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Blogging

How to Start a Successful Blog: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

coffee blogging

I started my first blog about health and wellness four years ago, and was instantly hooked on blogging. I haven’t looked back since! 

After working on that blog for three months, it started generating income. Although I was very excited to be a money making blogger, I also realized I had made some mistakes. I wasn’t really passionate about my niche and I didn’t like my blog’s design or name.

So, I took what I had learned and started over. Now, I run Laurel Christine full time and I absolutely love it. My blog also helps potential clients find me (I work with individuals and businesses on marketing, branding, design and creative direction).

Blogging takes dedication and time, but you can make thousands of dollars (even hundreds of thousands) each month if you keep at it, plus it’s a lot of fun! There are so many reasons to start a blog, whether you’re interested in blogging full-time or as a hobby. As you’re starting your blogging journey, there are some key strategies that will help you grow a large audience and run a successful website. So, I’m going to share all my tips on starting a blog, mistakes I’ve made along the way that you can avoid, and how to grow a successful blogging business.

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     Step 1: Choose Your Topic and Establish Your Audience

 

If you’ve been looking into how to start a blog, you’ve most likely seen a lot of people talk about a ‘niche’ and how you must have one in order to be successful. There are actually a number of different ways you can approach blogging depending on your goals and interests.

It is true that if you select a specific niche, such as ‘men’s sneakers’ or ‘passive income,’ you can build up a large audience and potentially make a lot of money. I think that if your main reason to start a blog is to make money this is the best way to go. It’s also a great learning experience if this is your first time blogging. If you have a certain topic you’re interested in and want to focus on that, go for it! Just keep in mind that you’ll be writing articles about that niche every day, and make sure to choose a niche that has enough different topics for you to continue writing about week after week.

I personally approach blogging a bit differently, for a few reasons. One, I have so many different interests that I want to write about, and I didn’t want to start ten different blogs. So, I started a lifestyle blog focused on sustainability and the future.  Within that, I talk about travel, fashion, personal finance, and more. Also, my blog is part of a larger business which includes working with clients and selling products.

Although blogging is about sharing your story and perspective, it’s also about providing valuable information to your readers. So, rather than thinking about your niche, think about your potential audience. Who will read your blog, and what topics fit together well to serve your audience? For example, if your topic is Home Decor, you could include articles about DIY projects, your favorite interior designers, books about interior design, etc. You could even expand your blog over time to talk about real estate and home ownership.

You may be starting your blog just for fun, but if you have any interest in growing it into a business it’s important to create a plan for what that might look like.

1. First, figure out WHY you’re starting your blog. Write down your goals for your blog and what you’re interested in writing about. Is your goal to add a blog to your existing business, or is the blog its own business? Imagine it’s five years from now, what do you hope to have accomplished with your blog?

2. Now, choose your topic.

Do you love styling different outfits and sharing your personal style with the world? Start a fashion blog!

Is your goal to travel and share your adventures with your readers? Travel it is.

Or perhaps you’d rather stay behind the scenes and blog about the latest computer gear or growing a beautiful garden. You can blog about anything!

3. Next, start thinking about the types of content that fit into the topic you want to focus on. If you’re a fashion blogger, narrow down your focus. Perhaps it’s a certain style of fashion, or fashion that works for the city you live in. My blog is about living a sustainable, future-thinking life. Within that I talk about eco travel, fashion, financial planning, healthy living, and more. I also throw in personal tidbits about growing up in Silicon Valley, my love for animals and art.

4. Now that you’ve narrowed down your topic, figure out how you will create content that your audience will enjoy. Who is your target audience? For me, it’s 30-50 something, nature-loving men and women who enjoy unique experiences and healthy lifestyles. Your audience will shift over time, but you’ll want to keep them in mind as you create content, because they’re the ones reading it!

5. Finally, poke around the internet and see if anyone else is already writing about your same topic. Read some of their articles, check out their photographs and graphic design, as well as their social media channels. Figure out how you can distinguish yourself from these bloggers. What can you do differently or better?

