So You Want to Start Blogging – But Where to Begin?

So you want to start blogging…  Awesome!  Whether you’re a business person wanting to share you knowledge and expertise in your field, or a stay at home mom with tons of funny stories about what it’s like to raise twin toddlers, you’ve made a wonderful choice that will provide a lot of insight and enjoyment for many many people – not the least of all yourself.

But where do you begin?

This is the most common issue I hear when the topic of the benefits of blogging come up in conversation.  There are a lot of different ways to approach getting started, but first you should answer a few questions.

  • Who is going to read your blog?
  • Does professionalism matter?
  • What types of topics are you going to blog about?
  • What if any, sort of budget do you have set aside?
  • What types of customization options do you prefer?
  • What level of CSS coding knowledge do you possess?
  • How unique do you want your blog to look?

blogging, how to start blogging, frustration

Don’t worry, it isn’t nearly this complicated. Source: vibrant.com

If your blog is going to be an informal, sparsely updated journal meant to be read primarily by your friends and family, a simple hosted blog on a site like blogger.com, or wordpress.com will suffice.  They are easy to use and understand, and look pretty decent in the overall scheme of things.  There will be nothing unique-looking about your site, but that isn’t really the purpose of the hosted blog platforms.  They are for the casual user who isn’t too concerned by the very limited options that these site offer.

Pros of hosted blogging:  free, user friendly, no software installation requirements.

Cons of hosted blogging: very limited customization options, no stand-alone domain names, very basic design, generally rather casual in appearance, sometimes have to tolerate ads on your site.

If your blogging needs exceed that which can be met by one of the free services, you will need to have what is referred to as a ‘self-hosted’, or stand-alone site.

The steps to create a self-hosted blog are as follows:

First, choose a domain name (the address of your blog, i.e. mikejuly.com).  While selecting a domain name may seem like a trivial task, it is actually one of the most important steps in the entire process.  When deciding what to call your blog, it is critical to consider this from a personal branding standpoint.  As I have mentioned in another post, your blog is an extension of you.  It may be the only thing the your readers/potential clients identify you by.  After you’ve decided on your domain name, register it here at GoDaddy.com.

The next step is to sign up for a hosting service.  I recommend HostGator.com, which has plans that start at $4.95 a month.  For more on the reasons I suggest HostGator.com for your hosting needs, see this post (coming soon).

After you’ve purchased a hosting plan, you need to start setting up your blog.  In the Hostgator control panel, click ‘Fantastico’ and follow the steps to install the latest version of WordPress on your hosting account.

After you’ve successfully set up your WordPress blogging platform, you will need to log in to your blogging dashboard.  You will be able to do this at [http://***yourdomain***.com/wp-admin.php] and enter the login/password you created during the last step. This gets you into the WordPress ‘dashbaord’ for your site.

At this point you need to decide if you want to use one of the generic themes that come with WordPress, or if you want a custom theme.  To view the stock themes, simply click on the ‘Appearance’ link on the left side of the dashboard, then click on ‘Installed’ and it will open up all the themes available.  If you are satisfied with one of the available choices, simply activate it and move on to the next step.

While there’s nothing wrong with the stock themes, they are rather plain and generic by most standards.  They are going to look like all the other blogs that utilize the same theme.  For tips on how to select and install a custom WordPress theme, see this post.

When you’ve finished installing your custom WordPress theme, go back into the installed themes page of your WordPress Dashboard.  The theme you just installed should appear along with the ones that came original with WordPress.  Activate the theme and you’re done.

At that point, you officially have a WordPress blog and are ready to start blogging!!

Why Have a Blog?

Everybody knows what blogging is, right?

Actually, you might be surprised at the many people I’ve encountered who, when asked to define what blogging means to them, offer a response that goes something like this:

“Blogging is……… like an online diary or a journal or something.”

blogging, why blog, internet marketing, strategy planning

Source: Mashable.com

While this is not exactly a wrong answer, it is very limited in scope.  Blogging can be defined as the art of creating content for the purpose of engaging an audience. Let that sink in for a minute.

There are different mediums of blogging, from online video to podcasting to the time-tested method of simply writing.  And, there are tons of purposes for doing so.  Some blogs are meant to inform (The Huffington Post, TechCrunch.com), some are designed to entertain (Perezhilton.com, Failblog.com) while others are meant to teach and educate (Problogger.net, Copyblogger.com). And of course, there are also those who talk just to hear themselves talk.  But they serve a purpose too.  There’s no wrong reason to have a blog.

Whether you’re the president of a $20 million a year company or you’re an intern at a small law firm, as a business person there are a multitude of benefits of blogging.

Your blog is a version of you.  It’s an extension of your personality that you display freely for all to see.  It’s a window into your life and your thoughts.  In many ways, your blog may be the only glimpse into your life that most people will ever have.  For example, I am most likely never going to meet Mark Cuban, but through his site, Blogmaverick.com, I get to know a side of him and how he sees the world.

The ever-expanding prominence of the Internet and all the latest emerging technology has a widely varying degree of benefit to those of us who utilize it.  That said, one thing is undeniable:  The digital revolution has a universal connotation to its existence that applies to every one of its two billion plus users:  The Human Connection.

You cannot use the Internet without connecting to another person, or interacting with someone’s work.  And most often, you will likely engage someone every time you fire up your web browser.  Interested in buying a book?  Go to Amazon.com and read some reviews.  Comparing the new Chevy Malibu to the Ford Fusion?  A quick Google search is a gateway to numerous automotive sites – all with tons of information put forth by other people.

