This is Pat. Pat is rich.
Did Pat discover oil in his backyard? Was he one of the Apple founders back in the 70’s?
Nope. Pat is a full-time blogger.
He started years ago and has grown blog projects to over $1,000,001 a year in revenue.
Wait how much money?
Is that why you want to learn how to start a blog? To make money?
Everyone does. It’s the new American dream, but what a lot of other blogs won’t mention is this:
It’s hard as hell.
Luckily, THIS blog has you covered…especially with the easiest part -> Getting up and running!
So whether your goal is to make some serious side income, or just blog about your rescue dog “Goosey….”
Blogging is a simple creative outlet, with the potential to turn into a full-time income. No matter your intended purpose, this guide has you covered.
This is a long post. You should skim and skip around. It won’t hurt my feelings.
You don’t need to read every word, which is why I’ve added a table of contents, plenty of images and videos, etc.
So skim! Skim more than the milk in my fridge (my jokes are terrible).
How to start a blog – Table of contents
- Choose your topic
- Choose your blogging platform
- Find a host and domain name
- Install platform (WordPress) and other techincal stuff
- A full tour of the WordPress dashboard, themes, and plugins
- Design your blog
- Creating interesting content for dummies
1 – Foreword
How technical is this guide going to be?
For better or worse, starting a blog requires computer and internet skills.
If that scares you, it shouldn’t. It’s easy to get started, and the chapter on setting up a domain/hosting/installation, etc is FULL of handy gifs, pictures, and video tutorials.
So in the words of that Disney character…Hakuna Matata.
How long will this take me?
This entire guide (all chapters) would take you 2-3 hours of reading.
Who are we kidding. That sounds terrible.
Maybe you have some experience blogging and just want to learn SEO on a beginner level. Or tips on growing an audience. Or how to write content that converts into customers.
You’re a complete beginner and just want to get a blog up and running ASAP.
From zero to ready-to-blog will probably take you about an hour. That’s assuming you’ve never done this before and don’t run into huge problems.
Whatever your circumstance, DO skip around and focus on the topics you need help with.
What will I have at the end of this guide?
If you’re following along start to finish…you will…
- have your blog set-up and ready to go.
- know how to find topics you’re interested in (and your target audience is interested in!)
- know how to produce killer content that will leave your readers drooling for more.
- have a framework for content marketing and promotion
- have laughed, and possibly cried.
2 – Choose your topic
Blogging can be super difficult…depending on your goals.
If you’re hoping to make money from your blog & turn it into a side business….you have competition. A lot of competition.
Growing a blog is like ANYTHING worthwhile…it’s hard as hell and worth it. (Click to Tweet)
Choosing your blog topic comes down to 2 things:
- Your goals
- What suffering you’re willing to endure (and enjoy)
Define your goals and suffering tolerance.
- Are you writing for an existing business? Trying to start a new business?
- Will your blog stand-alone as a business? Is it connected with an e-commerce site, magazine, etc?
- Just blogging for fun? If so, how much do you care about getting readers?
You must think things through while choosing a blog topic.
You REALLY love investing and personal finance.
But those topics are very broad, and there are hundreds of bloggers out there writing about this.
However, if you aren’t concerned with making money from your blog…who cares? Blog about investing and personal finance to your heart’s desire.
But if your goal is to get 10,000 email subscribers and make $5k+ a month…
You can’t choose that topic. (and should probably avoid the clickbait. Dang!)
You should choose a new topic or niche down. Instead of a broad topic of personal finance, maybe choose options trading. Or budgeting. Or budgeting for new parents. Or budgeting for new parents under 30.
Those smaller niches will be far less competitive.
IMPORTANT: can you pass the “broke” test?
This is the single most important question when choosing a blog topic.
What could I blog about every week for 12 months, not make a single dime, and be completely happy with?
No matter your goal, your topic should pass that test.
It’s going to be a long, hard journey…and your topic should be something you can continually be motivated about.
A quick exercise to help pick a blog topic:
- Write down 5 hobbies
- Write down 5 subjects you want to learn (even if you have zero experience on the subject)
- Write down 5 topics you’re extremely knowledgeable about (something you could teach anyone on the street)
Here’s my example:
Are there crossovers between the 15 things you wrote down?
