We all want to up our blogging game, even the most experienced of bloggers. This post was prepared for the #BlogBetterCBB twitter party hosted by the Canadian Beauty Bloggers. You can use it for reference during the party or any time but it is more of the basics rather than advanced tips.
The Basics: Hosting and Software
First decide if you want to go self hosted or a free blog. Wordpress and Blogger both offer free and paid websites. Blogger tends to be a little more user friendly but WordPress is highly customizable so many prefer it.
Hosting varies a lot in price and some are better than others. Ask friends what they really like and dislike about their host. Remember that some offer affiliate links so websites may not be telling you everything about them.
Long term, your own domain (beautybloggers.ca vs beautybloggers.wordpress.com) is worth having as it makes your blog look more professional. Changing later means you can lose many of your links and analytics.
Layouts or Themes
One of the reasons many people prefer wordpress is the many customizable themes available. You can make your blog look more individual and set it apart from others.
We asked people including some PR contacts what they look for when they visit a blog. The major selling point is a clean look. Not too many colours or widgets. Keep menus to useful links. Make sure your contact information and social media links are easily accessible. We all want people to follow us but a major turn off for people is popups as well as ads.
Fast loading times are also important. Using snippets on the main page rather than full posts means that not only are you getting an extra pageview as they click ‘read more’ but the page loads faster as there are less images. Make sure your snippet actually tells them a little about the post and not the extra chatter in your post. You can see how fast your site loads here.
So you started a blog, but what about content. As one of the people who handles the network directory for the Canadian Beauty Bloggers, I see people regularly just lose interest in their blog, not have the time or take a hiatus for various reasons. If you want to grow your blog and get PR samples, you need to blog consistently.
Need Inspiration? There are many lists of blogger prompts out there. Join a blogger challenge that provides a weekly prompt. Look up those cutesy holidays like national butterfly day and work your post around those. You can find a list of ones that work for beauty bloggers here. Have an idea? Write it down as you think of it.
Know you want to write about your new lipstick but not sure where to start? FatJoe’s Blog Idea Generator is a great place to start. Add your chosen topic noun and it will spit out 10+ potential topic names. Just add a brand or shade name in before lipstick to personalize your topic.
Don’t forget that monthly empties and favourites are easy posts to do. The Canadian Beauty Bloggers chooses a theme and brand of the month every month too. That is four posts a month that can also be shared from our linkies to help you gain views! It doesn’t have to be expensive, shop your stash. Do look of the day posts.
How often to post?
This came up a lot in the responses from PR contacts. They look for high quality posts over quantity but also want consistent fresh content. You can have 10k UMV but if you post all press release type information with no personalization, why send you the product to try?
Try for three posts a week to maximize both quality and the quantity that brings traffic. If you have more than one niche, make a schedule so readers know when to visit. For example, I usually do a Mani Monday post, Tea Tuesday and then mix it up over the rest of the week.
Photos are important: which of these photos sells you on this product? Props do not have to be expensive. I have a list of dollar store ones I have picked up here. I also have a deal with a local florist for his older flowers at a low price. Not so old they look bad, they just wont last as long as he likes in his bouquets.
You don’t need an expensive camera either. If you take photos in natural light, even the most basic of cameras will be good enough. I picked up some floor tiles at Lowe’s and paid less than $20 for five different colours in various sizes that make great bases for photos. Even the rolls of marble shelf liner from Dollarama work better than nothing. The Fantasia has some great photography tips to check out.
Show the product in action: obviously in use photos are best but even arm swatches help people decide if a product is for them. They can see product shots on Sephora’s website. Your photos and text should tell them something about the product they cant find from a store. Mention colour, consistency, issues like fallout or patchy application.
Gaining Traffic & Engagement
Samples cost money. PR companies want to earn something back from you in return for them. That means they look for your web stats and social media following including engagement. The golden number to be accepted tends to be around 5k in unique monthly views (not pageviews) and 1000+ followers on each social media account for Canadians. Some will be much higher, especially for sought after or expensive brands. Others are happy to work with smaller bloggers if they have a loyal following and high engagement.
So, how can you gain traffic and followers? You need to do exactly what you want people to do for you. Engage with other bloggers but make it real and meaningful. We all hate those “great pic 100%” spammy comments on instagram. Don’t do it and never buy followers or do the whole follow-unfollow thing to get noticed. Not only does it make people block you but those PR firms have nifty tools at their disposal that can tell how real your following is!
How To Get More Blog Traffic
Blog More. If you only have 30 posts, that is only 30 things people searching will find. If you have 100 posts, you are more likely to get search traffic just because you are more likely to have something that people are searching for.
Share your posts: Make it easy for people to see your posts. Share them with images that are more likely to be seen than straight links. Tag brands and use hashtags people will be checking for that kind of content. Most brands have a brand hashtag like #essielove for Essie manicures. Don’t send people on a wild goose chase with a twitter link that goes to facebook that goes to bloglovin to finally get a link to click on your post.
Make sure you have shareable images. Sites with copyright plugins may not show images in google searches. You can find the best sizes to share to social media here. Did you know that shares with an uploaded image, rather than sharing a link and letting the platform populate the image, typically have better engagement?
Engage: Comment on other posts if you want comments back. Chat on social media with other bloggers (without sharing a blog post). Get together with other bloggers to create linkies for similar posts and share each others content so your readers get a range of views. Blogging is as much about being noticed as actually blogging.
Up your SEO game: simple changes to your blog post can increase the chances of it being shown on the first page of search results. Plugins like Yoast SEO for WordPress will help you make the changes to improve your ranking.
