Updated July 17, 2019
Hi, I’m Amy. I’ve been blogging for 15 years and I like simple. This beginner’s guide explains how to start a blog simply (and on a budget), no technical experience required. Let’s talk about the best kind of blog to start…
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.
The best kind of blog to start
Self-hosted WordPress blogs are the most popular because they are flexible, expandable and easy to monetize (make money with them). But I assume you’re here for the actual steps, not the stats or specs, so I’ll skip the geek speak about why they’re the best choice and jump right in.
7 steps to start a blog
- Set up your blog
- Get started with WordPress
- Clarify your blog topic
- Publish your main pages
- Write your first post
- Customize your blog design
- Get traffic & make money!
Step 1: Set up your blog
You need two things: a blogging platform + hosting. A blogging platform puts your words into blog form. Hosting makes your blog live on the internet. Let’s get both at once.
The combination I’ve personally used, paid for and recommend to beginners is WordPress (platform) + Bluehost (hosting). It’s simple and comes with a money-back guarantee. Plus, use the links below for a discount. Ready?
Click here to go to Bluehost. Hit the green Get Started button.
By the way, images may vary and it will look slightly different on mobile, but the process is the same.
Click a green Select button to choose a plan
I prefer the Choice Plus plan because it has more unlimited features and includes domain privacy. Domain privacy keeps your personal contact information hidden from the public and who doesn’t want that?
If you choose the Basic or Plus plan, you’ll have the option to add domain privacy in a minute, for about $1 a month.
Enter your domain
Your domain is your web address. For example, AmyLynnAndrews.com is my domain name.
Don’t have a domain yet? Enter your desired name in the “Create a new domain” box.
Already have a domain? Enter it in the “Use a domain you own” box. If you’re currently using it elsewhere, don’t worry, this is only used to identify your Bluehost account for now.
Not sure? Is the domain you want taken? Click the link at the bottom to choose one later.
This allows you to start your blog in the meantime. Easily add your domain later. Instructions are at the end of this post.
For this tutorial, I’ll use a new domain, but you can follow along no matter what you decide.
Create your Bluehost account
Connect via Google or enter your contact information. I’ll do it manually, but either works.
Select your package information
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 plan (hosts that do charge much more). As you can see, it works out to be just a few dollars a month. Not bad for your own blog or website, right? And remember, there’s a 30-day money back guarantee.
Note: The low pricing for new customers applies to the first payment only. In other words, if you choose the 12-month plan, your pricing will be good for one year and may go up after that. If you choose the 36-month plan, your pricing will be locked in for 3 years. So, choose the longest plan your budget allows.
Skip the package extras except domain privacy
As I mentioned, domain privacy keeps your personal contact information private. It’s free with the Choice Plus plan. If you chose the Basic or Plus plan, add it here by checking the box.
I uncheck the rest of the boxes.
Note: You won’t see the option here if you already have a domain or will choose one later. For existing domain, domain privacy is handled by the company where you registered it in the first place, so contact them. If you choose your domain later, Bluehost will give you the option then.
Enter your payment information
Put in your info, don’t forget to check the Terms box, hit Submit.
Hit Create Account.
Create a password
This is the password to your Bluehost account, not your WordPress blog (that will come via email). Set a strong password and click Create Account.
Click Go To Login.
Log into your Bluehost account using the password you just created, (or sign in with Google).
Let’s create a website!
Enter the name of your blog and a tagline. This can be changed later, but it’s good to put something descriptive in there now.
Toggle the switch next to “Do you want a blog?” to turn it on.
Do you want your blog posts to show up on your home page or on a separate page? My blog posts appear on a different page. My homepage welcomes people and doesn’t change. If you prefer your posts show up directly on your homepage, select “My home page” from the dropdown menu.
Tell us a bit more about you
If you want to start a regular blog, tick the top box. Choose another box if it applies to you. You can also indicate how new you are to blogging. None of these things lock you in.
Skip the free themes
Unless you are familiar with a theme listed, skip this step (link at bottom). Why? Because many free themes aren’t kept updated, leaving holes in your site’s security. It’s not worth the risk. Choose a better theme later. I’ll show you how.
Congratulations, you have a self-hosted WordPress blog!
From this page, I click the WordPress button because I like to configure settings first, which we’ll do in Step 2!
Note: Your temporary domain
If you see a notification about a temporary domain, don’t be alarmed. This is normal.
If you chose a new domain, it takes 2-24 hours to become fully registered. When it’s ready, Bluehost will switch your blog from the temporary domain to the one you chose.
If you used an existing domain or will choose a domain later, you can set it up once you get this blog ready to launch.
Note: Your Coming Soon page
If anyone stumbles on your blog while you’re setting it up, they will see a Coming Soon page:
When you’re ready to remove the Coming Soon page, you can do so at the push of a button.
Note: To work on your blog, you must be logged into WordPress. Otherwise, you’ll be treated like any other visitor and get the Coming Soon page. So, always log in first.
FAQ: How do I get to my site?
You can type your domain (temporary now and permanent later) into your browser’s address bar and your site will appear. I’ll warn you though, it doesn’t look like much at this point. Don’t panic, we’ll fix that. Let’s start building!
