It’s a new year, and you’ve still got the same great ideas. Now’s the time to share them, and to turn that daydream – “what if I started a blog?” – into a reality.
Whether you want to start your blog as a hobby, or you’d like to grow it into something bigger, you can get started right away. And you never know – what starts as a hobby could grow into a high-traffic platform.
After all, that’s what happened to us – Website Builder Expert started as a hobby blog for reviewing website builders in 2010, and has grown like crazy since then. We received over 4.5 million visitors last year!
Have you been wondering how to set up a blog? Wonder no more – our guide will take you through the eight most important steps:
How to build a blog
- Choose your blogging platform
- Get a domain name
- Pick a blog template
- Add key pages
- Plan and write your posts
- Promote your blog
- Optimize for search engines
- Monetize your blog
We’ll explain each of these steps in depth below. So, settle in and get ready to finally start that blog!
First, you need to choose a platform to create your blog with. There’s no shortage of options out there, with WordPress, Weebly, and Squarespace just a few examples. We recommend WordPress – it’s what we use to power Website Builder Expert, and we’re not the only ones who approve. Indeed, 34% of the entire internet is also powered by WordPress.
WordPress is great for blogging because it’s a Content Management System (CMS), which means its primary focus is, well, managing content. With a platform like this, an active blog will be able to generate a ton of content. Other blogging platforms, like Wix and Squarespace, are website builders, which means their primary focus is building the visual components of your site, rather than managing its content.
WordPress does demand more technical knowledge than other popular blogging platforms. If you use WordPress, you’ll have to code at least a little bit. But don’t panic – since seemingly everyone uses WordPress, odds are any problems you run into will have been solved many times over on Q&A forums like Quora by now.
WordPress is a self-hosted blogging platform, which means you’ll need to choose a web hosting provider to power your WordPress blog. This extra step is well worth the effort – a web hosting provider will give all of the files that make up your blog their own home on the internet. Every website on the internet needs to be hosted, and using a hosting provider ensures that your website will be able to grow while maintaining good speed.
Site speed is important, considering that even a one-second delay decreases customer satisfaction by 16%. A hosting provider dedicates more space on the internet specifically for storing your site, and can accommodate more files and more content.
Don’t worry, you still don’t need to be a tech guru to find a web host! Blogger Katie Taylor, of women’s health and well-being site The Latte Lounge, explained to us why she chose Bluehost as her provider:
“It’s a fairly straightforward process. As a new startup and a total novice, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I felt it was better that someone else hosted the site for me who did know what they were doing, like backing it up, etc.”
Most hosting providers offer shared hosting, which is the cheapest and easiest way to self-host. We recommend starting your blogging adventure on a shared hosting plan, most of which offer unmetered bandwidth. Some also offer one-click or automatic WordPress installations.
Before you commit to WordPress, take note! There are two different versions: .com and .org. WordPress.com functions more like a website builder, where (less powerful) hosting is taken care of for you. WordPress.org is a self-hosted CMS that’s built to power more scalable blogs. You can read our WordPress.com and WordPress.org reviews to learn more.
Other popular blogging platforms – such as Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly – fall into the category of website builders (as opposed to CMSs). They don’t offer the same scalability as WordPress, but they’re easier to use, and will still create fully functional blogs.
Different website builders have different strengths, so your choice will depend on your top priorities. If you want a blog that’s easy on the eyes, Squarespace has the best-looking templates – it gets a 5/5 in our user-tested research for design. Weebly is best for building a blog quickly, and has plenty of blogging-specific features to make setup easy. Wix, meanwhile, is best for integrating your blog with a powerful website, with everything from image galleries to embedded YouTube videos that will supplement your blog.
You don’t need to pay upwards of $29/month for a platform like Shopify or BigCommerce to sell online. All you need is Square Online Checkout links. These shareable links make it super easy for you to securely accept payments online from your readers.
To get started, all you have to do is sign up to a free account with Square Online, give whatever product you’re selling a name and a price, and create a checkout link to place on your blog. Simple!
Website builders generally cost between $5-15/month for basic to intermediate plans, which would typically cover the demands of a new blog. This price is all inclusive – it covers both the website builder and the hosting. Most website builders also offer free plans, which are great for trying out a new platform and getting comfortable with the interface. However, if you want to scale your blog or reach an audience, you’ll eventually have to upgrade to one of the paid plans to get full functionality.
