Sunday, November 8, 2015

How to Blog, Part Three...Choosing a Site Platform



Although there are many ways to create a blog online, I’m going to discuss only two platforms, WordPress and Blogger, and discuss the differences between them. They are without a doubt, the two most highly used platforms on the web. I have been using both of them for several years now, and have been studying marketing practices and techniques long before that (15+ years as of this writing). I been using both platforms for marketing purposes, and as such, have more “in-depth” knowledge about how they work and why you should use them.
I won’t get into how to set them up, or how to create a domain, as there are plenty of other sources for that directly from the providers. They teach mostly the technical end of getting the blog to do what you want it to do, but leave out the psychological part of why you should do it, and how it will look to other people. What is not said is how to operate a blog properly for real readers, so that it becomes something that the public actually wants to look at and read. But it helps to know what’s available and how it “should” be used.

Before we begin, let it be known that ANY blog, especially free ones, have one main rule… that it be used primarily as a means of communication between the user and the public. Although it is physically possible to do, if you were to set up a blog as a static site without allowing comments, and with nothing but sales hype on it, the owners of it will likely shut you down before you ever get started good. The only way they can't is if the program is installed on your own domain. Then the blog is basically "your" property, and they can't shut down your domain! 
Some (like Blogger) will allow sales to take place, as long as the main intent is to provide useful articles (posts or pages) on which comments are active and the public can communicate freely with the site owner through those comments. WordPress (the free dot com version) will only allow their own advertising, unless you own the (also free) dot org version of it on your own domain. In the latter case, you can do whatever you want with it.
Let’s discuss WordPress first. This is an “open source” program, meaning that there is no specific “company” behind it, but rather it is a collaboration of many developers all over the world. There are over 600 programs of this type and growing all the time, including things like OpenOffice, and many web building programs, audio and video programs, and many other specialized programs.

