So, you’ve seen how wickedly awesome my blog is and you want one of your own (cough). Not a problem.
Starting your own blog is actually a lot easier than you think. You can be up and running in a couple of hours, depending on how fast you work, and could even have your first post up by the end of the day.
Everyone blogs differently, but things are mostly the same at the start: You choose a domain, get some hosting space, find a design you like, stuff like that. It’s not difficult, but will cost you a little bit of money and you might want to punch your screen a couple of times.
I’ve laid everything out step-by-step below, in as simple a way as I could. Hopefully it’s all crystal clear but if not, don’t be afraid to leave your questions in the comments.
Quick note: If you’re blogging as a hobby, a good option is a free blogging platform. My recommendation is WordPress.com, which is 100% free. There will be some limitations when it comes to customisation. For a serious blog that could potentially become a business, you’ll want a self hosted blog which is what I’ll talk about below.
Why start a blog?
Why are blogs important? What purpose do they serve?
There are a million different answers.
A blog is a platform. It represents your voice. You can use it to share stories, influence people, inspire, educate, debate, entertain. It is a creative outlet. It allows you to express yourself freely in a world where we can’t always do so. It allows you to share your message, and most importantly, it allows people all over the world to find you.
I’ve had conversations with people from places as remote as Iran and Ecuador about how they can travel more, live simpler lives and follow their passions in life. It is the blog that makes these connections possible.
When you’re passionate about something, you usually have a desire to share it. You can think of your blog as your own newspaper or magazine, where you control the stories. If you have something valuable to say (and most of us do), a blog can allow you to explore your passions further, and connect with people who share the same passions as you.
In other words, a blog connects you to the world.
Simply jump to the section of your choice by using the links below, or if you’re new to the game, simply follow the whole guide through from Step 1. Enjoy!
- Choosing your blog name and domain
- Choosing a web host
- Install WordPress
- Log in to your WordPress site (you’re online!)
- Choose a theme
- Set up your pages
- Write your first post
- Create your logo
- Before you go live (Security, Social Media, Email list)
- After you go live (Promotion, SEO, Making Money)
- Bonus step: Tools to make your blog awesome
Step 1: Choosing your blog name and domain
Choosing the right name is important. It’s what identifies your little space on the web. You want a name you’re proud of, a name that is memorable and a name that uniquely identifies you. You also want to get it right the first time. Changing your domain name is like going through a re-brand (a lot of work).
- Think long term. Choose a name you can expand on. If I had called it www.breninthephilippines.com, I would’ve been stuck with a domain restricted to Philippines related content. What happens when I travel somewhere else?
- Make sure your blog name is available on all major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest), and sign up for them immediately.
- Spend some time reading other blogs in your niche and find out which ones have stood the test of time. What did they name their blog? Use this to help you generate ideas, but also remember you need to be original.
- Don’t choose something people might misspell easily. For example, www.travellingwithbrendan.com isn’t ideal because in international English it’s spelt “travelling” but in American English it’s “traveling”. Make it as easy as possible for people to find you.
- Write it out in your email signature. How does it look? Introduce your blog to the mirror. How does it sound? Make sure you like it!
Step 2: Choosing a web host
Web hosting is like renting a piece of land for your blog. You pay a hosting company for some space on the internet and they let you build your blog there. It sounds daunting, but don’t worry – it’s very straightforward.
Most people like to go with a big-name host like Bluehost or GoDaddy when they first start out. They’re cheap and popular, and a lot of people recommend them.
Here’s the thing though. People rarely stay with those hosts. Look at all your favourite bloggers and it’s almost certain they’re hosting with a smaller, more customer-focused hosting company. The reason is – the big hosting companies just aren’t that good. On the surface they offer all the frills for the cheapest price, but you get what you pay for, and with web hosting this is doubly true. If you’re being offered unlimited everything for pennies, it’s probably going to be crap. I found the big, cheap hosts to be slow, with sub-par support that took a long time to get a hold of. Nothing but headaches.
Having learned a few things, here’s what I now look for in a host:
- Support – The support needs to be exceptional. This is my number one criteria. When your site goes down (and it will go down), you want someone on the other end to fix in by the end of the hour, not the end of the day. Ideally you want to be able to get someone on live chat within 10 minutes or less, and they need to know what they’re doing!
- Speed – Most people look for high bandwidth and traffic allowances. Bluehost offered unlimited bandwidth which made me think, wow! However, I quickly learned unlimited bandwidth wasn’t necessary, because I’m not Buzzfeed and don’t have millions of visitors. What was more important was speed. I wanted my pages to load super fast for the few readers I did have.
