As someone who writes, speaks and teaches blogging strategy, I field a lot of questions about how to start a blog. My restaurant server has always wanted to, my son’s jiu jitsu instructor knows his business would benefit and my neighbor started one a while back but fizzled out. Starting a blog comes with it’s own unique mix of excitement and overwhelm. There are so many options, choices, decisions to make from the get go. But it’s so worth it. Blogging built my virtual village, who cheered me on from college to marriage to the birth to of my son. Blogging opened doors to freelance writing & digital marketing opportunities, eventually allowing me to work from anyway as my husband’s military career took us around the world. Along the way, my blog provided me the space to learn, explore and discover – my own little corner of the internet where I can create.
Want that for yourself?
We’re going to get your blog up and going in just a few minutes – but I also want to dive a little deeper than that. So many of the people I talk to start a blog and quickly find themselves stuck. So, we’re going to break this up into a few different parts:
- Before You Start
- Go Live
- Establish Your Brand
- Content Creation
But, first, here’s how I learned. I started blogging in early 2001, from my college dorm room, when a soccer teammate showed me her “journal” on Xanga. Along with late night fries and milkshakes, online journaling was one of my biggest takeaways from college years. Already a consistent journaler, it turned into a way to connect with others as I moved into the adult world of full time employment. Soon after, I married a soldier and discovered a whole new online community of military spouses.
Now, let’s talk about you.
Before You Start Your Blog
Name Your Blog
Before we jump into the tech set up, let’s work out a few details like what you’re going to call your new blog. Now, it’s worth putting some thought into it but don’t get stuck. As you learn and grow, you will probably change directions. And that’s okay. Choose a name that helps readers know that you’re talking about something that applies to them!
- Make a list of all the things you don’t want to talk about (parenting` or kids when you don’t have them, cooking when you struggle to do more than order take out, etc). Spell them out here and make sure that you don’t drift in these directions.
- Brainstorm the things you do want to talk about – narrow this down as much as you can but don’t stress about it.
- Identify who you are writing to – describe your audience
- Free write all the words, phrases and punny jokes you can think of that have to do with your topic. Keep playing with those words until you get 5 phrases/names that you like.
- Check your 5 possibles to see which domains are available as a url and social handle. I use Knowem.
- Choose the one that you like best!
Choose a blog platform
You’re ready to jump in, share your unique genius with the world or just carve out your own little space on the interwebs. First, welcome! There’s a great, big global community out here and we can’t wait to meet you.
There is more to choosing a platform than start up cost – so it’s a good idea to take a little time here and consider your long term goals. It is tempting to jump into one of the free platforms like Blogger, Wix or WordPress.com. But, as much as I understand looking for a free way to dip your toe in, it’s not a good idea. When you don’t own your platform, you give up control of your content and significantly limit your ability to make money down the road. Bear with me, here. I’m going to talk about ways to start your blog on a budget – but it’s worth investing into your platform. Let’s walk through the differences between the two most common options: WordPress.org and SquareSpace.
WordPress.org – This incredibly powerful content management systems hosts everything from one page personal journals to membership sites for thousands to national brands. It is flexible and an industry standard. E-commerce tools, software integrations and design options for WordPress sites are common and affordable. It can take a little effort to learn your way around, but if you plan to turn your effort into a way to make money – WordPress.org is the go-to option.
SquareSpace – Among the “template” websites, SquareSpace is the only one that I would recommend. Although it isn’t nearly as common as WordPress.org, it is a simple, easy to use drag and drop website builder. Basic customization is simple and requires no knowledge of coding. In short, it is easy to use but with less flexibility than WordPress.org.
Choose a blog domain name
If I had to pick one step as the most common sticking point, it would have to be choosing your blog’s name. We want unique, but recognizable. It should express your perspective and resonate with your audience. It’s so important because your domain name is how people will find you! A note about your domain: your URL needs to match the name of your blog/business & should be a .com (instead of .net, etc). These two components build strong, memorable branding. “But,” you say,”I’m not a professional blogger! It’s not like I’m making money at this!” Some day, you might be ready for that next step. It would be a shame if you get to that point with a blog that you’ve worked to build, an audience excited about what you have to offer and you have to rebrand or change things up because you didn’t square away the details in the beginning.
