A 3000+ word guide that contains everything I’ve learned about starting a blog: In 10 simple steps.
[Transparancy: When readers use the affiliate links in this post to sign up for paid services, I get compensated. Most readers understand that. And they have no problem with supporting me in that way. I just want to share that here. Also, I never recommend services I don’t use or fully believe in. Enjoy the post!]
When I started my first business in 2010, I asked a few people and companies for estimates to build a website for me.
And like most starting entrepreneurs without much cash, I thought, “are you kidding me? 10K for a website? I’ll do it myself!”
Of course, that’s flawed thinking. It cost me a lot of time. But fortunately, I had a lot of time back then.
I also made a lot of mistakes that cost me additional time to fix. For example, I had to learn the hard way that you need to back up your website regularly.
One day I made a mistake and poof, my whole website was gone! I had to start from scratch–again. This happened to me twice. Not funny.
But it was all worth it. Today, I do everything that’s related to building and maintaining my website by myself. And it doesn’t take me much time either, because of the technology that’s available today.
I still don’t know how to program or code. I never learned HTML 5 or CSS. That means you can build sites without having technical knowledge.
I made my first site in iWeb for Mac. A shitty drag and drop app that Apple made until 2011. Then, I switched to Rapidweaver. Both those apps were limited and required a lot of manual tasks. But you didn’t need any coding knowledge. And that’s what I liked about it.
To me, building a website is not about what’s under the hood. It’s about functionality and achieving your goals. I must admit, until 2011, my sites looked poorly and also didn’t function very well.
But that changed in 2012 when I started working with WordPress, which I think should be the standard choice for bloggers. However, people who know how to code will probably tell you that it’s useless.
But this article is not for programmers. It’s for people like me, entrepreneurs, freelancers, side-gig hustlers, and people who don’t care about the medium, but the message.
Visitors of your site don’t care about the technical aspects of a website. Who cares what language is used for a website?
We, the consumer, care about the experience. A site should be structured well, readable, and have useful content. That’s my perspective.
In this post, I explain how you can build your own WordPress site (that’s useful and looks good) from scratch. Or, if you already have a site, you can use this guide to grow your blog.
Step 1 — “What’s My Goal?”
Before we get to the practical steps, I want to talk about something that most “How To Start A Blog” articles are lacking. These types of articles often jump right into the how-to section. And sure, that’s what they are supposed to do.
But before I do anything, I always ask myself, “What am I trying to achieve?”
Maybe someone told you that you need a blog. Or maybe you got the idea to start a blog because you read that someone makes 10K a month off it. Or maybe your competitor has a blog and you think you can’t stay behind.
What are you really trying to achieve with your blog? Want to make money? There are a bunch of other ways you can do that. Why blogging?
For instance, I started a blog because I wanted to share my ideas, publish books, build an audience, help them, and make a career out of it. I’m not here to make a quick buck.
I’m not going to sit here and write about how awesome it is. I’m also not going to pretend that it’s the most difficult thing in the world. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to start a blog or not.
Things are always easy if you’re good at them. So, first ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve.
Then, think about what the best way is to achieve it. It’s not about best practices or about what others have done in the past. It’s about what you are good at. Do things you’re good at. That way, it’s easier to achieve your goals.
Step 2 — “Who’s My Audience?”
Let’s say you’ve thought about your goal and starting a blog is something you think will advance your career, grow your business, etc.
If I look back on how I got started, I asked myself, “Who am I writing for?”
I initially started too broad by targeting entrepreneurs, freelancers, creatives, professionals, job-seekers, etc. If you want to get attention for your blog, that’s probably a good strategy. Why? Mainstream topics like life lessons, inspiration, creativity, entertainment, are things a lot of people are interested in.
However, you always have to tie everything back to the first step. What are you trying to achieve? In my case, I want to transform the way entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs work through my online courses, books, and coaching.
So, if I only publish mainstream articles, I might get a lot of readers, but not the right readers. Also, my goal is not to build the world’s most popular blog. That’s why I care more about reaching the right people.
I do that by writing about topics I think my audience struggles with. Things like overcoming procrastination, improving self-awareness, and skills that are useful to entrepreneurs.
The better you can describe your audience, the more likely you are to find them.
Even ‘all entrepreneurs’ is too broad. What kind of entrepreneurs are you targeting? Money hungry entrepreneurs? Or people who want to make an impact on other people’s lives?
When I think about my audience, I think about entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, freelancers, who want to make a living by doing what they love. For my audience, the quality of life matters more than their income. How do I know that? For starters, that’s who I am. Also, I talk to my readers a lot. That helps me to get clearer on the direction I want to take.
