Blogging Part III: A 5-step guide to getting started

You’ve thought about whether you should start blogging, and decided the answer is yes. You’ve seriously considered your content, pondering what makes a blog successful.

Now you ask: How do I get started?

1. Pick a platform. If you’re a newbie, you’ll probably want a hosted platform, one that’s easy to use. They’re also free. Here’s a list of the most popular hosted platforms.

I’m also including a few examples — pulled straight from my Google Reader — so you can see what blogs hosted with each platform look like. I’m only picking blogs I think the blogger created themselves, without help from a designer.

  • WordPress. I’m partial to WordPress.com because that’s what I use. I think it looks more professional than other platforms. It offers lots of templates (aka designs) to choose from and has more built-in options than Blogger. But there is a learning curve; it took me a while to figure everything out. Look at the difference between my first blog — my travel blog — and this blog. Big difference, right? To get a sense for WordPress.com, check out blogs by Steve Buttry, Lisa McKay and Simone Gorrindo.
  • Blogger. If you’re not comfortable with the Web, you might choose Blogger. Blogging with Blogger is as easy as it gets — easier than WordPress. You can’t do quite as much with it, but if you’re a newbie that might not matter. I haven’t looked for statistics on this, but I believe Blogger is the most popular platform. Here’s what a Blogger blog looks like: The Intern, BookEnds, Mary Carroll Moore and Peggy Frezon. (I coached Peggy on her blog.)
  • Typepad. While I’ve blogged with WordPress and helped friends use Blogger, I don’t have personal experience with Typepad. Can any readers vouch for it? TypePad blogs: Sarah Fain and Chip MacGregor.
  • Tumblr. This platform is meant for short blog posts, even micro-blogging. But plenty of folks use it as their primary blog. I keep track of my reads on Tumblr, but I put no effort whatsoever into that design, so don’t look to me as an example. Instead, check out Julie Kraut‘s blog.

One last word on this: If you’re Web-savvy or have someone who is to help you, think about using WordPress.org. It’s self-hosted, which basically means more complicated, and not as easy to set up. But while I usually recommend bloggers start out with WordPress.com (that’s right — there’s a WordPress.ORG and a WordPress.COM. COM is easier), bloggers often make the switch to WordPress.org once they’ve learned the ropes. If you can start with WordPress.org, you’ll save yourself the trouble of eventually making that switch.

If there’s one regret I have about blogging, it’s that I didn’t start out on WordPress.org. Because now I want to switch to WordPress.org, but that would require changing my blog URL, and you all already know to find me here. Sigh.

Examples of WordPress.ORG blogs: Marian Schembari, Todd’s Wanderings and In Search of Squid.

Want more pros and cons of each platform to figure out which is right for you? Check out this Blogging Basics 101 post.

2. Choose a URL. Try to make your URL your name. You can also make it match your blog title — if you’re absolutely sure you’ll stick with it — but your name is best for the purposes of personal branding. Maybe you don’t care about branding yourself now, but you might later. And while Blogger allows you to change your URL, WordPress doesn’t; to change a WordPress.com URL, you have to start from scratch and build a new blog. So choose wisely.

If you really want to get fancy, you can buy yourname.com at GoDaddy.com (usually costs about $10/year) and point that URL to your blog. For example, way back when, I set up alexisgrant.com to reroute to my travel blog. I say this is fancy, but it’s actually fairly easy to set up. And it’s good to have yourname.com anyhow.

3. Find your template. Your design says a lot about you and your blog, so choose one that looks professional. This is where WordPress has far more options than Blogger.

Whenever I’m looking for a new template, I always narrow the selection down in two ways: designs with two or three columns, and ones with customizable headers. A customizable header allows you to download a photo for the top of your blog (this is easy, I promise). With so many people using these platforms, a customizable header is an easy way to make your blog look unique.

Other qualities I look for in a template: I like one with a subhead, so I can include a tagline — a short description of what the blog is about — under the title. It’s also important that my template allow “pages,” a feature I don’t believe you can get on Blogger. On my blog, each page is represented by a tab at the top (ie. Meet Alexis & Contact). That means you can build static pages with basic information and display them in a prominent spot — and they won’t disappear off the page as you create more posts.

4. Build your blog before giving out the URL. When you launch, your blog should look fabulous, not like a work-in-progress. Make sure to include an About Me section with a photo, contact information and an RSS feed button if one’s not one built into the template. If you have questions about how to do anything, don’t forget you can always ask Google.

5. Pre-launch posts. Write enough posts before you launch to carry you through your first two weeks. That means if your goal is to post three times per week, you should prepare six posts. That way you know you’re starting your blog off on the right foot, rather than posting something you wrote in haste the morning it was supposed to publish.

I’m opening the door now to any blogging-related questions! Whatcha got for me? I’ll answer them in a post next week.

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9 Responses

  1. Aw, thanks for including me, bud! Flattered!

  2. This sutff is gold, Lexi. Thanks for making it easy to navigate this new world to me.

  3. […] Alexis Grant gives us parts II and III of her Blogging 101 series. Part II – What makes an awesome blog?   And part III – A 5 step guide to getting started. […]

  4. More great stuff! I will say you can pay $15 for the year to register your domain through wordpress.com and then they will just route it through your blog name so you can go to jessiecarty.com and it takes you to the blog which I just use as my main website now.

    🙂

  5. Hi,
    Great post. I plan to share it with some authors I know who need to start blogs.

    BTW – You could easily swap to wordpress.org and just redirect this URL to point to your new blog over there. It would be seamless to the user and once they got there, you could remind them to bookmark the new blog. Eventually, when hits on this blog went down to zero you could discontinue it.

  6. Oh here’s a good one: Burn your feed in feedburner.com! That way, if you ever move your blog, your feed readers won’t have to change their feed.

    I switched from Blogger to WordPress.org. I was already burning my feed, so my feed readers didn’t have to do anything. When they clicked through, it automatically went to my new blog. Those who visited my old blog saw the link to the new one.

    I didn’t lose any readers, really. I did have to leave a lot of comments pointing to the new blog, before my search engine ranking outperformed my old blog. But it was pretty painless.

  7. Totally agree with Melanie: This stuff is gold. It’s all well-earned info, the tricks of the trade you learn along the way.

    And thanks so much for including me!

  8. Thanks for the shout out! Hope your weekend’s off to a good start. I want to be writing today, but I’ve got to play wife at a long lunch with government officials, it seems. Ah well.

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