Millions of people around the world have blogs. Some of them blog for fun while others blog for companies. An army of people get most of their income from blogging.
Blogging can also be a fantastic way to build a network of like-minded people around you.
Most importantly, blogging is about taking control. It’s about building a platform for yourself or your business that’s controlled by you. It gives you a voice and it gives you the potential to be seen as an authority – once you earn it.
The truth is there are not many other methods that can give you the potential online penetration that a blog can.
On top of that, the entry point is low cost and well supported. WordPress provides the most powerful blogging software in the world completely free of charge. All you need is some web space and a bit of time.
Once you have your new blog up and running you will wonder what all the fuss was about. It can be intimidating when you don’t know where to start – but using this guide you will.
We are going to go through the basics to get you blogging quickly. From picking a topic, to a great domain name, to the process of setting up the software, all the way through to developing your own blogging style.
As with almost everything nowadays Google is your friend. If something is not clear while you are reading, Google it. Or just leave a comment with your burning questions, and I’ll try to respond as soon as I can with my best answers.
It really isn’t difficult to do, so take a deep breath and let’s get on with it.
Pick A Topic To Blog About.
Before you set up your new blog you need to know what you are going to write about. Now this might be an easy decision for you. If it’s to be a company blog for example, then the topicality will match your business. Easy.
If you are setting up a blog with no other infrastructure in place, then the first step is to decide what you going to blog about. That’s not so easy. But as you’re reading this, I’m guessing you have a few ideas already.
It’s not just the overall topic you need to consider, it’s the angle you are going to approach the topic from. We will cover that in more detail later, but trying to find your own angle or niche within a broader topic is one key to success.
For the sake of argument let’s say you’re going to write about blue widgets. In depth, with passion and from a unique angle, summoning people to your words like moths to a flame.
OK, I know you probably won’t talk with passion about blue widgets. In fact I bet nobody in the history of the world has.
Do some research on other people covering the blue widget topic? Look at how they write and the angle they take. Look for a gap – your point of difference.
Ideally you should pick a topic you have some knowledge of, or experience in. You can just dive in and blog blind, but people will spot it and your authority will remain at zero. If you are writing about blue widgets, you had better know your blue widgets.
Get A Great Domain Name.
You want people to find your blog. You also want people to remember it and come back. So a relevant and easy to remember domain name is essential.
Some people will tell you that you must register a domain name that contains keywords relating to the topic you are writing about. This allegedly helps Google to decide that your new blog will be highly relevant and rank it well in its search engine.
Although that may have had an element of truth in it at one time, most of the noises coming from the SEO industry suggest it’s really not worth worrying about that much.
If you have a name in mind that isn’t already registered, and that has relevance to your topic then great. But don’t spend hours, days or weeks agonising about it. Google will rank you just as well if you only have relevance in the content of the blog.
Your primary concern is to think of a name which is catchy, conveys a message and is memorable.
If you going to spend time creating an amazing blog about blue widgets, then thinking of a name relevant to that will of course help. Then people will instantly understand what the site is about.
If you are aiming to sell from the blog please don’t be cheesy and call it something like bestbluewidgets.com. People will see it as just another low quality spam site.
It is much better to come up with a quality name that people will immediately associate with your unique blog. I have no idea if it’s already registered, but the sake of example you could call it something like widgetmeblue.com.
There are lots of places you can register your domain name. Some of the bigger companies are Godaddy, 1&1 and Namecheap.com. You can also register your domain name with your web host at the time you set up your web hosting account. This is usually more expensive though, so check out the costs both of buying the domain and the renewal prices.
Whichever road you go down always compare prices, and search for coupon codes for the company you are going to register the domain through. Sometimes you can save significant cash by using coupon codes.
So now you have a great domain name registered. You also have a vague idea of what you are actually going to write about. So everything is going great so far.
The next step is to understand the software we’re going to use, and get everything set-up.
