How to Start a Blog with WordPress
WordPress isn’t just the most popular content management system. It powers about 27% of websites. (Want to see what that looks like on a map? Check this out!) The next most popular system comes in at only 3.3%. It’s is a powerful content management system that can be used to build beautiful websites. It’s not just for blogging anymore—you can use it to build stunning landing pages, e-commerce stores, and portfolios.
With that in mind, this guide is designed to walk you through building a blog from the ground up, including all the brainstorming that comes beforehand. Any technical information addressed in this post will be specific to WordPress.
of sites use WordPress, compared to the second-most widely used CMS at 3.3%.
additional sites in the top 10 million per day.
new posts each month, with just over 70 million comments per month.
Getting Started: Determine Your Purpose
Grab some coffee and get comfortable—this post is a bit lengthy.
One of the questions you’ll want to ask yourself before you start a blog: why do you want to start a blog?
You might want to:
- Promote your business and products
- Share your hobby or craft with others
- Create an information hub
- Showcase your portfolio
- Supplement your income
- Write, simply because you enjoy writing!
Regardless of your reason, make sure you know why before you start. This is a huge influence on how you build your blog and market it to others. It’ll also help you find a direction for your writing. Writing with a purpose is easier than just aimlessly writing. (Read more)
Choose a Niche...or 2, or 3
If you’ve done any amount of research, you’re probably getting a bit tired of hearing the word “niche.” Bottom line: it’s important.
Bloggers encounter issues with lack of focus and not knowing what to write every day, sometimes every hour. Having a niche significantly reduces these kinds of encounters. I won’t promise it’ll permanently get rid of your writer’s block, but it definitely helps!
By choosing a niche, you’ve already taken the first step to attracting readers: getting to know them. Find out what their interests, questions, and problems are, and suddenly you have tons of things to write about.
How to Choose a Niche
The most obvious answer to finding a niche is by examining your own interests.
Writing about what interests you makes things easier. Or, if you’re just interested in making money, choose a niche that has a lot of potential spenders. New technology is released every day. Let’s be real: technology is expensive and just about everyone buys it. Whether it’s phones, laptops, or gaming devices, there are always people in the market for the next new, shiny piece of technology. You can bet that affiliate sales for electronics and other related products have a decent payout.
If you already have a business, then you probably already have a defined niche and can skip this part. Writing about your products, services, and the interests of your clients should be your priority.
Highly Competitive Niches
If a niche has a lot of competitors, yes, it’s going to be difficult to break into. But if there are lots of competitors, that also means you’re dealing with a big market.
Getting your slice of the pie in more competitive niches just means you’re going to have to work for it a bit more. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible! Especially if you can cover it from a unique angle, there’s a good chance there are readers looking for people like you.
So if you’re looking to make money, be wary of obscure niches. If no one’s writing about it, that usually means there isn’t a lot of demand. (There are exceptions to every rule, of course. So if you have a good feeling that it could turn profitable, give it a shot.)
If you’re really interested in finding a niche with a healthy amount of competition, consider doing some research on keywords.
I use a combination of Google Keyword Planner and MozBar to do my research (both are free). Keyword Planner is a fantastic way to look at the overall search volume of a keyword, but it doesn’t accurately represent how much competition a keyword has. (The “competition” field is only relevant for people who want to advertise.
If you want to get a good idea of how competitive a keyword is in terms of how easy it is to rank, your answer lies in SERPs (search engine result pages). Type a keyword into Google search and see what sites come up. If you search a keyword and all you get is a bunch of high-ranking, authoritative sites, you may want to start somewhere else!
How Many Niches Should I Pick?
Since you’re not immediately starting your blog, just write down as many niches as you think you might want to write about. Narrow it down after you have all the possibilities out on the table. Think about the things you really want to write about.
When I started my first blog, I didn’t think much about my niche. While I enjoyed the topic (gaming), I came to realize how much I hated writing about it. It got even worse when I took on a paid position. After about a year, I dropped everything, deleted my blog, and stopped responding to writing requests. Lesson learned!
