The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Blog

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Have you ever thought about starting a blog? Lots of people do and for many different reasons. Some people have a specific goal and they start a blog to hold themselves accountable and document their journey. Others have some knowledge they’d like to share with the world. And yet others blog to promote their company, services, or products. Some blog as a side hustle to make money. Knowing why you want to blog is the very first step and one that will carry you through the life of your blog.

If you've ever thought about starting a blog, here's everything you need to get started, including what to think about first and how to actually set it up.


Table of Contents

Preparation
Finding the Right Name
Set Up Web Hosting and Domain
Installing WordPress
Learning About WordPress
Installing and Customizing a Theme
Using Plugins
Writing Pages and Posts
Getting the Word Out
Tracking How You’re Doing
Setting Up Email
Building an Email List
Monetization
Updating Your Blog
Next Steps

Preparation

If you’ve ever thought about starting a blog, there’s no better time than the present. If you want to be successful (have plenty of readers, maybe make some money along the way), it helps to do a few things in preparation.

  • Think carefully about your subject or niche. If your subjects are too diverse, readers may be confused or only interested in certain topics. If your niche is too narrow, you may have difficulty coming up with post topics. Select a subject area that you are passionate about to reduce the risk of burnout. Besides, your passion will show through in your blog.
  • Think about your time commitment. Running a successful blog can take up a lot of time, especially in the beginning, so be honest with yourself about how much time you can dedicate to it. You can alter your time commitment by sticking to a tighter or looser posting schedule, but either way it’s important to post on a regular schedule so your readers will know what to expect.
  • Think about your identity. Will you be blogging anonymously or will you reveal who you are? You can build up trust more easily if people get to know who you are, but some people prefer to blog anonymously so they can feel comfortable revealing “private information” such as financial details or family issues.
  • Think about a name and branding for your blog. Some people use their own name for their website and build a brand around themselves. Others choose a name that tells people what to expect. Try to pick a name that will serve you well in the future if your blog changes. Either way, do your research (tips on that next) to make sure the name isn’t already taken or you’re setting yourself up for difficulty.
  • Think about what platform you want use for your blog. There are a number of free blogging websites such as WordPress.com, Blogger.com, and Tumblr.com. The drawback with these is that you don’t have complete control over your own blog, and if the site decides you’ve violated their rules in some way, they can simply delete your blog. Not to mention, they just don’t look professional. I highly recommend getting you own domain name and website hosting, and using the WordPress.org platform for your blog, so that’s what this guide will cover.

Just don’t obsess over every last detail or you’ll find you’re never ready to move forward. Sometimes, you just have to jump in.

Finding the Right Name

Once you’ve finished your preparation, it’s time to research a blog name. You’ll need to make sure the name you want is available, so we’ll start with the domain name. This is your name on the web, the URL someone would type in to get to your site, such as supersavingtips.com. There are a number of extensions like .com, .net, .org, and many many more. Try to get a .com name if you can (that’s the default most people think of), but having a .net or .org extension will work, too. See whether your desired name is available by going to a site like DomainsBot:

Starting a Blog - DomainsBot

In this example, “myblogname” was already taken (in the .com, .net, and .org extensions), so it suggests some similar names I may want to use that are available.

Some naming tips…try to keep it short and memorable, don’t use hyphens (dashes) between words, and avoid having a different URL and name for your blog.

Once you’ve found a suitable name with a .com, .net or .org extension, it’s time to check social media. You can use a site like NameCheckr to check the availability on most social media in one shot:

Starting a Blog - NameCheckr

Make sure you can find a reasonable variation of your name on Twitter, Facebook, and/or any other social media you’re likely to want to use now or in the future.

Set Up Web Hosting and Domain

Once you’ve come to a final decision on the name and domain name for your blog, it’s time to sign up for web hosting. This is the server where your website will live, and it’s important to get a reliable company for fast loading times, protection from hacks, great customer service, easy website set-up, and other perks. I highly recommend Siteground as being very reliable, with knowledgeable and helpful customer service. To sign up, click this button, and then the Sign Up button on the SiteGround website.

Starting a Blog - SiteGround

First, you’ll select a plan. To start out, the StartUp plan should be fine for you (you can always upgrade later if you need to).

If you've ever thought about starting a blog, here's everything you need to get started, including what to think about first and how to actually set it up.

 

Next you will be prompted for a Domain Name. Select Register a New Domain and enter your desired Domain Name. Or if you already have a domain name, select that option and you’re eligible for a FREE transfer of your site by SiteGround’s customer service.

If you've ever thought about starting a blog, here's everything you need to get started, including what to think about first and how to actually set it up.

Finally, you’ll choose a length of time for your hosting plan. Remember that your advertised initial rate will apply as long as the period you choose. So if you’re ready to commit to 3 years, you’ll guarantee that price for the whole time or if you only want to try 1 year, you’ll still get the low monthly price.

If you've ever thought about starting a blog, here's everything you need to get started, including what to think about first and how to actually set it up.Once you’ve clicked on Pay Now, your hosting is set. You’ll enter your name, address, and other details. You’ll also select a password that will give you access to the SiteGround user area (you will be assigned a user name).

