Every now and then, a reader will ask me a short-and-simple question that doesn’t exactly have a short-and-simple answer: “How do I start a blog?”
(I’ve been blogging almost a decade and have seen all the wild changes on the Internet—so I’ve learned what’s important and what’s, well, not.)
It’s actually not that hard, but there’s a lot of conflicting, confusing information out there. On this page? I’m going to spell out how to easily start a blog (at least how I would), so you can get spend less time figuring out the details and more time creating your new stuff.
1. Decide on your blog’s name.
When I say “your blog’s name,” I actually mean its website address, also called a domain name or URL.
Along with deciding what you want to call your blog, you’ll also decide whether you want to self-host your blog, or if you’d rather go with a free alternative—so in a way, this is two steps in one. The reason you’ll decide this when you land on a blog name is because if you go with free, your blog’s address will look something like this:
Instead of this:
If you don’t really need to have an easy-to-say blog name, then perhaps free works for you. However, if you’re already reading this page, I’m guessing you want to start a blog off the right foot—and the importance of an easy-to-share blog name can’t be underestimated. It’s crucial. (Imagine yourself saying, “Hi, I’m Jane, and I write at blahblahblah.com.”)
So, claim a domain name. There are lots of places to buy domains, But I’d recommend buying it wherever you also host your blog (more on that in just a second). That way, you only have to mess with one account.
You can use Bluehost’s domain search engine right here:
Once you find what you want, you can then use Bluehost as your blog’s host. More on that… now.
2. Sign up for a hosting service.
A host is the company that serves your website on the internet. Think of them as the utility company of your blog—you pay your monthly bill, they keep the lights on. It’s not as much money as you think, especially when you’re starting out (the price can go up as your traffic goes up—but you can think about that later).
Bluehost is a good choice if you’re just starting out and you’re not sure what, exactly, what you want to do yet with your blog. I use them for several smaller websites I own, and they’re reliable, fast, and have helpful, responsive customer service. If you already have a domain name (the first step, mentioned above), you can still use them as your host—head here to sign up.
However, if you already know you want several bells and whistles for your website—such as podcasting capabilities, a framework for creating courses and membership sites, sales landing pages, a storefront, along with a blog—I highly recommend Rainmaker. I moved The Art of Simple (the site you’re on) to Rainmaker in fall 2017, and I’ve never been happier.
This leads me to…
3. Choose a blog platform.
A platform is basically the software used to run your blog. There are several services out there—Blogger, Squarespace, Tumblr, etc.—but the most popular is WordPress. There’s lots of users (which means you can easily find help when you need it), plenty of themes and plugins, and it’s easy-peasy to use.
Bluehost provides one-click WordPress installation, so if you use them as your host, you don’t even have to think about how to install it. Just click the button provided in your account, and voila—Wordpress is up and ready to roll.
If you go with Rainmaker, it’s an all-in-one package: hosting plus software (which is built on WordPress), and everything updates automatically and plays nicely together. You can’t add plug-ins, but that’s one of its selling points: it does so much already, you don’t need plug-ins that might not update or sync well eventually.
4. Design your blog.
This is the fun part. WordPress has plenty of free themes available, so you might want to start out with one of those (you’ll find it in your WP portal under Appearance -> Themes). But they can often be hard to customize, and if you want your blog to stand out from the noise, you’ll want it to look unique.
ThemeForest has lots of reasonably-priced premium themes, and you can usually customize them fairly easily (hint: look at the designer’s customer service interaction—if they’re quick and friendly, that’s a good sign that they do good work). Once you buy one, you’ll download it to your computer, then upload it in WordPress.
Rainmaker has plenty of beautiful default themes that are continually refreshed (it’s created and hosted by the Copyblogger team, who also created Genesis—so, gorgeous).
You can also hire a designer to do a one-of-a-kind blog design. The plus? No one else will have a site that looks like yours. The con? It can be pricey. My go-to guy is Ted Barnett of Contemplate Design, but be prepared for a waiting list if it’s one of his busier seasons.
A few quick tips regarding blog design:
• Simple is a million times better than cluttered. Lots of white space is key to readability.
• Keep the background white and the text black or dark grey.
• Prioritize good typography (fonts). Make yours clear and easy to read. Also, bigger is better.
• Have only what you need—just because there’s a widget for it doesn’t mean you need it.
And finally, think about your “call to action”: what would you like your reader to do most? Subscribe to your feed, leave a comment on your post, follow you on Instagram, check out a specific page on your site? Make that plain-as-day easy to find, and make any other call to action secondary (or, not at all).
5. Create your content.
And finally, it’s the part you’ll spend the majority of your time doing as a blogger: creating content. Stick to your true voice, and you’ll be fine (and don’t worry; it takes most of us awhile to find it). A few thoughts on content:
• Consistency is more important than frequency. You don’t have to post daily, but if you’d like to gather readers, feed them on a regular basis. Start with a couple times per week, and see how that feels.
• Most blog posts do best when they’re short. Internet readers have a short attention span—I try to keep mine between 500-1,000 words, but I stop when I’m done saying what I have to say.
• Paragraphs read online should be fewer sentences than paragraphs in print. One to two sentences is normal.
• Make sure there’s at least one photo in every post. It breaks up the text, and social media pulls photos when you link to your post—a good photo draws more traffic.
And speaking of…
A few extras:
1. Sign up for a few social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and the like. No, you don’t have to be on all of them. Try some out, and see what you like (because I think you should both be where your readers are and where you enjoy being). Then, start sharing.
2. Set up your email address to match your blog’s name—so, firstname.lastname@example.org, or whatever. You can do this easily in Bluehost with one click.
3. Use a newsletter service to send out your posts via email, and also to send out occasional special newsletters to readers who opt in. I used MailChimp for awhile, and it’s free while you’re building your list. But now, I use and adore ConvertKit. It’s a bit pricier, but my subscriber base has grown exponentially with them, largely because of their genius tagging system.
4. For more details and answers, head to these helpful resources:
• Amy Lynn Andrews’ Useletter—if you do anything, sign up for this weekly email newsletter. It’s the only one I read consistently—helpful for both beginners and seasoned bloggers.
• ProBlogger by Darren Rowse—my friend and go-to guy for all things blogging (check out his podcast)
• Amy Porterfield’s podcast, Online Marketing Made Easy, is excellent
• Marie Forleo’s weekly video show is more about entrepreneurialism than pure blogging, but it’s still gold
• Copyblogger—a helpful blog about writing and marketing
Tools mentioned in this guide:
More questions? Feel free to ask me on Twitter!
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