A friend asked: Could you share some tips for those of us wanting to get into blogging?
Absolutely! And here’s a fun fact: did you know that blog is a truncation of “web log?” A log on the web.
To start, I will say that the interwebs are full of information and advice on getting into blogging. Personally I found some of it helpful, some of it not so much. Some of it I agree with, some I don’t. This is my personal considerations, suggestions, and tips for starting up your own blog. (And if you blog, feel free to comment below with your tips and suggestions.) Just remember, there’s no one right way to blog.
What to Blog
Many people have varying opinions on this. I say do what you want and what works best for you. My experience is this: One of my previous blogs had a specific theme (books). Now if you know me IRL, you know that I love books. I read all.the.time. I love to talk books. I love to go to bookstores. I love book-themed things. But for me, I found writing only about books and book stuff was too limiting. As a multipotentialite, I need the flexibility to write about whatever pops into my head. (I mentioned before my brain is weird.) Hence I started this site.
This is not the same for some people. Some people have done fabulously with a theme-specific blog. If you Google, you can find blogs on food, travel, video games, veterinary medicine, makeup, etc. You get the point.
That’s why I say blog what you want. If you have a theme, great. If you don’t have a theme, great. And sometimes you just need to start blogging and your theme will emerge. But the key is to just start.
When to Blog
The other advice you will see about blogs is that you need post regularly and on a schedule. Some have gone so far to suggest the best days to reach readers. I know several bloggers who have a schedule and will publish, say, every Monday and Thursday or every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
As for me, I’m not a schedule person. With my prior blog, I tried a schedule and failed. In the end, a schedule just frustrated me. Sometimes I write a lot. Sometimes not at all. And I personally didn’t like forcing myself to come up with a post just to meet my self-inflicted schedule. So with this blog, I threw out the schedule. And I will note that some of my favorite blogs post randomly and even infrequently.
So I say, ignore all the advice on what to blog and when to blog and just blog.
How to Start a Blog
This is actually the more important part. How do you start? What do you do? Great question. First, consider the following:
- What are your goals with your blog? Is it personal? Professional? Are you building a brand? Are you looking to monetize your blog and earn money?
- How much money are you willing to invest in your blog?
- How much time are you willing to commit?
- How much design control do you want over your site? Do you want to create your own site from scratch? Or simply customize from existing templates?
Once you have an idea of your purpose to blogging, then the rest usually falls in line. For me, my blog was personal, not professional. And I knew that at the end of the day I wanted some control, but I didn’t want to commit too much time, effort, or money. (I do have a day job.)
That being said, this is not my first blog. I did have prior experience and knew what worked and didn’t work for me. I wanted some design control, but didn’t want to have to design the site from scratch. I have previously self-hosted and designed a site from scratch. That took a lot more work than I wanted to commit this time around, and so this time, I compromised on functionality to save money and time. I went with a happy medium (the WordPress.com premium plan), where I spend a little money to have more functionality than a free site, but am not spending tons of time and money on it.
Now this next part is the nuts & bolts.
Platform: A platform is the software or service used to publish your content (i.e., your blog) on the internet. As with most services, blogging platforms vary in price (from free to $$$) and functionality. And with anything, there are pros and cons.
Benefits of the free sites: hosting is included (more on hosting below); easy to use; minimal set-up; set-up is usually quick and easy so that you are blogging near instantly.
Downsides of free sites: limited functionality; limited design options; limited or no plug-ins (more on that below); limited customization.
Some of the more popular blogging platforms:
Microblogs: Great for anyone who doesn’t want to spend money, invest time in setting up and customizing a site, or spend a lot of time writing or creating posts. Where a typical blog post has 400-600 words, a microblog has content that is much smaller in size and may contain links or images.
- Twitter – Yes, Twitter is considered a microblog. In the case of Twitter, it allows for 280 characters (up from the previous 140 character limit). So a short sentence or two, maybe an image, and a lot of links (check out my Twitter account here). Very limited customization as most everything is controlled by Twitter.
- Tumblr – Another microblog, although it allows for more content than Twitter. Free to use with a valid email and allows for more customization than Twitter, but still limited. (Check out my Tumbr page here.)
