Excited. Scared. Confused. Eager. Overwhelmed
I can still remember all the mixed emotions I felt when I first started blogging. After years of being a stay-at-home mom, I was ready for a change, and I thought blogging might be the perfect fit.
When I first started, I searched all through Pinterest for advice from experienced bloggers. From email marketing to hosting services, SEO to social media, the information needed to start a blog felt overwhelming. Thankfully, so many bloggers had been willing to share invaluable advice.
Now that I’ve been blogging for five years, I want to do the same for my fellow bloggers. Whether you’re a potential blogger considering starting a blog, a new blogger trying to build an audience, or a seasoned blogger always improving your craft, here are some of my favorite blogging resources.
You better believe I’m inserting affiliate links in this list. These are the products and services I use and love, and I am proud to recommend them to you.
HOW TO START A BLOG
Teaching you how to actually start a blog would require a whole series of posts, which I might someday write. For now, here are the resources I have used to setup Booklist Queen.
When starting a blog, one of your first decisions is whether to go with a free host like WordPress.com or Blogger, or whether you want to be self-hosted. If you are serious about starting a business, self-hosted is the way to go.
After reading everything I could find, I chose Siteground for my web hosting, and I have no regrets. They have fantastic customer service and great intro rates to get you started.
Tip: For the most savings, sign up for a 3 year plan. I didn’t, and when it came time to renew, I completely regretted it. Though I loved Siteground enough I didn’t completely mind paying the higher price.
Operating System: WordPress
Just like computers have different operating systems, websites have different management systems that run things on the backend. Like most bloggers, I use WordPress to manage my blog. Because WordPress is so popular, there are a million and a half different plugins and themes to choose from. Plus, you can very easily find articles on the web with tons of advice to improve your WordPress blog. WordPress is free to download, and is super easy to do through your web host.
Theme: It’s Complicated
The theme for your website is the front-end design layout your readers will see. When I started, I thought I’d just tinker with a free one. That idea lasted about 10 seconds. Quickly, I realized how limited a free theme is in functionality. Next, I purchased a low-cost theme that was fine, but slow as molasses. At the time I didn’t know any better, and it served my needs.
What theme do I use now?
Well, it’s a bit complicated.
For Booklist Queen, I needed a theme that was fast, pretty, and extremely functional. After lots of research, I decided to go with a beautiful and fast parent/child theme combo.
First, I purchased the Genesis Framework from StudioPress. The Genesis Framework is what’s called a parent theme, meaning it’s the underline coding for your theme. It’s a super-fast theme with all the bells and whistles. Now that I am an amateur computer programmer myself, my respect for the Genesis Framework has only increased. Seriously, the layout potential is phenomenal. I had no idea how limited my old theme was until I purchased this one. But it wasn’t at all pretty.
That’s why I also bought a child theme – in my case Captivating by Restored 316 Designs. Restored 316 Designs takes the Genesis Framework and makes it gorgeous. Because the top layer design is separated from the core coding of the Genesis Framework, it’s so much easier to customize the Restored 316 theme yourself.
It was the perfect fit for me … until it wasn’t. About a year after purchasing, I realized the theme wasn’t really the layout I wanted for my site. Instead of purchasing a whole new theme, I decided to do it myself.
Although the Captivating theme is still the basis for Booklist Queen, I have visually changed almost every aspect of the site so that it’s completely unrecognizable from its original state. I also was able to strip out a lot of the bloated code to help my site with Google’s core web vitals criteria.
Stripping down and rebuilding a theme is likely not the route you want to go, so I would recommend you take a different route than I have.
Speed: Speed Optimization by WP Geared
Even though I purchased a faster theme, might website still struggled to load as fast as I wanted. In our era of instant gratification, if your website doesn’t load quickly, readers will quickly abandon it.
Not wanting to spend weeks researching site speed and learning enough coding to change my theme, I hired the experts at WP Geared to speed up my website, and holy cow, they did the trick. My desktop load times went from 22 seconds down to 2 seconds. That’s exactly what I wanted to see. I can’t recommend them enough. Who wouldn’t want high quality service with fast turnaround times?
Legal Policies: The Legal Bundle by A Self Guru
No decent blogger sets out to break the law, but honestly it’s so easy to make a mistake without realizing it. That’s why it’s nice to know that your blog is covered legally.
Running a small business, you need to understand when you are out of your depth and should seek professional advice instead of trying to diy. Could you learn to write airtight legal forms for your blog? Maybe. But you’d probably be wasting hours of time researching a topic you’re unlikely to ever need again. And if something new crops up, you’ll have to dive in all over again to see if you are still covered. Plus, you’d likely leave some giant loophole accidentally.
Email Marketing: Mailer Lite
Lastly, when you start a blog, you’ll want to also start an email list. It’s solid advice you’ll oft hear repeated, but so many people fail to follow through.
Email marketing can seem overwhelming to the layman. But you need to start it from day one. The readers who gladly give you their email address are the gold standard. They love what you have and want to hear more. They are the people who will come back again and again.
For bloggers, the three biggest email marketing services seem to be ConvertKit, MailChimp, and MailerLite. Don’t get MailChimp. It’s free to start with, but it’s difficult to use and gets flagged as spam often. I swear everyone I know has switched out of it. ConvertKit is super popular for bloggers, and probably has great features. But the price point is super high.
