One question I get asked often is how to start a blog. While there are many platforms to choose from, I always suggest that if your purpose for blogging is anything related to branding, business, or making money online, then you want to go with WordPress on your own domain. While WordPress.com, Blogger, Tumblr, and other platforms are great, there is nothing like having full control of the design and functionality – something you will only get if you are running WordPress from your own domain.
Sure, there are other blogging platforms and content management systems you can use on your own domain, but none are quite as popular or powerful as WordPress. The traffic trends for each platform’s site speak for themselves.
The following are resources for starting your own blog on WordPress including choosing a domain name, purchasing your domain, hosting, WordPress installation, themes, plugins, settings, essential pages, backups, updates, and more!
Choosing a Domain Name
Your first step to staring a blog on your own domain is choosing a domain name. There are many ways you can go with this, from using your own name, business name, keywords, or a quirky but brandable word. Some great resources to help you out in this choice include the following.
Considering a keyword based domain, but not sure where to start? Try out Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool. It will give you additional keyword ideas plus their estimated monthly searches. If you use the option to sign in with your AdWords account, you can increase the number of results plus see CPC cost data for each keyword.
This site will let you search a specific domain you are interested in (domain.com) or search for a keyword. If the main domain / keyword you search is not available, it will show you if alternatives such as the .net, .org, .co, and .me are available. You can use the checkbox at the top to toggle whether results should show premium domains for sale that are related to your search or only show domains that are available at average domain registration prices.
You can also use the options in the left sidebar to refine the results based on your needs.
Before you register that domain, be sure that it is available on social media! Knowem lets you search names / keywords to see if they are taken on over 500 social networks. This is also a great place to find social networks by niche including business, design, entertainment, health, music, photo, tech, and travel. Hover over each network’s name to learn a little more about it.
Purchasing a Domain Name
Once you have settled on a strong domain name, you are probably ready to go out and buy it. The following is my choice for domain registration plus the top two others I have heard used by other bloggers.
- GoDaddy – This is the registrar I use. Be sure to search godaddy coupon code plus the month and year to get the best deal. New .COMs prices starting at $11.99.
- NameCheap - New .COMs prices stating at $8.99.
- Network Solutions – Domains are cheap (or even free) but only if you get a one year annual hosting agreement along with them.
Hosting Your Domain
Once you’ve purchased your domain, the next thing you will need is hosting. The above companies also offer hosting plans, but I’d like to focus on ones that have easy WordPress installations. Be sure to look at which hosting companies:
- Offer plans that allow you to have multiple domains, unlimited storage, and unlimited bandwidth.
- Have the best customer support options (do you prefer text chat, 24 hour phone support, or forums).
- Have better deals based on paying for several months at once vs. paying on a month to month basis.
- Do or don’t require annual contracts or agreements.
The following are hosts I have used, people I know have used successfully, or are recommended by WordPress.
- WP Engine – WP ENgine is a WordPress hosting solution used by major brands like Foursquare, HTC, Williams-Sonoma, and others. Unlike other hosting companies, you can try them risk free for 60 days. While their prices are higher than some providers, their service is 100% focused on WordPress which means you will be getting better service for your site.
- GoDaddy – Again, this is the main hosting company I use for this blog and my most important sites. There’s nothing like having your hosting and domains on the same site that way you don’t have to worry about redirecting DNS servers and other mess. Plus it’s only one place to call if anything goes wrong! Plans starting at $5.99 per month.
- HostGator – Although I have had some issues with this company, I still use them for some of my smaller websites. Most of the bloggers I know swear by this company, and I seem to be one of the only few people who have actually had any issues. Plans starting at $3.96 per month for a single domain or $6.36 for unlimited domains.
- Network Solutions – This links specifically to their WordPress hosting packages. Plans staring at $4.95 per month with annual agreement.
- Bluehost – They offer 1-click installation of WordPress and are at the top of the recommended by WordPress.org hosting list. Only shows you $6.95 per month plan before signing up – not sure if there are other options.
