So you want to learn how to start a blog?
Awesome! Blogging is a great pastime and a way to release your creativity.
It's also an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and even a way to make money and build a strong and sustainable income over time.
Today we are going to cover the basics of starting a blog and the essential aspects including planning, selecting your niche, doing research, tools you can use and how to get started.
Why am I writing this guide and what qualifies me? Over the past 10 years, I have built hundreds of blogs for both clients and myself and written and published thousands of blog posts. So you could say I am a blogging veteran!
Now I want to help other aspiring bloggers and self-publishers avoid the common pitfalls and to excel at starting their own blogs.
What are you going to Learn?
In this guide we are going to leave no stone unturned as we examine the recipe for creating the perfect blog with WordPress.
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Sign up below with your email and you can come back to this post to continue learning how to start a blog later. Plus I will share my best secrets to getting started making an income online!
Choose a Blogging Platform
If you just want to sharpen your writing skills you can try one of the many popular blogging platforms that are completely free to use with minimal setup, however, you never truly own the blog that way and if you are planning for the long term you are probably better off with your own domain name and self hosted WordPress install.
Free Blogging Platforms
If you aren't ready to buy your own domain name and setup hosting and just want to sharpen your teeth by blogging on some existing blog platforms then you should check out the following options.
Medium - Medium launched in 2012 and has quickly become one of the biggest and best blogging platforms for authors who don't want to mess around with themes and plugins and just want to write and have their work read by a large community.
WordPress.com - This differs from the self-hosted version of WordPress which you can get from WordPress.org in several ways, firstly you can use this service for free, secondly you can use a WordPress provided subdomain instead of having your own domain name.
Ideal if you just want to start blogging but aren't looking to turn it into a business yet but you will have to put up with an ugly URL like yourname.wordpress.com
Steemit - A blogging website on the blockchain that works a bit like a hybrid of Reddit and a blogging platform where you can actually earn cryptocurrency as a reward for content creation AND curation.
Blogger - Bought by Google but not very flexible and enforces pretty strict rules on what you can publish. I advise people pass on this option these days.
Quora - While not traditionally a blogging platform Quora is a good way to start publishing useful articles and gaining a lot of attention. Personally, I like to use Quora as a supplementary blogging platform to promote my work and build a reputation in a thriving community of readers.
There are many other options that I am not going to go into because they are either no longer relevant or just not up to par.
Free Blog Platform Pros & Cons
Self Hosted Blog
There's really only one tool to use when it comes to starting a blog and using your own domain name, the tool I'm talking about is of course WordPress.
What is WordPress? WordPress is an open source CMS (content management system) that is used by the vast majority of websites and blogs online due to its user-friendliness and flexibility.
WordPress isn't just for blogs, you can also create fully fledged websites and eCommerce stores too!
Thanks to a massive library of plugins and themes WordPress is also highly customizable! You can pretty much create any look possible and you will probably find that a large number of websites you already love are using WP.
As mentioned before, WordPress comes in two flavors.
1 - WordPress.com Hosted Blog, completely free though there are paid upgrades and you can pay to connect a domain name like yourname.com
2 - WordPress.org Self Hosted Install (Recommended). Also free, as WordPress is open source, however, you need to pay to host it somewhere. For beginners, we recommend using Bluehost which usually costs about $60 for the year and they also give you a free domain name when you sign up.
I have already written a guide on how to install WordPress using Bluehost hosting so head over there if you want to find out the step by step instructions for getting that setup.
Self Hosted WordPress Pros & Cons
Okay so with that covered hopefully you have come to the wise conclusion that it is far better to set up a self-hosted WordPress blog. If you want to learn how to do that then head over to how to install WordPress on Bluehost.
Choosing a Hosting Provider
Our guide above uses Bluehost as the example hosting provider because this provides an affordable service with a domain name included for free, this makes the process much easier to get started.
When selecting a good host for your WordPress blog you should consider the following factors.
- Ease of Use
- Uptime (the % of time your hosting remains live)
Bluehost ticks all of the above boxes though admittedly isn't the fasted host in the world but then speed comes at a premium in the world of hosting.
