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So you want to start a blog but have no idea where to begin. Maybe you have heard about blogging, but your mind is swimming with questions. Is Blogger still a thing? How much is it going to cost? Do I need to be some kind of tech guru?
Don’t worry! I’ve been there, and I can lead you through to having your own corner of the internet in just a few hours! (And for less than $5 a month!)
When I started Mama Fish Saves in early 2017, I had no idea what I was doing. It was a snowy Boston day, I knew some people made money blogging, but I was mostly looking for an outlet to talk about my passion – family finance. I opened my computer, did a quick Google search, and jumped in blind!
Almost a year later, I’ve learned so much. I’ve switched web hosts twice (we’ll talk about what a web host is!), done a major site redesign, faced crazy technical issues and learned my way around WordPress plugins, social media schedulers, affiliate programs and so much more. This post is meant to be a guide for avoiding my pitfalls and giving you a jump start on your blogging journey! Good luck!
Step 1: Decide Why You Want to Start a Blog – Money or Pleasure?
There are thousands and thousands of bloggers on the web, and many of them have different goals. Some want to transition to writing full time, some want a creative outlet that maybe brings in a few extra bucks on the side, and some just want a place to post pictures of their cats and kids. All are valid missions! However, your goals will determine how you get going.
If you never intend to make a penny from your blog, you can set up a site through Blogger or WordPress.com. You won’t have your own domain (it will be something like JennysCatBlog.wordpress.com), you will have fewer customization options and these services don’t allow ads. BUT it will have that ever lovely benefit of being free. I hear these systems are pretty straightforward to set up once you hop over there. Which is good, because I never went that particular route so can’t be very helpful!
If you want to write a blog that lives on its own branded website, and that you can potentially make money from in the future, you need to create a self-hosted WordPress blog. The rest of this post will walk you through that process in the simplest way possible.
Want to make money from your blog? After you get set up, check out this complete guide to monetizing your blog from Pete at Do You Even Blog. It provides an excellent breakdown of all the different avenues you can use to monetize, even starting as a new blogger.
Step 2: Choose Your Niche – What Do You Want to Write About?
If you want to build a successful blog, your website can’t just be a place where you dump all your random thoughts. Very few profitable, long lasting blogs are about what happened to the writer at the grocery store that day or their child’s perfect soccer goal. You will want to inject your unique story and experiences, but it has to be more than that. The best blogs have a clear message, help readers solve a problem, and focus on a specific topic.The best blogs have a clear message, help readers solve a problem, and focus on a specific topic.Click To Tweet
So, before we dive into choosing a name and getting you set up, think about what you love to talk about. What is a topic that you never get bored of? What is something you think you could teach someone? There really are blogs out there about everything under the sun, so if you are excited about a topic and have the knowledge to share, don’t worry that there isn’t an audience out there for you.
For instance, I love writing about family finance. It is my mission to help families feel more confident with their money and reach their goals. Once I get started talking about budgets or 529 plans or allowance systems you can’t shut me up. Choosing that as my niche has meant that I’m never at a loss for what to write about and I can use my knowledge to help others instead of just boring my husband. A win-win!
Pick a niche that you’re passionate about! Then sketch out a few subcategories you could cover in that niche to organize your potential ideas. Once you feel like you have a solid topic you are excited about, move onto the next step!
Step 3: Pick a Name – How Do You Want to Be Known?
Whatever you do, do not rush this step! Your blog’s name will be how people know you. It will be the first impression visitors have when they land on your website. You want to make sure that you truly love it and that its message is clear.
Personally, I really love my blog’s name. Mama Fish Saves has personal meaning to me and I think it is cute and fun. But over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time questioning it. The name does not give the immediate understanding of what the blog is about that other sites do, which may be slowing down the site’s growth. I could change it, and you could change your blog’s name in the future too, but it isn’t easy. You are best off choosing a name you love from the beginning.
When choosing your blog’s name, consider these key tips:
- Clear is better than catchy. Not everyone is going to understand the quirky play on words you find adorable. Go with something that kicks off your blog’s message.
- Pick something short and easy to remember. You want your title to be memorable! Don’t use made-up words or slang.
- Make sure your name is available on social media, as well as for a domain name. To build a good following, you want to make it as easy as possible for your readers to find you on social media. Use a tool like NameCheckr to see what platforms your potential name is available on!
Step 4: Purchase Hosting – Give Your Blog a Place To Live
To some of you, this may be obvious. But just because you have a domain name, doesn’t mean it has a place to live and run happily out there on the interwebs. You also need to pay a website host to make your blog available across the web. Your website host operates large servers to keep your site up and running. They also offer technical support during downtime or if you have other issues.
Why New Bloggers Should Consider Bluehost
Bluehost offers hosting plans at only $3.95/month and has automatic installation of WordPress. (If you choose Bluehost, you can skip Step 5 of this guide.) Bluehost is incredibly easy to navigate for new bloggers and offers plenty of site speed as you get started. If your blog is a big success, you may have to switch to a faster host down the road, but that takes less than 24 hours. I’ve had to do it twice and didn’t have an issue either time.
I started this blog on Bluehost and never had an issue with their site speed and service. In fact, I switched to another host when I was told that Bluehost isn’t good for larger blogs, and completely regretted it. Ultimately, I moved to BigScoots (discussed below), but Bluehost helped me get my site up and running quickly and easily. I recommend it highly to newbie bloggers who want to get started without massive upfront costs.
