How to Start a WoW Blog Pt 1: Nuts and Bolts


Frostheim blogs at Warcraft Hunters Union, writes the Scattered Shots column for WoW Insider and is a host at the Hunting Party Podcast. He’s been playing WoW since vanilla and been blogging about it since BC.

I’ve been blogging over at Warcraft Hunters Union for going on three years now, and in that time I’ve gotten thousands of emails. One of the recurring questions I’m asked is about how to start a hunter blog, or a WoW blog in general — or more specific questions about how to promote a hunter blog or tips on improving a blog.

Now that the WoW Hunters Hall is rocking out as a way to support and enhance the hunter community, it seemed like a good place to finally write up a big article on Frostheim’s advice on how to start your WoW blog.

Because there’s a lot to say on the  subject, I figured a good place to start is with the nuts and bolts and technical details of getting your WoW blog up and running. We’ll go over the steps of setting up and customizing a blog, and I’ll tell you what I think is the best and easiest way to do things. In part 2 we’ll start getting into Frostheim’s blogging tips.

Choosing Your Blog Software

The good news is that the blog software, or the CMS, that you’ll be using is completely free. The other good news is that there is once choice that is by far and away better than any other: WordPress. Seriously, don’t even bother with anything else. No, not even Blogger. WordPress is the gold standard, is incredibly easy to use, slaughters the competition, and is also free.

I wouldn’t even consider anything else for your WoW blog these days.

But there’s still a choice to be made. There are two ways you can set up a WordPress blog: you can let them host it for you (at WordPress.com) or you can host it yourself (referred to self-hosted, and your info will then come from WordPress.org). Personally, I am very strongly in favor of going the self-hosted route for your WoW blog — you have far more customization options; however, for self-hosted you have to have a web hosting account somewhere. Web hosting is cheap as dirt these days but it’s still a cost, whereas WordPress.com give you less but also offers free hosting.

Here are the pros and cons of each:

WordPress.com Hosted

Pros

  • Best blog software CMS in the market
  • Totally free
  • Free hosting
  • Set your blog up in minutes

Cons

  • Default URL will be BLOGNAME.wordpress.com
  • You can pay to get an actual domain name
  • Cannot use the thousands of community-created plugins
  • Cannot edit your theme files
  • Cannot use Wowhead tooltips
  • Cannot put ads on your site

Self-Hosted

Pros

  • Best blog software CMS in the market
  • Totally free
  • Have access to thousands of themes
  • Have access to thousands of plugins
  • Include Wowhead tooltips
  • Include ads
  • Customize to the end of time

Cons

  • Must have web hosting

Good web hosting is available for approximately $7 or so a month, and they’ll usually give you your domain name for free when you first sign up. I highly recommend going the self-hosted route, unless you’re truly broke, in which case you can start up with WordPress.com hosted.

Web Hosting & Domain

Skip this step if you’re going with WordPress.com hosting for your WoW blog.

You need to set up web hosting and install WordPress. Don’t worry, this isn’t as scary as it sounds. I’m a big fan of Hostmonster for web hosting. Their support is great and always there — I’ve never even been put on hold to wait for them — and they have a great one-button WordPress installation (something that most good hosts will also have).

It’s worth noting that I also hear good things about Hostgator and Dreamhost.

Whatever you do, do not get hosting with GoDaddy or any of those free web hosting places out there. It is not worth it! Best case scenario you’ll get limited hosting with ads plastered above your site making it look cheap. Worst case, and a serious danger, is you’re considered to be in a “bad neighborhood” on the web and Google decides not to list your site for any searches.

Be aware that while web hosting is super cheap and you can find it for $7 a month or less, they usually require you to sign up for 1 year’s worth of hosting to get that price. If you go month-to-month you’ll pay more plus a setup fee, so it’s not really worth it.

When you sign up for your hosting they’ll usually let you register an available domain for free (and then you can create email addresses using your spiffy new domain name as part of your web hosting — no extra charge for that). Only consider domains that are .com, .net, or your specific country code (but not .us unless you’re trying to be clever like www.monstro.us (warning, I don’t know if that’s really a domain or not, so don’t go there (aw hell, we know that’s only going to encourage some of you))).

Once you have your hosting, login to the admin area and find out where they have an automatic script installation. For Hostmonster this is called Simple Scripts. Just click that, select WordPress under Blogs, and tell it to install. It will work for about 10 seconds and then you’re blog is ready for you to log in and start customizing. For other hosts this script installer may be called something different, including Fantastico.

Choose a Theme

WordPress offers countless different themes to customize the look of your WoW blog — both the WordPress.com hosted WordPress sites and self-hosted WordPress. For self-hosted you can download the theme and upload it to your site via FTP, or search and install them directly from your site admin via Appearance > Themes.

Go crazy and pick what you like. You can change your theme at any time, and keep all of the information on your WoW blog without having to do any backups (though you should backup regularly, of course). If you are using self-hosted, you can also go into your theme files and change the way things look even further to suit your needs. WordPress.com, I believe, lets you edit the style sheet at least, so you can do some small things.

Install Plugins

WordPress.com hosting has made some plugins available, but for the most part all the thousands of neat plugins you see on WordPress.org are only available for self-hosted blogs. You can add a ton of functionality to your WoW blog via plugins — such as the star voting system on this blog.

Be aware that many plugins eat up resources and having too many can substantially slow the load time of your site. Some plugins are light and invisible, some are clunky as all heck. As a rule of thumb, try to only use plugins that truly add value to your site, and resist the temptation to pack your WoW blog with tons of pointless bells and whistles.

