It's easy and very cheap to start a blog in 2020.
The most popular blogging software, WordPress.org, is free. Professional developed WordPress themes and plugins are free. And there are literally millions of free tutorials to get you started (including this one). The only cost involved in starting a blog is the money you pay for a web host and domain name.
Introduction: What is blogging?
In the very beginning, before the word “blog” was invented, a blog is usually known as a “web log”.
A web log is an online journal that displays information in reverse chronological order, with the latest posts appearing first.
As Internet grew and technology matured (mainly in the late 90's), people saw the benefits in having a blog. News services began using blogs for outreach and opinion forming, businesses use blogs for marketing and customer services., niche bloggers use blogs to reach more people interested in specific topics. Blogging became mainstream.
Today, anyone with a computer with an Internet connection can become a blogger.
How to Start a Blog in 6 Easy Steps
To start a blog, here are the steps you need to follow. We will go into details for each of these steps in this article.
- Find the right niche for your blog
- Choose and register your blog domain
- Purchase a web host
- Setup your blog with WordPress
- Design your blog with pre-built WP themes
- Select and install essential plugins
Step #1. Find the Right Niche
This is normally how a newbie starts a blog: they would write about their work on Monday, hobbies on Tuesday, movies they have watched on Wednesday, and political views during the weekends.
In short, these people simply write on a wide variety of topics without a prime focus.
Yes, these blogs would accumulate a steady following among their friends and families; but that’s about it.
It’s very hard to have a significant number of loyal readers when you are blogging randomly because people will not know if you are a movie critic, food reviewer, or a book critic. Advertisers will also be reluctant to advertise with you because they don’t know what you are about. To build a successful blog, you need to find a niche. You pick a profitable topic that you are interested or specialize in; and you stick to it.
So how do you go about looking for a profitable blogging niche? Here are some of the key points.
1- Fill a need
If you’ve ever thought “I wish someone would blog about this”, that’s the a-ha moment. If it is a topic that you’d like to know more about, then it is likely a topic that other people want to know about.
What is your unique knowledge? How can you provide something unique to the topic that no one else can? It could even be through an interview with an expert.
2- Something you are passionate about
Remember that you will be writing, reading and talking about your topic every single day for the next few years. If you have no interest on your blog subject, then it would be very tough to stick around constantly.
Plus, you’ll enjoy writing on those topics.
3- Topic that has staying power (evergreen content)
While controversy is great, it doesn’t ensure that your topic will be here next week. For example, if you’re very passionate about Vine and start a blog centered on it, when that falls out of fashion you’ll be out of content. It’s better idea to focus on a more a general topic, such as “cutting edge social media trends” or “image apps that rock”. That way, if a fad falls out of fashion, your blog can still keep a lookout for whatever replaces it.
Last but not least – your blog needs to be in a niche that you can make money from.
Ask yourself if it is a topic that will attract readers and create income – whether through advertising or sales. If you are blogging to support your existing business, does the blog bring in new clients? If you are blogging just because you are passionate about the subject, is there a way to monetise your individual blog?
I use SpyFu, a Pay-per-click advertising tool, to estimate the profitability of a niche sometimes. My logic behind this – if advertisers are paying thousands of dollars to Google Adwords, there must be money to be made in this field.
Here are two examples I found:
Step #2. Register a Domain Name
One you have chosen a niche to be in, it's time to pick and register a domain name (the name of your blog). Here are the steps to follow:
At this time of writing, a .com domain costs $10.69/year at Name Cheap and $12.99/year at GoDaddy. GoDaddy is the world’s biggest domain registrar in the world; Name Cheap, on the other hand, is slightly cheaper and offers better user experience in my opinion. To have a deeper look, consider reading Timothy's comparison guide between the two.
Step #3. Select a Web Host for Your Blog
Next stop – hosting.
My recommendation for newbies is to always start small with a shared web host.
In shared hosting – you share the server resources with a number of other users. The hosting capacity is smaller than other hosting options (VPS, dedicated, etc) but you'll pay much lesser (often <$5/mo at signup) and need less technical knowledge to start.
How to purchase a web host (quick walk through)
I will use InMotion Hosting as example in this guide. I picked InMotion Hosting mainly because:
- The company has a good business track record. You don't want to host with a fly-by-night hosting operation because everything on your blog might be jeopardized if the host goes out of business (which unfortunately I have seen quite a few lately). This site you are reading is hosted on InMotion Hosting.
- Reliable – InMotion Hosting stays online for me most of the time (uptime > 99.99%).