For this reason, you may want to choose about two or three niches and write about them for a while before you actually start your blog. This way you can get a feel for whether or not you can write about it for an extended period of time.
Write Some Blog Posts
But wait! I don’t have a blog yet!
That’s absolutely fine. But remember that just because you enjoy reading about a topic doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy writing about it.
I absolutely love gaming! I spend most of my free time gaming. I’ll read reviews and guides throughout the month. Did I enjoy writing that kind of content?
No. No. No.
I actually quit writing for almost two years after that fiasco.
So, I strongly encourage you to spend some time writing about topics in your niche. Despite what you may think, there’s a chance you won’t like writing about it. Or you might hate it. Just give it a try before you commit. If you do enjoy it, then you’ve already got some blog posts to start off with!
I recommend writing about 10-15 to get a good feel for the kind of content you’ll be writing.
And there’s always a chance you’ll find another topic you enjoy that you didn’t think to consider. I was always kind of put off by marketing. For years, I lumped it in with sales, which I hated. But when I had to take a marketing class in college, I found that I really enjoyed it. So much, in fact, that I’ve taken a few classes since then and would heavily consider changing my major if I go back to college.
In other words, do consider even the most unlikely topics.
For each niche that you seriously consider, write a series of blog posts. Save them in Word or Google docs and come back to them after you’ve spent some time with your niches. (This is why I recommended in the last section trying to narrow it down to two or three niches, if possible.)
Once all this is done, reevaluate your niches. This process should help you narrow it down to a single niche to start off with. You can add more of them later as your blog starts to fill up.
Choose a Blog Name
This part’s really easy if you decide to go with your own name.
But in all seriousness, once you pick a name, you’ll want to stick with it. If you decide to change it later on after you’ve managed to get a few of your pages to rank and all that, going through a name change, especially if you want to change the domain, isn’t exactly easy.
Picking a blog name can take a while. If you need some ideas or inspiration, I’ve listed a few name generators and domain search sites below.
(Social media accounts are created frequently. Once you have a name, you might want to go ahead and grab your social media handles before someone else does.)
Wordoid allows you to customize the language, quality, pattern, and length of the names it generates. Most of the names it generates are simple and catchy.
It can also show available .com and .net domain names, which you can add to favorites.
Lean Domain Search
If you would rather use actual words, Lean Domain is probably a better choice. Search for a keyword you want in your domain, and it’ll generate thousands of available domain names that contain that word.
You can filter search results based on an alphabetized list, popularity, or length, and choose whether you want your keyword to appear at the beginning or end of the domain.
Panabee is probably my favorite domain name generator. Not just because of their mutual distaste for skinny jeans, either.
Type in a couple of keywords and it’ll generate domain names based on a combination of those words. It says it works best with two words, but there are some interesting results from single-word queries as well.
For added convenience, they also have a search feature at the bottom that checks name availability on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.
Find an Awesome Host
Many people like to keep all their domains under the same registrar. However, if you’re not planning on getting a bunch of domain names, the registrar isn’t generally too important. Even if you decide to host your site elsewhere, major registrars generally make it easy to point your domain to a different host. I typically get my hosting and domain at the same place, especially since most hosting plans come with a free domain name anyway.
My two recommended hosts are always either Lyrical Host or Siteground. Lyrical Host is the only host I’ve been with that I can truly recommend without any reservations. StudioPress if you don’t like to manage your site and want something that “just works”. If you find WordPress is too technical, definitely head over and check them out. They’re very simple, straightforward, and their sites look great.
The only horrible experience I’ve ever had with a host is with 1&1. All I have to say is: avoid them. Avoid them like the plague. Between the poor customer service, billing problems, and overall lack of support, I’ve been disappointed both times I’ve tried hosting a site with them.
(If, for whatever reason, you still want to try hosting with them, I would suggest using a prepaid card to pay for service. It took me three months to get my account canceled. In the process, they managed to double-bill me.)
Lyrical Host has been my favorite host by far. They have a wonderful support team and great people all around.
They also have a wealth of resources that they send their customers on a monthly basis, such as how-to resources, free stock photos and illustrations, workbooks, and other things to help you with your blog.
