The tips I give here on how to start a blog is nothing like how this blog began almost six years ago.
You see, I was a product of the early days of blogging. Live Journal, Blogger, GeoCities. Those were the sites when I first learned how to start a blog.
So when I started a blog about being a mom, I went a similar route. I hopped onto the free WordPress.com platform, plugged in “sleepingshouldbeeasy” and typed away. The blog would be my online private journal for the next two years, meant for a few readers.
This post won’t be about that. Times change, and this blog has as well. As of this writing, it’s received 239,908 page views in the last 30 days! This post is for folks who want to start a blog that’s meant to grow in traffic and earn income. The resources I offer here are what I’d tell myself if I were starting out from scratch today.
Just for fun, let me show you how the blog looked right before its current layout:
This is how it looked even before that:
And this is how it looked even before that:
And I so wish I had even earlier renditions (because there were a few!).
How to start a blog
My first url looked like this: http://sleepingshouldbeeasy.wordpress.com. I didn’t have to pay for anything. But since it was free, I couldn’t add too many options or earn income from the blog. I couldn’t have what the blog looks right now on the previous WordPress.com platform.
When you blog on another platform like WordPress.com or Blogger, you don’t own your site. You’re renting your space without controlling it. You have limits such the inability to load ads or install themes.
But if you buy your own url and hosting, then that’s called self-hosted. Rather than relying on WordPress.com, Blogger or other platform, you own your website outright.
You pay a fee with a hosting provider like BlueHost, GoDaddy, or Synthesis, to name a few. Load any theme you want and install plugins that give you a ton more options. You control all your content and can access them on the server.
But Nina—it’s not FREE, my old self would say.
And she’d be right. Self-hosted is not free. But if you want your blog to grow, you can’t rely on a WordPress.com or Blogger platform. I used to argue with myself that this blog was just a hobby. Maybe if I got X amount of monthly visitors, then I’d fork the money over and get serious about it.
But even if you’re a hobby blogger testing the waters out, it’s fine to pay for things like hosting. Think about your other hobbies. Do you knit? I’m sure you buy yarn and needles. Do you like hiking? Those shoes didn’t come free. Even hobbies cost money, and blogging is no different.
Investing in your blog is the way to go. I used to to try to wing everything for free, and it didn’t give me the same amount of growth as when I invested in the blog. Even now, most of the money I earn from the blog goes right back into it. From book covers to email newsletters, investing in a blog gives you amazing returns.
If you want a private place to write or show to a few friends, then yes, you can get away with blogging on a free platform. I have a blog about my childhood letters I’ve shown to a few family members.
But if you have any inkling of growing your blog, go with self-hosted. You’ll have more options to work with to get the most out of blogging. And you’ll save yourself a ton of headache if you decide to switch from free to self-hosted.
BlueHost is a fantastic option for people eager to start a blog but without the tech know-how. You can get your hosting and domain through them (I’ll explain the difference between the two below).
What’s the difference between domain and hosting?
I totally got lost with all the blogging jargon, domain and hosting included. Here’s the difference:
Domain is your url. This domain is sleepingshouldbeeasy.com. It’s the name you type in the browser window.
Hosting is the service you pay for to place your files on a server. All the content that’s in a blog is part of the hosting.
Nearly all hosting providers like the BlueHost example above also sell domains. You can buy both your domain and hosting at the same time.
How to design your blog
You have three options with designing your blog. I’ve done all three:
- Free themes: The first is to work with the tons of free themes you’ll have access to on WordPress.org. Look through the themes and tinker with changing fonts, colors and layout. Remember the old designs I showed you earlier? The oldest one was a free theme.
- Purchase a theme: The second is to purchase a theme. You can purchase from thousands of themes that are beautiful and unique. Before I redesigned Sleeping Should Be Easy a few months ago, I had gone this route, purchasing a theme and fiddling with it to get it just right. From the examples above, the first and second layouts were both from the same purchased theme.
- Custom theme: And finally, the third option is to get a custom design for your blog, which is what I had done with the current layout. You won’t find the look and feel of this blog elsewhere because a designer created it for me. That’s Laura at Pixel Me Designs whom I recommend!
If you want to get started right away and can tinker around, go with free themes (option one). If you found a non-free theme you love, buy it and install it on your blog (option two). And if you don’t want to tinker with your blog and you know you want something unique, hire a blog designer (option three).
What are plugins?
Plugins are the add-ons you can install on your blog to customize it. They’re great, but don’t go overboard either. My rule of thumb is, if I can get away without it, then I don’t need it. They can conflict with one another and cause errors (I know from experience!). Still, they’re the way to go if you want awesome features on your blog.
Here are the plugins I recommend when learning how to start a blog:
- Akismet: A must for every blogger. Akismet blocks out the zillions of spam comments you’ll get.
- Comment Email Reply: This plugin emails a commenter whenever you or someone else responds to their comment.
- Comment Redirect by Yoast: Redirect first-time commenters to a page on your blog. Currently, I redirect them to the email signup page.
- Contact Form 7: The plugin I use for the contact form.
- Google Analytics: Another must for every blogger. Google Analytics is the industry standard for tracking your traffic. You’ll need this plugin for the numbers to show up.
- Pinterest Pin It Button: Hover over any image on the blog, and a small “pin it” button appears on the top left. Perfect for sites like this one that rely on Pinterest for traffic.
- Sumo: The sharing plugin I use to share the blog posts. Every page has a series of sharing icons floating on the top right. Users can click on those buttons to share the post or page on their social platform.
- Yoast SEO: Yoast is another must if you want to boost your searchability with search engines like Google. Their forms make it so easy to make sure you’ve got all the basics down for your blog to show up on Google.
How to get images on your posts
You’ll notice that every post I write has a vertical image on the top. If you share the posts on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll also notice I included a horizontal image as well. Images are so important for social shares, especially with Pinterest and Facebook.
I buy all the images through Canva. At $1 each, you can download the images you want as well as customize some text over it. I also use Photoshop which lets me use the same fonts and colors that’s everywhere else on the blog.
If you’re comfortable using Photoshop or other Adobe products, I highly recommend Adobe Creative Cloud. I pay a monthly fee to access all their programs which allows me to create amazing images for the blog. Check out the Adobe Creative Cloud plans here.
I don’t always blog about blogging, but these folks do on a regular basis:
I also recommend signing up for Elite Blog Academy when they open their doors again. This course changed my blogging strategy and increased blog traffic in just a few short months. You can sign up for their email list so you know when they start classes again.
And lastly, build an email list. You can start with the free membership at Mailchimp, which is what I did. They have fantastic user-friendly features. I’ve since moved on to ConvertKit which offers options like email automation and landing pages.
Tinker and learn
I hope you’ve gotten a few basics down on how to start a blog and make money. This process isn’t how I started blogging, but it’s what I’d do if I had to start a blog all over again today.
The most important thing? Just do it. You’ll never get it perfect. There will always be that font that looks weird, or the contact form that doesn’t work. I can’t tell you how many things I still need to do with this blog. But at least it’s up there, and I got it started. Start a blog, whether on a free or hosted platform. Get your header up there, even if you decide to change it 12 times in a week. This is all part of the fun of blogging.
To guide you through how to start a blog, download and print this free 2-page PDF I made for you. You’ll find the resources listed here as well as other prompts to get you started:
Bloggers, what are your tips for how to start a blog? Non-bloggers, if you had a blog, what would you write about?
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