Building and Customizing your Blog…

Building your WordPress Blog

So… you’ve happen to find my website and started to think about building your own blog? I can understand that… :D Well, now seriously, I’ve had some requests to make a guide on how to build a WordPress blog from scratch, so here I am writing this to you, hoping it will be useful in some way.

Table of Contents

1. Before starting

Blogging is not something new as you know. The major Web companies understood some years ago that much of the Internet direction would be in the hands of the anonymous people writing content… like you and me. Google has Blogger, probably one of the easiest blogs to set up and that’s exactly why it’s so popular (not to mention it was one of the first ones to appear). There are a lot of other blogging systems online if you’re interested, WordPress.com or even Typepad. There are more, plenty more but these 3 are probably the most famous.

From where to start

New Beginning
New Beginning by Clearly Ambiguous.

There are some advantages in having your Blog hosted by an online company (Blogger, WordPress.com, etc…), an easy one is the absence of any monthly payment for hosting services or even the registration of a domain name (DNS). Just like some advantages are evident a lot more cons arise. Let’s take a closer look into the advantages and cons of having an online blog publishing service:

Advantages:

  • No monthly fee for hosting services.
  • No need to register a domain name service.
  • Insertion into a huge Weblog sphere with millions of users with the same system.
  • Almost non-existent hacking possibilities.
  • Fast loading.
  • It’s reliable.
  • Totality Free.

Cons:

  • Limited flexibility.
  • Lower customization and personalization.
  • Not exactly a distinct entity on its own…
  • The use of a *wildcard dns (*.blospot, *.wordpress, etc…) makes it look less professional.
  • Harder to monetize.
  • Less control overall over your Blog structure.

These are just some points that occurred to me instantly, I could go on with the list. So in the end it really comes down to one thing: If you are serious about your blog you should buy yourself a domain and install a system like WordPress. There are others like movabletype for example, but I truly recommend using WordPress.

So why WordPress?

Well, WordPress is what powers Paintbits.com, so if you like what you see this is the way to go. It’s free, it has a HUGE (and let me emphasize HUGE) community behind it, think on anything you would like to see implemented into WordPress, the chances are it has already been done by someone, you just have to search for it. WordPress thinks like a writer: it saves you time writing your articles with its great workflow, and that is why you have a blog, right? It looks good out-of-the-box: but can even look better if you put some time into it or search for some great themes. So, WordPress is:

  • Open Source Software: WordPress is Open Source and therefore it’s free of any cost. You can even use it on a commercial project without having to pay anything. It’s built with PHP / MySQL which again it’s Open Source Software.
  • User friendly: You don’t need any previous programming background to be able to use it, at least the basic functionalities. Most webhosting companies nowadays allow you to install wordpress in 3 clicks with Fantastico.
  • Extensible: Using Plugins, mods and themes you can totally change the functionality of your site using wordpress, its appearance and user experience.
  • Web Standards compliant: WordPress follows all the Web Standards and keeps your blog or website compliant to all the Web Rules.
  • Used by a large community: Like previously referred, WordPress is a case of sucess in the Internet. Millions of users use it on their websites. This means that if you run into any problem or need anything specific it has been probably addressed before. So in the end you have always good guarantees of everlasting support.
  • SEO Friendly: Least but not less important is that WordPress is SEO friendly. Out-of-the-box WordPress is allready a Friendly SEO Product. It uses data from your posts to feed Search engines like Google or Yahoo. It Pings other directory websites so they know you’ve updated your website, among other things…

If you’re not still convinced, you can always see another 48 Unique Ways to Use WordPress.

If you are serious about your blog you should buy yourself a domain and install a system like WordPress.

2. Setting up your new Blog

So, I’m going to assume you were convinced by my WordPress propaganda and therefore you are going to use it on your new blog or who knows… even change to it. :)
If you’re interested in WordPress, then continue reading the rest of the article, if not… well all I can say is: I tried! :D

Wordpress

Pre-requisites to install your blog

As you probably noticed by now, I’m going to cover the installation of a WordPress Blog on your own Webhost (be it home server or a hosting company).
Before you download WordPress and start installing it, there’s some requirements you need to make sure you meet:

1. You have a webserver to host your files and a valid domain name server: There are hundreds of webhosts available throughout the Internet. I’m beeing hosted by WebHS for example but there is so much more options. Some are free but I don’t recommend using a free host. If at first the absence of payment seem attractive, in the long run you’ll find yourself seeing why it’s free… Because in the end, nothing is free, so don’t go down that road. Webhosting is not that much expensive today and you don’t need a huge amount of space disk to start your “activity” so start with a modest plan if you need to, but forget the free way. And remember that having your own hosted website always make your project look better, more serious, more professional.

