I’ve been in the game for quite a while now, having launched and grown a fair amount of successful blogs. Along the way, I’ve learned a good majority of what there is to know about the industry.
In this guide, I’m pulling back the curtain and sharing that knowledge with you, covering everything you need to know about how to start a blog.
Getting Started and FAQ
What Do You Need to Start A WordPress Blog?
There are three things necessary for starting a WordPress blog:
- A domain name. This is the address where your site lives. It’s the URL, or destination people type into a search engine to find your site. Kind of like the address to your house.
- A hosting account. This is the server where your files, like images, text, and databases live. Think of this like your house, which stores all your belongings.
- A little time and patience. Setting up a blog on WordPress is not overly technical or complicated complicated, but does come with a learning curve that takes a bit of time to learn.
If you’re already confused, don’t worry. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process from scratch, step by step. We’ll cover the basics of how to start a blog, including…
- How to pick a winning and profitable niche.
- How to register a domain name.
- The best web hosting company and package to select.
- How to set up WordPress on your domain.
- How to pick the best theme company and design.
- The basics of writing a blog post.
- Essential plugins your blog should not be without.
- How to grow your blog to increase traffic.
- How to monetize your blog once you get traffic.
So without further ado, let’s jump right in!
When family and friends learn that I now work online full-time, they often ask me how to start a blog and make money online.
After explaining the process of starting a blog a few dozen times, I thought it would be much easier to document a step-by-step guide on how to become a blogger.
There are many reasons to start a blog. You might be looking to express yourself and anonymously express your opinions online, or you might be looking to make extra cash through the various ways you can make money on a blog.
Whatever your reason, it’s easier than ever to get started.
Fortunately, setting up a blog is cheap and the steps are the same whether you are learning how to start a fashion, food, lifestyle, music, sports, or business blog.
Making 6-figures and a full-time living online is possible if you just launch your own website. The key is to just get it going.
And while you may be tempted to rush out and start a free blog, building a profitable website with a legitimate brand requires some very basic investments, such as a custom domain and web hosting.
But before we dive too far into the how, there are a few things to know before you create and build a blog in 2020.
Decide What To Blog About
Contrary to what many new bloggers would like to believe, blogging will not bring you millions overnight. It may be simple to get started, but be prepared to put in the time and work required to actually grow your project.
Like any other business, it requires time, patience, and commitment, so pick a topic or niche you are passionate and knowledgeable about. Trust me, your audience can tell when you love discussing the topic in your blog posts, and that will build credibility and loyalty.
I’ve made this mistake many times in the past by purchasing websites I knew nothing about then trying to relate to my newfound audience. I failed, and very badly at that.
Not only is it hard to write about a subject you know nothing about, but it’s also not helpful for readers. Stick to what you know and build off your passion.
Furthermore, a unique experience or perspective on a subject will help you stand out from other bloggers online, and encourage social media sharing from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. These mediums can provide exposure and drive huge amounts of traffic to your site.
Without going into too much detail, at the end of the day you really just want to pick a niche that you are passionate about, you are an expert in, and you enjoy writing about.
Don’t overthink it.. just pick an area that you really like, such as a hobby or side hustle, then start a blog about that.
If you’re stuck trying to figure out which niche or topic to write about, check out this video for some helpful tips:
Which Blogging Platform To Use
A blogging platform, or CMS for short, is a necessary piece of a blog that helps manage your content, images, and design. The free WordPress blogging platform is the best in terms of being simple, reliable, and flexible.
It is so easy to use that nearly 100 million websites use this CMS, and most hosting companies even offer “1-Click Blog Installation” features specifically for new bloggers who want to install WordPress.
Without any HTML or technical knowledge, you can build your own blog and customize it with different free themes (designs), layouts, plugins, and features.
On the other hand, you may want to learn how to start a blog for free using Blogger, Tumblr, Wix or Weebly.
A free solution offers users a chance to get their feet wet, but if you intend on making any money blogging online, I can tell you that starting a free blog is the wrong decision.
Let me explain why “free” is not actually free.
- You can’t have your own domain. This site, Yahoo.com, Google.com and CNN.com have their own domains. With a self-hosted blog, you can pick any available domain name you want and register it. However, if you choose to start a blog on Blogger.com or Tumblr.com, your website’s URL will look like YourSite.Blogger.com or YourSite.Tumblr.com. Imagine if you had to go to Yahoo.Blogger.com – what would you think? Credible or easy to remember? Would you share that “blog” with your family and friends?