- DreamHost – Also recommended by WordPress.org and has easy WordPress installation. Plans starting at $6.95 per month.
- Media Temple – Offers more high-end hosting options starting at $20 per month with 1-click WordPress install. Also recommended by WordPress.org.
If you need a little more than just a host, then you might want to check out outstandingSETUP (affiliate link). They not only offer WordPress friendly hosting, but they also will help you with set up, design, domain, and WordPress install. After your website is running, they will also have continued support, backup, and security. Learn more about why they believe WordPress is the best solution for you in their free eBook on 9 Website Building Mistakes.
Importing Your Content
If you have blog content on other platforms including WordPress.com, Blogger, Drupal, Joomla, or other blogging platforms, then you might want to consider importing it into your new WordPress site. WordPress.org has a Importing Content guide that includes information on how to import content from almost 50 different sources (or, in some cases, if it is even possible).
Depending on which hosting company you choose or are already hosted with, there are various ways you can install WordPress. If you have to go with manual installation because your hosting company does not have any simple installation process already in place for WordPress, then you will need to download the latest version of WordPress and follow the instructions on installing WordPress.
Here are some guides provided by the above mentioned hosts on how to install WordPress on their websites.
- GoDaddy – Installing WordPress on Your Hosting Account.
- HostGator – How to Install WordPress through cPanel QuickInstall (easiest), Installing WordPress via Fantastico (never used it), and Installing WordPress Manually (only do this if QuickInstall doesn’t work).
- Network Solutions – nsHosting for WordPress Setup Guide.
- Bluehost – Using Simple Scripts to Install WordPress.
- DreamHost – WordPress Wiki including instructions from installation through troubleshooting.
- Media Temple – Installing WordPress using the 1-Click Application Tool.
You can always try searching Google for site:yourhost.com wordpress installation to see if you can find easy instructions on how to install WordPress with your host. Or just do a general search for your host wordpress installation to find guides written by others.
Choosing a Great WordPress Theme
Next on your list of priorities, once WordPress is installed, is the design. There are many, many free WordPress themes to choose from and over the course of three years, I have tried a lot of them. In the end, I have ended up only using premium themes for a few simple reasons.
- Better support if you can’t get things working or want a specific customization (because you paid for it).
- Less likelihood of malicious coding embedded with the theme (yes, I’ve seen it happen).
- Overall better designs, better administration panels, and better usage.
That said, the following are themes that I have used or am currently using on my own websites or client websites. Yes these are affiliate links because I have had my hands on all of them and recommend them.
- StudioPress – StudioPress is the premium theme collection I recommend the most. It has hands down the best built-in SEO options, lots of great designs that look awesome right out of the box, and easy to follow installation & customization instructions within the support forums. You can buy designs individually (ranging in price from $79.95 to $99.95) or get the entire collecion in the Pro Plus package which gives you access to every theme StudioPress makes and the ability to use them on your own sites and sites you design for clients.
- Thesis – Thesis is the premium theme I use here at Kikolani. It is a great them for SEO, but requires a good bit of customizations if you want the design to go beyond minimalism. The personal license for use of the theme on one website is $87, and the developer’s option for use on unlimited sites that you own is $164. There’s an additional cost of $40 per client site usage. If you’re stuck between this and StudioPress, check out my post on Thesis vs. StudioPress to see the difference between the two.
- Elegant Themes – This theme collection is just that – elegantly designed themes. You get lots of them too – currently there are 72 designs available! It is $39 per year for a personal license to use any of the themes on your own websites or $89 per year for a developer’s license if you need Photoshop files and the ability to use the themes on client sites.
- Press75 – Press75 has a collection of beautiful themes (currently 27). Pricing is done in packages. For $100, you get 2 months access to all themes, updates, and support. For $200, you get 6 months access to all themes, updates, and support. For $400, you get lifetime access to all themes, updates, and support.
