So you want to start a blog, do you?
I’ve had a few blogs over the years. All were the free kind with a very specific focus. Like when I went to south america–my blog was more like a travelogue. When I went to nursing school, my blog was all about that….travels to Europe– more travelogues. So I’ve learned a thing or two about blogging. I am still no expert, but…
THINGS I’VE LEARNED:
Blogging is hard. It’s time-consuming. The learning curve is steep. There’s a lot to learn even if you are technology guru. Which I’m not. Finding ‘your voice’ takes time [I’m still finding it. How ‘authentic’ should one be? What constitutes over-sharing? Ect, ect.]. Writing for an audience is a lot different than writing in a journal. Editing photos [and videos too I’d imagine, although I haven’t gone down that road yet] isn’t as easy as applying an Instagram filter and hitting ‘publish’. Design is hard. Getting ideas from your head into html code isn’t easy. Reading other blogs, seeing cool features you’d like to adapt but have no idea how to do so is frustrating. Thoughts like ‘is it stealing if I use the same plug-in as someone else?’ ‘Will they mind?’ ‘How do I adapt it to make it different, but still what I want? ect, ect’ are ever present.
So what have I learned in since starting this blog? I am glad you asked.
1. Defining your purpose is crucial
If you can answer the question “why do I want to start a blog?’ [this goes for any type of blog], it will make your life a whole lot easier. People start blogs for many different reasons. Some to showcase a house remodel; some to showcase fashion ideas. Some blogs are set up to keep friends and family up to date on trips around the world. Other people want a blog to show their photography to the world, and some people have a blog as their career. They network with other travelers, bloggers, products and companies and actually make a living blogging. Whatever your goal may be having a clear purpose at the beginning will help you create a blog to address those goals.
I really wanted my first blog be like a travel journal. It’s took a few weeks of design trial and error to decide that. Some blogs are really cool, but they have features I’d never use, and by not using them, the blog loses something. So for now, my blog is a ‘personal’ blog. I’ve started a new career. I’m still in school, and I still travel as much as possible. I’ve got a lot going on. My blog reflects that.
Of course blogging purposes may change over time. If you think you might want to blog long term, try to develop your site with flexibility in mind. Know that a re-design is always possible, but changing things like the title, web address, and type of blog may be committing [blog] suicide.
2. Consider your audience or who you’d like your audience to be can help you ‘find your voice’
For most people, the first few blog posts will be aimed at friends and/or family…especially if the blog is set up prior to a long trip or housing remodel. However, if you’d like to reach a broader audience, consider who you’d like that audience to be. Backpackers? Luxury travelers? People with kids? First timers? Retirees? 20-somethings? Somewhere in the middle? A unique niche? If you are looking to get traffic on your website, write with your audience in mind and let them know what you can do for them.
For example, my short-term goal is to finish nursing school, get experience, eventually sign on with a travel company, work as a travel nurse while earning my nurse practitioner degree. That goal is so far away right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to target people who want to do travel nursing. None of that has anything to do with travel blogging. But right now I CAN target students–especially older students, people who have limited time and/or money for holidays, and people who want to travel– just not travel long term. All of that has to do with travel blogging and going to school.
3. Thinking about your blog name now will pay dividends in the future.
Choosing a blog name is hard. Real name vs fake name? Full name vs Partial name? Something with the type of blog in it or not? Something completely different?
I went through at least 10 names before I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats, and I’ll get to why I decided on it in a minute.
First, I didn’t want use my full name as my web address, and besides, I have a fairly common name with a teeny tiny twist on the spelling of my last name. If I type my name is a google search, the first few pages are other people with the same name as me. However, if you want to blog under your real name and that name isn’t all that common, you shouldn’t have problem.
If you decide to choose a pseudonym [aka something other than your real name], there are two main things to consider:
- Is that name available [as a domain plus any other platforms you might want to use such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, ect]? I didn’t have Twitter before I set up my blog so once I decided on a name, I set up a Twitter account with the same name…[@Adventureadikt in case you are wondering…I’m still not very Twitter savvy yet, but I’m working on it.] I created a Facebook page as an adjunct to my personal page [called Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats…] My Instagram account was already set up. I just changed the name and have to refrain from posting pictures of my cat everyday, but I’m finding Instagram the easiest to use. I’m still debating the usefulness of having Google+, Pinterest, ect account devoted to my blog, but I have already staked claim to Pinterest and Google+ as Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats.
