Today D$ completes two months in the blogosphere. So many things happened during these two months – some good, some not so. Instead of dissecting things too much I would like to take this opportunity to tip the budding bloggers and wannabes on how to set up a blog,how typically a blog grows and how many things need to be taken care of while setting up a new blog. As I kept recording the events during the past couple of months, it is easier for me to talk about the same and I hope this information is useful to some of you – experienced bloggers please excuse. Since I cannot cover everything in one single post, I am splitting this topic into more than one part. Important tips for the beginners are marked with a ‘light bulb’ .
Phase 1. Planning
Before starting this blog I had some reasonably good blogging and website development experience. But as I was sick of doing personal homepages and generic stuff, I wanted to do something differently this time around. After quite some thinking I decided to set up a blog related to making money online. I knew that there are 1000s of such blogs and websites around but I thought there’s always untapped opportunities in this space. So deciding on the theme or what topic to write on is probably the first step for anybody because some of the things to follow will be based on this decision. For example, your domain name or blog name, your blog theme, content categorization, design etc.
In the planning phase itself you may have to think about the money you can afford to spend to create and maintain your blog. You can get FREE blog space in many blogging sites but if you have more money you can get a domain name for yourself, professionally done themes, paid optimization services etc. Since, I was pretty adamant on getting a decent domain name and my own hosting space I thought of spending a few dollars up front ($10 for domain name and $5.95 per month for hosting space, as it turned out to be – You can get hosting serviecs for as low as a dollar per month)
Phase 2. Get the blog or domain name, space and the platform
As I mentioned earlier, it is important to pick a topic or main theme for your blog. You can still set up a blog for miscellaneous topics or ramblings but in either case you need to pick an ideal name. Most ideal name for a personal blog – especially dealing with miscellaneous topics – is your name itself . But just in case your name is too long (like many Indian names), you might want to keep only your last name or initials. If you would like to write only about specific topics (say clothing, home decoration, pets etc) in your blog you may want to choose a blog name reflecting the topic. Since I wanted to talk about money I picked the domain name ‘DollarShower.com’ for this blog.
Registering your blog or domain name
Once you are sure about the name you may register that name. Here depending on whether you want to spend money or not you could register a domain name or a free blogging space.
Free blogging spaces: If you don’t want to spend a penny from your pocket and still want to set up a reasonably good blog you may register your blog at WordPress. There are other places like blogger or My Space or Typepad but I recommend WordPress.com  as others have one limitation or the other which you will realize during the course. Once you create your wordpress account by providing your personal details such as email address, login name, password etc, you can start blogging instantaneously. The wordpress account also comes with customizable themes, widgets etc that I will explain later. When you register at a free blog site what you get is a sub domain name such as ‘yourblog.wordpress.com’ or ‘yourblog.blogspot.com’. (Note: Please note that WordPress.com blogs cannot be monetized – i.e. no ads can be put on them. If monetization is your key aim and you want to go the free blogging site route, you might want to use blogger)
Your own domain name: Owning a domain name is not too expensive these days – one can get it registered for prices varying from $5 to $10 per year. All professional blogs are set up under own toplevel domain names and I strongly recommend  to get a domain name for yourself as it has infinite possibilities for you in the future (such as own email addresses, sub domains, easier management, ease of movement of contents just in case etc). In my case I opted to register my domain name via my hosting service and they charge me $10 per year for the domain name. When you go for own domain name there is also additional expenses to store the blog contents or host them. Usually the hosting provider will also provide the domain registration services. I pay $5.95 per month for my hosting and email services but I must say that Hostmonster (Update: moved to HostGator later on) provides a good service and support to my blog. There are also cheaper hosting services such as 1and1 and GoDaddy where monthly hosting packages start at as low as $0.99. You may pick one of them as well depending on your budget (You have to make sure that the hosting provider that you go for support your blog platform and its requirements). When you register a domain name you may not always get the name you wanted. You may have to make some compromises at times as the name you wanted is probably already taken by somebody else. But before trying fresh names (unless it is your own name), you may also check out the expired domain names . Expired domain names are the ones used by some other people in the past but are now available for you to register. My domain was an expired one and I got it rather accidentally. You may check for the available list of available expired domains by visiting this link.
Before registering a domain name (expired or otherwise, just in case) you may check its history of the same if at all it existed previously. This will help in avoiding registering any name that did not have a great reputation or acceptance (or had even some rated content) in the past. You can check for the past details of a domain name using the wayback machine .
Once the domain registration is done the next step is to decide on your blogging platform (as I mentioned earlier, if you chose a free hosting site, you don’t need to worry about installing a platform). The choice is pretty simple here as WordPress is the best platform that a blogger can get at this point of time  for various technical and other reasons. Thousands of professional blogs around the world today use WordPress and that is almost the automatic choice for those who want to make it big.
[As I mentioned earlier, while registering your domain name with your hosting service provider, please make sure that they support the installation of wordpress platform either via their control panel or via FTP or file upload. WordPress also requires MySQL database support which has to be part of your hosting package. So make sure that you pick a hosting package that has the above platforms supported. The other important thing to worry about your hosting package is the bandwidth or data transfer size they provide per month, hosting disk space etc, number of domains that can be hosted in one account etc. At the time of writing this post, Host Gator> provides unlimited bandwidth, disk space, domain names, email addresses, FTP accounts and a FREE domain name for $6.95 a month]
[Updated on 16-June-’08: I did some more research on cheap and FREE hosting services and found that Freehostia has an excellent FREE hosting service for beginners. They offer 250MB hosting space, 5GB monthly data transfer, 1 MySQL database (important for WordPress), 2 domain names, 3 POP email accounts etc for absolutely FREE. And most importantly you can install WordPress. This may be a very good option for beginners and later when you grow you can switch to premium hosting services. You need to, however, make sure that if you host with Freehostia, you have to register your domain name ($9.95 / year) with them as well to avoid any domain transfer fees]
In the next part of this series I shall talk about Setting up the basic building blocks of your professional blog. Please provide your comments until then…