Starting a blog might sound easy, but can quickly become confusing when you discover the multitude of options available for every part of the blog creation process.
I created my first blog/website way back in 1998, and since that time the changes in the ‘blogosphere’ have been immense. (Nobody I knew of was making any money blogging back then for instance.)
And the Web itself has changed just as much. When I first used the Internet in 1989, I had to use a 1200 baud modem (yes it was slow!) and Unix commands to access ‘directories’ at various US universities, so it’s been amazing to see how it’s grown and conquered the world in the three decades since then.
The rise of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc has also vastly increased the options for bloggers to market their sites, albeit with greatly increased competition.
With all the different options available it’s easy to make big mistakes that you only discover after many months of blogging, so I’ve created this ‘How to Start a Blog’ post to hopefully help you avoid all that.
How to Start a Blog: 5 Easy Steps:
- Select a blog name.
- Find a good site host.
- Choose a blog theme.
- Customize your blog.
- Write your first post.
1. Select a blog name
Choosing a blog name that you’re happy with is something that you want to try and get right the first time. Quite a few bloggers later have second thoughts with their choice of name, and a rebranding process can be time-consuming and frustrating.
It’s also usually best to choose a ‘dot com’ name and be ‘self-hosted’ so as to appear more professional and credible. Thus if you’re intending to monetize your site at some stage don’t be tempted to go with free services such as Webflow, Wix, Weebly etc.
Not only are the free services bad for your SEO, they also greatly limit your design options and advertising is either banned or severely limited. Your site is also at risk of being shut down at any time (they own your site, not you.)
Other considerations when selecting a blog name are:
- What subject will you be blogging about? – it’s often a good idea to choose a name that suits the subject of your blog.
- Should you use your own name? – Many famous bloggers have done so, e.g. Pat Flynn and Neil Patel. Other well-known company names have no obvious relation to their core business, e.g. Apple, Moz, Spotify, Bing, Google etc.
- Keywords are good for SEO – The biggest problem with keywords is including them in a name which isn’t already taken. You can try them out on a site such as NameCheap.
- Aim for brevity (and be easy to spell and pronounce) – being short and simple to spell makes your site name easier to remember and type in. Long, difficult names are much more prone to typo’s as well.
- Omit hyphens – Once again these increase the chance of confusion and typo’s, and hyphens are often associated with spammers.
- Use a good registrar – it’s usually cheaper long-term to buy your name through a good registrar such as NameCheap than through your website host.
- Consult a thesaurus – if you’re stuck for a name then consulting a thesaurus can give you lots of useful ideas.
- Check it’s not taken on social media – check that your preferred name isn’t already taken on major social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, since you’ll probably want to promote your blog there later.
(See this post for more tips and advice on picking a blog name.)
2. Find a good site host
If you’re planning to monetize and/or want your blog to be taken seriously, you need to be self-hosted (as opposed to using a free service.)
Certainly there are free blogs available, such as with sites such as Weebly, Tumblr, Blogger etc. They come with big drawbacks though, such as:
- Monetizing is difficult, as ads are restricted or not allowed.
- You can’t have your own domain name.
- Video and image uploads are restricted.
- Your blog doesn’t belong to you – it’s the property of the free blog provider.
For hosting on this blog I chose SiteGround (see my review here) after doing substantial research and consulting with other bloggers.
If you research website hosting you’ll find a lot of people recommending BlueHost, but be warned: they’re almost certainly doing it for the high affiliate fees, and not because they sincerely love BlueHost.
The truth is that if you ask for opinions on blogger forums you’ll find a lot of moaning about BlueHost’s site speed (slow) and support (poor). This is mostly true for the frequently touted HostGator as well–they’re both owned by the same company Endurance International Group.
Page loading speed is very important these days, with impatient web users clicking away from your site if it takes longer than about three seconds to load. As you can see from the following speed comparison charts, SiteGround is no slouch:
SiteGround also prioritizes customer service and support, offering live chat as well as around the clock phone and email support. (I’ve accessed their live chat on several occasions, and always received good, prompt service.)
An SSL certificate (allowing you to put https ahead of your domain name) is basically a must-have requirement these days (Google will label your site as ‘Not Secure’ otherwise – not good for SEO!) SiteGround gives you a certificate for free, whereas many other hosts charge $40 or more.
SiteGround also offers WordPress hosting, granting you automated daily backups, improved security, page caching, and content management system updates.
3. Choose a blog theme
Assuming you’ve installed WordPress (the best blogging platform!) you’ll have to make the choice of installing either a free or premium theme on your blog.
WordPress’ free themes are listed in the official WordPress.org Themes directory. (Other sources may be unreliable.) You can also view them by navigating to Appearance > Themes > Add New Theme on your WordPress dashboard.
For those hoping to monetize their blogs, one of the most frequently recommended choices (if you do your research on the internet) is to get a StudioPress ‘Genesis Framework and Child’ with WordPress (I use StudioPress on this blog.)
As this article from UpWork succinctly puts it, ” If WordPress is the engine of the car, Genesis is all of the parts. And Genesis child themes—the look and feel of your site—are the paint job.”
Here are some of the main reasons for using the Genesis Framework:
- Updates are easy. Since the Genesis Framework makes use of CHILD themes, any changes you make only affect the child, since the child sits on top of the framework.
- Excellent Support. I’ve always found support excellent, and have heard the same from other developers. As well as prompt answers to queries there are a large number of free tutorials available.
- Excellent Coding. It’s always compatible with WordPress’ latest version and is constantly being updated. The StudioPress team have many years experience, so are likely to be around for a long time to come.
