2013-10-15

Follow my blog with BloglovinThe Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp is a series of posts published once a week on Monday evenings. It is designed for new bloggers, those thinking of starting a blog, or seasoned bloggers wanting a refresher, and covers everything from starting a blog to photographing your nails to using social media. Check out past posts in this series.

Hi bloggers! Welcome to the second post of the Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp! I remember when I was contemplating starting a blog and trying to decide what blogging platform to use. It can be a stressful decision because switching platforms is not very easy. If you haven't yet started your blog you may be in the same boat. And if you have started your blog, you may find some food for thought in this post if you are considering a change.



But first I thought I'd start off with my own experience with different blogging platforms. Several years ago I decided to start a blog about baking. I guess I wanted to be the next Rose Levy Beranbaum. When I set up that blog I went with Wordpress.com because I was attracted to the clean and contemporary look of the site. That blog didn't last long for reasons that have little to do with the platform - I simply couldn't keep up with the amount of work that it took, and I felt down about the lack of followers and interaction.

Later when I got into nail polish blogging, I wanted to avoid the mistakes I made with food blogging so I decided to go with Tumblr. As a "microblogging" platform Tumblr appealed to me because I thought that it would not take up too much of my time. Ironically, after three months of posting on Tumblr I realized I wanted to put more time into blogging. Hence my decision to move over to Blogger. Why did I go with Blogger? I noticed that many of the blogs I followed used Blogger, and with things like Google Friend Connect (GFC) I thought it would be easier to get followers (yes and no - but that's another blog post!).

So the purpose of this post is to go over the major blogging platforms and the pros and cons of each. I'll also talk about micro-blogging as an alternative to having a "real" blog. One thing I won't do is go over the ins and outs of setting up a blog, but there are plenty of other sources that do that.

Blogging Platforms

When it comes to blogging platforms you have two major types - hosted and self-hosted options. Hosted blogs are where the blog company keeps your blog and all its information on their own servers. These include Blogger and Wordpress.com, and they are usually free. A self-hosted blog is one where you install the blogging software on your own server - so you must also get your own hosting package and server before you set up your blog.

There are many options when it comes to blogging platforms but I'm only going to go over the main ones that nail polish bloggers use - Blogger, Wordpress.com, and Wordpress.org. Other options include Typepad, Moveable Type, and Live Journal, but since these are not as popular in this niche, I'll leave you to research these on your own.

Blogger
www.blogger.com

Blogger is one of the most popular blogging platforms, and markets itself as being easy to use. It is a hosted blogging platform so it is free. Your domain name will have blogspot in it (ex. yourblogname.blogspot.com), or you have the option of purchasing your own domain name (ex. yourblogname.com)



The Blogger Dashboard - also functions as a blog reader for other blogs you follow

Pros

It is very easy to set up and use - in order to start blogging you just need to set up an account and choose a template, then you're ready to start blogging!

There's the ability to follow other bloggers through Google Friend Connect (GFC).

Many nail polish bloggers use Blogger so it can be easy to follow other blogs through Google Friend Connect.

You can customize your blog fairly easily by adding widgets and rearranging the template.

There's a template wizard so you can customize your design without having to know any HTML

It's free!

Cons

The homepage is not very interesting and could use some updating (in my opinion).

There seems to be little support from Google (who owns Blogger) in terms of upgrades - for example when Google Reader was shut down earlier this year, many have speculated that GFC will also be cut.

If you want to switch from a domain name with blogspot in it, to a custom domain name (ex. yourblogname.com), you have to go through a third party site - a web hosting company. It's not too difficult but if you don't have much tech skills you may have to contact tech support to get everything set up properly (that was my experience).

Although you can customize your look with the template wizard, if you want something more unique, this requires knowing HTML and other coding - or hiring someone to do design work for you.

Wordpress
www.wordpress.com

Wordpress.com is the other popular option when it comes to hosted blogging platforms. It's free to use, but there is also the option to upgrade to the premium service if you want more space for photos and videos.



The Wordpress Dashboard - has more components than the Blogger dashboard. Functions as a reader for Wordpress blogs that you follow, also allows you to search blogs by tags, and Wordpress suggests new blogs to follow. The Freshly Pressed page shows interesting posts on Wordpress blogs on a wide variety of topics.