- You don’t really own your blog. Because your blog is hosted on their site, you aren’t even the “owner” of it. Your blog can be removed or deleted without warning. If you decide to move to your own domain and hosting later, you won’t be able to take your traffic or readership with you, either.
- There is no flexibility. When you make a blog using a free blogging service, you are limited to their infrastructure, design, and layout. The themes these platforms offer are limited and boring, and you can’t install any 3rd-party plugins.
- You can’t make money, or at least not as much. Many people make money blogging, from $100 a month to $1,000,000 per month. Unfortunately for you, most of these free blogging sites won’t allow you to, and if they do, the platform will take a percentage of your earnings.
For all these reasons and more, I HIGHLY recommend you use an inexpensive hosting company and buy your own domain (i.e. MyBlog.com or MyBlog.org).
Tip: We’ve negotiated a super low price with Bluehost, one of the best hosting companies in the world. Normally a shared hosting plan would cost you $7.99 per month, but our readers receive exclusive pricing of only $2.95/month when they sign up through this link.
If you have a larger budget and are looking to start a blog with rockstar hosting from the start, then I would suggest going with WP Engine. You can get started for as little as $25/month.
With costs almost negligible, we’re sure you’ll turn a profit in your first few months. More on that later in this article.
Cost of Starting A Self-Hosted Blog
The biggest advantage of starting a blog or business online is that it’s incredibly cheap. Unlike the days of old where starting a business was capital-intensive, starting a blog in 2020 can usually be done for under $100.
Here are the costs you may incur hosting your own blog using WordPress’s free blog software.
- Domain: $15 per year.
- Hosting: $3 – $5 per month, or about $36 per year with our discount.
- Themes: Some are free. Others, such as the Genesis Framework, can cost around $100.
The best part is there is no commitment, making learning how to start a blog a very low risk decision. Even if you try and don’t succeed, as long as you don’t go overboard spending money, you’ll only be out a little chunk of change.
If after a month or two, you decide blogging isn’t for you, you can usually cancel and get a refund. Many hosting companies even offer a 30-Day or Anytime Money-Back Guarantee.
You really have nothing to lose at this point. The tutorial below will walk you through how to create a blog.
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Choose A Domain or Blog Name
Hopefully you’ve decided to self-host a blog on your own domain. Now comes the fun part – picking your blog name and domain.
Picking A Domain
Selecting a domain or blog name can be a challenge for some bloggers because it needs to be brandable, meaningful, short and easy to remember.
If you are interested in blogging about healthy food and recipes, a domain like My-Favorite-Healthy-Food-Recipes.com or MyFavoriteFoodRecipes.com is not the way to go.
Try a catchy, unique domain such as EatWell.com or HealthFanatic.com. Similarly, you can brand your domain after yourself by using your name.
Tip: For more help and ideas in choosing a name for your business, check out our How To Come Up With A Blog Name guide.
Where To Buy A Domain
It is usually best for you to buy a domain and hosting package together, especially since the best hosting companies will give you the domain for free when you buy hosting, saving you both time and money. For example, Bluehost will let you register a free domain if you choose their shared hosting packages.
If you get hosting through Bluehost, definitely take advantage of the free domain name. If you go with another host that doesn’t offer a free domain, you’ll usually want to register a domain through an outside company.
Although there are lots of registrars to lease domains from, it is always better to go with a reputable company. However, stay away from the most well-known companies like GoDaddy, as they will overcharge you a ton.
Seriously, always stay away from GoDaddy.
They’re so well known that they’re able to price gouge their customers, and it’s almost predatory. It makes me furious.
To further illustrate what I mean, let’s do a quick test.
I priced out the domain “mynewblog1234.com” through my favorite registrar Namecheap, and my least favorite, GoDaddy.
If I register the domain through Namecheap, you can see it will only cost me $11.16 for a one year registration. If I apply a promo code, this price will drop to around $9, and they even throw in a free WhoisGuard subscription for the first year.
When checking the price on GoDaddy, however, you’ll see the amount is nearly double that of Namecheap.
Not only that, but when the domain renews I’m looking at even HIGHER prices. $9.99 for domain privacy? Give me a break.
But at any rate, do some shopping around to find deals. You’ll save money up front and thank yourself in the end.
