I mentioned a few months back on @thestevensonlife that I’d start doing some SEO and Website related advice posts – and then Covid came along, and for a couple of reasons I took a break away from Social Media.
When I asked if people wanted advice, 99.99% of the responses were yes, so I feel like now is the time I put pen to paper with some of the things I’ve learned during my 15+ years in the web development / software engineer industry – and share some tips on starting a blog.
I’ve worked with companies such as EDF Energy, BBC, Royal Navy, Investec, and Liverpool Football Club to name a few – and have witnessed my fair share of good and bad websites. I’m a software engineer, which means I make websites and apps, and work on the infrastructures (servers, domains and so on) that websites live on.
First things first – some words of warning
There’s a huge amount of good resource out there, for free. I’ll link to some throughout this post series. There’s also a HUGE amount of good advice out there that comes with huge caveats, some of which might not be obvious from the off – so be careful what advice you act on. Starting a blog is great, but be cautious when signing up for things.
Do your own research and ask around before making any form of financial investment – especially with regards to SEO (search engine optimisation) and website hosting.
There is no one exact method to help your site “do well in google” – and if anyone is offering you guaranteed positions in search listings – avoid them. Likewise, if you’re ever encouraged or tempted to pay for followers, then read a post I wrote 5 years ago, which is still relevant today
I think this is probably best as a series of posts, so I’ll break this down as follows:
- 1: The start – Hosting and Domains
- 2: Your Blog – What Platform, and what content – Content is king!
- 3: Improving performance – Site speeds and optimisations
- 4: Keeping Google happy
Part 1: Hosting and Domains
Starting a blog is something that can be filled with excitement and energy – that’s great. But, it’s a minefield out there, and it’s very easy to get suckered in to the “cheapest” hosting deal. A few things about hosting, without too much tech talk. Hosting is simply enabling a space online for your website to live – not to be confused with your domain name (www.whatever.com).
Firstly – domains names are cheap. If you want a .co.uk, you shouldn’t be paying over £10 a year, tops. Any more, and you’re probably being over charged. Also, don’t fall for the “comes with 2gb space for £5” or something – you won’t use that space, as you probably can’t host a dynamic site on it, so just get a basic domain, job done. You’ll need to be able edit the Name Servers on it – but the hosting you choose will provide details on how to get your domain pointing to the right place.
When picking a domain name – ensure that it’s not too long, and not to complex to type (avoid merging too many words together, and if you do, check that when you read them back, they don’t make other, less desirable words. For example, there’s a company called “Experts Exchange” that allows professionals to share advice. However, the domain, expertsexchange.com looks like a company offering expert sex changes. They rightly opted for a dash in the middle. It’s a fine line 😉
Hosting and Domain names DO NOT need to be from the same providers, and don’t let those providers tell you otherwise
The main options
1: Shared Hosting – This is where you effectively rent a small piece of a larger computer for your website to live on. This will, without a doubt, be the cheapest method for you to get your blog online – but it’s not ideal.
Pros: It’s cheap, and normally set up with a single click. You can have a blog online in minutes, and for a few quid a month.
Cons: You’ll be relying on either very cheap hardware, or a server that is shared by X other users. Yes, it’ll be virtualised (blah, read about this here if you want – the analogy they use is that it’s like an apartment block, quite true!). Shared hosting can often be slow, unreliable, and very restrictive, and you may find that you are pushed for space, and speeds are poor. You might not be able to everything you want, too, due to server restrictions.
2: Dedicated Hosting – A bit more advanced – you can still be up and running in minutes, but you’ll have much more control over how things work – and no nasty neighbours to ruin your load speeds.
Pros: You’ll need a bit more technical knowledge to manage this – most hosting companies still offer great tutorials and wizards to get things going
Cons: It’ll cost you more, of course
3: Platform Specific Hosting – So this is where you setup a wordpress.com blog, for example, and pay them to host it for you. Likewise with Medium, blogger and so on. They all offer a free version, but you will pay for this, not via cash, but via them serving adverts on your webpages. This is something to be very aware of – companies wanting your blog for their links and adverts. We’ll cover this later
Pros: Very quick, very easy
Cons: Hugely restrictive – you’ll either be tied to a platform, or tied to displaying adverts that you can’t control on your website.
What’s your goal?
It’s worth considering what you’re end goal is with your blog – it you want to make money off it, then you’re going to need the resilience to scale up and expand your hosting as your traffic grows. We have dedicated hosting for The Stevenson Life – I manage the server myself – but previously I have had experiences with both platform specific and shared hosting – so if you’re unsure on anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.
If someone is trying to offer to host for you, and charging a nominal fee, the chances are they’re either on a shared hosting platform that makes commission from sales, and you could well end up stuck on a server that could soon become very over subscribed, or they are overloading their own shared space for the sake of money making.
Please consider your options wisely. Also, ensure they have the technical knowledge to get your site back up and running, should things take a turn for the worse!
Make an informed decision
Hopefully now you have enough information to make a decision about purchasing a domain name, and what kind of hosting you should opt for when starting a blog. Remember, if this is new for you, then please ask around.
Do your research.
Drop us a comment on here or via Instagram. I would be happy to spend 10 minutes answering a question, than having to spend 2 hours with someone who’s wasted their time or money and needs their whole blog migrating over because of either a bad or ill informed choice.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about blog platforms (WordPress, Medium and so on), and what’s important when it comes to writing your blog content – and we’ll touch on that all important (and often over-used in a sales pitch) – “SEO”
If you’re looking for some great SEO advice, then check out the guys at Candour, and their podcast. It’s informative, and free. Likewise, Clark St James have some amazing blogs that will help no end, and if you’re looking for results on google, then I’d probably start with this.
I’ll only share links from people that I trust (and in these instances, know), and both Candour and Clark St James are good, honest companies who aren’t simply offering a sales pitch, they’re sharing their vast knowledge for the greater good.