A beginner’s guide to start blogging
Written on 6 March 2011, 11:54pm
So, you know you want to start a new blog, you bought your domain, set up the hosting and are ready to go. You have a lots of ideas about how your blog will look like, what kind of articles will contain, what friends will be in your blogroll. What’s next?
Here is a quick checklist which you will find useful when setting up your blog.
Image credit: Trey Ratcliff – Morning Fog in Jester
1. The content
- The content is king. You probably know this already: the content is the most important part of your blog. No matter how cool it looks, how many likes you have on facebook – the content is the one that will determine the success or the failure of your blog.
- Bring value. Quality content doesn’t mean rewriting the same idea with other words. If you found an interesting topic somewhere, don’t write a post to duplicate the content. You have twitter for sharing. On your blog you must express your own opinion: be creative, think about the same topic in other ways.
- Know your audience. You need to know what is your target audience and tailor your style accordingly.
- Always spell check your posts. Forgetting or ignoring this is simply unacceptable.
2. The design
Here are some quick advices about the design:
- Keep the design clean.
- Try to produce semantic content: use headers to delimit your sections, bulleted lists for enumeration, bold text for highlight and so on.
- Make sure you have search form. Not all the users know that they can search your site using google and the search query keyword site:yoursite.com. The average user expects the search form to be on the top right side of your website.
- The Contact and About pages are mandatory. Be aware of the importance of the about me page. Make sure it responds to the 5W questions: Who are you? Where are you? What are you doing? When did you started it? Why? At the end of this post you will the link to a more comprehensive guide for your ‘about me’ page.
- Provide a visible link to your RSS feed.
- Add a mobile version. If you’re using WordPress, MobilePress plugin does a pretty good job.
- Keep your top menu short. Lots of menu entries will confuse the user and make him go away.
- Check for broken links
- Validate your website. It’s simply a matter of good practice. Doing so not only helps you debug any HTML problems with your website, but having a valid website helps the crawlers index your website.
- A last thing: you will probably want to monetize your blog at some point, so keep that in mind when you set up the design. If you start ads-free, allow some placeholders for the banners (top leaderboard and/or sidebar banners). Or, you can add the banners from day 1 🙂
3. The contact
You will have to connect with your users:
- Create an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org and make it public on your contact page. Don’t be afraid of spam!
- If for some reason you don’t want to make your email public, set up a contact form. The problem with the contact forms is the amount of generated spam. So far, the most common solution to this problem is the use of CAPTCHA. But it has 3 major problems:
- A big percentage of CAPTCHAs can be broken by bots
- Some CAPTCHA images cannot be read by the users
- They break the user experience by forcing them to complete the test.
Spam is not the users problem, it is the problem of the business that is providing the site. It is arrogant and lazy to try and push the problem onto a site’s visitors. – Tim Kadlec: It’s time to kill off captchas, stop punishing users for trying to interact with our sites
Alternative solutions for this problem include:
- Akismet to detect spam
- Honeypot (input fields which are hidden via CSS)
- Logic questions (ex – what is the sum of 3 + 5)
- Make sure your RSS feed is working. I also recommend to show the full article in the feed, because the user likes to read the entire article in his RSS Reader. If the user reads the RSS via a mobile device (more and more common these days), even if you offer him a mobile version of your website, the user will still not appreciate breaking the user experience by forcing him to go to your website and read the full article. Let the user decide if he wants to leave the reader or not.
One of the main reasons why you might want to show only a part of your article in the RSS feed is the possibility that the content aggregators steal your content, publish it somewhere else and, worse, rank better than you on search engines results. Valid concern, but, at least for the beginning, show the full article in the RSS feed.
- If you don’t have one yet, create a twitter account and use it to interact with readers, colleagues, other professionals. Unless you’re tweeting once per month, you should display your latest tweets on your blog (at the end of this post you will find a link to a tutorial).
- In order to get some traction, you will need the help of the social media tools. So share your posts yourself and allow your readers to do it: after each post, add social media buttons. It’s important to add them after the post because of the following 2 reasons:
- Let the users read the article first, then decide if it’s worth sharing
- If the provider of social media buttons is experiencing downtime, your website will not load past the point of the widget. Example: When Facebook goes down, it’s a big deal. Of course, this is unpleasant experience for your users, but don’t make it even worse by putting the widget on top of the page. If you embed the social media button at the end of the article, the user is still able to read the article.
4. The security
Stop for a second and answer the following question: is your blog password a string that can be found in a dictionary? If yes, or if your password is 12345, then you should change your password now. You must choose a random password with lowercase, uppercase, digits and symbols.
- Check the strength of your password using tools like the password meter
- Store the password in a secure place: don’t write it on a post-it note on top of your monitor or in a file called passwords.txt on your desktop.
- Delete all the unnecessary users and remove all the unnecessary privileges.
- If you are using forms to collect data from the user (example comments or contact page) – then you must protect them from SQL injection or XSS attacks. Going in details is beyond the scope of this post.
5. The progress
Before launching your website, you should set some goals. Either if they are about reaching a number of daily visitors or to earn a certain amount of money, they should be very clear in your mind. And you should write your articles with these goals in mind.
You will also need some tools to help you tracking the progress.
- Set up a tool to track the usage of your website. Google Analytics is one of the best out there and it’s free.
- Set up a tool to record the uptime of your website and alert you when it is down. Usually tools like these require a monthly/yearly fee. Luckily, some of them have a free version: Pingdom lets you monitor one website and includes 20 SMS alerts.
As you can see, start blogging is not as easy as it looks. If you are serious about it and you pay attention to details (and you really should do both), then the process can be more time consuming than you thought.
Where to go from here
- You can go into more details and review The Ultimate Website Launch Checklist.
- Review Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
- Guidelines for Writing a Good About Page
- How to create a Twitter box in your sidebar
- In search of the perfect CAPTCHA: The best CAPTCHA is no CAPTCHA at all
- Stats about passwords: If Your Password Is 123456, Just Make It HackMe
What are your tips for a successful blog start?
Written by Dorin Moise (Published articles: 264)