Step 2: Get started with WordPress
By now, you should have two sets of login information: one for Bluehost and one for WordPress. (If not, check your email.) You can log into your Bluehost account at Bluehost.com, but from this point, we’ll spend most of our time in WordPress.
To log into WordPress, go to yourdomain.com/admin (or yourtemporarydomain.com/admin), switching out “yourdomain” for your actual domain of course. 🙂
Welcome to the WordPress Dashboard
The black column on the left is a good indicator you are in the WordPress Dashboard. The rest of the screen might not look like this. Not to worry. The screens and boxes and popups vary all the time. The key is the black column on the left!
This is the nerve center. You’ll spend a lot of time here, publishing posts and managing all aspects of your WordPress blog.
I skip the blue buttons in the middle of the screen (Business & Personal). I prefer to start with a clean slate and explore on my own.
Configure your settings
This will set you up for smooth sailing going forward (and could save you a lot of hassle later!).
Note: As you move around your Dashboard, you may see offers for add-ons. Unless it’s a warning, I close the boxes. They can be added later.
Change your username from admin
If your username is “admin” it should be changed, for security. Think of it like this: To get into a site, a hacker needs a username and password, right? Because “admin” is the default many people don’t bother to change, a hacker will be halfway to their goal.
To change it, go to Users > All Users.
Are any of the usernames admin?
If you don’t see admin in the list, you can skip the rest of this section. You’re good to go. If you do see an admin username read on.
WARNING: If you’ve already published posts or pages, do not delete the admin username without attributing all posts and links to a new user first.
Alright, here’s how to remove the admin username…
Hover over the admin username on the list. A few links will appear underneath:
Do you see a delete link?
If yes, find the username you are logged in as. Make sure it says “Administrator” in the “Role” column. Click delete. Attribute content to a different user and skip the rest of this section.
If no, it means you are currently logged in as the admin and you can’t delete yourself. Add a new user first, then come back and delete the admin user.
To do that, click “Add New” under “All Users” in the left column, or by clicking the button at the top of the page. Both do the same thing.
Next, fill out the new user information:
Username. Choose one you’ll remember.
Email. Don’t worry if you’re prompted to use a different email address than the one you already used. You can change it back after the admin user is deleted.
Password. Note the assigned one by clicking the “Show password” button or enter your own.
Role: Administrator. Choose it from the dropdown menu. This is very important because it gives you the highest level of privileges.
Add New User. Click the button to save.
Now log out as the admin user. Hover over the admin username in the top right corner of your screen and choose Log Out.
You’ll be taken to the WordPress login screen.
Now log back in with the non-admin username and password you just created.
Go to Users > All Users. Hover over the admin username in the list just like you did above. This time, click the delete link.
If you’re asked what to do with content owned by the admin user, attribute all content to the user you just created.
From this point on, use your new username and password to log into WordPress.
Optional: If you want to change the email address of the new user, go to Users > All Users. Hover over the username and click Edit. Enter your main email and click Update User. The change will be pending until you confirm it via the email confirmation link sent by WordPress.
You’re doing great!
Choose a permalink structure
Your permalink structure determines how your post and page URLs will be formatted. Read how permalinks are related to SEO in my post What Are Permalinks and How Do You Choose Them?
WARNING: If you already have published posts or pages, do not change your permalink structure. It could result in broken links.
Go to Settings > Permalink. If it’s not already selected, chose Post name. Click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page.
Change your site title & tagline
Do you want to edit the title and tagline you entered in Step 1? From your Dashboard, go to Settings > General.
Enter the Site Title you want readers to see. It doesn’t have to match your domain, but it likely will.
For your tagline, think of a short phrase that describes your site or your mission well. Include keywords if you can do so naturally.
Don’t get stuck here. You can change both of these anytime.
Don’t change your URLs!
You may be tempted to change the WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) at this point, but don’t! It will mess things up.
You need to wait until you get your domain settled and you’re no longer on your temporary domain.
Enter a working email address
If your main email address is not entered here, go ahead and put yours in. Notifications will be sent to this address.
Set your timezone
Go to Settings > General > Timezone.
A wrong timezone won’t break anything, but scheduled posts get published according to this setting, so if it’s not set correctly, you’ll wonder why your posts aren’t going live at the times you expect.
You’re on a roll! Lets keep going…
Delete the default content
There are cluttery, default things in all new WordPress blogs. I remove the following:
- Unnecessary plugins. Because plugins can slow your site down and make things glitchy, I use them very sparingly. I only add a plugin when I have a clear reason to do so. Go to Dashboard > Plugins > Installed Plugins. I delete all of them except the Bluehost plugin. A plugin must be deactivated before it can be deleted, so if you hover over a plugin you may have to choose “Deactivate” then repeat the process to see the “Delete” link.
- The Meta widget. Having the meta widget on your site screams newbie. It looks like this:To delete it, go to Dashboard > Appearance > Widgets. Find the “Meta” widget box, expand it by clicking the tiny down arrow and click the delete link. Make sure your change is saved!
