So, you want to start a blog? Great! But alas – where do you begin?
Updated: May 2016
Don’t worry! Three years ago I was also in same situation, so to celebrate my blog anniversary, I’ve decided to sum up how to start a blog for beginners in this 3,000 word blogging guide.
There are lots of people who have compiled various posts on ‘how to start a blog uk’ and ‘steps to building a successful website‘, but unfortunately, a lot of it is outdated. I’ve put this together, so hopefully this can be your ‘one stop shop’ when creating a blog.
What we’ll cover in this blogging guide:
- Why you should start a blog
- Selecting a niche for your blog
- Deciding what blog platform to use
- Choosing a domain name
- How to choose your hosting provider
- Choosing a theme for your blog
- Installing Google Analytics
- Setting up social media accounts
- Brainstorming blog post ideas
- Optimising your website for SEO
- Useful resources for starting a blog
Why you should start a blog
If you’re here, you probably don’t need anymore convincing. Whether you want to flex your creative muscles, develop your writing skills or make money on your blog – starting a blog couldn’t be easier. The beauty of a blog is that you can maintain from any PC with internet, wherever you are in the world, or from your smartphone, which everyone has now. You need no knowledge of any specific software to create your blog and maintain it.
If you told me 3 years ago that my silly little blog would have taken me on the adventures it has and provided me with a wealth of opportunities, I’d never believe you! If you need any more reasons to start a blog, I’ve outlined why you should start a blog today:
- You’ll become a better writer
- You’ll meet new people
- You’ll make some money
- You’ll inspire others
- It’ll serve you as a personal journal
- It’ll make you happy
- It offers you freedom
- You’ll learn new skills
- You’ll become a better thinker
- You’ll always learn new things
- You’ll become more confident
- It challenges you
- It’s free (or affordable)
- It teaches you disciplines
- It enhances your CV
- It boosts your creativity
Selecting a niche for your blog
Let’s get started… Picking a niche (the right niche) is, in my opinion, one of the hardest tasks when starting a blog. It defines the theme for your blog and what it is going to talk about. It’ll also define the type of audience your blog will attract and (more likely) the number of visits you’re going to get. So, investing time into choosing your blog’s topic is important.
Finding the right niche is a process that usually involves three stages: Brainstorming, selection and market research.
Spend a couple of days getting ideas for your blog. Start by creating a list of themes you resonate with; this will tell us what we know, what we enjoy talking about and what we enjoy reading. If you need a bit of inspiration, I recently put together a list of UK lifestyle blogs to look out for in 2016.
Once we have compiled a list of themes, we have to ask to ourselves: Am I knowledgeable in the niche I’m choosing? Am I passionate about it? If you have a negative answer to any of these questions, you will need to reconsider your selection. There tonnes to choose from (i.e. beauty, lifestyle, fitness).
Now that we have narrowed our list, there are a couple of more questions we need to ask ourselves: What is our competition like? Is our niche saturated? If there are too many competitors out there, chances are that we won’t be able to stand out from the crowd anytime soon since we don’t have (yet) what it takes to challenge them.
Deciding what blog platform to use
The very first step toward starting a blog is to choose a suitable platform out of so many available online. You might have heard about WordPress; this platform is most popular and beneficial for a new blogger where you can avail countless add-on options and plugins for designing your blog.
Other than this you can think about Blogger and Tumblr which are on second and third number on best blogging platform list.
There are two ways to start a blog:
- Free blog hosts. (Blogger, Tumblr & WordPress) Your website would be something.wordpress.com
- Through your own web host with your own domain name. Your website would be YourDomain.com
WordPress, Tumblr as well as blogger offer various free blogs for beginners but they are useful only for some non-serious bloggers because here you don’t even get your own domain name and you have very limited access; whereas if you pick self hosted type blogging option then you will be owner of your domain and will be able to manage it in your own way.
I strongly suggest you go self hosted, if you want to build an audience and grow your blog. Next step should be picking a good domain name for our blog – one that is easy to remember and attractive for our audiences.
Choosing a domain name
Choosing a domain name can be really difficult. I went round in circles for months when I was starting my blog, until I realised, if I didn’t just get on with it and pick a name, I probably would never do it.
You’ll need to find a name you like, and that is relevant to your niche. It helps if you can include a keyword in there, that is going to be relevant to your posts, but hey – Zoella and Hannah Gale are doing alright, and they don’t have any keyphrases in their domains, right?
The most important thing, for me, was to find a name that would lend me to write about anything. I use my blog as a place to write about whatever is happening in my life, and sometimes it jumps around a lot. I didn’t want to just write about one thing, even if I do post about home decor and blogging tips often, I’m never limited.
Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to call your blog, head over to GoDaddy and type it into the search bar to see if it’s available. This might take longer than you think, because many of the names will already have been taken. Typically, you can find domains from £3 a year (I’m pretty sure I paid £5.99 for two years when I bought mine).
