UPDATED: Jan. 8, 2018
Whether you’d like to sell more products or are just looking for a way to make money from home, blogging is the answer. Why? Because people read blogs. They scour the web, looking for information on how to change the oil in their car or nail the season’s hottest looks. Then they click on links and buy products or services related to the post topic. I’ve been blogging since 2009 and have boiled down everything I know about how to start a blog into 7 steps. You’ll be up and running in less time than it takes to order a pizza!
First though, let me start by listing what you DON’T need to start your own blog:
- Computer programming or coding skills
- Pricey design software
- Past experience with blogging
Half of the world’s population now uses a smartphone (for reals) and 14 percent of them use those phones to look up product info. Which is why everyone’s getting into blogging. Why shouldn’t you?
How to start a blog in 7 steps
Name your blog.
Choose a blog builder.
Pick a web host.
Link your domain name to your blog.
Design your blog.
Publish your first post.
Promote, write more, rinse and repeat.
You’re a mere seven steps away from launching your first blog. Let’s go!
Step 1: Name your blog
The first thing I recommend to anyone who’s curious about how to start a blog is to buy a domain name. (Already got one? Move on to Step 2.) I own FamousAshleyGrant.com and TampaBayFreebies.com, for example. (Full disclosure, I’ve been a GoDaddy customer since 2009 and have used their WordPress blog hosting since a painful misadventure with a free blogging platform). If you type either of my domain names into your web browser, you’ll be taken to the corresponding website. Now, both blogs also have their own IP addresses made up of long strings of numbers. But obviously it’s easier for readers to remember TampaBayFreebies.com than 172.16.254.1.
Until a few years ago, bloggers had just a few choices in web extensions — basically .com, net and .org. Now you can actually get a .blog extension for your web address. Brilliant, right? (There’s also .buzz, .guru and lots more — check out the whole list here.) Whatever you put on the other side of the dot tells readers what your blog’s about.
So for example:
Tips for picking a domain name for your blog
Picking a domain name is basically a process of typing various combinations of words into the domain search box until you find one you like. A few tips:
- Make it memorable and easy to type.
- Keep it short.
- Avoid numbers and hyphens.
Now head on over to your favorite domain registrar (ahem, GoDaddy) to buy it. Once you’ve registered your domain name, no one else on earth may use it. Consider it your own private piece of digital real estate.
Search for the perfect domain name for your blog
Step 2: Choose a blog builder
Whenever I give talks on how to start a blog, people ask me what blog platform they should use. Although there are plenty of options out there, WordPress is the favorite because it’s easy to set up and versatile, with oodles of cool plugins to make your blog do just about anything. (At the time of this update, there were more than 74 million WordPress blogs on the Internet, so there’s that.)
There is a free version of WordPress available, but do yourself a favor and spring for the paid version. As I mentioned before, I started with a free blog platform (not WordPress) because I was new and trying save money and knew nothing about how to start a blog. This was TampaBayFreebies.com and after I got some local news coverage, traffic to my blog spiked. Yay! I’d hardly finished celebrating before I was hit by a spam bot and completely lost control of my blog. Boo! I then spent hours trying to reclaim MY blog so I could get back to work. I had to verify my identity and ownership of the site … long story short it was a complete time suck. All the while, of course, visitors to TampaBayFreebies.com were seeing “Sorry, this page doesn’t exist.” Grrrr …
Now I use GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress solution for both my blogs.
It’s an excellent, affordable option and I haven’t had any trouble with spam bots. Other popular blogging platform options include TypePad, Blogger, Squarespace, Wix and Tumblr — but you’ll want to keep a few potential pitfalls in mind if you decide to go with a platform other than WordPress. In many cases:
You can’t customize your blog site by changing the background code.
Although some of these platforms have improved their customization, it’s significantly harder to change the background code on other blog builders. You don’t get nearly the versatility and power to change your site as WordPress allows.
You’re limited to the design themes and styles they offer you.
