So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here's How to Do It.

So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here’s How

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I’m always surprised by how many emails I still receive today from people—Baby Boomers, college undergrads, mid-30s DINKs like myself—who are wanting to get into blogging. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” they start. “How do I do it? Where do I buy a URL? How do I even know what to write?”

Well, if you can’t answer that last question on your own, I probably can’t help you, but today is Camels & Chocolate’s ninth(!) birthday—before I know it, my blog will be going to middle school and kissing boys in dark movie theaters and sneaking out the back window after I go to sleep—so I figured it’s as good a time as any to give you the lay of the land, even though blogging is hardly in its infancy and, some people say, a dying medium (your blogger-in-residence here couldn’t disagree more).

So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here's How to Do It.

Let’s Get Started!

First things first. Come up with a name that’s both memorable and something that you won’t tire of in a year or two. Next, sign up for a WordPress account (it’s free), register for hosting (it’s not; I swear by WPEngine), purchase your own URL (they’re cheap). Spend some time playing around on the back end; WordPress is pretty intuitive once you get the basics down, but can intimidate at first. It’s multi-faceted because it’s so customizable, which is why hardcore developers and designers prefer it over, say, SquareSpace, Tumblr or Wix. So click around a bit, then play with different post and page layouts to get started, before you go any further. Got it? Now, you’re ready to move on.

Design for all mankind. If you’re a total newbie, you’re probably not going to want to invest a lot in your site, but the good news is that WordPress has plenty of themes that will do the hard work for you. You can peruse them and even see how they look skinned to your site before you commit (and you can also change them at any time, too). You want something that’s clean, not too busy, but striking and draws the reader in. If you don’t find anything you like in the library of freebies, there are (literally) thousands of paid themes out there, both on WP’s backend and on sites like StudioPress. If you want to invest in a site and are longing for something super-custom like my site you’re seeing right here, you’d be best off contacting my killer team of web ninjas at Further Bound.

It’s in the details. People ask all the time how I get the map on my Places page? There’s an app for that. Well, technically it’s called a plugin. Plugins are a blogger’s best friend, but also their arch nemesis the second you fall in love with one and its developer discontinues it or it’s no longer compatible with the latest edition of WordPress (new versions come out every couple months, and you’re going to want to keep your site as updated as possible). What I’m saying is this: Choose your plugins wisely (i.e. ones with a lot of reviews), and don’t go overboard (I use around seven). Some crucial ones for me are an editorial calendar, social shares and comment reply functionality, but each blogger has different needs. (Warning: You could while away hours of your life searching the bottomless plugin archives just to see what’s out there. Pack snacks.)

Write what you know. My early days of blogging, much of which has been scrubbed from this site due to pure embarrassment (did I really need to write about my first bikini wax?), recounted my tales as a twentysomething in New York City. No, I wasn’t trying to be a Carrie Bradshaw, but I’d written a newspaper column for a couple years on my life as a young journalist traipsing around Manhattan and Europe, and that theme seemed to naturally carry over when I started my blog. These days, a lot of what I write is road trips I’m taking with SVV or friends, city highlights from destinations weddings I’m attending and plenty about the South, my home, which I know better than anywhere. If you want to start a travel blog—or any blog really—you always begin with writing what you know. News alert: No one is going to pay you to take a trip (you’d be surprised how much of my travels I self-fund), so don’t sit back and wait for that to happen; go out and do.

So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here's How to Do It.

Add visuals. Design elements whether infographics or splashy, colorful photography are great at breaking up the monotony and giving your blog some pizzazz. I use photos (clearly), but if that’s not your thing, figure out what works for you. If you do decide to go the photo route, invest in a good camera or rent from BorrowLenses like we do when you need a specialized lens or product, make sure your images are crisp, in focus and take up the width of the blog column. If you upload your image large enough, you can always tweak the size in the WordPress editor.

