This is the first in a series of posts discussing how to set up and run a WordPress blog from a relatively experienced expert, which will feature many helpful and hopefully relevant tangents.
Firstly I should reveal a little bit of background about myself. I began a WordPress blog a few years ago; it was a little read music site full of rambling incoherent nonsense semi-related to reviewing new albums.
Inexplicably within six months, the blog had grown beyond its humble beginnings as something to annoy my friends on Facebook with, to something that was doing fairly well in search engine results pages (SERPs) and driving higher than anticipated traffic.
I took the decision to transfer the blog from WordPress (which restricts you to the .WordPress.com suffix) to its own domain (with the much more loved by seach engines suffix .com), hosted by a third-party service, while still using a WordPress template and its various plug-ins.
In the following year, I began posting on a daily basis, which helped to improve the quality and speed of my writing and I learnt about basic coding, HTML and CSS, which helped improve the design and user experience. Traffic to the site soon increased ten-fold.
Subsequently I’ve been handed the reigns to a ‘proper’ music website and more importantly, I got a job as a full-time writer here at Econsultancy.
If it wasn’t for setting up my first WordPress blog two years ago, I wouldn’t be here now as I wouldn’t have had the experience, or the online portfolio of my own work to prove what I could do.
So I've decided to write a ‘how-to’ guide. The first in a series of articles that will help you set up your own WordPress blog, maintan it and, using my own experience, hopefully steer you in the right direction in terms of creating content.
There are other blog platforms out there, Google’ s own ‘Blogger’ being the main competition, but in my experience Wordpress offered the best overall performance and support for my needs, so this is what I’ll concentrate on here.
In this first article I’ll look at:
- The difference between Wordpress.com and Wordpress.org.
- Basic WordPress sign-up.
- Your social media presence.
First thing though, and this is far more important than anything else:
What are you going to write about?
Chances are if you’ve gotten this far you already know what your blog will be about. Pick your subject now and then we can worry about the actual brass-tacks of a writing an article on that subject later on.
All you need to know about writing blog posts for now is this:
- Don’t be afraid.
- You’ll only become good at writing by writing more. It genuinely just takes time and practice. Sure there are helpful techniques you can learn along the way, but it really is through frequent and regular posting over a period of time that you'll improve as a writer.
- That being said, it’s a blog, it’s not meant to be a professionally polished article.
- It’s your personality and opinion that will make it engaging. Put as much of yourself into the writing as you can.
- The first handful of articles won’t be very good, but don’t worry. The next handful WILL be better, but only slightly. The ones AFTER those slightly better ones will be even better still. As I said earlier...
- You'll only get good by writing more.
- Then write some more.
More on advice for writers in the next article.
Differences between .com and .org
The first thing you’ll notice is, there’s a WordPress.com and a WordPress.org.
The differences may seem obvious to you, however it baffled me when I first set up my blog.
WordPress.com provides you with a fully hosted website from WordPress itself.
With this platform you can:
- Choose from various themes.
- Upgrade to a custom domain.
- Integrate the site with social media channels
- Have access to traffic stats.
This is great for those who just want to focus on content and perhaps don’t want to get their hands dirty with coding.
For those of you who do fancy building a website, WordPress.org may be the better choice as it allows you to host a website yourself.
With this platform you can:
- Install any custom theme you like, or build your own with PHP and CSS and install third party plug-ins.
- Transfer the site to its own domain and enjoy the benefits of having a '.com'.
The drawbacks of this route are:
- You’ll need to find a host.
- Perform back-ups and maintenance yourself.
- It requires a higher level of technical knowledge and responsibility.
- It will cost you money depending on the hosting site you’ve chosen.
WordPress.com is perfect for bloggers and other creative types who wish to run a free yet quality site. WordPress.org is more for ecommerce, businesses and techies who wish to do a lot more with it then allowed by the ‘out-of-the-box’ version.
If you eventually decide on going down this route, it’s definitely worth signing up and trying a free version first, as it’s easy to transfer a WordPress.com blog to it’s own domain.
This is straightforward enough and you can change the name of your blog at any time later on.
I would suggest that before you get to the stage of naming your blog, don't get your heart set on a name. Chances are it will be taken. When you're on the sign-up screen and you're getting really frustrated that every iteration of your originally chosen name has been taken, take a deep breath and walk away.
Then grab a large notepad and start brainstorming more ideas and iterations with some friends or colleagues. Come back and give it another go. This may take time and patience, but you will crack it eventually.
I’m sorry, SuchWowDogeMemes.wordpress.com is mine now. You can’t have it. You’ll just have to come up with something else.
Once you’re through that first step you’re encouraged to pick a blog template.
Nine are provided at first and half of them free. There are hundreds more available on WordPress and you can change your mind at any time.