The Difference between Hosted and Self-Hosted Blog Software.
First of all, it is important that we clarify something which confuses a lot of new bloggers.
A blog is a website. Although specialist blogging software has extra features to make publishing easier, there is essentially no difference between a website and blog. Both contain words and pictures designed for people to see and read.
Blogs are hosted in two ways: hosted, and self-hosted.
A hosted blog is one that you don’t install yourself. Neither do you need your own web space to host it on.
A self-hosted blog is where you install software on a webserver you have access to. You have to do the leg work in return for more power and control.
Although hosted blogs are great for some people, their lack of features and power make them a poor option for the long-term. Don’t fall into the trap of doing it the easy way and grabbing a hosted blog. You will regret it in months.
Another area of confusion that we need to clear up right now is that WordPress offers its software in two forms. Hosted and self-hosted.
It offers a hosted solution at WordPress.com. Although it has many of the features of the downloadable WordPress software, there are lots of good reasons to go self-hosted:
• There are more free plugins and themes available.
• You have zero restrictions on functionality when you self-host.
• You can modify the underlying code. Most people find they want to at some stage.
In addition, remember that free is never really free. Although WordPress.com is free to use, doing anything extra costs money.
Want to use a domain name of your own? Upgrade at a cost of $26 a year. Want to remove adverts? Upgrade at a cost of $20 a year. Want to…you get the picture.
To take control of your blogging and have access to all the features that the WordPress software offers, you need to use the self-hosted version of WordPress. It can be downloaded from the WordPress.org website.
To really clear this up, just in case you are still confused:
• WordPress.com – a place where you can use a limited version of the WordPress software using their web space. It’s like renting a place to live.
• WordPress.org – a place where you download the full WordPress software to install on your own web space. This is getting a free house, with just the furniture to find yourself.
Once you have the WordPress software downloaded you can then install it on web space that you own, attach a domain name to it and start blogging. It will take you a few hours to get it all sorted.
But we don’t want to spend a few hours doing it.
Instead you are going to how you to set up self-hosted WordPress in a handful of clicks and without even downloading the software. It’s so easy a cat can do it.
So let’s get on with it.
(Before we get on with it, I just wanted to say that I lied about a cat being able to do it…).
Installing Your WordPress Blog: A Step-By Step Guide.
1. Go to Bluehost and open a hosting account. Bluehost is a low-cost, high-quality webhost that provides web space for tens of thousands of customers across the world.
2. Enter the domain name you have purchased into the sign-up form, complete the form and submit payment.
As of writing this guide, Bluehost costs as little as $4.95 a month. Compare that to the hosted WordPress.com option we mentioned earlier, where you are paying just as much just to unlock two extra options.
TOP TIP: Untick the boxes offering you extended features. You do not need them so save yourself the money.
3. Once your account has been set-up you can install WordPress using the amazing Bluehost 1-click install. No file uploading to do, no setting up a database, no editing the WordPress configuration files.
Log into your control panel at Bluehost and look for the SiteBuilder section.
Click the WordPress icon if there is one, or the SimpleScripts icon if there is not. It doesn’t matter which is there – the install process is the same.
4. Complete the required form details, which takes about 6 seconds. If you are just going to run a copy of WordPress on your account, then install WordPress in the “root” of your web hosting account. This means you do not enter a name in the field asking for a folder name.
6. That’s it. The one click install has created a database and set-up WordPress for you. Easy!
Link Your Domain To Your New Blog.
There is one more thing you need to do before you can use your new blog and that is to enter the Bluehost nameservers into your domain account.
Although you have told Bluehost that your new blog will be widgetmeblue.com, you haven’t yet told the place you bought your domain from that Bluehost is where your blog is going to be hosted.
Obviously if you buy the domain from Bluehost when you set-up your hosting account, then this is not an issue, but in case you got the domain elsewhere, we will cover it here.
