How To Start A Blog: The Definitive Guide
So you want to know how to start a blog, huh? It’s a question I get quite a bit and I decided to put it all in one place for you to reference. Why bother listening to me? I’ve built multiple blogs (beyonds just the Impossible HQ network) from anywhere between 10,000 and 150,000 visits/month. In addition to my own sites, I’ve also run an online marketing agency that has built and optimized sites for dozens and dozens of clients.
But more importantly, I know how hard it is to start a blog in the first place. When I first wanted to know how to start a blog, I had to teach myself and because I knew absolutely nothing when I started, I deleted my database 3 times simply because I had no idea what I was doing. Needless to say that I spent a lot of time and cuss words trying to figure out how to start a blog on my own.
However, over the past 3 years online, I’ve actually learned quite a bit about how to start a blog and I no longer randomly delete databases (hooray!) and spend time in hosting service purgatory. Over time, I’ve slowly started to figure out what I’m doing and actually created a systemized checklist every time I set up a new site in order to save me time.
After getting lots of requests, I took my checklist, polished it up, and decided to share it. So, if you want to learn how to start a blog – here’s your definitive guide – step by step by step.
How To Start A Blog
This is the “How To Start A Blog” index. Click a link to jump to a specific step or read the full guide on how to start a blog.
- Choose A Blogging Platform
- Choose The Best Hosting Company
- How To Set Up Your Blog
- Install Essential Plugins
- Create An Email List
- How To Write A Good Blog
- Keys To Starting A Successful Blogg
- Worthless Blogging Advice
- Additional Resources For Starting A Blog
- Blogging Tools Overview
Choose A Blogging Platform
If you want to build out your blog or other platform, just use wordpress. If you want to know how to start a blog, wordpress is hands-down the easiest & simplest way to build a site. Don’t overthink things here. Yes there are free alternatives, but wordpress is the best system out there and it’s used by the majority of bloggers for a reason. If you’re serious about creating a site or a long-term web presence, wordpress is really the only option worth considering. For that reason, the rest of this guide on how to start a blog is going to assume you’ll use the wordpress framework.
How To Start A Blog (For Free with a Hosted Solution)
If you’re not that serious about blogging, many people use a free version of blogger or wordpress.com to start a blog instead of their own hosted solution. I do not recommend this. Anyone who is remotely serious about blogging should skip both those options and invest in your own domain & hosting so that you own all of your own data. Both of those solutions, while free, will severely limit your ability to do anything with the sites in the future – both from a functionality perspective & a portability perspective..
Instead, if you’re not serious about blogging, I’d take a look at the following options:
- If you want a place to just write with the guarantee that it will be there forever, check out Posthaven. It’s $5/month, but it couldn’t be a simpler solution if you just want to focus on writing. I keep a posthaven blog here and it’s awesome. There’s no customization, no themes to worry about. Just writing.
- If you’re not really interested in how to start a blog, but are just looking to share photos, videos and gifs, Tumblr is what you’re looking for.
However, if you’re looking to make blogging a serious activity, you’ll want to install wordpress on your own domain. The next steps in this guide will show you exactly how to do just that.
How To Set Up Your Blog
Blogging Tools & Resources
Create A Domain Name
First things first, in order to start a blog, you need to brainstorm a domain name.
If you can, keep it short (Impossible HQ is much easier to remember than Blog of Impossible Things). Unfortunately, most one word domains are taken at this point in time. Don’t fear, there’s still plenty of good domains out there.
Free services like LeanDomainSearch or Bust A Name can help you generate a domain idea and see if it’s available. Trust me, I know, I”ve bought over 70+ domains (I have a problem). If you can, get a .com, .net, or .org. A .com is obviously preferred, but any of the top 3 are fine. Don’t fall into the trap that you need a .com domain. Two of the biggest blogs on the internet (ZenHabits.net and GetRichSlowly.org) both have non-dot-com domains, so it’s not the end of the world if you can’t get a .com. It’s more important to find one that memorable & easy to spell. I’ll show you how to find & buy an awesome domain in the video tutorial below.
