Everyone should have a blog. If you don’t have one you should consider getting one immediately because it’s easy to set up and extremely powerful. This post has all the information you need to get started.

A blog is the platform of choice for personal expression in the digital age. It is a way for everyone to leave some kind of mark on the world, no matter the size.

A blog can be as simple as a collection of someone’s favorite links, or as complicated as an online text book. Everyone has a need to express themselves and it has never been easier to do just that.

This post is the result of months of work gathering information to set up geniustypes.com. At the time it would have been nice to have had all of the information in one place. Wanting to help people avoid the hassle that I went though, I decided to put this post together. I will continue to update the information on this post as I find new resources, so please check back.

Here are the basic steps that this post will cover:

1. Decide what to blog about
2. Get a URL and web host
3. Choose your blogging software
4. Choose your blog layout
5. Customize your blog layout
6. Install plugins
7. Syndicate your blog
8. Learn blog etiquette
9. Monetize
10. Learn SMO and SEO
11. Get to work!

When I stumbled upon the blogging technology that is now available, I was blown away at how advanced it was. I got excited because I realized that the internet was truly starting to deliver to the individual what it has promised us from the beginning: a level playing ground.

Before I knew about blogging, I was spending a lot of time learning web-building languages to build geniustypes.com. For months, I plowed through the frustrating process of learning the basics in html, css, php, and anything else I could get my hands on.

As a creative person the design side came easy to me, however programming languages were a chore. I figured that until I could hire a programming intern I would have to bite the bullet and do it myself. I didn’t realistically foresee finishing the site for at least a year.

After several months, I had designed the core structure of the site and was very proud of my work so I decided to take a break and spend some time browsing other websites. When I saw the high level of design and functionality that existed on the web I suddenly didn’t feel as confident in my work. My site was rudimentary compared to the others I had seen.

My first instinct was that I should work harder and raise the level of my site, but as I investigated, I realized that people were using blogging software to help give them an edge. This software allowed them to leverage technology so that they could concentrate on producing content. I decided to try it out and found that this new blogging technology was user-friendly to the point that anyone could learn to use it without having to learn code; and sophisticated enough that the little guy could compete.

When I installed the software, I was able to re-create work that had taken a few months in just a few days. Not only did my site look better, but it had functionality that I had never dreamed that I would be capable of creating. From the beginning, the software did everything for me including site navigation, communication with other blogs, database backups, and even publicity. I couldn’t believe that I was able to do so much with this software, but you won’t believe the best part… (move in closer to your screen)… it’s free.

1) Decide what to blog about

Blog what you know. You don’t have to be an expert to have a blog. Think about the things you are passionate about. One clue to finding your passion is how you spend your free time. So what if you watch six hours of TV per day, maybe you could have a blog about TV programs.

If you are an information junkie, you could have a blog consisting of links to your favorite news stories each day. You don’t even have to comment if you don’t want to. People with similar interests could check your blog to see what is going on in the world.

If you are an artist, you could create blog posts showcasing your art. If you wanted to take it a step further you could also showcase the art of your peers.

If you like to crochet, you could blog about that! The beauty of the internet is that no matter how obscure your interest, you are bound to find at least some other people out of six billion on the planet to relate to.

Be true to yourself. If you blog about your passion your personality will shine through. You will attract others who want to share in your excitement. Don’t be deceptive or pretend that you are someone you’re not. People can sense when a blog is insincere.

Don’t hold back! Publish your best work for free. The old model for marketing information on the internet was to only give teaser bits of content for free so that some would be enticed to buy the premium content such as a book, cd, or movie. The introduction of affiliate programs and shared ad-space have made it possible for content authors to give their premium content away for free and still generate a stream of income. I love this concept because it allows bloggers to share information with anyone who wants it and still rewards them for their work.

Here are some links to great articles on what to blog about:

“10 Web Tools to Help Generate Blog Content Ideas” – Seomoz.org
“Blogging for Personal Growth” – Steve Pavlina

2) Get a URL and Web Host

Once you have figured out what you are going to blog about, it’s time to decide how much control you want over it. The more control, the more it will cost, and the more technical skills you will need to learn.

Free blogs. There are many sites that will give you a free blog. My favorite is wordpress.com, but many other sites exist such as blogger.com or Squidoo.com. With free blogs you give up some control of your site including the URL. Instead of having www.yoursite.com, free sites give you something like yoursite.wordpress.com. If control isn’t important to you then free blogging is a no-brainer!