Pros

It is very easy to set up an account and to write posts. Like Blogger typing up a post is no different than typing up a word document. And side note, I like that Wordpress actually gives you a word count for your blog posts, it helps to tell you if your posts are getting too long and wordy.

Has a new "quick post form" from the Wordpress homepage. Basically it is a very quick way to put up content on your blog, and is very similar to a micro-blogging platform.

The homepage is very clean and contemporary looking. It easily allows you to find new blogs and Wordpress suggests other blogs to follow.

Switching your domain name from "yourblogname.wordpress.com" to "yourblogname.com" is very easy and is done within Wordpress. No need to go through a web hosting company!

Your choice of almost 300 themes, and the ability to customize it without the need to learn coding. (Wordpress has a "custom design" upgrade for $30/year which gives you advanced design options - if you think you might pay for a premium template, or design work, this may be a viable option)

Easily allows you to share posts via social media - when you publish a post there's an option to "publicize" it on Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, and Twitter. With Blogger you would have to use a third-party site like NetworkedBlogs.

Cons

With any hosted blog platform, you are at the mercy of the company if something goes wrong or if they do an update that you don't like.

When getting your own domain name, since you buy the domain from Wordpress, you don't get to shop around for a better deal. However, you could probably buy your own from a web hosting company if you really wanted to (it's just more work)

The amount of webspace they give you with the free option (3,072MB) might not be enough space especially if you include a lot of photos and videos and you've been blogging for awhile.

Wordpress.org (self-hosted)
www.wordpress.org

When it comes to having a self-hosted blog, it requires a lot more work in terms of set up. However, once it's done it's done! Also there's more costs associated with having a self-hosted blog including the costs for the domain name, web hosting, and if you need to hire someone to set up your blog or do design work for you. However, if you are serious about blogging, and know you are in it for the long haul, Wordpress.org can be a great option.

Pros

Wordpress.org is considered by many bloggers (and books on blogging) to be the best option for professional blogs. 

It is fully customizable. You can set it up the way you want it.

There are many free themes available, and you can get a premium theme for very little (approx. $30-50 - cheaper than hiring a designer)

You can build your website to be as big or small as you want it. In fact Wordpress.org can also be used to build websites, so if you want a blog as part of a larger website, Wordpress.org might be the best option.

Cons

It is more complicated to set up, although the Wordpress.org website seems to have lots of great instructions and support. Also many web hosting companies offer easy installation options for a Wordpress blog.

If stuff goes wrong with the web hosting company it could mean your blog is down for the afternoon, also you will be responsible for dealing with the company to fix it.

If you are thinking about going this route, I suggest getting a book on Wordpress, luckily there are many on the topic.

Microblogging

If the idea of setting up, and maintaining, a blog feels daunting to you, you should check out microblogging. A microblog is different from a regular blog in that the files are shorter and smaller (in terms of data). Some of the most popular include Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Microblogging is perfect if you are just interested in posting pictures of your nails, but have no interest in the other aspects of blogging - setting up a website, publicizing your blog, and posting descriptions about yourself and your blog. Some platforms allow for comments, others don't. Take time to check out each site to see what feels like a fit for you. Or you might already feel comfortable with something, like Instagram, so starting a "nails-only" IG account might feel very natural to you.

Tumblr
www.tumblr.com

Tumblr allows you to post photos, texts, and videos. You can post multiple photos, but there are limitations in how you can format them. You can follow other Tumblr blogs and other bloggers can follow you, but in order to interact with a blogger on Tumblr (i.e. to like a post) you must have a Tumblr account. People will like your posts and/or reblog them, meaning they post your post to their blog. There are Tumblr blogs devoted to sharing nail art and nail polish posts, and if your post gets picked up by these blogs then a lot more people will see your work and potentially follow you!

The Tumblr Dashboard - shows recent posts by Tumblr blogs you follow, and options for publishing a new post

Tumblr also has this great thing called the nail art tag. There are nail art editors appointed by Tumblr (Alice of One Nails to Rule Them All is one) and they find good nail art on Tumblr and tag it with this special nail art tag. Then your work can be seen in the nail art section, which is like a gallery of great nail art from other Tumblr blogs. If your work gets tagged by the nail art editors, it will be seen by a lot of people (and I mean A LOT!)

