No matter how niche the topic, there is a blog for it, and with e-commerce sites such as Etsy.com gaining popularity, they are even becoming an undeniable side of small (and large) business success. Bloggers can spread messages, connect with others who share similar interests, share their work, and more just by posting regularly and fostering a following.
Artists and those who sell handmade items generally use blogs as a way to get their work out to others; some may use a blog as a basic portfolio, while others publish longer posts on a regular basis just to share and even vent. Alternatively, some people enjoy keeping a blog as a way to update family and friends near and far, while businesses use blogs to communicate with current and potential customers, and increase their web presence.
But how do these blogs, big and small, get created? While there are people that can be hired to design a website, there are plenty of free resources for the web rookie to the seasoned designer. Here are a handful of the most popular.
Tumblr.com is a social networking platform known as micro-blogging. It’s relatively new to the blogoshpere, and it lives somewhere between Twitter and a full-fledged blog.
Tumblr is a great place for anyone to start; especially those who intend to showcase a portfolio of sorts rather than publish lengthy posts. It’s almost surprisingly customizable considering the minimalist layout and design of the site. Best of all, it’s free.
Through short posts, users can comment and share content in an instant, spreading it through a vast web of followers and communities. Users can gain their own following, find similar accounts to follow, and share content from a variety of sources. This is a popular medium for artists and those who wish to display their work and connect with other artists and art appreciators.
Tumblr offers a host of free design templates for users to use as is, or change with HTML code. Blogs hosted on Tumblr are given a direct link (username.tumblr.com) that brings people to the user’s site, so that they can easily view all posts in one shot. Tumblr also supports custom domain names, which directs users to a more standard web address. This gives users the option to have a hosted domain, with a simple user interface. Anyone who isn’t sure on the differences in web hosting, we’ll cover that extensively in this article as well.
The other side of Tumblr is its search function, which allows for tagging and searching by hashtags. Popular tags will get posts more exposure, but they will also be quickly filtered down as others use the same tag. Using a combination of appropriate tags will help spread a blog, whatever its purpose may be, to people who will be interested in the content, considering they searched for it.
It’s also a great place to find inspiration and to see what others are doing in terms of social media, giving bloggers a leg up on the competition. When a post is shared, liked, or re-blogged, the content maintains a link-back list of every account that has shared it, and it also attributes the original source of the uploaded content underneath the photo. This benefits everyone since those who share the content also get a bit of exposure as it makes its way around the internet.
Posts are categorized with hashtags, just like Twitter and Instagram, and Tumblr features compatibility with the Instagram app for smartphones. This allows photos, along with any tags or text, to be fed directly into Tumblr from Instagram in an instant. This is a great feature to help bloggers balance two social communities at once; allowing them to stay in touch with their following in more than once place while they are on the go, without the hassle of posting things via multiple services.
The smartphone app for Tumblr is easy to use and does quite a bit, which makes it nice for those posting on the go. It features a simple user interface that allows for uploading photos and videos as well as posting text; users can search directly from the app and can keep tabs on followers and who has “liked” or shared their content.
There isn’t much “bad” about Tumblr, other than it does have a well-established community where topics can range from absurd, to bizarre, to awesome. But that can be said of any social network and at the end of the day, it’s really all about who you follow and how you use it.
Another thing to note is that Tumblr does not offer much in the way of analytics, which are used to help bloggers track how people are finding their site, how many visitors they have, and gain other insights via pertinent information. That being said, it is also works as a companion to a more comprehensive blog, and can actually drive web traffic back to the main website or blog if used as a social networking site.
Some bloggers need more space than Tumblr can offer to accommodate a growing or thriving online community and content. Blogger offers a far more feature-rich platform, which is also free for the basics, with more robust hosting options at affordable prices. It’s also established as a well-known blogging platform used by many bloggers, especially those that are more interested in writing than sharing other content.
