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Are you ready to share your personal story to the world? Good! Let’s talk about how to start a blog. First off, you should know that I really enjoy writing. Over time, blogging has grown my confidence and improved the quality of what I type.
I think you’d agree as a reader, that blogs offer a wealth of useful information in an entertaining, “bite-sized” medium. So why the heck not fire up your very own slice of Internet???
You never know what talent lurks within you, and the gobs and gobs of cash you’ll make by writing about things you never thought others would care about. A-hem…
I found the process of starting my own blog to be pretty straightforward. Assuming you’re a savvy computer type, you can be rocking your new blog within an hour. All you have to do is head over to SiteGround and follow the prompts:
Some things to consider:
- Think about a good domain name, like “www.abandonedcubicle.com.” Genius! Just don’t go for a name that’s too long, or people will forget what your site is when they’re telling their friends all about it at happy hour. I have to give my buddy Josh a little sh*t here. He started out with “MoneyLifeandtheWholeBallofWax.com.” Don’t do that. Josh quickly caught on and relabeled his site “MoneyLifeWax.com.” Much improved.
- Have a clear plan for what your blog will actually be about. There are so many communities out there carving out niches in a super diverse and topic-rich web. My niche is early retirement and personal finance follies. Others enjoy writing about traveling all over the world. If you’re into Pinterest, maybe recipes, food, and crafts are your passion? The main thing is to keep your theme fairly consistent, so your readers aren’t left guessing what the hell your focus is. This is just a tip if you care to build a readership, otherwise, you can certainly treat your blog like a personal diary; albeit a pricey one.
- Be ready to WRITE. Blogs are like pets. They need care and feeding. And even when you’re away on vacation, you might just have to take the blog with you to keep your readers well-fed. Writing can be difficult at times, especially when it seems that every topic has been covered ad nauseam. Remember though: This isn’t about sharing your personal discoveries on the wisdom of Index Funds. Your focus should be on sharing your personal experiences, opinions, and straight up storytelling. Leave the stale repeats for Yahoo! Finance.
- Recognize that it takes time to build your readership. It can take up to two years or more of consistent effort before your page hits really start to take off. You might be just that good of a writer with an incredible story that gets everyone’s attention, but everyone’s timeline for building an audience is different. Be okay with that, and keep your expectations within reason, so you don’t get disappointed early on.
Ready to start your blog? Select the Start Up plan – It’s all you need (for now):
You’ll then be asked to enter your domain name of choice. I entered “MrBrokeRetiree.com” (not shown here) and much to my surprise, the domain is available. Finders keepers!
The rest of the process is pretty straightforward. You basically enter your payment information and create a password. Avoid adding any extras at this point. You don’t need them now and you can always add later. I now use the “Grow Big” plan, but all you need for the first 12-24 months is the lowest-cost “Start Up” plan.
How to Start a Blog: more fun stuff!
Now that you’ve got your hosting ducks in a row, it’s time to install your blogging platform on top of it: WordPress. Go to the “My Accounts” tab, and click on “Go to cPanel.” cPanel is where you’ll manage any changes to the hosting side of your blog.
Once in the cPanel, select the WordPress installer, (circled in highlight):
Next, you’ll need to enter your preferred protocol and domain. Because SiteGround offers free SSL certificates (for secure HTTPS browsing), be sure to select “HTTPS.” Another key – be sure to select the “www.” precursor. It’s simply a classier way to go…
Stay with me! We’re almost to the really, truly fun stuff!
Your next step will be to select a free theme to get started with. I highly recommend you start with a free theme until you get yourself established. Many of the top bloggers out there continue to do just fine with a free theme, relying on the power of their words to draw in readers.
As for me? I’m using the Genesis Framework which runs about $59. It’s lightweight and very flexible with a number of free “child themes” you can pick from.
BOOYAHH! And that, folks, is all there is to it! Okay okay… There’s a LOT more to it than that. I’ll share some bits of wisdom next, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls I stumbled into out of the gates (and later on, and then later on after that….)
Starting a Blog with WordPress
There’s all sorts of things you can do to customize your blog and optimize with countless plug-ins. I’ll only walk through the basics as it’ll be all you need for now. The first thing you’ll want to do is launch your new blog. The screenshot below is pretty self-explanatory:
Once you’ve launched, you can start hammering out blog posts like a mofo, and changing the world with your velvety prose and compelling arguments. Or, you can be like me and spend hours fiddling with fonts, colors, and menu arrangements. I suggest the former, as a recovering tweakaholic.
WordPress 101: Get familiar with the interface, and use Google and YouTube to learn as you go.
