If you’re anything like me, you thought about whether you wanted to start a blog for a long time. Then, once you decided it was a good idea, you thought about your blog a lot more before you told someone about it.
And then you probably thought about it some more, but weren’t really sure where to start when it came to actually doing something about it. That’s okay. Let’s face it, if you actually care about the quality of the stuff you’re putting online, starting a blog isn’t as simple as it seems.
Which is probably how you ended up at this post. In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll share some tricks of the blogging trade and tell you how I finally bit the bullet and started the site you’re reading right now. I promise, it’s not as hard as it seems!
This post contains affiliate links. I receive compensation if you use one of them to make a purchase.
An Introduction to Blogging – What’s the Big Deal?
Before we get into how to start a blog, there are a few things we should probably cover first. Namely, why blogging matters, and why I’m qualified to tell you how to do it.
In November of 2018 I started working as a blogger for various small businesses. A lot of the content I write for these blogs is also about blogging, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching all sorts of platforms and tools people use to create successful sites.
So, even though this is my first post as a blog owner, I’m not completely unfamiliar with the practice of creating content for the web. It’s not uncommon for me to write close to a dozen blog posts every week at my day job.
Which is also how I know that blogging can open all kinds of doors for so many different types of people. It’s not unheard of for bloggers to make five- and six-figures per year off their websites. Plus, blogging is smart move for brand owners who want to get their name out there and build authority in their industry.
Whether you’re a writer who wants an outlet that can also bring in some cash – someone who’s looking for a side hustle – a small business owner wanting to connect with potential customers – or even an influencer who wants to build their online presence, blogging may be for you.
How to Start a Blog (7 Keys to Getting Off On the Right Foot)
When it comes to how to start a blog, there are a few things that remain pretty much the same regardless of your motivation. I’ve summed up the main points below – it’s time to dive in!
1. Discover Your Blog’s Identity – Names and Niches
Ideally, you don’t want to launch a website that has no name or content. So, before you can even worry about the logistics of starting your blog, you’re going to need at least two things: a title and a niche.
Naming Your Blog
First thing’s first. If you’ve taken a look at my About page you know that titles aren’t my strong suit. Coming up with a name for you blog can be hard! After all, it’s your future readers’ first impression of your site. Pick something too out-of-the-box and they might be turned off. Go too generic and they may forget you exist.
Plenty of bloggers just use their name (or their company’s name) for their blog. If yours happens to be fairly short and easy to remember, this isn’t a bad idea. However, it doesn’t work for everyone. Long names will make for long URLs, which usually isn’t ideal. Or, your name may not feel like a good fit for the type of content you want to create.
If that’s the case, there are other places you might look for inspiration. My blog’s title comes from a favorite book. You might try using a word or phrase that’s related to your niche, or that you feel captures the spirit of your content.
Finding Your Niche
The next thing you’ll need to figure out to start a blog is what you want to write about. For many people, this means choosing a niche. Focusing on one specific area of expertise has many benefits, including the chance to build authority in your field and the ability to target a certain audience. It can also create various opportunities for improving your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
You’re probably familiar with many popular blogging niches: fitness, food, travel, and fashion tend to draw large audiences (and profits). There’s also the infamous “Mommy Blog” to consider. However, you can turn just about anything that interests you into a niche.
That said, niches aren’t for everyone. Plus, choosing not to limit yourself to one subject has its own benefits. A wider range of content means your blog may appeal to a wider audience, helping you draw in more readers.
In addition to choosing a niche (or choosing not to choose a niche), I recommend figuring out what categories you want to cover. For instance, if you take a look at the menu at the top of the page, you’ll see the labels “Lifestyle”, “Writing”, and “Blogging”. These terms describe the three general categories my content falls into.
If you’re having trouble coming up with your niche or categories, try writing down a list of posts you want to create. Look for patterns among your topic ideas – these will probably indicate what your categories should be. Then, you can consider what commonalities lie between your categories (if any). That will point you in the direction of your niche.
2. Lock Down the Technical Stuff – WordPress, Hosting, and Domains
Once you know the general direction you want to take your blog in, you’re ready to start getting into how you’re going to get your content on the web. For most people, this will consist of three elements – your Content Management System (CMS), your hosting provider, and your domain name.
