The Ultimate Guide: How to Start a Successful Blog

I’ve seen so many people write blog posts on how to start a website or blog and yet, I’ve found that no one has tackled the task comprehensively.

So if you have no idea where to start, or aren’t sure how to continue I write this guide for you. This is my guide for starting a successful blog. And why would you listen to me? Well, I’ve created dozens of websites in my life – some for personal use (like this one) and other custom solutions for businesses and organizations. I’ve dabbled with numerous different web hosts and domain registrars and use all that experience as a foundation for this post and it’s comments. Oh, and I do web development freelance work too. So I know my way around.

As a heads up notice, this guide will be ever growing and changing as I develop and build on the presented ideas.

Without further ado, let’s start!

How to Start a Successful Blog: Step by Step Instructions

Understand your Needs and Capabilities

starting a blog

We’re not diving in just yet. Slow down eager beaver. Planning is everything and everyone seems to forget it. Ask yourself why you want to build a website. Is it to start a personal blog? For a new business you’re starting? For your club, organization, etc?

Nothing is more creative…nor destructive… than a brilliant mind with a purpose.

-Dan Brown, Inferno

Picture in your mind what the site’s going to look like. What’s your blog’s name going to be. And what tagline or motto do you plan on using? If you’re having difficult answering these type of questions you should stop here and take some time to think.

The next questions one is tougher.

 

What’s your budget?

blogging budgetIn my past, I had a stint sales role where I sold commercial office space. When I first started I showed my perspective clients some of the best listings I had to ‘wow’ them. I figured, if I impressed them, they’d want to buy from me! But as you can imagine, I didn’t convert well with that plan.

I realized an important fact. Your budget is practically everything when it comes to planning. And it’s important to pinpoint not only how much you’d like to spend to begin your site but how much time you’re willing to invest in the project and what the value of your time truly is. Setting budget expectations makes future decisions easier.

 

Price and Quality Relationship

price-quality-relationshipRemember the old adage, “you get what you pay for.“? The online world is brimmed with deals and sales and the likes, but one thing I’ve learned is that you always end up paying for quality. That super amazing deal for a year of web hosting at only $12 is a waste of your money and time. Unless you want your site to finish loading in 12 seconds! So when you’re planning for your budgeting, avoid factoring in the low ball offerings out there.

I’ll add, I believe that everything you’re involved with should be a reflection of your own quality. For example, the way you dress and groom yourself is a reflection of your values. Dressing well and grooming yourself shows that you care about yourself and your image. That image is the result of invested time and money into yourself.

Why should starting a website be different?

 

What are your Requirements?

There are numerous ways to go about starting a website. Basic sites can be coded with HTML and CSS but that requires writing a bit of code. And for some, learning isn’t worth the time. And truthfully, I don’t think anyone should be building sites from  HTML scratch anymore. It’s a major time investment, and final product will realistically be poor quality if you’re new to the area.

My favorite method for starting a blog is  built around the WordPress platform.

 

Why WordPress is Fantastic

If you’re new to blogging or move stats this statistic will blow your mind.

Over 74 million sites depend on WordPress. That’s an insane amount, and let’s be honesty, 74 million site wouldn’t be using WordPress if it didn’t deliver.

 

About WordPress

WordPress was launched in 2003 and was designed to offer a simple content mangement system (CMS) for blogging purposes. Its grown to be the largest self hosted blogging tool in the world. There are currently 40 translations of WordPress, and over 46 million downloads of WordPress from WordPress.org.

wordpress

10 Reasons I like WordPress

  1. Easy to use.
  2. Free.
  3. Versatile, almost anything you can picture is possible.
  4. Trusted.
  5. Active 3rd Party Development, WordPress grows it continues to attract more developers who are crafting new themes and plugins.
  6. Easy to Optimize.
  7. Updated Regularly.
  8. Mobile Ready.
  9. Allows for multiple contributors.
  10. Easy to monetize.

 

 Let’s get to the grit!

 

Why We’re Going to Use WordPress

As I mentioned above, most of the blogs on the internet today are made using WordPress. And that’s what we’re going to use. How’s that for authority! But I wanted to discuss why and mention a few other options.

