how to start a blog: part 2

2015-02-25 how to start a blog part 2 - organization

part 1: logistics | part 2: organization | part 3: design | part 4: community | part 5: tips

In yesterday’s blog post you learned how to choose and setup your blog platform. Today, before you even start writing, I want to talk about organization.

The first question you might ask is why do I bother with this now? The answer is that organization is the key to good site navigation. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found a cool post on somebody’s blog and thought to myself, I wonder what other blog posts they’ve written about this topic, and then I couldn’t find an easy way to get there. It is very frustrating. And I’m sure it would be very frustrating to the blogger if they knew they had missed out on a bunch of site views.

5 reasons you should start organizing your posts early

  1. It will increase traffic because people can click between the same types of posts.
  2. It will give you ideas of things to write about because you have a set list of topics.
  3. It will make it easy for you to decide which of your own posts you should be linking back to, because creating internal links is a great way to increase traffic and bump up your search engine optimization. For example, “if you liked this post about painting sunsets, you should check out this one about how to paint beaches.”
  4. It will give you a clear idea of what types of posts people like to read or share the most by seeing which category is the most read or shared using analytics.
  5. It will (eventually) make creating archives for you post easier. You can check out my card & parties archives here.

There are two ways to organize your post – by categories and by tags. Categories are broader than tags. On this site my categories are blogging, creative, food and beverages, greeting cards, holidays, life, and parties. Most people would argue that that is even too many categories. Then the tags get even more specific, for example:

Category: Food and beverages
Tags: appetizers, brunch, desserts, drinks, entrees, salads, and wine and cheese.

Category: Parties
Tags:
25th birthday, decorations, favors, games, ideas, recaps, tips, table settings, and themed parties.

The only reason my 25th birthday gets a tag is because there were 10 posts written about it. If you have less than 5 posts about a topic, it probably doesn’t warrant its own tag. The easiest examples to think about are sites that break down really easily. For example, a food blog might have categories of recipes, stories, and tips and then tag by type of recipe. A photography blog might categorize by people, landscapes, and events and then tag using words like portraits, weddings, vacations, and travel. And if neither one of those works for you, head over to Real Simple and look at their navigation bar at the top (food & recipes, home & organizing, beautify & fashion, etc), those would be the categories. The drop down that appears when you hover over each of them would be your tags. For example, weddings is broken down into cakes & catering, ceremony, dress & attire, flowers, guests, registry, and etiquette.  A Beautiful Mess also has a great navigation bar to browse through.

I have two catch-all categories on my blog: life and creative. These are the two things that make my blog more of a lifestyle blog than a crafting or party blog.  Keep in mind if you want to stay in your specific niche, you probably want to make sure all of your categories relate directly to your topic. I do it my way to help avoid blogger burnout.  (The struggle is real.)

Three years after starting to blog I finally went in and recategorized and tagged all my posts. It took over a week.  Don’t let that happen to yourself, start now. If I were starting over, this is what I would do.

Think about the purpose of your blog

Ideally, your blog will help solve a problem. Start thinking about the problem at the beginning. You may be a great baker in general, but you may also be a great baker who is also a parent and understands what to bake for kids, therefore the problem you are solving is how to make baking simple with children. Maybe you love old cars, but your forte is actually finding the best parts to fix them up, therefore the problem you are solving is how to fix up old cars on a budget. Once you start thinking about it as a problem and solution, you will have a better framework for your site.

Choose your categories

What will people come to your blog to find? Posts about ___, ___, and ___. Make sure these topics have a common theme. If one doesn’t relate to the others, this blog might not be the place for it. Think broad and encompassing. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Can I think of more than 10 posts to write about this topic?
  • Can this be broken down into subcategories?
  • Does this help promote the purpose of my blog?

If you answer “no” to any of the above questions, there are a few possible solutions.

  • Try to merge categories together to cover more ground.
  • Make the category a subcategory and figure out what its real category should be.
  • Remove the category, this blog might not be the place for it.

Aim for 3 to 7 categories in your final list.

List your tags

Once you have your categories, the tags should be easy. Every category doesn’t need tags, especially at the beginning, but once you start blogging for a while, you will see that the tags start to come naturally.

Aim for 30 to 60 tags in your final list.

Keep a list

Keep a list of all your categories and tags so that you are consistent. If you are writing about parties and the first time you tag something #party and something else #parties, those items aren’t really grouped together. Once I started keeping a list the organization came to my blog much more naturally and it didn’t feel like as much of a chore.

Promote your categories

Once you have a few posts in each category, create a link to each category in either your navigation or your sidebar to promote browsing through your site.

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In case you were wondering what my categories and tags list looks like, here it is:

ChrystinaNoel Categories and Tags

There’s definitely some room for clean-up in there still. For example, what the heck is “stuff” under Creative, why do I have both bloggers AND an other creatives tags, or does Nickleodeon really need its own tag? Probably not. Also, from this list it’s really easy to see how “life” and “creative became the catch all categories.

