If you are like many of us, you may have been toying with the idea to start your own blog for some time but could not get down to doing it. Most of the people we meet who have an idea of starting a blog feel that it requires a deep understanding of the technology involved. For others, the costs to hire a website designer/developer to develop and design a blog are a huge put-off.
I have found, during numerous discussions with like-minded writers that the mere thought of getting a blog up and running is enough to make them procrastinate.
In this series of posts, I will discuss the technical requirements to get a blog registered and online. I will further consider ways of creating the blog and how to style it exactly the way we want without having to write a single bit of code in the process. We will thus look at:
- Selecting a proper blogging solution (software);
- Registering a domain (name of your blog/website);
- Registering a server on which your blog will be hosted;
- Selecting and creating a specific layout for your blog; and
- How to keep your blog up to date and safe.
In this first post we will focus on and introduce you to the first three considerations:
Selecting a blogging platform
There are many blogging solutions/platforms available. Through trial, error, tears, and experience I have found that WordPress is the ultimate solution to blogging. Although WordPress is much more than a blogging tool, its roots remain in the blogging arena. In fact, WordPress is responsible for powering 30% of all websites on the internet. That includes websites and blogs. A further look at statistics from various reputable sources shows us that WordPress is the biggest Content Management System (CMS) with 59.9% of the CMS share.
A Content Management System is a website and/or blog where the content can be managed by the owner itself in real-time, thus no need to hire a developer to make changes to the website/blog.
WordPress consists of two platforms, which are WordPress.com and WordPress.org. For this article, we will only consider WordPress.org as it will give you complete freedom over your content, your blog’s URL as well as its layout.
WordPress.org is free software and is distributed under the GPL license. The biggest reason, however, for using WordPress is its total commitment to blogging and its incredible ease of use. No other blogging platform is as easy to use as WordPress, whilst giving its users so much power to create dynamic content.
Registering a domain (name of your blog/website)
All websites need a domain name. The domain name of this blog is freelancewritingblog.com Your blog will obviously have a different domain name (also referred to as an URL). The registration of domain names is regulated and overseen by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). There are many domain name registrars accredited to ICANN.
Registration is an easy process. Many hosting companies offer visitors an area where you can type in your preferred domain name to see whether it is already in use, and if not in use, affords you the opportunity to register it on your behalf. It is however advisable to register your domain with the same company that will host your website on its servers for ease of managing all in one account.
When you consider a domain name it is important to keep the following in mind:
- Keep the name as short as possible as it makes it easier for people to remember and type.
- Avoid words that are often misspelled such as “except”.
- Keep the name relevant to your product or brand.
- Use a search keyword in your domain name if possible.
- Use an appropriate domain name extension such as .com or .net. Use a relevant domain extension (also known as top level domains). Use .co for example when you register a company’s domain name. Other examples are .info for informational websites and .net for technical internet infrastructures. You can see a complete list of top-level domains here on ICANN’s website.
- Research the name to make sure you are not breaching a trademark or infringing a copyrighted name. To use an example, WordPress may not be used in a blog’s domain name. A domain name such as www.wordpresstutorials.com will thus be not allowed whilst www.wptutorials.com will be perfectly fine.
Getting your new site hosted
As mentioned earlier, it is possible and often advisable to register the domain name and a server with the same service provider. A server is basically a computer on which space is allocated for your website. This server/computer is connected to the internet and people will therefore be able to visit and view your website on this server. Your WordPress software will be installed on the server space you purchase. When we consider purchasing a server or space on a server we should always take the following factors into account:
- How large will our website/blog be?
- Will it be scalable should we need to get a larger/faster server?
- How fast would we like the server to be?
- What is the guaranteed server uptime?
- Safety measures?
- Do they perform backups?
These are just basic questions to set you up to make an informed choice. There are several different types of servers to choose from. These will include:
- Shared servers where your website is hosted on a server together with other websites. Your website, therefore, shares the server’s resources with other websites.
- Cloud-based Web Hosting refers to technology where many individual servers work together to serve a website to visitors. This ensures faster server speed and a surge in traffic will not hamper the website’s performance.
- Virtual Private Servers also allow for several websites on a server but differ to the extent that a dedicated slice of the resources is allocated to each website.