You can buy domain names through hosting companies like Bluehost, but I buy all of mine at NameCheap. It’s simple, straightforward and I’m happy with the service.
Q: Do I have to buy the .com version?
A: You don’t have to, but you should. While other extensions (.net, .club, etc) are becoming more common, people are conditioned to expect and remember the .com version. Not buying means that you’ll consistently be sending a portion of your traffic someplace other than your website.
Q: Should I buy the bulk package with multiple version of my url?
A: Yes, if you are buying the url with the intent of making it a business. But, and this is a big one, don’t spend money you don’t have to buy them. The .com is the important one and you can add the other later.
Sign up for hosting & install your platform
If you are new to world of self-hosted WordPress, let’s talk first about what that actually means.
I mentioned above that self-hosted means that your content lives on a server that you are paying for. Most bloggers use one of the major providers – Bluehost, Siteground, etc. All of these big providers have their pros & cons – lower price, some limits on site speed or storage, ease of use, and basic customer service. In general, I recommend starting with either Bluehost or New Blog Hosting. With Bluehost, the interface is easy to use and consistent and the 24 hour customer service, while not personal or spectacular, is capable and willing to help you with basic issues. Once your traffic starts to grow, you’ll want to move away from shared hosting to something faster and more optimized, but we’ll cross that bridge (and the higher price tag) when we get to it. New Blog Hosting is a small business with spectacular (although not 24 hour) customer service. If it’s more important to you to have someone to reach out to with questions, New Blog Hosting is an excellent, economic way to get a more personalized experience.
I want to take a minute to point out that Bluehost is one of the largest, entry level website hosts available. It gets trashed pretty regularly in the blogosphere. I can only speak to my experience. I started self-hosting with Bluehost & was pleased with the ease of use, Live Chat customer service and 1 click WordPress install. Since then, as my traffic and business needs grew, I’ve transitioned to a dedicated server. I’ve also signed many clients (and some of my sites) up with the smaller New Blog Hosting. Based on my personal experiences with other hosts’ customer service and user experience, those two remain my top recommendation for beginners. If you’re past the beginner stage and ready for more robust hosting options, then you’re ready for a different hosting conversation.
Once you’ve set up your hosting account, it’s time to assign your URL to your cPanel. That can take 24-48 hours to propagate – giving you plenty of time to brain storm your first pieces of content.
As soon as your URL is pointed to your Bluehost nameservers, you can install WordPress. Bluehost offers a very simple install.
Now, it’s time to learn your way around.
Learn Your WordPress Dashboard
Before you jump in let’s look at the basics:
Posts – Just like other blogging platforms, posts are the most frequently updated content form. Typically, published blog posts populate either the home page or a blog page depending on your theme. This is where you’ll put your articles.
Pages – Pages are created in the same format as blog posts but are published as a stand alone page. This is perfect for key website components like your About page, Contact page, disclosure policy, and any opt in landing pages. Consider pages for more permanent content that you’ll want to refer back to and update over the life of your blog.
Plug ins – For WordPress, plug ins are additional pieces of software installed on your blog to add functionality. There are plug ins for everything from comments to menus to photo galleries to security – it is truly endless and always growing. As useful as plug ins are, though, be aware that too many plug ins can dramatically slow down your site. Older plug ins are that not updated also create vulnerabilities to hackers. Choose the ones you need, but keep it streamlined and updated!
Themes – Your “theme” is the code that determines what your website looks like. From colors to page width, themes offer an incredibly flexible way to build a custom site. When shopping for themes, look for something that includes the most important functionality and design components. You can always customize colors! My preferred theme is Genesis from Studiopress. It has consistently proven to be reliable and capable of absolutely anything I throw at it!
Child Themes – For super flexible frameworks like Genesis, child themes offer an additional opportunity for customization. A good child theme simplifies your set up and gets you up and running sooner!
