Showing posts with label Blog Tips And Tricks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blog Tips And Tricks. Show all posts

How To Start A Casual Blog

A few people have asked me in recent months how to start a blog. 

As a result of the professional blogging spike in the past five years, you can find a ton of posts about how should start a blog if you want to be a professional about it. However, I don't know that everyone who has considered starting a blog necessarily wants to make blogging their profession. 

Some people just want to have a place to write about whatever they feel like writing. Some people want to document a specific journey or adventure on which they are embarking. Some people just want to give it a go and see if it sticks. 

Unfortunately, there's not that many posts out there anymore telling you how to start blogging casually. So I thought I would just write my own so that the next time someone asks me about starting a blog, I have a post ready to go with the bare minimum of what they need to know and do to get started.

1. Set up your blog page. 

Before you can start to write you need to have a place to write, so you need to choose a blogging platform. There are two approaches to this:

A.  Start as if your blog will earn you money one day. 

Many bloggers who have monetized their blogs will advise you to start right off the bat with and hire someone to build an amazing website for you. If you you want to start a blog with the intent of earning money with it, and you are fully committed to that and have a plan, listen to those people. I have many blog friends who recommend the resources on Just A Girl And Her Blog for a professional approach to starting a blog.

However, I am not going to tell you to do that.

B. Just start. 

Personally, I don't think there's any sense in investing a ton of money until you really figure out if blogging is for you. You may absolutely love blogging, or you may write for a couple months and decide it's not your thing. Especially if you are more interested in personal reasons for blogging (documenting your life, connecting with other people, having your own platform to just write), I would recommend that you start on  I've been on Blogger since the beginning, and I am still happy with it. The interface is very intuitive (you can just start!), they have a great designing dashboard that is easy to use (you can make it look how you want it to look), and it's FREE! You can sign up with Blogger and set up a basic blog in about ten minutes, so go do that. I'll wait.

 A Note About Designing

If you want to fiddle around with the design template on Blogger you probably will figure out how to make it look the way you want it to look you all by yourself. You may also consider creating or commissioning a graphic designer for a header image, because that is the first impression of your blog page (nice, but not strictly necessary). You can also search on Etsy for blog templates; some sellers will even install it for you. This is the template designer I used when I wanted to update my template to be mobile-responsive (i.e. so my blog would adjust to screen on your phone), and I'd recommend her - she was very helpful!

2. Start writing.

The next thing you need to do to get going with your blog is just to write. 

The professional blogging community will also tell you to create several posts before you launch your site so that you have content already waiting for your potential readers. I don't think this is a bad idea at all.  When you have posts already published and ready to promote, it makes it look like you've been writing for more than a day.  This is nice, but I'd like to emphasize that it is in no way necessary.  It's more important to just start, so if pre-creating content is going to slow you down, I say just skip it.

Just go ahead and write whatever you want to for your first post and publish it. In the long run, what makes most bloggers successful is just writing, and being consistent about it. 

The more you write, the more you think of to write, and the more creative you force yourself to be, the more creativity comes to you. So just get started. Try to make a goal of writing x-amount of times per week.  If you stick to it for a while, you're going to come up with some good content, and it's going to get easier and easier to come up with good content.

3. Start reading blogs.

You may want to do this before you actually start creating your blog, but after you start writing I think it's especially helpful to read other blogs. There are two reasons for this.

A. To spark your own ideas. 

First, reading other blogs will often spark ideas for posts for your own blog. Seeing how other bloggers write will also give you a better idea of how to format posts on your blog, and the kind of feeling you want your blog and writing to have.

B. To become a reciprocal blogger.  

The second reason I recommend reading other blogs is not only to get ideas, but also to start creating your network. Blogging is way way more fun if you have people actually reading your blog and interacting with it, and a good way to encourage that is to become a reciprocal blogger - meaning you leave comments on other blogs, and return comments when you receive them on your blog. 

This used to be the norm in the blogging world, but unfortunately blogging has gotten a lot more self-focused over the last five years, with an emphasis on pageviews rather than relationships.  If you want to have a casual blog and make it fun, focus on building relationships. The good news is that I sense a shift back to building a sense of community among bloggers, and I hope this continues. 

If you are just starting out with a casual blog, I recommend commenting frequently and widely on blogs that look similar to yours, and I almost guarantee a few of those bloggers will end up coming back and reading your blog too.

4. Get your posts out there. 

By this I mean to go ahead and share your posts on social media.  In the blogging world today, commenting, while important for casual bloggers, is not as effective as it used to be in getting people to visit your blog.  You need a way to let people know that you have some new content.  There are several ways to do this:

A. Instagram.  

I highly recommend joining Instagram, even for a casual blog these days.  Not only will this help you get your blog out there to people who might be interested in reading what you have to say, the (sort of sad) truth is you will most likely get more responses to your content on Instagram than on your actual blog.  I've found it's almost easier to find blog friends this way, because it's so quick and easy to comment back!

B. Facebook. 

There are a few ways to use Facebook - you can create a page for your blog so you can share new content, or you can just share new content right on your personal Facebook if you don't mind everyone in your friend list potentially reading your blog. You may also consider joining a Facebook group for bloggers.  I don't use my blogging Facebook groups that much because they are typically geared more toward the business side of blogging, but sometimes they can be fun.  The Peony Project is a one for women bloggers. 

