How to blog is something that a lot of us old hands take for granted, but for the beginner starting a blog can seem like a daunting tangle of questions and issues to be resolved. In this guide, I have gathered all of the essential resources you'll need to start a blog. Here's how:
Photo credit: Konstantinos Kottinis
Gathering a number of resources from both MasterNewMedia and other useful websites, I have tried to answer here the common questions about starting a blog that most new bloggers have.
While it would be impossible to cover everything, you should find here all of the basics, and more, on how to create a blog that is properly niche-targeted and that can be read by someone other than your best friends.
In short, a simple primer on "how to blog", that will take you from choosing your subject and blog platform, through to making your blog text stand out and grab the attention of your readers.
I answer the following questions:
So dip in, take what you need, and get yourself on the road to being an independent online publisher and starting a blog.
There's never been a better time to get started.
You've almost certainly heard the word "blog" before and you might have a rough idea of what a blog is, but as you will see opinions may differ a lot, and some time to better understand and clarify what you are about to embark on, is always a time well spent.
The word blog is a contraction of "web log", a phrase not so commonly used these days. In the simplest definition of the term, then, a blog is a log of your thoughts, ideas, useful links, photos, videos, or the latest news.
Here is Robin Good's own take on what is a blog:
Deborah Ng, former blogging guide over at About.com, explained it like this:
"Technically, a blog is a series of posts arranged in chronological order. Most agree, however, they're an important form of expression. Though many modern blogs are personal observances updated on a regular basis, the earliest blogs weren't rants or observances. They were lists of links maintained by a handful of tech savvy individuals. It wasn't until the late 1990's that blogging evolved into what we see today."
A 'post' is just another way of saying an entry, like an entry in a diary, or a column in a newspaper.
Posts are actually arranged in reverse chronological order, which means that when you visit a blog on the web, the latest story will appear at the top of the website, and the earlier ones will descend in order beneath it, by how recently they were published to the web.
Deborah Ng went on to define some common characteristics of a blog:
"A blog is a website in which items are posted on a regular basis and displayed in reverse chronological order".
So there you have it - a blog is an easy way of publishing your thoughts to the web, and here are in their own words 100 different people telling you how they personally feel about what a blog really is.
Extracted from The Weblog Project video clips collection, this playlist showcases street people and media pros including Howard Rheingold, Chris Pirillo, Loic LeMeur, Robert Scoble, Marc Canter and many others telling you in their own words "What is a blog?". Check it out.
There is no single reason to create a blog, as it very much depends on your motivation.
Nevertheless, blogging can have a number of benefits, whether it is to help boost the presence of your business online, or just to share and debate ideas with like-minded people.
"Blogging's something for anyone and everyone. I can't think of anyone who can't benefit from knowing more people, never forgetting a thought again and improving on their thoughts with little or no effort.
For some, blogging will be like a diary: a historical record of their thoughts at a moment in time.
For others it'll be like speed-networking. You get to know people in a shallow way and then develop a relationship."
So whether you use blogging as you might use a photo album, to record your memories, or as a great way of connecting to other people who share the same interests or business goals as you, there are plenty of reasons to create a blog.
Deborah Ng thought up a good few more, including:
For business owners the imperative to create a blog is even greater.
For one thing, search engines favour websites that are updated regularly, and blogging is a great way to make sure that your content is always fresh, and thus regularly checked in on by Google and other search engines. This gives you a much better shot of appearing high in the results of Google search.
Another great reason to blog was supplied by the defunct Corporateblogging.info:
"In a forum where your main objective not is to sell, you'll have a more personal relationship between you and your customers. Blogs are a fast way to join the customers' discussions, provide tips and insights or receive feedback."
In this video, shot for the Darren Rowse Group Video Project., Robin Good explains the reasons behind his decision to quit a well-paid job and desire to be an independent web publisher.
So whether you want to reach out and communicate with fellow hobbyists, give your customers an opportunity to interact with you, or boost your online presence, starting a blog is a great way to go about it.
An online blogging platform is the software you use to publish your content to the web. Just as you might have a choice about which word processor or web browser to use, there are also a range of different online blogging platforms available to you.
Some are free, while others will cost you a monthly or yearly subscription. Some are hosted online for you, while others require you to host them on your own web server. Some are meant for individual blogging dome others for group publishing o to create small networks of bloggers.
So which one is likely to suit you best?
Hosted Blogging Platforms
By far the easiest way to get started is a hosted blogging platform. The most popular choices here are Blogger.com and WordPress.com. Both of these services are free to use, and you can create a blog very easily, with a minimum of setup."This is the type of blog that many bloggers start out with, simply because they are easy and usually quite cheap (if not free). Probably the most popular of these systems is WordPress - but there are others like Blogger and Tumblr. TypePad also runs hosted blogs - although have the option to go with a type of standalone option also through remote hosting."
