Updated July 2, 2020
Starting a blog has never been easier, and considering Covid’s effect on employment, there’s never been a better time. It’s low risk and low cost.
There are 5 main steps to start a blog: pick a topic, set up your blog, customize your design, publish your must-have pages and write your first post. It takes a while to make money though, so start now and see results sooner.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.
I’ve been blogging for 16 years. In this simple guide for beginners, I’ll show you how to start the most popular type of blog, a self-hosted WordPress blog, no technical experience required.
1. Pick a topic (niche)
If you’re part of a business, company or organization, your blog should be related to the product(s) or service(s) you provide, or the cause you promote.
If you’re an individual, you have more flexibility when choosing a topic. The main things to remember are:
- Blog about something you enjoy. If you aren’t excited about your topic, writing about it will be drudgery. Who wants that? Also, readers won’t be enthusiastic if you aren’t.
- Blog about something with plenty of room for discussion. A blog requires a lot of content to get going and remain interesting. Make sure you have plenty to talk about.
- Choose a niche where you can establish yourself as an authority. You probably won’t be the first person to blog about the topic you choose. Don’t worry about this, just come up with a unique angle. Do you have a reasonable chance of making your blog better than others talking about the same thing? If yes, go for it! The goal for any blog is to become the go-to resource in its topic or niche.
What if I can’t decide on a blog topic?
Start anyway! If you’re like most of us, you’ll switch topics or settle into something as you go. You don’t have to be certain of your topic before you begin.
What if others already blog about my topic?
Don’t worry about it. Take it as an indication people are interested in your topic. Just make your blog better or different than others talking about the same thing. Again, become the go-to resource for your topic or niche.
2. Set up your blog
Self-hosted WordPress blogs are widely recognized as the best kind of blogs. They are used by big and small bloggers alike. Plus, the tiny cost makes them a no-brainer.
WordPress dominates similar platforms:
As the name suggests, a self-hosted WordPress blog requires two things: WordPress + a host. WordPress is software that makes your blog readable (instead of computer code). A host puts your blog online.
Get both in one step. The service I’ve personally used, paid for, and recommend to beginners is Bluehost. Their setup takes just a few minutes. Plus, they have a money-back guarantee.
–> Click here to go to Bluehost (that link gets you a discount!). Hit the green Get Started button.
Click a Select button to choose a plan.
I prefer the Choice Plus plan because it includes domain privacy. Domain privacy keeps your personal contact information hidden from the public. (If you go with a cheaper plan, you can add domain privacy later for an additional fee.)
Enter a domain name or choose one later.
Your domain name is your web address (e.g. amazon.com or AmyLynnAndrews.com). If you know what domain name you want to use, enter it. If you’re not sure, or the domain you want is taken, click the link at the bottom to choose a domain later.
Next, enter your contact info and choose an account plan based on how far in advance you want to pay.
Bluehost bills 1, 2 or 3 years upfront. They do not offer a monthly payment option. Hosts that do typically charge much more. As you can see, it works out to be a very reasonable monthly amount. And remember, there’s a 30-day money back guarantee so if you decide blogging isn’t for you, you can get your money back.
I skip all of the package extras. You can always add them later if you want.
Here, domain privacy is free because I chose the Choice Plus plan above. You won’t see Domain Privacy listed here if you opted to choose your domain later (you’ll get it when you choose), or used an existing domain (contact your domain registrar for the option).
Enter your payment information, check the agreement box and submit.
After you complete your Bluehost purchase, you’ll choose a password, answer questions about the nature of your blog, etc.
On the last screen you’ll be asked to pick a (free) theme. My top recommendation is Astra. GeneratePress is also a safe choice. Don’t worry, they are highly customizable so they don’t have to look like they do here.
Why don’t I recommend any of the other themes? Many themes — especially free ones — are sloppily built or not kept updated leaving holes in your site’s security. I’m personally familiar with Astra and GeneratePress and trust both.
Click the WordPress button. (If you clicked away, check your inbox for a welcome email from Bluehost. Click Account Login in that email.)
You’ll be taken to your WordPress Dashboard. It looks something like this:
The WordPress Dashboard is the nerve center of your site. It’s where you’ll customize your design, publish pages & posts and manage all aspects of your blog.
