Nearly all of my blog posts are about coffee, obviously ;-). This one is on a slightly different topic, it’s a quick and simple guide on how to start a blog, for anyone who has thought about starting blogging themselves. As always, I’m drinking coffee while I’m blogging, and the post is about blogging, so I suppose it’s not that much of a digression from my usual posts, if you think about it ;-).
If you want to know how to start a blog, and whether you might like blogging, and how you can earn money as a blogger – and what you should blog about, and lots more – then keep reading, as this post is for you.
I’m specifically calling this a quick and simple guide to starting a blog, because I think it’s really important that the getting started part of blogging is as quick and easy as possible, so it doesn’t get in the way. What can happen is that would be bloggers get so caught up in the setup that they never even get started blogging, and it really doesn’t need to be difficult if you follow a simple guide like this. So here we go:
Step 1: The Subject/Niche. Decide What to Blog About
I’m starting with the subject of the blog because I believe it’s the most important decision to make when you’re beginning blogging. If you already know what you’re going to blog about, then you can skip to step 2, but if you’re not certain, I hope this helps.
Many would-be bloggers think that the most important question is how will they make money with their blog, but this isn’t a valid question when you start blogging. The only valid questions, really, are what are you interested in, passionate about, and knowledgeable about. I think the first two are the most important because knowledge is something you can easily increase over time, but you can’t create interest or passion for a subject where there just isn’t any.
If you make the decision on what to blog about based on earning potential rather than based on what you’re passionate about, you’ll more than likely never get anywhere close to the point that you may start actually earning money from your blog.
I have made the mistake in the past of focusing on potential earnings by trying to blog about a subject I know something about but that I’m not really that interested in. Internet marketing for instance, I have some knowledge, I’ve worked in this field for years, but I’m not particularly passionate about it, its a bit of a labour to write about. So when I created a blog about internet marketing, I just didn’t stick with it, I got bored. I didn’t learn my lesson either, I created three blogs about this subject over the years, and gave up on all three of them! There are people who make great money from internet marketing blogs, but these are people, I think, who’re genuinely passionate about internet marketing – I know something about it, I can do it, but that doesn’t mean I’m passionate about it.
The same thing happened when I tried to create a blog about losing weight – I did lose a few stone, it’s something I know about in that I know what has worked for me, but it’s not a subject which I’m all that interested in or passionate about, I wrote a few initial posts and then got bored, I didn’t stick with it.
Making exta money was another subject I saw as a potential money-making subject, as I’ve had so many small sideline businesses over the years that I’ve made extra money with that I thought I could share – but again, I didn’t stick with it because I found it boring, I wrote a few posts and then the blog stagnated, and like the others I just gave up on it and let the domain expire.
How do you know if you’re interested and passionate about something enough to blog about it? Is the subject something that you talk about to people, even to people who might not be particularly interested in? ;-). Are you active in forums and blogs about this subject? Can you imagine yourself being motivated to write about this subject not just today, not just next week, but months or years down the line? If you ask yourself these questions, this should help you to identify what niche you should be blogging about.
So – Decide on your subject, and then:
Step 2: Decide on Your Blog Name & Domain Name
This is a really important step – it should be memorable, and it should relate to your niche in some way (which will help to ensure it’s memorable). You can go for an obvious name or a more abstract one, but if you’re going the abstract route I’d recommend that you still try to ensure that your choice of name does relate to your niche in some way.
I blog about coffee, and my blog is called coffee blog, so you can’t get much more obvious than that ;-). Some blogs have less obvious and more brandable names, take Sprudge.com for example, probably the most successful coffee blog in the world. The name does relate to coffee, it’s a term used to describe the crud that ends up all over a baristas clothes at the end of a long day of making coffee – but it’s not a word that the majority of readers would have known or would have been searching for.
Another example along these lines is Kerrang, the rock music magazine, again this term does relate to the topic, but in a more abstract way, as it’s supposed to be the sound that an electric guitar makes. I think going for an obvious blog name and domain which contains important keywords, is of some benefit in the short term when it comes to search engine rankings, but picking a great brandable unique blog name is probably better for branding in the longterm, so it’s probably as broad as it is long in the end.
