So You Want to be a Blogger?
Advice on starting and maintaining a blog.
When we start out to create a blog we should ask a few questions. The answers to the questions will point us to the blogging tools we’ll need.
The first question might be, “Why do I want to create a blog?”
Is it for business, school, ministry, or as a hobby?
What types of things do I want to have on my blog?
Will I post written messages, videos or photos?
What type of audience do I hope to reach?
Will the blog be for friends, family, church, community, or the world?
How much time do I have available to keeping my blog going?
This last question is an important one that’s easy to overlook. Blogging takes time and if you have a popular blog, it can take a lot of time. Ask yourself how much time you have to devote to maintaining your blog.
Spend some time thinking about these questions and develop an idea of what your blog will be about, what it will look like and how much time it will take to maintain it.
Most bloggers begin by using a template provided by a free blog service. The two most popular services are WordPress and Google’s Blogger. There are other services available but most bloggers use one of these two.
Both services have full-featured blogging platforms and they update their services often. Which service you choose is a matter of preference. Since I already had a gmail account when I started blogging, I started with Google’s Blogger and it worked well for me. I have several friends who have used WordPress and they’re happy with that service, though I personally found Blogger easier to use than WordPress.
Blogging is made available as a free service, because blog providers make money through advertising. If you choose to advertise on your blog you could create a source of income by having people visit your blog. You allow the blog service to post ads on your blog and they pay you for using your blog space. Carefully consider whether or not advertising is for you.
While some bloggers are able to create revenue from their blogs by advertising, not everyone can and not everyone should. Advertisers look for certain things in a blog before allowing their ads to be posted. Before you’re approved to post their ads, most agencies scan your content to see if it fits their criteria. If your blog passes muster, you’ll be allowed to post their ads. If not, you’ll be declined. If you’re not able to advertise, don’t despair. Blogs with a lot of ads take longer to load and that can be annoying to some readers. Heavy use of advertising may actually keep people away from your blog.
Free or Paid?
Although I started out using a free blogging service, I recently switched to a WordPress website that I host through Bluehost. I felt like my needs had outgrown Google’s Blogger so I moved up to the next level. The upside to a hosted blog is that you have nearly unlimited freedom when it comes to design. The downside is that you have to pay for hosting.
Having a stand-alone, hosted website is a lot more work than having a free blog. Although you begin with a template, you have to make it look the way you want and that requires some work. It’s a process of trial and error and it can be frustrating. My recommendation is that anyone starting out blogging should use a free service for a few years to try out blogging, before investing time and money in a hosted website.
After you decide which blogging service to use, the next step is to choose a name and address for your blog. Spend a little time thinking about the name of your blog. Consider names that your readers will identify with. Also consider that your blog’s name can be used by other bloggers. If you want a unique name, be sure to do a search to see whether or not someone is using the name you’ve chosen.
Once you have a name for your blog, you’ll need to create a web address for it. Although blog names can be duplicated, blog addresses are unique. If you go with a free blogging service, they’ll recommend available addresses that can be used at no charge. You may want to experiment a little and try different possibilities. You’ll need to find an address that isn’t already in use.
As long as the blog address ends with the name of your blog service (i.e ‘blogspot.com’ or ‘wordpress.com’) the address should be free. If you choose an address without the blog service ending, you’ll have to register it with a service like Godaddy, Bluehost or Hostgator. You’ll pay a small fee to register the domain name, which reserves it for your use.
The next step is choosing a template for your blog. A template is a standard set of instructions written in programming language that gives a blog a particular look. Blogging services like WordPress and Google make a variety of templates available. There are also graphic designers who create free templates for use with WordPress and Google blogs.
There are many aesthetic differences between blog templates, but only a few of them are functional. The functional differences between templates has to do with the number of columns and how they are laid out. Some templates have two columns while others have three.
Most templates include a main column for posts and one or two sidebars for add-on modules known as ‘widgets’. Blog content (the text you are now reading) appears in the main column. If you allow readers to leave comments, they’ll usually appear under the post in the main column.
Sidebars provide space for widgets, which are things you add to your blog. Examples are: images, videos, podcasts, weather forecasts, links to older stories, favorite posts, links to other blogs, social networking links, a Paypal donate button, statistics for your blog, disclaimers, legal information, contact information, advertisements, etc.
A two-column template has one wide column for posts and one narrow column as a sidebar. A three column template has one main column and two sidebars. (Note that this blog has one main column and two sidebars; one on the left and one on the right.)
Nearly everything in a blog template can be modified to some degree, but it’s always been hard to change a three column template to a two column or vice-versa. Recently however, templates have become available that allow you switch not only from a two to three column layout, but you can move the sidebars as well. My blog template has a lot of flexibility. I can choose between several layouts that have two or three columns and I can create individual pages with a completely different layout from the home page. My template is one that I bought. Most free templates are still limited in layout options.
The template you choose will depend on which layout fits your particular needs. If your blog only requires a single, wide column for images or text, and maybe a few widgets, a two-column layout will probably work. If your blog will have a lot of add-on components that go in a sidebar, a three column layout may be better for you.
Don’t let the template become an obstacle to getting started. If you aren’t excited with the look of a particular template, rest assured knowing that you can tweak it to make it look better or find another one at a later date. If you begin with a two-column template and find that you need more room for widgets, you can always switch to a three-column template.
The dimensions of websites are commonly referred to in pixels. A pixel is a small unit of measurement that describes the height or width of something formatted for the internet.
The main column of a blog is usually between 350 and 500 pixels wide. Sidebars are typically 150 – 250 pixels wide.
