Does the idea of sharing your voice with the world make you all giddy inside?
Or maybe it’s the lure of earning some extra cash on the side.
No matter what’s driving you, you’re here because you’re excited to start a blog.
But despite that excitement, you might be finding the technical details a little bit daunting.
You’re probably asking questions like:
- What do I write about?
- How do I create a blog if I don’t know anything about websites?
- And even if I get that figured out, how do I get people to actually read my blog?
And, you’re not alone.
But here’s the thing:
You really have nothing to worry about.
These days, starting a blog is accessible to literally anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.
No need for special knowledge or Scrooge McDuck piles of money.
And if you bear with me for about 15 minutes, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to start your first blog.
Sound good? Let’s get started.
1. Choose a topic that sets you up for success
Before you start a blog, there’s one thing you really need to do:
Spend some real time and effort considering what you’re going to actually write about.
This is the topic you’re going to spend years with. You might as well be getting married! So while a gung-ho attitude is awesome, it needs to be tempered with a little planning.
Whether you have an idea in mind or just a vague desire to start blogging, I have two quick tips to help you choose a blog niche:
Choose something you’re passionate about
I know this post is all about your blog. But first, I want to tell you a story about my journey with blogging:
In high school, I started blogs on topics ranging from making money online, to the latest nutrition craze, to anything else I thought would bring in the beaucoup bucks.
And guess what?
They all failed (pretty miserably).
My one successful blog that earned enough money to live on for six years? A blog about graphic t-shirts that I started just for fun.
Here’s why I think that happened:
- I updated the blog every day because I cared about the topic.
- My passion was evident in my writing.
- I put in the effort to network with others in the community. Just because I enjoyed it.
So what’s the lesson?
Pick something you’re passionate about.
If your heart’s not in it, it’s far too easy to get burned out, update less frequently, and write without passion. Those are all recipes for failure.
…But make sure there’s a market for it
If you’re starting a passion project and don’t have any aspirations for readers or money, you can probably skip this one.
But if you have eventual hopes of turning this blog thing into a side, or even full-time, income, you need to find a place where your passions and interests align with a market of readers.
But, unless you’re a mind reader, you can’t just magically know what people are interested in. So you’ve got to do some research, right?
These tools help you gain insight into which topics people are interested in:
- Google Keyword Planner – Enter some phrases that are related to your blog to see how often people search for them in Google. To access the tool, you’ll need to create an AdWords account, but you don’t need to spend any money.
- Google Trends – Enter some relevant keywords to see if your niche’s popularity is growing or declining.
- BuzzSumo – Enter your topic to see how popular it is on social media. Even the free version of the product can give you valuable insights.
Still not sure where to start? Check out David’s post for even more insights on choosing a niche for your blog.
2. Pick your blog platform (aka why you should choose WordPress)
Take a look at the title of this site…
You might be able to guess that we feel pretty strongly about this choice. In my opinion, there’s really only one good platform for blogging:
Sure, Blogger and Tumblr allow blogging. But in the battle of blogging platforms, WordPress has already won. It’s over. Blogger and Tumblr are down for the count.
Heck, it’s estimated that WordPress is used by around 26.6% of all the websites on the Internet. Think about that – that’s tens of millions of websites running on WordPress.
Here’s why WordPress is so popular:
- Ease of use – WordPress is designed to be accessible to people with all knowledge levels. If you can format a Word Document, you can create a beautiful blog post with WordPress.
- Huge collections of themes and plugins – I’ll get into what themes and plugins are a bit later on. But all you need to know right now is that, with WordPress, you can accomplish nearly anything you want without needing to know any code.
- Great support – Because of its popularity, you can find help for nearly any problem you run into.
But don’t pick WordPress.com
Colin – you just told me to use WordPress. Now you’re saying not to. What gives?
Here’s the tricky part. There are actually two versions of WordPress.
One is located at WordPress.com and hosts your site for you, typically using a domain like “yoursite.WordPress.com”. Not only is the domain name ugly and difficult to remember, you also don’t own your site and are saddled with restrictions on what you can do.
