So you want to start a blog? Great! I started blogging about 14 months, primarily as a sort of online résumé. Since then it has grown to the point where I should really treat it as a proper business. The site is now making over $1,000 a month (EDIT: As of July 2016 it is up to $4,000 a month). A great result for a part-time hobby!
But even if you never make a profit, I still think everyone should start a blog. It helps with your writing skills, provides you with an online presence and connects you with people with similar interests.
Before we dive in, let’s cover a few key blogging terms:
- Domain Name: This is the address that you type in to get to your website. They are typically of the form ‘www.something.com’. For instance, my domain name is www.arbing.co.uk. If you want a domain name, you don’t buy it. Instead, you register it for a period of time. Generally by paying a yearly fee. If you don’t renew your domain name when the time period expires someone else can register it. For the purpose of this article, we don’t really need to worry about this as most hosting comes with a free domain name. As long as you keep paying for your hosting you will keep your domain.
- Hosting: Is what we call the physical place where your website is stored. You may have this idea that all the websites are somehow floating around in the clouds, but unfortunately that is not how it works. Rather, most websites are stored on a computer in a big warehouse along with thousands of other websites. All connected to the internet with a superfast internet connection. These computers are called servers, and you rent them through a host. To begin with your website running your website will only require a tiny portion of one of these servers. I use Bluehost for this site, it costs only $3.95 a month.
- Blogging Platform: This is what actually runs your website. Gone are the days when you had to program a website from scratch in HTML. Now you just install a blogging platform with a few clicks and your website is up and running. For this tutorial, I will be using WordPress, which is the platform used on this site.
- Theme: This is what your site actually looks and feels like. It is an add-on to your blogging platform that makes your website pretty and unique. There are hundreds of themes out there, including free and paid-for ones.
- Plugins: These are extra things you can install on top of the blogging platform to make your website better. They are built by third-party developers and once again there are free and paid for ones.
Let’s get started:
Step One – Choose a domain name and sign up to some hosting
You can purchase domain names separately, but most hosting solutions give you one included with the price.
I use Bluehost for my hosting. It is a big company, which means they aren’t going to suddenly shut down. And they are cheap and reliable.
When you are ready to start a blog, head over to Bluehost and click ‘get started now’.
Straight away you will be asked to choose a domain name. This is a very important step and shouldn’t be rushed. Your domain name will soon be the brand of your website and will be what people type in to return to your site.
You generally want your domain name to be as memorable and short as possible. Memorable being more important than short. For instance: www.greatbloggingtips.com is a better domain name than www.xhy33.com.
Unfortunately, most really good domain names have already been registered. But you may be able to get something that is personal to you.
I was lucky enough to get my name (Sam Priestley) as the domain name:
When I first decided I wanted to start a blog, I knew I was going to take it seriously. I really didn’t want the hosting to expire and end up losing my entire site by accident so I signed up for two years up front.
Once you have chosen your domain name, click ‘next’ and follow through the steps. It’s pretty straightforward.
Step Two – Install WordPress
Once you have signed up to the hosting you should be faced with the cpanel page. If you don’t see it right away, look for a menu item under ‘hosting’ that says ‘cpanel’ on it. The page should look something like this:
It may look very complicated, but most of the features we will never touch. All you will probably use is the “Install WordPress” button and potentially the ‘Email Manager’ if you want to set up a personal email address with your domain name.
After you click on ‘Install WordPress’, you will be given the option to pay for someone to install it for you. It is ridiculously easy to do it yourself so I suggest not paying. Or at the very least, give it a go and if you can’t work it out only then pay for some help.
When given the option of where to install WordPress, simply select the domain name you chose when signing up to the host (it will probably be there by default) Then leave the ‘directory’ box empty.
Next you just need to choose a site name, a username and a password.
WordPress will then install and once it is done your website will be up and running! Just type in your domain name into a new web browser window to access it. I bet you never thought it would be that easy to start a blog?
Here’s one I set up in about five minutes:
Ok. That is a very plain and boring website… but it is a website that people can access! Time to improve it and turn it into a site we are proud of.
Step Three – Configure WordPress and install a theme
After you installed WordPress you may have been taken to a page that looks like this:
This is the WordPress Administration page. If you can’t find it then you can access it by typing in your domain name followed by wp-admin. For instance: www.myblogsdomain.com/wp-admin. The username and password are the ones you entered when installing WordPress.