- InMotion Hosting is reasonably priced. With WHSR's special discount, InMotion's entry level hosting plan starts at $3.99 per month. This is inline with my 2020 cheap hosting market study – where I found the average price of shared hosting (for 24-month subscription) is $4.84/mo.
To get started, click here to visit InMotion Hosting (affiliate link).
The link will lead you to a special landing page where you'll get exclusive discount as a WHSR user.
For more blog hosting choices and tips, check out my detail WordPress hosting guide.
Can I use a free blogging platform instead?
One of the most frequent asked blogging questions: “What about those free blogging platforms? Can i make a blog for free?”
However, I do not recommend running your blog on a free platform like WordPress.com or Blogger.com.
However, keep in mind that hosting a blog on free platforms means your blog is living with a name like blogname.blogspot.com or blogname.wordpress.com.
By keeping your blog on a free platform, you let the platform own your name and limit your potential with their rules and restrictions.
For examples, Blogger.com does not allow its users to post non-Google ads; WordPress.com does not allow image ads and imposes various limitations on sponsored posts and affiliate marketing.
If you’re serious about blogging, just get your own domain and hosting. Period.
Step #4. Setting Up WordPress
As soon as your InMotion Hosting account is ready, it's time to login to your admin area and install your blogging platform (in our case, WordPress).
Personally I think WordPress is the best blogging platform for newbies. And I am not alone.
According to statistics from Built With, more than 66% (or 7.7 million) of the blog in United States are built on WordPress platform. Globally, there are almost 27 billion blogs built with WordPress (global population is about 7.2 billion at time of writing – so you see the context).
Setting up WordPress
There are two ways to install WordPress – the platform where you are going to setup your blog.
One, you can do it manually by downloading the files from WordPress.org and uploading them to your web host; or, use the auto-installation app (Softaculous) provided by InMotion Hosting. Both methods are fairly simple but for newbies – I don't see why you should do this manually.
Method #1: WordPress Manual Installation
Official step-by-step guide can be found here. In a quick glance, here are the steps you need to do:
- Download and unzip the WordPress package to your local PC.
- Create a database for WordPress on your web server, as well as a MySQL user who has all privileges for accessing and modifying it.
- Rename the wp-config-sample.php file to wp-config.php.
- Open wp-config.php in text editor (notepad) and fill in your database details.
- Place the WordPress files in the desired location on your web server.
- Run the WordPress installation script by accessing wp-admin/install.php in your web browser. If you installed WordPress in the root directory, you should visit: http://example.com/wp-admin/install.php; if you installed WordPress in its own subdirectory called blog, for example, you should visit: http://example.com/blog/wp-admin/install.php
- And you are done.
Method #2: Auto WordPress Installation
Okay, I suppose you just skipped the manual installation guide and come to this part. Wise choice ;)
The easiest way to setup WordPress in is to “auto” install it using InMotion Hosting Softaculous (a built-in application that allows you to install WordPress in just a few clicks).
Login to WordPress
Once you have got your WordPress system installed, you will be given an URL to login to your WordPress administrator page.
In most cases, the URL will be something like this (depends on the folder you installed the WordPress):
It's a good idea to bookmark this wp-admin login URL since you will be coming in here very often.
Now, go to this admin URL and login with your preset username and password (the one that you key in when you installed your WordPress earlier); and there, you are now in the WordPress administrator area. This will be the part of the blog where only you as the administrator can access.
Step #5. Design Your Blog with Pre-built Themes
Now that we have the bare WordPress ready, it's time to take a deeper dive. Like all CMS, a WordPress blog consists of 3 main elements:
- CMS Core – the system that we installed earlier using auto installer.
- Plugins – add-on functions that give you additional controls and features on your blog
- Themes – the design of your blog
In other words, to design your WordPress blog, all we need to do is customize the design of your blog theme.
The beauty of WordPress is that your blog’s design, also known as the theme, is separated from the back-end system.
You can change your theme as often as you’d like, customize a packaged theme, or even create a new theme from scratch – if you have the design skills.
However, to have a nice design for your blog, you don’t have to create a theme from scratch.
Other people have already done this for you, after all.
Yep – that's right.
Truth is, most individual WordPress bloggers do not create their own blog themes. Rather, what most of us do is to pick a ready-made theme (or a raw theme) and customize it according to our needs. There are endless numbers of beautiful (and useful) WordPress themes around the Internet – a simple search on Google will lead you to millions.
If this is your first time establishing a WordPress blog, my suggestion to you is to start with a ready-made theme and tweak it along the way.
Here's where you can get ready-made WordPress designs:
- Official WordPress Theme Directory (free)
- WordPress Theme Clubs ($89/year – $400 one time payment)
- WordPress Theme Marketplace ($30 – $100 one time payment)
We will look into each option below.
