How do you start a blog? I’ve been asked this question at least five times in the last six weeks. I say that not with self-importance but with shock. Why would anyone ask me how to blog? I’m certainly not the most successful blogger out there. In fact, I feel as if I google “how to blog” every other day. No lie.
Regardless, I can teach you how to start a blog. It isn’t that difficult once you have the requisite tools. Just please understand that it will probably take a very long time for you to feel comfortable and confident, and that’s okay.
Just as a side note: this post is long. If you’re in for the long haul, grab your coffee and let’s get started. Otherwise, you can press CTRL + D to bookmark this post for later reading.
How to Start a Blog
Anyone can start a blog, but in order to make it successful, you have to be tenacious and possess a strong work ethic. In the long run, the amount of traffic your blog gets is directly related to the amount of blood, sweat, tears, and money you are willing to put into it.
In the beginning, however, you will probably have only a few hits each week. That’s just the way it is. Unless you are already rich and/or famous, your blog is not going to be the website people want to visit every day; it’s your responsibility to turn it into that. There is no magic keyword you can insert to make your posts go viral. If you’re looking for one, go away, and let me know when you find it. Otherwise, read on.
Step 1: Understand Who You Are
Immediately after someone asks me how to start a blog, they’ll say, “But I don’t know what I should blog about.” This, honestly, was the most difficult question I had to answer.
Why? Because I write. That’s what I do, what I love, what I want to do for the rest of my natural life. The problem is that blogging is writing, and the only people who blog about writing – or write about blogging – are Actual Writers and Actual Bloggers.
Everywhere you look online will tell you that your blog should be focused around one subject. The ephemeral lifestyle bloggers can get away with including fashion, recipes, motherhood, and humor all in one blog. Now, anyone can blog about her life, but is your life interesting enough to draw a crowd?
Do yourself a favor and answer the following questions:
- What do you do for a living?
- What do you want to do for a living?
- What did you study in college?
- Are you using your major today?
- Where do you live?
- Where do you want to live?
- What do you enjoy doing for fun?
- What are you passionate about?
- What would you do if money, time, and space were no object?
- What makes you different from everyone else?
It’s okay if you can’t answer all of these. Not everyone went to college, and not everyone has found a passion yet. Here’s how I would have answered these questions a year ago:
- I’m a full-time student.
- I want to be a writer.
- Yes, but not as much as I would like to.
- South Carolina.
- Boulder, NYC, Asheville, or South Korea.
- I enjoy reading, writing, and playing video games.
- I am passionate about books, video games, feminism, and the written word.
- I would write international bestsellers and design hit video games while studying to become a polyglot.
- I’m really good with words.
Nothing special, am I right? But see, from that, I was able to pull that I’m both knowledgeable and passionate about literature and composition, video games, and books. I’m also a feminist, so applying a feminist lens to my writing is a no-brainer.
Now, at the time, I had other outlets – such as The Artifice – where I could write about video games and leave the book reviews here. If you don’t have that option yet, that’s okay. Just try not to spread yourself too thinly: appealing to everyone appeals to no one.
Your answers are probably very different from mine. Maybe photography is your thing, or you’re obsessed with weddings or wine. Maybe you travel a lot. Feel free to combine your interests! If you’re a photographer who loves weddings and travel, you could – politely and with permission – photograph weddings at each of your stops and blog about them. Whatever your interests are: someone, somewhere, wants to hear about them.
So I’m a feminist who writes about books, video games, and how to write. Good. I know who I am. Now the question is: what do I want to do?
Step 2: Write Your Blog Business Plan
If you don’t have any desire to make money with your blog, I know this seems like a huge – and possibly unnecessary – step, but hear me out. You can monetize your blog whenever you want, but it will be a whole lot easier if you lay out a game plan before jumping in. That way, you don’t have to go back and change everything about your blog when you decide to take the professional plunge.