Write, write and write some more. This is my motto as a journalist, as a content creator and as an aspiring novelist. I write upward of 10,000 words a day, some days more, many of which never get read because I trash them or put them in a folder on my Dropbox to float away into an endless abyss of Word docs. It doesn’t really matter if they get published or not. Whatever kind of writing you do, the only way you’re going to get better is by writing some more. Do you think Serena Williams won 22 Grand Slam singles titles by saying “my backhand is perfect, I don’t need to hit another?” Hell, no. And James Patterson doesn’t put out a dozen thrillers a year by sitting on his iPhone and playing Pokémon GO all day long either. Perfection is an insurmountable oasis that none of us will never reach, but we should all continue to attempt to summit anyway.

OK … So Now What?

Let people know you’re there. I remember when my father-in-law started a very short-lived political blog and was stumped why he wasn’t immediately Internet famous overnight. He asked SVV, “so why is no one commenting on it?” Welllll, no one is going to know you have a website unless you tell them about it, am I right? Once your site is ready to unveil to the world, add the link to every one of your profiles, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Cross-promote every time you add a new post. The more places your URL appears, the more likely it is going to cut through the clutter of your friends’ feeds and grab their attention.

Comment, comment, comment. When I started blogging nearly a decade ago, there were far fewer blogs, and it was much easier to find your online tribe (back in the day, I used the BlogHer network for this). Nowadays, it can be really hard to find quality blogs with so many crap ones out there, though I have found quite a few Facebook groups that fill the void BlogHer left behind. So my advice is this: Find a few that you do like to read—you can even start right here with me! *high-five*—and make an effort to leave a comment when you can and then hope it will be reciprocated or seen by other readers of that blog. I do all my blog reading on a set day every week, but I try to visit every single blogger back who has taken the time to leave me a comment, and I know many others who abide by the same quid pro quo philosophy.

So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here's How to Do It.

Don’t be spammy. Please don’t be that person who leaves their link at the end of every comment in a blog; most bloggers have a plugin called Comment Luv that will pull your most recent link. Also, don’t be that blogger who has auto-responses on Twitter (or other social media networks) that say, “thanks for the follow! Please check me out here and here and here and here and, while you’re at it, here and here and here.” Ugh, I just detest that kind of spammy behavior, don’t you? At the same time, include your social profiles in a header that’s visible on your blog so people can easily follow you elsewhere should they choose to do so.

Connect through other means beyond the blog. So many of my blog friends were people I originally discovered via Twitter or Instagram or another platform outside of their actual website. Connect with people’s content who you enjoy on various networks, build a relationship there and, eventually, they may start following you back/reading your blog, too.

Show Me the Money

I’m going to be honest with you, if you’re starting a blog to make money, you’re doing it wrong. I didn’t bother to sell an ad or sponsored post until well into my fourth year of blogging. Not only was this initially meant as solely a creative outlet for me, but you need to build up a healthy stock of content—plus, the most important thing, a devout audience—before you try to monetize a thing.

So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here's How to Do It.

And even when if you get to that point, don’t be glamored by the money. We get approached by dozens of potential partners daily who want me to write about their product or service, and nine times out of 10, they simply aren’t a good fit for this space or my interests. So I turn them down. And while, sure, it can be hard to say no to a healthy paycheck when you’re a freelancer, I’d say one of the reasons I’m successful as a blogger is because I don’t let advertisers (or SEO) dictate my content. I write about what I want to write about when I want to write it. People respond more favorably to that kind of philosophy, too, I’d venture to say. Still, you’ve got to test out the waters and see—maybe affiliate programs are your bread-and-butter instead of sponsored posts, or perhaps you can carve your niche through paid but unbiased product reviews.

Follow FTC guidelines. Be ethical, be transparent, disclose paid partnerships. It’s the law, y’all.

