Tips for Beginners Starting a Blog

By Katie Krumeich on March 16, 2013

Why Start a Blog?

Starting a blog serves a few purposes. The first and most obvious is if you play your cards right, you can make money blogging. It likely won’t be a lot, especially for a new blogger, but ad revenue and, if you land them, paid blogging gigs can be an easy way to make a little extra cash. There are, however, other, less tangible benefits, particularly if you’re considering a career as a writer. No less an authority than Neil Gaiman, when asked what he would do to get into the publishing industry today, said he would have a blog he could point potential customers, agents, or editors to, to prove he could write well. A blog is a cheap and easy way to have writing samples to which one can send a future employer.

So, you may ask, how does one go about starting a blog?

Well, first off, you have a decision to make.


Self-Hosted vs. Free Sites

A self-hosted site is a site that is on a server you rent or own, typically with a domain name you bought with a registrar. A free site is hosted on another website’s server, and typically limited in functionality unless you fork over extra cash. There are a lot of differences and similarities between a self-hosted and a free site. If you are good at coding, are committed to blogging, and know what you’re doing with promoting a website, self-hosting makes a lot of sense, because you have more independence and more room to grow. If none or only one or two of those things describe you, then a free blog is your best option.

Options for Starting a Blog with a Self-hosted Site

First, there are considerations to be made. Self-hosted sites include fees. You have to be able to pay hosting costs, especially considering the first few months even the most diligent and money-smart blogger won’t be meeting hosting costs. Starting a self-hosted blog is a challenge, but it is doable. There are many companies that rent or sell server-space, including GoDaddy and HostGator. If you’re a newbie to websites, HostGator is much more user-friendly and easier to work with than GoDaddy, and you can host a full site from even the cheapest of its hosting packages (GoDaddy has a cheaper option that is basically useless, since it can only be used for three webpages—not websites, webpages).

HostGator also has the very nice option of using QuickInstall to set up any one of scores of automators right out of the box. An automator, by the way, is a framework for website building, so you don’t have to build from scratch (which is, needless to say, immensely hard to do).

Step 1: Register a Domain
This should be done with whatever hosting company you choose to work with. Pick a name, check if the .com for it is available, and then pay for the name to be registered.

Step 2: Choose a Hosting Plan and Pay for It
This is dependent on the company, and on your finances. Websites and blogs are a commitment, so be prepared for that.

Step 3: Choose an Automator
I’m going to be clear here: I’ve worked with 10-20 different automators, and only one has ever stood out: WordPress. WordPress is free, powerful, attractive, versatile, but without the learning curve of something like Joomla. If you decided to go with HostGator, a self-hosted WordPress can be installed in one click.

Options for Starting a Blog with a Free Site

There are hundreds of different sites that will offer you a free forum, or a free space on their servers. For starting a blog, there’s only two that are really worth the consideration.

WordPress.com
While a wordpress.com site is a little more limited than a self-hosted wordpress, it’s also easier for a beginner to use, and a great way to make an attractive blog without expending too much money. They make revenue when you buy extras from them, though, so it can turn out to be pricey if you buy add-ons willy-nilly. Think about what you really need for the type of blog you’d like to do, and try to keep any purchases to that.

Blogger
Google’s Blogger has one major advantage over WordPress: it has Google’s powerful and, if used right, lucrative adsense built into it. Adsense is a good way to earn advertising money. To be fair, though, WordPress can also use adsense in all its forms (free and self-hosted). I also think Blogger’s layouts are less attractive than WordPress’s.

Customizing Your Site

Most blogging sites, WordPress and Blogger included, contain not only appealing and unappealing base themes, these themes also are fully customizable. There are a few things to keep in mind, of course. The first is simple: people put a lot of store into what a blog looks like. When starting a blog, the more pleasing and professional it looks, the more favorably its content will be taken.

Don’t ever use a theme not directly vetted by Blogger or WordPress. Coding a theme that looks nice, and offering it for free, is a great way to insert vulnerabilities and hack a website. Especially for WordPress, ALWAYS use a theme from their theme directory. Don’t even order a customized theme if you can help it—unless you’re independently wealthy, you can’t afford to do background checks.

Choose a theme that looks good AND is fully-functional. Anyone who uses the site Tumblr is familiar with this issue: sometimes the base themes look great but have limited functionality. Sometimes the base themes look awful but have good functionality. Neither is desirable, both will drive people away.

If you must use a separate background image instead of a solid color, don’t ever use one that doesn’t tile. Nothing looks quite so unprofessional as a background image that isn’t tiled when starting a blog, or any website. A tiled background is one that can repeat in every direction, horizontally and vertically, without showing obvious seams or parts where the picture begins and ends. This is a tile background. Obviously, though, a nice, inoffensive background color never hurt anyone, and for heaven’s sake, don’t tile something behind text, unless it’s extremely subtle.

Remember to choose a pleasing color palette. Don’t have a red background you just love and mix it with orange headings that belong more favorably on a Halloween Jack-o’-lantern.

Not sure how to choose colors? Here’s a list of sites that can help.

COLORlovers
The biggest resource community for colour palettes as well as patterns.

Kuler
From Adobe, it pretty much works the same way as COLORlovers. You create your own schemes or edit others accordingly.

Colorotate
This site is a little more interactive with its 3D elements. In addition, there are few fun mixing/blending options.

Color Scheme Designer
The Wheel! A great resource for creating schemes as well options for “light-er” or “dark-er” versions.

Pictaculous
There are a few picture-to-colours applications but this is my favourite as, in my opinion, it’s most accurate. In addition to finding you colours from an image you’ve uploaded, it suggests other similar colour schemes from Colourlovers and Kuler. You can also download swatch files which I find useful.

Color Palette Generator (DeGraeve.com)
If you’re lazy or don’t have the image on your computer, this site lets you use URL’s instead.

And finally, any picture you use—be it a background or a 200 pixel by 100 pixel picture linking to your twitter account—has to be explicitly available for your use. Or, in other words, if it’s not open to the public, don’t use it. Using a picture under copyright can easily get you sued.

Finally, Find a Niche and Post Consistently

Finally, this is the part that will set your blog in motion: find out what you want to post about, and then write consistently. A blog updated every once-in-a-while will never make much traction.

A blog that’s too general will never build up readership.

And, finally, a blog that is only about personal things to do with you is more suited for a social media site (like Tumblr or Livejournal) than it is for a professional blog.

Starting a blog is not easy, but it can be very rewarding. I wish you the best of luck in doing so!

Katie's passionate about three things above all: language, people, and food. A history buff and a lover of the heroic cycle, she is rarely sighted outside of the presence of at least five books. One day, she'd like to write novels of her own.

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