These are the types of questions I ask about every project I’m about to start.
Then what usually happens is I get freaked out by this huge mountain of stuff I need to do and think maybe (just maybe!) I didn’t need to know every single thing right from the beginning. Maybe all I needed to do was take the first few steps.
Starting a blog is kind of like that. It’s easy to feel intimidated at first but really the mountain is not as big or as steep as you think. You only need a handful of things and you can set it all up pretty quickly.
Here’s a short list I put together to help you start a blog with WordPress.
1) Pick a Niche
Narrowing down my blog topic really tripped me up for a while. I have tons of ideas, which one should I go with? I feel so scattered!?!! Can I use one blog for all of them? How do I know if my topic is too broad?
What finally helped me, and I hope it helps you too, is this short exercise:
- List 5 things you love doing (these can be anything at all, even running or something simple like making people smile)
- List 5 things you’re really good at (these can be your skills or things that come naturally to you – if you get stuck here, think of the things you receive compliments on)
- List 5 things you hate doing (these are the ones you’re going to stay away from)
- Out of the things you love, which ones can you make money doing?
- Once you’ve narrowed that down, what groups of people would pay for what you provide (you’re looking for the largest target audience here)
You should be getting close to identifying your niche. I like to think of a niche as the point where your passions, skills and target audience intersect. You’re looking for the sweet spot – where you love what you do and the products/services you sell are unique enough (aka people want and need them) that you can charge premium prices for them.
For example, you can love textile design but maybe too few people need it for you to make a (freakin’ awesome) living. Or maybe you’re a talented graphic designer and see a huge potential to make money, the only problem is you find graphic design unrewarding. Both of these topics would be tossed off your list of possible niches.
I know some blogging experts will tell you to put your ideas into Google’s Keyword Planner and check for things like monthly searches and competition. I tried this approach a few times (like a million) and all those numbers made my creative brain woozy and flustered. Starting with the numbers first felt like I was approaching my brand with the wrong intention.
Start with what inspires you and picture yourself blogging about this topic every day. Can you do it? Then look at your potential to make money doing it.
2) Choose a name for your blog
This one’s a biggie for a lot of folks, including myself. Should I use my name or a product name? What about keywords? How long should it be? What if I decide to change it later?
What I was really fearful of with all these questions was picking the “wrong” name. I’m sure it was due to a lack of self-confidence and fear of exposing myself. My name had to impress people or be just a be esoteric that it was like my little secret. I thought if I had a larger-than-life name, everything would take care of itself and I would magically have the perfect brand.
What I’ve learned since then is that whether you go with your own name or a product name, you want to feel 100% authentic in it. Let the real you shine through. You want when people interact with your brand that they see and feel a real human with flaws and talents, someone they can genuinely connect with.
A few random name points:
- Your own name is a great choice if what you’re selling is essentially you (coaching, consulting, expertise). If your long term vision is to sell your blog in 5-10 years, a product name may be the better way to go.
- Your social profiles should have the same handle as your blog. It will save you the headache of having to choose between branded (product name) vs unbranded (your name) profiles. What a time suck!
- If you do go with a product name, make sure you choose it for the right reasons. It can be tempting to feel fearful about exposing your insecurities and flaws and maybe it feels safe to hide behind a protective name. Just realize that real community is born when people feel connected to the You in your brand.
3) Purchase a domain
Next, head over to GoDaddy and lock down your domain. This part is fun and easy! Just enter the domain name you want. You may have to try some variations if the name you want is already taken. I recommend purchasing your domain for five years. Generally speaking, Google sees that as a sign that your business is going to be around for a while and will take you more seriously than a one-year purchase.
4) Pick your platform
Now that you have your domain, decide what platform you want to use. Depending on the amount of customization you want, there are many to choose from (Blogger, WordPress, Squarespace) – some free, some paid. Just know that serious bloggers tend to migrate over to WordPress once they start to grow (I use WordPress for all of my sites). There’s a bit of a learning curve, although it’s pretty easy once you actually start a blog with WordPress.
Note: There are two different WordPress platforms, which can be confusing:
- WordPress.com: a hosted platform which is entirely free with few customization options
- WordPress.org: a self-hosted platform (meaning you host it yourself), which has endless options, add-ons and plugins, tons of customization if you know CSS. And because WordPress is probably the most popular platform, there are lots of beautiful themes to choose from that you won’t need to customize (I recommend this). Check out this step-by-step guide to installing a WordPress.org site.
