Just Do It
Related: The Ultimate Blog Planning Workbook
Why You Shouldn’t Start a Blog
Where to Begin when Starting a Blog
The first decision you will make (apart from what you want to write about, of course ) is which platform to use. The three main platforms that most choose from are Blogger, WordPress, or Squarespace. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, your choice will depend on the type of site that you want to create. I know, you’re probably thinking “This is great but how do I start a free blog?” Most of these options allow you to start a free blog and then upgrade to a paid one with more customization options and design freedom.
This platform is created by Google and offers free sites that are quite easy to set up and get going. Blogger can be a great start for those just wanting to test out blogging and see if it is for them. There are a wide variety of upgrades and choices out there, but I personally think that for the most part, this one is for those who want to do a simple blog without many frills.
This platform is a fantastic option for the more artistic types. Squarespace offers visually stunning options and lots of personalization for galleries, portfolios, e-commerce, and other sites where visual impact is most important. This is a fantastic platform for artists and makers who want to sell their goods and services.
There are actually two options when using WordPress, which I have to say is my personal favorite platform. WordPress.com offers free sites with slightly less personalization, but still a wide variety of options.
WordPress.org is for self-hosted (we’ll get to that later, don’t worry) sites and offers just about as much personalization as you can think up.
If you are just starting out or brand spanking new to the world of blogging you can begin on wordpress.com and go to self-hosted later. However, many hosting sites offer a free installation of WordPress on your site with just one click for easy setup. One benefit to a free blog on WordPress.com is that you have an audience just waiting to interact with your posts in the WordPress reader. If you are new to blogging and unsure on how to properly do SEO ( search engine optimization) or social media marketing to get your words in front of eyes this may be the best way for you to build you following in the beginning.
There are other options out there, but I have found these to be the top three that most go with and find relatively easy to use and make their own as well as produce high-quality websites with. Deciding on which one is best for you is simply a matter of deciding what type of blog works best for your topic or niche, and how much you want to make your site your own. Many of the free options do not allow things like Adsense ads or use of plugins to personalize your site. They can be a great way to start but you can quickly find yourself outgrowing them. Luckily many of the free sites offer an export option that allows you to later import your content to a paid version of your platform.
Understanding Blog Hosting
So you’ve decided you want to self-host your blog. I find this is often the best option when you want your site to be a true representation of yourself and your message. This is also the only way that you will be able to make a passive income through the use of an ad network such as Adsense or Mediavine.
I know this can be daunting. Believe me, when I first stepped into blogging I was beyond confused with self-hosting. I had no clue which host to go with, or how to even begin. It really isn’t as hard as it sounds or looks, I promise.
One of the most important things you can do when self-hosting is researching the options available and finding one that works for you and your budget. Finding a good price, good uptime, and good customer service are a must. ( I cannot stress how important good customer service is. Believe me, at one time or another you WILL need to talk to your hosting company and it is imperative that you work with one that listens and assists you in a timely manner.)
Do not be like I was in the beginning and just go with the hosting company you hear the most about, or the first one you find that offers a good deal. Many times, like I did, you will kick yourself later. One reason for this is that hosting companies will often promote an introductory offer that seems like a great deal such as $2.95 per month. However, what they don’t tell you upfront (unless you read the fine print) is that once that introductory period of 1-3 years is over the cost of your hosting will go up 2 to 3 times or more. One company I was using nearly tripled in cost after the introductory period. Always read the fine print if a deal seems to good to be true. It may be a great deal but if you are a smaller blogger getting locked into paying hundreds of dollars a year for hosting might not be the best option for you.
There are so many options here that I won’t even go into all of them. You can do your own research or get to know other bloggers through Facebook groups or other communities and ask them what hosting companies they prefer. If you are going with WordPress, I do suggest finding one with one-click installation ( which, honestly, almost all of them offer). This will make your life so much easier.
Due to recent changes in google’s algorithms it is more important than ever to have a site that uses https rather than http. I know it may not seem like a big deal to have a secure site if you aren’t collecting payment information or anything but it will help your site when it comes to SEO. It is important to find a host that will offer you a SSL certificate for free or low-cost. Even better, make sure that you have a host that will install this certificate for you if you are unsure of how to do this yourself.