To put it into perspective Bluehost costs around $5 per month, the cost of a sandwich, whereas our recommended premium WordPress hosting from WPEngine comes in at $29 per month and doesn't include a free domain name and lacks email functionality.
If you do have a little more to spend though and want high speeds and good SEO we do advise using WPEngine from the start.
The middle option is to use Siteground who offer better speed than Bluehost but not quite as fast as WPEngine though they allow you to manage multiple websites in a single package and have email facilities if you don't want to setup email using a third-party service.
This website is now hosted on Siteground, as it provides the best value for money when it comes to a professional service, fast loading and still being affordable.
Setup Hosting & Install WordPress
Assuming you chose Bluehost as your hosting provider you can read our in-depth WordPress & Bluehost setup guide.
Fortunately, the majority of shared hosting providers have a fairly similar setup process as the majority use the same hosting software known as CPanel.
Examples of hosts that use CPanel include Bluehost, HostGator and Siteground and all have a very similar setup process that we will cover briefly below.
1) Sign up for hosting
The first step is to sign up for hosting if you haven't already done so. Once you have created an account you will then need to select a hosting plan.
If you are signing up with Bluehost then we recommend going for the pro option which offers the best value for money and includes the ability to add more blogs later on different domain names.
2) Select a domain name
Once you have selected your plan you need to select your domain name and you will be presented two options, either to choose a new domain free of charge or use an existing domain.
If you already have a domain then login to your domain registrar like GoDaddy or Namecheap and then point the nameservers of your domain over to the new hosting account.
If you don't have a domain then using the advice provided earlier try and find a domain name that is available and a good fit.
3) Finish account creation
The final page of the account setup requires you to fill out your personal details and make a few other selections in addition to adding your payment details.
You will receive an email with confirmation of your order along with your login details.
4) Login to your hosting environment / CPanel
Okay well done, pat yourself on the back! You are now the proud owner of a domain name and a hosting account.
Next step is to login so you can install your new WordPress blog and create an email account, something along the lines of email@example.com is ideal so you look professional when reaching out to people to tell them about your new blog.
So let's log into the hosting account and look for the icon for "Wordpress". If you are using a different host you may find it under "Scriptalicious" or "Site Software".
The WordPress auto installer should then present you with instructions asking you for a site name, a tagline, and your preferred username and password.
Remember: Always use a secure password!
Once you have filled in your details and hit the install button you should see a loading bar while the process completes and then eventually the page will refresh and you will be presented with your login URL for your new WordPress website!
Bravo! You are really getting the hang of this!
5) Login to your new WordPress Blog
Once you have completed steps 1-4 you should now have a vanilla WordPress blog installed on your domain. I say vanilla to refer to the fact it's completely blank with no customizations at this point other than what you selected during the install.
You should be given the WordPress login URL at the end of the process, I recommend bookmarking this so you can easily come back to it later but for reference the login page of any WordPress website is domainname.com/wp-admin
Once you have logged in you should see a screen that looks a little bit like the below screenshot.
This completes the essential setup stage of the process. Next up, we are going to look at how to use WordPress so you can get started blogging.
Start a Blog Using WordPress
Welcome to your WordPress Dashboard. This is the main dashboard for your new content management system.
From here you can create pages like an about page or contact page, create new blog posts, upload images, change themes and add new plugins to extend the functionality of your blog.
There are millions of different guides and tutorials online showing you the plethora of ways you can use WordPress so I am just going to focus on the basics and cover the following:
- Tour of the WordPress Dashboard
- Design & Themes
- Plugins & Functionality
- Basics of Adding & Editing Posts & Pages
Design & Themes
When you first install WordPress you will have a default theme selected which will usually be the official WordPress theme released in the past calendar year.
While this template may be suitable for some when they are starting out more people will want to explore other options that give you more control over the design of your blog.
Inside the Dashboard head over to:
Appearance > Themes
This page will show you all of your installed themes. If you then navigate to "Add New" you can then browse themes by Featured, Popular, Latest, or filter them by website type, features and layout.
Once you find a free WordPress theme in the library (also known as the repository) you can preview or activate it to see how it looks on your site.