One of the best parts of a blog is that it’s constantly changing. You can constantly change things to make them better. The categories and tags that you choose in the beginning may not be the categories and tags you find out you need a few months in. One thing that starting now will do though is make it so that when you do decide to overhaul your site you probably won’t accidentally find yourself with 300 tags that need to be consolidated down to 50. Not that that’s what I had to do or anything…

For those people out there blogging already, do you keep a list similar to this? Have you found other methods that work for you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

how to start a blog: part 1

How To Start a Blog, Part 1: Logistics

I’m going to be doing a 5-part series on How To Start A Blog. It’s easy to start a blog, but I want to share with you how I would do it if I had to go back and start all over again.Anybody can have a blog, but I feel like there are certain things that engineers like broken down in certain ways, and as an engineer (and a creative), I think I can bridge the gap between those two worlds.  The posts will be broken down as follows:

part 1: logistics | part 2: organization | part 3: design | part 4: community | part 5: tips

So you want to start a blog and don’t know where to start. Guess what? It’s really easy. It takes about 5 minutes. Here’s what you need to begin.

  1. Something to say
  2. Motivation

If you have both of those things, you’re ready to go. The first thing you need to do is choose a platform to host your blog on.

Choosing a Title

I apologize for this, I don’t actually have a step-by-step guide I can share with you for this one. What I can do is tell you what I wish someone had told me when I started. Choose a blog title that has something to do with what you’re going to blog about. This might sound obvious, but if you think about it, I didn’t do that with this blog. When I say “I blog at Chrystina Noel” that actually means nothing to anybody. That doesn’t tell you that I make greeting cards and host parties. Chrystina Noel makes it sound more like a lifestyle or journaling blog, which, if that’s what I was going for would be fine, but it wasn’t.

You don’t need to know exactly what you’re going to blog about yet, just a general topic, for example: baking, cooking, sports, relationships, crafting, design, religion, travel, etc. I didn’t really know what I was blogging about until last year, hence my blog title not matching the topic. Oh well, you live you learn?

Some blog titles I think do a great job of telling you what they’re about are A Beautiful Mess, Joy the Baker, Julie Ann Art, The Life of Bon, CZ Design, Femtrepreneur, Design Sponge, The Good Groupie, Chasing Joy, Her Philly, and Cake Over Steak.

Even if you think you want to have more of a lifestyle or journaling blog, think about what specifically you’re bringing to the table. Maybe your favorite color is purple, you love glitter, you’re always moving fast, you like to turn things into games, or you try to take the principles of yoga and apply them to your everyday life. Any one of these things will specifically help your sight be more cohesive overall.

And if you think you want to blog about fly fishing and baking cupcakes, I urge you to just choose one. Essentially, think about the person that you’re trying to target with your blog posts. I would guess it’s a lot harder to find a cupcake-baking fly-fisherman (or fisherlady) than it is to find one or the other.

Try not to let this stop you from starting a blog though. Just go with your gut and don’t overthink it. Simple is better.

Choosing a Platform

There’s a lot of options out there, but usually the choice comes down to WordPress and Blogger. They’re both really easy platforms to use and you will have your site up and running in 5 minutes or less.

Here are the major differences:

WordPress  Blogger
WordPress is a private commercial site Blogger is run by Google
Two options – WordPress.com is free and has everything you need to start; they will host your blog. WordPress.org is paid, but allows you to self-host and get more features. One option – Blogger is always free. Blogger has more features than the free version of WordPress, but overall has less variety when it comes to theme choices and customization.
 You can own your WordPress site if you upgrade to WordPress.org. You can never own your Blogger site, Google has control over it.

If you want to know more you can just google WordPress.com vs. Blogger and start reading articles.

I started on Blogger and ended up moving to WordPress after 11 posts. I had used WordPress before, but decided to give Blogger a try. A few weeks in I decided the site didn’t feel quite as professional to me. I could forsee a time in the future when I was going to move to WordPress and I didn’t want to have to deal with moving all my posts over later (not the easiest task). However, it’s do-able. It’s also possible to move the other direction, so keep in mind if you start with one platform you can absolutely move to the other if you don’t like it. You just might confuse (or lose) your followers.

My suggestion would be to go with the platform design you like best.  As a left-brained, business owner who likes to have control over things WordPress was the right choice for me. (Updated: to read the pro-Blogger argument, head down to the comments and read what Jen Coyle has to say about it.)

WordPress Classic View

Wordpress Stats Page Classic View

Wordpress Publish Post Classic View

WordPress New View

Wordpress Stats Page

Wordpress Publish Post Page

Blogger

Blogger Stats Page

Blogger Publish a Post Page

If you’re wondering why none of those screen shots show any views it’s because I haven’t used Blogger in 3.5 years and I haven’t used WordPress.com in almost a year. I made the decision to move over to WordPress.org last March in order to have more features to have have ownership over my blog.

