This is a basic, yet thorough tutorial on how to start a [successful] blog, originally written for Bloggers United (Coming 2020, but you can sign up here.) I will be creating more of these in the future, so make sure you are on my mailing list for updates.
When I was learning to blog in the early 2000’s, there were no tutorials and no “experts” yet. It was trial and error, with a primitive new platform called, “WordPress” that broke every time you added a new plugin. (Ahh, those were the days.) Today, there are a number of blogging courses, but the majority are expensive or don’t provide enough foundation for a successful result. Largely, because they were created by individuals who haven’t really achieved success in blogging themselves. This is why I created these tutorials- to give you the best chance at success yourself.
This tutorial includes EVERYTHING I do, when starting a 6 figure and 7 figure blog. I hold back no secrets, and it is 100% free.
How to Start a New Blog: Step by Step Guide
There are a number of ways to start a blog and no one way is right or wrong. One advantage of blogging is there are a million ways to do anything the right way so there’s no need to worry that you will make a mistake.
(Disclaimer: If a product or service that I love and use, has an affiliate program, I will include that link. If they don’t have an affiliate program but I still love and use them, I will still include a link. 🙂
1. Choose Your Blog Topic
Choose your topic carefully. You want to choose a topic that you love… but that others love as well. This is crucial. You can start by creating a list of blogs you would be interested in starting with. Then create a list of your goals for that blog (personal journal, make money, passive income, flexible schedule, etc. Process of elimination- which blog topic coincides with everything on your goal list? For example, I personally opt not to do anything that requires product customer service, simply because that does not meet my passive income goals. I highly recommend this process so your path is clear, and you are on track from the start.
2. Register Your Domain
I used to loathe this part, but now I love it. I will spend weeks, if not months, selecting the right domain name.
Tips for choosing and registering a domain name:
- I recommend BlueHost for purchasing your domain, since I also love their hosting. This keeps things simple and in the same place.
- Choose a domain that is positive and memorable. I believe in first impressions and mind triggers- especially in marketing. Choose a name that sparks something good in yourself and others.
- Opt for .com, .net or .org whenever possible. In the future, it won’t matter- there are so many sites going up, that eventually .space will be just fine. For now though, you really want to try for the big 3… AND, ideally, you want to own all 3 of your domain. I learned this the hard way; nearly 10 years of trademark issues against the guy that bought the .net for my 7 figure trademark. Do yourself a favor; purchase the lot from the start.
- Before your purchase, check your new name on knowem.com. This allows you to see where your name may already be taken on various social media sites. It’s a quick way to make sure your fancy new name is REALLY available, and a quick way to map the brand you will want to use.
- Tips: If possible, avoid numbers, hyphenated domains, and always avoid names that may incur trademark issues (ie. don’t buy Tipsforgoogle.com” unless you really want to get a letter from lawyers and have to start over.)
Is your domain taken?
Not a problem. There are so many “twists” you can add to a domain, AND believe it or not, this is often a blessing for trademark purposes, etc. This allows you to create a name that stands out.
- Use Shopify tools if you are stumped. Shopify Business Name Generator will give you some random twists for keywords you enter. I also like to use Bustaname.com for real time domain name checks. A few of my own twists include…..
- Add a prefix to the desired domain: a, the, e, my, your, brilliant 😉
- Adding a tail to the desired domain: inc, etc 😉
- Use random words. One of my favorite examples of this, is my good friend Marc Ensign- branding guru and owner of LoudMouse.com. How’s that for a clever domain?
There are an infinite number of domain combinations you can choose from. Take your time, and find one that really resonates.
3. Choose Your Hosting Provider
First, let me say that I can only recommend paid hosting, using WordPress for your blog. I do not recommend free hosting or other platforms, for many reasons, but most important: 1. Paid hosting allows you complete control of your blogging platform, and more options for customization. Free hosting comes with restrictions and often ads, that can hinder your efforts. 2. Paid hosting has less risks. More than once, I have been approached by bloggers that had their free-hosted blogs shut down for various reasons, which is the legal right of the host. There was nothing that could be done.
Hosting a blog is incredibly inexpensive and well worth the money in my honest opinion. I believe BlueHost starts at less than $50 a year. It’s a no-brainer.
Tips for Choosing a Hosting Service….
Over the last 20 years, I have dealt with an endless number of hosting providers and I could write a very long, but dull book on my experiences. I’ll keep this brief however: Choose a SOLID, long-standing, well-rep’d hosting provider with excellent customer service options.
Why a good hosting company is crucial: This will help you to avoid my experience with a certain major hosting company, where my site was down almost daily for weeks. Their customer service had recently been outsource to overseas. They used a “ticket submission” approach, so I submitted a ticket more times than I can remember. The only response I received: login instructions; “how to log into your account.” I wish this was a joke- That particular site lost over $100,000 in revenue due to that downtime, even before I could switch to another hosting company.