If you find a theme you are happy with excellent, activate that theme and you can move onto the next step.
Quick note: There are both free and premium themes available for WordPress. All of the themes available within the Dashboard are free.
Themes have to be free for WordPress to list them in their theme repository, however, some people prefer a more advanced theme and opt for purchasing one from a third party website instead.
Personally, I fall into that last category but beginners will definitely find it easier when starting out to stick with one of the easy to use free themes available.
The only two themes I actively recommend are
- Genesis - a premium theme by Studiopress
- GeneratePress - A theme that comes in a lite (free) version and a premium (paid) version.
These two themes allow designers and developers such as myself more control over how the theme looks and works.
Plugins are different to themes in that they allow you to add new functionalities to your blog rather than a new design.
WordPress plugins allow you to add:
- Contact forms
- Page Builders
- Subscriber forms
- SEO features
- Increase security
- eCommerce features
- Membership areas
- Page Builders
- and much more
Essentially WordPress plugins extend the capabilities of your blog infinitely and anyone can contribute their own plugins if they are a developer.
So which plugins should you install on your new blog? This is going to depend on your needs and half of the fun is experimenting with new tools but here are a list of essential plugins you should install.
- Contact Form 7 - Because every blog needs a contact form and this one has been battle tested by yours truly thousands of times.
- ReCaptcha AntiSpam - A tool for preventing spam comments etc.
- Yoast SEO / WordPress SEO - The best plugin to add SEO features to your blog like a sitemap and content analysis, helping you to write better content.
- UpdraftPlus - Take backups of your WordPress website for free from within the dashboard.
- WP Smush - Automatically compress your images so they are suitable for the web.
- Page Builders - These plugins allow you unpresendeted control over the design and layout of your pages and posts. Read our guide on the best WordPress Page Builder plugins.
There are many other plugins I love to use with WordPress, namely Beaver Builder page builder, however, it is definitely not essential when you are starting out but does allow you to create more interesting pages and posts.
Let's move onto publishing posts and pages on your blog.
Adding Posts & Pages
WordPress includes two default post types, Posts and Pages.
What is the difference?
There are many similarities between posts and pages and when you go to add a new post or page you will see that they both include the following features:
- Title (name)
- Similar Options such as the publish box
These two post types, however, are meant for different purposes and have a few unique features.
Pages are for creating static pages you can add to your blog's menu. Good examples include:
- Bio / About page - Your opportunity to tell your origin story, and connect with your audience. This should be prominent on your menu.
- Contact page - Always provide an easy way for people to get in touch with you and add a contact form. This can be done easily with Contact Form 7.
- Start Here - A Start page is a great way to summarize your best content for first-time visitors to your blog. You can show them your most popular or important content and organize it in a coherent order.
- Resources Page - Share a list of your best resources, these can be either resources you have created yourself, links to external articles, affiliate products or your most important guides you have published on your blog.
- Homepage - I advise creating a new page for your homepage so you can create a layout that contains both static and dynamic content. Read our guide on how to design a blog homepage.
Here is a detailed guide going into more detail on which pages you should consider adding to your WordPress blog and why.
Posts are for creating a reverse chronological list of individual articles that make up what is popularly known as a "blog".
Posts have a few additional options you won't see when you go to edit a page such as:
- Featured Image (Post Thumbnail)
- Categories (for organizing your content)
- Tags (also for organizing your content)
I have written an extensive 7,000-word guide on how to publish high-quality content in our Blog Publishing Checklist.
Or you can read our guide to learn about formatting blog posts and HTML this will help you master WordPress and get the most out of each piece of content you publish.
Quick Dashboard Tour Video
The official WordPress documentation is a handy website to bookmark as a useful reference for later.
Choose your Niche or Subject
Before choosing a name, installing your website and getting started, a certain amount of attention needs to be given to thinking about the overall concept of your blog and your content strategy.
- What are you going to write about?
- Are you going to write about a range of subjects?
- or focus on a specific niche?
Once you have answered the above you are in a better position to go through the process of choosing your branding and domain name.
