Glasgow Blogger Bake Off

A couple of weekends ago I was lucky enough to be invited to go to Glasgow for a blogger bake off in association with Currys and Kenwood. There were around 30 bloggers of all different kinds from parent bloggers, to lifestyle, fashion and beauty, and even a few food bloggers for good measure! The event was held at The Cookery School in central Glasgow who run all sorts of different cookery courses, when they aren’t playing host to a gaggle (what is the collective noun?) of bloggers on a Sunday.

Blogger bake off

After a coffee and a chat with some of my fellow bloggers we headed through to the kitchen for the first of the day’s demonstrations from chef Danny McArdle. Now I have to admit I was hoping to stretch my baking skills a bit but the event was definitely aimed more towards the non-bakers amongst us. We were shown how to make scones, victoria sponge and cupcakes and chocolate chip muffins, none of which are particularly challenging for someone who bakes regularly. It was also a bit tricky to see the demonstrations given the number of bloggers squeezed into the main kitchen (and everyone trying to get decent blog-worthy photographs didn’t help!).

Demonstration

Having said that I did learn a few new tricks; for example using 00 flour (it’s milled twice don’t you know?) for scones makes them much lighter, and you can flavour sponge cakes by adding some well-beaten jam or marmalade. I definitely enjoyed eating one of the scones we had made and I had fun decorating my cupcakes too – I was particularly pleased with my chocolate piping skills.

Cupcakes

Due to the number of bloggers we were working in groups of three. Although this meant I didn’t get chance to do all the baking myself I did make sure I got a go on one of the beautiful Kenwood Patisser mixers! (Both the mixers were given away to two of the bloggers at the end of the day – unfortunately I didn’t win one but the lovely people at Currys and Kenwood did provide us all with an equally lovely kMix hand mixer to take home with us, along with lots of other goodies too, including my very own #currysinthekitchen apron).

currysinthekitchen

We used the mixer to make the batter for the cupcakes and you could totally tell the difference between that and the one we made by hand for the Victoria sponge. The one made in the mixer was so much lighter! I would absolutely love one of these big stand mixers but we’ve got a lot of saving up to do first…not for the mixer but so we can buy a new house with a big enough kitchen to fit one in! I would definitely recommend using a mixer or hand mixer when making cake batter though – especially for the creaming together butter and sugar stage. Unless you’ve got guns like Stallone then I just don’t think you can get it light and fluffy when you’re doing it by hand, and that’s what you need if you want a light and fluffy sponge cake.

Kenwood Patissier

It was lovely to meet so many other Scottish bloggers and I have to say a big thanks to Joe Blogs blogger network for organising the event and inviting me along. It was fantastic to have an event like this in Scotland as so many of the things I’m invited to are in London and not always very easy to get to! And even though Barry had to look after Toby for the day while I went off gallivanting again, I more than made up for it with the amount of cake I brought home!

Baked goodies

 

Happy Blogiversary to me!

 

Blogiversary

OK, so I’m three days late but Toby Goes Bananas is now one year old! I wrote my first post on 22nd October 2013 when Toby was just over three months old, mostly as a kind of online journal and photo album of his life. I had actually been blogging since 2009 but on my other blog I mostly wrote reviews of stand-up comedy, about my various travels around the world and latterly about training to be and becoming a teacher. I had a fairly decent number of regular readers and a very active Twitter account. But when Toby was born I knew that the people who read my other blog wouldn’t really be interested in reading all about the ins and outs of life with a newborn. I had start reading more and more parenting blogs (especially during those hours spent feeding Toby in the night) and decided I would give it a go myself!

I started thinking about a name and one day Toby Goes Bananas just popped into my head as I was driving up our street. At that time we were still struggling to get Toby’s reflux under control and he did regularly go bananas. And I just thought it had a nice ring to it… I promise it’s not because I’m some massive fan of the Herbie films! I did think I might be limiting myself a bit for the future – if we have another baby then I don’t want them to be left out, but it’s OK I already have a plan for my blog should that happen.

