23 October 2020

How to Start a Blog (to Make Money or Otherwise) in 2019

Updated March 31, 2020

Wondering how to start a blog? Hi, I’m Amy. I’ve been blogging for 16 years and I like simple. In this beginner’s guide, I’ll show you how to start a blog simply (and on a budget). No technical experience required. It’s easier and faster than you think!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

I created my first blog in 2004 with zero computer experience. It took me forever because I had to Google my way through, but you don’t have to! This how-to guide has step-by-step instructions.

7 steps to start a blog

  1. Decide what to blog about
  2. Choose a blogging platform
  3. Choose a host
  4. Choose a plan
  5. Choose a domain name
  6. Set up your account
  7. Pick a theme

Don’t worry, I’ll walk you right through!

Want to skip the introduction? Click here to jump to Step 1.

What is a blog?

A blog is a type of website with posts (articles). The newest ones are usually displayed first.

Why start a blog?

Make money from home, build an author platform to get your book(s) published, get exposure for your existing business / organization, or share your story and connect with other like-minded people.

What if I want a website, not a blog?

Keep reading! The steps below will get you a website with the option of a blog. You don’t have to use the blog part. Turn it on later if you want.

How much does a blog cost?

If you follow the steps below, it works out to $5 to $10 a month when paid annually. (Not bad for your own website, right?) I blogged for years on this budget. As my blog and income grew, I started paying for more premium tools and services, but they are not required to start.

Can I start a blog for free?

Yes, but I don’t recommend it. Why? Because free services limit your money-making options, lack support, offer only basic features and can be costly to switch from. If free is truly your only option, I recommend Medium or Blogger.

These are my easy-to-follow steps to start a self-hosted WordPress blog, no technical experience required.

1. Decide what to blog about

Choose a topic (a.k.a. niche) you enjoy. Otherwise blogging will be drudgery, and who wants that? Also, make sure you have a lot to say. A blog requires a lot of content to get going and remain interesting.

What if I can’t decide on a blog topic?

Start anyway! If you’re like most of us, you’ll either switch topics or settle into something as you go. Don’t make the classic beginner mistake of thinking you have be sure of your topic before you begin.

What if others already blog about my topic?

Don’t worry! Take it as an indication people are interested in your topic. Just make your blog better or different than others talking about the same thing. Become the go-to resource for your topic or niche.

2. Choose a blogging platform

A blogging platform (a.k.a. content management system or CMS) puts your words into blog form. There are many to choose from but WordPress is by far the most popular, and widely recognized as the best. WordPress is free. Get it in Step 3.

w3techs.com

3. Choose a host

A host puts your blog on the internet. The hosting company I’ve personally used, paid for, and recommend to beginners is Bluehost. The setup is fast and they install WordPress for you automatically (Step 2). Plus, they have a money-back guarantee. Ready?

–>Click here to go to Bluehost. Hit the green Get Started button. (You’ll get a discount!)

4. Choose a plan

Click a green Select button to choose a plan. I prefer the Choice Plus plan because it has more unlimited features and includes domain privacy. Domain privacy keeps your contact information hidden from the public.

5. Choose a domain name

Your domain name is your web address (e.g. AmyLynnAndrews.com). If you know what domain name you want to use, enter it. If you’re not sure, click the link at the bottom to choose one later. I’m so glad they added the choose later option. Very handy.

What if the domain name I want is taken?

This is very common. Just choose one later. It’s not a bad idea to wait anyway. It’s amazing how much clarity comes after starting!

If I use an existing domain, will it mess up my other site?

No. Entering it here is only used to identify your Bluehost account for now.

6. Set up your account

I call this part the Maze of Many Screens, but it’s quick. Just follow the prompts. You’ll enter all the account setup things: contact info, package info, package extras (I uncheck them all), payment and password. After some questions about the nature of your blog (P.S. all are changeable or skippable), you’ll be asked to pick a theme. So, follow me to Step 7…

Can I pay Bluehost monthly instead of annually?

No, they don’t offer a monthly payment plan (hosts that do charge much more). Remember, there’s a 60-day money back guarantee through April 30, 2020. On May 1, it will switch back to the regular 30-day.

Will I still get domain privacy if I choose my domain later? Will I still get domain privacy if I use an existing domain?

Domain privacy is handled by the company where you registered your domain initially (GoDaddy, Namecheap, etc.), so contact them.

7. Pick a theme

You’re almost done! I recommend two themes: Astra or GeneratePress. Don’t worry, they are both highly customizable so they don’t have to look like they do here.

Why don’t you recommend any of the other themes?

Many themes (especially free ones) are sloppily built or not kept updated, leaving holes in your site’s security. I’m personally familiar with Astra and GeneratePress and trust both.

Congratulations, you have a self-hosted WordPress blog!

This section is for tying up a few loose ends. Be sure to complete all of these next steps to get off on the right foot. Here’s a summary list. See below for the details.

  • Log into WordPress
  • Remove your temporary domain
  • Secure your site with SSL
  • Publish your first pages in WordPress
  • Customize your blog design
  • Launch your site (& remove the Coming Soon page)

Log into WordPress

Click the WordPress button from the last step above. (Don’t see it? Click Account Login in your Bluehost confirmation email.)

You’ll be taken to your WordPress Dashboard:

The WordPress Dashboard is the nerve center of your site. It’s where you’ll publish your posts, customize your design and manage all aspects of your blog.

The black column on the left is a good indicator you are in the WordPress Dashboard. (The rest of the screen might look different. Not to worry.)

