The majority of my clients are right where you are. They want to share ideas and information, they want to write, but the technical aspects of using the internet as the venue presents a barrier, and they can’t see the path around it.
Today, I’m going to show you that path — the path from having no presence on the internet at all to creating your first blog post in WordPress. From zero to 60 (or at least 30) in just about a week. See what’s really involved. Then just follow the steps below and you’ll be well on your way!
#1 Choose a Topic
Before you decide to become a blogger, you should have a firm idea of a topic or focus for your blog. Obvious? Maybe. But I’m always struck by how many people are enamored with the idea of making money and/or gaining prestige while sitting in a corner of their home office. They venture out to start blogging, but have absolutely no idea what they will be writing about.
That’s much like saying you want to be a performing artist, when you haven’t yet learned to sing, dance, or act. (Yes, it worked for Paris Hilton, but what are the chances?)
When trying to narrow down your possible blog topics, remember that your blog topic should be:
- Specific enough that you can create interest.
Recently I saw a blog that was purported to be about “my random musings on life and other things.” It had a post on hiking, a post with a cake recipe, another about flat-screen TVs, one about her baby’s food fussiness. The posts were well-written, the design was pleasant, they gal was even pretty good at search engine optimization, but she was frustrated by lack of readers after a number of months of writing.
I suspect the problem had to do with focus. While some might be interested in her baby food adventures, how likely is the same reader to be researching electronic equipment? If you were a hiking enthusiast, how likely would you be to subscribe to a site that had one hiking article and a bunch of random stuff you had no interest in?
You certainly can create a very general blog. But unless you are a celebrity or a really entertaining writer, there probably aren’t a lot of people who really care enough about what popped into your head this morning. The blogosphere is brimming with similar personal blogs that are never read by anyone except the writer’s family. If that.
- General enough that there are sufficient numbers of interested folks to build a following and sufficient content to write about.
A recent discussion began when one blogger asked if a site can be “too niche.” My feeling was that a site can be so narrow that you simply have almost no one interested. Some argued that any niche can be successful. Maybe, but I’d like to see someone try to monetize a blog about acrylic nail artists who are Liza Minella fans with macrame fetishes.
Darren Rowse agreed that a site can be “too niche” and pointed out a related problem. Some blogs are built around a niche that has wide appeal, but not much possible content. According to Rowse, “The best example I saw was a guy who started a blog on a particular model of printer. He ran out of things to say after 5 days.” It was a really popular printer, but just how much can you really chat about such a topic?
- Something in which you have expertise.
You need to be more than just conversant about your topic, you also need to have a solid knowledge base to share with your readers and/or create a valuable experience for them. You might have chosen a great niche, but even if you are really enthused about the topic, you can’t write endlessly about your feelings. If you don’t know anything about it, you won’t be adding much substance on the topic.
You can learn as you go. but it best to be clear what you are doing. Rather than presenting yourself as a business expert, for example, let readers know you are a new entrepreneur. Rather than setting your blog up as a “how to make money” site, frame it as a “watch my new business grow, learn from my successes and failures” site.
- Something you have passion for.
Successful blogging is a long-term project. And if you’re going to be blogging about something for years, it had better be something you are interested in. If you thoroughly enjoy the subject, it shows in your writing. It excited you. You are internally motivated to learn and research your topic, to keep up on the surrounding industry, to meet people and attend events related to the topic. You will continually have new material because you’ll be immersed in the topic you love.
#2 Select a Domain
Your first serious consideration will be to find a domain name that’s available. When I coded my first web site in 1994, this was easy. Today, domains are a scarce resource. So plan to take some time finding one that works for you.
You’ll need to spend some time trying different, applicable names. To do this, simply go to any domain registrar (like Network Solutions or GoDaddy) and enter some combinations. NameBoy has a clever tool that allows you to enter various words and it displays myriad possible combinations — along with synonyms — and shows you which are available. It’s a great domain name brainstorming tool.
When choosing your name, make it easy on your readers. Make it easy to find, to remember, to spell your website URL. Think about these issues:
Is your URL descriptive without being spammy?
There’s a fine line between a domain that is descriptive and uses a keyword or two, and one that is downright junk-mail silly. Consider:
CandyCaneBooks.com vs. SuperBudgetBooksOnline.com
AcmeWebsites.com vs. BuyCheapWebsites.com
ParentPatriots.com vs. TheBestMomPolitics.com
Is it easy to spell?
Face it. Lots of folks just can’t spell and even for those who can, some words are harder (and more likely to be misspelled) than others. Consider avoiding words that readers are going to enter incorrectly.
If your domain name has words like “entrepreneur,” “accommodation,” “conscientious,” “embarrass,” or “guarantee” be prepared to have a lot of potential readers end up somewhere else!
Are there multiple possible spellings?
Think hard before choosing a domain with a word that has multiple correct spellings. How will readers remember which one you chose?
For years I’ve owned a popular site with the word “momma” in the URL. In order to keep readers from ending up at a dead end or, worse, at a competing (or copycat) site, each year I pay for the version I use, as well as versions with “mamma” and “mama” in them. Then I have to make sure they are properly redirected to the correct site.
It’s not a huge expense or a deal-breaker, but it is just one more thing on my to-do list.
Are you misspelling on purpose?
Some people think it’s cute to name a business something like Kountry Kitchen, as if using a double letter outweighs the need for proper spelling. Personally, I think it’s goofy, but when you’re on the internet it’s just plain dumb. When you’re striving to get name recognition, do you really want to force your readers to try to remember your fabricated spelling?
That said, I’ve even used invented spellings myself. Sometimes it works if the invented spelling makes sense to the readers. But if you chose to go this route, buy the conventional spelling, too, so those who tend to spell correctly can still find you.