- Dedicated Web Servers are servers that host only a single website and all the resources of that server are allocated to the hosted website.
- Managed WordPress Hosting has become very popular due to the increasing popularity of WordPress. This hosting option focuses on WordPress-based blogs and websites with a view to keeping them protected.
There are also services such as Colocation Web Hosting and Self-Service Web Hosting and. For the sake of this brief introduction, it will not be necessary to discuss them. I recommend a shared server option for a new blog that is just starting out. A shared server is the most affordable option for a Start-Up which allows for scaling up when the need arises.
Through trial and error, I have found Bluehost to be a trustworthy and sound hosting service provider that also offers good support. At SiteGround you have several options when it comes to hosting servers. Through our partnership, you can access a special offer at Bluehost which allows you to choose between three different shared hosting server options.
Selecting a WordPress Theme
Now that we have WordPress installed on our server, it is time to give your blog-to-be a fresh look that reflects you, your brand, or your product. We need a blog that immediately tells visitors who you are and what your blog is all about.
In the WordPress world, the look of a blog is created by using a theme (unless you are a PHP developer who can create your own blog with code). Selecting a theme can be quite a daunting task and you may soon find yourself overwhelmed with too many choices. Just Google “WordPress Theme” and see how many results you find. In addition, every Theme’s developer will claim that their theme is the best solution.
In order to assist you, we will consider a list of handy factors to consider when selecting a theme.
The following list is not exhaustive but will assist you nonetheless:
Create a list of all the features you want for your blog and evaluate all the themes you consider against these features. Do not compromise on the features you want in your blog.
Bigger is definitely not better in the online world. Unfortunately, some Themes are bloated due to all the features packed into them. A bloated oversize blog will load slowly in a visitor’s browser which will have them leave your blog in seconds.
Make sure that the theme is responsive. A responsive theme will display on all the different devices out there that are used to access the internet.
Do your best to stick to simplicity. Nothing confuses visitors more than a complex layout with many different colors and effects. A theme is only used to support your objectives.
Make sure that the Theme you select is compatible with all the major browsers. Not all browsers are equal. It is therefore important that the Theme Developer keep this in mind and test it against all major browsers. You can also test a theme prior to buying it by visiting its demo with various browsers.
Is the theme supporting plugins you intend to use? Many WordPress functions are obtained by specific plugins. If you know which plugin(s) you are going to use please make sure that your plugin is tested with the Theme. You can ask the Theme Developer if you are not sure.
Does the Theme come with a Page Builder? Since you are not going to create the code to design and develop the different pages on your blog it may be a good option to select a Theme that has a Page Builder. A Page Builder will allow you to build the layout of your page by dragging and dropping Lego-like blocks.
Does the developer provide support? Normally a support period of 6 months is included in the license when a Theme is purchased. Once the 6 month period has expired additional support can be purchased. It is always a good practice to visit the support page (if possible) to see whether people who have purchased the theme are happy with the support. Support is a very important factor when starting out with a new Theme that you still need to master.
Is the Theme SEO friendly? In today’s competitive online world, it is important to have a Theme that is SEO-friendly. This simply means that the Theme is coded properly using best SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) practices and that it complies with W3C Markup Validation.
How is the Theme rated by its users? It is always a good idea to spend some time reading reviews and having a look at users’ ratings. Red flags will immediately be apparent if the theme does not deliver on its promises.
How often is the theme updated? A theme needs to be updated regularly to keep in line with developments in the WordPress core software and to maintain security and protection against threats. It is best to avoid themes that have not been updated in a while. This information can be obtained by looking at a Theme’s changelog on the Developer or seller’s website.
A changelog simply contains information about all updates that have been made to the Theme. Here you can see how often updates are being made and which issues were addressed in the updates.
In addition to the above factors, there are two further considerations that need to be dealt with separately.
The first consideration is cost.
WordPress Themes can be as cheap as ‘free’. Whilst a free theme may sometimes lack the bells and whistles it may just be enough for you to get started. There are many premium WordPress Themes that have free versions which may just be what you need. It is not uncommon to have a free Theme that ticks all the boxes on your list of needed features. Here is a list of 59 Free WordPress Blog Themes for 2018
The second consideration is for the instances where we see another person’s website or blog and simply need to have the same or similar layout for your own blog. Luckily there are online tools that can be used to see which platform or Theme used to create the website.
