When I was trying to figure out how to start a blog, I came across a lot of articles promising a walkthrough, but that never ended up being what they were. I think all of these posts were created with the intention of helping new bloggers, but they usually only explain how to set up your domain and hosting account and don’t go into the details of how to successfully blog. It was kinda ridiculous! Learning how to start a WordPress blog is a lot more than setting up your hosting account.
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I’m going to outline the steps it takes to get your blog up and running. As well as some things you’ll want to know if you intend on monetizing your blog.
Just so you know: This will not take 10 minutes! Setting up a blog that looks beautiful, performs well, and grows a following is a TON of work. You can buy a domain name, purchase a hosting plan, and install WordPress in 10 minutes. But you won’t be able to create a fully-fledged blog that is ready to make money in 10 minutes.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s all SO worth it if you want to create a passive or semi-passive stream of income that you control.
I love blogging because it allows me to:
- Earn money writing about things that I care about tremendously
- Puts me in touch with people around the globe who I can learn from and provide value to
- Encourages me to get out of my comfort zone and work on my blogging-related skills, like graphic design and content writing. I feel like I learn something new every day!
I’m not sure that I ever want to JUST blog for a living, but it’s so nice to have this as a fallback. I love it.
If you’ve decided it’s finally time to take on the huge (and massively rewarding) project of starting a blog, then you’re in the right place! And you can absolutely do this.
You don’t need a ton of technological know-how to set up a successful blog. But, if you do run into some snags, don’t worry! I’ll link you to resources and tutorials for anything that you might need detailed help with.
So, let’s get your blog up and running!
Should I start a free WordPress blog?
You can start a free blog if you want to, but there are several disadvantages to doing this. I only recommend starting a free blog if these points apply to your situation:
- You aren’t sure yet if blogging will work into your schedule
- You’re not fully committed to blogging yet
- You want to start a blog as a hobby and don’t care about making money from it
If this list resembles your situation, head over to WordPress.com and create a free WordPress blog to try out blogging until you decide whether you want to create a business out of it.
Should I start a self-hosted WordPress blog?
If you’re ready to blog seriously, you want to start a blog that earns money, or you want to sell products or services through your blog, you need a self-hosted blog. That means that you’ll need to purchase a domain name (your blog’s URL) and web hosting for it.
The good news is that these costs are minimal and easy to afford, especially when compared with the cost of starting other kinds of businesses.
What’s the difference between a free blog and a self-hosted blog?
The biggest difference is that your website will be super limited as far as what it can do for you. Instead of having a blog at www.yourblogname.com, you’ll have www.yourblogname.wordpress.com or www.yourblogname.blogger.com, etc. This doesn’t look professional and if you’re attempting to start a blog that earns money and sets you up as an authority in your niche, you won’t want to have a free blog.
Now that we’ve got that down – let’s move on.
Buying your domain and setting up hosting
I’ve used more than five different web hosts throughout my career as a web designer and blogger and I keep coming back to Siteground. Three main reasons:
- Siteground’s customer service is incomparable to other hosting companies – you’ll rarely have to wait longer than a few minutes to get a response from them. So, if you’re having an issue with your website, they’re on the case almost immediately. Most web hosting companies get back to you within a couple days, so a few minutes is pretty amazing.
- The range and transparency of their plans. You know exactly what you’re getting for your money. Some hosting companies make their packages difficult to understand completely and charge you for extras that you don’t need or don’t end up using. They have three plans and you can easily compare the differences between them, so you know exactly what you’re buying.
- Free site backups and free SSL certificates. This will save you so many headaches. You need an SSL certificate to show your visitors that your website is secure. The green lock icon that shows up next to a domain name only appears if you have a valid SSL certificate installed. Most web hosts do not include this or make you configure it yourself (you’ll probably end up having to pay a freelancer to do it for you.) Free backups mean that if some freak accident were to happen, (you accidentally deleted things you didn’t mean to delete or you accidentally made your blog look ugly) you can restore it using a backup. Normally, you have to pay for automatic site backups. So, this is a great bonus.
You don’t have to use Siteground if you’ve already decided on another host! Use whatever company feels like the right fit for your blog. I’ve been with HostGator, 1&1, BlueHost, GoDaddy, and Siteground. Between the free extras, the customer service, and the reliability of service, Siteground is my favorite by far.
How to set up a blog on Siteground
Go to Siteground and take a look at the three packages they offer. The first package is ideal for you if you’re just starting out as a blogger. Unless you plan to start multiple blogs, there isn’t a reason for you to go for a bigger plan right now.
If you do have more than one blog or website, grab the middle plan. You can host unlimited domains with this one, and you’ll be good for up to 25,000 monthly visits across your domains. Once your blog takes off and you’re getting more traffic than that, you can look at upgrading to the third plan.