Is your URL excessively long?
Technically, you can have 67 characters in your domain name. But don’t.I strongly suggest you stick with dot com for your top-level domain. Simply put, that is the ending people will assume. If you’re lucky enough that they remember your hostname, you’re probably pushing your luck if you force them to remember an unexpected top-level domain, too.
Still, if another top-level domain really fits your site (for example dot org for a non-profit corporation), use it. One caveat: avoid dot biz. It’s generally considered spammy and will likely cause you all sorts of headaches with your email being filtered and bounced, among other things. (I speak from experience, using dot biz for a legitimate and well-crafted site. I learned my lesson.)
Is this what you want to call your blog?
Whatever domain you end up using, give your site the same name. If you want to call your blog “Suzy’s Happy Blog” and suzyshappyblog.com is taken, choose another name! Let it go! Don’t use the URL mysupersuzyblog.com and then have a huge header that says, “Suzy’s Happy Blog.”
Why? Because if you’re lucky enough that your readers remember your amazing Suzy’s Happy Blog, next time they want to read it, they’re going to go to suzyshappyblog.com and read someone else’s happy entries!
Is your domain hyphenated?
I own a few dozen hyphenated domains. Often, when I have multi-word domains, I use hyphens. But I only buy them if the non-hyphenated version is available as well.Hyphenated names are often much easier to read. Experts-Exchange.com will likely pull a different clientele than expertsexchange.com. And while it might be perfectly legitimate to look for counseling at Therapist-Finder.com, you might wonder about someone doing research on therapistfinder.com.
Distinguishing between words not only helps your readers, but might give you a bit of a bump in the search engines as they, too, can distinguish your keywords when they are separated with hyphens. But, again, I only use hyphenated sites if I can also buy the non-hyphenated site to redirect to my real website.
You want your visitors to return to your site. Make it easy to find you the first time and every time thereafter.
#3 Select Web Hosting
We make it a policy to buy our domains from one provider and our hosting from another. The separation of powers, so to speak, is a level of protection should you have a problem with either company. So once you’ve purchased your domain, I suggest you look at other companies to find a good hosting package.
With that in mind, here are some questions to ask a potential hosting service:
- Disk Space
How much space can I use for my files and images? What happens when I run out?
How much traffic can I generate? What if I exceed my quota?
What is your uptime percentage? On average, what percentage of the time will my site be inaccessible to viewers?
- Customer Service
How do you deal with problems? How can I contact you for help?
How much will hosting cost me each year? Are there payment terms?
It’s also a good idea to get recommendations from people you trust. Online “reviews” may really be nothing more than affiliate sites where people are getting paid to refer your business. They may be honest evaluations, but unless you know the source, you can’t be sure. A few positive recommendations from people who don’t stand to benefit is a good sign of a quality hosting company.
For more help with choosing a host, please check out the BloggingTips Book ‘Choosing A Web Host : Helping You Choose The Right Host For Your Blog‘.
#4 Set Up Your Site
Once you have a domain and hosting purchased, there are a few more things to address. I won’t go into technical detail, but here’s a rundown of what needs to be done.
Point your domain name to your website
In a nutshell, this allows those who type in your URL (held by one provider) to view your website (stored at a different provider).
WordPress installation requires downloading the WordPress package from WordPress.org, creating a database on your server along with a MySQL user who can modify it, uploading some files, changing with a few file names, and running an install script.
Some hosting services have programs that make such installs very easy. If you plan on doing this yourself, make sure your host has the tools you need to match your skill level. Otherwise, you can easily hire someone to take care of the technical side.
Choose a theme
Now you have a fresh, slick WordPress install. But face it, it’s downright ugly. The default theme, a Kubrick variation, is extremely dated and overused. The other installed theme, WordPress Classic is better, but not much. But the beauty of WordPress and its enormous community is that you can choose from thousands and thousands of free themes and hundreds of premium (or paid) themes to turn your ugly little site into a thing of beauty in just minutes!
Get recommendations, do some web search, and find the look to fit your sit topic. Also consider the support provided for the theme you choose. WordPress upgrades often mean theme upgrades are needed as well.
Customize your site
Now that your site has form and style, you’ll still need to tweak a few things to make it your own. I recommend at least the following actions:
- Set your site name and tagline
- Specify link structure
- Add a header image
- Arrange widgets in your sidebar
- Activate Akismet (a default comment spam blocker)
- Add plugins to increase functionality
- Decide on appropriate settings
- Add an RSS feed
- Add a subscription signup
- Create categories and tags
#5 Add Pages
The default WordPress setup starts with two pages: a “Home” page and an “About” page. The Home page shows an excerpt of your most recent posts, in reverse chronological order. The About page is blank, and intended as a holding place for info about you, your site, or your company.
In addition to these two pages, you may want to add others. I suggest every site at least have a contact page that has a form so readers can contact you.
#6 Write Your First WordPress Post
Now that your basic site functions are set, you can begin creating posts. Posts are the heart of a blog, they are the content, they are what drive people to your site. If you’re a blogger, this is where you should probably spend the bulk of your time.
Write a lot, but write with care. Make sure your blog posts:
- Fit with the intended focus of your blog
- Are clear, well-organized, and readable
- Use proper grammar
- Include good HTML structure
- Are appropriately tagged and categorized
You’re officially a blogger, but you’re certainly not done. Now comes the work of adding relevant, helpful content on a regular basis. You’ll need to learn some search engine optimization. You’ll need to draw readers and increase traffic. Depending on your goals, you may want to monetize your site.
There is much left to do and to learn. Blogging isn’t a short-term project. Keep going and keep learning. You’re off to a running start.