Once I had a name I set up my blog on free WordPress and also set up a new email address, Twitter account and Facebook page. I knew it would be easier down the line if everything had the same name (and that would be one of my top tips for anyone starting with blogging). Within a month or so I knew I was really enjoying my new blog and so I registered my own domain name, although I still stuck with free WordPress for a while. Another month or so down the line and I decided to go self-hosted (I wrote a few posts about why and how at the time – you can read the first one here if you’re interested). I also redesigned my blog when I went self-hosted and made myself a new header to go with my new home.

Over the last year I have written about all sorts of things from cloth nappies to the time I was worried for my mental health. I posted monthly updates about Toby from four to twelve months, and I’ve taken part in some fabulous linkies (my favourites have to be The Ordinary Moments, which I haven’t done for ages but will get back to one of these days, and Living Arrows which I’m proud to say I have managed to do every week of 2014 so far). I’ve posted recipes and craft posts, I’ve written about weight-loss and weaning and I’ve had so many fantastic opportunities to review products and attend events which I never would have imagined a year ago. I was delighted to be a Munchkin Lindam blogger this year, as well as a Konfidence Swimologist. It’s been brilliant working with such lovely brands and getting to try so many of their great products!

The blogging highlight of my year has to have been going to Britmums Live back in June. Not only did I get to attend lots of really useful sessions I also got to meet lots of my favourite bloggers in real life too. I’ve made some great friends through blogging and for me it has to be one of the best things to come from starting Toby Goes Bananas.

I haven’t been as active on the blog since the summer but I’m settling into being back at work now and starting to feel like I’m getting my blog-spiration back so hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more from me in the next few months and hopefully for years to come – I may have times when I don’t post much but I’m not planning on stopping blogging altogether for a long time to come!

Lastly, I just want to thank all of you have read and commented on Toby Goes Bananas over the last year. I really do appreciate it so please keep coming back!

My Britmums Live experience

So it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that this weekend 700 bloggers descended on The Brewery in London for the year’s biggest blogging conference, and I was lucky enough to be one of them! Lots of people have already written about their experiences at Britmums Live and Britmums have gathered them all together in one handy linky.

I’ve been home a few days now and I’ve been struggling to shape my thoughts about the weekend into a coherent blog post. In fact, although I thought I would come home raring to go with my blog I haven’t put fingertip to keyboard since I came back on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong here though, I had a fantastic weekend meeting lots of lovely people and getting lots of ideas and inspiration on how to make Toby Goes Bananas more of the blog I want it to be. I think the problem might be that I have so many ideas that I don’t know where to start! But also (and from reading some of the other posts I know I’m not the only one feeling this way) going to Britmums Live has actually made me realise that perhaps taking a little step back from my blog, realising that the stats don’t really matter, trying to find a better blog/ life balance and appreciating that my blog doesn’t have to be all consuming wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I’ve sat in front of the laptop a few nights this week but the words just weren’t coming and rather than trying to force it I decided just to wait until I was feeling more inspired.

And so, here it is, my Britmums Live Experience…

My Britmums Live experience

The weekend itself was amazing, if very tiring! I had to get up at 5am on the Friday morning to catch my flight from Edinburgh to London City airport. A quick ride on the DLR and I was on the tube heading to Euston. This was because Ed’s Easy Diner had sent me an email for a free birthday milkshake! They send me one every year and I never normally get to use it but seeing as I was in London with a bit of time to kill I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So after scrambled eggs on toast (my third breakfast of the day, if you count a banana at home and rubbish cooked breakfast on the plane) and a vanilla malt to take away I was back on the tube to Old Street and making my way to my hotel.

I was so pleased there was a room ready so I got an early check in and a 45 minute power snooze before meeting up with the first bloggers of my weekend; Donna from What the Redhead Said (who I had met before at the Munchkin Lindam event) and Kate from Family Fever (whose linky, Tried & Tested, I join in with most weeks). I also met Emma from The Mini Mes and Me and Jade from Late for Reality. We made our way from the hotel to The Brewery where the main event was to be held. As promised by Britmums we were greeted by bowler-hatted doormen, we then waited in the covered outdoor courtyard area for the doors to open. Here I got chance to say hello to a few more people including Mummy Muncher from Life With Munchers and Vicki from Ellie Bear Babi, both of whom I had spoken to online before, as well as Rebecca from Mrs Mumsie and Karen from Let Kids Be Kids.