If your needs are simple, you might not care about the selection of blog themes and styles other blogging platforms offer. But many business owners and others who blog like being able to customize the look and feel of their blogs. WordPress offers oodles of free themes and premium themes so you can design your blog exactly the way you want.
They lack community support in the form of forums and tutorials where you can get free “how-to” guides.
Both community support and customer service seem limited as well because these are free platforms and they don’t have to care about you. In fact, when I had trouble with my free blog, I managed to find a customer support number, and they literally said to me that they couldn’t assist me because I had no purchased products on file with them.
To be fair, there are loads of free “how-to” guides on forums for the free builders. But they aren’t always easy to understand, and they can be frustrating to implement.
Adding eCommerce functionality can be difficult and expensive.
Look into how much it’s going to cost you to make it possible to sell stuff on your blog. Not every blogging platform makes it as easy and affordable as WordPress does. A lot of people use the WooCommerce plugin for eCommerce on WordPress.
So, we’ll just assume you’re savvy enough to go with WordPress and move right along.
Step 3: Pick a web host
Web hosting is what makes your blog visible to others on the web. Without it, no one but you would ever see your blog posts. Hosting typically runs on a server owned by a web hosting company, and your blog takes up just a small space on that server. It’s kind of like renting a single apartment in a building. You pay for the space you use.
Unlike an apartment, if your hosting account goes down, your blog disappears from cyberspace and all those conversations come screeching to a halt. Worse yet, imagine losing a lucrative sponsorship because your blog was flagged for spam and taken down like mine was. So it’s important to choose a reputable blog hosting company with strong security and an uptime guarantee. You need to be sure that your blog will be up and visible to the whole world 24/7.
There are so many web hosting companies out there, all claiming to be the very best; how do you choose the one that will meet your needs when you’re figuring out how to start a blog?
How to determine the hosting needs for your blog
Will your blog require tons of storage space for images and videos? Do you expect a lot of visitors (traffic)? Generally speaking, the more space-hogging elements you have on your blog (e.g. photos and videos) and the more visitors you have at any given time = the more storage and bandwidth you need.
Will you have time to do your own backups and security patches? WordPress requires some regular back-end maintenance. If you don’t have the time or don’t feel comfortable doing this, pay someone else to do it.
Do you expect to use more than one domain name to drive people to your blog and/or website?
Will you require a lot of technical support? If your tech skills are limited to turning on your laptop, don’t go with a free blogging platform. Pay for support — it’ll save you hours of scouring the web for help articles.
How much can you afford to pay for hosting each month? Signup prices for shared hosting are sometimes cheap, but then the subscription renewal prices are high. When choosing the right company to host your blog, consider both signup and renewal costs, along with any additional fees like purchasing extra storage. Be sure that all charges are within your budget to avoid the risk of things like not being able to pay and losing your blog forever.
I’m going to mention the GoDaddy Managed WordPress platform again because it’s pretty sweet. Hosting is included so you don’t have to worry about any of the backend hosting setup dirty work. It’s inexpensive. It’s really, really fast — even for blogs with scads of images and video — and you can call anytime with questions.
My step-by-step guide for how to start a blog with GoDaddy Managed WordPress:
1. Go to GoDaddy Managed WordPress.
Create an account if prompted.
2. Choose your plan.
Unless you plan to have lots of photos and videos on your blog, start with the Basic plan. You can always upgrade if/when your blog traffic increases. Skip the add-ons (unless you’re in the market for these solutions) and click Continue.
3. Include your domain.
If they offer you a free domain:
a) Type the name you want to use for your blog into the box and click Search. Continue until you find the one you want. Click Select.
b) Already have a domain name you want to use? Select “No thanks.”
4. Check the plan length drop-down and adjust if needed.
5. Choose privacy.
If you’re accepting the free domain, check the “Keep my contact information private” box. Then check out.
6. Go to Managed WordPress Help for detailed instructions on setting up your new blog.
Editor’s note: Nowadays, you can simply use the Quick Start Wizard in your WordPress hosting to get up and running in no time! Allow the wizard to collect your business information, and then sit back and relax as it populates with potential themes, professionally designed images and layouts for you to use.