Select the plan that works best for you and you’ll be taken to the next page to pick out your domain.
If you’ve already bought a domain on another web hosting site, you can still use it with Siteground but you’ll need to transfer it over. You can either do this yourself or have Siteground do it for you (for free!). Either way, it will take a few days to finalize, but you can get your hosting account set up in the meantime and start writing posts for your blog.
If you don’t already have a domain name, simply type the domain you’d like to claim in the box. It will tell you whether or not the domain is available. Keep in mind that if YourDomain.com isn’t available, YourDomain.net, YourDomain.blog, or another option might be. Add your domain to your cart and continue.
After entering your payment details, give everything a second look to make sure it’s all correct. You’re saving somewhere around 70% by paying annually rather than monthly – that’s pretty great.
If you do already have a domain name and need it transferred to Siteground, you can transfer it for free using a WordPress plugin. This process will generally take 24-48 hours and you shouldn’t post to or edit your blog until it’s been transferred (You could lose files in the process if you don’t wait.) It’s a pretty simple process, but if you run into any issues or simply don’t have the time, contact customer support using the chat feature on their site and they’ll help you out.
…And that’s it! You just laid the foundation for a new chapter in your life. Now the real work begins.
Building your blog’s content
If you’re going to start a blog, you need some blog posts!
Start out by deciding on a niche and subtopics for your content.
Blogging can be super fun, especially if you’re writing about something you love. If you mean to make any income from your blog, you’ll want to have some kind of strategy before you publish your first post.
The best way to structure your blog’s content to get found in Google more often is to pick one overarching theme, or “niche”, and select 3-5 subcategories from there. My subcategories are design tips and tutorials, SEO, social media strategy, WordPress, and building a business. The reason you should choose just a few categories is sort of complicated, but once your site gains traction you can always create additional categories. Trust me, you’ll have enough on your plate with 3-5 of them!
Decide on a niche for your blog
A niche is just a topic that your blog will deal with. The bigger the niche, the more competition you’ll have and the harder it will be for you to stand out. For example, a blog about dogs will have more competitors than a blog about dog nutrition. Don’t let this scare you away from blogging about something you’re truly passionate about, though!
It’s common to start out with a pretty big niche (like food) and narrow it down into something more specific (like vegan greek food) over time. If you’re finding it difficult to decide on a niche, you may want to consider that approach!
- Write down the various subtopics you’re going to tackle on your blog. Remember, ideally, you should have 3-5 to start with.
- A blog about parenting might have sections about recipes, parenting tips, and safety, for example.
Make a list of blog post ideas for each subtopic.
Create a page in your notebook or a Google doc that will serve as your “brain dump” or idea mine, where you can record any ideas you have for future posts or topics. When you’re running low on creativity, revisiting your idea mine file and reading through your old ideas will help you.
When it comes to planning your actual blog posts, try to think of different series you can write. This way, you can link to related posts within your posts and keep your site visitors on your blog for longer.
A blogger writing about veganism might start out with a post about veganism in general and then create a series about vegan recipes, a series about vegan beauty products, and another one about people in the vegan community who are spreading the word about the benefits of going vegan.
If you’re able to hook a reader in with one post, they’ll be more likely to stay if you offer up a lot of similar content to them when they’re finished reading the post that they came for.
So go ahead and think of a few different series of posts that you can write. Ideally, publish one series before moving onto the next. That way, your posts will be cohesive and make sense together.
Put together an editorial calendar
If you’re feeling really ambitious, create an editorial calendar to help keep yourself on schedule. They’re also great for planning segments of related content, which will help keep your site visitors interested. My calendar is simple but it makes it so easy for me to quickly see what I need to be working on.
- Here’s a great tutorial on how to easily create an editorial calendar using Google Calendar.
- If you prefer printables, try this free editorial calendar template.
- Or, take a look at this WordPress plugin that you can use for your editorial calendar. You can download this for free and add it to your site later on if you’d like.
I really like using a printable editorial calendar to organize my posts.
Skills for bloggers to master
If you’re going to blog full-time, (or part-time with the intention of earning money) you’ll want to start learning how these things work. Look into each of these list items when you have the time to expand your blogging skills.
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Content strategy
- Creating images for social media and other graphics for your blog
- Writing + editing
- Social media
- Networking with other bloggers
How to get your WordPress blog online
(If you followed the steps above, you’ve already done these two.)
- Pick a domain name
- Buy hosting + the domain
Now we need to get WordPress running on your site. WordPress is a piece of software that makes it a lot easier for most people (both technical and non-technical) to make changes to their website.
