This is the ultimate step-by-step guide to making your first WordPress blog in 2017.
The real beauty of blogging is that anyone can do it. There are no rules, except the ones you create yourself. For many people, the only barrier is actually setting up the blog. How do you actually create your own WordPress blog? What skills do you need to maintain it?
Here’s how this guide will help you:
- You’ll learn how to create your own blog, get hosting, buy a domain, and set-up WordPress
- It’s aimed at beginners — but there are pro tips, too
- You’ll spend less than $100.
Creating your own blog saves time and money. It’s by far the cheapest way to get started. And by doing things yourself, your blog will be online faster than it would be if you paid someone else to help.
Everything you need to know is in this guide, so it’s not difficult. And you maintain complete control from day one.
There are tons of articles about starting a blog, but we’ve designed this one a little differently. We’ve tried to cover everything that the other guides miss out. This document guides you through the basics, and then teaches you how to build on those foundations.
We’ll also help you to understand:
- Why WordPress is the best choice for every blogger
- What to look for in a hosting company
- How to get your WordPress blog set up
- How to customize the way WordPress looks
- How to add extra features to WordPress
- The types of content you’ll create.
There is a learning curve involved with using WordPress, but the basics are easy to pick up with the right guide.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to create your blog from scratch in 2017.
Step 1: Setting Up Your WordPress Blog
This section teaches you everything you need to know about setting up WordPress. We’ll look at reasons why it’s the best choice. We’ll also show you what to look for in a web host, and recommend an ideal provider.
Once you have your hosting, you’ll need a domain, and then you can set up an email address, too. Finally, you can install WordPress and customize it to your liking.
Let’s get everything set up!
WordPress powers approximately 20% of the world’s websites, and it’s used for some of the largest commercial sites in the world. But despite its power, it’s very easy to learn. Bloggers love WordPress because you can create content instantly, and publish it without learning a single line of code.
Why You Should Use WordPress for Your Blog
Some blogging platforms require technical knowledge to install the right blogging tools. Others are extremely simple, offering little more than a notepad with a flashing cursor. WordPress offers a balance: something that is easy to learn, yet very extensible. If you want to stick with the basics, WordPress won’t let you down. And if your blog becomes a full-time job one day, WordPress will effortlessly grow with it.
Shared Web Hosting
Shared hosting is the cheapest way to get started when you set up a blog. 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.
Why InMotion Hosting Is Great for WordPress
InMotion Hosting offers a shared hosting plan for only a few dollars per month. This even includes WordPress pre-installed if you wish, so you don’t need to set it up yourself. It also offers a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Get a Domain Name
When you buy a shared hosting account, your website will be accessible at a URL provided by the host. This might be long, complicated, and difficult to remember. It’ll probably be difficult to type, too. Buying a domain makes it much easier for people to type in your blog’s address. It also makes your blog look more professional.
What to Remember When Choosing a Domain
Domain names need to be easy to remember, and easy to type. And they should give people a clue about the theme of your site. Try to come up with a name that includes real words that people might search for.
How to Configure Your (Free!) Domain Name With InMotion Hosting
InMotion Hosting include a domain name for free when you first buy hosting. If this isn’t set up by default, don’t worry. Getting started is really simple:
- Log into your cPanel account (check your welcome email for the details)
- Click the Addon Domains icon
- Type the domain name into the domain name field
- Leave the other settings blank, or at their default value
- Click the Add Domain button
Domains can take up to 48 hours to start working.
Setting Up Email
InMotion Hosting includes the ability to create unlimited email addresses with shared hosting accounts. Once you’ve set up your domain, you can go ahead and create your first email address:
- Log into cPanel
- Click the Email Accounts icon
- Choose a username – the part of the email before the @ symbol
- Create a password, and confirm it
- Choose a quota, or mailbox size limit, or select Unlimited
- Click the Create Account button.
You can now access your email using your regular email software, or via the webmail service provided within cPanel. Remember: your email address will not work reliably until your domain has fully propagated.
Setting Up an Email Forwarder
Sometimes you don’t need a mailbox for your email. You just want a forwarder that redirects messages to another account. InMotion Hosting lets you do this via the forwarding option in cPanel:
- Log in to cPanel
- Click the Forwarders icon
- Create a new email username, which will form the part of the email address before the @ symbol
- Type the email that you want to forward to
- Click Add Forwarder.
If you purchased an InMotion Hosting package with pre-installed WordPress, you don’t need to do anything else to start managing your blog. Check your welcome email for your WordPress login details. It’s that simple.
Setting Up WordPress Manually
If you want full control over WordPress, you can opt to install it manually. This sounds complicated, but it only takes 5-10 minutes:
- Log into cPanel.
- Under MySQL databases, create a database. Write the name down, including the prefix provided; you’ll need it later.
