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Starting a Blog Step 3: Choosing a Blog Platform + Design

When I decided I wanted to blog it became a little overwhelming with all the decisions I needed to make. What platform did I want to use? What did I want my blog to look like? How did I even set up a blog?

Eventually, I was able to navigate through those questions, but I didn't really spend any serious time thinking through the questions. So a few months after launching my blog I wasn't totally satisfied with it. This led to me going through that process again when I rebranded my blog. From those two experiences and the research I've done I've learned a few things about building a blog that I'd like to share. In this post, I'll be sharing information on
  • Choosing a platform and hosting service
  • Selecting a design theme
  • Setting up social media
  • Building a following

    Tips for starting a blog: Choosing a blog platform and social media channels | arelaxedgal.com

    (This post includes affiliate links. You can find out more about my use of affiliate links here.)

    Choosing a platform and hosting service

    There are so many options out there for blog platforms. Despite that, there are a few that tend to be most common among bloggers
    • Blogger
    • WordPress.com
    • WordPress.org (self-hosted)
    • Squarespace

    Not to put on any additional pressure, but the platform for your blog is a big deal. Some reasons being the platform can
    • Make or break your blog (literally)
    • Cost you money before you make money
    • Determine your blog design options

    When I initially started my blog I did little to no research on the blog platform I would use. The platform I use is Blogger and I chose it based on the process of elimination, cost and ease of setup. The other platforms I looked at were Wix and WordPress.

    Wix was out due to my experience from using it for a portfolio site. I found the interface to be slow and cumbersome. It cost money to get the ad-free version. I also had issues with the hosting as the site would take a while a load.

    WordPress was another platform I eliminated based on past experience. I used the free version for a portfolio site and did like some of the features, but didn't want to commit by paying anything or be self-hosted.

    I chose Blogger simply because it was free, used by many other bloggers and easy to use. Over time though I've started to have a love/hate relationship with Blogger. This is mostly due to the limited features available for customization and how buggy it can be.

    Here are a few questions that can help you determine which platform you'd like to use and whether or not you'd like to be self-hosted.
    • Do I want my blog to be a business?
    • How much do I want to spend on my blog?
    • How HTML savvy am I?
    • How HTML savvy do I want to be?
    • How much customization do I want to be able to do?

    After thinking through these questions and your answers let's take a look at the pros and cons I've compiled about Blogger, WordPress and Squarespace.

    Blogger

    Pros
    • Free
    • Hosted by Google
    • Easy to initially set up
    • Can find several free and premium design themes for customization

    Cons
    • Google offers limited, out-of-date, unattractive free design themes
    • Has limited features for customization
    • Need some level of coding knowledge to customize the design and functionality
    • Unattractive, non-customized domain
    • Have to pay for a custom domain
    • No easy e-commerce options
    • Pretty much no tech support
    • Google can suspend your account and take your blog offline

    Who this platform is good for
    • New bloggers who aren't ready to make a monetary commitment to blogging

    WordPress

    With WordPress you have two options 1) WordPress.com, 2) self-hosted WordPress.org.

    WordPress.com
    Pros
    • Free
    • Several free and premium design themes available
    • Free support via email and from the WordPress community
    • You own your content
    • Can customize using plugins and widgets
    • Platform is updated regularly
    • Don't need to be too HTML and CSS savvy

    Cons
    • Limited amount of space, 3 GB
    • Non-customized domain
    • Some of the plugins and premium features cost money
    • Can't make money using ad networks
    • WordPress can run ads on your site that you don't make money off of

    Who this platform is good for
    • New bloggers who want easy setup, access to multiple site features and aren't ready to make a monetary commitment

    WordPress.org
    Pros
    • Several free and premium design themes available
    • Free support via email and from the WordPress community
    • You own your content
    • Several plugins and widgets for customization
    • Platform is updated regularly
    • Can be used as a content management system
    • Can monetize your blog however you want
    • E-commerce capabilities

    Cons
    • Hosting costs (can be close to $100 a year)
    • Need to have some CSS and HTML knowledge

    Who this platform is good for

    • Bloggers who plan on blogging for a while and turning their blog into a business.

    Web Hosting

    Squarespace

    Pros
    • Easy to use interface
    • Drag and drop features
    • Free customized domain
    • E-commerce capabilities
    • 24/7 customer support
    • Unlimited bandwidth and storage
    • Design themes available for purchase

    Cons
    • Squarespace offers a very limited number of templates
    • Nothing is free
    • Can cost over $100 a year
    • 3% sales transaction fee for sales you make on the site

    Who this platform is good for
    • Bloggers who plan on blogging for a while and want their blog to be a business

    If you've decided to be self-hosted you'll need to select your hosting service. When it comes to hosting services not all of them are created equal. I've read and heard some horror stories about hosting services where sites are crashing all the time or the service needs to be constantly upgraded for a fee.

