Conservation is a great thing to write about, and for this reason I often get emails from people thinking of starting their own websites and blogs. To help answer their questions, I thought I’d share a few of the things I learned from setting up my own site.
Caveat: I should add that I don’t have an IT background, started off knowing nothing about web development and probably still know very little. This won’t be too technical, because there’s a great deal of tutorials and other ‘How To’ articles out there to do with starting blogs.
There aren’t however very many specifically by (or for) biologists or conservationists, so if that’s your thing then I hope this will be useful. That leads me on very nicely to the first point…
Why Set Up A Conservation Blog?
I’m very passionate about conservation science and fieldwork, and so are many others. At the same time, a vital part of any conservation project is outreach and education. The two go together very well I think.
Conservationists have to be the ambassadors for the programmes they support, and blogs are a great way to do that. They bridge the gap between the (very) occasional mainstream news articles which rarely cover the issue in enough detail and the professional academic reports and papers, which can often be a bit dry and dull.
Conservation Blogs: Working Out What To Write About!
http://www.jamesborrell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/386846_279615265414185_162265227149190_819164_468480338_n-w960-h600.jpgOften it’s sudden inspiration that triggers the urge to set up a blog, to get something written down or to get an opinion ‘out there’. I’ll happily admit that the first few things I started writing about didn’t make a lot of sense – I’ll let you decide about the rest! A website needs to be coherent, with a few topics and themes, so that it generates a consistent and engaged audience.
I can’t tell you how to do this, as I’m still trying to work that out for myself. If for example I was a particularly avid photographer then I might write reviews of all the lenses and kit I’ve tried. If the articles are interesting and informative, then readers will soon discover that they can visit your site for information and resources about lenses they might be interested in buying.
Conservation is a big topic, but we can sometimes do this too: Here are some examples of different types of conservation blogs…
Conservation Blog Inspiration:
The Ring of Darhad Expedition: The team from Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation traveled out to Mongolia to collect important information about wolverines, snow leopards and other wildlife in the Darhad region that will support wildlife research and conservation efforts there. They blogged throughout the journey, and it was a great read. (They also developed an excellent resource for teachers.)
Snapshot Serengeti: Over the last 45 years, the University of Minnesota Lion Project has discovered a lot about lions – everything from why they have manes to why they live in groups. Here’s the blog from the team behind one of the worlds most successful citizen science projects (and admittedly my favorite!).
Conservation Photography Blogs:
International League of Conservation Photographers: Engaging stories and – of course – incredibly photography. iLCP is best known for its field expeditions, where our photographers produce a comprehensive portrait of a timely conservation issue and threat. This powerful imagery is then used to support a conservation program, project, or campaign. I posted one of their short films a few months ago.
Local Wildlife Blogs:
Wildlife Kate: Kate and I started blogging at about the same time, and it’s really inspiring see how much she has achieved! Kate’s specialty is the wildlife on her ‘patch’, she posts photographs, videos and blogs about the wildlife in her garden and surrounding area in semi-rural Staffordshire. It just goes to show what you can do in your own back garden.
Conservation Science Blogs:
ConservationBytes: I’ve gone on and on about how much I enjoy this blog, but it’s pretty much the best example of a conservation science blog I know. So if this is the sort of thing you want to plan to write about, then this should provide a great deal of inspiration.
Conservation Blog Database:
I’m working on putting together a big list of online conservation blogs, so feel free to take a look, search for inspiration, or suggest one to be added to the list.
How Much Does It Cost To Set Up A Blog?
In my experience, anywhere from nothing (free!) to almost nothing. You can of course spend a lot of money, if you really want to, but why bother when there’s so many brilliant free packages available. I started off with a free blog, but I’ve worked on some upgrades since…
Here’s a breakdown of what mine costs me:
A lot of the free themes are excellent, but I found a premium one I particularly liked and thought it was worth the £30 – the single biggest expense.
