Creating a site for the first time is overwhelming: hosting providers, CMSs, templates, SEO, SMM... Marianne is the girl that will take your hand and show you the easiest way to create a beautiful and profitable website to represent yourself online.
Marianne is a super busy full time web designer, blogger, and mom who helps creative female solopreneurs DIY beautiful websites that match their unique work and personalities.
If you want to start a business and you’re ready to get going maybe you’ve already done blogs before and it’s time to wrap it up then I think self-hosted WordPress is the way to go. You know, it has the most flexibility. Obviously there’s Squarespace too which I think is a great platform as well. In the end of the day I think it’s going to cost you a little bit more money in terms of monthly fees. I personally recommend WordPress, but again it depends on your own needs.
But if you’re looking for something that’s more customizable or has more options that you’re looking for you can spend anywhere between $20-100 on a theme. Some are a little bit more but that’s usually the average. Starting an email list, you can do that as well and that’s for free. You can start it with something like MailChimp. You start out for free up to 2000 subscribers which took me quite a while to get up to there. You can start for as little as $60-150.
TemplateMonster obviously has some great themes and hundreds and thousands of them. And you know that they have great support because they’re a really big company that’s been around for a long time. Those are things that you want to look for. You want a reputable theme developer that has really good support and that’s the most important thing cause you are going to have questions and you are going to need help.
And once I started to hear more and more about WordPress..literally 30% of the websites on the web are powered by WordPress that says a lot, right? I think that that’s a pretty good platform it’s been tried and tested it’s constantly being worked on and constantly being updated, there’s tons of people that are working on it. I just think that it’s really one of the best platforms out there. Especially if you want the flexibility and the ability to add basically any functionality that you want.
The other thing is social media. I’d say it’s really-really hard to get any traffic to your blog without social media. One person argued with me once on that and I was like “okay, you’re the exception”. I really don’t know anyone that could get the word out there without any kind of social media. For me Pinterest is my biggest traffic generator by far. And for many people that I know Pinterest is a huge one. Really getting to know that platform is important.
Facebook – I would almost just forget about it at this point if you don’t already have a page. I’m pretty much just letting my fall over the way side because it’s starting to become useless. They just keep changing everything and now I just read something the other day about some new thing that they’re trying to do, branded content or something. They change algorithms all the time and now it’s like pulling teeth to get your content shown. So it’s like, why bother.
And she started to do mini-posts with her Instagram posts, like mini blog posts and she’s having a hard time converting them to her blog and was considering dropping her blog. But the thing is that you become dependent on a platform that’s not your own, you have no control over that, you have no way of collecting email addresses, no way of controlling what could happen. Like they’ve just changed the algorithm on Instagram and maybe your stuff will get shown, maybe it won’t. It’s just, to have everything, all of your content on somebody else’s platform is really dangerous.
So that was my goal – to not even try to make money in the first year. Once I had an audience, a good feel of what they were looking for, that’s when I started to look into some affiliate marketing, so I signed up for a couple of programs and just started writing a few posts, sharing some of those products, favourite things, round-ups and that kind of stuff. They actually did pretty good. Who knew! But you got to be very careful with affiliate marketing, you don’t want to start getting too salesy.
You don’t want it to seem like you’re always trying to sell something. It must be something that helps your mission or what you’re trying to help people with, it’s got to support that mission.I got off track there! 🙂 So affiliate marketing is one, selling your own products. Part of my revenue is my ebook. I only have one right now, I’m working on some more. Ecourses obviously, sponsored posts if you could get sponsored through other brands. There’s tons of ways.
When you’re starting out and you don’t have a budget and you’re not making any money with your blog you don’t want to spend a lot of money on hosting so you’re going to go with the budget host. Which it fine, I don’t think there’s any problem with that. You’re not getting a whole lot of traffic anyway. So if you’re paying $3-4 a month and your site goes down for an hour or something like that it’s probably not a huge deal because you’re not getting as much traffic anyway.
If it keeps happening over and over again you need to upgrade. But I think starting out with a low budget host is probably the way to go. Cause for me, my philosophy is, when you’re starting out keep your expenses as low as possible. There’s so many things you can spend your money on in a business that you would go broke before you even made your first dollar. You would be so far in the negative before you made your first dollar if you spent your money on everything that there was. So just get what you need. And then just slowly update from there as a need arises.