And then the doors opened and the madness began. There was a huge scrabble to collect badges and then everyone piled into The Hub where all the brands had their stands. Despite me professing my lack of nerves before I went I have to admit this part was a little bit overwhelming! There were people everywhere. There were squeals from every direction as bloggers recognised one another and people seemed to be running round grabbing every freebie they could get their hands on! And, jeez, it was LOUD! 700 excited bloggers in one place make a lot of noise. If I have a tip for those attending Britmums Live for the first time it would be to just take your time at the beginning, have a look around and take it all in, but you don’t need to talk to all the brands and sign up on all their lists in the first 5 minutes. They’ll be there all weekend and you’ll have plenty of time to talk to them when things have quietened down a bit. On that note, I would also recommend trying to find a bit of time on your own to talk to any brands you’re really interested in working with – I found it much easier to chat in a bit more depth to brands on my own than when I was with other people.

I hadn’t really made a plan of which sessions I wanted to go to before I went and that wasn’t really a problem. I will say though, if there is a session you don’t want to miss then try to get there a bit early (easier said than done when you are dashing between sessions) as some of the rooms are quite small and fill up quickly for popular sessions. I’m not going to go into loads of detail about the sessions but there are a few that deserve a mention; The Dos and Don’ts of Blog Giveaways by Di Coke (SuperLucky.co.uk) was very useful, as was the session on Google+ by James Dearsley from The Digital Marketing Bureau – I actually have a vague understanding of how Google+ works now which is a massive improvement! One thing about the sessions is that it’s hard to know from the brief description in the programme what level they will be pitched at – for example I found the blog design tips, SEO and tech knowledge sessions interesting but they didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, in hindsight my time could perhaps have been spent better elsewhere.

I have to say I found the BiBs party on Friday night a bit underwhelming somehow. By that point everyone was tired and hungry (food, or lack of seems to be one area that a lot of people think could be improved for next year) and the whole thing seemed to be over in a bit of a rush. There was also a bit of controversy as Katy Hill, who was presenting the awards, also won in the Fresh Voice category. I admit I have never read her blog but it does seem a bit off somehow. And anyway, that award should definitely have gone to Katie at Hurrah for Gin, who I also met and she was absolutely lovely!

Saturday was definitely a day for tissues with a very moving and inspiring keynote speech from Benjamin Brooks-Dutton (Life As A Widower) in the morning and the blogger keynotes at the end of the day. I not one for crying usually but even I found myself welling up listening to these brave bloggers standing up in a room full of their peers and speaking out loud some of their most personal blog posts. It was a good job that the event rounded off with a performance from the Good Enough Mums Club giving everyone a good laugh and able to leave with a smile on their face.

After the event I headed, laden with goodies, to my brother’s house in Essex for a relaxing evening of pizza and cider then a good night’s sleep. I spent the day there on Sunday and finally made it home at about midnight. Toby, who had been sleeping through all weekend, woke up as I came in the door, which was a great excuse for a lovely cuddle before bed!

I have to also mention some of the other people I met; it was lovely to see some of my fellow Munchkin Lindam bloggers again – Munchies and Munchkins and Debs from Super Busy Mum. It was also great to meet Emma from Me, The Man & The Baby (baby included!), Lucinda from Teacher 2 Mummy, Donna from The London Mum, Sara from mumturnedmom (over all the way from America!), Aby from You Baby Me Mummy and to get to say a quick hello to Katie from Mummy Daddy Me, Emma from Brummymummyof2, Just a Normal Mummy, and Wry Mummy. I’m sure I’ve missed some (I didn’t write anyone’s names down, or take any photos!) so please accept my apologies if I’ve missed you off. Also, sorry if I confused any of you with my surprisingly very red hair!

Last but not least a quick mention to a few of the brands I spoke to over the weekend; firstly it was fab to see the Munchkin guys again and the lovely ladies from Norton & Co. Thanks to Parragon Books for the very tasty cupcake, to Coca-Cola for my personalised Coke bottle, to Butlins for the chocolate (I may have taken more than one bar!) and to Heinz Baby for the goodies for Toby and for the lovely, and much needed massage.

