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Starting a Blog

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Starting a Blog

The internet is a rapidly evolving media.  It wasn’t too long ago that only coding specialists could design and build websites.  Software usability has come a long way, so much so that a mere mortals such as you and I can build and operate attractive, responsive and functional websites.  Starting a Blog is particularly easy.  So if you want to know how to start a Blog read on.

 

Step 1 - Choose Your Subject

Choose a topic or genre in which you have a genuine interest or connection, one broad enough to allow for a lot of articles, and also one that continues to evolve.  Successful Blogs are those that continue to grow over time with fresh and interesting content added on a regular basis.  If you have a genuine interest in the Blog subject or genre then it will be easier for you to continue to come up with new article subjects.

 

Step 2 - Choose Your Platform

Websites are basically powered by a Content Management System (CMS) linking a database to a web server with some server side software

 

 

CMS

The three most common CMS systems are:

  1. WordPress
  2. Drupal
  3. Joomla

 

WordPress.Org     drupal.org   joomla.org

 

These are all open source that is they are free to download and use.

 

There are also companies called Web Builders that offer front-ends to creating websites that are easier to use for the average person than any of the three mainstream CMS systems.

 

Database

Most common databases on the Web is Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server

 

Server

Most common web servers are Apache, Microsoft

 

Server Software

The most common server side software is PHP.

 

Of course other software languages involved for the client side (the website users PC), such as HTML,  CSS,  JavaScript etc. but these typically handled for you by your CMS out of the box. However, it does help to know a little about HTML and CSS if you want to customize the appearance and function of your website beyond the websites Theme (see below).

 

The most popular combination of database and software for websites is: Apache/MySQL/PHP.  Most hosting services would have this combination in their arsenal.

There are Windows and Mac versions of this combination (such as WAMP) that you can install and run on your PC to host your own website. This is great for building and testing new websites  before uploading to an online host (more about this below).

So really the only choice an end user like you and me needs to make is which CMS to use. A recent market survey of the current share of the main Internet CMS systems is:

WordPress          69%

Drupal                   6%

Joomla                  10%

 

WordPress dominates the Internet because it is easy to use. However, the others have their advantages, Drupal for example is supposed to be more scalable and more secure.

If you just want to build a Blog using a full CMS (there are another options, see below), then WordPress is probably the way to go because it’s easiest to learn and maintain, out of the three main choices.

Website appearance and functionality is handled with Themes for each CMS. There are many Themes available online (free and premium) to install in your site, minimising any coding needs for customising your website.  Just choose the Theme closest to your needs as possible.

 

Step 3: Choose a Host

 

Contribute to an Existing Blog

There are many existing Blogs that encourage individuals to become contributors. This is by far the simplest and easiest means of getting your message out but bear in mind  it will be your article, but it  won’t be your Blog.  You will just be a contributor to a main Blog.  Use Google to find a Blog of the genre that you would like to comment to in your posts.

 

Free Hosting

There are several mainstream free hosting Blog sites such as:

Blogger.com (affiliated with Google): easy to use but limited in customization and personalization

Wordpress.com: you will need to learn some of the basics of WordPress, but through WordPress.com the CMS is tailored for blogging

 

A few clicks of the button you will be adding content to your own Blog in minutes after signing on

 

Issues with free hosted Blog sites are:

  • Your Blog ends up as a subdomain of the main domain such as “wordpress.com/mysite”. This can make it difficult for people to find your Blog
  • Your Blog will be populated with ads that may not benefit your site
  • Limited storage space (may not be an issue for a small Blog)
  • You may not always own the content even though you have contributed it. This is the case with blogger.com.  However with WordPress.com your site is just a WordPress CMS site that you can zip up and use elsewhere

 

There are other free hosting sites I will leave you to find online.

 

Integrated Hosting

Wordpress.com also offers some paid hosting options, providing more features such as use of your own domain name, better support greater choice of themes, customization, more storage etc.  This is still an easy pathway to starting a Blog, but a little more professional. The WordPress.com pricing packages range from $6 -25/month (2016).

 

Hosting with Website Builders

Website Builders software has simpler interfaces to give the inexperienced website builder much more control over their website.  Examples of Website Builders are Wix, and SquareSpace.

