Set Up Your Blog
Now that you know who you’re writing for, and you’re ready to make money blogging, it’s time to set up your blog. But first, there’s something important you need to know about this process.
It Costs Money to Start an Income-Generating Blog
But don’t worry, starting a blog doesn’t cost a fortune. I’m going to show you exactly how to set up your blog for less than $100.
Technically, you can start a blog without spending any money. Sites like Blogger and WordPress.com make it possible.
But if you plan to build an income-generating blog, don’t start there. You see, on those free sites, you don’t own your blog. It’s like renting a house instead of buying it.
When you rent, there are rules and regulations about what you can and can’t do. You might be able to hang up a picture (with removable putty), but you can’t repaint the walls on a whim. You don’t have total control of the property, because it belongs to someone else.
Like landlords, free blogging platforms have preexisting conditions you must abide by. You have to follow all the rules in the Terms of Service for your blog platform. For instance, there are strict rules concerning advertisements and sponsored content. If you violate these conditions, you risk losing your blog. And you don’t want to deal with a blogging eviction.
Control isn’t the only thing you gain by shelling out the money for a self-hosted blog. You also have more options. When you create your blog on a free platform, you can’t install many popular plugins, themes, or widgets.
These features help improve your readers’ experience, and they allow you to choose your blog’s layout and theme. Now, if all of this sounds like a foreign language, don’t worry. In the rest of this chapter, I explain each of these terms and exactly how to set up your blog.
There’s one more reason why you will want to build a self-hosted blog. It gives you credibility. When you give out your domain name, it looks like this:
If you run on a free platform, your domain looks like this:
yourdomainname.blogspot.com or yourdomainname.wordpress.com
See the difference? Which domain are you going to remember more easily? Which one looks more professional?
Owning your own blog and domain sets you up as a pro. It shows that you believe in yourself enough to invest in you. And if you don’t believe in you, why should anyone else?
The exact amount of money you need to start a blog depends on your goals. I recommend starting small, spending the least amount possible at first. Then, as you begin making money, reinvest your profits back into your blog.
Once you find your niche and audience, you can ramp things up. Invest in professional design, technical support, and marketing help. In this chapter, I show you how to start a blog for less than $100. Here are the steps to create your blog:
1. Buy a domain. This is your blog’s address. For example: mynewblog.com.
2. Buy hosting. This is where the files related to your blog are stored.
3. Select a content management system. I recommend WordPress.
4. Select a free or paid theme. This determines your blog’s look and style.
5. Install plugins and widgets to customize your blog.
6. Create blog content in the form of website pages and posts.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in and create your blog. The first step is to pick a website name and buy a domain.
Buying A Domain
Your domain is your blog’s address. When visitors head to your blog, they enter your domain in the address bar.
A domain typically costs between $10 and $20 per year, though you may be able to snag one for much less if you pick it up during a sale. You can also save if you pick up a multi-year renewal instead of a single year.
You can buy your domain through your host or buy it from a different company. Most of my domains are from GoDaddy.com because they offer a good price. Feel free to shop around and see what you can find.
You may not be able to get the domain name of your dreams. Someone else may already own it. And when someone else owns the domain you want, it costs a lot more to get it. Sometimes thousands of dollars more.
When I launched my second site, I really wanted to use my first and last name. Branding myself was the goal. However, my name as a domain was already taken, so I had to think a bit.
Since I was launching a freelance writing site, I decided to throw “writing” at the end. It worked, and I got my domain lisatannerwriting.com. It’s not exactly what I wanted, but it was available and the price was right.
Don’t stress too much about your domain name. Pick one you like that makes the most sense. You can successfully market almost any name.
But if you spend all your time thinking and overanalyzing, you will never take action. Action is what brings in the money.
How to Name Your Blog
If you don’t already have a name in mind, here are eight tips for finding the perfect name for your blog.
1. Consider branding yourself. This is where you use your name as the domain (or a variation of it if your name is already taken like mine was).
2. Spend some time brainstorming words related to your niche. Write down everything that comes to mind.
3. Look over your ideas and see which ones stand out to you the most.
4. Try a variety of combinations and say each one out loud.
5. Make sure your words are straightforward to spell and not easily confused. For example, “for,” “four,” and “4” can all be in a domain. Using words with multiple meanings can confuse potential readers who are trying to find you.
6. Shorter is better. People have short attention spans these days. Don’t make them remember a long phrase.
7. Stick to a .com domain if possible. It’s the default most people remember, and changing it up might look cool, but it may cause confusion.
8. Pick something other people won’t mind sharing. Your audience can be your guide, but don’t use controversial words or words that can be interpreted as disparaging in your domain.
Once you have a domain, you need a hosting company. Web hosts make it possible for visitors to see your website. They store all the files related to your website (coding, text, images, etc.) on their servers. When a visitor goes to your website, the server will deliver the information to them so they can view the site.
