So You Want to Blog? – Part I: Getting Started

So You Want to Blog? – Part I: Getting Started

I often get asked how someone goes about starting a blog of their own.  While I am always happy to answer questions via e-mail and Facebook, I figured this would make a decent blog series.

Though I’m not blog ruler of the universe, I have been blogging since 2001 although thankfully this teenage high school blog is long gone from the internet.  I also manage our corporate blog and do a lot of online marketing stuff at work, so the people that pay me don’t think I’m a total idiot!

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So you want to blog!

Blogging is awesome for a lot of reasons.  You have a firm diary of your progress to look back on, you meet a lot of cool people through the equestrian blogging network and sometimes you think about things you hadn’t previously considered!  When you decide that you want to start blogging, I encourage the next question you ask to be why you want to blog.

Maybe you just want a training diary to use as a tool, which is a perfectly good reason for having a blog.  If you want to blog with the goal of making money, decisions about blog title and blogging platform (more on those things later) are more important, so have the money talk with yourself first.  Also think about how public you want to be on your blog.  Are you going to air every dirty secret or be very safe?

Choosing a “pen name” is important to think about too, even before you start typing your first post.  I use my real name because I have accepted that if people want to find out who I am… they will.  You can be more discreet, but realize that no matter what you put out online it can pretty easily be traced back to you in real life.

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But… how do I make the blog?

After you’ve thought about the type of blog you want to have and the type of blogger you want to be, the first big decision you have to make is which blogging platform to use.  Don’t freak out about this too much, because the first two options below are very easy to go back and forth from… don’t fret!

Blogger (otherwise known as Blogspot)

Blogger is probably the most prevalent blogging platform, but also my least favorite.  It’s good if you wish to remain as anonymous as possible, and it also has some user friendly tools that are good for beginners.  I used the program very briefly, and felt like I had very little design choices.  Also Blogger doesn’t utilize categories with its posts (just tags) so it can be harder to organize your published posts into groups.  One plus of Blogger is that it is very easy to comment on other Blogspot blogs and retain a link back to your site.  This is something that non-Blogger blogs have trouble with!  There is also a built in rss feed reader which can make catching up on your favorite blogs easy.  Blogger does have a premium upgrade, but I unfortunately don’t have any first hand experience with it.  Bottom line:  Good for beginners and the most popular blogging platform, but not very flexible.

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WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a program that I know a lot better than Blogger, so I can go into more detail.  There is both a free and a paid version, the main difference being the paid version gives you a domain name (www.yourblog.com), more space with no ads and some more design editing features.  For all versions, WordPress easily allows anyone to comment (strangers with no blog even!) and has a decent amount of free templates to choose from.  They also allow posts to be optimized with categories and tags, which helps your readers find content more easily.  Wordpress is also setup well for SEO from the get go, which means that you’re better set up to get good search results on Google.  One drawback to WordPress is that it can be difficult to comment on some Blogger blogs, since some only allow other Blogspot people to comment.  Bottom line: A more powerful version of Blogger that has a pretty easy and cheap way to scale to a domain name and fancier features.

WordPress.org

What… didn’t I already talk about WordPress?  I did, but this amazing software made it very confusing by having the same name for two different platforms.  Wordpress.org is actually a very powerful freeware software for blogging (and much more).  This is the option you see used on my blog, and while the software is free there is a cost involved for domain & web hosting.  Also, if you aren’t pretty comfortable with MySQL, HTML and CSS WordPress.org may be very overwhelming to you!  If you want to be a serious blogger though, I think this is the way to go.  There are a lot of options to hire someone to set the blog up for you if you’re not tech savvy.  KL Smith Creative wrote a great blog post showing some pros and cons for WordPress.org (otherwise known as self hosted WordPress).  Bottom Line: This is diving into the deep end, but it’s the most powerful and customize-able blogging platform out there.  Blogging industry leaders almost all use self hosted WordPress.  

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Uh, I’m confused.  Please tell me what to do with this platform thing…

If I were a beginner and I wanted to dip my toe into blog land, I’d sign up for a free account on WordPress.com to get me started!

Next week we’ll talk blog name, editorial calendars and more!  Please leave questions in the comment about today’s post or anything you’d like to see answered in the future.  I will do my best to find out or ask people smarter than me for help!

26 thoughts on “So You Want to Blog? – Part I: Getting Started

  1. Interesting that you suggested WordPress, although maybe it’s one of those things where whatever you start with is what you’re most comfortable with. I’ve been using blogger for about five years and I find it to be more user-friendly than WordPress. For a couple of those years I also posted my blog on the Sidelines website using WordPress.org, and I could never get the hang of it. I don’t think I’m tech-savvy enough! Even something as simple as uploading a few pictures often ended up being a challenge to get looking right on the blog. When I first visited your blog, I thought “wow, this looks so professional!” so I’ll be interested to hear the rest of this series!

    1. I think you’re right in that it’s one of those things where you’re most comfortable with what you start with. I started with self-hosted WordPress and later tried Blogger and WordPress.com. To me, nothing beats the self-hosted version but I come from a pretty techy background 🙂 I will say that the two platforms just feel very different, so personal taste can be a HUGE factor here!

  2. Your blog was a huge inspiration for me to start mine earlier this year. I’m looking forward to this series as I know it will be helpful! 🙂

  3. This is more of a random comment than a question, I guess. I’m not a blogger, nor do I want to be. I write for a living, which makes personal writing less fun. I do, however, like to read and comment on others’ blogs. Because I don’t blog and I’m a social media incompetent, I don’t have any sort of online identify. If blogs don’t give the option of commenting with just a name/email, I become that anonymous commenter everyone hates.