- “Hello World!” post. Go to Posts > All Posts. Hover over the post title and click the “Trash” link. You can delete it entirely by emptying your trash.
- Sample Page. (I do this after I have a page of my own published just to give my blog some bulk in the meantime.) Go to Pages > All Pages. Hover over the page title and click the “Trash” link. You can delete it entirely by emptying your trash.
Here’s a picture of what it looks like to delete the Sample Page in a new WordPress install:
To get here, click on “Pages” in the left column of the Dashboard. Hover over the name of the page I want to delete. In this case it’s the Sample Page. When I do so, the links below appear. Click “Trash” to remove it.
The same process applies to posts, but you’d click “Posts” in the left column instead.
Note: When you send a post or page to the trash, it’s not deleted entirely. It will be held in the Trash folder. You’ll know you have things in the Trash because a “Trash” link will appear to the right of All / Published / Drafts / Private near the top of the window. You can restore something from the Trash by clicking on the “Trash” link, hovering over the item you want to restore and clicking the appropriate link.
Install important plugins
Despite my love/hate relationship with plugins, there are two plugins I would recommend installing right away because they help with two universal, important blogging issues. They are:
- Yoast SEO to help with SEO. Yoast SEO is widely recognized as the SEO plugin. (What is SEO?)
- Antispam Bee to fight spam. Antispam Bee is (in my opinion) a better alternative to Akismet, the standard spam plugin for WordPress.
To install plugins via your WordPress Dashboard, go to Plugins > Add New. In the search bar up top, enter the name of a plugin you’re looking for. Find it in the list and click “Install Now.”
Once it’s installed, you have to Activate a plugin before it will start working. Otherwise, it lies dormant on your site in its deactivated state, which is not ideal. Either activate or delete a plugin. A deactivated plugin is just wasted space.
To activate a plugin, in your WordPress Dashboard simply go to Plugins > Installed Plugins. Click “Activate” under the plugin name.
Once your plugin is installed and activated, you will be able to access its features as you write your posts (like Yoast SEO), unless it’s a plugin that runs in the background (like Antispam Bee).
Also once activated, configure a plugin’s settings if needed. You can often tell if there are settings for a particular plugin by going to Plugins > Installed Plugins and looking for a Settings link under the plugin name. You might also see a plugin listed in the black left column of your Dashboard. Yoast SEO is accessible this way.
Most plugins come with a default configuration which is fine to start with. If you want to dive into configuration, Yoast has a Configuration Wizard you can find under SEO > General and Antispam Bee has a Settings link under Plugins > Installed Plugins.
FAQ: What if I can’t find the plugin by searching in WordPress?
No worries. Some plugins need to be uploaded via a zip file. I explain how to install a plugin here.
FAQ: Can I change my blog design?
Yes, but I would wait just a tiny bit longer.
Many are eager to start tweaking their blog design at this point, but I suggest getting some content in there first. Otherwise, it’s just plain frustrating. It’s easier to see what your design will look like with it filled out a bit. It’s kind of like how it’s easier to see the design on a balloon once it has some air in it.
Another reason I recommend waiting is because Gutenberg gives you some options in the way of page and post design, and might cross off some of the things on your design wish list.
No need to load up your site unnecessarily with design customizations yet!
FAQ: How do I log in to WordPress once I’ve logged out?
To get to your WordPress login page, type your domain name (or temporary domain name) + admin into your browser’s search bar. For example, this is what I would type to get to my WordPress login screen: https://amylynnandrews.com/wp-admin/
If you changed the Admin user as I explained above, you’ll use the new, non-Admin username and password you created to log in.
If you don’t remember your login info, find the welcome emails sent to you after you set up your site initially. Also, you can always log in to WordPress by logging in to your Bluehost account first.
FAQ: What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
I use and recommend WordPress, but not through WordPress.com. Confusing? Let me explain…
If you choose WordPress, you have two options: hosted or self-hosted.
- Hosted WordPress blogs, sometimes called WordPress.com blogs, are free but limit your income potential.
- Self-hosted WordPress blogs, sometimes called WordPress.org blogs, cost a little money but give you much more control, and do not limit your income potential.
This guide teaches you how to start a self-hosted WordPress blog, the platform preferred by me, as well as beginner and veteran bloggers alike.
Note: Even though a self-hosted WordPress blog is sometimes referred to as a “WordPress.org” blog, you are not limited to a .org at the end of your domain name. You can still use .com, just like I do for AmyLynnAndrews.com.
Prefer a video tutorial? This video tutorial will walk you through Step 2.
Can’t see the video? Click here.
Step 3: Clarify your blog topic
Time to complete varies
You probably have a general idea of what you want to blog about. That’s great, but be focused! Don’t write whatever comes to mind.
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 deciding what to blog about, but 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. (And 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. You’ll be at this a long time so make sure you have plenty to talk about.
- Choose a niche in which you can establish yourself as an authority. You probably won’t be the first person to blog about the topic you choose. Don’t fret 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? The goal for any blog is to become the go-to resource in its topic or niche.
FAQ: What if I can’t decide on a blog topic?