    I'm not currently self-hosted so I don't have first-hand experience with hosting services, but from what I've seen other bloggers say SiteGround is one of the better options because
    • It's cost-efficient particularly for new bloggers starting at $3.95 a month for the first three years
    • There are multiple hosting options
    • Has good and responsive customer service
    • Has fast load times

    Tips for starting a blog: Choosing a blog platform and design | arelaxedgal.com
     

    Selecting a design theme

    After you've chosen a platform it's time to select a design theme. Why not do this before choosing a platform? Blog themes are typically designed and coded to work on a specific platform.

    There are a few ways you can get a design theme
    • Hire a designer and/or developer to create a customized theme
    • Get a free (no tech support) pre-made theme
    • Purchase a pre-made theme (most come with tech support). You can get some pretty pre-made themes for Blogger and WordPress from designers. One designer who has several themes I like is Beautiful Dawn Designs. She has pretty themes for both WordPress and Blogger. Another designer I like is Pretty Darn Cute Design. She has several user-friendly attractive themes specifically for WordPress.
     Whether you have a design theme created specifically for you or get a pre-made one, you'll need to have a good idea of the type of layout and functionality you want your blog to have. When I was searching for a design theme during my rebrand I asked myself these questions
    • Does this theme work on the platform I chose?
    • Do I want a traditional layout or more modern?
    • Do I want the site to be minimalistic?
    • Does this theme work with my brand colors or will I have to adjust them?
    • How easy is it to customize?
    • How much coding would I need to do to customize it?
    • Do I want a sidebar? If so on which side?

    Setting up social media

    Social media is an important part of blogging as it can be used for content promotion. The best part about using social media for content promotion is it's free! Yes, you can place paid ads on several of them, but building a following and getting your content shared doesn't need to cost anything.

    There are hundreds of social sites for you to choose from. There are the popular sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, Snapchat and Twitter. Depending on your blog focus there may also be smaller more niche social sites you could leverage.

    For the purposes of this post, I'm going to just hit on a few of the larger more popular sites - Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

    Pinterest

    Many of the bloggers I follow swear by Pinterest because it's their largest traffic driver. Over time I was able to build my Pinterest following to the point that it became my highest traffic driver. I was able to do that by using a tool called BoardBooster which you can read about in my post How to Easily Manage and Boost Your Pinterest Performance.

    Here are some tips I found and have started employing for getting better results from Pinterest:
    • Have boards that closely match your blog focus
    • Post content that closely aligns to your blog focus
    • Don't just post your content, post the content of others
    • Create vertical Pinterest friendly images for your blog posts
    • Use a pin scheduler so you're posting at optimal times throughout the day


    Facebook

    There are multiple ways for you to leverage Facebook for content promotion - a fan page, paid ads and groups.

    I have a small fan page on Facebook and I've found it to be hard to garner new followers without putting money behind my posts.

    I also use my personal Facebook page to join hair, beauty and lifestyle groups where I share my content and interact with other bloggers.

    Twitter

    Twitter is being used more and more for moment-in-time snapshots. I tweet content related to my blog focus. Some of the content is my own and some of it's from other bloggers and sites. To post my tweets I use Hootsuite to pre-schedule my tweets.

    Twitter has been a test and learn for me and while I haven't always seen great success, I've learned some great best practices for using the site.
    • Don't just share your content, share the content of other bloggers and brands. Sometimes bloggers and brands will like or retweet your posts with their content. This can garner additional impressions and followers.
    • Include images in your posts. I've found that my posts with images get me the most impressions and engagement.
    • Engage with those you follow and your followers. I try to like and retweet a few posts from those I follow each day.
    • Use hashtags relevant to your post and blog focus. I limit myself to no more than three hashtags a post. More than that and it can get overwhelming.
    • Pay attention to your Twitter analytics as it can tell you a lot about the types of posts that get the most engagement.

    Building a following

    Yep. You read this right. Before you launch your blog, you should build a following. This is something I wish I'd done before launching my blog and even before my rebrand.

    You can do this by setting up your social profiles, following others and posting content. Since you won't have any of your own content yet you can post the content of others that aligns with the focus of your soon to come blog.

    That way when you do launch your blog you'll have followers ready to digest your content.

    What are your tips for building a blog?




    P.S. You can now follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/arelaxedgal
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