Now, I’m opening the floor for questions. Give me your best shot! I plan to write a “how I make money” follow-up later, so stick to the basics for now (or otherwise, let me know what you’d like me to cover in the next post). Like your second grade teacher told you: There’s no such thing as a stupid question.
So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here's How to Do It.
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COMMENTS
  • August 1, 2016

    These tips were helpful! What would your best advice for getting people to subscribe be?

    • August 2, 2016

      Hi Cate! Do you mean RSS or newsletter subscriptions? If the former, I’d say have your RSS feed in a prominent place at the top and the bottom of the page with a call to action that pops out. If newsletter, I think you need to think about what exactly you’re offering that other people aren’t: is it advice that is only available via your email, perks, etc.? Once you have that, then you can fine-tune an approach. Incentivizing always helps, I feel (we offer a free ebook download for anyone who subscribes to our feed).

      For me, I decided the newsletter route wasn’t the best option as it meant writing content that I wouldn’t publish on my blog. Instead, I added a posts-by-email function that allows anyone to subscribe and receive the full post to their inbox. That has seemed popular because then people can read from work (many government agencies block such sites) or on their subway commute to work. Whatever you do, I’d suggest *not* doing one of those pop-up “subscribe to my RSS/email/newsletter!” on the homepage as I feel those annoy readers more than they help.

  • August 1, 2016

    Hi Kristin,I have followed you for several years sorry for not leaving a comment sooner. Love you point of view and your adventures:) Also thank you for the great tips about blogging today. I have had my business since late 2011,actually let’s not count that year. Sounds crazy, but I am just getting started with blogging and social media. I dabbled before, but realized it really has to be consistent like weekly/monthly Ha! You seem do it so well. Definitely a roll model for me. Thank you. All the best.

    • August 2, 2016

      Hi Susan! Thanks for chiming in. I just checked our your site. So well done, and all your products are adorable! Running a business and also doing your own social media can be a beast, so I would applaud yourself for doing it at all. Better late than never!

      P.S. You should enable comments on your blog feed so people can leave you some love, as well =)

      • August 4, 2016

        Hi Kristin, Hey thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Thank you for taking a look at the website:) Plus glad you my stuff! Thanks for the heads up on the blog will take care of that today. All the best. Susan PS-Love your house it’s so cute! Good job!

  • August 1, 2016

    Love! Even as a fellow long-time blogger, found some good tips in here.

  • August 1, 2016

    There are so many bloggers who have written a post similar to this one, yet you always manage to give it a special touch! There’s quite a few tips I haven’t read before, so thanks for the advice! 🙂 I especially liked the editorial calendar plugin – I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before! Is the plugin you use called Editorial Calendar?

    • August 2, 2016

      The one I use is WordPress Editorial Calendar, and it’s never steered me wrong!

  • August 1, 2016

    I love your candid wisdom! Happy birthday to your blog- That’s impressive 🙂
    Also, super random, but is that US flag photo taken in Georgia?? That view looks very familiar.

    • August 2, 2016

      It does look like Georgia! But it’s actually in West Virginia at Coopers Rock. We were there just last week with some of our best friends on a road trip =)

  • August 1, 2016

    Love your article Kristin! Hannah and Lee also did my website – they are ninjas like you say! What Editorial Plugin do you recommend? I could use some more organisation and this could help 🙂 Can’t believe you write 10K words a day – that’s amazing. I write in spare time when I can find it but am going to start having a target of 7K words per week, average it to 1K per day. Thanks for the inspiration and Happy Birthday Camels and Chocolate!

    • August 2, 2016

      Yay to Hannah and Lee! They are so fabulous, and I really miss talking to them daily.

      The 10K a day is mainly out of necessity—for various editorial and content projects that pay the bills (not just this blog)—but I need to transfer some of that word power to my novel that’s been sitting untouched on my desktop for a month now, ha 😉

      And I use WordPress Editorial Calendar and love it!

      • August 2, 2016

        You guys are too kind! Thank you for the love, we really appreciate it 🙂

  • August 1, 2016

    Knocked it out of the park. The most important thing you said is if you are doing it to make money, you shouldn’t be doing it!