- Uptime – Having your site go down is a nightmare. It literally ruins your entire day. I’ve experienced it more than I’d like to remember. There are certain hosts that have reputations for high downtime (Twitter is a good place to see who has hoards of angry customers) so I try to seek out hosts who are known for being reliable.
Who do I host with?
I host my site with Siteground and am extremely happy. The support is easily the fastest and most competent I’ve experienced (I’ve been with four different hosts), my uptime has been flawless and the loading speeds are good. It’s also priced competitively with the bigger hosts. I have no problem at all recommending them.
You’ll also get a free domain with their plans (this is pretty standard nowadays).
You can start a blog with Siteground for as little as $3.95 a month by clicking here, or if you’d like a full walk-through on getting started with Siteground you can click the expandable section below.
+ Getting started with Siteground (click to open)
Setting up hosting with Siteground is easy. If you click here you’ll get taken to their different hosting plans, which should look like this:
If its your first blog, you can just get their “Startup” plan, which is the cheapest – around $50 a year. You’ll get 10GB of storage space, a free domain name, one-click WordPress install, free daily backups and bandwidth suited for 10,000 visits per month. As a first time blogger there’s no way you’ll need anything more than that!
Choose your domain
If you’ve decided to proceed with the Startup plan you’ll get taken to the next step which is domain registration:
Simply enter the domain you want and check it’s available. If it is, your domain will be confirmed and you’ll get taken to the next screen.
Enter your details and extra services
Next you’ll be asked to fill in your personal details, such as name and address, and your payment details. You’ll also be asked if you’d like to order extra services:
None of these are necessary, but I do recommend getting the Domain Privacy. When you own a website, your name and email address becomes public information via the WHOIS directory. For a fee, Siteground keeps your details private and publishes the company information instead. It’s an extra level of privacy that’s nice to have if you don’t mind paying the extra $12.
Finally, click the Pay Now button to confirm everything.
That’s it! You’ve got a home on the web.
Step 3: Install WordPress
WordPress is the most widely used and widely supported blogging platform there is, and I highly recommend you use it. Most hosts have an install wizard for you, and even if they don’t you can install it yourself if you’re not a complete computer newbie.
If you’re hosting with Siteground you can set it up in a few clicks with their install wizard. If you need a walk-through I’ve put one together in the expandable section below.
+ Installing WordPress (click to open)
First, log in to your control panel with the details Siteground should have emailed to you. You should get shown this screen (if you’re with another host it might be different, but search for the WordPress icon in your control panel. If they have a wizard it will be there!):
Select the option “Get WordPress preinstalled on this account.” You’ll then get asked to enter some details for your WordPress backend, which will look like this:
Nothing fancy here. Just enter your email and choose a username and password. These will be the details you use every time you log in to work on your blog (write them down!) Following that you’ll get asked to select a WordPress theme:
I’d suggest not even choosing a theme here, because we’ll have the option of selecting a more suitable theme in a few more steps. Just hit submit and hold tight!
Step 4: Login to your WordPress site
Once you’ve gone through the steps, Siteground will present you with the URL to log in to your WordPress site. It will probably look something like www.yourblog.com/wp-admin (obviously you’ll replace yourblog.com with whatever your domain name is).
The login page should look something like this:
Step 5: Choose a theme
You need to decide what your blog is going to look like. To do this you are going to need to choose a “theme”. You have 3 options here:
In the left hand side of your screen you’ll see your WordPress menu. Go to Appearance > Themes.
There you’ll be able to search through a library of themes, and many of them will be free. Just try them out and see which one you like! You can also Google “free WordPress themes” and you’ll be spoiled for choice.
The downside to using free themes is they’re often lower quality than ones you pay for (obviously) and sometimes the developer of the theme will stop updating it, leaving you with an out-of-date theme which can lead to security and functionality issues. The alternative is to buy a “Premium” theme which will provide a slicker, more secure design.
My go-to place for themes is Studiopress – their themes usually cost around $60-$100, are robust and modern and have great reviews. I use their themes almost exclusively on my other projects, and purchased their lifetime access bundle a while back. For example, this personal site I made uses the Parallax Pro theme by Studiopress and took me about half a day to put together. I’ve also worked on themes from Theme Forest and Elegant Themes which weren’t bad, although I’ve never used them on my own sites.
There are hundreds of great theme developers out there, so feel free to shop around and find something you like. Don’t be afraid to email your favourite bloggers and ask them what theme they’re using if you’re curious. Once you finally buy a theme, the developer will give you all the instructions you need to install it onto your WordPress site. Don’t worry, it’s just a matter of one or two clicks.