These initial steps are crucial to your success. If you know what you’re writing about, and who you’re writing for, you’ll be able to create quality content and grow your blog a lot faster. Since my background is in photography and design, I make sure to always include top notch images and layouts in my blog. I also love research, so I differentiate myself by going into a lot of detail and depth about each topic.

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Step 2: Get Your Blog up and Running

Now for the fun part! I’m going to walk you through the step by step process of setting up a WordPress blog.

1. Coming up with your Blog Name

This part took me a long time, and I actually put off starting my blog because I couldn’t decide on the name. Your blog name might seem super important, but it’s more important to get started and to create an awesome blog. Your voice and your work will speak for itself!

Your blog name isn’t nearly as important as your content. 

Think about a name that will still work for you in five years, that won’t limit you. Your name is part of your brand, and you want it to grow with you.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of options, don’t overthink it.

Pick one and run with it! 

Now, it’s up to you how specific you want your blog name to be. If you go with something like ‘Tales of a 30 Year Old,’ once you turn 31 it won’t exactly be relevant any more. However, you could also get creative in how you grow it. Maybe you start interviewing 30 year olds, or you talk about what you learned since you were 30… you get the idea.

 

A Few Tips for Picking a Great Blog Name

  • Go to Bluehost and click on Domains at the top of the page to search for domain name ideas you have.
  • Avoid Using Confusing Punctuation and Words: A domain name like APyratesLyfe4M3.com might be funny, but you’re not setting yourself up for success if you choose a confusing name. You’ll often be telling people your blog name in person, so think about how it will sound and the spelling. Avoid hyphens, strange spellings, and anything other than .com
  • Most domain names you think of will already be taken. So get creative, come up with a made up word, use a phrase or saying as your blog name. 
  • Use a .com or .co domain. There are many strange and funny domain names out there, but your readers will automatically type in .com when they go to your site. .com looks professional and is easy to remember. 
  • Be Unique: There are a lot of blogs out there. Be you, not everybody else!
  • Make it Easy to Remember: If your name is too long, you have to spell it out every time you say it, or it’s too strange people will have trouble with it. Simple is better.
  • Check the Social Channels: Can you get the Instagram and twitter handles for your name? If you have to use a different name on every marketing channel, you’re better off choosing a different name.
  • Look to the Future: If you plan to grow your blog along with your life, don’t pick a name that won’t work with you for the long run. Are you always going to want to write about the color pink or shabby chic furnishings? Anticipate how your content and your tastes might shift over time.
  • You and Your Brand: You can also use your own name as your blog name (like me!) or your blog can be part of the work you already do. You are already your own brand. This is especially true for freelancers and digital nomads. For example, if you are a digital nomad who does freelance graphic design, you can combine your online portfolio of graphic design work with your travel blog! I personally decided to go with my name (first and middle name) because I also design a fashion line and do marketing work with clients. It made the most sense for me to combine everything under one name.
  • If you’re still having trouble, try making a list of words related to your niche topic. Play around with pairing them together, changing their spelling a little bit, or using a thesaurus to find similar words. Add in your name for a fun and playful name, or add in a descriptive adjective. For example, if you’re a travel blogger named Stacy, you could try TravelsWithStacy, StacysAdventures, OnTheRoadWithStacy…. etc 

Set up your Domain and Hosting

Now we start to get a big technical, but trust me, you can do this!

If you aren’t familiar with how websites are built, there are a few terms you’ll need to learn. The first is the difference between a domain name and hosting. These are sometimes sold as a pair, but you will need both.

  • A domain is the URL of your blog. For example, my domain is ByLaurelChristine.com. To keep your website up and running, you’ll need to pay an annual fee for the domain.
  • Your website contains information which needs to be stored somewhere on the internet. This is where hosting comes in. You’ll need to pay monthly or annually for web hosting, which is internet space for your blog’s content.

