How to Start a Blog in 2020

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First, it’s time to pick a name and niche for your new blog.

The name of your blog is what readers will see first (like yourblog.com), so it should ideally represent either the general topics you’ll be writing about—or it could be your own name, that of your business, a clever combination of words, or otherwise.

Your blog’s niche is the general topic area that you’ll be focusing your content around. Examples include topics like travel, food, fashion, lifestyle, technology, and otherwise. Incorporating a word or two that clearly signals what your content is about, within the name of your blog (like fashionbyjane.com or watchryanhike.com)—will be very helpful for your future blog readers.

What if I can't decide on a blog name (or topic) yet?

What happens if the name I want to use isn't available?

Can I change the name of my blog later?

2. Get your blog online (web hosting)

The second step in starting a blog, is actually getting your blog online. That’s what a web hosting company will do for you. In this step, you’ll be selecting the blogging platform and web hosting plan you’ll use to get your blog online.

What is web hosting?

How much does web hosting cost?

What's the best web hosting service to use?

The combination of blogging platform & web hosting I personally use (and that most other bloggers use) is a WordPress blog, hosted by Bluehost. WordPress is a free publishing platform that’s been around since 2003 and now powers more than 60% of all blogs on the Internet. Bluehost is one of the most established, reliable companies in the blog hosting industry. This combination is what we’ll be using to start your blog. Now, let’s get your hosting set up.

—> Click here to head over to Bluehost and hit the green “Get Started Now” button

Bluehost Web Hosting (Screenshot of Homepage) to Choose a Name and Learn How to Start a Blog

Choose your plan

First, you’ll select a hosting plan (inputting your blog name comes next). Personally, I recommend choosing the Choice Plus plan because it comes with Domain Privacy, which will protect your personal information (your full name, email address, phone number and home address) from being published anywhere online.

Choosing your plan will look like this right here. Just click the green “Select” button on your plan of choice:

How to Select the Right Hosting Plan for Your Blog (Bluehost Screenshot) Process

As I said above, I recommend choosing the Choice Plus plan, so that you’re getting the Domain Privacy feature that’ll protect your personal information online, but any of these plans will do as you’re starting your blog—and you can add the domain privacy in later during the checkout process for around $1/mo.

Pick your blog’s domain name

Next, you’ll get to the page where it’s time to choose your blog’s domain name:

Create an Account and Getting Your Domain Name with Bluehost to Host Your Blog

Once you get to this step in the checkout process, just type in the name of the domain name that you’d like your blog to have (mine is ryrob.com).

If you want to run a quick search to see if your domain name is available, you can do it quickly right here:

Check if your domain name is available:

 

If your domain name of choice isn’t available, you can either try another option that comes to mind—or (what I recommend) select the option to choose your domain name later after getting the rest of your account squared away and taking a little more time to think the name through. Plus, later on down in this guide, I expand some more on how to choose the right name for your blog if you’re not decided yet.

Here’s where you can click to choose your domain later (it’s a popup that will appear if you hover on this page for long enough or move your mouse up toward the top of the page):

How to Choose Your Domain Name for Your Blog Later if You Can't Decide

After either choosing your domain name or opting to select it later, you’ll be taken to the final step in the sign up process—creating your account.

Create your Bluehost account

Start by filling in your account details like your name, email address (it’s super important to use an up-to-date email address because this is where your login details and account information will be sent) and address. If you don’t want to enter your information manually, you can connect your Bluehost account with your Google account. Either works!

Filling Our Your Account Information on Bluehost (Screenshot) to Get Blog Hosting

Select the right hosting package

This is where you’ll choose an account plan based on the price you want to lock in and how far in advance you’ll pay.

Selecting Your Package Details and Blog Hosting Plan Duration (Screenshot)

Note that Bluehost only offers options for you to pay 1, 2, 3 or 5 years upfront. They don’t offer a monthly payment option (because most hosting companies that do offer monthly payments tend to charge a bit more). Even still, with whichever plan you choose, the price works out to be a great deal for starting your own blog and getting it online today.

Which pricing plan is best to start a blog with?

Personally, I recommend choosing the “Prime 36 Month Price” if you want to lock in the lowest possible price for your hosting. That’s what I use. And it secures your blog hosting at their lowest rate (and gets you domain privacy) for the next 3 years. And because this low pricing for new customers only applies to the first payment you make, if you were to choose the 1-year plan, your pricing may go up after that first year.

That’s why if you choose the 36-month plan, your pricing will be locked in at this rate for 3 years. For that reason, I recommend going with the longest duration plan that your budget can spring for.

