6 Steps to Start a Successful BlogThe steps covered in this tutorial are based on everything I have learned in my 15 plus years of web development experience and close to 10 years of blogging experience.
A lot of tutorials claim to teach you how to start a blog. Frankly, many of them just want to make a quick buck. They do this by recommending web-hosting services.
I've intentionally made this tutorial different. My steps are ordered to help you avoid common beginners mistakes. This guide also tries to give you the best chances for success.
Web hosting is very important. It is essential for of starting a blog. I do make hosting recommendations, but I always try recommend the best hosting option. Even if it isn't profitable.
I'll always try to have your best interests in mind.
- Step 1: Decide What You Want To Blog About
- Step 2: Decide How to Host Your Blog (Choose a Platform)
- Step 3: Find a Domain Name
- Step 4: Find a Web Host for Your Blog
- Step 5: Set Up & Install WordPress
- Step 6: Add Your Theme
Step 1: Choosing a Topic for Your Blog
First and foremost, choose a topic that you are passionate about. As the old saying goes, “if you do what you love then you will never work a day in your life.” The easiest way to see your blog fail before you even begin is to decide on a topic that you’re wishy-washy on. As stated earlier, it is also important to consider what other people are interested in. Finding a happy medium between the two is ideal.
Check out trending searches on Google and try searching for your own topic idea. How popular is your chosen topic? Another way to gauge popularity of a topic is just to search for that topic in the regular search google.com. After each search, there is a number of results shown at the top. It usually says something like this:
About 2,760,000 results (0.64 seconds)
Popular topics will have a better chance of recruiting followers. Be sure to explore different sub-categories for the topic. For example, let’s say that you want to blog about film in general. That subject alone is extremely broad, and Google has over 2 million results archived. If you narrow the result by making it about a specific genre of film, there seems to be a lot more people interested in particular film types rather than just the idea that they exist in general. Let’s say that you change your topic to film noir; Google has nearly 50 million results, which makes it a very popular topic choice!
Of course, there are an endless number of topics you can go with, from making good coffee to gardening to movie reviews. Another sign that your chosen subject has a significant following is when you see Google Ads positioned at the very top of your results page.
Deciding your blog’s theme by researching Google results is not only indicative of how many people follow a particular topic, but it is also a good sign of what other caliber of bloggers you may be competing with for those followers. A Google query that comes up with that many results also means that you have to approach your blog topic in a way that makes it stand out from the rest. This means that you’re going to have to research the competition. Find an angle that they don’t take, but that readers would still benefit from getting. Being unique and creative is the lifeblood of your blog.
For more on choosing a topic, check out 101 Blog Topic Ideas: How to Pick the Right Niche.
Step 2: Decide How to Host Your Blog Choose a Platform
Many of you have probably already made your decisions about this, so you’re welcome to skip to the next section.
Option A) Self-Hosted Blog
If you haven’t made a decision yet, I typically recommend that if at all possible, you want to have your own domain name. Especially if you are starting a site for a business. It’s a more professional option. Even if it’s not for business, you may just want your own domain name (MySite.com).
If you’re worried that installing a blog yourself might be a complicated process, don’t worry. The setup process is extremely simple. Most hosting companies have what is commonly called “one-click” or “easy” WordPress install options that really simplify the process. Most good hosts also don’t mind helping you if you do get stuck.
Apart from getting your own domain name, the primary reason I recommend using the self hosted version of WordPress (your domain and Web host) is because of all the great free features (not available with free blogs)
Plugins are a means to add to the standard “blogging” functionality of WordPress. According to the official WP plugins directory, there are currently over 40,000 free plugins available. These range from the basic (adding a contact form) to complex (converting a site into a fully functioning eCommerce storefront). Just like apples “app store”, there’s a plugin for pretty much anything you can think of.
Themes can be installed to quickly change the look and feel of a blog. There are thousands of great free themes available that offer for a wide variety of professional layouts to choose from
- Search Engine Optimization:
Out of the box, WordPress is pretty search engine friendly, but with the self hosted version, you have the ability to make tweaks to things like the url structure, and really maximize your Search Engine optimization.
Learn more about how to make sure you are re ready for search engines here.
Option B) Free Blogging Service
This would be the part in most blogging tutorials where they tell you that free blogging services are the worst thing in the world, and you should never use them.
I would prefer that you use your own domain name, but the truth is, there are lots of good reasons you might want or need to use a free service.