    • August 2, 2016

      Exactly! I think many people falsely assume that my blog *is* my job, and while now, sure, I get plenty of content projects from it, editorial has always been my bread and butter, I just don’t share a lot of that kind of stuff here as, quite frankly, it’s boring, ha 😉

  • August 1, 2016

    I have been enjoying your blog and appreciate your advice. I’m just starting out and I know I’m doing it for the right reason! Thanks Debby

    • August 2, 2016

      Thank you, Debby! Best of luck to you!

  • August 2, 2016

    I totally agree with all of your suggestions. If you decide to start a blog, do it firstly for yourself, your readers and last for money. Start building your audience and make new friends on the way. This is far more important than anything else.

    • September 12, 2016

      And it’s still the most important thing down the line! We turn down so many sponsored opportunities because they would make NO sense for the type of readers I (think I) have and would seem very off-brand. Sure, it’s nice to make a little income on something you invest so much time into, but I don’t think that should ever be the driving force (passion should be).

  • August 2, 2016

    One more amazing article on this blog. Thanks for sharing.

  • August 2, 2016

    Very informative! Thanks for sharing!

  • August 3, 2016

    Happy Belated Birthday, Camels and Chocolate!! I LOVE reading about your adventures, life, food, and anything else you post here. Cheers to many more stories, Kristin! 🙂

    I have one question – how do you track your numbers and blog growth? Is there a plugin on Wordpress?

    • September 12, 2016

      We pretty much use Google Analytics for everything. I actually don’t ever look at numbers as I really don’t want that to dictate my content/cloud my judgment. I just want to be me! But Scott has started looking at analytics just to see if there are certain trends or areas of content readers are more interested in than others so that we can provide them with more of that in the future.

      • September 12, 2016

        (Sorry for the delayed response. Catching up after nearly a month abroad!)

  • August 3, 2016

    What a coinsidence that I’m reading your blog for the first time today! I am in the midst of setting up my first blog. Fingers crossed, It will be live in about a week. It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me, but I’m enjoying every minute of it. My sister sent me to your blog and I’m so glad I took the time to check it out. Thanks for the great info.
    Feel free to check out http://livingdixie.com in a week or so, i’d love your feedback.

    • September 12, 2016

      Best of luck to you, Laura! I’ll definitely check out your site as it evolves.

  • August 4, 2016

    This was really great! When I wanted to do a site redesign for my blog, I actually reached out to the team that designed yours because it’s just so beautiful. Not something I could do at the time and ended up contracting with a friend to customize a template and handle the plugins/etc for me, but one day I definitely will up my design game. Your site is such an inspiration.

    • September 12, 2016

      I hear you, Stephanie. Web design can be expensive if you use someone professional, but so worth it in the end. I’ve had five different iterations of my site in nine years and gradually worked up to the top tier by way of web development. It is definitely not a necessity, but for me was a priority so I kept that in mind in budgeting for my year.

  • August 5, 2016

    One of the things I love about the ladies of travel blogging is the willingness to share ideas and resources with posts like this, so thank you 🙂

    • September 13, 2016

      I try, Leigh! I definitely am still learning as I go, but I don’t think you get into blogging unless you like to share things with others, right? 😉

      (And thank you!)

  • August 6, 2016

    Nice article! Love your blog, Hannah and Lee did mine too despite it being a young blog. I guess my biggest fear is, does anyone really want to hear my story. It’s a big insecurity, I’ll keep persevering and appreciate tips and advice like this. Thank you.

    • September 13, 2016

      I think what you have to realize is if they DON’T want to hear your story, they can go elsewhere–that’s on them, not you. But there will be others who WILL want to. So you just stay true to yourself, do your thing and the right readers will find you =)

  • August 9, 2016

    Great article! I love the map on your places page – what plugin do you use?

  • August 15, 2016

    Fun read and I can’t wait to read the follow up! My favorite part? “Don’t be spammy,” obviously. All of my biggest pet peeves!