Keywords in the domain does make a difference, by the way, regardless of what many of the experts will say, but I don’t believe it makes a huge difference. I think it makes a slight difference to click through rate from the Google search engine results, and I think it gives some advantage to fairly new blogs, for lower competition search terms and long tail terms. If it were me, I’d go for the best more obvious name that I can come up with, unless I had a really good sounding brandable more abstract blog name in mind. I couldn’t really come up with anything along the lines of sprudge, and my first choice for the more obvious name was coffee blog, and coffeeblog.co.uk just happened to be available, which surprised me!
Step 3: Get a Hosting Account
You may have heard that you can host your website for free on wordpress rather than having your own hosted blog, and there are other platforms also which allow you to create a free blog, but I’d highly recommend that you get a hosted blog rather than a free one. Free websites without hosting costs come with restrictions, especially when it comes to earnings, and some also involve running ads on your blog that you won’t benefit from, so I wouldn’t bother with a free website if I were you, for the sake of saving a relatively small amount of money.
I mainly use HostGator, I’ve been a HostGator customer for several years, I’ve had dozens of websites hosted with HostGator, and coffeeblog was hosted on HostGator too until very recently. I think HG is perfect for new bloggers who need cost-effective but quality hosting. I still have other websites hosted with them, the only reason I moved coffeeblog is that the traffic levels got to the point that it would make sense to move to a more premium hosting service.
The more inexpensive hosts are great for newer blogs, but once you have a blog which is achieving a lot of traffic and is earning you money, you may at a later date decide to invest some money in a host with some more premium features. For example there was an issue on coffeeblog a couple of weeks ago, which was nothing to do with the hosts, but I phoned them, and they rolled back the database for me while I was on the phone, to just before the issue, thus fixing the problem – having this level of service comes with managed or dedicated hosting, but it’s not cheap, and you don’t really need this when you’re just getting started, so in the meantime I’d recommend HostGator.
I’ve used other hosts within a similar price range, such a 1and1, Godaddy & Namecheap hosting, and without a doubt, Hostgator are the best inexpensive web host from my experience. Some of the others in this price range are kind of OK, there is one in particular which I despise with a passion, almost enough that I could create a blog just about how much I do NOT recommend that particular web host, but I’m not going to say who – as I don’t fancy being sued ;-).
Setting up with Hostgator is a doddle. Just choose a package, either Hatchling, Baby or Business. If you’re not planning any other websites or blogs then I’d go for the hatchling plan, as they all come with unlimited file space and bandwidth, which is the most important thing. If you’re thinking of adding other blogs or website, then the baby plan is a couple of quid per month more, but it gives you the ability to use your hosting account to host as many websites as you like. If you’re unsure just go for the cheapest one, Hatchling – you can always upgrade in the future.
You’ll be offered some upsells, domain privacy is worth thinking about, but you don’t need any of the others, just skip any of the many things they’ll offer, choose your domain name, and check out.
A quick note about these add-ons, there are free plugins which can provide you with good enough protection, and backing up – and you can set up a free email account within your hostgator account anyway so you don’t need a pro Google email address right now. Sometime down the line if you’re using your @yourblogname.com email address and you decide that you want to invest a bit of money in this rather than to use a free service, then the Google email is probably the best there is, in my opinion, when it comes to security, simplicity, and being able to block spam. But when you’re just setting out with your blog, you don’t need any of this for now.
When it comes to choosing your domain, all you do is enter the domain in the box where it says, Enter your domain ;-).
If you already have a domain you want to use, just select “I already own this domain” and enter the domain into the box.
Step 4: Install WordPress
One of the things I like about Hostgator, is that you can use a tool called Quickinstall, to really quickly set up wordpress. The actual installation takes hardly any time at all, all you do is log in to your Hostgator control panel, scroll down to ‘software’, select ‘Quickinstall’, then select ‘WordPress’.
Then select your domain from the drop-down list. If you only have one domain in your Hostgator account then of course there will only be one domain to select.