C. Linkups.  

A lot of people have great luck finding blog readers through participating in linkups.  A linkup is a collection of blog links surrounding a specific theme, and it is hosted on someone else's blog.  You would typically write a post that would fit with the theme of the linkup, and then go to the host blog and add your link.  If you are going to participate in a linkup to find blog friends/readers, do not just drop your link and run.  You have to comment on other people's posts too.  I don't do that many linkups, personally, but if you are interested I'd check A Joy Filled Life and/or Girl On The Move for their link party lists.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I write about? 

There are typically two kinds of blogs out there: niche blogs, and lifestyle blogs.  Niche blogs are focused on one particular topic, such as cooking blogs, fashion blogs, homeschooling blogs, etc.  If you want to create a niche blog, I think it's important to really be focused and only write things that relate in some way to your topic.  My blog is not a niche blog.  I would classify it as a lifestyle or personal blog.  I just write about whatever in the world I feel like writing. You can make a blog work either way, you don't necessarily have to have a niche.  It's also totally okay to change your focus, especially when you are just blogging casually (which is what this post is all about) - you can try niche writing for a while, and if it doesn't work, change it up.

How do I get people to send me items to review? 

A lot of blogs, as they grow, can become a weird hybrid of a casual personal blog, and a money-making blog.  My blog might be a good example of this - I mostly write what I please, but I also accept products to review and sponsored posts occasionally - either for fun or to help my family.  Because of these occasional sponsored posts, I frequently have friends asking me how they can get free products or compensation through blogging.  

In order to get items to review or be offered compensation for writing a post, you have to build something of a readership first.  Companies want to make sure their investment of money or a product is going to yield some sort of return, so you just aren't going to get these kinds of offers until you start getting a certain amount of monthly pageviews.  Gaining pageviews does take a lot of work, and if this is going to be your focus from the start I would say you are probably not wanting to be a casual blogger - you are hoping to make money with your blog, so I'd check out more of the resources for professional blogging at the link near the top of this post.

How did you start getting sponsored content or products to review?

If you don't necessarily want to start with the goal of making money, but are just kind of curious on how that works, here's my story.  

I wrote on my blog consistently for several years, made blog friends, and generally just had fun with it.  I gained some like-minded followers.  Pinterest came out, and I had a moderate amount of success with some of my party-related posts, which afforded me even more regular pageviews.  Once my pageviews reached a certain level, I had companies occasionally contact me to see if I'd like to receive a product to review - of course I said yes (when it was something I would be interested in)!  Then I went through a brief phase when I decided to try to gain more sponsored post opportunities through sponsored content networks, and I had some success with that because I had a certain amount of pageviews and an audience that those companies were looking for.  

Product reviews and sponsored posts can be a lot of fun, but they only come once in a while, and I don't think they should be your only reason for blogging.  Most people aren't that interested in a blog that only puts out sponsored content and product reviews.  After trying to earn more money with my blog for a year or two there, I decided I was becoming exhausted with the whole thing and had more fun with blogging when I focused more on friendships with other bloggers, so I shifted back to a more casual/personal approach.  I still do occasional sponsored content, but I'm more particular and don't accept those posts as often anymore.

But what about your book reviews?

Okay, if you are wanting to know how to get books to review, that's a whole other ball game!  I love reviewing books on my blog, and I think it fits in nicely with a more casual approach to blogging.  Let me know if you are interested in more on that, and maybe I'll put together another post on how I receive free books in exchange for reviews!

Blog buddies, what do you think?  Would you add anything to this post for people who may be interested in starting to blog casually?

Why I Stopped Using Disqus

 (Edit: Please see first comment!  It explains how to turn off affiliate links in Disqus. Very helpful, but at this point I personally am not putting it back on my site because I still don't like other people making money off of my hard work and I'm a little upset that this is apparently the default setting.)

Today, I have a sad blogging tale for you, especially if you use the commenting widget, Disqus, on your blog.  I started writing a quick blurb about this for my Tuesday old-fashioned blogging post, but it became rather long, and considering the popularity of Disqus, I thought it might be worthy of it's own post.

A couple years ago, I jumped on the Disqus blog commenting bandwagon.  A lot of bloggers (especially those on Blogger) were using it because Disqus makes it easier to respond to comments on your blog.  You respond once, and the person who commented gets an automatic email with your response in case they want to continue the conversation.  Since responding to every comment via email was becoming more popular, this streamlined the process.  

I was a little skeptical, because I think Disqus also makes it harder to visit the blogs of commenters (unless they add their blog to their Disqus profile, there is no way of finding their blog).  But the ease of responding and the clean look won me over.  I got the widget, made sure my blog was linked from my Disqus profile, and I didn't look back.

Where It All Went Downhill

A few months ago I was offered a sponsored post from an online clothing company.  It was before Christmas, and I could use the extra cash for presents, so I jumped on it.  One of their few requirements was that I not use affiliate links in that particular post.  No problem, I thought, because I  rarely use affiliate links anyway unless it's for something very specific.

The post went live, and I sent the company my links so they could approve the post...and they emailed back letting me know they had detected affiliate links in the post.  What?  So I went to click on a few links to see if I could catch what they were talking about, and indeed, an affiliate network redirect was attached to each link.  What was this?  Had I been hacked?