Sounds like a disaster if you hit it big, right?
The other, called self-hosted WordPress, is located at WordPress.org. I highly recommend you use this option. You’ll need to purchase your own hosting and domain name, but those expenses are worth it because:
- You have full control – You’re free to set up your site however you want – no artificial limitations on content, functionality, or monetization.
- You own everything – If you use an address like “yoursite.WordPress.com,” you’re essentially giving WordPress.com ownership of all the traffic you generate. With self-hosted WordPress, you own everything.
If you start with WordPress.com, you can likely still switch at a later date. But that requires a lot of unnecessary effort and risk. It’s much better to go with self-hosted WordPress from the beginning.
For the rest of this guide, I’ll assume you took my ever-so-sage advice and chose self-hosted WordPress.
3. Purchase the perfect domain name
Your domain name is your permanent address on the Internet. It’s where people will always be able to find you. And it’s also the link between visitors and the hosting plan you’ll purchase in the next step.
How to choose a good domain name
Choosing a domain name isn’t an exact science – “Google.com” is proof enough of this. You can always find successful sites that break the “rules,” but there are some basic concepts you should keep in mind when choosing your domain name:
- Be relevant and brandable – Adam’s choice of WP Superstars is a great example. The first word adds relevance and the second adds brandability.
- Keep it short – When in doubt, shorter is better.
- Don’t use hyphens – Hyphens are bad news in domain names.
- Use a .com – Other extensions are becoming more accepted (look at WPSuperstars!), but “.com” is still your best option if it’s available.
Need some inspiration? You can try using one of these domain name generators for ideas:
Alternatively, check out David Hartshorne’s guide to choosing a blog name, over at Blogging Wizard.
How and where to purchase a domain name
Most hosting providers, including the one I’ll recommend in the next section, give you a free domain name. You can’t beat free, right? Actually, you can. I do not recommend you use the free domain hosting providers give you.
Instead, you should purchase one through a dedicated domain registrar. Why?
- Better security – If your hosting account ever gets hacked, the hackers will also gain full control of your domain name. But, if you use Namecheap, your domain name is safe. It’s way easier to restore a hacked website than to try to recover a stolen domain name.
- More control – If you ever want to switch hosts, it’s a lot easier if your domain name is registered at Namecheap.
- More convenience – If you ever start another website, it’s much simpler to manage your domain names when they’re all in one place. Trust me.
- It’s not expensive – Perhaps most importantly – you’re only paying ~$10 per year for this security and convenience. There’s a reason hosts can afford to give away free domain names!
I recommend Namecheap for purchasing your domain. They might not run risque ads during the SuperBowl, but they’re rock solid and competitively priced.
Once you purchase a domain name at Namecheap, you just need to set your domain nameservers to the details provided by your host. Your host typically provides details about nameservers in their welcome email or your hosting dashboard.
4. Pick a reliable web host and install WordPress
Web hosting is where you store all your posts and data so that other people can access them. Web hosts power the Internet – behind every website you visit, there’s a host serving up that addictive Facebook newsfeed or funny cat video.
To use self-hosted WordPress, you’ll need to pony up for a host of your own. But don’t worry, the monthly cost is about what you’d pay for a latte at Starbucks.
The best host for beginning bloggers
For beginners, we recommend SiteGround Hosting because you get:
- You’ll save upto 60% – A nice saving available to new customers.
- One-click WordPress install – If acronyms such as FTP and MySQL look like gibberish to you, you’re in luck. One click and WordPress is totally installed.
- Affordable pricing – There’s no need for expensive hosting at the beginning. SiteGround offers more than enough power for a new blog.
- Expert support – If you run into any problems, SiteGround’s support are experts in both hosting and WordPress.
- Good speed and storage – Even on the cheapest plan, you’ll have plenty of speed and storage at the beginning.
You can get those features for around $4 per month. You won’t be able to pay this little for hosting forever, but it’s easy to upgrade your plan as your site grows.
To sign up with SiteGround, click here to go to their site and then click Choose Plan:
I recommend going with the StartUp plan at the beginning:
In the next screen, you’ll need to fill in all your basic account details such as billing and payment information.
