Starting a blog in 2015 is a piece of cake.
It was the same in 2014, 2013 and before…
If you’re really into the idea of starting a blog, what do you need to know about the process?
What decisions should you make now that could save you time and money in the future?
In this post, I’m going to explore the options available to you and hopefully guide you into making wise 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
Now, right at the very start of this process you must make an important decision:
Without doubt, every single time, my answer is “spend a little cash and secure some web hosting” – 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 free 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, 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 do it for you.
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 you use something called a sub-domain. This means your web address looks like this:
If, after a few months, you switch to independent hosting, you will own your own domain name:
Now, to Google and other search engines, this is a completely new site. Even if you move all your old content over to it.
And this potentially causes another problem: duplicate content.
If Google finds two pages/sites containing exactly the same content, it typically gives preference to the older page/site.
To combat this, 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 that it tells search engines URL A has been permanently moved to URL B and Google (or Bing or whatever) should show URL B (your new domain) 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’s 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, you know…
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 sub-domain 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.
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 once 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).
At WordPress.org you download the blogging software and install it on your server. This is the paid option as you must pay for hosting space and a domain.
Those last couple of sentences bring back memories of the struggles I had installing WordPress back in the day. In 2006 all this was new to me and I spent many frustrating hours trying to set up my first blog.
I didn’t understand any of the terminology or the processes I had to go through: creating a database, creating a database user and connecting it to the database, making changes to the config.php file…
These days, it’s so much easier. Most hosting companies have a push-button solution right there in your account (Softaculous or Fantastico). Just click it, follow the on-screen instructions and you’ll have WordPress running in less time than it takes to make a coffee.
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.
(Read What is a WordPress Plugin? for more details.)
Plugins make a massive difference to the WordPress experience.
With plugins, you can do just about anything:
- Setup an e-commerce 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’s the ‘little’ plugins that give you added functionality to do tasks like:
- Resizing images
- Combatting comment spam
- Finding broken links
- Making pages load faster
- Embedding 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 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 through 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, 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)
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.