I’m impressed by a man who is thinking about starting a blog at 2.26 am on a Saturday night, and writes to me asking for tips on how to blog! He’s never had a blog before and is keen to get started, having written a number of potential draft posts before sending me that message. Clearly the thought of starting a blog in the middle of the night means my friend should start one, yeah? HELL YEAH!
Blogs are a great way of telling your story – they’re immediate and easily updatable. And you can start one really quickly, should the thought stop you from sleeping at night.
So here are my tips for starting a blog.
Choose your platform.
There are a range of blogging platforms available – many are free. You can try Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, SquareSpace, TypePad, Drupal, Moveable Type, Weebly, MySpace, Bravenet or Live Journal, or do your own search for other options.
You can sign up for a blog account easily using your email address and adding a few details about yourself. You can blog with your name or semi-anonymously with a pseudonym (more about that in a future blogging tips post).
Blogging platforms are relatively simple to use – they’re intuitive and you don’t need to know HTML coding to create a blog and its posts. I have a basic knowledge of HTML from my eCommerce degree and do use it a little for links and tables, but only very occasionally.
I use Blogger (Blogspot) and find this really easy to use – I like the templates and commenting system (except the spam!) and it’s easy to create posts and update them – see my pictorial instructions below. Blogger allows users to have a blog homepage plus tabs featuring other information such as ‘About me’, and ‘Contact’ pages, as well as side bars for links to other blogs (known as your blog roll) plugins such as Facebook page links and stat counters, and your blog post archives.
Before you add content to your blog (known as blog posts) make sure you’ve got your template ready. Think of a name and URL (web address) for your blog – make it something you want for the long haul. Add a picture in the header. Create your sidebar. Make sure the text will be readable – consider using Arial or Verdana – and use black (or dark) text on a light background. Put a disclaimer on it if necessary. Link to the blogs and websites you like. And you’re set!
(You can also integrate a blog onto an existing website (or link to it from your existing site). I haven’t done this before but you can pop over to Infinite 42 for some instructions.)
1. Visit www.blogger.com and select ‘Create blog’. This is when you create the blog’s name and URL. I do believe you need a Google account but I think you can link your existing email address to the account (which is what I do) or set up a Gmail account. Follow the steps as you navigate each page.
2. Navigate your dashboard. From here you can create new posts, change the template, view and moderate comments, change privacy settings, and layout and view basic statistics.
3. Choose a template. Here you can choose the colours and background picture, fonts and layout.
4. Add sidebar features (head back to the dashboard to do this). You can add plugins and a blog roll as I mentioned above. You can also move elements around. It’s best to do this on the computer rather than a tablet or phone.
5. Write a post! Click on the orange and white button or the pen button to write a new post. You can add pictures and hyperlinks, format text, embed video, preview on the web and schedule from this screen. You can also edit from the dashboard later.
I often write straight to Blogger, but this is probably not a good idea because I could lose my work (there is a backup function) or there’s a risk of poor editing (but you can go back to edit posts after they’re published). For new bloggers, I recommend writing your posts in a word program, editing for spelling, grammar and spacing in that program, and then copying and pasting to your blogging platform. You will need to upload your pictures through the blogging platform rather than cutting and pasting to with the text (and you may also have to manually edit the hyperlinks within your blogging platform too).
I also make notes on my iPad or iPhone and email these to myself so I can cut and paste straight to Blogsy on the iPad or Blogger on the computer.
Very rarely do I use a notepad and pen now!
Create that content!
Find a topic you’re passionate about and want to write about for a long time and stick with it. Your blog doesn’t have to be niched, but it does help if you have a focus (for the reader and for your own goals). Maybe you want to start a blog to develop your writing or share your knowledge and experience. You can still write about a range of topics on your blog, but regularly bring the focus of your blog back to your focus topic. For example, while I write about lots of facets of my life (food, Melbourne, love, social commentary, blogging) I always ensure I blog regularly about Ichthyosis, visible difference and chronic illness. That’s my focus.
Write what you’re comfortable with. You can reveal as much or as little as you like. Write from the heart – what I like about blogging is that it can show real emotion and passion, and readers really engage with this authenticity.
You can blog with words or pictures or even create videos or soundbites and upload them to your blog. (Whatever you do, don’t have automatically loading music playing when your blog opens!).
