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So you’ve decided to start a blog — congratulations! You’ll join millions of people who start blogs to inform and entertain audiences, promote their products or brands, and even earn a steady income.
If you’re asking “what’s next?” you’re not alone. For many people, the only barrier to being a blogger is actually setting up the blog. Even if you’re a novice at creating blogs and websites, don’t worry. We’ve created the ultimate step-by-step guide for starting a blog in 2020, to help you get your blog idea out of your head, and onto the internet.
The 5 Steps to Start a Blog
If you’re new to blogging, you may be considering hiring someone to set up your blog for you. However, creating your own blog saves you time and money. It’s a much cheaper way to get started, and by doing things yourself, your blog will be online faster, and you’ll maintain control over its look and feel.
Creating a blog may seem like a lot of work, but we’ve broken it down into five key steps:
- Identify your blog’s niche and domain name
- Choose a blogging platform
- Choose a web host
- Customize your blog
- Manage and monetize your blog
Within this guide, you’ll find answers to many common questions about starting a blog, including:
- Which blogging platform is the best choice for you
- What to look for in a hosting company
- The pros and cons of free hosting versus self-hosting
- Why choosing a domain name for your blog is important
- How to customize and add extra features to your blog
Ready to get started? Here’s how to create your blog from scratch in 2020.
Before putting in the time and effort to set up your blog, you want to make sure you have a clear understanding of three things:
- Your blog’s purpose.
- Why you are the best person to blog about this topic.
- Who your audience is.
While your blog will evolve over time, having this foundation will guide the initial look and tone of your blog, and help you find and grow your audience.
Now is also a good time to think about your blog’s title and domain name. Do some research into what blogs currently exist that have a similar topic. This will help you understand your competition, and possibly give you some ideas for a title and domain name.
What is your blog’s purpose?
Having clarity about your intentions for your blog will make it that much easier for you to define the look and feel of your blog, and help you find an audience once it launches. It will also give you something to come back to if you ever feel unmotivated or uninspired.
As you define your blog’s purpose, it’s also worth considering why you are the best person to blog about this topic. Do you have expertise in this area? Is it something about which you are passionate? Do you have a unique perspective on the topic that you want to share?
There’s no right or wrong answer. This exercise is more about developing the idea behind your blog, and giving people a compelling reason to visit it.
Your audience is another important component of your blog’s niche. Who are you writing this blog for? What kind of readership can you expect, and what will your readers expect from you? The ideal way to grow a successful blog is to strike a balance between creating blog content that makes you feel fulfilled, while keeping readers engaged.
Selecting your blog’s domain name
A domain name is the web address where people can find your blog. Ideally, it is the same as the title of your blog, or at the very least, contains your blog’s title. A good domain name is unique, relatively short, and easy to remember, type, and say. This is how people will find your blog, so you want to make it as accessible as possible.
Since you can’t choose a domain name if someone else already owns it, you may want to brainstorm a few possible names, in case your first choice is already taken. A quick internet search will reveal if any of the names you are considering are already claimed.
Generally, if you choose a free web host for your blog, the host will provide you with a domain name. However, a host-provided web address tends to be long, complicated, and more difficult to type. It may also include the name of the host site, rather than just the name of your blog. While it may be tempting to go with the free, host-provided domain name, if you want your blog to be as professional and accessible as possible, it’s worth the investment to purchase your domain name. We’ll explain how to do that in Step 3, “Choose a Web Host.”
A blogging platform is the content management system (CMS) through which you will publish your blog on the internet.
Some platforms, like WordPress or Blogger, are designed specifically for blogging, while others, like Wix and Weebly, have more robust features that can be used for creating whole websites in addition to blogs. While some blogging platforms are more popular than others, your unique needs will guide which platform is the right choice for you.
Below, we outline some things to consider when choosing a blogging platform.
Which blog platform is the best?
