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The first thing I want to say is welcome to the interwebs. This post isn’t necessarily for people who are already active users and have blogs, but if you find something useful take it. This is also a basic set-up to get you going. There are numerous online resources you can research for specifics at running a blog now that they’re so darn popular. Yes, I am on a mission to promote Black Girl Cool Worldwide Edition.
#1 BUY YOUR DOMAIN NAME
After thinking about a potential theme and hopefully deciding to not choose a title that will box you in three years from now (if you’re still blogging), make sure you own the name you want. If you think there may even be a possibility you’ll want a particular phrase combo and someone else owns it, you will be sorry later on. It’s about $11 per year and if you buy multiple years upfront from a domain registrar you can get a discount.
Cost saving measure: Buy your legal name as well AND a blog name and you can purchase two for the price of one. The freedom of buying your domain name is that it is portable and you can take it with you should you decide to go from a sub-domain [i.e. yourblogtitle.domainsite.com to yourblogtitle.com] to a domain managed site. The legal name is a suggestion in case you want to use it for career purposes or in starting a business.
Oh — and you might want to pay the additional fee to make it a private sale, so some random blogger doesn’t later complain you and a host of others bought a name they now want but because you left it as part of the open records you were the only one they could track down (yes) to complain about.
#2 DO YOU HAVE THE TIME TO SELF-HOST?
For those who are going to be a serious blogger and want to be considered uber professional, it is recommended that you self-host. What’s that you ask? Confession: I didn’t at first and it was bi–yatch to transfer and tag all of my files!!! ARGH – I still have nightmares about it #justkidding. Sorta. That’s where you select a publishing platform (where you will go to create your blog) that leaves much of the decision-making (look and feel of the blog) in your hands. WordPress is hands down the first choice for that unless you are a whiz at HTML and CSS (that’s the “language” of a blog). This blog is on WordPress by the way. Developers LOOOOOVVEEEE WP so it isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
If you don’t know what that is — don’t self-host until you’ve studied it. There are free and low-cost resources for learning how to write code…online of course! Otherwise you can choose Blogger, Tumblr, Posterous or even Amplify which have a lot of preset formats where you can basically drop and drag (or submit by email) your content.
Some bloggers swear by Squarespace instead of WordPress or use Drupal if they have more coding experience. Yet, many former legacy-published authors who have now self-pubbed use Blogger — a lot! I think it may be a time management issue. If you self-host you’ll need to pay a company to host-manage it and that’s about $6/month. Speaking of…
#3 WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY & HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR BLOG TO LOOK?
Maybe you like the color pink and want to discuss your love of frilly things. Perhaps you want to discuss something more interpersonal. Maybe you just want a place to load and share photos. Note — you don’t have to figure all of that out TODAY. You don’t need to be a journalist. Make spell check your friend. Note that the grammar check fails — often. You can always go back and edit….or delete if need be. Just get started with something.
We can each share similar resources like the way a chef may share their favorite recipe but you have to add the ‘magic’ and do the work. Your voice and perspective is just as valuable as anyone else’s.
It’s quite simple actually. There are thousands of free templates available that are usually proprietary to the blogging platform you choose. You can select one and change it every day of the week if you so desire but obviously switching around that often seems a bit schizoid. Your other option is to pay for a premium theme, which may also offer a separate service where the design team will answer questions or set it up for you. I’m assuming you all want to do this hard and fast with minimal expense, so we’ll keep it simple for now. Now, I’m feeling like my blog window dressing is a little inadequate….le sigh.
#4 HOW WILL WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WHERE TO FIND YOU?
Well, hopefully you were a regular commenter at several blogs and an active participant at other forums. That way we can reciprocate support to one another and help get the word out about your blog (wink). My recommendation: Set up a Google email account – make sure it’s the HTTPS (more secure version of web sites that deter hacking and spying) for your blog. If you’re a little bit more advanced you can buy an email account if you’re self-hosting and set up the app that will be accessed through Google [ignore if you have no idea what I’m talking about]. An example of this is: firstname.lastname@example.org OR if you eventually decide to self-host email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you use social networks? Sites like Twitter and Facebook are invaluable. Each has a different audience that serves a particular purpose. You can set your blog up to be sent out as part of a feed (RSS) that others can read at their leisure. Don’t forget to offer the email option as that is the most popular way users read blogs. For more on this go to Google. They have a tutorial for everything! You can also submit your blog to sites like Tumblr if you host elsewhere by setting up a landing page for your site. Some of us are everywhere because we’re nuts (hehe).
Oh yeah..one more thing: GO MOBILE. Most people are accessing the internet through the data plans on their cell phones, so you want to have a mobile-friendly site as well. Don’t worry about that when you’re just starting out. Some sites have features that let you set up a mobile-specific version right away. Unless, you’re running a large site with consumer products you won’t likely have to think about this at all.