So there you have it – that was my Britmums Live experience. It was pretty much everything I expected (although I didn’t end up getting drunk like I thought I might!). I think it’ll take a few weeks before I really digest it all and start putting some of my ideas into practice though. I would definitely recommend going if you get the chance and hopefully I’ll be able to go again sometime in the future, although with my return to work fast approaching I’m holding off buying my ticket for 2015 just yet!

P.S. I was really rubbish at taking photos during the weekend hence the lack of pictures in this post – sorry!

I’m going to Britmums Live!

If you’re a parent blogger, or a regular reader of parent blogs then you might be aware of a little blogging conference called Britmums Live which is happening in London this weekend. Over 500 bloggers will meet to learn more about blogging, chat to their fellow bloggers and most importantly it seems, drink gin! Despite a fruitless search for a sponsor my lovely husband has agreed to let me spend some of his hard-earned wages to join in the fun. I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the people I’ve been chatting to online, and whose blogs I have been reading…and if you read Toby Goes Bananas then please do come and say hi!

Anyway, seeing as Britmums Live is less than a week away I thought I would join in the Britmums linky and introduce myself.

Name: Sarah

Blog: Toby Goes Bananas

Twitter ID: @tobygoesbananas

Height: 5′ 5″

Hair: Very short crop, dyed red (although just how red depends on whether I get chance to dye it again before the weekend!)

Eyes: Two. (Don’t ask me what colour; they’re bluey-greeny-greyey and seemingly change colour every day!). They may be hidden behind glasses depending on how much my hayfever is bothering me and so whether or not I can wear my contact lenses.

Is this your first blogging conference? Yes!

Are you attending both days? Certainly am. I’m travelling down from Scotland so I’m not going to miss a minute!

What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2014? Meeting other bloggers – especially those whose blogs I have read and who I have chatted to online before.

What are you wearing? To be honest I’m a bit concerned about how much importance everyone seems to be placing on what they are going to wear – it seems some people are spending a fortune on new outfits and have been talking about it for months. I would love to get new clothes but on maternity pay I’ll be digging something out from the wardrobe! Probably a dress/tunic and leggings on Friday and jeans with some sort of smartish top on Saturday. Definitely flat shoes, I hardly ever wear heels so I’m not about to start now!

What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2014? Lots of ideas of how I can improve and grow my blog; there are so many great sessions I’m struggling to choose which ones to go to.

Do you have any tips to pass on to others who may not have been before? Having not been before myself, no. But if anyone reading this has been then feel free to pass your tips my way!

And finally…there are loads of pictures of me on here but just for good measure, here’s me (although I don’t always look like I’ve just had my photo taken by my wonderfully talented sister-in-law photographer!):

me

 

Going self-hosted // A guide to WordPress plugins for the newly self-hosted

A guide to WordPress plugins for the newly self-hosted

OK. Before we start, I am not claiming to be any kind of expert on WordPress, or plugins but I thought it might be helpful to some people if I share what I have learnt since Toby Goes Bananas became self-hosted.

What are plugins?

First things first then – plugins are basically add-ons to WordPress which allow you to add all sorts of features to your blog. If you’ve recently moved from WordPress.com then you might notice a lot of the features you are used to aren’t there any more – for example stats, sharing posts, subscribing by email and some of the widgets. If you’ve come from Blogger then equally some of the features you might expect from your blog don’t come as standard. All these things are still available but you just need to install a plugin to get them on your new self-hosted blog. Installing a plugin is easy – just go to Plugins on your sidebar menu then Add New, search for the plugin you need, install and activate. Easy peasy!

Which plugins do I need?
Jetpack

The first plugin you’ll definitely need is Jetpack – in fact depending on your hosting company this might also come pre-installed. Jetpack basically gives you a lot of the features of your old WordPress.com blog – stats, comments, sharing. I would just install Jetpack to begin with. You can always disable particular parts of it later if you want to use a different plugin.

