Wednesday, April 1, 2015

blogging tips and tricks

Blogging Tips
I'm coming up on my three year blogging anniversary, and so I have a few things lined up for this month! First up is a post I've been working on for months - blogging tips. I'm emailed quite often about what tips I have for blogging, so I'm laying it all out here. I'm obviously not the world's biggest blogger, but I do alright for myself :) So! Below are my little tips and tricks I've learned throughout the years - what has worked for me, what hasn't, and why. I'd love to hear your tips, what you've learned from blogging, and what you've done that has helped your blog grow.

This is #1. You have to get out there and mingle. People aren't just going to come to you out of thin air - you have to put yourself out there. Join link ups (a few I've done for years include Bri's Third Thursday Link up, What I Wore Wednesdays, and What I Wore to Work) and visit the other bloggers. Leave real comments (not a copy and paste comment) and if you enjoy their post, follow along and keep visiting. That is how I have found SO many of my favorite blogs, and if we had just left "cute blog!" comments on each others blogs, we would still be where we started. Joining link-ups is a great way to drive traffic to your blog from bloggers who are interested in the same things as you!

Another way to get involved is participate in a challenge. I did a few back when I was able to blog every day, and they were so much fun! Sarah is currently starting a new one, so if you are looking for a place to start, this style challenge is super easy and something any blogger can do. Visit the other bloggers participating and say hi!

(and don't forget to link back to the original link up - it's the polite thing to do!)

You can also always start your own link-ups or ways to get others involved in your blog. Every month at least 50 women link-up to my budget post. I love that more and more people are sharing their budgets, and that we have our little group that comes together monthly to share. If you're doing something unique to your blog, but think it's something others would enjoy doing, try hosting a link-up. Just don't be pushy about it - people will come if they want to! And if doesn't work out, that's okay too.

make friends

This goes along with the above, but blogging friends are some of the best kinds of friends. You have similar interests, you can see each other's beautiful faces every day, and they can help you build your blog up.

I have blogging friends with all sorts of blogs of all sizes - mommy bloggers, med school bloggers, fashion bloggers with thousands of followers or just a few dozen. Don't go out and try to become friends with all the big bloggers - converse with those who you like! Don't reach out because you want something from them - send a tweet because you honestly liked their recent post, or share a story on instagram because their story resonated with you.

I am always looking for ways to support my blogging friends, so I like to include their blogs in my weekly Top Three post, retweeting the posts I really enjoyed, linking to posts that somehow contributed to mine, and sharing some of my favorite instagrammers. Chances are, they will be flattered, and may some day link back to you too!

And if in the end your online friendship doesn't click with someone, that's cool too! You aren't going to be friends with everyone in real life, so that may just not happen online either.

invest in your blog
In my first post on here, I took the picture from my macbook. If I had continued taking pictures in my bathroom on my computer, I would have quit years ago because it's just not something people want to look at. I owned a DSLR, and so I started using it after a few weeks, still in the bathroom, but gradually outside my house and then to the streets. After about a year, I finally upgraded from the kit lens it came with to a 50 mm lens. This past fall, I eventually started using the photoshop that my friend Ben had downloaded on my computer years ago, so now I have the option of making collages in ways I didn't before (I'm still not editing pictures that way because I don't really know how, but it's on my list of things to learn once boards are over). After close to three years of using a blog design I had poorly done myself, I paid someone to upgrade it.