Instead, when you first start out try MailerLite like I did. It’s super easy to use – you can easily send out emails or create automation and landing pages. Also, I love that you get unlimited segmentation of your list. The pricing starts at free and remains at an extremely affordable rate as your list grows. Unless you are really converting emails into sales and need even more premium features, I have no idea why you would pay three times as much for ConvertKit.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Keyword Research: Keysearch
For my first two years of blogging, I simply did my best guess at keywords for my posts. Sometimes I got lucky and hit on a keyword I could rank for. Oftentimes I chose keywords with no search volume or stiff competition.
Enter the keyword research tool Keysearch. Since joining Keysearch, I’ve watched my organic traffic steadily rise, on the path to eventually beat my Pinterest traffic.
With Keysearch, you can take a topic you are thinking about and search for the perfect long tail keyword. You’ll have access to search trends, related keywords, competition levels and an overview of the current ranking sites for that keyword. With the right keyword, you can write your article knowing it actually has a chance to rank on search engines.
SEO E-Course: SEO the Easy Way
Search engine optimization is probably the best way to drive traffic to your blog. When you optimize your blog for search engine traffic, you’re really playing the long game – counting on search engine traffic for months and years to come.
Hoping to find some secrets to SEO, I purchased the SEO the Easy Way from Make Traffic Happen. I opted for the workbook over the e-course: both contain the same material but the video tutorials are much more expensive. For beginners without much understanding of SEO, this course does a great job explaining the concepts and strategies you’ll need to grasp the concepts involved. However, if you’ve already researched the topic extensively like I had, you won’t get much out of it. Mostly, the workbook just served as a pitch trying to get you to buy the keyword resarch tool, Keysearch.
SOCIAL MEDIA RESOURCES
While some bloggers get away with hardly using graphics, most readers nowadays expect sleek visuals to accompany your posts. While there are plenty of options out there, I exclusively use Canva to create my visuals. Literally every single image you see on the blog was run through Canva.
Canva is a free program you can use on your browser or in the app. The browser version has much more flexibility, but it can be handy to have access to your account on your phone. To start, you decide the dimensions of your graphic – a square Instagram photo, a long Pinterest image, a horizontal Facebook post. Canva has preset dimensions, or you can create your own. I run all my photos through Canva to ensure each image and book cover has the exact same dimensions, optimized for my theme and desired layout.
Canva also has premade templates which will help you create professional graphics. Start with the offered templates, then play around and mix and match elements to create your own design.
I’ve finally upgraded to Canva Pro, and I wish I had done it sooner. Not only do I get access to millions of stock photos to use in my marketing, I also get unlimited folders to organize all my templates and uploads, saving me time as I sort through the hundreds of book covers I use.
PHoto Backdrops: Replica Surfaces
If you’ve seen my Instagram account, you know that I love to take flat lay photographs of books with flowers. Why do I take so many flat lays? To be honest, my house isn’t that Insta-perfect. I’ve found it’s easiest to just yank out some photo backdrops for gorgeous photos.
I use Replica Surfaces for all of my Instagram photos. The beautiful designs feature a rigid glare-proof surface that won’t wrinkle or bend but with a lightweight foam core so it’s easy to move around. The surface is also kinda waterproof, so as long as you clean up when you are finished, it won’t stain.
The surfaces are 23 inches square, which works great for a flat lay. You can also use a stand to make an L-shape with two backdrops. However, because hardcover books are rather large, I have a harder time taking eye-level photos of books with these backdrops. I did manage to do an eye-level video reel, so maybe I just need work positioning my camera.
Replica Surfaces also sells a photography course. I purchased the composition and styling segment and while I learned a ton, I didn’t find it would translate as well for my book photographs. Now if I was a food blogger, I would definitely say it was worth the money.
Even better, Booklist Queen readers get a 12% discount at Replica Surfaces when you use the code PHOTOS12!
Instagram Scheduler: Still Searching
I used to have a love-hate relationship with Instagram. Changing algorithms, Insta drama, follow/unfollow and shadow bans all make the platform hard to handle at times. But once I decided I was never going to be an Instagram Influencer and stopped caring about the numbers, I’ve been much happier.
Being a work-at-home mom, I just cannot justify spending much time on Instagram. However, I love taking Bookstagram pictures for the blog, so I refuse to give up my Instagram account.
Don’t get me wrong, Planoly has tons of features I love. The app is convenient and easy to use. I can pull graphics straight from Canva or use stock photos through the app. When I can also use placeholders when I have a caption but haven’t taken my photo yet.
Planoly does a great job at everything … except scheduling. I have been having a lot of issues with my auto-posting actually auto-posting. It’s about a 50-50 shot whether I’ll get the scheduled notifications for posts that I want to manually post.
Since you can’t get a refund after your free one-week trial, I’m sticking with Planoly for now. However, unless things drastically improve, I foresee myself switching to Later or another platform in the future.
Facebook Scheduler: Meta Business Suite
Confession: I don’t like Facebook. I try to avoid it as much as possible, but, alas, it’s practically conquered the world. Because live posting to anything is never going to work with my life, I always schedule everything in advance. Although Facebook has a free built-in scheduler, I can’t stand using it.
I avoided Facebook’s built-in scheduler for years before finally caving and just using it. It’s not to hard to schedule to my facebook page with it, though editing scheduled drafts is a huge pain. However, I don’t like it as an Instagram scheduler, though with all the problems I’m having with Planoly, I might be forced to use it.
Curious about what tech I use for blogging? From video and photography equipment to my favorite laptop, you can find all the blogging equipment I use to make Booklist Queen a success at my Amazon shop.
Want More Advice?
Have a question I haven’t answered? I adore talking about blogging, especially Pinterest, and would love to help. Just visit the Contact Me page to get in touch!