Updated: September 8th, 2020
Want to start a blog in 2020? Well, you’re in the right spot.
I get this question all the time so I decided to take everything I know about starting a blog and create a definitive resource to reference at any time.
Why Listen To Me?
My name is Joel. You can see me over there on the side bar.
Here’s a few things that I’ve done in the last years because of blogging:
- I’ve built multiple blogs (beyond just the Impossible X network of sites) that get over 2 million visitors / year.
- I have several other blogs that generate traffic ranging from 10,000 to 900,000 visits/month.
- I also run an online marketing agency that has built and optimized sites for dozens and dozens of clients and worked with startups that have raised over $30 Million Dollars.
- I’ve built blogs on topics ranging from fitness, paleo, doing the impossible, recipes, rooftop bars, meal plans and even blogs about blogging.
- I’m a regular writer on Virgin.com, MindBodyGreen, Huffington Post, LifeHack and other top productivity and business blogs.
- I quit my job to run my blog full time and travel the world trying to push my limits. All because I decided to publish a blog post.
- I also run StartABlog.com – so you might say I’m sort of an expert on this exact topic ;).
I’ve done quite a few things, but most importantly, I know how hard it is to start a blog in the first place.
See when I was first starting out, I was in my parents basement and I wanted tried to teach myself how to start a blog from scratch.
There was only one problem: I knew absolutely nothing.
I started over about 5 times and accidentally deleted my entire website at least 3 times simply because I had no idea what I was doing. Needless to say, I used up a lot of time and cuss words trying to figure out how to start a blog on my own.
So if you want one reason to listen to me, it’s this: I know what it’s like and I can help you avoid a lot of time consuming and expensive mistakes I made.
How to Start A Blog in 2020
Table of Contents
However, over the past 7 years online, I’ve actually learned quite a bit about how to start a blog. I no longer randomly delete databases (hooray!) and I’ve even made some money off of the blogs I have started. In fact, over time, I’ve slowly started to figure out what I’m doing and I’ve actually created a systemized checklist to use to save me time every time I create a new blog.
After getting lots of requests on how exactly I go about starting a blog, I took my checklist, polished it up, and decided to share this definitive guide with a wider audience. So, if you’re looking to learn how to start a blog from scratch – here’s your step-by-step guide. Lets get started.
Start a Blog in 2020: Video Tutorial
I put together a short video for starting a blog in 2020 where I take you through everything – step by step. Check it out and watch it now.
Your Blogging Quickstart Guide
If you want to skip the “how to start a blog” tutorial and just grab the tools I use to get started with blogging, here are the top tools and resources I recommend. You’ll find them again at the end, so feel free to read the entire post first before coming back to these. Important: don’t become obsessive over the tools of blogging. HOW you write is just as important as WHAT you use to write. Remember that.
Domain Name: Get Your Free Domain with BlueHost Hosting
Hosting Provider: Bluehost Hosting Special – $3.95/month (56% off)
WordPress: Genesis Framework
Email Newsletter: ConvertKit (email for Pro bloggers)
Coaching Course: Start A Blog That Matters
If you’re ready to jump into the world of writing & blogging, start reading!
How to Start with WordPress
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 and simplest way to build a site. Don’t over-think 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 assumes you’ll use the WordPress framework.
How To Set Up Your Blog: The Step-by-Step Tutorial
Step 1: Find A Killer Domain Name
First things first, in order to start a blog, you need to brainstorm domain names.
If you can, keep your domain name 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 are still plenty of good domains out there.
Free services like LeanDomainSearch or Bust A Name can help you generate domain ideas and see if they’re available. Trust me, I know – I’ve got nearly 100 domains (I may or may not 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 of thinking that you absolutely need a .com domain. Two of the biggest blogs on the internet (ZenHabits.net and GetRichSlowly.org) both have non-dot-com domains and they’re some of the most trafficked in the world – so it’s not the end of the world if you can’t get a .com. It’s more important to find a domain name that’s memorable and easy to spell. I’ll show you how to find and 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 domain names because it has terrible commercials like this:
Because it’s so well known, it’s where most people start. I started there but I (like everyone I know) soon got out as quickly 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 and 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, but if you register to host your blog with Bluehost (we’ll talk about this in a second), you can setup a domain with them for almost no hassle. You can pick up a .com/.net/.org domain will cost you $7-10/year which is dirt cheap, and no-brainer investment if you’re really serious about starting a blog.
Get A 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 – it’s where you put all the stuff. Now, there are a ton of different hosting options out there for your brand new blog, but I use Bluehost & I convinced the team over there to hook up IMPOSSIBLE readership with a 56% discount on your hosting package (just $3.95).
