The most common question I get asked about blogging would be “How do you start a blog?”
For this 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’ll be able to do this.
Don’t be scared if you’ve never done this before or feel you’re too technologically challenged to manage it – because you can do it. How do I know? Because I am pretty 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 what I did correctly.
I’m going to split the quick lessons into different posts to make it easier and faster to digest.
Picking A Topic
Pick a topic you know about or like a lot. Preferably something you’re passionate about. You don’t even need to be an expert on a subject to blog about it!
Or for some folks, blogging about something they hate: http://crabbyoldfart.wordpress.com/
Some blogs have “how-to” tutorials, some have photos, animations, images and videos as their content. The most popular blogs are the non-fiction and “how-to” blogs.
Blogging about a topic you know a lot about or love will encourage regular posting and as a result people will most likely to return again and again – plus it reduces your writer’s block.
Is There A Market For The Topic You Want To Blog About?
Do a Google search, use the Google Keyword Tool to find out whether 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 also a great tool that I also use to find out detailed analysis of the topics and markets I want to get into online.
Forums are also a good source of information to find out what the market needs. Users there may tell you what information they’re looking for or willing to pay for. Or you can ask on the forums for what people are after.
What If I Want To Provide A One-off Service & Just Make Money Off The Ads?
You can. There are more than one way to skin a cat so to speak (aww but I like kitties).
There are websites out there providing free services (like image generators, icon/banner makers, online game sites, and others) and make the money via advertising. We’ll get to the advertising in part two of this post series. For now, we’ll concentrate on providing content – whether it’s graphics, video or words.
Okay, call me biased because I’m using WordPress but I’ve used both WordPress and Blogger, and WordPress has by far impressed me the most (please don’t hold it against me almighty Google). WordPress has more plugins to make life easier and I’m all for it since I’m so lazy.
Now before you run off to sign up for an account with WordPress.com, if you’re planning on making money out of your blog or if it’s for a business, you’d want to look professional.
URLs like www.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 like www.YourWebsite.com for example, you need a hosting provider to host your domain. Their 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 lol.
Bluehost offers great support. I’ve had some pretty lame newbie problems in the past and they’ve always been there to help me fix the issues – without making me feel like a noob. Bluehost support is fast, friendly and reliable. Their prices are pretty average. Not the most expensive but not the cheapest either. But you’ll definitely get good support with Bluehost. So for someone who is new to making a website, they’re a Godsend.
Siteground is cheap and cheerful. The prices are definitely cheaper than Bluehost but for a good reason: their support is elusive. If you’re confident with websites and blogs, then support doesn’t really matter. To get hold of a customer service rep online is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Plus 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’re strapped for cash and want affordable hosting, Siteground is the way to go.
If you’re wondering which one of the two I use, I use them both actually. 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 names in case the URL you want is already taken.
- Go Bluehost or Siteground and type in the URL you want that’s available. Sign up, pay (credit card or Paypal) and you should receive a welcome email with the login details of your website. Make sure you pay that little extra ($10 a year) for WHOIS privacy protection so people can’t find your personal details if they check out who owns the website.
- Sign into your website by going to your hosting provider’s website and login with your account details.
- Here’s where you’ll 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!
Picking A Theme (Design aka Template) For Your Blog
Some people get worried that they would need to know how to design or program a website or blog in order to have one. But there are plenty of templates and themes (for WordPress and Blogger) that are free – with all the design and work done for you.
Loading A Free Theme Onto Your WordPress Blog
To get 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 Appearance tab, click 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, then click Install Now button, click Activate and your theme or design should be live on your website/blog now.
Go check it out by typing your website URL into a new window and have a look. If you don’t 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 and installing them via your WordPress backend. Type “Free WordPress Themes” 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.
If you want a totally custom theme made for you, you can hire web designers on oDesk to make one for you.
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 Plugins To Make Your Site Better & Your Life Easier
What are WordPress plugins?
WordPress on its own is okay for blogging but your site will be pretty bare and simple in function. Unless you’re 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 do they do? The question should be what don’t they do?
They range from helping your site run faster, to helping you add contact forms, insert ads, have slide shows, embed videos, kill comment spam, help Google find your site, let you have customized sidebar or menus and so much more! Hundreds of developers and programmers have spent time to make these handy plugins to make our lives easier (thank you!) so we can have more interesting and better websites.
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 plugin you want and select Install Now and then Activate Plugin to begin using it.
The Top 13 Recommended WordPress Plugins To Add:
- Ad Inserter (by Igor Funa) – works in tandem with Advertising Manager below. It 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 will come in handy to get rid of annoying comments that 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: https://akismet.com/signup/
- All In One SEO Pack (by Michael Torbert) – this will help optimize your website for search engines (which is important but more on that in another post).
- Comment Link Manager (by Weberz Hosting) – this plugin 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 panel for people to share this article with (for websites like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn, MySpace etc). This is great way to encourage people to tell their friends and family about your blog or articles.
- Subscribe To Comments Reloaded (by Camu) – such a small feature and yet so 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 commentators are saying and want to 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’s awesome because Google takes loading speed 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 accidently mess up your website. Back your website at least once or twice a week.
If Your Theme Needs Extra Basic Features
Some themes are a bit lacking in the feature department (equivalent to not having a nose or eyes on someone’s face). If you like your theme but it’s missing some basic elements, these plugins might help (remember these are optional):
Menubar (by Andrea Tarantini) – some theme developers forget to put in a menubar (the same people I would not trust to build a house in case they forget to put on a roof or windows!)
So if your theme is one of them, this will help out a lot. There are other menubars to choose from.
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 (or menubar) once you add one. Here’s where this plugin will help decide which pages or categories show with a few clicks.
Now What Do I Do Zoe?
Write and put content in!
WordPress automatically installs a pre-written first post for you. You can either delete it by writing over it, deleting it or selecting Add New under Posts tab on the left hand panel to create a new post.
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 future readers.
I want my blog to show pretty URLs like website.com/topic/about instead of website.com/12/04/2011/2327
Go left-hand panel, under Settings, select Permalinks, click on Custom Structure button and paste this in: /%category%/%postname%/
That will give you nicer and search engine-friendly URLs.
I hope this helps your first steps towards having your very own blog.
Next up: Part Two – How To Monetize Your Blog