How to Start a Blog From Scratch: Self-Hosting, Website Themes, and Plugins
Affiliate links included | Starting a blog from scratch has never been easier. BUT with all the technical jargon flying around, most people stop before they even start. Fear not though my brave future bloggers and freelancers! In this post, you will find an easy to follow, step by step guide to help you start your blog from scratch. I will also include a few mistakes that I made along the way. Heck, they might just save you some time – I certainly wish I’d known in advance!
Why Are You Starting Your Blogging Journey?
Before we dive deep into the practical setup of your blog/website, you should think about your why. Why do you want to start your blogging journey? Is it to generate a side income? Advertise your products or services? For creative expression? Or like me, you aim to build a consistent writing portfolio that showcases your skill-set. It could be something entirely different and that’s fine too. But you need to be super clear about your “why” from the start. Blogging ain’t for the faint-hearted, so you’re going to be relying on this throughout the process to keep you motivated.
I would also spend time thinking about if you have a specific niche you’d like to start out with. Although there are plenty of nicheless bloggers out there who write about a range of subjects and do incredibly well. I started out writing about art and social media, but I have written about all sorts of subjects since starting my blog. So don’t stress too much about having something fixed from the start, this will likely change as you evolve as a blogger.
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
What’s the Difference Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
Oh my gawd, just thinking back to when I first started my blog gives me palpitations. While I had experience uploading the company blog at my workplace, I had never started a website or blog completely from scratch. I was armed, however, with a firm grasp of my why, and a whole lot of determination.
Finding out the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress. org was my first major stumbling block. I didn’t even know there was a WordPress.org until about 7 months into my blogging journey. Like most, I started out on the free WordPress.com plan because I just wanted to start writing and think about the rest later. But every time I looked at my blog, I was grossed out by the Ads that come with the free plan. Plus I got sick of seeing my hideous free WordPress.com domain name. It looked messy and unprofessional – Bleurgh!
I so wish I had taken the advice of other professional Bloggers and thought further ahead. If you hope to make money from your blog, or score freelance writing gigs, you need to invest in your site from the start.
Anyway, back to my initial few months blogging. We’ve established that I was grossed out by my free plan! So I slowly started working my way up through the paid WordPress.com plans, until I ended up on the premium plan. BIG MISTAKE! Sorry WordPress but your premium plan is OVERPRICED and there is actually a much more affordable alternative.
It’s worth noting that during my time paying for the WordPress.com plans, I had purchased a separate domain name from 123REG.com. It was painful setting this up, from memory I had to set up my domain mapping so that people diverted to rachaelhope.co.uk when they arrived on my WordPress.com website. This would have been easily avoided if I had gone self-hosted from the start.
If you are on the WordPress.com premium plan you might find my previous post useful. It details how I transitioned from premium to self-hosted.
Should I Go Self-Hosted?
I now understand that WordPress.com means that you are hosted by WordPress themselves and unless you have the expensive business plan, ($300 dollars a year! EW!) your site is restricted. If I could start again, I would avoid paying $96 dollars a year for WordPress premium and go self-hosted from the start! Self-hosting costs as little as £72 a year to get started. Plus you get most of the benefits of the WordPress business plan but at a fraction of the price.
In order to go self-hosted, you need to set yourself up through WordPress.org NOT WordPress.com. I repeat, WordPress.org people!
When you go self-hosted not only do you have more autonomy over your site, you can actually monetize it (think ad revenue and PayPal donation buttons!) Plus you can upload your own themes from outside of WordPress, and my personal favourite added bonus PLUGINS! Plugins make running your blog so much easier – more on that later.
You can use them to set up an online shop, link your social media to your blog, improve website speed or link your mailing list pop up to your blog. The list is endless! If you need to do something, there is most likely a Plugin for it. I don’t think I’ve ever met another blogger that hasn’t loved a good plugin for their website.
But most importantly, when you go self-hosted, it is like owning your own plot of virtual real estate. This basically means you own EVERYTHING that you produce. It truly is YOUR website. Within a week of self-hosting, I felt a lot more pride in my website. I’m now extremely site proud!
I have now been self-hosted for nearly two years, and my website traffic has grown over this time. This is down to a number of factors, and going self-hosted is one of them!
How Do I Start a Self-Hosted Blog?
First, you need to find a hosting service. I had done some research and took a few names as I went. But the one I saw recommended repeatedly by trusted blogging pals was *SiteGround. I have now been with SiteGround for nearly two years, and remain extremely happy with the service.
In order to get started with*SiteGround, you must first choose your plan. I’m using the “StartUp” plan which is £5.99 a month. Check out everything included with each plan below 🙂 You can also click the image to go directly to SiteGround.
It’s really easy to get started, you just choose your plan, and they take you through the rest. I already had quite a lot of content on my existing WordPress plan, so I opted to pay their support team the £20 fee to do the transfer for me. They did an amazing job and were patient with me every time I contacted them freaking out. Bless the guy that answered my ticket! If I had done this from the start I could have saved the wasted money on my excessively priced premium plan, and the transfer fee.
