What Four Months of Blogging Taught Me
Below is a list of things that I have learned, stumbled upon or heard others discuss in my first four months of blogging. While I have built and developed websites since the late 90’s; blogging, and more specifically social media was not something that I had really had much to do with. These are some of the lessons I picked up; maybe some of it can be of assistance to others.
YOUR WEBSITE FEEDS YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS (Not the other way around)
As silly as it may sound, it took me a while to realize that you funnel your social media out of your website. When I first decided to sell astrology reports on a Facebook Page, I thought that putting that content on Facebook was all that I needed to do.
It was only that I needed a way to collect money for the reports that I even set up an astrology website. The website I set up had a blog attached to it, and I decided to add weekly horoscopes, mainly as a way to bring traffic to the Facebook page (or so I thought).
It took me quite a while to realize that I shouldn’t be putting content on Facebook, and then sending people to my website as an afterthought. Rather, the idea is to have your content on your website and to use social media to drive people to your website. One way to think of it is of your website being a fishing boat; social media as your fishing lines, and your website and social media content as the lures.
There are various reasons that you might want to drive traffic to your website, but one of the most valuable is developing and maintaining an email list. While social media platforms may vanish or become obsolete, and blogging platforms may close down; your email list remains your email list, and that gives you a direct line to your potential, current, and past customers
WEBSITE OR BLOG
So why have a blog instead of a conventional website? A conventional website has a set amount of pages, which naturally can be added to, but categorizing them for your visitors can be bothersome.
A blogging website is set up so that you can have all the expected pages of a conventional website, with the added bonus of being able to add new content on a regular basis. Depending on the format of the blog, you can often have your latest blog posts featured on your front page. You are also likely to have access to plugins that make designing your website so much easier.
Another reason to select a blog over a conventional website is that Google tends to favors websites that update their content on a regular basis. Plus, it gives people a reason to keep coming back to the website/blog. Having a blog also makes it easy to have a RSS feed, so that people can subscribe to have your posts sent to their email, or read them via a service such as Bloglovin.
I’ve had the Scullywag domain name since February 2000, so this wasn’t really an issue for me. If you are in business though and are trying to decide on whether to register a domain name or not – go ahead and do it. To be brutally honest, nobody is going to take you seriously without your own domain name.
What I have observed in my time in various Facebook groups is that a lot of people suggest registering your domain name with a separate company than where you get your hosting from. It would appear that some people have been burnt when they have gone to move hosting companies and had quite a bit of trouble gaining back their domain name.
Domains are really not that expensive, and while it may sound tempting to have a free domain thrown in with your hosting or a blogging platform, it does pay to shop around. Not all of those deals may be as good as they sound. If you do decide to go with a hosting company or blogging platform that offers a free domain name, it may pay to check under whose name the domain is registered in.
Here is an article about some unscrupulous domain name registrar practices. It is written by a domain registrar, whom I have never used, so I cannot vouch for them, but the information is good regardless.
It would be wise to be ready to purchase the domain you want right away and to use the domain name registrar you are going to buy from when you do so. It is said that some domain registrars will register the domain names that are searched for in their databases and then try to charge you higher prices for them.
After registering a domain name, you need to find a web hosting company to host it. There are lots of people out there that recommend specific web hosting companies, and I have heard some bad stories during my time in Facebook groups.
There are one or two web hosting companies in particular that give excellent affiliate commissions to those that recommend their services. If you are reading a review and some blogger or blogging platform raves about a particular hosting company – maybe do a quick Google search on reviews for that web hosting company or maybe even check which web hosting company they themselves are using.
Another thing to look into when choosing a website host is whether they provide shared SSL hosting. SSL or Secure Sockets Layer is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser.
If you look at a web address and it starts with https:// rather than http:// it is using SSL . It will also have a padlock before the web address. Starting in 2017 Google will be warning Chrome web browser users that websites without SSL are not secure. Even if you are not selling anything on your website, if you are not using SSL and a warning like that crops up, it looks bad and will likely drive some people away.
A lot of hosting companies will allow you to use their shared SSL certificate through Let’s Encrypt or another provider. You can, of course, buy your own SSL certificate, and your web hosting company should be able to assist you with the installation of this.
You may also want to check that you have access to your email addresses too. While a lot of web hosting companies include your domain name email accounts with their hosting, some don’t. Some web hosting companies or blogging platforms charge you an additional or even monthly fee to access your email accounts.
Once you decide that a blogging website is the way to go, you need to decide what blogging platform you are going to use. Many web hosting companies will already have some software installed for their clients to use, including blogging platforms such as WordPress.
