Are you about to start your own blog/website? Cool. Keep on reading. In our post today, we share the key technology mistakes we made since first starting MinimalistJourneys.com in 2016. Why? So you won’t have to go through the same pain.
First some interesting facts though:
- Did you know that the internet will celebrate its 28th birthday in August 2019? That’s right. Anyone younger than that doesn’t know a world without it.
- According to the Netcraft March 2018 Web Server Survey, there are about 1.8 billion websites worldwide. With the current world population, this means there is about one website for every four people. Crazy, hey?
These days, you can set up your own blog/website with little or no technical knowledge. But even though thousands of new websites are being created every day, the number of active sites is actually not growing (anymore).
What does all this tell you? You’ll be joining a big established club, where many have tried and failed to leverage the world wide web’s opportunities. That’s the harsh reality but worth knowing before you get started… to set realistic expectations. Still keen to do it? Awesome. Read on.
Before you start
Have you decided what your blog/website is going to be about? Do you know who you are writing for and why they would want to read your stuff? Websites evolve, and you will continue to fine-tune your blog/website anyway as time goes on, but running a blog/website will take up a good chunk of your time (and some of your hard-earned cash too), which would all be wasted without at least some basic groundwork upfront.
So, if you haven’t done it already, take a step back and really think about your niche. Not sure where to start? This article might help you. Do a bit of research to understand what other similar blogs/websites are out there. Read their posts (including the comments). This will give you a good idea about your own (target) audience, what their problems/concerns are and how you can address them. Play around to see how others have structured their sites and determine what you (don’t) like.
Got all your ducks lined up? Wonderful. So, what common technology mistakes should you avoid?
1. Choosing the wrong domain name
When we lived in Australia and weren’t thinking globally or about business at the time, we purchased domain names only relevant to the Australian market: Ryken.com.au and Rosenau.com.au. These are our last names so there was no imagination involved whatsoever. The domains were useful when dealing with personal matters, but they were meaningless for a global audience and certainly not suitable for a business.
When we later chose our business name, we brainstormed names that represented our business idea and checked whether the respective domains were available. It took a while to actually find a suitable domain name that wasn’t already taken. Having a different domain name extension for every country did not make sense for our purposes, so using the .com extension was the best approach for us. We registered our domain name with NameCheap, but there are many others (for example, GoDaddy and OnlyDomains).
Brainstorm potential domain names that represent what your blog/website will be about and whom you are creating it for (read: your audience/customers). See why the groundwork mentioned above is so important? If your customers are all located in your home country, there is nothing wrong with getting a domain extension for your country only. In fact, it would be the most sensible thing to do.
2. Choosing an unsuitable hosting model
When Sandra and I first started blogging in 2012, we used Google’s Blogger – mainly because it was free, and we were using the blog to keep a diary, and our friends and family informed of our travels.
When we decided to launch this website, it became clear very quickly that we couldn’t continue with Blogger. We needed a hosting platform that was reliable and versatile, with all the functionality required to allow us to grow the business. After much research, we settled on (the self-hosted) WordPress.org – not to be mixed up with WordPress.com (which is similar to Blogger).
Many people new to website creation get confused between these two or don’t even know there are two and what the difference is. So, if you have a puzzled look on your face right now, you might want to check out the pros and cons of both with this handy WP Beginner guide.
Decide what hosting service is right for your blog/website. Free hosting (on Blogger, WordPress.com or similar services) is fine if you are not planning to monetise or develop your site for more commercial reasons. Free hosting, however, is not fine if you want/need control over your intellectual property: your site, your content, your audience.
Thus, if you are planning to monetize your blog/create a website for commercial reasons we recommend you use WordPress.org over WordPress.com. It is easy to set up and use, even if you are not a tech person:
- Purchase your hosting service (for example, from HostGator, RackSpace or SiteGround).
- Install WordPress (via your hosting service).
- Choose a theme for your site (by selecting one of the defaults or free themes offered through WordPress or by buying one from a theme shop such as ElegantThemes, Envato or ThemeForest).
- Start using WordPress.
For many years, we went with Bluehost, but in 2019 swapped across to SiteGround as our hosting service. It’s one of the larger operators and has been recommended by WordPress since 2005. We suggest you initially work within the default settings of WordPress. Once you are used to working with WordPress, you can customise your site using PlugIns (essential pieces of software that add functionality).
Whether you choose WordPress.org or WordPress.com, both have great communities of supporters, so you can always ask questions if you get stuck.