You’ll see some more upsells on this page, offering to “Let a pro do it for you.” Personally, if you’re going to pay someone to set up your blog I wouldn’t do it via Hostgator. I like Hostgator as a host, but invariably what all bigger firms will do once they have you at the transaction stage, is to try to tag on whatever additional sales they can regardless of whether you really need it or whether they’re really the right provider for you. These offers to “do it for you”, are offering to do some things which you can very easily do yourself by reading a simple guide like this one, and to pay to get someone to do this for you, really doesn’t make much sense.
If you want someone to set up your blog for you, then I’d recommend finding a blogger or web developer who will do a lot more than just these simple setup steps, so that you’re getting some real value for your money. For instance if you can find a blogger who knows what they’re doing, who will offer to set you up a blog, literally have it all designed exactly how you want it, and who will even help you to create your first few posts, and who will assist you and give you some support as you’re getting started, then that’s something entirely different.
I sometimes do this, by the way – it just depends how busy I am or what I’ve got going on at the time I’m asked. If you’re interested in me helping you to get started with your blog just drop me an email, if I’m available to help at the time, I’ll let you know how I can help and what it will cost you.
Anyway, going back to setting your blog up yourself:
After clicking next, you will see this:
Just type in your blog title (don’t worry you can change this at any time, I’ll tell you how shortly), create the admin user (don’t call this ‘admin’, use a more abstract admin username, something you can remember but something that hackers won’t guess), enter your name and email address, tick the box to automatically create a database for this installation (it will probably be ticked already), tick the box to accept the terms and conditions, and click ‘install’. It will let you know what your password is, and you can (and should) change this to something secure which you will be able to remember.
By the way, I recommend leaving the ‘directory’ blank, which means you’re just installing the blog straight onto the root domain, for example when I did this with coffee blog, I could have installed the blog into a directory such as /blog or /coffeeblog. If you were putting a static website or e-commerce website or something on the main domain, then you might want to put your blog into a /blog directory, but otherwise just leave this blank and put the blog directly into the root domain.
Step 5: Pick a Theme
Many new bloggers I think spend too much time on this step – and I certainly have done in the past. The fact is, the design doesn’t matter all that much to begin with, colours don’t matter a great deal, the layout doesn’t matter all that much – the single most important thing is the content of your blog posts. You can try different themes in the future, you can look at installing premium themes further down the line when you’re seeing some money coming in from your blogging, in the meantime, I would advise spending as little time as possible caught up with the design and the theme.
Just scroll down to “appearance” on the left-hand side of the admin panel, and go to “themes”, then click “add new” and you’ll see lots of available themes as you can see in the image above. There are lots, you can scroll through them, and you can search for specific themes based on topics if you like. The great thing is, it’s super easy to change themes, so I’d advise just picking one that you’re happy enough with the look of for now, and just move on. Unless you start creating blog posts, there’ll be no one on your blog anyway, so I’d advise that you just get to the blogging stage as quickly as physically possible, and get back to the design later.
Step 6: Tweak the Widget Areas
Themes have sidebars and footer areas where you can display things such as custom text boxes, latest posts, categories, contact info, contact forms and so on. When you first start blogging you’ll probably find that you have categories and so on, in the sidebar, which look strange when you start out as there will be nothing in them. So if you’re just starting out, and you have no posts to put into any categories, then having a category list in your side bar, for instance, doesn’t make sense. It’s up to you, but I would recommend that you remove everything from your widget areas when you start off – except anything you want to specifically display. For instance if you’re using Aweber or Mailchimp to build a mailing list, then you could put a mailing list sign up form in the sidebar (just refer to your mailing list provider for info on how to do that), but you’ll probably want to remove everything else that is in the widget area by default. You can always add them back later.
Just click on “Appearance” in the left-hand side of the admin panel, then select “Widgets” and just click and drag the items such as “categories” & “metas”, out of the widget areas. You can always drag them back in future to add them. For example, once you have a list of categories, you might want to drag the categories widget back into your sidebar.
