A lot of people dream of starting a blog one day. I was one of those people and last year decided to start ShootTokyo - a friendly photography blog. It has been an interesting and often times a frustrating process. I knew exactly what I wanted the outcome to be but I was very confused on how to get there. There are so many choices out there. It was a new world of terminology and decisions that I was not familiar with. I know some of you feel the same way by some of the emails and questions I get from people. There are so many ways to approach building a blog...here is how I went about creating ShootTokyo. #1 - Choose a Theme
The first thing I decided on was what software I wanted to use. There are a lot of choices in blogging platforms but some of the more popular ones are Tumblr, Blogger and Word Press to name a few. I actually didn't decide on this first but rather I decided the theme I wanted and worked backwards into what platform it needed to be installed on. I looked at a bunch of different packages on the market and ultimately decided to use ProPhoto Blogs as the examples sites were what I was looking to create; a clean site with big, bold images and the prices seemed reasonable as well. The package is $199 USD. They provide hand held installation for an additional $80. From my experience it was so easy to install this extra option isn't needed.
#2 - Choose a platform
This was easy for me as I chose my theme first as it is built for Word Press. Word Press is one of the most popular website and blogging platforms out there. Most hosting companies provide an installer and you can easily install it. The great thing about Word Press is there are so many plug-ins that allow you to do just about anything you need with your site. There are also many themes to allow you to achieve just about any look and feel.
#3 - Choose a Service Provider
Now I needed somewhere to install/host my blog. There are a million hosting options out there. I went with GoDaddy.com. Mostly because I knew them from their SuperBowl Commercials. Knowing that I was going to be hosting photographs which should be pretty heavy I wanted something very reliable so I went with the Linux hosting that gave me 99.9% uptime, 24/7 technical support, and an email account $179 for 5 years. Knowing that I wanted to eventually do some type of eCommerce such as selling ShootTokyo T-Shirts I also went with an SSL (secure) option for an additional $191 USD for 5 years. I also went with Search Engine Visibility Tool and Site Analytics for $199 for 5 years. This worked out to be about $10 a month to host ShootTokyo. I found that I don't really use Search Engine Visibility much and could have achieved a lot of the same things with Google Analytics as I do with Site Analytics but I like this software and the views it gives me.
#4 - Buy a domain
The next thing I needed to do is figure out where to host my site on the web. I needed a domain. There are a couple of ways to buy a domain. You can search domain names at www.whois.net to see if they are already being used. If they are you can either try to contact the owner if their information is listed or you can engage one of the companies that sells domain names and hire them to buy it for you. I found a few that were owned but didn't appear to being used such as www.dave.com and www.davidpowellphotography but ultimately the owners wanted more than I was willing to pay. The other option is to find one that isn't being used and buy it from companies like www.godaddy.com. It is easier to get address like .net, or .org but the best choice in my opinion is always a .com. It's also best to avoid numbers and hyphens as the names are a little harder to remember; i.e. www.shoottokyo1.com or www.shoot-tokyo.com.
Ultimately you want something that sounds catchy and is easy to remember. I went with ShootTokyo as I think it has a nice ring to it and it was something I could 'brand' around. I didn't think going with www.photographybydavepowell.com sounded very catchy nor could I brand with it. Domain Names are actually fairly cheap to purchase. I got www.shoottokyo.com for 10 years for $76 with auto registration. It is best to auto register so you don't go through the same embarrassment that Microsoft did when they forgot to renew www.hotmail.co.uk in the UK and it went for sale on the open market for $35. You can read about it HERE. If you have something that is easy to misspell or mistype you might want to buy some alternative domains as well and point them to your primary domain. For example, I bought www.shootokyo.com and have it pointed to www.shoottokyo.com.
OK...I have all of my foundational components so now what?
#5 Installing your blog
Once your hosting provider has everything set up you will be able to install your Wordpress site. GoDaddy.com has an installer and the only decision I needed to make was where to install it i.e. www.shoottokyo.com or www.shoottokyo.com /blog and Go Daddy did the rest for me. For me, I wanted the blog to be the landing page for my visitors so I installed it at the highest level of the domain. It is very difficult to move your site later and you will lose a lot of the benefit of pages that were indexed.
The great thing about WordPress is the number of plug-ins to allow you to extend the functionality of your site. It is also completely overwhelming when you first get started. There are so many choices but here are a few of the key ones I installed and found useful;
Akismet - Blocks comment spam and you can't believe how many you'll get without it. Mine has blocked 1,000s of spam comments from people posting links to get people to click to their site.
All in one SEO Pack - This will help with getting your blog to show up in key word searches which is useful if you want readers.
Google XML Site Map - It creates a site map making it easier for search engines to crawl your site.
Subscribe to Comments - Allows people who leave a comment to be notified of a follow up comment via email.
Popular Posts - Allows you to display popular posts out to readers.
WP-Polls - Allows you to run polls on your site (see below)
WP Super Cache - Increase the performance of your blog
WP Touch Pro - Creates iPhone, iPad and Android sites for your blog. Access on your mobile device and check it out.
Sexy Bookmarks - Makes it easy for readers to share on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.
#6 Configuring your blog
Once Wordpress was installed I simply uploaded ProPhoto Blogs Theme and I am read to get started. I could either use one of the theme they had or make as many modifications as I wanted. Now this is the real power of theme, you can modify anything. I actually spend so much time on this part. I really wanted a clean look and feel. I spent a lot of time playing with different color themes trying to figure out what worked best. Kuler from Adobe is a great site to see how c0lors work together. I still didn't have the look and feel I wanted.
I took a step back and spend some time working on a logo and once I finally decided on a logo it was much easier to build the site around that. I spent a lot of time trying to make a logo myself. At the end of the day I was able to get a graphic designer to help me. It isn't very expensive and delivers a much cleaner design. My first attempt at my site was much busier with a drawing of the Tokyo Skyline.
I think the final design I go with now is much cleaner...
Prophoto was the right choice as it gave me all of what I needed to change my blog around... I wanted a very clean look and feel. A lot of people have side panels where they can put lots of links but this is a photo blog so I wanted big bold beautiful pictures that were blocked with too many other distractions. I wanted to make sure the navigation is clean. I used sliding draws (look at the top left) to give readers other ways to explore ShootTokyo via Tag Clouds and Popular posts. It is also important to make it share the site on Google+, Twitter, Stumble Upon and follow you on Social Networks like Google+ Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, 500px. I also give readers a way to subscribe by email to ShootTokyo or RSS.
#7 Getting your name out there
Once you have a blog you will quickly realize you want readers other than your mom. There are lots of way to attract readers but nothing more than creating great content. You also need to make sure you are active on your site and active in the social networking sites. Make sure you are genuine and active. Don't just spam your link everywhere. I try to offer tips, tricks and details about photography that help people. Promote your blog at every chance. One great thing to remember is that editors are always looking for something to write about...so give it to them.
#8 A blog vs. a photography portfolio
I realized very quickly that many of my images were getting lost to my readers as they were getting pushed further and further down the blog timeline. It is easy when starting out to forget if you are trying to display your work, people often don't want to have to scroll through the timeline to find your best work and a portfolio site as an addition is a great way to display your work. I built my ShootTokyo Portfolio Site as a way to display my best work.
I know I have only scratched the surface of what it takes to create and maintain a blog. Please do let me know if this is interesting and content you want me to expand on going forward.
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