Blogging Q&A, Part One: Nuts and Bolts

28 September 2021

I’m celebrating thirteen years of blogging this month! I began writing Em for Marvelous when I was a senior in college, and I’ve kept it up through so many seasons – seasons in the life of our family, and seasons in the world of the internet. Even after all this time, writing here is one of the joys and delights of my life.

To celebrate, I wanted to answer some of the (many!) questions I’ve received over the years about blogging and writing. (So many that this will be a four-part series, whew!) My position is unique and I certainly don’t know everything about blogging, but I’m more than willing to share what I do know. After all, it’s kind of what we do here :) Whether you’re interested in starting a blog, want to pursue a career in content, or are simply a curious EFM reader, I hope you’ll enjoy this mini series!

Up first: questions and answers about the practical side of blogging!

Photo by Ally & Bobby – considering making it my new sidebar headshot! I think the current one is from 2011 (!!!!).

How do you get started? Domain names, hosting… I don’t know what I don’t know!

Let’s start with the question I’m least qualified to answer, ha! I started my blog a long time ago, and so much has changed since then. Today, my blog is hosted on Bluehost (I just checked and I have the “Plus Hosting” plan). My domain name was also purchased from Bluehost and renews through them each year. My site is a custom WordPress site and was designed and built by Curious & Co. For ongoing troubleshooting and maintenance I work with Parker Web (they are fantastic!).

My biggest encouragement, especially if you are simply wanting to blog as a hobby, is just to start. Don’t invest in a fancy site, don’t tell all your friends, don’t even wait for the perfect name or content schedule or niche to start; just start to see if you even like the discipline of writing and sharing regularly with the world. Great things can grow from a free Blogger blog and a logo you make yourself :)

If you used a site template or have a great recommendation for an inexpensive, semi-custom site design, please share in the comments!

How long does it take you to write a “typical” post? It can take me days!

Me, too! The shortest posts take two hours: one hour to get the initial draft out, the second to refine and edit it, add links, add photos, add tags and categories, and all the other details. Some posts take 4-10 hours over several days; a typical “meatier” post takes about 3-5 hours.

Do you have a program for photo collages? How do you make them?

I make my photo collages in Adobe Illustrator. I’m grateful to have access to it through work – it’s an expensive program! If you don’t have access to Adobe, I believe you can make collages in Canva.

Do you write your blogposts in your WordPress backend or in a separate Google Doc, then transfer it? In a nuts-and-bolts sense, what is your writing method?

I write them in the WordPress backend*! Which is kind of maddening, as I feel like the WordPress people are always changing what it looks like back there, ha.

Depending on the complexity of the post and how time-sensitive the topic is, I’ll start the writing process anywhere from two days to two weeks before the date I want to post. I open up a new post and begin writing – day one can look like a fully-fleshed-out first draft, or just a few ideas jotted down. On a second day, I’ll read through what I’ve written, adding to it and tweaking sentences for clarity, simplicity, tone, impact, etc. I never post something the same day I write it – I always sit on it for at least a day, and coming back to it with fresh eyes helps me catch errors and get to the heart of what I really want to say. This process continues until the text of the post is finished.

Then, I’ll add any links, both external (to products, websites, etc.) and internal (to other posts on my blog, for context or resources). Next I’ll create a graphic (in Illustrator – like for Marvelous Money) or edit and upload photos. Every post has at least one photo or graphic, and some have dozens (trip recaps, for example!).

After doing a final copy edit to find any lingering errors, I’ll add tags (short words or phrases that describe the content of the post and help with SEO) and categories (broad buckets for my frequent topics, like marriage or goals – you can click on them in the sidebar!). Finally, I’ll make sure the post is scheduled. I almost always set my posts to go live in the 5am hour, for my early birds. You can be assured that I am NOT awake pressing publish at 5:23 am :)

*The exception to this is if I have ideas for a post but am not necessarily planning to publish it in the short term. Instead of creating a draft in WordPress, I’ll jot my notes in a TextEdit file and save them on my computer.

When/how do you find time to write?

With many competing priorities, it’s tough! That being said, we make time for the things that matter to us, and writing here matters very much to me (more on that in part three!).

When I’m not on maternity leave, my posts are written in the evenings after the kids are in bed, or during quiet hour on the weekends. Currently, lights out is at 8:30, and then I do 30 minutes to an hour of showering, cleaning the kitchen, making lunches, and prepping dinner for the next day. Since we try to head to bed at 11 or 11:30, that leaves me at most two and a half hours for blogging on a given night – and some days, some of those hours are spent on boring life things, relaxing/socializing, or working on some sort of project. My time for writing varies with the season and what’s going on in our family and at work, but I’d say I generally touch a blog post 3-4 nights a week.

