This is the second of three posts exploring in turn how to start, build and share a blog. The first part can be found here.
A few years, it used to be fairly easy to find out how to start and build a blog, as blogging was a fairly new thing, and most bloggers saw other bloggers as fellow pioneers and were happy to help. All that has changed in the last five years; blogging is now big business, for bloggers but also for those providing services to bloggers. Everything looks much more professional now, so most people need some help to make their site look good, and a number of folk are happy to help for a fee.
When I went looking, I did find quite a good series of posts on how to blog—which were written in 2006! (In case you did not realise it, that is just prior to Noah going into the ark in terms of the web.) So I am here sharing with you the basic things I have learnt over five years, in the hope that you won’t then distract people from reading my blog by your excellent, professional-looking blog posts!
There are three main elements you need for your blog, and how you manage these elements will determine how much money you spend and how much time you give to setting your blog up.
- The domain name, which becomes the URL or web address that people use to see your site.
- Hosting of your site, that is, finding a computer which holds your blog pages and resources which people can access.
- A blogging platform, that is, the software which you actually use to compose and post your writing.
The good news is that you can do all these things simply, for free, which little effort—or you can be more fussy, and manage more of the detail yourself, or pay someone else to do it. The more you do yourself, the more flexibility you have, but the more time and energy you will need to invest.
Twitter counts as a ‘microblogging’ site, since you can put short posts up. Tumblr is similar, but is mostly used for images. The two main blogging platforms are WordPress and Blogger. WordPress is the most popular blogging system on the web, and offers lots of handy and easy-to-use features, so I am going to stick with that.
The easiest way in
The first thing you need to know is the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org. The first offers a combined service which includes domain name registration, hosting, and the WordPress blogging platform, all free. If you want the simplest solution, this is the place to go. You choose your blog name, and the domain will be created and registered as
If you want to look a little more professional, you can pay an annual fee (of around $20) to drop the .wordpress. part. You pay another additional fee to remove adverts. There are a limited number of free templates which you can adapt a little to make your blog look distinctive—though it is interesting to see how many bloggers haven’t bothered. In terms of how you want your site to look, the best thing is to have a browse around the web, find some blogs that you like the look of, and try something like them. Most blogs on free templates say at the bottom which template they are using, so you can even work that out.
If you would like a more distinctive and more professional look, then you could pay for a ‘premium’ template, which will have been designed by a third party. So with a small outlay of money, and only an hour or two of time, you could have quite a nice website up and running to blog on. Voilà.
Understanding the system
If you want to do any more, then you need to know a little about what is going on to produce the finished web page. All web pages are produced by encoding in HTML or HyperText Markup Language. (You can see the code in most browsers by finding ‘View source’ or something similar.) This is the real nuts and bolts of what is going on. However, this is complex to write from scratch, so there are in fact several intermediate ‘layers’ between the code and what you actually use to write your blog posts:
A content management system which uses these, and in this case is the WordPress software. (All websites now use a ‘content management’ approach, since it is the simplest way of organising all the different components of a site.) You can find this on the other WordPress site, wordpress.org, where you can download the software which is free and ‘open source’—it is maintained by the community of its users.
A template. This is a website that has already been created by someone using the WordPress software, but which includes some features that you, as user, can edit and change.
As you move down this list, life becomes simpler, since you are making use of ‘higher levels’ of programming, but it also because less flexible, since other people have made certain decisions for you. Free templates are generally easy to use, but give little freedom, so don’t have much control over how your site looks. A notable exception to this is the popular Atahualpa template, which does allow you to fiddle with all sorts of things (I used to use it), but be warned—the more you change, the more time it takes. Premium templates give you more freedom, so your site can be quite distinctive. Compare my site here with Fulcrum; both use the same template Canvas, but different options have been chose for look and layout.
The most complex way
So if you want to do everything yourself, you will need to register a domain name (with 123-reg or Heart Internet or the like), get a hosting package, probably from the same people, install your WordPress software, choose a template, and sort the details out. If you are a computer geek, I am sure you will manage this fine.
A simpler way is to pay someone to do this for you! The advantage of this is that you still have freedom to make decisions about design and layout and so forth, but someone who knows is making decisions about (for example) which hosting company is best and why. Sorting something out should not take more than a day’s work—and probably a lot less, so it is worth considering. I have used three different people for this over the years, and my current hero is James Cooper who works at JPC Design. He is easy to work with, flexible, really knows his stuff technically, and has a great eye for design—though has allowed me to have my say too. Thoroughly recommended.
So your choices are, from simplest to most complex:
1. Have everything done for you by WordPress.com
2. As above, but pay for a premium template, remove ads and have your own domain name.
3. Pay a web designer to set it up for you.
4. Do all the component parts of set-up yourself.
I hope that’s helpful, and look forward to all the techies putting me right in the comments below!