I made the right choice by using WordPress.com because when it came time to take more ownership over the site, it was an easy transition to WordPress.org. For me, taking more ownership included being able to use plugins (fancy codes to make things easier and prettier), gaining access to the html and css sheets behind the templates so I could custom-design anything I wanted, and being able to switch over to using a different system for comments.

Creating the Blog

This part is actually crazy easy. Blogger & WordPress both want you to start blogs.

Blogger Create New Blog

It’s that easy on Blogger.  Once you fill in the title, the address, and choose the template, you have a blog.

WordPress breaks it down into 5 questions.  Here are screenshots of the most important:

Wordpress Create New Blog

Wordpress Create New Blog 2

Wordpress Create New Blog 3

Don’t let this last screen scare you. Choose free, you don’t need either other option when you’re just beginning. And on top of that, you can upgrade as you’d like. For example, you don’t need to upgrade to Premium to get your own domain name, you could just pay around $25/year, which, if that’s all you want, will save you some money.

Customizing the Blog

When you first create your blog you are starting with a blank template, it’s your job to fill in the holes.

Blogger’s design page looks like this:

Blogger Design

At the right are examples of the gadgets you can put in each “Gadget” box.

WordPress’ design looks like this:

Wordpress Design

Wordpress Design 2

The second image shows you widgets that you can put in the sidebar on your blog. Widgets and gadgets are essentially the same thing.

Keep your design simple, keep the colors classic, and don’t forget to put a picture of yourself on your site (it makes it easier for people to relate to you). You can design a custom header for your blog using Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can use PicMonkey, a free online software. Here’s a post on some design tips if you use Picmonkey. Here‘s a great post on what to do and what not to do when it comes to blog headers.

That’s it for blog creating logistics. After your site is created and setup I would do some brainstorming before you publish your first post, just so you can get all your ducks in a row. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow: organization.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below (or shoot me an email).

kitchen basics: february

2015-02-23 kitchen basics - february

I realized this week exactly how much better I’ve gotten in the kitchen recently. I no longer freak out of I don’t have the exact right ingredients to make something, I don’t worry (quite as much) that I’m going to food poison people, and I’m becoming much more willing to try new things (like deep frying). That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have a million questions all the time. Here is the list of February’s questions, answers provided by my friend JC of Sweet Love & Ginger.

Should I cut all the fat off of the chicken before I put it in the crock pot?  What if the chicken is frozen?

I like to sut the fat off all of my chicken, and usually do before it gets into the freezer (I’m particular like that), but it really shouldn’t make that much of a difference in the crock pot. The meat will still be cooked enough to fall apart, so it shouldn’t bother you that much. I think this one might be a preference thing.

What’s the difference between pinto and cannelloni beans? Are they interchangeable?

I’m going to say that they are not interchangeable in most recipes. Pinto beans are smaller and light brown in color. They are typically used in Mexican style foods are the bean used in refried beans. They tend to be smoother in texture when cooked properly. Cannelloni beans however are slightly larger and cream colored with a kind of mealy texture when cooked. They are typically used in Italian style recipes. Personally I think they are just too different to interchange.

What’s the best way to make a roux?

Melt 2 tbsp of butter (or fat) over medium high heat in a thick bottomed sauce pan. Add 3 tbsp of flour and whisk vigorously for 1-2 minutes. The texture will thin out a bit and begin to bubble. Reduce the heat to low and whisk more slowly (I like to switch to a wooden spoon at this point). The mixture will begin to smell a little like toast. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until it just begins to brown. Remove from heat immediately. And there you have it a roux.

When they say cover something in the microwave what are they trying to tell you to cover it with?

Most of the time a paper towel will work fine for this. I have found that it’s usually because whatever it is you are cooking is likely to explode and the cover stops that. You can also buy plastic covers like this one.

What’s the right way to store potatoes, onions, and garlic?

Potatoes like cool (not cold like the fridge)dark places, with good ventilation. I like to store mine in baskets or slatted crates in the basement. Really the only tip here is don’t wash them first.

Onions are similar to potatoes in that they like cool dark places, but don’t store them together. If you don’t have a basement a bottom drawer in a kitchen in separate baskets will work just fine.

Garlic is a little different, since its best at low room temperature in a dark well vented place. I like to keep mine on the counter in a garlic jar like this. If you don’t use it that much a kitchen cabinet works well also.

Little tip don’t store any of these in plastic of any kind, unless they have already been peeled, their natural skin is the best keeper.

If you save deep-frying oil does it need to be refrigerated?