Faster Hosting for Larger Sites
Personally, I use the 155CC plan on BigScoots for this site. Their support is excellent and my site is faster than ever before. I’ve never had to wait for more than a few minutes for technical support (which is US based and 24/7), and they’ve entirely handled things like adding an SSL security certificate to my site quickly and without issue. However, setting up a site isn’t as intuitive on BigScoots as it is at Bluehost. It is still only a few clicks, but it isn’t automatic and that can make it intimidating for new bloggers.
As such, I recommend BigScoots to everyone who has grown their blog and is having issues with their current host. I’ve also only ever heard good things from other bloggers that use BigScoots!
Step 5: Install WordPress On Your New Website – Where You’ll Create Content
If you chose to start with BigScoots over Bluehost, you’ll have to install WordPress yourself to start designing your site and creating content.
There are two ways to install WordPress – through the “one-click” method provided by most hosts (including BigScoots) or manually. I am going to show some screenshots for installing with BigScoots, but the system for most hosts is about the same. Just log in to your host’s site, navigate to your cPanel and click the WordPress install icon.
First, log in to BigScoots
Next, click “Access Control Panel”
Finally, click “Install Now”
Once you enter the install, you will be walked through creating a login for your WordPress site including designating an admin (you), setting the site name and description, and choosing an admin email. Once that is complete, your blog will be ready to go!
As a reminder, if you have ANY issues, reach out to BigScoots support. They are there to help!
Step 6: Choose a Theme – Making Your Site Look Pretty
Now your site is set up and ready for content, but it still looks blank to any visitors. Your first step to making your new blog live to the public is choosing a theme – the pretty shell in which your site is organized.
There are hundreds of amazing free themes out there that are perfect if you are just getting started. Your site may not look as beautiful as you one day imagine it will, but until your site is making some income or you know you want to blog long term, there is no reason to spend money on a paid or custom theme.
Then, click on “Add New” to see available free WordPress themes
There are typically 4-6 preinstalled themes you could use for your WordPress blog. If you don’t like the look of any of them, there are hundreds of free options you can install directly from your dashboard. Just click the “Add New” button to puruse other options.
Next, find a theme that works for you using Live Preview, then Install
You don’t have to install every theme you like the look of to determine what will work best for you. Hover over options and click the “Live Preview” button for a sample of how that theme could look on your site. Once you find something you like, click “Install” and then “Activate” to customize it for your blog.
Finally, customize your theme for your blog!
Now, every theme’s customization options and organization are different so I won’t provide screenshots here. However, most of it is pretty straightforward and you can change things in Live Preview. This makes it easy to see the impact of what you are doing before getting too deep!
Don’t get caught up making your site look perfect! No matter how much time you spend, a month, 6 months, or a year down the road you will look back and be shocked how basic your first design looked!
Step 7: Start Writing!
Now that your site is set up, it can be easy to fall into the rabbit hole of all the different tasks that go along with blogging. You could create social media profiles on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You could visit Canva or Fiverr and create a custom logo for your new blog. You could set up email lists. But what in the world are you going to do with all that if there is nothing for people to read on your blog when they get there?
Before you dive into marketing your blog, it is best to get 5-10 posts up on your site as well as an About page. This way, as people start to stumble on your baby blog, they can get a sense of your writing style and what to expect in the future.
If you are nervous about publishing your first post, don’t be! First off, one of the awesome things about blogging is that you can always edit your posts. Find a typo? No problem! Just do a quick update. Second, no one is reading your blog yet! This is the time to practice, find your writing voice, and you can go back to use that edit function later as you develop your web presence. I can almost guarantee you that every professional blogger would be embarrassed by their first ever post today. And it didn’t hold them back!
WordPress tries to make most things as intuitive as possible. For instance, to start your first post hover over “Posts” in the sidebar and click “Add New”. But if you are feeling technically challenged, IMark Interactive offers an amazing free crash course on how to use WordPress (and what mistakes you should avoid)! You can sign up for his course here.
Step 8: Set Up Social Media Accounts & Start Sharing
The most amazing thing I’ve learned about blogging since I started Mama Fish Saves is how incredibly supportive the blogger community is. Most bloggers do not view others as competition, instead, they operate on the premise that a rising tide raises all ships.
Now that your blog is set up, one of the best ways to get your name out there is by starting to interact with other bloggers. Comment on posts from other blogs in your niche, follow other bloggers and share their content on social media, and share your own posts. Traffic won’t come immediately, but by getting involved you’ll be on the right path.
I recommend choosing 1-3 social media platforms to focus on. There are so many out there that it is easy to spread yourself too thin and not commit fully to any one platform. I primarily spend my time on Twitter (most popular for connecting with other bloggers), Pinterest (best for driving traffic), and Facebook (slower to grow, but good for creating loyal fans). I recently added Instagram, but that is more for fun than really driving any traffic to the site.
Check out where the major bloggers in your niche hang out and head on over and join the party!
And with that, you are off to the races!
Now you have everything you need to get started on your blogging journey. Blogging is very, very far from a “get rich quick” scheme, but if you write about what you are passionate about, stay consistent and committed, and be patient, the growth will come. Add things like email lists, Google Analytics, ads, and affiliates as you grow. Just remember to take baby steps. Nothing has to be perfect today. You just have to get started! Good luck!
Want more info on crafting your first post, drive traffic, and build an email list? This is the best guide for new bloggers I’ve seen on the web. Check it out.
If you’re a blogger, what had you stumped when you first started? Drop a note in the comments to help the newbies get up and running!