But you have to start somewhere. So, first define your audience, and then do everything you can to reach them.
Step 3 — “How Do I Get The Attention Of My Audience?”
There’s a lot of competition. Not only from blogs. Because let’s think about what you’re trying to do here. You’re trying to get people’s attention. That’s the first thing.
What are you competing with? Basically, everything. A person could watch a TV Show, the news, go for a run, or have drinks instead of reading your blog. That’s the first thing you must understand.
You’re not only competing with blogs. You’re competing with everything and everyone that’s trying to catch the attention of your audience.
You have to be creative, unconventional, and innovative. Because otherwise, you’ll end up in bloody red oceans, competing with millions of others for the attention of a small group of people you’re trying to reach.
“How do blue ocean strategists see new opportunities where others see only red oceans of declining profits and growth? They don’t get taken in by what everyone else takes for granted.”
In other words: You can’t expect success if you’re trying the same strategies as others. You must adopt a different perspective.
I highly recommend reading Blue Ocean Shift to every entrepreneur and blogger. You can use their methodology to create uncontested space in the blogging industry.
No matter what you do, don’t try sneaky tactics to get people to click on your stuff. Focus on the long-term. If you deceive people, they won’t trust you.
Other than that, feel free to try new ways to grab people’s attention. The blogging world is yours.
Step 4 — Find A Good Hosting Company
Okay, let’s get technical without getting technical. Makes sense? Probably not. But this is all you need to know: You need a piece of virtual land to run your website on. That’s what hosting providers do.
They make sure people can reach your site. That’s why it’s important that you pick a good company. I recommend Bluehost because they are fast and reliable (get 63% off with this link). Nothing else really matters.
No matter what you do, get a hosting provider that provides automatic backups. Bluehost lets you backup your site daily, weekly, or monthly. Personally, I’m fine with weekly to save storage space. Also, make backups of your SQL database too.
I don’t know what an SQL database is. I just know that WordPress needs it. See? You don’t need technical knowledge.
Step 5 — Install WordPress and Get Familiar With It
Next, play around with WordPress and take a look at the settings, how many posts you want to show per page, whether you want people to comment on your articles or not, what kind of plugins you need, etc.
In this article, I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this step because it doesn’t matter. The only plugins I recommend to use at first are Jetpack, Yoast SEO, Upscribe (see Step 8), Easy Google Fonts, WP Smush, and Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP).
Also, get a Google Analytics tracking code. You can set that up in 10 minutes. And Google walks you through the whole process.
Step 6 — Pick A Theme
Until now, we have started a website without writing code. And we’re going to continue doing that by using custom WordPress themes.
Yes, they cost money. And no, there are no good free themes. And yes, you don’t need to hire a designer or developer to do all this.
In the past, you needed to hire people to get an attractive site. Now, you can just buy a professional theme for a few dozen bucks. Standard solutions are here to make life easier for you. Use them. And if you want to customize themes, you can always hire someone in the future to do that. In the beginning, keep it simple.
Before I stuck with this theme, I probably bought four different themes. But I didn’t like them after I gave them a try. Who cares? Starting a blog is about experimenting. You can never get things right on the first try.
By now, I’ve made some customizations to my blog so it looks different from the stock edition. But I did that over a period of two years. These things take time.
Browse the web for a theme that you like. Buy it. Install it (which only takes two minutes). And you’re done.
Step 7 — Don’t Waste Your Time On Design
I know a lot of people who obsess about design. I care about it too. But I also think that it can be a waste of time. Let’s say you spend six months on the perfect design. And once you start, no one reads your articles. Then what? You’ll probably feel so defeated that you quit.
Just believe me on this one: No one cares about design. Period. Readers only care about, guess what, readability and good content (we’ll get to that later). So that means no annoying pop-ups, ads, white text on dark backgrounds, or other bad typography.
I use the Lora font on my blog for the body text, and Lato for the headlines (I use Easy Google Fonts to customize my typography). I like the combination of sans serif for headlines and serif for body text.
Just look at what blogs you like to read and steal their typography. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
Step 8 — Build A List
It’s important to start an email list before you start publishing articles. Why? You never know when/if your blog is going to take off. So, you better come prepared.
Again, this is very simple. I use MailChimp because it’s easy, cheap, and reliable. There are two components to building a list.
The email provider (in my case, MailChimp) and the sign-up form on your page.