Since I’ve been with them, they’ve added some consultations that you can book (for free!) to their calendar. You can book website migrations and brainstorming sessions, and if you’re an existing customer, you can book a consultation to get some help with things like SEO, blog post ideas, and other things.
Read the full review on Lyrical Host (and get a discount!) here.
Yes, you heard right. If you’re familiar with StudioPress, you know they offer some great themes built on Genesis framework.
However, now they offer their own hosted WordPress solution. So if you love WordPress, but hate all the work and problems that come with low-cost hosting, consider turning that over to StudioPress. It’s basically all the power and flexibility of WordPress without all the headaches that can come from self-hosted WordPress.
They have two plans—one for content creators and one that’s tailored more towards e-commerce. So if you’ve been considering going with more beginner-friendly options (like Squarespace, for example), but want to keep the flexibility of WordPress, check out StudioPress.
Install and Set Up WordPress
Over the years, WordPress has gotten a lot easier. Gone are the days where you have to set up your own installation. Now we have scripts to do everything for us! Automated installs typically only take a minute.
Though, if you do have to install it manually, check out this documentation.
If you’ve decided to go with any of my recommended hosts above, both have extended documentation on how to install and setup WordPress. If you go through their setup process when you first log in, however, you won’t need the extra help.
With Lyrical Host, WordPress comes preinstalled, so there’s no setup required.
SEO: Change These Settings
Some of the default settings in WordPress aren’t very reader-friendly. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is largely about optimizing a website for search engines, but it also focuses on reader experience. Before choosing a theme or doing anything else, get these settings fixed.
Settings > Permalinks
Default WordPress links look something like this: mybloggingroadmap.com/?p=123
But you don’t want links that look like this, either: mybloggingroadmap.com/archives/123
Neither of these links tells readers (or search engines) anything about the post—it’s just a bunch of numbers. SEO-friendly links indicate what the post is about and should typically be something easy to read and remember. For instance: site.com/awesome-soup-recipe
So, you’ll want to change the permalink settings to “Post name,” which looks like this: mybloggingroadmap.com/sample-post
If you’re reading this and already have an established blog (3-6 months), do not change your permalink structure.
Unless you know how to set up proper redirects in WordPress, don’t change your permalink structure! Otherwise, any links you have out on the web, as well as internal links, will be broken. And nothing messes with SEO like a site full of 404s. No one likes 404s.
Even if you have an established site, I still recommend getting around to changing your links. However, it’s probably better to consult a professional.
Yoast also has a tool to help set up redirects, but currently only supports Apache-based servers. Check out this documentation for more information.
Settings > Reading
Under your reading settings, make sure Search Engine Visibility is unchecked.
Checking this will tell search engines not to index your site, preventing it from appearing in the search results. Once your site is finished and ready to go, this should not be checked. If you don’t want people to see your site before it’s complete, utilize plugins like Maintenance.
To WWW or not to WWW
Under General Settings, you’ll see your WordPress address and your site address. Unless you’re using a different builder or site for your home page, these should be the same.
From a technical standpoint, it’s better to use a “www” in front of your address. If your site happens to take off and get really big and you end up needing redundant hosting, you will want www. No questions asked. If you want a full explanation, read this page.
As far as SEO is concerned, it doesn’t really matter as long as you choose one and stick with it. Google sees ww-.laurenbennight.com and laurenbennight.com as two different sites. So if you’re not currently using www, don’t just add it. Talk to your host about setting redirects.
Yoast has a great free plugin for SEO. It makes customizing social media posts and verification for Google and Bing analytics a breeze, which you’ll want to do later on. You can download it here. (Bonus points: They’ve also fixed most of the compatibility issues with Gutenberg.)
It also helps when you’re writing blog posts, as it has readability and SEO recommendations to help improve writing and keyword density. However, take suggestions with a grain of salt—not all of them are for the best. Always focus on what’s best for readers, not just SEO.
