Blogging 101

July 8 2011

So you’ve got your website set up, you’ve got your new prestigious email address (or several), and you’re ready to start writing down your thoughts and sharpening your mind against the grindstone of the internet – you want to start a blog.

…or don’t you? Freedom Twenty-Five had a good post about why you should start a blog a while back, read that. Now do you want to start a blog? I thought so… luckily, it’s very easy:

All you need to do is install WordPress and start writing. WordPress has a lot of bells and whistles that you can play around with, but you only need to know a couple of things to get started.

This is the WordPress control panel:

The options are all in the left sidebar. The important ones are:

  • Under “posts”, “add new”…
    That’s where you write a new post, then click on the “publish” button and it appears on your website. In the “posts” section, you can also edit or delete your old posts, divide them into custom categories, etc. It’s all pretty intuitive and self-explanatory, you’ll figure it out real easy. Just try all the buttons to see what they do, that’s probably quicker than me trying to explain everything.
  • The “links” section…
    This is where you build your blogroll or other lists of links you want to appear in your blog’s sidebar.
  • The “pages” section…
    “Pages” are pretty much like “posts”, except they show up in the header menu instead (on this site, scroll up and look at the menu under the picture at the top – those are “pages”). Use “pages” for things you want to always be easily accessible to your readers.
  • The “comments” section…
    Here you can see, approve, disapprove, and otherwise screw with comments your readers leave on your blog posts. If you want to disallow comments for a particular post, there’s a checkbox for that on the page where you write the post. If you want to disallow comments for the entire site, that’s under “settings -> discussion”. Allowing comments is generally a good idea if you want to discuss your posts with readers, but if you can’t find the time for that, you may just want to shut off the commenting function. Steve Pavlina has two posts on this you may want to read.
  • Under “appearance”, “header”…
    Here you can upload your own image to be shown at the top of the site, or choose from the default ones.
  • Under “appearance”, “background”…
    Choose a background color or upload a background image.
  • Under “appearance”, “menus”…
    Here you can create various menus to show in your sidebar, with links to your pages and/or elsewhere on the web.
  • Under “appearance”, “widgets”…
    Here’s more stuff for the sidebar, like a function to show a list of links to your most recent posts, a search bar, and stuff like that. You can drag these “widgets” into the various “widget areas” to have them appear in the sidebar or at the bottom of your site’s pages.
  • Under “users”, “your profile”…
    …pretty self-explanatory.
  • The “settings” section…
    All the pages in this section are filled with various options you can adjust to make your site work just the way you want it to. Do you want comments or not? Do you want emoticon graphics or not? Do you want to change the name or tagline of your blog? That kind of thing. One thing you should know about is…
  • Under “settings”, “reading”…
    Here you choose whether you want the front page of your blog to display your latest posts, or to be a static page with something else you choose to put there. If you want a static page, you first have to make two new pages in the “pages” section described above. Then, come back here and select one as the “front page” and another as the “posts page”. You can now edit the page that’s the “front page” to show whatever you want.
  • The “plugins” section…
    Here you can install extra functions to do things that WordPress normally doesn’t do. The “add new” option will allow you to search for plugins, and install them easily with one click. Just type in the name of the plugin you want, and it’ll show up. Then click to install it, once it’s installed go to the “installed plugins” page and click to activate it, and click on its “settings” if you want to adjust those.

A few plugins you should search for and install right away:

  • Akismet
    Protects your blog from spam comments left by advertising robots.
  • W3 Total Cache
    Reduces server load and makes your site faster. Your web host will get mad at you if you don’t use this. This plugin has a lot of settings you won’t understand, but you pretty much don’t need to worry about them. Just activate the plugin, go to your site and right-click to “view source code”, “view page source” or something like that depending on your browser, and look for a text that says “performance optimized by W3 Total Cache”. Great, it’s working! If you run into a problem, HostGator’s Live Chat Support will help you – the link for that is in the top right corner of the HostGator front page. (If you’re not hosting with HostGator like I suggested, well, then it just sucks to be you.)
  • Clean-Contact
    A form that allows readers to send you email without you having to publicly display your email address on your website for all the spam robots crawling around the internet.

You may want more plugins to do different things for you. Google “wordpress plugin” and whatever words are relevant to what you want to do, and you’ll probably find something.

…and that’s probably all you need to know about the technical aspects of blogging!

Now, there’s a few more things you may be interested in…

  • How to get readers for your blog:
    Tell people about it. Also read Steve Pavlina’s post on this. The beginning tends to be the hardest, once you get some readers they’ll generally tell their friends if your writing is any good. To get those first readers, you’ll need to somehow let people know that your blog exists. If you’re regularly commenting on other blogs or participating in forum discussions, just add your web address to your signature and people will find your site from there. If you write guest posts for another site, you can often do the same. If you write about other bloggers’ writing, participate in back-and-forth discussions across blogs and network with people who share your interests, you should soon notice other bloggers starting to link to your site (provided your writing is any good). How many readers do you really need, though? Just a few people who share your interest in whatever it is you write about and are willing to discuss it with you will work to sharpen your mind. If you want thousands of loyal followers to admire you as a prophet so you can feel special, you’ll need to write really good stuff that people will spread the word about.
  • How to make money from your blog:
    Read Steve Pavlina’s post on this too. This is a science in itself and you can spend all the time in the world fine-tuning and optimizing and working to squeeze every extra penny out of your blog, or you can just sign up with one of the major ad networks, slap up some ads on your site and be content with whatever you get. If you want to make a living and/or get rich blogging, know that it will not be easy. You need to be pretty special, you’ll need a good business model and you’ll need a lot of readers. Many bloggers dream of living off their blog profits, and yes, it can be done, but just like Game or anything else, it’ll take a lot of work. There’s no particular reason you can’t be the one to do it if you have the determination to learn what you need to learn and do the work you need to do. It’ll take a while, but the people who think “you just can’t do that” like getting rich from writing a blog is somehow against the rules of life are just wrong. You know who got rich writing a blog? I bet you guessed it… Steve Pavlina. And he’s right: rules are no obstacles for committed people.