Whether you’re using a free site or a self-hosted site, this post is for you! It doesn’t matter if you’re a new blogger, established business owner, online content creator, etc., it’s important that your online presence looks professional. Even if your brand is laid-back, you still have to appear as a professional that is worth hiring.
Updated: March 6, 2018
If you haven’t met a potential client or customer in person, someone’s first impression of you will be your website or social media page. Let’s talk about how important that first impression is.
An article by the Missouri S&T online newspaper states, “When viewing a website, it takes users less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression, according to recent eye-tracking research conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology.” After that small fraction of time, it takes about 2.6 seconds for the site visitor to fixate on what is influencing that first impression. [Source: http://news.mst.edu/2012/02/eye-tracking_studies_show_firs/]
You have a very short window of time to show someone your blog is worth reading, or that your business is worth hiring.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links, which mean I will earn a small commission, and these commissions help keep this blog running. Using the links will NOT make the item cost more.
Tips for Appearing Professional Online:
Have a Great Headshot
I recommend working with someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Look at the photographer’s portfolio before hiring them. Make sure their style matches what you’re after. A great photographer knows how to capture flattering, attractive photos, and can provide you with files that are the correct resolution for displaying online and for printing on business materials.
Take your photos yourself. I have a DSLR, so the majority of my photos are taken by myself using a tripod and shutter remote.
A cell phone photo is fine if you follow these tips:
- Take the photo outdoors in natural light.
- If you’re limited to indoors, aim to take your photo near an open window to utilize natural light.
- Edit the photo! (I’m not talking about airbrushing, removes blemishes, etc.) If your photo is dark, brighten it. Your face needs to be seen! If you don’t have Photoshop or Lightroom, you can use an online photo editor, or you can download free editing software like GIMP or Paint.NET. Or use an app such as VSCO.
Being that I’m a professional photographer myself, I like taking my own blog photos. Here’s my current headshot for my photography business. I took this using my camera set up on a tripod & using a shutter remote.
Equipment/Software I Use (I own the products linked below & highly recommend them.)
- Camera: Nikon D3300 (with basic ‘kit’ lenses included): https://amzn.to/2nEIQKF
- I film my YouTube videos with this camera. This is considered an “entry-level DSLR.”
- Nikon 35mm Prime Lens (my favorite lens! I use this one for all my photos.): https://amzn.to/2OBo9un
- I use this lens for all of my photos. It gives that amazing blurred background (known as ‘bokeh’) when used correctly. I also use this lens for YouTube videos.
- Tripod (Sunpak 61″): https://amzn.to/2KSWtyW
- Shutter Remote: Official Nikon Remote (I use this one.)
- Adobe Lightroom (Editing Software; I actually use this one more than I use Photoshop): https://amzn.to/2nEJlEx
- NO subscription needed! Once you buy it, you own it forever.
- Photoshop Elements (Editing Software): https://amzn.to/2KTVBKk
- You can change the background, fix things like flyaway hair, and other more advanced things
- NO subscription needed for this product as well! Once you buy it, you own it forever.
- If you’re also a YouTuber and need video editing software, I use Adobe Premiere Elements (https://amzn.to/2nBaMyO). (No subscription needed as well.)
- You can save by bundling Premiere Elements with Photoshop Elements here: https://amzn.to/2KTFRa9
- If you’re a student with a school email address, be sure to check out the student versions to save money.
Other Equipment Worth Checking Out
Nikon’s D3400 (successor to the D3300): https://amzn.to/2KUAFTs (“Entry-level DSLR”)
These are less expensive point-and-shoot cameras, so purchasing a lens isn’t necessary because the lens on them is fixed/non-removable. So research the megapixels and zoom capabilities before purchasing one. These were under Amazon’s “Best Sellers” and “Most Wished For” for point-and-shoot (as of 8/14/18).