Make it easy for readers to share your content with tweet me/share me/pin me buttons. Personalize these to tag you when shared. Jetpack has an easy add on for this. Just take a few minutes to set it up properly.
Social Media For Your Blog
Sarah from Workaday Services explains why you should have the same username on all social media accounts here. She also gives some tips on how to choose your username. You know when people share instagram photos on twitter? You could be tagging another user giving them the followers and traffic if you use different usernames.
Engage on social media. People will see your replies to other users and may follow you. Find some new people outside of your typical circles using hashtags. Never buy followers or do the follow/unfollow thing. Not only can people tell, but those apps can be used to do things with your account too. The engagement level from bought followers is low and will hurt you in the long term.
Share other bloggers’ posts or fun related content on your facebook page, especially on days you are not blogging. Consistent content is more likely to be shown to your followers. Not sharing anything means 0% engagement so they show your future posts to less people.
Find the best time for social media engagement. What works for your schedule may be terrible for your followers. Sarah also has some tips on using social media schedulers here.
Getting PR Samples
Chelle from Makeup Your Mind has already covered the basics on what PR samples are and how to get them. Head over here to read that rather than me repeating it all. But we contacted some PR contacts to ask them what they really look for when adding people to their list. Often you contact them never to hear back, so what are they really looking for?
- Reach: In plain terms, samples cost them money. You need to give them some benefit for that in terms of your influence. Most look for 5k-10k reach in UMV but will work with smaller bloggers if the quality and engagement is there.
- Consistency: Almost all of them said they wanted to see fresh content on a blog. Posting a lot in a short period and then nothing for weeks is a turn off. As is content that is mostly press releases with no actual review of the product.
- Content: Do you fit their niche? Do you seem enthusiastic in general about the products you review. Is everything sponsored or do you accept product and buy things yourself.
- Brand Interest: Have you paid for and reviewed their products before? Show some genuine interest in the brand or product type (and not just two days before contacting them).
- Tact and Honesty: Have you read those posts you know are sponsored because they love everything about a product but don’t disclose they are sponsored? There are very few products every blogger loves everything about and honesty helps your readers. But PR firms love it when you use tact when mentioning the bad or contact them to say it did not work for you and ask them if you still want them to post.
Contacting PR Reps for Samples
Honestly, PR reps have a long list of people contacting them. Unless you really stand out from the crowd, they are not contacting you. They also move around a lot, between companies and the brands they represent in one company. So getting on those media lists takes some work. Chelle covered this already but it takes a lot of searching to find the right person. Once you have, there are some tips they gave us to increase your chances of getting on that list.
- Personalize your email and be polite: They get lots of requests, so show that some work went into the request with their name and brand. Most generic emails that seem like they were sent to a group get deleted.
- Show how you benefit them: They don’t care that you want free stuff. They want to see how your post will advertise their brand. Give them the stats. Show them past reviews on their brand or similar products. Several mentioned that a past (non sample) review of their brand will make them much more likely to add you to their list.
- Give them the info they need. Most represent several brands and are busy people. Try to give them everything they need in as little space as possible when contacting them. If they have to ask, it may sit in their to-do box tagged as low priority.
- Past experience: Received samples in the past and didn’t blog them or missed a deadline? Not only do PR reps move around but they talk too. Some carry on sending to everyone on their list but others check carefully and will cut you off from all samples. You never know which company they will rep next.
- Stay in touch: while you may not fit their criteria now, they may have more samples next time or your new stats may fit their requirements. Don’t bug them too often though! If you do get on the list, stay in touch too. Send them links to reviews even if you bought the product. If you hear of a new product from their brand, reach out for information.
The past experience point above brings me to organization tips. We can all get behind. But sometimes it is a matter of a little organization to remember what you have, what the expectations are and to help you decide what to blog. I can’t count how often someone has said that they don’t know what to do next after watching them do unboxings on instagram stories. That stuff is sitting there unblogged while they let their blog content go stale.
Track your PR samples and purchases. Chelle from Makeup Your Mind has a great excel/google doc (shown above) you can use as a basis for a tracker. Enter samples and purchases as they arrive, mark them as photographed/reviewed and if you have sent the link to PR reps. I used hers and a similar one from Natalie over at Ivory Avenue to make mine. Mine also has a tab for products I have agreed to blog so I can follow up if they do not arrive.
Plan your blog posts in advance. Know that a product needs to be on a certain day for a product launch? Make a draft with that date or keep a calendar with blog posts. Planning helps you stay on track and keep your content fresh too. Many of us use Google Calendar so we can drag things to different days as content changes. Here is my calendar, also inspired by Chelle’s amazing organizational skills. I use different coloured calendar tabs for blog posts, tasks for my blog (which I try to delete as I do them) blog/media events and CBB duties.
WordPress Blog Plugins You Need
- Google Analytics: you can add this manually or with a plugin. PR firms want Google stats and not the fake ones including spam and bots
- Yoast SEO: there are other SEO plugins but Yoast is fairly user friendly and shows you where you can improve
- Jetpack: this comes as standard in wordpress hosted sites but if you are self hosted, add it on for great extras. Disable stuff you do not use in it as it tends to slow down sites
- Updraft Plus: Back up your site including photos on a schedule. It saves to google drive and others so you don’t even have to think about it.
- Caching: I use WP Super Cache but there are lots out there. It helps speed up your page load time.
Hopefully these tips will help you up your blogging game and be more successful in getting some samples!