How to create a successful blog: selecting a domain name and theme

How to create a successful blog: fire_domainsThis is the fourth installment in our Tick Tock Social blog series, providing tips to get your blog up and running successfully.

Over the past weeks, we have looked at understanding your purpose, figuring out your target audience and sorting out your resources.

Now we look at domain and themes.

Choosing a domain name

OK, so let’s look at domains first. The domain is simply the unique name seen in the url of your site. You can choose a prefix, the most common being www, and a suffix such as .com, .co, .net, .org, .info, etc.

Domains can be tricky as fewer and fewer word combinations are available. You can of course try to buy an existing domain from a third-party, but this can prove time consuming, frustrating, complicated and expensive.

It is advisable to first try and buy an already available domain from a well-known and reputable agent. I use, and like, hover.com, but others, like godaddy.com or gandi.net are popular choices too.

A few things to remember when you try and choose your domain name:

  • make it memorable
  • make it intuitive to spell
  • consider tying two or three simple, or well-known, words together, such as ticktocksocial.com or nakedsecurity.com
  • make sure at least .com and .org are available for you to buy (You may also want to buy popular country specific domains where you plan to operate or look for readers, like .co.uk for the UK or .ca for Canada)
  • Google it before you buy to see what comes up. A very similar name might be used by another business you don’t want to be associated or confused with
  • Don’t be too clever with the name: try to refer to your blog’s purpose in the name.

Once you have purchased your domain, you can get moving on selecting your theme.

Selecting a blog Theme

cartoon confusedThemes are brilliant things. Platforms like WordPress or Google’s Blogger are a good place to start, and there are loads of companies out there who create and make available themes that work on each of these platforms. Rather than design your blog from scratch, you can select from one of the countless themes available and make it your own.

But it is not as easy as going out there and simply choosing a theme you like. Themes are NOT created equal.

No matter what the theme creators say in their blurb, how a theme has been coded and maintained will dictate things like your level of flexibility to customise and add features, whether it’s responsive to different size screens, or if known bugs are fixed sooner rather than later.

Here are some of the principle elements you should consider before you start looking a actual themes.

  1. How long has the theme been available and is it regularly updated?
    When it comes to blog themes, newer is not better. You want something that has been around for some time and has already been implemented by hundreds, if not thousands, of other blogs. All code has bugs, and you don’t want your blog to be the one to discover a glut of them. Let other people do that for you. You also want to make sure that known bugs are fixed promptly and tested adequately before being issued. Installing a poorly coded update that breaks your site is seriously not fun.
  2. Is the theme tested across all popular browsers and devices?
    As a Chrome and Firefox user, I find it annoying when a blog fails to load well in non-Explorer browsers. Same goes for smartphone or tablet users: many blogs don’t look right on these devices. This is because the theme has not been properly coded to take into account the various capabilities of different browsers and devices. Not only is it important that all popular browsers and devices are listed as supported by the theme’s creator(s), but it is very wise to test them yourself regularly.
  3. Is there good support and documentation?
    You don’t want to screw around with a theme that is poorly documented or supported. Tweaking blogs can be tricky, so you want information and assistance when you need it. Other than reading the documentation first to see if you feel it is comprehensive and easy to understand, also look online to see what others using this theme are saying. Look for forums, and FAQs and look for user complaints.
  4. Does the theme allow you to add widgets and plug-ins?
    A plug-in is a small application that provides additional functionality. Plug-ins are not customer-facing, but they can help the site administrator, giving them additional stat information, back-up assistance, etc. A widget is a type of plug-in that provides a tool or service that is visible to your readers, like allowing a Google adword banner, customised social media buttons, or a newsletter sign-up form. They are key to personalising the experience for the user, as well as giving you greater flexibility on what elements you want to share with your readers. If a theme doesn’t allow widgets or plug-ins, I would look elsewhere.
  5. Does the theme layout work for your purpose?
    Blog themes vary quite a bit in layout. While all have a similar purpose, of presenting information in an accessible and – if you permit me to coin the term – navigatable way, choosing the wrong layout will only result in a frustrated administrator. Some have a single column while others have many. Some sites have a maximum width. Others limit the number of customised menus you can use. Choose the right one for your needs today and your expected needs 12, 24, and 36 months from now.
  6. How much does the theme cost?
    This varies a lot. Some themes are free; others cost a pretty penny. The cost, in my opinion, rarely ties in with the quality of the theme, so just because it is free does not make it crap. And similarly, it being more expensive does not mean you get a load more features. The vast majority are affordable, so I would recommend that you do not make price – or lack thereof – your main decision maker.

Now you are much better prepared to find the right theme for you. Whatever platform you choose, be it WordPress, Google’s Blogger or something else, you can start dreaming up domain names and choosing themes intelligently.

Other installments in this series:

  1. How to create a successful blog: Who are you?
  2. How to create a successful blog: target audience
  3. How to create a successful blog: getting the right resources
Carole TheriaultHow to create a successful blog: selecting a domain name and theme

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