(All images courtesy of Google images)
When I get the same question more than a few times, I generally write a blog post in an attempt to share my thoughts with a larger audience. Therefore, here is a non-technical blog post about starting a blog.
I started this blog ~2 years ago and the truth is that I’m thrilled when I have the time to write a post and share information. I think it’s important to promote technical knowledge (especially on Oracle products that are challenging for partners to access without the proper investment). Luckily, I’ve inspired a few others to blog and I’ve been asked the question “do you have tips to share for starting a blog?” enough times to put my thoughts together in one place.
My favorite blogging platform is WordPress (obviously). I have many reasons for this, some of which are that I simply like the WordPress aesthetic better than most other free sites and it’s so darned easy to use. I’m not a “techie” when it comes to the web and I don’t have much free time on my hands so I need things to be as easy as possible. There is not much guesswork when it comes to the WordPress platform.
Here are some starter tips on getting your blog up and running – note that some of these are WordPress-oriented since that’s what I use:
- Decide what your blog is going to be about. What is your blog’s main focus? What are you all about? Do the two gel? There’s no point in doing anything else until you’ve completed this step – you’ll see as you read through my next few bullet points that not all blog site options are free. Paid options start on day one and have an expiration date so you might as well not pay for those things until you’re ready. Just make sure that your blog is not too narrowly focused. The original name for my site was HyperionUmami.com. I changed it about 6 months in when I realized that this wasn’t what best represented me. I didn’t want to be tied to the term “Hyperion” since Oracle is moving on from that. I also wanted to ensure that “woman” was somewhere in the name because I am passionate about promoting women. It’s OK to change your mind, by the way. There is this whole cathartic process that happens when you line it all up and it just feels right. Strive for that. Once you decide your vision, you can make the rest of the decisions more easily.
- Pick a hosting site. I chose to have my blog hosted by someone else (WordPress) and started with the free option. You can also pay someone to host for you. You can host your own site, too – if you’re a coding nerd and like to build things from the ground up then this might be the way to go since there are way more options and customizations involved. Just allocate more time to figuring it all out if you go that route. Other popular hosted options that my peers use that are free include: Blogger (Google), Medium (from the creators of Twitter although you don’t need a Twitter account), and LinkedIn (although these are seen more like articles than blog posts – you’ll need a LinkedIn account). One paid option that I’d recommend: SquareSpace (seriously amazeballs looking…and expensive). If you want to see a review of web hosting sites, check this site out – they have a comprehensive approach to reviewing hosting companies.
- Pick a custom URL…then pick some backups. With most free sites, your final URL will be something like HostingCompany.CustomName.com or CustomName.HostingCompany.com. For instance, you can access my blog through both wordpress.womaninepm.com (the free custom site name) or directly through womaninepm.com (my paid custom site name). If I had a Blogger site it would be womaninepm.blogspot.com. You might need to be creative here because there are millions of people with blogs, so the obvious names are taken. Before you set up your blog site you can see if anyone is already using your URL by typing it into a web browser. When you initially set up the site it will also check for you and tell you if your brilliant idea is taken. If you want to customize your URL and make it a “.com”, “.co”, etc. (e.g. OpalLovesEPM.com) then you’ll probably have to pay for that. It can cost anywhere from $10-$50 per year for this privilege. I didn’t want “wordpress” anywhere in my URL which is why I chose this path.
- If you choose a free blog site, decide if you want your blog to have ads or not. This is not something you have to decide for all free hosted blog sites, but it is for WordPress. In addition, you don’t have to make this decision up front because your blog generally doesn’t start with ads on day one. If your blog site starts to gain traffic then WordPress will start putting ads on your posts. This personally drives me nuts so I decided to pay a fee to have ads blocked. I pay $99 a year through WordPress (their Business Plan level), but I get other cool things with this feature, including my custom domain name. Note that I didn’t start off with this plan. When I saw the first ad several months in I realized what I needed to do…
- Decide if you want your blog posts to cross post to your social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If so, log into your social media accounts through your blog site. This way, every time you publish a blog post a link to it will be cross posted to your social media channels. This gives your blog greater visibility. (Note that this option is not available to all free accounts – I get it with my upgraded Business Plan account on WordPress.)
