Anu and Dolly – two friends from LA – recently reached out asking me for advice on how to start a blog. Anu wrote “didn’t you once write a blog about how to write blog.” I thought to myself, “hmm.. That’s something I would totally write.” so I looked as far back as 2008, and couldn’t find anything. I had to write-up something new for her, and thought I would refine & share it with others. Then, in the process of researching, I decided it was high-time I updated my own blog, and less than 24 hours later, my new blog is up, in the old location, at www.dailydoseofpras.com. And here, now, for your pleasure, are some recommendations on how to start a blog:
The Right Technology Platform
You want to pick a platform that makes your life easy, but you also want something that doesn’t look like everyone else. On the easy side, you can have a blog up and running in 5 minutes using wordpress.com, tumblr.com, or blogger.com. WordPress probably gives you the most powerful toolset and the most flexiblity. Tumblr is very fashionable right now, and is optimized for image-heavy blogging. And they’re all free. There are other less popular options as well.
If you’re really going to take your blog seriously, you might be willing to spring for something a bit fancier, and spend a little money. For example, wordpress.com will let you pay a little extra – $12/year – and get your own URL.
Features vs. Money
On the full-control side, you can actually build your own wordpress blog from scratch, by downloading their open-sourced code from wordpress.org and leverage their huge ecosystem of plugins themes, and widgets. For example, there are plugins for tracking user data, widgets for syncing your Twitter to your blog, and themes that make your blog look like a newspaper, magazine, or game of Super Mario Brothers.
If you don’t need full-control, but want some features, you can host on WordPress.com, and buy features a la carte. Controlling the URL will cost you $12/year. Having them register your URL for you may cost another $8. Extra storage and video-support will each cost a little more. Getting the version without advertising embedded will cost you even more. And custom themes will cost you even more. This can start to add-up pretty quick, so at some point it may become more cost-effective to self-host your blog.
Money vs. Control
In my case, I wanted full-control, I wanted to own my own blog soup-to-nuts, and have my own URL, and have no ads, or ads that I made money off of, instead of ads that a blog side made money off of. I also envisioned having custom designs, functionality, and eventually building a real website, and so I chose to self-host my blog. I found a hosting provider called An Hosting that would host my blog for $100/year, and I downloaded the open-sourced WordPress code from WordPress.org, loaded it on my server space, configured it, and got it up-and-running with 10 minutes of help from a developer friend. It was pretty painful though – slowly researching. And ultimately, I didn’t use a lot of the functionality I had. For example, self-hosting gave me email addresses as well, and I never synced or used my firstname.lastname@example.org email address. Another example – at the $100 price point, An Hosting wasn’t giving me a lot of bandwidth, so my blog loaded slowly. And most importantly, there was maintenance that had to be kept-up with – for example installing upgrades to the wordpress codebase every few months. I was constantly a couple releases behind.
Ultimately, unless you have a technical background, I don’t recommend self-hosting. If you want your own URL but are willing to live without fancy video support, extra space, and willing to be ad-supported, the compromise is that for $25/year or less you can get a blog on wordpress.com, have access to all their free themes and free widgets, and register a domain name so that you can get your dailydoseofpras.com. This is essentially what I decided to switch to last week. WordPress makes it super-easy to register a domain name through them, so you don’t even need to go through godaddy. And if you still feel like your blog looks like everyone else’s, you can buy a custom theme for $30 or you can do custom formatting (a premium feature) and mess around.
Keep the topics you will cover bounded
The first question beyond the technology of building a blog is what your blog is going to be about? Its important to have a bounded topic area. For example, is this going to be your personal blog? Your professional blog? Do those two things need to be separate? Is there a particular specialty / passion that your blog will center around. If you care at all that your blog get even a little bit famous, it’s going to help that you’ve bounded your blog to one topic area, even if that area is something as simple as “funny shit.” once you’ve focused on a bounded topic area, think about the right keywords. Having a bounded topic area where you can be the expert or be relevant will help with Search Engine Optimization, and it will also help whoever your readers are know what to expect of this blog. If they’re expecting posts about your passion for green technology, and your latest post is about your peyote-induced hallucinations, they might be a little thrown off.
Consider who might be reading this
Probably the most important thing when writing is considering who is reading this post. If you want to talk about your drug-induced hallucinations, think about what your future employer might think. I tended to be highly transparent about my life and my opinions when I blogged on my old personal blog, and I think that gave me a unique quality – that I was being more open than most of what you read online – but I think it also hurt some friendships along the way. I usually go and re-read my posts a day after publishing them, from the point of view of someone else, and after doing this for years, I think I have a better feel for what is likely to offend.
Build it into your day
The biggest problem with building something, is that you then have to maintain it. The best way to maintain is to make something part of your routine. So perhaps before you launch the blog, write 15 posts. If you can build the routine of writing posts into your daily or weekly life, to the point where you’ve put 15 posts to paper, then go ahead and launch your blog. Immediately post the first 2-3, keep-up with your writing as part of your routine, posting fresh-content as soon as its written, and keep the remaining 12 posts in your back-pocket for when you don’t have time to write something new, so that you always have fresh content posted.