Starting a blog in 2018 is a piece of cake.
It was the same in 2017, 2016 and before.
If you’re really into the idea of starting a blog, what do you need to know about the process?
What decisions you make now could save you time and money in the future?
In this post, I’m going to explore the options available to newbie bloggers and provide you with the information you may not be aware of to help you make smart decisions.
If you choose to take action after reading this post, you could be online, hitting the publish button and unleashing your first blog to the world in just a few short hours!
Let’s start at the beginning
To start a blog you need at least two things:
- A domain name or URL
- Blogging software/platform
Right at the very start of the process, you must make an important decision: Use one of the free blog hosting sites or spend a little cash, buy a domain name and secure some web hosting for your brand new blog.
Without a doubt, almost every single time, my answer is “spend a little cash, secure some web hosting and get your own little piece of the interwebs.”
If you must go down the free road, only do it for testing purposes.
Never use one of the three most popular blogging platforms for your bread-and-butter blog as you just don’t have the same control or flexibility.
Almost certainly, when your blog grows and you realise the limitations forced upon you by the free blogging platforms, you’ll want to move it to its own server. Which can get a bit messy, even if you know what you’re doing. Of course, if you’re flush, you could pay somebody to move your site on your behalf.
But then you have another hurdle to jump over – how to let search engines know your site has moved and keep the traffic you’ve worked hard to achieve.
Your old blog will still work, but having exactly the same content on two blogs might cause an issue with Google.
Let’s trackback a little to see why this is an issue.
Earlier on I said you need two things to start a blog: a domain name/URL and the software for running a blog.
If you choose one of the free blogging options they put your blog on something called a subdomain. This means your web address looks like this:
I’m sure you’ll agree, it doesn’t look very professional if you’re a freelancer, VA or small business.
The alternative, if you were to put your blog on an independent server looks so much more professional: myblog.com.
If you start on a free subdomain and decide a few months later to switch to a self-hosted one instead, you should be able to take all the content with you, but to Google and other search engines, this you’re starting a completely new site.
In fact, there’s the potential for Google to ignore the new site because the content on it, assuming you moved it all to the new one, already exists on another site – your subdomain on one of the free platforms.
If Google finds two pages/sites containing exactly the same content, it typically gives preference to the older page/site.
The good news – there’s a way around it.
You must ‘tell’ the search engines the content has moved.
You don’t do this by firing off an email (that would be nice, though).
Instead, you set up something called a 301 redirect for every URL on your old blog.
A bit techie for you?
It is, but all you have to know about it is 301 redirects inform search engines URL A (the one at your old blog) has been permanently moved to URL B (your new blog) and Google (or Bing or whatever) should show URL B in the search results instead of URL A.
Setting up 301 redirects on free blogs
WordPress.com offers an upgrade to handle this. At £11 per year, it’s a steal (you probably won’t need it for longer than one year).
Tumblr offers a similar feature, but it’s more long-winded. Check out the instructions here.
And Blogger does the same. Here are its instructions.
If you’ve clicked through to read the instructions, you’ve probably given yourself a bit of a headache. Especially if you’re not very technical.
Imagine the stress of doing this on a live site.
What if something went wrong? It happens.
This is a service WordPress.com, Blogger and Tumblr offer.
It works like this: you host your blog on one of these sites, but point a proper domain name (myblog.com) to the subdomain you’re using for your blog.
It’s a viable option for some.
But there are still restrictions on the tools you can use to power your blog. For instance, you can’t install third-party plugins or run AdSense on WordPress.com sites.
A domain name and hosting for one year costs less than $100
If you choose to go down the road of buying a domain name and hosting from the start, you won’t have any of the headaches that go with moving a site.
Which is why it’s the best option for a business blog/website.
Now, let’s look at which software you should you use to power your blog.
For me, and millions of people around the world, there’s only one choice: WordPress.
(I’ve written a post called What is WordPress? which goes into greater detail about what it does than I can here. It’s worth reading if you don’t know much about WordPress.)
WordPress comes in two flavours – self-hosted (WordPress.org) and free blogging space (WordPress.com).
Most hosting companies provide a quick install process from inside your hosting account so you don’t need to download and install the WordPress software. All of that’s taken care of.
At WordPress.com you create an account, set up a blog and don’t pay a thing. WordPress takes care of all the hosting and setting up.
Unlimited flexibility and potential
The biggest advantage to the downloadable and free version of WordPress is the ability to use any plugin you like to create awesome blogs.
Plugins make a massive difference to the WordPress experience.
With plugins, you can do just about anything:
- Setup an eCommerce store
- Create an Amazon affiliate site
- Set up a business directory
- Set up a social network
- Run a membership site
- Create photo galleries
- Capture email addresses so you can build a mailing list
- Find images to use in your posts
And then there are the ‘little’ plugins that give you added functionality to do tasks like:
- Resize images
- Combat comment spam
- Find and fix broken links
- Make pages load faster
- Embed YouTube videos
Now can you see why, if you’re serious about growing your business around a blog, or blogging to generate business, whether it’s affiliate sales, lead generation or AdSense clicks, the best option for most people is self-hosted WordPress.
Here are the main advantages:
- WordPress is free to download and you can use it on as many sites as you like
- Most hosting companies make it easy to install WordPress on your hosting account
- You have access to hundreds/thousands of free and premium themes from the dashboard
- You can install as many free or premium plugins as you like (before you go crazy and install tons of plugins, read The Trouble With (Some) WordPress Plugins)
- You can run adverts, such as AdSense, on your site (you can’t typically do this on a WordPress.com site)
For more information on the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org read: What’s the Difference Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org
Starting a blog is so, so easy. It really is. Making wise decisions at the start of the process could save you a lot of time and stress in the future.
I guess the final deciding factor is knowing what you want your blog to do. If you’re blogging for fun and just want to share your thoughts and experiences with the world, the free options are fine. And there’s an audience you can tap into straight away.
If you want a greater degree of flexibility, more control and the ability to use plugins, then the self-hosted route is definitely the best option for you.