How to start your own blog (tips from a website designer)!

So you want to be a web-designer—or—start your own blog? Here’s what you need to know from a real-life website wiz!

If you aren’t actively learning how to navigate your way through the worldwide web—starting a blog or website can be a daunting task.These days, businesses and individuals alike are turning to blogging as an effective way to establish a strong brand presence online.

Blogging is one of the most successful content marketing strategies for B2B companies, and can generate more leads than the companies that are not actively blogging.

Launching a blog or website can also help individuals land a job or build their own business. It has been reported that 9 out of 10 companies mine online presences before hiring new candidates—so it certainly doesn’t hurt to showcase your talents online.

The problem is, if you aren’t actively learning how to navigate your way through the worldwide web—starting a blog or website can be a daunting task.

I spoke with Stephanie Birditt, tech-savvy powerhouse and Associated Art Director at Fandango, and asked her to share her blogging secrets from years in advertising, content marketing, and web design.

Whether you are looking to get into blogging out of personal interest, or need to brush up your website skills for a current employer—read on as a Stephanie shares how she fell into web design, and her top tips for breaking into the world of blogging!

What are some of the mistakes people make when starting a blog?

It can be tempting to try do everything all at once and launch right into writing, styling, photo shoots, design, etc. It’s better to make small goals and then begin chipping away at the larger ones.

I’d suggest creating a strategy that properly reflects your brand and goals to start. Do you have to have a Pinterest, Instagram, and a Twitter account? If you’re really into fashion, you should probably be on Instagram! Into cooking? It’ll be a good idea to be on Pinterest. It’s important to be smart about where you are focusing your energy!

You also have to be willing to truly put the work in, and not just focus on writing articles. Become a dedicated learner, researcher, and sponge.

Another mistake within the content creation world and blog world is that people automatically go to Wordpress. The main advantages of Wordpress are flexibility, customization, and user profile accounts, which allow you to have content viewable only to users who are signed in. Unfortunately, developers from around the world design widgets—so things often break and it’s difficult to know how to fix them on your own.

There are many other CMS with amazing designs and templates that will help style your blog much more easily than Wordpress.

For us newbies, can you explain what “CMS” means?

CMS (content management systems) is all the behind-the-scenes stuff—what your audience never sees, but what you will manage – like adding images, links, and widgets. This is the area you use to post articles, create widgets, host images, and improve your SEO (search engine optimization).

Which CMS systems do you suggest first-time bloggers look into?

You can style your blog easily with Squarespace or Virb, and if you have a store component, Big Cartel or Shopify. Blogspot is upping their game a lot lately, too.

These websites allow you to create something beautiful that is also fully responsive—which should be a top priority for your site. That means these systems are automatically optimized for mobile devices, so your site will look great on your tablet or cell phone, too.

How can users decide which system is best for them?

Squarespace is best if you are incredibly visual and will be posting a lot of content. Virb or Blogspot are best for anything that will be text-heavy and will use social widgets.

All of these sites (including Wordpress) talk to each other. You can get your feet wet with one of these systems—and then transfer your information over to another one later, if you need to.

What’s great about Squarespace, Virb, and Blog Spot is that they help you host your domain, buy your domain, and also figure out your SEO and meta tags (which help with SEO). They each have account settings that help with SEO behind-the-scenes—all which you have to do on your own when using Wordpress!

What’s the timeline for someone thinking about launching a blog?

It really depends on how active you intend to be. You could have the most beautiful and functional site, but if your content sucks, it really doesn’t matter.

It’s best to put the majority of your time and energy into defining a content strategy. Who is your audience? Why would they come to your site over a competitor?

Create a mock content calendar for the next six months. Most successful bloggers post consistently and they post series: Lauren Conrad’s Friday Favorites is a hugely popular post that users now look forward to at the end of the week.

A huge part of your content strategy should also focus on SEO key terms. There are tons of blogs and pointers on this, but my basic advice is to think about what you would search for when looking for a blog like yours! The key here is to extrapolate the exact words and phrases a human would search for in Google that would bring up your blog.

When it comes to the visual design of your site, choose a maximum of two colors and two fonts that you like. Include one font that is very readable and one that shows off your “style/brand”. The same goes for color: have a primary color (e.g., purple) with a secondary color (e.g., dark grey) and stick to those as you design your blog.

What’s your advice for someone looking to create a logo without a big budget?

Logos cost major bucks—and for good reason!

I will save you the designer talk and get down to the nitty-gritty: Start by choosing a font you like and making a “logotype”. This could be as simple as spelling out your brand name, adding your primary color to it, possibly adding a line underneath, and adding a tagline.

Pinterest is a good resource for finding not only inspiration, but free font downloads. Also, check out Google fonts, lost type co., and don’t neglect the fonts that come free on your computer. Those fonts have a lot of history and, when used properly, can be downright gorgeous!

What are your thoughts on SEO?

SEO is an elusive beast for everyone. Google changes their algorithm on a monthly basis and they aren’t exactly sending out press releases about it. But I would recommend you hire a graphic/web designer before hiring an SEO specialist.

I highly suggest using Google suggestion from search engine. Start with a topic, then begin typing in associated words or phrases and see how Google autocompletes them. Next, use that autocomplete sentence to inform your article title![1] 

No matter what your approach—remember you can always Google yourself to greatness. You can figure almost anything out by doing a quick online search and watching video tutorials.

(Thanks Steph!!)

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Although the bloggersphere is constantly evolving, and there will always be more to learn—Stephanie’s advice is a great baseline guide to get you started!

If you’re serious about starting a blog, and really want to stand out, it’s important to have a unique concept that connects with people and fulfills a greater need. Do your research to ensure your information is credible, and make sure to become familiar with what your competitors are doing!

There are many free webinars offered for bloggers online, and a community of influencers—such as Marie Forleo (www.marieforleo.com) and Hilary Rushford (www.deanstreetsociety.com)-- who offer video tutorials and workshops that will teach you how to turn your blog into a thriving business.

Refer to FirstSiteGuide for a wealth of blogging resources.

(( Some articles to get you started )):