By the way, now that you’ve registered your domain name, you might want to take a moment to sign up for those social media accounts you checked earlier…before someone else does.

Installing WordPress

Now it’s time to set up the WordPress platform, and SiteGround makes it easy to do. The next step in the Account Setup Wizard will prompt you to Set Up Your Website. Select Start a New Website and choose WordPress.

Starting a Blog - SiteGround Step 4You’ll be presented with a screen to complete and here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Admin Email – Enter your e-mail address where you will receive e-mails from your blog, such as alerts
  • Admin Username – Enter a secure name, not “admin”, something you will know that others will not easily guess
  • Admin Password – Enter a strong, secure password using letters, numbers and symbols, or click the key to let WordPress generate a password for you (write it down!)

Now click Confirm and WordPress will be installed for you. If you have any trouble at all, contact SiteGround customer service and they’ll be glad to help you.

Learning About WordPress

To access your WordPress blog, go to yourblogname.xxx/wp-admin/ where yourblogname.xxx is the domain you registered. Now you’ll need the WordPress admin username and password that you just created to log in. This brings you to your dashboard.

Starting a Blog - WordPress DashboardThere’s a menu bar on the left that lets you navigate between the various parts of your blog.

  • Dashboard – This home screen shows you what’s going on, and can be modified by moving around the various elements.
  • Posts – This is where you’ll access your existing posts and add new ones as well as define categories for your posts (tags are optional).
  • Media – This is where your images are kept as well as other types of media, but it’s best to stick to images and link out to other types that might otherwise slow your blog down.
  • Pages – A page is like a permanent post of sorts; pages are used for things like an About page or a Contact page.
  • Comments – If you allow comments on your blog, you can find them here.
  • Appearance – This is where you’ll choose a theme and can customize it (more on that here LINK).
  • Plugins – Plugins are like apps for your blog, they provide specific functionality (more on that here LINK).
  • Users – This is where you find your user profile (the admin) and can create additional users, for now you can just fill out your own profile information.
  • Tools – You probably won’t need this section.
  • Settings – This is where the master settings for your blog are, and I’d like to point out two important ones right now. In the Reading section, you’ll find a checkbox for Search Engine Visibility. While you’re setting your blog up, keep this checked, but when you’re ready to show the world, uncheck it so people can find you through search engines. In the Permalinks section, check Post Name. This will ensure your post URLs look pretty  and help tell search engines what’s inside.

As you add plugins to your site, you may notice more options in the dashboard menu bar.

Installing and Customizing a Theme

A theme is a collection of files that shapes the appearance and functionality of your blog. By default, WordPress has provided a basic theme. You can search for third party themes for free at WordPress.org or use one provided by SiteGround.  You can also find premium third party themes on the internet, such as the marketplace on ThemeForest.

When you look for a theme, keep in mind that things like colors and images can usually be changed, but the structure of the page (# of columns for example) might not be changeable. Also it’s important to look for a theme that says it’s responsive, which means it adjusts properly to both mobile and full screens.

To install a theme, click on Appearance, then Themes. Here you can search for the free theme you found and install it automatically, or you can upload the premium theme (zip file) you purchased.

Once you have installed the theme, it will appear in your theme list. Click Activate and the theme will go live on your site. While you may try out several themes, when you have settled on one, delete the others because having old themes sitting on your site can pose a potential security risk. Click on Theme Details, then Delete for those old themes.

To customize your theme, click on Appearance, then Customize. You will see different elements to change on the left, with an updated preview on the right. When you are through making changes, click Save and then the X button to close.

Note that some themes have special setting areas you access differently, but the theme documentation should tell you about that.

To change your blog’s navigation, click on Appearance, then Menus. To change what appears in your sidebar, footer, or other “widget” areas, click on Appearance, then Widgets.

Using Plugins

As I mentioned earlier, plugins are like apps for your blog and give it different functions. One of the most important functions is security, as you will soon see that hackers will be knocking on your virtual door.

I highly recommend using the Wordfence security plugin, either the free or premium version.

To install a plugin, click on Plugins, then Add New. In the upper right corner you can search for plugins available on WordPress. Once the selections appear, you can click on the Install Now button and the plugin is installed for you.

After you install Wordfence, be sure to click Activate so it will begin working. You will see it adds another option to your menu bar.

If you allow comments on your blog, another important plugin is one to deal with spammers, and I use Akismet, which is usually installed by default. If you click on Plugins, look for Akismet and click Activate. You can then sign up for an Akismet API key (note: when it asks how much you would like to pay, you can enter $0). After you have the key, return to your blog Plugins, and click on Settings under Akismet. Paste you API key in the settings and click Save. It will now automatically place spammy comments into your spam folder for evaluation.

Some other plugins I recommend include:

  • Yoast SEO – This helps you to optimize your posts for search engine visibility.
  • Updraft Plus Backup/Restore – This uploads backups of your site to the cloud in case anything happens, and at some point, it probably will.
  • SumoMe – This plugin gives you a lot of options, but you’ll want social sharing for your posts right away, and soon after you’ll probably want to use its signup forms to start your e-mail list (more on that here LINK).
  • Caching – SiteGround has caching built-in and you can turn it on in SiteGround’s user area under cPanel, Site Improvement Tools, SuperCacher. If you decide to use a plugin instead, try W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. Any of these will help keep your blog loading quickly.

