Starting a blog in 2017 is a piece of cake.
It was the same in 2016, 2015 and before…
If you’re really into the idea of starting a blog, what do you need to know about the process?
What decisions you make now could save you time and money in the future?
In this post, I’m going to explore the options available to newbie bloggers and provide you with the information you may not be aware of to help you make smart decisions.
If you choose to take action after reading this post, you could be online, hitting the publish button and unleashing your first blog to the world in just a few short hours!
Let’s start at the beginning…
To start a blog you need at least two things:
- A domain name or URL
- Blogging software/platform
Right at the very start of the process you must make an important decision: Use one of the free blog hosting sites or spend a little cash, buy a domain name and secure some web hosting for your brand new blog.
Without doubt, almost every single time, my answer is “spend a little cash, secure some web hosting and get your own little piece of the interwebs.”
If you must go down the free road, only do it for testing purposes.
Never use one of the three most popular blogging platforms for your bread-and-butter blog as you just don’t have the same control or flexibility.
Almost certainly, when your blog grows and you realise the limitations forced upon you, you’ll want to move it to its own server. Which can get a bit messy, even if you know what you’re doing.
Of course, if you’re flush, you could pay somebody to do it for you.
But then you have another hurdle to jump over – how to let search engines know your site has moved and keep the traffic you’ve worked hard to achieve.
Your old blog will still work, but having exactly the same content on two blogs might cause an issue with Google.
Let’s trackback a little to see why this is an issue.
Earlier on I said you need two things to start a blog: a domain name/URL and the software for running a blog.
If you choose one of the free blogging options they put your blog onto something called a subdomain. This means your web address looks like this:
I’m sure you’ll agree, it doesn’t look very professional if you’re a freelancer, VA or small business.
The alternative, if you were to put your blog onto an independent server looks so much more professional: myblog.com.
If you start on a free subdomain and decide a few months later to switch to a self-hosted one instead, you should be able to take all the content with you, but to Google and other search engines, this is a completely new site.
In fact, there’s the potential for Google to ignore the new site because the content on it, assuming you moved it all to the new one, already exists on another site – your subdomain on one of the free platforms.
If Google finds two pages/sites containing exactly the same content, it typically gives preference to the older page/site.
The good news – there’s a way around it.
You must ‘tell’ the search engines the content has moved.
You don’t do this by firing off an email (that would be nice, though).
Instead you set up something called a 301 redirect for every URL on your old blog.
A bit techie for you?
It is, but all you have to know about it is 301 redirects inform search engines URL A (the one at your old blog) has been permanently moved to URL B (your new blog) and Google (or Bing or whatever) should show URL B in the search results instead of URL A.
Setting up 301 redirects on free blogs
WordPress.com offers an upgrade to handle this. At £11 per year, it’s a steal (you probably won’t need it for longer than one year).
Tumblr offers a similar feature, but it’s more long-winded. Check out the instructions here.
And Blogger does the same. Here are its instructions.
If you’ve clicked through to read the instructions, you’ve probably given yourself a bit of a headache. Especially if you’re not very technical.
Imagine the stress of doing this on a live site.
What if something went wrong? It happens.
This is a service WordPress.com, Blogger and Tumblr offer.
It works like this: you host your blog on one of these sites, but point a proper domain name (myblog.com) to the subdomain you’re using for your blog.
It’s a viable option for some.
But there are still restrictions on the tools you can use to power your blog. For instance, you can’t install third-party plugins or run AdSense on WordPress.com sites.
A domain name and hosting for one year costs less than $100
If you choose to go down the road of buying a domain name and hosting from the start, you won’t have any of the headaches that go with moving a site.
Which is why it’s the best option for a business blog/website.
Now, let’s look at which software you should you use to power your blog.
For me, and millions of people around the world, there’s only one choice: WordPress.
WordPress comes in two flavours – self-hosted (WordPress.org) and free blogging space (WordPress.com).
Most hosting companies provide a quick install process from inside your hosting account so you don’t need to download and install the WordPress software. All of that’s taken care of.