Once you have a domain, you’ll then want to sign up for a web hosting package.
What You Need
When you first build a blog, you don’t need anything fancy. You won’t need managed WordPress hosting or a dedicated server. You just need a cheap hosting plan that allows you to host your files and get your site live.
In my years building blogs, I’ve learned that BlueHost is one of the best inexpensive hosting companies, especially for new bloggers. Because they have so many users, they are able to operate at scale to offer super cheap shared hosting plans that allow you to get a site live for little money down.
*Shared hosting is when a web host will give multiple users access to the same server, and they share resources like storage space and memory. There are often tens, or even hundreds of users on the same shared hosting plan, sharing the same resources.
BlueHost excels in the following categories:
- Reputation, Uptime, and Security
- Customer Service and Technical Support
- Price and Money Back Guarantee
- Features and Free Email Accounts
BlueHost’s shared hosting plans include a free domain, unlimited everything (space, bandwidth, email accounts, etc.), automated backups, 24/7 technical support via phone and chat, and an average up-time of 99.9% so you don’t have to deal with server crashes and network outages.
BlueHost is also highly recommended for 1-click WordPress installs. Their extremely user-friendly control panel means you can start your blog in 15 minutes.
Overall, BlueHost offers powerful servers, fast connections, and unlimited bandwidth/disk space, all of which are critical to your future success making money blogging online.
When your blog starts getting a lot more traffic, you can look into more powerful managed WordPress hosts like WPEngine or Flywheel. But for now, shared hosting is a great place to start.
How To Set Up A Blog [Step-By-Step Guide]
So, “how do I start a blog?”
First, click here or the image below to take advantage of my special 60% off discount with BlueHost. Then on the BlueHost homepage, click on the “Get Started Now” button.
You will be asked to choose a hosting package. I recommend the “Starter” option for new bloggers, but if you can afford it and want the added flexibility of starting multiple blogs on the same server without buying new hosting, I suggest you opt for the “Plus” option.
On the next page, in the “New Domain” box, choose your desired domain name. If the domain is available, you will move on to the next step of the registration process. Otherwise, you will need to choose another name. If you already own a domain name, input it in the “I Have A Domain Name” box to proceed.
Once you have chosen a blog name, you will need to fill out your account information. Afterwards, scroll down the page to select your web hosting and options.
As a new blogger, we recommend picking the “36 Month” option because it maximizes your discount and since BlueHost offers a “Money-Back Guarantee”, you can cancel your hosting plan anytime you want to get a refund of your balance. Plus, your domain is free with BlueHost – a $15 savings.
However, if you aren’t completely sure about starting a blog and making money but still want to take advantage of a discounted rate, choose the “12 Month” option and give yourself a year to grow your blog.
Please keep in mind that you will be required to make payment upfront. That’s how BlueHost is able to offer my readers some of the lowest prices in the industry.
Here’s the math, based on using my special discount.
- 12 months at $4.95 per month is $59.40 per year and $59.40 upfront.
- 24 months at $3.95 per month is $47.40 per year and $94.80 upfront.
- 36 months at $2.95 per month is $35.40 per year and $106.20 upfront.
Additionally, we recommend you uncheck all the add-on options, but keep the “Domain Privacy Protection” to protect your blog’s ownership details (your name, mailing address, email, phone number, etc.) from being associated with your domain name and publicly shared.
I can tell you from experience that if you don’t register the domain as private, spammers will find you. Once a spammer finds you through these details, you’ll be subjected to a never-ending stream of emails offering SEO services for your new site.
Under no circumstances should you EVER actually give these spammer’s SEO services a try. They don’t work, and will likely do nothing but hurt your site in the end.
Finally, you will need to input your billing and payment information. BlueHost is one of the best and most secure hosting companies, so you can feel safe inputting your credit card details.
When the transaction completes, you will receive an email to confirm the creation of your BlueHost account. Log in to your new BlueHost account to install your WordPress blog.
On the main page, find the “Website” section and click on “Install WordPress” to begin the installation process.
On the pop-up screen, you’ll want to click on “Install” to start a brand new installation of WordPress.
Here, choose your domain from the drop-down list to install your WordPress there. Leave the second “Directory” box empty.
The last step is to setup your basic WordPress login details.
Click “Show Advanced Options” to type in your credentials. Your “Site Name” is effectively your blog name, and can always be changed later. Your “Admin Username” should be something unique and not publicly available for security purposes.