How do I log into WordPress in the future?

Type yourdomain.com/wp-login.php into your browser address bar. For example:

Or, log into your Bluehost account. From the My Sites tab in the left column, hover over your site and click Log into WordPress.

What does “Coming Soon Active” mean?

Bluehost automatically starts your blog with a Coming Soon page. Anyone who tries to access your site before it’s launched will see a coming soon page while you get things set up. When you’re ready, launch your site to make it go live. To do so, clik the yellow Coming Soon Active button and follow the prompts.

How can I see what my site looks like?

To see what your site looks like, type your domain into your browser’s address bar, or, from your WordPress Dashboard, hover over the house icon in the top left corner and click Visit Site.

Why does my site look so bad?

Because we haven’t customized it or added content yet. Don’t worry, we’ll get there!

Why doesn’t my site show up when I type my domain into my browser?

Is your site still on its temporary domain? If so, your chosen domain won’t work yet.

And remember, if your site is not launched yet, you must be logged in. Otherwise, you’ll see the Coming Soon page.

Remove your temporary domain

Your site was set up on a temporary domain. This is standard. Obviously you’ll want to switch to your permanent domain. How you do that depends on what you chose in Step 5 above.

  • Did you create a new domain? Activate it. Check your email inbox to find the domain activation email. Click the button inside to complete the activation process. Simple. Bluehost will automatically switch it for you.
  • Did you opt to choose a domain later? Register & assign it. In your Bluehost account, click Domains > Register in the left column. Enter the domain you want, add it to your cart and complete your purchase. (If you chose the Choice Plus plan, there should be a credit in your cart to make it free.) Now go to Domains > Assign and choose your new domain from the dropdown menu.
  • Did you use an existing domain? Point it. Edit the name servers where your domain is registered. Here are instructions by registrar. If you get stuck, call Bluehost and they’ll walk you through.

Wait 2-24 hours for the changes to take effect. To test it, type your permanent domain into your browser’s address bar. If your permanent domain sticks without forwarding to your temporary domain, you’re set!

What if I get stuck replacing my temporary domain?

Call Bluehost and have them walk you through. If you’re calling from the United States, the number is 1 (888) 401-4678.

Secure your site with SSL

Once your permanent domain is working, secure it. A secure site gives visitors peace of mind. It also keeps your site on Google’s good side.

You can tell if a site is secure or not by the way it looks in the address bar. An unsecure site begins with http:// but a secure site begins with https:// like so:

If you entered a new domain or opted to choose one later in Step 5, log into your Bluehost account > My Sites. Locate the site you wish to activate the free SSL for. Click Manage. Open the Security tab. Under Security Certificate toggle the Free SSL ON.

Wait a few hours for the changes to take effect. 

If you’re using an existing domain, contact the company where your domain is registered. Tell them you want to secure your site with an SSL certificate.

Publish your first pages in WordPress

This is a good time to publish some basic pages like your About page and Contact page. Doing so will bulk things up so design customizations are easier to make. It’s sort of like how it’s easier to see the print on a balloon when it’s inflated.

Here are some posts you might find helpful:

Customize your blog design

If you chose Astra or GeneratePress in Step 7 above, you have a lot of customization options. This video will show you how to make some basic customizations in GeneratePress but applies to Astra as well.

Launch your site (& remove the Coming Soon page)

Once you’re ready for your site to go live, deactivate the Coming Soon page. Click the button at the top of your Dashboard and follow the prompts:

I see my site but my friends can’t. Why?

You probably forgot to launch it. It’s easy to forget because as long as you are logged into WordPress, you will not see the Coming Soon page. Click the yellow Coming Soon Active button in your WordPress Dashboard to make it visible to all.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You are all set up and ready to start blogging. Excellent content is the key to everything else, so start there. After that, tackle the things that most suit you. There’s no right or wrong way!

Create content

Focus on consistently publishing new posts. One post a week is a good starting point, but quality is more important so adjust accordingly. Read What is Content Marketing?

Long-term goals

You will feel overwhelmed, especially at the beginning. This is normal. When it comes to starting a blog, there is a steep learning curve, but don’t give up. Push through! If you want some encouragement, read 18 Tips for New Bloggers.

The following list of posts explain things you’ll want to tackle eventually. I list them here for reference, but understand everything hinges on excellent content, so that should be your first priority.

How long does it take to make money blogging?

It varies of course, but if you treat your blog like a part-time job you should start making coffee money ($50 or less) around 6 months and a solid part-time income ($500-$1000) around 12 months. To make a consistent, full-time income ($3500+), allow 24 months.

What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

It’s confusing, I know. WordPress.com is a host, like Bluehost. WordPress.org refers to the blogging platform. (Remember how I said you need both a host and blogging platform?) I don’t recommend using WordPress.com because they severely limit control of your blog unless you pay premium fees. A WordPress.org site is often called a self-hosted WordPress site because you pick your own host. If you’re still unclear, here’s a video.

If I choose a WordPress.org blog, does my domain name have to end in .org?

No. It can end in .com or anything of the other TLDs (top-level domains) like .net, org, .me, etc.

Where can I get help?

If you encountered something unexpected during setup, contact Bluehost technical support. Calling is better than live chatting. If you’re in the US, call 844-213-7846. They have access to your account (something I don’t have) and can get you unstuck.

If you need help with WordPress, start with my WordPress Tips for Beginners.

How do I stop all the Bluehost emails?

Login to your Bluehost account. Click the person icon in the top corner and choose Profile. Uncheck the boxes under Email Preferences and Ad Preferences.

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