I apologized profusely to the company and let them know I was getting to the bottom of these links.  My mom picked up the kids to help me out, and I spent literally the entire day trying to figure it out.  I checked the html of the post.  Nothing. I clicked on product links in other posts, and spotted the same redirect, and realized it had to be something in my blog template.  I spent hours scouring the html of my template, trying to find the piece of code that was doing this.  I tried out my template on my design test blog, and it was the same problem.  I tested out an entirely new template and it didn't fix the problem.  I could not figure it out!  I was crying as I finally decided to remove every gadget on my blog to see if that helped anything.

And then I deleted the Disqus gadget I was using for blog comments.  Poof. Problem solved.  I no longer saw any affiliate links in my posts.

Of course by then my template was in shambles from all my hunting, and I had to re-install everything and contact the girl who designed my current template so she could help me fix it.  What a mess!

I tried spreading my sorry tale in a small Facebook blogging group, and no one else reported the same problem back (yet), but I can't help but wonder if they weren't looking close enough.  I checked out a couple other blogs with Disqus, and I did see the same type of affiliate links on those blogs as well.  I tried to find an email for the company who runs Disqus to let them know that their gadget may have been hijacked to insert affiliate links without the site-owner's permission (which is what I thought was happening at the time), but I couldn't find any contact information or support email.

So now I'm telling you, in case any of you has Disqus! You should know that somebody somewhere might be making money off of your blog links without your knowledge.

It is possible there is some sort of permission for affiliate links in Disqus's terms of use, but I wasn't aware of it before signing up, and I wouldn't have installed the gadget if I had known about the links.  I would have never realized this was happening unless that company had told me they had detected affiliate links.

I had this same problem one other time with a different gadget, an old analytics gadget called Sitemeter that had apparently been hacked to include affiliate links as well (Sitemeter has long since been deleted from my blog).  Some external gadgets don't necessarily update their security measures, and over time they can be hacked and the code used for purposes like this.  I don't know if that is what is going on with Disqus or not, but my experience with Sitemeter makes me wonder.  I wish I had remembered that previous problem gadget before I tore my whole layout apart trying to figure out the culprit - which was Disqus!

What Should You Do?

If you want to see if your Disqus gadget has turned on you as well, try linking to an online clothing store in a post (I tested with a Forever21 product link).  Then go to the post on your blog, and click the link while watching your web address bar.  It should go to the page smoothly and show only the clothing store link in the address field - if you see an odd flash of a different address before it switches to the clothing store link, that's an affiliate link.  

Needless to say, I removed Disqus, and I have since been a little more suspicious of externally-made gadgets (i.e. those outside of the ones that are included in Blogger).  Finding unsuspected affiliate links has happened to me twice now, and I know that I have never had problems with Blogger's internal gadgets.

If you want my recommendation, I would test out your links.  If you find the same issue of affiliate links that you didn't add yourself and weren't aware of, remove all Disqus code from your blog (update! or view the first comment below on how to turn off these affiliate links).  

The good news is that Blogger has improved the look and formatting of their internal commenting system since the days when I installed Disqus! I still have to respond via e-mail separately, but that is a price worth paying to keep my blog free of these types of issues.

Do you use Disqus for blog comments?  

Why I Don't Read Blog Strategy Posts Anymore

"How I Gained 1,000 Followers In One Week"

"Three Ways To Grow Your Pinterest Following"

"How To Make Money Blogging"

I see titles like these every single day in my newsfeed, and if you are a blogger, my guess is that you do too.  When I first started blogging, I searched high and low for posts like these, trying to figure out what in the world I was doing.

On Using A Blog Writing Program

For several years now I have used a writing program to write my blog posts, instead of composing posts directly in Blogger - and I have to say, I love it!  I've never been able to go back to writing in Blogger since I started using a program, so today I thought I'd talk about a few reasons why I like it.

1. It allows me to compose posts offline.  This was especially useful when we had a more finicky internet service, but when you are working with a writer, your post drafts are saved to your computer.  So if you are not in a place where you can access the internet, you can still prepare blog posts, format them, and get everything ready to hit "publish".

2. It is easier to add and position photos.  Maybe it's just my computer, but I always have a hard time moving photos around when I try to add them into a post in Blogger.  With a writer, you can just drag photos into the post you are composing, and it's easy to move photos around in a post. 

3. Photos are resized for you and uploaded in one batch.  When you add photos to your post, you can either choose the exact dimensions you want it to be, or in some writers you can even drag the corners of a photo to size it a precise way.  Then when you upload your post, everything is uploaded in one batch, and the sizes of the photos are exactly how you sized them in the writer.  This makes the uploading much faster because the photos are not being uploaded at full size, and it saves me work and space in my Picasa albums by re-sizing photos for me.

Those are the main things I like about using a writer, though I'm sure others could list more benefits that I haven't really utilized.  So what writer do I use?

Windows Live Writer For PC

I first started using a writer when I had a PC, and the program I used was Windows Live Writer.  If you are a PC person, you are in luck!  I loved Live Writer, and I've never been able to find another program that is quite the same after I switched to Mac. 

