In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about how to start a blog. We’ll look at choosing a domain name, deciding where to host your blog, the best software to use, and how to make it look good.
Before we get started, I should let you know this is a guide for creating a self-hosted blog on its own web server.
We’re using free software called WordPress (if you’ve never heard of it, read this article: What is WordPress?) which is usually available through your hosting company.
I should also let you know this method isn’t free. You’ll need to buy a domain name and hosting but you can get started for well under $10 a month. Which is nothing if you create a popular money-making blog.
How to start a blog Q1 – What should you blog about?
One of the first decisions you need to make is what to blog about.
The topic you choose depends on your goals.
If you’re blogging to promote your business, you should blog about the stuff that answers your potential clients’ questions.
If you’re not using blogging as a marketing strategy, and want to generate income from affiliate sales, ad revenue, sponsored blog posts etc, you can choose pretty much any topic you like.
With that said, you should choose a topic that:
- You enjoy writing about (this is a long journey that could last several years)
- Has the potential to generate revenue
Tap into your areas of expertise
Many successful, full-time bloggers write about the things they did in a previous life.
By that, I mean their offline jobs and careers.
If you want to get into an over-crowded niche like travel or food, pick a niche or write in a way that helps you stand out.
Here are a few ideas for niching down in the travel and food niche:
- A specific location – city, country or continent
- A certain demographic – singles, LGBT, under 30s, over 50s
- Method of transport – car, train, plane
- Lifestyle choices – veganism, low carb, real foods
- Meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, slow cooker
- Ingredients – tomatoes, pasta, steak, chicken
If you choose to niche down, try to avoid choosing a domain name that lets you broaden your topic choices in the future.
Choosing a domain name for your blog
Now you have some topic ideas floating around your head, it’s time to choose an awesome domain name. The chances of grabbing the first one that comes into your head are probably zero! But never fear, with some creative thinking, you can find a suitable alternative.
Choose a domain that’s relevant to what you’re going to be blogging about. Try to include one keyword so people get it right away. Here are a few suggestions for domains that may or may not exist (I’m not checking!):
- superblogging.com (super blogging or superb logging?!)
If you’re looking for a global audience, buy a .com domain. If you’re looking for an audience from a specific country, choose that country’s domain extension. For example, .co.uk is for UK sites and .fr for French sites.
Registering and managing a domain name
When you decide upon a domain name, the next step in the process is buying it. The average cost for a domain is around $10. But you can get them cheaper if you shop around.
Typically, you register a .com domain for one year at a time, but you can register them for longer. If this is your first time, don’t bother registering your domain for longer than a year.
Once you register a domain, remember to renew it when the time comes!
A lot of hosts provide an automatic renewal service so you never forget to renew a domain. This is a good thing for many, but can also be a hindrance if you buy a lot of domains or you discover blogging isn’t for you.
I switch off this feature and instead rely on reminder emails or memory.
Choosing and buying web hosting
This is where things start getting a little tricky.
It’s a lot of fun and exciting choosing a domain name for the first time, but looking for a suitable web hosting company isn’t.
There are tons of companies to choose from. And loads of technical jargon to get your head around.
Here are a few words you’ll come across:
- Cloud hosting
The list goes on.
When you start your first website or blog, it’s a good idea to choose one of the well-known hosting companies. If you find it hard to make a decision, ask a friend or associate for a recommendation.
Whatever you do, don’t ask in a Facebook group! I’ve seen this happen so many times. You end up with a million different answers with people loving and hating the same company.
As you learn more about running a blog, if you don’t like the hosting company you signed up with, you can move your site to another provider.
Many hosting companies offer a free migration service. They move your site from your old host to the new one.
Typically, changing hosts shouldn’t affect your search rankings as long as both servers provide the same experience.
Page loading time is a ranking factor, so if you move from a fast server to a slow one, your rankings might drop. Not overnight, but over a period of time. So keep checking your analytics data.
And if you move from a slow server to a fast one, your rankings might improve.
One of the most popular hosting companies is US-based Bluehost. They provide a reasonably priced shared hosting service good enough for most beginners.
Step 1: Visit Bluehost.com and click on the ‘Get Started’ button
Step 2: Scroll down the page and choose a plan – the Basic Plan is good enough for beginners (even though Bluehost recommends the Choice Plus package).