Choosing the right package extras (skip all but one)

Choose the Right Package Extras with Hosting with Bluehost

I recommend keeping the Domain Privacy Protection extra, but you can get away with skipping the rest. Later on in this guide, I’ll show you the many free and cheap plugins & tools you can use for things like SEO optimization, additional security and site back-ups, rendering most of the other package extras not necessary.

As I mentioned earlier though, having the domain privacy extra keeps all of your personal contact information (your name, email, phone number and address) private. Now, if you chose the Choice Plus Plan on the previous screen, then your Domain Privacy Protection will be listed as “Free” just like this screenshot above shows—it’s included in that plan.

If you chose a Basic or Plus Plan, then you’ll want to check the box to add Domain Privacy Protection to your order for around $1/mo.

The total you’ll now see is the amount you’re going to pay today. Remember though, you won’t have to pay again for 1, 2, 3 or 5 years depending on the package you chose. Plus, there’s a 30-day money back guarantee in case things don’t go as planned with your blog.

Enter your billing information

Final Step of Billing Information on Bluehost (Payment Information Screenshot) Example

Now you’ll input your billing information, check the box that you agree to Bluehost’s Terms of Service and then hit the green “Submit” button.

Woo! It’s time for a mini celebration ????

You’ve officially completed the first major step in starting a blog.

With the initial signup process complete, it’s time to move into the next stage of getting your blog fully setup and optimized.

On the next page, you’ll be guided step-by-step through the process of getting WordPress installed on your blog through Bluehost—and later on in this guide, I’ve got a ton of helpful tips for optimizing your blog, free and cheap plugins you can install to help get your blog looking great, and more.

—> Click here to head over to Bluehost and register your domain if you haven’t already.

Now, if you haven’t yet set up your web hosting and want to check out some other options—there are other web hosting providers worth considering.

The 2 best alternative blog hosting platforms worth considering

  • Dreamhost — I’ve hosted literally dozens of websites on Dreamhost over the years (and I still do). All similar features like 1-click WordPress install, free SSL certificate and site security aside, one of the biggest pros of going with Dreamhost compared to other hosting companies, is that they offer a true pay-per-month plan that allows you to pay for the cost of your blog hosting each month with no strings attached. Here are a few other web hosting companies that also offer monthly payment plans.
  • HostGator — The thing that sets HostGator apart from other hosting companies, is their fantastic level of customer support and the fact that they also offer a true monthly payment plan (which helps if you’re starting your blog on a budget). HostGator ranks amongst the largest hosting companies, now powering over 8 million+ websites around the world, making them a great partner to scale your blog with over time.

If you still want to evaluate more of the top blog hosting providers, then head on over to my breakdown of the best web hosting plans for bloggers this year.

Now we’re at the point in this guide where everything from here on out will be built upon the assumption that you’ve already registered your domain name and chosen the right hosting plan—so if you haven’t done so already, take just a few minutes to quickly get that set up.

Ready to register your domain name and set up blog hosting?

I made this quick video tutorial to walk you step-by-step through the entire process in just a few minutes:


Disclosure: Please note that when you purchase hosting using my Bluehost affiliate link, they compensate me, which helps me make this ultimate guide to starting a blog free of charge to you. Know that I also use Bluehost hosting, and I would never recommend a product, tool or service I don’t personally use & advocate for ????

I know first-hand that learning how to start a blog can be a massive undertaking.

And if you need a little more detailed guidance, I put together a free master course that spreads all of this work out into a series of action-packed lessons, and goes into even more granular detail than this tutorial.

While the first crucial step to getting your blog started today is registering your domain name and setting up hosting, my free course expands into actually growing your blog. Throughout this 7-day course, you’ll go from zero to publishing (and promoting) your first blog post. I can’t recommend it enough.

Want my Free Course: How to Start a Profitable Blog in 7 Days?

Enter your name and email address and you’ll get instant access to my course that’s been featured on ForbesBusiness Insider and Entrepreneur.

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3. Design your blog with a free WordPress theme

How to Design a Blog with a Free WordPress Theme (Walkthrough) Screenshot and Illustration

Now that we’ve gotten through the crucial setup phase of starting a blog, it’s time to have a little more fun.

Designing your WordPress blog is when you might start to feel a little friction with this process though (if you’ve never worked on a blog before), but I promise this won’t get too technical.

