So you want to start a blog

on Design  

This is the earliest version of ChiGarden I could find, from 2007!

One question that I actually get asked quite a bit is “how to I start a blog?” (or the variation: “can you make me a blog”). There’s a lot of info out there on deciding what your blog should be about, how to write good posts, how to make money etc, but what these people mainly want to know is the technical aspect of it. Most people fall into one of these categories:

1. You want a really nice, professionally designed blog (and have the money for it).

Congratulations! This is the easiest option, in terms of effort at least. You want something that looks really professional, and have the money and good sense to hire a pro to do it for you. It just so happens that I’m a professional web designer :) Get in touch and we can talk through pricing and ideas.

Bear in mind that this option usually isn’t an affordable option for most personal bloggers – it’s more suited to businesses with a promotional blog or website and have a budget for this sort of thing.

2. You have exactly zero dollars and not a lot of time, but really want a blog.

That’s okay! Not everyone wants to spend lots of money on a blog, and so many people start blogs and then abandon them that I strongly recommend that a beginner blogger starts with a free option and then upgrade later when they get a little more serious about it. Most major blogging platforms will have a facility to import and export blog posts, so if you want to transfer later you can still take everything with you. You might not even ever want to upgrade – there’s some very high profile bloggers out there using free platforms with very basic designs.

Here’s a few options for free blogging platforms:

  • Blogger.com – This very popular platform is owned by Google, so if you have a Google account you can make a blog using that. Blogger is tricky to work with if you want to edit the design and the options for widgets (those thingies in the sidebar) are a bit limited. But there is the benefit of having the Blogger community, and easy subscriptions and comments from others on Blogger. It’s pretty easy to set up and use; I definitely recommend it for newbie bloggers wanting to test the waters.
  • WordPress.com – The non-hosted version of WordPress is what I use (more details on that below), but you can create a free account with it too. Again it’s very easy to set up and use, and there’s a variety of free WordPress widgets and themes to choose from. If you want to do some fancy editing of the CSS you will have to pay a bit for this option.
  • Tumblr – This platform is a little different, as Tumblr has a much stronger community and image focus. Many people (myself included) use Tumblr to ‘reblog’ inspiration images, quotes, videos and other bits and pieces found around the web. In terms of copyright, this practice is pretty iffy. Tumblr suits people who mainly want to post images, and don’t really want much else to have to bother with – for this reason it’s very popular amongst fashion bloggers and artists. There’s a variety of free themes to choose from, and if you have a bit of CSS and HTML know-how you can customise these further. Tumblr doesn’t have any private or locked posts options, so keep in mind that what you post there will be completely public and can possibly be reblogged by others.

There’s quite a few others out there, but these are what I’m most familiar with. If you want to have your own domain (for example, www.chigarden.com as opposed to www.chigarden.blogspot.com), all of these allow you to use one.

3. You want something a little special, but doesn’t have to be professionally designed.

You might not want to spend the money, but you have the time/expertise to learn how to do some things yourself. This option is the most work, but if you put in the time you’ll get a nice result and a new skill for very little money! Here’s how you do it:

  1. Get a domain name. This is what people will type into their browsers to get to your website. You’ll need to pay to register a domain name, which usually costs $12 – $50 per year depending on what you need. Make sure it’s short, snappy and easy to spell!
  2. Get hosting. This is where the files of your website will sit, which will then be pointed to by your domain name. You can purchase a domain name and hosting from the same registrar, which will save you the hassle of having to point your domain name to your hosting account (your hosting welcome email will usually detail how to do this). Hosting prices vary – the one I use, Dreamhost*, costs $8.95 per month for unlimited storage, which is pretty much the cheapest decent hosting I’ve found. You don’t need the fanciest hosting for a blog, but you do need a few things:
    • PHP 5.0 or higher
    • MySQL 5.0 or higher
    • At least one MySQL database

    Don’t worry if you don’t know what the hell those mean, just know that they’re important and look for them in the feature list of the hosting package. Almost all hosting packages will include these things, with the exception of hosting by Internet Service Providers (don’t get hosting from your ISP!).

  3. Set up FTP (File Transfer Protocol). FTP is how you transfer your website’s files from your computer to your hosting account, so it can then be live on the interwebs! Your hosting email will usually include the FTP details to set things up. To transfer files you need to use an FTP client such as Filezilla (free), Transit ($34, OSX only) or Dreamweaver (really freaking expensive). Fill in the details your host provided you, and connect to your hosting account. Drag and drop files into the www/ or public_html/ folder on your server to make them live.
  4. Install a blogging platform. Most hosting providers (including Dreamhost) have a simple one-click install of major blogging platforms, my favourite of which is WordPress. Different hosting providers have different ways of going about this, but they should be very straightforward. Look for something like ‘one-click-install’, ‘install software’, ‘blogging’, or ‘Fantastico de luxe’ in your control panel, then follow the prompts.If you’re not lucky enough to have some kind of easy install, the steps required to install WordPress are detailed here.
  5. Play around with themes! If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend starting with an existing theme and working from there. There are heaps of free WordPress themes (some excellent quality; some less so) and lots that you can pay a small fee for too. Find something that’s pretty close to what you’re after, then mess around with bits and pieces to make it more personal. Most paid themes and some better quality free ones will have some options for changing things through the interface (usually things like a banner, background, basic colours etc).
  6. Extra: Learn some coding. If you’re serious, messing around though the theme’s interface is going to feel pretty limiting pretty quickly. If you learn a little coding, you can do a million times more with it – even create a complete theme from scratch, which is what I do. I’m not gonna lie, it isn’t exactly easy, but aside from hiring a pro this is going to get you the most personalised result. WordPress has a lot of good articles on how to edit themes and templates. You’ll want to learn a bit of:
    • CSS
    • HTML
    • PHP

    …in that order to edit things. It sounds like a lot, but even just a little understanding of CSS can go a long way.

So as you can see, if you want something really customised and special it is going to take either a good bit of money or a good bit of effort. But if you’re serious about blogging then I’d say it’s worth it! Messing around with my own blog design inevitably led me to a career in web design, so it’s a pretty useful skill. Good luck with the new blog!

Would anyone be interested if I posted some web design tutorials or resources?

* heads up, this is an affiliate link

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