3. Choosing an end-of-life theme
We realised only a few weeks ago that our theme was no longer supported. In fact, the provider stopped selling it (and making any further updates) in late 2017. This meant, we had to find and swap over to a new theme. We took the opportunity to further customise our website, which required the help of a web developer (at additional costs).
Knowing whether a theme is obsolete in a few years’ time is pretty much impossible. But there is some due diligence you can still do to at least increase your chances of choosing a theme that will be around for a while.
You probably wouldn’t buy an app for your phone that hardly anyone uses or a software application without a helpdesk, so before you buy a theme check
- how long has it been around and how many use the theme; and
- what is the support like (for example, can you reach them by email, phone and/or ideally chat?
- what is their response time for support tickets?
- what do other users say about the service quality?)
You want good, ongoing support (which is more likely with a theme that has the scale) but you don’t want your website to look like everyone else’s (which is also more likely with a theme that has the scale)? Sounds like a predicament, right? Don’t fret. You can actually customise quite a bit – even without being a tech person (especially with larger themes) – so don’t go for one that isn’t used widely just to be different. If you do need expert help at some stage, using a large theme is actually advantageous as it will be easier to find an experienced developer.
How does theme customisation work?
- Play around with the functionality offered in your chosen theme to see how you can personalise your website. The standard functionality may be all you require for your website to look and feel different to others using the same theme.
- If you want/need customisation beyond the standard functionality of your theme, you can create a child of your theme (essentially a copy). The child inherits the standard functionality of the parent theme, but you can make changes to your child beyond the standard functionality of the parent theme.
- A child theme will not automatically be updated/upgraded when the theme provider updates/upgrades the parent. If you want to reflect (parts of) the parent updates/upgrades in your child theme you will need to grab the respective code from the parent and insert it into your child’s code. Sounds too technical for you? Have a developer handy if you go down the route of child themes. We found ours through Upwork.
4. Not bundling domain name registration with hosting service
As mentioned above, we host our website with SiteGround. Our domain name, however, is registered with NameCheap. We could have saved ourselves some money, and it would have made for more seamless customer experience to register our domain through our hosting service.
This was less of a mistake, but more a trade-off we had to make as we wanted to secure our domain name way before we actually started our website.
If you want to get your website started straight away (and are cost conscious) ensure you obtain your domain name when you purchase your hosting service. This may also help with troubleshooting in the future if there is a domain name issue. Just make sure you are confident with your hosting service.
5. Not having Google Analytics right from the start
Google Analytics is a freemium web analytics service that tracks and reports website traffic. It is the most widely used web analytics service, allowing us to gain a better understanding of our audience, how content is accessed, what posts are doing well etc. The insights Google Analytics provides help us immensely in developing our website.
We didn’t have Google Analytics in the beginning, and we regret this mistake, as we essentially flew blind, writing about what we felt was important without confirmation whether our audience felt the same way.
Install Google Analytics on your site from day one – it’s free. You may not use the data straight away, but by having Google Analytics installed, you have the data to track your website traffic right from the beginning and can refer to it whenever needed at a later stage.
6. Not using an advertisement management system
While our website content is free to our audience, there is a cost to us (in terms of paying for domain name registration, hosting services or our web developer when it gets too technical etc, and our time spent in creating and promoting posts). To recover (some of) these costs we now allow advertisements to be displayed on our site.
It took us over a year to finally allow ads, and we only recently installed an advertisement management plugin called Advanced Ads. Prior to that, we would occasionally add ads (manually) to a post but had no idea whether they actually had any click-throughs. The Plugin allows us to manage the ads in a single place. The Plugin:
- allows us to save and reuse ad scripts, and create shortcodes based on the advertiser, ad size and condition (such as geographical location, gender etc);
- enables us to test and optimise ads (including rotating ads and tailoring them based on our audience’s geographic location);
- automatically recognises when a promotion is finished and removes the ad; and
- provides click-fraud protection.
The data gathered using the Plugin also helps us determine the type of ads our audience responds to/we want on our site.
If you intend to allow advertisements on your site, install the Advanced Ads plugin. It will make your life so much easier. As you are developing your content, add ads to your content, especially ads for your own products and services.
Less than two years ago, we were total beginners. We learned a lot about what we can and can’t do from these podcasts and websites:
- ProBlogger Podcasts | Website
- The Blog Millionaire Podcasts | Website
- WP Beginner Website
- Your Website Engineer Podcasts | Website
We have made heaps more mistake on the business/copywriting/ SEO side of running a website. We will share those in a separate article.
Have you been thinking about starting your own website? What is holding you back?
Already running your own website? What have been your biggest misconceptions about blogging, and what have been your biggest learnings?
Feature photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.