If you have Siteground as your host and you get stuck during this process, you can contact them for help and they will install WordPress for you.
After logging into your Siteground account, click on “My Accounts” and then the little red button titled “Go to CPanel”. Check the box that says “Access CPanel” securely and click “Proceed.”
Next, find the section titled “Autoinstallers” and click on WordPress. This will take you to a new page. Click on “Install” and then “Quick Install.”
Select the domain you want to install WordPress on. Leave the next space blank.
Create your admin account username and password. I recommend using a random generator for one, if not both of these – it’s more secure. Write both down somewhere safe but easy for you to get to.
Set up your admin email account. With Siteground, you get unlimited free email accounts for your websites. So, you can do this later if you want! My email is set to hello@januarymaydesign.
I’d recommend checking the “Limit Login Attempts” box – this will automatically install a plugin on your site that will limit the number of times a user can attempt to log into your site. Even small websites and blogs can be victims of hacking attempts.
Click “Install” and your site has WordPress!
To access WordPress, go to yourblogname/wp-admin and log in with the username and password you just created.
Change your blog’s appearance
Time to make your blog look pretty. You have three main options here:
- Do it yourself with a free WordPress theme + lots of time
- Do it yourself with a premium WordPress theme + less time
- Hire someone to do it for you in a short amount of time
I recommend that you get started doing it yourself unless you’re really strapped for time! You’ll become more familiar with navigating WordPress along the way, which will only be helpful for you.
Get started by clicking on “Appearance” in the sidebar and then “Themes.” Click “Install new theme.” Go through the themes and install one that you like. It’s easy to change your theme at any point, especially in the beginning when you don’t have many posts up.
You can get a better idea of what the theme will look like on your blog by viewing the demo. Upon installation, your site will still look pretty bar for now. It’s easy to get caught up in searching for the perfect theme! Try to find one and stick with it for a little while so that you can focus on building your blog’s content and readership.
I’d recommend sticking with the free theme for a little while before moving onto other options. If you have some money to spend on your blog, purchase a premium theme that fits the style of your blog. A premium theme will make it so much easier for you to make the blog look like how you want it to with minimal effort. Your blog will also look a lot less like everyone else’s.
Write your about page
Write an about page that makes your readers want to know more about you or read more of what you have to say. This can be tricky and you’ll likely change the wording on your about page about a million times.
My best tip here is to look at your favorite bloggers’ about pages. Not to copy them, but to generate some ideas. Look at a few different about pages so that you aren’t too influenced by one in particular. Writing a solid about page can make you a lot more relatable to your readers and look less like just some person online.
Write for the other main pages on your site
If you have other important pages on your site, (think a portfolio page or a “work with me” page) write out the copy for each of those. Getting this out of the way up front will help you focus on writing blog posts without going back to edit and re-edit other parts of your site. Get something up on each of your main pages and return to it when you establish a consistent blogging schedule. You’ll probably have a better idea of what to say on them by then.
Set up Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, Yoast
Link up your blog with Google Analytics. You want to do this ASAP, because Google Analytics will start gathering useful data about where your traffic is coming from and who they are. Once you start generating more traffic, you’ll find yourself using Google Analytics to help you decide what to post.
Submitting your website using the Google Webmaster Tools helps your website show up in Google searches quicker. Your site will probably get picked up by Google eventually, but it could take weeks or months. To start showing up in searches on Google, verify your site with Google Search Console and submit your sitemap.
Bing Webmaster Tools is a lot like Google Webmaster Tools: Just sign up and submit your sitemap for your site to start showing up in Bing searches.
Develop your content strategy
In a nutshell, developing a content strategy will help you develop posts around a common topic and subtopics. By strategically planning out your content, you can make your site more Google-friendly and reader-friendly.
Think about it this way: When you click on a blog post and really enjoy reading it, you might look for more information about the same topic or something related to it. If you clicked on an article about Pinterest marketing strategy, finished reading it, and all you could find afterward are recipes and photos of the blog owner’s dog – you’re probably unlikely to return to the blog.
When you create a content strategy and stick to it, you’ll be able to keep your readers around for longer and hopefully turn them into fans of your work.
This gives you extra “SEO juice” because Google looks at the average amount of time that people spend on your site as an important factor when it comes to your site’s ranking.
Write your cornerstone content (pillar posts)
Start writing your first blog post. If you’re feeling inspired, try to write a piece of cornerstone content. These are the most valuable (and probably the most lengthy) posts on your blog. Take as much time as you need to write this kind of post because they will be the backbone of your blog. These are posts like “The Ultimate Guide to X” or “The Best Way to x” or “How to Learn X From Scratch”.