So why have a blog?  Because it puts a voice to you or institutes a human element to your company that otherwise may not have been there.  Instead of the perception many companies fall into – that of a nameless, faceless, soulless entity whose sole existence is for taking in revenue, you can engage your potential clients and partners by offering them valuable information in a friendly, easy to consume manner that will build trust and loyalty – a feat that was exponentially more difficult just 10 years ago.

There are numerous reasons to have a blog and even more benefits – for you and your readers.  So many in fact that it’s impossible to name them all here.  Entire books have been dedicated to the subject.  The reality is this:  If you choose not blog, you’re missing out on a fantastic and cost effective way to provide enormous value to a wide array of audiences, which can both cause you to lose out on potential future opportunities, and can also cause you to fall way, way behind those that do take advantage of this terrific medium.

Tips For Selecting and Installing a Theme in WordPress

While there’s nothing wrong with the stock themes that come with the initial download of WordPress, they are rather plain and generic by most standards.  If you decide to use one of them, your site is are going to look like all the other blogs that utilize the same theme.

wordpress logo, blogging, how to select and install a wordpress theme,

Source: edwardkhoo.com

The thing is, you don’t have to settle for the ones supplied by the blogging platform.  There are literally 10s of thousands of free themes out there that you can download use freely – save for a small link in the footer pointing back to the site you downloaded the free theme from.  A simple Google search for the phrase ‘Free WordPress Themes’ or some variation of that will lead you to dozens of sites, all with high quality, attractive themes that are free to use.

When searching for a theme, it’s important to consider the theme from a structural standpoint. What you want to avoid is choosing a theme that you will have to make wholesale changes to in order to get the look you want.  In other words, things like background colors, text colors, fonts and sizes, header graphics and other various aesthetic aspects of the theme can be modified to your tastes with relatively little effort (provided you have a basic understanding of CSS and HTML coding).  The idea is to pick a theme based on how if will function according to what you’re intentions are.  For example, if you are planning on having a series of paid ads on your blog, you should choose a theme that is set up to accommodate that rather easily.  If simplicity is the way you’re looking to go, a basic single column theme would probably suffice.

After you’ve selected and downloaded the theme you’re going to use, you need to install it on your blog.  Do do this, go into the file manager in your control panel and open the ‘themes’ folder in the ‘WordPress_Content’ subfolder .  Then choose ‘upload’ from the top navigation bar and upload the file.

After the theme .zip file has been uploaded to your file manager, click ‘refresh’ on the file manager.  The file you just uploaded should no appear in the folder.  Find the theme you just uploaded and click the checkbox next to it.  Now click ‘extract’ at the top and answer OK to the popups.

When that is finished, go back into the installed themes page of your WordPress Dashboard.  The theme you just installed should appear along with the ones that came original with WordPress.  Activate the theme and you’re done!!

When Something Needs Fixing, Try the Simplest Solutions First

Note: I actually wrote this about four months ago and never published it for some reason, hence the odd time-frame references you’ll notice.

During the decade I spent working in retail sales/management in the auto repair industry, it was often a duty of the position I held to explain the various car repairs that were necessary to get the clients’ cars back up and running again.

Anyone who’s ever spent any time diagnosing and performing auto repairs knows that it isn’t an exact science, especially when you consider today’s sophisticated technology.  Whenever the time would come in the diagnostics process where it was time to try something, I would explain it to the client this way: Whenever it’s not possible to diagnose the problem 100% accurately, you have to try something.  When this is the case, you start with the simplest solutions and progress from there.

Sometimes I need to be reminded to follow my own advice.

Since I launched this site seven days ago, I’ve gotten several hundred visits from a variety of sources; emails I’ve sent, Twitter retweets, blog comments I’ve left for other writers, etc.  I’ve already began to establish external links and my blog posts have enough keywords that they should be beginning to rank in the search engines.  Yet when I check my blog statistics, none of the traffic I’ve gotten in the last week has been from search.  NONE OF IT!!

Source: store.pcidiot.com

I actually first noticed this fact the other day, but I didn’t think anything of it until today when I realized it’d been a week without a single hit from ANY of the search engine sites.  So I started to do some digging.

The first thing I checked was my “Google XML Sitemap”, a useful plugin that rebuilds and resubmits my sitemap to Google anytime the content of my blog changes.  Everything seemed fine and the last update was today.  Weird.

The next thing I looked into was whether the site needed to be submitted manually.  So I went through and entered the site manually to Google and Yahoo, and I subsequently added my application ID in the appropriate box in WordPress.  Still nothing.

So I then messed around with a variety of other ideas I had as to why the site wasn’t registering in any of the search engines.  I finally resorted to the wordpress.org codex, a useful troubleshooting resource that has gotten me out of a jam or 10.  I looked around and found a few potentially helpful tidbits when I stumbled upon a post suggesting that perhaps the blog privacy settings were set to exclude search engines.

No.  It. Couldn’t. Be. That. Simple.

So I hopped back into the dashboard and clicked on the ‘privacy’ link.  I was almost hoping this wasn’t the solution because it’s the first thing I should have checked. This is what I saw:

internet marketing, grand rapids mi, web strategy development, mike july

In summary, I spent two hours screwing around to solve a problem that literally should have taken 90 seconds to locate and fix if I had used my head – and got to feel like a dumbass in the process.  Oh well – at least I got a bit of material for a blog post out of the deal.