So you’re wondering how to start a blog? You’re in the right place!
Starting my first blog nearly 4 years ago was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I love how much technical knowledge I’ve gained, as well as the creative outlet I’ve found in writing and designing blog graphics.
Taking all the techie info I’ve learned, I’ve laid out how to start a blog (as a business, or hobby) with step-by-step screenshots to make it super easy.
No more frantic Googling required to figure things out!
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HOW TO START A BLOG – WHICH BLOGGING PLATFORM IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
The title of this post has a bit of a spoiler as to which blogging platform I recommend!
But so that you can make an informed decision, let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular options to start a blog…
How to Start a Blog – Free blogging platforms
While WordPress itself is free to use in all cases, a WordPress.com account doesn’t require hosting so it’s a free option.
However, you can’t have a truly personalised blog domain (the url will have ‘wordpress.com’ in it), your design options are more limited and it’s not very scalable.
Whilst there are options to pay to upgrade to remove the above restrictions (starting at £3 per month), the general consensus is that a free WordPress.com account is best for hobby bloggers.
Owned by Google, this is very easy to set up. If you don’t want to purchase a custom domain then you can have one for free but, again, it won’t be truly personalised (has ‘blogspot’ in the url).
The free design options are also more limited.
Blogger is very easy to set up and use but generally lacks any real scalability if you want to make your blog a business.
How to Start a Blog – Paid-for blogging platforms
A slick platform which provides some lovely mobile responsive design options and has ecommerce functionality built in.
However, you have less control over the design of your blog.
A good option to create a professional looking blog, however there are some limitations on customization and you don’t actually own your blog.
Both a WordPress.com and WordPress.org account are free, however, in the case of WordPress.org you also need to buy hosting for your blog which is an upfront cost.
But once you’re up and running the customisation options are pretty endless.
With masses of themes and plug-ins available you can easily create the blog of your dreams, as well as adding extra functionality (such as e-commerce) to scale as your blogging business grows. It’s no surprise that WordPress powers 29% of the world’s websites!
What I recommend…
If you’re wondering how to start a blog to make money, without a doubt I recommend a self-hosted WordPress.org blog.
With a self-hosted blog you ‘own’ your domain which gives you a sense of security in your business.
You will never find yourself in a position where you have outgrown your blog – you can simply add more functionality, change the design or upgrade your hosting package as site visitors grow.
On that basis, investing day one in a self-hosted WordPress blog makes the most business sense to me.
However, if blogging as a business is still more of an ‘abstract’ idea for you, perhaps you could start a free WordPress.com blog for a while, to see how you like blogging, before investing in the self-hosted option.
Read on to find out how much a self-hosted WordPress blog costs and the easy step-by-step guide to setting one up…
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO START A BLOG?
Editor’s note: I quote all costs in US Dollars as that’s the international blogging currency! However, the screenshots below will show costs in Great British Pounds, as I’m based in the UK. Where I’ve translated costs from GBP to USD I’ve used the conversion rate on XE.com on 11th December 2017.
You’re probably wondering how much your new blog will cost?
Blog On The Side is all about helping you maximise your blogging budget and I’d never recommend that you spend money that isn’t necessary.
However, if you want to make money blogging with a self-hosted site then some upfront investment is unavoidable.
Here’s a list of the things you can invest in upfront:
- Domain name -this is an unavoidable expense (COST = c. $12-15 in the first year)
- Domain privacy – this is optional, but I would highly recommend it to avoid your name and address being made public on the WHOIS database (COST = c. $8-12 per year)
- Hosting – another unavoidable expense (COST = c. $36 in the first year, this will rise in subsequent years as you lose introductory pricing offers)
- Site protection/ security – this is an optional expense (COST = c. $20 per year)
- A WordPress theme – this is an area where you can really flex how much you spend, according to your budget. You can opt for a free theme or pay for a premium theme (COST = $0-unlimited)
You could set up a self-hosted blog for an upfront cost of as little as c. $75… or you could spend many multiples of that amount on a bespoke site design and branding.
The upfront cost for me in setting up this blog was c. $240, including the domain (for 2 years), domain privacy, hosting, site protection and a powerful premium WordPress theme (Divi).
