Are you interested in starting your own blog? Awesome! You’re in the right place. In this guide, I’ll walk you through setting up a new blog from start to finish. I know you can do it, because I’ve built this blog from the ground up. I started this blog in 2010 and it’s been my full-time job since 2014.
When I started this blog, I was working in online marketing. My job was to teach small businesses how to build and market their websites, so this is my field of expertise.
Why start a blog?
Blogs can be the perfect medium for sharing your thoughts online. If you create great content and promote your blog, you can build an online community around your shared interests. Some people earn a side salary or even generate a full-time income from their blogs (have I mentioned that I love my job?).
Or, you can keep it small—I created my first blog when I moved to France for a few months, so I could share my photos and stories with my family at home.
Perhaps you want to share:
- Stories and photos
- Knowledge and opinions
- Recipes (here’s my guide to starting a food blog)
- Travel experiences
- Tutorials or DIY projects
- Fashion or lifestyle
- Favorite products
If you sell a product or service, blogs can be great marketing tools. You can start a blog for professional purposes, such as sharing:
- Your resumé and portfolio
- News and updates
- Behind-the-scenes details about your business
- Content related to your products or services
Your blog can be about whatever you want it to be. That’s the beauty of blogging! Whether your blog concept fits into one of the categories listed above or you have an entirely different idea, this guide will help you get started.
Free vs. paid blogging options
Should you start with a free blog, or pay for premium options? If you want to share your travels with family or school projects with fellow students, a free service might be fine. The most popular free blogging platforms are WordPress.com, Blogger and Tumblr.
Pros and cons of free blogging platforms:
- Pro: They’re free.
- Pro: They’re pretty easy to set up.
- Con: Your blog’s web address will be long and hard to remember (http://myblogname.wordpress.com), unless you pay for a domain name or premium option.
- Con: If you want features that aren’t offered by your blogging platform, you’re out of luck.
- Con: You’re limited to the blog designs (themes) offered by the platform, unless you’re good at coding.
- Con: The platform might place ads on your site, whether you want them or not, and they’ll keep the ad revenue to themselves.
- Con: The platform could disappear entirely or delete your content with little-to-no warning.
Paid platforms offer a lot more. If you want to make money from your blog, I definitely recommend investing in a paid platform. If you’re interested in creating a popular destination that attracts steady traffic from search engines, one that looks professional for your business, and/or one that scales with you as your blog grows, a paid platform is your best bet.
Pros and cons of paid blogging platforms:
- Pro: They’re inexpensive. Plans cost as little as $2.95 per month.
- Pro: They’re surprisingly easy to set up, if you follow a great step-by-step guide. You’re in the right place!
- Pro: Your blog will have a domain name of your choosing (http://myblogname.com).
- Pro: Your blog can grow with you. If your traffic grows like crazy, you can upgrade to a better hosting plan. If you need fancy features, you can find a plugin or pay a developer to make them for you.
- Pro: You’ll have a ton of blog designs (themes) to choose from. You’ll find great free themes, or you can pay for a premium theme, or hire a designer to make you a custom theme.
- Pro: You decide if you want ads on your site or not. If you decide to place ads on your site, the money’s all yours.
- Pro: You’re in charge of your website and your content.
- Con: You have to pay for the platform, but like I said in the first bullet point, it’s inexpensive.
The bottom line
If you want to make a totally awesome blog that people want to visit, I recommend paying for a premium blogging platform. By that, I mean that you should set up a self-hosted WordPress blog. Say what?!
Self-hosted means that you’re in charge of hosting your own blog (that’s the part that you pay for), instead of letting one of the free providers host it for you. Self-hosted WordPress blog means that you’re hosting your own blog and running WordPress software on it. The terms are a little confusing here, because WordPress software isn’t the same as the free WordPress.com blogging platform.
WordPress software is the industry standard for blogging, and it’s free to use. I use it to run this blog, along with 60 million others, according to WordPress. WordPress software is constantly updated for improved features and security. It’s the best!
Simple steps to start your own blog
Here are the basic steps to build a self-hosted WordPress blog today. We’ll complete steps one through four in as little as 30 minutes, then we’ll get to the fun customization stuff! By the time we’re done, your blog will have its own custom domain name and its own distinct look.
1) Name your blog and buy a matching domain name.
Domain names are short, memorable and typically end in .com (yourblogname.com).
Cost: free with Bluehost or around $15 per year elsewhere.
2) Find a good web host.
A web host stores your website and makes it accessible on the internet. Your website “lives” on your web host’s servers.
Cost: $2.95 per month and up.
3) Install WordPress.
As I’ve explained, WordPress is top-of-the-line, industry standard blogging software.
4) Install a WordPress theme.
Your WordPress theme will determine the look, feel and functionality of your blog.
Cost: Free to $129.
5) Install WordPress plugins.
WordPress plugins extend the functionality of WordPress in certain areas. For example, one of my recommended WordPress plugins displays related posts at the bottom of each post.
Cost: Generally free!