How To Find & Buy An Awesome Domain Name Video Tutorial
Buy Your Domain Name
Once you decide on a domain, you need to pony up the cash and register it. GoDaddy is probably the most well known place to register domains names because it has terrible commercials like this.
Because it’s so well known – it’s where most people start. I started there and most people do, but I quickly (like everyone I know) got out as quick as possible. The user experience is horrible and they’re always trying to sell you on something that you don’t need. On top of that, they have terrible commercials & their CEO poaches elephants. I’m not a fan of PETA, but overall the company is not one I really want to be giving my money to.
Don’t play games – use NameCheap instead. They’re straightforward, simple and offer monthly discounts at namecheapcoupons.com. A .com/.net/.org domain will cost you $7-10 bucks/year which is dirt cheap if you’re really serious about starting a blog.
Get A Rock Solid Hosting Provider For Your Blog
Once you buy a domain name, you need somewhere to store your files. If you think about your website like a house, the domain name is the address, but the hosting service is the house itself. There’s a ton of different hosting options out there for your brand new blog.
I started out hosting with Bluehost. They’re a solid hosting service, but they simply couldn’t keep up when I started getting traffic. When I started getting visitors, I upgraded to InMotion and it hasn’t let me down for a second (even serving over to ~900,000 visits in a month). I highly recommend InMotion. They’ll even help install WP for you when you first sign up. Bluehost is still okay for test sites if you want to see if things work but if you’re starting a serious blog, I’d go with InMotion
Create Your WordPress Framework For Your Blog
The wordpress install can be done a few different ways depending on your hosting provider (but they’re all really simple still). I recommend you use InMotion. Here’s a quick video on how you install wordpress on your InMotion hosting environment.
How To Install WordPress In Less Than 5 Minutes (with InMotion Hosting) Video Tutorial
If you choose to use Bluehost, I’ve included a video tutorial for you as well (it’s slightly different than the InMotion tutorial).
How To Install WordPress In Less Than 5 Minutes (Bluehost) Video Tutorial
Installing wordpress is really, really simple. In fact, it’s so easy, wordpress calls it the “famous 5 minute install.” However, if you really don’t want to deal with any of this, you can call up your hosting support with inmotion and have them install it for you. You can also watch the quick video tutorial above and watch me walk you through exactly how to install wordpress yourself (because, lets face it, you’re a go-getter), and get started on your blog straight away.
How To Install A WordPress Theme & Child Theme Video Tutorial
Get A Solid Theme Framework
Genesis is the framework I wish I would have known about when I first learned how to start a blog. It’s a rock solid basic framework and foundation for a lot of great child themes & custom designs. It also comes with a solid SEO codebase & a responsive theme (that displays well for mobile, tablet and desktop out of the box). With the influx of new devices on the market, this is absolutely mandatory for anyone starting a blog. I start all new sites, projects and blogs based on the Genesis framework and will be transitioning all remaining ones onto it in 2013.
Get A Solid Child Theme For Your Blog
You can use the genesis framework out of the box, but if you want to add a little design flair to your site, you’ll want to get a child theme. The (in)SPYR theme is the best child theme for the Genesis framework. I’ve built countless sites (both personal projects & client projects) with the theme and made them all look different due to the multiple different theming options within the the (in)SPYR theme itself. If you want to get off the ground quick, this is your ticket. And don’t worry, the genesis theme and the child theme combined will run you less than $100 combined. That’s a pretty solid deal when you consider that starting a blog with a custom responsive theme can run you over 5k on it’s own.
Install Essential WordPress Plugins For Your Blog
Plugins are a tricky territory. On one hand, plugins can expand the functionality of your site ten-fold if you use them effecitvely. On the other hand, it’s also easy to go overboard and install a bunch of plugins that either do the same thing or don’t add much to your site other than bloat your code and slow your site down. You can waste a lot of time & energy on these if you try to wade through it yourself when you’re first learning how to start a blog.
