I control my panel: Lessons Learned in Blogging 2018
A blog of mine of some sort has been bumbling around WordPress since 2014, but it took reading inspiring blogs and a short period of illness to start again. It was pretty clear from the beginning that I’d write about travelling, and perhaps some other things I love, such as vegetarian food, cool antiques and living thoughtfully. And maybe lessons learned in blogging.
For me blogging is strictly a spare time pursuit, one I have grown to love and try to get better at.
As someone who learned programming in BASIC at school and saved their work on audio cassette, grasping website design hasn’t really been intuitive or easy, but rather than using a paid service, I love to learn and put my ideas into my own web site. This is the first year I have been writing this blog properly, so I thought I’d share my lessons learned in blogging! If you are a blogging pro, peruse for your amusement, if you are new to blogging, perhaps you find some tips, and please feel free to contact me directly or share your thoughts in the comments.
Table of Contents
From WordPress.com free blog to self-hosted WordPress blog
I was asked to write a cat rescue website last winter. I wanted to learn more about website design, programming language, presentation and general website writing. Rather than screwing up my new baby, I thought trialling and erroring on a website that I owned would be better. So on Epiphany 2018, I moved from a free WordPress site to a self-hosted blog, and after I did not screw up my own website in a major way during the process, began self-hosting the cat rescue, too.
I liked the ease of WordPress.com, and I recommend using the free sites or the lower priced paid sites if you just want to get your texts published in a safe and pleasing way and are not too bothered about technicalities and not fussed about design. Once you start wanting to change this font, that underlinging, or want your social media icons in the top right corner, you will grow out of the free plan. If you don’t want WordPress to place random adverts in your blog, are contemplating to make any money through advert or affiliate marketing, you should be prepared to shell out for at least the premium plan, and if you want to install extra plugins and remove any WordPress.com branding, then you’ve arrived at the most expensive option, the business plan.
Therefore, if you wish to have the option to control 100% what goes on your website, self-hosting is the way to go. I use a provider called Strato. It is super cheap and you get what you pay for. Their website and customer accounts are pretty no nonsense and easy to navigate. There is not much in terms of support, and nothing has gone massively wrong so far, so I will stick with them for the time being.
Photo Editing in Lightroom
I am a long-time user of Photoshop Elements and the Nik Collection, with a short dabble in Rawtherapee and Silkypic and occasional “oh-that-s new” editing programmes. I had a trial version of Lightroom 10 years ago and hated it. When I wanted to edit about twenty pictures from a trip to Hawaii in 2016 and it took absolute ages, I tried it again, and wow! Had it become good! I bought a subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop and haven’t really looked back.
I have not looked back! I learned quickly how to edit a half decent photo in Lightroom, and I am now at a stage where I have mastered basic edits and want to learn more. But cataloguing and exporting ready to use in a blog post is so easy with Lightroom!
Plug-ins? What are plug-ins?
WordPress.com had pretty much everything. When I started my self-hosted website, it looked terrible, and I struggled to handle it. Slowly, it dawned on me that there are helpful bits of software you can install, often for free.
At present, I use the following plugins, all of which have free versions:
All in One WP Security and Akismet Anti-Spam. Pretty much a no brainer. It is fairly easy to use, and helps you t block out undesirables.
I kinda took it with me when moving and I generally use it for stats monitoring and enjoy whatever else it does.
A really usefull plugin which tells you when your test is too long or too repetitive, and prompts you to use key words and optimise your text for SEO.
I have WP Backup installed to… well, back my site up. I hope it works, because I stopped copying and pasting my texts into text documents.
I then use a lot of smaller plugins to make it easier to write my site the way I want it, such as
Classic Editor: I leave to learn Gutenberg for a slow day and continue to use the Editor I have learned to like over the past 18 months.
GDPR Cookie Compliance: This inserts the cookie setting information that is now mandatory
Jquery Pin It Button for Images: allows for easy Pinterest pinning of all your published images
Recent Posts Widget With Thumbnails
SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle and WP Canvas – Widgets
Spacer: to add a spacer between paragraphs in the Visual Editor
Title and Nofollow For Links
WP Visited Countries Reloaded: to display a map of countries visited on my sidebar
Subtle methods to improve SEO but not overdoing it
At the beginning of the year, I don’t think I knew what Search Engine Optimisation meant. I got a lot of emails offering me this, but what was it for? TO get ontot he first page of Google? Yeah, sure, right away with this small blog. It is like the Viagra Ad of the IT world.
I owe much of my own search engine optimisation to the Yoast SEO plugin. It is virtual hand-holding where you could optimise your text, and how to present your text so that it may get picked up in searches. And it must work, because the majority of my traffic comes from web searches.
Image Management – Toto, we’re not on Flickr any more!
My current building site! At present, I host my images on my blog, which eats server space and kills speed. I am nowhere near the limit of my allowance yet, but not entirely happy with the huge and hard to navigate image library within WordPress Content Management System.
As a long-time Flickr Pro user, I have experimented with hosting images on Flickr, which worked for a while using a beta version of some programme I already forgot, because it only worked with the first ten images on my Flickr Stream and I uninstalled it. Flickr had a chequered history these past years but now SmugMug bought it they seem to actually update it, so I might renew my Pro Account and try again, using Envira which seems recommended right now. I just balk at the 299USD price, but there is a slimline version for about 30USD which gives support for at least a year.