- Create a new database username and password on the same screen. Write these details down as well, including the username prefix provided.
- Add the user to the database. Give the user ALL PERMISSIONS when prompted.
- Open your FTP client and log in to your hosting account.
- Download the latest WordPress release from WordPress.org.
- Unzip WordPress and upload it to your public_html folder (or a subdirectory, if you prefer).
- Navigate to yourdomain.com and follow the installation instructions. Leave the hostname as localhost when prompted.
That’s it. WordPress will set itself up in the directory that you chose in step 7. You can log in using your new WordPress login details and start setting up your blog.
Setting Up WordPress Semi-Automatically
InMotion Hosting lets you quickly set up WordPress using a one-click installer. You don’t get to choose the database details, but for most bloggers, this isn’t an issue.
Here’s how it’s done:
- Log in to cPanel
- Click the Softaculous icon
- Locate WordPress within the Softaculous interface
- Click the Install button and customize any settings that you want to change. In most cases, the defaults will be fine
- Click the Install button at the bottom of the form.
We recommend that you choose to have the details of your new site emailed to you, so you can refer back to them later.
The WordPress dashboard is where everything happens. In fact, once you get your website set-up, you might come to think of the dashboard as the control center of your entire site. And that’s not far from the truth.
Logging Into WordPress
When you set up WordPress, you’ll receive an email containing a login link and your username. If you don’t know your password, click the link and click Forgot Password to set a new one.
It’s a good idea to bookmark your WordPress login link so you can quickly gain access later.
The WordPress dashboard includes all of the settings you’ll need to manage and customize your blog. (Remember: your hosting settings – like your email addresses and domains — are in your cPanel control panel, which is separate.)
The static content of your site (like your About and Contact pages) will be created on the Pages screen. And your blog posts will be created in the Posts screen.
Changing You Blog Title and Comment Settings
On the left-hand side, click Settings, then General, and take a look at the site name and title. You’ll probably want to change these to suit your site.
Under Discussion, you can choose how comments will be handled. You can also switch comments off if you don’t want to invite discussion from visitors.
Manage Images in WordPress
The Media Gallery in your dashboard is the area where your images, video, and documents are stored. You can upload images here and embed them in posts or pages later.
Alternatively, simply upload your content as you write your posts. The media that you upload will be automatically inserted into the Media Gallery.
Changing the WordPress Permalink Structure
In Settings, under Permalinks, we recommend that you choose the Post Name setting. It helps search engines — and humans — to understand the contents of your Pages and Posts, and makes it easy to tell which page you are viewing or editing.
Go ahead and select it now. If you prefer, you can choose another Permalink setting, but avoid using the default (Plain).
Why the Default Permalink Settings Are Bad for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Permalink settings determine how the URLs look on your site, but they also provide clues to search engines as to the topics and keywords that you write about. So a URL that contains words is better than one that is made up from random numbers.
The default setting (Plain) should never be used for a blog because it prevents your site from being indexed in an optimal way. This can impact your search engine rankings.
That’s all there is to it. You now have a blog. You just need to make it your own.
Step 2: Customize Your WordPress Blog
When you first install WordPress, it has a default layout and a few pieces of template content. Customization is the fun part; it lets you create something that’s truly yours.
In this section, you’ll learn how to begin the customization process, using the basic WordPress layout as a foundation. That means you’ll choose a new theme and install the plugins you need.
All of this is done from your WordPress dashboard.
Free vs Premium Themes
Free WordPress themes are ideal when you want to get your blog started quickly. All free themes contain all of the basic components you’ll need to build a blog. Don’t worry about advanced features, frameworks, or customization options. 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 example, you may find it difficult to customize the colors, fonts, or layout. You could choose to pay for a Premium theme, since these tend to offer more flexibility. Premium themes usually include support direct from the theme developer, which can be helpful when you’re trying to resolve issues with the layout or appearance of your site.
It isn’t a good idea to go right ahead and purchase a Premium theme on day one, unless you’ve fallen in love with a theme, and you can’t imagine your blog without it. If you start off with a free theme, you’ll have some time to get used to WordPress and figure out what you need from a paid theme in the future.
Choosing the Right Theme
Choosing a WordPress theme is a matter of taste. There are thousands of free and premium themes available for different types of sites. When you start a blog, you have complete freedom to use any theme you like the look of. Take a look at some of the most popular themes and install a few in your WordPress dashboard, then switch between them to see how they work. Bear these tips in mind:
- 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.
Don’t worry too much about the theme at this stage. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The important thing is to start blogging and developing your audience. Providing your blog looks attractive and is legible, a basic theme will be perfectly fine.