Microblogs are great to use as secondary blogs, which is a way to show off your blog to larger and different audiences. For me, my blog isn’t about one theme, so it’s unlikely someone will stumble across me on a Google search. (Also, because Google searches are based on algorithms, unless you’re searching specifically for “WanderingLynn” or my pen name (L.A.L. Thompson), my blog probably won’t appear in the first page of results.)
When I post something here, it’s automatically shared on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. On Twitter, it just shows the name of the post, a link to the post, and sometimes an image if I set a featured image. On Tumblr and Facebook, it shows the first paragraph or so, an image if I set a featured image, and the link back to this site. (WordPress.com also allows you to automatically share each post on other services too, such as LinkedIn or Google+.) Cross-pollination of your blog is always a good idea.
Full Blog Platforms:
- Blogger (a Google product) – super easy to set-up and start using. It’s actually one of the earliest dedicated blog-publishing sites. If you use any of the Google products and have a Google account, then starting is super easy. Blogs on Blogger are hosted by Google. Because it’s free, there’s limited customization and your blog will have a subdomain name (see more about domain names below), but as it’s a Google product, it’s easy to integrate the other Google services, like adsense (see more about monetizing below).
- Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace – All are a full blog platforms that have a free version as well as paid options. I don’t know a lot about any of these because I’ve never used them. If anyone uses Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, feel free to chime in by commenting below.
- WordPress*(WP) – So there are two versions of WP that are actually two different platforms—WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The biggest difference is that the WordPress.com provides the hosting and has a free option, whereas WordPress.org requires you to self-host. (This a great infographic by wpbeginninger on the difference between the two.) As I mentioned above, I use WordPress.com* because it allows me some flexibility and control without having to do it all on my own. I have the premium plan, which means I pay a monthly fee and allows me to do things like custom domain names (see more about domain names below), basic design customization, and WordAds (see more on monetizing below).
I’m a learn-from-experience kind of person, so if you’re like me, stop reading here and go get started!
And if you let me know your blog name and I’ll share it on my site. 🙂
If you want a bit more info on starting a blog, here you go:
Hosting: Hosting is where your website files are stored on the internet. If you opt for one of the free platforms, that platform hosts for you. For instance, I use WordPress.com, and WP is my host. The biggest benefit to self hosting is you have complete control over every aspect of your site. You build it exactly how you want. The downside is self-hosting costs money and building your own blog site takes time. Hosting fees start at around $3 per month.
Domain names: If you opt for the free version of a platform, your domain name will include a subdomain, which will be the name of the platform. For example, I use WordPress.com as my platform—if I opted not to purchase my domain name, my domain name would have been wanderinglynn.wordpress.com. As you can see, my domain name is just wanderinglynn.com because I pay a yearly fee for that domain name. The same is true for the others. For example, if you use Blogger, your domain name will be [BLOGNAME].blogspot.com.
Plug-Ins: Plugins are software that allows you to add functionality or features to your site. This is mainly a WordPress thing. You either have to pay for the business plan on WordPress.com or be on WordPress.org. Since I have never used Wix, Weebly, or Squaresoft, I don’t know if they allow for plug-ins.
Monetizing: There are several ways to monetize your blog. The easiest are ads and affiliate programs. Ads are the easiest. For instance, WordPress.com has WordAds, which you set-up through your dashboard. It’s a one-time set-up and that’s it. The ads are supposed to be tailored based on things like the visitor’s location, device, and the content of the blog itself. So if you click on an ad on my site, WordPress credits me. Blogger uses Google’s adsense.
You can also sell ad space on your site to advertisers. This works best for sites that are self-hosted as you have complete control what’s on your site.
Affiliate programs are where you work with a company to advertise for them and earn a commission. You’ve probably seen my disclaimer at the bottom of some of my posts, which alert you when a link is an affiliate link. For instance, I am a WordPress.com affiliate. That means if you click on my link and purchase something from that company (for WordPress, you’d sign up under one of the plans), I earn a small commission.
And that’s the basics to starting a blog. Again, if you let me know your blog name, I’ll share it on my site. 🙂 And if you want to share my site on your blog, I’d appreciate the link!
If you have any questions or if you have tips/suggestions on starting a blog, feel free to use the comments below.