4 Years And 6 Key Lessons From Blogging
It’s just over four years since I started this blog and although it started in a fairly different direction to where it is headed today, there has been so much I’ve learned since it’s inception. When I started, blogging was still in a much earlier stage than it is in today, and there definitely weren’t as many blogs of this nature and mirroring other successful blogs was not as easy.
If I was going to restart this blog today naturally I would do it in a very different way I did to 4 years ago. The value of the experience gained would now be priceless in making sure I didn’t make the same mistakes I made in the past.
Since you began blogging what have you learned? Have you kept a note of what all the things that you’ve gained? I decided to write some of those things down and share them with you. Feel free to share your learnings here too.
1. Site Name And URL
When I first started blogging I wanted to get the URL thepowerofchoice.com but that was not available. Amit means ‘unlimited’ or ‘without limit’ and so I decided to go for unlimitedchoice.org. Some people say it’s good to use your name and some people say it’s good to have the name of your site as your URL, or something catchy. Whatever you choose make sure it suits your needs. I also have amitsodha.com which redirects to this blog. Since I want to build myself as a brand it seemed like a logical step to me.
If you’re a bit lost have a look at some of the most popular blogs and see what they’ve done and which ones tie in what your ultimate result. Two of the most popular are also two very different kinds of blogs. If you look at Steve Pavlina’s Blog and Leo’s Zenhabits you will see that they are both equally popular but both are very different. I don’t think there is a fixed formula for success but there are certain key ingredients which need to be adhered to in order to get to that level.
2. Choosing Your Blogging Platform
Whether you go for blogger, typepad, wordpress hosted or your own hosted blog make sure you go for something you’re comfortable with. If you’re not confident technically then go for something like blogger or a wordpress hosted blog. Even though I’m fairly technical, in the ways of the web I’m still just about learning to walk. You have to know that having your own blog using your own webhost leaves you wide open to potential threats.
My prime experience is with using wordpress or blogger. The great thing about blogger (or other free bloggin’ services) is that you don’t have to maintain it; that’s all done by Google. I love wordpress and I love the fact that it is so versatile. Nowadays it’s so easy to keep up to date with just a click of a button that it should prevent the most common forms of hacking and spamming.
I remember in the early days I left my wordpress on 1.5 well after 2.0 was launched and I paid the price. My blog and database got hacked to pieces and it was only when I was getting next to zero hits that I finally noticed. Thanks to the help of a friend he helped me clean up my database and then I did a fresh installation. I learned a lot through that process and it gave me a lot more confidence in maintaining the blog.
Just last week while I was in India and after using a pc at an internet cafe my blog got hacked again and my webhost shutdown my website, and to top it off, it also happened on the day when I had more hits than ever before; the momentum got killed. I had to get them to do a restore which worked and did the job and I only lost one post (the ‘Shantaram’ post which I reposted yesterday but I lost the comments).
I changed all my passwords and as a result increased my security. Once again, through the process I learned loads but it also served as a reminder that my blog is still vulnerable. All I can do it keep it up to date, do regular backups and try avoid using dodgy internet cafe PC’s. Next time I’ll just pay extra for data allowance on my mobile! 😆
3. Choosing A Webhost
The first webhost I used was terrible although I ended up using them for the better part of 3 years. They were only open 9-5 for technical support queries on weekdays and they once took my site offline on a Friday night so there was nothing I could do about it until the following Monday. They did that quite often because they said my blog was crashing their server. They said a script on my site was causing problems. The truth was that they were using an older version of MyPHP which was the problem. Once I moved to my current host I had no further problems.
My current host is very good and they do a fairly good job of providing support. They have a live chat facility on their website and it’s active 24/7. There are better ones out there and there are plenty of sites out there that will give you the reviews you need to decide which host to go with. Have a good look around and go for one that gives a good price and serves all your needs.
It’s very difficult to supply a criteria for selecting a webhost. The best thing is look at the review websites and peruse the reviews. Find out which ones are the best and ask other bloggers which one they use and what they’re like. From a technical perspective all the big hosts offer very similar packages and are pretty much on par with price.
4. All That Technical Doo-Dah
As with point two it takes time to get to grips with all the technology. I remember when I first heard about widgets.(?) I thought widgets were something in a beer can! Then there’s plugins, SQL databases, config files, .htaccess files, and plenty more to get your head around. The best way to get around this all is find someone who’ll help you understand it. Start playing around and anything you don’t understand get someone to explain it to you or look it up.
I never fully understood permalinks before and in the beginning I went for the numbering system. About 6 months ago I opted to change them but I knew that it would cause and SEO problem. So I found a plugin that sorted all that out. Now I have a permalink structure that is better but, it’s not the option I should’ve chosen.
The problem with it is that I have the category and then post name. Now as I’ve been updating my categories, the permalink changes. I think the safest one is the date then postname. That’s my opinion but you can customise them the way you want. Get some help with this from someone more experienced. Don’t make the same mistake I did and think carefully before making your selection.
5. Making Your Blog Look Pretty
Originally I used free themes for my blog. I found some good ones which were functional and served their purpose. Now I’ve invested in Thesis and there’s no way that I’d go back to using free themes. It’s just too damn good! I’m still a complete beginner and noob when it comes to customizations and so fourth but Thesis just makes it easier. It has so many possible customizations built in and then to top it off you can add your own.
If you don’t want to pay for Thesis then fear not because there are some decent free themes out there. The great thing about wordpress is that you can see a demo of theme before you apply it. My personal favorite of the free themes is iNove which you can see in action here. I’ve seen other bloggers use some half decent themes which they’ve customised and made them look pretty slick.
It won’t be long before Thesis hits a tipping point and then more coders create themes to buy of a similar nature. The last thing I’ll mention about Thesis is the support; you get some great support and free upgrades. A lot of free themes will get outdated with newer versions of wordpress. My free themes lasted a long time but the cracks formed with each new release of wordpress.
6. Developing Your Own Shhtyle
Over time you’ll learn to develop your own style of writing. It takes time but eventually you’ll get to a point where you’ll find that you’re writing naturally and nothing seems forced. You’ll need to experiment a bit in the beginning and not be afraid to get it wrong and in fact, getting it wrong can be a blessing in disguise. It might even encourage discussion and get the comments rolling in.
You have to of course decide what you’re going to blog about! (Generally that helps!) Have a look around the blogosphere and see if something sparks a new idea in you! While I was in India I came up with a new business idea; not the same thing the principle is the same as you never know when inspiration will be sparked within you.
If things don’t go to plan remember that you can always try something else. People are leaving old blogs behind and starting new ones all the time.