You’re in luck. I’ve taken the guesswork out of this equation. After 3 years of installing & uninstalling hundreds (maybe even thousands) of plugins, I’ve filtered out the good from the bad and settled on a few plugins that I can’t live with out – my essential wordpress plugins for starting a blog. Here it is: the definitive list of plugins that I use on every single one of my site setups.
How To Install A WordPress Plugin Video Tutorial
Yoast WordPress SEO
Yoast WordPress SEO is hands down the best seo plugin out there (and it’s free). It gives you super simple way to understand & evaluate SEO on your posts (with a simple red/yellow/green mark) without having to delve into a masters-course on title tags and meta descriptions. This is the best way to do a quick seo evaluation of your sites without wasting hours & hours of your time trying to figure out your keyword density on a page.
There are a ton of contact forms out there, but gravity forms is the only one I use now due to it’s simplicity in setting up. Some have a lot of random fields, and don’t display well with certain themes. Depending on which free form plugin you pick out – it might not even work!
Even though Gravity Forms is a paid plugin, it’s absolutely worth it. It’s rock solid. You build the form. You post it on the page like you would a photo or video. And bam. There’s your contact form. Dead simple. Use it.
Digg Digg Social Plugin
Social plugins make it simple for people to share your content. Digg Digg is owned by buffer and is the best all-in-one social plugin out there. But slow down, just because it has a ton of options, doesn’t mean you should go overboard and enable every network out there. I recommend enabling the big 3: Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (and possibly Pinterest or Stumbleupon if your blog warrants it), but don’t go social crazy. If you give people too many choices, often they don’t pick any of them. Also, be sure to enable “lazy loading” on the plugins as it will help keep your blog speedy by loading all the buttons after the content has loaded up.
Pretty link allows you to create quick, “pretty” links that redirect to wherever you like. You can use this for masking affiliate links and it makes creating shorter links to share your content super simple. It comes in a free (lite) version and a pro version if you need a few more features. This is absolutely the easiest way to make quick short links & redirects on your site both for affiliate products and when you just want to make a quick short link that’s easy for people to remember.
If you need to create landing pages in order to drive email captures or sell something down the road, Premise makes things stupid simple. You can read my tutorial on how to build a landing page in 20 minutes with Premise, but it’s very, very useful. Premise also has membership capabilities (but honestly, there are better options for membership sites so don’t buy it just for that capability). However, the landing page functionality on it’s own is worth the ticket price.
nRElate Most Popular & Related Content
If you want people to find other content on your site, there are a ton of related post plugins, but this is the best one to handle the job. You can install two different plugins from nRelate – one to show your most popular content and one to show other related content to a specific page or post.
If you like getting notified about “great deals on gucci purses” or free offers to grow your nether regions, don’t install this. If you’d rather not get spammed to high heaven, install akismet and forget about spam forever. If you want to start a blog, you’ll want this one (if you’re not sure why, just wait until the spam starts coming).
To activate Akismet, you’ll need a personal API key which you can pick up below for absolutely free:
WordPress Super Cache
Along with having a good host, a solid caching plugin will do the second most in keeping your site up during a traffic spike. A caching plugin basically reduces how much data your blog has to load every time one of your site’s pages load. That reduces bandwith and can keep your site online if you ever get a burst of traffic that’s over your server’s head. While traffic spikes sound awesome in theory, when they crash your site and you get a huge influx of visitors who can’t see anything, it’s significantly less awesome.
Subscribe to Comments
This is a simple plugin that adds a checkbox to your comments section so people can subscribe to the comment conversation and get email notifications if new commments are posted.
Create An Email List For Your Blog
If you’re learning how to start a blog, you need to get an email list.
Seriously, listen up.
You need to create an email list. Now. Like seriously now. Click this link and go do it.
This will cost you if you don’t do it.