Start anyway! A common beginner mistake is thinking you have to be sure of a topic to start. If you’re like most of us, you’ll either switch topics or settle into something as you go. Start with a good idea, don’t wait for the perfect idea.
FAQ: Is my blog idea a good one?
Will people actually read your blog if you write about that? I answer this question here.
FAQ: Will I be able to make money writing about ____?
I answer this question here.
Step 4: Publish your main pages
Time to complete: Varies
Alright, now that you are all set up, your settings are configured properly and you have a good idea of what you’ll blog about, let’s put your own information on your site by publishing some content.
First, a quick explanation of terminology. Your WordPress site is made up of Posts and Pages. Anytime you write your own words on your site, you will write them on either a Post or a Page. Here’s the difference:
- Posts are what we commonly think about when we think of a blog. These are individual articles on specific topics. For example, if you have a recipe blog, you might have posts like “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” and “Raspberry Lemonade.” Each post would feature one recipe. When we talk about adding new content to our blogs, we are usually referring to publishing a new post. And when we scroll through a blog, we are usually scrolling through the posts.
- Pages on the other hand, contain more permanent or unchanging information, like a Contact page or an About page. Pages don’t show up in the blog portion of the site with posts. Instead, they are usually accessed through direct links in the navigation bar, sidebar or footer. Some pages are common on all blogs, like a Contact page and an About page, but some bloggers include other pages as well.
Before you start writing your posts, it’s a good idea to get your basic pages set up. That way, when you start getting visitors, they’ll have access to more general information about you and your site. This helps your blog look more credible and trustworthy.
How to create a new Post or Page
From your Dashboard, click the + button at the top of the screen and choose Post or Page from the dropdown. It looks like this:
Next, you’ll title your Page and add any text you want. Once you’ve got what you want, hit the Publish button.
Understand this about Pages!
Unlike a post, when you publish a page, it will not automatically show up on your site. You must first tell WordPress how and where to display a Page. We will cover this in Step 6. So for now, create, write and publish the pages recommended below. Then move on to Step 5. We’ll deal with your pages again in Step 6.
The Pages I recommend setting up first are:
- Home page
- Blog page
- About page
- Contact page
- Other pages (if applicable)
This only applies if you chose to put your posts on a different page. If you opted to have your blog posts on your homepage, you can skip this!
Some blogs list their posts on their homepage (or main page). Other blogs, like mine, have what we call a “static” homepage. (Go to my homepage to see what I mean.)
A static homepage usually provides an overview of the site and includes a link to the blog (where the posts are listed), as well as links to other parts of the site.
Sidenote: In some instances, you might want a static site without blog posts at all. In that case, create pages and be done.
Now that you know the difference, what do you want on your homepage? Blog posts or a static page?
If your current theme makes your blog posts show up on your homepage and that’s how you like it, you can skip this section. Visit your homepage to see. From your Dashboard, hover over the house icon in the top left of the screen and click “Visit Site.”
If your current theme makes your blog posts show up on your homepage, but you want to use a static page instead, make these simple adjustments:
First, create the page you want to serve as your homepage. To do so, go to Pages > Add New.
Title your page. Your title will show up at the top of your homepage, so keep that in mind. In my case, the title is “Hi, I’m Amy.”
Now, write the content for your homepage underneath your title. It doesn’t have to be super fancy; you can easily change it and fancy it up later.
Publish your page by clicking the Publish button in the top right of your screen.
Next, from your Dashboard go to Settings > Reading. Under “Your homepage displays” choose the “A static page” button and select the page you just created from the dropdown menu.
Save your changes.
Visit your homepage to make sure you’re good to go! Hover over the house icon in your Dashboard > Visit Site.
You may not need to do this if you walked through Step 1! To check if you have a blog page already, go to Pages > All Pages.
If your homepage is a static page, and you need a blog page, go to Pages > Add New. Title it “Blog” or something similar. Do not type anything in the post window.
Next, go to Settings > Reading. Under “Your homepage displays” > “A static page” select the blog page you just created.
You can test to make sure it’s working by adding “blog” (or whatever you titled your blog page) to the end of your URL in the address bar. For example, to see my blog page, I’d go to amylynnandrews.com/blog.
Your About page is one of the most important parts of your site and is often one of the most visited pages. It’s also one of the first places a visitor goes to decide whether or not your blog is worth their time. Writing a good one is essential.
I have a whole post on writing a killer about page, but I’ll summarize.
Make sure a visitor will know within the first few lines of your About page how your site will help them. Don’t launch immediately into information about you. They’ll want to know why they should stick around.
Then, once you’ve told them why they should read, next show them what to read. Anticipate what a new visitor would want to know. Provide links to other pages on your site (once you have them of course).
Only then should you actually tell them about yourself.
Providing contact information to your visitors is important. Blogging is a form of social media and building relationships is key. Being contact-able (is that a word?) is a must.
I set up my contact page FAQ-style in an attempt to avoid emails I get repeatedly. However, when you’re just starting out, you might welcome all emails from your readers! This gives you a chance to make meaningful connections and start building those relationships.
Your contact page doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple listing of where you can be found on social media, your email address and perhaps a short blurb encouraging them to reach out is excellent.