Canon PowerShot SX420 Digital Camera (20 Megapixels + built in Wi-Fi & NFC): https://amzn.to/2BaxS98
Canon PowerShot SX720: https://amzn.to/2MlW9xD
Nikon COOLPIX B500: https://amzn.to/2MMB1NP
Have a well-designed Logo
A logo or blog header is important to have whether you’re a business or a blogger. Trying to do your own branding is not ideal for a few reasons:
- If you do not have design experience, you will spend a ton of time researching how to create a logo, how to create a color palette (yes, this is important!), how to create call to action buttons, what size should XYZ be, etc. The long goes on and on.
- You should spend your time focusing on other aspects of your business/blog.
- Another thing to note is that if you’re a business that will be printing materials, such as business cards, brochures, flyers, letterhead, signs, or anything else that your logo will be going on, you will have to provide the printing company with a file that is the correct format and if you want your logo to appear as it should, it has to be created in a vector program, such as Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator allows us to create a logo that can be scaled to ANY size whether it’s as a small as business card or as big as a billboard. Or you can have your designer custom create these materials for you, so your only task is sending them to a printer.
Here’s my blog logo that I created using Photoshop.
Eventually you will want to work with a designer so your branding is cohesive. But if you can’t at the moment, you can create a header in Canva (free), GIMP (free), or another resource. A header should, at the minimum, include your name or blog name plus some decorative elements, such as clipart or ‘confetti.’ Note: Be sure the clip art is licensed for how you plan to use it.
Budget-friendly Option #2:
Also, some designers (such as myself) offer pre-made logos for a low price. A pre-made logo means multiple bloggers are able to purchase that same design before it’s retired, but it will be customized to your liking. My pre-made logos are currently $25 on Etsy. I provide the customization for you!
Use Correct Grammar and Spelling
Please double-check and triple-check everything before you post, especially if you’re running a business. Use spell check. Read your text out loud. When you hear your text, you’re more likely to find your mistakes because they will stick out.
A business or blog not using correct grammar and spelling appears unprofessional and untrustworthy.
Things to note: Slang or informal words are totally acceptable when used appropriately. Example: I live in Alabama, so of course I say “y’all” A LOT. I use “y’all” in my social media posts, blog posts, etc. I probably would not use “y’all” in a email to a potential client or if I were trying to pitch to a brand. Can you imagine writing to EOS, “Can y’all send some free lip balm for review?” (OMG *crying face emoji*)
If writing is not your strong suit, consider outsourcing copy-writing and/or blogging to someone who is great at it.
Budget-friendly Option: Just use your spell check, please!
Utilize Your Sidebar
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a blogger or a business owner that associates your brand with yourself/face. So to utilize the most of your sidebar, you should have these essentials on it:
- Your picture (unless you’re an anonymous blogger of course)
- A brief excerpt about you.
- Use your about page for a longer description.
- Call to action buttons or something else you want to draw attention to something.
- This could be a button that says “Etsy Shop” or “Book Now.” Or it may be a graphic that draws attention to a popular post, an e-book you wrote, etc.
- In my sidebar, I draw attention to my blog posts with the most reads and my YouTube channel’s latest video.
- Tip: Don’t overload your sidebar! Too many items, especially ones with a large file size, will cause your site to load slowly, which is a turn off to visitors.
Here’s how my sidebar currently looks.
Use the Correct Legal Polices on your Site
[Disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer, and I cannot give you legal advice. These are general tips.]
Disclaimer Policy: This is used to tell visitors that you’re not responsible for how they use or perform information on your site. Example: Fitness, health, medical, and blogs run by lawyers have disclaimers that tell you to consult with a qualified professional, and that what you’re reading does not initiate a relationship with the site owner.
Disclosure: This is something used by bloggers to alert readers as to whether or not their blog contains paid advertisements, sponsored content, affiliate links, or posts that review items that a brand sent them. A disclosure statement should also be provided at the beginning of a post containing content that falls under the previous sentence. [Note: This may not be a complete list. Again, I am NOT lawyer, and this is general information.]