If you already know that the website, you like is a WordPress website and you only need to find out which theme was used you can go to WordPress Theme Detector and paste the URL of the website (you like) in the “Site to check:” bar and hit enter. The website will process the information and indicate which Theme was used.
If, however, you are not sure whether the website is actually a WordPress website you can establish the platform that was used to build the website by visiting Build With Technology Lookup and pasting the URL of the website you like into the Lookup Bar. If you find that the website is built with a different Content Management System such as Joomla or Drupal, you may do a quick search of the relevant Joomla or Drupal Theme and see whether the developers also developed a WordPress version. It is not uncommon to find that a successful Theme gets developed to be used on different Content Management Systems.
Best WordPress theme
The blog theme I use and recommend is Astra Pro from Brainstorm Force.
This blog theme is fast, secure, and lets you edit your theme so it looks just like you want it to.
As far as the checklist of items above, it checks all the boxes.
Selecting a WordPress Plugin
Before we look at selecting plugins for your blog it is important to consider the rule of thumb when it comes to plugins. If you can live without a plugin then do so. Plugins can slow down a website/blog’s performance. As you will already know, a slow website or blog is avoided by people.
With that out of the way we can consider a couple of factors when selecting a plugin:
As with selecting a Theme, first make a list of all the functionalities that your website/blog will need e.g. such as listing properties or selling tickets. If the WordPress Theme you wish to purchase does not have that functionality you may want to select a plugin to do the job.
If you require a plugin to perform a specific function, chances are that there may be a couple of plugins available. For this reason, it is good to make a list of the plugins available for each specific function your website/blog requires. Now you are ready to make the necessary comparisons by reading each one’s reviews and taking note of the Average Rating of each plugin.
In addition to the above it is important to establish upfront whether the plugin works well with your selected Theme. It is a known fact that not all plugins work well with all Themes or with other plugins. It does happen quite often that a plugin’s code may conflict with the Theme’s code or another plugin’s code. Conflicts in code will break your website/blog and may cause you not to be able to log into your WordPress Administration Panel.
Although uninstalling the plugin will correct the error it will become difficult to do so if you are logged out of your website. The only way to delete the plugin causing the conflict will be to access your website via ftp software (file transfer protocol) such as FileZilla, CyberDuck or CoffeeFTP or via your cPanel and deleting it manually. It is important that you ask both the Theme developer and the Plugin developer whether the Plugins and Theme work well together and with other plugins on your list.
This extra bit of planning will save you lots of frustration and costs later on in the process.
As with Themes, it is important (for the same reasons) to see how often the plugins are updated and how dedicated the support is. Updates in WordPress Core files will normally lead to updating of plugins as well to keep it running smoothly alongside newer technology.
As mentioned above, a plugin can slow down a website or blog. It is best to test a plugin (if possible via a free version) or reading comments from other users.
Consider the costs. there are many free plugins that are exceptionally well coded and does what it is supposed to do. Similarly, there are very well-coded premium plugins that normally offer more than the free version. If the free version does what you require there will be no need to purchase the premium version.
WordPress does a good job at guiding its users to selecting good quality plugins. WordPress do have a large repository of plugins that contains thousands of plugins (both free and paid) that meet WordPress’s coding standard. This repository is also incorporated in your WordPress installation and can be found in the Administration Panel under Plugins >>Add New Plugins.
In addition to the WordPress repository, a large number of extremely good quality plugins can be viewed, tested, and selected/purchased at CodeCanyon. Code Canyon only allows quality plugins on their list and allows you to read reviews, contact the developer, test the plugin and read reviews from users. Although we do trust products from CodeCanyon they are created by third parties and is sold outside of the WordPress repository.
A good indication of the quality of a plugin is to view and consider the number of downloads in the WordPress repository. Although a plugin that has only be downloaded a few times may be indicative of an unsuccessful plugin it may also be a new plugin that users still need to get to know.
It may be a good idea to search Google for a list of best plugins for a specific function in which they are compared. By doing this you may just find which plugin has the edge over its competitors. Be sure to read more than one comparison to avoid possible authors’ bias.