I have recently answered a few blogging related questions on social media and after a while I started getting questions from various people on what is the best way to start a blog. So, I decided to put together all the bits and pieces that you need to start a blog and compile a step-by-step guide type of post.
I have previously written about the reasons for which I think everyone should start a blog. Now it’s time to explore how – I will just drop a two-line comment to give a bit of context. I feel I should highlight that one of the most prominent effects of the exponential technological growth is the replacement of human labour by machines. Consequently, that means that information becomes even more valuable and as a result, blogging becomes even more relevant. Having a voice is necessary in world that changes too fast in various unpredictable ways. And without further ado, let’s dive into the process you should follow to start a blog.
When you start a blog, having a nice and clean setup is critical. It is in those very first steps that you may build a strong foundation or you may hinder the long-term success of your blog. There are four main things that you need to begin:
- A domain name
- A blogging platform
- A web hosting provider
- A blog design
A proper setup will cost you something between $100-$200 if you are in the US or £100-£200 if you are in the UK – you may quickly make the math if you use a different currency. It is true that you can do everything for free but it is also true that your blog will most likely remain buried in the abyss of the web forever if you choose to go down that road. Why? Because you will kill your Search Engines Optimization (SEO) and you will run across a bunch of other issues, like potential site speed issues to name one, that you will not be able to do much about since support will be non-existent. You will be unable to customise features that you would like to and even more importantly you will not be able to add certain features that might be critical for you. But let’s see everything one by one.
The domain name is your blog’s name that will appear in your web address and it is the first important decision to take when you start a blog. In the case of supersizeme, the domain is susime.com where susime is the name and .com the extension. It follows the pattern yourblogname.ext (“ext” for extension – com, org, net, info etc) and this is the pattern you would like to have. If you choose to spend no money for the domain name then you will end up with a name that will follow the pattern yourblogname.yourblogprovider.ext. The latter would destroy your SEO and your public image as well, since it will look very unprofessional.
So, first thing to do is to find an available domain and buy it. GoDaddy is the most popular provider and I have bought almost all of my domains from there. It is not critical to buy your domain from GoDaddy – in fact later I will tell why you might prefer not to. But if you end up purchasing several domains, some of which do not intend to use immediately, it is nice to have them all collected in one place which is easy to handle. And in anyway I want to show you what it takes to move your domain from a domain provider to a web hosting one.
No matter where you buy your domain from, buy the domain only. The domain provider will likely offer you hosting and/or a website builder. Don’t do that, at least not without thinking twice. You don’t just want hosting, you want the best hosting and similarly you want the best website builder. Below is a screenshot of GoDaddy’s home page.
Successful domain names are of two categories. Either quite descriptive, something like onlinebookseller.com, or short and easy to say, write and remember, something like amazon.com. Extensions stand for something – com for commercial, org for organisation, info for information and so on. If you want a .com name it will be effectively impossible to find a short one-word name available. You will have to go for a descriptive one or create a new word – abbreviation of some sort, as I did for supersizeme. You don’t have to stick with a .com even if you have a company. You can consider other extensions like .co or if you target a particular country only consider that country’s extension instead of a generic one since that way you will help your blog rank higher on search engines in that country. If, for example, you were targeting Germany only, then it would be yourblogname.de.
When you are searching for a name do not type it on your browser or google search it to see if it is available. That way it will appear as a search result and someone might track it and secure it before you. It’s a wild world out there. Search for domains only through a domain provider. If you find a domain name that you really like and is available you have to buy it immediately since it might not be there the next time that you will look for it. You need to play it safe if you don’t want to end up sorry.
Blogging platform: wordpress
Once you have a domain name you need a blogging platform and I would strongly recommend to stick with wordpress. WordPress is the biggest and most popular provider with 20% of all websites across the web running on it. It is very user friendly and very Search Engines Optimization (SEO) friendly.
There are two possible paths on that – either a fully managed by the provider site or a site managed by you. The former is the you-don’t-have-to-do-anything option provided by wordpress.com. But because it is a one-solution-fits-all product there are a lot of limitations on how much you can personalise it and what you can do in general. There will be a point that you will get frustrated a bit too much and if there comes a point that you would like to introduce e-commerce then you will reach a wall and you will start banging your head on it. Obviously, I do not recommend that option. Still, I am including those two images below to show you how your admin dashboard and blog post creation page would look if you were to start a blog that way. You will realise that it doesn’t look so different from what we are going to use.
What I highly recommend is the latter option – a site managed by you provided by wordpress.org. Why self-managed? Because you will be able to customise it as much as you want and add whatever features you might want. You can literally grow its features and functionality with no limits. Apart from the benefits mentioned in the beginning of this section, wordpress.org has another superior advantage comparing to other providers. It is an open source project, meaning that it is open to developers and by now there are countless amazing tools and plug-ins designed and optimised for this particular platform and available for free. From simple tools like social follow buttons or e-mail opt-in tools to full e-commerce solutions. Obviously, with that comes a vast community to answer any question you might have.
