If you’re looking to start your own blog or website, one of the first things you’ll have to decide is how you’re going to start it. Back in the olden times, websites had to be built from the ground up using HTML. These days, you don’t really need to know any HTML to start your own site (though, it helps a lot). You can go with any number of content management systems or website builders, some of which are free and most of which have free options. These include things you’ve probably heard of like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress. My personal favorite is WordPress and that’s exactly what I’m going to explain to you below. There’s a learning curve, like there is with anything, but once you learn the ropes, WordPress is easy to navigate, set up, and manage. You can run a site without deep knowledge of WordPress, but you can (and will!) learn more along the way and expand your skills.
Whether you’re just thinking about it or whether you’re ready to get started, read on for what you need to know about starting a WordPress blog.
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What’s the Difference Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
One of the first things you might run into is that it appears there are two WordPress platforms: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. The quick and dirty answer to what the difference between these is that WordPress.org is the full version of WordPress and what most bloggers and WordPress-based websites use. WordPress.com was founded by the same man who founded .org, but offers a more limited deal. However, if what you want is something free, where you don’t have to worry about hosting, where you can’t really monetize, and is all-around more basic, WordPress.com is an option. If you want lots of options and lots of room to grow, then go with WordPress.org.
What I’ll be talking about below is WordPress.org.
Picking a Blog or Website Name
All blogs need a name, but choosing the perfect name can be a little tougher than it seems. You might even already think you have it, but give it some extra thought. You want your name to be unique and stand out in your niche, you want it to have an obvious connection to your niche, and you want it to be something fairly short and sweet (1-4 words works well) so that it will work well as your domain name as well.
You’ll want to check to see if another website is already using the name you want to use before you get too attached. You can do this on the websites of most website hosts, such as on HostGator’s domain search. If someone already has the name, it’s probably best not to go with the same name with .net or .website or something similar. You want a name that people will associate with YOU, not one you will always be battling over with someone who had the name first. It’s also a good step to check social media handles related to your name as well. Sometimes even if the domain is available, the social media handles are not and that may influence your decision.
Other name considerations include whether or not the name will stand the test of time, so you might want to avoid locations in the name if you’re likely to move next year, for instance.
Choosing Your Niche
If you are blogging simply for the joy of blogging, then follow your heart. If you are aiming to start up a travel blog, food blog, or another topic, it will help you stand out if you figure out your niche. For instance, here at Travel with Monsters, we’re all about family travel. You might be tempted to focus on everything you love, but readers often connect best if they know what to expect from you.
Buying Your Domain Name and a Host Plan
A domain name is the name of your website (for example, www.travelwithmonsters.com), and a host is a company that gives you space on one of their servers for you to keep your website. You want to go with a well-rated company as if your servers go down, so does your website, and that’s no good! Usually hosting companies also allow you to purchase your domain through them as you’re getting started. We love HostGator, which has stellar customer service and great deals to boot, especially if you’re just starting up! Other options include Go Daddy and Blue Host.
When you purchase your domain name and hosting package, you’ll have some decisions to make. Domain names and hosting both are generally renewed annually and you can get better deals if you buy multiple years at a time, however, if this is your first website, you may want to purchase just one year to start. You’ll also have a few tiers of hosting to choose from. If you only plan to have one domain name, chances are you can at least start out with one of the more basic plans.
Installing WordPress is one of the steps that might sound intimidating, but it’s actually very simple and just involves a few clicks from you. The steps are all performed inside your hosting account. Here are verbal instructions as well as step-by-step images below to help you with this part.
The steps with HostGator are:
- Login to your Hostgator cPanel (you should get an email with information to help you do this the first time).
- A page will come up with all kinds of options. Scroll down to the section titled Software. Then click Quick Install.
- Then click WordPress. If you don’t see WordPress on the screen that comes up, click on One Click Installs on the left side of your screen and look for WordPress from there.
- Select your new domain name from the dropdown list and then click next.
- From there, follow the prompts and the installation will be complete.
- At the end of the process, you’ll be given login info for your WordPress admin. Copy those down before you click Login.
Choosing a Theme
Once you’ve got WordPress installed, all your next steps revolve around getting your website up and running, which you’ll do with your WordPress admin rather than through HostGator. Before you launch the site, you’ll be able to set things up in WordPress and preview them, all without the pressure of anything being live. Your very first step should be choosing a theme.
A theme is what gives your website its look and there’s a huge range of what you can choose or design with themes. If you’ve got the skills, you can even design your own theme. Most likely, you’ll be installing a theme or purchasing one. There are tons of free themes out there. Look for a theme that has a look that appeals to you, but also one that has solid reviews and customer service in case you need a little help.
You can search around online for themes, but you can also search from right within WordPress.
To do this, go to:
- Add Themes
Once you select a theme, get to know it. There will be all kinds of options for what you can do under Appearance once you get a theme installed.
As you continue setting up your site, you will likely want to install some plugins. There are tons and tons of plugins to choose from, but choose wisely. Some of my favorites include:
- Yoast SEO: A great plugin that will help you learn to optimize your blog posts.
- Askimet: Helps you filter out spam on comments.
- Jetpack: Has a little bit of everything, from security to site speed options to site statistics.
- Smush: If you are going to have an image-heavy site, Smush can help you keep your image sizes down so site speed doesn’t become an issue.
Setting Up Your Social Media Presence
If you haven’t already, set up your social media accounts even if you don’t plan to use them right away. It’s a beautiful thing when your social accounts have a similar name to your domain name, but it’s not impossible for someone else to have a similar idea and swoop in and snatch up the handle of your dreams. So get the accounts you plan to use set up early in the process.
For most blogs, especially visual kinds of blogs like travel and food-related topics, your best social media bets are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. It’s a lot to manage, but scheduling tools can help you think ahead and plan out your posts. Facebook has a built-in scheduler, or you can use something like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule across multiple accounts from one spot.
Writing Posts and Creating Content
After you’ve got your site set up, you’ll need to start creating some content. Whether you write in WordPress (just make sure you save!) or elsewhere, you’ll need to format your posts in WordPress as well as add your images. Don’t forget to set up some categories as part of your site’s organization.
Have fun and don’t give up! It takes a while to get most blogs going so just take everything one step at a time.
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