5 things I really wish I knew before starting my blog

I’ve been blogging for quite some time now, which means I’ve learned more than a few lessons along the way. And like most things in business, after learning a hard lesson or six, I find myself wishing I could get a “redo” + start with the newly acquired knowledge instead.
Technically, this blog started on tumblr — because that seemed like a wise business idea in 2011. But in mid 2013, I wised up + moved the important posts over to WordPress to keep the tiny blue orange blog where it belonged.
And because I have 6 years of post content collected, there are plenty of housekeeping moments where I go back + edit all of the old content. It’s not the most fun.
Learn from my experience with these 5 tips that I wish I knew before I started blogging.

1. Fill out your alt text

I’m going to blame this one on my “no fucks given” policy around SEO for years. (I still don’t care that much about it, but I also no longer go out of my way to be bad at it.) When you fill in alt text for all of your images, you are helping search engines to categorize the content on your site. That means your content will show up for the right search results based on your alt tag text.
The thing is that alt text on images isn’t just good for SEO, it’s also good for site accessibility.
Not everyone can view your site as you expect them to + the use of screen readers will help visually impaired site visitors understand the content on your site. If you don’t have your alt text filled out, the screen reader doesn’t know what the heck the image on your page is, so it cannot tell your visitor what the page contents are.
Do you see how important alt text is? All you have to worry about is the next time you go to add an image onto a page or post — fill out the text field that says “Alternative Text” or “Alt Text” with a description of the image you added.
Think about how you would describe the image to someone who didn’t have access to viewing the image. Something like “November’s blog post hero image” is no where near as helpful as “image of a laptop computer and notepad with text overlaid that says ‘5 things I really wish I knew before starting my blog’.” The alt text is the perfect time for you to rock out some adjectives.
Bonus: Pinterest pulls the alt tag text when images are pinned. That means setting your alt text is good for anyone pinning your images to Pinterest too!

2. Categories + tags are for your site readers

This may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to the younger version of me setting up my WordPress site all of those years ago.
When I first built the current tiny blue orange blog structure, I thought categories + tags were for my benefit. I thought that they were in place to help me organize content on the backend of my site so that I could quickly filter or relate posts as needed.
And while there is some truth to categories + tags helping with content organization, the reality is that they are for your site readers who want to find similar content to what they just enjoyed.
Speaking from experience, it’s not so fun to go back + retag or recategorize hundreds of blog posts. This is so much better set up correctly out of the gate. That being said, it’s hard to start off knowing exactly what type of content + series of posts you’ll be writing. But the sooner you can flush those details out + keep your site readers in mind, the better off you’ll be.

3. Excess revisions can slow down your site

Where are my recovering perfectionists at? I’m here with you!
I tweak + refine posts until I’m blue in the face, which isn’t necessarily a great use of my time. But beyond preventing me from publishing content out of fear of it not being “perfect,” it also slows down my site when I save revision after revision after revision.
The best way to avoid building up the number of revisions on your server is to use the “Preview” button when making edits instead of clicking the “Save Draft” button every few seconds. Or even better, write + edit your posts outside of WordPress so you bring in complete + ready content.
Have you already committed to dozens of revisions of a page or post? You can either install a plugin to keep only so many revisions on your server (5 revisions is a good number to start with) OR you can create a brand new page/post, paste in the edited content + then delete the original page/post with the excess revisions tied to it.

4. Bigger featured images are better*

This pointer my come with an asterisk, but overall it’s better to have large featured images instead of uploading graphics that are the exact size of your blog columns.
Why? Because your site is probably going to change appearances over the years. And what image size might be great for you now may be slightly smaller than what you need in the future. Which would leave all old posts with featured images that are a touch too small — meaning you have to accept it or go back + recreate each featured image for your old posts. #timesuck
The catch? *You’ll still want to be mindful that large images can slow down your site, even if they are resized to a smaller size using the WordPress media tool.

5. Social media shares are based on the exact URL

Are you taking advantage of social sharing plugins like Jetpack to make it easy for users to share your blog posts? If your sharing tool includes the ability to show how many times a post has been shared, those are based on the URL of your blog post.
When this starts wreaking havoc on your blog is when you update your site domain name or change your permalink structure.
Sure, you can set up redirects so that users find the blog post from old links used on social media. But those redirects won’t be caught by the social share counters on your site.
When you are starting out, give some serious thought to your post permalink structure. Or at least be willing to start from scratch on your social share counters if you want to change it down the road.

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