In the writing world words are the thing. So when people tell us writers we need (nay, require) better blog post images we recoil in shock. What now!? But I’m a writer! I cannot! Even!
And a few years ago I would have commiserated with you. Because there was a learning curve if you weren’t a professional photographer—you have to learn design and of course then you had to figure out Photoshop (and pay for it). If you gave up on taking photos yourself then you entered the world of stock photography and, a few years ago, the cost was high and the competition was low.
But the story is tres different today. There are so many tools available to non-designers and non-photographers it’s time to accept your need for better blog post images and hop on the bus.
For creating better blog post images I recommend Canva to anyone who asks. It’s a free design tool for non-designers—and it’s so easy to use. It’s in the cloud so you don’t have to download anything and you can use it from anywhere, including your mobile. You can design your own graphics if you’re inclined, or you can take suggestion from their huge template library.
The first thing you should do is figure out a few image templates you’ll use over and over in your blogs. This cuts down on decision fatigue and helps keep your blog brand consistent. Don’t freak out! This is all a part of creating better blog images. Templates are your friend. And remember what I said earlier? Canva has a massive template library! You’re going to be fine!
When building your templates you may get tripped up on fonts, images and colours. Since we’re not design trained I suggest we don’t trust our instincts. At least, that’s what I suggest to myself. Here’s what I do instead.
Create Better Blog Post Images with Canva
First, you need to choose a font, which is no easy feat. There are bajillions of fonts to choose from. In the link I dropped I’ve offered a few ways to narrow it down but here are the main points: choose something readable and stick with it. Now, when you’re creating images you may want to use a couple different fonts—risky stuff! If you want to spice things up font-wise, use Canva’s free font combinations thingy. Select your main font and let Canva show you what will pair well with it. Done.
While you can create graphics without photos there is still a decision to make here—will you be an exclusive image-only blog? Or just graphics? Or a mix of both? Figure out how you want your site to look and go from there. If you’re going with photos, Canva has a large stock photo library—some of which are free to use. There are many, many options online for stock photography these days so you have options if you want to use photos but can’t/don’t want to use your own. Even if you’re not planning on using many photos I still recommend finding a photo style you resonate with (be it nature, lifestyle, flat lay, etc.) as it will help you in your ongoing branding and in colour selection.
If you’ve chosen your website or blog branding colours then this isn’t a decision you have to make—stick with your branding. However, if you haven’t done this yet it’s time to pick a palette. And, since we’re not designers, how does one know what colours go together? I use Canva’s colour palette generator every time I need one. And I don’t just use it for my blog images—it’s how I chose my living room colours and how I decide the palettes for my knitting projects!
When you find your inspiration image, one that you feel represents the essence of your blog and/or brand, upload it to the colour palette generator and watch it do its magic. Because it’s magical.
As a writer, the subject of website images can be overwhelming. The goal of today’s post is to help simplify it—yes you should have images on your blog and yes, I think you can create better blog post images. Here are the highlights.
Use a program like Canva
Remember, templates are your friend
Build a visual brand using fonts, images and colours
But I also think about the not-so-serious quizzes a lot. Like what is the best breed of dog for my lifestyle (Corgi), what kind of ice cream is my personality most like (strawberry), and what Hogwart’s house am I sorted into (Ravenclaw)?
I even bring the results up in conversations. I know, I can hardly believe it myself.
In researching why we love these personality tests so much I realized this isn’t a new obsession for me—I just forgot about it after I stopped subscribing to Seventeen Magazine and Cosmo.
A quick summary
We love quizzes because they help us understand ourselves and link us to a tribe, which helps us feel understood. And talking about our quiz results is a humblish way of talking about ourselves without coming off braggy.
Yeah, my quiz said I’m 100% Minnesotan Lutheran so I guess I’m pretty solid there.
So I want to get into building quizzes. This one, what kind of blogger are you, is my first try.
What kind of blogger are you?
I’m using a platform called Interact and so far I’ve found it straightforward and fun. And, thank goodness, there are a billion templates for me to launch from so I don’t sit there staring at the screen, wondering what to write a quiz about.
Because coming up with ideas was the hardest part.
Now that I’ve built one (well, three, but I’m only showing you one today) I am starting to understand a bit about what needs to happen behind the scenes and how you come up with the topics. So hopefully I’ll get a bit better at it and start producing VIRAL HITS helping people gain profound internal insight while having fun at the same time.
Yes, that’s the dream.
OK but to swing this around a bit, quizzes are a fantastic marketing tool. They’re marketing without feeling like marketing. So if you’re wondering what on earth you can do to generate traffic or build your email list (because you can’t even think about creating an opt-in ebook or printable or whatever)…maybe give this a try. Come up with a few topics that suit your brand and see what you come up with.