However, my advice would be: don’t worry about picking one just yet. In fact don’t even give it more than a minute's thought.
Go with a standard, free template for now, something simple and clear and don’t worry about customising it either.
Content before design
Play around with themes later on, after you’ve published a few blog posts. Then you can fit the site design around the tone of your writing.
That’s a key thing. No matter how confident you are that your writing will be a certain style or tone, it rarely works out that way. If you’re new to writing it can take while to find your ‘voice’.
If you find that your articles on astrophysics are a bit more on the serious side than you intended, then the Comic-Sans heavy, bright pink template may not be the best fit.
That’s an extreme example, but even a subtle tweak to colours, fonts and images can make your site a more fitting, natural home for your ramblings. It shows attention to detail and consistency of tone.
Go with the plain, black and white ‘Ryu’ template for now. It may be the one everyone uses, but there’s a reason why it’s so popular. Also, you’re not going to keep it for long. Write a couple of posts first, then go back in and find a suitable, perhaps more fitting theme, or customise ‘Ryu’ accordingly.
Don’t worry about the ‘Nothing Found’, it’s just because you haven’t written a blog post yet. You will soon.
Social media set-up
After you’ve chosen a template, you’ll be presented with options for social media integration.
You will definitely want to publicise your articles using Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels, as this will be the major way to drive people to your site.
In fact, at first it will be the only way to drive people to your site.
Expect your friends, family and followers to be the only people reading your content at first. Depending on your chosen subject matter, frequency/length of posts and your ability to keep a savvy eye on a little thing called search engine optimisation (SEO - more on this in the next post), you may find that search engines will index your content and your site may start appearing on results pages sooner than you think.
If you immediately integrate your social media channels right now, the next option presented to you by Wordpress is ‘write your first blog post’, and if you follow through with that, a Tweet will automatically be generated that looks like this:
This is just a warning, as it’s not particularly clear that WordPress will do this straight away. So if you’ve ham-fistedly bashed out a blog post as a trial run on the next screen, you may find it being broadcast to the world immediately.
My advice would be to skip both the ‘integrate social media’ and ‘write your first post’ pages and head straight to the dashboard. The dashboard is basically your behind the scenes area, where you can do all of your customising, editing, writing, tweaking and stat checking.
Then have a think about your social media presence.
Is your Twitter profile exactly how you want it to be?
Have a look at the images used for your profile picture and background, your Twitter handle, the description in your personal info.
- Are you happy with them?
- Are they clear and relevant to the subject you're writing about.
- Does the profile picture show your face clearly?
- Have you included your blog website address in your details?
- Are you following enough people and are in turn being followed by the right people?
- At the very least, make sure you get all your family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues following you on Twitter because they’ll be the first ones to engage with you and spread your content.
I’m no particularly happy with my Twitter handle, but by the time my online presence had improved, and I started publishing more articles each with a link to this Twitter profile, I felt like it was too late to change.
Now is the time to get your ‘house in order’, before you start putting yourself out there for all the world to see.
When you post your content on Twitter, try to refrain from using the automatically generated tweet from Wordpress. Write your own teaser for the post, without copying the headline verbatim, it’ll prove that you’re real and currently present online.
Try and engage as much as you can with anyone that replies to your tweets or retweets your links. Conversation is how you win at Twitter, not mere broadcasting.
A quick word about Facebook pages:
One of the earliest things I did during the initial set-up was begin a Facebook page for my music blog and this worked a treat for a long while, driving more than half the traffic.
However there has been a marked drop in how many people see my posts on the Facebook page, due to a recent change in Facebook’s algorithm.
By all means set up a Facebook page, just be warned that it may not work as well as Twitter or other channels. That being said, even if it only drives a few people to your blog, it’s well worth doing and the page itself is very easy to maintain.
A couple of quick tips to help the reach of your Facebook page:
- Upload an image first, before you write any text or include the link to your blog post. Facebook has a massive bias towards images at the moment and will certainly boost an image post further up news feeds rather than one with just text or a link.
- Make sure that image is big, bright and attractive, while also being relevant to your link.
- Once you’ve posted the link, log out of the Facebook Page, so you’re back to being yourself, then give the post a ‘Like’. Maybe even add an extra comment underneath. Engagement drives posts further up the newsfeed, so even if your friends are ignoring you, at least your own efforts will help the link.
So you’ve got your social media channels in order... You’ve signed up to WordPress… You have a rudimentary blog all set up and ready to go. What’s next?
Well you’d better start writing.
In the remaining chapters of this series I’m going to offer lots more writing tips for bloggers, some tips for SEO, tips for customising your templates and lots more bits of advice from my years of experience in the blogging world.