Today, I want to review how I setup a new blog from a technical perspective. Just the basic steps that you need to think about to get things rolling from a tactical standpoint. Here we go…
- Domain Name
Go to GoDaddy.com or one of the many other domain registrar services, and start searching for a domain name. A domain will cost you about $11 a year.
Clearly, many obvious domain name choices are already taken. I’ve found that three word combinations are WAY more likely to be available than two word combinations. Single words are long gone unless you are making up the word.
In the end, you will likely end up with something less than ideal, but not horrible. If you are especially dedicated, you can try to buy an existing domain – but that’s not a process I’m getting into at the moment.
Even if you are in the experimental phase, I strongly recommend buying a domain name and paying for web hosting. This, as opposed to using a free blog tool using a subdomain – something like danblank.wordpress.com. You want www.danblank.com instead.
A blog is a big commitment. Own it.
You can map your own domain to the free blog services on WordPress.com, and that can be a viable option for many. Personally, I take things a different route in terms of hosting.
- Web Hosting
I host my blogs on Media Temple. They offer robust services at a fair price. The reason I go with full web hosting is that I can create email addresses on my domain, and have detailed control over the services and content I’m hosting there.
There’s also that odd situation that many people are dealing with: when you leverage free tools online, the service providers really can’t offer any promises of service or support. I am always shocked to learn how many people stake their entire business life on the Google environment – phone, email, calendar, documents – all hosted with Google’s free services. Even if these services go down for 2 hours, that could be crippling for a business if their entire team is relying on it.
Here’s the trick with Media Temple hosting for people just starting out with a blog: they offer a great inexpensive service called Grid Service Lite, but only via gift card. It allows you to host up to five domain names, and at $95 a year, works out to being cheaper than many other economy web hosting services.
So you buy the gift card, then gift it to yourself. I did this all over the phone, it took 10 minutes.
Once you have your domain name and your web hosting, you need to tell the domain name to point to your web servers. I won’t get into that process – it’s a pretty simple one of logging into Godaddy (or wherever you registered your domain name) and changing the nameservers to those of Media Temple (or whoever is hosting your blog.) It’s WAY more easy than it sounds.
- WordPress Install
I use Worpress as my blog software. It’s free, it’s powerful, and it has a great community around it.
Many web hosting companies, including Media Temple, offer a 1-click install for WordPress. In my experience, it can take more than 1-click to get it all setup, but nothing too complicated.
The point is: these web hosts know that people like you just want a website to run WordPress, and have setup their services to be able to do this without you calling their support line. It’s a win-win for both sides.
- WordPress Theme
When you install WordPress, from a design standpoint, you get the basic look and feel. WordPress calls this a ‘theme.’ One of the really cool things about WordPress is that there are thousands of free themes that you can install for your blog. Just do a simple search on “Free WordPress Themes” in Google, and you’ll see what I mean.
Personally, I ended up buying a paid theme called Thesis. It offers a bunch of features, but there are two main reasons I opened up my wallet for it: many of the customizations are visual and super-simple to understand. Do you want a 3 column layout? Click. Do you want the third column to be 138 pixels wide? Click. You get the idea.
The second thing I liked about it was that there is a great forum you get access to, where other Thesis users help answer questions and offer tips on customizations. It was so helpful.
The downside is the cost. Not that it’s very expensive, but when most people start out with a blog, they are unsure of the commitment they want to make, so they are looking for as little investment as possible. Thesis costs $87 to buy. I actually bought the ‘developers license’ for $164, which allows me to use this Theme on as many blogs as I create for myself.
For me, Thesis made sense, but I had already been blogging for a few years. It might make more sense for you to start out with a free theme, and see if blogging ‘takes’ before you shell out the money.
You can really go to town with this one. You can add “Tweet This” buttons, Facebook “Like” buttons – all kinds of share buttons. You can add the Disqus commenting system, and a bazillion other sidebar options.
There are also a ton of cool plug-ins available for WordPress that offer additional functionality. Again, a simple Google search on “WordPress plugins” will open up a universe of options.
Some of these are very powerful, I use both Disqus and the Tweet This buttons, but be careful about spending too much time on this up front. Too many people get sidetracked designing their ‘perfect’ blog, only to get burned out before they create any great content. Remember, you can already iterate.
- Google Analytics
This might seem too nerdy up front, but install Google Analytics on your blog before you launch. I am a huge believer in analytics, and signing up for and installing Google Analytics is really easy. Google has some easy instructions and there are tons of other walkthrough’s online.
This will allow you to track the growth of your blog and see what is working and what isn’t. An incredibly powerful tool.
I think that covers the basics. Let me know if I can help you: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.