How to start a blog – the tactical stuff
The previous post was about why to start a blog and how to prepare yourself strategically. Now I’ll get into some of the nitty gritty tactical issues of how I actually started this blog.
1) Purchase domain
As I mentioned in the previous post, I wanted the domain “TheLeanMarketer.” I checked online and saw that it was available. I already had an account at GoDaddy, so there I was, a few clicks later, the proud owner of my own domain.
2) Purchase WordPress hosting
I already knew I wanted to use WordPress, since I had some experience with it and knew that it was fairly easy to customize, and user friendly even for people who don’t plan to dig into the code. Now the question becomes – do I want to host my blog at WordPress.com? or do I want to purchase WordPress hosting through GoDaddy? WordPress.com hosting is a great and free option for people who are willing to use the domain [something].wordpress.com. They also have an inexpensive upgrade where you can use your own domain, which for me is a must. However the main limitation on WordPress.com is that they do not allow you to upload themes. If I had found a theme I loved on WordPress.com, I would have happily hosted my blog there, since it’s less expensive than GoDaddy. But I did not find my chosen theme there, so I decided to go with the GoDaddy WordPress hosting, which costs around $6/month, depending on how long a commitment you make.
3) Select WordPress theme
OK, so I’m now the proud owner of a hosted WordPress site. I made the mistake of visiting my site by typing www.theleanmarketer.com into my browser. I nearly had a panic attack. Just by signing up for WordPress hosting and installing it, I now had a site using the default WordPress theme, with a post that said “Hello World” and a tagline that said “Just another WordPress Site.” This was a great kick in the pants to get going on designing my site and filling it with content. But before I could fill it with content I needed to select the theme. The theme sets the overall structure of the WordPress site, and from there it’s basically fill in the blank. I knew I wanted my site to have the blog featured prominently, but not to look like it was only a blog. I needed a place to highlight my experience, to offer services, and to explain what lean marketing is. So after several hours of looking, I discovered that what I was looking for is considered a “corporate” look, rather than just a “blog” look. I wasn’t ready to invest money in my theme, so even though I found several premium themes that would have fit the bill (for a range of $49 – $150), I wanted to try to see how far I could get on $0, the whole time keeping in the back of my mind that if I couldn’t make one of the free themes work, I could always invest a bit of money and purchase a premium theme, which would have had the benefit of (probably) being less buggy, and have the option of turning to the theme creators for tech support if I encountered a problem. But let’s exhaust all the free options first.
So I searched on Google for “free corporate WordPress themes” and found a few that could have been a good fit for me. I ended up trying two different themes, one that I couldn’t get to work for me, and the other that is currently in use on my site. Let me tell you a bit more about them.
What I liked: I liked the clean, businesslike look and feel. The slider at the top would have given me the option of having multiple key messages highlighted for immediate viewing. The three columns below the slider provide areas for me to fill in items like services I offer, a bit about me, I could put in my Twitter feed, and so forth. It also highlights the blog posts on the home page, which was something I wanted.
What I didn’t like: The list of blog posts should include thumbnail images, in my opinion. These small images for each post draw the eye to the posts and gives a quick, visual cue to the viewer about how interesting the post could potentially be, even before s/he clicks the link. But the main thing I really didn’t like about this theme was that after I installed it, I realized that most of the basic features of the theme are only available if you upgrade to the paid version. I was ready to compromise on all sorts of things when I decided to choose a free theme, but this really annoyed me. I would have expected at least the basic options, like the 3 columns below the slider, to be available on the free version, since this is how it was displayed on their demo. It’s entirely possible that since I am so new to WordPress, I simply couldn’t figure out how to use the three columns, but the only logical place to configure the three columns was clearly listed as requiring an upgrade. Time to try option 2.
Option 2: Heliumified-Reloaded by Padd Solutions
What I liked: Clean, businesslike look and feel. Top image and text that I could (theoretically, at least) change to whatever I want, plus three columns underneath that I could configure to contain whatever I wanted. Blog posts prominently displayed on the bottom of the home page itself, plus popular posts with thumbnail images in the right column. Footer that I can probably configure myself.