As for .com vs. .co.uk. I chose to go .co.uk because I’m based in the UK, so it’s better for those trying to find me over here. If I was more interested in having a worldwide presence, I would have gone .com, but this wasn’t my goal.
How to choose your hosting provider
So, you’ve got the name, now you just need to find some hosting. Web hosting is a space that is rented to keep your website. Again, I went to GoDaddy because it was easy to keep everything in one place, and they have brilliant customer support – they also offer easy installation if you aren’t technically inclined!
Just because I went with GoDaddy though, doesn’t mean you have to, as well! I’ve listed out some consideration you might want to think about before signing up for a years hosting package, so you can make an educated decision yourself (I told you blogging would teach you new things!).
- Need – The choice of choosing a web hosting company would naturally depend on your need. Understand the need why you run a website and need a hosting company. How long the hosting needed for your website? It is generally cheaper to buy more years upfront.
- Price – Cheap hosting options would be cost effective but these are only suitable for personal sites (in most cases, this is fine). But if your site is for an online business, you have to be ready to spend for a quality web hosting that will give you sufficient storage space, a 24/7 support and sufficient amount of gig transfer.
- Technical support – Some hosting providers have great offers in terms of storage space at a considerably reduced price; other well known web hosting companies would demand higher rates. More than the price, the service offered by the web hosting company should be considered. A staff of support technicians to help you with general service usage issues and other problems as they arise. As I’ve mentioned, this is why I went with GoDaddy.
- Storage space – The physical disk space on a server where your website data is stored.
- Bandwidth – The internet traffic and the networking infrastructure needed to deliver the traffic to users of your website.
- E-mail accounts – E-mail boxes where you can send and receive e-mail.
- Scripting support – The ability to run scripts (small programs that perform certain tasks) on the server.
- Backup services – A service that makes a copy of your website data in case of accidental deletion or other emergency situation.
There are so many options, but to be honest, beginners will be fine starting a blog with the basic package. Eventually you might have to upgrade, but don’t worry – your hosting provider will be more than happy to tell you when!
I’ve recently updated my hosting package because I have more than one website. If this is the case, then check out options for multiple sites, because it isn’t much more and so you’ll make huge savings even just running two sites.
Choosing a theme for your blog
Now for the creative task, where you have to design your blog, so that it can finally get your dream format. The design of your blog will reflect your personality and it will work as major factor to attract readers so be careful and give it a well-oriented look.
When you first start a blog there is a chance you will not have or want to risk the funds for professional website design, so many people turn to one of the thousands of free site templates found online. They are very user-friendly and easy to install. Just download the file and upload it to your website host – easy peasy!
Personally, I use Avada, and for my freelance website, Float Digital, I use Divi. Free website templates have problems however, although there may be thousands to choose from, the best ones seem to surface again and again. It is hard to stand out and be unique.
It is even worse if you use one of the stock themes given with Blogger or WordPress (or whatever content management system you choose to use). When an experienced internet user comes to your site, they will recognise the standard free template, especially if you leave the “Just another WordPress site” subtitle on it.
Tip!: Turn a free theme into a unique design
Some templates or themes have options you can choose once you install it on your website. You can use these to change the size of the header comic, the number of sidebars or which side they are on. Widgets give a lot of flexibility for design and there are even add-ons or plugins that can help people who do not know HTML and CSS change the design of their site.
If you do know some basic website design code, you can delve into it and switch alignments, measurements for structural values and move elements around the page. If you do change the style sheets, always save a copy of the original first – I’ve learnt this the hard way!
After you are done changing a free web template into a more unique style, remember to edit the titles, menu and all the content on the website. This is an easy way to create a custom site without web design knowledge.
Installing Google Analytics
Often an area overlooked when starting a blog. If you don’t know yet, Google Analytic is a tool that help you to track your visitors stats, number of page views and source of traffic (whether is direct, referral or organic visitors). Snorreeee, I KNOW! But believe me, it get’s interesting, and it’s free – so you have no reason not to.
It can create statistic report on posts that generate the most traffic, and which post have the lowest bounce rate, and so on. Using this tool will help you to know what kind of quality content that people like to read – perfect for planning future blog posts and driving relevant traffic to your website.
All you have to do is to sign up, copy the script code, put it in your blog template and verify it – taada! You can read more about setting up Google Analytics here, I’ve also put together everything a blogger needs to know about Google Analytics, too.
Setting up social media accounts
You’ll undoubtedly want to promote your blog using social media, so go ahead and set up your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, G+ and Pinterest before your name gets snatched up!
I’ve done a lot of experimenting over the past few years on all the platforms, and personally I decided to focus a lot of my time on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve also found that it’s better to do a couple of channels right, rather than lots of channels badly.