Protip: If you look at my contact page, you’ll notice I don’t put my email address in standard form with the @ and . signs. Instead I write it out like this: AmyLynnAndrews at gmail dot com. I do this to cut down on spam. The idea is to throw off any bots crawling the web hunting for the standard email format, harvesting it and blasting me with unwanted emails. Honestly, I’m not sure how well it works. It might just be a holdover from my younger blogging days. I should research this again. 🙂
The following are additional pages you might consider creating, although you could hold off on them until you get a tiny bit further along in the process.
- Tools I Use. Here’s mine. Many of your readers will appreciate a list of tools and resources you use and recommend. Additionally, this is a great source of affiliate income (my favorite way to monetize).
- Email list signup page / Almost Done / Thank You. These pages are used when someone signs up for your email list. Here’s my Useletter signup page, for example. I highly recommend them, but not until you get your email list set up. You can read more in my email marketing post.
- Disclosure Policy. When you start making money, you must have a disclosure policy. Mine is here. You can use a disclosure policy generator like this one to create this page when you’re ready.
FAQ: How do I change the number of posts displayed on blog pages?
Limiting the number of posts that show up your homepage or blog pages is often a good idea. Doing so can make your site load faster, especially if your posts are image-heavy.
Also, fewer posts can make it easier for those reading on mobile because it cuts down on scrolling.
Plus, if you have important elements that show up below your posts — such as links to your products, ads, or other things in your footer — they won’t get lost at the bottom of the page beneath the long list of posts.
To change the number of posts that display on your blog page, go to Settings > Reading > “Blog pages show at most” and set the number you wish. Mine is set to five.
While you’re here, you can also choose to have your blog page display an excerpt of your posts instead of the entire posts by choosing “Summary” instead of “Full text.”
Don’t forget to save your changes!
FAQ: Should I use a form on my Contact Page?
You can of course, but I choose not to, for a couple of reasons.
Using a form usually requires a plugin and I really try to avoid plugins, as I mentioned above. There are well-coded form plugins that won’t significantly slow your site down, but still, I simply don’t want any unnecessary weight. Plus, a glitch in even a well-coded plugin can botch an entire site. It’s just not worth the risk to me.
Also, I have a theory that a contact page without a form cuts down on time-wasting emails. That’s because a lot of people will see a form and use it immediately before reading the information on my contact page. By providing my email address at the end of my contact page, I’m hoping their question(s) will be answered before they get there, thus saving us both time in an email exchange.
If you do use a form on your Contact page, make sure you test it regularly to make sure it works!
Step 5: Write your first post
Time to complete varies
Now that you’ve got your main pages set up, you’re ready to start posting!
Writing and publishing a post in WordPress is pretty straightforward. Here are the basic steps, as well as some handy tips.
Ideas for your first post(s)
Don’t do what a lot of new bloggers do, including me, and start with a flimsy post about how you’re about to start a blog (e.g. “This is my first post!”).
Instead, kick off your blog with a really meaty, useful post. The goal is for readers to get lost in the content (not lost as in they can’t figure out what you’re saying, lost as in totally engrossed and enthralled, LOL).
Follow up your first post with a handful of equally meaty posts.
I recommend having 2 or 3 really thorough, in-depth posts when you launch, and 7-15 more posts in various stages — drafts to be edited, outlines to flesh out and topic ideas ready to write.
It’s good to have solid content available if visitors find you, but at the same time, don’t get bogged down writing a dozen or more posts before you publish anything.
Yoast, the SEO guy, calls these posts cornerstone content. They are also referred to as evergreen posts (because they are timeless) or pillar posts.
Whatever you call them, the point is to make them exceptional.
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas for your first post, type your main topic or niche into Google and see what others have written.
Don’t copy of course, but use those posts as inspiration. Make your post even more thorough and in depth. This is a common technique called the Skyscraper Technique explained by Brian Dean.
For even more ideas, on the Side Hustle Nation podcast at 28 minutes, Nick Loper talks about a definition post and a fishbone post:
- The “definition” post. This is good if your topic is slightly obscure or unfamiliar to most people. What is your main topic? Write about it in depth. Cover all the possible questions a beginner might have about it.
- The “fishbone” post. This is an “epic list post of skills or ideas that are critical to your primary topic.” Explain each, and link to high-authority sites on the topic. (You might also let those site owners know you did.) Over time, as you write more posts on the topic, replace the external links with your own internal links.
Alright, now that you have some ideas for your first post, let’s get writing!
Open the Add New Post window. Make sure you’re logged in to WordPress (simply type yourdomain.com/admin in your browser to log in).
From your Dashboard, go to Posts > Add New in the left column. Alternatively, you can hover over the “+ New” link at the top of your screen and choose “Post” from the dropdown menu that appears.
Add a title. My tip here is to title your post what people will search for to find it. For example, I titled this post “How to Start a Blog” because I figured that’s exactly what someone would type into Google if they wanted to know what I’m explaining in this post.
Check your permalink. Before publishing your post (not after, otherwise you may break your link!), check and edit the permalink if you’d like. Use keywords and make it as close to the way someone would search for your content on Google. If you want to change the permalink structure of a post or page, simply click the “Edit” button next to the automatically generated permalink on your post or page and change it to what you want.