The main thing to keep in mind is that with a free blog, you won’t be able to have your own domain name. BUT! … It is possible to eventually move to your own domain. Not super easy, but possible. (I’m planning to publish a detailed guide explaining how to do this, but for now, feel free to contact me if you have any questions about it)
Reasons You Might Use A Free Blogging Service
- You’re just curious to see what a blog is, and how it works.
- You’re starting a blog strictly for fun, and you don’t want your own domain name
- You only need a temporary blog (possibly for an event), and the domain name isn’t important
- You’re worried that content management system (blog) might be too difficult for you to learn to use, and you want to try it out.
Any of these are great reasons to use a free blog, and the only reason I didn’t mention above is money. I can certainly understand if money is an issue, and if that’s the case, by all means, use a free blogging service.
If money is really an issue, but you really need to have your own domain name, don’t be discouraged, because there are some extremely inexpensive hosting options out there — There are at least 2 options to get started for as little as $12 for 1 year (more on this in step 4).
Step 3: Find a Domain Name
Choosing a domain name
Choosing a domain name can be pretty difficult. You may find that all of the ideas for names you had weren’t available. Many of the obvious/ good domains have been taken already, so you have to be creative to come up with a good name.
Several years back, it was popular to get domain names that contained your target keyword. These were called “exact match domains”, and a good example of one is this site. ( How to Start a Blog.
These days, convenience is everything. Your followers should be able to find your blog easily. So, when choosing a domain name, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
Characteristics to look for in a domain name
- .com domains are preferable.
The reason for this is that people will usually go to .com first. This happens with my site a lot (.org). It’s an easy mistake to make.
- Shorter is usually better.
- Try to get a domain name that is easy to verbally communicate.
You want to be able to tell someone the name of your website without having to spell it out. For example, explaining that it’s a number “2” and not “to” or “too” — or having to explain that there is a hyphen in the middle.
One More Piece of Advice
The next section is on choosing a web host, but if you have any experience with hosting (or have even seen ads), you might know that it is pretty standard for web hosts to give away a free domain name with the purchase of hosting. This actually is a pretty good deal, which makes the advice I’m about to share seem a little bit odd, but I feel like it’s a really valuable tip that’s helpd me out of many tough spots.
The advice is, keep your domain names and hosting separate. In other words, don’t purchase domains from your web hosting company.
I don’t know how or why I started doing it, but at some point, I started buying all my domains with NameCheap.com (A company who at the time dealt only with domain names). Maybe it was just convenient, at the time, but I soon learned that one major benefit was that if anything ever happened with the web host, having that domain name in a separate / neutral location makes it extremely easy to switch from one host to another.
The most common problem I’ve had with web hosts is having my website go down. A lot of times, it has been my fault (too much traffic on a budget host), and when you’re dealing with a webiste where extended downtime just isn’t an option, and technical support who just isn’t capable (or willing) to help you quickly get your site back up, it’s important to have options. Being able to easily switch to a new host can be a life (and money) saver.
Step 4: How to Find the Best Web Hosting for Your Blog
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working with a good friend of mine who really wants to start a blog for business. After coming up with a good business idea/ topic, and picking out a good domain name, we started looking at options for hosting his site.
Now, when it comes to purchasing goods and services, this friend is really savvy shopper. He had recently helped me with with negotiating the price of a car for my wife, so I really wanted to give him a good recommendation.
You would think I’d have no problem recommending a good host. I mean, I run a site called “How to Start a Blog”! I (via my tutorial) help people start blogs all the time.
The problem is, when I made this tutorial, I just recommended the lower cost hosts I was using at the time (GoDaddy, DreamHost, and 1and1). But that was a long time ago, and even though I still have a few random sites hosted there (digital pak rat?) I knew that I’d be hearing about it if something were to go wrong.
Well, I eventually did give him a recommendation, but this experience made me realize a couple of things:
Choosing the Right Web Host is Crucial for Success
For beginners just just starting out, managing a blog with WordPress is pretty easy, but sometimes, things can go wrong. It’s really easy to accidentally change something and have it take your whole site down. So it’s really important to choose a company who will be able to help you while you’re getting the hang of things.
I’ve made the mistake of using a low quality host for a really important site before. And let me tell you, there’s nothing as frustrating as trying to explain to some guy in a call center that you are loosing hundreds of dollars because your site is down. First, he probably doesn’t care, and second, he probably has no clue how to fix the problem, and will just stall for some arbitrary amount of time before maybe transferring you to someone who can actually help.