Step 7: Set the Blog Name and Title
You may have done this when you were setting up via quick install, or you might not have, or you might have put something in there at the time and have re-thought it now you can see what it looks like on the blog. So just scroll down to “settings” on the left hand side, click on “general settings”, And set your Site Title and your Tagline. This is how it looks for coffee blog:
Step 8: Create your First Post
The first post by default will have the title “Hello World” – you’ll want to get rid of this. Just go to “all posts” at the top of the left hand side bar in the control panel, hover your mouse on the “hello world” post – and click “trash”. Then, replace this with your first post. Just write whatever you feel inspired to write. It doesn’t matter if your first post is an intro to your blog, telling your readers a bit about you and why you started the blog, or a product review, or a news story – it really doesn’t matter, the important thing is just to get your first post published. My first ever blog post on coffee blog was this review of a stainless steel cafetiere.
Step 9: Add some plugins
OK so you have a blog, and you’ve created a blog post – you’re now officially a blogger, congratulations :-). Now let’s install a few free plugins.
Plugins, in my humble opinion, are one of the best things about wordpress. No matter what you want to do, there’s usually a plugin for that – and it’s usually free. There are some premium plugins, but even these are usually fairly inexpensive.
These plugins I’m about to reccomend, are free, and they’ll make your blog more secure, and more powerful.
Yoast: An SEO (Search engine optimisation) plugin, that will give you advice on your on-page SEO as you’re creating your blog posts. You enter a “focus keyword” into the box at the bottom of the post, and you’ll get an analysis list at the very bottom of the post, with items that are in green, orange or red. Green means good, orange means could be improved, red means it needs changing. I wouldn’t advise trying to get all of these points to turn green, as you can end up over optimising your posts and making them look spammy – I’d just try to have more green and red than orange, and in general I just use Yoast to remind me when I’ve forgotten to do important things like adding images and defining a meta description.
Jetpack: This is a plug in from WordPress.com which gives you all kinds of great tools. I use the wordpress jetpack stats, to keep a general idea of the traffic coming to the blog on a daily, monthly and weekly basis, where the traffic is coming from, and what links are being clicked. I do use Google Analytics also, for more in depth stats reporting when needed, but in general when I just want to know roughly how much traffic I’m getting and basic activity, I find the Jetpack stats to be great. Jetpack provides various security features too, including free Brute force attack protection, downtime monitoring, secure logins & more. There’s also the option to upgrade your Jetpack subscription to give you some additional features such as auto backups and instant restore if required, and various other bits. I use Jetpack a lot so I decided to upgrade to the paid version farily recently, but I used it free for a couple of years.
Pretty Link: This is a great plugin for creating nicer looking shorter links. For instance, let’s say you’re an affiliate of a certain company, and you have an affiliate link with numbers and other characters – instead of linking to the full address each time, you can just create the pretty link /whatever, and when ever you want to link to that website, you can just link to /whatever, and this will re-direct to your link. I find pretty link handy, both for creating links and also for keeping track of what links are getting clicked.
Revive Old Post: If you’re using social media profiles such as Twitter, Facebook etc., which you certainly should be doing as a blogger, this post is very helpful for re-posting your older posts automatically. You can alter the settings, and there’s a paid version which gives you more settings, but I find the free version really helpful for keeping my older posts alive on social media, and helping to improve traffic to the blog from Facebook and Twitter.
iThemes Security: This is a plugin which will help to keep your blog secure. It will make your login /secure instead of /wp-admin, and it will give you some added security. Just make sure you go into the settings and whitelist your own IP address, so it doesn’t lock you out if you enter your password wrong a few times ;-), as this is one of the features.
W3 Total Cache: This is a caching plugin, which works to increase the speed that your pages open. This can help you to achieve a better Google page loading speed, which is a Google ranking factor, and faster loading pages are much more user friendly for your readers, and can help to increase number of pages per visit, and to improve other metrics, so it’s well worth doing. Just keep an eye on the icon at the top of the admin panel, sometimes it will flash up red and prompt you to delete the cache, just do that and it will then turn green.
There are loads of other plugins I could talk about, but you’re best just getting started and just look for more plugins whenever you need to do something that a plugin may be able to help you with. I wouldn’t recommend installing plugins for the sake of it, as the more plugins you have the more chance there is that one might cause a problem which will lead you to have to go through disabling all the plugins one by one to find out which is causing the issue, so I’d only install a plugin that you think is particularly useful, and if it turns out not to be, remove it.