Compose your post. You can write directly in WordPress, but a lot of people choose to write in a text editor and then paste their completed post into WordPress when it’s done. A major benefit to this is not slowing down your site while WordPress constantly autosaves as you go.
Add images, quotes, videos, PDFs or other media. To add something other than regular text to a post, like an image, put your cursor where you want it to go and add a block by clicking the + icon. This is Gutenberg! Be sure to read my tips for using images on your site to make sure you’re preparing your images properly, and not violating anyone’s copyright. There are also blocks for files (like PDFs), videos, quotes and more.
Add a link. To create a link in your post, highlight the text you want to be the link and click the link icon (looks like a chain link) in the formatting options box. A popup will appear where you can paste the URL of the page you want linked. If you want the link to open in a new window, click the 3 dots and toggle the switch.
Select the category (or categories) and tag(s). On the right side of your screen, you’ll have the option to select or add new categories and tags for your post.
Categories are used to define the general topics on your blog. Ideally, your blog will only have 5-7 categories so choose them thoughtfully. Well-chosen and well-used categories can make a reader’s experience on your blog pleasant. They also provide a basic structure or “outline” for your content.
Tags are more specific — too specific to be categories themselves. Many people don’t use tags (I don’t). If you do, use as many as is necessary to keep your information organized without getting messy.
I wrote more about categories and tags here.
Preview. Once you’re done writing, hit the Preview button in the top right of your screen to see what your post will look like.
Save, schedule or publish your post. WordPress has an autosave feature which automatically saves your writing every few minutes.
Keep a post in Draft mode and come back to it later if it’s not ready to go live. See all your drafts by going to Posts > All Posts.
If your post is ready to be published, you can publish it immediately or schedule it to be published at a future day and time.
To publish it immediately, make sure “Immediately” shows next to Publish in the Status & Visibility box. Then hit the Publish button at the top of the screen.
To schedule it to publish later, click “Immediately” next to Publish and choose the day and time you want it to go live. Don’t forget to set your timezone first (Settings > General)! Also, setting the date and time is not enough. You must also click the “Schedule” button at the top of the page.
Post visibility. You have other options in the Status & Visibility box as well. You can make your post public, private or password protected.
Public is normal and makes it available to all. Private keeps it, well, private, allowing access to only site admins and editors. Password protected means anyone who wants to see the post has to type in the password you set before seeing the post.
FAQ: What is Gutenberg?
Gutenberg is a significant update to WordPress that went live in mid December 2018. It introduces a significant change to how content is entered into WordPress.
Before, writing posts and pages was entered into WordPress much like a text editor. Formatting options were usually hand-coded or tweaked using a plugin.
With Gutenberg, a block system was introduced into the content creation process.
Gutenberg blocks accommodate certain type of information. For example, you can use an image block to insert images into a post or page, or a file block to insert PDFs.
Each block has its own styling options which makes it easy to make your posts and pages look just how you want.
Step 6: Customize your blog design
Time to complete varies
Now that you’ve got some content, you may want to change your blog’s design. In WordPress, this is done by installing a new WordPress theme. Here’s how to choose a WordPress theme (and what I use).
A lot of new bloggers get really excited about all the design options available. There are a lot! However, it’s easy to go overboard.
Less is more. Start with a minimal theme. The more fancy your theme, the more moving parts. The more moving parts, the more there is to break.
That leads me to speed and mobile responsiveness.
Your site should be fast and should work well on all devices, from phones to tablets to desktops. Again, less is more. Fortunately, most reputable themes ensure this from the get-go, but it’s still important to keep tabs on this yourself.
Also when considering a new theme, take note of your blog’s basic elements and where you want them on the page. Do you want a large image on the homepage? No sidebar? A footer? Do you want your posts on the right or the left of the screen? Do you want your main navigation menu at the top of the screen or under your header?
Try to look past colors, fonts and other easily changeable things. If you can find a theme with the elements in the spots you want them to start, it’ll be a lot easier to make the switch.
Where to find a new WordPress theme. I always recommend purchasing a premium theme (I use and recommend Genesis). Premium themes are better maintained, often have helpful documentation or tutorials and usually offer support. Find the theme you want on its own site and purchase it. You’ll be given instructions to download it to your computer after purchase.
You can also find new themes from your WordPress Dashboard by going to Appearance > Themes. Search if you know the name of your desired theme, or click the “Add New” button at the top of the page to browse.
Install your new WordPress theme. If you found a theme via your WordPress Dashboard, simply click the Install button.
If you purchased a premium theme elsewhere, it will come packaged in a zip file. (The zipped file is what you will need for the following step, so if your computer automatically unzips zipped files, locate the zipped version on your computer before moving on.) In your WordPress Dashboard, go to Appearance > Themes > Add New > Upload Theme. Find the zipped file and upload it.