A few things to keep in mind
When choosing a topic for your quiz, think about what your audience would respond to and write it for them
Make sure your title is awesome—build curiosity into it like how much do you actually know about __________ or which ________ are you?
Don’t go too deep with your questions; they can be personal but make sure they are ones you’d ask in casual conversation
Keep your tone positive and truthful
So? What do you think about quizzes? Are you intrigued by them? Love learning more about yourself? Want to incorporate them into your marketing plan? I’d love to chat about it!
And if you want to try Interact here’s my affiliate link. Have fun!
This last year I approached blogging in a new way, even though this blog is not new. So I wanted to do a little blogging year in review in order to capture my progress as well as set public goals.
My journey up until now
My blogging journey (if you’ll indulge me) has gone from online journal to travelogue to lifestyle blog to what it is now…somewhat less random and hopefully helpful insights into content marketing for freelance writers. Or, at least, that’s the direction I’m trying to point everything.
Hence the new approach.
While I am strolling down memory lane for a moment I don’t want this to be too self-serving. I want to do a quick overview of what I did and why, how it worked, and what I will do moving into 2018.
Robyn Roste’s Blogging Year in Review
Before the official review I’ll give you some context. For 10 weeks in the summer of 2016 I took a blogging course from Fizzle called Start a Blog that Matters. Now, we already know my blog isn’t new. But I was stuck. I’ve been on a meandering journey for many years and have never known where my blog was going (if anywhere). Was it for fun? Did it have a career purpose? What did I want it to be? I needed a fresh start. So I took this course and dreamed of creating something that matters. From the dreaming, brainstorming, and research I came out with a couple directions I could go: keep the blog casual and let it peter out like so many other lifestyle blogs I see getting retired (a fine decision btw, no judgment) or plot out a course and give my blog a vision and purpose.
It wasn’t an easy decision to be honest. First, because it’s hard to put yourself out there. You worry about so many things like what if you have nothing to say, what if people don’t like you, what if people don’t even notice you, what if it doesn’t work out and you just waste your time, etc. Second, because it’s hard work. And I’m pretty busy. I have my regular day job, I have my freelance writing and marketing clients, and I have all my other activities and hobbies plus boring things like housework and trying to have a social life. So I had to decide if this was important enough to me to put time and effort into even if it didn’t go anywhere.
I pondered this for a while. A few months. And then in January 2017, I went for it. I built a content calendar, a publishing schedule, set goals, and committed to give it a shot.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 1—Post once per week
Through the blogging course I learned the importance of setting goals within your control. Publishing a blog once per week is something I can control so it’s a good goal. Increasing my traffic by 1,000 per cent is not something I can control so it is not a good goal.
How did it go?
Before I had a plan and a system I thought this would be difficult but it turns out when you have everything plotted out ahead of time, most of the guesswork disappears and you just sit down and write. My goal was to publish once per week and I did that, every Tuesday from January 10 till today, December 26. I also published extra posts here and there when inspired, I think it was to prove to myself I could do it.
Here’s the breakdown
40 posts on content marketing, blogging, and freelance writing
32 posts on book, movie, or product reviews
6 sponsored posts or brand collaborations
The final analysis
Although I focused my content plan on marketing and freelance writing, I allowed for other types of posts as well. I think part of me was nervous about running out of things to say and part of me still can’t let go of the lifestyle blogger in me. But when I see 40 posts on theme, I’m pretty happy.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 2—Set a regular writing time and stick to it
I’m not a routine person but I’ve learned the importance of routines if you want to do good work on deadline. Talent isn’t enough and inspiration doesn’t strike on command. So unless you don’t need money you have to figure out how to set aside creative idealism and just do the work.
I knew there was no way I could achieve my weekly blogging goal unless I got blog writing into my schedule. Otherwise I would melt in stress and make life miserable for everyone around me. I know this because this has happened before, which is why I stepped back from blogging once my freelance career picked up. So how to add it back in…after much pondering I realized I had to get up earlier. So I did. I can’t say it was easy but I can say I decided to do it, did it, and stuck with it. I prioritized morning writing time and it got done. Simple as that.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 3—Grow email list to 1,000 subscribers
I’m putting this here even though I’ve already explained a goal like this is not a good goal because it’s not in my control. It was something I thought I had to do after going through Jeff Goins’ The Writer’s Roadmap: 12 Steps to Making a Living Writing and I spent a lot of time stressing over it when it wasn’t happening. So I’ll admit it here because I’m thinking some of you also have this type of goal in your mind and are disappointed when you don’t hit your numbers. I can relate.
