Before you run headlong into posting lots of lovely content to your blog it is useful to take a step back and think about how you are going to organise one or two things. Some small adjustments now could make a world of difference later.
Type of blog
The first decision will set the tone for all the other parts that makeup your blog. There are many types of blog. In fact there are as many types of blog as there are bloggers. This decision is in two parts.
1. Will you be blogging alone?
If you look at your favourite blogs you will see there are some where the blog is authored by one person and that blog is their home. Other blogs will have multiple authors all posting to the same place (like here at Performancing). Multi-author blogs work well because there is more opportunity for a regular posting schedule and a variety of voices and topics. On the other hand there is an increase in organisation behind the scenes. It is usually best to have one of the bloggers put on an editors hat to keep things on course. A single author blog has the freedom to go wherever the blogger wants to go at their own pace and little organisation or behind the scenes discussion is necessary.
After multi-author blogs are blog networks and blog communities. These take the idea of multiple authors to another level by giving each blogger their own blog. There may be a central aggregate blog or site feed or they might be separate. Some blog networks started out this way plus some of the more popular industry vertical blogs have blog sites that work like this.
2. Is the blog going to stand alone or be part of a bigger site?
If you are only starting a blog and nothing more this might not be an issue. On the other hand you might want to look at merging a blog with your company or corporate site, or have an ecommerce element, or create a full community. Blogs are an excellent way of attracting visitors then funnelling them into another part of a site. Once drawn in people can become involved in other things you have to offer. Community features can make your site more “sticky” and also help generate content. Commerce features obviously provide an opportunity for monetization. These features need to be planned carefully, they are much easier to specify at the outset than bolt on later.
The first decision you need to make after deciding what type of blog you are going to build is which software you are going to use. You might limit your choices based on your existing hosting, which software you have been happy with in the past or what your friendly tech recommends.
If this is not the case then I recommend looking over our recent blog software reviews and having a good think about the issues. You will see that blog packages are not all made equal and prices vary from free to … well whatever they can get away with.
Looking over your choices in the type of blog you are going to create will narrow down the software selection. Multiple authors rules out many blog packages due to an inability or poor ease of use. Even if there will be just you initially it is better to select a package with this capability in case you change your mind later. WordPress is free and ideal as a single or multi-author blog.
For a multi-blog or community portal then you need to be looking at one of two packages really. For Apache/PHP fans there is Drupal, which we use at Performancing, or if you are on a Windows platform there is CommunityServer. Both allow you to create real online communities with Blogs as their core. Both have platform capabilities that reach far further.
Choose carefully as you need to live with this software daily. Do not go for the newest package on the block but something tried, tested and recommended. While you can change later it is better to avoid the hassle.
Having friendly URLs is essential for several reasons but the main reasons are the general benefit of user friendliness and a small search engine boost (only a small one but it is there). These are enough to make the feature of friendly URLs high on my list of nice to have functionality. If your software allows it enable it.
Another good reason though is if you stick to a platform neutral naming scheme you will have less bother moving to another software package if you ever need to. For example as part of my experiments during my reviews series I chose the same naming scheme on both a WordPress blog and a Drupal blog. After doing this just looking at the URLs you would not have known which was which.
While you can bolt on advertising at a later date, and some schemes only let you join once you reach a certain traffic level, it is wise to think about what sort of advertising you will take before you start looking at templates. You will need space for your advertising and you will also need that advertising to be seen but not obtrusive. It is also necessary to make it as easy as possible to apply the advertising so look at plugins, modules and template hacks that will allow you to make your advertising scheme as efficient as possible.
Take a look at the great advice here on performancing about templates. In my opinion you need a template that is
- User friendly – it is no good having a cutting-edge design if all your visitors are so put off by it they never come back. Your content needs to shine and you want repeat visits so make sure your content is readable, the navigation makes sense and the colour scheme is not to taxing on the eyes.
- Flexible – blogging success has a lot to do with tweaking and testing. You need a well coded template that allows for ease of editing and moving things around.
- Fits your brand – once you have found a template you like then you can tweak it to fit your branding with colours and imagery.
- Attractive – it is probably most important that it is not “unattractive” rather than it being super important that it is pretty, some a-listers have pretty ropey templates. Many people are consciously or unconsciously design aware though so a great look can definitely help.
- Search Friendly – make sure there are no html coding errors, the page is structured well (eg. use of Titles, Divs+CSS, H1/H2) and the site is well inter-linked so that bots have zero problems navigating. Titles are especially important.
.. In that order!
It is worth brainstorming topics before writing so that you can organise your topics into categories. You might not put all the categories live right away, there is some debate whether it is “bad” to have a category in place with no content in it. You can always add categories later of course but it is so much better for your category scheme to make sense. One way of doing this is to write topics and example titles on index cards or post-it notes and create piles. Based on traditional web navigation and what psychologists suggest it is nice to have five or at least under seven main categories but I don’t think this matters so much you should force it if you think your categories are correct.
It is better to sign up and use a feed service like feedburner before you go live otherwise you are splitting your subscriptions over different URLs. I personally like Nicks approach where the feed url is service-neutral. You also need to decide if you want full or snippet feeds.
Not the end of the world
It is your blog so for most things you can’t get anything wrong as such. A bit of planning though will save you some heartache down the line and will set your blog up for a better chance of success.
What would you have done differently if you were starting over today?