It’s one of the things I get emails about the most – aside from those pesky ASOS ones with new leopard print and suede and colours and love and happiness – how to make a successful blog.
I’ve never done on a post about it before, simply because I didn’t feel qualified to give out advice. I’ve only really been pouring my soul and brain into blogging for about 8-10 months and in the blogging world, that’s teeny tiny. I feel so new, feel like I’m copying everyone else, feel like there isn’t room in such a saturated market for more people to be writing about fashion and beauty and life and homeware, but alas, here I am. Working on an iMac that’s been paid for with blog funds (sort of), on a glossy white IKEA desk that’s been paid for with even more blogging funds, and surrounded by a pretty array of candles, flowers and chic stationery – because it’s important I become a cliché of everything associated with blogging, right?
I can only give you tips on how I’ve made it. On how I’ve made it to a place where I don’t have to battle an attempt at 7am Bikram Yoga on the Tube during rush hour anymore (because, seriously, that’s EXACTLY what it feels like – you should start adding those journeys to your MyFitnessPal accounts immediately). I make enough. I don’t make enough for whopping saving accounts and Mulberry hand bags and LOL I’M OFF TO THE MALDIVES SEE YA Instagram photos, but I make enough money to pay the bills and eat at Duck and Waffle and buy things from H&M home, so yeah, it’s a damn good place to be in.
Some of these tips are things I’ve learnt about online content in general – and the rest is stuff I’ve picked up since my 2014 blogging journey began…
1. Choose a clean layout
Any blog I’ve ever started has been on WordPress and it’s the only platform that I’m familiar with, but the theme choices are insane. So many of them consist of pastel colours and flowers and they make your site look like something from a 2002 version of the internet. Choose a simple font, a white background and add a few widgets to the side bar – maybe a photo, some info about yourself, links to your archive and social media. On the free version of WordPress you can’t customise much, but sometimes you can change the header so that’s a good place to start when it comes to adding some personality to your site. If you go self-hosted and can have a custom theme then I recommend Squeesome – they did mine for a very reasonable sum and I think it’s pretty clean and easy on the eyes.
2. Be active on social media
Don’t just Tweet links to your blog, it’s tremendously dull. Don’t post dark, grainy snaps to Instagram. Don’t use Twitter to slag off brands and other bloggers. Make all of your accounts and expansion of your blogs – make them fun, make them glossy, make them you. I try to post to Instagram twice a day and sometimes spend AGES putting a photo together, but it’s all a part of building my brand and my audience. With Twitter it’s more just a combination of having conversations with readers and fellow bloggers and Tweeting about 78 per cent of thoughts that enter my brain. Mostly, be relatable and human with a little bit of sparkle because people like sparkle.
3. Post regularly
Instead of posting something three days in a row and then going off the grid for a month, how about you try and stick to it? I tend to schedule posts and I know a lot of other bloggers and YouTubers are the same. I might spend a Monday putting together 4 posts and then I’ll get them out during the week – and some days I’ll absolutely have to write about the exact stream of thoughts going through my head at that time. You can be both spontaneous and planned, that’s OK. I aim to post every day or at least 6 days a week, but once a week is totally cool when you’re just getting started.
4. Product reviews aren’t enough
You’ll notice a lot of your favourite bloggers tend to do a lot of product reviews, a lot of posts that are focused on one product. These are great when you, the reader, desperately want to try a new cleanser or hair mask and decide to Google reviews, because they’ll come up in search. My thoughts? They are really overdone – there are so many well-established bloggers that have been doing product reviews for years and they’ve made it their thing. The chances of a new blog that focuses on these in a world where there’s about 75482576167 doing the same thing is pretty slim – find your own niche, create content that is different from Zoella and Lily Melrose and InTheFrow.
5. Take good photos
I’ve never been one for photography or glam, fancy cameras. I was the queen of Boots disposables back when house parties were the thing (OH EM GEE, THOSE DAYS WERE GOOD, RIGHT?) but sadly I’ve never had much interest in pulling together a polished image.
Get on board people, GET ON BOARD WITH PHOTOS.
I would love to tell you that words are enough, but I’ve noticed how much taking the time out to take good photos (some with just my iPhone 6 just FYI) has impacted on my blogs. I get contacted by more brands looking to sponsor or send a product to feature on my site because it makes my blog look more professional. Make sure you use good lighting (I rarely take blog photos when it gets dark because nothing beats daylight) and play around with angles and compositions.
6. Set up affiliate links
I used to use these at LOOK.co.uk and only this month set them up on my blog. If you join an affiliate network (I’m currently using Affiliate Windows) you can earn commission on any products purchased through your blog. A lot of brands aren’t included in the scheme, but you can count New Look, Missguided and ASOS amongst the biggies that are. How much you make is determined by how many links are on your blog (mine doesn’t have that many because it isn’t solely a fashion/beauty blog) and how many visitors you have. I’m making about £50/£100 a month.
7. Join a blogging network/agency
I never know what to call these because they pretty much all call themselves something different. You might have noticed the Handpicked Media badge on my site and basically they act as my agent, they run ads on my site and secure me sponsored posts with major brands like Lidl and Herbal Essences – again, how much you make is totally down to how good your agent/network is and how much traffic your blog gets. To make enough for it to be your full-time income you have to be hitting the BIG figures – I’d guess about six figures a month.
You’ll have to already have a good flow of traffic before you’ll get accepted onto one of these – say, at least 10,000 visitors a month, and even then, revenue can be teeny tiny. Some of the big companies include Gleam Futures (who look after Zoella and a lot of other big YouTubers), Mode Media (who used to be Glam Media) and Handpicked.
8. Create shareable content
Now, this is something which I haven’t seen much in the blogging world, but FUCKING HELL IT’S EVERYWHERE IN JOURNALISM. For me, one of the quickest way to grow a following and find new readers has been to create the sort of content people want to share on their Facebook feeds – I say Facebook rather than anywhere else because I still get about 8 times more referrals from Facebook than I do Twitter.
So what is shareable content? Listicles are the obvious ones – they’ve literally produced millions of views on this blog over the past year, and despite my feelings that they’re getting a little bit overdone and dull – they’re still doing amazingly well for people like Buzzfeed and Metro.co.uk.
I also find some of my heart-felt, longer posts tend to get shared quite a lot because people relate to the rubbish that’s going on in my head – people feel like it’s the exact same rubbish going through their head, I’ve just managed to form it into sentences.
I definitely recommend taking a leaf out of the online journalism book and jumping on the list bandwagon though – as for ideas, I get them from anywhere. Nostalgia and things about women in their twenties have been my biggest hitters.
9. Be you
That might sound silly, but don’t try and be anyone you’re not.
More than anything, don’t try and copy other bloggers out there, try and be something new, be you, because you are pretty damn interesting yourself.
I know a lot of people find it weird how much of my life I give away via my blog and social media, and how much of my brain I open up to strangers, but I don’t think I would have the readers that I do without being this open, this real. It’s very much up to you, but I would say that the feedback and comments you get from revealing some of your deepest emotions works as a sort of therapy and is incredibly rewarding. So it’s worth going down that route even just a little bit so that your readers can feel connected and related to your posts.
Some people plan how they want their tone and content to come across and spend weeks or months planning exactly how they want their blog to be – for me it was, and has always been, the opposite. I’m very ad-hoc with this and I like that about it, but the decision is totally up to you.