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I’m probably dating myself here but I took an undergrad class in web design. The only tools we had were Notepad and an FTP client. Did you get that? Note. Effin. Pad. There was no fancy WordPress dashboard for a new blog or plugins to make life easier. Needless to say, things have changed a bit since then. And by that, I mean more complicated. There are things that I struggle with so I know there are things some of you are struggling with too.
So…ta da!! I’ve decided to create a series on blogging with how-tos and tips. A small part of this is selfishly motivated because I’d like to have a place to refer back to if I need to do something again. Or undo something so that I can do another thing. It happens.
The bigger reason, of course, is to help others who are spending countless hours Googling for things and banging their heads on the desk when it doesn’t work out.
For the first post in this series, we’ll start at the beginning and work our way through. This blog is a self-hosted WordPress site with a Genesis child theme so all tips will be related to that.
Let’s Set Up Your New Blog!
Choose a name for your new blog
The first step before you do anything else is to choose a name for your new blog. Take some time to do this right because you don’t want to get stuck with a name you might not like later on. PinkFlamingoUmbrella.com might sound like a fun name for your blog after a glass of wine or two but if you’re planning on starting a knitting blog, you might run into a bit of a branding conundrum down the road. Building a brand starts with a name so try to envision where you want to take your blog and go from there.
I mean, it’s not as bad as a misspelled tattoo but it’s still a real pain to change it.
Your blog name is your URL, your brand, and the primary method of identification for your blog. And it’s going to go on anything you use to promote your blog and anything from your blog that’s been shared elsewhere. If you want to change the name of your blog in the future, all of this will be out-of-date. You can use domain forwarding to a new address but this always seems sketchy to me and I’m likely to back right on out if I’ve been forwarded.
Once you’ve decided on a name, you better check to see if it’s available.
There’s no worse feeling than coming up a with a bad-ass name for your blog only to find that someone else already thought of it. Some sites will recommend trying variations of your name, like putting “The” or “A” at the front (so instead of Blog Boss, you use “The Blog Boss”). My opinion is that it’s hard enough to stand out in blogland. Why make it even harder by having a name for your new blog that’s easily confused with another established blog?
Register your name with a domain registrar
There are thousands of places you can go to check domain availability and purchase a domain name. I use GoDaddy personally. I find it’s easy and reasonable. There’s also Namecheap, 1And1, and Domain.com as well as many, many others.
And I think it’s important to note that just because you’re registering your domain with a company does not mean you also have to utilize their hosting services if they offer it. It’s perfectly acceptable to have your domain managed separately from your hosting. I’m a “don’t put all my eggs in one basket” girl but if it’s easier for you to have it all in one place, that’s cool too. Prices typically range from $10-$15 a year for your domain and many offer 3 or 5-year deals as well.
Choose the type of Hosting
Alright, so you have your killer new blog name, it was available and you gleefully snagged that baby. Now what? Glad you asked.
If you’re really serious about making a go of it with your new blog, I HIGHLY recommend self-hosting.
Some people get confused about the difference between self-hosted and hosted sites (like WordPress.com). Think of self-hosting as owning your own business. You’re free to make any changes you want, set up different income streams, choose your colors and branding and determine the direction.
Other types of hosting would be similar to purchasing a franchise. You’re really limited to what the parent company will allow. You use the colors, branding, and products they determine. With self-hosting, you can utilize plug-ins to make your site cool, use a custom theme and set up your blog for monetization with ads. You can’t do that with a hosted site.
If you’ve chosen self-hosting for your blog, congratulations! Now you need to find hosting for it. Hence the “self” in self-hosting.
There are a lot of different hosting companies out there, some better and some worse. Currently, I’m with SiteGround and love it. They have amazing speed and cutting-edge technology. SiteGround is also reasonably priced with an introductory offer of $3.95/mo for your first year, plus they have killer customer service.
Another thing I like about SiteGround is that their levels are designed to grow with you as your blog grows. There are 3 plans. You’ll need to choose one to start with.
Set Up Hosting
Next is choosing your domain. Like I said above, you don’t have to have your domain hosted by the same company as your web hosting. If you do have an existing domain, another perk with SiteGround is their free website transfer service. As in, you don’t have to do any file copying or anything else. You can choose to add your free transfer during signup, give the techs at SiteGround all the needed info and they will do all the work for you. They’ll email you when your site is ready and you’ll be good to go!
Unlike other web hosting companies, SiteGround offers their lowest price no matter what initial period you choose. You could pick one year or three years and still pay the same monthly price. It always irks me when I see other companies lure you in with an ultra-low monthly rate and then you find out it’s only for a five-year plan. Once you made all choices, you can check out. If it’s a brand new site, you’ll be able to get right in and start designing. If it’s an existing site and you chose to have it transferred, SiteGround will notify you when it’s ready.
Once you’ve chosen a host and set up your domain with hosting, it’s time to actually start creating your blog. First things first, install WordPress.
WordPress is the most popular platform for blogs with over 25% of the World Wide Web running on WordPress. That’s pretty impressive. WordPress also dominates in market share of content management systems, garnering almost 60% of all users. (I work in Analytics. I like percentages and statistics.) But basically, you’re in good hands with WordPress. After you completed the signup process, SiteGround (or whichever hosting company you chose) will provide you with all of the necessary links and information you need to access your customer area.