With so many different blogging platforms available, choosing one can be overwhelming. It’s worth taking the time to explore a few different options before deciding, because once your blog is up and running, switching platforms can be a hassle.
Here are some tips for choosing the best blogging platform for you.
- Easy to use. If you’re brand-new to blogging, you may think you need to learn all about coding to get your blog to do the things you want it to do. Fear not. Nowadays, most blogging platforms are designed to be simple, intuitive, and easy to use without any kind of specialized coding knowledge. Look for features like drag-and-drop, which lets you add elements like photos, videos, and more to your posts with just a few simple clicks, and rich-text editors, which allow you to adjust fonts, headings, text colors, and more without the use of HTML.
- Customization options. You want your blog to stand out, and be a true reflection of you and your topic. That’s where customization comes in. Look at the platform’s options for themes, plug-ins, widgets, and other customization tools. Even if you’re not exactly sure at this point what elements you want to add to your blog, it’s best to choose a platform that will give you a variety of customization options.
- Price. A big consideration for bloggers is how much, if anything, you want to pay for your blogging platform. Most blogging platforms offer multiple plans, ranging from free to around $15-$20 per month. While it may be tempting to stick to the free option, depending on your long-term goals for your blog, investing some money into an upgraded plan can pay off in the long run. Having your own, custom domain name for your blog is usually a premium feature that you have to pay for, but will make your blog more legitimate and accessible. A paid plan also typically gives you access to more customization tools, customer support, and monetization options. Figure out your budget, shop around, and choose the platform and plan that gives you the most bang for your buck. Many blogging platforms also offer trial periods, letting you cancel your plan and receive a refund within a certain amount of time if you’re not satisfied.
- Monetization options. Speaking of money, you may want to use your blog as a source of income. This also affects which blogging platform you use, as some are more friendly to monetization than others. When researching platforms and plans, dig into their options regarding ads, ecommerce, and branding. As with domain names, monetization options are typically only available to bloggers who choose a paid plan.
- Customer support. Even if a platform is simple to use, you may still find yourself in need of some assistance at times, whether it’s for a design question or technical issue. Look at what kind of customer support the platform offers, and if there are differences in support between free and paid plans. Also, the internet is a constantly changing ecosystem, where new tools and trends are constantly introduced. Find out how robust your blogging platform is in updating its features to let your blog grow with the changing internet landscape.
Popular blogging platforms
There are dozens of blogging platforms out there to choose from, and just as many resources to help you compare them. While we encourage you to visit individual blogging platforms to get a feel for them, here is an overview of some of the most popular platforms available.
The most popular blogging platform available, WordPress.org is an open-source, free blogging platform that currently powers more than 30 percent of all websites.
Price: Free, but you will need to purchase a domain name and pay for hosting.
|>Easy to learn and use|
>Thousands of customization options, including free themes, plug-ins, and features
>Gives users complete control over their blogs, including opportunities for growth and monetization
|>The amount of customization options may be overwhelming to some users
>Users are responsible for their own backups and security
Created by WordPress.org co-founder Matt Mullenweg, WordPress.com is a free blog hosting platform that is a more basic version of WordPress.org.
Price: Free plan available. For added features, upgraded plans range from $4-$45/month.
|>-Easy to learn and use|
>No set-up required
>Completely free if you do not want your own domain name
|>Limited customization options
>Limited monetization options
>Wordpress.com owns your blog, not you, and can suspend or delete your blog
Google’s free blogging service, ideal for non-tech savvy users.
|>Easy to learn and use|
>Completely free if you do not want your own domain name
>Supported by Google’s secure, reliable platform
|>Limited customization options
>Blogger does not add updates or new features frequently
>Google owns your blog, not you, and can suspend or delete your blog
Microblogging platform with social networking features, ideal for graphic-heavy blogs.
|>Easy to learn and use|
>Built-in social networking tools
>Completely free if you do not want your own domain name
>Not ideal for text-heavy blogs
>Difficult to migrate to another platform
A popular website building service that primarily focuses on small businesses, Squarespace isn’t specifically a blogging platform, but can be ideal for anyone looking to build a more robust site.
|>Easy to learn and use|
>Offers a wide range of themes and templates to choose from
>Powerful SEO and analytical tools
|>Limited features and integrations
>No free plan option available
Another website building service, Wix offers easy-to-use tools to create professional-looking personal and small business blogs and websites.
