As Zip the Sloth slouches ever so slowly and slothfully toward the blogosphere, he’s sure to encounter unforeseen problems and pitfalls that are enough to make a sloth (or a human) give up blogging and decide to take a nap, instead. Which, really, isn’t that hard to do. I’ve sent a number of blogs to the graveyard of dead blogs myself. This post goes over a long list of thing to think about before you start blogging.
This post may contain affiliate links — which means that if you click a link that is an affiliate link and make a purchase I may get a small commission at no additional cost to you that will likely be spent as follows, in the following order: 1) supporting this or one of my other blogs 2)buying delicious coffee beverages 3) paying off camera gear and travel and 4) oh, yeah…necessities like books and food.
Should Zip make a blog? The answer is almost definitely “no,” him being a sloth. But he may decide to proceed on his blogging adventure, anyway, so here’s a long list of considerations to
scare him off make him think before he decides to go ahead. And that, perhaps, you should think about before you start blogging, too.
I’ll acknowledge here that this is a long post — probably too long to keep a sloth interested –but I’ve included a navigation list below. Many of these things I’ll come back to in more detail in a later post.
Later posts will be shorter. I promise (saying this with my fingers slightly crossed).
To make navigating this post a bit easier, I’ve linked to each section. Or you can just read the whole thing if you’re a glutton for long posts and punishment. These are my thoughts, I may add to or revise them later as I see fit.
The Whys and Hows
- Why do I want to blog?
- Who is my audience?
- What will I write about? I hear I should have a “niche.”
- I don’t want to crawl into a niche! Can’t I write about everything or should I have multiple blogs?
- What should I call my blog?
- What blogging platform should I use?
- How often will I need to blog?
- What tone should I set for my blog?
- Will I need to engage in social media?
Personal Qualities and Resources
Good Blogging Habits
- Always back up (ABU)
- Have a snippet-tracking system
- Pack light: don’t use too many plugins
- If you use page builders, know what you’re doing
- What goes on the internet may stay on the internet
- Pay attention to speed, but don’t be obsessive
- Look at your own website regularly from the perspective of a visitor
- Should I write anonymously, or under my own name?
Life Balance Habits
THE WHATS, WHYS, AND HOWS to Consider Before You Start Blogging
One mistake I’ve made in starting a blog is just diving in and beginning to write. And that worked for me…in perhaps one case. If Zip just wants to create a blog to write about the daily thoughts and activities of the average sloth, this might be fine. But it might help him to think about what he’s getting into before he starts and to make some conscious decisions before jumping into the blogosphere — perhaps he’ll decide to grow his blog later.
F… DOES A SLOTH WANT TO BLOG ANYWAY? WHY DO YOU?
I addressed many of the reasons people start to blog in the first post in this series, so I won’t go into another diatribe on that subject. The point is, it helps to have some self-knowledge about why you want to do this blogging thing, and also to be realistic in your expectations. I’m not saying to avoid “dreaming big” here or anything like that (or maybe I am.)
Again, establishing a blog is not easy, though it can be fun, and it can take much time to get started.
Who Will Zip’s Audience Be?
I always thought that growing a blog was a kind of “if you build it, they will come” sort of endeavor. And it worked out that way with one blog, we’ll see with my current one. I resisted the idea that I should think about my audience before I even start. However, it’s not bad advice.
Knowing your audience can help you make some conscious decisions about your content.
It’s Zip’s blog, and he can write anything he wants. Nothing is stopping him except for his own motivation. But he’s lying to himself if he says he’s just writing for himself. If he wanted to do that, he could do it in a private journal. If you’re writing stuff online, you ARE writing for someone.
Who is that someone?
Zip’s audience cannot, sadly, be other sloths. He feels he could genuinely help them by providing listicles like “The 10 Best Trees That You Simply Must Hang Out In.” But those beautifully polished lists are never going to reach their target audience. Zip realizes his audience is another species: humans. In particular, humans who love sloths. There seems to be an abundance of those these days.
Should Zip find a niche? What will he write about?
Mmmm…a niche sounds like a beautiful place to crawl into and fall asleep.
No! What I’m referring to here is a niche blog — a blog focused on a narrow subject. In general, niche blogs are said to have a better chance of success than everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type blogs — I think because you’re more likely to find dedicated followers and because you’re more likely to rank higher on Google if you’re targeting teeny weeny specific keywords that nobody else is targeting.
