How to start a blog

Hello! Jane here.~

This post has been rewritten to reflect blogging 2017+, instead of to encourage and impose ~2014 blogging ways upon peeps. While many posts out there boast about teaching people how to start a blog of their own, this one is my attempt at offering tips and advice as not only a blogger, but as a former web host, too. In 2016, I cut ties with the web hosting industry, and decided to focus more on my blog and follow my passion, curiosity and skills instead of ~money~ (or lack of) and (un)popularity that comes with being a web host. It also made unbiased tips difficult, which…I feel is important. In blogging, there is no one-size-fits-all.

(Last updated 26th March, 2018.)

This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may be compensated—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.

Why you should start a blog

Running a blog is like running your own social media platform—it’s your own playground! For individual bloggers, the focus is on you.

There is another type of blogging commonly used by mainstream media, like print publications and magazines, called “collaborative blogging”, which means the focus of the blog is more about what the blog is about and less on the individual blogger. An example of this is Crunchy Family, but collaborative blogging is a whole different field of blogging that wouldn’t do well to include in a basic how to start a blog post. Don’t wanna confuse anyone too much!

Benefits of blogging

Not everyone needs a blog—regardless of whether they’re a business or a person—but here are some benefits to blogging:

  • easy to share recipes, crafts, etc. with family + whole world
  • connect with people from all over the world
  • educate peeps on various things (e.g. autism, blogging)
  • share research + knowledge
  • use to show skills—like a live portfolio or online résumé
  • build credibility + establish a platform

Why you shouldn’t start a blog

Again, starting a blog isn’t for everyone! I’ve seen people start blogs because they felt they had to to be “successful”, but not everyone needs to start a blog.

There are several alternatives to starting a blog; if starting a blog seems so “meh” and/or forced to you, consider starting a podcast or making a comic instead. If you like writing, but dislike the idea of having to keep up with everything, several writers set up a web page of places to which they contribute regularly and whereon their posts may be found (and they don’t blog on a website of their own).

Technical aspects of starting a blog

Domain names

I’ve used several registrars—domain.com, GoDaddy, HostGator, Netfirms, NameCheap, Name.com. Aside from one domain registered from 2014-2015 (and then 2016 by a malfunction) through Netfirms, I’ve been exclusive to NameCheap (since 2010) and Name.com (since 2016), although all my domains are registered with Name.com as of 2018. Both registrars are good for different things, but I lean towards Name.com more these days because I prefer small businesses, and I like the simplicity of their interface—it’s straight to the point and not, like, trying to confuse me.

In the end, the domain registrar you go with depends on what you personally like. I despise GoDaddy for their business practices, and I’m wary of registering a domain with a company known primarily for their hosting. Do some research about the company before choosing who you go with, because it can later reflect on your brand (you/your blog) and mayn’t be something you want to be associated with. What initially drew me in to Name.com is that they give back.

The reason I continue to consider NameCheap is because they do have lower prices for some Top-Level Domains (TLDs).

TLDs, or “extensions”

There are numerous domain extensions beyond top-level domains .com, .org, .net, .me, etc. Feel free to experiment a bit! You can hack domains (e.g. hey.georgie.nu, its.jane.fyi, effys.space, youthcente.red, etc.) to make domains work for you.

Helpful domain-hacking sites:

Tips

  • I don’t recommend registering your domain with your host. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket.
    • Breaking up is awkward, and unlike domain registrars, they may hold your domain hostage just because they don’t want you leaving. It’s weird. I don’t understand it.
    • Hosts also disappear! Mid-2010, my host dropped off the face of the web—literally. All websites: gone; all email accounts: failure delivery response. ‘Twas like they never existed! And…a lot of times, the hosts don’t care. I say this as someone who was on that side of things. This is a reason I left the web hosting industry.
    • It’s also less of a hassle when you are directly in charge of transferring your domain name and don’t have to rely on your host, because you went directly through a registrar. And then it’s easier to manage the billing, too.
    • Hosts may give “free” domains for a year with your hosting package, but the renewal fee is typically more than the base price of the domain in the marketplace. Domain registrars are typically cheaper, because they have mass marketplace discounts they use for their domain. Because they specialize in it. It’s their thang.~
  • NameCheap is great if you want a domain quick and free WHOIS Guard. WHOIS Guard protects your personal information, which is added to every domain you register. If you go with NameCheap, first visit namecheapcoupons.com, ’cause they have discounts every month!
  • If you have a PO Box, it is cheaper to use your PO Box address for your domain name than to purchase (or renew) WHOIS. You may still receive junk mail from random domain registrars, but drop them into a shredder and recycle them. For a phone number, Google Voice numbers are free (for US, at least) and applicable for the listing, so long as the number belongs to you.