Register a Domain Name and find a host. If you have decided that you want your own unique URL, the first thing to do is check to see if the name you want is available. Most services offer one stop shopping for domain names and web hosting which makes it easier to organize your site.

You can register a domain for less than $20 per year, and get hosting for under $20 per month. If the domain name you want is taken, some of these services will allow you to place bid on the name which will give you a chance to claim it when the current owner releases the name.

I tried a half dozen hosts and now I swear by The Genius Tree for my hosting. I partnered with them because they hey give me the most control of my site, have the nicest interface, include the most support documentation, and are bar-none to the fastest.

If you are serious about blogging, save yourself the hassle of having to transfer your site, (like I did), when your host doesn’t provide the services you need and start with The Genius Tree.

To make things even better, I have partnered with them to give you the expertise that has taken me thousands of hours to compile. An account with The Genius Tree includes a free WordPress Installation with all of the plugins that you see here in this site!

You may not know about plugins yet, but they expand the functionality of your site and sometimes take forever to install. Now you can have them in a fraction of the time.

I even keep an eye on the forums to make sure that you’re not left in the cold.

3) Choose your blogging software.

If you have chosen to go with a free blog service, than you have already completed this step. If you have your own domain name and host, it’s time to get some blogging software. The best software that I know of is WordPress. Not only is WordPress free, it’s an absolutely fantastic package with outstanding support documentation. There is enough information in the support pages to allow you to learn how to do just about anything to your blog.

Installation. Installing WordPress is easy; in the worst case scenario they’ll even install it for you for free. If you are serious about customizing your blog I challenge you to do it yourself to get familiar with how it works. The full installation documentation is located here

After you download WordPress you need a way to upload the file to your new server. Check out these FTP programs:

PC
Core FTP
WS FTP
Cute FTP

MAC
Fugu

The Genius Tree come with WordPress pre-installed; but if you’re with another host, you might be able to use an installer such as Fantastico to help you with the WordPress installation.

4) Choose your blog layout.

One great thing about WordPress is the ability to choose a professional looking theme to use. People from around the world have been gracious enough to design themes and make them available for us to use. You can browse the theme directory here.

When you find a theme you like, download it and upload it into the folder “wp_content/themes” located in the main WordPress folder. Go to the “presentation” tab in your WordPress admin site to change to your new theme.

5) Customize your blog layout.

If the author of the theme you choose allows it, you can customize the look of your site in the “theme editor” under the “presentation” link in your WordPress admin pages.

The “Stylesheet” controls the style of your site such as the appearance of fonts, backgrounds, and links. This file is written in CSS, which is a fairly simple coding language. Click here for a tutorial on CSS.

The “Header” and “Sidebar” files control the look of, guess what: the header and sidebar. They contain a mixture of html and WordPress “tags” written in php. Without having to learn php, you can visit this list of tags to cut and paste the ones with the functionality that you want.

The “Main Index” file controls how the content will be listed on much of your site including possibly your home page and category listings. This file has html and WordPress tags.

The “Single Post” file controls the content on single post pages.

If you have a “home.php” file it will control how your home page looks.

6. Install plugins.

Plugins are pieces of code designed by third parties that add functionality to your site. There is a list of plugins here. Plugins are downloaded and then uploaded into the wp_content/plugins folder. Make sure to read the “read me” file included with the plugin for special instructions. Some plugins are simply activated in the “plugins” section of the WordPress admin pages, and some require you to add a table to your WordPress database or a tag to your template.

Here is a list of the plugins I use for geniustypes.com:

Aksimet -saves me hours by fending off spam comments.
AdSense-Deluxe -an easy way to organize google ads.
Bookmark Me -the del.icio.us button at the bottom of my posts.
CG-SameCat -generates a list of pages in the same category.
Dean’s Permalinks Migration -get out of jail free card for changing my mind.
Exec-PHP -Lets me run PHP in posts and pages.
Feedburner Feed Replacement -directs RSS feeds to feedburner.
Get Recent Comments -generates a list of recent comments in the sidebar.
Google Sitemaps -creates a Google-friendly sitemap.
Gregarious -Digg and Reddit buttons.
Kramer -converts inbound links to pingbacks.
MyAvitars -adds MyBlogLog avatars to comments.
Popularity Contest -most popular posts.
SEO Title Tag -customizes my title tags.
Show Top Commentators -lists the top contributers to comments.
SRG Clean Archives -archives that don’t give me a headache.
Subscribe to Comments -alerts people of follow-ups to their comments.
Tags in the Head -not entirely sure what this does, but makes me feel better.
Terong Related Links -lists related links.
The Excerpt Reloaded -customizable excerpts.
Underscore Permalinks -uses _ instead of – in permalinks.
Ultimate Tag Warrior -organizes tags for each post.
Contact Form -a simple contact form.