Again, whether Zip wants to crawl in a niche or not is up to him. We’ll see what decisions he makes later as he makes his blog.
And what to write about? Personally, I never understand this. My problem is getting stressed by having an abundance of ideas but not the time…and sometimes not the resources to do the research. For Zip, he’ll probably try to find sloth-y subjects that humans (his target audience…see) might find appealing.
But What if I Want to Write About Everything? What about more than one Blog?
Well, go for it girl (or boy!) It’s your blog and you can do whatever you want. The prevailing wisdom is that, at least for single-auhor blogs, niche blogs tend to do better than blogs on any and every topic. But you can do whatever you want!
I’m in the position of trying to now juggle multiple blogs. I cannot limit myself to one topic but, for some reason, it didn’t seem right to me when I started writing about food or WordPress on my travel/outdoorsy blog.
It is not easy to juggle and promote multiple blogs but, for me, having the space to write about several topics takes mental precedence over being able to post a few times a week on each website. We’ll see how it goes.
What do I call my blog?
This has always been a hard question for me. I come up with a name and then decide I don’t like it (you might want to refer to “don’t glogg and blog” below).
As best you can, come up with a unique name that totally nails the subject matter your blog is covering. That’s all! No stress! So if you’re travel blogging, for instance, forget the words -adventurous, -nomadic, -wandering… I’m sort of kidding here.
There are successful sites that break the rules. Some sites have nonsense names and then totally own them and put them into the vernacular (can you think of any?)
But I think, as much as possible, it’s best to try to come up with a name that:
- Fits the content of your blog
- Doesn’t have any hyphens
- Is easy to spell (I came up with a name once and then found I was misspelling it, and promptly changed it. Don’t make people have to work too hard to get to your blog).
- This one is a later addendum to this post. Look at this blog’s URL. I am not changing it now. If you think you EVER want to use WordPress social login, do NOT put the word WordPress in your domain name! Use wp or something like that. WordPress.com will not allow you to create an app with a redirect URI that has WordPress in the URL.
Really consider your blog title before you start blogging — trust me, it’s easier to take more time to think about it in advance than change it later. Then, again, I had one blog with a name I ended up loving that was a quick knee-jerk off-the-top-of-my-head idea that was kind of silly…but that blog grew (for a while) up around it.
Zip will figure out later what he wants to call his blog.
What blogging platform should I use?
Let’s get this out up front. This series of posts is about Zip making a WordPress blog. He is not going to decide on another blogging platform…because I say so.
We’re talking about WordPress.org, not WordPress.com. What’s the difference? WordPress.com is hosted by Automattic, a company started by the people who created WordPress. They have free blogs available, or you can even get your own domain name and pay for extra features.
WordPress.org is hosted on your own server or that of a hosting provider of your choice. It’s open-source, and it’s highly customizable — there are so many themes and customizations available — free or premium — that it can become most whatever you want in a website. It’s gone beyond “just” a blog system to a full content management system.
And that’s why I use it and am having Zip use it. If you want to expand later, you can (and, yes, you can export your posts from a WordPress.com blog).
If you just want to write some things, though, WordPress.com or any of the other many blogging platforms out there can be an excellent way to get started, and much more straightforward than self-hosted WordPress. Unless you have a team, you’re your own promoter, graphic designer, writer, and tech person. There have been enough times that problems on my site or getting too wrapped up in site design have kept me from actually writing decent content.
Additionally, since I wrote the first version of this post, I had a client who had partially created a website in WordPress.com and just wanted help. There was no convincing him to get a new website and as I went about helping him make some minor changes to get the look he wanted and some teaching on how to use WordPress, I realized that it would have likely been problematic had I made him a self-hosted WordPress website. For me, it felt limiting and confinging and I had to get inventive to find ways to make some of the changes he wanted. But, for him, WordPress.com was just fine and a new, self-hosted site may have ended up being problematic.
I have my opinions about several blogging platforms that I’ve tried and might address them in a later post of my own, but for now, this article at WPBeginner is a useful resource that looks at many of the available platforms you can choose from.
How often will I need to post?
friend acquaintance who we shall call Type A Tyrannosaur says you SIMPLY MUST post SOMETHING EVERY DAY!!! When sloth hears this, he wants to quit in advance.
Some bloggers do post every day, or multiple times a week. But it depends on you, what you’re writing, the time that you have available, your speed and many other factors.