After logging in for the first time, you are given the option to preinstall WordPress. Choose the first option and click proceed.
Next, you’ll need to choose an email, user id and password for WordPress.
You may already have purchased a theme you want to use but at first, choose one of the free themes that comes with WordPress. It can always be changed later to your premium theme.
And then finally you’ll be presented with a screen with all the pertinent info about your new WordPress account, including admin links, username, and password.
Choose a theme for your new blog
One of the benefits of self-hosting is that you’re free to choose any theme you’d like for your blog. WordPress itself comes with a lot of pre-installed themes that will probably suit a brand-new blogger that’s learning the ropes.
But there are other options out there if you’re feeling a little more advanced.
I have the Genesis framework with a purchased child theme on this blog. You can read about the benefits of Genesis on the StudioPress website but to summarize, it’s a parent theme that provides support for a lot of cool and useful features for your blog. The child theme customizes the appearance and provides additional functionality. If you’re into customization at all you’ll want to invest in a child theme. Why? If you modify any of the code that is included with Genesis it will get overwritten whenever a new update rolls out. So you’ve spent hours creating a new menu and placing it just so? Buh Bye. All gone. Whomp, whomp. If you make the changes in a child theme, you’ll be safe from any changes to the parent files.
Don’t worry – if you want to go with one of the WordPress themes to start, you can always upgrade down the line.
Set up your theme
Once you’ve chosen to either use a WordPress theme or purchase a child theme, it’s time to get it set up.
Things you’ll want to consider here are colors, branding, and logos. This is a lot like the thought you put into choosing a name for your blog. Your branding is what identifies your site to other people.
Decide what your brand is, what it stands for and what message you want to send to people.
Purchase a logo from a site like Fiverr or design your own. This should be the very first thing you add to your site. After that’s been taken care of, you can look at what plug-ins you’d like to install. I’ve listed my top plugins for bloggers so be sure to check that out for a list to get you started. You’ll also want to create some pages for your blog. The main landing page, an about you page, a page where you’ll list projects or ideas. Make it easy for your readers to find things by creating pages and menus. An about page is absolutely essential if you want to grow your blog and connect with your readers. In an online world, it’s an important way for your readers to get to know you.
Write your first post!
Here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for!
All the prep work is done and it’s time to start getting your content out into the world! You can start with an introductory post that tells your readers a little about you or share why you’re starting a blog. You can also just dive right into the content and put the introductory content on your About Page. The sky is the limit here.
If you’re struggling to find things to blog about, take a few minutes and brainstorm. Write down everything that interests you or pops into your head. Once you get started you’ll find that the ideas keep coming. Take your brainstormed list and organize it into categories. These will potentially become the pages on your blog.
Decide how frequently you’re going to post. I post 5 times a week and that would not be possible without some serious planning. You may choose once a week or three times or seven. Whatever it is, make sure you have enough content to keep up. Grab a calendar and start penciling in blog posts to schedule. You don’t have to stick to this 100%. Remember, you’re the boss of this show now and don’t have to answer to anyone!
Remember, you can always go back and revise a post after it’s been published. In fact, you should periodically update old posts since Google rewards you for having an active site. If you feel like your writing needs work, keep writing and practicing. Eventually, you’ll have the confidence to go back and rework old content to make it fresh and exciting all over again.
Consider the future
Think about the future of your new blog. Do you want to monetize it at some point? If you think you might want to eventually start making money, start now by creating great content, implementing effective SEO strategies, and learning how to drive traffic to your site.
This could happen organically over time but it’s better to be consciously thinking about it just a little now, even if you’re unsure about monetization.
And grow your email list. This is by far the number one piece of advice experienced bloggers gives to newbies. Many of them waited until their blog was more established before they began and learned to regret it. A simple sign-up form on your sidebar is a great way to start but if you really want people to engage with you enough to give their email addresses up you need to give them something in return. It could be a free planning printable, or a list of decorating tips, or a collection of recipes. It should be in line with your niche and it should be of enough value that someone wants it enough to give you their email.
That email list will become your potential customers down the road if you start to create your own products. People pay big money for things like that. By taking steps in the beginning to grow your list, you’ll get a priceless asset with genuine value.
There’s more to come
Starting a new blog should be fun and feel like the start of a new adventure. But I see posts on Facebook and in discussion forums that some people get so disheartened by the technical aspects of blogging that they feel like giving up. Sometimes they do.
The technical bits are what I feel most comfortable with, even if I’m learning something new. If I can pass on some of my knowledge so that someone else can accomplish their blogging goals and not give up, I’m happy to do it.
This was a really broad and general introduction to starting a new blog. It was not meant to be an in-depth tutorial. I’m planning on putting together a step by step blog post with a video and screenshots that will walk you through everything I discussed above. In the future, I’ll show you how to do other technical things like modifying .css or .php files.
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Are you a blogger that’s struggling with some technical aspect of running a blog? Is there something specific you’d like to learn about? Let me know in the comments! Or shoot me an email and I’ll add it to the list for future posts!