So you want to blog. Or maybe you already do blog, but you want to consider other platforms or even self-hosting with your own domain name. Whichever the case, this quick run-down will help you get started.
Ready? Let’s begin. But first–
Why do you blog?
Before you get started, or begin making changes to your existing blog, you need to answer these two questions:
- Why do you want to blog?
- What will you blog about?
Your motivation my be personal, to promote a cause, or to promote a business. The answers will influence the blog host you choose, your theme, your blog design, etc. Personally, I blog for social interaction, a creative outlet, connection with family and friends, and the sharing of knowledge. Because of this I can get away with my pink obsession. If I was trying to promote a business or cause – notsomuch.
Free Blog Hosts
There are many, many free blog hosts available to you. Some people think that blogging costs money but that doesn’t have to be the case. I’ve used both Blogger and WordPress, two of the biggest free blog hosts, so I’ll give a quick review of each of those here.
I like using WordPress. It has it’s quirks on occasion, but once you get used to using it, it’s really quite easy. They’ve recently revamped their user dashboard for the better – featuring all the controls in one place which makes it even easier. Some of the advantages are:
- clean and professional look to the sites
- good forums and FAQ sections
- user friendly dashboard, with lots of options
- option to have multiple pages on the same blog
- built-in blog statistics tracker
- multiple users
- easily manage your uploaded media
- the ability to write “sticky” posts
- the ability to password protect individual posts or make them private.
Some of the disadvantages are:
- limited theme templates
- WordPress has strict regulations on advertising (so if you want to create a blog to sell things or make money, you might not want a WordPress blog.)
I didn’t like using Blogger at first but it has improved a lot in the last couple of years. They’ve improved the user-friendliness, as well as given it more options. Other advantages are:
- advertising freedom
- you can upload new themes, for free, found on the internet
- you can create your own theme or hire someone to do it.
- you can drag and drop page elements when designing your page
- huge amount of gadgets to add to your page
- multiple users
Some disadvantages are:
- many of the free themes don’t work (some of them are for the old blogger system and some just have bad code) causing you to have to switch multiple times before finding one that works well.
- the Blogger Dashboard bar across the top of the blog page can be undesirable (this can be removed in the code if you have the know-how.)
- doesn’t include statistics tracking (but you can use 3rd party tracking such as Google Analytics)
- doesn’t automatically come with ‘pages’ but you can go around this with some creative linking to back-dated posts.
- If you need a blog designer, I happen to “know” a couple:
This is an option a lot of people end up going with, myself included. You get all the advantages of WordPress listed above, plus complete control over your code and your content (so you can advertise and install new themes,) an endless supply of plugins to customize your site and make it unique, and full ownership of your domain name.
Self-hosted means that you download the WordPress software, buy your own domain name, purchase some webspace, upload the WordPress software (and your themes, plugins, etc) to that webspace with an FTP program such as Filezilla and when you’re all done it works and operates like a blog at WordPress.com except that it’s all yours.
The obvious downside is that you have to purchase a domain name and hosting space, so there is a little bit of cost involved. However, there is a reliable source for web hosting, with domain names included that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. My husband and I have been using 1and1.com for over three years now and I’d recommend looking there first. The service I purchase is only $3.99/month.
If you do choose to self-host with WordPress, you’ll be able to find free themes online with a quick Google search. At some point, though, you’ll end up wanting a theme of your own. You could consider trying to make your own wordpress theme, use a theme generator, or you could give one of my designer colleagues above a visit. It’s up to you.
Elements of a good blog design.
What’s in a name?
The name is the first thing your readers will see. Odds are, they saw the name before they even got there, by clicking on a link. It can be tempting to sway to the overly creative side or the overly simple side while choosing your blog name. Take your time and don’t rush it. You want to choose a name that:
- Fits you and your personality
- Describes what you want your blog to be about
- Invites others to read it
- Is memorable but easy to type and read
- If you want to purchase your own domain, you’ll need to find something with an available domain.
A word about choosing a domain name (whether it’s for a self-hosted blog or a web-hosted free blog), it’s important to find something easy to remember and type. www.ilovepinkcats.com is a little long but memorable, whereas www.i_love_pink_cats.com is more complicated and www.ilpc.com is short but not memorable or identifiable to your readers. You’ll notice that I chose www.classichousewife.com/daily-life instead of www.aclassichousewifeinamodernworld.com. This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. (Yes, you may thank me.)
Generally speaking, a good blog design is going to be visually attractive to the eye. You don’t want something too busy and too hard for the eye to follow, you don’t want something too dark – you DO want something that leads the readers eyes down the page and encourages them to keep reading. This requires putting some thought into the color scheme and layout, but also requires good organization and de-cluttering skills in the sidebar. Not an easy task, but an important one.
First things first
The same “above the fold” rule that goes for newspapers applies to blogs, too. The part of your blog that a viewer sees when they first arrive at your blog, before scrolling down, is referred to as “above the fold.” The above the fold content is what encourages your reader to keep reading below the fold. Considering this, you’ll want to keep the important stuff at the top: some page navigation, a brief bio or picture of you, a subscribe button (VERY important) and most importantly, the headline of your top post. Make sure that your header image isn’t so large that post content is completely below the fold.
Other important blog components
A few other important things you don’t want to leave out:
- An About Me page – allows your readers to connect with you.
- Contact information – make it easy for your readers to email you a question, tip, comment, or compliment.
- Highlighted posts – including links to some top or favorite posts gives new readers a place to start when they first meet you and encourages them to subscribe.
- Search box – sometimes readers remember finding something at your blog and want to come back to find it. Make it easy for them.
To learn more about good blog design elements, browse these good articles:
- Blog Design: Keep it Clutter Free and User Friendly at Blog Her
So leave some feedback.
So now you’ve got some starting points if you want to create a blog, or some information points if you want to switch hosts or go self-hosted. So what do you think? This is the point where you share your thoughts and input in the comments. Which hosts have you used? Have you used something besides Blogger and WordPress? Did you like them? Why or why not? What blog elements do YOU feel are most important, dear reader? I want to know!
Next Monday, the topic is Growing Your Traffic. Perhaps I should talk about writing first, but there are some things you need in place from the beginning, so traffic it is! See you then.