Do you love knitting, could easily teach knitting, and have a keen interest in mastering underwater knitting?
There’s a great potential blog topic.
Do you really want to learn video SEO for YouTube, but have zero experience? Blogging about this topic could be a win/win.
If you undertake this project and hit your goal of $25,000 in year one. Fantastic! But even if you don’t make a DIME, you probably learned a ton about video SEO and YouTube.
With those 15 items on paper, you should have a solid understanding of what you could blog about. The single most important thing to remember is the “Broke” test above.
When the sexy honeymoon of blogging gets less sexy, can you tough it out and keep going? Make sure you can remain consistent and motivated!
3 – Choose your blogging platform
Choosing a blogging platform is like choosing a major in college, except way easier (in my case). You’re going to want to pick one and stick with it.
Because a “blogging platform” really just means “the software you’ll use to design your site and publish content.”
You’re going to be immersed in the software starting on day 1, and because every software is different, changing platforms will mean learning a completely different software.
Don’t do that. Pick one and stick with it.
Here are the most popular blogging platforms in 2017
(we’ll dig into these deeper in a second)
- WordPress (self-hosted)
- WordPress (WordPress hosted)
And there are a ton more.
But which blogging platform is the best?
Frankly, self-hosted WordPress. Hosting providers usually feature 1-click WordPress installs, so it’s super easy to get started. WordPress also offers the most customization and control. Period.
While learning WordPress does take time, it can be done gradually!
It’s like riding a bike, with less scraped shins and boo-boos.
Basically, this is how it works:
- You buy a domain name and hosting package through a 3rd party (examples below).
- You install the WordPress software through your hosting provider.
- Um. Done?
Self-hosted means “non-WordPress.com hosted.”
Setting up your website like this offer complete control over your hosting packages (so you can choose what you need and what you don’t need), and offers 100% of the juicy WordPress software.
If you’re completely new to blogging, use this method. You’ll thank yourself later.
If you really don’t want to bother with a 3rd-party for your domain name and hosting, you can just use WordPress.com.
You can start for free (your domain name will have .wordpress in it. Ex: www.example.wordpress.com), or you can pay WordPress for a custom domain and hosting package (www.example.com).
I wouldn’t recommend this method, as you’ll lose a ton of customization options, and might end up paying more than you would with a self-hosted WordPress site.
The process of zero-to-blog-post is a bit simpler and fast though, if you’re really that scared of the self-hosted installation.
Wix is a completely different software (a CMS if you will, Content Management System).
It’s simple to get started, and like WordPress, you can install Wix on a 3rd-party host provider, or pay Wix to host it.
Wix is straightforward to learn, but offers far less customization than WordPress. However, for complete beginners who don’t need a ton of plugins, fancy features…Wix can get you a decent looking website pretty quick.
My recommendation: Don’t use Wix, due to the lack of features/customization.
Very similar to Wix, yet a completely different software and website builder.
Their themes are pretty, and the software is simple enough, so it gets the same recommendation as Wix.
My recommendation: Don’t use Weebly, due to the lack of features/customization.
Squarespace makes beautiful websites, if you’re into that particular style. Their themes have a fresh, hipster, modern look.
Also, they have pretty good features and add-ons for small business and e-commerce sites. But they’re not aimed primarily at bloggers.
Also, it’s expensive! Sites start at $12 a month, up to $40ish a month. (In contrast, this site costs me less than a dollar a month).
My recommendation: Squarespace is great for e-commerce and business websites, but is too expensive for regular blogs.
Blogger is the opposite of Squarespace. It’s affordable, geared toward bloggers, and has a much different look.
I personally don’t like the look of Blogger sites, but if you like simplicity, Blogger does that well.
The set-up process is similar to WordPress.com. You can start for free, or pay Blogger a bit to get a custom domain and more features.
My recommendation: Blogger is fantastic for really, really simple blogs with no hassle. WordPress is still better though.
(BONUS: Want to see my embarrassing, very 1st blog? It’s still there on Blogger…So bad.)