I Want Recommend the Best Possible Hosting Companies
As I said, I’ve been recommending a handful of hosts on this site years, and it’s quite possible that they aren’t the best option for people who come here looking for recommendations. I’m in a position where part of the process in my tutorial requires people to purchase hosting for their blogs. The last thing I want to do is have someone pay for hosting, but then realize that either the support is terrible or customer service is lacking.
Things to Watch Out For
Many Hosting Companies Show Misleading Pricing
I spent a lot of time researching hosting companies. I visited each site and compared pricing, features, and support. Getting actual pricing information was probably the hardest part. For example, they will show a price of $4.99/month, but don’t make it clear at all that it’s actually sale price that will eventually go up.
Hiding real pricing info seems to be standard practice for a lot of web hosts. I constantly had to search the outer edges and footers of pages to find the fine print with the real pricing info. In most cases, it was actually easier to just pretend I was buying hosting so I could get check out page and see how much they were actually going to charge. (Hint: it’s almost always a lot more)
Beware of Hosting Review Sites
I also looked at many of the most popular web hosting review sites. My one piece of advice about these review sites and top 10 hosting sites would be: Stay away from them.
Easy to Game
Anyone can submit a rating, and it’s anonymous, so there’s nothing to stop a bad host from paying a bunch of people to go and give them good ratings. In fact, I just went to the #1 site in Google for “hosting reviews”, randomly picked a host, and gave it a 5 star rating. I got a thank you message, and that was it.
They Only Show Sale Prices
I didn’t find any hosting review sites that published real pricing information. Most showed only the same misleading “Sale” pricing that hosting sites use. To me, this is an obvious sign that these “Review” sites’ main goal is to sell, not educate. Out of dozens I looked at, I only found one truly unbiased site, but unfortunately, they seemed to have stopped updating the site.
Most blogging tutorials offer hosting recommendations. Some are sincere and useful, but many of these sites seem to prioritize hosting sales over helping people learn to make a successful blog.
Particularly Shady Tactics:
– Tutorials that ask you to buy a domain and hosting before doing any research or planning.
– Tutorials that only show sale prices.
The takeaway here is that finding reliable recommendations for hosting is pretty difficult. This is mainly because hosting companies pay these sites to promote them. So even though a lot of them seem seem helpful at a glance, they are only concerned with earning commissions, and many are using downright predatory practices to do it. If you come across sites that use these tactics, you should probably look elsewhere.
Most Important Factors to Consider When Choosing a Web Host
If you want to be able to choose a good web hosting company, you’ll need to know what features are most important to research and compare.
- 1) Support:
– How good is the support?
– What types of support are offered?
– Do they have phone support, live chat, or a ticket system?
– Is support available immediately? Will you be on hold for long periods of time?
– Is support available 24/7?
- 2) Customer Reviews:
This is a tough one, because to me, customer reviews are extremely important when I’m making a purchase. It was so difficult to find reputable reviews that I actually just gave up and developed my own method of rating hosts. I’ll explain more about this in a bit.
- 3) Company Reputation:
– How long has the company been in business? Are they known for having a good product?
- 4) Cost:
Cost is another tough one for most people, because most hosting companies really don’t make it easy for you to easily understand pricing info.
- First of all, Just about every company will display prices as cost/ month, but many don’t even offer offer monthly contracts, and if they do, they charge WAY more for them. I’m talking 3 to 4 times more per month. Some even charge some sort of extra one time charge for monthly contracts.
- Lowest advertised prices almost always require a long term commitment. They usually want at least 1 year paid up front, and in many cases it is 2 or 3 years paid up front. You do save money this way, but it often comes as a surprise when you get to the checkout page.
- Lowest Advertised Prices Almost Always Expire After the First Term. This is the one that usually takes most people by surprise. That price of $5 per month (Or $60 for a year) only lasts for however long your first term is. After that, it automatically increases, usually to around twice the cost. It’s not that the “regular price” is a bad price, but it’s no fun if you’re not expecting it.
- Most Hosting Review Websites (and blogging tutorial sites) Display and Promote the Same Misleading Prices. Talk about frustrating!
- 5) Features:
– Do they offer an easy WordPress install?
– Do they offer a website builder (non wordpress)?
– Do they accept PayPal?
My Solution: Real Web Hosting Reviews
So as I mentioned above, I ended up making my own review tool. The main difference with this tool is that it doesn’t rely on user reviews at all. In fact, it doesn’t accept any user input at all.
For now, the process is part automated / part manual. I automatically get rid of anything with links, and then apply a sentiment analysis algorithm (this just attempts to classify whether the review/ tweet is negative, positive, or neutral). What I’m left with is pretty easy (and fun) to moderate.