This isn’t an insignificant amount of money but I made choices that I believe will see me through many years of blogging.
You can see more about my preferred options below, but I’ll also outline where you can look to save some cash.
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HOW TO START A BLOG ON WORDPRESS
The process of setting up a self-hosted WordPress blog can take as little as 15 mins!
There are 6 key steps to starting a WordPress blog…
- Decide what to blog about
- Choose a domain
- Choose a website host
- Configure your hosting – point domain name and set up an email address
- Set up WordPress
- Secure your site with an SSL certificate
This is a little more involved than some other ‘how to start a blog’ posts you might see, but I’m covering all bases so you get it right from day one.
So… let’s get going!
Step 1 – Decide what to blog about
If you already know what you want to blog about then feel free to skip ahead to step 2.
However, if you’re not sure then read on for some things to consider…
Pick a blog topic you’re truly passionate about.
You may see other bloggers making a good living in a particular blog niche, but if you don’t really have much of an interest in that area you’ll soon run out of ideas and motivation.
Even if you do like the blog topic you choose, I would advise you to think about the long game for your blog content.
I started a wedding blog in 2014 when I was planning my own wedding. I loved talking about the practical wedding DIYs I was making and sharing my kickass table planning spreadsheets.
But, by the time my wedding had been and gone, my motivation did start to lag a little.
It was a topic that I was only interested in for one specific period in my life so I began to run out of blog topic ideas.
Consider how time intensive the blog topic is.
My second blog was dedicated to wedding stationery and I could happily talk about DIY wedding invitations all day…
BUT in order to generate enough content for the blog I actually had to do a ton of crafting and photographing, then edit those photos.
It was soooo time consuming. I really struggled to keep up with it, given it was a side hustle and I was already working a busy 9-5 job.
While I did manage to monetise that blog to the point that it covered its costs, again I ran out of steam as I hadn’t really picked the right topic.
Long story short – think carefully about how time consuming producing content will be for your chosen niche (especially in the crafting/ photography/ food space!).
Check out this post by Melyssa Griffin for more tips on choosing a blog topic, as well as niching down to reach your perfect audience.
Okey dokey. Know what you want to blog about?
Great, let’s move on…
Step 2 – Choose & purchase a website domain for your blog
A domain is your blog url and website name (e.g. www.exampleblogdomain.com).
I’ve got to admit that I’ve always pressed the ‘Go’ button on my blog names without a massive amount of analysis. I tend to go with my gut, which came back to bite me on this blog.
I chose a name, checked it for trademark restrictions & social media availability and then bought the domain.
Only then did I realise that one of the words in my name was actually part of the brand name for a large IT platform.
It wouldn’t have been illegal for me to use that name, but it would have been confusing for my readers. So I had to rebrand before I ever even launched the blog. FAIL!
Please learn from my mistakes and research your potential blog names carefully before pressing go!
Check out this Problogger post for more indepth tips on choosing a blog name.
When it comes to purchasing your domain you have two options:
- Purchase it separately to web hosting (covered in this step)
- Purchase it together with web hosting (covered in the next step)
The advantage to buying it with your hosting is that both domain and hosting are with the same provider so it’s all done in one step.
In my experience it’s cheaper to buy your domain separately and then take one small extra step to ‘connect up’ your domain to your hosting account.
I buy all my domains through GoDaddy.com and can highly recommend them.
Once you find it is available, add it to your cart
I nabbed a deal where it was 99p for the first year once you sign up for two years. This works out at c. £6.94 per year, or $9.25, which is cheaper than purchasing the domain through the host.
You now have the opportunity to purchase other extensions of your domain
I tend to purchase the .com and .co.uk extensions for my domains in order to protect my brand later on but this isn’t necessary at this stage if cost is prohibitive.
You can now add privacy to your domain.
Take it! This is a super important step, otherwise your personal name and address details will be on the WHOIS directory for the world to see. Not cool.
The £4.99/ $7.99 per year price for domain privacy is also cheaper than most web hosts offer.
The Privacy & Business Protection takes it a step further and protects against malicious transfer of the domain and failure to renew the domain due to expired credit cards. This probably isn’t necessary for you at this point.
