I once read somewhere that when Paul McCartney was asked for advice on how to start a band, his answer was something to the effect of, “Gee, nobody really knows how to start a band. You just go out and do it.”
Starting a mommy blog is kind of the same thing – minus the millions of screaming fans and the Maharishi. All you really need is the desire to do it and one or more kids (or highly charismatic pets) to write about.
The process is, however, much easier if you take the time to set things up right at the very beginning. Below is a list of Q&A. This is really basic, Blogging 101-type stuff; you may well be beyond this stage if you’ve already got your blog up and running.
Feel free to email me if you’re interested in one-on-one blog consulting; I can help you avoid the rookie mistakes I made and build your audience quickly.
(Full disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means if you click on them and sign up, I get paid. These are all services I personally use and like, so I am recommending them to you without hesitation!)
There are two different ways to set up a blog. The first is free hosting. This is when you go to WordPress.com or Blogger.com or a similar site and start a blog using their existing setup. Your URL (the address people type into the browser window to get to your site) will look something like this:
The advantages of free blog hosting are that it’s free (duh), that it’s simple to use, and that there’s almost no learning curve. You can have your blog up and running within a few minutes.
If you’re starting a blog just to keep your friends and family informed, free hosting may be the way to go. But if you’re looking for a wider audience, free hosting has some limitations.
You don’t have a lot of leeway to change the appearance of, or features on, your blog. You may not be allowed to have ads on your blog, should you ever want to do that. And the name of the host is always embedded in your URL – you don’t get to be just www.harriedmommy.com if you’re using free hosting.
Also, it’s more difficult to be found online if you use free hosting. It’s not impossible, mind you, but search engines favor self-hosted blogs (as with most other things in life, this is an area where you get what you pay for).
If you’re just wading into the blogging pool, check out Kickstart Your Blog. It will get you up and running quickly and help you avoid the common mistakes that sink many would-be mommy bloggers.
And, if you’ve already gotten your blog up and running, for just $7 the Blog Success Forecaster will tell you what kind of shape you’re in, and how to make small tweaks that can bring big results.
Free hosting, described above, is a lot like housesitting for a relative. The house is all furnished and ready for you to live in, but it’s not really yours, so you can’t just start moving furniture around and knocking down walls.
Self-hosting, on the other hand, is more like starting from scratch by buying an empty plot of land.
First, you register your URL (like www.harriedmommy.com) with a domain name service. There are many, many of these out there – Google “register a domain name” to see what I mean. I use GoDaddy.com; they have recently updated their site to make it more user-friendly.
Whatever service you use, it shouldn’t cost you more than $15 or so, max, to reserve your name for a year (click here for a special rate at GoDaddy.com – get a .com name for a whole year for just $5.99). You can sign up for multiple years, but I suggest starting with just one to see how you feel about the whole blogging thing before investing any additional money.
After you’ve secured your domain name (i.e., bought your plot of land), you then need to find someone to host your blog for you – build the house, in other words. (Forgive the extended analogy, but when I was first starting it helped me to think of things this way – you may be quicker on the uptake than I was.)
As with domain name services, there are many hosting options out there, and some places (including GoDaddy.com) offer both domain names and hosting. What I do for this site, and what I recommend, is using a host like DreamHost.com that is easily compatible with WordPress.org. My DreamHost hosting plan costs about $9 a month.
WordPress is great but incredibly confusing. WordPress.com is where you go to set up a free WordPress blog (like www.harriedmommy.wordpress.com). WordPress.org, on the other hand, provides software you can use in conjunction with your paid host.
Think of it this way: You’ve got your plot of land (your domain name) and your house (your paid host), but the house is empty. Computer programmers are like carpenters – they can build all the furnishings from scratch using, in their case, pages and pages of code. You’re neither a computer programmer nor a carpenter. You lack the skill or interest to make your own furniture; you want to bring in already-made furniture so that you can start living in your house.
WordPress.org provides all of your furniture for free – it gives you ready-to-roll blog software to use with your paid hosting service. What’s really nice about DreamHost is that it’s fully compatible with WordPress. (WordPress has a list of other compatible, recommended hosting services here. I personally would avoid Bluehost; I used to use them but got very frustrated with how often my sites were down, as well as their hit-or-miss customer service.)
Once you’re set up on the WordPress platform, you can choose from a number of free templates (WordPress calls them “themes”) to customize the look and feel of your site. This site uses the free yet very fun “Liquorice” theme created by Nudge Design.