I was pretty sad to not be able to use Live Writer anymore when we switched - I've adapted a lot since then, so I don't remember all of the things I could do with Live Writer that I lost.  But I do remember the photo-sizing options being more smooth and easy to use because you can drag the corners of photos to size them a certain way.  Live Writer also formats the program so that it looks like the format of your blog - so you can really see how the post is going to look before uploading it.  

I think it also allows you to edit posts that have already been published, and I seem to remember being able to back up my posts from Live Writer (correct me if I'm wrong - it's been a long time).  I think you can also choose to have your photos uploaded to a website other than Picasa, which is nice if your Picasa albums fill up.  All perks of Live Writer.  And the best part is that you can get it for free! You can download Live Writer for free here.

MarsEdit For Mac

I did a lot of research after switching to Mac, and I finally decided on getting MarsEdit.  It's similar to Live Writer, and it looks like they've even improved a lot of things since I downloaded my current version - you can now edit the HTML of a post in MarsEdit, and they've also added a preview feature and an option to format a template to match your blog.  

With the version I have, you can only compose drafts in MarsEdit, you can't update posts that have already been published.  You also can't resize images by dragging the corners (you have to pick the size you want when you add them to your post).  I'm not sure if those things are different in the new version or not.

Live Writer is definitely the best out there, but I've actually come to really like MarsEdit too. It still allows me to compose posts offline and save drafts until I'm ready to publish them, and it still is way nicer for dealing with photos.  I wouldn't trade MarsEdit for composing in Blogger.

Unfortunately you actually have to pay for MarsEdit - I think it's $40 from the app store?  We got a free gift card to use for apps when we bought our Mac, so it didn't really cost me anything extra at the time.  You can try a free 30 day trial of MarsEdit here.

Do any of you use a writing program for your blog posts?  What is your favorite program?  What are some of the reasons you like your writer?  I can only speak about the two that I've used, so I'm curious to hear what you all think!

How Do You Find Time To Blog?

I have been asked a few times how I find time to blog with two (now three) kids.  There is a long and short answer to that.

Short answer: nap time!

But since I know most of the people who asked are probably looking for a little more than that, I'll give you the long answer as well. . .

When Do I Blog?

I mostly blog while the kids are napping, hence why the short answer is "nap time".  I am very blessed that both of my kids all three kids nap at the same time right now, and they are typically really good nappers - I usually get at least two hours all to myself in the afternoon.

I could clean the house or whatever, and sometimes I do use the time to work on projects.  But typically I use it to do something I like to do.  Blogging is one of those things that I like to do.  It's my hobby, it's not stressful to me.  It is actually relaxing and re-energizing for me to sit down and write or work on my blog design - it is my main creative outlet.  For that reason I often choose to spend those nap time hours working on my blog.

I think I also have more down time than a lot of women for a few reasons.

Because we live in a rural area, I try to consolidate my trips into town, so we spend the whole day at home for three days out of most weeks.  That's three days of good, solid nap times, which translates into about six hours of blog time that I can usually count on each week.

Having a husband who travels a lot for work, though it stinks for me, is actually not too bad for the blog either - since I'm alone in the evenings during the weeks when Derek is gone I sometimes spend a little time blogging before bed.  I have to cut myself off at some point, because I have a tendency to get caught up in what I'm doing when I blog at night and stay up too late, but several months out of the year I have weeknights after the kids are in bed.

Honestly, my blogging time is probably going to change a little now that I have Clyde - I'm not sure my luck will hold out and I'll have three kids who nap at the same time.  (Though for now they are all napping at once!  Newborns sleep so much.)  Wyatt is also going to stop taking naps one of these days.  My blogging frequency may drop at that point, but I'm hoping I'll find another way to carve out time for it - when I have to cross that bridge I'll let you know how it goes!

Making The Most Of My Blog Time

Just as important as finding the time to blog is making the limited amount of time I have as productive as possible.  There are several ways I do that.

I write when I feel inspired.  If I think of a topic that I really want to write about, I try to make sure to work on it within a day or two.  If I wait too long to write down my thoughts, many times they will slip away, and I won't be able to gather the same motivation to get that post written.  If it means putting off a different post I was going to work on, that's what I'll do.  If I can't work on the post right away, I jot a few ideas down in a notebook so I can more easily remind myself of what I wanted to say when I do have time.

I write several of the same types of posts at once.  If I think of a topic and the words are just flowing, I'll write rough drafts of several different posts at once, and then I'll deal with getting them "blog ready" later.

I work in stages.  I find it best and most time efficient to work on blog posts in stages.  Sometimes I'll be in a writing mood, so I might spend my blog time writing out a few different posts, without really worrying about proofreading or getting it "just right".  The next day I might work on pictures or graphics for those posts.  Then the next day I might get the posts finalized, links added, and schedule them.  Working on one thing at a time helps me get more posts written than if I spent time doing all those things in a chronological order for each post.

I don't feel the need to publish the posts right after I write them.   I often write several posts at once, and then hold them in reserve.  This helps me get ahead so that when I am not able to spend as much time blogging I already have a few posts that are mostly ready to go (like this post today - I wrote the rough draft of this post months ago).