If you want your theme fully customised to your desires, you’ll need a custom theme built (Bren on the Road uses a custom theme). This is only necessary if you want to self-design your theme and have it completely bespoke. Otherwise, it is possible to just buy a versatile premium theme and make the necessary edits.
To build a custom theme you’ll need to find a web developer. There are many established (and expensive) web developers out there, but I’m guessing most of you don’t have a huge budget to play with. The cheapest option is probably to find a freelancer on Elance (now Upwork). You can find many great developers in India and Eastern Europe and even the USA who will put together a fully custom theme for you for as little as $200 (although expect to pay much more for top notch work). Another option is to look on Fiverr. There are a lot of good developers on there and the Fiverr market is only getting better.
For something completely bespoke, you’ll need to provide these developers with your own designs. If you have some creative skills you can create your designs in Photoshop. Otherwise you’ll need to hire a designer. If this sounds overwhelming, just purchase a ready-made premium theme like I described earlier.
Step 6: Set up your pages
Your blog is going to have several different pages. By default your theme should already have a home page, but you’re also going to want to set up an About page and a Contact page (and any other page you can think of).
This is easy – just go to Pages > Add New:
Then, write your page content and click Publish.
After that you’ll need to add the page to your menu. To do this, go to Appearance > Menus. Select the menu you want to add it to from the dropdown box at the top. Then select your newly created page from the left hand side and click “Add to Menu”. Easy, right?
Step 7: Write your first post
You’ll now be ready to finally write your first post. Just go to Posts > Add new and start writing!
By now you might be feeling a little overwhelmed, but relax. Everything in WordPress is pretty easy to figure out and after a couple of weeks of messing around inside the dashboard you’ll know your way around. Don’t be afraid to click things, it won’t break!
Step 8: Create a logo/brand
If you want to stand out, you’re going to need some sort of brand or logo that people recognise you by. I noticed most bloggers have modest little logos (which I’ve since learned is a good idea), but I wanted mine to be big and loud. That’s why I created that big cartoon at the top, which now takes up way too much space and I’m too lazy to make another one.
The problem was, even though I knew exactly what I wanted in my head I had no idea how to create it on a computer. So, I went to Upwork and found someone to do it for me. I sketched my design the best I could on paper, took a photo of it, and then sent it to a cartoonist to actualise it for me.
Here’s what I sent him originally:
I’m no artist, but that doesn’t matter – all you need is an idea. He discussed a few more thoughts with me and after some sketches we turned it into this:
And finally this:
You don’t need to be a computer whiz or even a very good artist to make a logo for yourself. You just need an idea and someone will be able to bring it to life for you.
What’s it cost to get something like this done? You’d be looking at maybe $100-$200, depending on who you choose. If you’re on a tighter budget, Fiverr is a really good place to get a simpler logo done, and there are decent designers there who will put something together for as little as $5! If you have a bit more money to play with, give 99designs a go. They’re pricey, but they have a money back guarantee and a good crop of active designers.
Lastly, remember this fancy design part isn’t vital. There are a ton of blogs infinitely more successful than mine that just use simple text titles with no fancy artwork at all. Google’s logo is a good example – a six year old could’ve made it.
Step 9: Before you go live
By now you should have a web host, a domain name, some posts and pages, a cool WordPress theme and your own blog logo. However, you’re not ready to go live just yet. Here are a few things I’d recommend doing before you start sharing your site with everyone:
Write around 10 posts
It seems kind of dumb to take your blog live when you’ve only got one post. My goal was to have 10 posts already written so when people came to my blog for the first time they had a few articles to keep them around for a while. And as it turned out, when my blog first went live I got friends telling me they’d read all my posts and were waiting for more – something that would never have happened if I only had one or two posts up.
Set yourself up on social media
Set up pages on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest so that people who like your stuff can follow along and stay updated. In my first month pretty much all my traffic came from Facebook, and quite a few posts went viral from there too. You might also consider setting up accounts on Youtube, StumbleUpon and Instagram (many bloggers use their personal Instagram and Twitter accounts, however you definitely will need to start a separate page for Facebook).
Start an email list
I love using email to keep in touch with my readers, and have a newsletter and various courses that get sent to my subscribers. As a newbie blogger, I highly recommend using Mailchimp. They’re easy to use, have their own WordPress plugin and best of all, they’re free for up to 2,000 subscribers. Once you get to 2,000 subscribers your blog will likely be making money anyway so you can swap to something more advanced when that time comes (I moved to Convertkit just before I hit 2,000, which has been excellent). To start building your list, you’ll need to sign up to Mailchimp and then start adding subscribe boxes to your site. All the instructions are there when you sign up and it’s straightforward.
