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
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:
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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 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:
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:
- A Guide to Squarespace by Nora Conrad
- CSS for Squarespace Beginners by Square Design Guild
- 10 Must-Read Articles for Squarespace Beginners by Paige Brunton
- 20 super duper awesome Squarespace hacks by Cinnamon Wolfe
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.
- 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.
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!