Blogging has come a long way since the web logs of the ‘90s. We’ve stopped calling them web logs for a start. Who has time for that in this day and age? ‘Blog’ saves precious milliseconds. They’ll be bls before too long, you’ll see.
So you want to start your bl. You’re not alone. There’s at least 440 million blogs going now, and that’s a conservative estimate. Starting a blog is a straightforward process at its core, but there’s a lot to consider if you want to do it right. A blog built on a strong foundation will allow you to focus on important things — like blogging. Cut corners early on and you’ll soon be playing catch up.
This piece breaks down everything you ought to consider when starting a blog, be it on Wix or out on your own using WordPress.org. A modest investment of time and money (we’re talking a few dollars a year) can set you up with the freedom and focus you need to succeed.
Before getting to work on the specifics you need to outline your plans in broader terms. Big picture thinking is great — it helps you hone in on the important details. A journey without a destination can be fun, but seldom focused.
Why are you blogging?
First thing’s first, you need to be clear on why you want to start in the first place. Your answer will affect everything that follows. Want to improve your writing? Want to share an experience? Want to start building a freelance portfolio? All perfectly good reasons, and there are countless more, each of which will impact how you approach your blog.
Think about purpose. If you want people to read your blog, you need to think about why they should share. 94% of blog posts are shared because they’re deemed useful, according to New York Times research project The Psychology of Sharing, . (The report isn’t very long by the way. Well worth a read.)
Be clear on why you’re blogging and how other people factor in to that.
What are you blogging about?
There’s no wrong answer here. There are news blogs, food blogs, fashion blogs, arts blogs… all sorts of blogs. This is your blog. It’s entirely up to you what you should be writing about. Being clear on that ‘what?’ is just as important as the ‘why?’.
Conventional wisdom dictates that you write about something you know. We agree. The same New York Times study also found that 68% share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. If your blog concerns something you care about, odds are there’s some overlap with what other people care about.
Blogging is a world of shared interests. A good blog isn’t about you: it’s about what you’re writing about. Also, people generally write better when they have a clue what they’re talking about, which is good for everyone.
How much are you willing to spend?
Don’t panic. You don’t have to spend a cent if you don’t want to, but it’s worth establishing a loose budget before you get started. How much are you willing to spend on getting your blog off the ground? It can be done for free, but being open to spending a few dollars a month will open up new opportunities for independence.
Branding is how you present yourself to the world. At its best it aligns who you want to be with how you are seen. Apple’s domain is apple.com and it’s logo is an apple — “fun, spirited and not intimidating”, as Steve Jobs put it. FedEx’s domain is fedex.com and it’s logo sneaks in a little arrow in the negative space of the font, a smart nod to its courier services.
In a blogging sphere, Cake Wrecks of cakewrecks.com is about disastrous cake designs; Kate on Conservation (ten points for guessing the url) is a woman called Kate talking about wildlife, animal welfare, and conservation. You get the idea.
It sounds obvious, but this is all part of branding. Having a name, having an identity, and getting that across consistently. Even the humblest blog needs a bit of branding. If you’ve done the why and the what, it should be a simple process.
Your blog needs a name, ideally one relevant to what you do. This isn’t always necessary — Apple is only tangentially related to computers for example — but for a new blog trying to make its way in the world it’s worth being descriptive.
Think you’ve got the perfect name? Not so fast. Is the domain available in some form? The Twitter handle? Has someone else already thought of something similar? A great name isn’t terribly useful to you if someone else has already built their own brand around it.
The name you choose is not legally binding, obviously, but it’s a good thing to be happy with from the outset.
The other half of your essential branding work is a logo. Visuals are are an excellent way of getting ideas across, and having your own visual assets borders on essential in the digital age. From social media profile pictures to website favicons (the little picture on the tab in the browser), a logo provides a clear, memorable association with your blog.
There are several ways to approach a logo:
- Do it yourself
- Get a professional to do it for you
- Use online tools
If you’re a creative type comfortable with graphic design, give it a pop yourself. The process can be deeply gratifying provided you get it right, a why and what process all of its own.
If you’re not a graphic designer, you’ll need some help. A professionally designed logo can set you back hundreds of dollars. This is fine for businesses, but for bloggers it can be a bit much. Luckily, there are a number of tools online that can generate logos for you, selling full rights to them for as little as $10. They won’t be as distinctive as their the professionally made, personalized kin, but they’re often the best option for new blogs.
Don’t get too hung up on it. A logo is much easier to change than a name is, as evidenced by the frequency with which major brands tweak their own. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our breakdown of the best logo makers online.
All right. You have a name, you have a logo, you have an identity. Now you’re ready to start setting up your blog. The complexity of this largely depends on the platform you choose, but even the ‘complex’ end of the spectrum should take less than an hour to do. In fact, there’s a decent chance it would take longer to read this article than to set up a blog.
Choosing a platform
The big decision on blog setup is the platform you use. Will you house it in a dedicated space like Blogger or Tumblr, or will you set up your own blog independently? We recommend the latter. It’s a little extra work but well worth it for the autonomy it grants you.
As you can see from our top seven blogging platforms, there’s no shortage of them out there, each offering a different experience:
You’ll notice WordPress.org tops the lot. WordPress.org now powers over 30% of the internet. It’s powerful and reliable, with enough structure to guide the newbies and enough flexibility for the techies to run wild. As someone reading an article like this, you likely fall into the former camp, which is fine. WordPress.org is a powerful platform, but at its core extremely useable.