I sometimes split posts into multiple parts.  If I'm writing a post that is turning out to be particularly long, sometimes I'll decide if it's something that I can split into smaller posts.  This works best if it is a topic that has sub-topics or categories to it.  If it is a post that I can split up I can stretch it into several days of blog material instead of just one.

I think ahead when it comes to pictures.  If I know I have several book review posts to write, for example, I'll take pictures of all the books at the same time, whether I've read them yet or not.  I'll get them uploaded and edited all at the same time, and when I'm ready to post about certain books, I already have the pictures taken.  If I know I'm writing a post about my pregnancy that I want to use within the next week, I'll take a minute to take a picture of my belly while I already have the camera out.  If I think I might want to post about a recipe, or a house project, or my dog, or whatever, I'll take pictures of those things all in one day, file them in my "miscellaneous folder" on my computer, and they'll be ready to go whenever I actually sit down to write those posts.  Thinking ahead this way saves the time it would take to capture pictures individually for each post.

I schedule posts.  This is the secret for making it look like you update your blog every day without actually having to sit down at the computer every day.  I usually try to keep things scheduled out at least a week ahead, and that gives me more flexibility to not blog on days where I just don't have time (or don't want to).

Blogging like this has become a habit for me, but I didn't start out blogging this way.  If you usually write one post start to finish, it's not going to be easy to start working on multiple posts at once, but it does save time.

If this all seems overwhelming or way too messy for you, I'd say to start with carrying a notebook.  Write down blog ideas as they come to you.  If you have multiple ideas written down, it will be easier to remember to take pictures, or write an extra rough draft, or whatever, when you have the chance.  Eventually it will become a habit to plan multiple posts at once.  I have a hard time not thinking several blog posts ahead now.

One More Tip

The final thought I have about finding the time to blog is that you should only blog to the extent that you actually enjoy it.  That is going to look different from person to person.

The reason I have time to crank out 3-5 posts a week even after multiple kids is because of all of my strategies above, and because it is something that I enjoy doing.  This is how I like spending my free time - as I said, it's actually rather energizing to me.  When I get to that point where blogging starts to suck away energy instead of giving me energy, I take a step back.  I slow down.  And that's okay.

 If you enjoy blogging, try to strategize and make time to do it!  But if the thought of coming up with 3-5 posts a week is too much, just start small.  Shoot for one post a week.  Work your way up to more if you want.  But stop at the point where blogging becomes a chore.  If you don't enjoy it, it's not a good use of your limited alone time as a mom.  Do what you enjoy when you get that time.

Creating A Custom Watermark


I was asked recently how I made the watermark I used on my photos, so I thought I'd write a little tutorial!

A watermark is just basically just the name of your blog or business, with or without a logo, that you can "stamp" onto your photos.  There are several reasons why I watermark my blog photos - to protect them from being stolen and used elsewhere on the web being chief among them.  If you are a blogger and you don't currently watermark your photos, it is something I strongly suggest that you consider.  Especially in this Pinterest age, it is very likely that your photos will end up somewhere else on the internet, and using a watermark ensures you protect your photos and it allows you to still get proper credit (because people don't always reference their sources properly - shocking, I know).

If you do not have your own photo editing program, you can still add the name of your blog to your photos using an online editor like PicMonkey - just type out your blog name or address into a text box, and you can adjust the colors and opacity to give it a watermark effect.

Personally, I use Photoshop Elements to watermark my photos - this really is the easiest way to watermark, because you can create a brush of your watermark.  Once you have the brush, it is literally just one click to add the watermark!  I first learned how to create a watermark brush in Photoshop by reading this tutorial, but I'll go ahead and tell you the steps here as well.

1. You want to create a blank file in PSE.  Just go to File>New>Blank File.


2.  You can make your blank file up to 2500 pixels in width, but don't go over that.  You can't create brushes that are larger than 2500 pixels across.  Make sure the background is set as transparent.

Screen Shot 2014 03 12 at 1 16 56 PM

3.  Next, go ahead and create your watermark.  Get creative!  The one thing I didn't realize when I first made a watermark is that you aren't just limited to text - you can add shapes or whatever.  Just make your text and shapes black in color.  We're creating a brush, not an image, so the final color will just be whatever color you choose for your brush when you "stamp" your image.

Hint: If you add shapes, I recommend making sure the shapes are behind the text, and adjusting the opacity to make them more transparent than your font, like I did in the image below.

Note: If you are creating a watermark for your blog images and you ever plan on making money off your blog, make sure that you choose a font that is free for commercial use.  My first watermark was created with a font that was not free for commercial use, and when I started advertising I had to buy the font to still be legal - not fun.


4.  Once you have your watermark the way you like it, you need to make it into a brush.  Go to Edit>Define Brush, and it will add it to whatever set of brushes you have open.


5. Name your new brush.


6.  Now you need to make sure that you save the brush into your set - otherwise it will be gone the next time you open PSE!  Click the drop down menu for your brushes, then click the little arrows that point right in that box.  You want to scroll down and click "Save Brushes".  Name your brush set and save.  If you can't find your brush later, you may need to load this specific brush set - follow the same steps here and click on "Load Brushes", and then select the set that you just saved, and your brush should be there!


