How to start a blog and create a website – for total beginners
If you’re reading this I can only assume you’ve taken the first step and decided to begin, so let's keep the progress rolling! the next thing is to get that blog up and running – but let me guess, you have no idea where to start? That’s where this post comes in! Below is an in-depth guide detailing everything that I learned about starting a blog and building a website when I was in the same position that you are in now. It's mind boggling isn't it! so many new terms, so much to do. It took me a very long time - I'm talking months upon months to work it all out, and I couldn't for the life of me find a helpful guide! they were all so technical and skimmed over the things I needed to know. I’ve tried my best to create an extensive guide whilst at the same time keeping it simple and easy to understand because I know how frustrating it is trying to decipher technical language when you’re a total beginner and have no idea. Like ‘I’m sorry but can anyone explain this to me in English?!’ so wether you're starting a travel, fashion, food or any other type of blog - I hope you find this helpful.
Step 1: Choose a blogging platform
What’s a blogging platform? It’s the software or service you use to publish your content onto the internet. Think of it like IOS for your iphone, IOS is the software that makes everything within your phone work right? your blogging platform is the software that makes everything within your blog work. Now you know what it is, which one should you choose? there are hundreds of blogging platform providers! but the big boss of them all is WordPress, which no doubt you’ve already heard of. Without further ado I’m going to suggest you choose WordPress. It’s the platform that I use and it’s brilliant, they’ve been in the business for years now so they know what they’re doing and it’s an easy platform to use. This isn’t to say that you can’t change platforms down the line, but it would be a massive hassle so it’s better to choose one and stick with it. WordPress is a safe option and even better, it’s free to use.
Step 2. Decide on your Blog name and niche
Assuming you’ve decided to go with WordPress (good choice) the next thing to do is start the sign up process, so head on over to the WordPress website and create an account. During this process you will need to choose your blog name – which is VERY important! because this will be the name of your website. Your brand. Of course you can change it down the line if you want to but it’s advisable not to, if you change your blog name too often people won’t take you seriously.
When brainstorming names be original! don’t copycat other blog names or you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you’re starting a travel blog I’d avoid anything with the words wanderlust, nomadic, nomad, abroad, blonde, adventurous, basically don’t mimic any words that are already associated with established bloggers. I spent weeks, maybe even up to month thinking of different blog names! I wanted to be absolutely sure of the one I chose. It’s also important that your name syncs with your niche ie, if your blog name is ‘travel lux’ but your niche is budget travel it’s not going to work is it? my blog name could work with anything really, so if you haven’t decided what your niche is yet then choose a name that’s versatile.
When deciding on your niche the answer should be pretty clear – what drives you? what are you passionate about? whatever the answer is, that’s your niche. Mine was travel. But you need to look beyond that! travel is an umbrella niche, under that umbrella is budget travel, luxury travel, eco travel, travel for couples, short weekend getaways etc. When I travel I look for the best value for money and I’m always seeking authentic cultural experiences, hence the niche for my blog is ‘authentic, affordable travel’. Have a think about it and once you’ve picked something that works for you, stick with it. You’ve got to be honest with yourself and your readers (they’ll see through you if you’re not) which is why it’s important to choose a niche you are truly passionate about. If you're all about the lux life your niche shouldn’t be budget travel! Having a niche is important and kind of crucial so be honest with yourself and make it as specific as you can - blogging about loads of different topics will make it hard for people to connect with you. Target a specific audience and they'll keep coming back knowing exactly what they're going to get.
Step 3. Choose a hosting company and purchase your domain
What does ‘hosting’ mean? Hosting or ‘web hosting’ is a service provided by a company that offers a physical location for the storage of your web pages and files. Think of a Web hosting company as a landlord, they own servers which they rent space on allowing webpages to be viewed on the internet. Without a hosting company your content will remain seen only by you! The company that I’m hosted by is ‘Ipage’ they’re a good company and I’ve never had any major problems with my website, any small issues have been resolved very quickly by their fantastic support team – I definitely recommend them. Blue host is another hosting company which is popular with WordPress users, I dont know much about Bluehost but it has rave reviews so if you choose it you won’t be disappointed. I only chose Ipage because it was cheaper. Web hosting does cost but don’t worry it’s totally affordable, I pay £1.50 per month for my hosting. The other option you have is to be hosted by WordPress, stay with me here! You can pay an outside hosting company to host your website like I do (which will include your own domain) OR you can pay to use WordPress.org which will include web hosting and your own domain. The only reason I didn’t choose this option is because of cost, Ipage was cheaper than being hosted by WordPress at the time. WordPress will be your blogging platform regardless of wether they are hosting you or not.
What is a domain? It’s the name of your site - your URL ie; my domain is ‘foreignaussie.com’ You can opt out of hosting entirely and use WordPress.com for free, but in that case WordPress will own your domain and it will look like this ‘foreignaussie.wordpress.com’ which isn’t very attractive nor professional! If you’re intention is to make money from your blog there’s no two ways about it, you need to pay for hosting and get your own domain name. The other thing to note is that your domain (once you’ve bought it) is yours and yours only so you won’t be able to use the same as somebody else. If the domain you want isn’t available you’ll have to come up with a new one.
In some cases the TDL ('top level domain' which is simply the last part of your URL ie .com .net .org .co.uk) ".com" might not be available but ".net" or another TDL will be. I’d suggest choosing a domain that allows you to use the TDL ".com" simply because it’s more widely recognized and to me, is more professional. FOR EXAMPLE; my domain could have been ‘foreignaussie.com, foreignaussie.net, foreignaussie.org, foreignaussie.co.uk’ (the list goes on) I chose ".com" for the reasons mentioned above, it’s more professional and widely recognized and I suggest you do the same. If ".com" is taken, think of a new name until you find one that you can use ".com" with. Once you’ve signed up with your hosting company and purchased your domain the next step is to begin setting up your website!
