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Blogging was coined as a form of online journaling in 1999. Today, people use it to tell stories, give tips and ideas, or offer products and services. You have a novel, a hobby, or want to start another career? A blog is a great place to start. Using WordPress as your platform is even better. (So much easier than having to build .html pages for each story ala 1996 GeoCities).
WordPress is an online, open source content management system. Simply put, it’s a free website-development tool. Different users around the world work continually to make it less glitchy and more user-friendly. You can get free themes (design) and plugins (add-ons that do things) that do not require any coding or extensive computer knowledge on your end.
Sound good? Great! You don’t need a computer science degree to start a website. Let’s get you started with the essential tools. You can have your site up and running today.
1. Pick a Good Name for Your Blog
Finding a great name for your blog is one of the most challenging aspects of this entire journey. You may spend longer coming up with the perfect name than you will be building your WordPress site. Make your blog name short, relevant, easy to spell, and memorable.
- Try to stand out from the crowd. Try to avoid overused words and phrases for your blog. Also, don’t just take your favorite blog and add your name to the end. For example, I adore com. While nomadiclaura.com is available, it would have joined a lot of other nomadic*.com sites. Also, I’m not that nomadic, and I already have two niche’s in one.
- Speaking of niches, take a long-term approach to your name. Let’s say I had gone with the nomadiclaura.com; there would have been one problem. I am not good at staying at hostels or other less formal places. I’m learning, but I would hate to offer advice on something when a motel is my version of camping. Also, if you use age or time of your life, and it passes, will you have to change your name?
- Make it easy to remember. Try to avoid names with more than three words if possible, and I wouldn’t use symbols such as hyphens or numbers.
- Remember your audience. Are you creating a blog for children, teenagers, or adults? What age range? Then remember to narrow down your niche (travel, parenting, health, natural, etc.) so that you don’t buy something like nomadicsuzy.com when you are writing about parenting teenagers.
My biggest tip is to treat your blog like a business from the start. Even if you are not planning on monetizing it, it will still help you get ideas that will work from a marketing standpoint.
- Write down four or five keywords that sum up your blog.
- Use a site like Shopify’s Business Name Generator to see what domains are available, etc.
- Do a domain name search and try to see what is available. Instant Domain Search’s Domain Name Generator is another option they offer for helping to come up with a name. Try to stick with .com accounts if you can.
- Determine if the social media names are available or if a good alternative is possible. For example, my travel blog, travelartsy, the username was available on all of the ones that I wanted to use but Instagram. My second option had been northamericanbucketlist.com, and it was available on Instagram. So, I bought the domain, pointed it to the travelartsy.com site and then signed up for the Instagram account.
2. Set Up Your Hosting Provider
What is hosting? Hosting is a remote server where you store your text, images, videos, and software to make it available online.
Here’s a question that I often get — what is cloud-based hosting? As you start to build your online presence, you will frequently hear the terms cloud or cloud-based. For example, host your WordPress site on cloud-based servers. Cloud is merely a marketing term, or buzzword, for storing your files over the Internet on a remote, versus in-house, server. Some people or companies have local in-house servers that connect to the Internet, but the majority are hosted remotely on servers in large data centers. It’s highly unlikely that you will be running your own web server, so any hosting site like BlueHost, HostGator, or WordPress.com is on the cloud to you.
Finding a hosting provider these days is relatively inexpensive. I’ve used hosting providers where I had to go in through FTP and set up WordPress on my own, which can be a fun adventure to tech geeks like myself. However, BlueHost and HostGator both offer one-click installation that makes it so much easier to get up and running faster.
Need a free site to start? If you need to start out on a free site, then I would recommend WordPress.com’s free version. You cannot install plugins, monetize your site, or use external themes with their free version. However, it’s fully functional and will work if your goal is just to start generating content. The good news is that if you decide to go with WordPress.com’s free site, you can always export your WordPress site later and move to a paid hosting platform. The good news is that with WordPress, you do not have to reinvent the wheel. You will have to choose a new theme, but your content will not be lost.
Ready to get started?
When you use this link, you’ll get web hosting, a free domain, and the site builder for $3.95 a month with BlueHost.
BlueHost is exceptionally affordable, and their live support team is helpful and available 24 hours a day. Setting up should take you less than 10 minutes. I meant it when I said that your biggest issue would be choosing your domain name!
First, head to the BlueHost homepage.