So the final step is to login to your domain account and choose the option to change nameservers. You will then simply enter NS1.BLUEHOST.COM and NS2.BLUEHOST.COM into the relevant fields and save.
Now your domain and your blog will know where the other is and act like a married couple. By that I mean they will act in harmony, rather than argue all the time.
Use Plugins To Extend The Power Of WordPress.
When you started reading this guide, if you didn’t know the difference between hosted and self-hosted WordPress, then you’re probably also wondering what a plugin is.
A plugin is extended functionality for your blog. There are literally thousands of them available. Whatever you want to do with your blog, there is a plugin that can help you to achieve it.
For example if you want to have a contact form, then find and install a comment form plugin. If you want to allow people to share your blog post on twitter then install a social media sharing plugin.
You get the idea.
As I said there are thousands of WordPress plugins, so it can very easy to get carried away with all the amazing extra features and install 20, or 30, or 40 of them.
The reality is you only need a handful of plug-ins. You won’t use half of them if you go nuts and install lots, so don’t fall into the trap of wasting time playing around.
The Only WordPress Plugins You Really Need.
The first one you will need is a contact form plug-in. Even if you don’t want anyone to dare to contact you, it is essential to have a contact page.
Why? They build trust. They are an expected feature and not having one will make people suspicious – even if you have nothing to sell them!
The two most popular are Contact Form 7 and SI Contact Form. Both of these allow you to set up a basic form on your blog, including CAPTCHA (where someone has to enter a set of letters and numbers before submitting the form).
A more powerful alternative is the paid plug-in called Gravity Forms. Although you may not need this for a simple contact page, if you want to do anything more advanced with forms on your blog then this is a great option.
The second essential plug-in you will need is the Yoast SEO (search engine optimization) plugin. There really are no alternatives to this. It is the best one out there because it does everything you need and it’s free.
This plugin makes optimizing your blog content for search engines easy. You can even analyze your blog posts against keywords to you are trying to rank for and get a quality score.
As well as enhancing your SEO, the Yoast plugin also allows you to alter and benefit from other key features such as sitemaps and robots.txt files.
And if that wasn’t enough, the plug-in also allows you to link your blog to your Google+ profile which can give you authorship benefits in the Google search results. If you install only one plugin, then it has to be the Yoast SEO plugin!
The third essential plug-in you should install is a related posts plug-in. You have probably seen these when you have visited blogs yourself.
At the bottom of a blog post it will show you other relevant content to view. These relevant posts are delivered using the plugin, which uses the words in the post you are reading to find related content from your blog to suggest.
The two most widely used related post plug-ins are YARPP (yet another related posts plugin) and nRelate. Either of these will do a great job, although nRelate has more options for displaying images and giving you control over how the related post are displayed.
A related posts plugin may sound lovely but completely non-essential. The truth is if you don’t use one you are missing out for two reasons:
- By serving related content at the end of a blog post, you are automatically creating internal links around your blog. This is great for enhancing the strength of your on SEO with zero effort.
- When people follow the links they are staying on your blog. Visitor retention is enhanced, again with zero effort.
The last truly essential plug-in you will need, and only if you are going to have open comments on your blog posts so that people can give their thoughts, is Akismet.
When somebody comments on your blog the Akismet plugin visits a central database and checks that IP address, email address and links within the comment to see if they are from a reported spammer. If they are it sends the comment either straight to trash or to moderation, depending on the options you have chosen.
Obviously if you do not intend to allow comments on your blog this is not relevant but if you do then Akismet is an essential tool. There is a free version for non-profit blogs and premium upgrades for moneymaking blogs.
Another great option, although not essential, is to have social sharing buttons on your blog. You know the ones, where you can click a button to share the post with your Facebook friends or Twitter followers.
One of the best plugins around for doing this is the Digg Digg social sharing plug-in. Install it, activate it, decide which social media s you want to display, and save. The buttons will then appear in your blog content.