You’re offered the option to start a free website and add hosting.
I don’t recommend either of these options as you’ll be creating your own self-hosted WordPress blog.
You’re offered the option to purchase an email address that matches your domain.
You don’t need this as you can do it for free through your web host.
In the final purchase page it will offer the chance to add ‘search engine visibility’
You don’t need this as you can submit your site to search engines yourself for free.
Congratulations! You’re now the proud owner of an internet domain!
You’ll get 3 confirmatory emails:
The first is your order confirmation & receipt (always a good idea to save this for tax purposes).
Secondly you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your email address. It’s important to complete this step to ensure your website is not put on hold.
Finally you’ll get an email to tell you your domain(s) are ready to use.
You can now move onto purchasing your web hosting… yay!
Step 3 – Choose & purchase your website hosting
Ok, now you’ve got your blog domain, you need to find a company to host your website.
There are a ton of website hosting providers out there, some better than others. So, how do you choose your blog host?
I think there are 4 crucial things to look for…
- Website speed & uptime – how often will your blog to be ‘down’ due to unscheduled issues?
- Security – how vulnerable is their server to hacking etc.?
- Back up provided – does the host provide a back up of your files?
- Support – most importantly, how good is the support provided by the company? When you’re a techie newbie, having an easily accessible support function to answer your question is worth it’s weight in gold.
Cost may also be a factor for you, but in this case, I don’t think it should be the only deciding factor.
In my experience there isn’t a huge amount of cost variation amongst the main web hosts – especially when you get past the first year and any introductory pricing offers end.
Money saving tip! If you’re in no hurry to start a blog it could pay to hang on for a special occasion, when many hosting companies run seasonal sales – think Veterans Day, Black Friday, Back to School etc!
Who do I recommend?
I’ve personally used Bluehost (whom a ton of bloggers will recommend), 1&1 and Siteground. They are all good hosting options and I’ve had no issues with any of them. However…
I now solely recommend Siteground to bloggers wondering how to start a blog for the following reasons…
They’re reliable – with 99.9% uptime.
They’re fast – compare the industry average loading time of 4.7 sec to Siteground’s loading time of 1.7 sec without cache and 1.3 sec with cache. You may think ‘so what? it’s only a few seconds’ but a faster loading time is crucial for user experience on your site. Plus both Google and Facebook favour faster loading pages.
They’re secure – with superior hack protection
Their 24/7 support is the best I’ve come across – this is by far the biggest selling point for me. Purchasing hosting with Siteground for this blog was just so easy and all the key information you need to get your blog running is at hand.
In getting everything set up I had a few questions which I dealt with via webchat. Unlike other providers there was no wait, no information which they needed from me, just a real person who answered my question within a couple of minutes.
Cool. Here’s how to get your very own Siteground hosting account…
Choose the hosting package that’s right for you and click ‘Get Started’.
I went for the GrowBig option as I have a few domains to host and need the bandwidth, but the StartUp package is perfectly fine to get started with – you can always upgrade your hosting package should your site grow faster than you expect.
You can now choose to buy a domain via Siteground (currently £9.95 excl. VAT for a .com domain).
However, as I’ve already purchased a domain for less via GoDaddy, I’ll choose ‘I already have a Domain’ here and enter my blog url and click ‘Proceed’.
Enter billing information and choose your hosting plan period (1 year or more).
You also have the option here to pay for SG Site Scanner which scans your blog for anything suspicious in case you’ve been hacked.
I did take this option for peace of mind, but it’s totally optional at this stage.
Go ahead and place your order.
Wahoo! You now have a hosting account!
Go and check your emails where you should find a sales receipt (again keep for tax purposes) as well as an email containing important details including your login & DNS information for name servers (see below).
Step 4 – Configure your Hosting Account
Your hosting account is set up, but there are a couple of things you should now do to make sure you’re getting the most out of it…
- Point your domain to your Siteground hosting account if you bought it separately
- Set up an email address for your blog
1. Connect your GoDaddy domain to your Siteground Hosting account
If you purchased your domain together with your Siteground hosting then you can ignore this step.
However, if you’ve opted to save some cash and buy your domain separately you just have one final eeny weeny step to connect your domain to your hosting service.