Price: Free plan available. For added features, upgraded plans range from $13-$39/month
|>Easy to learn and use|
>Lots of customization options available
>Mobile Editor allows you to optimize your blog for different devices
|>Cannot change templates
>Limited ecommerce features
>Not primarily a blogging platform
An easy-to-use online community blogging platform, Medium is ideal for bloggers who want to share their work without the hassle of designing their own site.
|>Easy to use, with no set-up required|
>Built in audience of existing Medium readers
|>No option for your own domain name; users just get a profile page to post their work
>Limited customization options
>Cannot run your own ads
After you’ve selected the blogging platform you want to use, the next step is selecting a web host for your blog.
“But isn’t that what a blogging platform is?” you may be asking. Technically, no. A web host is where the information that makes up your blog actually lives within servers. Think of it this way — if your blog is a house, the blogging platform is the architect that designs and builds your house. The web host is the land on which your house exists, and the domain name is the address where people can find your house.
Tips for selecting a web host
When it comes to choosing a web host, you have two options: free hosting and self-hosting. Much like with free versus paid blogging platforms, each option has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Free web hosting
With free hosting, the main advantage is that you won’t have to pay any money out of pocket to operate your blog. This can be a decent option if your budget is limited, or if you’re considering blogging as more of a hobby than a professional venture. However, there are some significant drawbacks.
As mentioned before, with free hosting, you do not get to choose your own domain name, meaning your domain name may be clunky, long, and hard to remember. This can limit your ability to grow your brand and audience.
There will also be a lot more rules about what you can and can’t do with your blog, particularly in terms of monetization. Typically, if another site is hosting your blog for free, they will slap their ads and branding on it, and limit your ability to make money off your blog.
Also, if you are hosting your blog somewhere for free, you don’t technically own it. As previously mentioned, platforms like Blogger or WordPress.com will host your blog for free, but they also exert much more control over your blog, including the ability to suspend or even delete your blog if they believe it violates their service terms. This can mean losing all of the content and work that you put into your blog, with limited recourse for recovering anything.
Self-hosting, on the other hand, means getting a lot more control for a (usually) small financial output. Hosting plans typically range anywhere from as low as $3 per month for basic personal plans, to $15 per month for more powerful plans for larger businesses.
It should be noted that the term “self-hosting” can be a bit misleading. This doesn’t mean that you actually own the servers where your blog’s data lives. Rather, in this case, it means that you work with a third-party web host to store your blog’s data on a shared server.
If you are looking to self-host your blog, this is the cheapest way to get started. Web hosts divide a server into separate chunks of disk space and other resources. Each customer gets their own allocation, but they share the server between them. Your files are private, so no other customer can access them.
Other advantages of self-hosting include the ability to choose your own domain name, which gives your blog a more professional look, and the freedom to monetize your blog in more ways.
Essentially, whether you should go with free hosting or self-hosting comes down to your intentions for your blog. If you are interested in blogging as a hobby, and not necessarily looking to grow a large audience or make money off your blog, free hosting is probably sufficient. However, if your blog is a professional endeavor, and something you hope to monetize right away or in the future, it’s probably worth the investment to purchase a domain name and find a third-party web host.
Which web host is the best?
As with blogging platforms, there are numerous options for web hosts for your blog. The ones listed below are some of the most popular, highly reviewed web hosts available, but you should also take some time to visit their sites before choosing which one is best for you.
