely sharing buttons, social media follow buttons simply take a reader to your social media accounts. You might want to include these buttons on your “contact us” or “find me here!” pages to get more followers. The Facebook follow button usually displays your page’s number of “likes,” as well as faces of people who already like your page. You can create your customized Facebook button using Facebook, and then paste the code wherever you want the follow button to appear on your blog.
33. Guest blog.
Seek out like-minded bloggers, and offer to guest write on their website in return for a link back to your own blog in the post. These link backs are great for your SEO ranking—Google will see you as more valuable if other sites mention you and link to you—and also help to boost your profile within the blogger community.
34. Use Gravatar.
Gravatar lets you create a small avatar that follows you when you post comments on your site, or any other. It’s a cute way to personalize your interactions with readers, and again make your posts feel more professional.
35. Join related forums.
Search for forums related to your niche (fashion, beauty, home, DIY, cooking, etc.) and start chatting. This will build your profile online and also help you gauge what your readers could be looking for in terms of content.
36. Use #blogchat on Twitter.
Where it makes sense to do so, participate the #blogchat hashtag, which is a place that bloggers specifically go to chat.
37. And join plenty of other Twitter chats, too.
If you follow @StyleCaster on Twitter, you’ll know we host #StyleChat every Wednesday at 3 p.m., and our sister site Beauty High hosts#BeautyChat every Friday at 2 p.m. Joining Twitter parties by posting about a topic under a hashtag for finite period of time will help grow your following.
38. Make videos.
By making and sharing videos you open yourself up to the world of YouTube and Vimeo. Both are free to use and can bring a new, engaged community to your blog. Try doing webinars to teach something useful that’s also relevant to your blog.
39. Repost old content on Facebook.
If you have an old post that performed really well when it was first published, or that you think is timely, don’t be afraid to share it to Facebook again. Switch up the photo and the teaser text, however—no one will click on something they just saw a week ago.
40. Add your blog URL to YouTube videos.
Adding your blog’s URL to all videos will make it easier for your YouTube or Vimeo community to find your site.
41. Follow other bloggers on social media.
As well as commenting and liking other bloggers’ content on their social media pages and blog, follow their Twitter and Instagram accounts, and like their Facebook pages.
42. Use StumbleUpon.
Share your content on StumbleUpon, a discovery engine that finds and recommends web content to its users. Its features allow users to discover and rate posts, photos, and videos that are personalized to their taste. Tutorial, videos, infographics, and lists all play well on the site.
43. Create affiliate links.
Ever wondered how bloggers make money? Using affiliate links is one big way. Here’s how: You sign up for a service like Reward Style, Commission Factory or Commission Junction and create special links that you use whenever there’s an option for a reader to buy something from your site. If they buy, you earn a few cents (or dollars, depending on the item.) Obviously, your readership needs to be quite large to really earn a living this way, but it’s still a good thing to have since you’ll probably always be linking to stuff to buy anyway.
44. Start a blogging calendar.
Plan your posts in advance using a blogging calendar. At the beginning of each month, pencil in any major events you want to cover—Fashion Week, food festivals, holidays, whatever—then, pencil in the stories you’re planning on creating for each day. It’s a good idea to also keep an ideas log, where you can jot down any posts that aren’t timely, but you’d like to create at some point.
45. Send out a newsletter.
MailChimp is a free tool that can let you create an email newsletter to send your followers. Add a newsletter signup box to your website, and when you have enough subscribers for it to be worthwhile, build a weekly newsletter highlighting your best new content.
46. Pick a great font to use on your blog.
A font can make (or ruin) the look and feel of your blog. Use sites like dafont.com to pick one that you love, but that’s also sophisticated and easy to read.
47. Put effort into your “about me” page.
Anyone who wants to know more about the person behind your blog will head straight to your “about me” page. Put effort into writing a compelling, but short, story about who you are, what you write about, and why you started your blog.
48. Set up link swaps.
Create a weekly post that includes your favorite posts from other blogs, and ask them if they’d do the same.
49. Link to your own content.
While you’re writing a post, always link to related content on your own website.
50. Join a blogging network.
Signup to blogging networks like BlogEngage to share your articles with other bloggers, and build your network, get back links, and new readers.
What’s your advice for anyone looking to start a blog? Share in the comments below.