I receive lots of questions about where to begin when starting a blog, and although I’ve never shared any personal insight on the subject, it’s a topic I’ve always been interested in discussing, and seems to be a topic that many of you are interested in learning about. When one of my readers recently reached out with some great questions (hi, Meghana!), I decided it was the perfect opportunity to share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the past few years, both as a blogger, and through my experience in working with influencers and brands for a social media and influencer marketing agency. Read below for some of Meghana’s questions:
Q: “Do you think it’s important to narrow my focus? I have trouble locking myself into a niche because I’m still trying to figure out what is good content and what my audience likes reading about. Is it too general to say you are simply a lifestyle blogger?”
To put it simply, yes. When I started my blog, I assumed that covering a variety of categories would make my blog more versatile, therefore attracting a larger audience. I quickly learned however, that this can actually have the opposite effect. For example, let’s say you love fashion – but you’re also passionate about fitness, interior design, music and gardening. The list could go on forever, but it’s important to narrow in on a more specific niche if you’re serious about growing your audience or working with brands. Think of it this way – imagine you’re sharing a vegan recipe one day and a burger recipe the next – are you likely to catch the attention of a vegan reader or vegan food brand? Probably not. But if you’re consistently sharing nothing but vegan recipes, you’ll have an easier time attracting an audience of people who turn to your blog as a resource for vegan recipes. And you can bet that a vegan food brand will much sooner jump at the chance to collaborate with you when you have an audience and message that aligns with their target demographic.
With that being said, I think it’s okay to focus on a few different categories, so long as they’re relevant to one another. For example, you might blog about beauty, fashion and travel, but because there’s some overlap with these categories, it’s safe to bet that your readers share similar interests. And you could even blend the three categories into one post. For example, “How To Dress Like A Parisian.”
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule that you need a niche (take lifestyle blogger, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, for example), but most of the successful lifestyle bloggers started their blogs years ago when the space was less competitive. And as the blogosphere becomes more saturated, having a niche will only help you stand out. The more you can narrow it down, the better. Caroline Joy of Un-Fancy is a great example of somebody who really narrows in on a niche, while providing value and inspiration to her readers. Her blog is all about simplifying her life through a capsule wardrobe. From the mere nature of her blog name, to her minimalist outfits and sleek site design, she stays consistently true to her brand with everything she does.
Just remember that building anything from scratch is a process, so don’t be afraid to experiment along the way in order to discover what resonates best with you and your audience. Your interests may change and evolve over time, but so will your readers’, so while it’s important to consider your audience, it’s even more important to create content that you’re passionate about. Once you do that, the right audience will come.
Q: “I’m thinking of investing in a DSLR camera and would love some advice.”
Investing in a DSLR camera is undoubtedly the best investment I’ve made for my blog, and one you’ll definitely want to make if you’re serious about creating high-quality imagery. If you’re new to operating a camera, I would highly recommend starting with a Canon EOS Rebel SL1. It’s lightweight, affordable, and the touch screen makes it especially user-friendly. I recently upgraded to a Canon EOS 6D, but I still use my Canon Rebel constantly, especially when I’m traveling and want something that’s lighter to carry. The Canon EOS 6D is much heavier and not quite as user-friendly as the Canon Rebel, but it does include some really useful features, like built in Wi-Fi that allows you to connect a smartphone or tablet to the camera. I love that I can transfer photos right from the camera to my phone without connecting to a computer.
I would also recommend buying the camera body separately (as opposed to buying a camera body that has lenses included) because the kit lenses aren’t generally very good, and the lens is arguably more important than the body of the camera. A nice lens has the ability to transform your photos, so you’re better off putting your money towards a lens you actually want. With that being said, I would opt for a prime/fixed lens (aka, a lens that doesn’t zoom). Fixed lenses are generally higher in quality, lighter in weight, and lower in cost compared to zoom lenses. I alternate between a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, a Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens, and a Sigma 35mm 1.4 lens. If you’re aiming for that pretty background blur (which is best achieved by a wide aperture), then you’ll want to choose a lens with a low f-stop/f-number. The smaller the f-stop, the larger the aperture (I rarely shoot below f/1.8).
