First step to starting a blog in the year 2017 is picking the right platform to host it on.
Budding bloggers wonder what the best place to start is.
“What platform should I use?” is one of the most frequently asked question.
There are also big commercial brands such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly who have large marketing budgets and are doing a lot of advertising.
What’s the best blogging platform?
Which platform to use depends really on what your plans are for the blog, and what wants and needs you may have for it.
The biggest choice to make is between a hosted, closed and commercial platform or a self-hosted and open platform.
Back in 1990’s when I created my first website (about my favorite band Metallica) I used one of the hosted platforms.
It seemed like a good choice to start with as I was a complete beginner and I didn’t need to invest any money, but I was thinking short-term.
My site turned out very popular, but the free host limited my growth as I didn’t have a domain name, had restrictions on what I could post, how I could present my content and they even put banner advertisement on my site.
I had to leave the host and get my domain name and web space, which allowed me more flexibility and allowed me to continue growing my site.
It’s foolish to rely 100% on third-party platforms for these reasons:
- When using a hosted platform you don’t own the site, the host does.
- They have restrictions on what you can and cannot do with design, content, presentation, customization and other aspects of running a site
- It happens quiet regularly that platforms change, adapt their positioning and disrupt their users
- Some platforms stop to exist. Some get taken over, get neglected and shut down (remember Posterous?)
- Some shut down without providing an export option or without giving enough notice so you risk content and data loss
- Some don’t allow you to monetize your site. Some force advertising banners on your content
- You are handing over the control and licensing of your site and content to a third-party that can profit from it.
- Your work can be used by the corporation without your permission, without notification and without compensation
- Free domain like yourname.blogspot.com doesn’t help with SEO, traffic and brand building
- Some commercial platforms can be expensive to run your site on
There are many of these cases and many more will come when the control is out of your hands.
Imagine from one day to another all your work could vanish.
Hosted platforms are not a bad starting point for someone to get introduced to blogging, but they are not a long term solution for most.
Self-hosted and open platforms are the best and recommended long-term choice for hosting your blog.
Let’s take a closer look.
How to start a blog with WordPress
WordPress is an open-source, self-hosted blogging platform that allows you to build a blog for free.
It’s used by millions of people and powers more than 60 million sites or 27.9% of the entire web.
It’s used by everyone from casual bloggers to some of the largest businesses including Facebook, eBay, NASA, Mozilla and CNN.
Every second two new WordPress blogs are born!
WordPress has a huge community of hundreds of thousands of developers and designers all over the world always eager to help and answer questions.
This is the exact step-by-step process that I follow when I launch a new blog.
No prior experience or tech-knowledge is necessary.
Step 1: Register your domain name and install WordPress
WordPress needs a domain name and a web server space to work.
A domain name is the address people will type to get access to your site and a server space is where your content and files are hosted online.
Internet is amazing. All domain names are created equal and having one puts you on the same playing field as any big company out there.
Anyone anywhere in the world can reach your blog by simply typing few letters in their browsers.
Are you wondering what domain name to choose? See my quick guide to coming up with a memorable domain name
And the cost of starting is low. The biggest investment you will need to make is your time.
It costs less than $50 to get a domain name and a hosting account for an entire year.
There are several capable and affordable providers for hosting.
I recommend Bluehost for the easiest setup process.
They offer a free domain name, 24/7 live support and WordPress recommends them.
More than 2 million WordPress blogs are hosted there and you can get started at $2.95 per month.
Note that it’s not necessary to sign-up for any of the other services they offer: Domain Privacy Protection, Site Backup Pro, Search Engine Jumpstart, Sitelock Security, Google Apps for Work. Feel free to skip them.
After you have opened your hosting account it will take you 5 minutes to install your WordPress blog online with the 1-click feature.
Just follow this process:
Disclosure: I do earn a commission if you sign-up using my link at no additional cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products that I find helpful and useful. If you do choose to buy through my link, thank you for your support!
Step 2: How to use WordPress admin
You now officially own your domain name, a hosting account and your WordPress blog is live.
