July 20th, 2017

How To Start A Blog, Part 2: Brainstorming

How To Start A Blog, Part 2: Brainstorming

If you don’t already know what you want to blog about, figuring it out can seem a little bit challenging. There are so many possibilities, and they can be hard to narrow down.

Start the process by considering the topics you might enjoy blogging about. You can blog about pretty much anything. Here are some popular subjects:

  • A business you’re already running
  • A hobby
  • Family life
  • Career
  • Cooking
  • Pets
  • Gardening
  • Personal finance
  • Fitness
  • Education (very popular for homeschoolers)
  • Faith
  • Advice
  • Just about any other subject you enjoy

You don’t need any special qualifications to blog, although you should know enough about your subject to gain people’s trust. Blogs about “watch me learn to do this thing” rarely stay interesting for long. It’s better to go for a subject you know well. That goes double, or even triple if you’re giving advice.

Once you know what you want to blog about, it’s time to do some initial brainstorming. You need to figure out categories for your posts and get several post ideas to start off with. A mind mapping app can be very helpful for this, and there are several free or paid versions available. SimpleMind is a popular choice. The basic version is free, and the paid version is quite reasonable.

You may want to compose a couple blog posts even before you have your blog set up. Just use your favorite word processor. You can copy and paste them into your blog when you’re ready to go. This will give you some practice writing before  you’re paying for hosting.

Don’t stress too much about length. There are many opinions on how long a blog post should be. My opinion is that a blog post should be long enough to give the information you intend to share, but not so long that it bores people. How long that is depends on what you need to say. There are some statistics that say search engines like longer content, but if your readers hate it, there’s no point.

Always be ready to take notes on blog post ideas. Back when I started, I kept a notebook in my purse so I could write down ideas any time. These days I use my iPhone if I’m out and about, or my laptop if I’m home and it’s more convenient. You can keep using your brainstorming app or switch over to the notes function on your phone or use another program. I like using Google Drive, so that my ideas are accessible wherever.

This is also a good point to start brainstorming domain names. Don’t be surprised if your first choice is taken – that happens to a lot of people. I’ll include how to get your domain name in the next post. You usually get it from your hosting. If you want to get that right now, you can sign up with HostGator.

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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

July 17th, 2017

How To Start A Blog, Part 1: Why Blog?

How To Start A Blog, Part 1: Why Blog?

Today is the start to my series on how to start a blog. I’ll post every few days – many steps will take more than a day, and time to think is always a good thing when starting a new venture.

Blogging is fairly easy to start – the hard part is earning a living at it. You have to work at it and give it time. But as home businesses go, I think it’s a pretty good model to try. There are many good reasons to blog.

Low Cost Of Entry

One of the simplest reasons I recommend blogging is the low cost of entry. You can do it for free, although I don’t recommend going that way. You’re better off paying for hosting through a company such as HostGator. I’ll get into the reasons for that in another post. Still, blog hosting doesn’t have to cost a lot per month. It’s very budget friendly.

Flexibility

Blogging is an extremely flexible home business. You don’t have to tell your boss when you need time off. You don’t have to keep to a schedule. You don’t even have to keep the kids quiet most of the time.

The one thing you have to do is find time to work at it. Blogging won’t work for you if you don’t. Depending on your family’s needs, you may need to get up early or stay up late. You may have to ask the kids to give you some quiet time so you can work, or have your spouse keep them busy.

That said, setting a schedule for yourself is a huge help. It’s too easy to slack off if you don’t give yourself some sort of a schedule.

To Build Your Business

If you have a home business, blogging can be a good addition to it. It’s not the end all, be all solution to your marketing problems, but it can benefit your business. A blog can be a place to show off how you use your products, share things your company has done for your community, and give customers a way to interact with you. It can also be a more personal presentation of your business, if you like.

Blogging also builds your authority as a business. Your blog content can help potential and current customers with problems that relate to what your business offers. If they trust what you say on your blog, they’re more likely to trust your business.

To Show Off Skills To Potential Employers

Blogging can help you demonstrate your skills to potential employers. Writers can build a portfolio of articles on their blog. Photographers can show off their work. Anyone can use blogging to demonstrate their knowledge in their career field. A high quality blog makes a great resume.

To Find Others Who Share Your Interests

Blogging is a great way to share your interests, and that means you’ll find people who are interested in the same things. That’s a part of what makes it fun. Blogging can be a great networking tool, both for hobbies and your career.