There are also a whole bunch of additional themes out there that you can pay for (Google “premium wordpress themes” for a sampling). At my other site, Daycare In Demand, I use the Prose theme + Genesis framework combo from StudioPress and love it. It is super-easy to use and customize for even the non-tech-savvy like myself.
It’s totally up to you, of course, but I recommend something that makes it at least a little clear what your site is about. www.emilyrocks.com doesn’t really tell us much (even though Emily may well, in fact, rock).
You need to be careful that the site sounds OK when you say the name out loud – to steal a joke from an episode of 30 Rock, www.jennas-side.com is a bad idea. Conversely, a site may sound OK but look terrible in print. Consider a DJ named Sadie who wants to create a top hits website; www.sadieshits.com sends a different message entirely.
Anything you want, really. There is an ongoing (and, I think, valid) debate about how much mom bloggers should reveal about their kids. Check out this thoughtful post (and the accompanying comments) by über-mommy-blogger Jill Smokler over at scarymommy.com.
The most important thing is to be yourself. I know you’ve been hearing this since kindergarten, but it’s really true. Trying to copy someone else’s style just won’t be much fun for long, and you probably won’t be able to pull it off effectively anyway.
If you’re shy, a “between the sheets” look at the intimate details of your marriage will feel excruciating (and embarrassing) to write. If you’re funny, great – use that. And if you’re not, that’s fine, too – just don’t try to be something you’re not, and you’ll be fine.
Just be you. It will be enough. Perfect, in fact.
As often as you want – but remember that it’s much better to start slow (even as slow as one post a month) and work up rather than try to take on too much too soon and flame out after a frenzy of initial posting. Slow and steady definitely wins the race here.
In general, if you’re hoping to someday make money from your blog, you’ll need to get lots of people to come visit your blog (what’s known as “driving traffic” to your blog) and give them a reason to keep coming back. This means you must consistently provide content that’s extremely entertaining, extremely useful, or both.
The general consensus seems to be that it’s difficult, but not impossible, to make at least some money from your blog. Here are some ways to do so:
- Affiliate links: You get a commission when people click on a link and buy the product or service you’ve recommended. (As I mentioned up top, some of the links on this page work this way.)
- Advertisements: On mommy blogs, these are often display ads that run in the sidebars of the blog.
- Sponsored posts: Example: The Yummy Yummy Brownie Company pays you to write a post about the joys of their Yummy Yummy Brownies.
- Selling products or services: If, say, your blog is all about being a Knitting Mommy, you may decide to write an ebook about knitting and sell it on your site.
Other than affiliate links, which don’t pay a ton, I have not personally made any efforts to monetize this blog – I do it as a hobby and don’t want the hassle of dealing with advertisers, etc.
However, one really nice perk of mommy blogging – which I did not expect – has been all the great stuff people have sent over for me to try out and review, including an amazing weekend trip to Vermont. If you are lucky enough to experience this sort of thing, too, you’re legally required to disclose these arrangements when you write about them (see the disclaimers at the bottom of each post in my “reviews” category for examples).
If you are serious about making money from your blog, I highly recommend the A-List Blogging Masterclass program. It takes you step-by-step through the process of getting clear on your unique brand and message, setting up your blog, writing compelling posts, using images effectively, figuring out what to sell (and how), and much more. It’s a very supportive group that provides truly ridiculous amounts of valuable content and instruction.
Do a Google search for almost anything, and on the results page, you’ll see a list of ads (all with a headline followed by 2 lines of text and a link) on the right side of your screen, and usually a few at top left, too. Advertisers bid on common search terms and write the ads that are displayed when someone searches for that term. The advertisers only pay if someone actually clicks on the ad – hence, “pay-per-click” (or PPC) advertising.
The concept is simple, but getting it right can be somewhat complicated – you have all kinds of options as to where your ads show up, and when, and how much you pay for given search terms, and so forth. The quality of the page you’re sending people to in your ad also affects how much exposure your ad gets – Google prefers pages that are perceived as being more informational than promotional.
You can set a maximum daily budget so you don’t totally lose your shirt on PPC advertising, but if you don’t have at least some idea of what you’re doing, you’re going to be throwing money out the window.
Perry Marshall is widely regarded as the Google AdWords guru – check out some of his resources (he makes a lot of info available for free) before you dive too deep into the PPC pool. His Definitive Guide To Google AdWords is a great resource that provides all the training you’ll probably ever need in this area.