CommentLuv

Now, there are loads of different options for comments on your blog. The main thing to remember is that if you want people to comment on your blog you need to make it easy for people to comment on your blog. You can use the inbuilt comments in Jetpack which are just like you might have had on your WordPress.com blog and to be honest there isn’t really anything wrong with that. I have chosen to use CommentLuv because it is super simple – it just asks for name, email, URL (if the commenter has one) and the comment. If the commenter enters a URL it then allows them to link to one of their 10 previous posts, which is basically just nice for them! There is no stupid Captcha code to fill in and nothing to put someone off leaving a comment. If you go to Settings/Discussion in your sidebar menu you can choose how you wish to moderate comments – I have mine set up so that if someone has commented on my blog before then any future comments are published immediately. You can also choose options for if you want to receive emails when you get a comment.

Anti-spam

Unless you want to moderate all your comments you need something to catch the spam. I was just using a plugin called Akismet which did a great job of catching all the spam comments but it puts them in a list which you have to manually check if you want to make sure no genuine comments have been filtered out. I had got to a point where I was getting upwards of 50 spam comments every day and it was taking ages to check them all. I then heard about a plugin called Anti-Spam. I don’t quite understand the technicalities of it but it seems most spam comments are automated and don’t come from someone actually visiting your site. Anti-Spam automatically blocks these type of comments. There is still a chance that someone might actually visit your site and leave a spam comment but if you leave Akismet running as well then it should catch these. Since installing Anti-Spam I haven’t had a single spam comment. Speaks for itself really!

Yoast SEO

SEO, if you don’t know, stands for Search Engine Optimisation. If you want to make sure your blog reaches the biggest audience you can then SEO is something you really need to be doing. It is basically about making sure your blog posts (including titles, URLs, images and text) contain ‘focus keywords’. What it is trying to do is make your blog appear near the top of search results. So if, for example, someone searched for ‘Mamas & Papas Sola Review’ (a popular post on my blog) then my post appears at the top of the third page on Google. Which isn’t bad out of 36k results! SEO sounds like it’s complicated but it doesn’t need to be. With the Yoast plugin you simply choose your focus keyword (think about what you would Google if you wanted to find the post) then the plugin analyses your post and gives it either red, amber or green for SEO. If you don’t get green then check the Page Analysis tab and it will tell you what you need to change to improve your post’s SEO. You can also used the plugin to write a new meta description for your post – this is the short description that appears alongside search results. A better description can increase the number of people who actually visit your site after seeing it on a search engine. OK. So it does sound a bit complicated but if you get into the habit of doing it at the same time as writing each post it really does drive more traffic to your blog. And if you really aren’t bothered about that then you don’t need to bother!

Tweet Old Post

This is a really simple plugin that automatically tweets old posts for you. You can set how often it posts (mine just does one a day) and any text you want to include in each tweet. You can also exclude categories or individual posts if you don’t want the plugin to tweet them. I find that every old post that is tweeted gets at least a few views to it all helps.

Updraft Plus

Backing up your blog regularly is really important. You wouldn’t want to lose everything if there was a problem with your site. You can do this manually but it’s easy to forget. This plugin automatically saves a back up copy of everything on your blog. You can choose how often the back up is done and where it saves to. Mine is done weekly and saves to my Dropbox and the plugin only keeps the last two backups to prevent my Dropbox getting full. You can save to all sorts of different cloud storage services, or you can just choose to have the files emailed to you.

Shareaholic

I use this plugin to add sharing buttons on each post – so people can share posts they like on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and by email (you can also use Jetpack to do this). I also use Shareaholic to put links to related posts at the bottom of each post. The plugin automatically works out the related posts and you can customise how they appear. Using this feature can encourage people to stay on your site for longer and look at more posts.

jQuery Pin It Button For Images

I use this plugin to put a ‘Pin it’ button on all my blog post images. I use this myself to Pin the images on my own Pinterest boards but it also means anyone visiting the site can easily Pin an image if they want. (I should admit here I still don’t really ‘get’ Pinterest but I know loads of people love it, so I am trying!).

Add Post Footer

If you want something to appear at the bottom of every post without having to manually add it every time you can use this plugin. I use it for my Bloglovin’ badge and I also used it temporarily when I was asking people to nominate me for the MADs.

