Blogging for beginners: tips from a veteran (ish) blogger

In the past few years I’ve been to/spoken at many events where I explained how I became a blogger. I’ve also had loads of coffees and drinks with people who wanted to ask me how I got started. So since my body can only handle so many events, caffeine or alcohol, I’ve decided to write down my blogging tips and give my liver a break.

<img src="bloggingbeginners.jpg" alt="blogging for beginners blogger on pole"/>

Disclaimer

I may be Italian, but I’m not Chiara Ferragni. Say what you will about The Blonde Salad‘s creator, but she knows her shit, and she’s successful. I, on the other hand, got into blogging by accident – or by anxiety/ imposter syndrome – and stuck with it. So some of my tips might not work for you, and they won’t get you 2M followers. If they do, please write to me because I WILL SUE, how in the hell don’t have 2M followers then?

Right now, my blog gets 10,000 hits a month on a good month, 2,000 on a bad one. It really depends on a variety of factors like content, algorithms, good or bad luck, and whether Mercury is in retrograde. So take all of this with a pinch of salt.

How I Got Into Blogging

I started blogging in 2011, before the beginning of my journalism degree here in London. When I saw all my fellow classmates had done some work experience at a newspaper, on the radio or on TV networks and the like, I panicked because I had nothing. Internships in magazines or papers weren’t a thing in Italy at the time – or maybe nobody wanted me – so I had to roll up my sleeves and DO SOMETHING FFS.

Before Blogger On Pole

So I came up with London’s Calling – Londra Chiama (how creative), which begun as a step-by-step guide to help Italians apply to university in London and slowly morphed into a lifestyle blog. LC was ok for a first start, and I’ve recently found out, was responsible for most of the Italian population enrolling into my uni’s degree (#humblebrag), but thank God it’s now closed cause CRINGE. In it I talked about dumb tourist spots I didn’t know where tourist spots, and about my uni week. The pictures were lo-fi and I used a LOT!OF!EXCLAMATION!MARKS! RIP.

Anyway, after graduating, I got sick of only writing in Italian and turned my blog into the bilingual Couchsurfer Reviews, started when I went on my first-ever Couchsurfing trip across the United States. Since living in East London and working in social media scarred me for life, I decided to travel across America like a millennial: through Internet over-sharing. Which was incidentally a viable tracking system in case I ended up in the next Ted Bundy’s hands.

On Rebranding

Couchsurfer Reviews has now however fully re-branded and morphed into Blogger On Pole, the blog you’re reading now. Why the rebrand? Because of my anxiety and depression I have struggled to continue being a Couchsurfing host or to Couchsurf when I travel. Even though Couchsurfing pretty much saved me from a really dark place I was in when I went to the US, in my crazy busy, slashie life in London and Sydney I realised I often needed time to breathe, be alone and switch everything off – including my social skills. Hence, I felt like calling this blog Couchsurfer Reviews wasn’t accurate or fair, and I’ve changed it to unify it under my Insta name and my current passion: pole dancing.

I changed everything because I realised that my social media identity was having a Quarter Life Crisis – kinda like me. My Facebook page and my blog were listed under my old blog’s name, then my Twitter profile used my real name and my Insta was called @bloggeronpole…. It was time to unify them all.

So on December 9 2017, the day of my 25th, I launched bloggeronpole.com. Note here that you can pretty much tell how much of a mess my life is just by reading my blog. Wanted to be like me? I hope you’ve now changed your mind. Anyway. Blogging tips to follow.

Finding Your Voice

One of the most frequent questions I get is: “How do I make sure I sound real but fun at the same time?” The short answer is: I don’t know.

Being real is always relative. Not all your readers are going to really know you, and to an extent you are always presenting a version of yourself online. I guess people who ask me this questions do so because I have showcased how much of a mess my life has been online. I’ve even talked about it to Cosmo this week! LOOK HOW REAL I AM. JK. You don’t have to do share all of your struggles to be real – it was essential to do it for me to make the things I was talking about make sense. And ‘struggle’ is my writing style.