Anyone can access your new site by going to yourdomain.com.
You can go to yourdomain.com/wp-admin/ to login to your WordPress admin back-end with your username and password.
WordPress admin is where all the magic happens and there is a medium-sized learning curve to get used to it.
Take some time exploring the opportunities and possibilities with your new WordPress site.
Left hand sidebar is full of options for you:
- In “Posts” you can write your first article. Posts are the main content of your site. Posts are the articles you are regularly writing for your visitors. They appear in your RSS feed, can be tagged and categorized. Posts traditionally feature a published on date in the byline and are placed in a reverse chronological order on your home page.
- In “Posts > Categories” you can group your posts into topics and allow users to find your content easier. If you go into “Settings” and then “Writing” in your admin interface you can select a new “Default Post Category” as otherwise all posts will by default go into “Uncategorized”. A category page lists all the posts from that category. These pages are very useful to give your visitors a nice access point to dig deeper into your content.
- “Posts > Tags” are similar to categories but they are just used more specifically. They keywords that are much more specific than categories and while I might have a category called ”Celebrity style” I might put a celebrity’s name as a tag to a post. Tags are usually links which lead to a page showcasing all the posts that are tagged with that specific keyword.
- In “Media” you will see a list of all the imagery and videos you have uploaded.
- “Pages” are more strategic than posts and are not updated daily. They are traditionally placed in navigational menu, contain more static information such as “About page” and “Contact page”. Many blogs have a “New? Start Here” page where they introduce a first-time visitor to the topic. Some have pages that focus on attracting customers such as “Consulting page” or “Services page” that list details on products and allow people to book an appointment.
- In “Comments” you can get an overview of all comments posted by your visitors. You can reply to the comments here. You can also moderate the comments by deleting and editing.
- In “Appearance > Themes” you can find and activate beautiful design themes. WordPress has thousands of them. How your site looks is often the first indication to readers of the quality of your content. No one will hang around a badly designed page. Get a great design that makes your site pretty. For a complete step-by-step process on choosing the design that fits take a look here.
- In “Appearance > Menus” you can set up your navigation menu.
- In “Appearance > Widgets” you can set up the look and features of your sidebar.
- In “Plugins” you can find and activate powerful plugins to extend WordPress. There are thousands of free plugins available and they can be used to add many features to your website. These are some of my favorite plugins.
- In “Users” you can edit your user profile or add other people who will be your collaborators.
- In “Tools” you can import content from your other blogs, such as your Blogger blog.
- In “Settings” you can change the name of your blog and explore other settings.
Step 3: To-dos to optimize your new blog
Let’s look at this to-do list that I go through as soon as I install a new WordPress blog.
Remove the generic content that comes with WordPress
WordPress comes with several default items such as an introductory post, a welcome page and some pre-installed plugins.
You can safely get rid of all of them.
Delete the generic “Hello World!” post (In Posts), the “Sample Page” page (In Pages) and “Hello Dolly” plugin (In Plugins).
Activate comment spam blocker (In Plugins)
Many spammers use WordPress comment areas to promote pages where they sell dubious products.
You don’t want these people to hang out in your own comments area.
Luckily, the solution is simple with one of the spam blockers.
Akismet is the best comment spam filter and it comes within your WordPress installation.
Activate the plugin and then you just need to “Create a new Akismet key“.
Do check my detailed guide to eliminating WordPress comment spam for more advice.
Fill in “Site Title” and “Tagline” (In Settings > General)
You don’t want your site to be “just another WordPress site”, which is the default tagline in WordPress.
That doesn’t tell your visitor much about what you do. You should make one up for yourself.
Write your title in “Site Title”. Explain what your site is about in “Tagline”.
Don’t allow user registrations (In Settings > General > Membership)
WordPress allows your visitors to register for accounts on your site.
This is not necessary if you’re not running a membership site and it leaves your blog open to hackers and spam.
This if off by default but just make sure “Anyone can register” is ticked off.
Update ping services (In Settings > Writing > Update Services)
Pings help you automatically notify different online services when you publish a new post.