Step 10: Carry on Blogging!
That’s it, just keep creating the blog posts! Don’t worry about how you’re doing, how good they are, what structure to follow and so on, just know that you’re going to get better and better at blogging as you continue, as with anything else. I look back at some of my earlier blog posts and cringe, as I think I’ve become a lot better at writing posts since I started and in another couple of years I’ll probably look back at the posts I’m creating now, and cringe once again ;-), as no doubt I’ll have improved a lot more by then, as we tend to get better and better at whatever we continually do.
The Top Three Blogging Pitfalls to Avoid
Now you’ve read the simple quick guide to starting your blog, I just want to share with you the top three pitfalls that I have fallen into previously, and that I’ve nearly fallen into with coffeeblog, so you can purposely avoid them:
The number one cause of failure with blogging, and with anything else, is giving up. If you give up, you can’t possibly succeed, and the cause of giving up is allowing yourself to fall into a state of apathy.
No matter how into your subject you are, the initial enthusiasm you feel when you’re starting blogging will be very likely to subside fairly shortly, and if you don’t pay attention to this and work on it, you’ll probably develop apathy towards blogging, meaning that you’ll lose enthusiasm and interest.
Developing some apathy towards anything new is completely normal, it’s not yet part of your everyday routine, so once the initial enthusiasm subsides slightly, it does take a bit of discipline to keep up with your blogging until it becomes routine – especially since beginning blogging does feel a bit like talking to yourself to begin with when you will have very little engagement from readers.
The best way to avoid this, is to get yourself into a routine. Set yourself certain times for blogging, put them in your diary so that this time is marked off for blogging. Even if the only time you have is a few hours one or two evenings per week and half a day on a Saturday, whatever time you have, it can work if you stick to it and consistently set this time aside to blogging. If you establish a routine and stick to it, that’s half the battle won in terms of getting your subconscious to buy into this new idea that you’re a blogger and this is what you do.
2: Bloggers Block
I don’t really think general ‘writer’s block’ exists, I think it’s just a more trendy way of describing general apathy. Bloggers block though is just running out of ideas to blog about. We don’t want every blog post to be a carbon copy of the last, so one thing you may find as you get into blogging is that you find yourself blocked in terms of what to create your next blog post about.
I have had this many times with coffeeblog, because generally, I get ideas for blog posts when I’m not blogging, but then when I’m sat down ready to write, I sometimes find the ideas lacking. So what I do to combat this, is I have a notepad app on my phone, and whenever an idea pops into my head about a potential blog post, I jot it down, then when I’m struggling for ideas I just go through the list of ideas and pick something that inspires me.
Another thing I do when I have bloggers block, is to review a product. There are always new products coming onto the market, so if I’m about to start blogging and I don’t have a specific blog post in mind, I’ll review a product. If I don’t have the product at the time to do a proper review, I’ll just write a post about the product, and about what I think about based on the other reviews I’ve read, and I mention in that post that I will review it myself – and then a bit later down the line when I do have the opportunity to review it (sometimes the product will be sent to me free as a result of the post, sometimes I’ll just have to buy it) I’ll write the review and link to it from this post.
It really helps to keep yourself up to speed with whatever is going on in your niche. Set up Google email alerts on your subject so you get any new related news stories, google the subject often and keep active on the relevant forums and other blogs. Keep up to date with all of the most prominent and prolific writers in the field, and you’ll probably find that you have lots of ideas for blog posts.
3: Writing Generically
A few years back (actually come to think of it, it was 2005, wow I feel old now!) I had a new business, of which email marketing was my main marketing method. I was building an email list and regularly emailing the list about new products my business was offering. I had a few thousand on the list, and it was a very specific niche list, these were all small businesses who regularly used the products I was supplying, so there was definitely potential, but I wasn’t having much success with these emails.
I decided to go on a copywriting course to find out what I was doing wrong, it was a three day course in London, and it wasn’t cheap – but I got back to the office the first day after completing this ‘copywriting masterclass’ course and started putting into practice what I’d learned, and it completely turned the business around.