WordPress: The Internet’s Favorite CMS
A CMS is simply a platform that’s used to create and publish content online. Using a CMS can be a smart way to start a blog because it will already be geared towards handling lots of posts and pages. There are tons of them out there to choose from, but instead of talking about all the options I think you shouldn’t choose, I’m going to focus on the one I think you should: self-hosted WordPress.
It’s important to note that this is different from a WordPress.com website. To use self-hosted WordPress, you’ll want to go to WordPress.org to download the platform, then upload it to a server that is owned by a hosting company (more on that in a minute):
There are two reasons I believe this is the best route for new bloggers to take. First of all, it gives you complete control over your site. There are other platforms that take care of hosting for you, but they may also have the right to put ads on your site or include their name in your domain. With self-hosted WordPress, nothing goes on your site unless you put it there.
The second reason is that it’s fairly easy to pick up. There are other hosted CMSs that would still give you control over your content, but they tend to be more difficult to customize. WordPress has an easy-to-use interface for creating content and adding features to your site without the need for any coding knowledge.
Web Hosting: Making a Home for Your Blog
Before you go running off to download WordPress, you’ll need a place to store your website’s files. More specifically, you need a server. Web hosting companies have them, and you can rent space from them.
If you’re using WordPress, I highly recommend you look into one of the many companies that offer Managed WordPress hosting. These are plans specially geared towards WordPress users, and they’ll help you keep up with some of the less-fun maintenance tasks that come with having a website.
The list of web hosting companies you can choose from is long, but when you’re first starting out, I recommend going for something affordable that you can easily upgrade down the line. DreamHost is an excellent choice – you can start your blog with a Shared WordPress hosting plan for less than $3 a month:
You can also add on a custom email address at your blog’s domain name for less than $2 a month, and their DreamShield security features for $3 per month. Add that all up and it’s still less than $120 each year for a professional, secure website.
Domains: Choosing Your Website’s Address
The last thing you’ll need is a domain name. You see these every day – a domain is simply what you type into a browser to reach a website. Ideally, yours will exactly match or include your blog’s name.
However, things don’t always go as planned. Domains work like home addresses. No two websites can have the same one. So, if the domain name associated with your blog’s name is already taken, you’ll have to choose a different one.
The first step is to check your preferred domain’s availability with a domain registrar. GoDaddy and NameCheap are popular options, but some hosting companies – including DreamHost – also offer them. Some plans will even include them for free.
Once you’ve found an available domain name that suits your blog, you’ll need to register it. Remember that you’ll need to renew this registration regularly in order to keep it.
You’ll also want to look into WhoIs protection. Since domain names are publicly available, without added protection, anyone can find your contact information via your domain name. DreamHost includes WhoIs protection with its domain names, but if you’re using another domain registrar you’ll need to make sure your information is protected.
3. Take Care of the Details – WordPress Themes and Plugins
Between your blog’s name and niche, WordPress, and your web host and domain, you’ll have a solid foundation for starting your blog. Now it’s time to make it really, truly yours.
Choosing a WordPress Theme
Every WordPress site needs a theme. Yours will determine what your blog looks like and, to an extent, how it functions. One of the nice things about WordPress is that it has very large libraries for its extensions, so you can find a wide variety of options available for free in the Theme Directory.
WordPress started as a blogging platform, so just about any theme you might choose will work. However, there are some themes geared specifically towards blogs that will provide you with layouts and other elements ideal for your blog.
Keep in mind that themes are highly customizable and you’ll likely be able to change things such as color schemes, fonts, and other such features. Instead of honing in on these factors, looks for things such as widgets, formats, menus, social media icons, and other elements you can’t get with other themes.
Do More With Plugins
Plugins add functionality to your WordPress site. They can do all kinds of things – improve your site’s security, help boost your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), compress image files, and hundreds of other tasks.
The WordPress Plugin Directory is your go-to place for free tools to give your blog a boost. You’ll want to look for the plugins that meet the specific needs of your site, but here are a few categories you may want to peruse:
- Security: There are a wide variety of security features you can use to monitor your site and prevent loss of information.
- SEO: Getting your posts into search engine results is going to be key for driving traffic your way and making your blog profitable, so make sure you have the tools to get it right.