Designing Your Site
There are tons of beautiful themes from WordPress. Not too long ago, many people wouldn’t consider using WordPress for anything but blogging. But with all the support it has, there have been tons of awesome themes and even drag-and-drop builders developed just for WordPress.
WordPress.org offers tons of free themes. Most other free themes aren’t exactly “free.” You can install them at no cost, but if you want to customize them at all, you have to pay to unlock the version with more customization options. The usual bait-and-switch, and even then the paid versions weren’t worth it.
However, I’ve come across two sites for paid themes that I absolutely love. They’re well worth the price. I haven’t looked elsewhere for themes since I signed up with these two sites.
I was pretty skeptical about Elegant Themes at first. Most drag-and-drop builders and landing page creators I had tried were very limited in what they could do. Once I gave Divi a try, I didn’t hesitate to buy their membership. It’s easy to make pages look exactly like you want them to with the visual builder. You can make your own layouts, or use some of the premade layouts in the library.
They also have tons of premade themes available, too, if you don’t want to mess with designing your site. You can view their entire gallery here.
Update: Unfortunately, I can’t currently recommend Divi with confidence if you’re running WordPress 5.0. Divi is a massive theme that completely changes the way WordPress works and it wasn’t quite as “future-proof” as I was hoping. However, it does work with earlier versions of WordPress and they’ve mentioned plans to find a workaround to make Divi compatible with 5.0. And while compatibility with WordPress is a big issue, transparency is an even bigger issue. They frequently release updates on planned features, but typically drag their feet answering actual issues (like about Gutenberg and 5.0). As of December 2018, My Blogging Roadmap uses the Astra theme, built on Elementor (both free!).
My next favorite has to be StudioPress. They don’t offer the same flexibility that Divi does, but you hardly have to customize anything to get a site that looks great. For people that prefer to be more “hands-off with their website, StudioPress has tons of full-featured themes.
They also have a membership where you can buy all of their themes in a package for about $500. It sounds a little steep at first, but you’re paying for a lot of themes (and support). You do have to install some additional plugins to get the right look and functionality, but none that you have to pay for, in my experience.
Check the setup guide beforehand to see what plugins are in use. They have detailed documentation on all themes and support is very helpful if you still have questions.
If you’d like to check out StudioPress, here’s a link to their gallery.
Colors, Fonts, and Logo Design
Once you have a theme, start thinking about colors and design. It’s ok to change your mind later, but for the most part, you’ll want to stay consistent. Try to stick to two fonts for your main content (headers and body text) and two to three fonts for your logo and graphics.
Keeping consistent design across your site and social media helps readers recognize your work better. I can think of a few people on Pinterest who use a certain unique font for all of their site-branded graphics. Without even reading who posted it or the site at the bottom of the graphic, I can pick out whose site it’s from easily.
That’s the solid image you want to create with your colors, fonts, and graphics. You want it to be something that tells people, “Yeah, that’s me!”
I use Paletton to store color palettes. I use these colors on my site, on social media, and in my emails. If you’re not sure what colors you want to use, pick one you think will work well with your site. Give it to Paletton to use as a base color, and it’ll generate a palette of up to three sets of colors, each with a selection of shades that can also be customized.
When it comes time to make your designs, all you have to do is go to the page you bookmarked, click on the color you want to use, and copy the hex code into whatever software you’re using.
This is also really useful for people that work on multiple devices. My laptop has a matte screen, so the colors look quite a bit different than they do on most mobile devices and monitors. Storing palettes makes it a lot easier to stay consistent.
There are tons of fonts out there that are free for commercial use. If you’re struggling to decide which fonts you want to use or just aren’t sure what combinations look good together, check out my Pinterest board here. I’m always looking for new fonts and combinations, so I post findings pretty frequently. Not all of them are free for commercial use, but I try to include mostly pins that showcase commercial free fonts.
And if you’re just looking for great fonts, check out Creative Market. If I’m in the market for design good, they’re usually my first go-to. Most designers there offer really affordable prices on their work. I’ve ended up working with some designers I met on CM and getting some custom graphics and fonts done, too. They have a great community.
You don’t have to come up with a logo right off the bat. It might be months before you come up with a logo you like.
