(Note: This post is based on the presentation from the New Zealand Bloggers Network meetup held on February 29, 2016)
So you want to start a blog. Great! But there seems to be so much to do, so much to learn. All of that can be a bit intimidating. It can all be overwhelming.
Trust me. It isn’t. All you need to do is start with a plan and stick to it. You’ll be blogging before you know it.
This post introduces a basic toolkit for newbie bloggers. It offers advice and information that will lay the foundation for your blog and get you up and running.
The information in this post applies to all blogging platforms. While the post contains some WordPress-specific information, you can take the advice here and apply it to just about any blogging platform.
Before You Begin
Before you do anything else, think about your blog’s focus and niche. Is it going to be a personal blog, a professional blog, or a bit of both? That focus will determine the tone of your blog, what kinds of content you’ll post, and (eventually) the direction you’ll take.
Then, think about your blog’s niche. Ask yourself What topic do I want to cover? Once you’ve answered that question, narrow down your niche. For example, let’s say you want to blog about sports. Think about what sports you want to blog about. Perhaps you want to write about cycling or climbing. If you need to, further narrow down those topics.
Why narrow your niche? Covering a broad topic in your blog might appeal to many people, but it might not. It will seem like you’re jumping around, without any rhyme or reason or focus. If your goal is to use your blog to position yourself as an expert or authority, you’ll wind up looking like a dilettante rather than that expert or an authority. That can drive people away. If that’s not your goal, your blog will seem disjointed which can also drive readers away.
Choose a Domain Name
If you’re serious about blogging, especially if you’re doing it professionally, you’ll want your own domain name. That stakes out your little corner of the web and is wrapped up in your branding.
The domain name you choose should be relevant to you or your business. If you’re a fashion blogger and your domain name is compuglobalhypermeganet.com then you’ve made a poor choice. Sure, that domain will grab attention. Most, if not all, of your visitors will quickly see it as a gimmick. That will turn them off.
Instead, your domain name should (if possible) be the name of your interest or your name or the name of your business. Most of my domains, for example, are a variation on my name. The only difference in those cases is the top-level domain: I use .net, .info, and .io for my main blogs.
Keep the domain name (fairly) short. Let’s go back to the earlier example. The name compuglobalhypermeganet is 23 characters long. While the domain name is memorable, would you want to type that? I sure wouldn’t. Even if it was the name of my business.
Instead, try to keep your domain name as short as possible. Let’s say the business you’re using your blog to promote is named The Writing Company. You can try to grab domain names like thewritingco.com or writingcompany.com or writingco.com.
Thanks to the slew of new top-level domains, you can get even more creative. How? Let’s go back to The Writing Company. You can use the .co domain to come up with thewriting.co or even writing.co. It’s gimmicky, but it’s a gimmick that’s relevant.
Choose Your Platform
Most people will advise you to choose WordPress. It’s the most popular blogging platform, and it’s also very flexible. But the blogging platform you choose is up to you.
That said, WordPress is everywhere — you can sign up for an account at WordPress.com and a most web hosting companies offer what’s called a one-click install of WordPress. All that means is the setup of the software and the database is done for you.
When choosing a blogging platform, think about:
- The features you need right now
- Whether you want to host it yourself or use a service like Blogger or Tumblr or WordPress.com. Self hosting can be a better option, if only because it gives you more control
- Whether or not your blog posts are portable. You might want to move your blog because:
- You’ve outgrown the platform you’re using and need something with more features
- The provider of your blogging platform is going out of business
- You want to simplify your blog
- You want to move from a hosted service to self hosting
For example, for a number of years I used Blogger for my personal and company blogs. I outgrew the personal blog, which I split off into two others. I was also seduced by WordPress for my company’s blog.
Just remember that readers don’t care what blogging platform you use. They won’t run away in fear or disgust if you’re not using WordPress.
I just said that WordPress isn’t the only blogging game on the web. And that’s true. But since it is so popular, I’m going to focus on it for a moment.
Let’s say you’ve got a WordPress blog. Chances are, it looks quite plain. While looks aren’t everything, a good theme makes your blog a bit more visually attractive and appealing.
A theme, in case you’re wondering, provides your blog’s face to the web. The theme defines the page layout, fonts, colours, styles, and the like. There are thousands of WordPress themes available. Some are free, some you have to pay for. If you have enough money or some technical skills, you can pay someone to create a theme for you or build one yourself.
As for getting hold of themes, there are a large number of free themes that you can install right from within WordPress. To do that, log into WordPress and select Appearance > Themes. Click Add New, and then search for a theme. Or download themes from http://theme.wordpress.com. If you do that, install the theme by logging into WordPress, selecting Appearance > Themes, and then clicking Upload Theme.
You can also buy themes from sites like:
Some sites also sell themes for Blogger, Tumblr, Ghost, and Jekyll. Those themes will set you back anywhere for $19 (USD) to $60 (USD) or more.
When choosing a theme, look for one that’s:
- Clean and as clutterless as possible
- Has ample whitespace
- Doesn’t have too many graphics (so it loads quickly)
- Responsive (so it’s readable on screens of any size)
Here are some suggested themes for new blogs:
Don’t get too hung up on finding the so-called perfect theme. There isn’t one. And don’t let the pursuit of a theme stop you from blogging. Stick with the default theme while you get your blog up and running. Then, when you find a theme you like switch to that. One of the great things about most themes (not just WordPress) is that you can drop them in quickly and easily.
Plugins (sometimes called extensions) add additional features to your blog. Features like enhanced commenting, SEO optimization, contact forms, a better editor, Google Analytics support, and more. Sadly, not all blogging platforms support plugins — one that do include WordPress, Squarespace, and Jekyll.
Right now, I’m going to focus on plugins for WordPress. Why? I know those best. Here are a few essential plugins for new installations of WordPress:
WP Essentials — A set of plugins and functions including ones to connect to your Twitter feed and Google Analytics, and for working with images.
JetPack — A set of functions for sharing and managing your blog, as well as for changing its appearance and making writing posts a bit easier.
Yoast SEO — A plugin that can help improve your site’s SEO.
Akismet — A plugin that blocks spam comments.
Disqus — A plugin that add support for the Disqus commenting system to your blog. Disqus has a number of features WordPress’ built-in comment system doesn’t, like the ability to thread comments.
Permalink Finder — If you restructure your blog or change the permalink scheme, this plugin makes sure that any internal links aren’t broken.
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin — A plugin that finds related posts on your blog and lists them at the end of your posts.
To install a plugin, log into WordPress and select Plugins > Add New. Search for a plugin and then click Install Now.
You can also buy plugins from sites like:
If you do buy a plugin, you’ll need to upload the plugin to WordPress to install it. Do that by logging into WordPress, selecting Plugins > Add New, and then clicking Upload Plugin.
Try to keep number of plugins to a minimum. Having too many plugins can slow your blog down.
Be careful when updating your plugins. Every so often, bad things can happen. A couple of months ago, for example, I updated the JetPack plugin on my WordPress blog. Everything seemed to go well, until I tried to log into that blog later in the day. I couldn’t. And I couldn’t reach his blog. The update did something to make the blog inaccessible. I had a stressful hour before I figured out what was going on and managed to fix it.
Starting a blog doesn’t have to be difficult. Just take a measured approach and you’ll be up and running in no time.