Install important plugins
To add functionality to your WordPress blog you will be using add-ons known as “plugins”. Plugins add cool functions to your blog, such as adding “Like” buttons to your posts and securing your site so spammers won’t mess with you. To install a plugin just go to your menu, then go to Plugins > Add New:
Then, search for the plugin you want in the search box and click “Install”. Once it’s finished installing, click “Activate”. After that it should be plugged in and working!
Here’s a few I’d recommend starting off with:
Wordfence Security – Monitors who logs in and out of your account and provides real-time security, anti-virus and firewall.
Akismet – Spam filter for comments (you will get a lot of spam comments).
BackWPUp – Allows you to schedule regular backups of your site in case shit happens.
Digg Digg or Cresta Social Share – Adds a floating social media bar to the side of all your posts to make it easy for people to share your work (you should see this to the left of this post right now if you’re on desktop).
Jetpack by WordPress.com – Provides a whole bunch of cool features like site stats, subscriber lists and comments sections (and heaps more).
iThemes Security – All-round security to keep your site safe.
W3 Total Cache – Improves your site load time.
WordPress SEO by Yoast – Helps optimise your blog’s content so it can be found easily by search engines.
Contact Form 7 – So your readers can get in touch with you!
Before I went live I shared my blog with a few close friends and asked them what they thought. It’s important you can ask people who aren’t afraid to be honest with you. If your blog looks shit, you want them to be able to say it looks shit without worrying about offending you, because when real visitors come to your blog and it looks shit they’ll leave and never come back.
Ask your friends to tell you what they don’t like about your site, rather than what they do like – that will be far more useful criticism to help you turn your blog into something people will enjoy reading. By this time you’ll probably have spent many hours staring at your site so don’t underestimate the value of a fresh pair of eyes. They will see things that you don’t.
Step 10: After you go live
Promoting your blog
The first thing with promotion is to make sure your content is actually worth promoting. Nobody shares stuff that’s mediocre, people only share stuff that’s awesome. This is often termed “Wow content”. Make sure all your stuff is Wow content before you start asking people to promote it.
For a small tugboat blog that’s just getting off the ground, social media is going to be one of your best friends. Places like Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon and Pinterest can be great traffic generators. Make sure you’re active on these platforms and are sharing your work as it’s published. Sharing your work on your personal accounts is good too – your friends will be some of your most loyal fans!
Guest posts are also great for exposure. For example, my guest post on Our Awesome Planet brought me several thousand page views. You can also host guest posts or interviews like my interview series on Solo Female Travel. Both are good ways to bring in new readers and make connections.
Another good strategy is to ask relevant Facebook pages (keyword here is relevant) if they’d be willing to share your work. For example, if you write something about New Zealand, reach out to different Facebook pages about New Zealand and ask if they’ll be willing to share your article. If your content is awesome you’ll get a few yeses!
Lastly, reach out to other people in your niche and get to know them. Get in touch with the bloggers who inspire you and give them props on their work. I have a few blogging role models – Migrationology, Legal Nomads and Wandering Earl to name a few, and they all know I think they’re awesome because I’ve reached out to them and told them. I also ask them for advice now and then, and even arranged meetups in person. I’m always connecting with new bloggers and it’s been beneficial in many ways. The blogging community is cool and friendly for the most part; I’ve gotten a lot of help and I always pay it forward too when newbie bloggers contact me often asking for advice.
Search Engine Optimisation is the practice of making your website rank highly in search engines so people can find you. It’s a large topic and impossible for me to explain here, plus to be honest I don’t really know much about it. If you’re interested in learning, two good (and free) beginner’s guides are The SEO Strategy You Can Build An Empire Around and The Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
Personally, I don’t do a lot of SEO (I use the Yoast plugin I mentioned above and that’s pretty much it). It’s a time-suck and a constantly changing environment which makes it hard to keep up with. For me, I focus my time on writing cool stories and sharing them. That’s what’s important to me.
Now, you’re probably wondering when the money starts flowing. Sorry to disappoint, but if you ask any travel blogger they’ll tell you the money is better flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Many bloggers will go at least 6-12 months, working hundreds of hours on their sites without even earning a dime. If it’s money you’re after, you’re better off spending your time elsewhere.
There are various ways to make money from your blog. These are the most common:
Advertising – Through either direct advertising or ad networks, you can place banners and text ads on your website and get paid either per click or a flat rate. Google Adsense is probably the most popular and easiest to get approved for.