- Is someone else using the name you want? If so, in most cases, it’s prudent to choose another name to avoid creating audience confusion and blog confusion. I’m sure there are cases where it exist, but imagine the confusion for someone coming to your site but perhaps going to a porn site instead…
I first thought of creating a blog using the name Peripatetic Michelle. I thought it was snappy. Most people didn’t know how to spell ‘Peripatetic’, or what it meant. I spent a lot of time spelling that word then explaining it meant essentially the same as nomad…which is a lot more common word and a lot easier to spell.
I then thought something like Out and About with Michelle would be cool. That’s entirely too long of a name for a web address. Out and About was taken, and I didn’t want to change the spelling too much in order to claim it. I them thought of names like Michelle’s Big Adventure [oh wait…I don’t have a big adventure] On the road…[taken]. I went in a different direction thinking of my favorite travel quotes, poems, ect…
- Two roads diverged[taken] The road less traveled [from Robert Frost’s poem…taken]
- All who wander [taken…from a Tolkien quote]
- I’m not lost [also taken…also derived from the same quote]
Ultimately, I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats for a couple of reasons. Life can become very stagnant without having dreams [or goals]. I think everyone should have a dream–whether it’s something lofty like visiting every country in the world or trying to find the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. The second one being it’s a nod [albeit a slight one] to the fact that I am NOT a full-time traveler. Traveling is by far my favorite activity, but I currently have a job at a hospital, go to school full time, and have two kitties at home that keeping me on my toes.
4. Platforms and hosting has nothing to do with shoes and parties
I am so glad I researched this before my first blog. Everyone said use WordPress. It will make your life easier. I like easy so I used WordPress from the start. I have never used anything else and I have not had any issues…
If I have any problem with WordPress, and really I don’t, it’s that there are SO.MANY.OPTIONS …widgets [not just -something discussed in Economics class] and plug-ins, themes and menu…it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning. There’s also the free [with wordpress.com] or the paid [just the name of your site].
For this blog, I use the self-hosted one at wordpress.org. I do have to use a hosting site and I use SiteGround…I’ve never had issues, but I really don’t know enough about them. I just googled ‘self-hosted servers’ read the reviews, and picked one. I’ve used BlueHost in the past and while they were OK, contacting customer support usually turned into an all day affair.
Do yourself a favor though, use wordpress from the beginning. Seriously.
5. Choosing the right technology will make your life easy
Technology is advancing every day, but choosing the right tools makes life a lot easier.
On my first big trip to the UK, I had a 2 SLR cameras and a point and shoot camera [OK…my first, first adventure was still on film! I sound so old!] and a CD Walkman. I used PIN telephone cards to make phone calls and sent my negatives back home. It was frustrating. It was slow. Then I upgraded to a DSLR…It was still mind-nummingly frustrating to get my photos off the camera onto my Facebook page. My next adventure was a month long trip through the north eastern US and parts of Canada. I traveled with a netbook and the same cameras. I used my regular cell phone, but it didn’t work for the nearly two weeks I was in Canada.
For my next adventure [6 weeks in Europe in winter], I took my Kindle and the cameras. I could upload photos taken with the kindle directly to Facebook and while writing on a Kindle isn’t the easiest thing in the world, it’s better than depending on others for technology.
I’m still working out the right amount of technology for a trip, but I’ve got a head start on what’s too much.
6. Blogging is hard
It’s even harder if you are doing it on the road. It takes time to come up with ideas, write them out, take pictures, edit them, and post it all to a blog consistently. A blog is not a blog without content. And yet content–or I should say GOOD content– is the hardest part of any blog. There are millions of blogs on the web these days, and content is what makes one blog succeed while another one fails. Content and consistency. My goal is to blog content twice a week and add a photo post in once a week. I have found, from reading other blogs, that it is important to let the reader know how often new content will appear. Whether its twice a day or once a week, it’s a lot easier as a reader to say ‘oh, it’s Wednesday…let me pop over to Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats and see what’s new’ than to randomly check in and get frustrated when there’s nothing new.
I have read that it helps to have a months’ worth of posts ready before you publish the first one. I don’t have that many, but I do have a couple weeks’ worth of posts ready.
Good, regular content is the key to successful blogging.