I’ve been meaning to do a Blogging 101 post since as far back as 2013. Over the years, I’ve gotten questions about various aspects of blogging from content, to logos, to hosting, platform, etc. But most recently my trainer asked for a bit of everything, so I decided to finally put it all down into a single blog post. This is it.
SHOULD YOU START A BLOG?
If you have a passion about a particular subject that you want to explore further (like taking up mountain biking, or start eating healthier), and you’d like to share what you learn as you learn, OR have a niche you’d like to focus on (travel/cars/tech/DIY) – a hobby, and want to share what you already know (note that I’m not using the word expert here), then absolutely start a blog. You never know who out there shares a similar passion but too afraid to do anything further, so your posts could very well push them in the right direction. Example, trying new workouts and eating right/sharing meal plans could help so many people – I’d love to read a local blog focused on that.
One of the two most difficult things about blogging is coming up with a name, and finding a WordPress theme (should you go that route), but more on that later. Think very carefully about the name of your blog. Google it; and check if it exists on social media. I highly recommend not choosing something generic that when you google, it’s completely lost and there’s no way you’re going show up anywhere, never mind page 1 results. Also don’t choose a name that is similar or can be confused with someone else’s brand/blog/business, no matter where in the world. Come up with something unique, and if you want to make it a bit personal, consider using your name. But if you want to create a brand around it, or hope it grows into a business, then perhaps don’t use your name. This part is tricky as I’ve heard from others, once the blog grows to such an extent, they regret using a first name in the title. I sometimes think I could have blogged on wiredtotheweb.co.za but at the same time, I think it’s too long a URL.
When you think of a blog name, also think about a logo to go with. Don’t just google and take the first thing you see online which you think suits your new blog. I’d suggest you find a designer that fits in your budget to get a look created for you. If you want to keep your costs down, consider doing this when your blog makes money, if that is your end goal. Or just invest in the look of your blog. First impressions last. Fancy business cards can come last.
You have two options here; free or self-hosted. Free includes the likes of Tumblr, Blogger (previously called Blogspot) and free WordPress. These blogs won’t cost you hosting fees but are limited in that you can’t add plugins and widgets. If you are starting a business, I think it’s very unprofessional go to this route.
Self-hosted means you pay for two things – firstly, an annual fee for your own domain; and secondly, a monthly hosting fee (it has to sit on a server somewhere, which takes up bandwidth and storage). Web hosting companies offer to renew domains but they sometimes add a fee onto it. I do mine directly.
Hosting packages vary depending on storage and sometimes by bandwidth. A quick glance on Afrihost and I can see web traffic is listed as unlimited. If there’s a limit, a message like this may be familiar to you “this domain has exceeded its bandwidth limit”. It’s better to just have it unlimited. This means if loads of people are clicking your blog post/miraculously you go viral, you won’t run out of bandwidth and people can still access it. This does not guarantee the site won’t crash under all that pressure.
However, storage is what you should pay attention to. If you plan to upload a lot of images, don’t go for a basic entry level package with 1000MB (1GB). Over the months and years, your storage needs to increase. Maybe start small and look at increasing it as you go along.
Things that don’t use storage: video or photo embeds where you insert via URL. So if it’s your own Instagram video or photo (via Flickr maybe), that’s cool. If you Google and find an image hosted on someone else’s blog, that means you’re bumming off someone else’s bandwidth; not cool. This used to happen to me with tech photos, but now I take my own product shots and don’t use official pics.
If you want your own South African co.za domain, go here: http://co.za. Click on Whois on the left under Registration Information to see if a URL you want is available. There are various places you can register a .com domain, and it is sometimes paired up with a host. International hosting tends to work out cheaper if you take an annual package and it comes with support etc. Nothing wrong with going local either. My blog is hosted with domains.co.za. Take a look at Afrihost, Cybersmart, Texo, etc. That said, I see a lot of complaints about Afrihost web hosting on my Twitter feed.