Cite your sources if you’ve used pictures or quotes from elsewhere.
Ask permission if you are going to write about someone in your life. Be careful blogging about your work, colleagues or workplace (I’d avoid this completely unless your blog is your own work!).
Allow comments and respond to them. Don’t use Captcha on your comments – while it does filter out some spam, it makes it hard for the real commenters to leave a comment.
Write like someone’s watching – create quailty content and know that you will be read by someone! Your blog will expand your profile if you let it. You may not have 100 subscribers in the first week, it takes time.
Just write! And write regularly.
Many new bloggers start with excitement. “Yes! I’ll blog three times a week! Yes I’ll connect with other bloggers! Yes it’ll be easy.”, they exclaim with gusto. But then they stop, and their blog is frozen in time, with their grand announcement to start blogging still on page one, three months ago.
And so many people say they want to start but put it off. They often make all sorts of excuses how they need to find a topic and they’re too busy. Just sit down and write. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
When you first start out blogging, aim to write once or twice a week. Write regularly so your readers will know when to expect posts. Set aside some time to write – maybe 15 minutes a day or an hour on the weekend.
I used to try to publish a blog post every day, but this got tiring. And I ran out of content. So now I aim for three to four times a week, plus fit in writing for other publications too. I almost always write blog posts at night or in the weekends, and and schedule them for 7 am in the morning. Sometimes I’ll write a lot of posts on a weekend, over a bottle of wine, and the first post will come out fairly sensible and by the fourth post I’m much more creative. I don’t know the rules about drinking and blogging.
Having said all of that, write when you feel like it. If you just blog for regularity or because you think you owe it to your readers, but feel like you’re forcing the words, have a break. Blog when you have something to say.
Find some apps.
There are lots of apps to allow blogging on the run. I blogged my entire overseas trip on my iPad, albeit with no smartphone coverage and an often temperamental wifi connection.
I use Apple products – so if you use Apple too and like the sounds of the apps I’ve mentioned, search for them in iTunes. If you are not an Apple user, search your equivalent app store for blogging apps.
I use Blogsy for blogging on the iPad (and you can get an iPhone version) – it cost me around $5. I like that it integrates other apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Sarari for easy access while blogging. Blogsy works with all of the blogging platforms I mentioned above. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
There is a Blogger app for the iPhone (and equivalent for some of the other platforms including WordPress and Tumblr) but I don’t use it to write and publish new blog posts as there are only basic functions on it, and you need to use HTML for links and formatting text. I do use it for editing a published post on the run.
I also use Instagram to upload pictures – it’s a community of its own, and it’s often a picture that inspires my words, Facebook and Twitter for the iPhone and iPad – to promote my blog, and Photoshop Express and iPhoto on the iPad and MacBook to edit photos.
Apps such as Hootsuite and Buffer allow you to schedule tweets and Facebook posts, and in some cases, enable you to use multiple social media platforms from one interface. Visit Roadside Multimedia for more information about these apps.
Promote your blog!
Promote your blog on your social media platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and Pintrest are good to start with. (Melissa from SugerCoatit has a great post about sharing your own work on Pintrest.)
Set up a Facebook page for your blog (a page as opposed to your personal profile – this will enable people who aren’t your Facebook friends to connect with you, see your updates and also share your posts easily. Consider branding it like you brand your blog – use the same name as your blog. A separate Facebook page will also enable you to keep your blog separate from your personal Facebook profile – this is useful if you don’t want your family and friends to see that you’ve got a blog.
I syndicate my blog posts to Networked Blogs so when a post is published, the links automatically (though sometimes with a time delay) publish to my personal Facebook profile, my blog’s Facebook page and Twitter.
When you start a blog, you become part of a community. Enjoy that community! Find blogs in your niche. Comment on other blogs. Share the work of bloggers who you admire. Talk to people on your social media networks. Tell people in real life about your blog. Have fun!
Best of luck blogging, my friend 🙂
And that’s it for now. I’m going to write about my writing process soon, because someone else has asked. Happy blogging!
Edit: that friend who asked me how to start a blog? He started it! Impressive work, Paul De Gelder.
It you’ve got any questions about blogging, do send them my way. I’m thinking of making blogging tips a regular feature on my blog. What do you think?
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