7) Syndicate your blog.

In addition to making your content available to those who visit your website, syndication allows readers to subscribe to your blog so that they are alerted immediately when new posts are available. The most common form of syndication is RSS or “real simple syndication.” RSS feeds allow people to add your blog to their home page at Yahoo! or Google, or to a feed reader like NewsFire(mac), or to a feed organizing website such as Newsgator.

I use a service called Feed Burner to syndicate geniustypes.com. Feed Burner is a free service that organizes and simplifies the syndication process. It allows you to customize your feed and publicizes it for you. It also gives you insight into your feed traffic and subscriptions that you may not have had under your regular traffic analyzing software.

8) Learn blog etiquette.

In order to earn respect in the blogosphere, it is important to follow the unwritten rules of blogging. Most of it is common sense:

Don’t spam.
Don’t shamelessly promote yourself.
Communicate with your readers.
Don’t post your link indiscriminately on other blogs.
Don’t drown your content in advertising.
Be respectful.
Don’t use a snarky tone when disagreeing with other bloggers.
Be unselfish.
Offer free help to others.

The list goes on. Here are some good blog articles that discuss blog etiquette:

Introducing the “Golden Rules of Blog Etiquette” -Rohit Bhargava
About.com list of etiquette articles

9) Monetize.

Successful bloggers can make a serious living from blog advertising. Steve Pavlina has recently posted that he is making over $1000 per day from his blog. Darren Rowse is another great example.

People who are making a full time income blogging treat their blogs as a serious businesses by putting full-time hours into producing content. There is enough content on some successful blogs to fill dozens of books, so don’t quit your day job just yet.

Just as in every social aspect of life, a duality exists in the blogosphere over the legitimacy of making money from your blog. On one extreme, some people believe that no one should earn any amount of money. On the other, some people opportunistically try to extract every penny from their blogs by any means necessary.

My stance is somewhere in between. I think that it is perfectly honorable to make money for the hard work you put into your blog. Blogging is my full time job and I would not be able to share this free information if I were not earning money in some way. At the same time, I believe in a certain amount of restraint. When in doubt, I think one should err on the side of caution. My grandpa used to say that “pigs get fed, and hogs get slaughtered,” which accurately suggests that people who balance modesty with motivation tend to be the most successful.

The most common way to put advertising on your blog is Google Adsense.

Another very common advertising program is Amazon.com associates.

There are hundreds more affiliate programs available. If you are referencing products or services in your blog, make sure to find out if they have an affiliate program so that you can get credit for referring people to their site.

10) Learn SMO and SEO.

SMO stands for social media optimization and has evolved from SEO, or search engine optimization. Blogs tend to get most of their traffic from social networking, as opposed to search engine queries. If someone likes your site, they might bookmark it with a social bookmarking site. Once they bookmark it, others might take notice and visit your site also. The best articles on the net benefit from “viral” marketing, meaning that the article’s popularity spreads through the internet like a virus.

Start by registering with these social bookmarking sites to get a feel for them. There are dozens more available, but this list should get you started:

Technorati
Digg.com
Reddit.com
Ma.gnolia.com

Here are some articles about learning SMO and SEO:

Optimizing Your Blog for Search Engines -Pronet Advertising
5 Rules of Social Media Optimization -Rohit Bhargava
SEO Tips -ProBlogger.net

11) Get to work!

Once your blog is set up, it’s time to generate some content! Some people advocate posting shorter articles more frequently, and others advocate posting longer articles less frequently. No matter which style you choose, the important thing is consistency. Try to maintain the rhythm of your blog so that people can come to count on it.

I look forward to meeting you in the blogosphere!

Get started with The Genius Tree by clicking here.