Tumblr blogs are very easy to maintain. The posts are generally very short, and while you might get some questions in your mailbox, you don't really have comments to respond to like you would on a regular blog. That can be great if you don't have a lot of time to respond to people, but it can also feel isolating.

Facebook
www.facebook.com

Facebook is something that is very familiar to people since many of us have an account that we use to keep up with friends and family. Facebook can be used as a microblogging platform with its "status updates" that allow you to post pictures and short text. Facebook can be a great way to promote your blog and to keep up with other blogs, but if you plan to use it as your microblogging platform, I advise you to approach with caution.

Think of how you find bloggers - for me, it's either because someone has shared their work or because I was doing a search and found their blog. On Facebook it is very difficult to find new pages, I usually only find new pages when a page I follow shares their post. The Facebook search feature is very limited. If you want to find people who do nail art tutorials, and you do a search for "nail art tutorials" you will only find pages called "Nail Art Tutorials" (or a variation of that), but you won't find pages that post nail art tutorials but have a different name. Make sense?

In short, if you really enjoy using Facebook and want to use it to post your nail art or nail polish pictures, do so with caution. Work hard to share your posts with other pages, but only if it's relevant. For example if you do a nice nail art design using OPI polishes, you can post it to the OPI page and hopefully others will see it. If you find you aren't getting a lot of followers on Facebook, consider changing platforms.

Instagram
www.instagram.com

Instagram (IG for short) has become very popular for nail artist and swatchers. For me it is my social media outlet of choice because it's easy to use and it's a great way to get instant feedback on your photos. There are many Instagrammers who use IG exclusively and do not have a separate blog.

Instagram is very simple to use. You take a photo with your phone or upload one from your computer. Then you post it and add a simple caption. Some instagrammers will add longer captions, for example when posting a tutorial. People can like or comment on your photos - you can make your profile public or private depending your preferences. Adding hashtags can make it easy for people to find your posts. If you use simple hastags like #nailpolish, #indiepolish, #nailart, etc. people searching those terms will see your photos (but only if your profile is pubic).

Instagram has made it easy for people to find your account and for you to find other accounts. People find new accounts three ways: by searching common hashtags, by seeing whose photos their friends have liked, and if your photo is shared by a popular nail art account. Regarding the latter, there are nail art accounts devoted to sharing good nail art and crediting the original poster (you!). If you have clear photos and good technique, it is likely that you can get your photos shared by a bigger account.

Twitter
www.twitter.com

Twitter is the one I'm least familiar with, but out of the four it is the most micro of the microblogging platforms. That is because you are limited to 140 characters when you post something. However, you can also upload photos, videos and links. So you could upload a photo of a nail art design with a short explanation: "My freehand Halloween nail art using all OPI polishes!" You can connect with other nail artists and bloggers on Twitter and share or "retweet" things that others have posted.

My initial impression of Twitter is that a lot of bloggers use it as a social media platform, but I don't know how many nail artists and swatchers are using it as a microblogging platform on its own. It seems very easy to use and to search for other nail artists and bloggers. Whether people will share/retweet your content is something I don't know the answer to. If Twitter is something that you already feel comfortable with, starting a nails only account might be a good option for you.

Final Thoughts

This post is a very long one, but I wanted to be thorough about each platform. If you are not sure what blogging platform to use, you can always test drive a few before choosing whatever feels best for you. Also remember that it is possible to switch later if you really feel you made the wrong choice. I moved over to Blogger very easily. Also many blogging platforms have an import option to move your old blog over to the new site.

If you are still having a hard time deciding, go back and think about your reasons for wanting to blog. How important is blog design to you? Do you want to post photos without the "other" stuff getting in the way? What kind of technical skills do you have? How much time do you want to spend on blog set up and design?

Let's Hear Your Thoughts!

If you haven't yet started a blog, what platform are you thinking of using? And if you are already blogging, what platform do you use and why?

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See also:
Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week One: Starting Your Blog
Introducing the Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Kickstart Your Nail Polish Blog!

Further reading:

Blogging For Dummies, 4th edition, by Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley (goes through the steps of setting up a blog on Blogger, Wordpress and Tumblr)

ProBlogger, 3rd edition, by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett (explains how to set up a self-hosted Wordpress blog)

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