Over the last few months, the questions I’m receiving from friends and readers regarding setting up a blog has dramatically increased. Who says this medium is on the downside? So, I thought I’d put together a “Basics” checklist for beginners to use. There are more facets to setting up a blog than I list here, but this should give you a solid base from which to build. I’ve used this same method for both personal and business blogs.
- Select a memorable, relevant name: Think about your topic and audience and select a title and tagline that you think will appeal to them.
- Buy the domain: Whether you’re using a hosted or self-hosted version of a blogging platform, buy your name as a domain. Someday, your blog could be very popular and you won’t want to have missed the chance to have your own name.
- Select a Platform (from which to jump): WordPress, Blogger, and Typepad are a few to consider. I’m not the one to ask about comparing these platforms – I gravitate towards WordPress every time. Problogger offers a great writeup on selecting a platform – it’s over a year old but still very relevant.
- Hosted vs. Self-Hosted: For the purpose of this post, let’s assume you’re taking my advice and selecting WordPress. Will you choose their hosted version or will you take their software and install it on your own server space with a web host? WordPress.com offers a very nice way to get things started in about 5 minutes. They host your site and all the setup is done for you. But, this is more limiting and down the road you may wish to have more freedom. Your other option is to download their latest version and install it on your own hosted space on your own domain you just purchased. Don’t be scared off by this option! With this option you have complete freedom over your site. The WordPress.org installation instructions are very thorough. I’m not a web developer and I’ve been able to pick up on it pretty easily. There are even hosts that offer one-click installations!
Claim Your Property:
- Technorati: Once you get your site set up, go out to Technorati and claim your blog. Technorati is an authority on blog ranking. They track and rank your coveted incoming links. The more links the better your rank and the better you’ll be in search engine results when people search on keywords that could lead them to your blog.
- FeedBurner: RSS feeds and FeedBurner seem to be a tough concept for people new to the blog world to figure out. FeedBurner is the most widely used RSS feed distributor. What do I mean by feed distributor? Go sign up for a Google Reader or Bloglines account. They are free online readers of RSS feeds. When you subscribe to an RSS feed and select your feed reader, the RSS feed (or blog) that you just subscribed to will now be in your reader. FeedBurner helps it get there. It reads the feed from your site and distributes it to other sources. Those big orange buttons you see on sites lead to a FeedBurner feed where people subscribe. FeedBurner keeps track of your subscribers so you can see how many subscribe to your site. They also offer a decent, free stat tracking tool.
Now, let’s jump ahead and assume you’ve done your research and made all the above decisions. I could go on for pages and pages on the above discussion points, but remember this is a general checklist meant to give you starting points from which to get started.
You’ve selected to host your own blog on your own domain and have gone ahead and installed the WordPress software. You now need to put some structure to your new site. Below is my list of must-have initial plugins with which to start your blog.
Build Your Site:
- Akismet: This comes included with your WordPress installation. Don’t be a fool – activate it and set it up – quickly. Akismet helps block comment and trackback spam. To give you an idea of its importance, it has blocked over 8,000 spam attempts on this site.
- Subscribe to Comments: Allows users to register themselves on any given post to receive follow-up comments via email. I very much endorse this plugin as it allows your readers who comment to get updated on your response or the responses of other readers without having to remember to come back and check.
- WordPress Database Backup: Essential for any blog. Allows you to schedule backups of your database to be emailed to you or saved to your server.
- WP-Cache: A WordPress page caching system to make your site much faster and responsive. It caches Worpress pages and stores them in a static file for serving future requests directly from the file rather than loading and compiling the whole PHP code and the building the page from the database.
- A Contact From – The contact form is a module that you can drop on any page or any post and it gives visitors a way to fill out a form and contact you. It is much better than publishing an email address that can be picked up by spammers. I’d link to my contact form plugin, but it has been sold to a person who publishes it in a different language now. Anyone know of a good one?
- Add This: This plugin puts an icon at the bottom of your posts that when clicked offers multiple options for bookmarking your content. This is important for getting your content added to sites such as Digg, del.icio.us, and StumbleUpon. If you’re a fan of Search Engine Land and Sphinn you’ll want to add the Sphinn button as well!
- FB StandardStats: This plugin gives your site the capability to track stats via FeedBurner as a backup to Google Analytics or your stat package of choice.
- FeedBurner FeedSmith: The plugin will detect all ways to access your feed (e.g. http://www.yoursite.com/feed/ or http://www.yoursite.com/wp-rss2.php, etc.), and redirect them to your FeedBurner feed so you can track every possible subscriber. It will forward your main posts feed, and optionally your main comments feed as well.
- Google Analytics: This plugin allows you to utilize Google Analytics for your statistical tracking on the site. Did I mention that Google Analytics is FREE?!
- Google Sitemap Generator: This plugin generates an XML sitemap of your WordPress blog which helps search engine spiders crawl your site. This format is supported by Google, YAHOO and MSN Search.
- Simple Tagging: Simple Tagging allows you to tag posts with keywords that will appear in the meta tags of the post source code. Thus, making the content more searchable.
- SEO Title Tag 2.0: This plugin allows you to write a post title that will appear in the title tag for the post. What’s nice about this is you can write a keyword-stuffed title for the title tag and keep a more catchy title for your published post. See Update Below
There are many more useful and powerful plugin – what would you recommend as an essential plugin for a beginner?
Next, you’re ready to start writing and socializing….
It All Starts With Content:
- Posts: I usually recommend having 5-10 posts written and posted before you go out and start “socializing” your work. By socializing I mean commenting on other sites, linking out heavily to other blogs, and participating in social networks to name a few. If you’re going to bait someone to check out your site you’ll want to make sure you have a good cross-section of content that gives that visitor an idea of what they can expect from you.
- About Page: Have a decent About page to educate your visitors on what you’re all about. I think it’s important to give visitors something to which they can relate.
- Make It Easy: Make life easy for your visitors by offering an easy to find subscribe button.
- Most Importantly – Have Fun!!: If blogging is not fun for you – stop doing it! Your dislike will show in your writing anyway. Enjoy this platform and the great communities and relationships that develop.
Is there more to setting up a blog than what I’ve outlined here? YES! But, I’m hoping this checklist gives beginners something to follow as they dig into setting up their first site.
What did I forget? Is there something you would tag as essential for a beginner?
UPDATE: I wanted to clarify the use of the SEO Title Tag plugin. I did a poor job of describing that plugin. “Writing a keyword-stuffed title” is absolutely not the way I should have described that. I don’t recommend stuffing keywords into title tags to help with search engine optimization. You’ll notice I do not practice that on this site. Rather, I should have described the plugin as giving you an opportunity to optimize a title tag with keyword phrases related to your post. For example, sometimes you may want an eye catching HTML title like, “Essential Image SEO Tips!” that might get the attention of someone in their feed reader. But, you’d want your title tag to actually represent the content to help search engine spiders crawl the page better – something like, “Tips for Optimizing Images For Universal and Blended Search”. Sorry if I mislead anyone! If you have questions be sure to ask. Thanks to Johan and Jennifer for bringing that to my attention!