Official WordPress Theme Directory
This is where you can get all the free WordPress themes. Themes listed in this directory follow very tight standards provided by the WordPress developers, hence in my opinion this is the best place to get free, bug-less theme designs.
Paid WordPress Themes Club
Another way to get high quality paid themes is to subscribe to WordPress Theme Clubs.
If this is the first time you heard of Theme Clubs, here's how it works: You pay a fix amount of fee to join the club and you get various designs offered in the clubs. Themes offered in Theme Club are usually professionally designed and updated regularly.
There are a lot more others out there – some clubs even cater to a particular industry, such as realtors or schools; but we will only cover three in this article.
Elegant Themes is arguably the most popular WordPress theme club in the industry. With over 500,000 happy customers, the theme site offers over 87 beautiful and stunning themes to choose from. It also lets you download premium plugins that will supercharge your online business. Subscription on Elegant Theme is affordable enough. You can enjoy access to all themes on unlimited sites for $69/year. If you wish to use the plugins too, you must pay $89/year. If you love Elegant Themes, you might as well purchase the lifetime plan for a one-time payment of $249.
My experience with Elegant Themes was overall positive and I have no issue recommending them.
It is affordable and easy to use, and the customization options are pretty much endless. Whether you are a casual blogger or an experienced businessman, Elegant Themes is not only a great way to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your website, it also helps to make your site navigable and more user friendly, which is good for attracting more traffic and boosting business.
If you’re a long-time WordPress user, then you’ve probably heard of StudioPress. It is popular for its Genesis Framework, the minimalist and SEO-friendly WordPress framework for all StudioPress themes.
StudioPress offers flexible pricing based on your needs. The Genesis Framework with a child theme is available for a one-time payment of $59.99. The premium theme, which includes the Genesis Framework, cost $99 each. If you want access to all the themes, you can pay $499.
Artisan Themes is not your usual WordPress theme club. Instead of downloading themes with pre-made layouts, this theme club lets you build a theme from scratch using over 20 modules (calls to action, tiled displays, portfolio elements, etc.).
You can unleash modules on its themes. Two of its most functional and contemporary themes are Indigo and Modules. Unlike other WordPress theme sites, you can only buy the themes individual for $129 each.
Ready Made Sites is perfect for people who don’t want the hassle of customizing a WordPress theme. Simply choose the theme that best describes your business so you can set it up in a matter of minutes. You can only use the Ready Made Sites if you have installed the theme from the shop as specified.
WordPress Themes Marketplace
WordPress Themes Marketplace is where you can choose and buy professional designed themes from multiple vendors. Because WordPress has such a big user base, there are are actually a number of great marketplaces (and thousands of vendors and developers) to choose from.
For example, my personal favorite, Themeforest (part of Envato), offers large collection of premium WordPress themes neatly organized based on themes, date added, user ratings, and price.
Here are three premium WordPress themes I found.
* Click image to enlarge.
Step #6. Install Essential WordPress Plugins
When it comes to plugins, there are over 47,000 choices available from the WordPress library. These plugins can help you integrate functionalities such as online shopping, booking, and opt-ins. You could even spice up your website’s design using landing page builders, carousel sliders, and video backgrounds.
But before you get excited, you need to install a few plugins that can ensure the performance, security, marketability, and customization of your website. Take note that WordPress website comes with risks, especially since you need to mesh together a lot of moving parts.
The following are some essential plugins that I recommend.
Plugins for Security & Spam Protection
For security and spam protection, Akismet, Vault Press, Limit Login Attempt, WordFence, and iThemes Security are the five plugins that I recommend.
Akismet is one of the oldest plugins that comes along with your WordPress by default. This plugin helps check all your comments against its service to see if they are spam. It collects all the spam and lets you review it under your blog’s ‘comments’ admin screen.
Vault Press, on the other hand, is a real-time backup and security scanning service designed by Automattic, the company that operates more than 24 million sites on WordPress. This plugin gives you the functionality to backup and synchronize all your posts, comments, media files, revisions and dashboard settings on the servers. WordPress allows unlimited login attempts by default. With the Limit Login Attempt plugin, you can limit the number of login attempts through normal login and using auto cookies. After a specific number of retries, it blocks an Internet address from making further attempts to log in, making it difficult for attackers.
WordFence and iThemes Security are plugins that combine all necessary WordPress security features. The main function of this plugin is to tighten a blog’s security without having to worry about conflicting features or missing anything on your site or blog.