Writing Pages and Posts

A page is typically a permanent page of information on your blog, such as an About page, a Contact page or a Privacy Policy. A post on the other hand is content that is added as you go along. Posts will show on your homepage (unless you’ve set it otherwise) and pages will need to be added to your navigation bars (Appearance, Menus).

Creating pages and posts use basically the same process. From the Dashboard, click on Posts (or Pages), then Add New. There you’ll see a word processor-like screen which allows you to create your post, complete with graphics (via the Add Media button).  Keep in mind that you must have the rights to publish any graphics you use.  There are many sites that offer free graphics for use. Try Pixabay.com or one of these other sites for stock photos you can use. Be sure to provide attribution if required. Or you can sign up for a paid graphics site like StockUnlimited.

When you’re finished, in the upper right corner you can either save your post as a draft, publish it immediately, or schedule it to be published in the future. Once it is published, a post will appear to the public on the homepage of your blog (pages will need to be added to a menu).

You’ll want to publish posts on a regular schedule so your readers know what to expect from you. Also make sure to create eye-catching headlines that draw the reader in. If you write high-quality content, readers will be more likely to share your content and to return in the future. Speaking of sharing, be sure to use a social sharing plugin (like SumoMe) to make it easy for your readers to share your posts on their favorite social media.

Getting the Word Out

So now you’re a blogger! What else do you do? Well, no one knows you’ve published a post except you, so it’s time to get out on social media and let your potential readers know that you’re there. This includes Facebook and Twitter, but also other sites like Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and more.

One way to find community is to comment on other people’s blogs in your same subject area. Before you start commenting, be sure to set up your picture on Gravatar as that’s used by most blogs. Building up relationships with other bloggers can be incredibly helpful.

Another way for people to find you is through search engines, so you may want to do some reading up on SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  If you haven’t already, make sure to uncheck the Search Engine Visibility setting in your Dashboard under Settings, Reading. This will allow search engines to crawl your site and report your results to searchers.

Tracking How You’re Doing

To know how many visitors you’re getting, you can sign up for Google Analytics and to see how visitors are coming from Google Search, you can also sign up for Google Search Console.  To help Google Search crawl your site more quickly, you can upload sitemaps using the Yoast plugin.

Setting Up Email

Having an email address from you@yourblog.com looks a lot more professional than a Gmail address. To set this up, go back to the SiteGround User Area and access your cPanel. Under Mail click Email Accounts. Here you can create the email accounts you need and even access them over the web (Actions, More, Access Webmail). If you use an email client (such as Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird or Postbox), you can get the information you need to configure your email address there. Just create the email account, then under Actions click on More, Configure Email Client.

Building an Email List

Getting your visitors’ email addresses is an important way to stay in touch with your community. To do this, you’ll need an email marketing service and a plugin or widget to gather addresses. For the email marketing service, I recommend Mailchimp to start. It’s easy to use, and free up to 2,000 email addresses. You can use Mailchimp to create a sign-up form on your blog, or you can use one of several plugins. Once you have some signups, you can use Mailchimp to send out a newsletter including information like your recent posts, personal updates, and/or weekly tips.

Monetization

Many bloggers hope to earn money from their blogs, and while there’s several ways to accomplish this, it can take awhile to earn a reasonable amount because you need a good amount of traffic. Methods of making money include advertisements (such as Google AdSense), sponsored posts, selling a product (such as an e-book or a course) or service (coaching, for example), and affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is where you partner with a company and mention their product or service on your blog. If the reader clicks through and uses the product or service, the blogger receives a small commision. There are a number of affiliate marketing networks, as well as the Amazon Associates program.

If you have sponsored posts or use affiliate marketing links, be aware that per the FTC, you need to disclose this information at the start of each post involved.

Also, if you use affiliate marketing links, get a plugin like Pretty Link to change the ugly referral links to something better looking like yourblog.com/myaffiliate. You can also set your affiliate links to be nofollow, as Google recommends.

Updating Your Blog

From time to time, WordPress will come out with updates, as will your installed plugins. These will show up in your Dashboard. I highly recommend backing up your site (Settings, UpdraftPlus Backups) before making changes. Once you’ve backed up, you can simply click on the updates. Keeping your WordPress and plugins up-to-date is important as older versions may have security vulnerabilities.

Next Steps

While I’ve only covered these topics briefly, and there’s lots more to learn as a blogger, this guide was designed to get you started quickly and easily. Now that you’re set up with the basics, you can create goals for your blog and work toward making progress. Focus on one area at a time and then when you’ve mastered it, move on to the next aspect. Blogging is not always easy, but stick with it and you’ll find it incredibly rewarding. If you have any questions or problems, SiteGround’s customer service is amazingly helpful. Or feel free to contact me, if there’s anything I can do to help.

Last Updated: August 4, 2017

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