The most common question I get asked about blogging would be “How do you start a blog?”
For this particular post, I’m going to show you how to start a successful blog (a professional one) in easy steps. If you know how to click a mouse and use the internet, you will be able to do this.
Do not be afraid if you have never done this before or feel you are too technologically challenged to do it — because you can do it. How do I know? I’ve technologically challenged myself — yet I still did it. But you have the advantage of not having to make the same mistakes that I did by learning from my mistakes.
Picking A Topic
Pick a topic you know about or like a lot. Pick something you’re passionate about. You don’t even need to be an expert on a subject to blog about it! You can even blog about things you hate as long as you’re passionate about it.
Some blogs have “how-to” tutorials, some have photos, animations, cartoons and videos as their content. The most popular blogs are the non-fiction and “how-to” blogs.
Blogging about something you know a lot about or love will encourage regular posting — therefore people will most likely to return — and reduce your writer’s block.
Doing What You Love, Know Or Hate Is Great, But Is There A Market For The Topic You Want To Blog About?
Do a Google search or use Google Keyword Tool to find out if people are searching for your topic and related terms.
Google Trends helps to find out how popular a search term or word is. Market Samurai is a great tool which I use to find a detailed analysis of the topics and markets I want to get into.
Forums are also a great source of information to find out what the market needs. Users there might tell you what information or product they are looking for or willing to pay for. Or you can ask on the forums for what people are after.
Choosing a Blog
Which is Best: WordPress or Blogger?
Call me biased because I’m using WordPress but I’ve used both of them, and WordPress has impressed me the most — don’t hold it against me almighty Google. WordPress has better and more plugins to make life easier and I am all for it because I’m so lazy and technologically challenged.
Now before you rush off to signup for an account with WordPress, if you are planning on making money out of your blog or if it’s for a business, you would want to look professional.
URLs such as yourwebsite.wordpress.com/yourentry doesn’t look professional and it’s difficult to remember. To get a free blog with WordPress.com, you are telling your audience that your blog is just a hobby.
To get your own URL or domain such as YourWebsite.com for example, you need a hosting provider to host your domain. Hosting packages usually cover the registration of the domain. Okay, I’ll admit a little secret: when I began, I didn’t even know what a hosting provider was or what it did. Yes, those words technologically challenged comes into mind.
I have used quite a few hosting providers and there are some good ones out there. So far, the ones I like have to be Bluehost and Siteground. I use both of them.
Bluehost offers fantastic, 24 hours online support. I’ve had some lame newbie problems in the past and they have always been there to help me fix the issues — without making me feel like a noob. Bluehost support is fast and reliable. Their prices are pretty average. Not the most expensive but not the cheapest either. But you will definitely get good support with them — so for someone who is new to blogs and websites, they are a Godsend.
Siteground is cheap and cheerful. The prices are cheaper than Bluehost, but for a good reason: their support is elusive to say the least. If you’re confident with websites and blogs, then support doesn’t really matter. To get hold of a Siteground customer service rep online is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And Siteground has slightly less features compared to Bluehost. But what they lack in features, they make up for in price and overall performance. If you are on a shoe string budget and want affordable hosting, Siteground is the way to go.
So which host is better? It all comes down to your budget and support preference.
Hosting Your Website
- Before you register your domain and get your website hosted, have some backup URL or domain names in case the one you want is already taken.
- Go Bluehost or Siteground and type in the URL you want that is available. Sign up, make payment (credit card or Paypal) and you should receive a welcome email with the login details of your website. It’s worth paying that little extra $10 a year for the WHOIS privacy protection so people can’t find your personal details when they look at who owns the website. And to prevent them from spamming your email.
- Sign into your website by going to your hosting provider’s website and login with your account details.
Here is where you will easily install WordPress with a few clicks:
- For Bluehost > Scroll down to Software/Services section and click on Simple Scripts > Under Blogs heading click on WordPress > Click Install > Fill in details > Bookmark you website’s WordPress login URL — now you have a WordPress blog on your own domain!
- For Siteground > Go Account Section > click CPanel > click Access CPanel Normally > Scroll down to Software/Services section and click on Fantastico De Luxe > Under Blogs click on WordPress > Click on New Installation > Fill in details and click Install WordPress > Bookmark you website’s WordPress login URL — now you have a WordPress blog on your own domain!
Pick A Template (Design) For Your Blog
Many people get worried that they need to know how to design a website in order to have one. But there are templates (for WordPress and Blogger) that are free — with all the design and work done for you.
To pick a free theme, log into your website’s WordPress account (the URL you bookmarked after WordPress was installed) which I’ll refer to as the “WordPress backend” from now.