To Help Others

Back when I started Home With The Kids, I was a medical transcriptionist. I was always being asked how to get into that, because so many people want to work at home, especially moms. I got to a point where it made sense to me to start a website on the subject of working at home, so I could simply direct people to my answer there, as there are so many more ways to work at home than just being a medical transcriptionist, and so many hazards to watch out for.

Things rather took off from there, and I’ve had a lot of people be grateful for the help I’ve been able to give them. Start your own blog, and you might help others in ways you aren’t expecting.

To Learn

Blogging is a great excuse to learn new things. You need to keep learning just to keep up with your blog. There’s always something new to learn about whatever you’re blogging about, so you can share it with your readers.

You’ll also learn about how to run a blog. The basics are pretty simple. I’ll walk you through how to install WordPress in a later post. Even doing it the hard way is pretty easy once you know what you’re doing. There’s a lot more to running a blog than just installing WordPress, of course.

The next step is to figure out what you’re blogging about. This may give you even more reasons to blog.

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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

May 10th, 2017

How To Find Free Images To Use On Your Website

Quality images are important to the success of your website. While they don’t replace high quality content, they help keep people interested in your content. The challenge is in finding free images to use.

Safest, of course, is to use images you have created yourself. Photographs you’ve taken and graphics you’ve created completely on your own free you from worries about copyright issues on the images. You may still need to consider how you’re portraying products visible in your images.

It’s not always practical to create your own images, however. It’s extra work, and you won’t always have time to create the image you want. It is often easier to seek out images online. That makes it important to consider copyright.

What Should You Look For?

Knowing the copyright status of any image you use is vital. If you can’t figure out the copyright status of an image, assume it exists and that you cannot use the image. That’s safest.

Creative Commons

A very helpful form of copyright is called Creative Commons. This allows owners to declare what level of protection they want on their images. If you want to use an image on a website that you earn money from, you want images that allow commercial use. But there’s more to it than that.

You will also need to pay attention to whether or not use of the image requires attribution. You must give credit to the creator of the image if they require it.

You must also note whether you are allowed to change the image at all. Some want no changes at all to their images if you use them.

There’s also a Share Alike possibility, which means that anything you create from their image must have the same license.

Creative Commons 0 (CC0) may be the easiest license to deal with. That places the image effectively in the public domain. You can use it, change it, and you don’t have to give attribution.

Make sure you understand which Creative Commons license applies to any images you use that show it. If someone goes through the effort to put a Creative Commons license on something, it makes sense to follow those rules.

Public Domain

Images go into the public domain when they’re old enough. When that is can be complicated. You can read up on it here.

Once you’ve done that, I hope you’ll see why there isn’t any one answer I can give there. Many things published before 1923 are in the public domain, but that’s not a guarantee. Some older items will still not be public domain because they were never published, and so remain under copyright longer.

Where To Find Images

You can search sites such as Flickr for images with no known copyright restrictions. It’s one of the options you find when you do a search. If you don’t see it right away, do a search, and the results page should have the option to narrow it down by copyright.

flickr screenshot cats

Google Images allows you to search by usage. Do your search, then click on Tools. Click on Usage Rights, then select the appropriate level. It only goes to “Labeled for reuse with modification,” which will usually be enough. Google search can be easier than searching some of these sites, plus it’s searching all over the internet, rather than a site at a time.

Click on any image you’re considering, and go to the site it is on. Don’t download it straight from Google. Check the license as listed on that site so you know what you’re getting.

Google Images screenshot cats

No matter what site you find an image on, even if I’ve listed the site here as a safe one, check the terms of use on the image itself. Do not take my word for it on the safety of any images on these sites. I don’t control them, terms can change, and if someone uploads something copyrighted and claims there’s none, that has nothing to do with my advice. Some sites allow contributors to declare a particular license rather than default to CC0 or similar, and so may have a mix of licenses on the site.

Most image sites also have ads on them, and it may be difficult to tell whether an image is going to lead you to a paid site instead. Watch your sources!