I recommend using Regina Anaejionu’s guide to writing a blog business plan. I’ve used it. Trust me, you’re in great hands with Regina; she’s an Actual Blogger. You’ve probably seen her pins on Pinterest!
Writing out a business plan before you officially start your blog can be overwhelming, but it can also give you a ton of ideas for content, strategies, and more. Plus, knowing where you’re headed – whether it’s five minutes or five years from now – is great for those 3AM, my-life-is-falling-apart breakdowns.
Remember, you’re still learning how to start a blog, so don’t be intimidated if you don’t have all the answers. I’m pretty sure no one knows the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement before they get their feet wet.
Step 3: Pick Your Platforms
Yep, that’s plural. You need at least three platforms for your blog: your blogging platform, your web host, and your social networks. Let’s look at your options.
Your Blogging Platform
WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr are the top three blogging platforms today. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to you to pick the right one for your blog.
I use WordPress. It is by far the most advanced of the three options, but it offers you greater levels of customization than the other two platforms. It also, in my opinion, transitions from host to host easier. Many web hosting services have dedicated WordPress options to make your move as smooth as possible.
There are two versions of WordPress. WordPress.com lets you make a blog with a URL like this: yourblog.wordpress.com. WordPress.org lets you customize your URL if you have your own domain name and web hosting. Both WordPress services are free to use.
Blogger is a lot more newbie-friendly than WordPress, but not as newbie-friendly as Tumblr. It uses your Google account information to create and manage your account, meaning you can sync your blog with Google tools – such as AdSense and Analytics – within the dashboard.
Having Google services available right in your dashboard – without having to download widgets and such – is inarguably convenient. Unfortunately, Blogger templates are pretty hideous. You’ll probably have to pay someone for a good, professional-looking layout if and when you decide to move away from free hosting.
Finally, there’s the Yahoo-owned Tumblr. The Tumblr crowd is fairly young and largely obsessed with Internet memes, fandoms, and self-referential jokes. You may have seen Tumblr screencaps posted on Facebook.
If you aren’t willing to get involved with the Tumblr community, then you aren’t likely to be successful there. The micro-blogging site makes reblogging others’ content easy and even allows you to share according to a customized timetable.
To that end, inspirational blogs – those full of pretty, shareable images – are among some of the most popular Tumblr blogs. We Heart It got its start as one of the most famous Tumblogs; now it is a social network in and of itself. This is all to say that your content can go far with Tumblr, but only if you’re willing to do a lot of socializing.
Though I’m not going into much detail here, there are companies out there – such as Contently and Squarespace – who take some of the hassle out of creating a professional e-commerce site. These combine content management systems (CMS) with software-as-a-service (SaaS). Unlike the other blogging platforms mentioned here, they aren’t free, but they do bundle your content and web hosting.
Your Web Host
Whatever blogging platform you choose, you will still be terrified when it comes time to move to web hosting. It’s exciting, and – unless you have an IT background – the choices will be overwhelming.
First – and simplest – things first: your domain name. Most web hosting services offer domain name registration included in the hosting package, meaning you don’t have to pay one company to turn yourblog.wordpress.com into yourblog.com and another to put it online. If you aren’t yet prepared to take the web hosting step, you may want to pay one of these registration services to hold your chosen domain name until you are ready.
There are plenty of different hosting services out there. Some are tailored to work with WordPress or Blogger, and others aren’t. Many integrate with e-commerce services, meaning you can combine your web store and blog into one.
When choosing a web host, you should, of course, consider the cost. How much will you pay per year for hosting and domain registration? Also consider what you’re getting. Does your web host come with security or uptime guarantees? What about tech support? Spam filters?
Remember: web hosting means you are largely responsible for your site’s security. If you are using your blog to collect personal information from clients, you should definitely consider hiring a coder to handle your web security.