I guess the difference between journalism and blogging (in theory) is that bloggers put themselves in the story a lot more, so much that people can relate with them. What are you writing about? Is it travel? If you want to be real, you can’t just discuss the merits or shortcomings of a hotel or city. You need to share your experience in a way that is as impartial as possible, while still talking about why you, a blogger with her own passions and experiences, are liking it or disliking it.

This is just an example, but the bottom line is that finding your voice often takes time and it’s relevant to who you are as a person, and to no one else. You’ve got to figure it out yourself. You can read authors you like, but to be real, you need to be you.

Incidentally, I don’t read that many blogs – partly because I’m an awful person, partly because I don’t have time. What I do love reading is random tweets, long features, and books. So my style comes partly from those, and partly from my own whacky brain.

C (ontent) U (niqueness) N (erve) and T (alent)

Trust me to add in a RuPaul’s Drag Race reference. Anyway, before you even start a blog, ask yourself: do I have the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to come up with ok content every single week?

If you want to blog, all you have to think about is content, content, content. If pictures are all you care about, then you’re probs better off doing a portfolio site or just using your Insta. However, if blogging is what you’re after, then you will have to work hard and possibly plot out what to write every week/month/whenever you wanna post.

Image result for charisma uniqueness nerve and talent gif

How Often Should You Post?

Which brings me to frequency. This is a bit of a thorny topic, because there is no optimum number of posts you should write each week.

Once again, it mostly depends on you, how inspired you are and how much time you have to write. It also depends on which content you need to gather. If you’re a travel blogger and you haven’t travelled in five years, you might be short of content.

I personally try to post once a week, twice at the most if I feel inspired. I like to post during weekends, because people have more free time and they’ll hopefully waste some by reading my bullshit. During weekends I have more time to post, but it might be different for you and your audience.

Picture by: Rawpixel on Unsplash

What I would say is try to pick a day of the week or month in which you’d like to post and stick with it, so that your readers can look forward to it. That is, if you want your blog to grow – if you write sporadically when you feel inspired, that’s fine too but your blog might not grow as much.

Niches

How many people are writing about the topic you’ve picked? Are you going to be lost in a babel of other voices who do what you do with more resources?

Consider how much you’ve got to add to the space, and if you find a lot of people doing what you do, try and find a way to be unique. Is it your voice? Is it your pictures? Do you travel on a budget? Do you only review Vietnamese food? Consider what’s out there and carve out your own niche.

That being said, don’t make your niche too “nichey” – which is what I did. When I went Couchsurfing I started my blog about it and I just figured I’d drop it at the end of my experience. Then, it turned out I didn’t want to, but it was harder to write without mentioning Couchsurfing on a blog that was called Couchsurfer Reviews. I had pigeonholed myself. I wanted to write about travel having restricted myself to just one form of travel, and I wanted to write about food, fitness, events, mental health, but it did not fit my blog topic.

So don’t base your blog off of just one experience/thing that you do. Make it broad enough so you don’t feel in trap, but make it unique enough to be you. Which probably makes no sense when you have no topic, but which will make sense after your Eureka! moment.

Social Media

Should you share your blog on social media? DUH. YES.

Even if your content is great, not sharing it with the world won’t get your blog noticed. I personally try to share my blog articles on my personal profile, on my Facebook page, on my Twitter profile, on my Instagram through posts and/or stories, on Pinterest and Reddit. If this sounds crazy to you, trust me: I get about 70% of my traffic through social media.

Picture by: Anete Lusina on Unsplash

While other bloggers/people that look for what you write might find you, you also want to reach average users or people that wouldn’t necessarily know about you. Also, having a Facebook page, or a Twitter or Instagram profile connected to your blog makes you look more credible and professional, kinda like a business. So I’d say get onto it, even if it’s a pain.

