A friend recently asked me (and I am summarizing here), “Ethan, I want to start my own blog where I can publish articles and then create a mailing list. What should I use to do that?” I thought, “Well that’s a great question Phil! Let me get back to you” so I am using this blog post as a way to do that.
What do I use to host my blog? Well a couple of things actually, Hugo, Forestry.io, Cloudflare and a nameless hosting provider. Eventually I will move to be hosting my own website behind Azure but for now I will be sticking with my current set up.
What does all of that mean? Well lets start with Hugo. Hugo is a static site generator (SSG) that takes a theme and some content and combines them into a static website (so like I can’t log in to it or leave comments or stuff). For me it has worked out great because I love being able to customize everything and I have been able to do that all the way down to making my own theme which means I essentially have full control over every single line of code that gets presented.
Second, Forestry.io, which serves as my CMS (or content management system). That is what I am typing this post on as we speak. Unless you are using a SSG you won’t need them but they have been great. I ran into some trouble with the way I configured things in the beginning and they were able to escalate the issue up the chain to get it resolved in a very professional way. I think they get enough business from their “Pro” users that they can offer a lot of stuff for free, so I have been using their free plan with absolutely zero issues.
Third, Cloudflare. Probably one of my favorite companies at this point (other than Backblaze, Cosco and a few others) for a couple of reasons. Namely, they have a wonderful blog that goes into details about how they operate and give some great details about operating a scale. They also have an excellent free plan which saves on bandwidth and also makes sure that you are staying up to date with the latest in website technology (HTTP/2, HTTPS, and a few other things). Their main selling point to paying customers is DDoS protection which is really great and means if I ever need to deal with a ton of traffic, they will be able to help me scale really pretty quickly.
Finally, I have the unnamed hosting provider. They will remain unnamed because as cheap as they are, they aren’t the most performance oriented and have been a fairly big pain point for me. They are definitely not the worst host I have come across but could still use some improvement. As mentioned earlier I plan to migrate to Azure in the near future because I have decided I like Microsoft again (at least ignoring most of the Windows world that is) which should actually reduce costs and increase performance. I haven’t done this because I don’t have the time right now as a college student.
I use Github to host the actual source code but it isn’t as big of a deal and not a huge part of the process. Although it does mean you can help improve the site if you like, its source code is available for viewing in all of it’s glory.
A Quick Plug
For Your Website/Blog:
For a personal website that you might use to post a few stories now and then but just generally have a presence on the web, you probably want to use WordPress. This is for a few reasons but namely because you can customize it so much. If you eventually figure out you want to start a podcast, you can do that with WordPress, same if you want to start a eCommerce store or move into news stories. There are plugins for pretty much everything and they seem to always be improving. You need to find a host that actually supports running WordPress but because so many people use it, it isn’t hard to find.
You also want a domain name that represents you. Mine, ethohampton.com, refers back to a childhood nickname of mine that is casual but also not too unprofessional (also ethanhampton.com was unavailable). Find sometime that is easy to say to someone, not asdgxfw.com for example, so that you can share it easily. If you go through a hosting provider, they will help you get this set up. As a side note, make sure that your provider isn’t making you pay for HTTPS, it’s 2019 and HTTPS is expected on every single website. There are wonderful services like Let’s Encrypt that can even get you certificates for free.
From there, WordPress and your hosting provider will walk you through the steps to get a basic set up going and you can always add on from there. At this point, use Google (or DuckDuckGo) for any particular questions you may have regarding set up or any other facet of your website. It is your website so make it your own!
Additionally, going back to the original question, if you want to start a mailing list, there are a couple of other options. I imagine that WordPress has a mailing list plugin, but I would recommend going with a dedicated provider. This could be MailChimp, Drip, Mailer Lite, or one of the countless other providers. If possible, add some sort of way for readers of your blog to sign up with just their email and then keep those emails coming!
Creating your own website/blog is an excellent résumé builder that can help put your name out there. Especially if you create articles and posts relevant to your field and use it as a chance to market yourself (Note that this is exactly what I am doing🙂). If you want more information about your blog’s performance start looking into analytics, if you want your blog to show up in search results look at SEO (search engine optimization). There are a ton of ways you can go about this, and a ton of different information that you might be able to glean off this experience. Creating your own website may seem scary at first, but it has a very low barrier of entry and very little issue if it doesn’t work for some reason. So start a website or start a blog!