That actually depends. If the oil gets foamy while using it or changes in color don’t reuse it. If these things havent happened then by all means reuse it. It does need to be kept in the fridge or freezer because there may be bits of food in it that can cause bacteria to grow. I like to strain the oil before storing it. The little bits of food can change the flavor or burn then next time you use it and no one wants that.

Can people eat sausage casings?

Most of the time yes you can eat them. Any typical breakfast, Italian, or other type of sausage should be just fine. If you can’t it should be labeled. Things like chorizo and pepperoni sometimes have plastic casings, but those are the exception to the rule.

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Thank you so much to JC for answering all these questions (as ridiculous as some of them might sound). I think the most useful thing I learned this time around was that I can cover things in the microwave with a red plastic whatsamathing (see link above), because up until now I’d been putting a plate on top of the bowl. Yeah… I don’t know who decided I should be left alone in the kitchen. Now, did anybody else have any of these questions or is it just me?


JC from Sweet Love and GingerJC is from Upstate NY and is the blogger behind Sweet Love & Ginger. She believes in celebrating a healthy lifestyle and can be found enjoying the great outdoors, crafting, cooking and entertaining.

8 personal branding tips

2015-02-22 8 personal branding tips

A few weeks ago PHLBloggers had an event about personal branding, taught by none other than one of our own Philly natives, Jessica Lawlor of the Get Gutsy blog.

Admittedly, when I found out we were going to learn about branding, I immediately started thinking of visual brandings – colors, logos, buttons, etc, but Jessica took it to a new level. She talked about how building your brand is about the voice and personality that you create for yourself across all media platforms. Mind blown.

Without further ado, here are my 10 favorite tips from the event:

It’s about the reader.

Your blog is not about you, it’s about the reader and what they’re going to get on your site. It’s a really weird sentence to think about, right? Read it again one more time if you have to, I know I had to.

Any improvement is better.

There is no page on your blog that is a static page. If you don’t like something about your blog you can change it at any time and any change is better than making no change at all. This really hit hard when it came to how I was thinking about my about page. I really dislike my about page, but I’ve been avoiding it. That said, anything has to be better than how it is now.

Embed tweets as testamonials.

If you’re looking for a way to explain to people that you and your site are awesome, consider embedding tweets as testamonials.  It’s really easy, just click the “…” on any tweet and you will find a code to embed it on your site.

Use case studies to highlight your expertise.

If you’re looking for a way to show somebody what you’re good at, consider showing them what you’ve done before. Case studies are one of the best ways to prove expertise and give you a chance to show off a little bit.

Keep track of your accomplishments.

Jessica has the most efficient spreadsheet I’ve ever seen. She keeps track of all her accomplishments, guest posts, blog mentions, and clients in the same spreadsheet. What a great way to have all of your blog and career highlights in the same place.

Make use of the “pinned tweet”.

You can pin one tweet at the top of your twitter page. This tweet can be anything. You can link directly back to your blog, your welcome page, a giveaway, your shop, or any other important link that you see fit.

Utilize Linked In.

Every time I publish a blog post I remember I’m supposed to publish it to twitter, facebook, and pinterest (and google plus if I’m feeling really ambiitous), but I never remember that Linked In is an option. Think about all the new traffic you could drive to your blog if you target a whole new audience. Just make sure that what you share is professional.

Consider speaking at a conference.

This might be a bold move, but why not apply to speak at a conference? It’s a good opportunity for you to share more about you and your blog – and everybody has their own story to share. Go big or go home, right? Or in the words of Jessica, Get Gutsy.

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There are so many things I had never thought of before on this list and I can’t wait to implement a bunch of them. I think my favorite tip is tip number two though, somehow that never occurred to me. In addition to these 8 tips, I walked away with these two resouces.

  • You can use the site ManageFlitter to clean up your twitter account. It lists people who don’t follow you back, people without a profile image, people who might be spam, and people who are inactive. Cool, right?
  • Consider making a Living Resume Pinterest board. I had never heard of this before, but it is a visual home for your blog highlights and accomplishments. You can check out Jessica’s board here.

Not too shabby of a list, right? The girl has skills. I want to take a moment to highlight a new course that she is offering right now:

Do you have big goals you want to achieve, but are not sure where to begin? Join 30 Days of Gutsy, a new course brought to you by Jessica Lawlor. The course begins on March 1, so register by 2/28 if you’re ready to get gutsy and reach your goals.

Is there anything you want to try now that you’ve read this post? Or maybe you have another personal branding tip that has worked really well for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Also, a huge thank you to The Hive for letting us use their space for the event and to Little Baby’s Ice Cream for sponsoring the event as well. If you haven’t tried their ice cream yet, it’s a must – especially the chocolate salt malt and coconut chai. Oh, and did I mention they have a blog?

PS. For another recap post of the Personal Branding event check out Broke Girls Go Out’s post here.