All of these things upfront are a lot - close to $1000 if you include the camera I already owned, but it was spread out over three years. If you are looking to grow your blog, you and your supplies have to grow with it. DO NOT go out and buy the most expensive DSLR you can find - they sell really great used ones for like $300 if you are looking to start somewhere. If you have one, buying a new lens is a great idea - they make super expensive ones, but if you are looking for the standard "blogging (ie portrait) lens, those can be found for around $150, and make a huge difference in your picture quality.  DO NOT hire the blog designer who costs $750 unless you are at that kind of blogging level - but maybe find someone who will re-do your header or even your whole blog (mine cost just over $100 - I can't recommend Maru enough). If you can get your hands on photoshop, start playing around with it and see what you can come up with - there are trillions of tutorials out there!  A little bit of investment and time over the long run will keep your current readers interested, and will bring new people in. Plus it will keep you learning and that usually leads to more learning, and who doesn't love to learn? ;)

see something someone else does and make it your own
I have been reading Jean's blog for years and always loved her review posts. I'm not the target audience at all, but I enjoyed her honest critiques of clothing, and her thought-out process of whether she would keep something or not. Reading her thoughts on shopping made me more critical of my own shopping habits. I'm always searching online for clothing reviews before buying something online, and since I was trying on various things, I figured I might as well review some of them too! Based on feedback, you guys really enjoy my review posts so I look forward to writing them about once a month. I took something I enjoyed on another blog, and made it work for my own. So if you love a weekly "steals" post or book reviews or "instagrammers to follow" posts, consider starting your own! Make sure you put your own twist on it - just because it worked for them doesn't mean you have to directly copy it.

watch your stats
I'm pretty obsessed with looking at my stats every day - what posts do well, what brings people to my blog, what links are people clicking on. I try to figure out why or why not a post is popular, and learn from that. For example, my clothing review posts generally have 4-5x as many pageviews as my normal outfit pictures. From that I gather that not only are people interested in those posts, but it also brings new people in. Give your readers what they want while sticking to what you want to write about. Use the statistics to your advantage!

share what makes you different
When I find people talking about/recommending my blog somewhere on the internet, the "she's a medical student" is almost always in the first two sentences. While I don't want to define myself by what I do career-wise, being in medical school is something that's a huge part of my life (which is always why I talk about it a lot - it's all I really do all day, every day!).

So while medical school isn't who I am, it does make me a bit unique in the blogging world, and so I embrace that. I've been told over and over again for the last few months that people's favorite post is my Sunday Top 3 post because of the weird medical stuff I learn about and share. Plus I really love keeping an eye out for interesting things I can share with you guys (it helps me retain that information too!). One of biggest searches that brings people to my blog is people googling how to be a in a relationship in medical school - my post about that is written from a personal point of view from someone who has been on all sides of that kind of relationship. I get emails all the time from pre-meds asking for advice, telling me how all of their friends follow along too, and are so excited to start medical school as well.

If I just stuck to sharing just my outfits, I don't think people would nearly be as interested (part of that too is that my outfits aren't that interesting anyway, so I have to bring something else to the table!). Find what makes you different and let that part of you shine.

have a trick? share it!
Like 2.5 years ago, I wrote a post about a tip Bri had given me about how to layer a button up under a sweater. It is, to this day, the most popular post on my blog of all time. It's my most pinned picture, and it is what bigger sites link to the most. Another post I wrote about refurbishing a Coach bag I found on Etsy is what drives the most google searches to my blog. I was kind of making it up as I went, but sharing my experience has brought people to my blog. So, if you have a trick or are trying something new, make a post out of it. You'll never know what it can do for your blog!

find what you're best at
People have success in the blogging world for different reasons. For example:

Blair is extremely successive because of her styling and photography - but notice she never writes anything? Her outfits and pictures speak for themselves.

Audrey is great at showing different ways to re-wear clothes, helping others figure out what works for them, and showing how to build a working wardrobe - but notice that while her pictures are high quality, what she is showing isn't meant to be aspirational, it's attainable. Her blog is popular because she is helping people put themselves together.