This All Sounds Great. So How Do I Install A Plugin?
You can install a plugin with just a few clicks. You don’t need technical skill.
From within your WordPress admin panel go to the plugins page, click on the “Add New” button and search for the plugin by name.
Once installed, find the plugin in your list of installed plugins and click activate. The plug-in is then live on your blog.
Some plugins have additional options that may need to be selected once activated. Once installed, look for the name of the plugin as a new menu item on the left hand side of your admin panel.
A Quick Tour of The Main WordPress Features and Options You Need To know.
I’m not going to bore you by going through every single option contained in the WordPress admin panel. However there are a small number of things that you really do need to do before you start blogging.
The first is to change your permalink structure. Permalinks are basically the way your blog URLs are structured. We want them to be search engine friendly, so we need to change them from the default setting which uses numbers, rather than descriptive words.
In the WordPress admin panel, click on settings and then click on permalinks. On that page select the post name option and save.
Doing this can help you rank better as it helps Google to determine how relevant your blog post is for a search term.
It will also help your audience to see what the post is about. When sharing your URLs it can also help people to know what the post is about before they click on it.
The second thing you need to do is to set up your commenting policy. This is in the settings > discussion screen. You can set a global commenting policy, from not allowing comments at all, through to sending all comments into moderation for you to authorize or delete.
Making Your WordPress Blog Look Great.
When you visit a WordPress blog it will look a certain way. The way it looks is down to the theme that the blog uses for its layout, colors and navigational structure.
There are literally tens of thousands of WordPress themes available on the Internet. Many of them are completely free. You can find an army of free themes in the WordPress theme repository.
As well as free themes there are thousands of premium ones. These can range in price from a few dollars up to more than one hundred. You are paying for more polished designs, more features built into the theme and developer support post purchase.
There are some massive marketplaces for WordPress themes and you will be literally spoiled for choice.
To avoid being overwhelmed by the choice, you need to nail down how you want your new blog to look in terms of layout and colors. There are lots of extra features in some themes, such as image sliders and other fancy stuff, so you need to decide how important such things are to you.
Sketch out how you imagine the blog looking on a piece of paper. The number of columns, specific features and where they will appear.
You can then usually find something very close to what you are looking for, and often completely free.
Another option is to use a theme framework such as Genesis or Thesis. A framework for WordPress is a base of code which sits underneath the theme. It runs all the essentials of the blog and links to what is known as a “child theme” which controls the way it looks.
The benefit of a framework is that you can update it when a new version becomes available, without overwriting the theme files.
When you use a normal WordPress theme any changes you make to the core files will be overwritten when you update the theme to a new version – there is no separation between how a site looks and how it acts. Themes and plugins are often updated by their authors to make sure they work with the latest version of the WordPress software, so it is a vital consideration.
So using a framework linked to a child theme can save a lot of headache in the long run.
But don’t worry if that all sounds too advanced, to get started you can simply pick a theme that looks good, install it and get blogging in a matter of minutes.
You install themes in exactly the same way as you install plugins. From within your WordPress admin panel search for the name of the theme and click install. Job done.
Once installed every theme has certain options you can edit from inside the WordPress admin area. You can do things like add a custom header image, change menus and alter the colors of your blog.
Of course, if you pick a theme which looks just right for you then you can get away with not changing anything at all.
TOP TIP: When you change options in a theme or plugin, those changes are saved in the WordPress database. You can deactivate a plugin or theme and when you reactivate it, the settings will be remembered. So you can experiment with different themes and plugins without losing the settings every time.
Working With Wonderful WordPress Widgets.
Wow, what a title. Say it out loud a few times.
Thankfully, once you get past the name, widgets are an incredibly easy way to have complete control over how your new blog will look and interact with visitors.
Widgets generally control what appear in the side columns and footer of your blog, although some modern themes have widget areas all over the place.