To read more about blogging disclosures, read these links:
Published by the Federal Trade Commission: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking
To generate a blog disclosure, you can visit this link (free): http://disclosurepolicy.org/
Use the free resources in the checklist.
Use Professional-looking Photos on Your Site and Social Media
If you’re photographing products or taking photos to use as blog post images or social media images, an expensive camera isn’t necessary. Even a point-and-shoot camera or phone camera is fine for this type of photography because there is usually enough resolution for a web photo.
Photograph near an open window for natural light so your photos appear bright.
Of course, don’t forget to edit them. If you’re adding text to the photo, you can edit them in any of the programs I mentioned above. Many bloggers recommend Canva (free/online). I personally have not used it because I use Photoshop, but I’ve heard great things about it.
If photography isn’t your strong suit, this is another thing you can outsource. You can find a local photographer that specializes in photographing products. If you need blog post images, you can buy styled stock photography and templates or hire someone that can take custom photos for your brand.
Using free stock photos are also great. Just be sure to check the license terms, and make sure the website you’re downloading from is legit.
Which images look better? The ones on the right of course, because they’re styled and a lot of thought went into setting them up. *Images found on pixabay.com.
My favorite stock photos sites are:
Another tip: Please edit your photos!
I’ve seen so many photos that I know would look better if the blogger would just edit them. Dark photos are incredibly unflattering, and will not get as many likes/views as well-lit photos. I use Adobe Lightroom (https://amzn.to/2P7Rxtr) to edit my photos. And to make all of your images look cohesive, you can save your edits as presets and apply them to all of the photos in a set. Here’s a screenshot of Lightroom editing I did to save my most recent Instagram photo.
Use the free stock sites above if you’re looking for stock photos. I have also included more free sites in the checklist. Non-expensive styled photos can also be found on sites such as Etsy, Hungry Jpeg, and more.
Take your own photos using the recommended equipment listed above. Here are some more photos I’ve taken myself.https://www.instagram.com/p/Bn6zUlXhSx2/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BdvvFiZAD1j/
Have A Contact Page
You must have a page where people can contact you. Be sure the emails are forwarded to an account you actually check! There is no cost to do this and even free blogs/sites have the tools to create a contact page.
The contact form plugin I use is “Contact Form 7” found here https://wordpress.org/plugins/contact-form-7/ (for self-hosted WordPress only). If you’re using free WordPress, Blogger, or Wix, they have contact form plugins already built in.
Be Friendly and Natural in Your Online Interactions
Branding is not only the appearance of your site and social media, but it’s also the way you “carry yourself” online. This topic deserves its own post at a later date. But briefly, I can tell you this: The way you talk and interact with others online is how people will perceive your brand. The way you write your captions is also how people will perceive your brand (i.e. types of captions: song lyrics, popular quotes, Bible scriptures, quirky sayings, long thoughtful paragraphs, etc.)
If you are polite, helpful, and reply to comments, people will say, “This is definitely someone I want to work with.” If you are brash, or you’re one of those annoying people that comment under someone’s photo, “Hey! Check out our services! We could do so much for you,” you will repel people! The latter shows you are desperate and only use social media to self-promote rather than build relationships and network. I delete those comments very quick!
Thanks for reading, y’all! To download the free checklist, go to my DropBox. The checklist includes 20+ links to free and paid resources that are not listed on here. Click “No thanks, continue to view” if a sign-up page comes up.
I invite you to join my Facebook group “Millennial Bloggers Collective.”
(A millennial is usually defined as anyone born between the late 1970s up to the year 2004, if you’re wondering if you’re a millennial.)
It’s open to fashion, beauty, lifestyle, travel, faith, and food bloggers as well as creativepreneurs.
There are daily threads for social media engagement and blog promotion. You’re also free to post any blogging/business questions and collaboration opportunities/ISOs. We also have three group Pinterest boards, so we can help each other grow on Pinterest. The MBC group has 1600+ members!