Starting a blog can be a bit confusing, but that is why I am here to help you out. If you already read my Blogging Foundations post, then I am assuming you deserve a CONGRATULATIONS because you own a website. That is awesome! So, what’s next?
This post is going to discuss all of the important blogging essentials that every blog needs. I am definitely not the most tech-savvy person in the world and the good news is, you don’t have to be either. So, don’t freak out, you don’t need to learn how to code in order to be a blogger.
What I will tell you is that the set-up process can be very frustrating. There’s no way around it. I totally feel you and just know I had many nights where I wanted to pull my hair out.
My advice? Don’t let this process overwhelm you. For many reasons I am not going to give tutorials on how to install a WordPress theme, or how to install a plugin. A big reason being because there is already info out there that’s way better than what I could provide. But because I know it’s difficult (especially for newbies), my suggestion is to head on over to YouTube and watch some tutorials or do a Google search.
Sidenote for the WordPress themes – If you buy a good theme it should come with its own tutorial and customer support. But more on that later.
So, then exactly what will we be discussing in this post? Glad you asked. We will be discussing the important things the blogging essentials that your blog needs to ensure it’s success such as themes, plugins, Google Analytics, and more.
Without further ado, let’s dive on in. 🙂
The Blogging Essentials: The 5 Things Your Blog NEEDS to Have
1. WordPress Themes
So, what is a WordPress theme? The theme is how your blog looks when visitors come to your website. It’s everything that makes your website uniquely yours including colors, fonts, layout, etc.
There are free themes available within the WordPress site (Log into your dashboard -> Appearance -> Themes) but it can probably go without saying that they are not great. If you want to customize or stand out a bit, you’ll need to purchase a theme.
Again, you don’t HAVE to invest in a theme, but I’ll give you two reasons as to why it’s a good idea:
- The biggest reason for having a theme actually has NOTHING to do with how your website looks. The fact is, you NEED your website to be responsive. This means your blog can automatically adjust to fit on a mobile device, tablet, or computer so it is easy and functional for the reader. Nowadays, at least 80% of blog reading is done on a mobile device, so having a responsive theme is crucial.
- You can customize or choose a theme that matches your own unique style – I receive compliments from both readers and brands about how much they love the look of my blog. Having a nice theme is not imperative, but it helps.
Paid for Themes
I honestly had the most fun with this process! I am embarrassed to say I actually spent days (that should have been spent writing) changing things around and customizing my website to make it look the way I wanted it to look.
My recommendation? Find 10-15 other bloggers that you admire, and figure out what you love about their website. What features do they have that you like? Are they using any special plugins that you want to use to? Do some research and then try to incorporate those features into your own website.
Your greatest source for themes will be themeforest.net. There are 1,000’s of themes to choose from and you can have a lot of fun browsing through them all. However beware, just because a theme looks pretty doesn’t mean you should buy it.
Take my advice on this one.
The first theme I purchased looked BEAUTIFUL. The problem? It was not responsive, allowed zero customization, and the designer offered little to no help or support which made the installation process a nightmare. I later found out that despite the fact that the theme “looked” pretty, it was very poorly coded and even broken in certain parts. Moral of the story? Don’t choose a theme based merely on looks. Trust me.
To save you from what happened to me, I’m going to provide you with some recommendations that I KNOW are safe bets and will look (and more importantly) will WORK beautifully.
1. Solo Pine
I LOVE SOLO PINE!! Why not start with the theme that I am currently using which is the Solo Pine theme, Alder 🙂 I am also a massive fan of Redwood, however I needed a theme that was compatible with WooCommerce, so Alder ended up doing the trick.
Solo Pine offers a few different themes that are all equally beautiful. Besides the themes looking gorgeous, they are all 100% mobile responsive, offer GREAT customer service (which may be my favorite thing about them) and are easily customizable.
At some point I will be updating my blog again, and then I will go with Avada. I love Avada because it is HIGHLY customizable. If you want something completely unique to you, this is a great option. LOTS of very successful bloggers use Avada. When I make the switch, I am wanting to hire a web designer to design something completely unique to me that matches my style and personality. But once again, I am going to put that I the “later” category. For now, I’m happy with what I have.
3. Genesis Themes
Genesis Themes are used by some of the most successful bloggers. They are a very well-reviewed theme company and although I haven’t personally used it, I trust the bloggers when they say it’s great.
4. Elegant Themes
One of my favorite bloggers uses Elegant Themes, and she praises it all day long. For those wanting high customization capabilities, this is a great option for you. This theme works on a drag and drop builder so you don’t need to learn code in order to create the theme you love. There’s also a training video to walk you through how to create the theme, as well as tech support – so there’s no reason to ever be confused. 🙂
2. WordPress Plugins
I was really intimated by plugins in the beginning, but don’t worry, you don’t need to be. All a plugin is, is a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website.
Yes, I know, sounds like gibberish.
But basically, plugins allow you to add extra features without having to learn code, which is #winning in my book. But try not to go overboard, having too many plugins can slow down your site speed, which you don’t want.
