Welcome to ProBlogger’s second theme week – where we take a topic you’re interested in and drill right down to bring you all the information we can find to be of use to you.
This week we are focusing on newbies – what do all beginner bloggers want to know? What are the first points of reference we should use, and where do we go from there? Today, please welcome Ali Luke from Zen Optimise, who has put together a handy checklist of things you should do in your first week of blogging to get yourself off the ground. There is also a fantastic deal on Darren’s “ProBlogger’s Guide to Your First Week of Blogging“, full of hints, tips and practical exercises for the beginner blogger. Even if you’ve had your blog for a while, it’s a great refresher of what really works in getting your site some traction. You can find all the content for this week’s theme at the bottom of this post.
Without further ado – here’s Ali.
Update: you might also find our new article – How to Start a Blog useful.
Have you been reading ProBlogger for weeks, or even months, so you can learn everything you need to know before setting up your blog?
You might be wasting your time.
That’s not to say that the content on ProBlogger isn’t hugely valuable: of course it is. As a new blogger five years ago, I devoured a large chunk of the archives – and even today, I still get inspired (and pick up a few new tips) from posts here.
But I also know how easy it is to fall into the trap of reading post after post, struggling to make sense of it all, and wondering how you’ll ever take in all the information out there.
“Be Prepared” Can Go Too Far
While it’s great to do some research before diving in and starting a blog, it’s easy to end up reading post after post after post … without taking any action.
Until you get your blog up and running, you won’t really know what you need to know. You might be reading about topics that you’ll never need to concern yourself with – or you might be missing out on information that’s going to be crucial.
Launching your blog can feel like a huge step. You want to get every detail right; you want it to be perfect right from the start.
The problem is, if that perfect ideal keeps you stuck, you’ll never have a blog at all. And a real, imperfect blog will outperform an imaginary perfect one in every way imaginable…
Start Your Blog This Week: Your Checklist
It’s time to bite the bullet. No, you probably don’t feel ready. Yes, there’s a lot you still don’t know. But you will learn so much faster from actually blogging than from simply reading about it.
Here’s what you need to do. If you tackle one task each day, you’ll have your blog up and running next week:
Day 1: Set a Clear Goal
What do you want your blog to do for you? “Make money” is a popular answer – but how?
Is your blog going to support your existing business and bring in new customers?
Do you have a service to offer, like design, writing, or coding?
Is it going to be market research – and a platform – for a book that you plan to launch?
Are you going to bring in lots of traffic and sell advertising space?
Will you review products as an affiliate, taking commission on sales?
All of these are perfectly valid strategies, but you need to be clear about what you’ll be doing right from the start.
Of course, your blog doesn’t have to be a money-making tool. Perhaps your motivation for blogging is to get your writing out there to the world, or to build up a strong reputation in your field.
Top 10 Blog Monetization Strategies, Ranked In Order (Blog Marketing Academy)
Write your goal down, and keep it somewhere visible. You want to have your goal in mind over the next few days.
Day 2: Choose a Platform
There are so many different blogging platforms out there, and there’s a good chance you’ve heard of (and maybe tried out) a fair few of them. I’ll name a handful of them: WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr, Squarespace…
Let’s make this decision easy. Your best option is almost certainly WordPress.
It’s used by most of the top blogs (including ProBlogger) and it’s a hugely flexible and powerful platform.
Ideally, you’ll want to go with self-hosted WordPress (WordPress.org) where you install your blog on your own web space. If you can’t afford hosting, though, you can use WordPress.com – this is still a powerful blogging platform, but it has certain limitations.
Self Hosted WordPress.org vs. Free WordPress.com (WPBeginner)
Decide whether you’re using WordPress.org (self-hosted, recommended) or WordPress.com (hosted, a good second choice).
The rest of these instructions assuming you’re using WordPress.org; if you using WordPress.com or a site like Blogger, you won’t need hosting, and you can choose not to buy a domain name. (If you don’t buy your own domain name, you’ll have one like yourname.wordpress.com.)
Day 3: Decide on Your Domain Name
Your domain name (sometimes called your URL or your web address) is what users type in to visit your site. ProBlogger’s domain name is problogger.net.
To get a domain name, you need to register it with a domain name registrar – a site like GoDaddy (well known) or Namecheap (popular for its high-quality customer service).
Domain names aren’t especially expensive to register, and will normally cost you around somewhere around $12 per year. Prices vary between domain name registrars, and some suffixes (the .com or .net etc) cost more than others.
When you’re choosing your domain name, aim to:
Keep it fairly short. Long domain names are hard to remember and type.
Keep it to two words or fewer if possible.
Make it match the name of your website. If Darren called this site “ProBlogging Tips” but had the domain name “ProBlogger” it would be confusing for readers.
Avoid using hyphens if you can: if another website has the same domain without a hyphen, readers may end up there by mistake.
Use a .com suffix if it’s available. If you really want a particular name and the .com is taken, you can use .net. If your readers are mainly from your own country, you can use your country’s domain (e.g. .co.uk for the UK or .ca for Canada).
Five Best Domain Name Registrars (Lifehacker.com)
Come up with several possible domain names. Use WHOis.net to see which ones are available. (Simply typing them into your browser won’t necessarily tell you if they’re available or not, as sometimes domains are registered without hosting so no site will show up.)