I don’t think I’ve ever received any visitors thanks to this but it’s a 2-min, one-time job so I recommend you do it in any case.
Update this field with ping services that WordPress recommends
Make your site visible to search engines (In Settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility)
Make sure your site is visible to everyone, including search engines.
Your site is visible to search engines by default but it has happened that bloggers ticked this box and were later wondering why search engines didn’t index their sites.
Make sure the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is ticked off.
Say no to the email updates (In Settings > Discussion > E-mail me whenever)
WordPress notifies you via email when there is a new comment on your site.
That might be a bit distracting for your productivity when you start getting many comments so I change the default option to no emails.
Make permalinks short and pretty (In Settings > Permalinks)
Your permalinks are the URL’s of your articles.
You don’t want them to be called something as generic as domainname.com/123456. Change it to actually spell out the name of your post.
The default permalink structure: /%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/.
It includes the date your post was published.
It’s not be the best if you publish timeless content as having a date in the URL might make people think the article is outdated.
I use the custom option field called “Post name” – it is a well-structured, short and search engine friendly permalink.
My permalinks look like this: domainname.com/post-name.
Step 4: Make your blog awesome and search engine friendly
Let’s take a look at these features that you should incorporate into your new site:
Create an About page
Make an introductory page where you explain about your project, about yourself and what your site helps people with.
Tell people what your purpose and your mission is.
Don’t be shy, include a picture of yourself.
If possible get a professional to take a high-quality picture.
If I go to your about page, how long will take me to find the purpose of your site?
Is it clear within the first seconds, or do I have to read through endless paragraphs to find out?
Look at it from the point of view of your audience.
Is it doing a good job of convincing them to stay and explore more.
Answer three questions: Who you are, what you do for your audience and why should they care.
Meaning; what makes you qualified to post about a certain topic?
In a way, your About Me page isn’t about you at all, it is about them – your audience.
Think about it.
The more concise and kick-ass your story, the easier it will be for your readers to get to like you, subscribe to you and even share you with their friends.
Create a Contact page
Make a page where people can get in touch with you.
This will be very useful to get reader feedback, to get connected to other bloggers and maybe even to attract sponsors.
Contact Form 7 is the plugin I usually use to add a contact form to a page like this.
It can even be inserted into your about page. It is very simple and effective.
Install Google Analytics to start tracking visitors
Google Analytics is a useful tool to track and analyse your visitors.
It provides you a lot of data to see where they find your articles, a lot of geographical data, how visitors like your site and much more.
This data will help you make better future decisions such as what type of topics to cover, where to go to attract more readers and more.
Setup Google Analytics tracking profile for your new site.
Use a plugin like this to help you insert the code into your site.
Here’s my guide on how you should use Google Analytics.
Create a sitemap to help Google learn about your content
Your sitemap lists all the posts and pages that are accessible for search engines to crawl and index.
Basically having a sitemap helps Google and other search engines learn more about your content and hopefully also send you more traffic.
A sitemap is a file that lists URL’s for a site along with additional metadata about each URL.
Information like when the post was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URL’s on the site.
Google usually discovers your pages from links within the site and from other online sites.
Sitemaps supplement this data with more information.
The plugin updates the sitemap automatically when you publish new content so there is no need to do anything after you activate the plugin.
Here’s my guide to everything you need to know to get your blog on top of Google’s search results.
Add your site to Search Console
Search Console (the tool formerly knows as Google Webmaster Tools) is a useful tool to track the progress of your site in search engines and for Google to give you feedback on what you can improve.
I keep an eye on this as Google sends messages according to what kind of things they discover.
These messages help you stay on top and quickly react to warnings such as potential spam attack or other problems Google encounters with your site.
In Search Console Google gives you information they have about your site, your inbound links and search engine rankings.
Create your Search Console account and verify your blog.
Submit your XML Sitemap directly to Google.
Choose your site Preferred domain – either with or without www.
Make sure this is consistent with the URL you use in your WordPress settings (In Settings > General > WordPress Address URL).
