So you’ve made the decision that you want to start a blog. How exciting, right?! Well it is until you then have to work through a few practicalities. Most bloggers are not IT experts, and you don’t need to be. But you do need to get to grips with a few basics at least to get started. Here are what I would say are the first four questions you need to ask yourself, and answer, before you launch. A lot boils down to what you want to blog about, whether it’s as a hobby or if you want to try to make an income from blogging.
1 – What platform should I use?
Think of the platform as like the MS word, powerpoint or google doc framework that you use to make your site. Each has their own pros and cons, things they can do and things they can’t. For blogs, there are a few options but the main ones are Blogger, WordPress or Squarespace.
Blogger lets you build a site pretty easily and they host it for free. So when you start a blog, this may be something that appeals. All you would need to buy is domain registration. You can customize a bit, however it lacks flexibility so you may find you outgrow it and then you have the hassle of trying to move to a different platform down the line. You can use Google AdSense for on-site advertising, but most other networks are unlikely to accept you on Blogger, as I understand it.
WordPress is almost certainly the most popular but there’s more than one option within it. If you opt for WordPress, you then have to decide if you want WordPress.org or WordPress.com. The main difference is who is hosting. With wordpress.com, WordPress is your host and the advantage is that it’s free (unless you opt for a premium version). The downside is while you can customize a bit, it’s limited and in particular you can’t put advertising on your site. While you may not need or be able to initially, over time it may be something you want to do so it can be good to have the option.
WordPress.org has a pretty large amount of flexibility and is what many people consider the only real option if you want to be a professional blogger. You can customize a lot, add various tools (known as plug ins) to help you manage the site and there are no restrictions on advertising etc. You ‘own’ the site and sort out your web hosting, design etc separately. This does means there is a much greater learning curve, but it’s not that you need to be an expert to use it. You can also get help, as I’ll come on to below.
Squarespace is a bit newer and has a bit more flexibility than Blogger, but not as much as WordPress.org. However many like it because there is less you need to learn and it’s pretty intuitive. There are some customization options, but the intention is the templates think of pretty much everything for you to then use as you need. Squarespace is not free, but the hosting is built in to the cost.
Personally, I’ve gone with wordpress.org as it seemed to offer the most flexibility and that was something I wanted. However there’s a brand new option from Studiopress which is similar to Squarespace in that it’s a site and hosting all in one, but it uses all the best bits of a WordPress site with a Studiopress framework and theme (see more below). Given my experience with their framework/theme, I’d say it’s definitely one to consider.
2 – What host should I use? Shared server or dedicated?
If you opt for wordpress.org then you also need to decide on a host. This is basically the company that manages the servers that keep your site up and running. A big part of the decision is cost and flexibility. Essentially you can either have a dedicated server, where all the server space is for your site, or a shared server where a few sites share the space. Obviously, the dedicated option means there is more capacity for your site, but it costs you a lot more. When you are starting out, you will almost certainly want shared server as you just won’t have the number of pageviews to warrant paying for a dedicated server. You can then change as you grow, as makes sense, without any trouble.
How you choose the hosting company depends a bit on what you are looking for and as with platforms, all have their pros and cons. Some are cheaper, but probably won’t have as good support. Others cost more but you get more for it. It’s worth asking around since as with anything, people have different experiences and what seemed like a good option a year or two ago may not be any more. The good part with going down the wordpress.org route is you can change without too big a problem, as I have. I currently use Siteground and have been very happy with the high level of support and information from them for the price I pay. They have a range of plans depending on the size of your site.
3 – How do I get the site name I want?
First, of course, you need to have an idea of what you want to call your site. Think about what your site is about. Do you want to go simple or play on words? Look at your competition for ideas. Then you need to see if the name is available and claim it. If you’re on Blogger, WordPress.com or Squarespace then I believe you just go through them. The options may also be more limited (eg in general on wordpress.com your site name will be xxx.wordpress.com, on blogger you’ll be xxx.blogspot.com). If you go down the wordpress.org route, you are normally best to look through the hosting company as they will generally help you register the domain as well (as Siteground does). This is usually pretty easy and you just follow the steps on their site. Theoretically you can have your domain registered separately but personally I don’t see much reason to.
4 – How do I design my site?
If you opt for Blogger, WordPress.com or Squarespace then the look and feel of your site is limited a bit to the range of options they have available. If you go for wordpress.org the options are huge. You can pay for a designer to create something unique, or you can start with a template known as a ‘theme’. There are a few themes that you get for free when you first set up your site, or you can pay for one. As with everything else, a lot depends what you are looking for. Most have some level of customization eg the specific colors used, layout options and you can add in your own logo. One big thing to look for is if the theme is mobile responsive. This basically means that the layout adjusts when you look at the site on your phone so that you don’t have to drag the view around to try to get to the menus etc. If it’s not, you will almost certainly get less traffic from people searching through Google as you will be listed lower. Google have made it clear they are looking for a good user experience on mobile as well as desktop, and responsiveness is part of this.
I opted for a StudioPress theme. Their designs use a common framework (the Genesis framework) that’s mobile responsive and you can then choose themes to add to it. I went with the FoodiePro theme as it’s one I really liked the design of (and I’m not alone), plus it’s easy to work with. You don’t need to know code to use it, it works mainly by dragging and dropping and then using drop down menus.
There are various other things you’ll probably start wanting to know once you start a blog, like what plug ins to add if you’re on wordpress.org, but these should at least allow you to get up and running.
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