Blogger, choose your poison! And build a stellar blog.

RockmusicRaider - Blogger Choose your Poison - The Art of Making ChoicesThat running a blog is no picnic, apart from being a lot of fun, we already established earlier. But what does it take to make a blog really run smoothly, streamlined and at full speed?

For this to work, you need to choose from many pots of poison. A fair amount of services and tools are required to ensure that your blog will stay on the road to internet nirvana. And those choices need to be wise, or you risk to pointlessly overload the backend with useless programs and heavy code.

The RMR deck crew concocted a list of steps and items that surely will prove useful in your quest of the #1 page. This comes from a trove of experiences, good and less so, that we amassed over time. In other words, we probably made every mistake in the book of blogs to get where we are today.

So, here goes.

Own your site or not? That is the question.

In other words, do you want your own site and brand name in the URL? Or are you okay to piggyback on someone’s service?

The opinions split right down the middle. The raiders of the easy-peasy will tell you that only these – supposedly – free site builders will cut it for you. Because it is nice and easy, and so very convenient. But know that you will be stuck with an URL like so, ‘YourName.EasyPeasy.com’. And nothing is ever easy, nor free or really convenient.

Or you can take the stonier path to the left. The one, where you own your site and – in a way – build your brand yourself. That one indeed means more headache. Yet, you’ll have control. Or do you really?

Option 1 – Easy Peasy

The possibilities are legion and increase in numbers every day almost. You can opt for the optimized and ready solution, like Google’s Blogger.com. Which is always frightening, because the Google folks openly steal your data and trade with it. But then again, you get the typical, ready-to-use, well-rounded Google product – free of charge.

Or you can use services like Tumblr, or – again – easy site builders like Wix, WordPress.com and their ilk. 

Those are all great to start with, and all will depend on your needs. In other words, for a simple website, a one-pager for static data, you will not need anything elaborate.

Yet, if your dreams for your blog are bigger than thou, then you need to jack this up some. And all of a sudden cheap will become expensive, and the constraints and structures of these prebuilt sites might soon become the straightjacket that you have difficulties to get out of.

In other words, any free blogging platform might (will) eventually cost something. On top, you are at the whim of the company servicing it. They can pull their service at any time.

And you – yes, you – will be left high and dry.

This danger is of course also present with paid services, but pulling their major revenue stream is not something many companies will do easily. As opposed to providers of free service, where their offering may very well get on the chopping block quickly.

Option 2 – The Stony Path

And this means that you get to have your own website, built to your wishes and hosted by a partner of your choice. It also means some cost – and a lot of blood and tears until you got your site running smoothly.

But it also means that you have your own trade name and – most importantly – the freedom to adapt your webpage as per the needs of your business. And you own it, nobody will interfere with silly rules.

Well, at least this is what we like to think.

And – of course – building your blog does not need to be too difficult, there’s no need to code pages yourself. WordPress – for instance – uses themes of all couleurs that you can choose from. Free and paid versions galore, and those are great platforms from which you can create your identity. 

But by and large, the rulez will be all yours. Sounds good, huh?

RMR sez:

Build your own site and go for option 2. It is a bit (sometimes a lot) more complex. But you will have the freedom to change and adapt without many constraints later.

Now, get yourself a domain! A what?

If you want a name on the net, you need to buy a domain – and that costs something. By doing this, you will have your brand prominently appear in every URL of your organization.

And for that, you need to get with a registrar.

There’s a gazillion of them. Names like Hostgator, Bluehost, Domain.Com or – again – GoDaddy are some of the big names out there.

Again, you need to compare their pricing and what they offer. Some of them have a one-price all-in strategy. Others again will add a never-ending string of extras to your cost base and you can never be sure where this ends.

A few, like GoDaddy, run this sticky spiel that aggressively offers new stuff that you may not need or pricey elements you can have for free elsewhere. 

Most of them also double as hosting companies, so that you can enjoy a one-stop-shop. But more to that further down below.

What domain?