Speaking of customizing your blog design…
3. Customize your blog design
But there’s an easier option if you use Astra.
Astra has pre-built templates called Starter Templates. They’re a great way for beginners to get a nice design in minutes.
To use an Astra’s Starter Template, on the left, go to Appearance > Astra Options. Click on Install Importer Plugin on the right.
Then from Appearance > Starter Templates choose Gutenberg from the dropdown menu in the top right.
I only recommend the Gutenberg templates. Why? The others — Elementor, Beaver Builder, etc. — are 3rd-party page builders. They add unnecessary code to your site.
Unnecessary code is digital clutter and can slow your site down. Slow sites are bad for user experience and SEO. Gutenberg, on the other hand, is built directly into WordPress. Therefore, extra code is minimized. Win!
Browse through the available templates. Click on any of the Starter Templates to see how the pages and posts look.
See a full working demo of a template by clicking the preview button at the bottom.
Tips as you browse:
- Keep it simple! It’s much easier to add stuff later than dismantle it. The fewer moving parts, the less there is to break.
- Ignore the images and pre-filled content. You’ll change those. Instead, look at the template’s layout and the elements on each page. Are the sections basically as you like them?
- See how a template looks on different devices.
- Don’t overthink it because it’s all changeable. Just pick one!
Not sure where to start? In my opinion, the best all-around option is Motivational Speaker. It’s simple and flexible, perfect for beginners.
To use a template, click Import Complete Site. Only import a complete site if your site is brand new. If you have existing content on your site, import individual pages instead. More: Can I Import Starter Templates Site on Existing Website?
I don’t recommend importing individual pages for beginners. Mixing and matching templates can get messy quickly.
Check all the boxes and click Import.
It takes a few minutes to complete.
Once your site is imported, you’ll probably want to make edits. Here are a few to get you started.
Switch out the logo with text. Add your own logo later if you’d like.
Switch out the images.
From your Dashboard go to Pages > All Pages. Hover over Home and click Edit. Click on the image and choose Background on the right. Replace with your own image or select Color from the image dropdown menu. Preview, then Update. Here’s a video:
Tip: Don’t make the mistake of endlessly tweaking your design at this stage. It’s not top priority now because no one is seeing your blog. Refine it later. Publish content instead. You want Google to start working for you by finding your content and preparing to recommend it. The more time you tinker with your design, the longer it will take to get traffic and make money.
4. Publish your must-have pages
In WordPress, you can publish Posts or Pages. Posts are individual articles. Pages are used for general site information like your Home, About and Contact pages.
The following are must-have pages:
- Home. Welcomes people to your site. (Included in Astra Starter Templates.)
- Blog. Lists recent posts. (Included in some Astra Starter Templates.)
- About. Explains how you help and who you are. (Included in Astra Starter Templates.)
- Contact. Information about how people can communicate with you and where you live on social media. (Included in Astra Starter Templates.)
- Disclosure policy. Inform visitors you make money, hope to make money or have compensated relationships with others. Be sure your Disclosure Policy page is published the first time you attempt to make money from your site. There are free tools like this one to generate the copy to paste into your page. A safer option would be to purchase one from Businessese or a similar service.
To create a new page in WordPress, hit +New at the top of the screen. Select Page from the dropdown. Or, click Page > Add New in the left sidebar.
Type in your page title, hit enter and start writing. Once it’s done, preview and publish.
That’s it! That’s how you publish a page. Read WordPress for Beginners: 19 FAQs and Tips or more.
What if I’m using an Astra Starter Template?
Simple. You don’t need to create new pages, just edit the ones the Starter Template gave you.
Let’s use the Home page as an example.
Go to Pages > All Pages. Hover over Home and click View. Alternatively, hover over your site title in the top right and click Visit Site to get to your homepage.
Notice how each section is a different block. Each block can be customized, moved, edited or removed. You decide which sections (blocks) you want to keep. To change text, highlight it and edit.
Repeat with your Contact page and About page.
5. Write your first post
Think of a post as an individual article. It’s time to write your first one.
Many new bloggers have a general idea of what they want to write about, but don’t know exactly what to write for their first posts.
If that’s you, let me introduce you to one of the most practical resources I’ve found.