Without a host, you can’t publish your website. There are tons of web hosts available. Most offer the services a beginning blogger needs.
My first self-hosted website was hosted by GoDaddy, though I eventually moved it over to BlueHost, so I only had to pay for one multi-site plan.
I stayed with BlueHost for a couple years, but I no longer recommend it for new or experienced bloggers. I recently moved over to FastComet, because my blogs were experiencing more hosting errors which resulted in downtime.
At first the downtime was just an annoyance. I would log in to add a post, and I’d get an error. After a few minutes, I was able to log in and work.
But the errors started occurring more frequently and lasting longer. As a busy mom, I don’t always have a lot of time to work. Not being able to access my blog when I had time was frustrating.
I also heard from two readers about my sites being down. I knew I had to do something to keep my websites up and running more consistently. I contacted the person I hire for blog maintenance, and he recommended I switch to FastComet.
Since switching, I haven’t had a single error message or any trouble logging in. Plus, my site loads more quickly. FastComet has more servers and data centers than BlueHost.
After my move was complete, I requested and received a prorated refund from BlueHost. Because I purchased during an end-of-the-year sale, I actually paid less for FastComet than I did for BlueHost.
No matter which host you go with, here are five key things to look for:
1. Customer support (when your blog goes down, you will want help.)
2. Reliability (so your blog is up when people want to visit.)
3. Reputation (the host will have access to all your personal information and all your blog files.)
4. Security (you don’t want to be hacked.)
5. Fixed pricing (you don’t want any unexpected surprises partway through the year.)
You don’t need all the bells and whistles to get a blog started. Pick a plan with the basics. You can always upgrade later. To get your first blog up and running, the single website plan is a good place to start. It’s typically the lowest tier of pricing.
Depending on your host and the tier you select, you can expect to spend between $2.95 to $14.99 per month to host your blog.
Tip: When I first paid for hosting, I was planning to pay for a month of service and thought it’d be around $3. However, I learned you pay for at least a year of hosting at once. Make sure you multiply your monthly commitment by 12 to learn how much you’ll need to pay upfront.
Now that I’ve switched hosts, I discovered FastComet does offer a monthly payment plan. If money is really tight, this might be a good solution!
A Note About Your Privacy
Legally, you must give your name, address, and phone number when you register a website. This information is then available for people to see.
If you don’t like the idea of sharing your real address with the world, you have two options.
1. Pay for a privacy service through your web host.
2. Pay for a PO box.
If someone tries to look up who owns a website without a domain privacy service, they can see your contact information, including your address. If you have the domain privacy service in place, all they see is the contact information for the privacy company. This service helps protect your information.
Depending on your location, a PO box may cost more than a year of privacy service. But since you’ll also need to include your address in any emails you send to your email list (more on that in chapter four), I think this option is a better choice in the long run.
Of course, you can do both. Many bloggers pay for the privacy service and a PO box. Let your budget and your concern for privacy guide your decision. You can find out how much a PO box in your area costs on the USPS website.
Total Costs for Your Blog’s First Year
How much does it cost to start a blog? Here’s a breakdown of the costs for your first year:
Basic Hosting: $35.88 (assuming a $2.99/month plan)
PO Box: $45 (give or take a little based on location)
For less than $100 you can have everything you need to get your blog up and running for a year. You may have other costs. For example, if you select a paid theme instead of a free one, you will be paying more. But these are optional.
Content Management System: WordPress
Now that you have a domain and a host, you need a content management system for your blog. This allows you to customize your site and add content.
There are a couple of content management systems available, but I recommend WordPress.org. Make sure you use WordPress.org, which is the self-hosted version, and not WordPress.com, which is hosted by WrodPress and has some limitations.
It’s what many bloggers use, and it’s popular for a reason. Since many bloggers use it, there are thousands of themes available. You can easily find technical support. It’s also very customizable and flexible. You can make your site look exactly like you want it to.
Many hosting companies install WordPress for you for free. Be sure to ask if yours does, too. Once you have WordPress installed, it’s time to log in to your account and get some prep work done.
Select a Theme
Your theme contains several files detailing important information about the design of your website. It holds the coding for the:
> Style of your website
> Colors of your website
> Layout of different pages
> Location of your menus
> Widget display areas
> Styles for posts and pages
A theme dictates the styling details for your site. By changing the theme, you change how it looks.
A professional-looking theme makes your site more visually attractive. You want your site to look nice, or your visitors won’t stay around to read your content.
The good news? You can start with a free theme. Just be careful which one you select, because there are some terrible free themes out there! There are three important things to look for when selecting a theme:
1. Mobile responsive design
3. Documentation and support
In this article, Sally provides a step-by-step guide to set up your blog with a free theme that looks professional and meets the above criteria.