I know, because I’m the idiot that didn’t his first time he tried to start a blog.. For example:
- The first blog I ever set up, I neglected to set up an email capture for the first 9 months. 0 subscribers for 9 months. Oops. BAD
- The second blog I made, I didn’t have an incentive offer for my email and got ~200 subscribers in 6 months. SLIGHTLY LESS WORSE, BUT STILL TERRIBLE.
- The third blog I created, I finally learned my lesson, set my email list up from the get-go and got 1,000 subscribers in a month. GOOD!
Get the picture? MAKE AN EMAIL LIST. It’s that important.
Okay, so you want to make an email list huh? Well, what email provider should you use? Here’s how I usually break it down.
- If you’re cheap, use Mailchimp (Mailchimp is great to start with a free trial, but not a great long-term solution & gets expensive once you outgrow their free plan & have to start paying).
- If you’re serious about starting a blog (on the most basic level) & you want to do this for a long time use AWeber (Aweber will provide almost the resources you need , but the interface is as ugly as sin)
- If you’re a baller that needs to cross-sell, up-sell and do crazy things with your contact database, choose Infusionsoft (Infusionsoft is pretty expensive but worth it if you have 10k+ subscribers and 3 or more products).
I’ve used all three for myself and for clients who are starting blogs. Mailchimp gives you a free trial which is great to start, but it ends up costing slightly more than AWeber when you transition to the paid plans. AWeber has better segmentation options for your lists than MailChimp (which is more important than you think it is right now – trust me). That’s why, despite the initial fee when compared to Mailchimp I believe most starting bloggers will be served best with AWeber. Even with the initial fee, Aweber is still very affordable. Infusionsoft is really awesome, but can be complicated & expensive (especially for new bloggers). If you have an established blog or business, however, go for it.
How To Write A Good Blog
Now if you’re going to start a blog – you’re going to want to make sure it’s actually good. Here’s how you go about starting a blog that doesn’t suck.
This is the hard part – you actually have to write! Shocker, right? This is the part where most wanna-be bloggers fall off. They don’t blog! They’ll create & set up a dozen half-baked ideas, but when it comes down to writing, they never execute.
Execute. Write. Repeat.
Over & over & over again.
Create A Schedule
Create a schedule and stick to it.
I’d almost go so far as to say this is mandatory for new bloggers who are trying to learn how to start a blog. Once, twice, or 3 times a week. It doesn’t matter. Just pick a schedule and stick to it.
Yes, you will suck at first. Yes, you will probably have zero readers. But, having a schedule will make you commit to focus on executing – which in turn will help you get better, which in turn will help you gain more readers.
Make a schedule and stick to it!
The first mistake that most people make when learning how to start a blog is that they’re terribly boring.
Don’t write about your cat. Your cat is probably awesome, but nobody cares about your cat.
If you want to write interesting things, be interesting yourself. Do something interesting with your life. Then write about it. People are drawn to good (read: interesting) stories. Live one, then write about it.
Don’t’ Be Uninteresting
Seriously, if you bore people, they will leave.
Nobody cares about your cat, remember? So, instead of writing about stuff that only you care about (i.e. your cat), write about stuff that other people care about as well. Find out what problems people have and figure out how you can help them solve their problems.
You have to give people a good reason to stay on your site and read your words, and the best way to do that is to answer a specific question that they’re asking. Once you do that, you start to become trusted and they might even come back to read more!
If you’re confused on what sort of problems people need solving, ask questions and then answer them.
Tell A Good Story
People love a good story. They have the ability to connect with people and relay truth like nothing else. If you tell a good story, you won’t have any trouble being interesting.
Make sure to be honest. Storytelling is great, but making up a work of fiction and pretending it’s fact is not only lame, but stupid. Be honest. You don’t want to build a reputation on deceiving people. Don’t waste time lying. People can spot a liar from a mile away. Even if you somehow manage to evade their B.S. detectors, it’s not worth it. You will be found out. It’s also way easier to keep your stories straight. Get this right when you first start your blog and you’re way ahead of most people.