Here’s how I’m re-framing this goal for 2018
Produce high quality content that will help my target readers
Offer valuable opt-ins to encourage my target readers to sign up for my email list
Write high-quality emails to my readers to make it worth being on my email list
Get my content in front of my target readers as often as possible
Listen to feedback and tweak as necessary
What this looks like is still wanting 1,000 people on my email list, but doing more to earn those email addresses rather than just hoping and wishing they’ll find me and sign up for my list. It means working a bit harder on creating the right offers, making more connections with people who already speak to my ideal readers, and putting myself out there even more. Gah.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 4—Get an agent
This is by far the scariest goal to admit. Because saying you want to get an agent and then that you have these bigger goals of writing books and, you know, publishing them, when it’s not a sure thing or even an achievable thing means you might not reach your goals. And then everyone will know you failed.
But here I am, telling you the truth. This is what I’m reaching for and what all my work is moving towards. I have my idea, I have my direction, and I’m going to give it my best shot. And if I don’t make it? Well, I guess we’ll see how I feel. Maybe I’ll keep trying, maybe I’ll regroup and make a new plan…it’s difficult to say without knowing where I’ll be at.
How did it go?
I gave myself a goal of coming up with three book ideas by October 2017. This was a strategic date because I also purchased a weekend pass to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (which was way outside my price comfort zone so I knew it would push me to make the most out of the weekend) and had the chance to pitch my book idea to an agent. And you know what, I did it. I came up with ideas, put together my pitch, and pitched. And I didn’t just pitch to one agent, I pitched to three. And it was hard and scary and amazing. I got a hard no, I got a not right now, and I got a request for a book proposal. So there you go. You can see where my 2018 goal is going, right? Finish that book proposal and get it IN!
Blogging Year in Review—Top 5 Posts of 2017
In case you missed it, in case you’re interested, in case you want to know what other people paid attention to this year
I love that this is my top post from 2017 because it was what made all of this work. It was my biggest challenge, my biggest success, and thing thing I’m still most proud of from this year. I prioritized my writing by getting up at a ridiculous hour and have seen the fruit of my efforts. I’m filled to the brim with gratitude for this experience and hope others can have this experience as well.
Second on the list is a book I contributed to, which was published in February 2017. I wrote about the publishing experience and hope it gives people some perspective on just how little control you have over the process when it’s not your book but also how exciting and fulfilling it is to see your hard work in print. Such a rush.
I put this together in October to try something I’ve heard a lot of Mom Bloggers do—gift guides. I asked a few writers in my circle what they would like for Christmas and built a list of 32 pretty cool writer-related gift ideas. Although I thought they were good hints, I will say I didn’t receive a single item on the list from my family for Christmas. So perhaps it hasn’t permeated quite that far yet.
This is a case study I wrote after working with photographer JenniMarie on a launch strategy for her last-ditch effort to get her wedding photography business up and running before giving up on the business once and for all. It’s an incredible story and one I think you should read if you doubt the importance (or power) of marketing. You just need the right strategy.
I LOVE that this is in my top five because I treated it like a throwaway post. It’s a review of a trendy water bottle my husband bought me, which I put on the blog because I found it interesting on a personal level. What I didn’t know was other people would think so too. It went viral on Facebook and I’ve heard from MORE than a few friends that they’ve purchased a similar bottle because of that post. It wasn’t sponsored or connected to an affiliate commission at all so this was all for free. And I’m happy about that, I was trying to connect and am pleased it did just that.
So there we go. I hope this blogging year in review demonstrates what a little planning and goal-setting does for your blog. Maybe you’re one step closer to reworking your blog? Or getting it up and running again? Are you up for the challenge?
Why are fonts such a big deal? I know they are but I don’t “get” it. But I understand, at least, that it does matter. So I’m here to tell you fonts matter and I could try and tell you why but I’d only be plagiarizing because I don’t understand it. Can we just agree they are important and move on to figuring out how to choose fonts when you know they matter but you can’t tell what works and what doesn’t? This is also known as how to choose fonts for your website when you’re not a designer.
How to choose fonts for your website when you’re not a designer
OK so let’s just do this. When choosing fonts for your website choose it for readability over anything else. Ugh, no fun right? But think of it this way: website visitors are fickle. If they drop in and have to squint to read your words, they won’t bother. So choose function over form in this case.
But don’t think that means you can’t do something funky—it just needs to be legible.
There are four basic types to consider when you choose fonts.
These fonts have “feet” at the ends of their letters. These are known as more traditional fonts and it’s argued they’re easier to read in print.