I’m a big fan of Bluehost. It’s super easy to set up as a beginner and use and they have excellent customer service. Also, when you sign up for hosting they’ll include a free domain name registration, which makes starting your blog quick and simple.

EXCLUSIVE OFFER: When you sign up for Bluehost through my blog, you’ll pay just $3.95/month rather than $7.99!

Here are a few reasons why I recommend Bluehost: 

  • It’s very beginner friendly
  • They offer excellent 24-hour customer service
  • One click WordPress installation
  • Very competitive prices
  • You can set up unlimited domain names and email addresses
  • Create a custom email address for your domain 

Let’s get your blog up and running! Once you’re at Bluehost, click on the green button that says “Get Started”

Select a Plan

 

Select the Basic Plan (you can upgrade later when your blog gets more traffic, but for a new blog the basic plan is all you need.)

 

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Hit SELECT on the Basic Plan, and you’ll be sent to the next page:

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Now, enter the domain name you’d like to use for your blog into the search box on the LEFT.

Or, if you’ve already bought a domain, type it into the box on the RIGHT.

When you click Next, you’ll be taken to the next page where you’ll see your package information. You can uncheck all the boxes, you don’t need those Package extras.

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I recommend that you go with the Basic 36-month plan. You’ll pay $3.95 per month rather than $5.95 per month. One of the best things about starting a blog is there aren’t many costs to get your blog set up. Hosting is actually your biggest start up cost.

And there you have it! You now own your domain and have your hosting set up. Now, let’s create your blog.

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Setting up your Blog on WordPress

 

Now that you have your domain and hosting, we can get your blog up and running. 

I would recommend using WordPress.org, which is one of the most popular blogging platforms. Make sure you’re using WordPress.org, not WordPress.com! WordPress.com doesn’t allow self-hosting, which you have set up through Bluehost.

People often ask me if they should use Wix or Squarespace as their blogging platform. I would not recommend it. Squarespace is great for a simple website that doesn’t have a blog, but WordPress can grow with your blog over time. They offer endless options for the design and functionality of your blog, while still being straightforward for beginners.

You’ll also pay a subscription if you use other platforms, whereas WordPress is free to use. If you start building your blog on another platform and then realize you want to switch to WordPress, it will be a huge pain to move everything over later.

So, let’s set up your WordPress site! 

You can set up WordPress right from your Bluehost dashboard. So, once you’ve signed up for hosting on Bluehost, they’ll ask you to choose a password for WordPress:

 

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Once you log in, you’ll be asked to choose a theme. I’m going to be walking you through the process to set up a custom theme, so don’t worry too much about which theme you choose right now.
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Once you’ve picked a theme, click START BUILDING. And we’re in!

You’ll be asked whether you want to set up a business or personal site. Select Business.

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On the next page you’ll input your website’s name and description. Don’t worry too much about the description, we’ll be changing that later to help with your rankings on search engines.
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Next, choose a “Static Welcome Page.” When you customize your theme you’ll also want to customize your home page. This allows you to do that.

If you’re asked whether you want to install WooCommerce, select “not now.” WooCommerce is a plugin which allows you to sell digital and physical products on your website. You can add this to your site later if you want to start selling products.

 

You Did It! You Now Have Your Own Blog! 

Whenever you want to log into your website, you’ll type in http://yourdomainname.com/wp-admin to your browser, which will take you to this page:

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Type in your username and password and you’ll be logged into your WordPress Dashboard. Be sure to bookmark the login page for easy access.

Now, let’s get you acquainted with the WordPress Dashboard. On the left hand side of the page you’ll see:

  • Posts – This is where you’ll write and publish your blog posts
  • Pages – This is where you’ll build and edit static pages on your website, such as your About Me or Contage Page
  • Comments – This is where you’ll reply to comments on your blog posts or mark them as spam
  • Appearance – This is where you can customize the appearance of your blog
  • Plugins – This is where you will install and edit plugins for your blog
  • Settings – This is where you can edit website settings

WordPress can be a bit overwhelming at first, but if you need a tutorial you can find pretty much anything at WordPress for Beginners. 