Most aspiring bloggers already have a good idea about what they are going to write about but some are just inspired by the business model and still looking for a good topic to blog about.
For those still unsure of what niche to cover you want to find something that isn't oversaturated but is still popular enough for you to generate enough traffic and readers to eventually make an income.
Of course, it's always best to think about your passions and skills first to see if you could turn your existing knowledge and experience into great content that other people would want to read.
I suggest shortlisting 5 subjects or niches that you could potentially write about, then head over to google and find a few examples of other blogs in each of these niches.
Once you have that information use tools like Google Trends to find out if the subjects are trending, you can even compare different niches and keywords to see which get the most search traffic.
Another tool you can try is the Keyword Explorer from Moz.com to see how competitive the keywords of your niche are to rank for on Google. This will give you an idea of if the market is saturated or not.
Once you have your main niche and the various topics you can talk about I suggest creating a mind map or spider diagram to map out all of the different subtopics you can cover over the next 12 months as you grow your blog.
MindMeister and Bubble.us are great tools for creating mind maps in the browser window.
For an in-depth look at how to select the right niche, check our article Finding Blog Topics and Your Niche.
Hopefully, that has helped to equip you with the tools necessary to organize your subject matter and content ideas, next let's come up with a brand name for your new blog.
When you are starting a new blog one of the earliest considerations in the planning process is to decide on the type of branding you are going to go for.
Typically there are two routes you can take.
A lot of bloggers tend to be solopreneurs and opt for the personal branding route.
This means setting up a domain like yourname.com and then using your image and name as the title of the blog.
One major benefit of personal branding is that people like to talk to other human beings and often it is easier to gain trust when you are standing at the forefront of your brand and blog.
One negative with using personal branding for your blog and using your own name in the actual domain name is that it may make it harder for you to grow your blog into a multi-author blog where you have a team of contributors and it also might make it harder to sell the website if you decide you want to move onto pastures new.
Picking a brand name that compliments the subject matter of your blog is the alternative option and while it may mean you are a faceless brand there are steps you can take to mitigate that by mixing in a little bit of your personal branding at the same time without it taking over the entire website.
This could be considered a hybrid branding approach.
The benefit of picking a brand name for your blog is that it allows you to recruit a team of writers to help without it feeling contrived if they are only able to ghostwrite under your name or come across as though they are merely guest bloggers in the background.
The only negative here is that unless you can splash a bit of personality into the blog at the same time it can be harder to gain the trust of your readers initially but this shouldn't be a factor that puts you off.
As you can see, I have gone the brand name route with this website "Mazepress" but part of that decision was because my name is not all that unique.
Related Article: I have written a much more in-depth guide on blog names that you can read by going to how to pick a name for your blog. This guide covers all of the things to avoid, how to brainstorm ideas and much more.
Finding a Domain Name
Once you have decided if you want to take the personal branding route or pick an interesting brand name that compliments your mission the next step is to look for an available domain name you can use.
Ideally, you want an exact match domain name for whatever name you have come up with.
If your name is Jane Doe then you would ideally want to acquire janedoe.com since a .com extension is the best top tier domain name.
If the dot com you want is unavailable then you have a couple of options.
- Get creative! My name is pretty common so it's hard for me to own my name without it including middle names and becoming too wordy. BUT I do own justdave.co which brings me onto the next option
- Pick an alternative extension. There are other top-tier extensions like .net and .org though most don't like the latter due to it being short for organization, however, there are many other domain extensions such as .co .me etc.
So if you can't get your perfect domain name on the first search try changing the settings to different extensions and try variations of your name that could still work.
I added the word just in front of Dave and at least managed to get a .co extension. Other ideas could include putting the 'iam' in front of your domain name. Like iamsebastian.com.
If you have opted for a brand name and it's already taken it may be better to move on and find something unique, especially if you intend to rank on Google someday for your brand name.
It is notoriously difficult if somebody else owns the .com and to make matters worse the name may be trademarked so always check before you purchase a domain that you have something unique and that isn't going to get you served with a cease and desist order.
Domain Name Tips
- Avoid using numbers
- Avoid using hyphens
- Avoid trademarked words
- Pick something short and memorable
You should now be equipped to find yourself the perfect domain name!