- Headway – Headway markets itself as the drag and drop theme, best for new WordPress users. I can tell you that while it is a great theme, it is not as easy as drag and drop because I have worked with a new WordPress user that was very, very confused by the system. Nonetheless, it is a great theme and, like any WordPress theme, has a bit of a learning curve. They are currently working on different out of the box designs that work with their base system (similar to the way StudioPress does things). For $68, you get the base theme with unlimited installations and one year of support. For $174, you get the above plus 3 of the new Headway designs. For $378, you get access to all new Headway designs for one year.
Basic WordPress Settings to Check
After design, but before you start posting, there are a few settings you need to configure in your base WordPress installation. The following pages will help you understand what each of them mean.
- Settings → General – This includes your site title, tagline, site address, registration options, timezone, and date / time formats.
- Settings → Writing – This includes basic settings for writing your posts including size of the post box, default categories, whether you can post by email, remote posting options, and updating services (sites that WordPress will let know you have published a new post).
- Settings → Reading – This includes what your homepage will display (posts or a static page), how many blog posts to show on your homepage and in your RSS feed, and what will be displayed in the RSS feed (full posts or a summary – I always go with full).
- Settings → Discussion – This is primarily about your commenting settings. I always check the option for “Comment author must have a previously approved comment” and uncheck “An administrator must always approve the comment.” Also, if you plan to have guest bloggers, keep the E-mail me whenever setting “Anyone posts a comment” checked so guest authors will get an email when their posts get comments.
- Settings → Media – This controls the settings for images in your posts / pages and the folder on your server where your images will be stored. I always leave these settings as default unless a theme gives me instructions to change them.
- Settings → Privacy – You have two options here. More than likely you will want to allow your site to be visible to everyone so it can be indexed and discovered.
- Settings → Permalinks – Here you will determine how your URLs will be displayed. I usually go with Custom Struction /%postname%/ that will make my URLs look like http://domain.com/this-is-the-post-title/. Whatever you choose, make sure you include /%postname%/ somewhere so the keywords from your post title will be in your URL for SEO value. Learn more about Permalink formats on the Using Permalinks page.
Aside from the main settings, you will also want to go to Users → Your Profile and fill in your information accordingly. Be sure that your Display name publicly as shows your name as you want it to be displayed throughout the site, and that you fill in the website and biographical info fields. Also, if it isn’t already, make sure that your email address is linked to a Gravatar. This is the service that puts a picture next to your comments on any WordPress site.
Favorite WordPress Plugins
WordPress plugins can help enhance the functionality and design of your WordPress site in a multitude of ways. Chances are, if you want your WordPress site to do something, there is a plugin out there that will help it along its way. Here are the essential ones I use on my sites. To install any free plugin, simply go to your Plugins → Add New, search for it, and install it directly from your dashboard. Make sure it matches the referenced pages linked below as some plugins have similar names.
- Akismet – This plugin helps moderate likely spam comments coming to your blog into a spam folder. You will need to get an API key from Akismet which ranges in price from free to $50 per month for multi-site enterprise access.
- All in One SEO Pack – This plugin adds additional fields to your dashboard so you can optimize your homepage, posts, and pages for SEO. You don’t need it if you use StudioPress or Thesis as they come with those options built in. If you need actual suggestions on how to optimize for search engines, you can also go with the premium plugin Scribe SEO which will actually help you with SEO.
- CommentLuv – This plugin lets commenters leave the link to their last post with their comment. It’s a great way to get to know your commenters better as you will see their latest post with thier comment.
- Contact Form 7 – This is a simple little contact form that will ask for a name, email, subject, and message. If you need something more robust, you can go with the premium plugin Gravity Forms which allows for more customization of fields and additional add-ons to integrate with Paypal, Aweber, MailChimp, and more.
- Google XML Sitemaps – This plugin creates a simple sitemap for your website and keeps it updated, notifying search engines of additions and changes to your posts and pages. Be sure to visit the settings for it after installing to create your sitemap for the first time and it will do the rest!
