By DB Ferguson of the No Fact Zone
Are you ready to plunge into your own fandom blog? Then it’s time you started thinking more like a webmaster than a fan.
A fan is all agog with the thrills and spills of their star, but hosting a fandom blog means making a plan and sticking with it. It’s time to turn the geek on.
Choose an Original Domain Name
Get your own original domain name URL and hosting service as opposed to a free blog, if at all possible. There are successful fandom blogs on free hosting services like WordPress.com, and you can pay to have your own domain name on the site, but you might not be able to live with the site limitations. A full version WordPress blog gives you the freedom to design and customize your fan blog to your needs.
Also, register your site with a reliable visitor tracking search program such as Google Analytics, Sitemeter, and Woopra to guarantee that your statistics are being tracked from Day 1. These will give you metrics which to gauge your growth and will give you valuable information on how your site is used.
Choosing a domain name is another challenge. You can’t use the name of the star without permission, so what domain name can you use? I suggest that you use a common keyword and search term associated with your subject for your domain name, such as a song, catchphrase or word. This will be the anchor for all branding you do with your site online, so choose carefully.
Make sure your URL and brand identity word or phrase is unique and not being used elsewhere on the web. I highly recommend not making a final choice unless you can grab the .COM, .ORG, .NET, and .INFO of any URL you pick.
The biggest mistake I made in setting up my blog was picking out a .NET extension because the .COM was taken. Now the .COM is a generic ad site and I know that I’m losing traffic because I made an unwise choice because I was too rigid in wanting a specific identity for my blog. You can buy these later if they become available or the site owner wants to sell, but the price might be high.
Do it right first. Do a Google search of your desired name to make sure no one else is using the phrase as a brand. One final check to do is go to UsernameCheck.com to see if anyone is using your brand as a user name on a major social media site.
Think big. If your site is successful, it is possible that the fandom will look to you to fill other needs on the fandom’s wish list. You may decide later on to build a message board for your readers, or a wiki, or a picture site or another community-driven site under the umbrella of your brand. Think big but also think flexible. Put the steps in place now for the possibility of those future endeavors and expansion.
A year after starting No Fact Zone, I helped create and build a sister site to No Fact Zone, Colbert University, a reader’s companion to ‘The Colbert Report’ built on Joomla. Colbert University was developed from a desire to have a more comprehensive historical site than could be easily incorporated within No Fact Zone. With the ability to make that site a subdomain within the No Fact Zone playground, and create that site from the beginning, made the setup much easier than if I had gone with a cheaper route and gone with a Blogspot or WordPress.com blog.
A WordPress blog allows both a dynamic blog for your main site (which can be converted to a magazine-style blog if your content is appropriate) as well as pseudo-static pages which come in handy to provide more static information such as biographies, discographies, FAQs, etc.
Take a lot of time to evaluate the layouts and formats of the competition’s web designs within your niche. Look for a template that gives your site a very distinct feel compared to the others. Your primary blog subject must be easily identifiable within a few seconds of a new reader visiting the blog. They have to know they are visiting a fan site and not the official site, and they must know immediately who the fan site is covering. Anticipate the possibility that at least 50% of your traffic will be coming from Google or other search engines. A visually strong header or colors is a good way to establish an easily, identifiable brand for your blog.
No Fact Zone is about Stephen Colbert and features a Red/White/Blue WordPress Theme. I knew I would have a lot of graphics, videos, and Widgets, so I choose a clean white template layout, and picked the color accents deliberately borrowed from the Patriotic theme of ‘The Colbert Report’. Recently, a fan of No Fact Zone stepped up and designed a new logo for our site that is a direct style replica of ‘The Colbert Report’ logo. I incorporated a favorite picture of Stephen, one of the visual anchors of my site template since the beginning.
Some fan sites whose templates give you an excellent feel for the content inside as soon as you enter are Mugglenet (Harry Potter), TheRaider.net (Indiana Jones), and The One Ring (Lord of the Rings). Study other fan sites to see what they offer as features, their layout, and how they incorporate their themes into all elements of their site design.
When choosing a web host, make sure your host uses Cpanel, Fantastic, or a similar program which offers WordPress automatically, and permits easy incorporation of subdomains, forums, message boards, and other features you may need in the future. The more flexible your web host, the more room for growth in your site.
In the next article in this ongoing series on building a fan-based blog, I’ll cover one of the hardest and most fun parts: finding content. Ooooooh, pictures and videos! We never get tired of looking at our stars, do we?
By DB Ferguson of the No Fact Zone
DB Ferguson is the webmaster of No Fact Zone, a Stephen Colbert-centric news blog and fan site. DB is quite proud of the fact that she figured out how to install a WordPress blog and how to change a template with basic HTML all by herself. Oh, and Google helped a little, too.