So I think it’s a really good idea to try and get a domain name that is keyword friendly. However, if you’re not exactly sure what your niche is going to be yet then that’s going to be really tough because you might back yourself into a corner with that domain. But then again it’s not like people have never changed their domain names before. So there’s this option too. Or you can have multiple domain names all pointing to one website.
A lot of people have domain names that are just kind of cute, feel-good names that don’t really mean anything or maybe it means something to them personally. And I found that there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s something memorable, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, easy for people to type in and remember. If you use a number and you say “my url is blogtwosomething.com” Is it blog2 or blogtwo? I would stay away from hyphens, because again it’s really hard to say like blog-two-something.com.
You want something that just rolls of the tongue, easy to spell. And one other thing too, you want to look at it. If you use several words in your domain you want to look at it all in lowercase with no spaces and see if it spells any weird words. There was this one joke out there of the domain like expertsexchange.com and it spells expertSEXchange.com so you want to be careful. Just something to look our for. I would spend a good amount of time on that.
I wouldn’t just pick one and run with it. Do some thinking about it, do some brainstorming. Write as many down as you possibly can, then try to narrow down your list. From there you got to type them in to see if they’re available.
Now about finding your niche. The best way to do it if you really don’t know what you’d like to write about is kind of write an assessment. Maybe write this down – everything you feel like you’re good at. You don’t have to be an expert at it, just things you have experience with, things you like to talk about with people, things that really fire you up. Politics, relationships, whatever it is you talk with people about. Make a list. And then you want to compare this list with needs that people have.
You have to do some research as well into what are people’s pain points, what problems they have, how can you help them solve them. That has to be that kind of cross. There’s another thing, too: yes, people have problems, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to pay for the solution. Think about the types of problems you have in your own life. There are some things you’re not willing to pay for. You’ll research it online and it’s good enough.
There are some things that you’re not willing to pay for. You just go and research it online. But there are other things that you are more than happy to pay people for. I can learn how to change the oil in my car. Do I want to do it myself? No, I would much rather pay someone to do it for me. Like baking a wedding cake. I could learn how to bake my wedding cake but do I want to? I’d rather pay someone to do that. Same way with things online, with information.
There are things that people pay for and things that people don’t pay for. It’s up to you to do the research and find that out. You don’t have to find completely original idea, just because there are people serving the same market, same problem out there. If they are doing well, that means there’s a need for it. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t come and serve that market in your own way.
As far as the content that probably took me like a month. I really wanted to launch with some pillar content. Stuff that was evergreen, that I knew would last a long time and still be relevant. I did three big series. On color, on fonts and one other one. It was 203 posts each. I launched with 8-10 blog posts.
You need to remember that hardly anyone is going to read them in the beginning, which is fine. But you can share them later as your audience builds. This content is what I reference to a lot even now.
I’ve got Mac now so I don’t use Internet Explorer. Man that was the bane of my existence. IE six was the worst one. I think it’s gotten a lot better now. Anyway that was one of the biggest problems. The other one I had a couple years ago when responsive design came out. It was kind of hard to wrap my head around. Now that I do it all the time I totally get it like “what was the problem”.
I was using free version of Buffer with Hootsuite for the longest time and finally just decided to pay for the Buffer cause it was worth it. I use a lot of stock graphics, like stock photos.
Creative market is awesome, I’m on there several times a week. For work we use Istockphoto for stock photography. For my blog I’ll purchase photos sometimes. There are so many free sites out there that have really good photos.
Last year I had a big success having a monthly theme. Like this month we talk about sidebars, another month we talk about blog header. Than we talked about glog graphics. I can write about blog graphics all day long.
There’s so many posts on that. I hate to say that I kind of fell of of that and I’m trying to get back on it. But I keep getting these ideas to do this and do that. I throw them in there and throw myself off. I’m lucky that i have an audience that likes what I put out there right now. But it is a good idea to have a plan, it keeps your content focused.
There are huge blogs that cover so many different topics, especially in the lifestyle space. But it’s really tough to break into anymore. So it’s a really good idea to try and keep a focus on one thing maybe two.
And, oh, a big one, as keeping on the topic of images, is just using images, that you are not allowed to use. So many beginner bloggers do that. They’re just going google and find an image and, you know, put it on there, and think it’s okay, you know. And it’s totally not okay.
Before you use any image, any graphic, anything on your website, please, please, please, double check if you’re allowed to use it first of all. And if you do, if you’re allowed to use it, you have to give an attribution and a link back. You might have to do that in order to use it.