Plus… the last thing I want is for the very minor technical side of starting a blog to derail your progress today. That’s why, in my free course How to Build a Blog in 7 Days, I break this technical setup process down into an even more actionable, step-by-step checklist for you.

If you want to start a blog and make money from it, WordPress is your smartest option.

Let’s cover some basic terminology, so you understand why WordPress is the right platform (also known as a Content Management System or CMS) to run your blog on.

What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

What is WordPress?

Should I start a blog on WordPress (and is WordPress free)?

What if I want to create a blog with Wix instead?

Since I first started blogging over a decade ago, I’ve been running my blog on WordPress and I couldn’t be happier with the amount of flexibility, control and long-term growth potential that decision has afforded me.

Now, one thing you need to be careful of, is that WordPress comes in two very different platforms. There’s WordPress.com and WordPress.org. They have almost the same name, but there are very big differences between the two:

Wordpress.com vs WordPress.org Comparison Chart When Choosing How to Start a Blog

WordPress.com:

  • Is free to use (with heavy restrictions)
  • Doesn’t let you pick a custom domain name (i.e. ???? yoursite.wordpress.com)
  • Has very limited monetization options (you can’t sell your own ads)
  • Doesn’t let you upload plugins (for email capture and other things)
  • Has limited theme support so you’re stuck with very basic designs
  • You have to pay to remove WordPress branding and get your own domain like yoursite.com
  • Limited SEO and analytics

WordPress.org:

  • Fully customizable design, unlimited plugin options, and no branding
  • Total control over your own monetization efforts
  • Powerful SEO features (so people can find your site easier)
  • Let’s you start or add an eCommerce store or membership site
  • Small monthly fee (from the cheap hosting plan you use to get your blog online)

While the choice is yours, if you want to take full advantage of your blog, be able to have it grow with you and eventually make money from it, WordPress.org is the way to go when learning how to start a blog (and the exact process we’ve followed throughout this guide). It’s the CMS of choice that’ll sit in the background and power your blog.

How to install WordPress (and configure your blog settings)

Here’s a step-by-step video walkthrough of how to install WordPress on your new blog and configure the right settings:


Naturally in this one video, we don’t cover everything about WordPress, but remember that these are the basics you need to accomplish first.

Spend time familiarizing yourself with the admin area of your WordPress blog. Explore and test things out. You’ll develop a much deeper understanding of how WordPress works and which things you can quickly change about your site’s visual appearance and functionality. This is when the fun really begins!

Choosing the best (free) WordPress theme for your blog

When you’re just getting started, I don’t usually recommend buying a paid WordPress theme right away. Once you have some traffic and can justify the investment, then it’s smart to choose a premium, paid theme with more features and options. For right now though, a complex theme will be a distraction from your most important priority of actually bringing readers to your new blog.

WordPress comes with a ton of free themes to choose from, so start with one of the options you like in Appearance > Themes > Add New Theme > Popular without spending much time on this for now. You can always come back and change it later.

I recommend either the Hello Theme or Astra (both of which are 100% free and have the ability to upgrade more later).

How to Choose a WordPress Theme for Your New Blog (Screenshot of Astra and Hello Theme)

I like these two WordPress themes because they’re both crisp, clean, simple and will get you to a great starting point without needing to invest in a paid theme as you’re starting out. Later, you can evaluate more of the other WordPress themes out there.

What if I want to choose a different WordPress theme (or switch later)?

Why design is so important when learning how to start a blog

Even if you don’t really care about design yourself, your readers will shift their behavior quite dramatically based on the features of your blog layout. In fact, during a 2012 study from Google and the University of Basel, researchers found that users judge a website’s aesthetic beauty and perceived functionality in 1/20th — 1/50th of a second. Plus, thanks to a little psychological bias called the Halo Effect, people will extend that judgement to all aspects of your blog.

What this means, is that in less time than it takes to snap their fingers, a reader has decided whether or not to trust your blog.

Good blog design builds trust. It tells people that you care enough about your blog to make it look nice. This doesn’t mean you need crazy animations or tons of fonts and colors. In fact, the best designs are simple, clear and easy to read.

Once you’ve settled on the right theme for your WordPress blog, it’s time to dive into the world of WordPress plugins, to help unlock even more customizations and must-do prep work in order to give your blog a strong chance of developing into a full on business.

7 essential WordPress plugins you should install on your blog today

WordPress plugins play an absolutely crucial role in how your blog will function.

What is a WordPress plugin and why are they important?

