5 things to learn before starting a personal blog

I was browsing my blog archives the other day and realized that I was nearing my two year anniversary of starting this website. As of March 10th, 2012, IAmDann.com will be two years old. I’ve got enough content to no longer feel like I’m just “faking it,” so to speak. It’s awesome. For anyone who doesn’t have a blog: start one. It’s extremely easy and it will teach you a lot about the internet and how it all works. Plus, you’ll have a place to post your thoughts and pictures that allows you to retain the rights—much better than turning those rights over to some social networking site.

Here are a five tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the past two years. Understand these and you’ll not only have your own blog but it’ll be better than most other websites out there.

Update: Check out my free video course for help setting getting a domain and hosting, and installing WordPress!

Domain Registrar vs Domain Hosting

First of all, there are two ways to have your own website. The first is to sign up with a service (like Tumblr or WordPress.com). These websites allow you to quickly and easily set up a free blog. The URL for accessing your site will generally be yourusername.theirwebsite.com. That works perfectly fine for a large number of people (majority of people, actually), but it’s not as fun or rewarding as having your own URL, your own website, and setting everything up yourself.

If you want to set up your own blog you’ll have to thrown down some money, but it’s probably not as much as you think. In fact, it can cost you a little under $10 per year on the low end. But in order to get starting with buying your own website, you need to know the difference between registering a domain and hosting a domain.

There are two elements to having a website: the first is owning the URL (for example, I own IAmDann.com) and the second is renting space to put your website. Simply buying IAmDann.com would not allow me to build a website because I’d have nowhere to put the web pages that I build. Hosting, or the rental space for your website, is a separate charge (usually monthly) whereas domain registration (buying a URL) is a yearly fee.

Buying domain name is pretty cheap, around $10/year (a little less if you find coupon codes). I buy all my domains through Namecheap (referral link) and I’ve been really happy. I also do hosting through Namecheap, however, Awardspace can give you completely free web hosting while your website is still small. If you go with Awarespace for your hosting, you can get your own .com website for under $10/year.

WordPress

While there are many blogging platforms out there, WordPress is one of the most used and well known. Not only that, but most web hosts include an automatic WordPress installer (allowing you to click a button, fill out a few details, and have a complete WordPress blog within a few minutes). If your web host does not offer this, WordPress is well known for their 5 minute install. It may even be better to walk yourself through the manual 5 minute install, just so that you have the experience of installing WordPress yourself. If it doesn’t make sense while you’re following the instructions, that’s fine. Go through the motions, and there will come a point down the road where everything just clicks.

I think WordPress is great for people starting their first blog. Not just because it’s easy to install, but also because it’s super easy to add features and functionality to your site. Adding new features to your website is as easy as searching the WordPress website for a “plugin.” Even if you’re not sure what features you want to add to your blog, reading articles describing the “best WordPress plugins” or “essential WordPress plugins” will give you some great ideas.

Plus, updating a WordPress blog is as easy as clicking a “new post” button.

SEO/Permalinks

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This means building your website in such a way that robots will like your blog and make it appear higher in search results. SEO is a topic all to itself, with many people dedicating their entire careers to learning the ins and outs of improving website ranking. For you blog, you don’t need to get that detailed. Just knowing a few basic concepts about SEO will help you out and even give your blog an advantage over most of the blogs out there.

First, keep in mind that search engine robots (or spiders, as they’re called) put a lot of stock in your URL and the name of each post (among other things). Because of this, simply giving your post a title related to the content and changing your permalinks (Settings → Permalinks, select “Day and name”) will make your website a rank a lot better. I also recommend installing the plugin All in One SEO Pack to help you out even more.

SEO has a lot of other factors, such as other websites linking to your website, the quality of those websites, and other elements that aren’t public knowledge. If you’re creating a website that’s selling a product, you should definitely take the time and really learn some more in depth SEO techniques. But for your blog, installing the All in One SEO Pack, setting up permalinks, and using good post titles should serve you just fine.

Just Start Writing

Setting up the blog is just the first part, but that’s not the end. You’ve actually got to start writing there too. Well, you don’t have to, but being able to share your ideas and write posts is one of the perks of having your own blog. The more you write, the more traffic you’ll get to your blog (search engines like when you write) and the more you’ll feel like you’ve built a real website.

If you don’t know what to write, start small. If you read an interesting article, find a good paragraph, quote it on your blog and add a few sentences of your own thoughts (always link back to the original article!). When you post a status update on Facebook, jump onto your blog and add a few more sentences to your update, possibly expounding on why you feel a certain way.

Don’t worry about your blog having a “direction.” That will come with time. Just post updates about whatever is on your mind at any given time. If two posts aren’t related, so what? My blog is a mix between tech news, instructional posts, news commentary, and personal stories. When I first started the blog, I constantly censored myself out of fear of ruining the “feel” of the blog. If you feel inspired, post it. All these elements will eventually flow together and your blog will take on a life of its own soon enough.

Also, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t update all the time. Set an initial goal of updating your blog once a month. If that’s super easy, start posting once every other week. The more content you add to your site, the more you’ll feel inspired to add even more. Thoughts will just come to you and you’ll feel the need to share them. The more you write, the more you’ll get in the habit of writing, and the better your blog will become. You may have to force it a bit in the beginning, but it’ll become habit over time.

Share What You Write

At first, it can be really intimidating to share the things you write. Do it anyway. When you write a new article, post about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, update your Tumblr, yell to no one on Google+. If your post is instructional/helpful/unique in any way, submit it to places like Reddit, Digg, and SumbleUpon. Don’t spam any sites (meaning, don’t constantly submit irrelevant content) but if you’ve made a quality post, don’t be afraid to share it!

You may not get any traffic from it, but maybe you will. Writing a post, sharing it, and sitting back while you watch the traffic rolls in is intoxicating. But keep in mind, getting traffic is hard work and can take a lot of time. It might be well over a year of posts before you write that one post that bring in some decent traffic. If you start feeling discouraged, head to your favorite big blog (you know, the one with hundreds of comments) and check out their very first posts. Look familiar? They’re just like yours, short and with no comments. Stick with it and you can get big too. The key to growth is getting people to see what you write.

Starting a blog is a great way to teach yourself a little bit more about how the internet works while, at the same time, sharing your thoughts and carving out your own piece of the internet. It can be really rewarding, especially once your blog has been around for some time and you’ve got a bit of content there. You’ll get there sooner than you know it and it’ll just a little bit of work. So get to it.

2 Comments 5 things to learn before starting a personal blog

  1. sam

    Thanks for your advice on Reddit and guiding me towards your site, I look forward to trying to implement some of these onto my own blog when I have time in the summer!

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