How to Create a Blog

Guide to making your own blog


How to Create a Blog

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

This guide takes you through the steps of creating a blog. It is targeted at the beginner and layperson, and as such is written in plain English and makes no assumptions that you know anything (other than how to use a web browser, since you are already using one to read this tutorial).

For those who are not sure what a "blog" is, it is a type of website where its authors write about any topic they feel like, in articles (often called "posts" in blog jargon) of whatever length they want. The writing is frequently informal, and blogs are sometimes seen as a sort of online diary. In fact, the word "blog" was originally derived from "web log" (ie, "weblog") Typically, visitors to the blog can also leave comments at the foot of each article. Blogs are often created with a special type of software called, unsurprisingly, blog software which handle all the functions needed by the person(s) writing the blog.

Note that the above is just a generalized explanation of what a blog is. It is by no means prescriptive. That is, although blogs are sometimes used as diaries by their owners, you do not have to use it that way. For example, some businesses also maintain a blog where they announce new developments and interact with their customers.

Note that this article specifically deals only with the creation of a blog. If you want to design some other type of website (eg, shopping site, company website, software site, etc), please see my more general guide How to Create a Website. You can also find more information on the different ways of creating a site from What's the Difference Between a Content Management System (CMS), a Blog, a Web Editor and an Online Site Builder?

Get a Domain Name

The first thing you will need to do is to get a domain name for your blog. A domain name is basically the address of a website, the way "thesitewizard.com" is the address of this site. It is obtained by going to a domain registrar and paying them an annual fee for the right to use that name. It's just a name, though. Getting it doesn't mean that you automatically have a blog. It is like registering a business name in the brick and mortar world, where obtaining a name doesn't mean that you automatically get shop premises to go with it.

While it's possible to start a blog without getting a domain, there are serious negative consequences in the long term if you do so. I have written at length about it in my article Is it Possible to Create a Website Without Buying a Domain Name? The High Price of "Free", and you can read more about it if you're interested.

Otherwise, steps on how to get a domain name can be found in my guide on How to Register a Domain Name. If you want to find out more about domain names before committing to one, please see my list of frequently asked questions about domains, which include tips on choosing a good domain as well as noting some precautions to take before buying one.

Get a Web Host

The next thing you will need to do is to sign up for an account with a web host. If getting a domain name is analogous to registering a business name in the brick and mortar world, then getting a web host is the equivalent of renting shop premises for your company. The web host provides the computers, called web servers, on which you will set up your blog. These computers are permanently connected to the Internet and run specialized software (confusingly, also called "web servers") which are able to deliver your articles to anyone who visits your blog.

There are numerous web hosts around. Since you will be setting up a blog, you will need one that provides the facilities for you to do so. This means that you must get one that allows you to run PHP scripts (What are PHP scripts?) and create a MySQL database (What is a MySQL database?). In practice, most, if not all, commercial web hosts provide these in one or more of their packages. For example, these features are standard on even the smallest (cheapest) plan on the web host that I'm currently using.

Many web hosts also have additional features that make it easy for you to set up a blog. These go by many names, but essentially they allow you to skip manual installation of the software by simply going to their web interface and clicking a few buttons. Their site then does the installation for you. Some call it an app installer, others an app centre (or "center" if you use a different variant of English), WordPress installer, and so on. They are not actually essential, since you can just do it yourself, but I mention it here in case you encounter this when shopping around. This guide does not depend on you having such facilities, so if your web host doesn't provide it, don't worry. It's not a big deal.

Another thing to note is that a few web hosts also offer a specialized blog hosting package. They may call it "WordPress Hosting" or something to that effect. For those wondering, WordPress is the brand of a blog software, one of many, and probably the most popular at the time I write this. If you sign up for a web host's special blog hosting plan, the blog software will be preinstalled on your website. You won't need to install it yourself, but then, you will also not be able to use any other blog software (and most other programs, for that matter) on your site should you wish. You can only use the preinstalled WordPress (or whatever blog program they offer). Actually, there's more to it than this. If you want to learn more, please see my article detailing the pros and cons of signing up for a specialized blog hosting plan.

After you have signed up with a web host, you will need to point your domain name to your blog, so that in the future, any one who enters your domain name into their browser will end up at your site.

Create a Database on Your Web Host

Before you can install your blog software, you will need to create a database. If you are wondering what this mysterious "database" thing is, please read What is MySQL? What is a Database? What is SQL?.

