Welcome to day one of the Marketing for Designers article series! Today, we focus on the first step in your journey to successful internet marketing: Starting a blog. We’ll cover how to start a blog from zero to get you started, and how to avoid the common pitfalls for new bloggers out there.
Starting a blog is easy but can feel overwhelming if you’re just starting out. To put a long story short (don’t worry if it all sounds like Chinese right now – we cover every step in detail below!), here’s what you need to do:
- Choose a blogging platform, domain name, and hosting option.
- Design your blog using a simple theme.
- Modify your blog to get your desired look and feel.
- Select the best plugins for your blog.
- Write compelling content that adds value to readers.
NOTE: For most new bloggers Bluehost is the best solution. For only $3.45 a month, Bluehost can help you set up and host your blog. Because Knitting for a Living is a Bluehost affiliate partner, our readers can use this link to receive a 50% discount off the monthly price and a free domain.
How to Start a Blog: Step-by-Step Instructions
So you’re thinking about starting a blog, but you don’t have any idea where to start, right? Guess what—neither do most people. I’m in the lucky position to be a developer, so all the tech stuff is easy for me, but this is the exception, not the rule. Usually, people feel clueless. When they think about creating this blog, you usually have no idea how to start a blog or how to be a blogger.
But good news: it’s easier than you think. I’ve learned a ton of lessons during my ascent to 100.000 readers. And now you can learn from my pain and suffering to circumvent much of the tedium involved in setting up a blog and make it successful and visible.
Here’s how to start a blog, step by step, followed by additional rationale and insights.
Step 1: Choosing a Domain Name
Choosing the right domain name for your website is crucial for your success. If you choose the wrong domain name it can be a hassle to switch later on without hurting your brand and search rankings. That’s why it’s extremely important that you choose the best domain name from the start.
When starting a blog, choosing a domain name can be stressful because you don’t want to make a mistake. To make the process easier, the folks at wpbeginner.com wrote a 8 step framework that you can use to pick the best domain for your website. Here’s the short version:
#1 Stick with .com
We always recommend choosing a .com domain. While it can be tempting to come up with clever blog names using new extensions, a .com domain is still the most established and credible domain extension.
#2 Use keywords
Keywords play an important role in a domain. By using keywords in your domain name, you tell the search engines what your website is about.
#3 Keep it short
While keywords are important, don’t go overboard with domain length. It’s better to have a domain name that’s short and memorable.
#4 Make it easy to pronounce and spell
You should be able to easily share your domain when speaking as well as writing. You never know when you’ll be asked to share your domain name in person.
#5 Keep it unique and brandable
Your blog domain name must be unique, so you’ll stand out in your readers’ minds. It’s smart to research other blogs in your niche and find out what domain names they’re using.
#6 Avoid hyphens
Never create a domain name with hyphens. Hyphens can be a sign of spam domains, which you do not want to be associated with. You don’t want to give the wrong impression to potential visitors.
#7 Avoid doubled letters
It’s a good idea to avoid domains with doubled letters, because it increases your chances of losing traffic to typos.
#8 Leave room to expand
It’s smart to choose a domain name that’s related to your niche because it gives users some idea of what your site is about. But you don’t want to limit your options too much.
For example, a designer might choose a domain name like shawldesignblog.com, but then want to start blogging about other items besides shawls. In that case, the domain might prevent you from attracting readers interested in other knitted items.
Choosing a Hosting Option
Choosing a hosting option boils down to one question: Do you have any programming skills? For most people, the answer is no, and I simply assume you’re one of them. (If you do, you can safely skip the next few paragraphs and proceed to the “For Experts: Self Hosted WordPress” section below.)
Hosting Made Easy
The good news are that nowadays you don’t need to know anything about programming to start a blog.
The first thing you should do when starting your blog is go to Bluehost and register your domain. You don’t even need to set up a WordPress page first, which is the platform we use, since Bluehost does all that for you. Bluehost’s basic price is $3.45 a month, which works for 99% of people (go to this link to receive a 50% discount off the monthly price and a free domain). Then, all you need to do is a simple, free, “one-click” install of WordPress through Bluehost. When you have questions you’re able to chat with the “live chat” folks at Bluehost for free. They’ll point you in the right direction and made starting your own blog super easy.
For Experts: Self Hosted WordPress
You can safely skip this section if you are not a developer, know how to program, or want to run your own website.
If you are tech-savvy like me and feel confident to manage your own website, self-hosted WordPress might be an option for you.
Hosting services like Bluehost are perfectly fine for most people (and the only way to go if you have no idea about the tech side of the internet).
Nevertheless, some people (like me) are comfortable with web development and know how to use a console, and we like to be in control of our websites (and the blogs they include). If you’re one of them, self hosted WordPress on a dedicated server or hosting service eventually is the way to go.
If you choose this path, prepare to be responsible for everything all by yourself: domain registration, setting up domain name services, downloading and installing WordPress, plugin and theme installation, database setup, and – last but not least – daily maintenance and troubleshooting.
Knitting for a Living (and knitting.today as well) is hosted on uberspace running self hosted WordPress and using godaddy as our domain registrar. We use WooCommerce for all our shops. Our SSL certificates are provided by Let’s Encrypt.
Choosing a Blogging Platform
This one’s easy: Use WordPress.