These fonts don’t have “feet” at the ends of their letters and it’s argued they’r easier to read on pixel-based screens.
These fonts are easy to recognize: cursive. These are interesting but can be difficult to read on a screen.
These fonts are meant to grab attention and are not practical.
What I recommend when you choose fonts
When choosing fonts for your website try and stay with serif or sans-serif. Wondering what your options are? Check out Google Fonts. There are tons of options and they’re all web friendly. Pick out something you like in the safe zone and then, if you want, let’s move to the next step.
IF you want a secondary font, then you need to do something called font pairing. I find this part mind boggling, but others seem to understand it. If you know what you’re doing then go for it! But if you’re like me, wondering how to choose fonts for your website when you’re not a designer, stick to the basics. Serifs with other serifs. Sans-serifs with other sans-serifs.
There is an argument for having more than one font—it adds contrast.
People who are passionate about fonts will tell you they make you feel something and help form your brand personality. So let’s circle back to my original point: fonts are important. They are, trust me. Well, take my word for it. Well, just go with it.
Want to brand your blog? Here are the things you’ll need to think about, decide upon, and commit to if you want your branding to be solid. They’re not hard, but you do need to make some choices, which will affect your future. No pressure.
Brand Your Blog: A Step-By-Step Guide
I have blogged for a long time. I don’t know if any of you have followed for the entire journey (like…more than a decade) but if you have you may be aware of a few domain changes, a blog merge, a big old switch from Blogger to WordPress, and then a rebrand. This is where we are today. Post rebrand.
OK, so there are loads of reasons why I’ve made these decisions along the way. Some strategic, some necessary, some whims but the rebrand was the most important move I made. The reason? I needed to. I was a casual lifestyle blogger from start and I wanted to transition into a professional writer. My blog brand (or lack thereof) was holding me back. Was I doing anything wrong? No. But I needed to make a change.
Elements of a Brand
Branding is an interesting science mixed with art but there are consistent elements when you’re looking to brand your blog. These are all things you’ll need to think about, decide upon, and commit to if you want your branding to be solid.
Memorable name (not clever)
An easy-to-remember (and spell) URL
Tagline (what you do and who you serve)
Branded graphics (like a logo)
Consistent fonts and image use
Blog topics and keywords
When I knew I needed a rebrand I put it off for a while. I was overwhelmed. There were so many decisions to make and I didn’t know what the right choices were. Or even if there were right choices. I hummed and hawed over all the details and then I reached a decision: I needed help. So I got help. I hired a graphic designer who could help me bring my ideas to life. It was a huge relief to have some of the load off my shoulders and once that decision was made, the rebrand happened in a couple months.
Here’s what I outsourced: colour pallet, logo design, font choices, and template design. This allowed me to focus on the foundation of my brand and while I was still part of the process, the load wasn’t so heavy.
This may not be the right decision for you but it was the right one for me.
Why do you want to brand your blog?
A brand lets people know who you are and what you do. Readers new to your site will only stay if you make it easy. If they have to think then they’ll leave. If they’re confused they’ll leave. By having a clear brand, readers will know what to expect. If they like what you do, they’ll stick around. They may even subscribe to your email list.
You might not want to brand your blog. You might not have to—it depends what your blogging goals are. Do you have goals? Why are you blogging?
First, I want people to think of me as a professional writer
I want my website to look and feel professional at a glance
By keeping a blog I will demonstrate my writing skills
I want my website and blog to get me freelance work.
Long term goals include growing my platform, getting an agent and publishing a book with a traditional publisher
No pressure, right?
What you need to know
Before you brand your blog there are some other things you need to know, unrelated to branding. However, if you don’t know these things then your branding efforts may be in vain.
Your target audience
What problem are you solving for your target audience?
Your blog’s focus (also called a niche…what do you write about?)
Your email opt-in (yes you need one)
I know this seems a bit out of order but I know people love jumping into the “fun” stuff first. You know, the logo and colour palette. So I covered them first. But I hope you understand making these larger, cornerstone decisions are what will allow your brand to communicate to your target audience in the way you intend.
How it has gone for me
Since my blog rebrand I have grown into the design. It didn’t fit me right away. I felt like it was too flashy and self-important. It took some getting used to it.
I also had to retrain myself to write about my five chosen topics. This was a huge restriction compared to my previous anything goes approach. So I went slow. And I stalled while battling self-doubt and insecurity.
And then I went for it. I made a plan, I set goals (and spoke them aloud) and I grew into my brand. Is it working? Well, I’m on the way. I’m sticking to the plan and I’m seeing some results. Do I have a book deal? Still working on it.