Choose a WP theme
Welcome to the colorful, kaleidoscope, often confusing world of WordPress themes. There are free themes, general themes, visually focused themes, magazine style themes, custom themes and themes that do all kinds of amazing and specialized functions. For now, let’s start with something straight forward that gets the job done.
There are very capable free and low cost themes out there. But, if you are planning to monetize your blog or use it in a professional capacity, I highly recommend investing in a quality theme. All of my websites are built on the Genesis Framework with child themes from R316D or Hello You Designs. This creates a powerful platform to build any venture.
For theme designers, I look for:
- Excellent, easy to follow installation and customization instructions (preferably with videos)
- Easy to use customization options
- Well rated plug ins used to create theme functionality
- Portfolio of sites with functionality I’m looking for
- Responsiveness to emails/customer support
Install Your PlugIns
Plug ins are the seasoning that offers just the right support to your website. And just like seasoning should be used sparingly to avoid taking over the dish, overloading plug ins slows your site and increases vulnerability to hackers. Your child theme will likely have a recommended list of plug ins. Here are a few of my favorites:
Akismet – reduce spam comments
Yoast SEO – The go to SEO plug in offers tremendous value in the free version! It offers useful feedback on your key word density and meta description for more effective search engine optimization.
Pretty Link Lite – Create streamlined, branded links to redirect to external URLs, perfect for affiliates!
Social Warfare – My favorite social sharing plug in, Social Warfare’s streamlined design and strong performance are a must for me.
3 Pages To Launch Your Blog
Before you share your url for the first time, take the time to build these 3 foundational pages.
- Tell them about you – the about page is one of the most-clicked on website pages. If a reader stumbles on your content for the first time, they’re going to want to know more about you. Take the time to make it interesting and inviting.
- Get legal – Disclosure, Privacy, and Content Policies are a must have. They don’t have to be elaborate, but you need to be clear with your readers. You can find samples here but I highly recommend Rachel Brenke’s template shop.
- Contact – If a reader or brand wants to reach out, how do you want them to get in touch?
Set up Analytics
If you sign up for any work with me, one of the first questions I’ll ask is if you have analytics installed. The information from analytics powers so many of the decisions you need to make moving forward. Is your content resonating? Which lead magnet will build your list quicker? Do people want to read more like that article?
The industry standard option choice is Google Analytics – free, effective and well regarded if you want to work with brands down the road. Installing from the beginning adds credibility, helps you make more accurate decisions about your work and minimizes the guesswork.
Blog Back Up Routine
Websites crash. Hosting overloads, plug in conflicts, coding loops – the tech gods can be capricious. From the beginning of your blogging journey, create the routine of consistently backing up your blog. Some hosts offer automatic options. There are plug ins that perform the same function. In either case, I’d look for something with weekly back ups and monthly download that file so you have a copy on hand.
Build Your Blog Brand
Create a branded email – Look, I’m a huge fan of gmail and use it myself. But if you’re serious about building a branded online presence, email@example.com just won’t cut it. Some hosts offer email or G-Suite offers a powerful email solution for $5/month.
Start building an email list – If you poke around on Blog Your Genius or come hang out with me on social media, you’ll quickly learn that I an enthusiastic fan of list building.
Setup Social Media presence – Go ahead and set up profiles for your blog on every social media channel you can think of to reserve the name. Then, start with a Facebook page & the 1 or 2 social channels were your audience hangs out most frequently. Build and get comfortable on those primary channels before you start expanding to new channels.
Make a plan….a blog business plan – Creating content that resonates with your audience starts with a plan. Your blog plan doesn’t need to be complicated. It is simply a statement about who you’re writing for, what you are sharing with them, & how you plan to interact with them. Join the free Start Your Blog in 2018 to get your 123 Blog Business Plan!
Create, and stick to, a compelling editorial calendar- You have a website, a topic and an audience in mind. It’s time to outline your content!