If you’re self-hosting WordPress and thus buying hosting, you may want to register the domain name through your host – this can make life slightly simpler.
Day 4: Buy Hosting
Many bloggers find “hosting” a tricky concept to get their heads around. Here’s how it works.
For your website to be online, all the files for it need to be kept on a computer that’s always connected to the internet. (It’s technically possible for you to host your website on your own computer – but there are a huge number of reasons why you probably wouldn’t want to do this, including security issues, and the cost of keeping your computer switched on all day and all night, all the time.)
Web host companies provide space for your site on their servers (huge computers), which are permanently connected to the internet. These servers also have special software that allows you to install WordPress on your site. You pay a monthly or annual fee for this, usually around $7 – $15 per month.
There are loads of web hosts out there; personally, I use Dreamhost for all my own websites – but I’ve included links to other suggestions in the further reading.
How to Choose the Best WordPress Hosting? (WPBeginner)
Choose your host and sign up for an account. Don’t spend hours agonising over the choice – you can always switch hosts in the future if you decide they weren’t the best option for you.
Day 5: Install WordPress
Assuming you’ve chosen a WordPress-friendly host, you’ll probably have a simple and easy way to install WordPress – often with a “one-click installation” option.
Follow your host’s instructions, and get WordPress installed on your site. During the installation process, you’ll be prompted to enter:
The name of your site.
The username for an administrative account.
Your email address.
The only bit you can’t change later is the admin username. Avoid using “admin” as that’s way too easy for hackers to guess!
To login to your site, go to www.yoursitename.com/wp-login. You’ll automatically be directed to your dashboard – the “behind the scenes” view of your WordPress site – after logging in.
You’ll also have the option to make your site invisible to search engines. This can be reassuring while you’re developing your blog, but if you switch this on, don’t forget to switch it off again later! (You can do so in your WordPress dashboard under Settings Reading.
Secure Your WordPress Blog Without Touching Any Code (ProBlogger)
Get WordPress installed. It will probably be easier than you think! If you have time to spare, poke around in the WordPress dashboard to get a sense of all the different options and functions.
Day 6: Choose Your Theme
The look and feel of your blog is determined by its theme (sometimes called the template). You can switch your WordPress theme without losing any of your content – your posts, pages, sidebar widgets and so on are stored separately.
To change themes:
Go to your WordPress dashboard (www.yoursitename.com/wp-admin).
Click on Appearance Themes
Choose a theme you like and click Preview to see how your site will look in that theme.
Click Activate to switch your site over to the new theme.
There are thousands of WordPress themes available online, so if you don’t find anything you like in the current themes section, look around. Free themes tend to be more limited in functionality and design; premium (paid for) ones often have lots of new options.
Select a “good enough” theme – it doesn’t have to be perfect. If you’re creating a website for an existing business, consider using a premium theme that’s tailored to your industry. (E.g. there are restaurant themes, band themes, guest house themes…)
Day 7: Write Your About Page
Once you’ve got your theme up and running, there are still a lot of tasks ahead. New bloggers often wonder what to prioritise. Getting their sidebar spruced up? Posting lots of content? Adding their “Services” page? Including an option for readers to get posts by email?
All of those are important – but one of the very first things you should do is get your About page in place.
New readers will very often look for and click on “About” (or “About me” or “About us”) to find out who you are and what they can expect from your blog. If the page doesn’t exist, or if it’s badly put together, they might shrug and go on their way (and never return).
A good About page needs to:
Tell the reader what your blog (or company) is about and how it can help them. It’s often a good idea to put this information up front, perhaps after a few words introducing yourself (“Hi, I’m Bob Jones, and I blog here about…”)
Introduce you so that the reader feels a sense of connection. You can do this in a straightforward way, or with humour, with a list of interesting facts about you, with your credentials and experience, with an inspiring story … whatever fits with the tone and brand of your blog.
Include a photo of you. This isn’t an absolute rule, but it helps readers come to trust you – and if you’re selling them products or services, or promoting affiliate products, this is important.
Be updated regularly. Your blogging mission might change; facts about you and your life might change. If your About page is clearly years out of date, your blog is going to look cobwebby at best … and abandoned at worst.
Get the basics of your page in place, then, once you’ve been blogging for a couple of weeks, update it and:
Link to two or three of your best posts. This is a great way to draw readers further into your blog.
Let readers know how to subscribe to your blog by email. Even if you’ve got a big email sign-up box in your sidebar, readers may not notice it.
Are You Making These 7 Mistakes with Your About Page? (Copyblogger)
Write your About page. You might find it easiest to split it into two sections, “About the Blog” and “About Me”. If you can, ask a friend or colleague to look over it and give you feedback – they may have ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of.
Ali Luke is Head of Content at Zen Optimise, where she leads small group courses on blogging and writing for the web. Once you’ve got your blog set up, check out 7 Rules for Creating Highly Successful Posts for powerful tips plus handy further reading suggestions.
Beginner Theme Week Posts on ProBlogger
New Blogger Katie180’s Success Story
We Asked Veteran Bloggers to Reflect on Mistakes Made in Their Early Days
Darren’s 43 Dos and 25 Don’ts of Blogging
Resource Roundup – 1o Links New Bloggers Can’t Live Without