If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything. - Mark Twain
Keys To Starting A Successful Blog
I’m not the biggest blogger in the world, but after doing this for several years, and I feel like I’ve figured out a few things that work. They may suffer from survivorship bias, but these keys to successful blogging are still worth considering, in my opinion.
Don’t Give Up
If you like to quit things as soon as they get hard, just go find something else to do because blogging takes a long time. The main differentiator between those who succeed eventually and those who don’t is weather or not they keep going (screw blogging, this is true in almost everything in life). If you want to know how to start a blog, there’s one things that’s really important: don’t give up.
Seriously Don’t Give Up
Blogging isn’t for quitters.
Get Some Thick Skin
Get used to the words: gay, dumb, stupid, lame, suck, and a bunch of more profane ones. If you’re going to start a blog, you better grow some thick skin to deal with this one simple fact: some people will not like you. If you’re going to get hurt over that, either stop or get over it quick.
Grow some thick skin and realize that getting insulted is better than getting ignored. Keep going anyways.
Follow-through: Do What You Say
If you say you’re going to do something, just do it.
Get Good Photos
Attention new bloggers: If you want to do one thing to make you blog really stand out, you need to get good photos.
Good photos can make or break a site design. Great photos can turn a stock theme that everyone and their brother has into a semi-professional looking site that’s instantly recognized as yours.
So many people neglect this area and putting a little effort in nailing this down will be huge in setting your site & you apart as you learn how to start a blog.
I’m never can understand how people are willing to spend $5,000 on a custom site design and are unwilling to spend a couple hundred bucks getting a decent photo of their mug (instagrams don’t count). Get good photos – people will notice. If you’re in the Chicago or Napa Valley area, I highly recommend Spyr (they do all my photos).
Life –> Blog not Blog –> Life
If you want to start a blog, your blog should flow out of what you actually do. This goes along with being honest & being congruent about what you say and what you do.
Your blog should be an extension of your life – but it shouldn’t be your whole life. If you really want to know how to start a blog – this might be the most important piece of advice you read.
Worthless Blogging Advice
Just “Add Value” and Write “EPIC” content about “Stuff that matters” and readers will come in droves.
No one quite knows what this means and everyone says it. It’s relatively annoying.
Better advice: Answer questions, give direction, provide resources, solve problems.
Make Sure You’re On Every Social Networking Site Known To Man
Make sure you set up every single social media page available. I hear this “social” stuff is gonna be big.
Better Advice: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest. These are all promotion outlets – not creation outlets. Create content first (stuff worth sharing), then move on to worrying about promoting it later. Instead of jumping on 20 social networks at once, focus on 1 or 2 avenues and do those really well.
Also, don’t take any advice from this guy:
Focus All Your Effort on SEO
SEO is powerful, but if you spend all your time focusing on writing SEO content, your content will probably suck, be really boring and no one will want to read it. If you’re first learning how to start a blog, it’s best not to focus too much on this.
Better Advice: Write for people first, then search engines second.
Completely Neglect SEO
At the same time, there are people who brag about being ignorant of SEO. I think it’s a little disingenuous and a little dumb to be careless about this once you’re a few months into blogging and actually see what terms people are using to find your site. SEO is hugely powerful and changing one word can sometimes have huge implications if you’re just learning how to start a blog.
Better Advice: Be aware of SEO opportunities, and capitalize on them when possible, but don’t obsess over them or scoff at them.
Additional Resources For Starting A Blog
My friend Corbett Barr, runs a course called How To Start A Blog That Matters. I’m typically not a fan of people who blog about blogging, but Caleb & Corbett do a bang-up of walking you through how to start a blog in this course.
There you go. That’s the definitive guide on how to start a blog. Any questions?
Blogging Tools Overview
In case you forgot here’s the super quick overview of all the blogging tools you need in order to learn how to start a blog:
Domain Name: NameCheap.com
Hosting Provider: InMotion
Coaching Course: Start A Blog That Matters
If you have any more questions about how to start a blog, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer it!