WordPress is the most popular blogging platform and as such has thousands of available themes (a website look template) and plugins (code that make a function happen) available to download. I am currently using WordPress, and must admit that it was a bit of a learning curve at first; even with prior knowledge of HTML and having designed websites in the past. The possibilities of what you can do with all the available themes and plugins though is exhilarating.
Many people in the Facebook groups I have been a member of, agonize over when and how to switch from either another blogging platform to WordPress or going from the free version of WordPress to hosting WordPress on their own website hosting.
WIX is another popular blogging platform, and they make it very easy to put together a beautiful looking website. One of the first assignments that I completed for my Social Media Management course required me to compare two different blogging platforms and WIX was one of the platforms that I chose.
I found Wix very limiting when it came to doing back-end work on the site, there were very few free apps (their name for plugins) and search engine optimization is said to be difficult with their sites. I believe that a lot of their premium plans look rather expensive and don’t give a lot of value for money when compared to other options.
SquareSpace is a blogging platform that I have heard mentioned in many Facebook groups. It allows people to have beautiful websites, without needing a lot of technical skill. I have not had any experience with this at all, but a glance at this blogging comparison article seems to indicate rather high prices. Keep in mind that the article linked to above was written by people who are closely affiliated with and recommend WordPress, so there will naturally be some bias.
If you are looking for a web designer to customize your website, it would seem, at least in the Facebook groups that I have been a part of that some of them specialize in one or two blogging platforms only (e.g. SquareSpace designer, or even WordPress designers that only know how to use and modify certain WordPress themes).
But now that all that boring stuff is out of the way, onto the nitty-gritty of what I have learned……….
Social media is, as the name implies, by its very nature, very social. With the world becoming so much smaller and our lives becoming more attached to technology, the human touch really does become important.
While nobody expects a business to never promote themselves, people also do not want to be bombarded with selling and marketing all the time. There is also an expectation on some platforms, that not just your own content will be shared.
Regardless of content shared, images and videos both do extremely well. Responding to comments and interacting with your followers are part of what makes for a great social media strategy. Posting consistently is also important.
There are many websites out there dedicated to helping you get the most of your social media. If keeping on top of social media trends is important to your business, it may pay to follow a few of those companies via social media to keep up with the trends. I personally find Social Media Examiner very informative.
Facebook is still hugely popular, across many age groups and you really need a presence there. Facebook requires that a business use a Facebook Page rather than a personal profile page. The setup of Facebook Pages is rather straight forward, there are however a lot of guides to help you with making the best of your page.
Some places recommend posting several times a day, although to be honest, I think you can post too much on social media sometimes. You want to post often enough that your followers don’t forget that they are actually following you, but not so much as to appear to be spamming them. It all, of course, comes down to your content and your audience.
The number of followers you have does not mean that that is the number of people that will see your content. Facebook is a business after all and wants businesses to pay for boosting posts and for Facebook ads. Facebook has changed how and what they show to your followers, in what is known as the Facebook Algorithm. The number of your followers that actually see your Facebook business page posts may be as low as 16%, and even lower still for some pages with a very large number of followers.
Here are a few tips I have gleaned over the last few months regarding Facebook.
Facebook will penalize you for posting content from other sites – including your own. If you want to post a link from your website to Facebook; you usually achieve a higher number of people viewing your content if you upload a picture first, and then type in a description and the link to your website. If you just share your website link to Facebook or post the link in your status update, and let the post preview come up with the picture and title to your website; it often looks better, but you are less likely to have as many people see it.
Similarly, if you are going to post a video to Facebook, you will have better reach (people who see it) if you upload the video directly to Facebook, rather than from another site such as YouTube. Facebook Live is incredibly popular, and it is said that Facebook is paying some celebrities to use it, as they want more of us to use it. Facebook has publishing software on its business pages that allow you to upload photos that you can turn into a slideshow or video for your page.
Another option is Instant Articles which means having your content published on Facebook so that your followers do not leave Facebook to view your article.
Facebook is also a great place to participate in groups that are related to your industry or assist you with promoting your business online. Depending on your line of business, you may create your own Facebook group and add another dimension to your online presence that way. It can be a great way to “find your tribe”, interact with your clients or followers, and get support and tips from fellow business owners. My only advice would be, try not to fall down the rabbit hole, particularly at first, a lot of time can be lost reading and following all the content you come across.
Do make sure to have your Facebook page linked on your personal Facebook profile under where you work, as well as in your bio, so that others can follow your Facebook page from there. While many of your friends from your personal Facebook profile know where you work and what you do, those you meet in Facebook groups may not.