  4. I have been in the process of moving from Blogger to self-hosted WP for like…three months. (I’m not hung up on anything, I just putting it off because I have other shit to do.) I use self-hosted WP for the local dressage group’s site that I run, and I can attest to its awesomeness.

    I’m looking forward to this series- even though I’ve been blogging for a few years, I have zero clue about SEO or how to monetize or really, how to do anything that isn’t just writing!

  5. I’m really looking forward to this series. I’m a new “old” blogger. I had another one a while back that was for my handmade items, but it was time to move on.

    If I had been more creative, or thought about it more, I would have used a different name for my current horse blog. I have a site over on WP for my possible business in the future, which happens to have the same name. Should I decide to start a blog over there, there will be two Howling Owl Farm blogs with mostly different content. Probably confusing for most people.

  6. I used to manage a wordpress.com blog for an old employer and I figured it out just fine, but I’m not so into the tech side of blogging that I really feel I need the features.

    I use blogger. I don’t make any money. I write to entertain myself. Mission accomplished.

  7. Interesting series! I use Blogger and have found it to be super user friendly for my purposes! But I could see if you were someone who wanted to drive the design and widgets using a system that was a bit more robust!

  8. I’m planning a ride this summer from red river in Tx above Childress ending at Red River ranger Station in ID. Would a travel blog updated with post from people encountered along the way and occasionally by visiting a computer source be possible or recommended?

  9. I hate how my blog looks. I’m pretty sure the layouts just switched over. Is it hard to transfer over to wordpress.org? I don’t care about making money I just can’t stand the look of my own blog.

  10. Been on Blogger for years, but lately it has stopped letting me add photos altogether and I am interested in switching. I like the style and layout of yours. Very neat, easy to read and comment. Thank you for posting this series. It will be helpful.

  11. I wanted to be anonymous but then I couldn’t post name/registered names, events we went to, show results, etc… and so I had to give in and be less anonymous in most contexts.

  12. An interesting read. I switched from Blogger to WordPress.com 2 years ago. The biggest motivation for my move was the amount of spam comments I was receiving on Blogger, I had read somewhere that WordPress filtered spam better. This was very much the case originally although in recent months my spam folder seemed to be filling up quickly again.
    As a matter of interest, does wordpress.org handle spam differently/better?
    It would take a lot to make me change to wordpress.org, I’m very much a fun blogger and I don’t see the point in forking out money for something I can get for free!

  13. One reason I stick with Blogger is because it’s easy to access from Gmail. I loved Google Reader for the same way. I can keep all of my random cloud stuff within the Google hivemind and that’s easier to facilitate all around.

    I used WordPress.com for two other things, and if work ever does a blog I’ll run it through there, but for my own personal stuff the ease of having a tab in Gmail trumps pretty much everything else! (yes, I realize that Google legally owns my soul now…)

  14. There are so many horse bloggers out there on Blogger that I can’t comment on. It makes me sad. I want to say hi and add my 2 cents on their posts, but alas, I’m shut out. I made the big switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the new capabilities I now have. Thanks for this post! 🙂

  15. i sorta chose blogger randomly – and like that it’s connected to my other google accounts (like youtube – so easy!). the blog was honestly started on a whim and didn’t get much thought at the onset. blogspot seems to be working well for my purposes tho 🙂

    1. Definitely — Blogger really is flexible for all levels. There are a zillion responsible & flexible layouts out there, Analytics & Webmaster Tools are insanely powerful, & anyone can comment. Oh my gosh, the content highlighter in Webmaster Tools allows you to “teach” Google how to read your blog for search awesomeness, it’s amazing. You can examine all your search rankings, submit your site or just certain pages to Google for re-crawling after updates, & get an analysis of everything that affects page loading speed & tips on how to improve it.

      It’s up to the blog owner to decide if they want comment moderation (I don’t), captchas (hate, I don’t), or to make people sign in (I don’t — it’s a horse blog for goodness sake, and I really don’t get spam at all). Also, newer templates are already SEO optimized & have all the scripts you need built in (I do NOT do javascript!).

      Over my 7 years of “google education” LOL, things have changed a lot & there are great tips out there for just about anything. I hard-code many things now, which I do like over the WP page I manage for work when it comes to fine-tuning EVERYTHING all in one place. And all of it is FREE. The only thing I pay for is my domain name (Blogger will automatically redirect for you), which is about $12/yr.

      There are pros & cons to each, but for a standalone blog, I would still choose Blogger. For an entire SITE, of which the blog is just an element, I think I would go with WP.

      Just wanted to throw in a little more specific Blogger info for folks examining both!

  16. My question would be what someone who is already blogging has to do to increase readers and interaction? I started my blog strictly as a training journal for myself to look back on (and also it saves my non-horsey FB friends from lots of horse photo spam). But seeing the lively interaction on this site and others, I wonder if maybe I’m missing out on the blogosphere. I’ve seen other riders start blogs well after mine (I’m 200+ posts into my blog), and they have hundreds of followers and regularly get 30+ comments on each post.

    Again, I started mine for my own benefit, but I’m curious what bloggers have done to increase the visibility of their blog. Thank you!

  17. Thanks so much for this newbie blogger series. Your blog and others have inspired me to start blogging. I think it will be fun to have a record of my riding progress and interact with all you awesome bloggers. I set up my blog using WordPress.com and I am having some issues. I’m not very techy. Does anyone know of a good resource that can help me? I’m having issues with basic things like changing font size and cropping pics. Thanks!

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