I mentioned Plugins and I figure it fair to show you what I have installed. I recommend you try to limit the number of plugins you install, as they degrade the speed of your blog as you install more and more of them. As of 7/14/19, these are my “go-to’s”:
UPDATE 5/24/18: With GDPR privacy compliance upon us, I’ve also installed a GDPR plug in, and created a Privacy page that’s accessible via my main menu bar. WordPress offers a template to build the page from, which was super helpful and made the chore maybe a 5-10 minute affair. I highly recommend Do You Even Blog’s excellent and comprehensive overview of GDPR.
Since I’m now using the “Grow Big” plan from SiteGround, daily backups are included so I don’t need a plugin. If you’re just starting out, go with the plugin Updraft Plus and connect it to a free Dropbox account. This worked great for my purposes before I upgraded to SiteGround’s Grow Big plan after my first year of blogging.
For image compression, I prefer Imagify. This plugin keeps my images from bloating the load time of the blog, which negatively affects SEO (search engine optimization). Imagify offers a one-shot deal where you can optimize a full gig of images for like $10. I’ve been blogging for a year and a half and still have about 20% left before I have to plop down another whopping $10.
Autoptimize and WP-Optimize* are like mouthwash for your hosting database. Keeps things clean and fresh. I choose to enable WP-Optimize and run it every week or so. No need to keep a plugin running all the time if you only need it in spots. The same is true of Broken Link Checker.
(*Since I started using Swift Performance Lite in July 2019, I’ve switched to using its built-in database optimizer. I then removed WP-Optimize. No sense keeping redundant plugins – another factor that’ll slow your blog’s load time!)
When you really want to get advanced, check out Cloudflare. This is a free CDN (Content Delivery Network) service with SiteGround (Bluehost wants you to pay for it – blech!) Straight from the Cloudflare site:
Cloudflare protects and accelerates any website online. Once your website is a part of the Cloudflare community, its web traffic is routed through our intelligent global network. We automatically optimize the delivery of your web pages so your visitors get the fastest page load times and best performance.
SEO: Search Engine Optimization
Soon after setting up your site and getting a few posts under your belt, you’ll want to learn the art and science of SEO: Search Engine Optimization. There is a TON you can learn to tweak and configure your blog to maximize your search position in Google (and other) search queries.
The best strategy? Produce quality content! But to cover all the bases, focus as well on providing a fast website, and establish domain authority. The latter of those is achieved by producing excellent content, and ALSO ensuring that content gets linked-to by credible and authoritative sites. This can take time to muster organically, or, you can work to pitch your content and brand within your niche blogging / news community.
I’ve not had much success with HARO (help a reporter out), but that’s for two reasons: One, I haven’t submitted more than a half dozen pitches. And competition is FIERCE. Second, journalists find real people more credible. I am Cubert – an anonymous blogger. And that’s well, kinda shady!
Finally, I’d highly recommend bookmarking THIS page: 67 BEST SEO TIPS FOR BLOGGERS. I learned an incredible amount of useful info from this post alone in my SEO exploration. If you can solve the SEO riddle, then you clearly know how to start a blog and keep it going STRONG.
Cubert’s Advice on Blogging
Having done this blogging thing for a whopping 14 months now, I’ve made my share of mistakes, but also found some unexpected success along the way. Blogging has proven to be a wonderful outlet.
I enjoy writing and I also enjoy being a smarta$$. Combining the two has seemed to work well enough to keep me at this little hobby.
There was a three-month spell earlier this spring when the blog went dormant. It’s easy to let that happen and I’ll share some advice to help you avoid the trap.
How to start a blog and keep it going – My top 11 tips:
Join the community
In the personal finance space, I highly recommend checking out the forums at RockstarFinance.com and MrMoneyMustache.com. Make your presence known with an introduction. We’re a friendly bunch, and you may even discover other bloggers where you live. This creates options for meet-ups and happy hours where you can share ideas to make your blog that much better (and make friends in the process!) Get a Twitter account and connect with other bloggers, but don’t let it consume you. It can become a huge, time-wasting distraction.
Comment on other blogs (but don’t let it consume you!)
One of the best ways to generate traffic and interest in your blog is to actually engage in what others are writing in your niche. Those who reciprocate often become blogging pals and it creates a circle of virtual friends. Kinda neat. I like to use Feedly to keep up with my peers. There’s so much good content out there! Just don’t go nuts. You’ll find yourself spending more time commenting elsewhere than focusing on crafting and curating your own content.
Write guest posts
Reach out to some of the leaders in your niche who publish guest posts. This is a great way to get your blog known and generate interest. Within a month of firing up my blog, J. Money over at BudgetsAreSexy.com graciously published this guest spot and all the sudden I started getting some traction. Be mindful of the tone of the blog you’re posting for. Is swearing common or not? What are the main themes? Mainly, don’t be a dick. Put some effort into editing your post: include meaningful internal and external links, and include three or more quality images. Run spell-check. Duh.