There are as many ways to create and track your editorial calendar as there are bloggers – Trello, Asana, Google Sheets or Docs, Airtable or the ever reliable paper & pen! However you best organize information, rock with that. I recommend planning at least 90 days worth of your content. What will you write over the next 3 months?
Need help with the brainstorming process? Walk through it with me.
Build your blogging village – It takes a village to grow a blog or a business. The blogging community includes amazing people. Get to know them! Connect with other content creators who serve the same audience as you. Create a list on Facebook of their Facebook pages. Follow and read their blogs. Comment and interact on their channels. Join blogging groups and engage with other bloggers.
Create a blogging workflow – A workflow forms when you get strategic about the steps you take from idea to finished, promoted blog post. I could give you an exact copy of my workflow (in fact, you can grab it over in the Community), but that wouldn’t help you that much unless you work just like me. Instead, I’ll encourage you to reverse engineer you ideal scenario. What needs to happen and how much time do you need to do it?
Promote your content – You’ve written a blog post or two…….what happens now? The visits start rolling in, right? Not quite, young Jedi.
You need to bring your content to your audience. Sharing on social media using key hashtags, building an email list to send your content directly to them and creating SEO-rich content they can discover via search are all part of making that connection.
For social media sharing, do more than a single automated share when your post publishes. Remember that only a small percentage of the Facebook or twitter audience is going to see each individual post. I use CoSchedule to set up an automated social sharing template.
Implement SEO – SEO is search engine optimization, the practice of making your content easy for people to find with search engines. Here are a few key basics to get you started:
- User experience matters. Google, in particular, prioritizes websites that load quickly, are mobile viewing friendly and have a low bounce rate (people stay on your site a longer time).
- Quality content is king – when it comes down to it, you have to be producing something that your audience wants to read or watch.
- Keywords matter, but you don’t have to say it the same way every time. Google’s latest algorithm uses Latent Semantic Indexing, which recognizes similar phrases and words, too.
- Content density – fluff is out, high quality content is in.
How to make money blogging
We get into blogging for a multitude of reasons. Maybe you’re feeling isolated. Maybe you’re trying to launch the side hustle that fuels your passion. Maybe your family needs additional income but child care is too expensive. Whatever the case, many bloggers end up trying to earn money.
Trying is the key word. Earning consistent income as a blogger proves a twisted, unpredictable path for many. I’m not saying that to discourage you. Working from anywhere with a flexible schedule that adjusts when I need it to? It’s changed my life, allowing me to pursue my professional development without choosing work over personal life. The ability to maintain my earning potential with minimal childcare costs? That income offers my husband and I options, especially for the future as my business income grows. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Possible Income Streams for Bloggers:
- Ad Networks: you sign up, place ads on your blog and are paid per audience member view or click depending on the program. Be prepared, this income stream requires significant traffic to pay off.
- Sponsored Content: Brands pay you to write blog posts or post on your social channels about their product. Many bloggers start here with reviews in exchange for the product.
- Affiliate Marketing: Affiliate programs offer bloggers/influencers the opportunity to promote a product or service and earn money when someone buys that product or service through their link.
- Original products: Can you package together something you are knowledgeable about into an ebook, a printable, etc?
- Freelance writing: As you build a reputation as a topic expert, you can start looking for paid opportunities to contribute content to both digital and print publications.
- Direct Selling: Many bloggers successfully translate their online audience into successful direct selling businesses, like Malori with Warrior Wellness does with essential oils.
- Teach a course: Share your expertise by teaching your readers something
- Offer a service: Blogging offers an incredible vehicle for building visibility as an expert on your topic, which opens the door for a variety of business opportunities related to that topic. Photography, make up, decorating….the sky (and your imagination) are the limit.
Time to Press Publish
Are you ready?
It can be intimidating and overwhelming to start blogging. But, right here at Blog Your Genius you’ve already started building your blogging village. Need a little more help getting started? I’d love to cheer you on over in Just Start Blogging with step by step instructions, videos, printable resources and links to my favorite tools.
Where will your blog take you in 2018?