6) Install Google tools.
Google offers helpful tools and services like Google Analytics, which will tell you how many people are visiting your blog.
7) Start blogging!
Now you can start publishing awesome content on your new blog.
Cost: Hard work!
Step 1: Name your blog and buy a matching domain name.
I’m hoping you already have the perfect name for your blog picked out! It took me a while to land on mine.
Not sure what to call your new blog?
Try listing some words that describe your future content or your interests, your lifestyle, your background, etc. Then look at those words and list out some adjectives for each one. Do any of those words go well together?
You can also try writing a short mission statement and see if the name comes to you. It might help to throw names around with a friend, and think through the names of your favorite blogs. There are still lots of great blog names that haven’t been dreamed up yet, I promise. Try to come up with a few names that you like, since they might not all be available.
An ideal blog name is:
- Easy to spell
- Unique and available as a domain name that ends in .com (don’t use hyphens to make it work!)
Once you have some ideas that you like, you’ll need to make sure no one else has already claimed them.
Here’s a helpful domain name checking tool from Bluehost. Enter your desired domain name, hit “check availability” and it’ll tell you if your domain name is available. You’d better buy it now, before someone else comes up with your idea.
Step 2: Find a good web host.
You’ll want to start with an affordable shared hosting plan that offers one-click WordPress installation (that’s a mouthful). Once you pick a host and install WordPress, you won’t have to mess with hosting again for a long time.
The best web host for new blogs:
BlueHost is affordable, reliable, easy to set up, and they offer 24/7 customer support. Bluehost’s “starter” plan is about as inexpensive as hosting gets, and it has everything you need to get started. Click here to get started with BlueHost for as low as $2.95 per month and get a free domain name.
With Bluehost, like all the other inexpensive hosts, you’ll pay for your plan upfront. Don’t worry, though. If you aren’t happy with Bluehost, want to go to a different host later, or just want to throw in the towel on blogging, Bluehost will refund the months that you don’t end up using their service. (Excluding the domain name fee, which you’d pay for elsewhere anyway.)
Good news: Bluehost loves Cookie and Kate readers. Purchase your hosting through any of my links to Bluehost and you’ll get the best deal available. No promo code required.
Here’s how to get the most from your Bluehost plan:
First, choose your plan. I recommend the starter plan.
Then you’ll fill out some basic information to create an account.
Then, choose your term. In order to get your free domain name for a year (a $15 savings) and a significant discount on your monthly rate, you’ll need to pay for at least one year of hosting upfront. Feel free to choose a longer term if you’re serious about blogging and want to save more money, but one year is a great start.
Lastly, choose your add-ons. The only add-on I recommend right now is “Domain Privacy Protection,” which will keep your personal address private. Otherwise, your address will be available to marketers and the public at large (be safe).
Then enter your payment information. You’ve done this before. :) Check the box that you agree to their terms of service and hit the big green submit button.
High five! Click the “create your password” button.
Enter a password of your own choosing. Write it down somewhere safe so you won’t forget it. Once you hit submit, you’ll see this screen. Click the “login” button.
By default, “hosting login” (circled in blue) should be selected. That’s what we want. Enter your user name and password and click submit.
Step 3: Install WordPress.
Easy! Since you purchased a shared hosting account, Bluehost will install WordPress automatically. (For any other hosting plan, you can find the option to install WordPress with one click in your customer control panel.)
Welcome to your new blog! Before you go wild, let’s fix one little thing (you’ll thank me later).
Look in the sidebar for “Settings.” Hover over “Settings” and click on “Permalink Settings.”
Change your permalink structure to “Post name.” Then click “Save Changes.”
Now go ahead, click around and explore your new blog. If you click on the name of your new blog in the top left corner (next to the little home icon), you can see how your blog looks so far.
Step 4: Install a WordPress theme.
Now we’re getting to the fun part. Your new blog is already using the default WordPress theme. Your theme determines the look and feel of your site, so you can choose a different one if you’re not happy with the default.
You can start with a different free theme, if you’d like. I bought my premium WordPress theme from a reputable provider (details below), and I’ve never regretted it.
What to look for in a WordPress theme
- User friendly: Find one that offers built-in design options so it’s easy to change basic stuff like your logo, color scheme, etc.
- Backed by great support: When you experience technical issues, a responsive support team and/or community forums can be so helpful.
- Well designed: Your theme should suit your style and offer the features you want. The theme should also be coded by someone who knows what they’re doing.
- Responsive. Responsive designs automatically resize themselves so they’re easy to browse on computers, phones and tablets. That means your visitors won’t have to pinch and zoom to read your posts.
- Optimized for search results: This goes along with the last couple of points, because a well-designed site will naturally rank higher in search results than a site that is full of coding errors. (Want to know if your potential theme has coding errors? Run the demo theme URL through the W3C’s markup validation service. You don’t have to understand what all the errors mean. Fewer errors are better than more errors.)