InMotion Hosting is a popular web hosting option for new bloggers, especially those using WordPress, as it has a lot of integrated features that makes setting up a WordPress blog a snap.
|>Free domain name included|
>Includes pre-installed WordPress software
>Includes ability to create multiple email addresses
|>No monthly payment option available; must sign up for at least one year|
WordPress recommends Bluehost as their web host of choice, a testament to this company’s speed and service.
|>Includes pre-installed WordPress software|
>Easy to use
|>Basic plan does not come with as much storage as other web hosts|
Dreamhost offers a powerful yet easy-to-use web hosting platform, especially for those with WordPress blogs.
>Includes pre-installed WordPress software
|>Custom dashboard may require a learning curve
>High price point for some plans
Hostgator offers a range of services for all types of web hosting needs, including a number of tools specifically designed for WordPress blogs.
|>One-click WordPress installation|
>Unlimited bandwidth and storage
|>High renewal cost|
Geared more towards small businesses, SiteGround is a good web hosting option if you are designing your blog with ecommerce in mind. WordPress also recommends this site as a web host.
|>Easy to use|
>Powered by Google Cloud
>Highly-rated customer support
|>High renewal cost
>Limited storage space
One of the best known web hosts around, GoDaddy is the largest domain registrar in the world, and has loads of features for all types of sites.
|>Free domain with annual subscription|
>24/7 customer support
|>Average load times|
Choosing your blog’s platform, host, and domain name are some of the biggest decisions you will make when it comes to starting your blog. Once you sign up with your platform, purchase your hosting plan, and register your domain, it’s time for the fun part — designing and customizing your blog.
Ideally, you’ve spent some time thinking about what you want your blog to look like. This may have even been a factor in which platform you chose, if you browsed through their templates and themes.
The unique purpose and tone of your blog should guide the design of your blog, and what custom features you need to add to make it useful and attractive to your audience.
Choosing a blog theme
Usually, the first step of blog customization is choosing a theme. Choosing your blog’s theme is a matter of taste and functionality. There are thousands of free and premium themes available for different types of sites.
Most sites, including WordPress, will allow you to install and uninstall themes, so you can try out as many as you like before choosing one. When considering your options, bear these tips in mind:
- When you start a blog, you have complete freedom to use any theme you like, but remember your blog’s purpose, topic, and audience. You want your theme to align with these elements. For example, if your blog is focusing on professional development and career advice, you probably want to avoid overly cutesy or whimsical themes.
- Customizing a theme can be difficult. If you don’t know how to code, it’s not a good idea to dive into the files and start trying to hack the theme. You could break your site completely. If you want to play around with different colors and fonts, look for a theme that has its own control panel.
- Old themes are vulnerable to hacking, which can wreak havoc with your site. If you don’t detect the problem early, your domain could even be blacklisted. For security, it’s best to use themes that are updated frequently by the developer.
Depending on the blogging platform you’re using, you may have the option to choose between free and premium themes. All free themes contain the basic components you’ll need to build a blog. Starting with a basic free theme is the ideal way to get your blog off the ground.
Over time, you may find that your free theme is limiting your progress. For a price, premium themes offer more flexibility, and may include direct support from the theme developer. This can be helpful when you’re trying to resolve issues with the layout or appearance of your site.
Unless you’ve already fallen in love with a premium theme, it’s not necessary to purchase a premium theme from the jump. If you start off with a free theme, you’ll have some time to get used to the platform, and figure out what you need from a paid theme in the future.
Choosing plug-ins for your blog
If you want to extend your blog’s functionality beyond the basics, plug-ins allow you to add new features. Sites like WordPress have their own repository of thousands of free plug-ins. You can also obtain plug-ins from third-party marketplaces, or buy premium plug-ins direct from the developers.
The golden rule with plug-ins is to have as few as possible, as too many plug-ins can slow down your site, or make it look messy and cluttered. Only add plug-ins that address a specific need, and periodically review your plug-ins, removing any that you no longer use.