Pinterest is extremely popular, particularly with women, but men are slowly catching up. Pinterest is said to be extremely good at converting followers into customers.
Pinterest functions very much as a search engine, and as such, you need to make sure that you are optimizing your pins and boards so that those searching for your products can find them. Long vertical, colorful pins (approx 800 x 1200) are the ones that seem to gain the most traction. Catchy titles and beautiful images will capture attention. You need to be aware of this for posting on Pinterest but also on your website, as others may very well pin pictures from your website to their Pinterest account.
Pinterest is not about only pinning your content to your boards, in fact, some people recommend a ratio of pinning only 50% your own content and 50% other content. Many people use software to help them post to their page at regular intervals, as Pinterest seems to favor, posting quite often. Some pins that you come across will have links to content that is not related to the pin itself, so it is wise to check that what you are pinning links through to a reputable website.
Content curation is a word that is used with regard to sharing on social media, and it just means collecting and sharing content that is valuable. I will admit that my personal Pinterest was just very much pin, pin, pin, and quickly grew to over 7000 or so pins, for no other reason than I liked them. In four months my astrology Pinterest account has acquired over 3000 pins, but with my Social Media Pinterest I am trying to go the curation route and only post content that I have read, and found to be valuable to myself or believe will be helpful to others.
Group boards are another great tool to use when it comes to Pinterest. It is very much what it sounds like – you join a board that has multiple people posting to it. Such boards are usually quite popular and this way there is a chance of anything you pin there reaching a wider audience.
If you designate your Pinterest profile as a business profile, you will have access to analytics that are very useful and can use rich pins on content you pin. If you are a local business, after you pin an image or a web link, you can go into the pin after and edit it. There is a section there for “Place” – if you add your town, state and country, you will likely pick up more people searching in your general area.
You will undoubtedly be followed by many people, and some will only do so to get you to follow them back. Don’t be surprised when some of these people soon unfollow you. This is the nature of social media on some platforms (Instagram is rife with this too).
What I would recommend though, is that before you add just anyone that adds you, that you go and have a quick look at their profile. It is not that common, but there are Pinterest, as well as Instagram and Twitter profiles that have a large amount of followers, but no content, and/or display porn.
There is a lot of information regarding business marketing and social media on Pinterest as well. Depending on your industry, you likely will not have to go too far to find it – or see it in your Pinterest feed. There are a lot of people there saying that they have just the course for you, and how you can make enormous amounts of money in a short amount of time. I am sure a lot are helpful and genuine, but there are just so many of them! Just be aware, that you as a small business trying to market yourself, are an extremely targeted customer yourself.
Instagram is another social media platform where visuals are key. Many people talk about having a certain aesthetic look or feel to your Instagram feed. There are many guides out there with advice on how to maximize your reach on Instagram.
As with all social media, interacting with others is very important. There will be people that follow you, only to unfollow you as soon as you follow them. There are apps that can help you find out quickly and easily who has unfollowed you, and who your fans are.
Some of these apps will also allow you to do the whole follow/unfollow thing, and make random comments on peoples’ Instagram accounts via a bot. I personally use an app occasionally to weed out those that have unfollowed me but hate the whole follow/unfollow thing and don’t do it myself. People can usually tell when a comment is by a bot and judging by comments made in Facebook groups, people detest such bot comments.
There are also automated messages that you can send when someone follows you. If you do use these, I would recommend that you respond to any replies that you get. I have been caught out with these messages; replied and then felt like a fool when I realized that it was just a bot. I am sure I am not the only one to feel that way.
I quite like interacting with followers and have met some lovely people via Instagram. You get to know those following you, and look forward to seeing what they have been up to. Especially while you are small enough, I think it is nice to go and like something in someone’s feed when they have liked one of your photos.
Instagram rewards posts that receive interaction. With their algorithm, Instagram is now rewarding content that receives a lot of likes and comments in a short amount of time. As some people have complained, there are businesses out there that pay people to instantly comment on posts and this leads to those posts being seen more often by more people. Owned by Facebook, Instagram is also a business and wants businesses to pay for ads on their servers.
Hashtags are well used on Instagram, although most people recommend posting the hashtag in the first comment after you post. Video is also becoming a larger part of Instagram and it is slowly moving towards allowing people to sell directly on Instagram itself.
While platforms like Google+, Facebook and Twitter favor re-sharing others content, it is a little less well received on Instagram. There are apps that allow you to re-gram someone else’s Instagram photos, but a lot of people still find it objectionable. The best policy is probably to seek permission to re-gram the content; not edit the pictures to crop out business names or logos, and to credit the creator in the description.