Phew! That was quite a lot of information so well done if you got through it all! These are just a few plugins that I’ve found useful. There are literally thousands of plugins available so if you think of something that you want to do on your blog then search the plugins and you’re bound to find something!

I hope you’ve found this post useful – if you have any plugins that you use and can’t do without then please do leave me comment and let me know.

You can read my other blog posts about going self-hosted here:

Part 1 – Going self-hosted – Why should I do it?

Part 2 – Going self-hosted – How do I do it?

Going on a study break

I’ve mentioned before that for the last year and a half I have been studying for a Graduate Diploma in Spanish. This is a qualification specifically for teachers of other modern languages who also want to be able to teach Spanish. I have been a French teacher since 2010 but so far I have only had temporary contracts lasting one school year. There just haven’t been any permanent positions available, especially as I could only teach the one language. I knew this would be the case so in my first year of teaching I started learning Spanish. I did a course at the local college and then I did an access course through the University of Dundee which allowed me to apply for the Graduate Diploma course.

The Graduate Diploma is a distance learning course so every week work is posted online for us to complete and then we go over this work in a tutorial on Skype the following week. At the end of each module (about every ten weeks) we complete a written assessment and then go to Dundee for an immersion day to do an oral assessment and some face to face teaching.

It has been really hard to keep up with all the work over the two year course. The first year I was working full time and pregnant but I still seemed to find more time to do the work than I do now. I know it will be worth it when I’ve finished but finding motivation has been very difficult since Toby was born. But, the end is in sight! We are now into the final module which, instead of weekly assignments and Skype sessions, is just a final project. I have to write a 2000 word essay (in Spanish) and then prepare three lesson plans, including resources for one lesson. I could choose any relevant topic so seeing as my brother bought me the DVDs of The Motorcycle Diaries and Che Part 1 & 2 for Christmas I decided to base my project on Che Guevara. I have until the 25th April to complete my project. Then there is one more immersion day and three Skype sessions to prepare for the final written and oral exams on 17th May.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I have a lot of work to do over the next few weeks and I really should give it my full attention so I’m going to have a little study break and things might go a bit quiet here for a while. I’ll still be trying to keep up with my weekly linkys but there might not be much else (ooh, apart from one exciting announcement to come soon!) until my Spanish course is all done. If any of you lovely people reading this would like to write a guest post for me then please do get in touch – I would love to have you here on Toby Goes Bananas!

Hopefully I’ll get through this in one piece – see you on the other side!

Going self-hosted // How do I do it?

how to go self hosted

Right then. You’ve decided to go self-hosted. Maybe you read the first post in my series, you know what going self-hosted means and you’ve decided it’s the right move for you. So the next step then – how to go self-hosted. What do you need to do?

Your own domain name

As with all these things there are a couple of different scenarios. The first thing you are going to need is your own domain name. If you already have your own domain then you can skip right on to the next part. If you don’t have your own domain you’re going to need to buy one before you can have a self-hosted blog. It makes things a bit easier if you buy your domain name from the same provider as your web-hosting so you might want to decide who you are going to go with for hosting first. Domain registration is a little like the hosting in that you have to pay annual fee to which allows you to use the domain name you have chosen and stops anyone else from using it. You can usually pay for anything from 1 year to 5 years. You have to remember to renew the registration of your domain name (or set it to renew automatically). If you don’t there is a chance that someone else might snap it up when your registration expires and then you’re going to be in a bit of a pickle!

When choosing your domain name I would definitely recommend using your blog name if it is available. If it isn’t then you could try adding ‘blog’ on the end or something similar. As for choosing .com, .co.uk, .net or whatever, it’s really up to you. Some people think having .com is best; I decided to go for .co.uk for my blog as I thought it showed that I was based in the UK. Some people also recommend that you actually register all the variations of your domain name to stop other people using them – you can imagine it would get confusing if your blog was mummyblog.com but there was also someone else who had mummyblog.co.uk. I think it depends how unique your blog or domain name is. If there’s a chance other people might want to use the same name then it might be worth it, but if your blog name is more unique then it’s less likely. I took the risk that no-one else would want to use tobygoesbananas and so only registered the .co.uk domain name.