WordPress provides all of the tools you need to start a blog. If you want to extend its functionality beyond the basics, plugins allow you to add new features. For example, you might want to automatically publish new blog posts to your Twitter account. You can download and install a plugin to have WordPress do this for you.
How to Choose WordPress Plugins
The WordPress plugin repository contains thousands of free plugins. You can access it directly from the Plugins menu in your WordPress dashboard. Search for the function that you need, and review the results carefully. It’s wise to skip over plugins that have poor reviews, or ones that aren’t maintained any more. You can also obtain plugins from third party marketplaces, or buy premium plugins direct from the developers.
The golden rule with WordPress plugins is to have as few as possible. Don’t install lots of plugins right now. Only add a plugin when you have a specific need, and periodically review your plugins and remove any that you aren’t using. Extra plugins can slow down your site.
Popular Plugins for Bloggers
If you’re ready to add some plugins to your website, here are a few we’d recommend:
- Maintenance Mode. Use this plugin 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 plugin 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. 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.
Making WordPress Your Own
You will need to tinker with your selected theme and plugins to get everything looking and working the way you want. But you’ll probably find this fun. And if you run into problems, most themes and plugins have forums and other support mechanisms. One great thing about WordPress’ popularity is that it isn’t hard to find people who can help you.
Adding Navigation and Menus
Every website has a list of navigation links that allow you to explore the main site content. You’ll usually find these links running horizontally across the top of the page, or in a list running down one side. Some sites also have navigation links in the footer, which is the area at the bottom of the page, below the main content area.
A Quick Guide to WordPress Menus
This system allows you to reuse the same menu in different places. It’s also much quicker than coding every menu by hand.
How to Create Custom Menus
Building navigation menus is really easy. It’s all done in a drag-and-drop interface. In your WordPress dashboard, head to Appearance, then Menus. To define a new menu:
- Click Create a New Menu
- Enter a name for your menu
- Click the Create Menu button.
In the Pages pane, add existing pages to your menu by checking the box and clicking the Add to Menu button. Use the sections below to add Posts, Custom Links, or Category links to your menu.
Installing Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free website statistics plugin provided by Google. It’s sensible to add it to your blog as soon as it’s created so that you start collecting visitor data right away.
Why You Need Google Analytics
Google Analytics lets you spot traffic trends, such as the number of visitors reading your blog each day. You can also see where those visitors are located, which sites are referring them, and how long they spend browsing your site. There are many advanced functions in Google Analytics, so you can expand your knowledge as your site grows, and learn how to measure trends in your blog’s traffic.
How to Add Google Analytics to WordPress
When you set up your site in Google Analytics, you’ll be provided with a code snippet. You can edit your theme by heading to Appearance -> Editor in the WordPress dashboard. You can paste the code snippet into the footer.php file.
If you aren’t comfortable editing your theme to add the code snippet, you can use a plugin instead. Just head to the Plugins -> Add New page in your dashboard, then search for Google Analytics.
Adding a Contact Form
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.
Why We Recommend Contact Form 7
There are many different contact form plugins for WordPress. Contact Form 7 is probably the best-known, and the easiest to use. Install it from the Plugins menu within your WordPress dashboard.
Most bloggers only need one contact form on their website. You’ll need to give your form a title in the Contact Form 7 settings page, and then create the form in the editor window using HTML and the form tags described in the plugin 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 plugin documentation. It’s a good idea to test your new contact form yourself as soon as it’s published.
In WordPress, widgets are small self-contained modules that you can place in the sidebar or footer. You can use multiple widgets like building blocks to combine different snippets of content, like social media updates, links, and terms of service.
For example, you could add a widget to your sidebar showing your most recent posts, and it would automatically update each time you add something new. Below that, you could drag and drop a widget containing a calendar of your content. And then a widget that displays your social media links could go next.
How to use widgets
WordPress has a selection of default widgets that are built in when you first install it. You may find that you have additional widgets from your theme developer, or from plugins that you’ve installed. You can see all of your widgets at Appearance -> Widgets in the WordPress dashboard.
On the right-hand side of the screen, click the arrow next to the area of the page that you want to add widgets to. For example, the footer of the page. Drag a widget from the left hand side into the right-hand side pane that you just opened. When the widget settings open, you can customize it.
Once you’re satisfied with the settings, review the widget on your site to ensure it displays as you intended. You can now go back to your dashboard and drag additional widgets above or below it.
Blocking Comment Spam
Comment spam is an annoying problem for WordPress users. Along with genuine comments on your posts and pages, you’ll certainly receive your fair share of fakes. These comments are designed to spread links to dubious websites, and they are usually created by scripts rather than humans. Spam is bad news for your blog, because Google will pick up the bad links and assume you are promoting harmful or deceptive sites.
You can turn comments off to prevent comment spam, but it’s better to add a plugin to help manage it.