2. You have permissions to access the files in the webserver via FTP or another: Well, if you bought yourself a domain and a webhosting service you will be able to access your domain files using an FTP program (or even by using the CPanel). This is essential as you need to move, delete, rename files along with all the other common tasks to be able to maintain your website.

3. Make sure your hosting supports PHP and MySQL: This is normally not an issue… if you went with a payed webhosting. Nonetheless make sure it supports PHP and MySQL because like I said before, WordPress is built upon this two web technologies.

That’s basically it, we are ready now to proceed with WordPress installation.

Installing…

Now, if you your webhoster uses Fantastico in their CPanel, you are 3 clicks away from installing WordPress. If not, that’s not a big problem. If you do have Fantastico, click in it and the rest is self explanatory. I’m going to assume you don’t have Fantastico.

Sprout
Sprouting by Amanda Woodward.

First thing to do, obviously is to Download WordPress. Unzip it, load your FTP program and copy the unziped folders to your root in the webserver or any folder you wish to install your website into. If you are going with the manual installation, you will need to create a Database and a Database user, for that go to your MySQL Databases application on your CPanel, the rest is easy. Create a database and a user (name it what you like) and assign the user to the database… by the way, don’t forget the password, you will need it. After this we just need to start the installation procedure. I could write about it, but WordPress.org allready did that for me, so why re-invent the wheel right?

Famous 5-Minute Install

Here’s the quick version of the instructions, for those that are already comfortable with performing such installations. More detailed instructions follow.

1. Download and unzip the WordPress package, if you haven’t already.
2. Create a database for WordPress on your web server, as well as a MySQL user who has all privileges for accessing and modifying it.
3. Rename the wp-config-sample.php file to wp-config.php.
4. Open wp-config.php in your favorite text editor and fill in your database details.
5. Place the WordPress files in the desired location on your web server:
* If you want to integrate WordPress into the root of your domain (e.g. http://example.com/), move or upload all contents of the unzipped WordPress directory (but excluding the directory itself) into the root directory of your web server.
* If you want to have your WordPress installation in its own subdirectory on your web site (e.g. http://example.com/blog/), rename the directory wordpress to the name you’d like the subdirectory to have and move or upload it to your web server. For example if you want the WordPress installation in a subdirectory called “blog”, you should rename the directory called “wordpress” to “blog” and upload it to the root directory of your web server.

Hint: If your FTP transfer is too slow read how to avoid FTPing at : Step 1: Download and Extract.
6. Run the WordPress installation script by accessing wp-admin/install.php in your favorite web browser.
* If you installed WordPress in the root directory, you should visit: http://example.com/wp-admin/install.php
* If you installed WordPress in its own subdirectory called blog, for example, you should visit: http://example.com/blog/wp-admin/install.php

That’s it! WordPress should now be installed.

If everything went fine you should have your blog online and running by now. There is something essential you should know about WordPress and that it’s going to help you throughout your blogging life, it’s the WordPress Codex. The Codex it’s the Help Directory created by WP.org to help the users with anything related to WordPress, it should become your “handbook” in the WP World. You also have their forum if you have any further doubts. You can also post a message here and I’ll try to help you. :)

3. WordPress Installed, now what?

Now the fun starts! It’s the time to differentiate your blog from all the other blogs around the block. If you could install WordPress in 5 minutes this will take a bit longer… to be honest I installed my blog here on Paintbits a couple of months ago and I still tune little bits almost every day… For me it’s always a Work in Progress.

Not Yet
Not Yet by Cayusa.

While I can help you achieve a nice looking Weblog I can’t do all the work for you, you will have to be the one taking the initiative, being active, curious, interested and most importantly wanting to achieve something special, if not for the others… for yourself.

Inspiration

Unless you have a clear idea on the design you want for you website it’s always a good idea to draw some inspiration from the right places. I recommend you We Love WP for some WordPress design galleries. You can also check CSS Vault, Website Gallery or Best Web Gallery. Don’t limit yourself by copying designs, it’s not good for your credibility, it doesn’t differentiates you from the others and plagiarism is always a bad thing.

Komodomedia
Komodomedia Website.

Inspire yourself, innovate and create something unique.

CSS

CSS is the core technology behind most of the websites you see today, it’s the tool that allow you to fully customize your website. WordPress is no exception because it’s coded to respect the Web Standards and therefore XHTML and CSS is its core.

I truly recommend you to learn some XHTML and CSS, it will be very useful for your project and it’s a nice way to enrich your knowledge. Both XHTML and CSS are easy to learn, just takes a bit of dedication like everything else. If you want, think of XHTML as the content and CSS as the styling. By separating the content from the styling you gain a lot of versatility, this is why CSS is so powerful and vastly used in the Web 2.0. To be honest I don’t think you need to learn that much about HTML (as long as you know the basics) but CSS will be necessary if you want to edit your theme at some point or essential to create one from scratch. For an introduction to CSS I recommend going directly to the source, W3Schools.

