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Beginner’s Guide to Pinterest Basics

pinterest guide

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Pinterest is my new favorite obsession. Part of the reason Pinterest is exploding in popularity is that it is so easy to use. It sounds and even looks a little complicated, but in just a few minutes, you can pretty easily set up your boards and start pinning.

What I’ve found, however, is that the more you use Pinterest, the more little tricks you learn. I’ve already posted Seven Cool Ways to Use Pinterest, and later this week, I’ll be linking to other brilliant bloggers who are also writing Pinterest posts. Today, though, I wanted to write a little beginner’s guide to using this new tool, especially if you’re interested in using Pinterest to drive traffic to your blog, Etsy store, or other website.

Getting Started on Pinterest

As of writing this post, you still have to ask for an invite to Pinterest. I got my welcome email in a little less than a week, but you have to be patient. Once you’re in, though…it’s pretty easy. You link to you current Twitter and Facebook profiles, as well as your blog, and your info is pulled in automatically (they use your picture and Twitter bio). Once you have your profile set up? Start pinning!

But what does that really mean, to “pin” stuff?

Essentially, Pinterest is a way to organize and share your bookmarks in a visual way. Each “board” is a category (like “recipes” or “flowers”) and each “pin” is a link or picture you want to remember and share with your friends. As you browse online, you pin cool stuff you find to a corresponding board. I use the Pin It Button on my bookmarks toolbar in Firefox, but you can also go back to the website every time you want to pin something instead. Some blogs and online stores are starting to add their own pin it buttons on individual posts and items, much like tweet or like buttons, so you can hit those too. You can also upload pictures directly to Pinterest from your computer.

Pinterest also allows you to easily browse others’ boards to pin cool stuff. You can connect to Facebook to easily find friends who already pinning and browse their boards and you can also browse by board category. Anything you see on Pinterest can be liked (if you appreciate it) or repinned (if you want to add it to one of your own boards). You can also comment on other people’s pins.

It’s kind of like Facebook – when someone posts something, you can like it, share it, and comment on it.

When you find someone pinning cool stuff, you can follow them to make sure you see other cool stuff they post in the future. You can a specific board or you can follow all of a person’s board. When you follow people, you’ll see their most recent pins on your homepage.

Pinterest Board Creation

Pinterest is all about curating content using your boards. When you sign up, they give you some default boards, but you can delete them, rename them, and create new boards.

One of the biggest mistakes I see newbies to Pinterest making is using just a single board named something like “Cool Stuff” or “Stuff I Love.” That’s great if you want to simply save a few links that you like, but part of the point of Pinterest (hah, point of Pinterest. I crack myself up) is to categorize stuff you find. Part of what makes Pinterest great is that you don’t have to see stuff that doesn’t interest you when you follow someone else.

An  example I give people: My friend Kelby has a ton of boards. Her craft projects board is something that definitely interests me, but since I don’t have children, her kid-related boards don’t interest me. On Facebook or Twitter, I just get a continuous stream of content from someone like Kelby, but on Pinterest I get to follow just the links that interest me! So don’t create really general boards if you want people to follow you. Be specific with your board topics.

Focus on curating the best content possible with every board. People will take the time to browse through what you’ve pinned in the past. This isn’t like Twitter where your old links disappear quickly. Pinners follow boards when they like the majority of the content, so make every board great. Don’t be afraid of having too many boards. As you pin, split boards according to your activity. For example, maybe you have a “Geeky Stuff” board, but as you pin you find that half the stuff you pin to it is Star Wars stuff. Keep your original geeky stuff board, but create a second Star Wars board just for those pins.

You also want to make sure you categorize your boards well. When you pin something, you have the option to create a new board simply by entering the name. However, if you to this, the board you create will not be categorized, so it won’t show up in Pinterest’s directory by category. Make sure you go back in and add a category. I also recommend adding a description using a few keywords based on the board content. Make it easy for new people to find you!

Driving Traffic with Pinterest

Pinterest is all about curating content, but point is to share others’ content, not your own. I don’t recommend creating a ton of boards that you use to pin your own stuff. In fact, that kind of thing is heavily frowned upon, even if what you’re sharing is really cool. That said, you can certainly still drive traffic with Pinterest! Here are my tips:

  • Make sure your content is visual.