Click on the green get started now button. You will be redirected to a page that showcases their different hosting plans. I have the prime plan because I have more than one website and wanted to host them with the same hosting provider. It also allowed me to install the domain privacy and SiteBackup Pro, without having to pay extra. However, if you are just starting out, select the basic plan.
After you hit pick the basic plan, you will then be taken to the sign up now page.
Key in the new domain name that you selected up above in step one. Otherwise, if you already have a domain name, you can put it in the second box and then transfer it later. I’m assuming this is your first hosting experience, so enter in your new domain name and hit the blue next button. Triple check your spelling so that you don’t register normadicsuzy.com rather than nomadicsuzy.com.
After you hit the next button, enter in your account information.
Also, verify your package rate. The best price will be if you select an account plan for 3 years (36 months). You can choose the other options, but your rate is likely to be higher.
Your next step will be choosing a password for your new account. Make it complicated and then store a copy somewhere else.
3. Installing WordPress (on a One-Click Installation site)
If you had a dedicated hosting server running UNIX, I would be giving instructions on how to set up your FTP, adjust your wp-config file, and then upload everything to the proper folder.
With BlueHost, however, after you set up your password and login, just choose an initial theme!
This is just a starting point; you can always change your theme later to a paid or a free one. Hit the Start Building button, and it will set up your WordPress site without you needing to do anything.
BlueHost’s WordPress generator will then ask you if you wish to set up a Business or a Personal account. If you know that you want to monetize it down the road, go ahead and choose Business. This allows BlueHost to install a few business-oriented themes such as WooCommerce that will help you down the road.
By default, BlueHost sets up your site with a “Coming Soon” page. If you ask someone to open your domain in another browser, it won’t work. This gives you the opportunity to set up your blog posts, pages, menus or products before it is seen by the public.
After you hit the blue Launch button, BlueHost will ask you to assign a site title and a site description.
Both the site title and description can be changed later. As a good best practice, your site title is the name of your blog and/or company, and the site description can be some sort of short branding statement.
For example, let’s go back to nomadicsuzy.com. The Site Title could be “Nomadic Suzy,” and if it was a blog on raising teenagers, your description could be, “Escaping the crazy teens 101.” That is a horrible example, but hopefully gives you an idea of what you can fill in these boxes.
All the following steps are customizable and changeable, so don’t fret too much about your choices.
- The next screen will ask if you wish to have a news or blog posts section. Select Yes to continue. (One exception might be if you were going to have an eCommerce site only.)
- You will then be asked if you want a static homepage or one with the most recent news or updates. If it is a blog site (where your goal is literally posting blog articles), then choose the most recent news or updates. Otherwise, select a more static welcome page. Depending upon the theme you prefer, you may change this option later.
- If you set up a business site, the next step will ask for your business address. If you do not have a business address or PO Box set up, skip this step. Otherwise, it will be public.
- In the business site category, you will also be asked if you want to install WooCommerce. If you are not planning on selling something immediately, you can hit Not now. However, all it will do is ask you to set up products, so you can always install it and ignore it.
4. Logging in to Your Site (plus, some basics of WordPress)
To access the admin panel of your new site, just type in your domain name/wp-admin, and you will see the WordPress screen.
Key in your username and password that you selected earlier, and it will let you in!
One alternative that BlueHost offers is that if you log into your BlueHost Control panel, it will give you the option to log into your WordPress admin screen.
From here, you can either click on the blue Log into WordPress button, or you can click on My Sites and then click on the Manage Site option.
Once you are in, you’ll find your main navigation panel over on the far left.
Your WordPress Navigation Bar
The Posts button is where you will put in your blog posts or articles. These are the articles that show up on the main page that you allow people to comment on. Posts are the building blocks of your blog.
The Media button is where your images and files that you upload to your site are stored. When you are in your post (or page), and you hit Add Media, this is where the files are stored. You may go back here to add in descriptions, alt tags, and so forth.
Your Pages are static pages on your site such as the about or contact page. These pages typically do not have comments on them and are ones that you will not update all that often.
The Comments section are where any comments that are made to your posts are stored. You can approve new comments, review old ones, and so forth.
The WPForms button is an optional plugin for forms on your site. The Contact form most likely uses this program. It is one that BlueHost installs so you will not see it on all new WordPress sites.
The Appearance button is where you can find and change the details for the basic parts of your site.
- Want to change yours or add one? Go here)
- Want to customize your existing theme?)
