A couple of days ago i told a friend that he needed a web presence, and i’m afraid i actually raved about the possibilities of the new media – i know, omg, i’m not safe to take to dinner parties any more. Today he rang me, wanting to know the basics. We had a chat, and of course more things bubbled up after i put down the phone.
I figured i’d make this post for him. And it will be handy as more friends join the blogosphere and want assistance. Yeah, i’m lazy, if i do one here, i won’t have to do more than send people a link.
So, people are talking about blogging and Twitter, and they’ve been talking about Facebook and MySpace for a while too. I don’t use Myspace or Facebook – i tried them and got bored. (I’ve already blogged about starting out on Twitter.) Even longer, they’ve been saying this is it, the Internet is the Future! They say it with CAPS and exclamation marks. This is actually true. Barring civilisation having one of those hiccups that wipe out most of the human race. (Like the swine flu apocalypse I mentioned in the previous post.)
First thing about having an online presence. You need a website. Easy way to do this, is have a blog. There are many blog hosting sites can cover your initial needs for free, unless you need to do financial transactions. There are sites that just offer a web page for free, but the blog format can work for many sites. A big site offers the advantage of plenty of its own traffic that might drop in on you, but small sites can be great if they’re the right sort of group for you.
Before you can have a blog, you need an email – i don’t use my main service provider email, i have a hotmail account specifically for this blog. It keeps things in order and means i can put my email address on the site without worrying too much about the prospect of spam or stalkers – hotmail blocks people easily. Once you have your email account, go to wordpress.com and sign up. Ta dah!
I’ve only been here since mid-March (my first 6 weeks here have been excellent, the more i learn, the better the site gets). There’s a learning curve – but if you can use a wordprocessor, it’s not that hard. If you know the basics of coding, it’s even easier. There’s a lot of help under the Support pages on WordPress, step-by-step how to’s in text and video format.
The main thing to remember, is that putting things on the web tends to be permanent. You should assume that even if you delete your post, or the blog owner deletes your comment, that a copy will be made – so watch what you type. Even when you do, you will embarrass yourself, even if it’s just by being a newbie. If you drink it’s best not to blog – some people manage it, but most fall flat.
Read some blogs, look at the ones you like, that have features on them you’d like – you don’t have to pick WordPress, there are others like Blogspot (a quick Google search can be useful if you’re in a particular field – some blog sites specialise in certain industries or areas or types of blog – you’ll also find free listing sites where someone runs a blog, and keeps a list of blogs of a certain kind – note these people for once you get your blog up).
I spent a month or so looking at the options, (and had been reading other people’s blogs for longer). After i’d been blogging privately for 8 months and learning bits and pieces, I found it easy to set up this blog. I’m not a newbie, and i’m not afraid to look at the help – if you are a newbie, there are the Support pages to help. Don’t forget Googling “how to start a blog”. Like any new venture, there are definitions to be learned.
The thing about blogging, there are untold numbers of “how to” blog websites. Read some of them – a lot of good information. Don’t believe everything you read, obviously, but you’ll find certain good tips repeated over and over. The best blogs i read on setting up, running, and maintaining a blog were usually run by professional bloggers.
You can adapt their rules to your needs, but they really do know how to generate traffic, (hits on your site), and are generally helpful with every aspect.
For instance, the ProBlogger site has enough free content by itself to keep you busy for months, but at the same time, just reading one of the articles on say, reasons to blog, or how to blog, will give you a good grounding.
You need to think about what kind of web presence you want to be – are you thinking a web page, updated every month or so? Something like a journal you use to keep your writing fluent? Somewhere you have some fun a few times a week, but usually you write technical reviews or do tips for people doing programming? Somewhere to promote your company or ideas?
You can be purely technical, promotional, for fun, personal, pictures, movies, music, and of course, combinations of these and more. My blog veers from technical to sarcastic to political to heresy. Most of the time i’m trying to be funny, but on my rare technical forays, i do try to tone that aspect down.
If you want to promote a product, and decide to start a blog before the product is ready, you need to commit to doing updates on your blog as to how you’re doing – or people will stop coming.
Every interest group has a website where enthusiasts gather – most have hundreds – visit some of them, they will have links to their blogs, and you’ll get an idea of what’s possible. I still like the idea of the rotating tag cloud i saw on someone’s blog. I got my “where in the world do my visitors come from?” widget after seeing it on someone else’s blog.
Darn it, this is long. And it’s not very coherent. This isn’t a tech blog. They have bullet points and structure, instead of just raving. For me, my blog is to raise my profile, to the point where once i have my product (my writing), i can (within reason) plug it here, and get feedback.
In the meantime, i’m giving people a reason to visit by amusing them and provoking thought, hopefully offering some interesting knowledge, and they get a piece of me. I get to enjoy myself, too, both in the writing, researching, editing, and then in the interactions and responses i get from posts.
The blog becomes something else, a creation in its own right. I didn’t actually write a list of what i wanted from a blog, but i’m sure i read an article which said i should think about it – so i did. I wanted a place where i wrote what i felt like, which was less structured than my novel.
I had no idea what i was doing. Blogging of course, is like short story, column, or essay writing – incredibly structured. I reduce most of my blogs by at least a third in the editing process.
Which brings me to the point where, once you’ve done your first blog, Save Draft, then use the Preview button (on the right of the WordPress page, above Publish) and see what you have. Never just Publish without reading a Preview. Then, once you’ve published, read it again – odds are you missed something. The sooner you change it, the quicker Google will have the corrected version.
Once you have your Preview up, click on any links, look at the layout, make sure it all works as you expect it to. When i do links, i set them to open in new windows, as some people (me for one) get lost easily, and that way, they don’t lose my site.
Tags and categories will change as you gain experience, you can go back and change/edit them, and add more, so don’t worry too much. You need tags to help search engines and searchers on WordPress find your blog, so bung in 5-10. Make sure they’re relevant.
When editing, you can have Visual, or HTML view – i stick with Visual, only going to HTML when i end up with something like the whole blog going Italics and i can’t see why. The top menu above where you type also opens out with the Show/Hide Kitchen sink button.
Your blog will initially be set up in a standard format, which works well enough, but as you get to grips with the site, and discover widgets, themes, links, and the joys of the custom header, you’re bound to mess around and change things. I spent most of the first month doing that.
Don’t panic. It works fine without any messing. On WordPress, you’ll see a menu across the top of the page when you’re logged in – just follow the links on your Dashboard. Inside the Dashboard, you have a menu down the side which opens up as you click down it.
Inserting pics, movies, music, all seem to be easy on WordPress – i’ve only done pics. (EDIT: Though on WordPress.com, you won’t get the hits if someone plays a video – TheLazyAussie tells me those go to YouTube or the site hosting the vid. See comments for more info.)
If you want, you can keep your published posts private or only accessible by a password – draft posts are just that, they’re not public yet.
There, i think that covers the bare bones of it.