- G.A.S.P – This plugin adds a simple checkbox to your comment form to ensure that the commenter is a real person and not an automated spambot. Works great alone or in combination with Akismet.
- Redirection – This plugin allows you to create permanent redirects from one page on your website to another URL in your WordPress dashboard.
- Subscribe to Comments – This plugin adds a checkbox to your comment form allowing commenters to subscribe and receive email notifications for new comments on a post. You can also view the subscribers in your admin dashboard.
- WP Super Cache – This plugin helps your site deal with a huge influx of traffic so your site doesn’t crash just because there were too many visitors at once.
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – This plugin adds related posts to each one of your posts which can help visitors stay on your site longer.
There are also specific ones for specific purposes. For example, if you want an archives page like mine, you’ll need the following.
- Compact Archives – This plugin creates the calendar grid for dates based archives.
- Configurable Tag Cloud – This plugin lists the top post tags.
And there are ones that are essential if you’re using a particular premium theme such as the following.
- Genesis Hooks or Thesis OpenHook – These plugins make implementation of custom coding simpler for StudioPress and Thesis themes.
Once you have installed a new plugin, be sure to look for its settings. Settings links for plugins can appear in various places in the admin dashboard including under Appearance, Plugins, Tools, and Settings. Many plugins will require a one-time setup and confirmation of customized settings.
No matter what the purpose of your website, there are some essential pages you will want to create. Here are the ones I use on my site.
- About – This page will tell visitors to your site what your site is about and a little about the person or persons behind it.
- Contact – This page can have a simple contact form (using the above mentioned plugins) so that visitors can get in touch with you.
- Hire Me – If your site is a primarily a blog, but you also happen to offer services, a Hire Me page will help you share those services with your visitors.
- Guest Post Guidelines – If your site is a blog, you will eventually start receiving offers from people wanting to guest post on your site or, alternatively, you will want to start reaching out to others to guest post. Include full details of exactly what you want in a guest post on this page.
- Advertise – If your site accepts banner advertising, make sure you have a page that tells people why they would want to advertise on your website and how much it will cost them.
- Archives – If your site is a blog, you will want to give visitors a place where they can go and find just about everything. This is that page!
Essential Sidebar Widgets
Your sidebar, especially on a blog, is a great place to put important information you want every visitor to see no matter what landing page they get to on your website. Some essential things to have in your sidebar include the following.
- About This Site – This is just a short blurb that tells people the point to your website and who is behind it. It can end with a link to your about page for more details.
- Subscription Options – This is where you put your RSS link, top social media profiles, and mailing list opt-in if you have one.
- Categories – I list mine in my main navigation bar at the top, but if you don’t, be sure to list your main categories in your sidebar so people know what topics your site covers.
- Search Box – If you have a ton of content on your site and you know people will want to search it, be sure to include a search box.
I am a huge, huge fan of analytics. I don’t think you should get sucked into the trap of checking your analytics ten times a day when you should be engaging with your audience or creating new content, but I do think you should have it available to you when you are ready to dig into it.
There are two types of analytics that are essential for bloggers – general analytics for the entire website and analytics for the RSS feed.
Google Analytics will take care of your entire website’s stats and installation is as easy as signing up for an account, setting up a website profile, and copying your analytics code. You then paste the code into your theme’s admin panel (many include an option for analytics code, tracking scripts, or scripts/code to be placed in your header) or within your theme’s header.php file itself IF there is no option in the theme’s admin panel.
FeedBurner will handle the stats for your RSS feed like the number of subscribers as well as allow you to create an email subscription option. The best set of directions on how to set this up are here.
This goes into the more advanced side of WordPress usage, but there are two things you must stay on top of.
Backups are a priority when owning any website. What would you do if your website were gone tomorrow and you had to start all over?
There are many different ways you can back up your website, from manual database backups (as described on WordPress) to using backup plugins. Sometimes the latter will now work so well if you have a huge database.