Blogger supplies users with pre-designed templates, as well as options to use CSS, which enables any markup language, like HTML, be used across an entire website. Basically, that means the blogger or a designer can build a custom design to use as the blogging template. What is cool about this is that users with very little knowledge of CSS can use the template designer tool. With this tool, users can upload photos, choose colors for text, change the background color or image, upload or create a heading, add widgets, and more, all through its easy to use drop down menus and selection tools. If that doesn’t sound appealing, there are plenty of free templates and even more available for purchase.
Free blogs are hosted through Google’s Blog*Spot server, but users are free to change usernames at will if they want to change the identity of their blog, all without moving to a new account. Custom domain names can be utilized on Blogger by hosting the blog on a purchased domain. This gives the user the features of Blogger, but the potential freedom, rate, and plan of another server.
In terms of tracking traffic and content, Blogger plays well with Google’s service, Google Analytics, which lets those running a website see how their site is doing. With this service users can track page views, referral sources, how individual pieces of content are doing, and much more.
The Blogger app is simple to use, but doesn’t offer too many bells and whistles. It’s available for free for iOS and Android, and users have a few gripes. Photos can’t be posted throughout text, only at the bottom, and there have been some reported bugs. For a quick post though, it will work just fine.
Blogs that hit it big and are looking to move to a purchased domain or who want a greater ability to customize their site, will more often than not want to move to WordPress. Hosting a Blogger blog on another website will work, but when sites grow, those running the show usually want a bit more autonomy and flexibility. Blogger sites tend to look the same, no matter how fancy the CSS template gets.
Which Brings Us to WordPress
Ah, WordPress, quite possibly the ultimate blogging service, at least, that’s how it looks when viewing the top blogs, as they all run on it. In fact, major sites like the Huffington Post and even TechnologyGuide, utilize WordPress. Though TG and other large sites have in-house engineering teams that make WordPress work for them. But the fact of the matter stands that WordPress is one of the best customizable foundations for any blog or website currently available. Like Blogger, WordPress also offers free accounts that still give users free templates in addition to solid features and functionality.
First and foremost, when installing, make sure to know the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com. The .org extension is where users can download the WordPress open source software so that they can customize a site that is hosted elsewhere. The .com extension is where users can go to find the free version of WordPress to run a blog straight from the website hosted on WordPress, and it also offers webhosting and custom domain services, with the comfort of the familiar web-based WordPress interface.
To keep it simple, the focus here will be on WordPress.com, but there is hardly any difference between the two in terms of what can be done with them to create a customized website. One is just installed as a software, and the other is web based.
With a WordPress site, users are given plenty of options to tag posts and categorize them; this way posts are organized by multiple tags, making it easier for readers to search and find relevant articles within the site. Posts can include images, with a manageable media gallery, as well as embedded videos, widgets, and more.
It also offers analytics services, import and export tools if moving from or to another site, formats in over 50 languages, support for contributors to a site allowing for more than one author, and plenty of general help and support, among many other features.It’s an open source platform and content management system (CMS) that has available a huge list of free plugins in the way of SEO tools, widgets, and more. Because it is such a popular platform, there are many independent developers building new WordPress tools that expand its functionality and make it better. WordPress also offers multi-blogging, so that users can create more than one blog, and then monitor and manage them all through one CMS.
As a company, WordPress has maintained transparency with its users, with a no-nonsense approach to its FAQ’s and how-to guides. WordPress offers detailed information on all of its services and lets users know exactly what they’re getting with an account.
WordPress does have requirements for what web hosts it will work with, but it also gives some great recommendations on its favorites, which they maintain are chosen based on their experience with the services, not because they are paying advertisers. It even offers posts on basic CSS and HTML coding, which can help new bloggers take control of their website and understand how to tweak elements of the design when needed.
In terms of hosting, WordPress charges $166 per year, with a deal for $99 per year as of this writing. With a paid account, users are given the options for a domain name and mapping, 10GB of extra space, zero ads (unless the user puts them there), custom CSS design capabilities, and videopress to host videos direct from the site rather than through YouTube or other services.
There are apps for WebOS, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry; they all allow for posting new blogs, new pages, monitoring and replying to comments, but not much else. The app shines a bit more on tablets, for instance, the iPad offers more room to work with when creating posts.