One hosting company that tends to be a favorite among newer bloggers is SiteGround. They have fantastic customer service and tons of great add ons that you can use to make your site as fast and secure as possible.
Claim Your Domain ( Your Home on the Internet)
I find that this topic can be one of the most confusing when it comes to learning how to start a blog. Many don’t understand the difference between your domain and your hosting. Don’t worry, I was one of them.
Think of it like this. Your hosting is where your blog is stored, or hosted. Your domain is where people find your site or your address on the web. Your hosting simply holds the information for people to find on your site (aka domain).
You absolutely don’t have to purchase your domain from your hosting company, but many of them offer it if you want to purchase it there. Some companies even offer a free domain when you purchase a year of hosting. You will have to have both a domain (which is generally billed annually) and hosting if you are going the self-hosted route. There are plenty of other places to purchase your domain if you prefer to do it separately.
While you can go with a completely free option such as blogger or wordpress.com sites this will not give you your personal name on the web. For instance, your blog address would be myawesomeblog.wordpress.com. Now, if this doesn’t bother you it is a great low-cost or even no-cost option to go with.
We’ll talk about branding your blog another time and why having the right domain is important. If branding isn’t a big deal for you though, go with the free one. You can always move it to a domain later.
Getting The Look You Love
Installing the perfect theme can really help make your blog your own. Think of themes like a fresh coat of paint for your site in just the right color. While some require coding knowledge (yup, we’ll cover that another time too!) many offer plug and play options that will get you the look you want with minimal work.
There are themes available at a cost or free for all platforms. ( although, I would caution against bootleg themes as these can contain yuckies like spyware, etc and it’s just rude to steal from theme creators by using bootleg themes). Starting out with one of the free themes available from WordPress, or your platform of choice is perfectly fine. Once you get your feet a little wet you can upgrade to a paid theme to really add your personal aesthetic to your site. You can even get a theme personally created for your website from a number of great places.
A few of the better places to find themes are Creative Market (where I purchased my current theme), Etsy, DIY Themes who offer the popular Thesis theme, iThemes, or my theme shop ( no, not my personal one lol. That’s the name of the company. I do, however, use and love one of their themes on another of my sites!)
You can browse any of these to find just the right theme for any blog, brand, or business. Demos are generally always available to try out the theme on a dummy site before you buy it as well. Be sure to demo everything before you put money into it! You may see a theme that looks awesome, but then when you go to put it on your site you spend hours and can’t figure out how to make it look they way you expected. By trying a demo you can be sure that you can set the site up the way you want and that your content will go well with it.
When running a self-hosted WordPress site you can take advantage of a number of useful plugins. The number of plugins that you can find is humongous. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by it. If you are anything like me then you want to try each of them to see what they can do.
Unfortunately, while you can have a decent number of them without issue, turning on too many at once is one of the fastest ways to completely kill your site. Not only can this slow down the performance and make loading times longer, but it can literally make your site inaccessible to your readers or to you. ( We’ll go into detail on a later post on just how to fix that if it does happen because yup, I’ve done it…talk about scary! lol)
The best idea is to try one at a time when you are starting a new blog ( and always backup your site beforehand) to see if you like a particular plugin and either deactivating and deleting it or keeping it before moving on.
Below are some of my personal favorite plugins for WordPress:
If you are going to run affiliate ads, Adsense or any other advertising on your site AdRotate is a good way to go. They have an easy to use dashboard where you can input ad codes, set ad groups, and even track conversions on a particular ad. It will also rotate banners or ads on a timer that you set allowing for more than just one static ad in a session.
There are a ton of options for backup plugins, but I personally use BackWPup. I find it easy to set up and run on a timeframe that works for me. Not only can you do recurring backups but also do one at any time if needed. You can find one that works best for you, but you REALLY need some kind of backup in case your site crashes somehow, is hacked, etc.
I’ve tried a number of these but find BetterClicktoTweet to be the easiest to use and most reliable. Essentially, it allows you to create a segment of text within your post that your reader can click to tweet onto their twitter timeline. This is great for sharing your words with others!