The reason Pinterest caught on so quickly with food bloggers and Etsy users is that this platform is all about the visual element. Think of an actual pinboard in real life. You probably wouldn’t hang a ten-page document; you’d hang pictures, ticket stubs, that kind of thing. If you want people to pin your blog posts, they need to be visual. Use pictures, and whenever possible, use pictures you actually take (rather than stock photography.

  • Add the pin button to your site.

That one’s pretty self-explanatory. Add the pin button to your posts so people can easily hit the pin button and encourage people to follow you with a badge on your sidebar, the same way you’d have a Twitter or Facebook badge.

  • Create boards related to your own content.

The best case scenario is someone following all of your boards, rather than just a single board. To encourage this, create boards that relate to the content important to you. For example, let’s say you have a social media blog. You might create a board about social media where you pin your own posts (along with others’ content), but you can also create boards such as “Funny Social Media Jokes” for cartoons about social media that make you laugh or “Social Media Books” for pins about industry books you’ve enjoyed. The more relevant stuff you pin relating to your blog’s topic, the more likely it is for people interested in this topic to find you and start following all of your boards.

  • Be smart about keywords.

This one took me some time to realize, but now that I’ve realized how important search is on Pinterest, I’m getting a ton more attention on Pinterest! Keywords are super important, because your description is all you have to attract someone looking for the type of content you’re pinning. Using an above example, let’s say you pin a funny social media cartoon. It’s tempting to just write in the description, “Haha, this is sooooo true” but a much better option that doesn’t change your message at all is “Haha, this is exactly what Facebook is like!” That way, someone who’s searching “Facebook” will see your post.

  • Spread out your pinning throughout the day.

Pin throughout the day so you’ll always have fresh content on your followers’ homepages. When people search by category (which is how I most often find new pinners to follow), the most recent content will show up at the top of the page. Make it your goal to have content on the front page of your category as often as possible. Rather than pinning lots of stuff at once, spread out your pinning.

  • Pin only the best of the best.

If you pin too much of your own content, people will get sick of it. This isn’t like Twitter where you should pin every single thing you write. Pin the best of the best to draw people in; let them take care of pinning other posts they discover on your site and enjoy. It’s kind of like StumbleUpon in that sense. It’s okay to stumble your own stuff occasionally, but it’s even better when other people hit the stumble like button.

Before I close out this post, I want to say this: I don’t think Pinterest is perfect. In fact, there are a lot of things about Pinterest that I find frustrating or confusing. But remember, this is a super young network. I’m super excited to see how things evolve as Pinterest grows.

Do you have any specific questions about Pinterest? I’m happy to answer them if I can! Also feel free to share your favorite Pinterest tip with a comment below.

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


  • GregoryPaige

    @kellydavies9 Is Pinterest worth exploring? I’m trying not to spread myself to thin online, but cool platforms keep popping up.

  • netsolcares

    @JulianaP16 @DiHerholdt Thanks for sharing. Happy pin-ing!

  • valeriekeener

    @Obeo Would love a Pinterest invite! valerie.keener@remax.net

    • Obeo

      @valeriekeener just sent one out to you, Valerie. If you don’t find it, be sure to check junk/spam mail.

  • Trisha

    How do you actually delete your own boards ?

  • mmaren

    @JeriDansky Thanks. Still not sure I know what it’s good for.

  • Schalk

    I am new to Pinterest. Found it interesting you mentioned it’s wise not to post too much of your own content as people will get sick of it. At the same time heard people using this as an internet marketing platform. Sounds hard to juggle? Any advice?

  • imwarriors

    I found it interesting that you said one should not post too much of your own content as people will get sick of it. I see some people are making use of Pinterest as a platform to generate income. Sounds quite hard to juggle. Any suggestions?

    • allison_boyer

       @imwarriors I try to use the 80/20 rule – 80% other people’s content to 20% of my own. But it depends on your niche and your audience. I think you have to think about it as you would any other platform. How would you do it on Twitter or with email or on your own blog? Sometimes, it’s appropriate for 100% of your content to be income-generating. Other times, you have to be more careful. If you’re focusing on affiliate sales, one option is to create two Pinterest accounts in related areas and do some split testing to see which performs better.

  • Paul Shapiro

    I think collaborative boards are a great way to build a following on pinterest. That’s my personal recommendation :)

  • Sandra

    I’d like to save an email address that I frequently send pins to but can’t seem to figure out how.

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