Typepad is unique for a few reasons.
The lowest price point is still $9/mo, and offers very little customization. The $15/mo package offers unlimited blogs. Pretty handy if you want more than one website, but you’d still have to pay for domain names, of course (or use the free ones: www.example.typepad.com)
While Typepad does have some nice features and plugins, it is still geared towards bloggers, primarily.
Also, one of the top blogs on the internet is on Typepad.
My recommendation: Very simple and straightforward for bloggers, but lacks customization and options. And expensive-ish
If you don’t care much about design, customization, flexibility, etc, Tumblr can be fine.
It is what it is…a way to post content (text, gifs, images, videos). It’s an easy way to get started blogging, but lacks control and customization.
My recommendation: Don’t use Tumblr. Get your own blog.
WordPress is the #1 CMS in the world for a good reason. It’s…
- simple enough to start
- flexible enough once you’ve started
- super-affordable if you self-host
- offers loads of themes, plugins, etc.
Use WordPress, hosted on a 3rd-party hosting provider. You won’t regret it!
4 – Find a host and domain name
Here’s what you’re going to do:
- Figure out what level of hosting you need.
- Compare different providers.
- Choose an available domain name, THEN
- Purchase hosting and domain name.
It’s important to go in that order, as several hosting packages include a FREE domain name. Who doesn’t like free domain names??
Figure out what level of hosting you need
There are a bazillion different website hosting packages, ranging from $3 a month to hundreds of dollars a month…but most are based on only two variables:
- How much traffic will my site get in the first 6 months?
- How many websites am I going to run/create?
Traffic – The smaller hosting packages have limited bandwidth. If you have a huge spike of visitors one day (like, Tim Ferriss mentions you on his podcast and you get 10,000 website hits in 2 hours), your site might crash.
But quite frankly, I wouldn’t worry about this. If you plan on getting less than 50k-100k visitors a month (which is 99.9% of blogs on the internet), the cheapest hosting package will work fine.
# of websites – If you just want one website, then you can ignore this.
I have an admission of guilt…
I’m a website addict. This is probably my 100th blog, and 200th website I’ve owned. What can I say, I have a problem.
Most hosting packages have a limit to the amount of “add-on domains” you can have on one hosting package.
If you plan on having multiple websites, it’s definitely worth buying a more expensive hosting package up front, with unlimited add-on domains.
Compare different providers
There are 1,000 different web hosting providers, and they’re so competitive!
Here are the top web hosting providers in 2017
Are there more out there? Of course. Are they worth mentioning? No they are not.
This is my absolute FAVORITE provider. They do everything right.
- Their domains are cheap (duh. Namecheap)
- Their hosting packages are perfectly priced.
- Their support is bar none. Best on the internet.
- Their dashboard is incredibly user-friendly.
Their cheapest hosting package is $10 a year and includes unlimited bandwidth and up to 3 websites. (Squarespace was $15 a month. Crazy difference)
Every other blogger on the internet seems to recommend Bluehost, because they have a fantastic affiliate program, but is their hosting really that great??
Their support is speedy and helpful (The first 5-10 sites I ever created used Bluehost), and their pricing is fair.
The best part about Bluehost is the free domain when you get a hosting package. If you’re a new blogger, and just want a quick-and-easy WordPress install for one website, Bluehost isn’t a bad choice.
(Use my affiliate link here to get a free domain when you purchase hosting…which is less than $3 a month).
A bunch of people on the internet complain about Godaddy. They mention slow support, or website crashing, etc….but I haven’t experienced that.
I have a medium-tier hosting package (around $12/mo maybe), which hosts 15 websites currently (including this one, yay!).
In fact, I enjoy the user dashboard in Godaddy, more so than Bluehost (but Namecheap is still the best).
Hosting provider conclusion:
Use Namecheap. They have the best prices, the best user experience, and probably the best support.
Choosing an available domain name
If you’re like me, you could spend a lifetime debating on a good domain name, going back and forth to different naming websites and hosting providers to see if the name is even available.
There isn’t an easier way. But there are easier tools!
