06 December 2013

Author Online: Choosing a Blog Site, Domain Name, and Favicon

(c) Graphic Stock.
CHOOSING A BLOG HOST

In 2010, I began my graduate studies at Seton Hill University in the Writing Popular Fiction program. One of the requirements for our classes was to set up a blog and post public essays regarding our class readings, and to also respond to our peers' websites by leaving comments.

When I set up this website (which became a .com in 2011), I didn't know anything about setting up websites. Ultimately I chose Blogger to host my blog simply because that was what most of my classmates chose to do. With most of us on the same blogging platform, it was very easy to leave comments, link our blogs (as followers), and stay connected.  Because the majority of students opted for Blogger, many of my other classmates who chose to make sites through Wordpress were left in the dust...which is really too bad, because Wordpress allows for the creation of some beautiful websites.

I mention the above to you not so much as to claim superiority of either blog hosting platform, but to illustrate a point that you want to consider when choosing to set up a blog: Who is your audience? Who do you want to connect with? If your site is meant for the general public, then it doesn't matter necessarily who you choose as your platform. But if networking between fellow authors or industry professionals is important to you, you should probably spend time researching who uses what. Each blogging site is designed to work best with another user on the same platform. If your professional peers are using Blogger, you may want to hop on that bandwagon. If your peers use Wordpress, perhaps you should consider setting up with them.

HOWEVER, that certainly isn't the only way to stay connected to your audience and peers. These websites offer widgets and enhancements that allow you to include your social media on your site--you can feature
Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. Since social media widgets can be added to any blog, it may not even matter to you if your friends use Blogger or Wordpress, because the connectivity you seek can come from social media that anyone and everyone uses.

One of the advantages I do find with Blogger, though, is the fact that it's a Google property. Which means it can seamlessly integrate with other Google properties--Google +, YouTube, AdSense, etc. Your site's pages will also be indexed, and therefore pop up on Google's search engines pretty quickly.

Blogger is also really easy to set up, and they offer some quality design choices, from backgrounds, templates, and fonts, which you can choose from when you play in the Design, Template, and Layout headings in your Settings.

BUT! As I've developed my skills over time and had greater ambitions for my website, I noticed Blogger has been harder to work with. Personalizing this website has been difficult because I don't think it allows a lot of options; and the site isn't image friendly--especially when you try to apply pictures to your posts. (I'm not a coder; I can't write in HTML or use CSS, so this is speaking directly from the experience of someone who relies on Blogger's interfaces to let me set things up).

Because of this desire to personalize the blog and really play with design, I decided to give Wordpress a try. I created my Writerlicious site (now defunct) with Wordpress, and although it was a huge change for me initially, I figured out posting and design in Wordpress quite easily.

Their selection of templates and designs Wordpress definitely knocks the socks off of Blogger. I also felt like I had tons more freedom with how I could design a post. And, overall, I've found that the majority of third-party widgets available online are designed to work with Wordpress, and many independent artists and designers can create Wordpress templates for you (Creative Market is a great source for this).

Downside: You have to pay more money for more customization.  Part of the reason why I shuttered my Writerlicious site had to do with upkeep--I couldn't keep up with posting, and I definitely couldn't keep up with the expense of running it.

My overall verdict: If you want plenty of creative control, choose Wordpress. If you prefer the social media and SEO advantage, choose Blogger.

If money is your overall qualifier, I can say from my personal experience and design goals (which may indeed vary from yours) that Blogger is really affordable compared to Wordpress. $10 a year is hard for me to walk away from.

If my opinion doesn't suffice, here is a well-written article chronicling the two blogging sites: Blogger vs Wordpress: The Best Blogging Platform. Author Tehmina Zaman breaks both sites down with specific examples and straightforward explanations.

SETTING UP YOUR DOMAIN NAME

When you sign up with Blogger or Wordpress, you get the domain XXX.blogspot.com or XXX.wordpress.com. Because the world of publishing has changed, not only is your writing a product, but you YOURSELF are a product. Which means you should take your author name and make it your domain. Not only does this convey professionalism and personal ownership, but it also helps to protect your name from being taken or abused by others on the web (by cybersquatters, for example).

Blogger and Wordpress both offer assistance with the creation your own personal domain name--in other words, you'll continue to use their platform and have them host your site, but you'll be your own dot-com on the web.

Blogger used to allow the purchase of domain names directly through them, but have recently changed their policy and you'll have to use a third-party site to create a domain name. Luckily they offer information in their Help section about how to do this. Get started!

If you use Wordpress, it costs $18 a year to create and maintain your own domain name. They offer it as part of a website upgrade, so you'll actually work with them directly to secure your domain.  Get started!

When you set up a domain name, there are some things to consider...particularly the end of the website address. Domain name setups allow you to choose whatever you want, and here are the most common options:

  • .com = commercial website 
  • .edu = for institutions of higher education
  • .net = network  
  • .org = for nonprofit as well as for-profit organizations
  • .gov = official government websites (local, state, and federal levels)
You need to consider the above when making your decisions about your domain name. For example, if your domain name has been taken already, the hosting site may suggest you use another name besides .com in order to keep the original website title. I strongly suggest you find another way to stick with .com. It's the most popular domain, and even though you're a writer and artist, you are still marketing yourself and creating works for commercial purposes. If for whatever reason you don't want to use .com, tread very carefully when you consider other domains. You do not want to mislead the public by choosing a domain (.edu or .org, for example) that communicates something you are not. If you can't use a .com for whatever reason, .net is a suitable runner-up.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE: FAVICONS!

What the heck are favicons, you ask? In the screenshot I took on my computer, I've circled various favicons that pop up on the tabs and browsers for various websites. A favicon is basically a tiny visual stamp you can put on your website and broadcast across the web through someone's Internet browser.

If you have a website through Blogger or Wordpress (or any other site),  usually the favicon that pops up will be the company's logo or their own favicon. But if you own your own domain, you can create your own favicon to go with your website! **Update: The awesome +Kitsune Hazard has pointed out that you can still use favicons in Blogger without having to create your own domain name. So, fellow .blogspot.com users, feel free to favicon away!***

Favicons are a fun way to personalize your site!
But first, how do you make a favicon? Here's an article you can read if you like...but before I had Photoshop or any nifty software, I had to rely on a third-party website to create my own favicon. The website IconJ is a free site in which you can create, download, and/or host your own personal favicons. I have several different images I use (especially if I do site redesigns) and I've made all of them through IconJ. They're really simple to make...my only recommendations are to pick a simple image and to experiment and preview with multiple images for your site to see what looks best in terms of size, and how well the favicon conveys your website or author personality to others.

DO NOT USE COPYRIGHTED IMAGES FOR FAVICONS. Do NOT do a Google image search and then download an image you find and reuse it as a favicon. Do NOT hotlink an image you found (pull the image from another website by having your blog use the site's URL). FINDING IMAGES AND EVEN GIVING CREDIT FOR THEM DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE LEGAL RIGHTS TO THE IMAGE. 

Getting images the legal way:

Once you've chosen your image and have created your favicon, installing it into your website is easy-peasy. In Blogger, all you have to do is go to the Layout section, and the upper right-hand corner of the screen will include a place for favicons--simply upload the file. Wordpress will let you download one of their plugins, allowing you to install your own favicon on their site.Ta-da!

~*~

Check out the other entries of Author Online, your guide to creating an author website and your internet personality:

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