Hello Everyone! Surprise… Amanda is busy, and I felt like being chatty, so let’s get started, class. Today is a hand’s-on exercise!
I just went through this in a class I’m taking on workplace writing. We had to evaluate bad websites, good ones, and then write a memo meant to convey to a business how they could improve theirs. As extra credit, the teacher asked the students to create a basic WordPress site, which is free, and pretty easy. I went a little further than that, because I have already created multiple sites. But it occurred to me that the step-by-step and some dos and don’t’s might be helpful for the author types we have on this blog.
There are various platforms for free blogs. Blogspot is one, and you can see an example at Peter Grant’s blog. WordPress is the one I prefer, because they are very versatile. They offer many free themes you can use to give your blog a different look from others, and pro themes that offer plugins to really get your website looking professional. According to Hoyt, Sarah’s blog, uses a Coraline theme. My personal blog is using the Sight theme right now, because I am showcasing both my words and art. The photography site I created for the class project uses the SKT Photo World theme. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to look at sites you like (you can start with our blogroll on the sidebar), and make note of the theme they are using. For a WordPress site you can usually find this by scrolling all the way to the bottom of a page.
While you are looking at sites, make note of other things you find attractive – or repellent. You might know that you absolutely hate white text on a black background. You might realize that some colors look good, and others not so much. Lots of bright red? Hard on the eyes. Cool blues and beiges? Give off a professional look. White is nice, but too much and your site can look rather cold. The nice thing about using WordPress is that most of the aesthetic design has already been done. But I urge you not to use the ‘out of the box’ theme that comes when you initially set up.
Adding graphics to your site can be a challenge, you mustn’t just grab images off the web and use them. Well… sort of. In a blog post, most images are fair game. You’ll see us use memes, gifs, and sometimes just pictures of libraries that amaze us in a blog post. But for the design of your blog, say the header, use the same diligence you would when buying book cover art. And again, I urge you to customize your blog. Book cover art (full cover) is rarely the right size for a header image, but a row of covers might be. I also suggest that you do not simply snap a shot of your books, or yourself, for the blog unless you are comfortable with photography. Even if you aren’t using the blog/site for content marketing, readers will make a first impression based on the site’s appearance. For some truly horrible site examples, you might want to take a look at this site.
Now that you are ready to begin creating the site, let’s talk options. They range from free, to relatively inexpensive. Fortunately, websites no longer cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to create. If you want to go slow, and start with free, then a blogspot blog, or a something.wordpress.com blog is the way to go. If you want to keep it cheap ($18 a year) but have a custom name, you can do a WordPress-hosted blog and have something.com. The other alternative, for which prices vary wildly, is to do what I just did with my photography blog, and buy a domain name (somewhere from $5-$20 a year, usually) and hire a hosting company. I use Godaddy, but Dreamhost is good, and there are many others. I recommend that if you want to monetize your blog, this is the way to go. Even Amazon affiliate links are difficult with a WordPress-hosted blog, and WordPress will put ads up on your blog if you get enough traffic. I’d rather have control over that. But to begin with, a free blog means no commitments.
Once you are ready, I’m going to send you to the WordPress Get Started page. They do a very nice walk-though for setting it all up. I do recommend that you add Statcounter to your blog, the WordPress stats are notoriously unreliable. I have been unable to figure out how to put a Google Analytics tracker on my WordPress-hosted site, but I use it for the other sites I run. I would recommend keeping the sidebars to a dull roar, I tried a theme with two sidebars recently and really didn’t like how much it constricted the text space. Something that’s important to me, as I write (hah!) a lot on my blog.
Speaking of writing a lot, I’m going to be around to check comments and answer questions today, and if you do set up a site, I’d love to see a link to it in the comments! Let us know if you want critique, if not, we’ll be gentle (well, I will, anyway). If you already have a site, and want critique, ask.
All right, class, let’s begin…