Web hosting

In order to view a “website”, you need a domain and a host! If you’ve got the domain already, you need to find a host that best fits your needs.

One of the things you may want to look out for is the location of the hosts you’re considering, because if they’re based in other countries, chances are you’ll have to follow these countries’ laws and won’t necessarily be able to claim your freedom of speech (or other freedoms, for that matter). (This depends highly on your location and jurisdiction.)

Some bloggers I know (like Liv) use and love A Small Orange. Before going with OfBlue myself, I considered A Small Orange, but…OfBlue fits me better, I think. I considered it for Crunchy Family, too, but instead went with NameCheap—crunchyfamily.com is also registered with NameCheap. Tara uses DreamHost.

As a web host, I heard bad things about—and had customers running from—BlueHost. The reason it’s advertised so much is because the affiliate payout is competitive, in that I found myself wanting to boast about them because I needed the money. It’s so tempting! But blogging newbies read these posts about how to start a blog, and they don’t understand this part, and I think it’s really unfair to take advantage like that to make a quick buck. Everyone’s experiences are different, but…it is not a light decision.

Tips

  • Please remember that cheaper is not always better.
  • If you want to run a blog kinda like on wordpress.com, but want it self-hosted and manageable and more customizable, the chick at NoseGraze teamed up with her husband and offers managed WordPress hosting! She mostly caters to book bloggers and authors, but I think managed web hosting may be better for people who want assistance in their early blogging venture.

Platform

If you’re self-hosting, Blogger/Blogspot is unavailable. There are so many different platforms to choose from because everyone needs different stuff.

The main ones used in the blogosphere at the moment:

WordPress

Screenshot of wordpress.org

WordPress powers 28.9 percent of the World Wide Web. The software itself is open-source, which allows anyone and everyone to build on it—which contributed to building such a great community of support in the first place. It dominates the content management software (CMS) marketplace (50-60 percent).

There is, of course, a learning curve. And there are different versions of WordPress—.com, .org, and then Premium and VIP. I use .org, which is referred to as the “self-hosted” platform. NoseGraze uses a variation of it for her hosting, in case you’re wondering, along with other managed WordPress hosting sites.

I’m an autodidact, so diving right in is how I learned much about it. However, there are classes available for those who are completely clueless about it—and several of them are free (welcome to the internet!).

I like and use WordPress—have used it since 2010—because of amount of community support and resources available, its accessibility, and the ability to customize it. I mean, look at this ish:

A screenshot of my custom WP login screen; it matches my theme.
Corresponding post: How to customize your WordPress login page

Squarespace

Screenshot of Squarespace.com; promotional display says "Make it loud" and has music equipment (speakers, microphone, keyboard keys, and a tablet of a website)

I…know next to nothing about Squarespace! I used it once—a long time ago—when it was first a thing and they wanted people to try it and get used to it. It used to be free…ish.

Squarespace is not the platform for me, because it comes with many limitations and I often have difficulties on others’ blogs who use Squarespace—like, somehow I’m taken to their login screen?? I don’t know.

But I’m gonna let Squarespace users explain it, ’cause Squarespace may be what you need:

Ghost

Screenshot of ghost.org

GHOST.ORG YOU GUYS. I LOVE IT. This platform is similar(ish) to Medium, in that it’s a lightweight CMS and allows previews (except, unlike Medium, you can download it or pay to use it). You can also have multiple users.

Except ghost.org requires a specific hosting environment, unless you go through their hosting—and that pains me, SO I don’t use it. Like, I wanted to use it for my blog! But the WordPress-to-Ghost conversion wouldn’t work the same, considering the same plugins don’t exist. But I would totally use it for, like, some kind of blog if only it wasn’t so facetious about its hosting environment.

Ghost is basically a blogging platform for the ultimate web development experts. Which I am not.

Things to remember

The first step is starting.

IT’S SO HARD! Because, like, we gotta be ~perfect~ and ~flawless~. But spending a lot of time reading posts about starting a blog and all that jazz is, like, detrimental to our productivity, man. Information overload is a thing—but misinformation overload is also a thing.

What I tell people is to start and roll with it for a while. It’s shitty advice, I know, because it doesn’t even begin to cover anything, but the intention I have is to try it out and stop letting others tell you how to do your thing.

You can always convert to another platform.

