Note: For an updated summary and review of WordPress, see my later blog HERE.
Your choices range from easy-as-apple-pie to full custom. Let’s start at the bottom end and stop somewhere in the middle.
1. Easy-Peasy: Easiest is to use an existing blog service, of which one of the best-known is Blogger. If you want to avoid looking like an amateur, you can even use your own domain name rather than using the Blogger web address. However, some users complain that because Google owns all your data, they can (and do) impound it if your content violates any of their undisclosed rules.
2. Simple Simon: The next step up in flexibility, control and sophistication is WordPress. WordPress is an open source blogging tool used by 71 million websites and supported by WordPress Foundation. The commercial side of WordPress is wordpress.com, which will give you a free blog site provided that you let Google put ads on it.
3. Basic You: Ads that I can’t control on my website? No way, you might say. Which means that you need to pay wordpress.com a fee, or better yet, have your domain hosted by a company such as GoDaddy that provides WordPress as a free tool.
4. Prettier You: WordPress has thousands of “themes” available that provide a ready-made design for your blog site which you can then personalize to suit yourself. Many, perhaps most, of them are free. When you see a theme you like, look at its demo and its reviews. You want a theme that is well-maintained, so check the number of downloads and when the theme was last updated. Make sure your theme is compatible with the latest version of WordPress, which is the only version you should ever consider using. For this website I chose the free WordPress Weaver II theme but then upgraded it to the Pro version in order to have access to more personalization features, which at the date of this blog had been downloaded 194,000 times. Weaver II has since been replaced with Weaver Xtreme, which I am using very successfully on our condo website maui114.net.
5. Mobile You: Today, you want a website that is well-adapted to mobile devices. You can find those themes by putting “responsive” or “mobile” in the WordPress theme search box — “responsive” in the WordPress context is a particular mobile-compatible programming style. Then look at each theme’s demo and drag your browser window narrower and narrower. The various page elements will rearrange and you can see how your blog might look on a smartphone or tablet.
6. Get Plugged In: WordPress uses “plugins” to perform lots of useful tasks. They will start you with a basic set and you can add more as you need them. These are some useful types to have:
– Security – to intercept spam, typically appearing as comments on your blogs, and to block hackers from signing in as you
– SEO – Search Engine Optimization – to help you construct blogs and pages that will get better search rankings
– Syndicating – to publish summaries of your posts on social media sites
– Contact Form – use one that includes a security feature such as CAPTCHA
– Child Themify – this is last on the list, but in some ways is the most important: a tool like this defines a “child theme”, one which is completely under your control; this keeps your personalizations from being lost if the developers update the theme you are using
7. Personalized You: When you set up the website, the theme you’re using will start you with a number of choices — colors, fonts, type size, layout. Most of these can be changed using menus provided by the theme. There’s also a menu of “widgets” that you can put in various places on your pages — in the header, in the footer, in the body and in left or right sidebars. Sometimes, the menu won’t quite give you what you want (such as changing the font of just one item). You can fix that if you have a flexible theme such as WordPress Weaver: a Google search will give you a piece of code that can be copied into one of the control panels in your theme.
8. Beautiful You: I hope your design skills are better than mine. When I got to this point I had a website that functioned but was not very attractive. Thankfully Mike Bell, a professional designer, came to my rescue with a set of design guidelines and a sample layout, which I was able to program into my chosen theme.
Science Speculation: By this point you have achieved Blog Paradise! But if this is Eden, then of course there are reptiles. It’s worth reading the blogs about WordPress security to head off some of the traps:
1. By default, WordPress allows anyone at all to register as a user of your site. And hackers will do this, hoping that you have set permissions so that they can make havoc. In Settings – General you want to uncheck “anyone can register” and also make sure that New User Default Role is Subscriber (the least powerful category of user).
2. Hackers will also attempt to log in as administrators, using “admin” or your site name as the user name and trying to guess your password. Hopefully you have NOT chosen either of those as your user name! You can head off many hackers by blocking logins from countries other than your own: try the plugin Admin Block Country.
3. When you publish a post, naturally you’d like to encourage readers to comment on it. But spammers will use this comment feature to insert ads on your website. Certain plugins will block most spam, but you still need to read the comments every day to make sure they are legitimate. Once you catch a spammer, you can block his IP address with the Blacklist feature provided by some security plugins.
4. For that matter, you should sign on as administrator every day anyway. It’s important to install all updates to WordPress and the plugins to plug security gaps, and as noted above it’s important to monitor comments to weed out advertisements and flames.