For the sake of transparency, I started out hosting my sites with BlueHost. Since then, I’ve gone back & forth, but host 90% of my websites with Bluehost (serving over ~900,000 visits in a month).
Install WordPress For Your Blog
The WordPress install can be done in a few different ways, depending on your hosting provider (but they’re all really simple still). I recommend you use Bluehost. Here’s a quick video on how you install WordPress on your Bluehost hosting environment.
How To Install WordPress In Less Than 5 Minutes (with Bluehost Hosting) Video Tutorial
Installing WordPress is really, really simple. In fact, it’s so easy that 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 Bluehost 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 want to get started on your blog straight away.
If videos aren’t your thing, you can just follow the 8 steps below to get your blog setup.
Once you have your login credentials, go to yousitename.com/wp-admin and login using the credentials you just created.
You’re all good to go!
Install The Genesis Framework for WordPress
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 the foundation for a lot of great child themes and custom designs. It also comes with a solid SEO codebase and a responsive theme (one that displays well on mobiles, tablets and desktops right 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.
How To Install The Genesis Framework For WordPress
Get A Solid Child Theme For Your Blog
You can use the Genesis framework to build your blog right 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. There’s a bunch of genesis wordpress themes you can check out here. 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 its own.
Some of our favorite places to find Genesis themes:
- Themedy – maybe the widest selection of themes for Genesis available.
- AppFinite – run by Wes Staham, this site uses one of his themes.
- Zig Zag Press – tons of great, well-built themes available for purchase.
- StudioPress – run by the team from CopyBlogger – makers of the Genesis Framework
Set Genesis Up To Suit Your Needs
Once you’ve got Genesis installed and you’ve chosen your child theme, you can start playing around with the theme settings & plugins to create a blog that is 100% yours.
Here are my favorite genesis-specific plugins to tweak your genesis framework and give it superpowers
- Simple Edits – Easily edit common areas of your genesis theme + framework.
- Easy Columns – Easily setup columns in your blog posts & pages.
- Title Toggle – Easily remove the title from any page or post (super useful on landing pages)
- Standout Buttons + Boxes – Highlight specific sections of your blog posts with this plugin.
You can find Genesis’ full range of superpower plugins here.
A Guided Tour Of The Genesis Framework For WordPress Theme Settings
Install Essential WordPress Blog Plugins
Plugins are a tricky territory. On the one hand, they can expand the functionality of your site tenfold if you use them effectively. On the other hand, it’s 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 and energy on these if you try to wade through them yourself when you’re first learning how to start a blog. It can take a lot of time & a lot of coffee to figure it all out.
You’re in luck. I’ve taken the guesswork out of this equation. After 3 years of installing and uninstalling hundreds (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. I use these plugins on every single one of my site setups. If you want a quick primer – check out the best wordpress plugins here:
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 a super simple way to understand and 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 and 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 its simplicity in setting up. Because some other form plugins don’t work with every theme – I bought a developers license and just use Gravity Forms across the board now.
Even though Gravity Forms is a paid plugin, it’s absolutely worth it. It’s rock solid, it won’t break & the support is great for any questions you do have. It makes form building easy again. Simply build the form, post it on the page like you would a photo or video and bam. There’s your contact form. Dead simple. Use it.
Simple Social Shares Plugin
Social plugins make it simple for people to share your content. This one is coded up the one & only Brian Gardner (the guy behind Genesis). This social plugin is the fastest, cleanest plugin I’ve seen out there. I use it here on Impossible and you can see exactly what it looks like at the bottom of this post. Pretty slick! Oh yeah, it’s free.
Pretty link allows you to create quick, “pretty” links that redirect to wherever you like. You can use this for making short links to different content or off-site links that you want to track. 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 short links and redirects that’s easy to make & trackable.
Thrive Themes Landing Pages
If you’re selling a product or need to build a one-off landing page for your service, or offer, Thrive Themes is the best product out there.
Other page builders, landing pages and funnel software have expensive, proprietary software fees that charge you monthly and constantly raise rates.
Thrive themes is not only super simple and easy to use, but they’re completely transparent and honest. It’s a wordpress plugin, so you own your content and you don’t have to be worried about being tied into a company that’s going to jack up their rates on you for being a loyal customer.
I can’t overstate how much of a fan I’ve become of Thrive over the years.
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 free:
Okay, so nobody really LOVES opt-ins, but they really do help build your list and the best way to build effective, non-annoying optins is through OptinMonster.
WordPress Super Cache
Along with having a good host, a solid caching plugin will do the second most important job 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 loads. 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.
How To Start An Email List For Your Blog
If you’re learning how to start a blog, you need to get an email list. Other than simply starting to blog, this is the most important thing you must do.
