Starting a Blog – A Quick Guide to Blogging

Files under blogging, Website Starting | Posted by Brian
Start your own Blog

Start your own Blog

Thanks to hardworking people at several major internet sites, it’s now easier than ever to start your own blog.  In a recent article in Inc. Magazine, Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress) said, “My mom started a blog a couple of weeks ago.  Six years into this, and we finally made it easy enough for my mom to use.”  He’s absolutely right.

Blogging has finally come to a point where it depends more on your ability as a writer than it does your technical skills.  Between sites that will allow you to freely host your blog and software to run the blog, you’re pretty much left with the writing — Oh, and the setup, but we can help you with that.

First, let’s briefly understand what a blog is and is not.  The term comes from the initial use of the term Web-log.  A lot of internet users (especially students) were starting to keep journals online, and now we’ve got tools that allow for much more.  Now blogs are often used as a primary source of news on the internet, but they can just as easily be used for posting information online.  Blogs should not be confused with forums where many users participate in a conversation.  If it’s a topic you’re interested in and ready to talk about, blogs are a great way to get your information out.

The blog will need to be hosted somewhere (see Starting a Website for more information) and there are several sites online that will host your blog for free.  The two easiest are probably WordPress.org and Blogger.com and both are free.  I do have a small blog that I setup on blogger.com and it only took a few minutes to do so.  I haven’t set one up with WordPress.org, but given how well-written their software is, I can’t image their hosting is any different.

For basic blogs, you should just be able to setup an account with one of those sites and get started.  However, if you’re planning on doing some serious blogging (i.e. considering part or full-time work) you may want to have it hosted somewhere you have more control.  When you host a site with a webhosting company, you have more control about the speed of your blog and where you store images.  For anyone just starting, the free-hosted solution is probably just fine and you can always transfer your blog later.  It’s always good to have a solution you can revise later.

From what I can tell, you can’t install custom themes on WordPress.com or Blogger.com’s free hosting.  In order to install custom themes (explained later), you will need to use a webhost solution.  Finally, if you host with WordPress or Blogger your blog will be myblog.blogger.com or newblogname.wordpress.org.  Again, if you’re just testing the waters, this is perfect.  For a more formalized approach, you can register a domain name and attach it to your hosted blog.  Both WordPress and Blogger allow this, though I believe WordPress charges a small fee ($10-20 dollars a year).

To add a blog to an existing site, or if you decide to get your own webspace right from the beginning then you will need to get blogging software.  There is plenty of free software available for blogging, but I prefer WordPress (and run 3 different blogs on it).  Feel free to start with any blog software you like, but I’ll cover a basic WordPress install here.  First, download WordPress.  You will need to uncompress it and upload it to your webhost (again, this is only for those who have chosen to install a blog on a webhost, and not on one of the free hosting services).  Then, follow the step-by-step instructions from WordPress.  Note, you will need to edit some of the files on your webserver, so you’ll need to know how to do this before continuing.  You will also need a webhost that provides MySQL support (most — but not all — do provide it with basic packages).

Now, you’ve got your blog installed — either by using one of the free hosting options, or by installing it onto a webserver.  At this point, you’ll just need to customize your blog and start writing.  For those who use Blogger.com, you’ll be using their own software.  If you downloaded WordPress or are using the free hosting on WordPress.com, then you’ll obviously be using the WordPress software.  Most of these steps are similar for all blogs, but I’ll specifically be taking you through WordPress customization for the sake of brevity.

You can start blogging right away, using the default theme from WordPress.  However, you will probably want to customize the blog to make it your own.  The first step to customizing your blog is to find and install a theme.  The great thing about WordPress themes is that they’re easy to find and even easier to install.  The downside is, not all themes measure up.

A quick Google search of WordPress themes will bring up more sites than you can shake a stick at (even a virtual stick!).  In my experience, paid themes aren’t necessarily written better than free themes.  So, you should find the theme that you like and go with it.  There are plenty of free themes out there, but you may find a paid theme that you like.  Generally, paid themes run from $15 – $50 and that will be for a non-exclusive license (someone else might be blogging with the same theme).  Until you have really customized a theme, it’s not a big deal as you can always replace it relatively easily.

Find a theme and get started, but there are a few rules that may make the process less painful.  If these are confusing, don’t worry too much about it, you can always change it up later when you run into issues.  The main problem I have found is poor CSS.  Usually, sites will allow you to view a live blog using the theme they’re advertising.  Make sure you resize your browser window and that the blog looks reasonable as you’re resizing it.  You don’t want to make your screen get really wide and have the blog design (template) go nuts.  Also, be certain that the blog doesn’t use hard-coded text in graphics that you will need to change.  A good example of this would be the name of the blog.  If you’re a graphic artist, you don’t care.  For everyone else, we don’t want a theme with a hard-coded name in a graphic somewhere.

Install your theme by uploading it into the themes directory on your website.  This will be located in /wp-content/themes.  If the theme comes in a .zip or .tgz file, make sure you uncompress it first and upload all of the files and folders it was storing.  Now, you’re going to return to your WordPress console and click “Appearance” on the left side  (if your lost at this stage, remember that you logged in when you were following the WordPress installation instructions).  From there you should see the themes displayed and you can now select your newly installed theme (first click on the theme, then click “Activate” from the theme preview window).

Once installed, you may use the Appearance menu to manually edit the HTML or CSS for your blog.  This is where you can edit some of the things like where your login menu appears or where the logo for RSS shows up.  Most themes will have at least an “About” page, which you can fill in with information about yourself or your company.  Check through some of these pages and familiarize yourself with them.  Also, make sure you fill out the information so none of your pages say “This is an example of a WordPress Blog”.

At this point, you should be ready to blog away.  In the top left is a menu labeled “Posts” and this is where you can go to edit, create, or delete posts.  Start writing posts and get on your way to having a great internet blog.  Once you’ve spent between a couple of weeks to a couple of months of posting content (depending on how studious you are with it), it will be time to advertise your blog.  We’ll cover that in another post, but for now you should have a blog up and running.

If you started a blog with this post — leave a comment to let us know.  Or, if you have problems, post your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them and maybe update this post if it’s a relevant question for everyone.

Oh, and Matt, my mom’s starting a blog too!

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