Frequency

Social media posts rely on your content. I post once a day because I am an oversharer and I have a lot of pole videos I can share.

However, my friend Faded Spring posts on her Insta about once a week and her following and engagement are off the charts. It’s about the amount of material you have, what you feel most comfortable with, and what works for you in terms of promoting your content.

Hashtagging and Tagging

Insta allows you to use up to 30 hashtags for a post. I personally use all 30 and try to post them in the comments of my pictures, so I can go and delete them after a while when people have found my posts.

Beware of shadow-banned hashtags – you’ll be able to find up-to-date lists with a Google. Unfortunately shadow bans are not always PC: a while back Insta banned the #woman hashtag and people went apeshit, and rightly so. Anyway, if you use a shadow-banned hashtag users that don’t follow you won’t be able to find your post, reducing your reach.

Apps like Focal Mark or even Instagram’s own search bar allow you to find how popular hashtags are. I always try to use hashtags that have been used up to 600,000 times and no less than 1,000 times. That’s because if you use hashtags that have been posted, like, 1 million times, your post will be lost in the tide of other pictures, but if no one searches for your hashtag… that’s pointless too.

More of that below, but do tag bars/restaurants/events you go to, or brands you take pictures of. That will expand your reach.

Buying Followers

Naive little me didn’t know you could buy followers up until I moved to Sydney and started getting random bot comments by accounts who just engaged with me because I used certain hashtags.

Instagram is cracking down on users who buy followers by reducing their engagement so I strongly advise against this. If you’re a growing brand/venue, I understand that buying followers will make you look more credible to your audiences.

<img src="bloggingbeginners.jpg" alt="blogging for beginners blogger on pole"/>
Picture by: Georgis de Lotz on Unsplash

If you are a blogger however, it’s easy to spot that you’ve got 25K followers but 10 likes… it’s a proportion game, and brands and readers will not trust you if they see that you’ve “cheated”.

Personally, I don’t even like having people that might not be real users, or that don’t engage with me, in my follower network. It defies the purpose of social engagement, doesn’t it?

SEO

I’m not a SEO whiz. I’m not that good at it. But I understand that your blogs need to be searchable, so I rolled up my sleeves and tried to work something out.

I went from basic to business WordPress, which has a small SEO bar under your post draft where you can use keywords and Meta descriptions and the whole process is pretty much set for you. Other than that, if you don’t wanna waste $$$, think about basic writing for the web.

  1. A clear post headline that says what the post is about – no puns
  2. Use moz.com‘s free monthly keyword search, which allows you to search up to 30 relevant keywords for the topic you’re covering for free
  3. Separate the posts with pictures and subheadings, ideally with a subheading every 300 words
  4. Write at least 300 words of text – this is the minimum for your blog to be picked up by Google
  5. Link to other sites (in a new tab, so that people don’t leave yours)
  6. After you’ve uploaded your pictures, use Google’s alt text guidelines to make them searchable
  7. Avoid exaggeratedly long sentences.

This is all I have so far, but I’ll update this post with other tips if I find them useful.

Pictures

Yes, you do need pictures to make your blog come to life. Ideally, they would be pictures taken with a decent camera. If not, you can use your smartphone or share them from other social media users – provided you’ve credited the owner if they’re not yours.

It’s up to you to decide whether you are in the picture or not. I try to include a mix of pictures of me and of landscapes/hotels/events I go to or food I eat, just to mix it up. But if you’d rather not be there, that’s fine too – although the keeping it real mentioned above would mean showing yourself, in my opinion.

Remember to set a featured image for your blog, so when you share it as a link the image shows up, making people want to click.

This handy guide by Google about creating searchable content includes an alt text guide for images too (see above).