And she went out on google, searching for an image of a pepper, downloaded it, put it on her blog, and then couple months later she got cease and desist notice, and she thought: “Okay, I’m so sorry, I will take it down”. Nope, that was not the end of it. Then she got contacted by this photographer's lawyer. Well. it was actually a scam. So, this photographer had actually put this photo on google, like had, you now, keywords and everything that it would be found. And I’m sure it wasn’t just one image.
He probably has a lot of images out there. And basically, then he just goes searching around to see if anybody’s used it. And then he just had six his lawyers on them. She paid thousands of dollars to this guy. In retribution. All for one image. So, it happens, it happens, people are just trying to bait you to use their images, so that they could turn around and just make money off of you.
So, I can’t say it enough, just do not use google to search for images. Go… I mean, so many people have blog posts now, including me, I have two over of my website. I have list of free image resources, and they are free to use. You want a photo that’s in public domain, and if it is, it will tell you somewhere that it’s public domain. Or you want a creative commons.
And if it’s creative commons, this is licensing, right, that the owner or the photographers put on this photo. If it’s public domain, you’re free to use it however you want. If it’s creative commons, there are several different licences and you have to check to see which one you’re allowed to use.
Some of them you’re allowed to use, but you have to attribute them, some of them you’re allowed to use however you want. It’s just... Do your research before you put an image on your blog. It’s basically what it comes down to.
Then they were all ugly, you know what I mean. And so that’s why they still work. Maybe there few that kinda that still come up. There’s exception to every rule. Personally I think to just have a nice-looking blog is important, because it’s a first impression.
Everybody knows that you have to make a good first impression or people are just gonna be like “what is this?”, you know. If somebody comes to your blog for the first time and they’re like just kind of checking it out or maybe they just happened to fall upon it and they’re just like “Ugh, it’s painful to look at”. You know, they are quick to cast judgement, and that’s just the truth that matters, right?
If you’re using a sidebar, to have a photo of yourself, I think, is really important. So many people leave that out and I think it’s really important, just because people want to know what is the person behind the blog. And a little bio that explains what this blog is about and what it can do for you instead of “Oh, I am so and so, and I like this and I like that, and please, read my blog. Awesome!” Why should I care? You know what I mean? Like don’t mean to be harsh, but you wanna give people a reason why they should read your blog, right?
You also want to be easy to navigate. Having too many options in your menu is not always a good idea, especially in you top-level menu. Like seen those menus that are in two lines. It’s like: “Oh my God, too many categories”. If you have too many categories, you’re too scattered and you don't have any focus, right?
So, what else… Mobile, make sure it looks good on mobile. I think, responsive, using a responsive theme or template is better than something that’s like a mobile version of your website, that basically strips away the design, but makes it readable on mobile. It works, but you know people use mobile so much these days, you kinda want your blog to stand out and not look like regular blue and grey mobile site that every other blog has. So I think that’s...
I mean, you want to stand behind those products. It’s really important. As far as Amazon, I think people do really well with Amazon, I think it’s great, especially if you recommending physical products, I think it’s awesome, I think some people make really good money. I would use it if I could but I live in a state where Amazon doesn’t allow me to sign up for their affiliate program, so I can’t *laughs* I don’t have any direct experience with Amazon, other than I buy it from them.
I did most of my customization through... with just HTML and CSS, so I think that it’s really important to know at least some basics about HTML and CSS, if you want to really do some customization.
However, that said, like, we talked about earlier, there are some good, really good themes out there and some really good theme shops out there. Like TemplateMonster, of course, and I mentioned Genesis and I think that if you just… You gotta just look for what are the type of features that you want, like, you know, do you want a slider or do you want… What do you want your blog page to look like, you know, do you want a sidebar or not… I mean it’s just, it’s really hard question to answer unfortunately *laughs*
You want to think your navigation through for sure, to make it easy for people to understand what they’re looking at, what they’re looking for. Don’t be cutesy with your navigation names, use something that people understand right away, they don’t have to try and think about, what does this mean? But yeah, I mean, if you’re using WordPress, then in the dashboard, it’s under Appearance -> Menus. So, you can add your menu items there. Hopefully, that answers the questions.
But I’m always willing to answer questions and that’s why I have my Facebook group, too. I would love for you to join that, it’s a really-really great community and there’s always people on there that are answering questions, there’s always people on there asking questions, looking for feedback, just “hey, will you take a look at my blog and tell me what you think?”. It’s a perfect place for that. So, I really encourage you to come and join us in there. And I would like to help you to make your blog more beautiful!
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