*Up until recently I only paid £3/month, but as visitor numbers grow, you may have to move to a higher bandwidth package. I’m unlikely ever to max out the bandwidth (a.k.a. number of visitors) I can have for £5/month.
How To Get Started With Your Conservation Blog #1: Software and Platforms
I started out with wordpress.com, after a year I’d found my way around that and wanted more flexibility. I moved up to wordpress.org, struggled a lot, but eventually got the hang of it. Building your blog or website should never detract from your work or project, so don’t worry too much about the technical side if you can help it!
East to get started with and a huge online resource of tutorials
A large range of ready to use Themes for all sorts of blogs
Highly compatible with most browsers and operating systems
Potential to upgrade to ‘custom CSS’
Requires very little maintenance
Limited flexibility if you want to develop a custom design.
Limited selection of available plugins.
Have to have ‘.wordpress.com’ at the end of your domain (although there is the option to upgrade cheaply)
Often a very small amount of WordPress advertising on your site.
It’s worth checking out the difference between .COM and .ORG.
Freedom to be as creative as you can imagine.
A much wider variety of available plugins and third-party add-ons.
Opportunity to look more professional, rather than just an off the shelf blog.
A little bit difficult to set up – depending on your skills. (but if you set aside a morning, it is possible to do with no previous experience).
You’ll have to pay for a domain and hosting (see above).
Requires a but more maintenance.
If something breaks, you’ll have to work out how to fix it (although support forums are excellent).
Very simple and easy to get started with, great for a first blog, but not much opportunity for customization/personalization.
A social media platform at heart, but a very simple and powerful way to run a blog. Again, not much opportunity for customization. A good example is Mark Sherz’s blog.
Apps and Plugins For Conservationists
The beautiful thing about online blogging platforms such as WordPress (and others, but I’m biased), is the vast range of available plugins. These cover everything from newsletters to social media and photo galleries to website statistics.
A list of plugins is far beyond the scope of this article, but in terms of running a conservation website there’s a couple of things you might want to think about.
Conservation is often very visual. Think about using sliders, lightbox or custom galleries to really emphasize conservation photography.
I use a gallery and photoblog.
If you are running a conservation project or promoting a cause, then it can be really helpful to keep in touch with your readers. There’s lot of newsletter providers, I use Mailchimp, because it’s powerful and free. (If you found this article useful, you might like to sign up to mine?)
I’ve recently started using a google translator plugin, to make page translations easy, and to encourage conservation between conservationists working in different parts of the world. I’m not sure if it useful or not. Has anyone used it to translate this page?
Social Media Plugins:
Probably the most important – the world revolves around social media. Among the many I use is a Twitter plugin. There’s lots and lots to choose from of course. This one is quite fun, and I used it for my 100 Conservationists To Follow On Twitter article.
Not something I’ve tried yet, but lots of people are exploring crowdfunding opportunities for conservation (Here’s 10 Inspiring Crowdfunding Projects). There’s lots of interesting themes and plugins designed exactly for this purpose, this one, for example.
Useful Articles From Other Websites On Setting Up A Blog
How To Set Up an Expedition Blog
How To Set Up A Hosted WordPress Site
Nobody Should Blog On Their First Expedition
Most Popular WordPress Plugins
How To Increase Your Blog Traffic
When starting out with blogging, it’s easy (and fun) to become transfixed with traffic stats. I should think scientists are especially prone to this! If you’re interested I’ve published my stats from 2013.
Stats can be important though, especially if you are trying to publicize a conservation project or garner support. I’ve written an entire ‘How To..’ article on this topic in particular:
How To.. Increase Your Blog’s Traffic (Lessons learned and suggestions welcomed)
P.S. An Important Thing To Remember…
It’s not all about the blog. They can be a great motivation, a brilliant resource and wonderful for networking. But they should never be an excuse to stay indoors when the sun is shining.
The best way to get started, is just to make a start and learn as you go along. Set up a conservation blog today, and if you do, send me a link.