One key to making time is to streamline, eliminate, and automate those “boring life things” as much as possible so I have more space for the things that fuel me, like writing – more about that here. And of course, I find that the more excited I am about a post topic, the more likely I am to dive in, ignore distractions, and create something worthwhile. Luckily for me, I never need to write about things that don’t excite me :)

I think you once posted that you make enough from the blog to basically pay to keep the blog running. Has that changed for you?

In 2020, I made $1,531 from affiliate links – $697 from Amazon and $834 from rewardStyle. I spent $1,148 to keep the blog up and running – for example, $156 to Bluehost for hosting and my domain, $150 for my annual survey (to Survey Monkey and a gift certificate for the winner), $632 to Parker Web for technical fixes like restyling my comment section after a WordPress update, and $12 to Akismet for comment spam protection.

While I reeeeeeally love writing here, I’d rather not pay for the privilege (ha!), so I’m glad I’m able to cover my costs through affiliate programs!

How do you get affiliate links? Do companies reach out to you or vice versa?

A quick overview on affiliate links. As an affiliate, I use a special link that’s keyed to my account when linking to some products. When you click on the link and purchase something within a window of time (the length of the window depends on the program), the company gives me a very small percentage of the purchase price (how small depends on the program, too). You don’t pay anything extra; the company is just rewarding me for sending customers their way.

Interestingly, for most programs, I earn based on what you purchase after clicking on my link, even if you don’t purchase what I linked to! For example, let’s say you clicked on the link for a book I’m reviewing in my monthly goals post to read more about it. You don’t end up purchasing the book, but a few hours later, you return to Amazon and buy a hair dryer you’ve been eyeing. As long as you haven’t clicked on anyone else’s affiliate link between then and now, I will earn money based on your hair dryer purchase.

I’m a member of two main affiliate programs: Amazon and rewardStyle (now LTK). Though they function very similarly, they’re also different!

AMAZON: My understanding is that pretty much any reputable site can be an Amazon affiliate, and since many of us naturally shop for so much at Amazon, it’s a great catch-all option to be able to link to! To become an affiliate, you apply on their site. Their link window is 24 hours (SO SHORT!) and their commission rates vary from 1-10% based on the category. Very serious affiliates will constantly monitor the commission rates and vary their posting strategy as Amazon shifts them, which they do often, but I just link to the items I want regardless of what they’re worth that day!

LTK: Honestly, I highly doubt I would be approved as an LTK affiliate if I applied today, ha! They are very much focused on bigger fashion and home design bloggers, and heavily push their Like to Know It social extension, which I don’t use. However, I’m SO glad to be an LTK affiliate, because they’re the gold standard in this arena and work with so many of the big retailers: Target, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Minted, etc. The link window is typically much longer through LTK and commission rates vary from retailer to retailer. You can apply to become an LTK affiliate here.

Aside from affiliate links, some blogs monetize through receiving in-kind product or creating sponsored content. In general, the closest I come to this is through partnering with Minted for our Christmas cards every year. They reached out to me many years ago, and we’ve been going strong ever since. Y’all know I love me some Minted!!

Do you feel that affiliate links are necessary to your blogging success? Do you think people who write blogs should try to monetize their sites?

Aside from the fact that I’d rather not pay to write here, I could easily write this blog without using affiliate links. And in this season of life, I’ve turned down many options over the years to write sponsored posts because the pressure of performing for a retailer is just not worth what they’re offering (sometimes just free product, sometimes up to $250 or so). It is MUCH more valuable to me to have a community that trusts me and loves participating here than it is to have a few more incremental dollars. Truly, the fact that I have readers who have been around for years and join the conversation is worth way more than the few dollars I do make!

Whether or not to monetize a site is a personal choice, but I have found so much joy, freedom, and community in writing just for the love of it rather than making it a business. I think that’s one key to my longevity.

Do you do keyword research? Your blog seems more day-in-the-life (which I love!) versus SEO-keyword oriented, so I am wondering if you consider keywords or not. If so, which program(s) do you use to research and track your success?

As I mentioned, EFM is not my job, so I get the luxury of not worrying too much about SEO. However, I also love community, and for that I need people to find my blog! SEO can help with that, so I do pay a little bit of attention to it when I want to and in the way I want to.