- Widgets are the options that commonly appear in your right-hand sidebar and footers. For example, an Instagram widget that shows your latest photos might be in your sidebar. You would add it by going to widgets)
- Your navigation guides, such as in the list of pages under your log or name on a page, are found here. Here is a handy guide by WordPress.org to help you navigate the menus section.
The Plugins button is where you can either view existing plugins or install new ones. Plugins are additions to your site that allow you to customize it. For example, WooCommerce is a plugin that will enable you to sell products online. WPForms, as shown above, is a plugin that allows you to create contact forms.
Users allows you to view, edit, add or remove users on your site. Since this is a new site, you will be the only person listed. For security purposes, I would highly recommend creating a second user with Edit access (not administrator) that you use as the author of your post sites. You don’t want to broadcast your administrator name (I also would change it if admin is your username to something a bit more complicated). When you create a post, you can change the author to this new author’s name with EDIT access only and post as them.
Tools will highlight the different tools available for your system. You can import or export your WordPress database from this area. Sometimes plugins, such as Regenerate Thumbnails, will appear in this section. Remember me mentioning exporting your database from your free WordPress site and creating a new one with it? This is where you would go. You would export your data from your old account and go right back here in your new one and hit the import button.
The final vital button to know is the Settings button. This is where you set the details for your WordPress site (such as the URL), the default email address, and information for search engines. Under Permalinks, for example, you will want to set the common settings to Post Name rather than the plain for better SEO optimization.
5. Select a Theme for Your Site
Once you have finished setting up your site, you may wish to choose a different look than the one you selected when you first set up your site.
Still logged in? Great! Click on Appearance and then Themes in the dashboard. Then hit the Add New Themes button to bring up the browser. There are many great free themes available so you can search the list to find one that will fit your needs. I would not immediately dismiss the free themes, especially if you are not planning on monetizing your blog.
If you are planning on monetizing your site, select one from ThemeForest.net, which has a multitude of themes to choose from. These themes often come with customizable plugins for your website and are usually pre-built to be usable on computers and mobile devices. I also recommend themeforst.net themes because it is typically a one-and-done deal. Meaning, you don’t pay a yearly fee for access to the theme. You may have the option to add on an annual support fee, but it optional and I’ve never had to renew.
Speaking of mobile devices, try to select themes that have “responsive” listed as one of their abilities. This way, people who visit your site can see them on a mobile device as quickly as they can in a browser.
If you select a theme from Themeforest or another site, you will upload the .zip file that they give you to download. Select Upload at the top of the Themes page. Next, select the Install button followed by Activate.
You can change your themes, and it will not impact your posts or pages. It may affect your sidebars or menus, so always double check to see what menus the theme is using and adjust accordingly.
6. Useful Plugins to Consider
Great plugins allow your site to have additional features, such as database optimization (makes your site faster), e-commerce (so you can sell things), and SEO optimization (where Google can find it). You can download new plugins from your dashboard. Some paid themes come with customized plugins installed. Always double-check what plugins you already have so that you don’t wind up slowing down your site by having duplicate plugins.
Here are a few recommended plugins to help you get started with your site.
- Wordfence Security. Wordfence Security is a firewall and malware scanner that is excellent for checking for malicious IP addresses and trying to prevent login attempts. There is a free version that is probably all you need until you really grow in traffic.
- Akismet. Akismet is a spam-fighting plugin that checks your comments and contact form against a global database of spam submissions.
- Yoast SEO. Yoast is a great plugin for optimizing your SEO optimization by allowing you to choose focus keywords and integrating your Google Analytics and other programs. The free version is excellent for starting out with a small site, so there is no need to upgrade right away.
- Contact Form 7. This free plugin allows you to have a form on your site without any coding. You can have multiple contact forms and customize it to your needs. Also, there are also plugins that tie directly in with mailing list programs such as MailChimp.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com. Jetpack helps you with marketing, design, and security and is provided by the distributors of WordPress. There is a free version and then a paid version. If you are just starting out, the free version is more than enough.
7. You’re Almost There! Get Your Site Ready to go Live
There are just a few more things that you need to finish to go live.
Create a Business Plan
This is only truly important if you wish to monetize your blog, but it can also be helpful in forcing you to narrow down your niche. Write down your goals, your target audience, and make a small mission statement. It sounds corny, but it really will help you figure out exactly what you want to accomplish and finding posting ideas will come so much easier.
I would even go so far as to plan out how you will want to categorize your posts. For example, if you are creating a travel blog, you might have main categories such as Transportation and then subcategories such as Car, Train, Plane, and Boat. This might seem picky at this point, but it will help you when it comes time to start posting. Create a chart that would read something like this:
Why? Well, once you get ready to start posting, you won’t have to start guessing and making up categories on the fly!