#5 TIME MANAGEMENT
It’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex of online communication and ‘net surfing. I mean there are just so many interesting sites how can you not? You will want to parse your time accordingly. How many blog posts do you want to publish? How frequently? What days? You will eventually figure out what works best for you. Content, saturation and relationships will help build your brand. Yes, you are a brand. Until the government takeover or shut-down of the Internet we have the power!!! Make it work for YOU.
#6 LINKS & ATTRIBUTIONS
Sometimes we play a little fast and loose with using other people’s content. It can sometimes be a mistake. You must be a good neighbor and link. Some large corporate sites have been guilty of basically stealing the work of other bloggers, putting the content on their pages while charging advertising fees on top of it! We’re not all misfits in our parent’s basements. Some of us take what we do very seriously. I admit, I may have forgotten to credit a photo or two when in a rush to get a post out but that’s not consistent or systematic. Some J-school grads who are considered “professionals” have even been busted for plagiarizing. Especially when they’ve taken fresh content from popular blog that appeared a mere for hours before they incorporated it into their work (hello Ms. Dowd).
#7 PROTECT AND SERVE YOUR AUDIENCE – AND YOURSELF
— aka bloggers are your “friends” (usually) and commenters are not guaranteed all-access passes
One of my personal MAJOR pet peeves are bloggers who don’t police their blogs. We’ve all seen examples of people slagging each other and no one does anything. Yeah you’re busy…or you didn’t notice…blah blah blah. Then you don’t have time to blog or be online period! If you’re building a forum or having regular conversations don’t you owe it to your readers to make sure others are being civil? You can disagree without being unruly. Some people are trying to completely derail/misdirect conversations or plant poison (a blog killer) — so how are you going to stand by and do nothing? If you’re a black woman (engaged in) blogging those critical skills must be deployed.
If you are writing (or saying) anything in a remotely intelligible manner you are almost always guaranteed to have trolls. Gremlins. Annoying folks. If you write anything pertaining to black women creating better lives or evaluating the current state of “blackness” then you will definitely have unwanted visitors at some point. Some people make it their business to be professional contrarians. There’s a huge difference between respectful dissent and attempts at undermining the core message of a blog. How you determine where to draw the line is up to you, but many a great blogger has stopped blogging because she was trying to be reasonable with insane folks. Protect yourself as well. Just say no!
Everyone is not entitled to have access to your forum just because they write to you.
You can either use the default template or download a separate program. CommentLuv, Intense Debate, Disqus are some options. Ease of use encourages more comments. Whatever you use, you’ll want a good spam filter that sends the riffraff to the trash folder immediately. IN MY OPINION!!!
#8 A QUICK MENTION ABOUT BRANDING
I mentioned that briefly above and am constantly tweaking it myself, but it does help if your online presence is consistent. Most people don’t go into this with a pre-made business plan intact, so we figure things out over the course of time. Select an avatar or upload a professional-looking photo. Choose an email address that you want for your blog AND if you want something separate to use elsewhere. I have 10 email accounts because I’ve been online since the day I was born! By the way — Facebook just added an email feature. Who gets your email account depends on how public…or private you want to be. More on that to follow below.
Ah, sometimes a little paranoia is a girl’s best friend. Ya’ll don’t get to see the absolutely cr-aa-zy emails I get from the internet wackos because gosh…who wants to be subjected to that? Aside from the black male DBRs I’ve also gotten linked to some white supremacist-leaning sites for discussing…you guessed it – interracial relationships and feminism. Ah..woman-haters abound!
If you don’t want to pay for self-hosting I do recommend that once you start getting hundreds of blog visitors that you pay for private site analytics. Stats are your best friend!! Plus, they track every visitor. I don’t want to alarm you, but there are a lot of nuts out there and they are fascinated by what black women are discussing.
I won’t publicly discuss certain security measures I employ behind the scenes, but suffice it to say you should learn how to conduct a reverse IP look-up. Nothing is private on the internet. NOTHING. No matter what they say. Know this going into things how you behave online as well. Learn how to do a screen capture – which is snapshot of content online. Celebrities and so-called “Influencers” sure do like to put their foot in their mouths! We must protect ourselves accordingly. Like another blogger mentioned, she will not hesitate to contact the FBI or Homeland Security should someone get out of line. You’ll have to decide if you want to use your real name and other details. Do what you feel comfortable with erring on the side of caution. I have personally put myself waaaaaaayyyy out there and while I don’t regret it, I don’t recommend it for everyone either.
#10 DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN
An ounce of prevention yada yada! I hope I didn’t scare you off — but I am a blogger who happens to be a black woman and I blog about subjects that touch the third-rail (for some). This is to make life easier and flow more efficiently for your blogging life. It truly is a lifestyle. You will have some wonderful experiences and make friends that you just may meet one day in real life (if you attend conferences or schedule [public] events). That’s the whole purpose of being online isn’t it? Meeting like-minded individuals. Exchanging ideas. Finding a husband (hehe). Enjoy and be safe!