Finally, choose an easy to remember “Admin Password”, which you also change later. Obviously keep your username/password login information handy because you will need it to access the back-end of your fresh WP install.
Finally, press “Install Now” to start the WordPress installation.
After the installation is complete, visit your “Site URL” to check out the template WordPress theme and layout, which you will be able to edit and customize.
To log in to the back-end, click on the “Login URL” and enter the username/password you created above. For convenience, bookmark “yourdomain.com/wp-login.php” or “yourdomain.com/wp-admin/” because that will be your login URL going forward.
Installing Themes (Design)
Now you have a fresh, slick WordPress install. But face it, it’s downright ugly. The default theme, a Kubrick variation, is extremely dated and overused.
The other installed theme, WordPress Classic is better, but not much. But the beauty of WordPress and its enormous community is that you can choose from thousands and thousands of free themes and hundreds of premium (or paid) themes to turn your ugly little site into a thing of beauty in just minutes!
Choosing a brilliant theme for your WordPress site is one of the first essential steps in establishing your online presence. Remember that your website will virtually represent your brand to the online audience. Any self-respecting site owner will veer away from generic, free, and clunky themes. Instead, you should only consider the absolute best one for your site.
Get recommendations, do some web search, and find the look to fit your sit topic. Also consider the support provided for the theme you choose. WordPress upgrades often mean theme upgrades are needed as well.
Criteria For Picking A WordPress Theme
Below are five of the most important rules you need to observe when picking a theme for WordPress:
1. The Theme Should Not Have Malicious Code
Site security should be one of your top priorities when building and running a WordPress website. Unfortunately, security could be the first thing you compromise by picking a theme with an embedded malicious code.
Hackers insert such codes to steal backlinks from your website, have unrestricted access to your digital assets, display unauthorized ads or links, or simply bring your site down.
Before installing a theme, make sure you run a quick virus scan of the compressed file immediately after download. You can also use the AntiVirus plugin from WordPress to thoroughly examine a theme for malicious code.
Of course, you can always stop downloading third-party themes and use the ones already available from the WordPress library.
2. The Theme Should Load Fast
Although it is tempting to choose a theme with flashy visuals and fancy design elements, remember that appearance only comes second to performance when it comes to user experience. According to statistics, 40% of the online audience will abandon a site if it loads for more than three seconds.
To help you pick a fast WordPress theme, a good rule of thumb is to perform a speed test on the theme’s “demo” version. All you need to do is to plug in some dummy content, install the theme demo you are considering to buy, and then run Pingdom Tools to see how long it takes for your site to load.
3. The Theme Developer should be Trustworthy
Picking a theme means trusting the company behind it. Downloading a theme from an unknown, shady resource is simply too risky especially your website’s future is on the line. Instead, see to it that you download themes and plugins only from reputable sources with plenty of positive user reviews.
Just don’t forget that people have different preferences and needs. Don’t let a single review influence your decision entirely. Determine what you specifically need from a theme first, pick out your candidates, and then let the ratings validate your options. Basing on the reviews, look for websites that use the theme to test the experience firsthand. A reputable theme provider may also provide you with sample websites or “live” demos.
4. The Theme should be Easy to Edit and Customize
Even if you pay for a premium theme, it will still look and feel generic if you do not implement your customizations. However, not all themes have many customization options while others simply have too much—turning the theme’s appearance editor into a mess. Sure, you can make in-depth customizations by making a child theme and modifying the CSS and PHP codes. However, it should be easy to make quick customizations with the basics such as theme colors, menus, the header and the footer.
One way to figure out the customization options in a theme is to look for online reviews and guides. However, in case neither is available, your best bet is to contact the theme provider’s customer support, which leads to the next and last most important rule of picking a WordPress theme:
5. The Theme Must Have Great Customer Support
Since you will be working with the theme provider in constructing your site, you need to check how effective they are with communicating their support. Keep in mind that bad customer service is costing not only customers but companies as well billions of dollars per year. If you want a secure and more stable future for your online business, it is best not to associate yourself with brands that couldn’t care less for the experience of users.
As much as possible, use a contact method that will help you get faster answers such as live chat or a phone call. To make the conversation more productive, make sure to prepare a list of questions to ask the theme provider. You can ask anything from how to change the theme’s layout to licensing restrictions, but your top priority is to determine how fast they will be in answering your inquiries. Making the call and sending a message via live chat or email should answer this question for you.