- Maintenance: From updates to backups, there are dozens of tasks you need to stay on top of keep your site up and running. Using plugins to automate them can help give you more time to spend on your content.
- Marketing: Social media and email marketing are both key for growing your audience and keeping in touch with readers so they don’t forget about you.
- Content Management: An editorial calendar will do wonders for you. It’s important to keep up with your posting schedule, and having it right in your WordPress dashboard is about as convenient as it gets.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to clutter your site with too many plugins. It can quickly get disorganized and, depending on the types of plugins you stock up on, may even slow down your site’s loading speeds.
4. Craft Your Content – Posts and Pages
While by now you’re probably eager to start filling your blog, crafting your content takes some forethought. For starters, there are two types you’ll need for your website: posts and pages.
Share Key Content in Pages
WordPress pages are where you can share staple information with readers. There are a handful you’ll probably want to include:
- A Homepage: By default, WordPress will show your latest blog posts on the front page of your website. This is a quick way to engage readers when they first arrive at your site, but if you’d rather have a static homepage you can easily set one up.
- An About Page: This is a key page for your blog. An About Page gives you the chance to introduce new readers to both yourself and your blog. It’s also a place where you can establish your authority and explain why readers should trust you.
- A Contact Page: If you want to let readers get in touch with you, putting all your contact information in one place can help them do it.
Putting these pages together before you start your blog will pad your site and make it look more professional while you’re still working on your first posts.
Craft Quality Posts
Speaking of posts, they’re the bread and butter of blogging. The most important thing to remember when brainstorming and writing them is that readers want content that’s relevant.
This is where having a niche comes in handy. If you’re attempting to reach a particular audience, it’s easier to cater your posts to the type of content that audience is most likely to seek out. A good place to start is by considering the problems most commonly faced by your future readers, and providing solutions to them.
Sharing anecdotes from your life can be useful for drawing readers in or making a point. However, it’s rare that people will go to a blog looking for longwinded narratives about your day-to-day happenings. If you use your blog to offload your frustrations, it’s going to be difficult to turn it into a profitable enterprise.
There are also a few technical points to consider. Long-form content (posts over 1,500 words) tends to perform better than shorter pieces. Incorporating images or other types of media can break up blocks of text to keep readers engaged and interested.
Also, people don’t read online the same way they read books and other print media. Your readers are more likely to scan your content, so throwing in some bullet-pointed lists, labeling sections clearly with headings, and highlighting or bolding important information can help slow them down.
5. Get the Word Out – Email and Social Media Marketing
You now (technically) have everything you need to start a blog! Congratulations. Unfortunately, putting your site together and publishing content is only half the battle. There’s a lot more that goes into becoming a blogging pro, starting with building your audience.
Email Marketing’s Not Dead
These days, even your grandma has an email address. That might make it seem like a dated marketing channel, but that’s not the case at all. An email address is a direct line to a potential reader. You know that any material you send is going to make it in front of your audience (assuming the address they’ve given you is active).
There are a few key things you need to get started. The first is an email marketing platform. If you’re using WordPress, I highly recommend going with MailChimp. You can get started for free, and it will integrate easily with your website via a plugin:
In MailChimp, you can create top-notch branded emails to send to your visitors using a drag-and-drop builder. It’s easy to get started, and there are tons of automation options you can use to save yourself some time and stress. Plus, when your emails come from a trusted platform like MailChimp, they’re less likely to end up in subscribers’ spam folders.
The next thing you need is a subscription signup form. I’d recommend putting one in your blog’s sidebar so it’s always visible. However, it can also be useful to include it in other areas, such as at the end of your posts or even in a popup. You can easily add these to your site with MailChimp as well.
Then, it’s time to get started on your first newsletter. In addition to the content on your site, you need email content that will reminder readers why they gave you their email addresses. Offer enticing snippets of your latest content without giving too much away so they’ll still head over to your site.
Getting Social Media Savvy
While you can’t go without email marketing, it’s also important to have a presence on social media. However, you’ll want to be efficient when developing your strategy on this front. Trying to juggle accounts on more than two or three platforms will get overwhelming fast.
Instead, focus on building a consistent and authentic presence on the networks your target audience frequents. Your chosen outlets will be a way for you to connect with your readers outside of your posts, and can help steer them back to your site.