However, if you want to get things done sooner than later, I’ll refer you to Creative Market again. I’m not much of a designer and prefer more flexible designs. CM has a wide selection of premade logo kits that you can adjust to your liking in Photoshop or Illustrator. So if you like design, but want to do some of it yourself, check out this kit.
Best All-Around Graphics Resource
I recently picked up an Envato Elements subscription for Black Friday and it’s absolutely amazing. They constantly add new resources and have a wide selection of stock photos, videos, graphics templates, fonts, and much more. (They just recently added music and sound effects to their collection, which I was super excited about!)
Envato also makes licensing incredibly easy. Unlike other sites that have varying licenses based on the project, Envato Elements takes a one-size-fits-all approach to licensing. The license covers pretty much any kind of commercial use short of on-demand and broadcasting usage. Licensing is also as simple as downloading an item, specifying what project you’re using it for, and the license is good even if you decide to cancel your subscription. Click here to check it out!
Monetizing Your Site
There are three common ways bloggers monetize their blog: advertising, selling their own products and services, or selling other people’s products and services (affiliate marketing). If you don’t have any products of your own and don’t like the idea of running ads on your blog, affiliate marketing might be an income stream to look into.
I’ll be honest—affiliate marketing can be dreadfully slow in the beginning.
For someone with no following, no email list, and no connections, it’s difficult to make money from affiliate links from the get-go. So, don’t be disappointed when you don’t see immediate results. It can take weeks, sometimes months.
The good news? There are a few excellent affiliate programs that don’t require you to have traffic at all.
Check with your hosting provider. Every host I’ve been with offers some form of affiliate or referral program. Even if they don’t offer payout, there’s usually a referral program that gets you additional hosting. For instance, your host probably offers an affiliate program that you can join regardless of how much traffic you have. You can refer people to your host, sometimes enough to start covering the cost of your blog in the first few months.
Chances are that most other services you use offer affiliate programs, too. Every time I start using a new service, I check to see if they have an affiliate program. If they do, I’ll sign up for the affiliate program, then write a review after I’ve used their services for a while.
While affiliate links should be the focus of how you make money, remember to always prioritize content. Over half of your blog content probably won’t be promoting products. But by providing valuable content and interacting with your readers, you’ll help increase traffic to your site, thus increasing exposure of those links.
I’ve included this section here because searching out affiliate programs should be part of starting your blog. You’ll want to have at least a few lined up to apply for after launch. Some higher-paying affiliate programs require a bit of traffic and proof of engagement. Just know that there are a lot of beginner-friendly programs as well!
Hint: If you can’t find an affiliate program through your host or a service you use, try googling “CompanyName affiliate program.”
Read more about affiliate marketing and other ways on how to monetize your blog.
Launching Your Blog
Launching your blog doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. I personally didn’t launch my blog until I had at least five posts, but you can start with as little as one. I recommend doing the following before you make your site live:
- Write an “about” page
- Create a “contact” page
- Publish at least five blog posts
- Write at least one post with affiliate links in it
- Link back to your social profiles
- Make sure you have graphics optimized for at least Facebook and Twitter (Pinterest, if that fits your demographic)
- Create a logo. If you don’t have on yet, text is fine
- Don’t forget about your footer!
This is the bare minimum of what you should have on your blog. If you’re afraid you don’t have enough content, you can make your site live without promoting it. If you don’t want people visiting your site yet, just don’t promote it until you have five blog posts.
I’ve created the Blog Starter Workbook to help guide you through the first steps of starting your blog. There isn’t really so such thing as “5 easy steps” or a “20-minute” blog starter, but this gives you an idea of the kinds of things you should keep in mind while starting your blog. There isn’t a “one magical answer”, but I certainly hope this will make it easier!
Click here to grab your free copy. No opt-in required!
Check Out the Blog Starter Course
Starting January 1st, 2019, I’ll be launching a new course directed towards beginner bloggers, which covers things from the ground up—from planning to launch.
If you’re lacking direction and aren’t sure where to start, be sure to check out this free course! You can sign up for updates here.