How to Start a Blog Part 1: Setting Up Your Blog
So you want to learn how tostart a blog, huh? Awesome! Blogging, for me, started as a hobby seven years ago, pre-Pinterest, and is now my full-time job. (Yes, really!) There are a lot of things that go into creating and running a blog, so I'm going to try to break it down for you as much as possible. If you feel like you'd be better off having someone physically show you how to do all these things, I can help with that, too.
I designed Blogging Jumpstart for new bloggers to take the overwhelm and confusion out of blogging and make things super easy to set up right from the beginning. I have video tutorials for everything you will read about in this post, as well as everything you'll read about in Part 2 coming next week.
Now let me forewarn you: There is a lot of information in this post about how to start a blog, and I tried to define terms where I thought necessary. However, if there's something you don't understand, feel free to ask a question in the comments.
Ready to get started?
THE COMPONENTS OF A BLOG
As a new blogger, you might need some guidance to know where to put the content you want to create. There are several key components of a blog that you need to be aware of.
The blog platform is essentially the infrastructure of your blog. While there are quite a few blog platforms, let's break down the differences between the four most common blog platforms:
- Blogger: Blogger is a free platform hosted by Google. You sign in with your Gmail account to Blogger.com, design your site, add content, and off you go! You can add a custom domain name to your Blogger blog if you like.
- Wordpress.org: Wordpress.org is a self-hosted version of Wordpress that allows you to design, monetize, and create your blog pretty much any way you wish. There are thousands of plugins and themes that allow you to fully customize your site, you can have ads, and monetize any way you'd like. This is a more technical blog platform, but also more versatile.
- SquareSpace: This is the new(ish) kid on the block, but a lot of bloggers are flocking to SquareSpace for it's ease of use, beautiful design, and awesome responsiveness. SquareSpace, however, is NOT self-hosted, meaning all blogs on SquareSpace are hosted on SquareSpace's servers. There are several themes and add-ons, but you are more limited with your options.
Your domain is the URL, or website address, for your blog. Domains are easy to come by and relatively inexpensive.
Your domain should be easy to understand and include your blog's name. Try not to create a really long domain, because, believe it or not, you'll be typing it and saying it A LOT. If you choose to use self-hosted Wordpress.org, you will need hosting, and typically, you can purchase your domain through the same company that provides your hosting.
If your blog platform is your infrastructure, hosting is the engine that keeps it running. I like to use the dad from "A Christmas Story" as an example of hosting. (Follow me here.)
Remember when Ralphie's dad plugged in all those plugs into one outlet, and the fuse kept blowing? Hosting is kind of like that. All websites are hosted on giant servers that all have a maximum bandwidth. When the bandwidth is full (based on content like blog posts, video, graphics, etc.), the "fuse blows", meaning the server crashes.
This is where self-hosting comes in. When millions of blogs are hosted on the same servers, like with Blogger, Wordpress.com, and SquareSpace servers, you have a higher likelihood of experiencing occasional downtime due to a server crash.
Self-hosted Wordpress.org blogs help alleviate this issue in most cases. When you pay for hosting, you are paying for a more dedicated server with way less than millions of websites running through it. You may still have occasional downtime, but it's less likely. And most hosting companies offer great customer service so you can be back up and running in no time!
Your blog's theme is what makes it pretty, for the most part. Themes are set up to put certain parts of your blog in specific places, like your sidebar on the left or right, social media icons at the top or bottom, etc. Themes also determine what your blog post will look like when it's live, and what your pages will look like.
On self-hosted Wordpress, you can purchase Genesis Framework and a child theme for your blog, which is what I recommend. This is essentially two themes running at the same time, but serving different purposes. (affiliate link)
Genesis Framework is installed just like a theme, and maintains the functionality of your blog. No matter what design work you do using a child theme, Genesis Framework makes sure everything continues to work properly.
While ultimately you want to create great content that keeps your readers coming back for more, it's the visual aspects of your blog that will initially draw them in. For help with overall photography techniques, I recommend "The Ultimate Photography Book for Bloggers" by Aniko Levai from Place of My Taste. (affiliate link)
Depending on your blog's niche, you will most likely be taking a lot of pictures for your blog. Foodies, DIY & craft bloggers, fashion & beauty bloggers, etc. will go through a lot of photos in order to find just the right ones for each blog post.