Why I recommend BlueHost
Personally, I recommend BlueHost and anytime I help a new blogger, this is what I personally use to set them up. I love them. For myself, I have my own server, but this would not be cost-effective for anyone that does not have a massive amount of traffic and large number of sites.
Why I love them: They have an outstanding reputation. They have excellent customer service. They have been around for a very long time. I know, bla bla bla… well, one of the main reasons I suggest them: They also have an effortless install option for WordPress, so there is no tech-savvy needed. It takes minutes to install your blog, even as a first-timer.
4. Install WordPress
You can manually install WordPress via FTP here if you have a general understanding of this. However, there is also the option to go with BlueHost and their automated installation process. Instructions for both, are below.
How to Install WordPress via FTP
This is a simple explanation video.
Install WordPress through BlueHost
Updating this now, per BlueHost changes. Check back in a few days.
5. Choosing a WordPress Theme
I get a lot of questions about themes from new bloggers. The first thing I would like to say is… don’t put too much time and money into your first theme; skip the $5k custom theme and do not worry about getting it “perfect” before you hit the publish button.
Instead, opt for a premium theme (usually $130 or less) or a free version of a premium theme. I explain more on this below, but believe me, you will be evolving quickly as you get started, and what you like now, and what suits your blog now, may be completely different in a few months. The point is, choose a theme you love, but focus on the message, branding and basic foundation (like proper SEO and loading time) when starting out.
WordPress Themes I Recommend:
- Genesis Framework + Studio Press themes for design. Personally, I like the Genesis Framework (by Studio Press) for SEO and site structure, which you then apply a Genesis child theme such as Kreativ (a favorite of mine.) Think of the framework as the engine, but the theme being the actual outsides of the car that create the look. Setup is speedy with use of the “one click demo import” plugin*.
- Hestia by ThemeIsle. This blog uses the Hestia theme which is one of my go-to themes when starting a new site. It’s incredibly easy and fast to set up (see Hestia tour & setup video) and it’s so simple, even the most un-savvy un-tech person can get this up fast.
- Elegant Themes (Divi.) The site offers a huge catalog of professional themes, including Divi, “the most popular WordPress theme in the world.” The price is on budget for what you get, and there’s the added bonus of ongoing support and updates. Complete drag and drop building for top of the line aesthetics with no tech savvy needed.
- Restored 316. GORGEOUS, feminine themes that look as though you spent $10,000 on a custom theme.
- Niteothemes. I love these themes for “coming soon” sites using the “Coming Soon and Maintenance” plugin. They are extremely inexpensive and well coded, with a polished custom theme look.
*A design setup tip: You can use a plugin called “One Click Demo Import” to pull in demo images and content, to set a theme up FAST. Then go back in and customize as you see fit. Most of the more popular themes will work automatically with this plugin. If not, please read the instructions- don’t worry, it’s simple and you can do it!
New Theme Checklist:
- Take your time and test the theme. If possible, check out the backend and see how simple or excessively frustrating customizing will be, before you purchase (try youtube.) You can also use the Theme Check plugin to make sure your plugin is up to all WordPress standards.
- Responsive themes ONLY. Works on all mobile phones, tablets, and desktop pc/macs etc.
- Make sure the creator intends to continue updating the theme for security and added features. SECURITY IS IMPORTANT.
- Consider opting for a premium theme, or at least the free version of a premium theme. I say this because many “100% FREE” themes can be buggy, ill-coded and are often not updated or even abandoned. That’s not good from a security standpoint, nor for overall performance. In addition, themes that have a premium version will also offer customer support and tend to have a knowledge-base available of customization instructions.
- Choose a theme with a light background (avoid black/dark backgrounds.) These have a much lower retention rate for visitors since they are hard to read. That said, I am married to a rock musician/producer and his site has a dark background. Hey, what can I say- I like to break the rules sometimes!
WordPress Backend Setup
(Those foundation settings and nifty plugins I recommend.)
Once you have WordPress set up, there are a few important steps to take before you start creating all that glorious content.
- Create an email for the site. In most cases, I start a completely new gmail account, dedicated to the blog in particular. Whichever email you use, just have it ready to go- you will need it to sign up for new accounts (social, etc) moving forward.
- Create a Google Analytics account.
- Create a Google Search Console account.
- Head over to Knowem.com to lock down your social media username for the major ones you will be using: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. You can use KnowEm to decide on a single username to use for all, and instantly tell if that name is available across the board. Sometimes a variation is required here or there, but try to keep these as similar as possible for branding. Personally, I think it’s worth it to outsource it to them, and it’s incredibly affordable. This frees you up to get started blogging.
Here are my suggested plugins to install. I will go into detail about these below.
- Core Tweaks: The “Core Tweaks” plugin allows you to apply a number of essential foundation changes in one step.
- Yoast SEO or your preferred SEO plugin.
Optional plugins if they suit you…
- Pretty Links or Thirsty Affiliates (if you will be using affiliate links in your blog.)
- OptinMonster (Email opt-in for your blog)
More coming shortly….