That’s a thorny one. If you are not a local business, it will always be good to get yourself a top-level domain like .com, .org, .net and such. If – however – your business is local only, for example a restaurant, then you best go for the local ones like .es, .fr or .de.

If in doubt, go for the top level domain. Reason being that bots will classify them differently than the local ones.

Then, and most importantly!

Scammers are everywhere. Therefore, buy the surrounding domains. In other words, if you have a .com domain, you may want to get the .net, .org and so on as well.

On top, do procure the local one as well for the country that you reside in. To that, do note that you cannot buy country domains for most of the world, if you do not reside there.

True, this will add to your cost (again). BUT, it will save you money in the long run. A lot of scammers operate in the grey zone, buying free domains of other people and companies. And once those want to expand their business, they need to buy these domains. For much more money than you will ever spend holding a domain of yours.

RMR sez:

Choose a registrar whose core business is registration. Mixing hosting with registrars can be tricky.
If you are local, go for a country extension.
If your business is international (or it potentially will be), go for a top-level domain like .com, .org or .net. Buy all the surrounding domains at the same time, plus your local country domain.

Next: Choose your hosting carefully!

No, your ISP or Internet Service Provider does not suffice. Your blog actually needs a hosting that holds its water. Meaning, a service offering and decent hardware (or servers) on which your site can run and – more importantly – thrive.

And those – again – are legion. They range from super-cheap to overly expensive. All will depend on what your site is all about, and on your needs that you have.

Almost all of them will advertise unlimited bandwidth, unlimited email – or whatever unlimited bullshit they can come up with.

But have a care!

In the small print, you will find what the ubiquitous ‘unlimited’ actually means. Many a site owner has been hit badly in the past with added cost, once their bandwidth rose to a certain threshold and the hosting company started charging.

Then, be wary of reputation, when considering a hosting provider. True, big names carry many customers by the sheer power of their marketing schemes.

Yet, do you really get your money’s worth?

You may want to look long and hard at what they really sell, away from the colorful website and big promises. Find out what hides behind the scenes. Spend a few hours to investigate what kind of servers they run, where those machines are located, what type and speed. If their customers are happy or not. And so on and so forth.

Then you got the hybrids!

The ones that do not know what they want to be. Registrars like GoDaddy or on-line firewalls like Cloudflare try to bind their customers to their respective services. By offering an all-in-one package. Which is convenient, of course. But may not necessarily be in your interest.

RMR sez:

Do not go for an all-in-one route. Instead, use providers by their main strengths, and – more importantly still – as per your need. Concentrating the services you need on one supplier is like buying all-weather tires. You kinda get what you need, but there’s always a compromise on quality somewhere.

Your business will choose for you. If you are a regional or local business, then a local provider will do. If, however, you have global reach, then you need a hosting with the oomph to support you.

Before making your choice, always check on their reputation. You will very quickly find out what the strong and weak points are of any given web hoster.

What platform will it be for your blog, finally?

CMS (Content Management System) platforms for blogs are numerous. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Ghost – you name it. They all come with their flaws and strengths and none of them is really bad. 

Yet, the currently best and most commonly used blogging platform is WordPress (.org) these days. First, it is free with a pretty impressive base offering. Then, you do not need to be a programmer to run it, and it is always up-to-date.

On top, you have developers creating all types of useful (and not so useful) tools called plugins that will enable functionalities not available with the base. You want it, they have it – pretty much. More to that below.

And the platform is not only used for blogs but exceedingly for any type of site out there.

So, we can unequivocally recommend it. 

WordPress splits into two entities, though!

The ‘.com’ part is a commercial full provider of web services, run by Automattic – the mother of WordPress, if you will. The ‘.org’ organization is an open-source endeavor, not supported by any specific company. 

WordPress.org provides you with a free solution sufficient to build a simple site. The service just updated to a pretty decent page builder that now starts to look pretty good. And you will have no constraints like with the .com folks. But you are responsible to drive you to distraction sometimes, and this ain’t no free lunch neither.

RMR sez:

If you decided to manage your site on your own, go for WordPress. This tool is well-maintained and consistently comes out on top of many CMS reviews.