What I didn’t like: The only downside that I could see right away was the fact that the header section had only one image/text. While this would make my life easy in the beginning since I would only need to create a single image and text to go with it, later on I could see that this would be limiting. But I decided to go for it and start customizing this theme since I knew I could blow another 3 or 4 days just looking for that perfect theme, and I really wanted to get my site up and running. Of course once I started putting my own stamp on this great theme, I started to encounter some minor difficulties, but I’ll discuss those more in the next section.
4) Customize the theme
I was a bit concerned when I first installed the Heliumified theme, since one of the columns on the home page looked very odd – the fonts were wonky and it was displaying something I hadn’t selected. Luckily I was able to figure out (with the help of a friend) that this was due to the fact that there were widgets placed in that column. I have no idea how the widgets got there – perhaps it was a leftover from one of the other themes I had previously installed. Once I removed those widgets from the left column, the three columns looked exactly like the demo site.
Part of customizing the theme was deciding which widgets I wanted to display in the right column and page footer. I fiddled with those a bit, since I didn’t like the defaults (for example, no need for an image gallery when I’m not a huge Flickr user). I wasn’t too worried about which widgets I added since I know these are fairly easy to change later on.
6) Create basic content
Now I just had to figure out what content I wanted to display in each column on the home page. I know I can change this whenever I want, but still, I wanted to start with something at least a little bit meaningful. So I decided to start with “What is Lean Marketing,” “Services” and “Testimonials.” I quickly wrote up some content for each of these pages and pointed the Heliumified options to the relevant pages. I couldn’t see anywhere to change the small icons on each column, but these are fairly unobtrusive, so I decided to just leave them as is, for now. But one day, when I have a bit more time, I will certainly change these, since the little envelope icon has absolutely no connection with the testimonials column (unless people sent me their testimonials by mail…).
Of course I needed some content for the top section. This is the most eye-catching element of the site, and the text reads “This is Sample Featured Content” with an image of a purple Apple monitor. So I created a brief page about Lean Marketing, based on the slogan I had created, “Innovate. Measure. Repeat.” I attached the page entitled “Innovate. Measure. Repeat.” to the location in the Heliumified options that displays it on the home page. Yay! It worked! But I am still stuck with the purple monitor next to my text, no matter what I do. I tried uploading an image to the field entitled “Set Featured Image” on the relevant page. Nada. I read about it in forums and find that there is a custom field I can add, pointing to the image. Wow – this sounds like exactly what I need. If only it had worked… but it didn’t. So I decided to live with the purple monitor for a little while and not worry about it, at least for a day or so, while I upload links for my blogroll and think about my first post. I hadn’t decided what image I wanted to place there instead, so I was in no rush. I eventually did purchase & upload a new image a few days later, but the process was so long & involved that I’ll need to devote a separate post to just that. Suffice it to say that in order to swap in a new image, I had to literally overwrite the old one by FTPing a new image with the same name into the same site directory.
7) Create first blog post
Besides the basic content pages, a blog needs to have, well, blog posts. I checked over my list of blog post ideas and decided none of them were worthy of being the first post. And then it hit me… I’ll write a post about creating a blog. How very meta.
8 ) Troubleshooting & Looking Ahead
Once I had my main home page content, a couple menu items, and my first blog post in place, it was time to start showing off my work to friends and relatives. The first lucky viewer decided to leave a comment on my first post, as a sign of his support. He even went so far as to type it in the comment box. And then he discovered the first bug: there is no submit button for the comments. Uh oh. Suddenly selecting a free theme with no tech support isn’t looking like such a smart idea.
I myself noticed that I have two “share” areas at the bottom of each post. One provided by the plugin ‘Jetpack,’ and the other built into the Heliumified theme. I’d love to turn off the one that is built into the theme and just use Jetpack, since it looks strange to have two sharing sections, and the Jetpack one is a bit more up to date (with Facebook Like buttons etc.). Couldn’t figure out how to do that, either. [Sigh]
So I searched for answers online, with no luck. I have submitted a query to the folks at Padd Solutions on both of these issues, but haven’t heard back yet. I’m not holding my breath. To solve these issues, and the inevitable other ones that will crop up, I am sure I will need to consult with someone who has more expertise than I do. So I am living with the known (and as-yet-unknown bugs for now). Sorry, comments are closed until further notice :).