Over the last month few years, many of you have express interest in starting your own blog, either for yourself and/or your department.  In either case, today’s post will go through, step by step, how I would recommend starting it and subsequently maintaining it.  The goal is to get your blog up, designed, and optimized with great posts to share with your audience.  I will be using WordPress in this tutorial, since that is what I use and have the most knowledge base on.

In the world of blogs, there are many ways to go.  I use WordPress exclusively, which gives you your own domain name, but formatted like this:  http://bsucampuscenter.wordpress.com.  With its latest version (WordPress 4.0), its more powerful and easier to use than ever!  If you decide you want to go this route, go ahead and sign up! (Move on to Step 4)

If you want to have your own personalized domain name (e.g. http://edcabellon.com or http://bsulife.com) to build your brand, then I would recommend going to NameCheap.com (affiliate link), and purchasing your domain name there ($10).  I like NameCheap because they give you free private domain registration where other sides like GoDaddy.com charges an extra $9 for it

Now that you’ve got your personalized domain name, it’s time to figure out where you will host your site from.  I recommend using HostGator.com (affiliate link) as they have been nothing short of fantastic in helping me get my blog up and maintaining the back end of things.  Their prices are fantastic and start as low as $4.95/mo.  It also helps that they are active on Twitter and respond to Tweets in a very timely fashion!  Make sure you bookmark your Hostgator CPanel link… it will be your gateway to access the back end of your blog!

As a special offer, if you order their URL’s above in Step 1 AND leave a comment below, you can have your new sites hosted on my server for FREE for one year!

STEP 3:  Installing WordPress on HostGator
Assuming you went with my recommendation on using HostGator, the next step will be to install WordPress on your server.  I’m not the expert on these steps having done them a few times but this site has lots of good details to help you out.

If you went with another host service, Google their service name along with the keywords “WordPress Install” (e.g. godaddy.com wordpress install) and follow the instructions listed.

Now that you have a WordPress blog (either for free or installed on your new domain name), it’s time to decorate and dress it up a bit!  The easiest way to do this is through built in WordPress Themes.  Login to your WordPress dashboard, usually your domain name with “wp-admin” right after it (e.g. http://rccblog.com/wp-admin).  Once you are inside, on the left hand navigation bar, click on “Appearance” and browse all the free themes that are there and customizable.   Once you pick one, play around with it and see what types of colors, fonts, headers, footers, and widgets work best for you.

The most powerful theme I’ve seen is the “Thesis Theme” (affiliate link).  It makes creating your blog format a lot simpler and more intuitive for even the most novice blogger/web designer.  I’ve learned a lot over the past year and that is in part to the huge Thesis Theme community out there, ready and willing to help you with your design for free or for hire.  If you decide to purchase Thesis, you’ll have access to the forums where your all your questions can be answered.

There are many bloggers out there who do an amazing job teaching about WordPress and Thesis design.  I recommend “How to Make My Blog” and “Copy Blogger” as a good start to read and learn from.

Now that you are getting the hang of WordPress and your desired theme, you need the right tools to actualize your design ideas.  The best way to do this is to look at other blogs and see what you like and don’t like about their design.  I must have looked at hundreds of different blogs (and still I find things I really like that I wished I added).  Things to consider:  How many columns? Large Header/Footer? Fonts? Color Schemes? Lots of Widgets?  Whatever you do, start out simple and grow from there.

My friend Shannon Albert referred these tools to me when I was starting up my blog:

  • Photoshop or Photoshop Elements
    Definitely need to use the tools the pros use. I happen to have Photoshop but you can also use Photoshop Elements. A fully functional 30 day free trial is available here.
  • Establish a color palette
    Use the VisiBone Webmasters Color Lab to play around with colors and decide on a color palette. (I love this!)
  • Dafont.com
    Tons of free fonts at Dafont.com.
  • SmashingMagazine.com
    SmashingMagazine.com has amazing sets of icons and graphics FREE and they are really high quality.
  • Photoshop brushes
    There are many places to find free Photoshop brushes but I’m going to recommend deviantART to search for many great ones that are beautifully done.

Once you have your site designed, there are few things you’ll want to do to maximize your traffic and reach in the busy world wide web.
a.  Create Your RSS Feed:  Use Feedburner to create your RSS feed to your blog so your readers have the option of receiving your blogposts via e-reader or email.  If you need a tutorial in this, google it! (Update: Since Google’s announcement to shut down Feedburner in October of 2012, you will have to find another service to push your RSS feed.  Here is a great blog post on some recommendations.)
b.  Add your Blog to your Social Networks: Share your blog address on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even your email signatures.  If you are creating a department blog, add it to your existing website and any future advertising!
c.  Search Engine Optimization Tips: This topic requires a whole other blog post, but for now, the quick tips include creating:
1. Post Tags: using strong descriptive words to illustrate what the post is about.
2.  Custom Title Tag:  This should be the title of your post plus the name of your blog (e.g. “Demystifying Blog Creation and Maintenance | On The Go With Ed Cabellon”).
3.  Meta Description: This should be a brief 200 character description of your post.  I flip this around to reflect the question that this post would answer (e.g. How do I start my blog? or How do I create my student affairs blog?)
4.  Meta Keywords:  These  should reflect what you used in your Post Tags (e.g. Blog Creation, Blog Maintenance, Hosting, Domain Name, etc.)
All of these will boost your blog’s SEO and it’s posts when people search your topics on Google.
d.  Point All External Links to “Open In a New Window”:  You want people to be on your page(s) for as long as possible.  It’s good to include links to other pieces of information, but not the expense of people leaving your site.  Site visit time is HUGE. After listening more intently to my friend Rachel Luna about the importance of Accessibility in web design, I have stopped pointing all links to open new windows.

Once all the above is set, you’re now ready to write your posts.  Everyone’s approach to writing will be different, but overall:
1.  Create a writing schedule that you’re comfortable with.  Whether it’s once a week, twice a month, etc. just stick to it.
2.  Write about things people ask you questions about.  Share your passions, tips, ideas and the things that you’re interested in and watch your readership grow.
3.  Add photos/videos when appropriate, but don’t overwhelm people when you don’t have to!
4.  Look for guest bloggers who may draw their crowd’s traffic to your site and return the favor if ever asked!
5.  Always end your blog posts with a closing question to start conversations in your comments.
6.  Try keeping you posts averaging 750 words or less. (Don’t use this post as an example 🙂 )

What other advice would you give first time blog creators?


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