The next thing to consider is your blog’s domain name. Your domain name will be like your blog’s address in internet-land, and it should tell readers what to expect from your content.
So how do you choose a domain name? Think of any topical words or phrases that could relate to your blog. For example, if you’re starting a cooking blog, then tastyrecipes.com or healthymeals.net would work well. The thing is, a lot of the most straightforward domains are already taken – so what then?
Any domain registrar, like Domain.com or GoDaddy, will have a search bar function so you can find out if the name you want is available. If your first choice isn’t available, take it as an opportunity to get creative. The more out-of-the-box (but still relevant) your domain name, the more memorable it will be for readers.
You also have the option of using your real name, or some variation of it, as your domain name. This is a good idea if you want to blog about a slightly broader topic, like lifestyle or travel.
If you decide to blog with a website builder, then you’ll usually get a custom domain name as part of any paid plan. It’s easy to search and select a domain name through the website builder, so you won’t have to leave the platform to secure one. If you already have a custom domain, it’s also easy to link this to your website builder.
Once you have a domain name picked out, you’ll need to purchase your domain through a registrar. Domain name registration typically costs $10 to $15/year for top-level domains (TLDs) like .com, .net, and .org. To learn more about choosing and purchasing a domain name, you can read our full breakdown of Domain Registration Costs.
The next step in figuring out how to start a blog is to choose a template. This will act as a design springboard for your blog. Whether you decide to blog with WordPress or a website builder, you’ll be able to choose from a range of templates.
Many of WordPress’ free templates (or “themes”) come preinstalled with your account for convenience.
We recommend using a free theme when you start your blog, because you’ll enjoy all of the same features. As you get more comfortable in the blogosphere, you’ll eventually develop your blog’s unique style – and that will be the best time to invest in a paid theme.
There are tons of sites dedicated to selling paid themes, and a few minutes searching on Google will help you find a selection you like. We think ThemeForest and MOJO Marketplace are good places to start. A paid theme will typically cost between $20-60, and represent a one-time investment.
If you’re sticking to free website builder themes, you’ll be able to view templates specifically built for blogging, like on Squarespace’s template page:
Your blog template should put the focus on your content, but it should also reflect your personal style. You can ‘demo’ several templates to find the one that suits you best, and you’ll then be able to customize the color scheme, font, and background (if you want to).
If coding isn’t your forte, we recommend finding a theme you really love, and don’t want to change too much. Plenty of WordPress sites are built using the free themes, which is why people often end up springing for a premium theme from a third party site – that way, there’s more chance of ending up with something that looks unique.
Once you have a template set up, there are two pages you need to create to further customize your blog: an About page, and a Contact page.
An About page is crucial, because it lets readers know who you are and what your mission is. A successful About page will tell readers why you care about your chosen topic. When it comes to The Latte Lounge’s About page, Katie says:
“I just wrote from the heart. I wrote about why I started it, and why I was so passionate about supporting women in this way, to provide them with solutions and points of discussion.”
Now that readers are enthralled by your dazzling personality, they’ll no doubt want to get in touch. You’ll need a Contact page to make that engagement as easy as possible. You don’t have to worry about putting a lot of content here – in fact, the less content, the better. As long as readers can clearly see your name, your email address, and links to your social media profiles, you’ll be good to go. And make sure you include a submission box, so that readers can conveniently email you without leaving the page.
So what should I blog about?
You probably already have an idea of what you’d like to blog about, whether it be a hobby or a professional subject. Don’t worry about your topic being too niche – it’s a wide web, and there’s an audience for everything. The trick is sticking to just a few topics for your blog – otherwise, it’ll get cluttered and disorganized, and readers searching the internet won’t have a clear idea of what to expect from your page. Darren Hockley of the DeltaNet International blog explains:
“As nice as it would be to simply write about whatever springs to mind on our blog, it’s never going to make good business sense to drift off-topic too much. For example, we create compliance and health and safety eLearning for businesses, so – in order to demonstrate thought leadership and authority in the industry – it makes sense that we explore these topics in our own blog, which we update weekly. The catch is, I think, to do this in a way that showcases your personality and values as a brand (even if we’re talking about a personal rather than a corporate brand).”