Not only do they demonstrate the process in real time, there are layers of SEO brilliance underneath. I won’t overwhelm you with those details at this point. Just trust me. Follow their process. It’s a good one.
Video notes for reference:
- The “alphabet soup method” at minute 1:35 can be found here starting at 6:30.
- More about “winning snippets” at minute 4:54 can be found here.
- Information about “response, staple and pillar posts” at minute 3:33 can be found starting here.
- Help for outlining a general content strategy is here.
The steps to publish a post in WordPress are similar to publishing a Page. Open a new post, hit +New at the top of the screen. Select Post from the dropdown.
Or, click Post > Add New in the left sidebar.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re off to a great start! However, there are a few loose ends to tie up.
Replace your temporary domain
Your site was set up on a temporary domain. This is standard. Obviously you’ll want to switch to your permanent domain. How you do that depends on what you chose above.
- Did you create a new domain? Activate it. Check your email inbox to find the domain activation email. Click the button inside to complete the activation process. Simple. Bluehost will automatically switch it for you.
- Did you opt to choose a domain later? Register & assign it. In your Bluehost account, click Domains > Register in the left column. Enter the domain you want, add it to your cart and complete your purchase. (If you chose the Choice Plus plan, there should be a credit in your cart to make it free.) Now go to Domains > Assign and choose your new domain from the dropdown menu.
- Did you use an existing domain? Point it. Edit the name servers where your domain is registered. Here are instructions by registrar. If you get stuck, call Bluehost and they’ll walk you through.
Wait 2-24 hours for the changes to take effect. To test it, type your permanent domain into your browser’s address bar. If your permanent domain sticks without forwarding to your temporary domain, you’re set!
Related: How to Choose a Domain Name
If you get stuck replacing your temporary domain, call Bluehost and have them walk you through. If you’re calling from the United States, the number is 1 (888) 401-4678.
Secure your site with SSL
Once your permanent domain is working, secure it. A secure site gives visitors peace of mind. It also keeps your site on Google’s good side.
You can tell if a site is secure or not by the way it looks in the address bar. An unsecure site begins with http:// but a secure site begins with https:// like so:
If you entered a new domain or opted to choose one later, log into your Bluehost account > My Sites. Locate the site you wish to activate the free SSL for. Click Manage. Open the Security tab. Under Security Certificate toggle the Free SSL ON.
Wait a few hours for the changes to take effect.
If you’re using an existing domain, contact the company where your domain is registered. Tell them you want to secure your site with an SSL certificate.
Launch your site (& remove the Coming Soon page)
Once you’re ready for your site to go live, deactivate the Coming Soon page. Click the button at the top of your Dashboard.
You are all set up and ready to start blogging. Excellent content is the key to everything else, so start there. After that, tackle the things that most suit you. There’s no right or wrong way!
Get as much content published as quickly as possible — before you tweak your design, before you get on social media, before you think about ways to make money. I can’t stress this enough. Get Google working for you!
Focus on consistently publishing new posts. One post a week is a good starting point, but quality is more important so adjust accordingly. Read What is Content Marketing?
You will feel overwhelmed, especially at the beginning. This is normal. When it comes to starting a blog, there is a steep learning curve, but don’t give up. Push through! If you want some encouragement, read 18 Tips for New Bloggers.
The following list of posts explain things you’ll want to tackle eventually. I list them here for reference, but understand everything hinges on excellent content, so that should be your first priority.
- Email Marketing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Building an Email List
- How to Determine the Best Social Media Sites for You (Plus More Tips)
- How to Make Money Blogging
- How to Get More Website Traffic
Where can I get further help?
Tech. If you encountered something unexpected during setup, contact Bluehost technical support. Calling is better than live chatting. If you’re in the US, call 844-213-7846. They have access to your account (something I don’t have) and can get you unstuck.
WordPress. If you need help with WordPress, start with my WordPress Tips for Beginners.
Making money. If you want a jumpstart at making money blogging, read my Project 24 review.
What is a blog?
A blog is a type of website with posts (articles). The newest ones are usually displayed first.
Why start a blog?
Here are a few popular reasons:
- Make money working from home. I make a full-time income blogging. Many bloggers do the same. Blogging takes work, but it’s a great opportunity due to low risk and low overhead.