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Connecting to Google Analytics

 

Using Google Analytics, you can see how many people visit your site, which pages they look at, and a lot more. You can see in-depth information about where your readers are from, their ages, how they found your blog.. you name it.

If you go to the Google Analytics website, they’ll take you step by step through the process to connect your website.

I use Monster Insights Google Analytics Plugin, which makes it really easy to connect your site. I like the plugin because it shows analytics directly inside the WordPress Dashboard, so I don’t need to go to the Google Analytics website on a daily basis to look at my website traffic. You can also use Monster Insights to track individual affiliate links, ecommerce, and more.

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 Step 3: Customizing Your Blog

 Now for the fun part!

Blog Branding and WordPress Themes

 

Now that your blog is up and running, you get to pick out a theme and design your blog’s aesthetic. I love creating brands (it’s actually something I do with my clients if you need any help!)

Your brand is more than just colors and fonts, I like to think of it as an entire world that you create from scratch. In your blog’s world, how do people speak? What music do they listen to, what are their values? When I design a brand I like to make a mood board or Pinterest board with imagery and words describing all the senses. You can even make a collaged brand mood board and hang it up on your wall!

Although you don’t need to have every detail of your brand ironed out at the beginning, there are a few choices you’ll want to make as you’re getting started:

Aesthetic Consistency: You can decide to change them later, but pick out your brand colors and fonts and keep them consistent throughout your site. Keep in mind that if you install a WordPress theme and change it later, your content doesn’t always change seamlessly. You may need to hire a professional to do some coding and customization.

What is your brand ethos? Building a successful brand and blog isn’t about connecting with everyone, it’s about connecting with a specific audience. You don’t have to have mainstream appeal to be successful, but you do need to be consistent. Think about what point of view your blog will take, and what values you’ll convey. It’s better to be true to yourself than to try and fabricate something you think people want.

Your brand voice. Will you use emojis in your writing, or long and poetic sentences? Is your voice funny, or informative? Write down some keywords about your brand, such as cute, technical, sarcastic, or luxurious.

It can be useful to create a Pinterest board for your brand, including colors, inspirations, and ideas! You can also start out simple and add more to your blog later.

Choosing the Perfect Theme

 

Pre designed WordPress themes include page layouts, fonts, colors, and blog formatting. There are thousands of themes out there for you to choose from, some are free and some have a one time fee of $30-60. The nice thing about themes is you can just install one and begin creating content for your site immediately. You can also make changes to the theme to fit your style.

  • Elegant Themes has many beautiful themes to choose from. The theme I use is from Elegant Themes.
  • Creative Market is a great resource for themes (they also have beautiful fonts, illustrations, and other graphic assets.)
  • Envato (formerly known as ThemeForest) has a large selection of high quality themes.

Between these sites you have thousands of themes to choose from. Although some of them are free, I recommend using a premium theme, because they are better looking and will grow with you over time. Premium themes come with more customization options, better customer support, and are simply more beautiful.

Make sure that the theme you choose is for WordPress, not another platform, that it’s mobile-responsive and has customer support.

 

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The Divi Theme

I personally use the Divi Theme builder from Elegant Themes, and I highly recommend it. Divi is actually the most popular WordPress theme in the world, because it allows you to create any look you want and it offers in-page editing. What this means is you can actually build each page and post visually using drag and drop, rather than using code and a backend editor. Within Divi you can select your own fonts and color scheme, to fully customize your blog. It even comes with more than 800 page and post templates that you can customize.

Check out a few of the awesome things you can do with Divi!

 

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Once you decide on your theme, you’ll need to install it on your site.