Essential WordPress Plugins:
- Akismet Anti-Spam – Seriously go install this plugin RIGHT NOW. Spam is so annoying but guess what? I don’t get spam anymore because I have this plugin. 🙂
- Yoast SEO – Every blogger NEEDS this plugin. We will cover SEO (search engine optimization) in a different post, but this plugin will help you optimize each blog post on your website so you can rank higher in Google search results. I use the free version and see no point in upgrading at the moment.
- Shareaholic – Shareaholic is a free plugin that adds social sharing buttons to your posts and pages. I bet you already know this plugin. It’s the cute one that says “Sharing is Caring”. I love this plugin because you can customize the icons to keep them on brand with your theme or website. I must admit this took me hours to do – I wasn’t lying when I said I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world. Some people don’t like this plugin because they say it slows down their website however, I haven’t had trouble with it. If you get to the point that Shareaholic isn’t working for you, another extremely popular social sharing plugin is Social Warfare, which is a paid plugin.
- SumoMe – This is a SUPER popular plugin used for email collection. I use it for my pop -up when readers come to my page, and as a box at the bottom of every post. However, be warned, it is also resource heavy and will slow down your site. I plan on changing it once it becomes a greater problem, but I’ve had it or almost a year and it is fine for now. 🙂
- jQuery Pin It Button for Images – If you’re wondering how to get that cute little Pinterest icon on your images, this is how. Installing the jQuery plugin is super easy and allows for super simple pinning. 🙂
- MiloTree – MiloTree is similar to a popup except is stays at the corner of your screen. It features a social media platform and invites readers to follow you there. I use this for Pinterest because as you will see later on – Pinterest is a BIG DEAL. MiloTree used to be free, but now is a paid plugin, which is sad.
- Click to Tweet – Disclaimer – this is an extremely popular plugin however I don’t use it. I’ve considered adding it, but with everything on my blogging to-do list, it just hasn’t happened yet. I also don’t actively use Twitter, so I am a bit unsure of the value in this plugin for my website. But I see a lot of successful bloggers using it, so do what you will with that information.
- Header, Footer, and Post Injections – I searched forever to find a plugin that would do what I wanted it to do. Header, Footer, and Post Injections works like a charm. It allows you to customize the header and footer of your blog post without touching a single line of code. HECK YES!
Permalinks are the entire url that points to a specific blog post. For example, this blog post is lavendervines.com/blogging-essentials – and the entire link is the permalink. You want to set up the permalink structure in advance so you won’t have to change it in the future.
If you decide to change the permalink later you will essentially break the link which leads to your blog post, and then you will have to deal with redirecting to that link later. All of that is a massive headache and quite a messy process, so just set your permalinks in advance.
To do this go to Settings -> Permalinks and choose which setting you will like. PS: I use Post Name. 🙂
4. Google Analytics
Trust me when I say, Google Analytics will become your best friend. It is a free tool that allows you to track how many people visit your website, which posts are your most popular, and where your viewers are coming from (Pinterest, Google, Instagram, etc.).
This is important because tracking your blog stats is key in learning how to grow. You will discover which posts your readers enjoy so you can create more that are similar to it. You can also discover which social media platforms are working the best for you, so you can spend more of your energy on those platforms.
Plus, if you decide to work with brands and companies, they will want to know Google Analytics stats such your pageviews per month and your reader demographic, age, and location.
I am not going to provide a tutorial on how to set up Google Analytics simply because there are so many great ones already out there with beautiful screenshots showing you exactly what to do. If for whatever reason you do get stuck, just send me an email and I will do my best to help you. 🙂
5. Newsletter Sign Up Form
Ugh, if there is one thing I wish I would have done from day one, it is starting an email list. I didn’t even offer a newsletter sign-up on my website until almost 1 year into having my blog (facepalm emoji). Your email list is important because it is the BEST way to keep in touch with your readers. I use SumoMe for their subscription links which I put at the bottom of every blog post, and I also have a pop up.
Word of caution: Pop ups are known for negatively effecting SEO, however for now I am keeping mine since it converts well. But at some point I may take it down and try something else.
If you follow me on Instagram then you know how much I LOVE that platform (if you’re not – go follow me on Instagram ?). But due to social media’s ever-changing algorithms (Instagram, I’m looking at you) they are not a reliable way to communicate with your readers. I recommend using Mailchimp, which is free for up to 2,000 subscribers – holler!
You will find that people don’t tend to sign up for your newsletter without some sort of incentive. That is why I also use free incentives such as my 21-Day Journey email devotionals. 🙂
Okay, this is everything I have for you for the blogging essentials that every blog needs. You can absolutely get creative with it and install all kinds of fun plugins to jazz up your website (I have way more than the ones mentioned), but these are the ones that I deem essential. I realize that this part of blogging might not be the most fun, but this process is necessary. (Disclaimer: I actually loved setting up my website – but the plugins and all the other techie stuff I could do without, tho. ?). But getting everything set up is super important, so please don’t skip out on this process.
The next post in this series is how write GREAT blog posts.
Did you miss anything? Read more:
- Are you Feeling Called to Blog? (read the intro to this series!)
- How to Start a Blog: The Ridiculously Easy Step-by-Step Guide
- 8 (Sneaky!) Tips for Writing GREAT Blog Posts, Every Time
- How to Increase Your Blog Traffic with Pinterest
- How to Get More Blog Traffic – Let’s Get You Some Pageviews!
- How to Make Money Blogging for Beginners
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