Blogging can be a great way to either advertise your genealogy skills (and help others) or to centralize your family’s genealogical adventure. No matter your level as a genealogist, blogging is a fantastic tool!
The best way to use blogging with genealogy is to know your end goal and create an efficient, reliable system that moves you towards your goal. Having an efficient system will help you keep track, prevent burnout, and help you reach your family history goals.
As someone who’s had (and still has) multiple blogs, let me share the best and my favorite tools with you. That way, you can get your genealogy blogging goals nailed down – and reached. And you’ll be able to do it with far less frustration and time.
With genealogy and blogging, there are usually two goals – at different ends of the spectrum. That’s okay – blogging is flexible to handle the whole range. In any case, most genealogy websites fit under one of these two umbrellas.
- A family-specific blog – some families use it to keep up to date with others, while others use it to document the genealogical process and results. Some families do both at the same time!
- A genealogy business or consulting blog – that documents common procedures and questions in an effort to attract traffic that will convert into paying customers for the genealogist.
Now, if you want to build a family genealogy site that’s essentially a travel log that details your discoveries and your family’s awesomeness, that’s awesome. At first, all you’ll need to do is learn how to use WordPress – and there are a ton of free YouTube channels that’ll teach you what you need to know. Start by checking out the WP School channel.
Once you know how to use WordPress (or if you pick a different platform, whatever platform you picked), then you won’t need as many blogging courses – or to become a search engine optimization ninja… unless you decide you want to inspire other people with your stories.
Once you decide that you want traffic (and maybe some ad revenue), you will be stepping into the competitive world of blogging. Blogging and website building is an awesome business model – but it can be competitive unless you know how to skip ahead to the getting traffic part.
And the best way to skip ahead is to invest in a blogging course that will teach you the best ways to build a strong foundation that will last. Don’t get me wrong… even with a good course, it’ll still take you some time to build your site – and it won’t be an overnight success. But you also won’t get smacked down by every Google update or manual penalty that buries your website.
Okay, so how do you skip all those scary-sounding things and shorten the learning curve so you can see success already? Well, buying any ole’ blogging course won’t help. That’s the path to taking a long time to see success (trust me). Instead, get one that helps. The blogging course I use and recommend is Income School’s Project 24 (click here to check them out).
They’ve also got other courses included in their membership. These other courses will walk you through all the next steps you need to take – and will absolutely inspire you with all the ways you can monetize your blog. Seriously – check out Income School’s Project 24. It’s awesome.
As you’re building a website (or a family tree), you need a place to put it. Your family tree can be on a piece of paper or a hard drive. Your website needs a host.
So where should you host your blog? There are a lot of great options out there.
- Bluehost – I’ve used them before and they’re a great place to start your blogging journey. Bluehost has some of the best prices, especially if you’re new and every dollar matters. Bluehost is a great place to start with hosting for your first year. Go check them out here.
- After your first year, check out Big Scoots or Cloudways.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering about a good place to get domain names, I recommend Name.com.
Once your host is picked out, it’s time to install WordPress. Using WordPress is cool because it’s easily customizable via the themes – using themes is like switching between a traditional family tree and a fan chart quickly – with the click of a button. Don’t worry – we can further customize them later with plugins. But we’ll get there in a minute.
There are other platforms you can pick and use – but WordPress is the easiest, has the most customization options, and is super flexible. Plus, unlike some of the other platforms, you don’t have to become a coding expert with WordPress.
There are thousands of WordPress theme options out there! Having paid for and tried so many of them, here is what I’ve found in regards to themes.
- When you’re first starting out, use WordPress’s 20-whatever-year-it-is theme. It’s included and it’s free and it’s secure. It won’t look super fancy, but it’ll be solid. And with the new Gutenberg setup, you can really customize it a lot more than you could in years past.
- Genesis-framework themes are pretty awesome – and they pair with a child theme so that you can customize them. However, it’s crazy easy to accidentally throttle the site speed with tweaking things. It’s better to keep things basic initially, so save these themes for later.
- Don’t spend a ton of time on customizing themes – focus on your content!