Translate

I’ve just started using Transposh, a plugin you add onto WordPress for Business to translate your site in all languages. I’ve read it has increased traffic for other blogs for nearly 50% – I downloaded a short while ago, but I’ll keep you posted on the results. What I have noticed so far is that it sometimes makes your site crash, which can be annoying, so I’ll be looking for more options.

Guest Posting

You can grow your own network by offering other bloggers similar to you to write a guest post for them, or by having them write one for you. I have guest posted for a bunch of amazing bloggers – like A Girl In Progress and Bellezza In The City – and it has been a fun, rewarding experience.

I am still figuring out how to make guest posts fit on my site, but don’t be like me and reciprocate. It’s worth it.

PR Relations

I should have probably put this section way further up, but have you asked yourself: why am I blogging?

If it’s for the likes and the freebies, you’re in for a disappointment. Although blogging can be very rewarding, it’s also hard work. You can’t expect to hit “publish” on your first post and have PRs knocking at your door.

Personally, I didn’t even think or know I could get gifts or event invites through my blog. I had been blogging for three years when this started happening, and I was flattered and surprised. However, I write because I love it and because I enjoy it, and most of the time I pay for my stuff, so be prepared to do a lot of work before your first freebie.

Disclosure

That being said, there is no harm in working with PRs. I have discovered wonderful places, products and events through PRs. Plus, I was one for about five years, and I gave journalists and bloggers free stuff throughout. You are doing nothing bad by accepting gifts, as long as you disclose them.

Not putting #spon, #ad or *This product/trip/event was offered to me as a gift in exchange for review but the opinions are my own* can result in issues with advertising authorities, so make sure you disclose the freebies you get.

Get Spotted

I started getting invited to events because I went to restaurants in my own time, not for a review, and then I ended up reviewing them because I liked them. Then I would tag restaurants in my post and they would remember – and so would their PRs.

So when you like a product, bar, restaurant and the like, take a nice pic, put in some nice comment and tag the brand. It’ll grow your following, and brands will be grateful for it. They might reuse your content giving you more reach and they might invite you in the future.

Pitching

When you pitch to a PR company, always research them and their clients and state why you’d like to collaborate – why they fit your blog, what you’ve got to offer in terms of audience and following etc. Consider it a job application: short and sweet, but personalised.

I never ask for straight-up free stuff – this sounds obvious, but some PRs or businesses are small and they’d go bankrupt by offering you freebies. However, some companies do have budget and they are willing to use it on bloggers that fit their bill, so introducing yourself, what you do and why your demographic fits their targets might result in an initial no, but might then allow you to keep in touch.

Rejection

Imagine you’re a business with a limited budget. Consider that you need to hit targets. Imagine that you need coverage by press and bloggers to hit those targets.

You will want to hit them by getting bloggers and press who fit your target demographic, and who have a high enough reach or engagement to justify you spending money on them. More often than not, when you’re a new blogger you won’t be part of that crowd. You will probably get rejected a lot and initially it will sting. However, further down the road, you will start seeing small successes and brands who are willing to work with you.

It’s about keeping those relationships and nurturing them – just keep it polite, it’s not about you. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s a numbers game.

Make It Rain

Coco Persons has written a brilliant article about monetising your blog on my friend friend Emma’s A Girl In Progress blog . You can read it below.

5 Simple Ways to Turn Blogging Into Your Career

Essentially, you can pay for ads, you can display ads, do sponsored posts and use a variety of other techniques that you can read in Emma’s post to start making money from your blog aside from simple freebies.

It’s all about finding out how hard you want to push for your blog and how much time and money you want to dedicate to it.

Just a word of warning: blogging isn’t my full-time career, and I’ve heard from bloggers that do monetise their site that often brands pay late and then life becomes tricky. So consider how anxious you get about stuff too, and if you have a pot of money you can rely on if things go bad.

TL;DR

  • Blogging is not just parties and freebies
  • It’s hard work
  • It’s about you as much as about your followers
  • Hard work eventually pays off
  • K BYE
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