For years, the standard width for blog templates was 750 pixels wide. A two-column template might have a main column 450 pixels wide and a sidebar that is 200 pixels wide. The combined width would be 650 pixels in a layout that allows for 750 pixels total width. The remainder of the space (100 pixels) is used for padding between columns and edges.
Mostly due to the fact that the average computer monitor has grown considerable wider, templates are now available in wider widths. The template I use for this website is 1140 pixels wide. That’s a lot of real estate for my stuff.
Color schemes are created by graphic designers to give blogs a certain look and feel. There’s a reason why most of us aren’t graphic designers – they have talents we don’t have. Designers are paid to create nice looking websites. Most of the fonts and colors of a blog can be modified, but it’s a risky proposition. If you make too many changes, you’ll end up with a ghastly looking blog. Be cautious when making changes to the standard fonts and colors of a template.
If your blog will be an online gallery for images or videos, you’ll need a wide main column to render them properly. The more space you allow for sidebars, the less you’ll have for the main column. If a sidebar is not important, consider omitting it to maximize the space available for images or videos. A single column template with no sidebar allows for a very wide main column. If you want to use a template without a sidebar, but you want a few widgets, there is a solution. Many templates have a ‘header’ and ‘footer’ area above and below the main column that can be used for widgets instead of using sidebars. My template allows me the option of a single column without sidebars that covers the entire width of the template. If I wanted to, I could post images that are nearly 1,000 pixels wide.
If you plan to post Youtube videos, consider that these videos typically display at 450- 550 pixels minimum width, with many being over 600 pixels wide. Unless adjustments are made, they can appear cut off on one end when viewed. There are two ways to handle video display problems. One way is to maximize the width of your main column. This reduces (or eliminates) the space available for sidebars. You need to be somewhat familiar with changing HTML code to do this. (Don’t be afraid to learn. There are a lot of good (free) resources that can show you how to do it. I get most of my customizing help from Youtube videos.)
If sidebars are important to you, or you don’t want to make the main column wider, there’s a second option that’s very easy. Consider manually changing the display width of all videos before posting them.
How do I do this?
In the blog editor page, there are two ways to view a post. One is a window that displays the post as it appears. The other displays it as HTML code. (In WordPress, the HTML view is called ‘text’.)
To post a Youtube video:
- Select the HTML view in your blog post editor page.
- Find the video you want to post and below the video select the ‘Share” button.
- Select the “Embed” button, which will display its HTML code.
- Copy and paste all of the HTML code in the window into the blog post editor.
- Save the post and it should display the video
Changing Video Dimensions
The best way to change the width of a video to make it fit your blog is to select ‘Custom size’ in the Youtube embed menu. This menu gives you two empty boxes that are the dimensions of the video. One is the width, the other is the height. Change the width to whatever dimension fits your blog’s main column and the height will automatically adjust to keep the right aspect ratio. Copy and past the new HTML code into your blog post and save it.
Tip: If you want to display videos in a sidebar widget, use the same steps, but use the sidebar’s width dimension instead of the main column dimension.
You can display images on your blog by simply adding them to the post in the post editor page. There is button that allows you to add images from your computer or from the internet via HTML code. You’ll be given choices about whether to display the image at it’s full size or a smaller size. There are options to display the image to the left, right or centered in the main column and you can choose to add tags or descriptions to images.
Like videos, images can be tweaked in the HTML view of the blog editor. The height and width will be displayed in the HTML code in pixels. Change the numbers corresponding to the height and width to re-size images to suit your needs.
Tabs & Pages
A recent addition to blogging is a feature known as ‘tabbed’ pages. For years, bloggers were limited to their main page as the only place to put their stuff. But a few years ago, blogging services began offering tabs to multiple pages. Now you can have different pages for different things. Want to have a page for instruction and a separate page for photos? No problem. Just add another tab. A major reason why I switched to a WordPress hosted website was because I wanted to have the ability to add tabs for different pages and my old Google blog made it difficult. My WordPress theme makes it easy to add tabs at the top of the page and even allows for drop-down menus. I can have each page formatted to look virtually any way I choose.
Some bloggers post daily, others post weekly and some only a few times a year. How often you post is up to you. I usually post about every two or three days, which gives my readers a break between posts, so they can do other things and not miss out on what’s happening. I take advantage of my blog’s scheduling feature, which allows me to create posts and schedule them to be published at a future date.
I often set up a group of posts to publish two or three weeks in advance, with three days between posts. This allows me to have a life aside from being a blogger. When something comes up that I want to post immediately, I create the post and publish it, then reschedule the posts I have waiting to publish.
If your blog is intended to reach a wide audience, you’ll want to connect it to social networks. There are add-ons you can use to connect a blog to Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. My posts are set up to be tweeted automatically when they publish. I use Networked Blogs to publish them to my Facebook page automatically. Automated services can be a blessing, decreasing the time needed to monitor your blog. When I started blogging, I was getting about 10 to 15 viewers a day. Within a month of connecting it to Facebook, the number of views increased tenfold. Social networking is critical if you hope to reach a large audience.
If your blog attracts readers, it will eventually attract critics. Bloggers have a choice in either allowing or disallowing comments. If you allow readers to comment, you’ll have the pleasure of dealing with feedback – both good and bad. How you handle feedback is critically important. If you handle criticism well, you’ll likely have a good blogging experience, but if you struggle with criticism, your life as a blogger may not be very happy.
Spend some time honestly assessing how you handle praise and criticism and set up the comment feature accordingly. I would suggest moderating all comments before they post as your blog will inevitably get spammers leaving comments that will detract from the flow of your blog.
The blogging environment has become a lot more flexible lately. For today’s blogger, the possibilities are nearly endless. I hope you found this message helpful. If you have any questions on getting started as a blogger, I’d be happy to help. Just leave a comment or send me an e-mail.
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