At a minimum, I recommend the following equipment (affiliate links used):
- DSLR + Lenses: I'm a Nikon girl, but really it's up to you which DSLR you wish to use. The lenses will vary based on the job you are doing but do your research (Pinterest is great for this). You will not use the same lens to shoot food as you would to shoot a room makeover.
- Lighting Kit: Again, depending on what you're shooting, your lighting kit will need to meet your needs. However, lighting is THE most important piece of the puzzle when working to create awesome photos. THIS LIGHTING KIT is available on Amazon and works great for smaller projects and room photos.
- Sturdy Tripod: I use the word "sturdy" for a reason. When I first started blogging, I paid $20 for a tripod that would fall over as soon as the wind blew. Cameras and lenses are too expensive to be put on a crappy tripod, so spend the money to purchase a good one. THIS TRIPOD is my absolute favorite. When shooting in low light situations, a tripod is key for using a long shutter speed without getting any blur in your image.
Unless you're just crazy amazing, and have magical powers, you will most likely never add photos to your blog straight out of the camera. At the very least, you will need to resize them and add your blog post title, so you're going to need an editing program. (Affiliate links used)
- Picmonkey: You can use this free photo editing program online and do a good bit of the basic editing, like correct lighting issues, crop and resize, add overlays and text, create collages, etc.
- Canva: This online program is better suited to creating graphics, rather than editing the overall look of your images. You can use this program to create quote graphics, PDFs, worksheets, social media images, etc.
- Lightroom: In my mind, Lightroom is worth the small monthly investment for the Adobe Creative Cloud. There is a bit of a learning curve, but I can highly recommend "The Lazy Girl's Guide to Lightroom" by Beth from Unskinny Boppy. She has taught me everything I know about using Lightroom, and it's been a game-changer for my blog's images.
MAKING YOUR BLOG SEO-FRIENDLY
If you're brand spankin' new to this whole blogging thing, you might not even understand what in the heck SEO even means. So let's first do a quick little lesson, shall we?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. That's a technical way of saying it's how your blog's content gets found on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. You don't want to spend tons of time crafting amazing content if nobody reads it, right? That's why you need to understand basic SEO.
Keywords are the words or phrases that people search for. Think about the last time you Googled something. Whatever you typed into the search box is a keyword or phrase. That's what you need to think about BEFORE you type one letter of a blog post. Start here:
- Google: Duh, right? Think about what your post will be about, then type it into Google to see what comes up. Click through a few posts and see how they phrase things. You'll get an idea of different ways to word your topic throughout your post so you have multiple ways of reaching the same audience.
- Pinterest: Did you know that Pinterest is the second most popular non-Google search engine? Do a search for posts related to your post topic to see what comes up. Try different variations of your topic (like slow cooker v. Crock Pot) to see what is most popular.
- Google's Keyword Planner: What better place to check keywords than a keyword tool owned by the #1 search engine! Pop in a phrase or word and see how it stacks up against other related keywords. This is a great way to find other, less searched but still relevant keywords or phrases to use throughout your post.
Finding your keyword(s) is only half of the equation for good SEO. The second half is knowing how and where to use those keywords on your blog.
Your main, or primary, keyword should at least be used in these places:
- Blog post title
- Blog post URL
- First paragraph of your post (and make it bold!)
- Image name, alt text, and description
- Headings in your post - H1 & H2 tags
- Sprinkled throughout your post
- Meta description
You will also have what are referred to as secondary and tertiary keywords. Remember when you did that keyword research and you found related terms when you searched for your main topic? Those are still keywords and can be found in search engines, but they might just be searched less often than your primary keyword. You can also use these secondary and tertiary keywords here:
- Alt text and image description
- Subheadings - H3, H4, and H5 tags
- Sprinkled throughout your post
Alright, that's enough to get you started (or make your head spin). Part 2 of "How to Start a Blog" will cover Measurement (Google and Pinterest Analytics), Marketing (Social Media, Email, and Collaborations), and Blog Resources (FTC Guidelines, Privacy Policies, Disclosures). I just don't want to overwhelm you with too much information.
GET A BLOGGING JUMPSTART
Remember the course I mentioned at the beginning of this post? If you're reading this and feel like you could benefit from some hands-on guidance, Blogging Jumpstart is for you. Everything you've read in this post, and what we will cover in Part 2, is covered in detail with easy-to-follow video tutorials delivered over the course of 6 weekly modules.
All students will receive access to a private Facebook group to ask questions and get feedback along the way.