I am currently running several blogs. This one – www.eirikso.com, the hit tracking tool Trendmapper, my Norwegian food blog etc… I have made homepages using flash, I have made them using various web editing tools. I have made them using free blogging tools like Blogger or WordPress.com. I have hosted them at my ISP, I have hosted them at different hosting companies. But right now I have a solution that I really like!
It’s time to sum it all up and tell you what I would have done if I wanted to start a blog from scratch today.
1. You would want to host at a proper web host.
Your ISP gives you crap. Free blogging tools are limited. Go for a blog at a proper host, and you have space to grow in and possibilities to play with.
So what do I choose?
From my experience and all the hard investigation work that a friend of mine, Oyvind did when he needed a host, I would recommend Dreamhost. I am using Dreamhost, and the difficult thing here is that I can get a reward if you sign up at Dreamhost with a refference to me. To proove that I really would recommend Dreamhost, regardless of the reward I will give you two options:
b) A link to Dreamhost that gives me a reward (if you happen to be a nice person that wants to support eirikso.com and the further publishing of guides like these and other stuff)
And, why Dreamhost? They give you excellent value for money when it comes to space and bandwidth. And, they give you a truly wonderful one-click-install of several cool web based tools. Including the free and powerful blogging tool called WordPress.
So, step 1 finished. You have choosen a web host.
2. Choose a blogging tool.
I have been running MovableType (MT) and WordPress (WP). Unless you are a big corporation with special needs I would recommend WordPress. It is free, it is powerfull and it is a nobrainer to set up on Dreamhost. They really mean it when they say “one-click-install”. After half a year with MT and half a year with WP I feel much more at home in WP. Maybe because WP is based on PHP (I can not code much PHP, but I can read and understand the code) and MT is based on PERL (I can not code PERL and I can not understand anything of the code…) But, don’t be afraid. You really do not have to know PHP or PERL to use these tools unless you want to do special customizations and very advanced stuff. Note that it does not matter what kind of computer you have at home, Windows, Mac or Linux. You can work flawlessly towards these blogging tools on any platform that has a good browser.
A blogging tool like MovableType or WordPress manages the blog on the server. The most common way to handle this is that the system communicates with a database (often a MySQL database) to handle all the text in your posts, the archives, the users, the search functionallity etc. Your images and other files are stored in folders on the host.
So, we have choosen Dreamhost and we have choosen WordPress.
3. Set up WordPress on Dreamhost.
You do that from the Dreamhost control panel: Goodies -> One-click-installs
Well. There you are. Your blog is up and running. From here, you can publish, upload files and manage your blog from the WordPress WEB-interface. You actually don’t need anything else. No need for any knowledge of FTP, PHP, PERL, HTML, SQL or any other cryptic three or four letter word.
But, I wouldn’t bother to make this guide if that’s all. This is where my special advice starts.
At this point you need an FTP Tool. A good, free FTP client is FileZilla. I have experienced that most of the FTP Clients I have tried at some point loose connection with the server. Not a big problem because it happens rarely, but if you want a 100% reliable FTP tool I would recomend Absolute FTP. It is not free, but I have experienced it more reliable than any of the other tools I have tried.
Now customize wordpress.
On the server WordPress is installed in a location that you choosed during the one-click-install. In that location there are one folder that is very interesting. It is called wp-content. In wp-content you have another folder called plugins and one called themes. In the folder called themes you have one sepparate folder for each theme (look and feel). More on this later.
1. You want to stop possibilities of any comment spam
There are several ways to do this. I like a plug in called Bot Check. It makes a authentification image with a random number that the person posting a comment needs to enter. This far, I have not had any comment spam as long as Bot Check has been running. You find a Guide to BotCheck here.
Update: I have had problems with BotCheck. I am now running a plugin called Bad Behaviour to stop spam.
2. You want statistics.
A tool that records what your visitors do. That can tell you what is your most popular posts and where your visitors come from.
I have tried BAStats and StatTraq. I would recomend StatTraq. It gives you good statistics and several other plugins can utilize the data it collects. The installation of plugins usually consist of two steps: a) upload a couple of files to your server and b) activate the plugin from the web-gui. Download StatTraq for WP 1.5 from the complete download here.
Install StatTraq following the included instructions.
3. You might want a sidebar in all screens.
You do that by uploading an edited default template to the wp-content/themes-folder. You find this new default template here. After you have uploaded it, simply choose the new template under “Presentation” in the web-interface. It shows up as “WP Default – AllSidebar Edition”.
4. You might want to edit the look of your blog
Here, the possibilities are endless. However, much can be done with no knowledge of CSS, PHP and HTML. By simply editing some image files you can change the look of your blog. Have a look at the files in the “image” directory of your blog template. I will use my Norwegian food blog as an example:
I changed it from the default look to a new one by replacing the image files.
These are the original image files:
I have not changed any code, just replaced the image files:
5. You should include a list of “most popular posts” in your sidebar.
This is a great way to tell your readers that you have other cool stuff in your blog as it grows and some of your best posts ends up deep in the archive. How to set up this functionallity is covered here.
Here are some other recourses:
How to include a trendmap in your sidebar
Automatic email notifications
How to create a random banner in WordPress
How to install the Exhibit plugin in WordPress 1.5 on Dreamhost
If you still have questions that you think I can answer, please feel free to post a comment here and I might expand this post with more info. Or, if you have information or links that you think fit in here, post a comment as well!