Blogging tips and tricks… that’s probably what I get asked about the most over here. I have been working on this post for like, a century. It was supposed to go up last Friday (which was actually my 7th anniversary of blogging, hooray!). I wasn’t feeling well so you got an outfit post. I get asked so frequently how to build a blog, grow a social following, and so on and so forth… so I wanted to pull together a comprehensive post for you with all of my tips and tricks. So this is it. Literally, everything I can think of.
Gosh. It is a lot harder now than it was seven years ago. I am one of the lucky ones. I fully own that, but I also work extremely hard to make this site what it is. I started this little thing thing seven years ago. Things were so different. I did not earn a penny from blogging for the first two, maybe three years. I still remember my first paid project for the blog. I filmed a video with UGG and judged a design competition and was paid $300. I thought I had won the lottery. I used the money to buy a new pair of sunglasses (of course) and went out to dinner with my boyfriend to celebrate. Still though, I didn’t actually think I could make real money from blogging and certainly not enough to actually live off of.
Oh how things have changed! Now, people start blogs with shiny designs (I designed my first logo in Microsoft Paint – oy) and business plans! They have a strategy and a bonafide plan for growth. I didn’t have any of that. It wasn’t necessary back then, though.
State of the blogosphere:
Right now, blog traffic as a whole is down. People are spending more and more time on Instagram and their phones, and less time going to sites.
You can still be successful though, and you can still start (and grow) a blog. It isn’t going to be easy but it can be done.
Here’s the thing. If you are going to pen a blog, you must have some sort of long form (useful) content to share with your readers (whether it’s amazing writing, DIY posts or recipes, detailed beauty product reviews, more personal posts, and so on and so forth). If you are only posting outfits, people will follow along on Instagram but aren’t going to want to take the time to click over and visit your blog. Why would they when they can see it on Instagram so easily? You have to give them a reason to want to go to your site. And yes, I know.. sure, there are plenty of bloggers that only post their outfits to their blogs (with a lot of success), but those bloggers are already established. Today, as a brand new blogger, launching a blog that only shares outfits probably won’t be very successful.
The blogs I read the most right now offer interesting, well-written content. Right now, the blogs I try to visit every day (outside of my friends) are Because I’m Addicted (amazing wellness content!), She’s In The Glow (high end beauty), and Man Repeller (I just love her writing + everyone she’s hired’s writing)
So, what to do about that!
Think about your strengths and passions! What are you good at? What sets you apart from your friends (and ultimately, other bloggers)? Are you an amazing writer? Do you really love books? Do you cook a lot and have healthy recipes that could also supplement that fashion content? Think about you, and what makes you different… and make it a goal to add a bit more “you” into your site. Alternatively, focus in on your niche? If you are a bit older, there’s that… or if you are really petite (or really tall)… and so on and so forth. Having a specific focus will really help.
Using Social Media to Build a Following and Grow Your Blog.
The biggest piece of advice I have to tell you here is to experiment. See what sticks! Just because these things work for me doesn’t mean they will necessarily work for you. When I was at BaubleBar, I built our social strategy basically by throwing whatever I could at the wall and seeing what stuck. I did the same for this blog. It took me a while to figure out, and if something stops working, I will reevaluate and decide what to do next. Pay attention to what works and doesn’t and adjust your strategy as necessary.
Instagram is the only platform that I don’t use as a “support” platform (i.e. a platform I use specifically to send traffic to my blog). This was the year that I started treating Instagram like it’s own little blog. I use Planoly to plan out my feed and spend a considerable amount of time every day replying to comments and commenting on other bloggers photos. I really turned my engagement around this year (it still could be better but I’m getting there) by doing three important things:
- Posting fewer times a day at very specific times. I used to post four times a day! I had read an article that said that was the best way to do it. Learn from my mistake and don’t do that. It was really hurting my engagement. Now I post once or twice a day (more if I am traveling). The best times for me to post are 10:30pm and 8am EST. But as I said before, you have to play around with this – everyone’s best times vary greatly. I have friends that swear by posting at 5pm, friends that swear by posting at 9pm, the middle of the night, and so on and so forth. It’s all trial and error. Don’t be afraid to mix things up (and potentially flop)… you will learn and be able to build a more effective posting strategy.
