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’s usually two goals – and they’re at different ends of the spectrum. That’s okay – blogging is flexible so it can 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’re wanting to build a family genealogy site that’s essentially a travel-log that details your discoveries and your family’s awesomeness, then 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. Go start by checking out the channel WP School.
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), then you’re going to 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 of things.
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 penalties that bury 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 the one that actually helps. The blogging course I use and recommend is Income School’s Project 24 (click here to check them out).
Their 60-step blogging course will walk you through the entire process of setting up your blog, figuring out which posts to write, and how to do search engine optimization that’ll help you get seen – so that your blog actually makes money.
Quick aside – here’s a cool interview I (Kimberly) did with Project 24’s Anna about my other blogs’ results at the one-year mark with their program. I’ll tell you exactly what kind of traffic and income I’m making – and how much I love how little hamster-wheeling I have to do. I included GenealogyPals.com data in the overall information, so don’t be fooled by the homesteading channel label.
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. For your family tree, that can be on a piece of paper or a hard drive. For your website, it needs a host.
So where should you host your blog? There are a lot of great options out there.
- Bluehost – I haven’t ever used them, but the Income School guys say it’s decent enough as a starting place.
- Siteground – I’ve used them before and they’re quite good. They’re a little bit pricier than Bluehost, though.
- WPX – they’re even pricier but fast. This might be a good host for later on. Don’t start here.
- Amazon’s AWS – AWS is a great option if you want to get the best quality host but you don’t want to go broke maintaining it. The downside is that you’ll have to build a lot of it yourself. There are some great pieces of software and tutorials that can help you do it, though.
So where should you start? That’s up to you. Just know that as you’re getting a hosting company, to check out the prices – and weigh your priorities as you decide. There’s a lot of great options.
Once you’ve got your host picked out, it’s time to install WordPress. Using WordPress is cool because it’s easily customizable via the themes – using themes is like being able to switch 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.
- Free themes are tempting – but many of them are so buggy that using them is a huge security risk to your blog. Skip them and don’t get hacked.
- Fancy themes look fancy – but they generally slow down your site. Slow sites affect your traffic and overall user experience.
- 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 at the beginning – 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. It’s built by the Income School guys – 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 generally recommend to beginners are the generic WordPress theme (WordPress releases one for every year, so get whatever the current version is) and Acabado. Once you’ve gotten a bunch of content written and you’ve got more experience, then you can try different themes – or even learn to code your own.
I love how easy WordPress is – and how the further customization is so easy with plugins! No coding necessary – unless you really 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 on your site can slow things down significantly.
- Adding a plugin that hasn’t been updated is a security risk – especially if there are any known bugs that 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 are going to 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 kind of harsh, but plugin minimalism is kind of nice.
The plugins that I use and recommend include:
- ShortPixel – it’s great for resizing and compressing images! This helps speed up your site. Currently, I’m not using ShortPixel only because I’m using Ezoic’s speed accelerator – and the two don’t play nicely. But if you don’t have Ezoic’s site speed accelerator – you’ll want ShortPixel.
- Affiliate Link Sherpa – this plugin helps me keep track of affiliate links – and track their performance. That way, I can see what’s working, what’s not, and make changes to links lightning-quick via shortcodes. It’s another Income School specialty.
- Code Snippets – this plugin lets me make a few changes to my site’s code without messing with its actual files – that way, when Acabado has an update, my customizing tweaks aren’t lost.
- Easy Table of Contents – having a table of contents has been amazing for our user experience. It’s nice to be able to find what you need and skip ahead using the jump links. I use this on multiple sites. With Acabado, it will only work if you’ve got Code Snippets to enable the jQuery.
- Grow by Mediavine – this plugin adds sharing and social buttons to the posts. That way, they’re easier to share. It’s the cleanest looking option I’ve found – and it’s not invasive or intrusive.
Five plugins – and that’s it. It’s a huge improvement from the days when I had as many as 22 plugins… eek!! That’s way too many – but I didn’t know that. Looking back, I’m amazed I didn’t get hacked. I was using some pretty questionable plugins!
Okay, so one of my blogs has a sixth plugin to make my email integration work, but that won’t be sticking around for too much longer. So I’m not counting it. 🙂
In any case, most of these plugins are free – with ShortPixel and Grow being the exceptions. ShortPixel will only have a fee if you need to upload a ton of images at once, though. And Grow’s got both a free and a premium yearly paid option – so pick whichever is right for your situation.
Images and Pictures for Your Blog
When it comes to 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 be a better help for your audience – 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 smart phone’s built-in camera – for reals. And I’ve almost always got my phone with me, 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, then only use images 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. We use and recommend Deposit Stock Photos (click here to check out their prices). On occasion, you can snag a steal of a deal to Deposit Photos (and tons of other cool blogging and business tools) on AppSumo.
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 Google mobile picture app that’s free), 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 degrees of 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, as you get fancier, you can add a fancier, more stable tripod – or even a gimbal. Gimbals are great if you want to talk, walk, and film at the same time – 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 really 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 for adding 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 really 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 really works quite well.
Monetizing with Ads
Ads are a great way to step into the world of monetizing your website. It’s by no means the last step, though. There are tons of different ad networks you can apply to join, though. The best ones usually have some sort of 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 that you have an account rep who will help you enhance user experience while also optimizing your ad revenue.
It’s tempting to want to outsource your writing and make things as passive as possible! When you’re first 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, then I hear a lot of amazing things about TextGoods.com – a Project 24 alumni who has a whole team of writers that follows the Income School methodology. I’ve got a couple of articles coming from them (albeit for a different site). For this site, I’m far more hesitant to hire it out. Besides – Breanne and I have a good symbiosis going on where we help each other out with our whole process.
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 really like what the Income School guys recommend, though, 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. Depending on how much time or space you’ve got on your existing client list, you may not need tons of traffic.
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.