Selling products and services – You can create your own products to sell, such as my ebook Triple Your Travel, or offer services such as freelance writing, consulting or design.
Affiliate marketing – You can promote other people’s products and earn a commission when you make a successful referral. This is a great option because you don’t need to develop a product but can still offer something of value. As an example, my Resources page contains several affiliate links. If someone makes a purchase through the links there I will earn a commission (at no extra cost to the buyer). It really is a win-win-win. If you would like to find affiliate products to promote, I would recommend using an affiliate network. Here are some I can recommend:
- Flex Offers – It is a bit of a process to get approved for this network, but they have very good merchants so it is worth the effort.
- Share A Sale – This is a smaller affiliate network and easier to get approved for, and it still has many good merchants. There is not much here for me to promote but depending on your blog you might find something that fits with your theme.
- Affiliate Window – Another good affiliate network with a good selection of merchants. There are one or two items for here that I’ve promoted regularly.
- Commission Junction – Quite a large network that has a large range of advertisers.
- Amazon – Amazon’s affiliate program is one of the largest on the web. Commissions are very low but since Amazon sells almost everything you will definitely find something that fits.
You’re also welcome to join the affiliate programme for my ebook Triple Your Travel.
Sponsored content/reviews – Companies will pay you to publish a post promoting their product/service, such as a hotel, an app or a gadget. I don’t do this, but many bloggers make an income this way.
Partnerships/ambassadorships – Longer term relationships where certain brands will pay you to endorse and promote their product/service. Common arrangements in the travel industry are tourism boards paying bloggers to promote a destination or experience or companies asking bloggers to use and endorse their products (such as cameras/apps/travel gear).
As a portfolio to land freelance work – Whether you’re into photography, video or writing, your blog is the ideal portfolio to showcase your work. I’ve landed various freelance writing gigs from my blog and always include my blog in my pitches.
There are many other ways to make money from your blog, but the above are what I’ve seen to be the most common. It starts with having an audience. This comes from writing a blog that you’re passionate about. Without a readership the money is unlikely to come, and if you’re in it for the money you’re probably going to be disappointed anyway. Do it because you love what you’re writing about and have a desire to share it with the world. The money will present itself eventually.
Bonus Step: Tools to help make your blog awesome
Here are a few tools and resources I actively use on this blog. Some you need to pay for and some are free, but all of them will help you create a faster, cooler, more successful blog.
Do note that you probably won’t need to worry about the tools listed below right away, and many of them won’t make sense to you right now. However, after a few weeks or months you’ll understand why they’ll be handy, so make sure you keep these on your “check out later” list.
Cloudflare – A free CDN service that speeds your website up considerably! No one likes waiting for websites to load, so if you want loyal readers, make sure your site is fast. If you’re hosting with Siteground, this tool will already be integrated and you can activate it with just a few clicks by following these instructions.
Uptime Robot – A free service that monitors your uptime. Every time my site goes down I get an email, and then another message when it goes back up. Very handy.
Smugmug – I use Smugmug to host all my photos. It means I can keep my photos at optimal quality, keep my bandwidth down, and have my entire photo collection organised in a easy to navigate portfolio. Flickr is a free service with the same functionality, but Smugmug is just simpler, faster and has better support, which I’m happy to pay for.
Thrive Leads – I use this plugin for creating all my subscriber sign up forms and it’s been super helpful in building my subscriber base. It’s not free but it’s easily the best email list plugin I’ve used so far.
Hootsuite – I use Hootsuite to help manage my social media accounts. It allows me to queue my updates so I don’t need to be online 24/7 fiddling with my different channels. Huge time saver and really easy to use.
Convertkit – I use Convertkit to manage my email list. It’s super easy to use and has a lot of powerful features. However if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend using Mailchimp which is also excellent and is free.
Sendowl – I use Sendowl for managing sales and distribution of my ebooks. It is excellent. You probably won’t need this until further on in your blogging career but it’s good to know about!
Dropbox – I use Dropbox to keep backups of my site and other blog related documents. Really awesome service. Sign up now while it’s still free!
So, for those of you who’ve been asking how I built this blog, that’s how!
I self-taught myself most of this stuff so you might find differing advice out there, but this is what has worked for me. As a blogger you’ll need to spend a lot of time experimenting with your site and finding what works for you. It’s all part of the fun.
If there’s anything I’ve missed or you have questions, leave a comment below and I’ll answer it the best I can. Otherwise best of luck, and hope to see you in the blogosphere soon!
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. All items recommended above are resources I use here on my own blog and are honest recommendations. No items are sponsored and I pay for all my resources in full. For further clarification you can read my Disclosure Policy here.