I use DreamHost. They’re highly scalable, meaning they offer the services you need, no matter how big or how small. They have a 1-Click Installer tool that works with WordPress, Joomla, and Zen Cart, among other services, to make integrating the pieces of your website a breeze. Their 24/7/365 customer support team has been there to answer my every question, and DreamHost offers a 100% uptime guarantee; if your site goes down for an hour, they refund the cost of that day’s hosting.
If you’re interested in using DreamHost, click here to get started. That’s my referral link. If you sign up, DreamHost pays me for your patronage. And if you’re interested in registering multiple domains, click here and enter the promo code KWW when you sign up; you’ll get an extra domain registered for free, on me.
Today, your success depends on your informed, deliberate use of social media. Familiarize yourself with the major social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. You should know what works on each platform and what doesn’t. For instance, books are very popular on Instagram, but recipes are better suited for sharing on Pinterest.
You are 100% responsible for promoting yourself online. If you aren’t active on social media, blogging for success might not be a good fit for you. Remember: if you don’t exist online, you don’t exist.
Step 4: Get Organized
Now it’s time to find a way to keep yourself on track. I list some suggestions here, but feel free to explore other options if these don’t work for you. All of these apps are available on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
Use Google Drive to create your content calendar. Google’s Sheets and Docs are basically Excel and Word files without the high cost. They’re also collaborative, meaning you can reach out to others and have them contribute to your blog. Plus, because they’re not stored on your hard drive, your Google Drive files go anywhere you go.
Use Evernote to keep track of ideas. If you don’t enjoy carrying around a pen and notebook, Evernote is the way to go. You can create notepad snippets and organize them into “books” for easy reference. Evernote also allows you to clip links and images from the web. Like Google Drive, this app goes where you go. If you sign up from here, you’ll receive a free trial of Evernote Premium, and I’ll earn points to pay for my own Premium subscription.
Use Trello to make awesome reminders. Technically, you can replace Google Drive and Evernote with Trello, but I find it gets a bit messy without a focused application. Trello lets you create infinite boards and pins, which can be sorted under To Do, Doing, and Done headings. It can help your blog – and your life – on track. Trello is free, but if you choose to sign up for Trello Gold after following the link above, I’ll get a free month for referring you.
Use HootSuite to schedule your social media posts. Hootsuite is a great tool to automate your Facebook and Twitter updates. If you only have an hour – or less! – each day to commune online, try using this app to spread your shares out over the course of the day. But remember to be courteous; no one likes a spammer.
Step 5: Get Help
Let’s face it: you need help. You’ve just learned how to start a blog, and maybe you’ve even started one already, but you have no idea what to do. How do bloggers think up headlines or find pretty pictures to use on their posts? How are you ever going to get noticed in the Internet slush pile?
Don’t worry. These blogging resources and I have got you covered.
If you need to be found, check out The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz. It’s ten chapters of solid information on how SEO (search engine optimization) works, and how you can use it to gain more views, shares, and followers.
If you need to know what others need to know, Quora is the place for you. It’s a giant Q&A where you can answer questions based on your expertise. Find out what people in your niche want to know, and then write about it.
If you need free images, Pixabay is your new best friend. It’s filled with public domain images for you to use, and it has a lot of high-quality options. If I don’t provide an image credit link at the bottom of a post, it probably came from Pixabay.
If you think your pictures are ugly, PicMonkey will help you make them prettier. Think of it as a free, browser-based Photoshop. If you sign up from here, you’ll get a free day of PicMonkey Royale, packed with added filters and effects; if three of you sign up, I’ll get a free week of Royale for referring you.
Step 6: Do What You Do
Now that you know how to start a blog, get writing, drawing, painting, photographing, gardening, sailing… Whatever it is that you do, do it. There’s no time like the present to start doing exactly what you want with your life.
If you have a question, whether it’s today or a year from now, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment below. Check here first, though; your question may have been so popular that I wrote about it already!
Please note: while I do receive benefits for your patronage of Evernote, Trello, DreamHost, and PicMonkey, I believe in these services and use them almost every day.