There are so many ways you can go with your cornerstone content, though. If you’ve installed the Yoast SEO plugin on your site (and you totally should – it’s amazing and free) make sure you check the box that will categorize this post as cornerstone content.
Write blog posts that support your cornerstone content
Now write some posts that support your cornerstone content. For every cornerstone post that you write, try writing five or more supporting posts. Link to the cornerstone post from each of your supporting posts.
Linking to related posts on your blog will help your readers find more relevant information and help Google understand what posts are related and what kind of blog you’re running.
Create pins for each post
Start designing Pinterest pins for each of your posts. If you’ve done research about blogging, you probably know that most bloggers say that Pinterest brings in a majority of their traffic. Start with one pin per post, but know that a lot of bloggers will design three or even five or more pins for each of their blog posts.
To design pins, you can:
- DIY them for free with Canva
- Use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator
- Hire someone to design pins for you
What you choose is up to you, but you want to end up with pins that are reasonably easy on the eyes. If you’ve never used Canva before – try it out! It’s completely free and some people have an easy time designing with it. It can take some practice to start producing work that you’re proud of, though, but that’s completely normal!
I find Canva a little clunky but I use it for some elements of my blog anyway. Sometimes I use it for pins when I’m in a hurry. If I’m not, I use Illustrator because it’s just so much more powerful.
Create images for other social media sites
When you have time, create graphics that are optimally sized for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for each of your posts. Doing this helps make sure that when someone shares your post, the image doesn’t cut off awkwardly. If you’re using Canva, you can easily find the correct size for each platform and create a graphic quickly. If you’re using an Adobe tool, Google the correct size for each platform and save them as templates so that you can create them quicker next time.
I definitely prioritize Pinterest graphics, since I get about 90% of my traffic from Pinterest. But when I’m not feeling the writing bug, I’ll go through the posts I’ve already published and create images optimized for other platforms.
How to find free images for your blog
You probably know already that you can’t just grab any pretty photo off the internet and slap it onto your blog. Doing this can get you into sticky legal issues – so stick to royalty free stock photos that are free for commercial use. There are several websites that offer these. Take a look at:
Some stock photographers have free downloads available when you sign up for their email list. If you’re looking for cute and feminine stock photos, IvoryMix comes to mind. Search around to find other freebies that match your blog’s “look”, but make sure that it’s ok for you to use the photos before posting any of them.
You can also purchase packs of premium stock photos or individual photos. This makes your blog look so much more professional, but do this a little later, when you’ve solidified your brand’s style.
Start getting more acquainted with SEO
People are afraid of SEO, and I totally get it. I was afraid before I learned more about it. Once I learned about it, I instantly felt better.
The good news for you is that Google loves helpful content that people share and interact with. So if you consistently write useful posts, you’ll generally see more traffic coming in from Google.
That being said, SEO is mostly a series of tasks that you should do to optimize your site and your blog posts. Some of these tasks need to be done once, some of them should be done for every post, and some of them need to be maintained.
Talking about SEO as simply a list of tasks makes it a lot less scary, I think! That’s all it is. Learn a little bit about SEO, install the Yoast SEO plugin, and learn some more here and there. You’ll do fine!
Make sure that you’re maintaining your WordPress site by keeping your version of WordPress updated and updating all of your plugins regularly. WordPress will notify you on your dashboard when updates are available, so you won’t have to go searching around to find out if there’s an update. Just be sure to take the time to update things! It makes your site more secure.
WordPress website security
On that note, install a plugin (or two or three) that will help keep your site secure. The last thing you want as a new blogger is to have your site hacked (that would be so discouraging and frustrating!) Backup your site regularly just in case. Here are some security and backup plugins for WordPress that I use and recommend.
- Site backups: UpDraft Plus (Free with upgrades available)
- WordPress login security: Limit Login Attempts
- General site security: Wordfence
Also, make sure that the username and password to your admin area are super long and more or less impossible to guess. You can use a free password generator (Google it, there are so many!) to get a secure password for you.
You may want to consider downloading a password manager, like LastPass. It securely stores all of your passwords and lets you know what it’s time to change your passwords. It also logs you into your accounts quicker than logging in manually.
Get your site’s SSL certificate up
Your site will rank better in Google if you’ve installed an SSL certificate on it. It will also appear safer and more legitimate to your readers (and it will be) with that green lock icon next to your URL. Essentially, installing an SSL certificate establishes a secure connection between your site and the reader’s computer. It also encrypts any personal data they might enter into your website via a form or textbox – like their name, address, or credit card information.
Getting your site secured should be one of your first orders of business. Especially if you plan to sell anything or position yourself as an expert within your niche.
Are you a little overwhelmed or are you ready to jump in and start your WordPress blog? Comment below if you have any questions for me!
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