My blog is neither aspirational nor instructional. I don't have the world's best eye for pictures, styling, or tip giving. What I think makes my blog work is that I have a dress code (like many women out there working), I work on looking pulled together while sticking to a budget, and the medicine stuff is something interesting to write about. I'm also a shape that isn't really out in there in the blogging world - almost every referral I get from Reddit is either someone looking for an "average sized" blogger or someone with a dress code, and while I don't market myself like that, it's what I'm known for. That's why I do a lot of clothing reviews too - it helps seeing clothes on an "average" body, and if something works for me, it may work for you too! I don't define myself by any of these things, but when combined, they keep people interested in what I have to say and keep people coming back. So if you are best at finding awesome deals at Forever 21 while the rest of us don't want to look through the 7 million new arrivals, exploit that skill! Do you really enjoy writing? Write a few more controversial posts and watch the comments come pouring in. Have a surefire trick of making your clothes last longer? Share! Do you travel a ton and have a bunch of tips on how to stay stylish while traveling? Show us!

don't put yourself into a box (or do!)
While I think it's important to have a theme for your blog, I think it's also very important to be flexible with that - but don't tell your readers you will never ever do something, and then end up doing that eventually. I can think of several bloggers who when they started out were all "I'm a budget blogger, you don't have to spend a lot to look good, here are my budget finds!" and then now own handbags that are worth more than I get to live on for six months and never wear anything that doesn't cost more than my car payment. Or other bloggers will maintain they will never ever do what other people are doing, and then eventually do that exact same thing. Your blog should definitely grow with you, but remember that your readers may remember those declarations about you and if it all of a sudden shifts, they will notice that too. I'm glad that when I started my blog that I didn't name it after my job at the time (something about a lab coat) or being on a budget - it allows me to have a bit of freedom with my content and doesn't put me in a box.

There are definitely those who did start out with a very specific theme in mind, and have stuck with that. I think a great example of someone who has stayed true to their blog mission while having a tremendous amount of success in the blogging world is Kimberly from Penny Pincher Fashion. She has a blog name that makes you think that she blogs about affordable fashion, and even though she could definitely buy more expensive things, she doesn't - she has stuck with her affordable fashion idea all along, shares great deals, and always looks like amazing. A couple of other examples include Style on Target (a piece of Target clothing in every outfit), Bedknobs and Baubles (so much great jewelry inspiration!) or Advice from a Twenty Something. They have a theme, and stick to it, and that makes it work.

If you feel passionate about a certain stance (ie looking great on a budget), you need to realize that your readers will always remember that about you, so don't go (chasing waterfalls) changing everything about what readers loved about you in the first place.

treat your readers like your friends, not your fans
Nothing makes me cringe like seeing a blogger call their readers fans. It just puts up such a barrier between the blogger and the readers - very "I'm up here and you're down there". The only difference between me and you is that I write this blog and you are reading it. I like this small space of the internet where we can talk about how clothes don't fit us right or how we spend our money every month or what we're saving up for next - it wouldn't be fun for me if I was just talking down at you telling you what you can and can not wear, or what you NEED to buy. So reply back to comments, don't push affiliate links down everyone's throats every way possible, tweet back, and be supportive of those blogs you enjoy.

And don't ever call a reader a fan.

don't get caught up in the blogging game
I like to think I'm pretty level-headed, but sometimes blogging can do weird things to your head. It can very easily become about having more followers, more sponsors, more "fans" - that's why you see so many people buy instagram followers, copying the bigger bloggers, and going into debt to pay for the newest IT item. If you try to be like everyone else, there's no reason to follow your blog, they may as well just go to the source! I consider myself lucky that blogging isn't my career, so maybe that's why I don't get as caught up in it all, but in the end, remind yourself that if this isn't your career, that it's a hobby and while you want to do well at your hobby, it doesn't define you. Don't become a copycat just because you think you'll get more followers, don't buy a $1000 purse if you can't afford it, and remember that in the end, who you are as a person means more than how many instagram followers you have.

And that concludes my mini novel on blogging. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and so I'd like to finally announce to you guys that I've decided to become a full time blogger. It wasn't an easy decision, but I know it's the right choice for me.


got you good. now share your blogging tips!