Customize your site
Now that your site has form and style, you’ll still need to tweak a few things to make it your own.
I recommend at least the following actions:
- Set your site name and tagline
- Specify link structure
- Add a header image
- Arrange widgets in your sidebar
- Activate Akismet (a default comment spam blocker)
- Add plugins to increase functionality
- Decide on appropriate settings
- Add an RSS feed
- Add a subscription signup
- Create categories and tags
Installing Plugins (Functionality)
Within the realm of WordPress, plugins allow users to add a number of different extended software programs to their website. They enhance the functionality of your site and add exciting features that engage site visitors in a myriad of different ways.
There are over 55,000 third-party plugins within WordPress’ directory, giving you plenty to work with as you customize and brand your blog. But what are the must-haves among such a vast collection of add-on software?
Let’s walk you through the basic WordPress plugins every beginner site-maker should have, regardless of the content that will soon inhabit your unique domain.
1. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO has become one of the most popular WordPress plugins for novices and seasoned site-makers alike. Yoast boasts the most comprehensive search engine optimization solution, packed with an impressive selection of features and tools to improve your on-page SEO. Add meta tags, create sitemaps, and optimize your site for Google, social media, and more.
When it comes to conversion rate optimization plugins, no software performs better than OptinMonster. Designed to allow users to convert bouncy visitors into interested email subscribers and paying customers, OptinMonster works hard so you don’t have to. By giving you the power to personalize campaigns to users, OptinMonster makes you more money. OptinMonster is a valuable tool for bloggers, eCommerce entrepreneurs, and new business owners.
When building your blog, security should be at the forefront of your mind. Sucuri is one of the leading security WordPress plugins that offers DNS-level network firewalls, and intrusion/brute force prevention, as well as malware and blacklist-removal services. By sending all of your website traffic through their cloud proxy, Sucuri is able to scan every single request and decide whether or not traffic is legitimate and what traffic can successfully pass through.
While everyone wants their site to receive traffic, nobody wants the traffic to be dominated by spam and bots. Akismet’s number one job is to filter out and delete spam comments that can hurt your site’s legitimacy.
Akismet is lauded for its 99.4% accuracy rate that gives you the peace of mind you need to tackle unwanted content on your blog.
Designed to prevent third-party hackers from running a brute force attack on your blog, Loginizer is another security essential worth lining up on your plugin list.
Loginizer works by blocking an IP address after a maximum number of login attempts has been reached. The plugin also allows you to blacklist or whitelist specific IP addresses.
Venture into higher-level security features like two-factor authentication, reCAPTCHA, Passwordless login, and more to bolster your site’s safety.
7. MailChimp for WordPress
MailChimp is one of the world’s most popular email marketing services that allows users to manage subscribers, send emails, and track the fruits of your labor in bulk. It is an absolute must-have plugin for WordPress webmasters and business owners and it’s completely free to add to your blog. If you’re looking to spruce up your eCommerce site, opt for the premium version, instead.
You’re officially a blogger, but you’re certainly not done. Now comes the work of adding relevant, helpful content on a regular basis. You’ll need to learn some search engine optimization. You’ll need to draw readers and increase traffic. Depending on your goals, you may want to monetize your site.
There is much left to do and to learn. Blogging isn’t a short-term project. Keep going and keep learning. You’re off to a running start.
Frequently Asked Questions
Our guide has helped many people get started in the blogging world. Here’s a few of the most commonly asked questions we’ve received.
Do I need WordPress to start a blog?
No, you don’t need WordPress to start a blog. There are other platforms available, but WordPress is the simplest and most easily customizable platform currently available.
Can I make money on my blog?
Yes, you can monetize your blog and receive income from your traffic. There are many different ways to make money blogging, but we suggest first focusing on growing traffic and gaining new readers.
How do you come up with blog post ideas?
Using Google is a great way to come up with new blog post ideas. Type a query into Google, then look at the results that come up with autocomplete. This is a great way to see what people are actually searching for.
Can I create and run an anonymous blog?
Yes, you can create and run a blog anonymously without anybody knowing who is behind the scenes. Regardless of the reason for anonymity, tools like Private Registration and lack of public knowledge on your blog will allow you to remain in the shadows. We suggest viewing our “How to Start An Anonymous Blog” guide for more details.