29 November 2016

Autumn through Instagram


I'm quickly trying to squeeze this post in before things start to get categorically un-autumnal on Nikki's Notebook. I'm off to New York tomorrow and I'm expecting my next few posts to be filled with twinkling lights, dusky cityscapes and jaw-droppingly beautiful window displays. I can't wait!

But back to autumn - I'm sad to see it slowing down. It's probably my favourite season, although it never stays for long. I like the chill in air (y'know, before it turns absolutely baltic), the piles of amber, rust and cherry-red leaves, and the excuse to wrap up warm in cosy jumpers and scarfs. I like the hot drinks, the dark evenings spent reading and movie-watching, and the delicious, hearty meals.

Here's what I've been up to this autumn

Walking through leafy paths. I found this one by my office and seem to have coordinated my accessories with the ground 🍁🍂🍃

I treated myself to a Cambridge Satchel Co bag, something I've wanted for years! Even Jude seems impressed. Coat - Topshop | Dress (out of stock) - Topshop | Boots - New Look (similar)  | Bag - The Cambridge Satchel Company 

I went pumpkin picking for the first time, it was so much fun! Word of warning: they're heavier than they look

I love Bonfire Night. I don't think this is the recommended way to photograph fireworks, but my (accidental) slow exposure captured a pretty magical image 

I didn't expect to find a fairy door in Chiswick. It comes with a flag, toadstool, welcome sign and lights - so cute! 

I love baking, especially when it involves chocolate. I've been trying to eat a bit healthier, so when I saw this Fearne Cotton recipe for a chocolate cake with no refined sugar or dairy, I decided to give it a whirl. Looks pretty good, huh?

My Halloween costume, darling! I bucked the scary monster theme and went for Holly Golightly, as I've always wanted to recreate this costume (I love Audrey Hepburn). It was so much fun to do and I would have liked to do a tutorial, but I don't have many photos! Boo!

Spending a chilly autumn day by the beach with a hot chocolate is perfection for me. And Jazz Cafe is one of my favourite spots for an epic hot choc!

The best bit about autumn? The delicious, warming food! This mac'n'cheese from Brewhouse & Kitchen was much needed on a Friday lunchtime

And that's autumn. Now I'm off to do some panic packing. If you want to see my New York adventures as they happen, follow me on Instagram @nikkimcmullen and Snapchat @nikkimc91. Eep, so excited 💕

24 November 2016

How to make a good blog

When I started blogging, one of the first questions I had was: 'how do I make something good?'

It's taken several years, four names and two platforms, but I think I've finally got something that resembles an answer. Blogging is an ever-changing medium, so I can't rest on my laurels - but I can share a few tips I've learned along the way.

With hundreds of millions (yep, really!) of blogs out there, how do you get yours noticed? How will you make your blog look good? And more importantly, how will you make it sound good?

I'm going to assume you don't have some insane degree that covers web design, social media, content marketing, photography and creative writing under your belts. So let's start from the beginning...

What's in a name?

I'm going to confess: I've spent weeks worrying about potential blog names.

'The name is what you first notice!' I'd reason. 'It needs to be perfect.'

Well, now I disagree with myself. Why? Because I don't think you'll see many bloggers who still love their blog name after a few years - and it's the same for most titles. Alex Turner said the name Arctic Monkeys is 'so bad that the tribute bands don't sound worse' and Nora Ephron couldn't even name When Harry Met Sally... - it was an anonymous crew member who came up with that particular title!

So don't get too het up about the name. To paraphrase Shakespeare: 'a blog by any other name would be as subscribable'.

I still have a few tips to help you out, though!
  1. Avoid being cool or trendy. Suddenly it will be neither of those things and then you're stuck with a name you don't identify with.
  2. Make a list of everything you love/do/are - you might find a combination of words just jumps out at you. It's very bloggy to go with '[Noun] and [Noun]', like 'Cupcakes and Cashmere' or 'Netflix and Noodles'. But, as I mentioned before, fashions fade. You do you.
  3. When in doubt, go with your name (or a variation of it). It won't go out of style and you will never outgrow it. Think What Olivia Did or Lly Mlrs

Where should I blog?

There are so many platforms to choose from, it seems an impossible decision. 

For traditional bloggers, it's generally a choice between Wordpress and Blogger. I've used both and there's no right or wrong choice, it's all down to personal preference.

There's two types of Wordpress site: Wordpress.org and Wordpress.com. The first requires quite a bit of digital know-how. You have to host the website yourself, but you can basically create your blog from scratch and make it exactly as you want it. Wordpress.com is much easier to use - you just choose from and customise the available templates.

