Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 2

Hello again! I’m assuming since you’ve come back, you’re either a sucker for punishment, or you’ve decided to find out a bit more about how to get started blogging. As promised last week then, let’s get stuck in. Today I want to look at:

Free vs self-hosted blogs

As you may have noticed, there is a bewildering array of different types of blogs out there, with respect to the blog platform they run on. I’m referring here not to the actual content of the blog, but rather to the software that underlies everything – WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, etc. This is what provides all those nice blog features like archives, categories, permalinks, sidebars, pingbacks, comments and much more without you having to worry about how it’s all done (don’t worry if you don’t know what some of those things are – the point is you’ll quickly learn what you need to, and the blog software will take care of the rest for you!).

By far the most widely used ones are WordPress.org (used on this site) and Blogger, and these illustrate the point I’m trying to make about free versus self-hosted blogs. Blogger represents the free category, which is the easiest to set up, and costs you nothing in terms of hosting; WordPress.org represents the self-hosted option, which requires more setup, but gives you more control.

The attraction of the free option is the ease of use and maintenance. It’s very quick to get started, and the whole thing is managed behind the scenes on your behalf. In addition, the pricetag means it’s an attractive option for someone who wants to just feel the water without any major commitment of time and resources.

One minor concern is that Google, which operates the Blogger service, may “in its sole discretion, at any time and for any reason, terminate the Service, terminate this Agreement or suspend or terminate your account”. How likely this is to happen, and what happens to your content in cases like this are questions you should consider if you decide to pursue this option beyond experimentation.

Self-hosting, on the other hand, basically means you pay a web hosting company to host your blog on their servers. This gives you full control of every aspect of your blog, for the cost of a little bit of money and a commitment to taking responsibility for the ongoing running of your site. It’s a little more technically challenging than the first option, but well within the reach of most intelligent people (which you are, right?).

For the remainder of this article I’m going to be focussing on the latter option, since there is very little in the way of setup of a free blog. Some of what I say may be equally applicable to both camps though.

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com

As a little aside I’d like to point out that there are two flavours of WordPress out there. WordPress.com is a free, non self-hosted option, the same as Blogger; WordPress.org is the version you can host on your own server. Just to muddy the waters a bit more, I should point out that WordPress.org is also free – it’s open source software which is made freely available to whoever wants to use it by the online community that carries out the ongoing development. The only non-free bit is the cost of hosting your site that is built with it. Clear? So, to save myself from RSI, from now on when I refer to WordPress, I’ll be referring to the .org version. If you’re interested in a more detailed comparison of these two WordPress editions, check out WordPress.com versus WordPress.org.

3 steps to set up your WordPress blog

This is where the fun starts! Follow these steps, and you should be up and running very shortly.

  1. Register your domain
  2. Sign up for a web hosting account
  3. Install and configure WordPress

I’ll keep the discussion fairly general because there are a number of variables here to do with the particular hosting account you decide to go for. However, it shouldn’t be too hard to apply the information to your particular setup.

Step 1: Register your domain

A domain is the website address of your blog, eg thecraftywriter.com. You’re free to choose more or less whatever you like, as long as it’s not already taken and you’re not infringing on anyone else’s trademark. There are a few technical restrictions about length, and certain characters that are not allowed, but rather than bore you with the details, it’s easier to simply test prospective names to see if they’re available – you’ll be informed if your choice is invalid for some or other technical reason.

You also need to choose a “top-level domain” (eg your-domain.com, your-domain.net, your-domain.co.uk, etc). This comes down to personal preference, and also your target audience. If your main readership is likely to be in the UK, then it might make sense to go for a .co.uk; if you have more of an international audience in mind, you’ll probably want a .com or .net. Generally the country-specific ones are cheaper, and you’re also more likely to find the name you want is available.

It goes without saying that it’s worth spending some time choosing your blog name carefully, because you’re likely going to be stuck with it for some time.

  • Try to use one or more keywords relating to the topic of your site in the name, if at all possible.
  • Try to come up with something catchy and memorable
  • Try to keep it as short as possible.

You may well find that all the names you come up with are already taken; in that case, try variations, using hyphens, etc to come up with something unique.

Once you’ve come up with a domain, head over to a domain registrar and register it. You can expect to pay around $10 (USD) to book your chosen domain for a year, although many sites charge far more than this. In some cases you may get a better deal if you register your domain at the same time as you sign up for web hosting.

Step 2: Sign up for web hosting

A web hosting account simply allows you to store your website on a server that is accessible to the internet so others can view your site. There are a wide variety of options available, ranging from completely free accounts to ones costing hundreds of pounds a year. It’s not really worth considering free hosting at this stage – you’d be better off signing up for a free blog account as outlined above. Free hosts tend to be unreliable, may place advertising on your site, and may not be around the day after tomorrow. I’d advise you to budget $5-$10 (USD) per month for a decent hosting package.

Whichever host you decide to go with, check before signing up that they meet the requirements to run WordPress. If they don’t explicitly state which applications you’re allowed to install, at least check that your account will come equipped with the following features, which are the minimum requirements to run WordPress:

  • PHP version 4.2 or greater, and
  • MySQL version 4.0 or greater

If in any doubt, get in touch with the host’s technical support and ask them directly. This is also a good way of checking how quickly they respond to requests for support.

If you’re looking for a recommendation, The Crafty Writer has had excellent service from Hippo Web Solutions’s WordPress hosting.

Step 3: Install and configure WordPress

The easiest way to get WordPress set up within your hosting account is to choose a host that offers “one-click” installation of popular applications. Many do these days, and it can save you a bit of hassle (also down the line if you need to upgrade the software).

If this is not an option for you, then you will need to download and install the application as per the instructions – there’s no point me re-iterating them here as they are pretty self-explanatory.

And that’s that – you’re ready to unleash your talents on an unsuspecting world. Please feel free to leave comments or questions below, and I’ll do my best to get back to you. And please join me again next time as we look at some of the nuts and bolts of blogging.

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Related posts:

  1. Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 3
  2. Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 1
  3. Beginner Blogging course
  4. What a publisher does – part 2: design
  5. Overcoming writers’ block

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4 comments on “Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 2

  1. Pingback: Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 1 at The Crafty Writer

  2. giri on said:

    hi fiona
    am here again , do let me know how does a self -hosted blog differ from a web site, i mean what r the advantages and disadvantages
    thnx and regards

  3. Rod Smith on said:

    @Giri,

    Good question. A blog is just a specific kind of website, which is characterised by ease-of-update, a chronological order to entries, and generally supports a lot of the web2 technologies like rss, trackbacks and pingbacks, comment facilities, etc. Of course all these can be incorporated into a standard web site too, so there’s a lot of overlap.

  4. Pingback: Association of Christian Writers » Do you blog?

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