Popular Plug-ins for WordPress Bloggers
If you are creating your blog through WordPress, and want to add some plug-ins, here are a few we recommend.
- Maintenance Mode: Use this plug-in to switch off your site when you’re making changes. For example, if you wanted to test out a new theme, you could use Maintenance Mode to hide your site from public view. You can still see the content while you’re logged in, but everyone else sees a customized message.
- Jetpack: This plug-in is developed by the makers of WordPress and adds a range of useful features. Some of these are premium features, but others are free of charge. For example, Jetpack adds a handy Site Stats page that shows you how many people have visited your blog, and how they found it.
- Akismet: If you have comments turned on, comment spam will quickly overwhelm your site and fill the comment area with junk. Spam comments not only make your website less usable, they can get you penalized by Google and other search engines. Akismet does a really good job of blocking comment spam, while allowing genuine comments to get through. You can manually review comments to ensure that it’s made the right decisions.
- Wordfence Security: In addition to spammers trying to fill your blog with their garbage, there are hackers actively trying to harm you by stealing private data, shutting your blog down, and more. The standard plug-in for this is Wordfence Security, but there are others like All In One WP Security & Firewall and BulletProof Security.
- Yoast: SEO plug-ins can help you create content that is reader-friendly, and easy for search engines to process properly. A great option for helping you do this is the Yoast SEO plug-in.
Adding widgets to your blog
Widgets are small, self-contained modules that you can use to add content to your site without having to write any code. You can use widgets to add social media links and updates, calendars, menus, lists of popular blog posts, and more. By placing widgets in the sidebar or footer of your blog, you can break up text and make the site more visually interesting, while presenting more useful or interesting content to your visitors.
If you’re building your blog through WordPress, you’ll have a selection of built-in widgets. You may find that you have additional widgets from your theme developer, or from plug-ins that you’ve installed. Other blogging platforms may have their own widgets, or allow you to get them from third-party developers.
Now that you have a blog, you need to learn how to manage it. This is important. A poorly maintained blog can be a magnet for spam and malware. It’s also less likely to attract visitors.
If you created your blog through WordPress, the site will take care of updates by itself. But you still need to understand how to manage your pages, categories, tags, and media. It’s also a good idea to optimize your blog for search, promote a mailing list, and bring in visitors from social media by embedding sharing buttons. That will bring a lot more traffic and help to build your audience.
Blog pages and posts
Pages are for your static content (like your About Me page), and posts form the basis of your blog. It’s highly likely that you’ll have only a few static pages, but eventually, you’ll have written thousands of posts.
Pages and posts can both have comments, and they share the same editing and formatting controls. You can embed media in either. But posts and pages differ in a few important ways:
- You can have parent pages with a number of child pages underneath them. Posts are organized by tag or category instead.
- Posts are shown in your Archives and RSS feed, while pages are not.
- Posts contain the time and date of publication, while pages are considered evergreen.
Categories and tags
In WordPress and most other blogging platforms, you can file your posts under tags and categories. It helps to understand the difference, and when you should use each type:
- Categories let you group posts according to theme or topic. For example, a fashion blog might create one category for each season or trend. This allows readers to access posts on the same subject quickly. You can nest categories inside other categories. Some plug-ins also use categories to display different groups of blog posts in different ways.
- Tags let you describe posts using one or more keywords. This gives you much finer control over their categorization.
Should I use categories, tags, or both?
In WordPress, all blog posts must have at least one category, even if it’s just the default one, ‘Uncategorized’. The category should act like a folder for all the blogs on a topic. Tags, which are optional, let you get right down to specifics and describe the actual content, or keywords, in your post.
For example, if we write a fashion blog about tennis shoes, we can give it a category of ‘Fall 2017′ to group it with similar posts. Then, we could use specific tags relating to the content — “sneakers,” “Converse,” and “hi-tops” — to make it clear what the content of the post is.