I have heard it said that Twitter is very social, although, for me, I have not found it to be particularly so. It is said that most businesses find one or two social media platforms that work particularly well for them, and tend to focus on those.
As with most if not all social media, visuals count, and tweets with pictures tend to do better than those without. The lifespan of your tweets is likely to be short, so you have more leeway to re-tweet your content more often.
Your profile gives you a moderate amount of room to add some of your other social media accounts and a link to your website. You can pin your most popular or the tweet you want to be viewed most to the top of your Twitter profile.
Liking and re-tweeting other people’s tweets are well received and helps to expand the reach of a post. The goal is to have others like and re-tweet your content too so that your content reaches a larger amount of people. Here is a list of great ideas for how to make Twitter work for you – there is a bit of plugging for a content scheduler in there – but the information is good.
This was the biggest surprise for me when I started promoting my astrology website via social media. I joined as I had heard that it was good for your Google search engine ranking, which made complete sense. What I didn’t expect was to be received so warmly there by other users.
On my astrology web page, I have social share buttons that show how many people have shared or liked my content. The numbers of likes on website home page went up phenomenally when I started posting over at Google+.
As I do not have new content to post every day, I post a quote graphic every day to my social media accounts, branded with my website name. I joined a lot of communities (groups) over at Google+ and post my quotes in some of those communities as well as my own profile, and the numbers just keep rising for me. You can also set up collections on your profile page so that people can go directly to the content that they are after, and can opt to follow just one of your collections instead of your full profile.
What is really nice though, is that people do comment and reshare and +1 your content. I have met people there that I look forward to seeing what they have posted and enjoy catching up with in the comments sections of posts. It has become one of my favorite social media platforms.
The numbers of people over there are quite staggering too. There are people with followers in the thousands, 100’s of thousands and even a few I saw with over 1 million plus followers. There are some that have written off Google+ as a dying platform, but there might be some life in it yet. I certainly hope so, as I personally find it one of the warmest and most rewarding platforms for my business.
YouTube is hugely popular across a very wide range of age groups. YouTube is essentially another very large search engine, so when you submit content to it, you need to make sure that you optimize your description and tags for maximum impact. Video, in general, is huge in social media; our society has become so easily distracted that a lot of people do not want to read what you have to say.
There are a lot of really good YouTube channels with information on how to maximize your views, make the best videos possible and optimize them for the best possible results for your YouTube channel. When it comes to making content for YouTube, there are quite a few places that can help you with this. YouTube itself has a video and slideshow editor you can use. There is also the opportunity to monetize your channel and make a bit of profit on the side. The analytics of the site are rather impressive too.
I love this, a few times it has brought in substantial amounts of traffic for my website. I think of Flipboard as being a cooler version of Pinterest. Instead of boards, you have magazines and you don’t pin photos, you flip articles. When using Flipboard on your mobile device, when you view someone’s magazine, you literally are flipping through it.
Flipboard tends to concentrate on and reward content that is newly posted. That is not to say that your older articles will necessarily never be viewed. People can follow one of your boards, or you yourself. They can also find your content when they follow certain topics. As with Pinterest, flipping other people’s content is encouraged. Flipboard can also be used to make FlipBooks that you can post on other social media channels or feature on your website.
PICTURES FOR WEBSITES
Please be aware that you cannot just take any picture you see online and use it on your social media or your website. You can face significant fines if you are found in breach of copyright law. There are several websites that offer photos that you can use for free for either personal or commercial use and some of these allow you to modify the pictures if you chose to. Even if you do a google search and the photo says royalty free, that does not necessarily give you permission to use it on a commercial website or on social media.
A few of my favorite sites for free use pictures are Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay. There are various photo editing sites that you can use to edit pictures or to create your own graphics. A few of the more popular ones are Canva, Adobe Spark, and Pablo.
My last shout out post is to Buffer. Buffer is a content scheduler. The free version allows you to post to 4 different social media accounts with up to 10 posts scheduled in each account at a time. I have recently upgraded to their awesome plan, which allows me to have 10 social media accounts linked, and 100 posts scheduled for each of those accounts. I am not one to pay for anything I don’t have to online, but I consider this money well spent.
None of the above companies have paid me to mention them in this article. If however, they had, I would be required to announce this via a disclosure.
It is rather a lengthy article, but when writing it I realized that there is potential to elaborate on each of these topics in their own articles at a later date. If you have enjoyed reading this, perhaps you would consider signing up for updates via email (in the very footer of this page).
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