There is also a service called VaultPress that will do the job for you for $15 per month, per site. My suggestion is to get this for your priority sites (like your business), that way if there were to be a major disaster, you would have someone to connect with for support.
For smaller, less priority sites, you can stick with the manual backups or backup plugins. Also, don’t forget that backing up the database doesn’t backup any custom theme modifications you’ve made, plugins, or files you’ve uploaded. Those would need to be downloaded manually via FTP. I use FileZilla for transferring files.
Occasionally, you will see a friendly link at the top of our WordPress dashboard letting you know that there is an update available. Updates to WordPress are very important as they patch security vulnerabilities and help the functionality of your site.
Of course, as with any update, an update to WordPress could break something like your theme or one of your plugins. Most of the time, nothing will happen. But you might want to do a little reading about them first – simply Google WordPress #.# Update. Chances are, someone has written about it and noted any issues they ran into.
There are also updates to look for with your plugins. You will see a circled number next to the Plugins menu in your dashboard if your plugins need an update. Normally these go smoothly using the automatic update option, but be sure to check your site after any update to make sure things are going smoothly. If a plugin update seems to disrupt your site, just deactivate it.
There are lots of different places to go to for WordPress support. The first thing I always do when I get a particular error message is simply Google it – you’re likely to find someone who has run into it before and knows the solution.
After that, you can try the WordPress support forums. You can use the search to see if your issue has already been discussed or add your issue to one of the forum categories. Note that sometimes geeks are cranky, so don’t be hurt if you get a somewhat irritated sounding answer.
The next would be the support forum for the specific product if it’s a product related issue. StudioPress and DIYthemes (for Thesis) both have great support forums for users of their themes. Some premium plugins also have great support forums. In general, if you paid for something and it’s not working accordingly, make sure to try their site and contact them directly if there isn’t a community forum.
Past this point, you can always try querying your audience on Twitter or Facebook, especially if you have lots of connections. I have had several friendly Twitter helpers direct me to solutions to my WordPress issues.
Further Reading for Learning WordPress & How to Blog
If this hasn’t covered everything you need to know about WordPress (which I’m sure it doesn’t because WordPress is almost impossible to fully cover in one post), then be sure to check out the Getting Started with WordPress page that covers most of what was mentioned above and more.
If you are just starting out in the world of blogging, you can also check out WordPress’ Introduction to Blogging which goes from “what is a blog” to “6 basic blogging tips, or the handy WordPress site WPMU, which has lots of resources about working with WordPress.
Next, if you’re ready to start learning about content development and really honing in on the blogging process, I recommend the following guides.
- Guide to Your First Week of Blogging – This guide helps you put together your content action plan. I have a full review of this eBook here.
- 31 Days to Build a Better Blog – This eBook includes a daily task to complete for 31 days. At the end of the 31 days, you will have published a variety of different types & styles of posts, learned how to come up with new post ideas, promoted your blog, deepened reader engagement, reached out to other bloggers, developed an editorial calendar, and designed a plan for your next month of blogging.
- Guide to Blogging for Your Business – If your main objective is business blogging, then this eBook is for you. It covers setting up a WordPress blog (just in case you need more info), conducting keyword research, understanding your online competition, building a strong social media presence, and setting up a successful business blogging strategy.
- Copywriting Scorecard for Bloggers – This eBook covers everything to do with one blog post, from what to do before you start writing to checking for SEO optimization & grammatical mistakes. I have a full review of this eBook here, although it doesn’t include the latest updates since it was first published.
Once you have developed a strong community and you are ready to promote your posts like a rockstar, I have written the Ultimate Guide to Blog Post Promotion. My eBook focuses on one goal – to promote one single piece of content, whether it is a post on your blog or a post on someone else’s. It is for those posts you want to to be extra successful with reader engagement!
And last but not least, here is a collection of my 50 favorite tools for blogging and freelance writing for marketing, promotion, branding, productivity, and managing finances.
If you have any questions about anything in this guide, feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to help you out!