According to comScore, 69 percent of user media time is spent on smartphones. Your website must accommodate your mobile users.
Your theme needs to utilize a mobile-responsive design. It should shift so it is easy to read on any screen size. You can use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test to find out how mobile-friendly a site is.
There are many browsers available for Internet users (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and more). Since you don’t know which ones your visitors will be using, you need a theme that will be compatible with a variety of web browsers.
You can test this yourself once you install a theme. Just open up your site on several different browsers, including on your smartphone.
Make sure your site looks good and click a couple of links to ensure everything works properly.
Documentation And Support
The instruction manual for a theme is known as its documentation. Make sure some is available for whatever theme you select.
You will also want to know exactly what support is available. Some developers of free themes don’t offer any support, which means you may need to hire someone if a problem arises. Other developers offer support through forums, live chat, or email.
The documentation and support details should be listed. Understand what you’re getting before you spend too much time customizing the theme.
Install And Customize Your Theme
Once you select a theme, you need to install it. To do that, log into your WordPress site. Then, over on the left-hand side, you’ll see the word Appearance. Click on that, and then navigate to Themes.
If your theme is one that’s already on WordPress, type the name of it into the search bar. When you find it, click on it and select “Install.” If you’ve purchased your theme, follow the directions you were given to download your theme as a .zip file. Then click on the Upload Theme button to install it.
When your theme is installed, you will have the option to preview and activate. Before any visitors see your new theme, you need to activate it.
After activation, your theme is ready for customization. Since each theme is different, you need to rely on the documentation to make changes. For most themes, you need to customize the:
1. Blog name and tagline
2. Logo or header image
3. Default blog colors
4. Font for headings and regular paragraphs (this is only necessary if you don’t like the default font used by your theme.)
These basic steps will get your site ready for publishing. You can continue making changes after it’s live.
If you’re struggling with the technical steps, check out this article on Sally’s blog. It shows the exact steps to create your blog using FastComet hosting and a free WordPress theme.
Whew! There’s a lot ground to cover when you’re getting a money-making blog set up.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. This is normal. Take a deep breath and tackle one step at a time. You’ve got this.
Once your WordPress theme is installed, you need to add a few plugins to help you on your blogging journey.
A plugin adds functions or features to your site. There are tons of plugins available, but don’t spend time researching them all right now. As you learn more about blogging and gain some experience, you can add additional plugins to your site.
There are some plugins you will need to install upfront. These help you get your blog started on the right foot. Here’s a peek at ten plugins I use and recommend, with a brief explanation of each one. As a bare minimum, I recommend using YoastSEO, Askimet Anti-Spam, and Jetpack.
We talk more about SEO (search engine optimization) later, but basically it helps Google find your website. It’s important! This plugin ensures each blog post is ready for publication from an SEO perspective.
2. Askimet Anti-Spam
You don’t want a bunch of spam comments taking over your blog. Help keep them at bay with this plugin. How do you recognize spam comments? Well, they:
> Are vague (e.g. “great post”)
> Contain more than one URL
> Contain several misspellings
> Don’t make any sense
> Aren’t related to your topic
> Ask you to search for something
Sometimes spam comments are easy to recognize. Here’s one Askimet caught for me recently:
“I see you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic,
you can earn extra bucks every month because you’ve got high quality content. If you want to know how to make extra bucks, search for:
Mertiso’s tips best adsense alternative”
This comment has plenty of red flags. First, it makes an incorrect assumption about my site. I do monetize. Second, it asks me to search for a specific keyword phrase. It is definitely spam.
But spam isn’t always obvious. Sometimes it looks something like this:
“I was suggested this blog by my cousin. You are wonderful. I will be back.”
At first glance, it appears to be a compliment. However, this comment adds nothing of value to the conversation. It is generic and could be left on any blog post. It is spam.
It’s important to build a sense of community on your blog. Comments are one way to do that. This plugin allows commenters to link to their latest blog post.
4. Pinterest PinIt Button
You can drive a lot of traffic to your blog from Pinterest. Make it easy for your visitors to pin your content with a PinIt button on each image.
5. Google Analytics for WordPress
You can’t make the right decisions for your blog without analyzing some data. Google Analytics is a reliable source of information. Get it connected to your site from the start. The numbers it provides show you what’s working, and what’s not.
6. Molongui Authorship
You want an author bio after each post so everyone can learn more about you. With this plugin, you can decide to show or hide the bio on each post. You can also add multiple authors. If you have guest posts, you can credit the writer and link back to their site.
The Jetpack plugin adds many features to your site. Here are five important ones:
> Track basic stats
> Show social sharing icons underneath your content
> Compress images
> Create a sitemap
> Create basic contact forms
You need to create a free WordPress.com account to use this plugin.