Creating a Logo & Identity
Once you have your name and you have purchased a domain name the next step in branding your new blog is to design a new logo.
Having a logo isn't essential creating a new blog, especially if you are keeping it simple to start with and using your personal brand instead you can simply have a text title header saying the name of the website.
If you want to look as professional as possible though from day one it's worth investing either the time or the money in getting putting a logo together.
There are many tools online that will allow you to create a simple logo for free or for as cheap as $5 or $10 you can get a professional graphic designer from Fiverr to design you one. Another more DIY service worth checking out is LogoJoy.
My advice would be to go for the latter unless of course you already have graphic design skills and want to do it yourself.
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Sign up below with your email and you can come back to this post to continue learning how to start a blog later. Plus I will share my best secrets to getting started making an income online!
Grow your Audience & Following
You might find you want to come back to this section at a later date, so bookmark this page and when your blog is off the ground and running you can come back to work through some of these steps.
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
The same is true of a website or blog. What good is putting in all of that effort unless you have lots of readers to enjoy your work and engage with you?
So the next area to look at is how to make your mark! We will take a look at a few ways you can start to bring more traffic to your blog and generate email subscribers.
I could write an article on its own about each of the below growth tactics but for now, I will touch on some of the basic principles you can use to get started.
One of the best skills any blogger can learn is SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization.
Why? Because ranking on Google and other search engines for your main keywords is the best way to get targetted traffic to your website and if you can rank for some highly searched keywords that can lead to a lot of web visitors.
SEO is broken up into two main categories:
On-site SEO - Also referred to as on-page SEO this is the process of optimizing your website and web pages to be search engine friendly. It also involves checking for any technical issues with your website such as speed problems and also the quality of the content and keyword focus.
On-site can also refer to things such as the internal links on the website, which is when one page on your website links to another page on the same website.
See our guide on WordPress SEO Tips & Tricks.
Off-Site SEO - on the other hand, relates to all search engine ranking factors that Google can measure about your website by looking at the rest of the internet and other websites. The majority of this revolves around acquiring backlinks.
Backlinks are when another website decides to show you some love by putting a link on their website pointing to yours.
Generally speaking the more backlinks you have the better, but it is a case of quality over quantity and spamming your link everywhere will hurt you more than it will help.
Social Media Marketing
Another one of the best ways to get your content discovered in the digital age is using social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and more.
Depending on the niche you are blogging about you may find that a different social marketing strategy is required.
For instance, if you are blogging about a professional subject you would want to make sure you adopt LinkedIn into your strategy but might want to not waste your time on Pinterest which is a visual social network more aimed at shoppers and sharing cool things.
If you your niche was more retail and consumer-focused then you might want to put more of your time into YouTube, Instagram & Pinterest since these social media platforms are more conducive than a professional networking site like LinkedIn.
Here are a few ways you can use the power of social networking to your advantage.
- Create high-quality social media accounts
- Syndicate your content on your social media accounts
- Follow related accounts
- Engage with followers, influencers in your industry etc
- Encourage people to share your content
- Share consistently
- Build a community like a private Facebook Group
- Don't just share your own content, give back and share other peoples work. You might just find they reciprocate.
The above are just a few examples of what you can do, we advise experimenting and seeing what your competitors are doing and then test everything and double down on what works best!
Outreach / Networking
One of the best ways to grow your traffic and following on a new blog is to network and reach out to other people in the space.
Find other bloggers and people talking about similar topics on social media and using Google search.
Then reach out to them either via a casual introduction on social media sharing your best work as an example or create a simple template email asking if they would be interested in reading an article you are currently writing that is related to what they also blog about.
Another approach that can be used sparingly is to comment on other blog articles related to your subject matter and weigh in with your thoughts. Add value and avoid self-promotion, at least at first.
This approach with the correct technique can work wonders and lead to increased social sharing and potentially backlinks from other blogs.
Takeaway: Get your name out there by engaging with others in your community and niche and establish yourself an expert.
If you don't consider yourself an expert (yet) on the subject you are writing about then be authentic and explain that you are documenting your journey.