Barn Images
BossFight
Fancy Crave
Foodies Feed
Gratisography
LibreShot
Life Of Pix
Negative Space
New Old Stock
Open ClipArt
Pexels
PicJumbo
Picography
Pixabay
Public Domain Archive
Public Domain Pictures
Skitterphoto
SplitShire
StockSnap.io
Stockvault
Unsplash

How to Research Images

If you want to know more about where an image comes from, you can do a reverse image search. TinEye is a good resource for this. You can also use Google Images to do a reverse image search. It’s not a bad idea to check on images you’ve downloaded, for your own safety. I can’t promise that you’ll always spot the copyright if there is one, but it may help.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

April 20th, 2015

How Well Does Your Website Cope With Mobile Devices?

How Well Does Your Website Cope With Mobile Devices?

If you pay much attention to your website stats at all these days, you know that mobile is huge. For this website, just under half my traffic comes from desktop computers – the rest is all tablets and cell phones. It’s not something you should ignore, especially with Google now penalizing websites on mobile search if they aren’t mobile friendly.

You can start checking this out with a simple tool from Google to see whether or not they consider your website mobile friendly.  This won’t show you how your website looks to visitors, but knowing whether or not Google considers your website to be mobile friendly is a good place to start.

But Don’t Most Smartphones Display Websites Just Fine Anyhow?

It’s true that most smartphones do a pretty good job of displaying websites. Screen sizes have increased through the years, and quality in general has gone up. But not everything works right on every mobile device if you haven’t planned for it.

Your font sizes may be too small, for example, for a smaller screen. You might have links set too close together to be easily used on a smaller screen. Your layout may come out really weird or just be too wide for the phone’s screen. When in doubt, it’s best to check things out so you know how your website works on different screens.

There are tools, such as Browserstack, Sauce Labs, and ScreenFly.  Some are free and others require you to pay. It’s absolutely worth it to know what your website looks like, and even how it works on a wide variety of browsers, devices and screen sizes, even beyond the simple question of “is my website mobile friendly?”

It may sound like a lot of work to get your website ready. Messing around with the way your website works can be time consuming or expensive, depending on whether you do it yourself or hire somebody. Fortunately, there are a variety of options.

WordPress Plugins

If you run your website using WordPress, getting mobile ready may be as simple as using a plugin. The plugin detects whether a visitor is on a mobile device or a computer, and shows the correct version of the site. Here are a few options:

WPtouch

This is what I used first when going for a more mobile friendly website. It’s very easy to use. The options are pretty basic – you can customize colors and other aspects of your website’s mobile appearance. There’s also an option for visitors to switch over to the regular version of your website, which can be useful. You can get more features if you buy the pro version.

WordPress Jetpack

Jetpack is a plugin that comes from the developers of WordPress, and it does a lot more than offer a mobile theme. It also gives you access on your self hosted WordPress blog to features offered on WordPress.com, such as stats, site management, subscriptions, comment forms, image carousels and more.

WordPress Mobile App

WordPress Mobile App makes your website look and feel more like an app when someone views it on a mobile device. You can customize the appearance, and all content is synced to your blog. There is also a premium version with more features.

WP Mobile Edition

Yet another plugin to quickly make your WordPress site mobile. Visitors can choose the mobile or regular version of your site and the theme is designed to be lightweight and fast.

Go Responsive

A plugin isn’t your only option for managing your content for mobile users. You can make your website responsive; that is, it can change based on the size of the screen it is being viewed on. This is the solution I chose, as not all of this website is based on WordPress, and I wanted a consistent look and feel across the entire site, no matter the device.

Some people really don’t like responsive websites. I like them, especially for a site like this one, where the focus is on information rather than interactivity. If you need more interactivity on your website, it’s entirely possible that a specialized mobile version of your site, beyond what even the above mentioned WordPress plugins can do, would be a good idea. If you’re more about information, perhaps not so much.

What I’ve done on this site isn’t as complex as some responsive sites have, and I’m not 100% satisfied with some of my results. I’m mostly pleased with it, however. I did a lot of research on how to make a responsive website, and how to manage all the likely screen resolutions. It’s the navigation menus that mostly give me fits – it’s really difficult to make that display nicely across screen sizes.

But I learned how to tell my pages what content to display and what to hide on different screen sizes, how to change the layout based on screen size, and so forth. It took a lot of time, but I enjoyed figuring it out for myself. If you aren’t inclined toward doing your own HTML and CSS, don’t try this on your own – have a professional help. If you’re already managing your own designs, you can probably do this.

If you use WordPress, there are also quite a few themes out there that are responsive right out of the box. I like this idea better than the plugins I mentioned at the start because, once again, I like having more consistency across devices.