If you choose to use Bluehost or a similar service, WordPress is included and you can get started right away. (If you need assistance please follow the instructions provided by your chosen hosting service.)
If you want to use self-hosted WordPress (you don’t, unless you’re a developer) visit wordpress.org for more information.
If you still think you don’t need your own domain name to start your blog (let me assure you that you actually do, for choosing the right domain name please see above) have a look at wordpress.com which is available for free.
Step 2: Design Your Blog Using a Simple Theme
A good theme gives you the look and feel you want for your blog, allowing you to make a blog that looks exactly how you want it to look. If you’re not a coder, a theme makes the design work a million times easier. And to be honest: even coders like me use themes instead of writing our own.
WordPress comes with preinstalled default themes to use. You can choose which theme to use and install new themes in the “Appearance > Themes” section in your WordPress Dashboard. There are free themes, and themes you need to purchase available for download and installation.
Knitting for a Living uses the free them ColorMag by Themegrill.
Step 3: Modify Your Blog for Look & Feel
Once we had everything set up – domain, hosting, WordPress, and the theme – we spent a lot of time tweaking the theme to get the look and feel we wanted. Prepare to spend some time here, too – there are a lot of options to check out, and playing around to get used to using WordPress is never a bad idea.
You can tweak your look & feel in the “Appearance > Customize” section of your WordPress dashboard. You’ll see a customization screen similar to the one shown below. (Yes. A LOT of options. Take your time.)
Step 4: Select The Best Plugins for Your Blog
How to start a blog includes more than just setting up and choose a theme. WordPress comes with a lot of plugins, and choosing the right ones for your new blog is important.
We use only a few plugins on our sites: Google Analytics for WordPress and Yoast SEO (both needed for optimizing your blog for search engines, more on this later), Google XML sitemaps to improve our SEO, SumoMe for simple Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter share-buttons (human beings are intrinsically wired to share value, it’s important to make your posts easy to share with others), Akismet Anti-Spam for comment spam protection, and WordPress Editorial Calendar for keeping track of our publishing schedule.
A lot of plugins are available for free, and we recommend starting with free plugins only.
No matter what people tell you – chances you’ll ever need a paid plugin are really slim, and unless you’ll need a very special functionality, you’ll never have to pay for a plugin to cover all your blogging needs.
The basic plugins we use on all our website are (in alphabetical order):
- Akismet Anti-Spam (comments spam protection)
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (SEO and analytics)
- Google XML Sitemaps (SEO)
- SumoMe (social sharing for Facebook, Pinterest etc)
- WordPress Editorial Calendar (content schedule)
- Yoast SEO
You can edit your plugins in the “Plugins” section of your WordPress dashboard.
Step 5: Write Compelling Content That Adds Value to Your Readers
As soon as you are finished with setting up new blog it’s time to add content to it. Before we dive deeper into creating useful content and why this is so important (more on this below), let’s start with creating some basic contents: An “About” page, and a “Contact” page.
The Difference Between Posts vs. Pages in WordPress
Often WordPress beginners get confused between posts and pages. By default, WordPress comes with two content types, posts and pages. As a beginner, you are probably wondering what is the difference between them? It seems to have similar fields in the dashboard. It seems to look the same on the website. Why do I need both? When should I use posts? When should I use pages?
If you are using WordPress as a blog, then you will end up using posts for majority of your site’s content. Posts are content entries listed in reverse chronological order on your blog’s home page. Due to their reverse chronological order, your posts are meant to be timely. Older posts are archived based on month and year. As the post gets older, the deeper the user has to dig to find it. You have the option to organize your posts based on categories and tags.
Posts encourage conversation. They have a built-in commenting feature that allows users to comment on a particular topic.
Creating a Contact Page
Writing and publishing your contact page is the easier task, so we start with this one. First you need to create a new page by clicking “Page > Add New” in your WordPress dashboard.
Enter “Contact” as your page title. The page itself (the information you enter in the big text field below) should include your email address and a phone number for people to be able to contact you.
Optionally, add your business address (recommended especially for owners of brick-and-mortar stores).
Writing an About Page for Your Blog
The About page is there for telling your reader who you are, and what your blog is all about.
There’s no way around it, you need to spend some serious time and energy on your about page because it’s probably one of the most visited pages on your website, especially when you’re starting out as a new blogger.
If you need help with writing your about page I recommend reading the excellent article 10 Rules For Writing A Compelling ‘About Me’ Page.
Writing Useful Content
This article on how to start a blog focuses on setting up your blog first. How to write compelling content useful for our readers, which is the key to become a successful blogger and establish trust and awareness, is a topic of its own and will be covered in a later article in this series on marketing for designers (Day 2: Creating Useful Content, scheduled for publishing on January 8 – links will be updated then).
Phew! I’m Finished!
First of all, congratulations on your new blog! This first step to starting a blog is the hardest, and from now on it’s only getting easier.
Make yourself comfortable using the WordPress dashboard and create your about and contact pages as outlined above. Look into the plugins and customize sections in your WordPress dashboard as described above.
In our next article (Day 2: Creating Useful Content, scheduled for January 8) we’ll talk about content creation and how to write compelling content to help improve your visibility, create awareness about yourself and your person or brand and building trust – the essence of any marketing strategy.
How Are You Doing?
How did it go with starting your blog? Did How to Start a Blog help you setting up your blog and publish your first article? Make sure to let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below!
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