All this said, free platforms can be fantastic for testing the waters before you start in earnest. From the complete hand-holding experience of WordPress.com to the code-it-yourself playpen of Neocities, there are plenty of free platforms for you to cut your teeth on.
A blog needs a home. All your big ideas and hopes for the future are meaningless — meaningless — without giving some thought to technical requirements. If you use a platform like Blogger or Tumblr, which does everything for you, you’re in the clear. But if you want some autonomy (and we recommend you do), there’s a few boxes to tick before you can start blogging.
It’s good having a domain name for your blog, a little patch of the internet you can call your own. If you’ve chosen a brand/blog name with an available domain, it’s a five-minute job. Go to a site like GoDaddy or Namecheap and buy the domain name. Simple. Alternatively, most hosting providers offer a complimentary domain name as part of signup. If you’re taking the WordPress.org approach, this can streamline the setup process.
Web hosting is like renting a piece of land on the internet, somewhere that stores your website and makes it accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time. If you take the self-hosting route, you’ll need to take care of this yourself.
We (and WordPress) think Bluehost is the best hosting option for a WordPress site, especially for something like a blog. Bluehost prides itself on one-click WordPress setup, and it really is that simple. You can have hosting, a domain name, and a WordPress site up and running in five-minutes with them. Its basic pricing plan is just $2.95 a month at the moment (there’s nearly always a sale on), so you don’t need to break the bank to get your blog off the ground.
Bluehost isn’t the only hosting platform in the game. Our research puts HostGator top for overall hosting, but Bluehost is the safe bet for WordPress.org-based blogging.
Ah yes, appearances. How’s your blog going to look? Clean and minimal? Emphasis on images? It’s entirely up to you. This is the internet. You can do anything. Design is often an extension of your brand, so by the time you get to this stage it should be a simple process.
Color & presentation
The most noticeable aspect of your blog’s design is its color scheme. Most blogging platforms, from WordPress to Wix, allow you to mess around with template colors. A main color and a couple of complementary ones are all you’re likely to need. It’s often worth doing this in alignment with your logo. Facebook’s logo is blue and white; so is its website.
Play around with colors with your blog’s identity in mind and you’ll soon settle onto something that feels right. A good color scheme can add so much to site, so do put in time and thought. You’ll be glad you did.
Having images in your blog posts massively boosts the chance of it being read by lots of people. Even if words are your focus — which is absolutely fine — images add context and color to what you’re writing about.
Rather than going through the hassle of becoming a professional photographer, identify resources for fair-use imagery. There’s plenty out there, and you’ll be glad to have them on hand once you start blogging. Below are just a handful:
Check out our piece on where to find professional, free images for your website if you’re unsure where to start. Don’t forget to credit the images you use. Remember, blogging is a world of shared interests. Don’t be shy about acknowledging the amazing work other people are doing.
A blog should have a little more going on than a blog, even if it’s just an ‘About’ or ‘Contact’ page. Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s can make such a difference on a blog. If you’re writing things worth reading, sooner or later readers will want to learn more about you. To make good on that interest it’s worth setting up some extra functionality on your blog from the outset. Nothing fancy, but it goes a long way.
Who are you? Why are you writing about this? If you’ve answered these questions for your own sake (which you should have by now) it shouldn’t be much of a stretch to write them down on an ‘About’ page for your readers to see, in case they want to check.
Give people a way of staying in touch with your work. Email isn’t as glamorous as social media titans like Instagram and Twitter, but it lends itself particularly well to blogging. Most platforms make this super easy to set up, and your mailing list can be a really useful metric on how your blog is growing (or not growing).
Blogs don’t just magically find an audience. They put themselves out there, add to the discussion, and grow their following over years. A good blog post deserves to be shared, so take steps to make it shareable.
More than three billion people now use social media, three quarters of the world’s entire internet population. That’s a large potential audience, but to reach it you’ll need to set up your own social media channels.
Which ones largely depends on the nature of your blog, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the big three. Most blogging platforms allow for some level of integration with social media, giving you the option to automatically post with every new blog. This is good to a point, but being engaged and doing it yourself can be much more rewarding .
Once you’ve signed up, follow people in the same sphere as your blog. Be inspired and informed, and participate! Both you and your blog will benefit.
Content distribution channels
Another excellent method of online promotion — and one particularly relevant to blogging, is content distribution networks like Medium and Flipboard. These are places where you can republish your content, potentially finding thousands of new readers, but still have complete ownership over your work.
Medium is actually a sound blogging platform in its own right if that’s a path you want to go down, though we think it’s better used as an outlet than as a home.
Right. You’re ready to start blogging. Before you embark on your journey through the blogosphere, try to have a baseline schedule to stick to, be it a post a day or a month. Consistency is key online. The internet rewards consistency.
This may all have seemed like a lot of faff just to start a blog, but it will be worth it. A competently built blog lets you focus on blogging, which is where the joy of it ultimately comes from.
So start! It won’t be perfect. Mistakes will be made, in years to come you’ll look back and cringe at some of the work you’ve done. That’s fine. That’s the process. Just start. Good enough is good enough, and there’s no better way of learning than doing.