Setup social media accounts
Social media can be a useful place for you to make people aware of your site and attract them to come visit your articles.
In order to do that you should create profiles on Twitter, Facebook and/or any other social media platform where your target audience is.
Make sure to link back to your URL from the profiles and vice versa.
Don’t just create profiles at every social media site, be focused on platforms that are most popular with your target audience.
Include follow buttons to your social media profiles in your sidebar to start building your loyal following.
Start networking, engaging and building your following from day one.
Go to Twitter, search for people in your target group, get in touch, connect to them and win them over one by one.
Give people the choice of how they want to hear from you
It is important for you to retain some of your first time visitors to make them come back and become loyal readers.
You can do this by getting them to sign up to your mailing list in order for you to be able to contact them again.
Check out my full guide on starting your own newsletter.
Make it easy for people to follow you in social media, subscribe to you via email or via messaging tools.
Point out how many others are reading your site.
The more popular your site is, the more persuasive it becomes automatically as people like to be a part of the crowd and like to follow things that are popular and that other people are following as well.
Step 5: Publish your first post!
Now the real work begins.
Starting a site turns out is easier than creating a post.
More than 50 percent of all blogs never publish a single post.
Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
You need to start publishing epic blog posts.
Write the best post that you can.
Go through this checklist before making your post live and click “Publish”.
Congratulations on your first post!
After publishing the first post you realize that the work is only starting.
Now write the second one.
Then the third one.
Step 6: Make a promise to show up again tomorrow
Your first post will most probably suck.
Only your mother might like it.
Your analytics report might say you had two visitors only.
No one would click on the Twitter share button or the Facebook like button.
This may sound a bit harsh but even the biggest bloggers published posts that sucked early on in their careers.
Don’t just give up after couple of weeks if you feel like you have not reached your high expectations, but manage your expectations better.
Blogging is not going to get you rich quick.
Big things are possible and you should dream about reaching them but do not expect it to happen to you overnight.
What separates the best bloggers from the rest is that while failing they were learning the fundamentals of creating immersive content.
Focus your time and efforts on learning the craft of blogging.
It takes a lot of time to master all these key skills.
You will be starting from almost zero and building your way up, learning from all the bad content you put out there and all the experience that you gain.
Learning how to create great content is the most important lesson for you to become a successful blogger.
The content and the way you present and promote that content, determines how well your project will do.
This is what counts. Getting experience. Learning how to write better. Improving the way you present your content.
There are very few core, fundamental keys to blogging, and consistency is definitely one of them.
Remain consistent with your site for at least 6-12 months.
The reason most sites “fail” is simply because the author stops updating them.
The hardest part is the initial hurdle, so decide now that you’re going to keep at it.
Make a promise to show up again tomorrow. Put in the effort and you will see the results.
Commit yourself to posting on a regular schedule.
I have posted 3 times a week for more than a year after starting this blog.
It creates a momentum and helps you attract and build a loyal audience.
Make it easier on yourself by preparing a number of articles for the launch.
If you want to keep to a consistent schedule, they’ll save you when life’s typical interruptions come into play.
I always have a number of ideas in a draft document that I could work on and publish.
The audience won’t find you. You need to go get them
You also need to get comfortable about reaching out to people and promoting your content.
Work on attracting your first visitors. Visitors won’t just come after you publish.
You will have to go out and get them.
You need to have a marketing routine that you go through every time after you have published a new piece of content to drive traffic to it.
Get out there.
Find your target audience.
Connect with them.
Show that you are the expert.
Promote your content wherever you can, whenever you can.
If you don’t do this not many people will know about you.
By taking these steps you will already do more than most people do.
Other people keep talking and dreaming and you are not one of them.
You have published that first post despite being fearful of the feedback.
You are actually in the field working. Only doing the real work can help you.
The real work of a blogger is about performing consistently day after day and building an audience few people at a time.
It is a lot of work, takes up a lot of your day and is hard to get away from.
Slowly but surely your site will grow. Your reputation in the industry will increase.
It is a marathon, it is not a sprint.
There is a long road ahead.
You are ready to conquer a piece of the online world.