Well nothing in this world can be started from scratch … 🙂 You know what I mean; everything has some parts already done. I would like to create a blog; what would I do? I asked Dear Wife last year, when I felt that I would like to write about my feelings, about anything I would like. Dear Wife is a vivid reader and follower of the blog-world, which I was not at that time. She replied, “Honey, you can create a blog on any existing blogging platform. Or, you can create your own site if you are serious.” It turned out that it was not a whim; I was damn serious. 🙂 In this post, I will attempt to highlight the basic steps of starting a blog. I will not describe too much of how to do every step but I will provide enough information that will help create a blog from scratch. 🙂 Sorry, I use too many smileys in my posts. In reality, I do not smile that often.
Choosing a blogging platform
As Dear Wife said, there are two ways: using an existing platform, or using your own site. I interpreted Dear Wife’s statement about seriousness incorrectly at that time. I thought serious bloggers do not use existing platforms. Actually, what she meant was that if I am serious I can go ahead with a webspace for my own website. If I am not serious, then an existing (free) blogging platform can be used for testing purpose. I observed in my short blogger-life that many bloggers on wordpress.com platform has thousands of followers and they have influential contents. Therefore, the statement that only bloggers with self-hosted sites are serious is an incorrect one. Anyway, my thought-process is taking me to a different discussion. Please allow me to tie the flow with the topic. Where was I? Oh yes, existing platform and self-hosted platform. Please allow me to explain them a little bit.
What is an existing blogging platform?
An existing blogging platform is commonly known as a free blogging platform. Widely used free blogging platforms are WordPress.com, Blogger.com, Medium.com, ghost.org, and many other similar sites. Opening a free account on WordPress.com would result in a blog link with address https://YourBlogName.wordpress.com, where YourBlogName is the name you have chosen.
What is a self-hosted blog?
A self-hosted blogging platform is a website that you own. That is, you will purchase a domain name and a server space to host your website. Any website name is possible, given that the name is not already taken by someone else. There are many hosting companies including HostGator, eHost, iPage, bluehost, and goDaddy.
An advantage of using self-hosted blog is that you will have full control over your blog. You can choose plain html or you can install a blogging platform like WordPress (commonly known as WordPress.org) on your website. You have full access to any file on your website. You can install any theme you want. The price of hosting a site can be as little as $1 a month. For a good amount of webspace, one only needs to spend five or six dollars per month.
If you choose a free blogging platform, then you are ready to roll. Select a name, choose a theme, do a little bit of cosmetic changes, and start blogging. If you prefer a self-hosted site, the rest of the article should provide you with more information. Even if you do not prefer a self-hosted site, you can still read the rest for information that you might need in the future when you will decide to create your own blog.
Choosing a name and URL
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. This is true but I will still try to keep the blog name and the URL relevant to what the blog is about. For example, a blog that discusses plants should not have a name The Art of Selling Books. A plant related blog should not have the URL http://WeSellBooks.com/ either. Anyway, once you have a good name for your blog you will need to do a little bit research on if the name is already taken by some other entities. We always prefer a unique name so that it is discoverable by search engines without any confusion.
Each hosting site has a domain name availability checker. Some will show you alternative names as well. GoDaddy has a domain name availability search tool in this link. The domain name will basically form the Uniform Resource Locator, commonly known as URL.
Selecting a web hosting service
As said before, there are many hosting companies including HostGator, eHost, BlueHost, iPage, and goDaddy. There are some important parameters one should look at when selecting a web hosting service. Let us discuss these parameters. All the parameters boil down to the question: Is this host good for my blog?
If I am planning on a personal blog that will have low to medium traffic, I won’t worry much about if a shared or a dedicated server is used. Most personal blogs are fine with a shared service. By shared service I mean that many websites are served by the same server computer but the world will have the illusion that each website is running independently. E-commerce websites and blogs that have grown too big over time might not be suitable for a shared web hosting service. Shared web hosting is more appropriate for low and medium traffic blogs. Shared web hosting services are cheaper than the dedicated ones. Majority of the blogging world depends on shared web hosting.
Even with small family blogs like ours, the demand of disk space may grow very quickly, especially because of the images and the videos we share. Many bloggers use YouTube to upload videos and other publicly available websites to host images. If you prefer to keep your images within the space of your website, it will be better to choose a hosting that allows enough disk space. Now a days, unlimited or unmetered webspace is becoming available at low cost.