One email that I sent a few days later resulted in over £10,000 in sales – and this new writing method pushed the business from doing a few grand a month to sales of 30k and upwards. This business ultimately failed a few years later, by the way, and it taught me that selling isn’t everything, I had a heck of a lot to learn in business, for example, you actually have to make this thing called profit ;-), but anyway, you live and learn.
So what did I learn that turned my writing around? Was it some hugely technical strategy for successful writing? Nope – it was simply that I needed to avoid the tendency to remove my personality from the page, and not to allow myself to write generically, and instead to allow my personality to come through when I’m writing.
When you’re writing an email to a friend, you will naturally be yourself – as your friend knows you – but if you’re writing something to a group of people who you’ve never met, there is a tendency to write in a different way, a more generic, more corporate writing style which removes your personality from the page. This kind of writing is like corporate blurb, your readers aren’t going to connect with it. It’s similar to what I learned when I was training to be a sales rep, ‘people buy people’. A customer isn’t going to buy your product or service because you have gone through a list of features and benefits, but first, because they have bought into you, if they haven’t – you can robotically go through all of the amazing benefits of your product, your potential customer won’t be buying. This is the same when you’re blogging, if the reader can’t connect with you, they’ll find it labourious reading your content, and they probably won’t stick around.
So try to imagine when you’re writing your blog posts, that you’re writing it to your friends and family, not to a faceless crowd, and try to inject your personality onto the page.
How Long Will it Take to Become a Successful Blogger?
Well, this depends on how you define success. It’s worthwhile asking yourself what it is that you want from your new blog, and what needs to happen for you to consider that you’re succeeding and if this feels like a huge challenge, then you may want to work on redefining what it means for you to be successful with your blog. I recommend that whatever you use to define success (traffic or income for instance), that you do this based on improvement from one period to the next, rather than based on a set figure.
If your idea currently of a successful blogger is someone who’s blog posts get thousands of views or someone who makes a great full-time income from blogging, then your definition of success is a long way off for someone who’s just at the point of figuring out how to start a blog and what to blog about. With the achievement of such a lofty goal being your definition of success, that state of apathy is likely to be drawing you in stronger, and there will be an increased chance that you’ll give up, as many would be successful bloggers do. It’s hard to keep on keeping on when you feel unsuccessful, as this isn’t a state from which most people are easily motivated.
I think the main reason that I kept on keeping on for the past couple of years is that I felt successful based on growing my readership from one month to the next. I didn’t start off with the idea that until I had tens of thousands of monthly readers (as I do now) I wouldn’t be successful, I just started off with the goal of increasing unique visits and page views on a monthly basis.
November 2015 was when I started coffee blog, and the traffic for Jan 2016 was just slightly under the first month, which was quite tough actually, felt like I was getting nowhere – but I reminded myself that it was very much early days, and also some searches are more seasonal than others, and that one month to the next isn’t exactly the same, and I carried on.
Feb was up 10% on Jan, so that felt great – but then March dipped to just under November, which was my very first month, so that was a bit of a blow, but I knew that I could improve things by just continuing and creating more blog posts, so I persevered. March was up 88% on Feb and was my biggest month so far – April was 30% up on March, and it just kept increasing month on month, and I felt successful due to the fact that my readership was increasing constantly, and this is what kept me going. 2017 was up 259% overall on 2016, so again, given that I feel successful based on improvement, you can imagine how I felt at the end of 2017 :-).
I didn’t even consider money in the equation when I was starting out, I knew from previous experience that if I focussed on profit I just wouldn’t get anywhere, and I just put money to the back of my mind, other than the general idea that if the blog became popular, and if people were liking what I was writing, then at some point, some way or another I’d end up finding a way to make an income from it so that I could spend more time blogging.
So Now What?
Just get started. Don’t waste time, the best time to get started is right now, while you’re feeling enthusiastic. Decide on your blog name, jump on to HostGator, get your hosting setup, choose your domain name, install WordPress, set it up, create your first blog, install some important plugins, and then carry on blogging.
Good luck 🙂