Your theme will most likely include installation instructions, but this is generally what you will do:

  • Download the theme’s .zip file (don’t unzip it)
  • Log into WordPress
  • Click on Appearance > Themes > Upload
  • Upload the .zip file
  • Follow the instructions to customize your site

Logo and Design

 

The next step in your branding process is to create a logo. When you’re first starting your blog, you may not be ready to create a logo yet. If this is the case, many WordPress themes give you the option of displaying your blog name in the header. If you do want to create a custom logo and other design elements for your blog, there are many good resources out there for beautiful design:

 

  • You can learn the basics of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator (maybe you already know them!) and create your own logo .
  • You can hire a designer to create a custom logo and graphics for you. I recommend this option unless you already have graphic design skills. Two great places to hire freelancers are Upwork and Fiverr.
  • Creative Market has many beautiful pre-designed logos you can customize
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User Experience

 

Now, let’s do a little exercise. Imagine you’re a reader visiting your blog for the first time. Think about the experience you have when you visit other people’s blogs and websites. Is it clear what the website is about? Does the navigation make sense and the aesthetic consistent? Your goal is to make the experience of visiting your site as seamless and enjoyable as possible, which is what we call “user experience.”

Spend some time visiting your favorite websites and take notes on what you like and don’t like about their navigation, layouts, and flow.

Once you install your theme, you can start creating pages and figuring out your navigation. You can always change it later, but starting out with a clean and simple layout will help you grow an audience faster.

Set up your Menu bar in the Appearance > Menus section by dragging and dropping the pages you want into your menus.

I actually draw the layouts for all my website pages on paper before creating them. It helps me to zoom out and see the full layout before making final decisions about it, and also saves me from spending time building something and changing it a bunch of times.

Essential Plugins for Blogs

 

Plugins add additional functionality and customization to your blog. There are thousands of plugins out there for you to choose from, but when you’re getting started there are just a few that I recommend installing. After you install each plugin you’ll want to go into the settings and set it up the way you want it.

 

Here are my favorite WordPress Plugins:

 

Akismet Anti-Spam: Blogs get bombarded by spam comments constantly. You don’t want to have to deal with these, so Akismet automatically gets rid of them for you.

Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights: MonsterInsights connects your blog with Google Analytics and shows your key analytics to you directly inside the WordPress Dashboard.

Imagify: Uploading large images to your blog can slow it down and really hurt your user experience. Imagify automatically optimizes images to be web friendly as you upload them. There are some things you’ll want to learn about image optimization but we’ll get into that later.

Media Cleaner: As you grow your blog, you’ll inevitably end up uploading multiple copies of images, and uploading files that you don’t actually end up using. Media Cleaner quickly goes through your images and files and allows you delete the ones that aren’t being used.

UpdraftPlus: Back up your site!!!! UpdraftPlus automatically backs up your site for you regularly.

Wordfence Security: Wordfence protects you from viruses and malware.

Yoast SEO: Yoast is essential for helping improve your rankings on search engines like Google. They have tons of resources about SEO and how to improve your rankings.

 

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Step 4: Start Creating Compelling Content

Phew, you’re doing great! Start thinking about what your first blog post is going to be!

Set Up Your Website Pages

 

Now that you’ve installed your theme and plugins, you’re ready to create the main pages of your website and blog. When you want to create a new page, click Pages > Add New on the left sidebar of the WordPress Dashboard.

Pages are static content, such as your About Me page and Contact Page. Your blog posts will show up in blog feeds and can be tagged and categorized.

It can be useful to draw out a diagram of your website’s structure on paper, including pages and blog categories and the content you plan to include in each.

The pages I’d recommend creating first are:

Home Page: Your theme has probably already created a homepage for you, but you’ll want to go in and edit the images and text.

About Me Page: Upload a photo of yourself and a couple paragraphs about you and your blog. Your readers will want to learn more about you and what they can expect to find on your blog.

Contact Page: If people want to get in touch with you, they’ll need to know how. Include a contact form or your email so readers can get in touch.

 

These are just the basic pages for now, as your blog grows you’ll get a better sense for what pages you need to create. You may already have a few pages in mind that you want to go ahead and design. Since I also work with clients, I have a Projects page and a Services page.