- Become an author. Book publishers want authors to have an online presence. The reason is simple: it’s a lot easier to sell books to people who already know you. A blog is a perfect way to become known.
- Help your business or organization. A blog helps businesses and organizations reach a lot of people at little cost.
- Just write. If you want to write, share your story or encourage others, a blog is a great place to do that.
A blog is an online home you own and control. If you’re serious about breaking into the online space, don’t put your livelihood, brand or reputation in the hands of others (like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or other social media). Start a blog instead.
What if I want a website, not a blog?
These steps will get you a website with the option of a blog. You don’t have to use the blog part. Turn it on later if you want.
How much does a blog cost?
If you follow the steps above, it works out to $5 to $10 a month when paid annually. (Not bad for your own website, right?) I blogged for years on this budget. As my blog and income grew, I started paying for more premium tools and services, but they are not required to start.
Can I start a blog for free?
Yes, but I don’t recommend it if you want to make money. Why? Five reasons:
- Limited money-making capability. Some free services limit the money you can make unless you “upgrade” to a higher level. You’ll have to pay for that upgrade of course, which defeats the purpose of having a free blog in the first place.
- Lack of support. Companies don’t offer free blogs out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to make money. If you’re not making them money, they won’t go out of their way to keep you happy. Sometimes this means you’ll have little to no support. Other times you’ll be badgered with offers for their paid-for products.
- Only basic features. Basic features might not be a problem at first, but as you grow, you’ll feel the pinch. Expandability and flexibility are key. Both are limited with free blogging services.
- Switching isn’t easy. If you want to switch to a better service later (common for those who start a free blog), it’s a hassle and can be costly. Doing it yourself takes a lot of time and know-how. Hiring someone to do it correctly costs hundreds of dollars.
- You can’t use others for inspiration. This happens to new bloggers all the time. They start a blog for free. Soon they notice cool features on other blogs that they want too. The problem is, those features aren’t options on their free service.
I see my site but my friends can’t. Why?
You probably forgot to launch it. It’s easy to forget because as long as you are logged into WordPress, you will not see the Coming Soon page. Click the yellow Coming Soon Active button in your WordPress Dashboard to make it visible to all.
How do I log into WordPress?
Type yourdomain.com/wp-login.php into your browser address bar. For example:
Or, log into your Bluehost account. From the My Sites tab in the left column, hover over your site and click Log into WordPress.
How can I see what my site looks like?
To see what your site looks like, type your domain into your browser’s address bar, or, from your WordPress Dashboard, hover over the house icon in the top left corner and click Visit Site.
What does “Coming Soon Active” mean?
Bluehost automatically starts your blog with a Coming Soon page. Anyone who tries to access your site before it’s launched will see a coming soon page while you get things set up. When you’re ready, launch your site to make it go live. To do so, clik the yellow Coming Soon Active button and follow the prompts.
Why doesn’t my site show up when I type my domain into my browser?
Is your site still on its temporary domain? If so, your chosen domain won’t work yet. Go back to the Next Steps section.
And remember, if your site is not launched yet, you must be logged in. Otherwise, you’ll see the Coming Soon page.
What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
It’s confusing, I know. WordPress.com is a host, like Bluehost. WordPress.org refers to the blogging platform. (Remember how I said you need both a host and blogging platform?) I don’t recommend using WordPress.com because they severely limit control of your blog unless you pay premium fees. A WordPress.org site is often called a self-hosted WordPress site because you pick your own host. If you’re still unclear, here’s a video.
If I choose a WordPress.org blog, does my domain name have to end in .org?
No. It can end in .com or anything of the other TLDs (top-level domains) like .net, org, .me, etc.
How do I stop all the Bluehost emails?
Login to your Bluehost account. Click the person icon in the top corner and choose Profile. Uncheck the boxes under Email Preferences and Ad Preferences.
If I use an existing domain, will it mess up my other site?
No. Entering it here is only used to identify your Bluehost account for now.
How long does it take to make money blogging?
It varies of course, but if you treat your blog like a part-time job you should start making coffee money ($50 or less) around 6 months and a solid part-time income ($500-$1000) around 12 months. To make a consistent, full-time income ($3500+), allow 24 months.
Related: How to Make Money Blogging