Step 4: Link your domain name to your blog
Whatever hosting company you choose to go with should have a tutorial for how to connect your domain to your blog. If not, this is a red flag and you might want to reconsider your host.
It should be fast and easy. Once you have completed this step, the fun stuff begins.
Step 5: Design your blog
This is what you’ve been waiting for since the moment you came looking for instructions on how to start a blog — the time you decide how your blog will look to the world. Now’s when you choose your WordPress theme and any extra plugins to boost your blog’s performance.
About few words about WordPress themes
A theme is the outer layer of your website; it’s how the world sees your website. Themes enable you to test out different styles and layouts without having to recreate anything. There are hundreds of free themes available and hundreds more for purchase.
Whether you go with a free or paid theme, be sure to pick one that reflects who you are and what you do. You want it to be stable, clean and easy to work with. (Here are more tips for selecting a WordPress theme.) For the purposes of getting your blog up and running fast, however, just pick a basic theme to get rolling. You can customize it later.
A few words about WordPress plugins
This post includes a great roundup of starter plugins for WordPress beginning bloggers — including WordPress plugins for security, contact forms, social sharing and SEO. It’s always a good idea to do a little research before you install a plugin. Make sure it’s well-reviewed and well-supported.
Step 6: Publish your first post
Now, before you go freaking out, this isn’t as scary as it sounds. Your first post can simply be a paragraph announcing the birth of your new blog. You might title it, “Welcome to Our New Blog.” If you’re a bit more ambitious, you can craft a longer post with a nifty image or two, maybe something along the lines of “Everything You Can Expect on This Blog.” Or pick a middle ground.
How to nail the writing
Imagine you’re writing to a good friend to tell them about your new undertaking. They already know and like you, so there’s no need to change your language or try to be someone you’re not.
- Write in the tone of voice that comes most naturally to you. This will help distinguish your blog from all the others.
- Set the scene for your readers, describing why you’re starting the blog and what you hope to accomplish.
- Answer the question: Why does the world need another lifestyle/makeup/parenting/fitness blog? Share the experiences that make your viewpoint valuable.
Don’t worry too much about getting this first post perfect. Sure, the breadcrumbs of the original post’s existence might appear somewhere, but for the most part everything on your WordPress blog can be changed. Just give it a go.
One more thing before you hit Publish…
This is a make-or-break step that some bloggers skip. Before you publish, you need to tweak your blog post so that search engines can find it. Because remember, if search engines don’t find your posts, no humans will either. Here’s a quick description of how it’s done:
- Choose a different keyword or key phrase for each post, adding it to the title, one subhead and naturally throughout the post.
- Research each keyword with Google’s keyword tool — pick one that relates directly to the post topic and that has a healthy amount of traffic but low competition.
- Add meta tags for each post using a plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast.
Once your first post goes live, you are officially in the blogging business. Congratulations, my fellow webpreneur! Now you get to move onto the last step, which is essentially an ongoing process.
Step 7: Promote your posts, write more, rinse and repeat
You’re blogging for business now, baby! Make sure to spread the word about that first post and every one that follows by sharing a link to it on your favorite social media networks and, hopefully sooner rather than later, emailing it to your growing list of newsletter subscribers. Check out this article for info about promoting your blog via email.
The importance of an editorial calendar
If you’re still reading, you now know more about how to start a blog than I did when I started blogging in 2009. But let me make one last suggestion: Create an editorial calendar and decide how often you want to post. If you don’t have time to write as often as you’d like, consider hiring a ghostwriter, putting out a cattle call for guest writers, or even hiring a content manager to write your material and post it for you. Read this excellent post for details on the right way to create an editorial calendar.
You’re on your way!
Once you develop a healthy archive of blog posts, use it to keep growing. You can continue refining your SEO skills, learn how to use your blog to drive more traffic to your website to increase sales, and send your content to the media to establish yourself as an expert in your field. Now that you’re on the blogging-for-business train, the possibilities are truly endless!
Also published on Medium.