Updating your comment section from the base WordPress one is not mandatory, but will help to add personality to your site. Personally, I think CommentLuv is a great option for lifestyle blogs because if your readers are bloggers they can add a link to their own site with their comment. This helps add to the incentive for posting a comment on your site. One word of caution, though. Not all comments you get will be the real deal. There are a lot of spammers who will take advantage of this capability and post crap links on your site. Make sure that you have a spam filter on!
I know, it seems so simple. However, this little image widget plugin makes it so fast an easy to add an image to your sidebar. I really love it. No need for HTML or any other coding. You simply upload your image, choose a few options from drop-down menus, and you’re done.
Insert Headers & Footers:
If you are completely oblivious to code or just don’t want to bother with it then this plugin is a wonder. For anything that you need to insert code into the header or footer of your blog ( such as verifying with certain other sites or search engines ), you can simply copy the code and drop it into the appropriate place on this plugin page. It really makes life easier for those of us who aren’t that into coding yet.
Instagram Feed WD:
I don’t know what it is about Instagram feed widgets, but invariably the ones I pick either don’t work with my theme or don’t work at all. I’ve found Instagram Feed WD to work beautifully with any theme I have and really show off my images in a lovely way.
Social Metrics Tracker:
If you are curious how well your content is doing on social media the Social Metrics Tracker will give you a breakdown of how often each post has been shared on various social media outlets. It’s a great way of gauging how well you are doing on a certain platform and either stepping it up or letting that one go for a while.
Ok, this is more of a vanity thing but I much prefer the look of the StarBox author box to the general one that WordPress gives you. This one offers a few options to personalize things and really helps showcase your bio a little better. It’s absolutely not necessary but still a good one to pick up if you are picky like I am lol.
Unfortunately, there are sucky people out there who get their kicks breaking into other peoples sites. I highly suggest security of some kind. There are a few different plugins to try but after going through many of them I have found Wordfence to give me the best security and lots of interesting options and trackers to keep an eye on things. They can even show you live traffic on your site so you can know who is on your site and when.
No matter what some gurus try to tell you SEO is a huge part of getting traffic to your site. If your pages are optimized people won’t find you (without a TON of work). The easiest and most comprehensive way of getting SEO right is the Yoast plugin. I seriously love this one. It gives me ideas of what isn’t the greatest and lets me know when I make changes for the better…or worse lol.
I do use a number of other plugins but each site has different needs so what works for me might not be best for you. These will give you a good basic start to build from. Of course, if you would like a recommendation on a plugin for a particular job I would be happy to answer any questions.
Time to Get Creative
This is where the fun really begins. With a good hosting company, the perfect theme picked out and plenty of plugins to get just the site you want it’s time to really make your blog shine with awesome content.
One key thing that trips up a lot of newer bloggers is the desire to make everything perfect from the start. Don’t get caught in this trap! Seriously. It doesn’t have to be perfect from the start. It just has to be there for others to read what you have to share. I have seen so many plain-Jane sites get tons of traffic while beautiful ones can sit like a ghost town.
Invariably, as you grow and learn as a blogger you will find things that you want to change around or do differently anyway. Think of your blog as a living an growing thing. Let it evolve as you do as a writer and creator. Not only will this bring you a better site in the end, but the satisfaction and drive to always keep learning and improving. This also helps to take a lot of the stress and feeling of being overwhelmed off of your shoulders which can all too often lead to burnout.
Whether you want to go completely solo on creating content for your site or get a little help along the way there are tons of great resources out there for bloggers. There are courses to improve your skills, high-quality free stock available if you don’t feel like doing your own photography ( or information on how to improve your own photography), and tons of automation resources to make blogging fun and easy.
There are various resources for promoting your blog as well including Tailwind or BoardBooster for Pinterest, Hootsuite for Facebook or Twitter, Later for Instagram, and things like Edgar for overall promotion. We will talk about those in a later post. However, if you have any questions about automation or social media promotion please feel free to ask them in the comments and I will be happy to answer any that I can!
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