- Using the little bundle of hashtags in the first comment. I will pre-write these out in “notes” in my phone (switching it up depending upon the content) and then paste immediately after posting. There are a million articles about which hashtags to use but I like this one. Spend some time researching the best hashtags for your content and it will really help get more eyeballs on your posts. Just remember not to use more than 30 hashtags (30 is plenty!) or Instagram won’t recognize them.
- Personally responding to every comment on my Instagram. Okay sometimes I slack on this (especially on the weekend) but I make it a goal, and it has been hugely helpful.
Instagram Stories can be fun but I often forget about them. If I am doing something cool (at an event, or at a museum) I will post a story. I often forget about it but am trying to be better about putting a bit more of my day to day + behind the scenes on there. I will also open any mail/deliveries from brands on there – since you can tag brands, it’s a nice way to say thank you and show appreciation. I will say that I have been using Instagram stories more than Snapchat. It’s more convenient and I have a built-in audience there.
Twitter is where I really let myself have fun and be me. It’s actually my favorite platform… shhh… don’t tell Instagram. As I started a verrrrry long time ago (and used to live tweet Gossip Girl and do that whole song & dance) I have a pretty sizable audience. Twitter is where I go to engage with other bloggers, say what is on my mind (I live tweeted the debates and didn’t deal with the same sort of backlash that can happen on Instagram), and I always tweet out my daily blog posts(s). It sends a decent traffic to my site but the thing it has helped me the most with is connecting with my peers – fellow bloggers and editors… I swear, I’ve formed real friendships through twitter! Also, don’t schedule your tweets. Or maybe schedule one or two but mostly just let it be organic. My best performing tweets are usually just the random things that I am thinking about/whatever is on my mind. Carly had a great post with more blogging tips and I remember her saying not to schedule posts. I agree. Use twitter to engage in the community (as opposed to just pushing content out). A few twitter tips + tricks:
- Use images + photo albums. I always post a photo from every blog post. (I’m anal so I make a square social graphic for every blog post that can be used on twitter). Tag the brands that are featured within the photo to get their attention.
- Tweet during relevant events, using proper hashtags. This can be something like the election, an award show, or even just a TV show. For example, The Bachelor has a huge community of bloggers/editors/etc that tweet during the show. It’s basically one big twitter party and an amazing time to use your wit and/or sense of humor to connect with other bloggers and editors. I remember when DKNY PR girl retweeted my gossip girl tweet wayyy back in the day. I got so many new followers!
- For every link you share from your own site, share 2-3 links from other sites (tagging the author). Twitter is all about community.
Facebook has gotten to be pretty pay for play these days but it is still a top traffic driver for me every day, regardless of whether I promote my posts. When I schedule my blog post for the next day (at 6am) I will also schedule a Facebook post to go up around 9am that morning. That’s a good time to post as people are just getting into work and probably also logging onto Facebook at that time. If it is a really great post I will pay $10 to promote it.
Snapchat is sort of my “wellness channel.” I put my workouts on there, things I am cooking/eating, and so on and so forth. I also do mini beauty product reviews over there. It’s become a really important platform for engaging with readers. I get asked a lot of questions there, and often find myself going back and forth with you guys… usually about books, workouts, or random questions you might have.
Pinterest is another platform that I often forget about but is so valuable in terms of driving traffic to my site. Signing up with Tailwind has really helped me. I will go in once a week and add in all of my content (a mix of stuff from my own site + other content, you don’t want to only pin your own content! As a rule, for every pin from my own site, I pin two things from other sites.) I am a part of two Tailwind “Tribes,” which I love. You add your content and pin from the pool of content that other bloggers add. It’s helped me a) find cool stuff that isn’t my own content to pin, and b) get additional exposure for my own content. If you have a blog I would highly recommend setting up a tribe with a handful of your blogging pals… it’s really, really helpful! PS – if you sign up for Tailwind using my referral link, we will both get $15 off.
Email has become a huge, huge focus for me over the past year. I use Mailchimp to send out my weekly emails every Friday afternoon and Fridays have quickly become my highest traffic day as people open up my newsletter and click over to see my content. Not every reader is die-hard… the weekly emails remind them to come check out all of my new content. Kelly built me my template and did so pretty quickly… but I recently had my development team help out with a few new additions. I would err on the side of sending fewer emails. I have built a pretty loyal email base with a high open rate as I only send emails on Fridays. More than once a week (unless there is something really major I have to share) feels like too much. To grow my email list I promote it within blog posts + all of my social channels. You can sign up here, if you want! I also try to do a couple big sweepstakes every year with Viralsweep, which collects the email addresses of everyone who enters.