    Thank you for lighting the path for me, blogging big sister!

    • September 12, 2016

      UGH, the spammy “thanks for following my Twitter/Instagram! you can check me out here and here and here and also here” auto-responses drive me mad. Also, the relentless pop-ups to sign up for a feed/newsletter when I’m reading a post and just want to leave a comment. Annoying!

  • August 17, 2016

    Thanks so much for taking the time to post all of these suggestions. I’ve struggled with knowing what the sweet spot of promoting my blog is–I haven’t wanted to be “spammy” as you say, but I realize you have to put it out there if you want it out there! Another struggle I’ve had (and you can see it evidence from the fact that I’m just now commenting on your post from weeks ago) is being able to put in the necessary time when the blog is just a hobby for me at this point. I love doing it, but sometimes after working all day at my high stress job, it gets neglected. I believe there needs to be some consistency in posting or readers will lose interest. Do you have any advice on that?

    • September 13, 2016

      Girl, I hear you! I mean, I’m just now getting around to reading/responding to my comments from a month ago! I’m trying to be better about having a schedule: For example, map out my day each day (8am social media, 10am writing writing writing, noon break for lunch and gym, 2pm more writing, etc.). But so far, it’s not going so great 😉

      I will say that I reserve my blog reading for the weekends (usually Sunday morning) and spend a couple hours catching up as I also cannot stay on top of it! I try to take that time to check out blogs who have commented on mine and scroll through my Feedly reader of blogs I follow to see which posts I’ve missed. I also subscribe to my favorites via email; that way, I don’t ever miss a thing!

      Re: consistency, I used to worry about that, but I don’t think you need to. I’d say set a manageable goal for yourself—for you, that might be once a week; for me, it’s 2 to 3 posts—and try to stick to that. But I think people are overwhelmed with the amount of content out there and anything more than 2-3 a week is going to seem like overload. But even 2-3 a month is fine if that’s all you have time for!

      It’s an ongoing battle, and I’d say don’t stress about it too much (this is the pot calling the kettle black, mind you). I always feel behind—I’m not doing enough on Pinterest, I’m not spending enough time on Instagram to get great engagement—but at the end of the day you have to prioritize what makes you money (for you, the high-stress job; for me, magazine work) and let everything else play second fiddle.

      • August 4, 2018

        Thank you for the encouraging words for us new bloggers and for sharing your advice! Working up to a once-a-week post is a good goal for me to shoot for!

        • August 5, 2018

          No problem, Dana, and best of luck with that! I think setting realistic expectations is the best way not to get burnt out.

  • September 10, 2016

    Great tips! I wish I read your tips before starting my blog. I just choose a simple blog name 😀 I still stay with WP now, I don’t have the courage yet to self-hosted.
    Yes, I agree about the twitter’s auto response – it’s not personal at all. Thanks for the post, I will share it to some of my friends who wish to start blogging.

    • September 19, 2016

      You bet, Indah! Best of luck as you get your blog off the ground.

  • October 24, 2016

    Quick Question – what plugin do you use to automatically email your comment responses? It really helps encourage conversations, and I think it set your and others who do the same apart.

    Thanks!

    • October 24, 2016

      Hi Stephanie! I use CommentLuv and Comment Reply Notification for my commenting plugins =)

  • July 18, 2017
    Grace Gilmore

    This is so helpful, thank you Kristin!

  • July 23, 2017

    Hello! I am coming to this post late in the game, but I found it so informative. I have been blogging sporadically for about six years. I am also a k-12 public school teacher currently, but considering a different direction when my daughter graduates. I love the blog sometimes, but find my audience is mainly educators interested in my teacher page. I want to drop that portion of it and refocus it in taking a new path midlife- back to baking, writing and traveling. Would you suggest changing my blog name and restructuring the whole thing or is there a viable way to rebirth in a different instantiation? I plan to go to a paid domain and more permanent set up than the free blog I started years ago. The name I chose is personal to my family lore but I am open to changing it…just not sure if I need to. This is something I want to do for me, not necessarily for a job, but I would like it to be interesting to readers as well. I want to write about all the adventures as I acclimate to the west coast, try lots of new things (paddleboard yoga perhaps?) and continue my obsession with food and independent bookstores. Thoughts, advice? Thanks!