Also write down ways that you can potentially monetize your site such as affiliate marketing, ebooks, online products, and so forth.
Get Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free tracking program provided by Google. It’s free and allows you to get a glimpse into who your readers are (demographics such as age and location) and what they are reading. You can also use it to help you get a better understanding of which posts are more popular than others!
There are two pages that you need to create before you make your blog live.
To add a page, look in the WordPress Dashboard for Pages and then click on Add New. The screen will look similar to your word processor where you can add text and images. Hit Publish
Create an About Me Page
Blogs are all about social interaction, so the about page is essential. It tells a visitor who you are, what your goal of the site is, and gives them some incentive to potentially keep reading your blog. Be sure to make it reflect your personality and keep the tone in line with the way that you usually post. If your blog posts are light and airy, but if the about me page reads like a formal resume, people will notice the disconnect. It’s one of your first marketing pages; you’re the product!
Create a Contact Page
Your contact page will provide an easy way for people to contact you about ideas, etc. Some will use a form that you can put on the About Me page, but others have been trained to go to the Contact page on any website. People may not use this form all that often, but it’s still a best practice.
After you have finished creating your pages, be sure to add them to your menu. Depending upon your theme, one may already be built for you. To check, click on Appearance and then Menus in the WordPress Dashboard sidebar. Find the menu that your theme uses, look under the Pages tab, and check the page you wish to add. After the checkbox is selected, hit Add to Menu. Be sure to hit the Save Menu button when you are finished.
Enroll in a Blogging Course (or Watch YouTube for free versions)
Enroll in an online Blogging Course such as one by Create and Go or Nomadic Matt’s Superstar Blogging Course. Check out YouTube for additional courses on how to come up with topics. However, don’t overthink it, especially if you are just starting out. If you are not planning on monetizing the blog, you don’t need to spend too much time there.
Before you begin posting your articles, I would highly suggest signing up for the free version of Grammarly and downloading the Google Chrome plugin. This plugin automatically will check your post for any grammatical errors that your word processor might not have caught. If you do not use Chrome, they also have a browser-based and a desktop-based program that you can copy and paste your text into. Warning: if you use it in Microsoft Word, be careful! The plugin does not allow you to undo your changes (CTRL+Z) so always have a backup.
8. Posting Your Articles
You’re ready! Now it’s time to start your first blog post. It’s often great to use that post to tell people why you’ve started the blog, give a little background, and give ideas about where you are going. Be sure to let your personality shine through!
Here’s the uber-quick way to add a new post. Go to Posts in the WordPress Dashboard toolbar and hit Add New. Type the title (headline) and put your text in the big white box. Your Standard format works best most of the time and then hit Add New Category to just add a generic category, like Travel. Once you are done, hit Publish.
That is the simplified version. If you want to add images, hit Add Media.
Select a category. Remember those that we chose above? You should already have some in mind for what to assign this post to.
Here are some quick tips to help you get started.
- Remember to use your words. I’m not talking about plagiarism, although that is important, but rather your own verbiage (words). You want to sound like you. Don’t try to duplicate another writer’s point of view or voice or it will come off as fake. If you have a more introverted personality (like me), try to reflect that in your words or your photography. For example, you are much more likely to see pictures of trees than me on my site.
- Don’t use the WordPress pages to actually write your post. Use programs like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or even Apache OpenOffice to write it out first. Then run spellcheck, plugins like Grammarly, etc. Step away from it for an hour or so and come back to re-read it. You’re more likely to make mistakes if you write it up on the fly and immediately hit post.
- Determine a schedule. A good rule of thumb is to post at least once or twice a week to start. Focus on quality over quantity and try to spend time writing a quality blog post. Google is more likely to reward you if you post one 2,000-word post one time a week rather than five 400-word blog post five times a week.
- Disable the BlueHost Coming Soon Page. Once you are ready to go, disable the BlueHost coming soon page.
Login to BlueHost
Select My Sites and select your WordPress Site
Disable the Coming Soon Page. It is enabled by default.
Try a different browser, such as Internet Explorer, and key in your domain name. It should load your page without the coming soon screen. You won’t see that page if you are logged in to your site so be sure to try a different browser to ensure that the page is turned off.
In WordPress, you might also look under Settings and ensure that the Maintenance or hidden mode is not turned on. You can never be too careful.