Recommended premium WordPress themes
I originally built this blog on a basic, free WordPress theme and customized it myself. In February 2014, I launched a redesigned website that is responsive and my site has grown significantly since then, thanks in part to the theme.
My blog uses the Genesis framework via Studiopress. Studiopress offers the most functional and attractive themes available, if you ask me. That’s why I use their themes. All of their themes are responsive, which is critical, and their community forums are helpful, too. Get Studiopress themes through Genesis Pro for a yearly fee, or get them included with a WP Engine or Flywheel hosting plan (this website is hosted by Flywheel).
How to install a WordPress theme
Look in the sidebar for “Appearance.” Hover over “Appearance” and click on “Themes.”
Here, you can see a few theme options that WordPress has already installed on your blog. They’re free to use.
You can browse more free themes by clicking on “WordPress.Org Themes.”
Or, if you have downloaded a theme elsewhere, you can click the “Upload” option.
If you’re browsing free WordPress themes and see one you’d like to install, hover over it and click “Install.”
If you’re uploading a theme instead, click “Upload Theme.” Then you’ll see an option to “Choose File.” Click that, and find the file on your computer. Then click “Install Now.”
Finally, go back to your “Themes” setting and click “Activate” for the new theme.
Step 5: Install WordPress plugins.
Each of these plugins provide valuable features that might not automatically come with your theme. You can deal with most of these later. I recommend installing Yoast SEO (listed last) right away, however, because it will make the next step easier.
Recommended WordPress plugins:
- Akismet: Filters out spam comments without requiring CAPTCHA. Nobody likes CAPTCHAs.
- jQuery Pin It Button For Images: If your blog is image-heavy and you’re hoping to gain traffic from Pinterest, try this plugin. It makes it really easy for your visitors to pin your pictures by adding a “Pin It” button as a hover effect. It’s super simple to set up!
- Social bookmarking plugin: Since my sharing buttons are custom-built, I don’t keep up with the latest options. Just be sure to use a plugin like it so your posts are easy to share. Genesis Simple Share is a good-looking social plugin that works with Studiopress themes.
- Yoast SEO: SEO is complicated and this plug-in will help you make sure you have covered your bases. You’ll need to take the time to go through all the steps and set it up properly. Be sure to use it to set up Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. It will be worth the effort!
How to install a WordPress plugin
Look in the sidebar for “Plugins.” Hover over “Plugins” and click on the “Add New” option.
Now you have a couple of options. You can use the “Search Plugins” field and search for one of the plugins by name. When you find it, click “Install Now.”
Or, you can upload a plugin that you downloaded elsewhere by clicking “Upload Plugin.”
Finally, click “Activate,” which will appear in the same place as “Install Now.” Then, you might have to configure some settings (consult the plugin’s instructions if you’re not sure).
Step 6: Set up Google tools.
You can use an existing Google/Gmail account, or create a new account for your blog, if you’d rather. I prefer to keep my personal and blog email accounts separate, so I created a new account for my blog. You can create a new Gmail account here (it’s free).
Once you have a Google account, log in and set up the following:
- Google Analytics: Helps you track blog traffic. (Note: install the tracking code in your Yoast SEO plugin settings.)
- Google Search Console: Makes sure your website is up and running. (Note: install the tracking code in your Yoast SEO plugin settings.)
Step 7: Start blogging!
Now you’re ready to start publishing posts.
To create a new post, look in the sidebar for “Posts.” Hover over “Posts” and click on the “Add New” option.
Here’s where you can start typing. The formatting options here remind me of Microsoft Word, so hopefully they look familiar to you, too.
If you want to upload a photo, click “Add Media.” When you’re ready to publish the post, click “Publish.”
How to use WordPress
- Essential WordPress Training on Lynda (take advantage of their free trial period!)
How to create awesome content
- Ira Glass on Storytelling
- Blog Q&A: Should I launch with content?
- Creative inspiration vs. imitation
How to get visitors to your blog
- 10 Ways to Market Your New Blog by The Everygirl
- 33 Ways to Market Your Blog by Amy Andrews
- 21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic by SEO Moz
- 21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Set Your Blog Up for Massive Success by Fizzle
- How to Develop a Social Media Strategy for Your Business
How to get traffic from Google and other search engines
How to make money from your blog, and other business resources
- How to Build a Blog Business Plan by Melyssa Griffin
- How to Make Money Blogging by Amy Andrews
- The Comparison Trap: How to Enjoy (and Not Envy) the Success of Others
- Just Starting by Emily Henderson
- 7 Things You Need to Stop Doing to Be More Productive
- Disclosure Guidelines for Bloggers from the FTC
My favorite ongoing resources
- Blogging Tips from A Beautiful Mess
- Food Blogger Pro Podcast
- Life & Business on Design*Sponge
- Marie Forleo
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- Wired Magazine
More resources for bloggers on Cookie and Kate
- My Top 20 Tips for Food Blogging (relevant to all blogs!)
- Food Photography Tips
- How to Start a Food Blog (geared specifically toward food blogs)
Questions? Please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them.