How to blog professionally (part 2)

Last time we took an overview of the ethics and practice of blogging. This month we dig down into the details of actually creating a blog.

As always I endeavour to make the technology as simple as possible to understand but with limited space I necessarily skip some detail. As with any kind of in-depth computer use, good blogging favours those unafraid of Googling things they don’t understand.

Don’t forget that we’re looking at blogging for money, although those who wish to dip their toe in the waters will find much of use.

CMS

Once upon a time websites were constructed by hand, which is to say people literally programmed them from scratch. They used something called hypertext mark-up language, or HTML.

While knowing basic HTML is always useful if you work online, and really will only take a few hours of your time to master (for example, see https://goo.gl/Uv0KO1), nowadays most businesses and online creators use a content management system, or CMS.

This is software that runs online and that presents a word processor to the writer. Alongside the word processor area is typically a button marked Publish, and clicking this puts whatever you write online. It really is as simple as that. The CMS takes care of everything else, such as the fonts and picture positioning, and essentially displaying the entire website.

The copy you write is known as a post, and when you click the Publish button you’re posting.

There are hundreds of CMS. Some used in corporate environments can cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. We’ll be using one called WordPress, which is free for a basic but adequate package.

screenshot

The folks behind WordPress really do offer everything, including hosting (the space on the web server where things are stored, which usually costs money to hire), plus the templates that control the look and feel, ways of tracking visitors, and much more. Although they offer various paid-for upgrades, they’re committed to a completely free Internet – in both the political and commercial senses of the word.

Note that it’s entirely possible to host a WordPress CMS on your own webspace provided by an ISP. The actual underlying WordPress CMS software package is also free to download and install wherever you wish (https://goo.gl/pu7Hdo). Self-hosting in this way provides complete control as well as access to 100% of the WordPress features. However, the technical knowledge required is high and, in fact, I assume that if you have such knowledge then you’ll hardly need a guide like this. Still, this is worth bearing in mind for future projects as your knowledge grows.

Starting with WordPress

Your web browser is the tool through which you’ll do everything with your blog, from writing copy all the way to CMS configuration, so open it and visit https://wordpress.com. Click the Create Website button. You might already be a member of WordPress.com if you frequently comment on other people’s blogs. If so then you should logout via the icon at the top right of the page.

The first step is to choose a theme. These are also known as templates and are readymade website designs. Each varies not only in its look and feel but in the type of content it’s designed to present to readers. Some are photo-heavy, for example, so might suit a cookery blog with lots of end-result pictures. Some are designed for blogs that are large and sprawling, with many different categories.

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to discern much of this from the thumbnails you’re shown but a key feature of WordPress, and most CMS, is that you can change the theme whenever you wish without having to rewrite everything. Therefore, simply choose a theme that looks good.

In this domain

Next you’ll be asked to choose a domain name, which is to say, the website address people will use to get to your blog. The domain name used for the website of this magazine is www.writers-forum.com, for example.

Domain names cost money to register, and that’s a simple fact of online life. WordPress lets you pay a reasonable £15 a year to choose your own unique name, which they’ll register on your behalf, or get one for free if you don’t mind it ending in wordpress.com. For example, for a blog about teapot collecting I might choose http://keirsteapots.com, paying £15 to do so, or get http://keirsteapots.wordpress.com for nothing.

It should be obvious that choosing your own domain name looks most professional but whichever path you choose check and double-check your spelling, because you can’t change it once registered! Bear American spelling in mind if you’re targeting a worldwide readership (e.g. –ize rather than –ise).

Plans

The next step is to choose what kind of service you want. WordPress offers a basic free price plan that’s got everything you need to get started, with the only drawback being that they insert ads into the website you create. For various reasons to do with how many ads it’s considered acceptable to show on a web page, this might slightly limit your own advertising opportunities.

If you’re indeed serious about running a blog to make money then the Business Pro Plan, at £250 per year, provides unhindered access to WordPress features, including the vital Google Analytics support by which you’ll attract advertising (I’ll explain more in coming months). Remember that this cost can be tax-deducted at the end of the tax year.

After making this choice you’ll be invited to create a WordPress account, through which you’ll access your blog and create posts. Even if you already have a WordPress account I’d advise creating a fresh one for your blog.

WordPress will send you an email to confirm you’re not a robot, and you should click the link within it to start the ball rolling.

Posts and pages

Next month we’ll look in-depth at configuring and personalising your WordPress blog but for the moment you might want to get started by creating your first post. This is so straightforward that it’s genuinely impossible for me to explain in detail. Just click the link to create your first post, type into the word processor area, and then click the Publish button when you’ve finished. Open a new browser tab and input your blog’s domain name to see how your site looks.

However, here’s a tip: Try to get used to drafting posts but not actually publishing them until the next day. Twenty-four hours provides the distance required to properly proof read and edit. Just click the Save link when you’ve finished a draft, rather than the Publish button. The following day click the Blog Posts link to access it again.

WordPress is mostly devoid of terminology, with one exception. It actually provides two different ways to put copy online: pages, and posts. Pages are designed for what’s called static content – that is, stuff that doesn’t change frequently. For example, your website might have an About page that tells readers all about who you are, and what the aim of your blog is. Pages are usually linked to via a menu running along the top of the screen, and WordPress typically generates this automatically for you.

On the other hand, posts are the actual articles – they’re the copy that you generate several times a day. These take pride of place on the blog and are usually presented as a constantly updating list of articles, with the newest appearing at the top. Because the list is always updating, posts are referred to as dynamic content, and it’s by the use of dynamic content that you’ll keep readers coming back.

 

Glossary

Blog Short for weblog, although that term is no longer used; although the meaning has morphed over the years, nowadays a blog can be described as online journalism constructed from individual articles known as posts (see below).

Blogosphere General term to describe the world of blogs, as separate from the wider Internet/web.

CMS Content management system. The “backroom” software accessed by authors into which they write copy, or edit existing work. The CMS takes care of the rest, such as displaying the copy to readers, and displaying other components of the website.

HTML The simple language that tells a web browser how to display a page. It consists of tags, such as <p> and <strong>.

Page In WordPress terminology, a page is content that doesn’t change very frequently.

Post An article on a blog.

Posting Publishing a blog post; the process of putting something online for the world to see.

Theme A readymade website design designed to be used without much if any customisation. A CMS needs a template in order to know where, how and what things should appear on the site. Also known as a template.

Leave a Reply