Use as many of your own photos as possible
I learned the hard way that those stock images are just sort of artificial. In an era of smartphones, you really have no excuse for not getting out there and snapping away. I’ll occasionally throw in stock pics to emphasize a point, but I feel I connect better with the audience with the personal touch of photos I’ve taken myself. And by the way, you could easily get caught if you use copyrighted images on your site. Don’t take the risk. Use UnSplash or Creative Commons if you must use photos that aren’t your own!
Keep your site clean in look and feel
Think “minimalist.” Nothing is more off-putting than visiting a blog and being slammed with pop-up forms, display ads, and other marketing bullsh*t. Check out Joshua Becker’s blog (or mine) for a great example of keeping it clean and easy on the eyes. Remember, you want people coming back.
Avoid repeating the “Greatest Hits” of Mr. Money Mustache and other elders in the space
Unless you have a personal angle chock full of anecdotes and lessons learned, you might not get a lot of love for posts about the virtues of the Health Savings Account and the 401K Employer Match. I’m guilty as charged. Look through my backlog of greatest misses and no further than this “How to” post you’re reading now.
Carve out time to write, and keep your posting schedule consistent
It wasn’t until I took on the 5AM wake-up call habit that I finally found the time to focus on my writing. It’s been a revelation. Prior to that, I was lucky to produce one post every two weeks. I now put out two outstanding New York Times quality posts per week, on Mondays and Thursdays. What ego???
Don’t overdo it with guest posts on your blog
Establish your brand and voice first, then you can consider bringing other authors into the mix. Some of the best at this are J. Money at BudgetsAreSexy.com, Mr. 1500 at 1500 days to Freedom, and the good doctor at PhysicianOnFire.com. They take pains to make sure the guest content will be well-received, and that the author’s style complements their own writing.
Remember to write for fun, and don’t be too harsh of a self-critic
At one point this blog felt like a chore, maybe because I felt I had to hit every mark to measure up to the masters. Consequently, a better approach is to write as if you’re having a chat with a good friend at happy hour. You can throw in a few swear words even. You’ll get your point across better if you sound natural and conversational. Avoid trying to sound like Mr. Early Retirement, PhD. (Note how I used the word “consequently” there, which is great for SEO, but terrible if you want someone to listen to you pontificate over beers.)
Don’t start with Bluehost if you prefer hosting that’s fast, secure, and provides knowledgeable and effective support
Read this post if you want to avoid all the heartache I went through in December, 2017. This blog went hard down and suffered mightily with corrupted files and a lack of decent support from Bluehost. I made the switch to SiteGround and haven’t looked back. They truly are everything they were talked-up to be in my research.
- Don’t forget to protect your own privacy! I found out the hard way how easy it is for someone to learn your name, address, and personal email. It’s public information when you establish your domain, via sites like “whois.com.” With SiteGround, you can pay $1 a month for their Domain ID Protect service. Since I’m an anonymous blogger, I’m glad I stumbled upon my personal info on whois.com, before anyone mischievous did. Now, my information is concealed whenever someone looks up “AbandonedCubicle.com”
Eventually, if you’re looking to up your game…
Now almost two years into the blogging scene, I’ve added a couple of powerful tools to the blogging toolbox. The first is my theme set. After a big fail with another purchased template in year one, I eventually landed on Studio Press. They produced the elegant, simple, and highly intuitive “Genesis Framework“.
You purchase and install the framework theme, and then install a child theme. There are countless free child themes you can pick from. I have since upgraded to the Magazine Pro theme to meet the design needs of this blog.
Give yourself a good year of blogging before investing in these more customizable themes. Once you’ve established yourself, look into these Studio Press options for speedier pages, minimalist and elegant design, and solid customer support.
Around the year mark you may also consider a graphics editing tool to help you with logos, Pinterest pins, and enhancing the photos you include in your pages and posts. I use Picmonkey and Canva (free!). Canva is a handy web-based tool that allows you to apply filters, overlay text, crop, and all sorts of other fancy enhancements. Definitely worth a look if you want to up your blogging game!
As for the smart logo on my header and the cute bicycle couple caricature of Mrs. Cubert and me? I used Fiverr.com. There, you can find several talented graphic designers offering logo designs for as low as $5. I paid $30 or so for my logo, and about the same for the caricature. Unless you’ve got the knack for design, leave it to the pros.
Now Go Write Something!!
There you have it. A pretty straightforward little tutorial on how to start your own blog. Give it a shot, and feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions. Having nearly sabotaged this site a few times, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned these past several months. Enjoy the ride, and let it flow!