At the bottom of the page, you get to pick your data center. This is essentially the physical location where your blog will be hosted.
It’s important that you pick the location which is nearest to where you think the majority of your readers will be, not nearest to you.
Once you’ve filled in all that information, click Pay Now to advance:
Next, you’ll see a screen that tells you that your account has been created. Click Proceed to Account Setup to advance:
Sign into your account by entering the username and password that you just chose:
After signing in, you should see your account setup wizard. First, you’ll need to configure your domain.
If you used Namecheap to register your domain, select the I already have a Domain box and enter your domain name:
Next, you should be in the Set up Your Website settings. Choose the Start a new website option and then select WordPress:
At the bottom, you’ll also need to enter your WordPress account details. You’ll use these details to log in to your actual website.
Once you Confirm those details, SiteGround will install WordPress for you and your blog should be ready to go!
Once you’ve got WordPress installed, you can log in with the WordPress login details you entered during the setup process. You can find the WordPress login page by going to “yourdomain.com/wp-admin”.
The page you see after signing in is called your “dashboard”. This interface is essentially the control panel for your blog. I’ll be referencing it a lot in the next few steps as I show you how to get your blog looking great:
5. Pick a WordPress theme to make your blog beautiful
Think of a WordPress theme as your site’s clothing. It dictates how your blog looks to the outside world without changing any of the internal guts.
Where to find WordPress themes
Themes come in two varieties:
As Heinlein would say, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Free themes often don’t look as polished as premium themes and lack detailed customization options.
If you want to look professional from day one, you should consider going with a premium theme. Premium themes can cost anywhere from $10 to $100+. Here are some good places to look:
- MyThemeShop – 100+ themes and 20+ plugins, available individually or as a bundle (enter code WPSUPERSTARS at checkout for upto 34% off your new theme).
- ThemeForest – The biggest premium theme marketplace. Easily searchable by tags and prices.
- Thrive Themes – Not as many options as the first two, but their themes are conversion focused. They create some great plugins too.
You can also find a number of independent theme shops who don’t list in marketplaces. And if you don’t want to spend time sorting through hundreds of themes, we put together a list of the best WordPress themes for bloggers.
How to install a WordPress theme
Once you’ve picked your theme, it’s time to actually install it. Don’t worry – it’s super easy. But if you need more help, we have a guide for installing WordPress themes.
From your dashboard, navigate to Appearance → Themes:
Then click on Add New:
If you’re using a free theme listed on WordPress.org, you can just search for the name of the theme and click Install:
If you’re using a premium theme or any other theme you downloaded, you’ll need to upload a .zip file like this:
Once you’ve installed your theme, you just need to click Activate.
When you go to your site, things should look a little different!
Customizing your WordPress theme
After you’ve activated your theme, you’ll probably need to do a little customization. For instance, many themes come with an option for adding social media icons. But to add them, you need to enter the links to your social profiles. You can also usually customize fonts and colors, as well as other details.
Most themes use something called the WordPress Customizer, which you can always access by going to Appearance → Customize:
Then you’ll see the Customizer. It’s pretty easy to use and you’ll see all the changes you make in real time:
6. Add WordPress plugins to boost functionality
Whereas themes are usually about looks, plugins are more about functionality. Among near infinite other uses, plugins help you add contact forms, improve your security, and get more traffic through better marketing.
Where to find WordPress plugins
Just like themes, plugins come in free and premium options.
For free plugins, a good spot to look is the WordPress.org plugin repository. You can search by keyword to find the exact functionality you need.
And if you want to skip all that searching and go straight to the good stuff, you can check out the WP Superstars plugin category to find all the best plugins for your blog.
The 5 plugins every new blog needs
WordPress is well-developed, but it’s still missing some features that every blogger needs. These include search engine optimization tweaks, performance and security enhancements, as well as some basic functionality.
That’s why I recommend you install these plugins at a bare minimum:
- Yoast SEO – Helps your blog get seen in search engines.