Social media sharing
When readers find a piece of content that they like, they’ll probably want to share it with friends. Social media can therefore be an important way to boost traffic to your blog. It makes sense to encourage sharing by providing social media buttons on each blog post. Visitors can click the buttons to quickly post the link to the content on their social timelines.
Adding a social sharing plug-in on WordPress
There’s no shortage of sharing plug-ins on the WordPress plug-in repository. For the cleanest and most user-friendly result, we recommend that you use one plug-in to display all of the sharing buttons side by side. Popular choices include ShareThis, Social Icons Widget by WPZOOM, Sharebar, and Custom Share Buttons. You may have to test more than one social sharing plug-in before you find one that looks good with your theme.
Any popular platform is a target for hackers, and blogs are unfortunately no different. Malicious users are constantly trying to figure out how to hack into sites and wreak havoc. In itself, most big blogging platforms like WordPress are very secure, but you can never assume that you’re 100 percent safe. Out of date code, or a weak password, could be a gift for a hacker looking to distribute malware via your server.
Why change the WordPress administrator username?
If you’re using WordPress as your platform, when you initially installed the software, you may have been assigned the username “admin.” Hackers know that most WordPress bloggers use this username to log in. That makes it much easier for them to launch a brute force attack; they already know half of the credentials they need.
You can change your WordPress admin login with these easy steps. (If you are using a different platform, check its knowledge base for how to change the admin login.)
- In the WordPress dashboard, go to Users
- Add a new User, ensuring that you set that user’s role to Administrator
- Log out of WordPress, and log back in as the new user you just created
- Go back to the Users screen, and delete the original Administrator account
- Choose which user to attribute the old Administrator’s posts to
- Click Confirm Deletion
As a blogger, you need a way to keep in touch with readers who visit your site. Adding your email address would be an easy way to achieve this. But publishing your email online, without obfuscation, is an invitation for spammers to abuse it. That’s why you should use a contact form instead. Your visitors can fill it in without needing to see your email address, and the messages get delivered right to your inbox.
If you are using WordPress, Contact Form 7 is probably the best-known of all the available contact form plug-ins, as well as the easiest to use. Most bloggers only need one contact form on their website. You’ll need to give your form a title in the settings page, and then create the form in the editor window using HTML and the form tags described in the plug-in help pages. For many sites, the default example will be fine.
In the Mail tab, make sure that your form is set to email you the form submissions. You can safely use your real email address on this screen. Once your form is set up, embed it into a page using the instructions in the plug-in documentation. It’s a good idea to test your new contact form yourself as soon as it’s published.
Monetizing your blog
Making money off of your blog isn’t a necessary part of blogging, but it’s not a bad perk if you want to explore that option.
Learning how to monetize your blog is a topic in and of itself, but here are some basic tips on ways you can earn money from your blogging experience:
- Sell ads on your blog. This is one of the most popular ways to monetize your blog, especially since it doesn’t require a ton of work on your part beyond bringing in consistent traffic. Google AdSense is a popular choice for bloggers who want to run ads on their sites.
- Write sponsored posts. You’ve probably seen posts on other blogs that promote certain products or services. If you are able to build your audience, as well as your authority in your niche, advertisers may reach out to you to write a sponsored post in exchange for money.
- Participate in an affiliate program. Similar to sponsored posts, affiliate programs allow you to earn a commission for promoting and successfully selling products through your site for an affiliated retailer. This is a good money-making strategy for trusted blogs with a lot of traffic, although it is best practice for bloggers to notify their site visitors that they use affiliate links.
- Sell merch through your blog. If your blog attracts a loyal following, it’s likely that fans may want to buy products or services associated with your blog. Use your creative or entrepreneurial spirit to make branded merchandise that you can sell through your blog, using the plethora of ecommerce plug-ins that are available.