- Decide on a header name and tagline for your blog site. The header is the name that will go across the top and what people may identify with your site. Mine is “Woman in EPM”. Then, depending on which theme you choose for your site, you might want to include a tagline (but it’s optional). Mine is “oracle epm, oracle user group, and other musings from Opal Alapat, a woman in technology”. The tagline is a short description to help people understand what your blog is about. This will help new readers know what to expect on your site and it helps with the SEO (search engine optimization) of your blog. You should also make sure that the words that you clearly want associated with your blog site are in this tagline…your name, Oracle, EPM, etc. (depending on the purpose of your blog).
- Finally, set up your site. If you use a hosted service like WordPress then you can easily set it up through a wizard. You have to take a number of actions initially, so allocate a couple of hours for this task. However, you don’t have to write a post just yet. In this initial setup, you’ll want to do things like: try out and pick a template design (free or paid – mine was free but you might want to spring for something paid if a particular design catches your eye), header pic, logo pic, menus, pages (an “about” page is a good start, which tells readers more about you), widgets, etc. This step may take you days. It took me hours and then I ended up changing it multiple times until I found the combo of things that worked for my liking. It’s OK to change your mind. Some people update and “refresh” their blog look & feel yearly. I just adjusted some of the colors on my blog last week.
Once your site is up do the following:
- If your blog is work-related, tell your company’s marketing department. If they are supportive, they can follow your posts and promote them both internally and externally.
- Tell all your blogger friends and, if you feel comfortable with it, request that they add your blog link to their site’s blog roll which will help you gain extra traffic. Just don’t be offended if they turn you down – your site may not jive with the purpose of their site, etc.
- Set up Google analytics on your blog site if you want random people to be able to find it. WordPress gives clear instructions on how to do this in one of the settings.
- Promote your site on your other social media accounts. “Coming soon” works well to generate interest.
- Write your first post, even if it’s something like “this is my first post and I don’t know what to write”. Once you get into the cadence of writing, it will come more naturally in time.
- Make sure to do things like add at least one category and multiple tags to each blog post. This helps people find you from Google/Bing/Yahoo/etc. searches.
- Add social media links to your blog site. I have links to my Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profile. Based on the recommendation of a friend, I also set up an about.me site – really simple and free and it centralizes info. about you in one place if you don’t want too many individual links.
- Don’t panic if no one reads your blog immediately. Blogging is not an overnight sensation. It takes time to build followers, traffic, and promoters. It’s a constant work in progress.
When thinking about content:
- If it’s a technical blog, remember to be specific. You might want to include things like the software version number. You may want to take the time to include screen shots, too. Very important: if those screen shots are taken from client or company software, make sure that you blur out identifying information.
- Perfection is unattainable. I hate to burst your bubble, but there is no true definition of it, either. If you obsess over perfection for your blog, you’ll set yourself up for failure. It’s just a blog – readers expect errors.
- Be yourself. People will get to know you through silly things like tone, writing style, personal photos, etc. People generally want to know more about the person behind the blog.
- But also respect your own privacy. Don’t show pictures of your house, etc. You should also think about removing the metadata on all personal pictures that you post. Just remember that once something is out there on the internet…it never leaves. Google caches websites and even the history of each webpage.
- Decide how frequently you want to post. Don’t be overzealous on this decision or you’ll let yourself down before you even get started. Start slowly and then build onto it as you’re able to. A few times a year is a good starting point. You are not competing against anyone – this is something for you and it’s supposed to be fun.
- Promote your blogger friends, as it makes sense. This is a community and we support each other. You can promote their blog posts through social media. Another way to promote your friends is to include them in a blog roll (a list of other people’s blogs to the side of your blog posts).
- Don’t plagiarize or violate copyright laws. You can reference stuff from other blogs and websites – just make sure to give the owner credit.
Advanced stuff (a.k.a. stuff that I don’t know how to do but have heard that it’s important, cool, or worth getting to):
- Maximizing your SEO (search engine optimization)
- Monetizing your blog site. Just read the copyright laws before doing this. Referencing other blog and website images might become a gray area if you’re monetizing your site.
So there it is. If you’ve read all of this and you’re on the fence about blogging…then maybe it’s not for you and that’s OK. Don’t commit to something if you’re not into it.
But if you read all of this and now you’re super excited about it and can’t wait to start then…
(All images courtesy of Google images)
Experienced bloggers – do you have a tip to share? Please post it in the comments!
Reference links that might be of interest:
- Differences between Blogger and WordPress
- What makes Medium different
- Six tips to creating a killer article on LinkedIn
- Your Blog Stinks! You Should Quit!
Inspiration from some community Oracle experts: