While I don’t think they were actually called blogs back then, I started my first “online magazine” back in middle school — on Geocities ;) — and since then, I’ve been hooked. From that “blog” to my first actual blog on the topic of marketing and PR in 2008, to the top 100 wedding blog I sold in 2014, to my current blog (the one you’re reading right now), I’ve always been inspired to run a blog as a passion project on the side of my career in digital marketing.
I often get asked by friends and family, “how do I start a blog?” so I decided to compile that answer into one (very long) blog post. This post includes my recommendations on many of the decisions you’ll have to make when first getting started and covers:
- Blog Setup – From selecting a name and domain and designing a logo, to setting up your platform and hosting, picking a theme and installing must-have plugins, this section includes everything you need to know to set up your blog.
- Creating Content – In this section, you’ll learn how to capture blog post ideas, set up a writing/posting schedule, and ultimately write unique content your future readers are sure to love.
- Promoting Your Blog – Here, I’m sharing helpful tips on SEO and social sharing, with some great resources on both fronts.
- Monetizing Your Blog – Creating a media kit, signing up for affiliate and ad/content networks and connecting to brands — it’s all in this section.
Let’s get started…
1. Blog Setup
Before you can actually start writing on your blog, you need to set it up. There are a lot of ways to do that, but based on my experience, here is what I would suggest.
Selecting a Name & a Domain
Choosing a blog name is easily one of the most difficult initial steps, so don’t be discouraged if it takes you a little while to come up with it. Blog names have always seemed to come to me randomly. The challenge is finding a name and a domain that’s not already taken; that’s where the creativity comes in.
My brainstorming process with new blogs has historically looked something like this:
- Determine Blog Topic(s) – What do you plan to write about? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know it actually started out being called Violet & Vine, a name I came up with thinking I would mostly be blogging about home decor. However, when fashion started to take center stage, I decided to re-brand as Work|Wear|Wander. Personally, I’m a fan of alliteration, so Work|Wear|Wander just came to me one day, and it fit! You want your blog name to be representative of what you’re writing about, so that’s a great place to start.
- Brainstorm, Brainstorm & Brainstorm Some More – Make a point to write down every name you think of over your days of brainstorming. Take a break, re-visit them, and see which ones still resonate with you. This will help you come up with your short-list of possible names.
- Do a Domain Name Search – Once you have your short-list, you’re going to want to see which names are actually available for use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten so excited about a blog name, only to find out someone else is already using it. Head to GoDaddy.com and start searching for the .coms associated with your potential name. Make note of any that are available, and remove potential names from your list if they’re already taken. If you’re going to build a brand online, you want it to be uniquely yours.
- Commit & Buy – Once you have your list narrowed down to the one domain you want to use, buy your domain name. I have always used GoDaddy to purchase my domains and recommend them as a registrar.
Designing a Logo
Once you have your name determined, you’re going to want some sort of logo to encapsulate your new blog brand. There are a few cost-effective ways to do this that I typically suggest to personal bloggers:
- LogoTournament – I used this for my previous blog. For $275, you essentially run a contest among designers interested in creating a logo for you.
- Fiverr – I haven’t actually used this for logo design, but I’ve heard of other new bloggers having success here. Just be sure to look at the designers’ other logos to make sure the quality is what you’re looking for.
- Use a Font – If you don’t want to pay for a logo, and you have a basic understanding of design tools, you can also simply find a font you like and make your “logo” out of that. I use DaFont to explore free fonts online.
Setting Up Your Hosting & Blog Platform
Once you have your domain, it’s time to set up your hosting and blog platform. As far as platforms go, I recommend WordPress 100% (the self-hosted option). It’s an open source platform with tons of support, plugins and themes. Many of my enterprise clients at work even use WordPress, so it really is the best. Did I mention it’s free?
What’s not free is hosting, but it’s still very affordable, and there are many hosts out there that offer WordPress hosting and essentially do all the work for you when it comes to setting up your site. Personally, I use HostGator and have been so far really satisfied. I recommend their WordPress hosting.
Just as an FYI: I have previously used BlueHost and had a terrible experience, so I do not recommend them. (My site often went down at no fault of my own.)
Once you have your hosting set up with WordPress installed, you’ll need to point your DNS so your domain directs to that host. It sounds more confusing than it is, I promise. Here’s a handy article HostGator has to help.
Finding a Theme
Now that you have your hosting and WordPress install ready to go, you’re going to need a theme. Your theme is the design of your site, and luckily, there are some really great ones out there that are both free and paid. Personally, I recommend the paid route, as they typically are more customizable, have better support and are overall better quality themes. They are also almost always under $100 — sometimes much less.
A couple places I love for finding premium themes:
If you’re not ready to pay for a theme just yet, WordPress.org has a ton of decent free themes as well to get you started.
A few important things to look for in a theme:
- Responsive Design – Having your blog function as well on mobile as it does on desktop is essential, so ensure the theme you get is “responsive” (meaning it adapts for various screen sizes).
- Flexibility – I personally love themes with a lot of widgetized areas so I can customize a bit without the use of code, but even being able to easily customize colors and typefaces is nice.
- Good Reviews & Support – If you’re buying from a place like ThemeForest, you’re going to come across a lot of themes. Be sure to pay attention to the reviews, however, as those will be a good indicator of how well the theme functions and if it truly does everything it’s supposed to.
Must-Have Plugins to Install
Once your theme is installed, there are a few additional plugins I always recommend as must-haves on every blog:
- Akismet – This one will come pre-installed on your site, but be sure to activate and set it up, as it will help filter SPAM comments from your blog.
- Google Analytics Dashboard – GA is an essential (and free) part of any website when it comes to tracking traffic, so be sure to set up your account, and use this plugin to bring your dashboard into WordPress.
- WP Super Cache – This plugin helps your site load more quickly.
- Yoast SEO – This all-in-one SEO plugin helps you easily optimize your site for search.
Other plugins I love:
- Advanced Ads – For monetizing your site with banner ads (which we’ll talk about more below)
- Cresta Social Share Counter – For adding those sharing buttons you see to the left.
- Instagram Widget by WPZOOM – For feeding in your ‘grams.
- jQuery Pin It Button For Images – For making your images really Pinterest-friendly.
- Leadin – For advanced contact capture and date.
- MailChimp for WordPress – For enabling you to sign up email subscribers.
- Related Posts by Zemanta – For adding that nice little “related posts” area to the bottom of your posts.
- wBounce – For enabling you to capture email subscribers right before they leave your site.
2. Creating Content
Now that your blog is all set up, it’s time to start blogging! The key to a successful blog is quality content, so here are my suggestions for having amazing content on your blog.
Capturing Post Ideas
Blog post ideas will come to you at random times, so be sure to have a good way to capture them. For me, they often come when I’m driving, so I will create a voice recording on my phone to capture the idea. When I get in front of my computer, I add the idea to running a list I keep in Evernote. Then, when it comes time to write a post, I already have a long list of ideas to choose from!
Be sure you’re prepared for these moments of creativity and capture your ideas when you have them. Otherwise, you may lose them!
Setting Up a Writing/Posting Schedule
Having quality content is essential, but having consistent content is also important. If you let weeks go by between posts, it’s going to be harder to build a reader base, so be sure you can commit to a certain frequency of posts, and set aside time each week for writing.
In my time as a blogger, I’ve learned that the more frequent and consistent the posts, the faster the blog grows. At one point, I was publishing posts on my wedding blog five times per week, and it was amazing how quickly the traffic grew. Now, you’ll likely notice I average about 3 posts per week, and that’s okay too. Just determine what you can fit in your schedule, and commit to that.
Once you know how many posts you can write each week, you’ll want to firm up your posting schedule. Posts ideally will publish at the same time of the day and the same days of the week to keep things predictable for your readers. Personally, I publish all posts at 5am PT and typically only publish Monday-Friday. To support your posting schedule, I recommend setting aside large chunks of time and getting a mass of blogs pre-written so you can schedule them to go out in advance v. posting on the fly.
If you want to take it a step further, you can even create an editorial calendar with certain topics on certain days and specific series on a consistent schedule.
Ensuring Content is Unique
A big part of creating quality content is creating content that’s unique. Be yourself and write from your own unique perspective. Don’t simply copy what’s working for another blogger!
I also highly recommend the use of custom photography as a great way to stand out in a very cluttered blogosphere. Whether you’re using your mobile phone or a DSLR, take photography into account when you’re planning your content calendar.
3. Promoting Your Blog
Once you have great content, it’s time to get some eyeballs on it, and you do that by promoting it! Here’s how…
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Remember how I told you to install the Yoast plugin? That’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure every post you write has a meta title and description. This is what search engines serve up on the organic search results and what will entice someone to click your link and visit your blog. There are tons of other SEO best practices, but that could be an entire post on its own, so I suggest taking a look at this blog post.
Each time you publish a post, be sure to share it across your social networks as well. Create accounts on relevant social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and post your content there. Focus on growing your following on those accounts to put your blog in front of more users. Again, this is a topic that could be an entire post on it’s own, so be sure to check out this great Kissmetrics blog post on how to double your traffic from social.
In addition, seek out relevant social communities that might be interested in your posts to reach a broader audience. Here’s a great example: my mom recently started a blog (Finding Kathy Brown), and she shared a post about her experience working in a call center with a Facebook community of fellow call center workers. When the page re-posted her blog to the whole community, she subsequently received over 50,000 visits to her post and tons of engaged readers. It’s amazing what a little strategic social sharing can do!
4. Monetizing Your Blog
Before I start this section, let me quickly say: don’t start a blog for the money. It’s very competitive space, and there are few bloggers who can turn blogging into a full-time career. Blog because you love it; money and free stuff is just a bonus.
Creating a Media Kit
In order to monetize your blog, you’re likely going to need a media kit. This is a simple overview of the traffic your blog gets, the demographics of your readers and any other relevant stats, such as social following and subscriber base. Etsy has some great media kit templates that you can buy to help you get started.
A great way to gain some income through your blog is through affiliate networks. These networks provide a small commission to you anytime a reader on your site clicks a link to purchase an item and actually makes that purchase. For instance, in my outfit posts, many links included are affiliate links. If a reader sees an outfit on my blog and decides to buy an article of clothing that’s through an affiliate link, I will get a very small percentage of that purchase.
A few great affiliate networks include:
In addition to affiliate programs, there are also a variety of companies out there that work to connect influencers with brands. In this instance, you become a member of the network (often an approval is required) and get connected to programs that may be a fit for you.
These programs can include engagements such as writing a blog post about a specific product or company, publishing social posts or even running specific banner ads. Typically, you will receive a flat fee for content creation and will be paid for banner ads by either impressions or clicks.
An exhaustive list of blogger networks:
- Activate by Bloglovin
- Blog Meets Brand
- The Blogger Programme
- The Brand Connection
- Clever Girls Collective
- Collective Bias (Social Fabric)
- Everywhere Society
- Find Your Influence
- Millennial Blogs
- Talented Talkers
- Weave Made Media
Connecting Directly to Brands
In addition to affiliate and ad networks, you can also connect directly with brands and may even find brands reaching out directly to you. If you have some brands in mind that you want to work with, don’t be afraid to reach out. Depending on the size of your following, you may get free product or even a paid engagement! Just be sure to have your media kit handy.
As I’m sure you can see from this post, blogging can be a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding. It’s an amazing creative outlet and a place that can connect you to readers and fellow bloggers from around the world…and maybe even some swag or extra cash!
I know I covered a LOT in this post, so what questions do you have?