Once you’ve made your decision, click on the green Select button and go to the next step.
Step 3: Choose a domain name for your new blog
If you’re still trying to decide on a domain name, you can create your hosting account without one.
Click on the “I’ll create my domain later >” link.
Step 4: Success! Now enter your personal account information
If you’re registering a new domain and it’s available, you’ll see a message like this.
Step 5: Setup your Bluehost hosting package
In this step, you get to choose the type of hosting account you want. First though, enter your personal details.
You should pay close attention to every detail from this stage on otherwise you could end up paying more than you want to.
The image below shows the default options offered by Bluehost. If you don’t change any of these, the bill for setting up your blog could be more than you expect.
Pay special attention to the information in the Account Plan box at the top as this is the one that determines the length of service and therefore has a major impact on the amount you pay.
Without changing any options, you’re signing up for three years and paying a total of $273.72.
Switch off SiteLock Security and Codeguard Basic and the bill drops to $142.20.
Switch to a 12-month plan and the bill drops even further to $71.40 (at the time of this writing).
The price you see at the bottom of the package information section is the price you pay when you create your account. There is no option to pay monthly.
Do you need the addons? That’s for you to decide. Click the ‘more information’ links to find out more about each one.
Step 6: Enter your billing information
7: Check your email for details of your new web hosting package
Once your payment has gone through, check your email for the details specific to your account.
If you’ve registered a brand new domain or the domain you’re using isn’t pointing at Bluehost’s servers, you’ll be issued with a temporary domain.
Here’s a mind-blowing statement for you: WordPress powers 30% of all websites, including some of the largest brands in the world.
That’s because it’s easy to use, practical and backed by a huge community of creators developing ways to make it better.
Yes, there is a learning curve at the start but once you grasp the basics get to know how it works, it’s a walk in the park.
When you’re a beginner you’ll need help understanding how WordPress works. For this reason, we’ve created lots of WordPress tutorials specifically for beginners.
Instead of walking the process of creating a WordPress blog with Bluehost, take a look at this video to see how easy it is. The sound is really poor so turn up the volume and/or plug in some headphones.
Making your WordPress website look good
Once you’ve installed WordPress, the next step is making it look good.
WordPress uses something called a ‘theme’ to create the design.
You can read an in-depth article here: What is a WordPress Theme?
You can choose from thousands of themes, many of which are free (but I suggest you consider buying a premium theme from one of the main providers).
You can get free themes from inside your WordPress site.
The default theme that comes with WordPress changes each year and it’s usually good enough to get going. The current theme (even though we’re in 2018) is called 2017. This is what it looks like:
Once installed, you can make changes to the theme. All you have to do is log in and look for, and click, the blue Customize Your Site button in the dashboard.
Once clicked, you’ll see a list of options which enable you to do many things including enter your site’s name, change colours, add a video to the front page, change the default photo and create menus.
Play around with them to see what you can do. If you like what you’ve done, hit Save & Publish. If you don’t like the changes, hit the X button to switch everything back.
Changing the default WordPress theme
If you don’t like the 2017 theme and prefer choosing another, while in the dashboard, click the Appearance link in the menu or change your theme completely under the blue button.
On the next screen, you’ll see the currently installed default themes. When you move your mouse over the icon for the theme, two text boxes appear – Activate and Live Preview.
If you have content on your site, use the Live Preview button to visualize how your site will look if you use the new theme. If you like it, click Activate. If you don’t, keep looking.
This is how you test and install any new theme you want to use. Not just the default ones.
To find themes created by the WordPress community, click on the Add New button.
On the next screen, you’ll see a few recommended themes and a menu you can use to switch the filter between Featured, Popular, Latest and Favorites and you can use the Feature Filter to search for themes with the features you want.
And the features you might want to search for:
As you can see, there are loads of themes you can search through to find the perfect look for your website. When you find one you like, just click the Install button, as shown here.
Starting a blog is so, so easy. It really is.
The hardest part comes after you’ve passed the setup stage. Now it’s time to start creating content, generating traffic and making money from your blog.
I’m sure you’ve read the blogging success stories you find all over the internet and you probably feel inspired by them. Take heart in realising that all successful bloggers started somewhere, often with an audience of zero. But as time passes, through a lot of hard work, focus and networking, they saw traffic and income grow to the point where they could support themselves and their family.
It’s all up to you.