“So I want to start a blog – where do I even begin?” is a question i’ve been asked many times over the past year.
Blogging is such a fun hobby and if managed well, can even turn into a full-time thing. But how on earth do you get to that point and where do you start as a beginner? Well, i’m still trying to figure out how to make millions from my blog (aren’t we all?), but I can tell you a thing or two about getting started.
Depending on what you want out of it, a blog can bring amazing things. It can open the door to new opportunities, connect you with new people, allow you to share information, improve your writing skills and teach you about so many new things. I’ve learned about social media, photography, coding, SEO, and a whole bunch of other geeky stuff just from having a blog and continually wanting to improve it. It’s definitely a fun learning curve.
Okay, i’ll stop rambling on now and tell you how you can actually start a blog. I’ll cover what you need to know about choosing a platform, blog name, hosting, domain, design, vision, publishing and sharing your posts, plus a few good-to-know tips too.
I promise i’ll make it simple & easy to understand and hopefully by the end of it, you’ll feel inspired to actually start your blogging journey! Are you ready? Let’s go!
1) Choose A Platform
The first step is to choose your blogging platform. If you’ve done a bit of research you may be considering platforms like WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr.
I advise you to use WordPress.com. It’s easy to get your head around, there are thousands of free themes available and there’s loads of help online if you need it. I’ve only had experience using WordPress so it’s the platform i’ll be referring to in this post, but if you are dead set on using another platform, keep on reading as the information will still be relevant to you.
2) Blog Name
Now you’ve chosen a platform, it’s time to think about blog names. Don’t worry if it takes you a while to decide on a name – it’s a big decision, and it can take time to find one that sticks. If you’re really struggling, you can always try a blog name generator for ideas, or browse other blogs that you like for inspiration.
Try to choose a name that will still be relevant in 1 or 2 year’s time. For example, if you’re creating a blog for a specific time in your life, like when you’re on a RTW trip, ask yourself whether your blog name will still work when you’ve stopped travelling and you’re blogging about other topics. I decided to go with “Go Live Explore” because it gives enough away that you know it’s about exploration, travel and living, but it’s not so specific that things like food and fitness seem out of place.
3) Free Blog or Paid?
The next decision to make is whether you want to invest money into your blog. WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr all offer free blogs, which is ideal if you’re a newbie. Plus, it’s free!
Pros of a free blog
There are tons of free themes available, it’s really easy to use and you don’t need to know anything about coding or techy stuff to get started. If you want a creative outlet to express your thoughts and a way to test the blogging waters, a free blog is perfect.
Cons of a free blog
The extent to which you can customize a free blog is limited, and you have fewer advertising options which means you can’t monetize your blog if that’s the route you want to go down. Free blogs look less professional than paid blogs and the general options available are more limited if you really want to make your blog super duper amazing.
You also don’t get a snazzy domain (i.e. web address) with a free blog, unless you pay for one. When I first set up my blog for free, the address was something like www.golivexplore.wordpress.com. That’s fine if you’re blogging for fun or are testing out whether you like it or not, but I definitely recommend that you get a “.com” address if you want it to look clean and eventually work with brands. There’s more info on this in the next point.
WordPress.com or WordPress.org?
It’s also good to note the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The .com address is the free blogging platform, which you will use to start your free blog. You just sign up and get started and it’s easy. The .org site allows you to use the full extent of the WordPress platform, but you need a host in order to use it. Which brings me to my next point.
If you’ve decided to stick with a free blog, you can skip point 4 and 5. However, if you’re willing to invest a bit of money into it, read on.
The key differentiator between a free blog and a self-hosted blog is that with a free blog, your website and its files are stored and hosted on your free blogging platform (such as WP). When it’s a self-hosted blog, everything resides on your server.
Most people do what I did and pay a third-party to host their blog (like Bluehost) and use the WordPress.org platform. Effectively, these third-parties rent out web space and they usually help you to set everything up.
Pros of hosting
The benefit of self-hosting is that you have so much control over your blog, its appearance, the themes, search engine optimization, advertising and revenue and all the back-end technical coding. If you want to do anything serious with your blog, I highly recommend hosting as you can make your blog look much more professional and adopt cleaner designs.
Cons of hosting
Self-hosting is brilliant, but it does come at a cost. I use Bluehost and pay around $5 monthly for the host, and $12 a year for the domain. However, it’s definitely worth it for the support you get, plus, WordPress.org gets installed for you at the click of a button. It’s a pain in the bum to install yourself (by all means, try and do it, but I just couldn’t figure it out), so it’s nice that all the hassle of installing it is taken away.
My recommendation for newbie bloggers
If you want to give blogging a go, start with a WordPress.com account (the free one), and if you decide to take things further, you can upgrade to a self-hosted blog using a host like Bluehost and transfer all your blog content across to your new site.
