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5 Ways to Take Your Blog to the Next Level

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Ready to take the next step?

This past Saturday I conducted brand consults for 14 fantastic mom bloggers at Springboard Conference in Boston. For me, doing one-on-one consults is incredibly rewarding because in just a short period of time, you can give people individualized recommendations and concrete to-dos that are specific to their blog and their goals. It’s much harder to do that as a speaker in a conference session. Plus, I get to learn more about what people need, and create content to fill that need. A win-win.

Although everyone had questions and concerns that were about their individual blogs, several common themes came up. Everyone I spoke with had the goal of growing and improving their blog and/or business. In other words, taking it to the next level. I found myself sharing the same list of mom blogging tips and resources many times over. And so I’ve decided to share them here AND in a new resource area on my site.

Quick note… my first three tips pertain to WordPress self-hosted bloggers (or those who aspire to be). If you’re a dedicated Blogger or WordPress.com user, skip to Tip #4.

1. Switch from Blogger or WordPress.com to a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog

You’ve heard it before, and I’ll tell you again. If you want to own your content, customize your site and look more professional, a self-hosted blog is the way to go. One blogger told me this analogy she had heard: Blogger is an automatic car and WordPress self-hosted is a stick shift. In other words, it’s tough to learn in the beginning, and a little scary, but after a while you feel so much more in control.

A large number of bloggers I spoke with at Springboard were interested in moving their blog to their own domain and web host and switching to the WordPress.org platform (vs. hosting it on a site such as Blogger or WordPress.com). For those who want to do this, I recommend Hostgator for web hosting services, and their partner Registry Rocket for domain purchases. Even if you already have your own domain (Blogger and WordPress.com both give you the option to use a domain name that you’ve purchased), in order to move to a true self-hosted site you will need to sign on with a web host such as Hostgator. Hostgator can also help you move your blog from Blogger or WordPress.com to a self-hosted site on the WordPress.org software platform. On the Hostgator site they have detailed information about moving your WordPress.com blog or Blogger blog without losing data with minimal disruption to your readers.

2. Use a Premium WordPress Theme

Although WordPress self-hosted bloggers can choose from hundreds of free themes, many of those can be tricky to customize, don’t get frequent updates and lack support. I use a WooThemes premium WordPress theme to power this site and they’re fantastic. I have also used and recommend Headway Themes for those who want even more power to customize. Friends and colleagues use and recommend Thesis, Genesis and Elegant Themes.

3. Customize Your Site With WordPress Plugins

If and when you decide to make the move to a self-hosted site using the WordPress.org software, that opens a whole new world to you in terms of plugins. Plugins are like neatly wrapped up bits of code that make your WordPress site do new and wonderful things. I have been playing around with plugins for several years now and you can see a list of my favorite WordPress plugins by category on this slide deck.

4. Create a Professional Logo

Unless you’re a graphic designer or have some mad design skills, you probably want to hire a designer to create your logo. Designers can be quite expensive but the results are worth the money and are an excellent business investment. If you’re looking for a professional logo or other design elements for your blog, such as a header, a budget-friendly option is 99designs. For $299, you hold a “design contest” where dozens of designers from around the world compete to create a winning logo. 99designs has an extremely detailed form to help you identify exactly what you are looking for (something serious? humorous? favorite colors? styles you like?). And while the contest is running, you rate the designs as they come in so the designers can make tweaks and changes. I used 99designs for my company logo and had a fantastic experience.

5. Use Interesting and High Quality Photos (Without Stealing Them)

Beginning bloggers are often surprised to learn that they cannot use Google Images to grab photos to use on their blog. As I’ve written in the past, Google Images merely searches ALL images on the web and returns them regardless of copyright. For paid stock photo images, my top choice is iStockphoto. And my new favorite for free images is Photo Pin, which is an application for searching the Flickr Creative Commons database. This database of millions of photos that can be used with attribution, and Photo Pin provides both better search results than the native Flickr site and a handy copy/paste area for placing the attribution link at the bottom of your post or in the caption. Like I’m about to do, right now.

photo credit: on1stsite. via photopin cc

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11 thoughts on “5 Ways to Take Your Blog to the Next Level

  1. I never publish a photo free post (it feels unfinished, naked), but when I’m lacking just the right shot in my own portfolio, I’m forced to search (sometime for what feels like hours) for stock images.
    In addition to iStockPhoto, I have had good luck with 123RF.com. (RF=royalty free)
    I’ll definitely check out Photo Pin.
    Thanks for the consult at Springboard, and for all the great intel you share here.

    1. You’re welcome and thanks for your comment. I’ll have to check out 123RF.com… haven’t seen that one yet. Photo Pin is awesome, I bet you’ll love it.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts since I didn’t get in to see you. I’m in the Blogger needs to move to WP camp. It’s hard to find the time for back of house work instead of just focusing on better content. I’m sure I’ll have questions for you once I do bite the bullet!
    ~Emily

  3. You are a gem in our BPB community! Having your expertise is so reassuring. ๐Ÿ™‚ And with that…any Instagram plugins that connect directly to your profile to follow? My blog is in need of a makeover, slowly saving up money for that!

  4. Hey Cindy I appreciate you takking the time to write this post I feel like you hit everything spot on. I dont know why people still use blogger it is very easy as you stated but very poor for SEO, has no plugins, and harder to make designs for.

    thanks,

    Peter!

  5. First of all i would like to thank you for the great and
    informative entry. I has to admit that I have never heard about this
    information I have noticed many new facts for me. Thanks a lot for sharing this
    useful and attractive information and I will be waiting for other interesting
    posts from you in the nearest future. Keep it up. Stock tips

  6. Thanks for the info. I am so thankful that I did my research before starting a blog and bought my domain. I also self-host using WP and Host Gator. I’m interested in your tip about a professional logo. I need to take that next step. You mentioned that you had one designed. Is yours that you had designed the lime and blue logo at the top that says “the social craft” with the two people holding hands?

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