If you have opted for a WordPress hosting plan (or whatever the specialized blog hosting package is called on your web host), you can skip this step. The database will automatically be created for you in such a case.

Otherwise, you will have to do it yourself. This actually isn't as difficult as it sounds, since it only involves logging into your web hosting account and clicking a few buttons and the like. In general, commercial web hosts don't automatically create a database for you, since not all websites need one. They don't want to waste resources by allocating space for sites that don't want it.

  1. Although the method to create a database varies from web host to web host, on all the web hosts that I have used in the past, it has invariably required me to log into my web host's control panel. Don't be intimidated by the name "control panel". It's just a grandiose name for the online interface to your web hosting account, which you access with your web browser. It allows you to do things like create new email accounts for your domain, change passwords, create databases, password-protect directories and other administrative things.

    Find out from your web host how to access the control panel. The latter is referred to by different names on different hosts. For example, on thesitewizard.com's web host, it is called CNC (which, I assume, stands for "Command and Control"). On another web host, it is called the "Account Control Center". There is also a generic control panel used by many web hosts called CPanel.

    Whatever it's called, log into it before going on to the next step.

  2. Once in the control panel, look for a link or icon called "MySQL Databases", "MySQL Manager", "MySQL Database Wizard", "Database" or words to that effect. I can't be specific about this because the exact wording depends on the web host that you're using. (And even if I could, my description will eventually become out-of-date, since web hosts, like all webmasters, change their site design from time to time.) Once you find the relevant link or icon, Click it.

  3. Find a link or section that says "Create New Database", "New Database" or "Create a MySQL database" and go to it.

  4. You will be asked to give the database a name. In general, the name must be unique on that particular web host. That is, no other website on that host can have the same name (otherwise those websites will be accessing the same database as you). Some web hosts enforce this by giving your database a prefix. For example, if their prefix is "thesitewizard_" and you type in "mydatabase", the final name you get will be "thesitewizard_mydatabase". (Note that this is just an example. The web host may not necessarily use your domain as the prefix.) There are also hosts that don't automatically supply a prefix. For those, you'll probably just have to enter a name and wait for their system to tell you if it's available. I guess it's similar to the situation when you apply for a new email address at some free email provider like Gmail; you enter a name and hope that no one has taken it before you. If someone has, then you will be asked to give a different name instead.

    The actual name itself is not too important, so don't obsess over it. It's not the name of your blog, nor is it visible to others. Just call it whatever you want. Note that the name is not the password, so you don't really need to give it some super-cryptic sequence of characters.

  5. The control panel will ask you to set a password for the database as well. For some web hosts, you will also have to create a user name as well. (Other web hosts use your existing user name.) This user name and password combination is needed for your blog software to access the database, to store and retrieve your blog posts and visitors' comments.

  6. Once you have completed all the needed fields, click the button on the page that activates, creates or adds the database. (There'll usually be some button on that page, under all the fields you just entered, that you will have to click to submit your request. It'll probably say "Create the database", "Activate database", "Add a database" or maybe even something non-specific like "Submit".)

Install the Blog Software

If you have a specialized blog hosting plan, skip this section. The blog software has already been installed for you. At this point, some of you may be thinking that the previous sentence sounded really good, since it's nice to have everything already done for you. If so, remember that there are disadvantages as well, and you'll lose out when configuring your blog and throughout its life, for as long as your blog is on that plan. (It's a trade-off. You win some, you lose some.)

In addition, as mentioned earlier, some web hosts have an "app installer" (or whatever they call it) that will let you install blog software like WordPress into your account by clicking a button or two in the control panel. Since app installers are different from web host to web host, if you choose this route, you will have to follow the instructions given by that web host on installing the software. If the web host provides you with lots of software to install, and you don't know which one is actually the blog software, look for an icon or link that says "Install WordPress" or "WordPress".

If none of the above situations apply to you, or you don't want to use your web host's app installer, you will need to choose and install a blog program. I mentioned before that there are many free blog software around. There are also many free Content Management Systems (CMS) that can also be used for blogging. (Those puzzled about how they differ should read my aforementioned article describing their differences.)

For absolute newcomers who can't decide, just choose what the majority of bloggers apparently use these days, namely WordPress. Its popularity has a certain advantage in that there are a lot of free designs (called "themes") and plugins (that extend the functionality of the blog) available for it. And at the time I write this, the software is also actively updated, which is vital for a blog program, since it means that security holes in the software will be fixed as soon as the developers learn of it.