It can be helpful to post updates whenever you release new content. However, posting before your new content goes live can be even more effective for driving traffic to your site.
6. Bring Home the Bacon – Ads, Affiliate Marketing, and Sponsored Posts
Blogging can be extremely fulfilling. Many people start a blog as an outlet for their creativity or a hobby where they can find achievement outside of their day jobs. However, there are others who hope to make their blog another source of income, or even their full-time careers.
These goals are definitely within reach. In order to make it a reality, though, you’ll need to consider all the ways to make money with your blog.
To Advertise, or Not to Advertise?
When it comes to monetizing online content, ads are the first thing that come to many people’s minds. This is probably because, in theory, advertising sounds like a dream come true – throw up some content on the web, sit back, and watch the money roll in.
It’s not usually that simple, though. There are two types of ads you can choose from if you want to pursue them:
- Per-Per-Impression (PPI): These ads generate revenue per page load, or “impression”. Unfortunately, they generally don’t make much. You’ll likely receive between $1 and $10 per one thousand impressions. This means you’ll need 100,000 to one million visitors to your site each month to make just $12,000 a year from ads.
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC): With PPC ads, you can generate more income – sometimes as much as $50 per click. However, you’ll need to get your visitors to actually click on your ads. It’s entirely possible to put up PPC ads and not make any income at all.
The biggest drawback to ads is that some people find them annoying and may avoid your blog because of them. Without an audience, there’s no way you’ll make money from your website. In this way, ads could cost you more than then provide.
Generating Income with Affiliate Marketing
Another popular – and sometimes more lucrative – tactic for generating blog revenue is affiliate marketing. This involves partnering with brands to promote their products or services. You’ll then receive a commission on any resulting sales.
Any brands you partner with will provide special links for you to incorporate into your content so they can track your sales. These links can be used and reused in blog posts, emails, and even social media content to produce long-term revenue.
That said, they also require more effort than advertising. You’ll need to make an effort to promote the products or services of the brand(s) you’re working with so that readers click on your links.
You don’t want to oversell your links, though. It’s best to work them into meaningful, valuable content and not to include too many in any one piece of content. Adding more than two affiliate links to a post can come across as “sales-y” and turn readers off.
Additionally, it’s important to disclose the fact that your site contains affiliate links to your visitors. Ideally, you’ll need to do this both in a legal page and on each piece of content that contains one or more affiliate links.
Seeking Sponsored Posts
A third way you can make some money with your blog is through sponsored posts. This method also involves partnering up with brands to promote products and services. Often a sponsored post will take the form of a review or tutorial related to whatever you’re promoting.
Unlike affiliate marketing, however, sponsored posts are a one-and-done deal. This means they’re not as reliable of a source of income as affiliate marketing or ads. Ideally, sponsored posts won’t be your primary revenue stream.
They can supplement your other income sources nicely, though. A single sponsored post could easily bring in a couple hundred dollars, depending on your website traffic, social media following, and other factors.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong – Stop Procrastinating
It took me months to start my blog. That’s partly because I was working a full time job, juggling other creative projects, and moving to a new city and state.
But it was also partly due to procrastination. There was a lot of time I spent doing other things when I could have been working on getting this website off the ground.
A lot of times, procrastination is the result of fear. Deciding to put your thoughts and opinions online for anyone to see is intimidating. There’s the fear of criticism and being judged by your readers, as well as the fear of what will happen if no one reads your content and all your time and effort go to waste.
At the end of the day, the only way you’ll ever actually start a blog is if you accept the risks. Learning how to accept good criticism and ignore bad criticism can help immensely. It can also ease your anxieties to realize that even if your blog doesn’t take off, there’s still a lot you can take away from the experience.
A lot goes into starting a blog. If you don’t lay out a plan beforehand, it could quickly become overwhelming. I experienced that feeling firsthand trying to launch this website, which is why I wanted to share some insight on the process.
Here are the steps I followed to start my blog:
- Choose your blog’s name and niche.
- Set up your CMS, hosting account, and domain.
- Customize your site with a theme and plugins.
- Start writing your posts and pages.
- Promote your blog over social media and email.
- Monetize your blog.
- Push past fear and insecurity.
Have questions about starting your new blog? Let me know in the comments section, and make sure to subscribe to my email list for more tips!
Featured Image Credit: Pexels.