Nowadays, I use Blogger (I think I prefer the interface). Like Wordpress.com, it's easy to set up and use. And on both platforms, you can buy pretty templates to make it look just as professional as a self-hosted, fancily-designed blog. The only downside is that it's less customisable and controllable. I'll talk about this more in the next section.

Some people blog just using Instagram. You can put pretty long pieces of text into the caption, you know? So, if you're going to be heavily image led, this is a viable option. Think about @MuradOssmann, Instagram is all he needs.  

And some people manage to blog entirely through Twitter. This is a form of succinct sorcery I've not yet mastered. 140 character limit? I'd struggle. But if that's your thing - maybe you like writing your posts in Haiku form? - go for it.

There's also Tumblr, Medium, Squarespace, Wix, Joomla and many, many more. Do a bit of research (this is a pretty good article), work out what your favourite bloggers use, give a few a test-drive and you'll be away. Promise.

How do I make my blog look good?

I'm going to make two assumptions:
  1. You are not a web designer.
  2. You don't want to pay lots of money to hire a web designer.
Therefore, you have two options:
  1. Use one of the preset templates your blogging platform offers and tinker with the HTML (it's not too hard to find help with this on Google).
  2. Buy a nice template. My last two have been from Pipdig, who I really rate because their customer service is awesome (shout out to Phil, who fixes all my problems). It's also not too expensive (around £30), so you can freshen up your layout from time to time.
Whatever you do, make sure your blog is mobile optimised - which means the design will also work for mobile or tablet users. I know that sounds quite minor, but if you ever use a site that isn't mobile optimised, with it's tiny font, awkward, in-the-way menus and impossible-to-click links, you'll know what a ball ache it is. Most platforms and templates are mobile optimised, but it's always worth checking. 

Design-wise, try and keep it as clean as possible. A simple heading*, plenty of white space, nice clear headings and handy side bar links will work wonders. 

*My heading isn't so simple, but I'm very attached to it because it was designed by the lovely Ella Masters. Most blogs seem to have some nice typography as their heading. That's easy to achieve with a trial version of Photoshop and something from dafont.com.

How do I make good content?

This could easily be a whole blog of its own, but I'll try and keep it short. To me, there are three principles of good online content:

Make it easy to read 

In a physical sense, this means breaking up your posts with headings and subheadings. You don't want to intimidate your reader with big chunks of text, so try to add a line break every few sentences.

In a wordy sense, I mean coming across as approachable and friendly, avoiding language that's overly formal or overly slang-ified (and maybe don't make up words like slang-ified). Write to your audience as if you're talking to a friend - it helps to make you sound more, well, you.

 Make it visual 

It's tough to read a middle-long blog post without images to break up the text or illustrate a point. For blogs, I'm a big advocate of the full-sized images which take up the width of the post area (otherwise they look tiny on mobile!).

Landscape images work best, as full-length portrait shot will end up taking over most of your screen. In some cases, this can be effective - but use it sparingly. 

Make it findable 

I'm sure you'll be sharing your posts on social media, but search engine traffic will almost certainly be your second biggest source of views! You need to help Google (and other search engines) find your blog, so that when people search for things relevant to your content, you'll show up!

Now, mere mortals like us don't exactly knows how Google works - but there are a few tips and tricks that can help improve your ranking (that's how high you appear on Google's search results).

 1. Google knows when you've used a heading or subheading and scans them for information about your page. Therefore, make your headings/subheadings descriptive and informative so Google can easily grasp the main topics of your post.

2. Use keywords. Think about what people might Google to find your blog. If you can do this, you've just 'search engine optimised' your content, and you should feel pretty smug about that. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you spam your post with key phrases - your number one priority should still be writing something people want to read.

A final tip? It never hurts to get a friend or family member to take a look over your blog post before you publish it. They can help spot typos, point out any spots where your writing doesn't flow, and make sure you're coming across as clearly as possible. Then you'll feel confident when you finally hit that big publish button.

Enjoy yourself

Blogging is a fantastic way to develop a whole host of skills: writing, social media, HTML coding, web design, photography - and many more! It can open a whole world of opportunities you never knew existed, like getting to know some great fellow bloggers, attending events you never dreamed of, and partnering with brilliant brands.

I just have one small request: when you blog, try and spread some positivity. Whether that's making someone smile, sharing a word of encouragement or a shedding light on a dark situation (I might have gone a bit Harry Potter there, apologies).

I hope you've found this guide helpful - that's all from me for now,


(Hit me up on Twitter if you have any questions! I'm @nikki_mcmullen
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