When you look at a WordPress there are usually two columns (just like my website you’re reading right now!). The first column is the main content column where you will read the blog content that has been published. To the right or left you will see a thinner column, called a sidebar.
Everything displayed in the sidebars is controlled by widgets.
Widgets allow you to have granular control over how your sidebars operate. Simply by dragging and dropping a widget to your sidebar in your admin panel (admin > appearance menu > widgets) you can add all sorts of different features to your blog.
The best way to learn about widgets is simply to get in there and play around them. Just like plugins and themes there are also additional widgets available for download. Again you can search for these using Google or visit the WordPress.org and search the plugins repository.
Create Compelling Blog Content.
At this point you should have your new WordPress blog set up on Bluehost. It will have a fantastic domain name, a great looking theme and widgets in place to display additional features. All backed up with additional powerful plugins to extend the functionality.
But you can’t make the fatal mistake many people do of thinking the hard work is done. The hard work starts once the blog is ready to use.
Now you have to actually write something.
Not only that, you have to write something that somebody will want to read.
It gets worse. Not only do they have to want to read it, but they will want to come back and read more.
You want even worse? The content needs to be so great that they want to share it with their friends on Twitter, Facebook, via email or by shouting about it in the street.
The biggest trap to avoid is feeling that you have to blog constantly. Great content is not always frequent. Though you may be told that Google loves fresh and frequent content updates this does not mean publishing any old trash you can think of on a daily basis.
Each post needs to be planned. You need to think about what its angle will be:
• What are you offering the reader?
• Why will they want to read this post?
• Are you offering advice or any particular technical solution to a problem?
• Are you passively supplying information?
• Are you having a rant?
• What is the reaction you are expecting?
So before typing a word you need to grab a piece of paper and ask yourself some fundamental objective questions.
Once you have a clear purpose for writing the piece, you need to structure it.
First get your title down on paper. Great content starts with a great title. If you don’t hook the reader in the first ten seconds, they will probably click away.
The simple objective of your main title is to get people to read the first paragraph. The objective of each paragraph is to get the next paragraph read.
People want instant information online. The second they suspect your writing is not going to deliver what they want, the click away.
So write your title, then write one line on each point that you want to make. Each point will become a paragraph. Once you have done this you will have a basic structure to build on.
Talk To Your Computer – It Helps.
Now that you understand what you are going to say and why you are saying it, you can allow yourself to get on with it.
Blogging is different to formal writing. You need a conversational style. Your writing needs to be much closer to how you would speak to someone face-to-face, rather than the words in a book or newspaper.
You don’t even need to be grammatically or structurally correct. One of the fun parts of blogging is pushing language in ways it does not usually go.
A great tip that I use myself is to use voice recognition software for the initial draft. Talk to the computer as if it was a person facing you.
Don’t worry about flowery language. Just. Get. It. Down.
Then print it off and edit it with a red pen.
Then type up your second draft.
Once you have a good draft article, paste it into the WordPress post editor. Then complete the structure of the article by adding your title, subheadings and images. Then save it as a draft.
Now walk away and leave it alone for at least a day, preferably a week. Forget about it, so that when you come back to it you are reading through fresher eyes. I guarantee you will then chop it around more before hitting the publish button.
You won’t be perfect to start off with. Maybe you never will. Accepting that might be the case will liberate your writing.
Great blogs are not about being perfect – they are about conveying a point of view that others are compelled to read.
Target yourself to write a post a week. Do it to get yourself into the habit. Build planning and writing into your week. If it does not become part of your week, you will drift. Once a week until you find your own rhythm.
Build Your Audience.
As a novice blogger it’s important you focus on the quality of your content and take your time creating it. Great content will bring visitors. As long as it is on topic, highly relevant and infectiously shareable, your traffic will grow.
Now that does not mean you should expect 1000 visitors a day. Just by creating great content you might get 10 to 100 people a day in a few months.