7.  Now you are all set to use your new brush!  Open an image to try it out.  Once you have your brush selected you can adjust the settings of you brush with the top settings bar:


You can adjust size, type of brush, and opacity there.  I like the "Overlay" settings for watermarks because it has a more subtle effect, but feel free to experiment!  For example, here is the watermark used on the "Normal" setting, full opacity:



And here it is used with the "Overlay" setting, full opacity:



You can also make your brush different colors (I use white a lot too).

And that's it!  You now have a custom watermark that you can add to photos with one click.
Let me know if you have any questions!

Elements Of A Good Blog Design

One of the questions that I got in my reader survey from a couple months back was "What makes a good blog design?"

I've been designing my own blog from the beginning, and it has changed a lot - even the styles that are popular have changed a lot since five years ago, so anything I say in this post is up for adjustment to future trends, etc.  Personally though, I think there are a few timeless elements of good blog design.  And I have probably broken all of these before coming to my current conclusions!  But here are my tips, in no particular order . . .

Blog name at the top.  
Obviously.  I don't care whether it's in your sidebar, stretches across the page, or whatever, but just make sure it's at the top.

Make it clean.  
When your blog design becomes too cluttered it's hard for people to find what they want.  Plus it just doesn't create a peaceful, welcoming environment for readers.  If there are too many things going on above the fold (the part of your blog that shows up before someone scrolls down), it just gets confusing, and that applies whether it be too many ads, too many buttons, too many graphics, too much text, or whatever.  Keep it simple.  Try to keep your sidebar well-organized.  Just don't let it feel too chaotic.

Add pages.  
It is important to make it easy for readers to find critical information about you or your blog without having to scroll through all of your content.  The pages I think are critical?  An "About" page - every blog should have one, even if your blog is very small.  A "Contact" page - create a blog e-mail and make it available so readers who want to contact you personally can do so.  And if you are accepting ads or reviews at all - a "Sponsor/PR" page.  You can have more pages than this, but just keep in mind the above rule - don't let it get too messy.  Also, not all pages have to go in your tabs section - you can put some in your sidebar.

Put social media buttons up high.  
Keep your social media buttons near the top of your blog - you want to make it easy for readers to subscribe, and easy for them to find you other places on the web.  If you do not have blog accounts for other social media sites like Twitter or Facebook (which I strongly suggest you consider doing if you don't), you at least need to have subscription links - an RSS button linking to your feed, a button for Bloglovin (right now that's a big way people are subscribing to blogs), and an e-mail button (to "link" to e-mail, just insert this where the link usually goes: mailto:youremailaddress).  For more info on how to create social media buttons you can check out this post.

Put some sort of intro or picture of yourself in the top of your sidebar.  
Once again, make it easy for readers to know who they are reading about!


Those are the basics that I think are important, but I do have opinions on a couple other things - some may disagree with me on these, and I have seen nice blog designs that don't obey the following "rules".  But as a rule of thumb, I think it's good to keep these things in mind.

Make sure the title of your most recent blog post is visible before scrolling down.  
I think this is important to draw the reader down into your blog.  Don't make your header too tall, and don't put other things above your posts.

Stick with a light background.  
This is definitely personal preference on my part, but I prefer a white background.  In general a white or light background is just happier and cleaner and more calming than other colors.  This rule can sometimes be broken and still work, but in general lighter backgrounds are just safer.

Stick with basic (aka: boring) fonts for your main page text.  
It's all about making it easy for your readers to . . . well, read.  And fancy fonts as your main text can be difficult for some people.  Have fun with your blog titles and post titles and sidebar titles and graphics, but keep the main text simple.

Other people may add more to my list, but those are the things that I think most good blog designs have.  I've been a little specific with those last three, but I don't think people should get too much more picky than that.  You have to leave some room for personal style! If you like to play with your post formats and alignment of the text - go for it.  If you want to experiment with the position of your header or pages - have fun with it.  Just keep the above rules in mind and you'll be fine.

DIY Social Media Buttons

Today, I want to talk about social media buttons.  I've written about social media buttons before, but I thought it was time for a little refresher since that was several years ago and I have been using a different style of button more recently.

Social media buttons and/or subscription buttons are important because:

1. They make it simple for people to find a way to follow your blog.

2. They make it easy for people to find you other places on the web.

If you want to connect social media accounts like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook to your blog, social media buttons are a must.  And if you don't want to have social media accounts associated with your blog - it is still helpful to have buttons that make it easier for people to subscribe or contact you (like a Bloglovin button, a button for your feed, and a mail button).

So if you are a blog design DIY-er (like moi), how do you create those cute little social media buttons that line up in your sidebar?  It's actually really simple once you know how to do it!


1. You need to start out with some images to use for your social media buttons.  These usually include the appropriate social media or subscription icons, and they should all be the same size (or really close).

Hint: If you are creating your own icon images and want them to look like the icons are laying flat against your background, either make sure the background of the image is the same color as your blog background (most commonly white), or put your shapes against a transparent background and save as a .PNG.  (.PNG files keep the transparency when you put them on your blog).

2.  Get them sized the way you want.  If you want them to line up in your sidebar, you need to make sure they are sized so that they will all fit - my sidebar right now is 360 pixels wide, and I have seven social media icons - I have my icons sized to 35 pixels wide each to ensure they all fit with plenty of space.  I might be able to get away with 45 pixels, but 50 pixels would probably be cutting it too close because Blogger likes to put a buffer space on each side - so if I did 50 pixels Blogger might push one of them into a second row.  You'll have to experiment with the sizing a little bit depending on your sidebar width.