- Flexibility. You’re able to do almost anything with Genesis, from adding sliders, widgets and sidebars to almost any area of your site, and moving, changing and deleting components to achieve almost any effect you desire.
- SEO. This is a somewhat contentious issue, as I’ve seen several articles recommending to install the Yoast SEO plugin as a superior alternative to Genesis SEO. Genesis SEO ships for free with the Framework, and Yoast comes either free or as a paid premium version. Personally, I’d say that it appears best to stick with the Genesis SEO for simple blogs or small websites, or go with Yoast for large commercial sites with heavy reliance on search engine traffic.
- Mobile Responsive. Their themes are mobile responsive, meaning your website will be optimized for every browser, device, and screen size (very important for SEO these days!)
For this blog I chose the eleven40-pro child theme, a fairly recent theme developed by the founder of StudioPress especially for blogs, designed to focus on the content.
Since I’d already bought the framework I didn’t have to pay for it again (free to re-use), but simply installed it via my WordPress Dashboard, followed by the new child theme I’d just bought. Eleven40-pro cost $33 (I received 25% off as a returning customer.)
4. Customize your blog
Whichever theme you decide upon for your blog, you’ll probably want and need to make a few customizations to it before you’re completely happy with the end result.
I personally use CSS to make most basic changes to my blog, but many also use ‘Page Builders’ which you can use without needing to learn any code.
A few good ones are:
Readability & Scanability
The type and size of your font have an immediate impact on visitors to your blog, so you want to ensure that they’re agreeable to the largest number of people. A larger font (16px-18px) is generally recommended, and sans-serif fonts are best suited for digital media.
Plenty of white space is important for readability, as is a good line height (normally 1.5 in most blogs.)
Line length is also important, with narrow columns being much more prevalent on blogs than in the early days of blogging, when lines routinely sprawled across the screen. Optimal length is usually considered to be somewhere between 60-75 characters per line. (Narrow columns make it possible to scan down a page of text much more easily.)
Create a logo
A great way to make your blog stand out and be more memorable is to get yourself a unique logo. Either design one yourself with a free program such as PicMonkey or Canva, or pay a few dollars to have one created for you at a site such as Fiverr.
Many themes come with features such as ‘tag clouds’ and categories in the sidebar that you may not want. To edit or remove such features you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the Widgets, Menus, Header etc in the sidebar’s ‘Appearance’ menu.
It’s fairly basic stuff for anyone who’s used to using a program such as Word for instance, though your theme provider should also have instructions and tutorials available, as well as providing assistance via email, phone and Live Chat.
Unless your audience is children I wouldn’t recommend getting too fancy with your color scheme. Black text on a white or lightly shaded background works best for most people (white on black or similar is hard on the eyes.)
Using different colors for links and headings works well to make your page more interesting and readable.
I copied the ProBlogger scheme for this blog (“Great artists steal.” – Picasso) with the blue headings and green links. The big sites with millions of visitors have usually painstakingly tested their font sizes, color schemes etc, so why try to re-invent the wheel?
Install useful plugins
WordPress is very flexible and has loads of great features, but is nevertheless missing a substantial amount of core functionality. You can make up for this missing functionality in large part by installing appropriate WordPress plugins.
There are way too many good plugins to mention here, but some of my favorites are:
- Autoptimize to improve site performance.
- WP Fastest Cache to speed up site loading rates.
- Content Views to display post excerpts.
- Smush to compress images.
- Social Warfare for social sharing buttons.
- TinyMCE Advanced is an improved editor.
- Wordfence Security is one of the best and most popular security plugins for WordPress.
- Yoast SEO is the most popular SEO plugin, both powerful and beginner friendly.
5. Write your first post
The basic process of creating and publishing a blog post with WordPress is quite straightforward. Simply click on ‘Posts/Add New’ in the WordPress menu, enter a title, your text and any images, then click ‘Update’ to publish to your blog.
However, creating a quality post that can rank in a high position on search engines naturally requires rather more work than that. These are the main things to focus on:
- A great title. 80% of readers will read the title, but only 20% will read the text, so writing great titles is an important skill to master.
- Don’t be boring. Don’t ramble on or sound too dry and academic – try and write in a simple and entertaining style with relatively simple words. Remember that most people come to blogs looking for solutions to a problem or to be entertained.
- Don’t edit too soon. You’ll lose momentum and flow if you start editing before you’ve completed your first draft.
- Watch your spelling and grammar. Spelling and grammar errors will have a negative impact on your overall credibility, bounce rate and SEO. A great app to drastically reduce these errors is Grammarly. (Re-read carefully though, as no app will find all errors.)
- Think carefully about SEO. Installing the Yoast SEO plugin mentioned above is one of the smartest things a beginning blogger can do to jumpstart their SEO efforts. There are also many great SEO resources on the internet, including comprehensive tutorials, such as this article by Moz or this one from Backlinko (both sites are two of the best for SEO advice.)
- Include images. This will have a positive impact on your traffic, social shares and SEO, so make sure each post includes at least one image, and preferably more. Just make sure that any images you use are in the public domain so as to avoid lawsuits! I recommend Flickr.com (Commons) or Pixabay.com, though there are many more good sites to choose from.
Some more resources on writing blog posts:
- How to Write a Blog Post in 2018
- 8 Rules of Blog Writing and Formatting
- 22 Experts Reveal Their Blog Writing Secrets
Did you find this beginner’s guide on ‘How to Start a Blog in 2018’ helpful? Let me know in the comments. (Please share and follow me on social media.)
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