If you visit the wordpress.org webpage following the link a few lines above, you will also see a download button that you don’t have to press. Download and installation will happen automatically in the next step.
By now you have a domain and you have decided to proceed with a self-managed site on wordpress. You haven’t selected GoDaddy’s hosting, so you need to find a web hosting provider. The things that really matter in this selection are:
- Your site’s speed – how much it takes for your website to load when someone visits it
- Your site’s uptime – effectively meaning if your website is always online
- The provider’s customer service/support – you are not an expert and you should be able to solve any possible problem you may encounter easily, quickly, effectively and neatly
When I was doing my fairly thorough research, I ended up in a head-to-head between 2-3 providers. I eventually chose SiteGround, and eventually I became an affiliate as well, because of the fact that it is the only provider with hack protection, their number 1 rank in load speed and traffic they can handle with their SuperCache option, the amazing customer reviews they had, their optimised for wordpress platform including a 1-click wordpress installation, their 99,9% uptime and the fact that they are the fastest growing company in their field.
An additional reason was that I didn’t intend to start only one website and also that at least one of my websites would target a non-english speaking country in Europe and I wasn’t sure if I should mind the server location. Well, I happily found that SiteGround have servers spread across the world (US, Europe and Singapore) as opposed to US only. I wasn’t sure if server location does a real difference but, yet again, better safe than sorry.
By actually using SiteGround I can testify that I cannot imagine a better service. A very user friendly platform and an absolutely amazing 24 hours online chat. I have used the chat a few times, I never waited more than a few seconds in the queue even if I landed at a 40+ place and all the technicians are very good. I never encountered an issue at all. They also have a nice touch – after a few minutes chatting a button appears to send you in a chat with a more senior technician, something that I have never used just because there has never been such a need. But I do appreciate it. Overall, it is my hands down recommendation.
How to start a blog step-by-step
It’s about time to connect the pieces and bring your site into life! Let me take your hand and guide you step-by-step. I will actually start a blog from scratch, konstantinos.co, so we can do every step together.
We will start by uploading our domain on SiteGround’s servers. Login to your SiteGround account, navigate to the cPanel and locate the server names – they are on the top-left corner of your cPanel as highlighted below.
When you bought your domain, GoDaddy (or whichever provider you might have chosen instead) placed that domain on its servers. Now you need to move them to SiteGround. Login to your GoDaddy account, go to your domains tab, locate the servers and replace their names with the SiteGround servers as shown in the screenshots right below. If you have chosen another domain provider, then you will need to locate the servers in the respective tab.
Now your site is hosted on SiteGround! In theory, the process can take a few hours to complete but usually it takes just a few minutes or even seconds. Now that your site is hosted properly, you need to install wordpress on it. You can use the 1-click installation inside SiteGround. The installation takes a couple of minutes and you are all set to begin your online adventure!
You will find the installation button under “Auto Installers” or “WordPress Tools” in your cPanel home page. The two buttons are identical, so it doesn’t make a difference which one you select.
Just fill in the details in the next page and initiate the installation.
It goes without saying that you can live chat and have a technician by your side throughout this whole process.
You can now head on to the wordpress admin page and login to your site! Below I have placed a couple of screenshots of the dashboard page and the post creation page respectively.
Things can be even easier
Above I have presented you an easy to follow procedure to start a blog. But if you start a blog or a website, effectively it is the same thing, for the first time and you don’t have a domain yet, you can skip GoDaddy, or any other domain provider, altogether and everything related to it and head directly to SiteGround which will give you a domain for free.
You can still use GoDaddy to search and check availability since it might be easier and once you see the domain available go and get it from SiteGround for free.
There are a couple of points that I want to mention here. SiteGround, unlike GoDaddy, is not a domain provider company – it just provides that service as well. GoDaddy is a domain management platform. It includes tools like domain appraisal (how much your domain worth) as well as tools like auctions where you can sell your domain or buy one from another user.
Also, if you intend to buy several domains, either different domain names or different extensions of the same name, then check the discounts offered in GoDaddy. Different extensions (i.e. .com, .net, .us, .eu, .co.uk and so on) of the same name might make sense if you start a website for a company that has the intention to operate globally. In that case, you can set one main domain, probably the .com, as the main one and have all the others re-directing to the main one. Or you may use the other domains to build different websites for different local markets.
As I mentioned earlier, supersizeme is not my only website. What I personally do is that when I have an idea about a potential website and find an available domain name that I like I buy it immediately even if I don’t have the intention to build that website any time soon. So I accumulate my domains in one place, which is GoDaddy, and when the time comes to create it I move it on SiteGround. If you are an absolute beginner and you start a blog for the first time, then it may be reasonable to take advantage of SiteGround’s offer but I think it is good to be aware of all the options and processes and judge accordingly.
You can go ahead and start creating your first post but there are a few more things that are worth doing before starting creating your content.