You need to create an email list. Now. Like seriously now. Click this link, and get started.
This will cost you if you don’t do it.
I know, because I’m the idiot who didn’t do this the first time he tried to start a blog. Look:
- 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 BAD, 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.
So how do you actually go about making an email list? Well, which email provider should you use? There’s lots of options – Mailchimp, Aweber, Infusionsoft and a whole lot more, but if you’re a blogger, you should be using ConvertKit.
ConvertKit is the David in the midst of a ton of Goliath email service providers. While they’re smaller than a lot of other guys out there – they’re growing quick and they’re killing it.
My top 5 reasons why I love ConvertKit
- Super fast development time. They don’t always have the feature I need, but I’ve sent in requests and had them BUILD THAT FEATURE by the end of the week.
- Automatic resend to un-opens. This is one of those features that I asked about and they built right away. Not only can this boost opens 10%, but it can make you more money. As far as I know, these are the only guys that do that.
- Automation Triggers. Infusionsoft promised to do this, but in reality, they’re super complicated with their workflow and make it way to complicated to practically do. ConvertKit offers this feature, but with way less confusion.
- Simple. Clean. Fast. ConvertKit has the benefit of growing from the ground up and building the site to be exactly what they want it to be – no decade-old legacy systems in the way. As a result, the interface is super clean, super simple and super fast.
- Great Customer Service. Their customer service department is on top of things. They’re super friendly and they actually tell the developers about your concerns & requests!
If you want more about email providers, check out my email provider comparison here. I’ve used them all & this article is a doozy.
How To Write A Great Blog (8 Years of Insights)
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 wannabe bloggers fall off. They don’t blog! They’ll create and set up a dozen half-baked ideas, but when it comes down to writing, they never execute.
Execute. Write. Repeat.
Over and over and 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.
People say “it doesn’t matter”, but it does. If you want to form a new habit (and blogging is a habit), you need to set 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. Seriously.
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 them. 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. I can’t emphasize this enough.
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 your readers might even come back to read more!
If you’re confused about what sort of problems people need solving, ask questions and then answer them.
Tell A Good Story
People love a good story. Stories 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.
You don’t want to build a reputation based on deceiving people. 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
Pro Blogging Tips For The Road Ahead
I’m not the biggest blogger in the world, but after doing this for several years, 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, if you’re really serious about learning how to start a blog.
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 start a blog and succeed eventually and those who don’t is whether 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 thing 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 these 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 being insulted is better than being 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 start a blog and 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, but putting a little effort into nailing this can be huge in setting your site and you apart as you learn how to start a blog.
I can never understand how people are willing to spend $5,000 on a custom site design and unwilling to spend a couple hundred bucks getting a decent photo of their mug (Instagram selfies don’t count). Get good photos – people will notice.
If you can’t get your own photos taken, check out some of the free photo sites below.
Blog From Your Life
If you want to start a blog, your blog should flow out of what you actually do. This goes along with being honest and 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.
Some Bad Blogging Advice
There’s a lot of different advice out there when it comes to blogs. A lot of it is bad. Here’s some bad blogging advice that you’d do well to avoid.
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, especially when you’re first learning how to start a blog. Ignore this.
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, 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 and simply focus on writing.
Better Advice: Write for people first and 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 can actually see which 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.
Essential 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 Registrar: Get Your FREE Domain with Bluehost
Hosting Provider: $3.95 Bluehost Hosting (56% off) + a FREE Domain
WordPress: Genesis Framework
If you have any more questions about how to start a blog, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help!
Now that you’re ready to start a blog – get out there & start blogging!
More Blogging Resources
If you want more resources on starting a blog, check out 25 Blogging Tips for New Bloggers. You can also download this guide in a handy How To Start A Blog pdf download for easy reference anywhere you go.
For a couple good reads on making money from blogging:
- Jenny has a good primer on how she got started
- Steve Pavlina has a great starter guide for making money from your blog.
- Why You SHOULDN’T Start a Blog
- Quick Sprout Blogging Guide
- CopyBlogger Blogging Guide
- The Best WordPress Plugins
- Getting Started with BlueHost
- StartABlog.com – The Definitive Guide
- The Write Life’s Blogging Guide
Honest Hosting Reviews
It’s hard these days to find solid reviews of various web hosting companies. I’ve worked with a lot of them – you can find my reviews of them below.
Special Hosting Discount
There you go. That’s the definitive guide on how to start a blog. You should be all set to start your blog & get writing. Any questions? Leave them below & I’ll do my best to answer them.
The Best Blog Tip Ever
No matter what – whether this is the first time you’re learning how to start a blog or the 20th one in the making, make sure you have fun with it all. Life’s too short to take things too seriously. Have fun out there & start blogging!