Finding a web-hosting provider

Once you have your domain name registration you need to choose who will host your blog for you (if you haven’t decided already). There are lots of different web-hosting providers to choose from. I use Tsohost as they were recommended to me by a few other bloggers and I haven’t had any problems with them. You could also try Go Daddy, 123-reg, bluehost or Host Gator to name a few. It may seem daunting to choose a hosting provider with so many out there but the best thing to do is probably ask other bloggers for recommendations and compare the prices. You probably want to choose the mid-range option. If you go for the cheapest package available you might find that you use up your storage allowance further down the line, especially if you have a lot of photographs on your blog. As a rough guide my hosting package costs £34.99 a year and I wouldn’t have thought you need to pay much more than that.

Moving your blog

So, you’ve registered your domain name, you’ve paid for your web-hosting. Now comes perhaps the most daunting part, particularly if you aren’t especially technically minded! It really isn’t too tricky though. And remember – your old blog isn’t going to disappear so it really isn’t possible to lose anything. Some web-hosting companies provide a free migration service – you simply give them the log in details of your old blog and they will transfer everything for you. If you want to do it yourself it is also pretty straightforward. If you already use WordPress, Sara at mumturnedmom has a great step-by-step guide on her blog. If you use Blogger it’s a similar process it’s just that you won’t already be familiar with the WordPress dashboard. If you get stuck at any point in the process your hosting company should have a helpline you can call and they will be able to talk you through what you need to do.

Just a note at this point – if you are already using your own domain name on free WordPress or Blogger then this might make the process of moving your blog slightly trickier. I couldn’t log in to my new WordPress dashboard because it automatically redirected me to my old one. This was quite easily solved in the end – I contacted my hosting company who set up an extra temporary domain alias where I could set up my new blog before completely switching everything over. It sounds complicated but actually they did everything for me.

I’ve moved my blog // Now what?

Once the content of your blog has been transferred you can start looking at appearance and layout. It’s worth noting that if you had widgets (blog badges, links etc) in your sidebar or footer on your old blog these won’t have transferred from the old blog. You will need to manually copy the code from your old site to the new one. As for appearance – if you used WordPress before then you might find the same theme is available and you can keep your blog looking pretty similar. If you were previously using Blogger then you get the fun of searching through all the themes to find one you like. Remember you can always change the colours, fonts and header later – I would go with trying to find a layout you like first of all.

After the that the blogging world really is your oyster! The big difference that you will have to get to grips with, whether you used WordPress before or not, is that only a few basic features (i.e. write a blog post and add a photo) are included when you initially install WordPress. Everything else, whether it’s finding out stats, sharing posts on social media, or pretty much anything else you can think of, comes via a plugin. These are essentially programs written by other people to perform specific functions and you can choose whether to add them to your blog. I know the world of plugins can be very confusing so that’s what we’ll be looking at in part 3 of my ‘How to be a self-hosted blogger’ series.

As always, if you have any questions pop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer or point you in the direction of the information you need. You can find out more about going self-hosted in my other posts in the series:

Going self-hosted – Why should I do it?

Going self-hosted – A guide to WordPress plugins for the newly self-hosted

Going self-hosted // Why should I do it?

Why should I go self-hosted?

So you’ve started a blog, you’re using WordPress or Blogger and everything seems to be going well. Then you notice other bloggers talking about going self-hosted – sounds like something you should be getting in on. But what exactly does being self-hosted mean, and why would you want to do it?

I’ve recently moved Toby Goes Bananas to be self-hosted and I’ve had quite a few other bloggers asking me what the benefits are and whether they need to do it too. And then there are people who have taken the plunge and gone self-hosted but then have found themselves floundering in an unknown sea of lost followers, confusing WordPress plugins and nothing is quite how it was before. I’m no technical blog-guru but I know enough to find my way around so I thought I would write a few posts about the self-hosting process and hopefully I can help out a few other bloggers along the way.

First up then:

What exactly does being self-hosted mean?