8. Broken Link Checker
Links go down. But it takes time to constantly go back through all your old content and make sure you aren’t leading your readers to a website page that no longer exists. Link checker to the rescue. It keeps checking your site and notifies you when it finds a problem. Then you can fix it.
9. No Self Pings
Have you ever noticed pingbacks in the comments section of a blog? Those occur when your post gets linked to. When blogging, you want to link to your old content, but you don’t want all those pingbacks showing. This plugin prevents that from happening.
10. WP Super Cache
A fast website makes visitors happy. This plugin helps make your site load faster. There are plenty of caching plugins out there, but this one is free, user-friendly, and reliable.
Widgets refer to small blocks on your website that each perform one task. You can easily add these to your sidebars, headers, and footers to help customize the function and appearance of your site.
There are too many widgets available to cover them all, especially since different themes have different widgets available. But here are five common ones you can install on your blog.
1. Email Marketing
With a widget, you can let your readers sign up for your newsletter from a simple form in your sidebar.
Image widgets allow you to embed an image and link it to a URL. When readers click on the image, they go to the site linked.
3. Social Media
A variety of social media widgets exist. Two common types allow readers to follow you on a specific platform or show your feeds.
4. Search Bar
Give your readers the option of easily searching through your archives with a search bar widget.
5. Popular Posts
To encourage readers to check out your popular content, install a popular posts widget. It provides an image and a link to your top posts.
While you are customizing your website, take some time to explore the widgets available to you.
Pages Vs. Posts
From your WordPress dashboard, you can create pages and posts. Your posts are what you publish on your blog. We cover these in detail in chapter five.
Pages are different. They aren’t typically updated as often, and they provide information for your readers. When you set up your blog, you want to create at least three pages: a home page, an about page, and a contact page. Below is an overview of each of these. More details are provided in chapter four.
Your home page is what readers see when they type in your URL. You can decide if you want a static home page, or if you want your blog to be your home page.
I used my blog as my home page for years, but recently switched to a static one. This means my home page is always the same, even though my blog posts are changing. On this page, I provide some information for my readers to share the purpose of my blog and provide links to popular posts.
Decide which route you want to go with. You can change it later, though, so don’t get stuck here.
Your about page tells people a bit more about you and your blog. But it’s not all about you. Make sure you share how your reader will benefit from your knowledge and content.
Finally, your contact page allows readers to get in touch with you. It typically includes an online form they can fill out. You can configure this to go to your email so you will be notified. Some bloggers also include an email address on this page.
When to Hit Publish
Until you hit Publish, your blog won’t be live. Visitors who type in your URL will see a “Coming Soon” page or something similar.
Here are a few things you will need to do before you hit the button. The first two tasks were covered in this chapter. The rest is covered in more detail later.
1. Set up your theme.
2. Spend a little time customizing it.
3. Create a contact page (so your readers can get in touch).
4. Create an about page (so your readers know who you are and what your blog is about).
5. Post three blog posts with images for sharing.
When you’re ready, it’s time to go live! But first, let’s talk about the reason why most aspiring bloggers never get started, as I don’t want this to happen to you.
Don’t Let Perfection Stop You
Starting a blog can be overwhelming. There are so many options available. You have to make so many decisions. And getting the blog published is a stumbling block for many would-be bloggers. They freeze, unable to move forward until they think it’s perfect. Here’s what helped me overcome this feeling:
I finally realized perfect wasn’t going to happen. After this realization, I had two choices.
1. Continue learning, making changes, researching, and tweaking until I gained enough confidence to hit publish. Which would likely never happen.
2. Hit publish now and tweak as I go.
I picked option two. And you know what? My blog was ugly in the early stages! I didn’t know what I was doing. I picked fonts that didn’t pair well. My colors were a bit much. I changed themes at least five times my first year. My blog got many facelifts as I learned new tricks.
And eventually I paid and got a nice theme installed. I paid for a logo from a professional designer. My site looks 100 times better than it did when I started.
But you know what? It still isn’t perfect. It never will be. And neither will yours. There’s no such thing as a perfect blog design. If there was, everyone would be using it. Then it wouldn’t be perfect anymore because it’d be overused.
Don’t let the quest for perfection stop you from starting a blog. Get something out that’s not perfect, then make changes as you learn more and gain confidence with your skills (or make money and can pay someone else).
1. Brainstorm a blog name and research the availability of the URL.
2. Research web host companies and see who has the best deal. (FastComet is a good starting place).
3. Purchase a year of hosting and a domain.
4. Select, install, and activate a theme.
5. Customize your site with plugins and widgets.
Now that your blog is set up, you’re ready to plan your content. In the next chapter, I will show you how to create a content calendar, so you’ll always know what you need to write about.