As mentioned above, a free hosted URL means your blog address will read name.tumblr.com or name.blogger.com or name.wordpress.com. I personally think running a blog on Tumblr is not a great idea. Tumblr for me has always been about sharing funny pics you see online; it doesn’t exactly jump out as a blogging platform for anyone who wants to be taken seriously. As for Google’s Blogger, I’ve never been a fan of it. I just don’t think it looks good; doesn’t have a polished look. It’ll never be as slick as WordPress.
If you are self-hosting and going for a name.co.za domain, you have to think about what CMS you want to run your blog on, in which case, I would recommend WordPress for the freedom. There are loads of plugins and widgets to customise and tweak. Disqus is my personal favourite comment plugin – it lets the user comment via Twitter, Facebook, Disqus or guest logins. The hardest part is choosing a theme. There are loads of free ones, and then there are paid for ones. I like paying for my themes; I don’t want my blog to look like every other blog out there. Most theme websites accept PayPal as payment, or credit card.
Also, it’s 2016 going on 2017. Make sure your theme is responsive; viewable on any device, especially mobile.
Once you’ve settled on a niche, decide how frequently you want to post. If you choose to do 3x posts a week, stick to it. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, consistency is key. If you post on Mon, Wed, Fri, people who follow you can look forward to getting new updates on those days. Even twice a week initially seems manageable. Don’t start off with unrealistic expectations (like blogging 5 days a week) because that’s just silly. Unless you’re a content and ideas machine ready to churn day in and day out.
Also decide what type of content you want to create, whether it’s text, photos, video, Instagram embeds, Snapchat inserts, etc. Also keep in mind, you don’t want to bore the reader, so visuals/multimedia are recommended.
Length of blog post is also something to think about. I’ve been reading articles and blogs for a very long time. I get bored if they are too lengthy, and long drawn. And if the font is tiny, even worse, I lose interest very quickly. But this is just me personally. I think a blog post around 400 words is ideal, but other factors should be considered. If you are doing a photo heavy blog post, make sure that’s the focus and the pics are good. If you’re doing an in-depth travel post, don’t worry about word count as every bit will help your reader, but consider breaking it down into multiple posts.
If photography is a vital part of your blog, whether you want to show food, cars, workout posts etc, make sure you take good photos. Or just get a friend/family/partner to help out. If you have an SLR, use it. You can also take excellent photos on a smartphone today; all premium handsets, whatever the make, are capable of great photos. There are loads of editing apps too. Try to find a unique style to your photos and stick with it. Like having the same prop appear in all your photos; many people do it. Think outside the box.
This is a tricky one. You need to build up a following before brands would want to do anything with you. If you’re starting out, don’t focus on it too much. But if you have an established blog, and not just starting one for the freebies (it’s very easy to spot these types), brands will approach you. There are costs involved with blogging, some of which are paying for a designer to create a logo, petrol to and from wherever you need to go for content, web hosting, business cards, etc. Keep these in mind, along with your reach, when you put a price for publishing sponsored content.
It’s taken me a good few years to finally accept sponsored content is here to stay. If you know me, you know how much I hate ads, and that I have an adblocker on my phone. So I get it, another way to make money in online publishing is through sponsored content. Just be smart about how you approach it, and do not blindly copy and paste content. Although there are other creative ways you can make money, just speak to other bloggers to see how they do it.
If you want to go the (Google) ad route, do it but honestly don’t know who actually clicks on ads today, unless by mistake because it’s so intrusive, in your face and flashy.
If you’re still nervous about putting your blog out there, just create it, for example, on name.wordress.com, start filling it with content, and share it with friends and family to get their honest feedback. Then perhaps consider registering your own domain. You can export content from a name.wordress.com blog into your own easily if it’s on the same platform.
Okay, I think I covered everything for someone new to blogging. If you have any other questions, leave a comment below and I’ll answer it.