I’d say the main features here are:
1) Real reviews and ratings
2) Detailed pricing information
3) Dedicated support Grade with details about what types of support is offered
You can check “Real Hosting Reviews” here
Step 5: Set Up & Install WordPress
If you want to learn how to install WordPress on your blog, follow this installation guide.
A. In order to run WordPress, your domain host must have:
- PHP version 4.3 or greater
- MySQL version 4.1.2 or greater
- It must have a username & password setup
B. You must also create a database, which is something you can revise in the hosting control panel. After you have set it up, you should have four pieces of information about the database, all of which you will need for the installation. If you are having difficulty with this, contact your domain host for support. When you create a database, you will attain the following information:
- Database name
- Host name, which might be something like “mysql.mydomain.com” or just “localhost”
C. Download the WordPress zip file and unzip it.
To do this, go to wordpress.org/download/ and download the current version. You have a choice between a zip file and a TAR.GZ file, but it doesn’t matter which you choose. You can unzip this as soon as it finishes downloading.
D. In the WordPress folder you just opened, locate “wp-config-sample.php,” then make a copy and rename it “wp-config.php”.
E. When prompted, fill in the details on your database and save the new file.
Define ('DB_NAME', 'yourDatabaseName'); // the name of the database
define('DB_USER', 'your-username'); // Your MySQL username
define('DB_PASSWORD', 'your-password'); // ... and password
define('DB_HOST', 'your-hostname'); //
F. Upload all the files to your web host directory.
A. Choose the install directory and upload everything
- If you want your blog in a separate directory of your main site, for example “yourdomain.com/blog”, you will need to rename the “WordPress” folder to “Blog.” Then, you need to upload it to the root directory, along with a FTP program.
- If you want your blog to be in the root directory of your site, then the blog will be located at “yourdomain.com”. If you do this, you have to make sure that any file named index.html or index.php is renamed or deleted from your existing web root folder. After this, you can upload all of the WP files and folders into the web root.
B. Finish and install by going to the domain and directory where you uploaded all the WP files. Follow the simple directions there, and you should be prompted to create a username and password.
Video demonstration of setting up a Blog
Save your username and password in a secure place, where you won’t lose it and no one will be able to access it but you.
Now that you know how to install WordPress, you can start writing!
The next step is to pick a unique WordPress theme that matches the purpose of your blog. There are many WordPress theme designers selling themes and offering free themes online. Find one that you like, then download and unzip just as you did with the WordPress file.
Step 6: Add Your Theme
It is easiest to install a theme from within your blog’s dashboard. From the menu on the left, look for: “Appearance” > “Themes”. Then click the “Add New” button.
This takes you to a place where you can browse, preview, and install any of the themes you find for free.
Picking a Theme
When it comes to picking the perfect WordPress theme, it’s important to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. This isn’t to say there aren’t a variety of backend factors that influence your decision, but at the end of the day, it should support your overall blog mission and readers’ interests. Be sure to consider the following points before you jump into any WordPress theme!
If your blog caters towards a particular field, you should definitely consider the mood and aesthetic appeal that comes with it. If you are left-brained, go for themes that offer crisp, concise, and smooth features. On the other hand, if you are geared towards the right side, go for more imaginative, out of the box features. Remember, the words on the page will hold even more value if they are presented accurately. If all else fails, you can always go for a basic theme and customize it to fit your individual interests.
Once you delve into WordPress theme research, you will soon discover the fees that come along with this endeavor. Each blogger will have different goals and investment plans, so consider this factor on a case-by-case basis. If you want a more unrecognizable, unique design, opting for a premium theme may be your best bet. On the other hand, with the incredible developers bustling away in the WordPress community, there are thousands of free themes that offer value with no cost.
In an age that is undoubtedly ruled by the smart phone, your theme should definitely run efficiently for mobile devices. This is a great way to make your content readable across all platforms. Be sure to check for this before selecting a theme. Google now hosts a handy tool where you can check before you install.
Rather than enduring the hassle of changing style sheets on your own, many themes now offer customization dashboards. This will save you time and frustration in the long run.
Theme Sources – Where to find Themes
If you do a Google search for “WordPress Themes”, you will find no shortage of sources. Many are probably pretty high quality, but I’d recommend only using themes found on the official WordPress theme page. These themes are available both in your WordPress site’s dashboard, or if you want to choose one before you set up your blog, you can view all of the themes here: https://wordpress.org/themes/
Always remember, your blog should convey your distinct message. Your WordPress theme is a way to speak without words. Consider these steps and have fun exploring!