There are a ton of free responsive WordPress themes out there. Check out the sites linked or just do a search for them – they’re out there. WordPress even comes with Twenty Fourteen and Twenty Fifteen, both responsive layouts for your blog.

Free may not be your best choice, however. Many free themes are very limited in how you can customize them and in their support. Companies such as Themeisle offer a range of very impressive responsive themes for reasonable prices.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

October 22nd, 2013

What Makes You a Professional Blogger?

“Who are these bloggers? They’re not trained editors at Vogue magazine. There are bloggers writing recipes that aren’t tested that aren’t necessarily very good, or are copies of what really good editors have created and done. Bloggers create a kind of a popularity but they are not the experts. We have to understand that.” ~ Martha Stewart

The above quote by Martha Stewart stirred up a lot of comment from bloggers this past week. Unsurprisingly, she deeply offended a lot of wonderful bloggers. While I have to admit that not all bloggers are all that professional, others do fantastic jobs, and specialized education or training aren’t necessary for all blogs. There are, however, some things you can do to be more professional as a blogger.

Now, I know not all blogging is about being a professional. It’s about sharing what you love, especially if you blog in the lifestyle categories. Still, there are some things you should consider, even if your blog is a labor of love.

Disclosure

Appropriate disclosure is an important part of blogging these days, to keep in line with FTC rules. It doesn’t have to be fancy; just a clear notation when you’ve been compensated for a post, given an item for review, get paid affiliate commissions, and so forth. Top of the post is better than bottom, but inside the post works as well. I have a basic statement on all pages, and get into more detail on certain posts.

An Appropriate Persona

You can absolutely be yourself online when you blog – for many blogs that’s one of their greatest strengths. I don’t tend to get very personal myself – I’m a private person in real life for the most part, so chattering online about myself or my family doesn’t often come naturally. It does for others, and they make it work.

Still, as you blog your readers will come to expect certain things from you, and won’t be happy if you change things up too suddenly. Occasional surprises can be a good thing, but a complete change of style can chase away readers. Including an excessive number of sponsored posts or product reviews can be a problem, especially if they’re done with little regard for what your readers expect on your site.

You don’t have to be what many people would consider to be professional in other fields, if that’s not the persona you want to show. Some bloggers do quite well with behavior that others would consider outrageous. Let your personality show and have fun with your blogging.

Knowledge About Your Subject

Having a lot of knowledge about what you’re blogging about is a huge help in looking professional. This doesn’t have to include professional training, no matter how some people want it to. For most personal blogs, personal experience is plenty.

Sharing recipes, for example, is best done if you’ve actually made and eaten the recipe. Similarly, experience in any subject you’re blogging about is better than posting your best guess, even if you’ve read up on the subject.

Appropriate Visual Components

Many blogs are much improved with pictures. They should be related to the post and attractive. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer for most things, although there are times when that may be appropriate. You will want to pay attention to lighting and how the picture looks overall when you use photos in your posts.

Photos aren’t the only way to make your blog posts visually appealing, however. You can create images on your computer, make charts or graphs when appropriate, use pull quotes in larger text to reemphasize appropriate parts of your posts and so forth.

Perhaps the most important visual component is to simply pay attention to readability. You don’t want to present readers with a huge wall of text. Break it up into appropriate paragraphs, bullet points and with visual aids.

Respect For Copyright

Even professional publications get this one wrong sometimes, but it’s a major problem with anyone who doesn’t understand that things published on the internet are not necessarily free for anyone’s use. If you don’t know if something is copyrighted, assume it is, and don’t use it without written permission. You’ll be better off.

Link To Relevant Resources

When you refer to things others have said, link to it in your post. When there’s a resource that gives more information to interested readers, link to it. Not only are you giving your readers access to more information on the subject, you look better for it and it may help you build a relationship with those resources. So long as you provide good resources, it’s good for your reputation to link out.

This is a big part of why paid links are discouraged. Too often they’re irrelevant and low quality. If you’re careful about how you link out, they’ll be good for your site.

Don’t worry if you aren’t sure that you’re good enough to be a professional blogger. Give yourself time. Keep working at it, keep trying to do better, and believe that you can be a professional. Not every blogger is going to make a fantastic living off their blog, or even an adequate one, but if you give up too easily, you’ll never know what’s possible for you. Learning what works for you and gaining popularity take time.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.