Focus on What You Own.
At the end of the day, social media trends come and go. Remember when Pinterest got rid of affiliate links? Instagram could decide to do the same thing tomorrow. The Instagram algorithm really messed things up for everyone. Who knows, they could make it even worse! Facebook could go away. I mean, it probably won’t but you truly never know. The only two things that you will always own and control are your blog and your email list. Those are my two biggest priorities for that reason.
How to Make Money From Blogging.
First thing first: don’t start a blog just to make money! If you do, you will probably fail. It’s like deciding you want to be a doctor because you want to make money, but you actually hate blood. You have to love what you do and have passion for what you are writing about! And it takes a long time… you are going to get annoyed and frustrated if that’s the only reason you are doing it. My favorite blogs make money but you can tell they are genuinely passionate about what they are doing.
- Affiliate Links: Start here. Anyone can join an affiliate network! I primarily use Shopstyle (anyone can join!) but I also use Rewardstyle (invite only so wait til you’ve built up your traffic and Instagram audience) and Amazon Associates (also open to everyone)! Affiliate links are a great way to monetize the things you would write about anyway. I will just caveat by saying that the best bloggers create their content and then add affiliate links, rather than let their linking strategy dictate their content. Of course there are exceptions (like the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale which is one of the most lucrative times of the year for affiliate linking) but really… you’ll be more successful when you write first and monetize second.
- Sponsored Posts: This won’t come until you have built up the traffic, but once you’ve been blogging for a while more and more brands will reach out to you for a sponsored post. Just be careful. One off-brand sponsored post can really cost you in the long run. One way to help get more sponsored posts is to join a network. There are so many out there right now… a few that I like (and work with regularly) are Fohr Card, Tapinfluence, Collectively, Federated Media and Style Coalition. I also get quite a few sponsored posts through my affiliate network, Shopstyle.
- Sponsored Instagrams: A big trend I noticed this year was seeing more Instagram-only campaigns. Once you get your Instagram audience to a sizable base (I would say 10,000 followers?) you can start to monetize that. You can also use Liketoknow.it through RewardStyle to earn affiliate revenue on your Instagram posts.
- Banner Ads: These are debatable. They used to be such a money maker but banner ads don’t really do much these days. I make a few hundred dollars a month from mine but to be honest I’m thinking of taking them off my site for a cleaner user experience.
Working with Brands:
When to reach out. I would start by tagging the brands you feature in every Instagram post, tweet, FB post, etc. If your content is great, they will take note… sometimes they’ll reach out to you to send product, other times they will regram you (a great way to build your audience). I probably wouldn’t reach out to brands until you get to 10,000 Instagram followers – or, until brands start reaching out to you.
How to reach out. Introduce yourself and your site! Be genuine, and be professional. If you are sending a bunch of pitches at once, make sure you spell the brand name correctly (this happens a LOT – I got so many pitches addressed to other jewelry brands when I was at BaubleBar and felt so embarrassed for the blogger reaching out. I would always just delete those emails, just out of principle). Don’t send rates or ask for money in that first pitch.. just tell them who you are, why you love their brand, and tell them you’d love to work together. A great way to test working together is to do a trade.. product for post. If you send a lot of traffic and/or sales there way, it will open the door for bigger (read, paid) projects down the road. I don’t pitch brands very frequently, but when I do, it’s always just to start a conversation. I never ask for money unless they reach out to me. In that case, the tables are turned and you should feel free to reply with ideas on how to work together and/or a rate card.
Know the difference between editorial and advertorial content. A lot of times brands will reach out and send a press release or offer to send you a sample of something. This is not the time to reply with your rates or talk about money. This is a pitch for editorial coverage. It’s when a brand reaches out and asks you to do a specific task (a blog post, an instagram, something on social media… content creation for them).. when they are asking you to work. I have seen so many bloggers make this mistake. Never reply to a press release with a rate card! 😉
Be nice! Please don’t make fun of me but the best career advice I ever received was so very simple – work hard and be nice to people! It sounds trite but if you do these two things you will be successful. If you are nice, and easy to work with (this is different than being a pushover and blindly agreeing to a brand’s terms), brands will want to work with you again. Reputation is everythinnnnng.