This can be both good and bad. In one sense, everyone looks out for everyone else, and works for the benefit of all, but in another sense, because it is not a product which a traditional company would depend on, and from which only certain ones make money from it, there is no direct incentive to fix things that a user may find wrong with it.
It has been my experience that just because you may find all sorts of plug-ins, themes and apps to go along with it, doesn’t ensure that they will all work to the level at which they are hyped, and getting support for them may not always be expedient. After all, most of them are developed by certain individual programmers, who develop both free and paid versions of these products. Some may do it as a “sideline” to another job, and you may have to wait hours, if not days, for them to even respond to you.
Also, WordPress is devleoped in two different versions, one for the free blog market at WordPress.com, and one for use on domains at WordPress.org. Believe me when I say that they are NOT the same product, although most parts of them are interchangeable to some degree! I have had occasion to use both, and although some themes may be common, the components within them may be set up totally different. Some of the themes may “look” alike, but behind the scenes, on the control panels, they ARE different… sometimes radically different!
The dot com version is meant for the general public, most of whom are beginners at web work, and the developers don’t want anyone messing with the background code of the site, which would obviously affect everyone using it. They present what they want you to use, and if you don’t like what they offer, it’s your tough luck! You can try a different theme, but that’s about all you can do. You can’t get into the code at all, nor do they allow any of the 20,000+ plug-ins to be installed to get it to do what you want. On the bright side, they do take care of their own updates for you. But be aware, there are many things that you can do on the dot org version that you will not be able to do on the free dot com version!
If you read into the user agreement of the free version, it basically says that they DO NOT allow any other advertising on the free site except what they put on there themselves. That means that you CANNOT do anything to sell a product, either your own or through an affiliate. After all, they are providing you with a free site to use (actually a sub-domain of the main WordPress site) at their expense, and if anyone is going to make money, they want to be the ones to do it! Other than individual developers selling certain themes, plug-ins and apps to go along with it, there is no other way for the platform developers to cover their expenses. They are providing not only the programming for the site and support for it, but they also have to provide the servers on which millions of these free sites are hosted for you. That all costs money.
They will allow a donation (to you) payment button on the free site, but they don’t even make that easy to install. You can’t just use the provided code from the payment processor. You have to jump through hoops by using only the button image, and then create a link from that directly from the blog editing window. It won’t even work in a widget. You have to add it to a page or post of your blog. I know, because I just had to do this for a customer. If you try to add the code to a widget, the button may work, but it messes up the operation of all the other widgets! What a pain!
However… WordPress does provide a platform at WordPress DOT ORG for use on privately owned domains, and that is a world of difference away form the free version. Once you download that version to your domain, you basically OWN it, and have free control over literally everything! You can get into the root code of the site and tweak it to suit your needs. You can obtain countless additional themes from third-party developers (some free and some paid), countless additional plug-ins (some free and some paid) to manipulate anything about the site, and other apps for mobile devices (again, some free and some paid). If you mess something up totally, all you have to do is reload the platform and start over again. And on this one, you CAN export the files to your own computer as a backup and the import them back into a new platform or even another blog, including Blogger, so they have to you covered, no matter what.
In fact , it has become so popular that most hosting companies provide a quick way to install WordPress (dot org) right from their “C” panel, where you set up other things on your domain, such as email accounts and much more. OR… you can install it from the WordPress.org web site. But you still need to know how to get into and operate your own “C” panel for other things.
And because you own both the platform and the site, you can do whatever you want with it as far as advertising or selling! The down side is, because you own it now, they won’t update it for you, so expect to get into the dashboard to check on your site nearly every day to watch for manual updates to plug-ins, themes, and occasionally, even the platform itself. If you fail to monitor the site and perform the necessary updates (required to keep up with changes in other things, like Microsoft updates) it can affect the performance and security of the site.
Now…let’s discuss the other popular blog platform, at Blogger.com…a Google product.
Blogger is totally free platform, owned and backed by one of the largest companies in the world, with a learning curve that is much easier than WordPress. It has several differences, the main one being that there is NO version for you to "install" on your own domain, although Blogger provides a method for you to create your own domain for your blog right on the dashboard. You can create a domain and do a quick redirect to a Blogger site, but the blog platform is still not “yours”. Blogger still owns it and has final say on what you do with it. However, they are more “liberal” with their permissions.
The main one is that if you read the user agreement, you will find that you CAN use it for selling! In fact we have had sites out there for years that have both affiliate links as well as our own payment buttons on it. But we follow rule number one, in that we provide informative articles and allow readers to comment on them. As long as you allow those key ingredients, and don’t break any other rules, you should be fine.
There are many other blog platforms out there, and I cannot cover all of them. It used to be that social sites were not blogs, but features have improved to where the definition of what is a blog is becoming very gray. Many social sites have new features that blur the line even more. The problem is that many of them get cluttered up with so many other posts and ads that are forced on you and your readers that your own content gets lost among all the other garbage, and many people don’t want to be bothered by all that social nonsense… they just want to read about what YOU are doing. Also, you have no control over much of that clutter or the rules you have to play by. With your own site, YOU have control.
So take a look at each of the free platforms. If you even “think” you might want to make some additional money with your blog (after you get used to running one), then stay away from the free WordPress (dot com) blog. It not only won’t let you make any money but it’s features are very limited. You can stay with free by going to Blogger.com and still make money if you do it right, OR you can set up your own domain and hosting and install the free WordPress.org for use on your own site... or... you can set up a Blogger blog, and then purchase a domain right from your dashboard. If you choose one of the other blog sites that allow you a page or a sub-domain of their main site, then I am limited on my ability to help you because I don’t use those other sites.
I have found that in nearly everything in life it always pays to use the best if you can afford it, and since these are all free to use, along with being the biggest and the best in the fields, then how can you go wrong? The communities that use them are HUGE, the support is there, and anything you want to know can be learned from reading the tutorials, watching the videos on both their own sites as well as YouTube, and either one of these will do what you need to do. If you are “technically challenged” then I would suggest Blogger. If you like to play around with everything you get to see how it works, thenWordPress.org on your own domain is probably what you want.
But no platform of any kind will attract or keep readers if you don’t follow certain standards, and those include everything from the colors of your site, to the size and style of the font, to the overall layout and navigation, to your own spelling and grammar.
No one wants to read a site with a bunch of mis-spelled words, run-on sentences with no paragraphs, bad grammar, or poor writing style. In the next few posts we are going to get into what makes a blog look good and attract readers who want to subscribe to read even more of what you have. If you can’t hang onto them with the basics, then you might as well forget about trying to sell to them with anything else. I can’t give you that kind of education. I can only advise you on what works. If you need to go back to night classes to learn how to talk correctly and spell properly, then that’s on you. I can only tell you that blogging isn’t texting, and no one wants to read a bunch of gibberish and spelling shortcuts. You’re not just messaging your friends here. This will be out there for the world to see, and they won’t tolerate sloppiness in what you deliver.
“Nuff” said.

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