Living in the Rocket City is an interesting experience. With Redstone Arsenal and its related entities, we have many non-natives who make their home in Madison County. Almost every family in my neighborhood arrived here from a different state. This is a foreign concept to me. Growing up in a small town in Tennessee, I was surrounded by family. However, my children are growing up in a different world, with most of our loved ones living hours away. Many families here in Huntsville are far from their kinfolk, and that can be isolating.
When we moved here in 2009, I was homesick. To counteract that homesickness, I started a blog. I have always enjoyed writing and thought that it would be a great way to meet people, especially since I was home with a toddler during the day and did not have a circle of local friends yet.
My blog has been such a blessing in my life. It gives me a way to share our daily lives with out of state friends and family, and connect with people across the world. Through my blog, I have established friendships with women as far away as Japan and Australia. Since its beginning, my odd little family-fashion-home decor-whatever pops into my brain blog has grown to average over 15,000 hits per month. No one is more surprised about that than me. While I don’t consider myself an blogging expert by any stretch of the imagination, I do want to share what I have learned.
Choosing a Publishing Service
I use Blogger, but I have friends who are very happy with WordPress – both of which are free blog publishing services. Composing a blog post on Blogger can be a bit clunky, so I use Windows Writer, which simplifies the process. I recently moved from a PC to a Mac, so I am having to throw out everything I know about blogging on a PC and start from scratch. If you decide on Blogger, I highly recommend purchasing your domain name. For example, I started out with the blog address of teamskelley.blogspot.com. For only $10 a year, I purchased an easier, blogspot-free addy. Teamskelley.com just looks nicer.
Design it yourself or hire a blog designer?
For the first year, I designed my blog myself — and it looked like it. I have a very rudimentary understanding of HTML, just enough to do basic things. My banners (the heading at the top of the blog) were… unfortunate. As a first anniversary gift to myself, I hired a blog designer. Most designers will charge between $50-$200 for a blog design. The pre-made designs are usually the most affordable and quickest to install. I currently use Designer Blogs, which I highly recommend. Etsy is also a good place to find an affordable blog designer. Studies have shown that readers are more-likely to return to a blog with an impressive design.
If you do decide to design your own blog, my own personal advice is to keep it simple. Use dark type on a white background. Don’t overload your blog with blinkies, buttons, and links. I highly suggest a navigational bar under your banner – it makes it easy for the reader to find content on your blog. And definitely include a photo. People are nosy. They like to associate a face with the words that they are reading.
Many parents are concerned about having their children’s photos available online. I completely understand that. If you only want to share your blog with a select few, you can make it private and include a password. I have heard horror stories about photos being stolen off blogs by depraved individuals. It is possible to watermark a photo, although if you do this, you will need to watermark the center of the photo – otherwise it can be cropped out. I, personally, do not use my children and husband’s real names on my blog to protect their privacy. The internet is forever, and I don’t want their names to pop up in a Google search.
When I began, many bloggers used a pseudonym. Being a yoga instructor, I became Yoga Gal. When you use a pseudonym, you do run the risk of being mistaken for someone else. For instance, I was regularly mistaken for a popular Twilight fan fiction author on Twitter, also named YogaGal. Let me say for the record that I have never written Twilight fan fiction. With the explosion of social media and microblogging, blogging pseudonyms have become a thing of the past.
What type of blog do you want to write?
Most experts recommend that you choose a blogging category and stick to it. Just a few common blog categories are: Home Design, DIY, Family & Kids, Photography, Humor, Fashion & Beauty, Lifestyle, Political, and Pop Culture. Most experts recommend that you choose a category and stick to it. I disagree with this. It might mean that I don’t maximize my potential readership, but I like writing about a wide variety of topics. Otherwise I would get bored and probably run out of content. My advice: write about your passions. And if you are fresh out of ideas, give yourself a break. It is obvious when a blogger has resorted to filler just to generate hits.
Everybody knows to be a better writer you first need to be a good reader. The best thing you can do is look around the Internet at your favorite blogs, and pay attention to the things you like – writing style, blog design, voice, etc. It’s also a good way to get ideas and start your blogging community – something that’s so important to building and engaging your audience (see below)! Do you want comments on your posts? Leave a comment on someone else’s post that moved you or made you think. A great local resource is Rocket City Bloggers, a hub of sorts for bloggers living in the northern Alabama area who share information, knowledge, and their passion for blogging. They even host a monthly social for face to face discussion. I encourage you to check them out and bookmark your favorite blogs there: GirlGadabout, Zoot, The Dining Dragon, Bo Williams, The Anvil Tree, and The Resplendent Beauty are just a few I like, and cover a broad range of subjects.
Growing your Audience
In my first year, my audience steadily grew, but was stagnant for the second year. I had pretty much given up and resigned myself to having a small blog, until Pinterest came along. After Pinterest, came Instagram, and suddenly my numbers started to climb and continue to grow today.
A good rule of thumb when pinning is to follow the 10/90 rule. Ten percent of your content on Pinterest can originate from your blog, but the remaining 90% should originate elsewhere. Non-stop self-promotion will eventually run an audience off. Another method of networking is to attend a blogging conference. I’ve heard mixed reviews on these conferences. Some bloggers absolutely love them, and some think that they are cliquish. It really depends on your personality and how comfortable you are with networking.
Can I make money from my blog?
This is an area where I’ve waffled. Many of us dream of being the next Pioneer Woman or Big Mama and parlaying our blog success into book deals and big advertising bucks. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Those bloggers captured lightning in a bottle, and their success is more of the exception than the rule. When the big money does not materialize, many bloggers become disillusioned and shut down their blogs. It is possible to monetize your blog. Many blogs utilize advertising, sponsored posts, and product reviews to generate income. I do product reviews and have just been accepted into the BlogHer advertising network. If you do decide to go the advertising route, I highly recommend BlogHer. They are the gold standard in blog advertising, and you don’t have to worry about inappropriate ads being posted on your blog. If you review a product, make sure to follow federal disclosure laws, which is basically being completely transparent on how you received the item to be reviewed.
So there you go!I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to the Blogosphere, but hopefully, I have gotten you started. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section below. Happy Blogging!
All images can be found on my Pinterest boards.
Katie Davis Skelley is a Tennessee native who moved to Madison with her family in 2009. Katie enjoys gardening (when not combating her mortal enemy, the Japanese beetle), fitness, singing in her church choir, traveling to exotic lands such as Orlando, and to the consternation of her husband Marc, frequently redecorating rooms in their home. You can read about her adventures in parenting over at Team Skelley and follow her on twitter at @katiedskelley.