Step 4. Set up your website
This is the fun part! admittedly it can be very frustrating at times but just be patient and take it one step at a time. The first thing you need to do is choose a theme for your site. WordPress will give you one of their default themes to start with but there are hundreds of free themes you can choose from. What is the theme? It’s simply the layout of your site. Start with a free one while you learn the ropes and if you find it limiting down the line you can easily change it to a purchased one. To change your theme go to your dashboard and click on ‘appearance’ then ‘theme’ this will take you to the themes you have available. To download a new one click ‘add new’ choose a theme you like, download it and it will appear in your available themes. To customize your theme/website simply go to your ‘dashboard’ click on ‘appearance’ and then ‘customize’ this will open up the customizer. On the left of the screen you’ll see all the options you have. With a free theme these options can be limited but you’ll always be able to make basic changes like the colour and font. I suggest sticking with a plain, clean colour theme, only because in my opinion it's better to have a plain background with colourful images that pop.
Once you’ve got your colour, font, menu's and other basics sorted you need to start adding features like a ‘search’ button, ‘social media buttons’, a ‘subscribe box' etc to your site. To get any feature working on your website you will need to download a plugin, activate the widget, and drag and drop it into your site's theme. WHOA. Hold up girlfriend.
What is a widget? To keep it simple, your site is built of many different widgets – if your website is a house, the widgets are the bricks. To manage them simply go to ‘widgets’ in your dashboard. Your theme probably came with some basic widgets but you’ll need to download others. To download widgets go to your dashboard, click ‘plugins’ and then ‘add new’ (if you pay for a theme it will come with a whole bunch of plugins/widgets so you shouldn't need to download many in that case).
What is a plugin? A plugin is a software component that allows a specific feature to be added to an existing theme. It's basically the workings behind the widget, think of the widget as a car and the plugin as the engine. You can't see the engine but you need it for the car to work. For any new feature you want added to your site you need to download a plugin for it and the widget that comes with it is what gets inserted into your site and makes the feature appear. FOR EXAMPLE; Say you want to add a beautiful link to your instagram feed on your site. You would go to your dashboard, click 'plugins' then ‘add new’ then search for ‘instagram plugin’. When you find it, download it and then go back to your dashboard. Click on ‘widgets’ and it should appear there. Now click ‘activate’. Next open up your customizer (go back to your dashboard, click appearance and then customize) when the customizer opens click on ‘widgets’ in the options on the left. The Instagram widget should be there. You can then drag and drop it where ever you want it to appear on your site (usually in the side panel) repeat this process for any feature you want to add to your site. This part is technical and quite frankly will make you want to rip your hair out! it truly is one of those things you learn best with practice. A good & easy to understand guide certainly helps though! I hope I’ve provided that for you.
I’m going to leave it at that for now, I’ve covered the basics and I don't want to confuse you by adding more info! I'll be writing an extension on this which will provide a detailed description of how to install the most common plugins/widgets. In the meantime comment below if there’s a specific feature you want added to your site and I’ll talk you through installing it!
Step 5. Content
So, you’ve got your basic website set up, feels amazing right? you’ve got a website! woo hooo!!! if I were you I’d be taking a well deserved break at this point. When you’re done celebrating, the next thing to do is fill it with beautiful content. To write and publish posts you should download the Wordpres app on your laptop. This is easy to do, just visit www.wordpress.com and download the desktop application. You can also access your posts through your dashboard but I prefer to use the app, it’s quicker and more simple. Once you’ve downloaded the app and signed in, hit ‘write’ in the top right hand corner and type your little heart out! When you're done simply hit 'publish' and voila, your first post will appear on your website. I'll be talking about featuring ads in posts and on your website in part 3 of this series so stay tuned!
I have five pieces of advice when it comes to creating content;
1) Grammer is key. If you’re spelling words wrong and using grammer incorrectly you will lose people’s respect and in turn, their interest.
2) Write with honesty. Don’t try to be something you’re not, write what you feel not what you think other people will approve of. If you want to use a swear word then bloody well do it! be yourself.
3) Whatever your style is, do it well. If you’re a story teller make sure it’s a story worth reading. No-one cares about that time you got drunk in Ibiza... BUT if it's that time you ended up sleeping unexpectedly in a random Albanian family's home THAT is something people will want to read! If your blog is informative make sure it’s relevant and useful information, don't say the obvious stuff that most people already know - give tips that people will truly thank you for.
4) Images are important. Include at least 3 beautiful images in each post, words without pictures are boring! your readers will be much more interested in your content if they can engage with the words through images - unless of course you're blogging about computing or accounting or something else along those lines, in which case images aren't essential!
5) Watch your word count. I’d suggest aiming for around 1000 words but this obviously alters depending what you’re writing about. If it’s a short post ie ‘top 5 bars in London’ then you’d expect to write about 500 words. From the title the reader is expecting a quick read so they’ll lose interest if it’s too long. If it’s a full guide for a certain place or a story ie ‘your in depth quide for Barcelona’ or ‘my near death experience in the Amazon Jungle’ 1000 – 2000 words would be fine, after reading the title the reader is prepared and happy to read a longer post.
Right guys, I think I’ve just about covered everything! all the basics anyway. With this guide I’m confident you will be able to get your blog and website started. As I mentioned above I’ll be following this up with a post that focuses solely on widgets and plug ins, it will list the most popular features and how to get them working on your site. Until then, part two of the series 'Increase your social media following with these 5 simple methods' will be live on the blog in a couple of weeks so keep your eyes peeled. It will cover everything you need to know about gaining a strong and organic social media following, including the little tricks I have learned that actually work! (mainly for Instagram)
Over and out! x