If you want to really grow your audience guest blogging can be an extremely effective method since you are able to piggyback off the already large audience of other websites.
To get the most out of your guest blogging though you want to follow a specific approach.
- Find blogs in the same niche with larger and active audiences. Check subscription numbers and comments as benchmarks. If possible also look at other metrics you can find online such as estimated traffic, backlinks and if the website is a known name in your space.
- Make a great pitch and how you can offer value. Many site owners get a lot of guest blogging requests if you want a chance of getting past the noise you need to stand out and demonstrate the value you can offer.
- Write your BEST content - blow them away with amazing content and you are more likely to be rewarded in return with more opportunities, backlinks, and respect.
- Promote the post. Sure it isn't your website but you should promote, share and link the article that is published in the same way you would if you had published it on your own blog.
- Engage with commenters. If the blog has comments turned on and you are getting replies to your article you should make sure to keep your eye on it and engage with every single response.
Many people thing guest blogging is a saturated technique but this is simply not the case. It remains one of the best ways to tap into existing audiences and shows no sign of changing.
Chances are the more your content gets shared the more free organic social traffic is generated.
Follow these tips to make your content more shareable.
- Create content with that WOW factor. The kind of content that makes people think wow, I need to share this.
- Add social sharing buttons to your blog. We currently like SociWarfareare though have been through many plugins over the years.
- Encourage sharing by mentioning it at the end of your posts.
- Use visual content like infographics and charts from data as these mediums are known to make content more worthy of sharing.
- Make your content clean and easy to follow by breaking up large paragraphs and including images throughout.
- Build an email list - Email marketing is one of the best ways to keep your existing audience up to date.
This just touches on some of the primary ways to promote your new blog after you have launched and published a few posts but there are many other online marketing tactics you can employ that we will cover in a later guide.
Best Tools for Bloggers
Okay so we have covered a lot in this guide but I still have more. Once you are set up with your new blog you want to ensure you have access to the best blogging tools to help you:
- Produce great content
- Get noticed
- Generate Traffic & Engagement
- Build an Email List
- Generate an Income
Grammarly - Avoid those "accidental" grammar and spelling mistakes in your blog posts by installing the Grammarly Chrome extension. This tool looks for contextual mistakes, going way beyond the traditional spellcheck.
Email Autoresponders - The best way to grow your blog and to generate an income is to build an email list. Despite some stating "Email is dead" this couldn't be further from the truth. Read our guide on the best autoresponders.
Canva - Create beautiful blog post thumbnails and graphics in minutes with Canva.com. This is a must have for any blogger or online marketer.
CoSchedule - By far the most intuitive and advanced way to share and syndicate your blog posts across social media.
AnswerThePublic - One of the best websites to get new blog post ideas by finding out what people are searching for relative to your topic.
Google Analytics - Track the traffic and performance of your website by adding Google Analytics free tracking to your website.
WordPress SEO - Make sure you don't make any common WordPress SEO mistakes and make sure your WordPress blog is search engine friendly!
Google Apps - The best way to host your email and docs. Google Apps for business gives you 30GB of storage space, premium Gmail, Google docs and more. Learn More.
Asana - Simply the best productivity and project management tool I have ever used. Ideal for planning your blog posts and other tasks relating to your project.
Here are some of our related guides for WordPress bloggers.
Need help and support with your WordPress blog or website? Visit our WP help guide here.
Learn how to add an SSL Certificate to your WordPress website.
Find out the Best WordPress Page Builder plugins.
See our detailed guide on blog monetization at how to make money blogging.
I have also put together a comprehensive list of blog post ideas that will work no matter what niche or topic your blog covers.
That rounds up our guide on how to start a blog and covers most of the important areas to consider when you are first getting started.
If running a blog isn't how you want to market yourself or your products then maybe you just need a landing page and sales funnel builder. If so you might want to read our ClickFunnels Review.
If there's anything else you would like to know or learn then let us know in the comments below!
Web Designer, Digital Marketer & Entrepreneur with over a decades worth of experience helping small and medium sized businesses evolve and adapt to the modern digital marketplace.