SEO Basics

Creating content that ranks well on Google and other searches is key to building a successful blog. Before you jump into writing posts (I know, you’re chomping at the bit to hit ‘publish’) take some time to learn the basics of keywords and how SEO works. There is a ton to learn which you’ll pick up along the way, but the more you understand from the beginning the easier it will be to start ranking. The main thing to remember is that you want to create high quality content within your topic. 

Go through the set up process for the Yoast SEO plugin. There are tons of resources online to help you learn about SEO, including Yoast’s blog. 

 

Getting Organized

As you start building your blog, you’ll figure out your own systems of organization that work for you. The more you can streamline and organize, the more efficient you’ll be. Blogs have many moving parts, and it can get stressful trying to balance them all, so do yourself a favor and take the time to create an organizational system! 

 

Here are a few of my tips for organization: 

Images: I use Dropbox to organize my files and images. It works really well because I can access my images on any device, and it saves space on my hard drive. Create some basic folders for your images, such as a folder with your logo and brand imagery, a folder with images of you, and a folder with travel or fashion photos (if that’s your niche.) 

Blog Post Ideas: If you’re like me, you’ll start waking up in the middle of the night with lists of blog posts you want to write. Create a Google Doc, Word Doc, Spreadsheet, or a paper journal where you keep all your ideas.  

Create a Schedule: When I started blogging I was also working a full time job. To keep your sanity and make sure you regularly work on your blog, schedule out time to write and edit posts, answer emails, and make website updates. I have used a paper Passion Planner for seven years, it goes with me everywhere. I personally prefer to use a paper planner, but you may like using a calendar on your phone or computer.  

Bookmarks: In your website browser, create a folder for your blog. Bookmark any sites you know you’ll be visiting regularly, such as Google Analytics, a link to your list of blog post ideas, and links to your social media pages. 

Get a Whiteboard: Sometimes you just want to break out the dry erase markers. I use my whiteboard to keep track of client projects, urgent to do list items, ideas, and doodles. I also have mood board imagery pasted on my wall for inspiration. 

Create a Content Calendar

As you’re getting organized, figure out how often you’ll realistically be able to publish posts. If you work full time, you might make it a goal to post twice a week to start. Or maybe you have the time to post every day. When I started, I posted once a week for the first few months and built up to posting every day.

The more often you can post, the better, since it will help with your search engine rankings, and if readers come back they want to see something new.

Within your main blog topic, write down what your subtopics are going to be. For example, if you’re writing a blog about budget travel you might include posts about budget airlines, travel credit cards, and budget hotels.

Make a list of blog posts that fit into each of those subtopics. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many subtopics and ideas, just stick to 2-3 topics and make a list of 10-15 blog articles you can write within those topics.

Once you decide which articles you’re going to write first, schedule out writing and editing time in your calendar!

 

Create Beautiful Images and Graphics

Beautiful imagery can really make your blog stand out, and is especially important on Instagram and Pinterest. Your readers will get to know your visual style and you’ll gain new followers if you show them stunning images. For each blog post you create, include high quality photographs and graphic design for social media.

Some of my favorite tools for creating imagery are:

Adobe Suite: I use Adobe Lightroom to edit photographs, and I use Adobe Photoshop to add text to images, resize and crop them.

CanvaA really amazing tool to quickly create beautiful graphics for social media. Tons of free templates for Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and more.

Unsplash: Great source for free, high quality stock images.

Pexels: Another great source for free stock images.

Creative Market: Tons of fonts, illustrations, and other graphic content to add to your posts.

LC Lightroom Presets: I edit my photographs using personalized Lightroom Presets to keep my imagery looking consistent and on brand.

 

Start Posting!

And there you have it. You now have your own blog set up and ready to grow. If you have any blogging questions, struggles and successes you’d like to chat with me about, don’t hesitate to reach out. I hope this guide has been helpful to you and I wish you the greatest success with your blog!

 

 

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. I personally use and love all the products I recommend, and the income goes towards creating this site and keeping it free to use!

Are you starting your own blog? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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