The only problem is that, there are literally thousands of different plugins and blogging tools to choose from. To help you cut through all the noise… these are the 7 must-have WordPress plugins to install when you start a blog today:

  1. Yoast SEO: The more people that can find your content, the better your blog will do. The Yoast WordPress plugin helps you to optimize your blog post titles, descriptions, content length and other elements across your entire blog so that you can be found easier by search engines.
  2. WPForms: You’ll want your readers to be able to get in touch with you easily, which I highly recommend—as it’ll encourage other bloggers who want to collaborate with you an easy opportunity to reach out. WPForms is an easy-to-use plugin that allow you to drag & drop contact forms onto any page of your blog.
  3. Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress: This is a 100% free Google Analytics plugin that allows you to see all of your relevant analytics data directly inside WordPress. Connect the plugin to your Google Analytics account (you can sign up for a free Google Analytics account right here) to find out who’s coming to your site, how long they’re sticking around, and what your most popular blog posts are.
  4. UpdraftPlus: Again, sometimes things will go wrong on your blog (and it won’t always be totally in your control). It’s always smart to have a backup plugin that’ll save all your hard work on a regular basis, and this free one stands high above the rest.
  5. WP Rocket: Faster websites rank better in Google and give your readers a better experience. WP Rocket is a plugin that caches your pages, reduces your file sizes, and does much more to ensure that your blog loads faster for everyone.
  6. MaxCDN: Speaking of speed, MaxCDN makes images and other static elements of your blog load faster as well, earning this plugin top marks to consider as a complement to also using WP Rocket.
  7. Insert Headers and Footers: Sometimes to edit your theme, you’ll have to add code snippets to your header or footer (it’s not as scary as it sounds). However, doing it in the code of your theme can cause issues. This plugin lets you add small snippets of code easily to select locations around your blog.
  8. Bonus — Lightweight Accordion: If you like the way I create the collapsible (accordion-style) content boxes here throughout this guide and in the FAQ section near the bottom of this post, then I highly recommend installing the free plugin I use to make those content sections come to life: Lightweight Accordion. In just a few clicks with this plugin, you can quickly add collapsible FAQ box functionality to your WordPress blog.

Basic WordPress blog settings you want to become familiar with now

There are many different reasons to start a blog and just as many unique goals you may have in mind. Regardless, it pays to have a basic understanding of the broader aspects of how WordPress functions, so that you can control the visual appearance of your blog.

Let’s dig into a few of the bigger picture settings that you can find in your WordPress dashboard.

Permalinks (URLs)

How to optimize your WordPress permalink settings (click to expand)

Cleaning up your default site URL

How to clean up your default site URL (click to expand)

Setting your blog homepage

How to set your blog's homepage (click to expand)

Setting up your blog’s menu

How to set up a menu on your WordPress blog (click to expand)

Alright, we’ve covered the basic foundations of getting your WordPress settings dialed in. Now, let’s dig into creating a few of the main pages on your blog.

Creating the main pages of your blog (about, contact, hire)

Every blog needs to showcase some basic, foundational information. Who you are. Why people should listen to you. How they can get in touch with you if they have questions or want to work with you.

These pages are all pretty standard, but they’re also a great way to have some fun and let your readers get to know you. In fact, I use my own About page to not only introduce who I am and tell my story, but also to explain my value proposition (for potential clients looking to hire me as a freelance content marketer) and show off some of my recent achievements.

Here are step-by-step instructions for how to write an About Me page that does the same:

How to write an About page for your blog

How to Write an About Me Page for Your Blog (Example Screenshot) from Ryan Robinson's Blog

You might not think much about it, but your About page can quickly become one of the most popular pages on your blog.

How to write your blog's about page (click to expand)

Use your about page to show the value you’re creating for your readers—and work hard to earn that attention. No matter how you craft your about page, don’t forget to think about the context of the person you’ll be talking to there.

How to write a Contact page for your blog

Another often overlooked page that you’ll want to include on your blog is a simple way for people to contact you.

Screenshot Example of a Contact Page to Use When Learning How to Start a Blog

While mine goes into more depth, your Contact page can be as simple as having your email and social media accounts listed on a page. Or, if you’d rather not have your personal email out there for anyone to find, you can include a contact form.

How to create a contact page for your blog (click to expand)

Think about what types of communication you want your readers to use and for what. You can use your Contact page to set those expectations right away.

New to Starting a Blog with WordPress? Check Out These Technical Tutorials

If you want to spend a little more time tuning up your new WordPress blog and experimenting with all of your settings, then check out these quick WordPress tutorials:


Want my Free Course: How to Start a Profitable Blog in 7 Days?