Bandwidth is related to the amount of data that can be transferred from and to the hosting server. In earlier times, bandwidths of hosting services were limited. I do not think modern hosting services include any restriction over bandwidth. Make sure to check if bandwidth is unmetered even when a basic plan is used. I would select another company if one hosting service does not provide unmetered bandwidth with a basic web hosting plan in these days.
Does the web hosting platform provide an email system for my blog? If I have a website named http://settleinelpaso.com/, I will prefer an email address like MyEmailID@settleinelpaso.com, especially for blog related communications. How many people will manage this blog? Based on that number, I will need that many email accounts. Now a days, email address capabilities are included within basic plans. I would just make sure that the service allows creation of enough email accounts.
Suppose we have a website with URL http://settleinelpaso.com. The question is, does our hosting service allow subdomains? Let us exemplify the question: can we create two websites http://DearMom.settleinelpaso.com and http://DearDad.settleinelpaso.com ? Subdomains help brand URLS for products, or create user-based websites, or simply categorize posts through different URLs under the same website.
Domain parking refers to the registration of a domain that is not in use yet but is reserved for future endeavor. While this is not quite important for personal blogs, business owners might prefer to park a few domains that are close to the brand name they are using for their products. For example, if I have a blog URL www.myBlog.com, I might prefer to reserve www.myBlog.org, www.myBlog.biz, and www.myBlog.blog. It is not much important for personal blogs like ours but might be important for large brands.
Availability of blogging tools
I would prefer a host that provides an easy access to a popular blogging software. More details are provided in the next section. My personal preference is WordPress. Some hosts will advertise WordPress installation is just one click away. This indicates that the hosting service has an easy way to install WordPress on your self-hosted site.
Based on all these items and some user reviews, you will decide which hosting service is the best. Move forward with that. Domain subscriptions and space can be purchased for three years. That reduces the per-month cost.
Software installations on the server
Based on what type of blog you are building, there can be different software requirements. Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP are the most common technical requirement. Most service providers ensure that these items are functional. Other than the technical requirements, I would say that the following software pieces or interfaces are essential for personal blogs.
This is the interface of the hosting service. That is, you will login to this web interface on the hosting company’s website. For example, if you purchase hosting service from BlueHost, you will login to the management interface on https://www.bluehost.com/ whenever required. The questions to ask here are: is the interface easy enough for the installation of the software pieces? Or, does the interface provide a standard File Manager? In a sense, this management interface is the web hosting control panel for your website. The most widely used panel is cPanel. Some alternatives are: Sentora, Froxlor, ServerPilot, ISPConfig, and Virtualmin/Webmin. I requested cPanel when I purchased my service.
cPanel-like management interfaces are generally not accessed as frequently as the blogging software. Once someone installs WordPress on the self-hosted site using cPanel, web development tasks are done from the WordPress interface of the blog. Therefore, the use of cPanel is minimal. cPanel is used for major changes in the service, domain name related tasks, email set up, FTP management, database management, file management, backup management, and such system level activities.
It is expected that the hosting service will provide a number of email addresses under the domain name I have purchased. A web-based system on the server-side is necessary to maintain these email accounts. This email interface is commonly known as a Webmail applications. SquirrelMail, roundcube, and horde are some examples of Webmail applications. The self-hosted site will need at least one email software.
Personally, I prefer to use a public email like Gmail. I set Automatic Forwarding from the email application associated with my blog to the Gmail account. That way, I do not have to access an additional email for my blog. The email management application on my self-hosted site helps me set these Automatic Forwards.
A blogging software is something that makes the life of a blogger easier. 🙂 We do not want to worry about all the expertise required to learn HTML, PHP, SQL Queries, so and so forth. A blogging software basically hides all those complexities. For bloggers who would like to write codes still have the flexibility to write complex codes through a blogging software.
Some examples of blogging software are: WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. As said earlier, my personal preference is the WordPress installation. I would make sure that there is an easy WordPress installation for a hosting service I will purchase. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal all are free to use. Therefore there is no need to pay extra for the blogging software.
Wordpress blogging software on a self-hosted site comes from WordPress.org, which is different from Worpress.com. Note that Worpress.com is an existing blogging platform. If I already have a WordPress.com account, I can connect my self-hosted site with the WordPress.com account via a plugin called Jetpack. The Jetpack plugin can be launched after installing WordPress on a self-hosted site. Jetpack allows a seamless connection with the WordPress.com community. It allows WordPress.com users to provide Comments and Likes on my self-hosted site. I find Jetpack a strong way to be a part of the blogging community.
This is definitely the hardest step. Also, this is the part that you will enjoy the most. Keep posting consistently. Keep creating great content. Keep networking with the beautiful minds of the free world!