Choosing/Registering a Domain Name
Next, you will need to register a new domain name or link an existing one. A domain name is a label that identifies a network domain. For example, my domain name is www.rachaelhope.co.uk. I chose this because I wanted everything I offered through my business (Rachael Hope Media) to be under the same banner where possible. You can pick anything you want providing that it hasn’t already been taken. You might want to spend some time really thinking about a catchy domain name, or something that encapsulates everything you want your blog to be.
Or like me, it might be based on an existing business name. I had opted to register my domain name from the start of my blogging journey – before going self-hosted. As a result, I just needed to redirect it to my new hosting provider. If you haven’t already created a domain name, you can do so through *SiteGround. Failing that there are plenty of affordable domain name registration sites out there.
Choosing A Website Theme
Next, you need to find yourself a theme! A website theme determines the aesthetic of a website. So things like website layout, font style, and colour scheme are all part and parcel of your theme. When it comes to blogging, a functional, easy to use and attractive website is a must to ensure a positive viewing experience. Regardless of your technical ability, this can be achieved with a high-quality website theme.
For those unfamiliar with web design, it can be hard to know where to look. I got mine for about $12 from Etsy and I’m super happy with it. You can also check out Creative Market too! Also, from memory, I’m sure that a good selection of free themes are available through WordPress.org. Make sure your website theme is easy to navigate for your viewers. Having a home page, about me section, and of course, your blog section are essential.
Finding a good website theme will help you to customise your blog so that it suits your requirements. If you need advice about choosing the right website theme for your online business, check out the linked post!
A Few Quick Tips About Website Content
A quick aside: I’m working from the premise that you already have your initial website content ready to go. Although, you might find my series about SEO (search engine optimization) helpful, to make sure that your content (written and visual) is optimized for the search engines. This will help you increase your website traffic. Check out the following posts to learn more:
FINDING FREE IMAGES
Also here are some great sites if you need stock (aka royalty/copyright free) images to use within your website content and blog posts:
It’s also fun to capture your own images when you can 🙂
I would suggest uploading two blog posts per month as a minimum. If your schedule is tight, aim for quality over quantity – longer posts always fair better in the search engines.
Recommended WordPress Plugins
Once you’ve set up your hosting, decided on and uploaded your theme, and sorted out your initial content, it’s time to think about Plugins. It was only a matter of time before I expanded on my love for plugins in detail!! First, a word of warning – you don’t want to go too crazy on the Plugins as they can slow your site speed down, and site speed is an important aspect of SEO. So, choose wisely, and avoid any unnecessary ones. Here are six awesome Plugins that I use, with an overview of why. Providing you are self-hosted, they are free. Woop!
Jetpack helps you to customize elements of your website, grow a following and offers security from brute force attacks on your website. Another key feature of Jetpack is the blog subscriptions option. Basically, people can sign up to be notified about new blog posts via email. This is a great way to get started before diving into other mailing lists such as Mailchimp. Jetpack also comes with social sharing and related blog post options to include within your blog posts. The plugin also tracks your website analytics so that you can review what is performing well, and what isn’t. This data helps you to switch up your content strategy to improve results.
Broken Link Checker
Broken links or missing images lower the credibility of a site. Meaning it’s important to identify them and take appropriate action quickly to protect the integrity of your site. Broken link checker examins your website and blog content for any broken links or missing images. You will receive updates via your WordPress dashboard, and recommended actions to take, such as removing the links quickly and easily.
Sometimes you will get randomers or bots commenting on your blog posts. This is classed as spam, and if it isn’t stopped the integrity of your website can be affected. Antispam Bee helps you to manage this, and fight other forms of spam.
jQuery Pin It Button for Images
Pinterest is a really great tool for anyone hoping to grow a blog. It’s a free and fun way to get traffic to your website. If you would like to learn How to Rock Pinterest in 5 Easy Steps for Bloggers and Businesses check out my previous post 🙂 But for now, trust me, Pinterest is bloody brilliant. By using the Pin It plugin, your readers will have the option to click on any image and pin it to their Pinterest to either read later or share with their Pinterest followers. It’s a sure-fire way to create easy pinning opportunities.
As I mentioned in the description, site speed is super important and nothing slows your site like large image files. BUT, images are also a great way to keep readers engaged within your content. This is because they break up large chunks of text, and generally make the reading experience more exciting. The Smush plugin automatically reduces image file sizes, meaning you can continue to include images without slowing down your site speed.
I think Yoast is potentially my favourite ever WordPress Plugin. If you are unfamiliar with SEO/have never written content specifically for web purposes you need this plugin. To be honest, I’m a “grizzled veteran” and still rely heavily on Yoast. The SEO traffic light system will walk you through optimizing your content for search engines, and I’m a sucker for the Readability section. Yoast can also be used to connect your website to Google Search Console and Bing. This means your website will be indexed by both search engines, improve your site’s SEO.
That’s all for now folks! As always, I hope this content has been useful. Please let me know if I have missed anything or you have any questions in the comments below.
Thank you for spending some of your precious time in my online abode today 🙂
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