    • July 23, 2017

      Hi, Carrie! I think you can definitely restructure without rebranding entirely (unless that’s just something you want to do because you’re sick of your brand). For example, you could structure your website so you have main categories: Carrie at School, Carrie on the Road (traveling the West Coast), Carrie at Home (reading, hobbies), Carrie in the Kitchen (food, cooking), Carrie at Large (trying new things), etc.–that sort of thing. Make sense?

      I understand your dilemma, though—I started my blog 10 years ago next week not having any clue that it would be a long-term career. There were plenty of times I wanted to change the name along the way, but I had such a longevity on the Internet at that time, it didn’t make sense. So I guess it all depends on your current brand image, amount you’ve produced online, etc. But now is the time to do it before moving your domain and hosting!

      • July 23, 2017
        Carrie Honaker

        Thanks so much Kristin! This is such an agonizing decision…who would have thought a name would mean so much? I actually have been going through some deep writing hoping to parse something out of it. I love my current name, but I don’t want to confuse it with my current presence as an educator. Thanks again for your quick response!
        Carrie

  • July 23, 2017
    Diana Lilla

    Hi Kristin, I’ve started following you since I saw a few travel posts. Just read this one, and I wonder if you might share thoughts on frequency of blogging? Also, you mentioned that some think blogging as medium seems to be dying. I read reviews on book of “Death of Expertise” that mentioned how blogs impacted some of that. My question is wondering if you have thoughts on what will replace blogging? thanks, looking forward to reading more of your blogs. Diana

    • July 23, 2017

      Good question! I don’t actually believe that anymore. For awhile, micro-blogging (including Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) and vlogging (and similar video tools like Snapchat) were threatening to overtake blogs, at least in my opinion. But as Instagram has run into problems with influencers gaming the system, using bots, etc.—not to mention, many users are now disenchanted with its constant algorithm changes—and apps like Snapchat have lost users by the hundreds of thousands, I’ve seen a strong return to the blog. In fact, we’ve had more blog content partnerships in 2017 than in any of the past 10 years of blogging. I think the big difference is that you need, yes, you need to have a professional blog that’s well-written and has a nice aesthetic, but you also need to have supplementary social media channels to match—all of that combined makes you as a content creator a hot commodity for a brand.

      In terms of frequency, I’ve always aimed for 2-3 times a week, but it’s personal preference really. Then again, my content is often long (800 to 2,000 words) and takes me awhile to put it together (minimum of five hours for most posts if photo-heavy) so I simply wouldn’t be able to manage more than that with the rest of my work load. If you’re ONLY blogging and don’t have a day job, perhaps you’d be able to swing more. But I think it really depends on the blog and the kind of content you’re producing—if you’re a style/lifestyles blogger posting your every outfit, a daily post might make sense. If you’re food, travel, etc. where each post takes a lot more time to craft, then you need to think what’s best for you without burning out. I also have several thousand subscribers who receive my blog by email so I try not to have posts ever on two consecutive days as I don’t want to be a nuisance in their inbox. So many factors to think about!

  • August 3, 2018

    Hi, Kristin:
    Would you happen to know if I can get a plug-in for social shares if I have a blog hosted on Google’s Blogger? I would like to have a button for easy sharing at least on Twitter. (Please don’t tell me I have to move everything to WordPress!)
    Justine

    • August 3, 2018

      I have no idea, sorry! I’ve been on WordPress for 10 years last week and only was on Blogger in 2007, so it’s been a while =/

      • August 3, 2018
        Justine

        OK, thanks.

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