Here are some AWESOME tools for generating domain names (even if you have no idea where to start):
- http://www.leandomainsearch.com/ – My favorite. Shows you a ton of 2nd word domains for your 1 word. You’ll see what I mean.
- https://domainr.com/ – Shows a lot of different extensions (as opposed to just .com, .net, .org, etc.)
- http://impossibility.org/ – It’s worth mentioning.
- http://www.hipsterbusiness.name/ – Exactly what it sounds like.
- http://www.panabee.com/name-generator – Lots of different ideas here!
Use those to get some different ideas, then head to https://instantdomainsearch.com/ to check availability. (I love this site because you never have to hit “enter.” It searches and check super quick.)
Once you’ve found a domain, head on over to Namecheap and grab it for….cheap.
5 – Installing WordPress and setting up the domain name.
The rest of this guide is going to be dealing with WordPress (sorry weird people who want to use anything else! Just kidding. We’re all weird).
Short on time? Here’s a quick video on How to Install WordPress on cPanel!
If you’re using a platform-hosted blog (WordPress.com, Squarespace, Blogger, Typepad, etc, you should Google “how to set-up [your-platform-name].”
If you’re self-hosting (like we are) but NOT using WordPress, (Wix, Weebly, etc), installing those platforms is similar to what we’re doing with WordPress. Follow along.
How to set up a domain name
Assuming you’ve already picked out an available domain name and hosting provider…then go buy it!
You will receive an email with your cpanel log-in instructions.
Don’t have I to do a bunch of fancy web work in order to add my domain name into my hosting…or something?
Nope. Once your hosting account is set-up by your provider, you’ll just log-in to your cPanel account and install WordPress to your domain name.
It’s usually that simple.
How do I log-in to cPanel?
- Check the email your hosting provider sent you after you bought domain/hosting (this could actually take a while to arrive)
- If using Godaddy, keep searching and clicking on “manage my hosting” or “manage” next to your hosting product.
- If using Namecheap, it can usually be found at “http://yourURL.com/cpanel”
What is cPanel and why is it awesome?
cPanel is a common dashboard for managing the “behind-the-scenes” of hosted websites.
Namecheap, Godaddy, and Bluehost ALL use cPanel (though they might look a bit different.)
The dashboard is essentially where you will install WordPress or other apps, view and manage the files on your website, create and manage email addresses for your domain, and a ton of other handy stuff. For more in-depth training in cPanel, head here.
How to install WordPress on cPanel
Watch the 7 minutes video linked to above. It’s worth it.
The exact buttons and names you click will be different depending on your host!
But the process is exactly the same…
- Scroll to where your installer is (called Instaltron on Godaddy, Softaculous on Namecheap)
- Click WordPress
- Choose the domain to install to
- Fill out a few more details (admin log-in details are important)
That’s really it.
It’ll take a few mins, and you might receive an email confirmation as well. After a successful install, you should be able to access “yourURL.com/wp-admin” and be prompted with a log-in screen!
That’s how you know it worked!
Use the log-in credentials you JUST created, and boom. You’re in your WordPress dashboard.
6 – A full tour of the WordPress dashboard, themes, and plugins
Learning the WordPress admin dashboard is like riding a bike.
Some of your friends may do it faster than you, they might make fun of you, and possibly steal your bike.
WordPress is super easy once you get used to it.
Here’s my dashboard as I’m literally writing this post.
A 3-minute WordPress dashboard tutorial
Let’s hit the biggest items first:
- Appearance > Customize
Posts – Clicking this in the dashboard will show you all your blog posts. Published, draft, etc. Clicking “add new” will actually write an entire blog post FOR you.
This is where you can quickly edit and publish new posts, and manage existing posts. Most of the basic actions are self-explanatory, but they’re covered deeper in the video.
Pages – Pages in WordPress are a bit different than posts. Pages are meant to be stand-alone static pages for your site…as opposed to part of an on-going blogroll.
An example from Millennial Money Man’s site:
Pages should serve a purpose on their own, such as your “about page,” “contact us,” or “pay me money” page.
Depending on your WordPress theme, pages could also have a different format than posts. Pages are more likely to be full-width, or not contain sidebars.
