Pro Blogging On The Cheap

Pro Blogging On The Cheap

Are you a blogger?  Do you ever look at other blogs and wonder “How did they get______(great photos, that template, those nifty buttons, text on their photos)?  I do not have mad Photoshop skills. And I sure don’t have the money to pay for it.  I am so depressed.”

Often such thoughts are followed by a little something like this:  Try to learn HTML.  Hate it.  Quit blogging.  Lurk on blogs you like.  Have pity on yourself.  Slam laptop closed.  Eat a large bowl of ice cream and delete half of your drafts.

I just made that story up.  I don’t know anyone like that.  I don’t even like ice cream.

The truth is, having a great blog is totally within your reach.  Most of the updates I did on my blog were free or done inexpensively (with very little technical expertise).  This is the girl who begrudgingly scraped by with C- grades in computer class.  Whose computer geek husband apparently thinks it’s amusing to watch her Google terms like “what IS the Internet?”.  I basically Googled my way through setting up my blog, downloading freebies all the way.  With all the user-friendly advances in web technologies, you can join the pro blogosphere for little no money.  Google is your BFF.  Here are a few ideas to get your rolling:

Pro Blogging On The Cheap

Platform

I use WordPress.  The reasons I like WordPress are:

  • FREE for anyone to use.  Just sign up.
  • User-friendly interface.  It is for people who love Facebook, but got C-’s in computer class.Wordpress Admin Console
  • Excellent User Support.  Wordpress has tons of resources available for users.  Anything I want to know about can be Googled or found on a WordPress support forum.  Everyone has the same questions as I do!
  • Free Plugin-ins and Widgets.   This feature of WordPress has become so advanced in the past several years.  Nerdy programmers are making all kinds of free add-ons for your WordPress blog.  A plugin is just a file you download to your WordPress template that will do something nifty to your blog.  An example of a Plugin would be my “Related Articles” thumbnails at the bottom of each post.  If you see a certain feature you like on another blogger’s page, just Google.  Odds are you’ll find a free WordPress plugin that does the trick.  Download.  Pat yourself on the back for all the php you just wrote.
  • Free and cheap templates:  Style is fun, but usability is king. WordPress has loads of well-made, cheap and free templates. Google “best free WordPress themes” and you’ll get some stellar results, like this one from Smashing Magazine.  If you want to take it up a notch, you can do what I did and download a paid template.  The one I have is $30 per year.
  • As far as my design, my husband used his basic Illustrator skills to create a custom banner that was not part of the template.  Had this not been an option, I would have chosen a different template with WordPress’ custom image header feature that would have allowed me to put a cool photo in the banner, like the free WordPress Twenty Ten Theme: Wordpress Twenty Ten Theme
  • One of the downsides to WordPress is that their templates are not as cute as the ones I’ve seen for Blogspot.  They seem to be plain and oriented towards business style blogs (versus personal).  I had a really hard time finding anything cutesy.  In the end, I went with a professional, Web 2.0 feel that allows my photos to be front and center.
  • WordPress has built-in SEO:  SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization.”  Ok, artsy people, don’t glaze over!  SEO simply means that there are little things you can do to your blog to make it more findable on search engines!  Wordpress does a lot (though not 100%) of your SEO for you right out of the box.  All you have to do is write a post!

Photos

You don’t need an expensive camera or processing software. With the technological advances in this field, anyone can be an artist with their photos!  It’s not important to me to have magazine-quality pictures on my blog.  My photos are an accessory to my writing.  I use photos with blown-out effects and some cool filters.  I have adopted it as my style for my blog.

Camera.  I use a Nikon DSLR camera with a 50 mm lens (usually).  Now that I have more experience blogging, I now know that did not need to push for that camera. I spent a lot of time just learning the basics of how to use it.  DSLR’s are expensive and take some learning to use.  If you really want to grow your photography skills, you may want to invest, but you can make eye-catching photos without one.  (I won’t lie though…I love my “nifty fifty” lens!  It gives my photos a real depth of field.  I just probably did not need it as bad as I thought I did.)  I probably could have gotten away with my good old Nikon Cool Pix and a quirky filter or two for just a little longer.

Nikon Cool Pix Camera for Blogging

Basic Edits.  I make most of my basic adjustments in iPhoto.  I crop if I need to.  I adjust the dial on the histogram to bring higher contrast to the photo.  That is all.  I keep it simple.   I realized one day that I’d been making it way too hard.  You can make the same type of basic edits with other free photo editing programs for both Mac and the PC.   Check out these suggestions from PC Mag and Apartment Therapy.  (Note, Picnik has been closed down).

Cool Filters.  This is how you can make those digital photos look totally vintage, retro and artistic.  My husband downloaded an app by Real Mac Software (for Mac) called Analog.  I love it!  It was $9.99.  It is SO simple.  I call it a glorified version of Instagram.  I drag a photo into Analog from iPhoto.  I pick a filter I like (I have three that are my go-to’s) and apply it.  A dial allows you to adjust the filter intensity.  I always pump mine up…I love blown-out photos.  Blown out photos with filters is a cheap way to make things look artistic.  For a PC, you can use free photo editing software like web-based PicMonkey or Picasa to add filters.

Using Analog to Create Blog Photos

If you want to use a program like Photoshop or Lightroom, just be prepared to pay for it and spend some time learning.  If you are interested in investing time and resources into making your photos very standout and professional, this would be the route for you.

Pinterest-Ready Images

The biggest question I get about my blog is:  ”How do you write on your photos?”  In other words, how do you make Pinterest-friendly images?  I kept seeing all these neat graphics on my Pinterest feed.  I thought, “there is no way all these bloggers are Photoshop pros!”  I went in search of an easy solution by Googling “how to make Pinterest-ready images,” and I was right: you do not need photo shop to add text and overlays to your photos.

There are several free programs available.  It is amazing what you can do in a browser these days.  The program I use is web-based.  It is called PicMonkey.  It is free, of course!  (This is a fairly new program, so eventually I am sure they will be offering a premium “paid” service).  It is SO easy and fun to use!  You do not need to take a class or read a book.  Upload your photos.  Make a collage.  Use the nifty tools and add fonts and overlays.  It’s about as easy as using Microsoft Word.

Using PicMonkey to Create Blog Graphics

(I have also heard of a program called Pinwords, but I have not tried it yet!).  Pinterest is only just beginning to take off, so keep your eyes peeled for free Pinterest-oriented editing programs cropping up.

New bloggers: does this sound do-able?  Do you feel like pro blogging is more approachable than you thought?

Any of you veteran (or not-so-veteran) bloggers, how do you pro blog on the cheap?  Don’t hold out on a sista!  I know you are out there lurking…this C- computer student needs all the help she can get!