On the left panel, under the Appearance tab, click on Themes, click on Install Themes tab across the top, tick the boxes you want or put in name of a design or word and click Find Themes. Once you have found and settled on a theme, click Install, and then click Install Now button, then click Activate and your theme or design should be live on your website now.
Go check it out by typing your website URL into a new browser window and have a look. If you do not like it, you can search for another theme and activate the new one instead. You can even find the names of the themes you want by doing a Google search. Type “Free WordPress Themes pink” or “Paper WordPress Themes” etc with a short description of the style or color you want and you’ll get lists of themes to choose from.
To customize your blog to the colors you want with your logos etc, I’ll cover that in part three of this post series “How To Customize Your Blog.”
Adding WordPress Plugins To Make Your Life Easier
What are WordPress plugins?
WordPress blogs on their own are pretty okay for blogging but your site will be pretty bare and simple in function. Unless you are a programmer who can code everything you need, you’re going to want some plugins. Best of all, these plugins are free.
What are these plugins and what on earth do they do? The question should be what don’t they do? From helping your site run faster, to helping you add contact forms, insert ads, have slide shows, help Google find your site, let you have customized sidebar or menus, embed videos, kill comment spam, make your site prettier and much more! Many programmers have spent time to make these handy plugins to make our lives easier so we can have more interesting and better websites – so a thank you to all you WordPress plugin programmers out there.
To add new plugins to your WordPress backend (without having to install it manually), on the left-hand panel under Plugins tab, click Add New and type in the name of the plugin or the function that you want, and click Search Plugins. Find the plugin you want and select Install Now, and then click Activate Plugin to begin using it.
These Are My Top 13 Recommended WordPress Plugins To Add:
- Ad Inserter (by Igor Funa) — works in tandem with Advertising Manager below. Will make your life easier when you monetize your site with ads. The last thing I want to do is figure out how to code the ads in a way to make them repeat or sit in a certain area on my site. This plugin makes adding ads simple.
- Advertising Manager (by Scott Switzer) — works in tandem with the Ad Inserter above. This useful plugin controls how many ads to show so you don’t get bitch slapped by Google Adsense. Google only allows 3 ads per page so this plugin does all the work for you so you don’t have to worry about compliance!
- Akismet (by Automattic) — weird name but it is handy to kill off annoying comments who leave spam on your website! This is already pre-installed on all WordPress accounts, you just need to activate it by signing up for an API key.
- All In One SEO Pack (by Michael Torbert) — will help optimize your website for search engines (which is important but more on that in another post).
- Comment Link Manager (by Weberz Hosting) — will make your life easier by letting you manage the links left my commentators.
- Fast Secure Contact Form (by Mike Challis) — enough said! Building web forms are a pain in the butt and this plugin does it for you and still gives you flexibility to customize it if you wish. And it’s secure so it makes me feel all fuzzy and warm. Now you have a “contact us” form, how professional!
- Google XML Sitemaps (by Arne Brachhold) — aids search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing to index your site asap – which is important if you want to be found.
- Robots Meta (by Joost de Valk) — Search engines uses crawlers or web spiders or web robots to “crawl” your website’s pages. This plugin points the bots to the pages that matter and avoid the ones that aren’t.
- Sexy Bookmarks (by Shareaholic) — if you look below you’ll see a social networks panel for people to share this article with (like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn, MySpace etc). This is great to encourage people to tell their friends and family about your site or articles.
- Subscribe To Comments Reloaded (by Camu) — such a small feature yet it can be powerful. It leaves a little box for commentators to tick if they wish to follow comments by other commentators. What does that mean and how does it benefit you? By subscribing to comments, it means they want to see what others are saying and return to your website! Encouraging readers to come back is a great thing to have!
- W3 Total Cache (by Frederick Townes) — Makes your blog load faster! And that in itself is awesome because Google takes that into account when ranking one’s site. So the faster your website loads, the better it looks in Google’s eyes.
- WordPress Databased Backup (by Austin Matzko) — This one doesn’t require an explanation. The name tells you just how important it is to backup your website in case your computer crashes or you accidentally mess up your website.
If Your Theme Needs Extra Basic Features
If you like your theme but it is missing some basic elements — like menus etc, these plugins might help (remember these are optional so check your theme first):
Menubar (by Andrea Tarantini) — some theme developers forget to put in a menubar. If your theme is one of them, this will do the trick.
Page Link Manager (by Garrett Murphey) — if your theme is missing a menubar, odds are you have no control over which links show up in your navigation menu / menubar once you add one. Here is where this plugin will help decide which pages or categories show with a few clicks.
Now What Do I Do Zoe?
You starting writing and putting content in!
WordPress automatically installs a pre-written first post for you. You can either delete it by writing over it, or selecting Add New under Posts tab on the left hand panel.
If you’re stuck on what to write for your first post, write your “About Me” page to introduce your blog and yourself to your audience.