Design: choosing a theme when you start a blog
Now it’s where the real fun starts. And the fun starts with selecting a design. Since you are here, chances are you are not a software developer and you don’t have the budget to hire one either. So you will need a wordpress theme. I will urge you to avoid designing your website, meaning playing with the theme and its features, forever before you start creating your content and sharing it. In the beginning you need just the basics and you will improve the design along the way. What is important though is to have an idea of the design and functionality you want to eventually achieve. For example, if you don’t have a product yet but you are planning to create one and sell it on your site in a few months time, it might make sense to be e-commerce ready. That means that the related features would be installed but not active until the product is ready.
Think of the feel of your blog – how serious or how playful you want it to look, think of features that might be important to you, like opt-in forms, counters or whatever else and make sure that the theme you will chose reflects your needs both graphically and functionally. One very important thing to mind is that the theme needs to be responsive, meaning it is designed for any kind of devices (desktop/laptop, tablet, smartphone). You might build the website on a desktop computer or a laptop but the majority of the visitors will be from mobile devices and they need to have a pleasant experience when they visit.
There are plenty of free themes out there but again, if you want something of certain quality you will have to get a professional theme. To be honest, having a professional theme or not is what will make the difference of your budget staying slightly above $100 or approaching the $200 mark. The most common price for a professional theme is around $79 but you can find cheaper or more expensive ones. Below, I will guide you through my recommendation and the reasons that I think it is the best option and for which I also chose to become an affiliate.
I highly recommend Elegant Themes and I believe they have a wonderful theme collection enhanced with some powerful tools. In the screenshots that follow I will show you how to add a new theme, which is very easy and straightforward, but also I will use Divi and show you why it is probably the best theme out there. Apart from being responsive, it has 18 page layouts that you can use as templates (i.e. home, about, testimonials and so on) and even more importantly, it comes with the Divi Builder which will make your life so much easier! You can go ahead and grab it from Elegant Themes if you want.
In your wordpress admin page, navigate to “Appearance”. You will see that there are three free themes installed by default, one of which is active. Click “Add New Theme”.
In the next page you will see additional free themes that you can install. Choose “Upload Theme” on the top left corner.
Then, browse and select the zip file that you have downloaded form Elegant Themes, in this case the Divi theme and install.
Going back to the “Add New Post” page, you will notice that some Divi features are now installed – the Divi builder on the left and the Divi Post Settings on the right.
By clicking on the “Use The Divi Builder” button, you can enter its panel.
And if you click “Insert Column(s)” then the Divi’s module list appears and you can add whichever item you want with just one click. This is where this theme becomes really powerful. It’s the same whether you want to create a new post or a new page.
Divi Builder is a really handy tool which I believe it is profound.
Start a blog supercharged
If you don’t go for the Personal plan of Elegant Themes and instead choose the Developer, which I have, or the Lifetime Access, then you have unlimited access to the plugins they develop (all plans give you unlimited access to all themes to use in as many websites as you want). They currently have 6 plugins, with three of them being really important for me.
First one, is the Divi Builder plugin. This plugin allows you to install and use the Divi Builder in any theme and not only the Divi one, regardless if it is designed by Elegant Themes or not. The second one is the Monarch plugin which is probably the best plugin out there for social sharing – it adds social media buttons for share and/or follow to your page or post in a way that makes it very easy for the visitor to share or follow. The third one is the Bloom plugin that provides you a series of tools for email opt-in forms.
In the series of screenshots that follows I am showing how the Monarch plugin works. Once you install the plugin, go to its settings and add your preferred social networks.
Go ahead and select your desired networks. In this example I will choose Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Reddit.
Now, if you go to view your blog you will notice that the social media share buttons have been nicely added on the side, making it very easy for your visitors to share your content.
One last thing to start a blog with finesse
The first thing you should do as soon as you create a new website is to register it with Google Analytics so google’s engines will start tracking it. You should use analytics for every single thing you do related to your blog, website or business in general or you are walking in the dark. But in this case, the focus is just in analysing the traffic to your site.
In Google Analytics you have three levels of hierarchy. Top is you account, which is your google account, then is property where every new website you register under one account appears as a different property and last is view, where you can setup different reporting views for every property. The default view is the “All Website Data”. I suggest that you take a copy of it immediately and make that copy your main reporting view – in the screenshot below I have named mine “konstantinos – main”. In the future you will start editing that view, with adding filters being one of the first things to come.
Once you register your website on Google Analytics, you will receive a tracking ID and a code that you need to feed back into your posts and pages in order to be found by Google’s crawling bots.
By registering your website with Google Analytics you receive a tracking code that you need to add in every page in order to get tracked. The nice thing is that there are plenty of plugins which do that for you automatically.
Let the journey begin
I hope this post helped you feel more comfortable with the entire process of starting a new blog. Recalling my own start and reflecting to the things that I have learned since then, I decided to put together a guide with 21 tools, applications and resources to help you with everything related to content creation and promotion which I will send you should you live your details below.
In any case, good luck in your new beginning. Put the work and the effort, have the patience and I trust this journey can be a long and pretty interesting one!
Thank you for reading! If you have any thoughts on what you just read, either good or bad ones, I would appreciate it if you leave a comment below and let me know. Feedback is invaluable in one’s strive for progress. And if you choose to share this post it would mean the world to me! Until soon!
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