Though I would never write about a topic just for SEO purposes, I optimize the posts I choose to write in certain ways: by choosing a title that’s search-engine friendly, by repeating key words from the title in my posts, by using headers (like the coral questions in this post) and tags, by renaming my photos to be search-friendly, and by back-linking as much as possible. One thing that is NOT search-engine friendly: my sentence structure is much too long and complicated, ha!

At work, we use Semrush to research and track keywords, but I’m not passionate enough about ranking to research or track when I’m off duty – I just go by instinct :)

Finally, every few months I check into Google Analytics to take a look at my traffic and see what’s going on. It’s fascinating to see and learn from which posts are performing the best and analyze why that might be!

This is the driest post in the series, but I still hope it was interesting! And if not interesting, helpful :) Part two, coming soon, will be all about content. Anything that surprised you in today’s post? Please share in the comments!

Part Two: Content
Part Three: Grab Bag
Part Four: How to Be a More Relational Writer

Affiliate links are used in this post!

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September 28, 2021 8:34 am

As someone who does a quick blog check-in at 6 AM, I’ve always noticed and appreciated both your early posting time and the consistency of that time!
Thanks for pulling back the curtain on blogging here – can’t wait for the other posts in the series.

September 28, 2021 2:24 pm

I find this post fascinating! There really is more to blogging than I ever thought (that’s a compliment – you make it look easy!). And I had NO idea about the costs involved. That makes me even more thankful for what you do for all of us readers! THANK YOU!

Kelly Strawberry
September 28, 2021 6:36 pm

So timely given I just started blogging again! I love you commitment over the years. I think your strategy to sit on a post for a day before publishing it is great advice. In the past, my sudden exits from blogging usually occur when I fear I’ve overshared or said something I shouldn’t have, or feel I’ve offended someone with my dry humor. I’m gonna start implementing this!

September 29, 2021 9:33 am

This was super interesting! Thank you for sharing :) I can totally relate to your sentiments about LTK – I’m in the same boat and am thankful for it!

September 29, 2021 11:56 am

Thank you for answering my questions!! :D Your answers were super helpful and I love that you shared the nitty gritty about affiliates and SEO. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

Laura Briz
September 29, 2021 1:41 pm

Curious EFM reader here! Been following for many years (definitely pre-marriage) and love and reference your posts constantly! Use your France trip post to guide our own back in 2016. Anyways, love that you don’t try to push stuff on readers and are able to stay true to yourself.

September 30, 2021 3:44 pm
Reply to  Laura Briz

I was coming here to say the exact same thing! You are such a fresh voice on the internet. So please keep on doing what you’re doing! Always a bright spot in my day to see that you have a new post up. I don’t mind affiliate links at all, but it’s nice not to feel pushed to buy things all the time. Anyways, excited to keep reading your content.

September 29, 2021 2:47 pm

Just want to say how glad I am that you’ve stuck with it for so long! I’ve taken a huge step away from other forms of social media, but I still love hearing about other peoples’ thoughts, projects, and family ideas. I’m so glad your blog is still going strong!

September 29, 2021 8:09 pm

Thank you for sharing so freely! So much insight! And for someone who hasn’t applied for affiliate links, this was really interesting! I always thought those were just good for the specific product that‘s recommended. Good to know :)
I‘m just blogging for fun and plan on keeping it that way. But that’s why your experience is especially interesting and valuable to me! I love how you manage to have your readers involved and active in the comments!
Also: that photo of you! I’d say, yes, make it your new side bar photo!! But gosh, you haven’t aged a bit! Can’t believe the current photo is 10 years old!

September 30, 2021 8:58 am

I always love your thoughts on blogging, the nitty-grittier, the better! So excited to read the rest of this series. And I agree, love this as a new sidebar picture, though I will always have a place in my heart for the current one, haha!

September 30, 2021 11:34 pm
  1. I love this series. Can’t wait to learn more. 2. Your current sidebar photo is from summer 2013. I think she turned 9 in August ;) And while I am partial to this snap, I do love the new one from Ally & Bobby.
October 1, 2021 9:28 am

I had no idea how much time you pour into each blog post! Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to make it happen – learning here has been one of the highlights of my young adulthood!

October 1, 2021 4:38 pm

Love your blog! Thanks for all you do :).

Ashley Morosky
January 2, 2022 9:30 am

Thank you for posting this! I have been toying with the idea of starting a blog for years, but never understood all the background that goes into just getting it up and running! With a goal of eliminating time spent on social media this year, I hope to be able to get started finally. Appreciate your writing style and willingness to share.