 

Free Options

There are free options to start a blog, such as Blogger.com, Tumblr.com, or Weebly.com. But they come with a few major shortcomings. And that’s why they aren’t recommended for serious bloggers. Here’s where they fall short:

  • You can not get your own domain. Instead you will receive a sub-domain. So, a domain like untanglr.com isn’t possible to obtain. If I started a tumblr blog, my site  URL would be untanglr.tumblr.com. It’s clumsy, and not the branding we want.
  • Free options lack different theme and plugin options. You won’t have access to the plethora of blog customization available for self-hosted sites.
  • Lose control over your blog. Because your blog is hosted on another site, you are not the actual owner.
  • You are not able to monetize your site easily. Blogs can make you money. However using a free blog platform severely hampers the channels you can use to earn money.

 

Self Hosted Option

This is the choice I pitch, recommend, and use. Running a self hosted blog gives you full control over your blog.

A lot of people worry about the costs associated with running a self hosted blog. But it’s not much. You’ll only need two things.

  1. A domain name: Which will cost approximately $10 a year
  2. A web host: The actual service that connects your blog to the internet. With reputable hosts, starting at around $5 a month. And most hosts allow you to cancel within 30 or 90 days, with a money back guarantee – so if you discover blogging isn’t your thing you don’t have to absorb a big loss.

 

The Steps to Starting a Self Hosted Blog

Choosing a Domain

If you’re still following me here, our next step is to find a great domain name. This is going to be your brand. Your reputation and all your post will stand behind it, so find a great name that’s brand-able and easy to remember.

Here are some points to follow with your domain name:

  • Make it catchy
  • Ensure it’s easy to remember
  • Try to keep to short
  • Check to see if it is unique

Catchy and easy to remember should be self explanatory but unique is often forgotten. Unique means that there are no other blogs or brands associated with the name you’ve chosen. This can sometimes be difficult. But here’s a quick example – if you wanted to start an exercise blog with the domain name www.justdoit.com you’d be competing against Nike, its trademark, and its huge branding.

Before deciding on a domain, make sure it’s available as a URL, and that the name can easily be used on social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc.

The easiest way to check for available domains is to go straight to a domain registrar and use their search.

My favorite domain registrar is Namecheap – I like them as they have an easy to use interface, and more importantly they support privacy, freedom of speech and net neutrality.

Anyways, when you go to Namecheap.com, you can search for your domain name availability. What’s neat about Namecheap is that they suggest other possible domain name choices for you, especially useful when your wanted domain is not available. They also recently entered the web hosting business, but I don’t recommend them for that, there are better options out there and I’ll discuss my favorites below.

namecheap-search

Getting a Domain

You can order your new domain straight from Namecheap.  And all new domains will have receive Free WhoisGuard protection and a Positive SSL Certificate for a year. Which is awesome!

namecheap-whoisguard

It protects your personal information from being publicly association with your domain. To learn more click here.

 

Getting a Web Host

Now that you have your domain, you need a web host. In simple terms, a web host connects your website to the internet. Choosing a reputable and reliable host is key.

You want your website to load quickly, be secure, have a high up-time percent (like 99.9%) and more importantly be easy to work with. In my experiences, the cheaper the host, the more you need to question its quality.

I once purchased web hosting from iPage for a year, for a dollar. Yeah, $1. I did it to try it, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that it was the slowest service I ever encountered. And it would sporadically loose connectivity during the day, putting my site into the abyss. Needless to say, it was a dollar lost.

After using dozens of hosts, I feel most comfortable recommending hosting through;

SiteGround or my new current favorite, Digital Ocean
siteground-logo

SiteGround: Most of the websites I run are hosted on SiteGround. They have an incredibly easy to use 1-click automatic WordPress installation and their excellent customer service that has won me over. If you’re new to blogging, I highly recommend using them for your first site.

 

digitalocean-logo

Digital Ocean: I began using Digital Ocean when I needed a custom VPS to use for my development projects. If you have no idea what I just said, that’s okay. Digital Ocean is catered around development. But they also recently added a one-click WordPress installation that I fell in love with. It allows you to get a WordPress site online in about 55 seconds. How’s that for impressive. And, for the record, this site is currently hosted through DigitalOcean.