If you have a blog on WordPress or Blogger (or any other blogging platform) you are using a bit of their web space for free. They are hosting your blog for you. When you sign up for either of these you will be given a blog address, a URL, which is your blog name followed by .blogspot.com or .wordpress.com. There’s nothing wrong with either of these blogging platforms but you might decide that the URL is a bit long and you want something a bit more personal. You’ve then got two options. Either you can keep using the bit of internet that you’ve already got for free and just get your own domain name (more on that later) or you can pay a hosting company to give you your own bit of webspace, with your own domain name, and your blog will become self-hosted. Being self-hosted basically means you are paying to rent space on the internet for your blog and therefore you have complete control over what you do with it.

Which brings us to:

Why do I want to be self-hosted?

That depends.

Blogger

If you use Blogger and are happy with how it works then you probably don’t need to be self-hosted. There isn’t much that Blogger doesn’t do. You may want to use your own domain name to make the blog more personal. You can buy a domain name from a number of domain registrars. The easiest thing is to do a Google search for ‘buy domain name’ and see what comes up. It costs from a couple of pounds up to about five pounds for a domain name per year depending what you want. One tip is to choose something relatively short and easy to remember. It makes sense to have the same domain name as your blog name, if this isn’t available then try adding ‘blog’ to the end of it. You can then change your .blogspot.com domain name to your own custom one and Blogger doesn’t charge for this.

WordPress

If you have a blog on WordPress.com then there are some things you can’t do. If you don’t want to do any of these things then again, you probably don’t need to move your blog to be self-hosted. A few of the things that you can’t do on WordPress.com are; have any advertising, use javascript (which means you can host giveaways using Rafflecopter or host a linky), you also have very limited options for customising the look of your blog although there are lots of themes available for free or to buy. If you are happy without these features but want your own domain name then again you can do this with WordPress.com but in addition to buying your domain name WordPress also charge $13 a year to use your own domain name. You can also buy upgrades from WordPress which allow you to customise your theme but to be honest, if you are going down that road then it will work out cheaper in the long run to make the move to a self-hosted blog.

The advantages of a self-hosted WordPress blog

If you choose a self-hosted blog then the majority of people choose to use WordPress. When you have set up your hosting package then you can install WordPress on to your new site. If you’ve been using WordPress.com previously you’ll find that initially things look very similar. The main advantages of a self-hosted WordPress blog is that it is entirely customisable. You can still use free themes or buy one and you then have free reign to edit the theme to get the layout and design you want (or pay someone else to do it for you!). The big difference though is the ability to add additional features to your blog using plugins. I’m going to do a blog post devoted to plugins but basically they are add-ons which allow you to do pretty much anything you want from SEO (more on that later too), adding related posts, allowing readers to Pin images directly from your blog to Pinterest and literally hundreds of other things. If you want to boost traffic to your site then going self-hosted and using some of the available plugins can really help.

What does it cost?

This is the big question I suppose, and may ultimately be the deciding factor in whether or not you choose to go self-hosted. If blogging is just a hobby to you and you aren’t really interested in increasing traffic or working with brands then your free Blogger or WordPress blog will probably do you just fine. However, if you want to make your blog a bit more ‘professional’ to make it more appealing to brands and grow your readership then going self-hosted may well be worth it. If you don’t already have your own domain name then you are looking at up to £5 a year to register your domain (and don’t forget to renew it when the time comes or it could be snapped up and used by someone else!) and then anything from £15 to £100 per year for a hosting package. For a standard blog you probably only need a fairly basic package – mine costs £34.99 per year. If you have had your .blogspot.com or .wordpress.com blog address for a while you might also want to pay for readers to be automatically redirected to the new blog, at least for a while. I already had this set up with WordPress – again it costs $13 a year and it means if anyone types my old address or clicks on an old link it will automatically send them to the new blog. You don’t have to do this though – you could just put a post on your old blog (unless you actually delete it, it will still be there on the internet) and let people find their own way to the new one.

 

If you are a blogger considering going self-hosted then hopefully this information will help you make the decision. If you have any other questions that I haven’t covered then please do leave me a comment or tweet me on @tobygoesbananas and I’ll do my best to answer. And if you’ve decided to go ahead and make the move then you can find out more in my other posts on going self hosted:

Going self-hosted – How do I do it?

Going self-hosted – A guide to WordPress plugins for the newly self-hosted