What hosting elsewhere will do to SEO I have no idea. Some say keep your images on your blog for the simple reason that external sites may delete your account or go bust. Others say host images on a separate site to save space.
So, only time and more trialling will tell what works best for my little website.
I also didn’t realise until some time ago that images are important for SEO, and have taken to name all photos properly, and always give them alternative titles when I edit them in WordPress, as well as post pictures of a decent quality jpeg in a size that fits the site – 1280 x 853 pixels works pretty well for me, and I may try going a bit smaller.
I may go back to caption them, as this is apparently what people read first.
Grappling Cascading Style Sheets
Oh, when I signed up with WordPress, little did I realise that there are templates that make your site look different, called “themes” in WordPress. I went though five themes in both my free WordPress site and self-hosted site time. All were free, because I could not be bothered to pay for a theme unless I knew my site worked really well with it, and I finally settled on a “Kale”, which is a food blog theme and looks like I want my site to look without knowing much about programming or spending money for a custom site.
But of course, as time went on, this font was too small, that link would not be bold enough… so I dived head first into additional CSS. There are great resources on the web for CSS, but there is no particularly website I found for all my needs, especially as CSS stylesheets are different for different themes, and as a casual user I found it was a matter of trying things out and learning a little more. I bought HTML and CSS by Jon Duckett some time ago and find it a solid book, backed up by blog articles. I never touch the original CSS stylesheet but insert additional CSS in the WP Customizer, meaning there is little I can destroy.
Finding Help and Support
My boyfriend is good with computers. Yay, I thought, IT support right at home! Turns out he is a master of Valgrind but never heard of WordPress. So, basically, it’s been two books, Blogging for Dummies and HTML and CSS, tons of different technical advice website, and a lot more Trial and Error. As this is my fun website, I am not scared if I break the site temporarily.
I would now call myself an advanced beginner in blogging technicalities, and I am at a stage where I would love to attend a course. A physical course, not an online one! Preferably in a nice location with good weather. Again, I don’t want talks on which posts to write and how to monetise it and gain followers. I read ” The 4-hour work week” and I don’t think I could stand someone on a stage telling me to sell my ebook, affiliate link the hell out of my post or put annoying ads in – screams pyramid scheme to me. Yes, I will still put affiliate links in here, but they are all for products and services that I use and recommend.
I looked at the local community college. I could learn how to troubleshoot my Fritzbox ( a popular router here in Germany) or how to work Windows10, but website programming? Nada.
What did you find helpful in mastering your website? Have you been on a course, and would you recommend a particular one?
Oh yeah, social media, very very important. I don’t use them enough, I am too lazy to promote blogposts. I commute by car to work, so I don’t even find time to post on my daily commute. Right now, 80% of my readers are referred by search engines or follow the site. Pinterest comes as a second, which surprises me how little attention I pay to it. Perhaps it’s an age thing, but I have used Pinterest for years to collect ideas for my home and travel inspirations, and only created pins for blog posts for a couple of months, starting with a fresh business Pinterest account.
How to write better and not get writers block every time I open a post draft
This is the big one. I had a thing for writing pretty crazy stream-of-consciousness stories and ironic plays in my teens and while at university, which never saw the light of day. About 90% of my published writing is scientific, which is usually structured and often formulaic.
I found it helps to draft posts on a piece of scrap paper or in a text editor/email draft to one of my friends, because just staring at the screen of a “New Post” is like creating a deadline in my head and putting an immediate stumbling block or two in my brain, and what I want to say suddenly sounds stiff and unoriginal. In addition to that, I only started learning English properly when I was 19, but I love the language and hope that practice will help write better.
My main goal is learning to write a decent website with genuine stories and connect with fellow travellers, animal-lovers and lovely people. So, plenty more help out here, but I guess to produce quality continuously, it is just a matter of sit, write, edit, repeat. It is not my primary aim to promote destinations and products for money but to offer my genuine opinion and tips. While monetizing my site is not really essential, I still will not reject suitable projects and collaborations, or say I totally don’t care, as running a website doesn’t come entirely free, but let’s say the financial aspect comes secondary.
I am interested in trying a course the the Berlin branch of the School of Life. In January, they offer workshops in resilience, creative writing and “Business Storytelling”. Have you ever attended a course there? Did you like what you were taught? Do you know if there is a thing like a “Blog School” in Europe?
Looks like 2018 has been a gentle but continuous learning curve – and one I hope to continue in years to come. Who knows? Will people still write blog posts much in the next five years?
Instagram is the platform du jour right now, but how long will it last? I am never one to put all my eggs in one basket. I use Instagram but I cannot see it last forever – in recent years the algorithm was changed, you can shop directly off Instagram, and if Instagram decides to delete your account, there is little you can do. It bemuses me when people complain about Instagram all the time – hey, they are a company designed to make money, it’s capitalism, they can do what they bloody well please, and yes, they can change the algorithm any time they want to. The only way to complain forcibly would probably be to stop using the site. And I find it it only really works if you have stunning images to display, and visually great stuff to sell.
What are your plans for 2019? Write more, write less, use different platforms? What is your most important advice you are prepared to share? Have a wonderful start into the New Year, and may you feel inspired all year!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which mean I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I have bought all these products and used them long enough to recommend them without reservation.