This one’s a big post – there’s a lot to cover so just wanted to put that disclaimer up front and center.
Over the years, I’ve used several different blog themes. And I’ve also used more than one domain provider and host (more on the reason why later). So I thought it about time I shared my experiences and insights on how to set up a blog – and what better time than during blogging week?
What I’m Wearing:
Top: Ann Taylor / Pants: J.Crew / Shoes: Vince Camuto (more colors here)
Bag: Cult Gaia (similar for less) / Earrings: Etsy (under $10!) / Rings: BaubleBar
How to Set Up A Blog
Step 1: Secure Your Domain
The absolute first step in figuring out how to set up a blog (after choosing your blog’s name, of course)? Secure that domain name!
And, ideally, that domain name (URL) is the exact same as your blog’s name.
I use GoDaddy as my domain provider. I used to use BlueHost for both my domain provider and my web hosting provider. However, after years of dreadful experiences with them, I made the switch to GoDaddy for my domain and I have been extremely happy with them.
Step 2: Purchase a Web Hosting Package
Hosting package prices will range based on your blog traffic. Based on my current traffic, I’m a mid-level blogger. However, if you have a sudden spike in traffic and you’re using a shoddy host, your site could go down. Which would be pretty dreadful.
I used to use BlueHost for my hosting provider, but every time I had a sudden spike in traffic (or sometimes even no traffic at all at 2AM), my site would go down… often for hours. After one such instance of my site going down for over 24 hours for no apparent reason whatsoever, I said enough is enough and ditched BlueHost altogether.
For the past six months, I’ve used Flywheel as my web host. And I haven’t encountered a single minute of unplanned downtime since making the switch. It’s a bit more expensive than a few of the other hosting companies, but so worth it in my opinion!
Step 3: Decide on a Back-End Website Builder
Okay… you’re probably wondering what on earth this means. Which is fair. Basically, do you want to operate your blog through WordPress.org (WordPress.com is the free version), Squarespace, or Blogger? There are advantages and disadvantages of using each, so let’s just break it down.
Blogger is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google. So you have the automatic advantage of being in the Google family. It’s easier to operate Google Analytics and AdSense through Blogger (though it isn’t particularly difficult to do so for WordPress or Squarespace). Users’ ability to customize their blogs is somewhat limited, especially by comparison to the other platforms. But, if you like operating within the Google suite of products, Blogger is definitely a great option for you!
Squarespace allows bloggers to make use of its component-based architecture. It’s easy to upload media files and creating new posts is really straightforward. I’ve been told by friends who use Squarespace that the templates are fairly easy to install, making their sites pretty easy to customize. The customization is very limited by comparison to WordPress. However, if you’re planning on launching a shop alongside your blog, I would definitely recommend Squarespace.
Third but definitely not last, WordPress. I am a big fan of WordPress. Pros: tons of customization abilities and an easy to use back-end. Writing and uploading a post is pretty stinking easy. Cons: might call for a bit more technical savvy than Squarespace and Blogger. There are so many blog themes and plugins from which users can choose, allowing users to fully customize almost every aspect of their blogs. If you’re completely at a loss when it comes to how to set up a blog, I would recommend working with a third party to help create your WordPress.org site… but I would still highly recommend using WordPress.
The following two sections pertain to WordPress.org users.
Step 4: Choose a Blog Theme
Step four of how to set up a blog is choosing a blog theme. There are literally thousands of WordPress themes out there. Some of my favorite theme creators include Pipdig, Kotryna Bass Design, and Bloom Blog Shop (I currently use the Elle theme)… but you can find tons more via the internal WordPress.org portal, Google, and even Etsy.
When it comes to actually choosing the blog theme, I recommend doing a lot of research, looking at a ton of blogs, and figuring out what you like and what you don’t like. Do you want a traditional-looking blog with a sidebar (like mine currently is), or do you want one a bit more editorial looking, like my friend Cameron’s site or Margo & Me? Would you like to have infinite scroll (like Facebook, where more posts appear as you scroll down)? What kinds of widget placement areas and what level of customization do you want to have? How would you like for your dropdown menus to appear? Which fonts and colors do you want to use throughout the blog? There are tons of things to consider, y’all!
I’d recommend looking through blogs, keeping notes, and then finding like 3-5 themes you really love and doing a pros/cons list on each. See if you can find any live previews of the themes so you can play around. You might need to hire somebody to do some additional development and customization, but a lot of that you can do yourself with minimal technical skills (typically theme sellers will also offer additional development and customization as an add-on expense).
Step 5: Determine Which Plugins to Install
Like themes, plugins are another way to customize your WordPress site. I highly recommend doing a lot of research before downloading any plugins, as some are total crap and some are seriously awesome. And the total crap ones have the potential to crash your site… which you don’t want. Obviously.
A few of my favorite plugins are:
- Akismet Anti-Spam – it protects your blog from spam and login attempts
- BackWPup – a backup plugin
- Broken Link Checker – this plugin alerts you when you have broken links, as broken links can affect your SEO
- Disqus Comment System – I use this plugin to moderate comments and easily identify spam comments (scroll down and leave a comment to see it in action!)
- jQuery Pin It Button for Images – this plugin allows you to have a “Pin It” button appear when you hover over an image (try it on one of the images above!)
- Shareaholic – this plugin allows readers to easily share your content (it’s what you see on the lefthand side of your screen if you read this post on my blog, on a desktop)
- Yoast SEO – this plugin is the plugin for SEO help (just follow the directions until it gives you the green light and your SEO will improve)
- ZipRecipes – an awesome plugin that allows bloggers to create easily printable recipes (as seen here).
If you have any additional questions about plugins, I recommend checking out my friend Stephanie’s posts here – she has a ton of insight into plugins (and WordPress/blogging as a whole)!
Okay. PHEW. That’s it for how to set up a blog, friends. I hope that this post was helpful to y’all. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below… and I’ll see y’all back here tomorrow for the third installment of my blogging basics classes: my favorite social media tools for bloggers!