A couple of issues here:

  • Some Website Builders make It extremely difficult to take your content with you should you want to leave
  • The important back-end features such as security and search engine optimization may not be as robust as the mainstream CMS packages

 

As a guideline pricing Wix packages range from $6 -25/month (2016)

 

Self-Hosted

Find your own web hosting company install your preferred CMS, and build your website. This will give you a lot more control over your Blog appearance and behavior.  However you will need to learn how to use a CMS.  Also, you should learn a little HTML and CSS to give you the most control over the appearance and functionality of your Blog.  These are not hard to learn and there are plenty of free learning aids online.

When choosing a host, don't only go by price, cheapest is not always best. Technical support and good server performance are critical in successfully hosting a website. At the end of the day hosting is not overly expensive in any case, from $5 -$20/month.

If you've never run a website before I would suggest you consider paying a small premium for a hosting company that offers good support  to give you more confidence in getting your software loaded on the server and keeping it running.

Unless you've used other CMS systems, then shortest learning curve and ease of use is probably your main criteria, in which case WordPress is the CMS for you. 

Alternately, if you need to go the self-hosted route but do not want to expend time and effort in learning how to use a CMS, you can pay a website design company to construct a website and even installed on the host of your choice.   Be sure to develop a good specification on the appearance and functionality of your Blog, to minimize any differences in understanding between you and the web designer on what constitutes a successful outcome.  But my advice is to at least learn the basics of whichever CMS you intend to use, as you will always want to make changes and improve your site over time. This will cost money if you have to go back to your website designer each time.

 

Step 4: The Learning and Developing Process

The best way to learn how to build a web site is install a web server on your PC or Mac, this will allow you to design, build and test your site on your local machine before uploading to a hosting server.  I used WAMP (Windows Apache MySQL PHP) which contain the core components of many website/server combinations.  If your site works on WAMP it will more than likely be trouble free on an actual hosting server.  After some tinkering WAMP runs nicely on Windows 10.  WAMP is also free.  There are other local machine server options available for Windows and Mac.

This level of the detail may not be for everyone.  But if you do have some in interest in programming and technology, then getting your own web server up and running on your PC and learning the nuts and bolts of a CMS can be both challenging and rewarding, and will also give you the skills to produce websites more tailored to your specific needs.

 

Step 5: Choose a Domain Name for Your Blog

You will need to choose a name to your Blog. A domain name is what you see in the URL at the top of your browser, e.g. CNN.com.  Domain names need to be unique, and given that there are already so many out there it is likely your first several choices will be taken. So it can be a bit of an effort to think of a name for your site where the corresponding domain name is available.

There is a fee for domain name registration, typically about $10 per year.

Try to choose a domain name that is catchy and easy to remember, and in some way related to the topic of your website.

To see if your domain name is available, check out the many domain name availability checkers on the web. Your hosting company should also have a domain name availability checker on their webpage.

 

In Summary

So there you have it.  There are a lot of options available for starting up a Blog and keeping it running. It really depends what you need.

If it’s just a Blog and you no desire to earn money from it, then go for the easiest option of free hosting, or perhaps integrated hosting or a Web builder interface, acknowledging they will have limitations in terms of expansion.

If you're looking for something to eventually generate income then you need more control and more scalability so self-hosting is likely the best choice to you.  CMS choice will most likely be WordPress by default. I chose Drupal, I don't know why, it was a little painful during the 12month learning process, but I must confess I'm now used to the interface and generally can achieve the end result I need.

 

In a nutshell your options are:

 

Difficulty

Option

Comment

Easy

Contribute to Existing Blog

Free Hosting

Content not yours

Ability to monetise your Blog limited or non-existent

Medium

Integrated Hosting

Web Builder Interface

Web Builder – may not be as search optimised as a mainstream CMS, and you may not easily be able to take your content with you

Still some learning curve on CMS use

 

Hard

Self Hosting

Some learning curve with the CMS, at least the basics;  and also with installing on the host server

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: The content of this article and other articles on this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute professional advice. Please seek advice from a professional in the relevant field, in relation to any specific matter. Refer to the website Terms and Conditions.

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