You collect the emails on your site with a widget or plugin (just like the little box you see below this article). There are thousands of ways to do this.
I’ve used popups in the past. And they work well. But I don’t want to sacrifice the readability of my site. That’s why I like sign-up forms at the bottom of articles or in sidebars. For my sidebar, I use a simple MailChimp form code.
Upscribe is very simple to use. You create a form on their site, install their WordPress plugin, and copy/paste a link at the bottom of your articles.
If you want to change the copy of your sign-up form, you just change it on the Upscribe site and it automatically changes everywhere you’ve used your form.
This way, you don’t have to manually change old sign-up forms (which is very time-consuming) in case you decide to change your messaging. Upscribe is the best money I spend on running my site. It makes building a list very easy.
Also, you can immediately send a gift to your new subscribers with Upscribe.
I always like to give something for free to my new readers so they can get familiar with my work. That’s something you must keep in mind. People don’t know you. An eBook, video, or collection of best articles, are good welcome gifts.
Without an incentive, people are also less likely to sign up. Because what’s the point? That’s why I highly recommend giving something away for free. And don’t be stingy. Give away good stuff.
Step 9 — Get Traffic To Your Site
Bloggers always ask, “How do I get people to my site?”
The system is simple: Referrals.
No one is going to type www.thisawesomeguysblog.com in his or her browser. NO ONE.
Think about how you discover new stuff. Chances are high that people email you a link, or that you find it on social media, or on any other site where people share content, like Reddit.
And then we have search engines, which are also referrals. Someone types something in Google, and Google says: “Check out what I found for you!”
Every article I’ve read about increasing traffic basically lied to me. All those stupid tactics people suggest don’t work. Giveaways, influencer outreach, raffles, and whatever the latest trend may be.
Here’s a recent snapshot I made of how people get to my site.
A few things:
- Write about topics that people are interested in. That’s how you get search traffic. In the beginning, traffic from search will be 0. But that builds up over time. I’ve only seen a steady increase after the first year.
- Create content that people want to share. That’s why you see a lot of referrals from sites like Pocket, Facebook, Hackernews, etc.
- To get the traffic rolling, use your email list. Every time you publish something new, notify your subscribers. If it’s worth sharing, they will. Once people start sharing content, it has the chance to spread. But if no one sees it in the first place, it cannot. So, get it in front of as many people as you can initially. This is hard and tedious work at the beginning — emailing or messaging readers one by one.
That’s all that I have to share about increasing your traffic. You don’t need a 2-grand course to understand the system behind getting traffic.
Step 10 — Be Consistent
What you do need are writing skills. Look, English is not my first language, and I often make grammar mistakes. But people don’t seem to mind. Why? I always do my best to share something worthwhile.
How do I know if it’s worthwhile? Simple. I always ask myself, “Is this useful?” If the answer is no, I don’t share it.
Also, it doesn’t always have to be useful. Content can also be entertaining or inspiring. Some of my articles are not practical or useful. In those cases, I try to make people smile or feel good. That’s also worth it.
There’s much more to writing effective content that people want to share. That’s why I created a short and practical online course called Effective Writing.
No matter how good or bad your writing skills are, something else that is equally important is consistency. I’ve published at least one article a week since I started my blog. And I get the most traffic when I publish two article a week.
That’s not surprising. If you publish eight articles a month, there’s more chance at least one will get more traffic because of people sharing it. That’s just simple math.
Two is better than one. And three is better than two.
However, quantity is not everything in my opinion. People are divided on this topic. Some people publish 10 pieces of content per day.
To find out your frequency, look at your audience. If I look at myself, I don’t even consume that much content from another person. So, it wouldn’t make sense for me to publish that much content.
I like two article a week best. That works for me and my audience. It took me some time to figure that out. So, experiment with it and find out what works best for you, regarding traffic, quality, engagement, etc.
If you can’t write more than one good article a week, just stick to one. There’s no one way to do this.
And that’s the final idea I want to share with you: Learn from other bloggers who’ve done well, but always remember to do it your way.
I hope you found this guide useful and that it helps you to start a blog, or grow your existing blog.
It took me six years to learn all these things. If you just started out, you can save a lot of time by focusing on the 10 steps I laid out above.
And even if you’re already blogging for a while and not seeing the results you want, you can quickly grow by applying steps 1 to 3. In fact, I revisit and answer those questions every six months for my own blog.
If you want to stay in this game, you must adapt, be creative, and come up with new ways to grab the attention of your readers. It’s not easy. But if you play it right, it’s worth it.
And feel free to share the story behind your blog in the comments below.