Behind-the-scenes blogging, part 2: how to start blogging

Blogging is enticing because there are almost no barriers to entry: if you can write, have access to the internet, and have basic computer literacy, you can start blogging. While there’s something to be said for just jumping in and getting started as soon as the urge hits, it’s worth taking some time to ask yourself some serious questions first, like these ones from the first article in this series.

Once you’ve decided blogging is for you, start the way you mean to continue! Here are our seven steps to getting started for blogging success.

1. Choose your topic and niche

You’ve probably already got an idea in mind, but make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. Your enthusiasm will show in your writing — and lack of interest is just as clear! Narrow down your topic until it’s sharply focused: traveling for solo women who like fashion, perhaps, or vegan recipes on a budget.

Then consider your ideal reader: who will be reading your blog? Create a detailed profile of your perfect audience member, give him/her a name (Sarah? Peter? Persephone?) and when you write, imagine you’re talking straight to this person. This will help give you focus and make it easier to choose (and eliminate) topics for blog posts.

Who is the ideal reader for a new blog?
Build yourself an ideal reader.
Read more about choosing your niche in the first article in this behind-the-scenes blogging series.

2. Think of a name

Ah, this can be a challenge. You want a name that expresses exactly what you do, is memorable but not cheesy, reflects your personality, is easy to spell, and is relatively short. Plus, ideally you want to be able to buy the dotcom domain name of your chosen moniker. So, not difficult at all, right?

I suggest you brainstorm a whole bunch of ideas related to your niche. Use a thesaurus to come up with synonyms, switch key words back and forth. Write everything down and make a list of five or six concepts. Then head to namecheap.com to see if any of the names are available. If you find one that’s available for purchase and you’re happy for that to be your blog’s name for the foreseeable future, buy it! Remember that you’ll have to pay the domain registration fee every year.

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Although it’s another expense, it’s worth considering buying common variations on your domain name, which you can then redirect to your main site. For example, a board game company in New Zealand called Seriously Board use seriouslyboard.co.nz as their primary URL, but also picked up seriouslyboard.nz. Travel site Traveling Islanders spell their name with just the one L, but you’ll get to their site even if you choose the British form of “travelling”. If you’re on a tight budget, leave this for now, but keep it in mind for later on.

Don’t put off picking up your social media handles, though! As soon as you’ve bought your domain name, sign up for ALL (all right, lots) of the social media platforms and register your name. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest should be the first ones on your list, followed by Snapchat, Google+, YouTube, and any other platforms that are popular among your target audience or have sprung up since I wrote this article. Even if you don’t plan to use all of these platforms, it’s worth spending the time to register your name, so nobody else can have it!

Dave and Deb“[When setting up our blog] we should have thought of a better name. I wish we had something clever that was more searchable and related to travel.
 
We also should have learned about SEO and coding. We never planned anything well and created quite a mess when it came to errors. We’d delete posts, change URLs and never link articles together. It’s been a long and slow process cleaning up the mess.”
 
Debra Corbeil, award-winning travel blogger at The Planet D.

3. Get hosting

Just like you need a place to park your car, your blog needs a place to live on the internet. Actually, it lives in big black boxes (servers), but picturing it as real estate is much more picturesque, right?

Now, whatever you do, DON’T use a service like Blogger, Blogspot, or WordPress.com. It’s tempting to start with one of these platforms, because they are easy to set up and free free free, but as your blog grows you’ll find their limitations constraining. It’s very hard to make money from your blog while using one of these services.

New blog hosting is like a parking space for your blog
Like your car, your blog needs a house.

Instead, you want to be self-hosted. Despite the name, you don’t actually have to host your own site —that’s a ridiculous amount of work! Performance Foundry offers an excellent Managed WordPress Hosting service that combines hosting and maintenance, but if you’re starting on a shoestring there are many budget options out there. Many hosting providers include domain registration free for the first year, but it’s best if you keep your domain registration separate from your host for security reasons. It costs a little more, but think of it as insurance in case something goes wrong.