How to Stop Spam Comments on WordPress
If you only ever install one WordPress plugin, it should be a spam detection plugin. Akismet is the best-known of them all. Just activate Akismet, grab an API key, and the service will start to filter known spammers into the Junk comments folder.
All of the valuable content you create can be lost in a few seconds if something goes wrong with your blog. Even the most highly experienced WordPress users sometimes hit the wrong button by mistake. There’s also a risk — albeit a small one — that your hosting company will have issues and lose your entire blog and its contents. It can happen to anyone at any time. And when you consider the amount of time you’ll spend writing and managing your blog, it makes sense to have a backup plan in place.
How to Back Up WordPress
Some hosts will back up your site for you. If you rely on this, check the fine print. Often, these backups are only for disaster recovery by the host. You may not be able to access the backups if you accidentally corrupt your database. And even if you can, your host may charge huge admin fees for the privilege.
It’s far better to set up and control your own backups, and this is easy to do with a WordPress plugn. We love VaultPress because it includes site security features. Also, look at UpdraftPlus, which is free.
Great! That’s all there is to it. Your blog is starting to look more like home.
Step 3: Manage Your WordPress Blog
Now that you have a blog, you need to learn how to manage it. This is important. A poorly maintained WordPress site can be a magnet for spam and malware.
Fortunately, WordPress takes care of updates by itself. So your site will stay secure. But you still need to understand how to manage your pages, categories, tags, and media.
It’s also a good idea to optimize your website 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.
Pages and Posts
WordPress Pages and Posts are very similar. 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.
Creating a Post or Page
If you’ve just installed WordPress, you probably have some sample content showing on your blog, including an example Page. Try creating a new Page in the Pages menu within the WordPress dashboard, then Publish it. Edit the Page and play around with the formatting controls to get a feel for what you can do.
By default, you will probably also have a sample Post on your blog. Try publishing a new Post and removing the sample to see how WordPress publishes content in reverse chronological order.
Categories and Tags
In WordPress, 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 plugins 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?
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.
Images and Videos
WordPress’ Media Gallery is a helpful storage vault for all of the images and videos that you upload. You can use the Media Gallery to sort and tag images for easy retrieval. And once an image is in the Media Gallery, you can reuse it over and over again.
You’ll probably find it easiest to insert your media file as you write the content of your Post or Page. Click the picture frame icon in the toolbar, and select an object that’s already in the Media Gallery, or upload a new image or video from your computer. WordPress allows you to customize the dimensions, perform basic image edits, and set the alt description, title, and caption.
Editing Images in WordPress
The WordPress image editor is a simple way to crop, flip, and rotate images after you upload them to your server. In the Media Gallery, click on the item that you want to edit, then click the Edit Image button. Remember to Save your changes. If you don’t like the result, you can switch back to the original by clicking the Restore Original Images link.
WordPress Search Engine Optimization
It’s important to optimize all of your content so that search engines have a better chance of indexing it accurately. Out of the box, WordPress is not set up well for good SEO. But if you’re already switched your Permalinks to a setting other than the default (as described in section one of this guide), you’ve made an important first step.
Improving SEO with Yoast
Yoast is one of the best-known SEO plugins for WordPress. The free version gives you a host of extra tools, including:
- A sitemap generator to help search engines like Google locate all of your content
- Simple customization of Page and Post titles and meta descriptions
- Keyword analysis and optimization tips for every piece of content
- Duplicate content protection
- A preview of your Google search listing.
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 a huge boost to organic traffic. 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 Plugin on WordPress
There’s no shortage of sharing plugins on the WordPress plugin repository. For the cleanest and most user-friendly result, we recommend that you use one plugin to display all of the sharing buttons side by side. Popular choices include ShareThis, Social Icons Widget by WPZOOM, Sharebar, and Custom Share Buttons.
Tip: You may have to test more than one social sharing plugin before you find one that looks good with your theme.
Any popular platform is a target for hackers, and WordPress is unfortunately no different. Malicious users are constantly trying to figure out how to hack into sites and wreak havoc. In itself, the software is very secure, but you can never assume that you’re 100% 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?
When you initially installed WordPress, 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.
Changing the WordPress admin is an easy way to make hacking much more difficult. Back up your database, then follow these steps:
- 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.
Great news! You’ve done everything that you need to launch your new blog. Go ahead and post your domain on social media, and start creating content today!
If you’ve made it this far, you should have a functioning, customized, and secure WordPress blog. All you have to do now is write the content.
Getting started takes time and effort, but it’s worth getting the right hosting in place, and taking time to make your blog look good from the start.
Getting traffic from social media and a newsletter will also help you to build a loyal audience. If you ever decide to monetize your blog, that will be a key factor in your success.