So you’ve got your bright idea, and you’re passionate about it. The next step is honing that into something with unique value that you can talk about for a long time.
Adding unique value means contributing something to your chosen topic that no one else on the internet is contributing. It sounds like a lofty goal, but you’ve already chosen a topic you’re passionate about – now it’s just a matter of speaking from the heart. Do you have any tips that could only come from personal experience? What about a funny anecdote that only you could tell? Now’s the time to add some color!
Ensuring your blog’s longevity starts in the planning stage. Make sure you don’t pick a topic that’s too time-sensitive, so that your posts will stay relevant. Also, avoid getting too specific with your blog’s topic or theme – ideally, you’ll be planning content for years to come, and you don’t want to limit yourself by choosing a topic with just one angle of approach. Now, you might be wondering…
How do I keep my content fresh?
The first thing to remember is that if you have a passion for your topic, it will show in your content – so don’t stress! You wouldn’t be wondering how to start a blog if you didn’t have an interest to write about, would you?
The next thing to remember is that your content should respond to a preexisting demand. In other words, are you answering a question that people are already asking? Are you adding to a conversation that people are already having? The answer should be yes – and there are tools to help you figure this out.
Keyword research is the best way to discover what your audience is thinking about.
Keyword research is the process of identifying the popular terms people type into search engines. This knowledge gives you a better idea of what content people are looking for, and what questions you’ll want your blog to answer.
We interviewed SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Executive Lorenzo Corazzin, who explained:
“Keyword research is important, not only for driving traffic, but because it lets you connect a blog post to a specific category on your site. You can then expand this using related keywords found during the research.”
In other words, you can develop a whole topic section on your blog based on what keywords people are searching around that topic. If you see that “healthy recipes” gets about 90k searches per month, and that “easy healthy recipes” gets ~18k, then you can use that information to build up different sections of your healthy living blog. Within the broad topic of healthy recipes, there’s plenty of demand for healthy recipes that are easy to make – and this subcategory could be your specialty.
Now, you might be wondering where we got those numbers from, and how you can find them yourself. The figures above refer to search volume, or the number of searches for a keyword within a certain time frame (usually per month). Keywords with a high search volume indicate content that people are looking for. They also indicate competition – tons of relevant websites will be vying for the top few spots on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for high-volume keywords.
So how do you figure out which keywords have high search volumes? Keyword research tools like SEMrush and BuzzSumo will give you these figures in the click of a button. You’ll have to pay for the full-featured, most useful versions of these tools – SEMrush, for instance, breaks the bank for an emerging blog budget at $99.95-399.95 – but BuzzSumo offers a free version, as well as free trials of its paid versions.
We’ll talk more about how you can set your site up for SEO success a little later on.
Planning and scheduling posts
Now that you’re armed with insight into what your audience wants to read, it might seem like there’s an overwhelming amount to write about. That’s good – it means you’ve chosen a layered topic. It also means you need a content calendar.
A content calendar allows you to organize and plan your blog posts thoughtfully. It’s not enough just to post consistently – you also need to post with relevance. Your keyword research should inform your content calendar, so that the end result is a schedule of topical, timely posts.
Of course, you can’t foresee what news items or trends are going to be popular months or even weeks from now. That’s why your content calendar will be a guide to help structure your blog, rather than a rigid to-do list.
You can make a content calendar for free in Google Sheets, or any platform like it. Here are some potential columns to include:
- Article title
- Brief description
- Relevant SEO keyword(s)
- Draft due date
- Post publish date
Just visualizing simple information like this will allow you to see which posts would be relevant at what time, and which topics should be published before/after other topics.
So, you have the posts, and now it’s time to promote them. Your brilliant ideas deserve to reach an audience!
Since we’re in the age of instant gratification, we’ll start with the quickest way to get more viewers for your blog. Social media is a powerful tool, especially if you already have a small following. If you don’t, you can start posting content with relevant hashtags, and start following accounts with similar content to your blog. You’ll be integrated into the community in no time! Then you can share your blog posts on social media, and watch engagement grow.