Posts are shown chronologically by DATE. Pages are not dated. They should serve a more permanent function than posts. (Click here to learn more about posts vs. pages)
Plugins – Plugins are 3rd party software that add additional functionality to any WordPress site.
And they’re incredibly useful. Some stuff plugins can do:
- Want to track website traffic? There’s a plugin for that.
- Want to capture emails from visitors? There’s a plugin for that.
- Want to turn your blog into a social media site? There’s a plugin for that.
Here are the plugins I have on this site as of 5/1/2017:
BONUS: 5 Top Plugins every beginning blogger must have (they’re all free!)
1 Yoast SEO – This plugin makes optimizing ON-SITE SEO a complete breeze. There are loads of tutorials on how to use it, but I find that the plugin actually does a nice job explaining itself. Just install, activate, and use!
2 Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – This makes integrating your blog with Google Analytics incredibly easy. And you want to track your traffic, yes??
(Yes, you do).
asdf possibly make short video showing how to install this plugin
3 Sumo – A whole suite of free tools to grow your blog’s traffic, email subs, etc. This is a one-stop-shop plugin. Lots of handy tools rolled into one plugin.
4 UpDraft Plus – Losing content you’ve already written, published, and designed feels like stepping on Legos with your bare feet.
UpDraft is a great plugin for backing up your site! They make it pretty easy to restore as well. Comes free, but there’s also a paid version with a bit more features.
5 Easy Google Fonts – Ok ok, it’s not super functional…but it’s the single easiest way to get your site looking super personal….quick. And it’s free!
Appearance > Customize – This will be dealt with in great, satisfying, nerd-level detail in the “Design your Blog” section below.
For now, just note where Customize button is (you have to hover over “appearance.”)
7 – Design your blog
Good news! There are no rules here. Make your website look however you want!
While you absolutely should spend a bit of time making your blog look pretty, there are still a few “must do” items to check off the design list:
- Is your blog mobile friendly?
- Is your blog readable?
- Is it right for your purpose?
We’ll dive into themes and the customizer in a second, but let’s address these issues first, as they’re key to the success or miserable failure of your blog.
Your website must be mobile friendly. Period.
Luckily, it’s the norm these days with 99% of WordPress themes, but you can always check ANY site here: https://testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com/ (thanks Google!)
I’d recommend finding a WP theme you like (or whatever platform you’re using), install it, THEN test it’s mobile friendliness before you spend a ton of time customizing the look.
Design is different strokes for different folks, but a blog must be readable. – Tweet This!
Here’s the skimm on maximizing readability:
- Keep the clutter to a minimum. Think minimal please people (I know it’s a preference thing)
- Use larger font sizes. It helps all of us.
- USE LINE BREAKS (see below)
- Use fewer words (says the guy producing the 4k+ word blog post)
Does your design match your purpose?
There’s a reason I’m writing this huge megapost as opposed to a 500 word “meh” article.
I want to provide unbelievable value in my content, for those who need it. (and not everyone needs my content).
And my blog design reflects this. I’ve kept it simple, with easy-to-read Open Sans Fonts, larger text size, and (hopefully) not too much clutter.
So ask yourself this, “What design are my readers going to expect?”
8 – Creating interesting content for dummies
The first thing to ask yourself is this…
Do you really care about the quality of your content? Do you?
This all goes back to the purpose of your blog.
If your purpose is to reach people, teach people, or influence people (whether you want to monetize it or not)…you have a great responsibility.
You are responsible for producing good/interesting/helpful content. If you aren’t willing to do that?
However, if you’re primarily blogging for fun, for the sake of writing, for friends, etc. Then who cares! Write what you want to write.
The entire next chapter in this series is about writing stuff people want to read about.
We’re going to look at:
- Defining your blog avatar
- Researching topics
- STOP doing these
- Formatting musts
- The WIFT approach
- The 3 magic ingredients to engaging articles
Ready to get started producing epic content that gets reads, shares, and loyal fans?
Well too bad, the article isn’t finished yet. However, you can sneak a peak at the draft 🙂
Enter your favorite email below and you’ll be the first to get access!