  • Learning the ropes/testing the waters? Blogspot and WordPress.com are free.
  • Complete n00b? Squarespace is frequently raved about as new user-friendly.
  • Experienced, risk-taker, self-educator, or a Jane Bond-in-progress? WordPress.org is pretty smokin’.

Converting may be difficult in the long run, but it’s not impossible.

You can also change hosts.

Choosing a host is intimidating—ugh, so much confusion!—but it’s not like trading your firstborn child. We’ve evolved as a people and don’t do that anymore.

With Blogspot, WordPress.com, and Squarespace, they are covering the hosting. There is the matter of “they own your content” to worry about—so maybe some of us probably trade our firstborn child like that [figuratively speaking].

But hey—it’s okay. Deep breaths. You’ve got this!

You don’t need to have it all figured out.

None of us had it all figured out. When I started this blog in 2010, blogging was not popular at all. Bloggers were “weird” and “antisocial”. There were seldom any resources. So we literally didn’t know what we were doing—any of us—when we were first starting out. And that’s okay!

You’re gonna mess up and make mistakes (and probably embarrass TF out of yourself and want to, like, disappear off to a remote island wherein you hide away in a cave for the remainder of your days), but the journey is worth it.

Common myths—debunked:

  • You don’t need a niche.
  • You don’t need a logo right away. (That’s not all that branding is, anyhow!)
  • Consistency is more important than blogging daily.
  • Quality beats quantity: Quality is Queen; content is King.

Frequently asked questions about starting a blog

Q: How do I get my site to the first page on Google?

I’m pretty sure there’s a Clients From Hell post somewhere with this question. Anyway, I replied, “Good SEO practice,” because I didn’t know how else to answer it.

The next question consisted of something else I can’t remember, but it had to do with the way Google works when you search. At home, if I search “crunchy”, I see various snacks in the results because of my browsing history, but in other places the results vary. When you search something on Google, your browser history, location, etc. become contributing factors to the results. For some, “6birds” pulls up results for singing birds on YouTube, whereas for others and myself, pages of my old blog are shown at the top of the page.

If you still don’t understand, “search engine optimization” is the best thing to search and spend some time each day reading up on. I also don’t mind giving you a few personalized tips—send me a quick email. 😉

Q: How do I drive traffic to my blog?

I suggest commenting, but I’m old-fashioned and don’t understand why everyone’s so against it these days, so try to use Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc… wherever the party’s at. Pinterest is the current rage. Something to keep in mind about buying/trading interaction and engagement: it promises nothing. If you join what’s being called a “social pod” for Instagram, wherein you comment people’s posts, it’s all going to be fake and amount to nothing genuine. For long-term, consistent visitors and readers and people with whom you can form relationships, you first need to put forth the effort to make genuine relationships.

Chillax and stop fretting over it all.

Q: I need help making my blog awesome! How do I set up my first couple of pages? Like, where do I begin??

Great! To begin, I recommend setting up an about page. What best helped me make my own, without having to sacrifice my voice and personality, is Melissa Cassera’s “About Page That Pops” guide. It’s free to download (no need to input an email!), so hop on that ish, yeah? Melissa’s a publicist and works with business owners, but her content has been SUPER helpful to me, even though I’m a lifestyle blogger.

Next, you should create a contact page so people can contact you! If you’re not into having a contact form, that’s cool—it’s not required! At the very least, you need an email address and what you’re open to (e.g. interviews, guest posts, sponsored posts, etc.). I recommend reiterating your social media handles here as well, and giving your comments section (if you allow post comments!) a shout-out to encourage your readers to leave you comments.

Third, you may want to take precautions towards hardening your blog’s security. The WordPress Codex has a page dedicated to this. 🙂

Your first couple of posts should really represent who you are and what your blog values are. A brief introduction is always good, because it allows peeps to get to know you and introduce themselves right back, and you can reference it later.

If building traction (engagement, regular readership) is something you plan to do by guest posting, for instance, having content before you “launch” may be best. I personally favor “soft launches” for bloggers, which I perceive as opening when the moment seems right and not making a huge deal out of launch parties and requiring emails to be informed about it, because making promises early on can quickly lead to distrust when those promises fall through—and they always fall through sooner or later. How much content you should have depends on you and what you intend to blog about, but remember quality is better than quantity.

Likewise, blogging daily leads to burnout, which can leave you without posts for a long while—or to quit before you’ve even gotten far.