You can also write guest posts to gain exposure across your blogging community. Guest posting means pitching and writing an article for someone else’s website or blog (usually one with a similar focus and content to your own blog). This way, not only will you gain a wider audience of interested readers, you’ll also gain a link back to your blog, which will increase your site’s traffic and authority in Google’s eyes.
You can find opportunities to guest post by searching Google for blogs that are similar to your own. Narrow this down to blogs that currently accept guest posts by searching a related keyword + “guest posts,” like “healthy cooking guest posts.” You’ll have to send in a lot of pitches to get the best odds of success, but your persistence will pay off!
Will Hatton, founder of popular travel blog The Broke Backpacker, told us how he learned the importance of guest posts and links firsthand:
“In particular, the link-building side of SEO really helped. By outreaching to other travel blogs, and pinching some of their traffic by coming up as a hyperlink, I gained lots of relevant readers. Plus, this helped me rank for relevant words that people were searching about travel.”
Will’s experience with links and keywords brings us to our seventh step: Search Engine Optimization. SEO is how you get your blog pages to rank better in the SERPs – so when people search for those keywords we talked about earlier, your site has a better chance of appearing first. SEO covers everything from the tags you choose for your article, to the meta description that you summarize it with.
Your post title, URL, and snippet are all elements of SEO that should be short and snappy. The snippet is sometimes taken from the meta description that you write before publishing a post, while other times it gets taken from content within the post. To ensure relevance, you want to pay attention to how you structure your content.
“Titles and H1s [primary headings] are very important,” says Lorenzo, “because they indicate to search engines what the content is about.”
Once you’ve got strong titles, headings, and subheadings in place, you can optimize the content itself. Darren draws from his experience with DeltaNet International:
“Quality blogs are key for strong SEO, as they’re generally content-rich and full of quality information of the sort that search engines like. This means that they’re great for keyword optimisation that is natural – i.e. not forced – and even better for brands that want to target long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords are generally much more specific to what you do or sell (think ‘how to set a secure password’ rather than just ‘password’), and so help drive people to your blog who actually want to read it – everyone’s happy!”
There are also ways to optimize the images in your blog posts, so that they help your site rank higher in the SERPs.
You can compress your images to ensure that they don’t slow down your site’s loading speed (compression reduces the file size without reducing the quality). There are countless free tools that will let you easily compress images at the click of a button – we use ImageResizer.com to compress ours!
You should also add alt tags to images, which is the descriptive text that shows in place of the image if it can’t be displayed. This could happen if, for example, one of your readers has turned off images in their web browser. When you include relevant, helpful image alt tags (with a page keyword included), search engines recognize that as useful information, and it ultimately helps the page rank higher.
This last step is optional, and it won’t happen overnight. But if you start your blog as a passion project, after some time, you might see the opportunity to make money from it. You can do this through ads and affiliate partnerships, which marketers will pay to place on blogs with high traffic. Affiliate marketing means earning a commission by promoting a company’s product on your blog. You can do this by writing a post about a certain product, and linking out to the best place to purchase it.
Will explains why he decided to monetize The Broke Backpacker:
“I wanted to be able to move around constantly, rather than having to work in a static place. I know a lot of people that have ended up having to settle down for a year or so on their travels. For me, this removes the element of exploration and excitement that drove me to travel in the first place. Being able to make money from my travel blog means I can travel without settling down to find work in any single place.”
It’s true that some bloggers are able to replace their entire income with profits from their blog. That’s a fine goal to set, but the process is gradual – you might start by making a few extra dollars a month. If this is something you’re thinking about, check out our guide to making money from a website for a full breakdown of the process with tips and strategies.
Congratulations – you’re ready to start a blog!
Once you get the initial setup out of the way, you’ll be able to spend a lot more time on the fun part – in other words, sharing your thoughts and ideas with the world. To recap, these are the eight steps you’ll take to get there:
- Choose your blogging platform
- Get a domain name
- Pick a blog template
- Add key pages
- Plan and write your posts
- Promote your blog
- Optimize for search engines
- Monetize your blog
Get started now, and you’ll be well on your way to digital fame and fortune (or fun, at the very least!) Let us know your bright blogging ideas in the comments – we can’t wait to read your stuff.