Ghost – a pretty new service – is another up-and-coming CMS with promise. You might want to check them out too.

WordPress – and the plugins.

WP is far from perfect and the needs of users are uncountable. This is where plugins come in, helpful helper programs. They perform a gazillion of added services. In other words, pretty much for every problem out there, there is a solution. Right?

Have a care.

You will need some of them. Serious ones, those that we like to call essential to the success of your site.

Many others, however, are flawed, include malicious code or are otherwise ill-maintained. This is why YOUR maintenance and strict culling of YOUR database is primordial. It is a little bit like your fridge, where you will abhor spoiled food and throw it out quickly. 

And which ones should live on your site? This is the gazillion dollar questions and it all depends on your site, the theme, and your expectations.

If we were to make a few recommendations, here is a bare-bones list of ultimate must-haves. Do note that all of them have a decent free version for you to try out first. 

  • Yoast SEO (also see further down).
  • WP Rocket for caching and speed.
  • A firewall like Wordfence or Sucuri.
  • Imagify or WPMU Smush to control the size of images.
  • Jetpack from Automattic. And yes, I am aware of the controversy around the supposed weight of this massive plugin. Albeit that the developer went to great pains to lighten that particular load of this program a lot. 

RMR sez:

Keep the use of plugins to the bare minimum. Whenever you can tweak the code a little and not use a plugin, the better it is. 

The dreaded security!

Websites and blogs attract their fair share of hackers. And yes, you will need a firewall too. Don’t even think that your site is not important enough to be hacked or attacked. 

By definition, blogs get ravaged every second of the day. And you get them all, from the script kiddies to the state-owned guys. They will all flock to your site and try to break it. Much improvement has been enacted on the CMS platforms available to make it safer, but YOUR responsibility still is to secure your site

Choose your poison for your blog, either on-site or off-shore.

Two types of tools exist for firewalls. Those that live on your server (on-site) and those that dwell somewhere in the world and connect to you via VPN. The solution chosen for your blog will much depend on your level of trust.

Off-Shore firewall providers try to sell their service to you with that ultimate powerful sales pitch. The one that says that never any harm will reach your site. The on-site dudes will argue that the off-shore guys are wrong. And try to prove it. 

Firewalls and site security are an important signal for SEO as well, so you have all the interest in the world to offer a secure site to the search engine bots scouring your site.

The two providers mentioned in the plugin section – Sucuri for off-shore and Wordfence for on-site – are the most promising ones to date.

SEO? What SEO?

Okay! You got it all set up. Right? A number of posts are ready for the clicks of the greedy crowd. You lie in wait to shine on the gilded podium of the Blogger Hall of Fame. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING happens. Because you just forgot one thing. You left out the search engines and their dreaded ranking algorithms.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is probably one of the most important focus areas of a site or blog. Apart from creating tasty content, of course. Not only does your stuff need to be glitzy in the eyes of your audience, but the bots need to find it and index your posts in a way so that you will end up on page #1 of any search engine worth its salt.

So, what do you need to do?

There is no easy answer, this is THE gazillion dollar question. Much ink, sweat, and tears have been spent to answer this type of question. You will find an insane number of self-inflicted specialists out there, many of them as untrustworthy as American politicians are these days.

It would go way beyond the boundaries of this post to describe all the things you need to do to get your site running like a well-oiled machine. If you would like to find out in more details, here are two good sources:

  • Yoast. This is a knowledgeable bunch and they come complete with a very renowned plugin.
  • Moz. The undeniable specialists on this subject matter.

Check them out. You’ll do a lot of reading. But it will be worth your while.

As to SEO proper, what you need to do to get your site running at stellar performance – like deciding on your strategy for Social Proof – will be the subject of the next post in this series. SEO is the new frontier, and it is vast and ever-changing.

*****

So, do stay tuned until we are ready to attack the thorny issues around the SEO theme. And until then, happy blogging for whatever takes your fancy. And give us some comments down below, will ya!

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