5) Choose your hosting company
Bluehost is second-to-none when it comes to customer service. I can always get them on the phone which is a big deal when you need to solve something on your site quickly. Plus their one-click WordPress installation is a breeze.
Flywheel is also amazing. It’s a managed hosting platform dedicated to WordPress sites with seriously robust features. A few things I love:
- Free transfers from another server (most companies charge for this)
- Work on your site as a demo for free
- Duplicate your site as a draft or “staging” site and test any design tweaks before pushing them live. This is a huge time-saver.
- Rock-solid security – another biggie. Since Flywheel is dedicated to WordPress they run extra security to prevent mal-ware to keep your site spam- and hacker-free. On the outside chance it does get hacked, they fix it for free.
One thing I wish Flywheel offered is email. If that’s important to you, Bluehost is your best option. Here’s how to start a blog with WordPress using their One-Click install.
1. Go to Hosting and then Cpanel, then select Install WordPress
2. On the next page, select Install
3. Select your domain. If you purchased your domain on Bluehost, it will appear here. If you followed the step above and purchased it on GoDaddy, you’ll need to point your domain to Bluehost. This post walks you through how to do that.
4. Enter the name of your site. The info on this page is what you’ll need to login to your WP site so be sure to keep it somewhere safe. I like to take a screenshot and store it in Evernote.
Once you’ve saved your login details, select Install and Bluehost will take of the rest. That was easy, right? To access your site dashboard, enter “yourdomain.com/wp-admin” in the browser window and enter your login info. You’ll be taken to your WP dashboard with some widgets and links to everything you need on the left.
6) Pick a design/theme
Now it’s time for some fun!
Themes are pre-built designs that you can customize a lot or a little depending on your design skills. To start, I recommend choosing a minimalist theme and customizing just the header, background images, colors and fonts. If you need inspiration here, create a moodboard on Pinterest for design ideas.
For themes, StudioPress has tons of options. I also like Themeforest, especially the Avada, Impreza and Retailer themes. If you’ve got some design skills a framework like Genesis will give you a clean slate to start designing. Plus, you can also layer on themes if you like.
Once you’ve downloaded your theme, go to Appearance/Themes in WordPress to install and activate it.
Your site should include:
- A killer Homepage with an image (ideally you) and message about your site
- Start Here or About Page
- Services or Product Page
- Contact Page with a contact form so people can reach you
- At least 5 blog categories
- Social media icons
- Popular posts
7) Create your first blog posts
One simple technique is to launch your blog with 5-10 published (and totally awesome) posts. The reason is that if you only have one or two posts for people to browse during your launch, they might not find anything that’s relevant to them. Creating multiple pieces of content gives them the chance to stay on your site for a longer period of time. With more content, there’s a good chance that they’ll find something that interests them and potentially subscribe. This checklist will help you optimize your site so that more people subscribe.
Some general blogging tips:
- How-to and list posts are the most sharable
- Add a branded feature image to every post along with your title text
- Write the way you would speak to a friend – your style and personality should shine through
- Respond to readers’ comments and questions
- Blog about a different theme each month (helps to create a freebie, plus takes your readers on a journey)
Congrats, you’re all set to conquer the world! Here are some things to keep in mind as you grow:
1. Publish consistent content – The number one way to grow a blog is to post valuable content regularly. Post once every two weeks to start, then once every week, and build up to 2-3 times a week. Whatever your frequency, decide on a schedule and stick to it.
2. Help people find your site:
- Create a Google Anaytics account and track high performing pages, site errors.
- Install the Google Analytics plugin and submit your sitemap to Google so it crawls your new site
- Install the Yoast SEO plugin and use it to optimize your posts for search engines
3. Favicon – Important for branding. Upload a favicon (16px branded icon) to your theme. This is the icon that appears at the top of the browser window when someone is on your site. Most themes make it easy to add.
4. Engage visitors – Optimize your blog so that as your new visitors become raving fans, you have a platform to build real relationships with them.
- Install SumoMe (or use OptinMonster ) and place opt-in forms at the top, bottom, middle or side of your site
- Create a freebie to give people in exchange for their email
5. Get active on social media – Social media is an important step in building an audience and getting traffic. Select your platforms, share your posts, join conversations and even Twitter chats to meet new people. There are tons of online communities full of amazing, encouraging and supportive peeps as you grow your blog. As I mentioned earlier, aim for consistency with your social media profiles – they should match each other and your blog name.