If you choose to use WordPress, follow my guide on how to obtain and install WordPress. As I said, the software is free.

Securing Your Blog

While it's true that all websites are vulnerable to being hacked, since they are just sitting there exposed on the Internet, blogs are more vulnerable than normal websites created using a web editor. In the case of the latter, the software that lets the webmaster make changes to the website is on his/her own computer. Bugs in that software can only be exploited if the attacker somehow invades the webmaster's personal computer. Blog software, however, are on the Internet itself, directly accessible to the hacker 24 hours a day, every day. Any vulnerability or exploitable bug automatically means that someone can modify your blog to do his/her bidding.

As such, it is very important that you secure your blog properly. If you use WordPress, some suggestions on how to make your blog less vulnerable can be found in How to Secure Your WordPress Blog.

Customizing Your Blog

Blog software usually provide you with numerous settings which you can change to make the blog operate the way you want it to. For WordPress, these settings are exposed to you when you log in.

Start Blogging

Once you're satisfied with your customizations, you can make your first post. Since you have elected to use blog software, this is done from the blog interface itself. That is, just log in, and write your post or article, then click the button to publish it. You can create categories for each post if you wish, or just leave everything in the default category if you can't be bothered. After all, it's your blog. You can do as you like.

Backing up Your Blog

One of the most important things to do is to back up your blog. You should make a back up every time you make a new post. If you post infrequently but reguarly receive visitor comments that you value, you should also make a periodic backup (eg daily, weekly, monthly or whatever, depending on the how many new comments you receive and whether you consider them important enough to preserve) even if you don't post anything new, so that those are not lost if either your blog is hacked or if your web host's system crashes.

Do not simply overwrite your old backups with the new ones. Name each backup with the date you made it, and keep it in addition to the ones you made earlier. For example, you can put each backup set in its own folder and name the folder "Backup on 16 January 2018" or something like that. Try to keep each backup for at least a few months. This is important because blogs are favourite targets of hackers. And some of the hacks are well hidden. You may not detect that your blog has been hacked till many months have passed. As such, your most recent backup may already contain the malware that they installed into the system. Restoring from that backup won't do you any good. You may have to go back many months to find a clean copy.

Do not rely on your web host's backup. Web hosts have different priorities than you, and their backups proceed according to a different schedule. That is, it may not contain your latest posts or visitor comments. Nor do they necessarily have backups that go as far back as needed to get a clean (malware-free) copy of your site.

Note that this section applies to you whether you have installed blog software manually or you are using a blog host.

Making Money

If you are looking for a way to earn money by putting up advertisements on your site, see my articles How to Make Money From Your Website and the follow-up How to Increase Your Website Revenue from Affiliate Programs. If you want to put things like Google AdSense on every page, you will probably want to look for a plugin that does it automatically for you (in addition to signing up with the AdSense program, of course).

Those who want to sell products or services on their blogs may also be interested in my article on How to Accept Credit Cards on Your Website.

If you are using a blog host, you may not be able to put advertisements or affiliate links on your blog, particularly if you use a free blog host. Commercial ones, where you pay for your account, may not have this restriction.

Promoting Your Blog

When you have posted your first article, you can submit the site to the search engines. This can be done with the links below.

You may not need to do that if your blog is already linked to from other sites. In such a case, the search engines will probably find it themselves by following those links.

If you use WordPress as your blog software, it will also automatically announce every new post you make to various news feed aggregators. That is to say, the software automatically creates a news feed comprising the complete articles that you post. It then announces that new post, via something known as a blog pinging service, to a variety of places that collect such information (the aforesaid "news feed aggregators"). Before you get excited though, these aggregators are usually just sites where people who subscribe to a news feed can read it online. It doesn't mean that you have made international news or anything like that. Your post will only reach the people who already know about your website and have specifically elected to be informed about new articles (or, in web jargon, "subscribed" to your feed). And even then, those visitors may not even use such services, but their own feed reader software (or even web browser, a few of which support news feeds out-of-the-box).

If you prefer WordPress not to put the entire article in the feed, you can configure it in the WordPress dashboard, under Settings » Readings, to show a summary. For example, thesitewizard.com's news feed merely announces the new article and gives a brief description of what it's about.

Conclusion

When you reach this stage, congratulations. You are officially a blogger and a webmaster.

Copyright © 2018 Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
Get more free tips and articles like this, on web design, promotion, revenue and scripting, from https://www.thesitewizard.com/.

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