What is CSS?

* CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets
* Styles define how to display HTML elements
* Styles are normally stored in Style Sheets
* Styles were added to HTML 4.0 to solve a problem
* External Style Sheets can save you a lot of work
* External Style Sheets are stored in CSS files
* Multiple style definitions will cascade into one

Other helpful websites I particularly appreciate are CSS from the ground up and HTML Dog.

If you don’t want all the trouble in creating a new theme for your new blog you can always use one of the HUGE amount of great ones available for FREE.

WordPress Themes

WordPress themes come in all sizes, shapes and colors! ;) If you do a little search in Google you will find a considerable amount of themes available, it won’t take long to find one or more you like. Anyway I recommend you take a look at Smashing Magazine because they always put good themes lists regularly.

Illacrimo
Illacrimo WordPress Theme.

WordPress Themes Resources:

Inspire yourself, innovate and create something unique.

Just as a side note, here on Paintbits, I’m using a Theme called K2. K2 is a theme inspired by the default WordPress Theme, Kubrick. The good thing about K2 is that it extends the functionality of the default theme by adding Ajax integration into posts, a new search, new way of archive navigation, Gravatar support among other things. My K2 favourite feature is possibility to create Styles. Styles allow you to modify the default K2 look only by editing a CSS file without touching K2 Core files. This is what I did here on Paintbits (except that I did touch some core files… ;) ). The Style I’m using was designed by me and it’s called Lumen. If you wish to use and customize K2, Paul Stamatiou has a good guide on his website.

WordPress Plugins

This is probably the best part… who doesn’t love plugins? :D WordPress plugin system is marvellous, it allows you to extend your website in a fast and easy way. If you’re looking for a specific plugin try searching WordPress Plugin Directory or even google.

There are some key Plugins I used and that you should be aware of and consider to install:

  • AdSense Manager – Essential plugin if you plan on monetizing your blog at some point. It manages Google Adsense Ad Units.
  • Akismet – Akismet is an Anti-SPAM addon that checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not. It works really good, it avoided around 200 spam posts since I setup Paintbits.
  • Comment luv – Plugin to show a link to the last post from the commenters blog in their comment. It’s a nice way to reward your readers that comment your posts. Share the love…
  • Contact Form 7 – Contact Form 7 is another contact form plugin. It’s Ajax based but it works. Simple but flexible.
  • FeedBurner FeedSmith – This plugin detects all ways to access your original WordPress feeds and redirects them to your FeedBurner feed so you can track every possible subscriber. You need an active Feedburner Account.
  • Google XML Sitemaps – This plugin will generate a sitemaps.org compatible sitemap of your WordPress blog which is supported by Ask.com, Google, MSN Search and YAHOO. Good SEO pratice.
  • I Love Social Bookmarking – I Love Social Bookmarking is a simple WordPress plugin that allows your readers to submit your content to social media services via a clutter-free drop-down list of attractive icons. This is my favourite Social Bookmarking Plugin to date.
  • Leopard Admin – Tiger Admin styles the WordPress administration panel with a look that’s inspired by Apple’s Mac OSX Leopard.

    Leopard Admin

    Leopard Admin

  • Lightbox 2 – Used to overlay images on the current page. Lightbox is the Black Box you see on Painbits loading Images whenever you click a Big Image Link. It gives a nice look and it improves usability.
  • NextGEN Gallery – A great Photo gallery for the WordPress.
  • Subscribe To Comments – Allows readers to receive notifications of new comments that are posted to an entry. Really useful plugin.
  • Tango Smilies – Replace the blocky default (GIF) smilies with beautiful Tango (PNG) smilies. :devil:
  • TinyMCE Advanced – Enables advanced features and plugins in TinyMCE (Text Editor).
  • WordPress.com Popular Posts – A good way to direct your readers to your top content. You can see this plugin in use on my sidebar.
  • WordPress.com Stats – Tracks views, postpage views, referrers, and clicks. I use this extensively even using Google Analytics at the same time.
  • Wp-cache – Very fast cache module to speed up your blog.
  • WP-Polls – The easiest and fastest way to create polls on WordPress. It’s what I use here.
  • WP Ajax Edit Comments – Allows users and admin to edit their comments inline. Good plugin to increase comments usability.

More on WordPress Plugins

Final Points

Well that’s pretty much it, I think I’ve covered the main points about starting a new blog using WordPress. After this, it’s your job to go search for more information, to constantly update yourself and your blog. If you want to attract users to your blog you have to write with passion about things you like. Don’t turn your Blog into another job, do it for fun, because if you enjoy the topics you write about, things will come out much more naturally and that will show on your writings. :)

Dead End
Dead End by benny lin.

Just to finish this little guide that ended a bit longer then I had planned, leaving you with some Articles and websites of you interested in order to improve your blogging experience.

Kudos!

 

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