It’s not, really; there isn’t much to say negatively about WordPress as a CMS system and blogging service. With the free account, users aren’t able to create custom designs, but there are more than enough to choose from to apply to a site. Other services tend to offer more tiered subscription plans, but WordPress keeps it short and simple, but also offers a full range of services with both free and paid accounts.
Movable Type and TypePad
Just because something is considered the best, certainly doesn’t mean it must be used by everyone. Many sites are using other great platforms that are well established and can do just as much as a service like Word Press.
Movable Type arrived just after blogger, in 2001, and they even started the now popular trackback; a notification feature that keeps tabs on a user’s content, letting them know if another blog or website links to their site. Most other platforms have adopted this now, with Google creating its own version. On the downside, this is the same way spammers get into the comments section. But most platforms have a type of automatic filter to help eliminate any unsightly and unsafe spam in the comments.
Movable Type offers a free download of its software, but requires that the user has a personal web server. The software is better suited to those familiar with website creation and design, since out of all the platforms mentioned, it assumes the user has deep knowledge and experience. Even still, Movable Type does offer great information on its website regarding how to get the most out of its service.
The same company owns TypePad, which offers a 14-day trial and three basic packages ranging from $8.95, $14.95, and $29.95 per month. This service allows its users to host their blog on its servers, and each plan offers a different level of storage and functionality. TypePad is similar to Blogger or WordPress, and offers support and a variety of account options.
Artists can get a lot out of blogging by growing considerable followings and creating loyal customers through interactions with their community. Etsy.com allows users to create online shops that, with a small transaction fee, lets them sell creations all around the world. It is a haven for handmade and vintage goods; sometimes referred to as the cottage industry. The only downside is that an Etsy shop does not come with a blog or website, but that’s where IndieMade can help. It gives users the capabilities of any other blogging platform, but also syncs with Etsy, so that an Etsy shop and an IndieMade shop can be run in conjunction; allowing for more exposure, and more customers.
Features include a gallery, a shop where users can accept credit and debit card, zero sales transaction fees, a blog, a news section, a calendar, custom pages, audio and video embedding, custom domain support, themes, design features, sales reports, and Google Analytics. So basically, it offers a ton, plus a shop, all for very manageable rates. This makes it a service anyone involved in e-commerce should check out.
Sales from Etsy will automatically pull down sales from the shop hosted on IndieMade, and vice versa, which helps sellers avoid any snafus with handmade or one-of-a-kind items being sold to two people. IndieMade will not take a cut and it gives users the ability to accept credit and debit cards, something that costs extra with PayPal.
IndieMade gives artists and those who sell handmade goods an alternative to Etsy, which can sometimes be so overrun with certain types of vintage and handmade items, that new subscribers get lost in pages of listings. With IndieMade, a shop can get double the exposure, and hopefully, double the customers.
When visiting a site hosted on IndieMade, potential customers and followers are directed to a comprehensive, professional looking website that is reminiscent of smaller online shops. Artists can benefit from the professional looking design and the fact that the shop will keep readers on one website; this way, unlike with an Etsy shop, visitors will not be distracted by similar listings from other sellers that might take them away from the original shop they visited.
Sign up is free for the 30-day trial, all users will need is a PayPal account. The website offers a breadth of information in a very upfront manner, which can help make the jump into blogging and online sales a bit easier for those new to the industry.
There is a $4.95 fee to set up a basic account, which lets the user post up to 10 items a month, create 2 extra pages, create 3 image galleries, get SEO assistance, and much more. From there, plans go from Standard, Pro, and Plus, at $11.95, $14.95, and $19.95 a month respectively. Plans are expansive and include a lot, but IndieMade has very accessible articles on how to use their service to the fullest.
IndieMade is most certainly for a specific type of blogger, one who intends on running a shop to sell items that they create while maintaining a community through a blogging platform. Or for those who want to create a more comprehensive website with a portfolio, such as graphic designers and photographers. For anyone who is not interested in displaying a gallery or listing a lot of items to sell (not just items here or there) then it would be better to look at some of the other options where the focus is on blogging rather than e-commerce.
Custom domains and hosting services are covered on the next page.
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