If you aren't sure about blogging and want to give it a try first, these are nice solutions that will provide you with plenty of options as to how your blog looks and displays your text.
The big downside of some of these free blogging platforms is that you can't use your own domain name if you don't pay an additional fee.
So, instead of having masternewmedia.org, for instance, if you were using Blogger, your website address would read masternewmedia.blogspot.com. While this won't bother some people, and it is possible to hide, professional users might prefer to have their blog hosted at their own domain.
Should you decide to go ahead, you'll find plenty of help in getting started. Here, for instance is a video from Google to get you started with Blogger:
And another for getting a WordPress account, by Chris Pearson:
Stand-Alone or Self-Hosted Blogging Platforms
If you want a greater degree of control over the presentation, modification and location of your blog, stand-alone or self-hosted platforms might be more suitable for your needs.
Both platforms are highly extensible allowing you to easily add different "themes", designs for your blog, as well as "plugins", which add extra functionality to your blog.
Christine Mcivor provides an excellent screencast tutorial on how to get your WordPress.org blog installed on your own domain.
Thankfully the MovableType team has created a useful screencast video demonstration on their website taking you through the installation process, too.
WordPress is very popular due to the fact that it has an enormous amount of open source, free support from its active community, and a huge array of free themes and plugins to enhance your blog.
MovableType, on the other hand, provides excellent support, as it is a paid service. LeRoy Brown of Blogging Blog also noted:"MovableType - the top choice to control multiple blogs from one spot. The free version allows unlimited blogs under one login, so you can sure save some headaches if you run several blogs. The bad part? MovableType is rather difficult to set up."
Nevertheless armed with a good video demonstration of the process, this is not an unmanageable task.
Personally, I would recommend a self-hosted solution if you are looking to blog professionally or as part of your business, and a hosted solution if you want to create a blog for fun, or as an experiment to see if you enjoy online blogging.
Usually speaking blogging takes place right within your web browser. You log in to your blog, create a new post, just as you might write an email, providing a subject line or title, and then a body of text beneath.
The problem with writing online is that browsers can crash, or your web connection can suddenly cut out, leaving you high and dry. One solution to this problem that a lot of people use is a desktop blogging application. This is very much like a word processor or desktop publishing program, only it sends your finished work over to your blog.
There are some great free and cheap blog editing applications on the Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, so whichever you are using, you can write (and save) your posts without the need to be online.
Windows Blog Editors
Brice Dunwoodie reviews some of the Windows blog editors over at CMS Wire, and while he doesn't get along with these applications 100%, the most promising of the bunch seems to be Ecto, which is also a Mac application.
Personally, my own favorite Windows-based blog editing application is Windows Live Writer. It's totally free, works with most blogging platforms.
While much has been added since my video review of last year, you can still get a good idea about what a powerful tool this is by taking a look:
Mac Blog Editors
The following video from the YouTube user known simply as clbm12 gives you a nice example of how easy it is to blog with Ecto:
Linux Blog Editors
Linux also has its fair share of desktop blog editors available, and the options have been gathered at Terinea Weblog.
There are a good five alternatives listed here to get you started, but unfortunately they haven't been reviewed. Linux users would be very welcome to add their personal recommendations to the comments of this post.
Quite beyond the technical questions of how to blog, one question that often gets asked by beginner bloggers is what they should write about.
While this will obviously depend on why you are blogging in the first place, one piece of advice you should definitely consider is trying to find yourself a niche.
Unless you are writing for your family or a couple of friends, the best way to distinguish yourself and build a readership is to focus on a particular niche topic or interest.
Whether that's creating glove puppets or PHP programming, the way people will find your blog most commonly will be through a search engine, and they will be searching for something that they want to know more about. That's where you come in.
Answering the question of what to write about Matt DeAngelis of the Affiliate Blog writes:
"Why not start with yourself? Take a moment right now and list your interests. What do you search for on the web? Put that on the list. Think about all of the things that fill your day at work or at home. While you are living your life run stuff through the niche filter in your mind - there’s always something that you can add to the list.
If you don’t have something to write it down on, call yourself and leave a voice mail. I’ve done it many times. Everyone says I wish there was a [insert something here] on the Internet. Some of us say that a lot. Put it on the list."
It also pays to do a little research in the first instance, as Daniel Vukadinovic pointed out in an old article (that has now been taken off the web):
"Ask yourself, does your blog have potential? Before making any moves go out and learn the competition. Visit as many blogs and websites as possible about the niche you’ve chosen and see if there’s any room left for you.
You don’t want to get sucked into a net of gazillion sites about the same thing because chances are you’re going to fail. There’s no need for ten million blogs about soccer where there are only few of them about basketball."
With that said, the key is to drill down further. Rather than writing a blog about football or basketball, why not write about your local team, about basketball sneakers, about the lifestyle of a particular football player. That way you are sure to find a niche that doesn't already have a million competitors.