In my opinion, force yourself to post every day, complete with promotion, social media, etc., and you’re well on the way to burnout, and you’ll find you’re not writing well.
Zip might find it helpful, however, to get on a schedule or he just might nap all the time and never get anything done. He might want to make a commitment to, say, write a post a week, or even every other week if he can’t manage that.
Meet Zip’s other friend who we shall call “Zen Zebu.”
Zeb says that he lives without goals, doing what he wants every day when he feels like doing it and doing so has made him productive, fit, mindful, and successful.
If Zip wasn’t so laid back, he might sort of hate Zeb. Living that way sounds precisely the way Zip likes to live except without the productivity, or the success, or the fitness, or…
If Zip had this attitude toward blogging, he simply wouldn’t get things done. My point is what works for one doesn’t work for all. Set whatever schedule helps you create the best thing you can. This might even take a bit of experimentation to find out what your best schedule is.
What tone should I set?
Generally, it’s best to have a consistent tone for your blog. But it’s one of those “do as I say not as I do” thing and I’m probably making a mistake to take different tones at different times. On the other hand, I have different moods and my “travel blog” covers different types of content — I think some subjects need a more somber tone, and some require a more fun, upbeat tone.
Will I have to engage in social media?
Zip hates social media. Social media saps sloth’s limited energy supply, almost as much as actual socialization. Zip doesn’t want to see his slothy brethren featured in your GIFs! He doesn’t care what the Kardashians are doing or what you had for dinner last night!
But Sloth may need to, reluctantly, accept that using social media is necessary if he cares about promoting his blog. He might, even, actually finds that he sometimes actually likes it — but, if so, again, will need to remember that he has a life and needs time to disconnect.
I have mixed feelings about social media — on the one hand, it makes it easy to keep up with some things people in your life you don’t have time or energy to connect with daily are doing. On the other hand, it tends to give you a skewed idea of what those people are doing. Seeing that everyone is traveling, partying, having fun when you’re not can make a human being feel dissatisfied and unhappy.
But if you’re going to use social media to promote your blog posts, you will find you need to actually engage on social media and not just dump links to your posts out there. I’m not good at this. I know that there are things I can do to be more selective about which messages I see, but this is one area where my “inner sloth” truly takes over.
Personal Qualities and Resources to Consider Before You Start Blogging
The answer to the question “can a sloth make a WordPress blog?” should be “No.” But he’ll have help here! Can YOU make a blog? The answer is yes…probably. Here are some personal factors that may help or hinder you in your blogging adventures.
Patience and perseverence
It can take a long time for a blog to start getting read. And things can go wrong. Here are some things that have recently happened to me:
- My SSL certificate on auto-renew was suddenly noted to be “invalid,” and my site went down with an SSL error.
- My entire plugin directory disappeared (Yep…good thing I had a backup).
- I found that a lazyload feature I use to speed up images on my site was totally blocking Pinterest images for social sharing, nothing I could do would filter those images from the plugin, and I ended up taking time out from writing switching and testing a new plugin.
- I implemented AMP on an events calendar and spent, perhaps 60 emails back and forth, and countless hours getting it configured properly only to have all events cancelled due to COVID-19.
…and those are but of few of my recent adventures. It takes patience to learn new skills (and I’ve been using WordPress for a long time), to problem-solve issues, and it can get frustrating and make you want to quit when technical issues keep you from doing the part you like best – writing. I’ve learned a lot from mistakes but have a few extra grey hairs as well.
Zip, as a sloth, definitely has time to blog. But do you? People tend to not realize how much time it takes to make a blog, write content regularly (especially if the type of content you do takes much research, video editing, photo editing, etc.), and then promote that content. Time likely is the #1 reason that people quit blogging. It was the reason I abandoned most of my abandoned blogging attempts.
How much will this cost? Unless you want to have a free blogger or WordPress.com blog, you will need to spend some money. You can start out relatively cheap, which Zip will do. As a sloth, he doesn’t make any money, so I will contribute some meager funds to his little project. I may, eventually, provide more if his ambition demands extras.
How much will blogging cost? You can get basic web hosting plans for very little ($3.95/month or less) but, based on experience, I am very suspicious of this type of mass shared hosting. I’ll get to that in a later post, along with where to get web hosting. Sloth can start out with some free plugins, but may eventually want to use some paid ones which have more features. This is where things can start to get more spendy.