At WordPress.com you create an account, set up a blog and don’t pay a thing. WordPress takes care of all the hosting and setting up.
Unlimited flexibility and potential
The biggest advantage to the downloadable and free version of WordPress is the ability to use any plugin you like to create awesome blogs.
Plugins make a massive difference to the WordPress experience.
With plugins, you can do just about anything:
- Setup an ecommerce store
- Create an Amazon affiliate site
- Set up a business directory
- Set up a social network
- Run a membership site
- Create photo galleries
- Capture email addresses so you can build a mailing list
- Find images to use in your posts
And then there’s the ‘little’ plugins that give you added functionality to do tasks like:
- Resizing images
- Combatting comment spam
- Finding broken links
- Making pages load faster
- Embedding YouTube videos
Now can you see why, if you’re serious about growing your business around a blog, or blogging to generate business, whether it’s affiliate sales, lead generation or AdSense clicks, the best option for most people is WordPress.
Here are the main advantages:
- WordPress is free to download and you can use it on as many sites as you like
- Most hosting companies make it easy to install WordPress through your hosting account
- You have access to hundreds/thousands of free and premium themes from the dashboard
- You can install as many free or premium plugins as you like (before you go crazy, read The Trouble With (Some) WordPress Plugins)
- You can run adverts, such as AdSense, on your site (you can’t typically do this on a WordPress.com site)
Now for the important bit – buying the domain, securing some hosting and setting up WordPress.
Registering and managing a domain name
Once you decide upon a domain name, the next step in the process is buying it. It’s an exciting time!
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.
Choosing and buying web hosting
This is where things start getting a little tricky.
While it’s a lot of fun and incredibly exciting choosing a domain name for the first time, looking for a suitable hosting company could give you a massive headache.
There are tons of companies to choose from and loads of technical jargon to get your head around: storage, bandwidth, servers, cloud hosting, Apache, FTP, SSD, PHP. The list goes on.
If you’re starting a website for the very first time, it’s a good idea to stick with one of the more popular hosting companies.
As you learn more, if you don’t like the hosting company you initially signed with, you can easily leave and go elsewhere (and yes, you should get a pro-rata refund if you paid for a lengthy term in advance – but do check with your provider first).
Many hosting companies offer a migration service, where they move your site (and associated email accounts) 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. Probably not overnight, but certainly over a period of time.
And if you move from a slow server to a past one, your rankings might improve.
Let’s go through the process for buying a domain and hosting from Bluehost.
Step 1: Visit Bluehost.com and click on the ‘get started now’ button
Step 2: Choose a plan – the Starter plan is good enough for beginners
Step 3: Choose a domain name
Step 4: Success! Now enter your personal account information
Step 5: Setup your hosting package
You should pay careful attention to the detail at this stage 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.
You probably don’t need Site Backup Pro or SiteLock Security, but if you want to keep your personal name and address out of public databases, such as WHOIS, you do need Domain Privacy Protection.
(Many businesses choose to reveal their name and address on public records to improve customer confidence (should anyone ever check). In some countries, businesses are required by law to make this information public.)
Tick and untick the boxes relevant to you.
Pay special attention the information in the Account Plan box at the top as this is the one that determines the length of service and the amount you pay.
Step 6: Enter your billing information
Here’s a mind-numbing statement for you: WordPress powers a quarter of all websites!
That’s because it’s easy to install, and although there is a learning curve at the start, once you get to know how it works, it’s fairly easy to use.
Bluehost, and other web hosting companies make it easy to install. All you have to do is click the install button and follow the on-screen instructions.
Instead of walking you three each step with a series of screenshots, take a look at this video to see how easy it is. Skip to 1.25 if you want to get straight to the instructions.
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 choose from thousands of themes, many of which are free. You do this from inside WordPress.
The default theme that comes with WordPress changes each year and it’s usually good enough to get going. The current theme is called 2017. This is what it looks like:
Once installed, you can make changes to theme. All you have to do is login 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 colors, 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 or enter a keyword into the search box.
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. Making wise decisions at the start of the process could save you a lot of time and stress in the future.
I hope this article helps you learn about how to start a blog.