All you need to do is go to your account in GoDaddy and input the DNS (domain name server) information from Siteground – this is also known as ‘pointing’ your domain to your web host.
Siteground helpfully give you the DNS information you need in the email sent once you sign up.
Alternatively you can log in to the Siteground user area and find the Account DNS under ‘Information & Settings’.
Head to your GoDaddy account
Click on the DNS button as shown below.
Change the nameserver type from default to ‘Custom’
Then enter your nameservers in the two boxes below. As mentioned above, you can get this information in the email sent to you from Siteground, or in your Siteground user area.
They should look something like this (depending on where you’re based):
Click ‘Add Nameserver’ and you’re done!
2. Set up a dedicated email address for your blog on Siteground
Having an email address for your blog (i.e. myname@myblogname) makes your business look far more professional.
Luckily, this is super simple (and FREE!) with Siteground…
Choose your preferred email address (first name @ your blog name works well) and add a password.
You are asked to choose your mailbox quota… 4000MB is the max allowed for my GrowBig hosting package so it makes sense to overwrite the default 250MB with 4000MB to give as much bandwidth as possible.
And that’s it! You now have a dedicated email address for your blog.
Fill out the details for your blog.
Choose the Protocol: for top notch security you will be setting up SSL in the next step, so choose the https:// option.
The Domain should be autofilled for you in the 2nd option.
For our purposes leave the Directory field blank.
In Site Settings – type your blog name and description, but don’t overthink it as you can always change it later.
Then you need to choose your admin username, password and email address. Make a note of these as you will need them later!
You now have the option to add Plugins or a Theme.
You can choose the plugin options (Limit Login Attempts and Contact Form) if you wish, although not necessary at this stage.
Leave the Theme at none as we’ll be adding our own.
The Database Name & Table Prefix will autofill (I blanked it out for my security), you can just leave these as is.
Now click ‘Install’
You are now up and running and can log on and start setting up your blog!
Firstly, let’s have a look at how your site looks now… enter your blog domain into your browser…
Yup, that’s what your blog currently looks like. It’s the default WordPress theme which has been installed for you.
But don’t fear! You’re going to get it looking awesome in no time at all. You just need to do some customisation!
Step 6 – Install an SSL certificate to ensure your site is nice and secure
Ok, final step, I HIGHLY recommend that you add an SSL certificate to your blog at this point.
An SSL certificate means your site is secured, so that information such as email addresses, credit card details etc. are encrypted.
Put simply, this means your readers can trust your site and happily provide personal information. It’s denoted by the ‘s’ in https at the start of a url.
So, it’s a pretty big deal!
It’s really worth doing this now, as opposed to waiting until you’re further down the road and have created a ton of content for your site.
Luckily with Siteground, you can take advantage of a free SSL certificate via ‘Let’s Encrypt’. Here’s what to do…
Log into your WordPress account.
You should be able to do this at yourblogname.com/wp-admin. However, a foolproof way of always being able to do this is to go to your Siteground account…
Go to My Accounts and choose ‘Go to Admin Panel’ for the WordPress blog you’re managing.
This is what your WordPress dashboard looks like.
This is where the magic will be happening from now on!
Check the box to ‘force HTTPS’ and your site is now fully secure.
Hint you can tell by looking at the address bar – the previous screenshot shows and exclamation mark, but now there is a green padlock and it says ‘Secure’.
Phew! Well done! You’re now the proud owner of a fully secure, self-hosted WordPress blog!
Ok, so it doesn’t quite look exactly how you want yet and you’re not 100% sure how to use WordPress am I right?
Don’t fret, I will guide you through everything you need to do next!
How to Start a Blog – Next Steps:
To stop you getting too overwhelmed, I’ve split the next steps for your blog into separate tutorials that you can tackle one by one…
- How to install a WordPress theme
- Customise WordPress settings for your blog
- Add functionality and design with plugins and widgets
- Consider your legal obligations
- Tighten up blog security
- Figure out what pages your blog needs
- Write your first blog post
- Make sure your blog is being found in search engines
If you’ve started your own WordPress blog using this tutorial drop your blog link in the comments below so I can come and check it out (happy to help get your traffic ball rolling!)
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