Robin Good points out the role of the blogger as someone that helps their reader to navigate an infinite, ever growing sea of information:
"Bloggers sift through and edit the information for the readers, helping the readers find information from around the web in one place, at the same time bloggers become the "go to" expert.
The more people who value or trust what a blogger has to say, the more people will link to and recommend her blog.
A blogger navigates readers around the web to find information that is relevant to her niche audience."
There is bound to be something that you are passionate about, that really motivates you, and that is in some way unique to you. That's where to begin your blog from.
So you have a niche, you've found somewhere to host your blog, and you've set yourself up with a desktop editing application. What's next?
Well, it might be worth thinking about the way that you present your content, and how you can make it truly jump off the screen and grab your readers attention.
A lot of beginning bloggers will write something more appropriate to an essay than to a blog post. Here are a few pieces of advice that make sure that you leave a lasting impression on your readers.
Perhaps the most important part of any blog post is the title.
Why is that? Because that's what will make a reader that finds your content through a search engine decide whether to visit your website or not. This is the make or break point that determines whether you get read or passed over in favour of someone else's content.
Robin Good, in his own article on How To Write Great Titles And Headlines For The Web notes that:
"Do not try to make the title "smart", by using irony, word play or other "journalistic" approach.
The title to be built must be thought as of a label to your article in the unlimited virtual library that the Internet is.
Inside newspapers the reader is already captive and searching, within the page, for items of possible interest.
On the Internet, headlines are often displayed out of context. The reader is searching for your content and will only get to it, if a most appropriate, serious and well thought out label is attached to it.
On the web, readers often don't get the chance of applying background understanding to the interpretation of the titles they are presented with. Just like in a real library."
This is just one of several essential pieces of advice that Robin gives on titling for the web. Of course, you want your titles to be snappy and maybe even funny, but if this is at the expense of ever being read, it makes perfect sense to adopt a more pragmatic approach.
Once you have a great title the next thing worth thinking about is what happens when your reader actually arrives at your website. Sure, it would be nice to think that they will read everything you wrote once they've clicked through.
In actual fact, a lot of readers will disappear from a site in seconds unless they are captivated and encouraged to stay.
"Readers will often read content diagonally to determine its usefulness before giving it a proper read. And in order to pass this direct filter test, you need to write for “diagonal” readers who scan your content from headline to close in a zig zag pattern."
Muhammad suggests that you have ten seconds to convince that reader to continue and dip into your full post. I would say that figure is closer to five seconds.
So how do you make your text "scannable"?
Robin Good provides some excellent tips on writing for the web in his post Information: Beginners Blog Design. Here Robin points out such techniques as "chunking":
"Chunking is an approach to the formatting of the text that strives to "modularize" contents into the greatest number of meaningful text blocks possible. Similarly to what is done in poetry, each concept and idea is given greater space to be read and understood. There is no packing of paragraphs into long blocks of text that know no pause. There is no saving in having less digital screen space used...
...a must-abide to rule to use when wanting to chunk content effectively is the one of never going to the next line after a period. Either you proceed on the same line with the following sentence, or you leave an empty line and start a new paragraph below."
Robin also suggests that bolding can be used effectively as a means for readers to scan your content:
"In order to facilitate readers scanning page contents, it is a great idea to use some "bolding" to highlight the first three or four words of content paragraphs that are particularly important.
In contrast then with traditional editorial and formatting approaches where bolding is used in the middle of sentences to emphasize relevant content elements, my personal suggestions is to use bold to again highlight opening words of critical paragraphs."
Robin finally suggests that the use of images in your posts is an all but essential component that will really help to grab the attention of your readers.
But where are you going to find those?
With a bit of time on your hands, it's quite possible to find royalty free images, cheap stock photos or free photos and graphics to include in your blog posts.
"I use iStockphoto.com the most (as well as more expensive sites - though I do that much less now - and high-quality photo discs from Japan). A few people gave links to their favorite free or inexpensive sites as well."
Garr goes on to list both cheap and free resources you might use to track down great looking images.
Robin Good has also compiled a very extensive resource on where to find royalty free images, with the benefit being that this is updated regularly. There are now more than 130 services for you to explore.
Once you have a great looking blog up and running, you might want to start thinking about other things, such as how you can spruce up your blog design, start making money with your blog site, or making sure that you promote your blog content to as many people as possible.
To get you started, here are some useful links to take you to the next level:
Originally written by Michael Pick for MasterNewMedia, and first published on November 4th, 2007 as "How To Blog: Publish Your First Blog To The Web" - illustrated by Robin Good - updated by Daniele Bazzano.
Michael Pick and Robin Good -
Red question mark - Vacuum 3D
Red high heel shoes: Elnur Amikishiyev
Writing inspiration secretary - Bruno Passagatti
Santa Claus - Free Images - Andres Rodriguez
Blogging Platforms - RSS Pieces
Blog? - Marco Montemagno
Blogging Resources - Sanja Gjenero