Plugins for Search Engine Optimization
Although WordPress is a SEO-friendly blogging platform, there is quite a lot more to do to improve your basic on-site SEO scores with the help of plugins.
WordPress SEO developed by Yoast and All In One SEO Pack developed by Michael Torbert for examples, could be very good additions in your plugin list.
Plugins for Social Media Sharings
Once you have your blog live and are writing compelling content, you are going to need an easy way for visitors to share your content. In fact, this needs to be part of your marketing strategy to gain more traffic. The best option is a social media plugin, which will automatically position small icons above, below or beside your content so that people can share it.
Plugins for Better Blog Performance
When it comes to blog performance optimization, W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular options. It improves the user experience on your site by increasing the server performance, reducing the time taken to download and increases page loading speed. W3 Total Cache is recommended by many top web hosts and used by quite a number of big blogs.
The two other plugins that come close in this category are Cloud Flare and WP Super Cache.
And you are done!
Domain and hosting, checked. WordPress setup, checked. Blog theme, checked. Essential plugins, checked.
Voila~ your blog is finally ready!
Congratulations! You now have a functioning blog to show the world.
And you are ready to publish our very first post.
To write and publish a new post, simple navigate to the left sidebar, click ‘Posts’ > ‘Add New’ and you’ll be directed to the writing screen. Click ‘Preview’ to preview how things look like on the front-end (what your readers will see), click ‘Publish’ once the post is complete.
Here's a quick view on how WordPress dashboard looks like. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Bringing your blog to next level
Yeah, setting up a blog and publishing your first post is a huge step.
But it's just step #1. There are still a lot to be done.
To own a successful blog, you need to actively grow and improve your blog. There are many factors that go into building a successful blog. Utilizing the right set of data, choosing the best tools, and applying the best strategy all makes an impact on how successful your blog will be.
Also, your blog needs to stand on its own feet. Meaning – it has to make enough money to pay for hosting and other marketing cost.
Check out our advanced blogging tips and tutorials on the right sidebar to learn more.
Free blogging tools you can make use of
Even though useful free tools and web services do exist online, the trouble is picking up them among all other junk or/and outdated tools.
As a parting gift for reading my guide till here, I am going to provide you a list of free tools that we use all the time at WHSR. Good luck, and I wish you success in your blogging journey.
- Hemingway App – Write short and bold with this tool.
- Freedom – Block distracting websites so you can write some shit.
- ByWord – Distraction free writing tool.
- Evernote – The one tool that needs introduction.
- Fotor – Edit and design beautiful images tool for social media posts, posters, invitation, etc.
- Canva – Design pretty images and social media posts.
- Design Wizard – Create pretty images using free templates and ready-made images.
- JPEG Mini – Reduce size of .jpeg files.
- Tiny PNG – Reduce size of .png files.
- Skitch – Taking image notes.
- Pic Monkey – Award-winning image editing tool.
- Pik to Chart – Simple infographic creation tool.
- Pixlr – Image editing tool.
- WHSR Free Icons – Free icons designed by our in-house designer.
- Favicon.io – The best favicon generator, ever.
References, Researches & Blogging Materials
- World Scientific – Free academics newsletter.
- The World Fact Book – No kidding – world info directly from the CIA.
- Tech Republic – White papers, reports, and case studies on tech.
- Marketing Sherpa – Free marketing reports.
- Trade Pub – Free magazines, white papers, and case studies.
- Hubspot Library – Good reference source in marketing.
- Angle.co/Companies – Startup ideas and funding news on startup companies.
- CrunchBase – News on startup companies.
- BuzzFeed Trending – Find latest hot topics on BuzzFeed.
- Creative Writing Prompt – Ideas and prompts to overcome writing blocks.
- Google Alerts – Get alert emails on new content you are tracking.
Social Media, Marketing & SEO Tools
- Bing Webmaster Tool – Bing's free site diagnostic tool.
- Google Webmaster Tool – Google's free site diagnostic tool.
- Follow – Stalk your competitors
- Majestic SEO – Free version allows you to check a site link profile (CF/TF) quickly.
- Engage Bay -All-in-one marketing, sales & service automation platform
- Similar Page Checker – Check for duplicated pages on your blog.
- Local Business Schema – Schema reference for local businesses/blogs.
- Like Explorer – Check social metrics of your (or competitors') content.
- Tweet Deck – Mange multiple Twitter account in one dashboard.
- Topsy – Analyse top tweets and Twitter users.
- Buzz Sumo – Find popular content and influencers on major social media networks.
- Tag Board – Social media market research.
- IFTTT – Publish content on multiple social media platforms easily.
Web Statistics & Productivity Tools