5) Set Up A Domain
To clarify, your domain is essentially your web address, such as golivexplore.com. Your domain should match your blog name (which is why it’s important to decide a name first), and you can choose from a number of endings, such a .com, .ca, .co.uk etc. Keep your domain simple and easy so people will remember it. You can either buy your domain when you set up your hosting, or buy it separately from sites such as GoDaddy, which will tell you the price and if the domain is available.
From personal experience…
It’s really important that your blog name is easy to spell. Because I decided on the domain golivexplore.com (note, only 1 e) instead of goliveexplore.com (note, 2 e’s), I realized that people were spelling it incorrectly when typing it out. To solve this, i’ve purchased the domain goliveexplore.com as well so when people type it in incorrectly, it simply redirects to my blog so I don’t lose any visitors. However, i’ve had to spend more money by doing this so it’s better to get it right first time!
6) Outline Your Vision
Now that you’ve got your name, domain and host sorted, it’s a good idea to outline what you want your blog to be. What do you want to write about? What sets you apart from other bloggers? What do you want your blog to help you achieve? Do you simply want a place to share your thoughts, or do you want to be the next Nomadic Matt or Sincerely Jules? Knowing what you want from the beginning will help to give you some direction, but if you have no clue, don’t worry! You’ll find your groove and work it out along the way.
7) Design Your Blog
Now for the part you’ve been waiting for…actually designing your blog! My advice is to browse around other blogs before you start designing. Pick out aspects you like, colours you’re drawn to, layouts you think could work, and then mish mash that all together to create your own. It’s better to go in with a vague idea of how you want your blog to look to save you time and offer some direction.
If you’re using WordPress, there are a number of free and premium themes available. I started off with a free theme but upgraded 3 months later to a paid one (it cost around $40) as I wanted something quite specific. Most themes though, even the free ones, are very customizable and you can tweak them using simple coding and WordPress plugins. Plus, it’s very easy to change your theme so it’s not like you’re stuck with it if you change your mind.
Remember, your first blog design probably won’t be perfect (although if you’re a design pro, you might get it bang on first time), but whatever you create will be amazing regardless and you can continue tweaking it as you go along.
8) Publish Your First Post
If you’re struggling for ideas on what to write about, write a post simply introducing yourself or outlining why you’ve started a blog. The first post is always the hardest and the most daunting, but I promise it gets easier to hit that “publish” button as you go along. Plus, you can always edit (or delete!) it after anyway. Your first post might not be your most successful (I know mine wasn’t), but it’ll teach you a lot and build your confidence, plus you’ve got to start somewhere.
Write about what you want to write about too – of all the things i’ve learned since I first started blogging, being authentic and writing in your own voice is by far one of the most important things.
9) Share It
Okay, so now your blog is up and running and you’ve published your first post, it’s time to share it with the world. You might know your blog is there, but no one else will unless you show them! Take one last look over your blog and make sure everything looks how you want it to, and share the link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email, Pinterest, Birthday Cards (haven’t done that one yet), and anywhere else you want people to see it. Be proud of what you’ve created because if you’ve made it to this point then you’ve done an amazing job!
For more sharing tips, don’t forget to check out my post on growing your Pinterest account and my advice on composing great Instagram photos!
Useful Things To Know
WordPress plugins are your friend. They allow you to expand the capability of your blog and customize it in different ways. You can get plugins to change your comments system, help with SEO, change your fonts, change your design, and all sorts of other things. There’s tons of info online outlining which plugins are useful for your blog. I definitely recommend Yoast (SEO helper), Askimet (Spam blocker), and Jetpack (Simple sits statistics).
A mobile-optimized design is essential. This allows people to view your blog properly and easily on a smartphone or tablet, and the design adjusts to suit different devices.
Social sharing buttons are also essential. This makes it easy for people to share your posts to different social platforms. More sharing = more views!
Google Analytics is useful. Sign up for an account and link it to your blog. You might not use it straight away, but later down the line you’ll want to know how many people have viewed your blog from day 1. Google Analytics allows you to track things like the number of blog visitors, page views, demographics, time spent on your blog, and tons of other metrics.
Learn about SEO. Even just a tiny weeny bit. SEO = Search Engine Optimization. Essentially, when your content is SEO-optimized it appears higher in search engines, thus making your content more visible, thus bringing in more readers. Plugins such as Yoast are really good (i’m using it right now) as it guides you to creating more SEO-friendly content.
Create social accounts. If you’re serious about blogging, create a Facebook page with the same name as your blog, and if you don’t already have accounts, a Twitter and Instagram. If you’ve already got a decent following you might not want to start over, but you could consider changing your social handles to match the name of your blog to increase its visibility.
So there you have it…your guide to starting a blog! If you have any questions or would like some guidance on your blog, send me an email at [email protected] and i’ll be happy to help however I can 🙂
Don’t forget to drop me a comment below if you’ve got anything to share about starting a blog that you think will be useful for beginners!