- If you want an even faster theme that’s super easy to use (and almost impossible to break), use Acabado. The Income School guys built it – and it’s pretty awesome. It’s not super customizable (unless you know how to code), but it’s a great option to get you started. And if you invest in the Project 24 course, you get a free license to use Acabado (as long as your membership is active). Acabado also has a single-use or lifetime licensing option if you’d prefer that route.
Overall, the two themes I recommend to beginners are the generic WordPress theme (WordPress releases one every year, so get whatever the current version is) and Acabado. Once you’ve gotten a lot of content written and more experience, you can try different themes – or even learn to code your own.
I love how easy WordPress is – and how further customization is so easy with plugins! No coding is necessary – unless you want to go down that rabbit hole. Plugins are cool because they can add functionality to any theme (provided they’re compatible). However, having too many plugins can be a big problem for several reasons.
- Adding extra code to your site can slow things down significantly.
- Adding a plugin that hasn’t been updated is a security risk – especially if any known bugs can be hacked.
- Some hackers create plugins as a backdoor to access sites – so stick to vetted and reputable plugins.
- Too many genealogists argue over citations: all those plugins will fight, too. And that’ll cause all sorts of issues for your site.
So after having run far-too-many plugins on my sites in the past, I now have a “less is more” mentality for plugins. I regularly evaluate my plugins – and if they aren’t being used or enhance my user’s experience? Then I delete them. It’s harsh, but plugin minimalism is kind of nice.
The plugins I use and recommend vary by site, though I work to minimize them at every chance.
- Caching – for sites with Ezoic, I use their caching and plugin. For sites not on Ezoic, I use Breeze.
- Link Whisper – this plugin makes finding, creating, and expanding links across a website easier. That way, I can make a reader’s experience more awesome. Uplevel your blogging linking strategy with Link Whisper – use my link to let them know I sent you.
- RankMath SEO is a great plugin for building your site on the right SEO foundation. The free version is sufficient.
- Web Stories – Google’s plugin to create fun mobile web stories.
Some sites have more plugins than others, but every site’s goal is “as few as possible, thanks!”
Images and Pictures for Your Blog
Regarding pictures and images for your blog, I’ve got a few recommendations.
First, take and use as many of your own, original pictures as you can. They’ll help your audience better – even if they aren’t amazing pictures. And you can use whatever camera you’ve got. However, only take and use pictures you’re comfortable with sharing. Don’t share pictures if you aren’t okay with it.
I use my smartphone’s built-in camera – for reals. And I’ve almost always got my phone, so I can always grab a picture.
When I’m feeling fancy, I try taking pictures with our DSLR, but I’m still learning how to use it – so I don’t usually end up using those pictures. As I get better, I’ll use that camera more often. But for now, it’s still mostly a fun hobby.
Second, if you’re going to use other people’s images, only use those you’ve properly licensed. There are too many horror stories about people (and bloggers) using a free image they found on Google – and then they get sued for copyright infringement. Don’t do it. It’s too expensive and has ruined many bloggers.
If you can’t find a perfect photo for your article, license one from a reputable stock photo supplier. I recommend Deposit Photos (click here to check out their prices). Occasionally, you can steal a deal to Deposit Photos (and tons of other cool blogging and business tools) on AppSumo (click here to see their current deals).
Third, learn to edit your photos. It’s not as hard as it looks. And it’s totally okay to start with a web-based software option like Canva or PicMonkey. Learn the fancier stuff later – that’s okay. For now, use quick, easy, and manageable. I’ve used Canva, PicMonkey, and Snapseed (a free Google mobile picture app), and all three fit the bill.
Email List Provider
Ready to add email marketing to your blogging toolkit? Cool. There are a ton of options out there! And these days, there are more and more awesome options.
I’ve tried and used many of them – with varying success and ease of use. The email provider we currently use and recommend is SendinBlue. It was recommended to us by the Income School guys. So far it’s been great – and it’s free to start.
YouTube can be an amazing way to document your genealogy journey or to showcase your genealogist skills. And because it’s YouTube instead of cable TV, YouTube doesn’t have to be a big production. Start small – and use what you’ve got on hand until you can add fancier equipment.
- Camera – start with your smartphone. I use my Google Pixel 3a – just in case you were wondering.