Some expenses you will or might incur for blogging:
- Hosting (annual or monthly)
- Domain name registration (annually). For a self-hosted WordPress blog, you will need your own domain name, but I strongly recommend having your own wherever your blog is hosted. It’s not expensive.
- Premium Themes (optional but recommended)
- Premium plugins (optional, but recommended depending on your needs)
- Photo and graphics editing software (optional). There are free sites you can use for creating graphics and getting photo assets, but you may find yourself wanting to go beyond what you can do for free.
If you want to advertise your blog with sponsored posts, paid links, etc, that’s also an additional expense, but not one that Zip is worrying about at this point (of course, the sloth never worries, he leaves that to me).
Tech or design skill
Do you need any technical expertise to use WordPress?
If you’re afraid of computers, don’t know how to email images, or upload a file, you might want to consider learning some necessary computer skills and consider a free basic blogging platform to start.
But if you’re confident around computers but don’t have any coding knowledge or any knowledge of HTML or CSS, you can still create a self-hosted WordPress site.
There are many resources available online, much sharing that goes on, and you WILL pick up at least some knowledge of HTML and CSS in the process, if not more.
A thick skin
How thick is the skin of a sloth? Not sure. Metaphorically, though, sloth will need to have a thick skin if he continues to blog…particularly if he’s going to allow comments or post reviews on his site. Trolls are almost inevitable. How will he deal with this? Does he want to? Is it worth it?
Good Blogging Habits
It’s worth writing in advance about some habits Zip might want to keep in mind as he starts blogging. My inner sloth has been lazy and times and not done these things — sometimes with disastrous results for my blog.
Always Back Up (ABU)
Getting hacked was the final straw that led me to, years ago, give up the blog that I loved (time and family issues were the other reasons). If I’d had a complete backup of my site, however, I could have recovered and, perhaps, come back to the blog to continue later.
Always, always, have a backup. It’s nice to have a web host that does automatic and one-click backups for you, but even if you do, it’s always a good idea to have an off-site backup.
I wanted to create an acronym like ABC, but that didn’t work. If you need an acronym to think of backing up, think of the little monkey from Aladdin. Think of Abu’s face scowling at you if you’re tempted to get lazy and not backup your site.
Keep a journal of edits/changes/code, etc
This is one of those “do as I say not as I do” sort of things. Though I do do this sometimes! When I am not lazy, I keep notes on changes I make to my site or snippets of code that I’ve found useful in Evernote. This is especially helpful for those of us who have some issues with memory — and not because we’re getting older.
Plugins are not toys! But I’ve sometimes treated them like they are. I will not tell you how many plugins I was running at one point on my site. If you don’t know what a plugin is, it’s code, like a program, that you can install on a WordPress blog. The problem is that some of them can slow down your site. And plugins don’t always play well together. If you use many, you’re bound to spend time problem-solving which plugins are conflicting with which.
Think of it like packing a suitcase when you’re traveling carry-on only. Or like kayak camping or backpacking, if you do any of those things. What do you really need? Avoid the tempation to add features to your site just because you can.
On the use of page builders
I’ll begin by saying that the first version of this post was built with a pagebuilder. Pagebuilders, or themes that use pagebuilders, are useful because they pack a bunch of features in that you’d need a bunch of other plugins to achieve otherwise, or you’d have to code yourself. Pagebuilders can make it much easier for a novice to create the desired appearance in less time.
However, if you’re going to use pagebuilders, go into it with full knowledge of what you’re getting into.
Pagebuilders are built on shortcodes [snippets that look like of like this in brackets, imaging a page just full of these] Which means that if you decide to change to a theme that doesn’t use that pagebuilder, you’ll have to either do some serious recreation of your content, or you’ll have to install their pagebuilder plugin if they have one available.
And, as much as I hate to say it, I’m starting to like Gutenberg (WordPress’s term for the block editor like it’s the next greatest invention since the printing press.) I no longer see a reason why I would want to use a different pagebuilder (you might note that I’m a fan of Divi and Extra) for posts. I use them now for design elements but write my posts in standard WordPress.
What you put on the Internet (may) stay on the Internet.
It’s very possible (just saying) that you might write something that makes you cringe a few years later. Or you might draw some webcomics that you take down only to find you can still find them on Google, somehow (ummm…just sayin’).