But don’t get disheartened. Over time this will grow. As your readership grows and you develop your blog’s content style, it will be shared in wider and wider circles.
There are of course extra things you can do to build your audience. The main way you can build it quickly is through social media. Twitter and Facebook are great ways to increase the readership of your blog. We’ll cover this in future articles, videos and guides on this website.
Don’t be a marketer, don’t spam and don’t act like a brand. Be yourself. Start conversations, join conversations and add value to the social circles you are moving in. By doing this people will become curious about you and visit the blog.
TOP TIP: Look for influencers in the niche your blog covers. There is always a small group of people at the center of a niche who followed by many others. Getting your foot in the door with these people can rapidly increase the rate at which your content is shared.
Build A List.
If you are aiming to make money from your new WordPress blog then it is advisable that you also start building an email list from the start.
Even if you aren’t selling anything now, or your blog is not about profit, harvesting the email addresses of interested people is always beneficial somewhere down the line.
Bottom line is – build a list. No matter what you think now – build a list.
Hopefully that is giving you an idea of how important it is.
There are lots of options out there for building mailing lists, some are free some you have to pay for. All of them do basically the same thing.
One thing you need to be aware of before you make the decision on which option to use, is what future development you will do on your blog.
If you only intend to collect email addresses to communicate with or market to, then you can use a mailing list plugin linked to a provider such as MailChimp or AWeber.
MailChimp offers a free account for up to 2000 subscribers, and can be linked to a WordPress plugin. Just search for MailChimp in you WordPress add new plugin page.
AWeber is a paid option. It also uses a plug-in to display the subscription form and process subscriptions on your blog.
If you intend to develop your blog into something more in the future, then you might want to consider starting to gather your mailing list in the form of membership accounts. The process is exactly the same but you will need more powerful software which stores the information in your own database rather than with a third party.
Although more expensive, the bonus is that any stage you can turn your blog into a powerful membership site. People who subscribed to your mailing list will have instant access, meaning they don’t have to sign up again – giving you instant members.
Whichever option you choose, it is usual practice to provide something for free in return for somebody completing the subscription form. This could take the form of access to download an e-book (you can download my free report here) or generate a sequence of automated information emails.
You will also need to consider what to feed the subscriber once they have signed up. It could simply be notifications of new post on your blog, it could be a multi-part course, or exclusive offers.
Dealing With Problems.
There will be times during the set-up and early days of your new blogging career where you hit problems.
Whatever happens – don’t panic! Remember that whatever you are experiencing has been seen and solved a thousand times before.
The most obvious place to get help for anything related to the technical side of your blog is to open a support ticket with your web hosting provider. Most providers also have community forums where you can discuss things and get best practice.
For WordPress specific help the most obvious place is the WordPress.org forums. You can ask as many questions you like on there. There are thousands of experienced WordPress users on there who can help you with your problem.
More generally a search on Google for the problem you are facing will usually bring up several highly relevant results to help you. There are also hundreds of WordPress help sites on the net which have lots of valuable information on them.
Don’t panic. Don’t give up. Most importantly – don’t delete anything!
Just Go For It!
With this guide and some time and effort you can own a blog that hundreds, if not thousands of people will flock to read every day.
You will encounter problems and barriers, but lots of people have been through the same thing and by sticking at it are the owners of powerful blogs.
Most bloggers who give up do so within the first three months.
A lot of others have nothing to show for their initial work, other than an empty blog and a load of passwords.
To succeed you will need four things:
1. Control. That means being self-hosted.
2. Direction. Get a unique voice and angle.
3. Persistence. You will have rough patches, so fight through them.
4. Balance. Use your time wisely – content, development and promotion.
It is not as tough as you think it will be to set-up and run a WordPress blog. You can do it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this guide and any questions you may have in the Comments box. I hope this serves you in many ways – and I look forward to creating more in the near future if it has been helpful for you.