3.  Upload them to a photo hosting site.  I use Photobucket.

4. Find the direct URL for your images. This is what that looks like on Photobucket:


5.  Plug the following info into this bit of button code:

<a href="url of your social media site" target="_blank"><img src="direct url of your social media button image" /></a>

Replace the red words with the appropriate URLs.  Make sure not to alter other parts of the code or it may not work!  You'll need to create a copy of this code for each individual social media button, with the appropriate URLs.

Hint: For a button that will open email, put mailto:youremailaddress where you would normally put your social media page link.  Obviously, inserting your email address in that space.

Hint, Hint: Go To and set up your blog to get a url you can use for your RSS feed.  There are probably other ways to establish/find this URL, but that's just the way I did it.

6.  Next go to the Layout tab in your blog dashboard and create a new gadget.  Choose "HTML/Javascript" and then insert the codes into the gadget.



7.  When you insert the codes you created, make sure there are no spaces between the end of one button code and the beginning of the next.  This will make them all line up in a row.

8.  Save and view your lovely new buttons!  I recommend going through and testing each one to make sure the links work.

Now the big question - where do you get social media button images?

Option 1: If you have Photoshop Elements, it's pretty simple to create your own - you can save images of the logos for each of the social media sites to your computer, open them in PSE and use the magic wand selector tool to "grab" the logo shapes and move them into your button images.


Option 2: There are certain fonts that look like specific social media icons.  Check out this Facebook font and this Twitter font.

Option 3: You can also create text buttons in Picmonkey, kind of like this:
I messed around with it a little bit and didn't see a good way to extract social media logos to use in Picmonkey, but this is a good alternative.

Option 4: The final option for getting social media icons is to search for free ones that you can use.  Which leads me to a fun announcement . . .

I'm posting my first blog design freebie today!

Here are some social media icons that I'm giving to all of you, for free!  I made these little heart icons in honor of Valentine's Day, since it's a week from today!

If hearts aren't your thing, I'm planning on creating more free social media buttons to include with future posts - so comment with any ideas you have and stay tuned!

These social media buttons are free for personal use or commercial use (crediting me isn't necessary, but appreciated).  They may not be redistributed or sold though, so don't even go there - please just send people back here to download for themselves if they would like to use them.

How To Use These Icons:

1. Save the image by clicking on the images above and then right-clicking and saving to your computer.

2. Pick the size you want to use (I've provided 35 pixel, 50 pixel, and 65 pixel buttons).

3. Crop each icon you want to use out of the whole image and save individually to your computer.  Just in case you haven't seen some of the symbols before, the buttons are for:

Rss feed

4.  Follow the above tutorial for turning the images into social media buttons for use on your blog!

These are .PNG images, so they should let whatever background color you have on your blog show through.  I'm including the color codes I used in case you want to use the color scheme other places on your blog.


Blocking Blog Images From Search Engines

I'm still getting back into the swing of things when it comes to the blog after a rather crazy December and my big blog changes I've been implementing.  

To start off with, would you mind voting in a little poll for me?  I'm just trying to get an idea of what you all would like to read about as I get this series going again.  These are topics I've thought about covering - I'll write some of these posts sooner if one of them is more interesting to you guys.  I'd love to hear anything else you'd like to read about as part of this series too, so feel free to let me know what you think!
To jump-start this series in the New Year, I'm going to cover an update to my other post on blocking your images from search engines.

Imagesblock copy

I've talked before about why I made the decision to attempt to block my blog images from Google, and why I finally decided to put some images on a separate photo blog - in a nutshell, I don't really like pictures of my kids showing up in Google searches.  If seeing your child show up when someone searches for "toddler crafts" or "big brother pictures" bothers you too, read on.

I posted previously about one way to tell search engines not to index your images.  While that method may still work, and I recommend giving it a go, for some reason after Google changed their algorithm it no longer worked for my blog.  I searched high and low for a new method to block images from searches, and I found this helpful information on preventing image indexing.

After implementing this new method in my blog a lot of the images that were showing up again are not now.  Some images of the kids still show up in searches but nearly as many as there were, so I think it's working.

Please read my other post for things to consider before you implement this method - if you want to proceed, here you go:

1. Go to your Blogger Dashboard, then go to Template.

2. Select "Edit HTML".


3.  Back up your template if you never had before by highlighting all of the text and saving it somewhere!  This way if you accidentally mess something up, you can just paste it back in to fix it.

4. Click in the text box, and then press CTRL-F (or Command-F for Mac).  A little search bar will pop up.

5. Type <head> in the search box and click enter.  The <head> tag in your code will then be highlighted.

6.  Right under the <head> tag, type in this line of code <meta content='noimageindex' name='robots'>.

7.  You need to close off the tag, so scroll down to the end of the head section in your code and find this bit: </head>.  You can also search for it in the search bar if you don't see it.  

8.  Right before the </head> tag, type this:  </meta>.  That closes off the tag so it will work.

Click on the image to enlarge.