Use good judgment, think before you hit “Publish,” and, again, don’t glogg and blog.
Sloth is Slow (But Speed is Need(ed))
While the life of sloth is slow and chill, Zip should really consider speed when it comes to his blog. His prospective site visitors are humans, not sloths, and that means that many will be impatient twerps in need of immediate gratification. They’re not going to sit around and chill while they wait for Zip’s site to load.
That is unless he’s delivering content that they “simply must” have. But Zip isn’t delivering porn or utility bills, and humans are probably not going to sit around and wait for his latest post on where to find the tastiest leaves.
We’ll get to speeding up your site in another post. But there’s another side to this…it’s possible to get TOO obsessed with speed. Type A Tyrannosaur sometimes dictates that I run my post 15 times through GTMetrix to clear up any issues before I publish. This is not healthy behavior.
Look at your Site on different screens and devices
Always look at your pages and posts on different devices. Some things you run to make your site faster may break things on your site, or only in different browsers – and you’ll be unaware unless you look at it.
And most of your site visitors will likely be on mobile devices. It’s crappy to look at your mobile site later to find that your headline
LOOKS THIS BIG
on a mobile phone…or worse.
Some horrible happenings on my own blog:
- I found that just about all of my content was not showing on my site due to an error with ad resizing.
- As above, I found that a headline on mobile was looking huge.
- I found that I had optimized my site so much I had optimized most of the images right off of my site. Which made my pages load quick but…no images.
But my learning experience will help Zip with his blog going forward…we hope.
Can I write anonymously?
I have mixed feelings on this subject. I’m a bit of a shy blogger to the point where I don’t put my last name all over everything, though I’m considering doing so. If you want to “make a name,” or be considered an authority on something, you need to write under your own name, first and last.
I’ll probably touch on this again in more detail. If you want to be anonymous, you need to get WHOIS protection on your domain name. What’s that? Be patient, we’ll go over that later.
However, I have written an anonymous blog in the past and found that people were regularly reading it in the way that (though my travel blog has maybe more traffic) they are not with my current blog. The same people were coming back and I think it’s because writing anonymously helped to free me up. Am I a coward? No, I wouldn’t have really minded if someone found out I was writing this, but much of what I was writing there was very personal and I could disguise writing about other people when I my essay required me to write about them. My kids don’t really want me writing about them and I wouldn’t want someone writing publicly about that crappy thing I did six years ago unless they did it in very veiled terms that didn’t directly point to me.
Don’t let blogging take over your life. I like working with WordPress, I like writing, I like messing around with graphics, even though I’m not a graphic designer.
However, my inner Type A Tyrannosaur sometimes dictates I spend way to much time on this stuff, to the detriment of other vital aspects of life. Don’t let that happen. Be like Zip. Take long naps and digital detoxes.
Remember what’s important: In Your Life and On Your Blog
If you really want to blog, you shouldn’t let the people in your life tell you you shouldn’t. I get weird looks if I tell some people that one of my hobbies is blogging. That being said, however, the people in your life are essential. Don’t neglect your relationships because of your blog.
On your blog, also remember what’s important — I tend to waste a bunch of time on messing around with different headers, shuffling things on templates and get distracted from what I claim I want to do — writing. Do things that improve your visitor experience, but keep in mind that a beautiful site with no content won’t do much to keep people coming back.
BEING SEDENTARY KILLS
his might not be a problem for Zip the Sloth as his species sleeps — what — 20 hours a day?
I worked at a job I didn’t love where I was on my feet all the time. But then I got the chance to quit, and that gave me more time to write and blog.
But guess what? I gained weight. And I lost fitness.
Sitting is the new smoking is what studies are telling us these days. Being sedentary kills, unless you’re a sloth.
Remember — no matter how much you like blogging or want your blog to be successful, you have a life and, likely, your body can really only take so much sitting still and so much computer use.
Get out and do other slothful things like climbing trees or hanging around in your hammock, eating healthy leaves, or even going beyond slothfulness and cycling, swimming (did you know sloths can swim?) or hiking (which sloths can’t do, incidentally.)
Don’t Glogg and Blog
…and if you must, at least don’t press “Publish” while you’re under the influence. It might seem like a good idea, but — dont. Wait until you’re fully sober and reread what you’ve read. A corollary to this is, “Don’t Drink and Domain.”
Incidentally, this post was not, in case you may ask, written while glogging and blogging.
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