The 50mm lens is one of the more popular lenses among bloggers, but I’m partial to my 85mm f/1.8 lens because I love the extra bokeh (blurry background) that it produces without sacrificing the sharpness of the object in focus. The only downside of the 85mm lens, is that it forces you to stand pretty far from the object you’re shooting, which isn’t always convenient. When I need a wider frame to capture landscape scenery, or for indoor shots where I want to fit an entire room into the frame, I turn to my Sigma 35mm 1.4 lens. My only complaint about the 35mm lens, is that the wider lens sometimes results in a subtle fisheye effect.
Below are some examples of photos I took using each of the lenses listed above. But keep in mind that the photos will vary depending on other variables, such as lighting, distance from the object, settings used to capture each shot (shutter speed, aperture, ISO), etc.
Q: Themes/Customization/Self-Hosting – “I’ve had a free WordPress site for a while now. Do you think it makes a big difference to get your own domain and customize a theme? I would like to get more traffic, but I’m not sure how to accomplish that.”
If you’re serious about growing and monetizing your blog, then you’ll eventually want to invest in your own domain and a platform that allows you to self-host. Not only does investing in a domain add some extra credibility and professionalism, but you ideally want to keep your blog name as simple as possible so that it’s easy for others to remember (having to include .wordpress.com at the end of your blog name isn’t exactly convenient).
WordPress offers two options:
- WordPress.com – This version is free and is hosted on their server
- WordPress.org – This version requires you to pay for a domain and hosting plan
Below are some pros and cons to each version:
- Free domain (but it will include wordpress.com in the URL)
- Free hosting
- No software maintenance
- Limited storage
- No affiliate capabilities
- You don’t technically own your site, so WordPress has the right to delete your site if they feel it violates their terms in any way
- Limited customization (no outside plugins or templates allowed)
- Advertisements placed on your site (unless you pay to have them removed)
- Complete control (you own your site)
- More flexibility, functionality and customization
- Allows custom themes and outside plugins
- More responsibility (lack of support from WordPress for back end site maintenance, security, spam monitoring, tech support, etc.)
- Must pay for domain and hosting site
To sum it up, WordPress.org offers more freedom and flexibility, but comes with more responsibility, whereas WordPress.com comes with more restrictions, but is generally easier to use, lower in cost and includes on-going site support from WordPress. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but if you’re serious about growing your site, then I would suggest going with WordPress.org.
While customizing a theme can offer flexibility, it can also be a lot of work. And unless you’re an experienced developer, you’ll probably find yourself paying somebody else to build and maintain your site. Fortunately, there are lots of great themes available (many of which are free). I would recommend a quick Google search to find what you’re looking for.
Q: “If you have any suggestions about what my next steps should be, that would be awesome as well. I’m not sure how to prioritize (theme, nicer imagery, driving traffic, etc.)”
There are so many components that go into running a blog, so deciding where to begin can feel extremely overwhelming. There’s the content creation, which includes things like photography, writing, editing, styling, branding, and the numerous social media channels you have to keep up with. Then there’s the business side, which includes the networking, the marketing, the negotiating, the pitching yourself to brands, and so on. And let’s not forget the technical aspects, like camera equipment, SEO, analytics, site design and maintenance.
Knowing what to prioritize is still something I struggle with, but it’s important to take it one step at a time or you’ll risk feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed with where to begin. If you’re just starting out, I would suggest focusing on building a steady portfolio of content that you’re proud of. You might even consider saving a series of draft posts while accumulating content, and then once you’re ready to publish your stored content on a consistent basis, you can shift your focus to promoting and driving traffic to your posts and social channels.
Growing a blog is an on-going process of trial and error, so don’t forget to have fun experimenting and learning along the way. I still look back and cringe at so many of my past posts, but that’s just a sign that you’re continually improving. I recently heard a quote that I love because it summarizes just that – “If you look back in a year and you’re not embarrassed by the content that you’re putting out, then you’re not moving fast enough.” As with most things, you’ll eventually get into a rhythm that works for you, and while it can be totally embarrassing to have those cringe-worthy moments stored on the internet, it’s rewarding to see the progress you’ll make over time. If you have any more blog related questions, feel free to comment on this post or send me an email to: [email protected]