9.  Preview your template, and if everything looks good, click save!

Adding this code to your template will tell all search engine robots not to index your images.  However, it does not keep search engines from indexing images from other sites where your posts may show up - so it can still index images from Facebook and Bloglovin.  Just make sure the first image in your posts (that show up in Bloglovin) or any images on your blog Facebook page are images that you don't mind them indexing.

(Click on image for more posts in this series.)

New Blog Design and My Resources

In case you missed it yesterday, I did end up changing my blog design!  With this lovely rollover header/navbar.  Cool, huh?

Screen Shot 2013 11 06 at 3 01 42 PM

In the process of blog designing this time, I discovered a resource that I overlooked before - free photoshop brushes, patterns, and shapes!  So for all of you who like to play with Photoshop Elements or do your own blog design, I thought I'd share where I got some of the tools for my current blog design, as well as some websites I've found with fun free resources.

One of the issues with getting "free" things on the internet (like photoshop stuff or fonts), is that it may only be free for personal use.  If you advertise on your blog at all (which I do), you have to use items that are free for commercial use.  It makes it more challenging to find what you are looking for, but not impossible!  


As of this writing, the following resources are free for commercial use!  But read the license before you download to make sure, in case something changes.


Free (for commercial use) Photoshop animal shapes - I used this set of free animal shapes for the deer, bird, and moose in my rollover header images (I just used some of the shapes I already had for the other rollover shapes).  It only comes as a jpg, but you can use the magic selector tool to select the shape, drag it into your new image, and then use the paint bucket tool to change it to whatever color you want!

Free (for commercial use) deer brushes - I downloaded these too and didn't end up using them this time around, but they are nice and free for commercial use!  You can use brushes as shapes as well - just create a new layer (SHIFT-CTRL-N), put the brush on the new layer, and then you can use the paint bucket tool to change it's color, make it a gradient shape, and resize it using the free transform tool (CTRL-T).

Free (for commercial use) tree brushes - I was thinking about using these for the trees in the main part of my header, but I ended up making my own tree brush instead.  But once again, more free brushes!  Yay!

Free (for commercial use) snowflake brushes - I'm thinking about using these to spiff things up around here for Christmas, if I have time.

Free overlays and free "paint" brushes - I used one of the overlays in this set to create a pattern in Photoshop Elements to use behind the trees in my header (see this tutorial on re-coloring overlays). Then I used some of her other brushes to create another pattern, which I added behind the first pattern for more interest. I love this site because she has so many great Photoshop freebies!  The ones that are free for commercial use are marked with a "CU".  I also got the little arrow brushes that I used in the above image from here.


And those are all the resources I used!

I found several more sites with photoshop resources that are free for commercial use in the midst of my search, which I might share at a later date.  Or if you just can't wait, you can check out my bloggy Pinterest board, in which I pin all things blog, and you can find them there!

For installing shapes check out this tutorial, for installing brushes look here, for installing patterns see this.

(Click on image for more posts in this series.)

Are Your Blog Fonts Legal?


I had never thought much about the fonts that I use on this blog for my blog design and graphics.  If I could get a font for free somewhere, I was just excited about it!  I pinned all the images with cool font pairings and downloaded some of them to use in graphics for my posts.  Who doesn't love a free cute font, right?

Then last week I read this post on font types at Pink Heels Pink Truck and I don't know why I never thought about it before, but obviously there are people who created these free fonts.  And they may only want them to be used in a certain way.

Taylor does a great job of explaining the different font license types, so I won't re-do that here - please go read her post.  But the bottom line is this:

If you advertise on your blog, you need to use fonts that are free for commercial use.  

If are advertising on your blog and you have used fonts that are only marked free for personal use, then you need to purchase a commercial license.

Talk about a nightmare!  Back when I created the majority of the graphics that are on my blog I was not advertising on my blog - so it was fine to use fonts that were free for personal use.  But earlier this year I started advertising with Blogher and selling sidebar ads - so all those fonts that require a commercial license that I used in the past needed to be fixed!  

I spent two long nights going back and changing all the fonts I could find on my blog that were not free for personal use, and purchasing a commercial license for a few of the ones I used heavily.  Thankfully most of the ones I had used in the past were already either free for commercial use or the commercial license was pretty inexpensive - but I still had to change a lot of my graphics and it took forever!  

You want to know the one that really hurt?  I've been using a font called "Before The Rain" for the watermark on all my pictures for the last few years.  I knew I was going to have to buy the commercial license for that one, because there is no way I could realistically go back and edit all those pictures with a new watermark.  Well, the commercial license for "Before The Rain" cost $60!  Yes, $60!  Ouch.  There goes all my ad profits for the last few months.

In the process of researching all my fonts, I found a website that has only fonts that are free for commercial use, called Font Squirrel.  You can try to research the licensing information for every font you want to use (trust me, it can take some searching for some of them), or you can just get all your fonts from Font Squirrel.  They include a file with each font that gives the specifics of each font license, and most of them are fine for commercial use on blogs (though you should still read the individual licenses to make sure). 

So blogging PSA:

If you advertise on your blog, or you think you might advertise on your blog at some point in the future, make sure all the fonts that you use on your blog are free for commercial use

You'll save yourself a lot of work, money, and stress later on if you do.

(Click on image for more posts in this series.)

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