- Phone Stabilization – Start with a cheap, $30 tripod from Amazon. Then, you can add a fancier, more stable tripod – or even a gimbal as you get fancier. Gimbals are great if you want to talk, walk, and film simultaneously – it helps prevent jerky videos. I use and recommend the DJ Osmo Mobile 3. It’s got some upgraded features over the 2 that I like.
- Sound – Start by using the sound from your camera phone – or get a cheap, $20 lav mic. Then, upgrade when you can. I use and recommend a Tascam DR10-L. While you can buy it on Amazon, there’s been way too many reviews saying that people were shipped a knock-off. So go ahead and get it from B&H instead.
- Lighting – Add some lighting so your videos aren’t hard to see. You can start with a lamp pointed at you to add some contrast. When I bought my cheap, $30 tripod, it came with a ring light – and I’ve used that for many indoor videos.
- Editing Software – Being (what feels like) one of the few bloggers who doesn’t have a Mac means I can’t use Final Cut. But that’s okay – I like DaVinci Resolve. And it’s free.
As your YouTube channel grows (and so does your ad income), you can expand your tools. For example, one day, I’ll upgrade my DSLR to a mirror-less camera that can double as my YouTube camera. Until then, however, I’ll stick with my smartphone. It works quite well.
Monetizing with Ads
Ads are a great way to step into monetizing your website. It’s by no means the last step, though. You can apply to many different ad networks to join, though. The best ones usually have some minimum requirements (usually related to traffic) that make them harder to get to – at first, anyway. Here are some common ad networks that blogs use.
- AdSense is probably where you’ll start – it’s got the lowest threshold for a successful application. And since it’s what YouTube uses, you’ll want to apply anyway.
- Ezoic is a great next step for ads. It’s what I currently use for all of my sites. I’ve been very happy with Ezoic thus far – and they give you a lot of extra perks if you’re a member of Project 24. Just another reason to join the Income School bandwagon!
- Mediavine and Adthrive are premium-level ad networks. They require multiple tens or hundreds of thousands of sessions each month before they’ll accept you. Both have fantastic reputations.
Monetizing with ads can be an amazing step – and they don’t have to be intrusive or annoying to your users. In fact, don’t let them be annoying. So make sure you go with a reputable company and have an account rep who will help you enhance user experience while optimizing your ad revenue.
I’ve been really happy with Ezoic so far. They’ve been prompt in helping me deal with issues and have helped me earn a good chunk of change – without imposing any traffic requirements on me. So if you’re starting out, I definitely recommend Ezoic.
It’s tempting to want to outsource your writing and make things as passive as possible! When you’re starting out, though, I’d caution you against hiring someone else to write your articles. After all – those writers aren’t genealogists! They won’t have your expertise. And they may not be able to tell your stories adequately.
So start by writing your articles all yourself – it’ll help you learn what to do. And if you’ve got the 60 steps to follow? It’s honestly pretty easy to do.
Once you’re more established, I hear many amazing things about Upwork.com and PassionPosts.com – a Project 24 alumni with a whole team of writers that follows the Income School methodology. I’ve gotten a couple of articles from them, and they’re solid. As with any writing service, though, I did go through those articles and make a few edits. After all, they don’t have all of my stories – so (at a minimum) I always add some fun stories for my readers.
In any case, if you can’t hire a writer, don’t stress. Do it yourself – and know that you’re in good company. We do all of our own writing, too.
Further Monetization with Info Products, Courses, and Beyond
Once you’ve built a solid foundation and have reliable traffic, then you can start thinking about expanding your monetization efforts. I like what the Income School guys recommend about waiting until your traffic is at 30,000 or more monthly views before you stress about building anything like an info product or a membership. Until then, focus on creating and providing amazing content.
Before then, you could definitely focus on promoting your genealogy services. After all – an average conversion rate is 1% – so if you’ve got 1,000 visitors, odds are 1 of them will hire you. You may not need tons of traffic depending on how much time or space you’ve got on your existing client list.
However, if you are aiming to go big (and to leverage info products, products, courses, memberships, or whatever else floats your boat) and have a full monetization strategy, that’s awesome. First, build your foundation – and traffic. Then, use the Income School’s monetization course to build out your offerings.