This admin page is where you will be spending a lot of your time. From here you will write your blog posts, choose how the website looks and monitor what the people viewing your blog are looking at. It is worth spending a bit of time looking around.
Try creating a new blog post:
It still looks rubbish but at least there is now some content. The next step is to choose a good theme to prettify it.
On the wp-admin main page, hover over the menu item ‘Appearance’ and click ‘Themes’. Here you will find a lot of free and paid-for themes that you can install on your blog. Generally, I suggest just going with a free one to begin with until you really know what type of site you want.
Here I have just chosen one called Button and immediately the website looks 100% better.
A few little quick tweaks can have a large impact. In the next image: I have made the title a bit more attractive, added in social media links, extended the menu, and inserted a royalty-free image.
Step Four – Get Writing!
There is a lot more you can do to improve your blog, but content is king! Once you have the bare minimum of a site that you are happy with, you should start writing and getting some content up there. After all, that is why you wanted to start a blog in the first place.
I suggest you stop reading now and go and play around with your new blog. Once you have a few posts up, please come back and read on.
Further material on how to start a blog
The plugins I use:
I like to think of plugins in WordPress as being very similar to apps on an iPhone. They aren’t normally created by WordPress but without them, WordPress wouldn’t be anywhere near as great as it is.
To install a plugin just click on the ‘Plugins’ menu in your wp-admin and select ‘Add New’. Then just search for the name of the plugin you want to install.
Don’t go too crazy with plugins. As a general rule, the more plugins you have the slower your website will run. So pick a few really good ones.
Here are my favourite plugins that I always install when I start a blog. They are all currently used on this website:
I use Disqus to manage the comments on my blog posts. Before I installed it I was getting lots of spam and it was a real trial to keep ahead. All that spam pretty stopped immediately as soon as I installed Disqus.
I think the extra effort needed to post a comment deters spammers.
Yoast gives you real-time analytics on how readable and search engine friendly your post is. Here is a snippet from half way through writing this post:
I generally try and make each of my posts ‘green’ for search engine optimability. I don’t know if it has much effect, but it can’t hurt.
A very easy way to add Google Analytics to your website. A pretty important step if you want to monitor how many people are visiting your blog and what they are doing once they arrive.
I am not going to talk much about Google Analytics here, but for anyone wanting to start a blog it is well worth researching.
A simple plugin that records how many views you get on each post. Apart from giving me a daily breakdown, it also helps me to keep track of what my most popular posts are.
SumoMe is a great plugin that offers ways to help increase the number of people signing up to an email list. I have it setup with the email sender MailChimp.
When a user arrives at my site for the first time, after 45 seconds a little pop up will ask them if they want to join my mailing list:
Since installing it my daily sign-ups have over doubled.
Making money from your blog:
One of the main reasons you may want to start a blog is to make money from it. I don’t spend much time on monetization and am by no means an expert. But for my two cents I think that you have three routes:
- Affiliate Links: For every product you mention in your posts that someone then goes on to buy, you can earn a portion of the sale. That is how this blog makes money. To get going have a look at Amazon Associates or Clickbank.
- Adverts: You can place adverts on your site and get paid a set amount for every time someone clicks on one. Have a look at Google Adsense for an easy way to start.
- Building Your Own Products: This is the hardest work but also the most lucrative. For instance, if your site is about table tennis you could create your own table tennis bats, write and sell a book about table tennis, or sell a table tennis training regime. Doing any of those is a lot of work, but can be very worthwhile.
How to get royalty-free images:
Unfortunately, you cannot just search on Google images and use any old picture you come across. That picture is someone’s property and if they don’t give you permission to use it then you could be in breach of copyright.
Once you start a blog, everything you post on it will be in the public domain. That means that the image owner could find your site and may potentially come after you for some compensation.
To get round this I use Flickr. On Flickr when you search for images you can filter them by ones that are allowed to be reused for ‘commercial use’ and ‘modifications’. If both are selected it means you can do whatever you want with the picture and use it on your for-profit blog totally legally.
Just head over to Flickr and after you have searched for something, use the ‘filter by license’ in the top left:
Get some feedback on your new blog:
If you want to get my opinion on your blog or just want to help promote it to new readers, please feel free to put it in the comments below. I will try and find the time to take a look at it and point out any areas I think you could improve.
Best of luck, and I hope you find blogging to be just as enjoyable as I have.