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Come on, pilgrim

By: 8 December 2010 2 Comments

For some reason, I’ve talked with a few people lately about the difficulty of putting together a site like First Arkansas News.

Since there seem to be a lot of misconceptions about putting together a blog that looks and behaves as expected, I figured I mention a thing or two about how we were able to put up our very cost-effective site.

First of all, there are some free blogging platforms out there — Google’s Blogger platform and WordPress.com seem to be the most popular.  They are easy to set up and both are supported by the companies that make them available. However, both platforms are more than a bit limited — Blogger is better when it comes to customization, but there’s only so much you can do even with that. For some reason, Blogger has also gotten a bit of knock against it and is viewed as a service for newbies.  That’s a big unfair, really, as I’ve seen some great sites running on that platform.

At any rate, both platforms serve as great vehicles for people who don’t care much about tweaking templates, diving into coding, etc. They exist as platforms that are great for individuals who don’t give a hang about looking “professional” and don’t mind if they are limited in what templates are available. A template, by the way, is more or less what determines the overall look and feel of the site. Writing the code for one of those is a chore.

Setting it up…

For people who want to control every aspect of their blogs and don’t want a URL that has either the term “blogspot” or “wordpress” in it, there’s a very good alternative out there that doesn’t cost much but has the support network that most of us who aren’t programmers need.

When I built First Arkansas News, I knew I’d first have to get a domain name and a Web host for the site.  The Blogger and WordPress.org platforms provide that domain name and server space for free, but I figured on presenting a somewhat professional image and customizing the heck out of whatever template seemed best for our purposes.

I was able to take care of getting a domain name and a host at one spot — Just Host. While there are some misconceptions about how much a Web host costs, Just Host is dirt cheap — I paid in advance for a year of hosting and spent about $42. Also, my hosting account includes a free domain name that I own and will continue to own for as long as I want it.

Also, this business of maintaining a Web site through a hosting account was more than a bit foreign to me. Luckily, Just Host uses the cPanel interface and that means figuring out how to do things like upload files and the like is simple. The company has a good support team that’s helped me quickly when I’ve needed them.

Once my account was set up, I needed a platform on which to build the site. I went with WordPress.org — which is not the same as WordPress.com. WordPress.com will allow you to host a site with a scaled-down version of WordPress. As for Wordrpess.org, that’s where you go to download the WordPress blogging platform, which is the most flexible and powerful package I’ve found for such things.

That brings me to another reason I went with Just Host — installing the WordPress platform is as easy as pushing a button and waiting for the process to complete. Once that was done, it was time to start the fun.

One of the great things about WordPress is that millions of people use it. That means finding a suitable, free template is as easy as running a Google search and picking the one that’s right for you — people who can program like to show off their work, seemingly, and often do so by designing a good template. Also, the fact that so many people use WordPress means that finding tips and tricks to tweaking your template or accomplishing just about anything else is easy — just go to the WordPress forums or search for advice on Google. I didn’t know much about customizing templates and the like when First Arkansas News started in April, but I do now and that’s all because the tremendous amount of support out there for WordPress.

Once you’ve got your hosting account set up, your domain name chosen, WordPress installed and a template you like, you’ll need to install some plugins. A WordPress plugin, simply put, lets you extend what your site can do. Want to set up a form through which readers can email you? There’s a plugin for that. Want a stats plugin that will tell you how many people visit your site daily and which of your posts are the most popular? There’s a plugin for that, too. Want to get rid of spam comments on your posts automatically? There’s a plugin out there. In fact, one of the great things about WordPress is that there are free plugins all over the place. Plus, they’re easy to find and install from the WordPress dashboard (the interface through which you’ll put up posts and generally deal with the “guts” of your site).

Another great thing about WordPress is that you generally don’t have to fool with the mechanics of uploading photos and other media you’ll use in your posts. WordPress handles all of that, but Just Host can help you set up a way where you can manually upload files to your account if you want to do that (I do that from time to time — I tend to save PDFs and other important documents on my host so I’ll be certain to have them available forever). Oh, and you get unlimited storage space on Just Host, too. There are very few restrictions that come with an an account.

Getting traffic

Once you set up your site, you want to make sure people actually stop in and visit, right? Most of our traffic comes through search engines, and that was no accident. I set up an account with Google Webmaster Tools and made sure my site was indexed by the search engine.

Once that was done, we started adding content. If you write things that are of interest to people, they’ll find you through the search engines. It’s as easy to that. Also, getting in touch with quality sites that you like and exchanging links helps a lot — the blogroll on this site is packed with addresses to sites I actually like and visit.

And, of course, let’s not forget the value of Twitter and Facebook. Getting people to follow your Twitter feed and “like” your Facebook page dedicated to your site results in a lot of traffic if you remember to post your articles to those services.

Honestly, however, just writing articles that convince people you’ve got something worthwhile to say is the best way to solve the traffic problem.

Make some money

Ah, here’s a major problem for anyone with a site. Getting a blog up and running and convincing people to visit it isn’t terribly difficult. However, actually getting paid for your hard work is a different matter entirely.

Most people, when starting out, get an account with Google AdSense, but you’ll not get rich off of that. Trust me on this — you’ve got to pile up $100 in revenue through Adsense before Google will send you a check. It take months — sometimes years — to get that much money through Adsense. Here’s the thing — people don’t just run around clicking banner ads unless they see something that really interests them. They’ll click those Adsense links, of course, if you trick them into it, but that’s just shady.

Here at First Arkansas News, we’ve got a huge AdSense banner over there on the right sidebar, but I consider myself lucky if five people click it per day and I see my earnings increase by a buck or two. You’ll make a few dollars off of AdSense but not enough to quit your day job and play around on the Internet full time.

Frankly, we’ve not figured out the “let’s make some money” problem yet, but the writers here have hope that we’ve at least gotten enough traffic to convince an advertiser or two to jump in with us. Most of the writers here have “day jobs” and are under no illusions that we’ll be able to jump on the work at home bandwagon anytime soon. A lot of people claim it’s simple to make money on the Internet. I’ve concluded that can be done, but it takes a lot of work.

Conclusion

That’s about it for advice. I mainly wanted to mention that setting up a site is inexpensive. It requires a lot of work and dedication, but it’s a great hobby that may pay off in the future.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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