If you are working with a 2-part system like Genesis, you’ll need to upload both the Genesis Theme Framework and the child theme of your choice. Again, read my post about choosing a theme for an explanation of this preferred type of system. If you try to upload your child theme and you do not have the Genesis Framework installed, it will not work. I recommend you upload the Genesis Theme Framework first, then repeat the process with your child theme. After your theme is uploaded, activate it. In the case of a 2-part framework like Genesis, you’ll activate the child theme, NOT the Genesis Framework.
To activate a new theme, go to Appearance > Themes. Hover over the theme you want and click Activate.
Customize your theme. Once your theme is activated, go to Appearance > Customize. If the Customizer doesn’t work with your chosen theme, I would not use it as it’s probably not kept updated. The Customizer will allow you to tweak things like color, fonts, and other things. Options will vary depending on your theme.
Set up widgets & menus. WordPress widgets allow you to easily put chunks of information in your sidebar, footer or other places on your site. Your options for widgets will depend on the theme you use. Go to Appearance > Widgets. Drag and drop widgets from the left side of the page to the sidebars and footer on the right side. Use the tiny down arrows to edit the content within. Always save!
Menus are used to put navigation bars on your site. They can also be found by going to Appearance > Menus. Again, menu options will depend on your theme. If you’re using a premium theme, consult the help documentation for instructions to set your menus up.
FAQ: Are there any good free themes?
As I mentioned, a premium theme is usually worth the cost since the creators have incentive to keep their customers happy and usually offer support.
However, I realize a premium theme is not in everyone’s budget. Other than the pre-installed theme that comes with WordPress, there is only one free theme I recommend. It’s called GeneratePress (my referral link). Add-ons are extra, but the base theme is a good place to start.
FAQ: Should I hire a blog designer?
For most bloggers, I don’t recommend hiring a designer to start.
Good designers charge thousands of dollars for a new design which is prohibitive for most.
But it’s also very likely the design you think you want at the beginning may not be the design you want in a few months.
If you’re like most bloggers, it will take you a while to get into a groove and establish the best look and feel for your blog.
Waiting will help you better direct a designer when you’re ready. It will also save you from having to make costly tweaks and revisions.
A nice looking blog is great, but excellent content is greater. Concentrate on your content, especially your cornerstone content, first.
Protip: I keep a running “branding list” with notes about what I want to change in my current design. It covers everything from blog headers to facebook templates. Next time I’m ready to change the look of my blog, I’ll be sure not to miss anything.
FAQ: Where can I hire a blog designer?
A word of caution is in order here. There are plenty of “designers” who can make your site look nice on the outside, but the coding underneath is horrible.
Bad code is horrible for SEO so be careful who you hire.
Word of mouth is a great way to find a designer, as is noting who designed well-known blogs in your space (many times this will be noted in the footer, or you can simply ask the blogger for a recommendation).
Another option, if you use Genesis, is to hire someone from their Developers list.
Prefer a video tutorial? This video tutorial will walk you through the basics of customizing your blog:
Can’t see the video? Click here.
Step 7: Get traffic & make money
Time to complete varies
If you’re still following along, well done! There are many directions you can go at this point, but the main things to focus on are creating excellent content and building genuine relationships.
Once you’ve established yourself as a trustworthy source of information, others will begin to visit your site.
Once you have a steady flow of traffic, you can brainstorm ways to monetize so you can make money.
Build an email list. Your email list will be an invaluable tool for getting traffic and making money. I recommend you set one up as soon as you’re able. What’s so great about an email list? It gives you more control. Armed with your readers’ email addresses, you can go to them when you want to highlight your content or promote a product, instead of waiting for them to come to you.
I cover this topic in depth and offer my suggestions in my post Email Marketing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Building an Email List.
Tips for getting traffic. I can’t stress enough the power of good content. Excellent content gets suggested by Google, passed around social media and shared by others. Make your blog the best in its class. Hang out where your target audience hangs out and build relationships, no strings attached. Where do they spend time online? Facebook? Instagram? YouTube? Hang out there too, and make friends.
Don’t be THAT blogger always promoting their own thing. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to mention what you do and where people can find your blog if you think it will be truly helpful to them.
FAQ: How do people make money blogging?
There are many ways bloggers make money. Most bloggers make money both directly from their blogs and indirectly.
Direct forms of monetization include affiliate marketing (mentioning a product or service in posts and earning commission when readers click through and take action) and display ads (not very lucrative until you have a lot of traffic).
Many bloggers, especially beginners without a lot of traffic or money to invest in developing their own products, use their blogs indirectly to get clients for a service they provide, like virtual assistance.
One of the best ways bloggers make money is using their blog as a launching point to sell their own product(s) like I’ve done with my time management ebook Tell Your Time.
I go into much more depth about ways bloggers make money in my post How to Make Money Blogging.
FAQ: What exactly is a blog?
A blog is a type of website with posts (articles or entries) displayed in reverse chronological order. That is, the most recent posts are at the top.
FAQ: Why start a blog?
There are many reasons to start a blog. Here are a few popular ones:
- Make money while working from home. Many bloggers make money. It’s hard work, but it’s got low risk, low overhead and low barrier to entry.
- Build a writing (or speaking) platform. It’s no secret book publishers rarely work with authors who don’t 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 one of the easiest and most effective places to do it.