Matt Gibson“I always ran my own blog. Fortunately I had basic graphic design and HTML skills from my publishing degree. I don’t think I ever messed anything too terribly while working on my blog. But I did go through a LOT of different versions to get it where it is (and I’m still not totally satisfied with it).
 
I do wish I’d just paid somebody to do a really good job early on so I wouldn’t have spent any time worrying about it over the years.”
 
Matt Gibson, founder of Xpatmatt.com and president of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association

4. Install WordPress

WordPress is free, opensource software that is the most popular blogging tool out there. It is one of the best things in the world — the internet world, at least — as it makes blogging so easy! It’s not just for blogs, either — many large sites are built on WordPress, such as the New York Times.

WordPress is similar to a word processing tool like Microsoft Word in that it’s where you’ll write and format your blog posts. You can save drafts, publish your posts to your site, or schedule them for the future, among many many other functions. (This is enough to be going on with, though.)

WordPress was made for writers
WordPress was made for writers.
How to install WordPress?
1. If you plan for your blog to be an income-earner, you don’t want to be bogged down with technical fixes. Sign up for our Managed WordPress Hosting and Maintenance service and we’ll not only install WordPress for you, we’ll keep your site running well for the long-term.
2. If you’re starting a new blog and want it to be set up for success but don’t want to spend a lot of money, contact us! We can dedicate two hours of development time to running our special report that will make sure your site is set up well — this includes WordPress setup, security hardening, and submitting your sitemap to Google.
3. If you want to do it yourself, many basic hosts include instructions. Head over to their website and check if they’ve got a step-by-step guide or chat support to guide you along.

5. Choose a theme

A theme is basically the skeleton of your site, which determines where the elements will go and how they will appear. Choose something simple rather than complex, and make sure the basic structure is what you’re after. Head to https://wordpress.org/themes/ for a whole range of free themes, or choose a fancier (and pricier) one from Studiopress or Woothemes.

Pick a dress (Theme) for your new blog
Pick a dress (theme) for your blog.

We recommend you avoid themes from Themeforest due to the ongoing issues we’ve had with them; several of Elegant Themes’ options are also more trouble than they are worth. Unfortunately, among the list of those we think you should stay away from are the very popular Avada, Divi, and X-theme. Sorry.

Once you’ve chosen your theme, you can modify it to your heart’s content, but don’t publish it just yet.

6. Set up your services

Most websites receive a high proportion of their traffic from search engines like Google, so it’s important to help those search engines find your site. You’ll also want know how many people are coming to your site, and Google is great for that too. The three most important things to do are to install an SEO tool, submit your sitemap to Google, and set up Google Analytics tracking.

  1. First, install Yoast SEO and set up its sitemap configuration.
  2. Then, using the URL Yoast SEO gave you, got to the Google Webmaster Tools and go to Crawl/Sitemaps. Click on the red button and submit your map
  3. The easiest way to add the Google Analytics tracking code to your site is to use a plugin. We recommend the GA Google Analytics plugin. After you’ve installed it, head over to Google Analytics and make yourself familiar with the how it works — they even have courses to help you learn!
Stats for free for the best start to blogging
Stats for free.

7. Start writing!

The next article in this series will focus on what to write in more detail, but as a general overview:

  • Spend some time on the permanent pages on your site before publishing posts. Specifically, make a great About page. People will want to know who you are when they visit your site, don’t disappoint them.
  • Have several posts ready to go. It can be hard to find time to blog, and having a few posts on standby that you can publish when you’re not feeling inspired, it can take a lot of stress off.
  • Don’t overdo it. Some articles will recommend you publish every day — that’s the quick route to burnout. Focus on quality over quantity.

How can we help you?

If you’re starting a new blog and need some help, we’re here for you. We love seeing small businesses succeed online, and we created our managed WordPress hosting and maintenance package to make things easier for small business owners and bloggers — check it out to see if it’s for you.

Behind-the-scenes blogging

This article is part of a series about how to start blogging for success. If you’d like to receive a notification when subsequent posts are published, please enter your email address below.