Be available! Coming from the brand side, I can’t tell you how bad many bloggers are at email. It’s really bad. I am pretty on top of my inbox, and the brands I work with constantly thank me for this. By being responsive at emails, you will not only get more respect from brands… they will also think of you first when they have last minute campaigns, etc. It pays (literally) to be responsive.
Over deliver. If I am working with a brand I always try to give them a little something extra. Maybe it’s a mention on Snapchat or Instagram stories… or an extra Instagram post… etc. I want to be known as someone who is nice and easy to work with, but also someone who goes above and beyond for the brands that she works with.
Other Parting Words, Advice, and Resources.
Listen to your readers, and think like a reader by putting yourself in their shoes. From there, build on that feedback! Your readers will tell you what they want. They might not expressly say that, but the #s will not lie. At least once a month I will take a hard look at the numbers. These are the places I look to help me determine future content:
- Google Analytics: What posts got the most traffic that month?
- Pinterest: Which posts got the most pins? A really easy visual way to tell is by going to https://www.pinterest.com/source/yourblogdomainhere (so mine is https://www.pinterest.com/source/thestripe.com) You will be able to tell very quickly which posts are getting pinned the most on Pinterest. So…
- Create more blog posts like those.
- Pin those posts (it’s okay to pin your stuff more than once) again. I repin a lot of old content (like right now I’m going back to last winter’s top performing posts and pinning those) to get new eyes on it.
- Facebook + Instagram Insights: Both of these pages have very visual tools where you can easily see what your top performing posts were each month. Post more things like those posts.
Take action on those insights. An example of that was my monthly reading list posts. You guys LOVED them. I always link back to previous reading lists but if you are looking for a book it is annoying to go through a million old posts to track down a book you want to read. So I thought, how can I build upon that + make it easier for my readers to find what they are looking for? From there, the idea for a more interactive “book finder” was born, and we launched my new book club page. My readers love it, but from a business perspective it also has become one of my top-performing pages, which has helped me build my traffic (as well as my earnings through Amazon). I’m not saying you should create a book finder too. What I am saying is to use the information that is available to you to innovate and make your blog shine. Look at your top performing content and find new + creative ways to highlight it.
Invest in your site. Okay, you don’t need a fancy layout to be successful but I am all for investing back into your site to make changes. Invest in a great site design (I can’t say enough great things about Victoria + Lisa – they built my site and now I have them on retainer to make updates every month.) I would also recommend investing in a good camera (I use this one) and hiring a photographer to shoot your photos if you are able to!
Set a goal to learn something new every week. Once a week, I spend at least an hour learning something new and teaching myself a new blogging skill. I don’t always do it if I am traveling but it’s been one of the most helpful things I’ve done. Last week I spent an hour reading up on SEO and brushing up those skills… this week I’ve set up an hour to figure out the Bluetooth remote I got for my phone (great for snapchat and filming little videos as the new iPhone is so good). Other goals I have for this year are to learn video editing, amp up my Pinterest game, and improve my photo editing skills in Lightroom.
A few more great posts about blogging:
- Carly wrote a really wonderful post full of blogging tips + advice.
- Jess’s post about how to be a successful fashion blogger.
- Cathy’s post about what not to do as a blogger is so good. Please, please… every blogger (newbies + old pros alike) should read this.
- Jacey’s instagram editing tips are spot on.
A recap of the resources I mentioned above:
- Planoly: Visually plan your Instagram (this was a game changer for me!)
- Tailwind: Pinterest scheduling, with a shuffle button (hooray!)
- Mailchimp to send emails.
- Viralsweep for building sweepstakes that will help you grow your email newsletter + Instagram following.
To sum it up…
I really hope that you find this post to be helpful! I get a lot of emails asking for blog help, consulting services, to meet for coffee, and so on and so forth. I really do wish that I could (and I hate saying no) That being said, this post literally says every single thing that I would say, so I hope it can serve as a good replacement for a meet-up. 🙂 Let me know if you have questions or things you’d like me to expand upon… I’ll either respond in the comments or use your questions for future blog-related posts!
photography by Tonhya Kae.