- Get more exposure for your existing business or organization. A blog gives anyone, from individuals to large companies, the ability to reach a large number of people at very little cost.
- Just write. If you want to write, share your story, encourage others and build a community, a blog is a great place to do that.
Simply put, a blog is an online home you own and control. Use it to develop the brand or reputation you desire, establish yourself as an authority in your field, connect with customers or find other like-minded people.
FAQ: How much does a blog cost?
The method I outline here is budget friendly. It works out to less than $10 a month. I blogged for years on this budget. As my blog and income grew, I eventually started paying for more premium tools and services, but they are not required to start.
FAQ: Can I start a blog for free?
Yes. However, here’s my advice: a free blog is fine if it’s a hobby, but if you want to make money from your blog I don’t recommend starting a free blog. Why? A few reasons:
- Limited monetization. Some free services limit monetization (i.e. making money) unless you “upgrade” to a higher level. You’ll have to pay for that upgrade of course, so it 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 still want to make money somehow. If you’re only using their free service, they’re not making money from you. Therefore, they don’t have a lot of incentive to keep you happy. Sometimes this means you’ll have little to no support. Other times it means you’ll be badgered with offers for their paid-for products.
- Only basic features. This might not be a problem at first, but as you grow, you will almost certainly feel the pinch. Expandability and flexibility are key, both of which are limited with free blogging services.
- Switching isn’t easy. If you ever want to switch to a better service (very common among 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.
- Can’t use others for inspiration. You might not be able to do what your favorite bloggers are doing. This happens to new bloggers all the time. They start a blog for free. Soon they notice cool features on other blogs which they want too. The problem is, it’s not possible on their free service.
- Accountability. In general, we value things we pay for. Blogging is hard work. One way to keep yourself accountable is to pay just a little bit for it.
If those common pitfalls don’t convince you, or a free blog is truly your only choice, I would go with Blogger.
FAQ: How long does it take to make money as a blogger?
Blogging for profit is hard work and certainly will not happen overnight; it’s just like starting any other business.
There are always exceptions, but I’d say on average, most of us started making coffee money after about 6 months, a solid part-time income took at least a year and a full-time income, 2+ years.
If you’re willing to do the hard work in the beginning, it can really pay off down the road.
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! Most of us have been in that very spot too. If you want some encouragement, read my post 18 Tips for New Bloggers.
Need help? 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. If you want help with WordPress specifically, use Bluehost’s free Blue Spark service.
Change your domain from HTTP to HTTPS. This is another important configuration. The S in HTTPS (vs. HTTP) indicates a secure site. This gives visitors peace of mind. It also keeps your site on Google’s good side.
This option is only available once your domain registration is fully completed and you are no longer on your temporary domain. You’ll know this is the case when you type your chosen domain into any browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.) and your domain works without forwarding to your weird looking temporary domain in the address bar.
If your site is still using a temporary domain, put a reminder on your calendar to come back in 2-24 hours to finish this step.
To complete this step, you’ll need to activate an SSL certificate. Don’t be intimidated by the fancy term.
The following link with instructions only works for domains you entered in the “new domain” box above. If you are using an existing domain registered elsewhere, check with that company about getting an SSL certificate.
Click here for the instructions to secure your site in your Bluehost account. After doing so, give it a little bit of time to catch up. Eventually, when you type your domain into a browser like Chrome, you’ll see a secure icon:
An insecure site will have an “i” with a circle around it like this in Chrome:
FAQ: How can I see what my site looks like?
Simple. At any time, from your WordPress Dashboard, hover over the house icon in the top left corner of the screen. Click “Visit Site.”
Note: Make sure you’re logged into WordPress, otherwise you’ll see the “Coming Soon” page!
FAQ: How do I stop all the Bluehost emails?
If you don’t like getting all the promotional emails from Bluehost (I don’t), change your email preferences.
- Log in to your Bluehost account.
- Click the person icon in the top right corner.
- Choose Profile from the list that appears.
- Uncheck the boxes under Email Preferences and Ad Preferences.
FAQ: How do I get my domain to work with my new blog?
Activate your new domain. Did you chose a new domain in Step 1? Check your email inbox to find the domain activation email. Click the button inside to complete the activation process.
Point your existing domain. Did you opt to use an existing domain in Step 1? Make sure it’s pointed and working properly before you launch your blog. If you’re unsure how to do it, call Bluehost and have them walk you through.
Assign your chosen later domain. Did you opt to choose your domain later in Step 1? Your account was credited for the amount of a free domain.
So, when you’re ready to choose your domain name, log in to your Bluehost account. Go to the “Domain” section (an option in the left column) and search for the domain you’d like.
At checkout, the balance will be zero because the credit was automatically applied. Also at checkout you can add domain privacy (which I definitely recommend).
Once you have the domain, it will be listed under the “Domains” section in your Bluehost account. Choose the one you would like to use.
On the right side of the page under the tab titled “main” scroll down to “cPanel type.” Click “Assign.”
Your blog will be updated to the new domain name. This could take up to 4 hours.
Set up an email list. An email list is invaluable and should be set up as soon as possible. My Email Marketing 101 post has much more on this subject.
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