Enter your name and email address and you’ll get instant access to my course that’s been featured on ForbesBusiness Insider and Entrepreneur.

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4. Write your first blog post

Learning How to Write Your First Blog Post (Writing Tutorial) and Illustration

You don’t read a blog because it looks nice or because they publish frequently. (Although those both help).

You read a blog because you care about what it says. Creating strong content is what will bring you readers and help you to eventually make money blogging.

Before you get too far down the road of creating a blog business plan, laying out your content roadmap and writing your first blog post—you need to answer one simple question… Why?

  • Why do you care for the topic you’re blogging about?
  • Why should other people listen to what you’re saying?
  • Why is this a topic that you can add value to?

To answer these questions, I like to think of a blog like any other business and re-emphasize the importance of picking a clear niche.

What is a blog niche?

Does my blog need to have a niche right away?

Now, if you’re unsure, or if no niche comes to mind right away, that’s OK. We can coax it out with a few questions.

Ask these questions to determine a smart niche to start a blog in:
  • What’s an interest or dream from your childhood that you find exciting?
  • What’s the absolute best part of your day?
  • Do you have any hobbies or hobbies that you want to learn?
  • What is a deeply held value of yours?
  • What’s one achievement that you’re incredibly proud of?

Right away, you should have an idea or two for a clear niche you could start blogging about. It’s ok if your niche grows, evolves and changes over time.

Taking it a step further: How to know if there’s a business opportunity for your blog niche

If you want to make money from your blog, you’ll also want to do a bit of research to see if there is a market demand for your niche. What this means is: Are people actively searching for what you’re writing about? And can you add value and help them in a way that makes you money?

In order to create a business from your blog, you need to solve a real problem for people. To do this, I use a simple spreadsheet I call the Niche Market Demand Checker (you can get a free copy of it in my course right here), which will help make sure you create content that your target audience will find useful.

Niche Market Demand Checker (Keyword Estimator) to Choose Smart Blog Post Ideas Screenshot

Take the blog niche that you’re thinking about and come up with 5–10 keyword phrases or topics within that niche that you would write about. So, if we wanted to learn how to start a blog about playing guitar you might choose keywords like “best guitar books”, “how to play guitar”, “beginner guitar chords”, “what guitar should I buy” and so on.

Now, let’s do a little keyword research. Enter one of those keywords from above into your Google search. If there are tens of millions (or more) results, that’s a pretty strong indicator that people care about your topic. But to be extra sure, I like to use a free tool like Twinword Ideas to check the Monthly Search Volume (how many people are searching for this term each month).

Do this for each of your keywords and look at the results. If all of your top keywords have a Monthly Search Volume of 5,000 – 10,000, you’ve definitely got a potentially profitable niche. If you’re too much over that up into the high hundreds of thousands of Monthly Searches, you might want to get more specific with your niche rather than competing with much larger, established websites on more popular subjects.

Brainstorming smart blog post ideas (using keyword research)

Ahrefs Tool Screenshot for Doing Effective Keyword Research

Even once you’ve established the niche you’re going to be blogging about, you have to do smart keyword research in order to generate the right blog post ideas that’ll actually bring you readers.

So, what about the actual posts you’re going to write? The good news is you can honestly write whatever you want! This is your blog after all, and one of the major benefits of learning how to start a blog for yourself—is that it’s your platform to speak and share. But, I can say from experience that the ideas don’t always come naturally.

This is where I believe a simple editorial calendar is so important. It’s just a basic document to fill out that’ll give you a roadmap to always knowing what you’re writing next. It frees you up to spend more time on the fun of actually putting posts together—not banging your head against the wall trying to come up with smart blog post ideas.

5 ways to come up with clever blog post ideas

Here’s a simple process I use for coming up with the specific blog posts I write for my own blog.

5 ways to come up with unique blog post ideas (click to expand)

If I’m still left needing more ideas, I’ll turn to a few more creative tactics…

  • Seeing what other bloggers in my niche covered (and what did well).
  • Taking a look at my most successful posts to see what readers like most.
  • Doing more quote roundup posts (like my posts about business advice and online business tools) that don’t require a ton of original thought and effort from my end.
  • Chatting with bloggers in my space and brainstorming fresh ideas.
  • Talking about specific lessons I’ve recently learned (and my advice).
  • Reflecting on the blogging mistakes I’ve made and the tactics that work today.

By this point, I’ve usually got a fully restocked content calendar.

Still need some more content inspiration? Here are