Conclusion

The journey to starting a blog varies for everyone. I had an FAQ section, but it’s dated and I don’t know what people need help with at the moment (and don’t want to overwhelm anyone with those answers). Often said within the blogosphere is that the best time to start a blog was last year, and it’s true—but that doesn’t mean you can’t start a blog. Next year, people are gonna be saying this year was the best time to start a blog.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments section!

Leave a Comment

Comments on this post

Nancy’s gravatar

This is probably one of the “realest” post I’ve read about starting up a blog so here’s a few friendly cookies /cookie /cookie /cookie

Your cousin has a pretty well-expanded site! NameCheap is expanding to a point where profit comes first before people. But meh, there are other alternatives. I pretty much agree with everything that you said; especially the WordPress part because it’s the biggest blogging platform there is. People don’t really use FanUpdate/CuteNews anymore which is good. People should be self-reliant when it comes to creating a website. Google is their best friend and it’s a plus that they’re learning a valuable skill (web coding) since technology is the thing of the future.

Commenting is definitely one of the best ways to drive traffic to your blog, or at least quality traffic. Ads just makes people click the link, look at your blog, and then exit. I don’t know why people are against this traditional idea. I’m still all about it. We gotta get people back to this old habit, haha.

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Jennifer’s gravatar

I think that this is very informative! You cover everything that people need to know and remember. I mean, starting a website and let alone, running a website, isn’t an easy task. As usual, you’re right to the point and you don’t beat around the bush and that’s perfect! 🙂

I do have to agree with Nancy on one point though, commenting on people’s websites though is one of the very best ways to drive traffic to your website rather then just advertising your link places. By commenting on people’s sites, people feel more obligated to reply to the comment, rather then just stop and visit your site and then leave. So, Nancy brings up a great point there.

Otherwise though, I think your article is great and covers a lot of amazing and important points! The most important one being, if you don’t have the time and patience to manage a website, don’t have one. It’s simple. Just like you said.

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Agent Q’s gravatar

Very realistic and helpful tips [and reminders!]. In all honesty though, the extent to which one wishes to manage a blog varies based on the goal and the genre of their blog. For personal blogs, using premade layouts/themes would suffice. I’ve seen a few “established” blogs, on the other hand, that would fare better with paid designers’ assistance. I’m currently on the former, but I would like to hone in on my coding skills, so that I could design my own WP theme one day. Maybe it’s this little artist’s pride in me, but I always want to take charge. Of course, the investment, when handled correctly, is worth every penny.

Same for domain names. I just need to think of a cool name first. Great recommendations for places where I can purchase domain names. I’ll take a good note of them for future references.

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Sydney’s gravatar

I never realized that there are people out there who don’t know how to set up a blog until I got into book blogging instead of “real life” blogging. A lot of people who get into book blogging don’t know a lot about HTML or PHP, or just use WordPress.com or Blogger. This was definitely a surprise for me because it’s all second nature to me now thanks to having my own blog for however long I did.

This is really helpful though! One of the number one things that stresses me out about buying a domain is the hosting (which, thank you Liz for hosting me for as long as you have!). It’s just hard to find one that’s reliable.

I definitely think commenting is the best way to gain traffic. People aren’t going to know about your blog unless you throw it out there for people to see. I mean sure social networking is great, but if no one knows about your blog, how are they going to find your social networking websites too? It’s all very full circle-ish.

Great post! 😛

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Christa’s gravatar

This is such a great post. I’m always being asked basic questions about how to start a website.

And I realize my photoblog is expanding well beyond what my host can handle so I am looking for a host to change to within the next year.

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Louise’s gravatar

I totally agree with all of this. Especially the brand names you’ve mentioned here. I’ve been a customer of ASO and Namecheap for several years now and have always been super impressed with their customer service.

If you’re looking for “cheap and good quality” good luck. I seldom wear cheap shoes or cheap jeans, because they look and feel awful.

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Liz’s gravatar

Cheap shoes/jeans aren’t that bad, but I grew up on them.

I wasn’t looking for that, but I was making the point that it’s impossible to find both cheap and good quality hosting sitting together in one basket.

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Michelle’s gravatar

When I stopped getting hosted for the first time, I had to look at my options and set up everything that could work for WordPress and such. It’s a different world and something I’ve never encountered since I’ve always used free blogging platforms, but it feels good to be out in the web hosted. I had to set up everything so my blog would run but it wasn’t too complicated, honestly. Just with some instructions, such as these, and tips; it wasn’t too hard.

I’m still a noob in a lot of ways but that’s okay. I have great friends helping me out, 🙂

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