- Akismet – Filters out comment spam.
- iThemes Security – Protects your blog with added security.
- UpdraftPlus Backup – Safeguards your blog data.
- Social Warfare – Boosts your social shares.
I’d usually recommend a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache to speed up your site, but SiteGround has their own – one less plugin to install!
How to install WordPress plugins
Plugins work pretty much the same as themes. And like themes, if you need more help we have a whole post explaining how to install WordPress plugins. It’s pretty simple, though. Just go to Plugins → Add New:
If you’re adding a free plugin from WordPress.org, you can search for the name:
Otherwise, you can upload a .zip file:
And once you’re done, just Activate. Most plugins will add a Settings page somewhere in the menu of your dashboard where you can configure the plugin further.
7. Write an awesome first blog post
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, your WordPress blog is set up and looking fabulous. Now it’s time for the fun part:
How to create a post in WordPress
Creating a post is easy. Just go to Posts → Add New:
On that page, you’ll see the WordPress Editor. Just like with Word or Google Docs, you can use the formatting options at the top of the editor to style your post or insert images and links:
5 quick tips for writing killer blog posts
It takes some practice to get really good at blogging. Heck, there are blogs like Blogging Wizard that are exclusively dedicated to blogging. Don’t expect your posts to be perfect right away – it’s natural for your writing to evolve. That being said, here are some general blog writing tips to give you a head start:
- Have a conversation – Blog writing is more conversational than academic or technical writing. You need to ask questions. Write in the first person. Call the reader “you”. Neil Patel even found that conversational writing got 247% more readers.
- Your title is key – An eye-catching title is essential to convince people to give your post a chance.
- Followed closely by your introduction – Once your title gets them to click, you need a powerful introduction to keep them hooked.
- Make your text scannable – Huge paragraphs are kryptonite for blog posts. People like to scan blog posts rather than reading everything straight through. To help them out, break up your paragraphs and throw in some bullet lists (heyyyy, that’s what I’m doing right now!).
- Mix in visual content – Visual content breaks up your posts and engages your readers. Tools like Canva and Piktochart help even the most design-challenged bloggers create beautiful visuals.
8. Get your blog’s first visitors
Now that you’ve got a working site and some posts, you’re probably wondering, “How do I get people to actually read this thing?”
And trust me – you’re not alone.
Traffic generation can be tricky even for veteran bloggers. But with a little knowledge and elbow grease, you’ll get your first visitors in no time.
3 basic strategies every new blogger should use to boost traffic
- Guest posting – It might seem counter-intuitive, but posting on other people’s blogs can actually grow traffic to your own blog. But before you start firing off emails about guest posting, do some reading on how to craft a good guest post pitch. A lot of people get this part wrong and waste valuable effort.
- Search engine optimization – Google processes over 1.2 trillion web searches per year. Make sure you get your slice of the 1.2 trillion pie by implementing a stellar search engine optimization strategy.
- Social media – More people than ever are active on social networks. Nailing your social media strategy will let you pull in readers from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and others.
And if these three ways aren’t enough for you, check out this massive guide with 32 ways to get traffic to your blog.
9. Take the next steps and grow your blog
As you move forward with blogging, you’ll want to develop a content strategy to continue creating quality posts. Your content strategy gives you a road map for blogging success.
You’ll also want a detailed plan of attack for promoting each post. For example, you’ll definitely want to hit every point on BloggingWizard.com’s blog post promotion checklist. Plenty of bloggers advocate spending just as much time promoting your post as you do writing it. So don’t skimp on promotion!
Once you start getting traffic, you’ll also want to consider methods to monetize your blog. Don’t get visions of lounging on the beach with your laptop quite yet, but if you implement the techniques Ariel discusses you should be well on your way to making your first dollar.
And if there’s one thing I want you to remember before ending this post, it’s this:
Consistency is key.
If you want your blog to be successful, develop a process and follow it. Post on a set schedule. Be mechanical (in your process, not your writing!). If the process is right, traffic and money will follow in due time.
With that parting advice; get out there and take the blogging world by storm. I know you’ll do great!