Blogger is a popular free service owned by Google. "It literally took me seconds to set up despite no technical knowledge at all," says Steve Jackson, a PR who started his blog life with Blogger. Blogger will get you up and running quickly, but customising your blog takes time. "The hardest thing was doing a banner," says Mr. Jackson, who writes the blog Our Man in Hanoi. "You do have to get involved with some coding." While Blogger is simple and free, if you become more serious you will have to look elswhere.
Wordpress and Movable Type are two downloadable options for the more code savvy. Wordpress is free and open source. Movable Type costs from £27. "When I started using WordPress, and I've previously used Blogger, Greymatter, Serendipity and Movable Type, I thought it was streets ahead of anything else, but it's an open-source project, I'm never going to be asked to pay for it,” says Fraser Lewry, who runs the Blogjam blog.
Both WordPress and Movable Type require webspace. You download the software and upload the blog you create to your webspace. Some knowledge of FTP and PHP would help. An abundance of pre-defined blog templates ease the set up process. "The problems occur when you want to start customising, but changing to another design template is very easy," says Mr. Lewry. Emily Robbins lists more than 800 free Wordpress templates.
Guardian Technology reporter Bobbie Johnson switched from Movable Type to WordPress at the end of 2005 for his personal blog bobbiejohnson.org. "Movable Type became too susceptible to spam, no matter what I did to stop it. Wordpress is probably the most innately powerful tool of the lot, but definitely not for the beginner. I find it quite a daunting package."
Of the paid routes to blogdom, Typepad is the best known. The service costs between £27 and £82 per year. It is reliable and easy to use. Freelance journalist Neil Baker, writes An Idle Writer. He recently signed up to the service: "You can open an account and be blogging away in about 10 minutes. Tinkering with the design to change the fonts or colours, or to add new design elements is more difficult, but fine once you've worked it out," he says.
Mr Jackson recently switched to Typepad for his blog Our Man in Hanoi."With Blogger, the fact that you get a half decent system for free is fantastic. Having said that, the Typepad system is much more advanced and gives you way more control." Other services are available. The Online Journalism Review has a comparison chart. In addition some web hosting companies offer low-cost, add-on blog hosting. 123-reg.co.uk is one example. It promises: "There is nothing to install, no HTML to learn and no confusing technology to understand." You can choose from 20 blog templates and hosting costs £3.99 per month.
Once you have added your blog to the 40 million blogs out there you need to optimise your posts if you want to be heard. Tagging is all the rage and it helps. Technorati is a blog search engine. Sign up is free, add a Technorati link to your blog and then add Technorati tags to each of your blog posts. Tags help search engines help readers find your blog.
Tweak your blog
Create an 'About' page. Tell people who you are, what you do and how to contact you. Some bloggers, like Asia Wall Street Journal technology columnist, Jeremy Wagstaff, also add Skype Me! and AIM instant messaging links to their side bars.
Subscription-based blogs like Typepad come with bare bones statistics packages. To delve deeper into the readership of your blog you need a statistics counter. "You will become a hits junkie, you will want to know where people have come from," says Mr. Jackson. Some popular statistics counters include: Statcounter, Sitemeter, eXTReMe Tracking and Google Analytics.
When writing your blog, consider linking to other blogs from within your posts. "Links are the basic currency of the web, and they are serious Googlejuice," says Mr. Johnson. "Read other blogs and other websites and link to them. Most journalists choosing to blog will want to do so in order to maximise exposure or create a portfolio for their freelance work; that means that the more people look at you the better." Create a blogroll of blogs you read in your sidebar.
Some bloggers also include a social bookmark feed. Free services like del.icio.us allow you to publicise interesting pages you find on the web. You then add a small piece of code to create a tag roll on your blog. TagCloud offers a similar service.
Blog often to give readers a reason to visit your blog. Quote your blog's address in your email signature. Mention it in online forums and discussion lists. Comment on blogs covering similar beats to your own, but be careful as posting with no purpose other than seeking out some 'link love' is tantamount to comment spam.
Offer an RSS feed and an email subscription box and your readers will automatically know when you have updated you blog.
Some bloggers are earning significant amounts of money from their blogs. That is not to say it is an easy route to cash but, if you sign up for an advertising service, you may cover your hosting costs and possibly a lot more. Some advertising services include, Google Adsense, Yahoo! Publisher Network and AdBrite.
Finally, add a Creative Commons licence to your blog. There are a variety of licenses available. You can allow anyone to borrow, adapt and copy your material, or not, as you please. For a good round up of blogging basics listen to 'blog goddess' Susan Mernit of Yahoo! Personals in this 360° podcast.