Gordon McComb, Writer and Editor

Get Noticed, Make Friends, With Your Own Blog

Posted on January 21

If you want a presence on the Web hold off on Twitter and Facebook. Start first with a blog.

At the risk of telling you something you might already know, blogs are like personal diaries where you can post an article about anything you like.

The best news: to have a blog you don't need your own Web server or even a domain name. There are numerous blogging services where you can sign up for free, or for a very low monthly cost. Set up the look and feel of your new blog, and start writing.

Why Start a Blog

Blogs are regular Web pages; they're just produced a little differently. With a blog you have an online editor where you can compose and edit your articles. It's easier to update your pages with new information.

Most people use blogs as a form of journal. In most blogs - like this one - the most recent entries are placed at the top.

For writing, you might start a blog to keep interested folks updated on your latest project. Each entry you post might contain your progress. You could discuss the challenges you've encountered, and how you've overcome them.

Your blog might also contain pointers to newsworthy stories about writing, or essays explaining your philosophy. You can write blog entries that teach a concept, or demonstrate a method or procedure. Blogs can contain text, images, videos, and other media, and you're free to link to other sources when the need requires.

Free and Low-Cost Blogging Platforms

The easiest and fastest way to make a blog is to use a blogging service. One of the biggest is Blogger.com, operated by Google. (Google owns another one, called Blogspot.com; it's functionally the same.) 

If you need more features you can turn to a paid blogging service. One example is Typepad.com, where you can choose from any of four levels of service, from a low-end $4.95 a month.

See the Sources section at the bottom for a short list of free and paid blogging hosts. The list isn't exhaustive, but it should get you started.

Simple Steps to Running Your Own Blog

Whether free or paid, a blogging service lets you set up your own blog, and then add pages to it. For example, you might create a blog called Super Duper Writer, and have it hosted at Google's Blogger.com. To access your blog, you'd type something like http://superduperwriter.blogger.com (last time I checked there was no such blog, but you never know...).

First order of business is setting your blog's look and feel.

This starts with picking a theme, which sets the appearance, color scheme, and number of columns.

Many blog themes, like this one, have a two-column format; a larger column that's wide enough for the articles you write, and a narrower column for things like navigation links, activity calendars, and ads.

You're now ready to add content. Blog entries, or posts, are created using an online editor that is provided by the blogging service. Click the New Post link, enter a title, and begin writing.

Because blogs are intended to mimic a daily diary or journal, the typical theme design inserts the date your article was posted. This also means the blogging software lets you write your articles ahead of time, and have them automatically published when you want them to appear. Use this technique to update your blog on regular days, even if you're away from your computer at the time.

Getting Feedback and Links

Most blogs allow comments from visitors. That's good and bad. Comments can add to the exchange of ideas, but they can also be abused - typically in the form of unwanted spam.

Most blog services have built-in tools to reduce comments recognized as spam. As the administrator of the blog, you manually review and approve each comment. While certainly cutting down on spam, this method requires extra work.

You can also disable comments altogether. It's perfectly acceptable to publish a blog with just your articles. Leave your e-mail if you want feedback from passers-by, but otherwise the blog is "read only."

And finally, another feature of blogs is the pingback, a special mechanism that connects your articles with other blogs and sites. These blogs may reference your articles, and when they do that's a pingback. With a pingback, the other blog is notified if there's an update on your blog.

Other Handy Features of Blog Services

And of course there's more. Depending on the blogging service, these features may be available to you (some may require a premium monthly subscription):

  • Multi-author collaboration - Set up a blog with other writers and each contribute to it
  • Blog on the go - Manage your blog from your desktop, laptop, or smart phone
  • Your own advertising links - Insert ads within your blog to earn a little extra income
  • Social networking widgets - Easily add the ability for your readers to link your blog and posts to Flickr, del.icio.us, Twitter, and other networking sites
  • Add YouTube videos - Insert a YouTube video in any post using simple links
  • Control access rights - Make your blog viewable by all, or just special people with the right password
  • Fine-tune your theme - Select colors and features of your blog to make it personally yours

Sources

Here are just a few sources for blogs services.

Blog
www.blog.com
Free blogging platform.

Blogger/Blogspot
www.blogger.com
Perhaps the largest free blog network, owned and operated by Google.

LivingDot
www.livingdot.com
Web host specializing in blog sites; offers MovableType and WordPress software engines.

MovableType
www.movabletype.com
Blogging engine for personal or commercial use. Basic version is free; commercial (paid) version provides features suitable for multiple authors on a single blog.

SquaredSpace
www.squarespace.com
Paid blog hosting with levels ranging from $8 to $50 monthly. Supports multiple blogs per account on the more expensive plans.

TypePad
www.typepad.com
Paid service ($5-$15 per month) hosted blogs. The higher cost options provide for hosting multiple blogs on one account.

WordPress
www.wordpress.com
Free (paid as an option for more services) blogging platform. Runs the popular WordPress blogging software, which you can also install on your own Web site.