 

Which of the two should you choose?

Both are good options. But if you’re new to blogging and not as tech savvy I recommend choosing SiteGround. They have a terrific $3.95 per month WordPress Hosting plan that includes one free domain name, access to their Global CDN ( Content Delivery Network – helping speed up the loading of your site’s key elements like photos) and a nice pack of extra goodies seen below:

siteground-features

If you’re looking to get your hands dirty with more server oriented options, Digital Ocean is a pleasure to use. At $5 a month you get your own virtual server. You can install WordPress on it easily if that’s all you want, but you can do so much more too- like install your own Linux distribution and applications.

For simplicity purpose, I’ll assume if you’re searching how to start a blog that your new to all this and I’ll continue this post with SiteGround’s installation. I’ll dedicate another blog post to using Digital Ocean in the future.

 

How to Connect your Domain and Web Server Together

As I mentioned before, SiteGround does offer free domain names with the enrollment of their service. If you went that route, you’re ready to actually install WordPress.

But there are reasons to separate the two and that’s why I wrote a separate section here.

The Domain Registration Dilemma

When you’re setting up hosting for a website, you can register your domain through your host and keep all your website stuff in the same place. Sounds like a good idea, right?

Well it is for most people but I recommend thinking about the following:

  1. Keep Your Domain in one Place: As much as I love SiteGround at the moment, you never know when service will slip. If you ever get mad at your web host and decide to move your site, domain transfers can be annoying, especially when you’re leaving the company that’s in charge of your name.
  2. Registering all your Domains Together: You may be thinking, I only have one site right now! That’s true for now, but many of us get addicted to making websites. I have over 15 at the moment. Am I insane? Maybe. But by using a service like NameCheap I have easy access to managing them all.
  3. Added Security: Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Separating your web registrar from your web host can add some extra protection in the event that your site is hacked or compromised.

Linking Separate Domains and Web Hosts

But if you decided to use a different registrar, like NameCheap, we’ll have to connect the domains.

To do this we need to update something called your DNS settings.

Let’s start by logging into your SiteGround account. In the My Accounts section, click on the Manage button for the account whose DNS settings you need.

siteground-dns

On that page should should see an Account DNS Section, and it’ll have the correct DNS addresses ( they will look like ns1.siteground.eu). Write down those addresses!

Now go to Namecheap, log on and enter your dashboard. Next to, “Number of domains in your account” click View. Then click on the new domain you made and are working with.

namecheap-dns

On your left hand toolbar you’ll see, “Domain Name Server Setup” Click that. And now your at the page where you will need to enter the addresses you wrote down from SiteGround.

namecheap-change-dns

Good Work! You’ve now linked your domain name and server.

Install WordPress on SiteGround

Now it’s time to install WordPress on your server. When I originally started this post I planned to write my own step by step instructional. But I found out that SiteGround has their own detailed guide. So why reinvent the wheel?

You have two options to install your blog to your domain:

 

Themes

Once you’ve installed WordPress on your site it’s time to stylize it. The best way to get it done is through WordPress themes.

A good theme gives you the look and feel you want for you blog, allowing you to design your blog exactly how you want it to look. And if you’re not a web code, using a theme makes designing a billion times easier.

Here are a few useful sites to find some free and paid themes:

  • WordPress.org– Plenty of free themes to check out
  • Themeforest – Thousands of high quality, premium themes
  • Themify – Great theme designs with easy drag and drop customization, 30 day return policy if you’re not happy too

Tinker!

Don’t be shy to tinker around. Themes can be tweaked to get the look and feel you want!

 

Plugins

Plugins can extend WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine. You can search and install Plugins through your WordPress dashboard.

Simply click on “Add New” to find interesting and useful plugins.

 

Content

That last, and the step that never truly ends is to start writing content!

You can begin with creating a few main pages for your site. Such as an About Page, Contact Page, Events Page, etc.

 

P.S. If you found this tutorial helpful, feel free to share it. It’d mean a lot to me!  And if you have any questions, drop a comment below.

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