Here are some plugins that I recommend:

  • Wp-Recaptcha: an anti-spam plugin. It stops automated spambots, but not if there’s a person somewhere down the line to fill in the form. Slows but doesn’t stop comment spam.
  • Trackable Social Share Icons: social media is huge these days, whether you like it or not. This plugin puts those Twitter, Facebook, and other icons of your choice below your posts or wherever else you choose. This can significantly increase the reach of your blog.
  • All in One SEO Pack: if you’re into SEO stuff, this will let you do your thing. If not, don’t worry about it.
  • FD Feedburner: if you want to know how many people are subscribing to your RSS feed, you’ll want to set up a Feedburner account (for free, Here). Then you’ll need this plugin to reroute your feed to the Feedburner feed.

Get Wowhead Tooltips

Every WoW blog needs Wowhead tooltips. This is what lets users mouse over a link and get the item or quest tooltip, as with Explosive Shot. Wowhead makes this incredibly easy, and you just have to add a tiny line to your header. Of course this is only doable with a self-hosted blog.

This is the line to add to your header:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://static.wowhead.com/widgets/power.js"></script>

If you don’t know how to do this, it’s a piece of cake and you can do it all within WordPress. Just go into your WordPress admin and on the left menu under Appearance click on Editor. This will take you to a screen where you can edit your WordPress files. Choose “Header” from the list on the right, and the code of your header will appear in the editing window.

Just copy and paste the Wowhead code in above the </head> line. Thereafter any time you link to a Wowhead item or ability or quest, when users scroll over the link they’ll get the popup.

It’s worth noting that this change your making is specific to the theme that you chose. If you change your theme again, you’ll have to do this process again to get the code into the header of your new theme. Ditto for any change you make to the theme files in the Editor.

Get Google Analytics

If you have any interest in knowing how many people go to your site, where they’re coming from, what pages they’re looking at, what keywords they’re searching in the search engines to find you, how long they stay on your site, what countries, or states, or cities they’re from, or anything else, then you want Google Analytics.

I believe there’s a way to install analytics for a WordPress.com hosted blog, but I’m not familiar with how. Here’s all you need to do for self-hosted though:

First you’ll need to sign up for a Google Analytics account (for free, Here). When you sign up Google will give you some code that needs to go in the header of your website. This works just like it did for the Wowhead tooltips — just copy and paste the code before the </head> tag. Then within a few hours you’ll be able to start tracking usage data in Google Analytics.

For most bloggers Google Analytics is nothing more than an interesting curiosity and a way to measure your WoW blog’s growth, but if you’re really trying to maximize your traffic, the data is invaluable.

Deal with Comment Spam

Comment spam is an issue that every blog has to deal with, including WoW blogs. Thousands of wee robots scour the internet looking for places to stuff in random spam and try to get (useless nofollow) links back to their websites. You will have to deal with this spam: ignoring it is not an option.

If you use WordPress.com, they can make commenters subscribe to some kind of thing and confirm via email. It’s annoying as hell to users (and I certainly typically end up just not commenting on those blogs) but effective. For self-hosted WordPress you’ll probably want to use a plugin solution.

Here are your choices:

  • Users have to register to comment. This is the only solution I’ve found that blocks 100% of comment spam. Unfortunately for a new blog, it also really makes people reluctant to post.
  • Use Askimet. Askimet is a heuristic spam detector and blocker that comes with WordPress by default. It’s free for small non-profit sites, but costs money for business sites, or sites with a lot of traffic. If I tried to use this on Warcraft Hunters Union, it would cost me over $500 per month. But for a new blog, it might be a viable solution. It catches most spam.
  • Use a Captcha. Wp-Recaptcha was mentioned above. This gives the little graphic that users have to fill out when they comment. It blocks a lot of the spam, and brings it down to reasonable levels. With the WHU, with thousands of very visible pages, I only have to deal with a handful of spam comments a day using this method.
  • Approved Commenters: once nice option that WordPress gives you is that once you’ve approved a comment from someone, thereafter that person’s comments can go through automatically without needing moderation. This keeps the spam bots out, but lets regular contributors get their voice on the page at once. You will still want to use this in combination with a captcha, to stop the hundreds to thousands of bot posts per day from getting through.
  • Moderation: you can choose to moderate all comments — nothing goes live unless you’ve given it the thumbs up. You’ll still need a captcha to keep the spam to a minimum.

Be aware that you’ll want to set up your spam solution at once. WordPress is so common that the big spam bots deliberately look for WordPress blogs, and the default sample page and welcome post that are automatically put up when you install it — then they spam the heck out of those pages, knowing that you probably don’t have any protection set up yet.

Now You Have a WoW Blog

Okay, there are the very basic nuts and bolts of setting up your very own WoW blog, complete with tooltips. I’m not going to go into any detail about how to actually use WordPress. It’s really intuitive and just by poking around everything should become apparent, but if you have any specific questions, feel free to drop them in the comments here. I’m not a developers, but I’ve used WordPress on a lot of different blogs (and way too many other blogging software options) and if it comes down to how to use it, I can probably help you out.

Next up in part 2, I’ll cover some WoW blogging tips, how to get started, what to avoid, and some basic tips on how to make sure your shiny new blog doesn’t suck.

How to Start a WoW Blog Series
Part 1: Nuts & Bolts Part 2: Blogging Advice Part 3: Promoting Your Blog Part 4: Monetizing Your Blog

 

 

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