Step By Step Instructions To Start Your First Blog
How To Start a Blog (Technically Speaking)
Hello! If you are ready to get stuck in and finally start that blog you’ve been dreaming of then I’ve got a real treat for you! I’ll be taking you, step by step, through everything you need to do to set up your very own blog.
Whilst the process is quite simple, I’m going to go though each step slowly and with lots of detail so you easily follow along. However, this has made it a rather lengthy post – so I do encourage you to grab a coffee and settle in – but at the end you will have a brand new blog of your very own! Exciting!
I should note that some of the services and plug-ins I mention in this post are company’s that I love so much that I reached out and asked to become an affiliate for them. And most of them said yes, horray! Needless to say if I didn’t love them they wouldn’t be here but if you would like to read more about our policy do click through here.
What we will be covering today:
- Where To Set Up Your Blog
- What Is Website Hosting
- How To Set Up Website Hosting
- Step by Step Guide To Install WordPress
- How To Set Up WordPress
- Customize Your Appearance in WordPress
- Recommended Plug-Ins for Beginners
- Further Reading
Before you start, make sure to grab your launch checklist!
Where is Your Home Going to Be?
There are many options available when it comes to choosing a platform for your blog. I don’t want you to get too overwhelmed with the possibilities, for there are many different choices out there. You will find that many people have a variety of conflicting opinions when it comes to which you should choose.
Ultimately, there is no ‘one’ best option but the two most popular in the blogging world right now are: Squarespace and WordPress.
I should say up front that I am a proponent of WordPress. I have tried Squarespace and I just found that, for me, it did not have anywhere near enough flexibility or functionality for my taste. However, for those that want a more ‘set it and forget’ approach – Squarespace might be a better option for you.
However, this post is a technical guide to launching a blog, so we will not be debating the cons and pros of the platforms here. I use WordPress for this website and, in the online world, one in five people choose WordPress for their website’s home. So, given this, we will be proceeding on the basis that you will be using WordPress to launch your site.
Once you have chosen the ‘Home’ for your blog, you need to decide where your blog is going to live. Websites live in places called servers. So, for example, your website could live on your own computer server. However, not many people would see it there!
However, the expert site, WPBeginner uses and recommends HostGator for beginners. It’s easy to use and is reasonable in price. However, most importantly, Hosting Facts have clocked HostGator’s Uptime at 100% this year. This is significant because, for me, Uptime is a really important metric. I don’t spend hours hustling away to get my name out there, only for my site to crash and everyone to leave. That would make me sad.
So for the purposes of this tutorial we will be showing how to set up your blog using HostGator. If you choose to go with another host provider, you might want to skip ahead to the WordPress section.
PS HostGator are doing an amazing deal with us at the moment that enables you to get your first month of hosting for one cent. Pretty handy right?
OK, let’s get into the technical bit!
There are three package options, going up in price, to choose from.
For a beginner site, the cheapest package should be more than enough to get you going. It will support one website and up to 100k in visitors. If you find yourself needing to host more than one website or that your visitors are going to exceed 100k (congratulations!) it’s very simple to upgrade.
After clicking ‘buy now’, you will be taken to the HostGator order form.
Name Your Website
The first decision you have to make is an important one: What to Name Your Website
If you haven’t decided on a name yet, from the technical perspective, here are a few points to note:
Make It Easy
I can not tell you the number of times that I have tried to find a website that I have liked but can not remember the name.
Enlight is a prime example of this. It’s a photo editing app and the only thing I could remember about it was it’s cool fox logo (so good job branding team!). The only way I managed to find it again was when it happened to pop up on the iTunes store under suggested apps. Otherwise it would have been lost forever.
So do try and make your name something easy to remember and type.
Leave Room for Growth
Just something to consider if you are just starting out and you are not sure what direction you are going in at the moment. Or, indeed, you are pretty sure but as you are just starting out things might change! Creative and Coffee has served me well, as ‘Creative’ covers a very broad range of disciplines so I’m not tied down to a particular one.
So, for example, if you named your website CorgiHeaven but then found you wanted to expand into other dog breeds you might want to consider having a broader title.
It’s a weird example I know but go with it. Just something to think about.
Choose Your Term
This is pretty self explanatory. How long do you want to buy your space for? Personally I like to go for the ‘one year’ option, so I can just buy it and then forget about it for a while, without being locked in for three years. I think this is also generally a more cost effective option than buying only for a few months at a time.
Billing info – pretty self explanatory. Parting with money is never easy but investing money in your website is the first, serious commitment to taking your blog pro. So, whilst taking out your credit card is never easy, I would have a bottle of bubbly (or a really nice hot chocolate – whatever floats your boat) on hand to celebrate this very momentous occasion.
As you can see there are a few options here, two out of three which are free, horray!
The final option, which you might be curious about, is the secure sockets layer certificate. Or SSL. Sounds much more complicated than it is. Basically, you know when you visit a shop online and you see that little padlock in the address bar? That’s because the website has a SSL certificate.
It means that when people enter their details on your website they will be protected.
If you are planning on running any kind of shop from your website or a membership area that requires log in details etc then I thoroughly recommend investing in a certificate for your site. You can read more about SSL here, if you’d like to know more about it.
If you are not planning on having a shop or, you will be hosting your shop elsewhere (Shopify, Etsy etc) then it’s not as important.
The Final Step – you are about to become a certified webmaster of your very own empire. Click and celebrate my friend.
Congratulations, you’ve got your hosting. The next step is to install WordPress, so grab a coffee and let’s get down to business. (One my first self hosted blogs I had to install WordPress the manual way and I tell you now – it made me sad).
The excellent thing about HostGator is that it’s all set up to make installing WordPress really simple.
Basically what we are doing is exactly the same as installing a program on your computer. However, in this case, HostGator is now your computer and the program we are installing is WordPress.
Once you’ve logged into to your HostGator account, you want to scroll down through the homepage of your account’s control panel and look for the section ‘Software Services’ towards the bottom of the page.
There you will find a little clock icon, as pictured above, entitled ‘Quick Install’.
On the left you will see the heading ‘blog software’. Underneath this heading is the little, blue WordPress icon.
Click here to install WordPress. In the center of the page, a button labelled ‘continue’ will appear. Click continue.
Next up you get a fabulous form to fill in, lets break it down.
Don’t worry too much about the first drop down menu. This is for people who have multiple domain names associated with their account. If you are just starting out then the name of your website should already be in the box – so you don’t need to do anything here.
The second box along is for a ‘sub directory’. You can ignore this box and leave it empty.
(A subdiretory is an added extension onto your main website name or URL. For example if you want your URL to be mysite.com/home instead of mysite.com.)
The next option is ‘Enable Auto Updates’. This refers to whether or not you would like WordPress to automatically update itself.
Every so often WordPress rolls out a new version. Just like an iPhone, although not quite as exciting. Whilst you may not find that that the new ‘features’ included in updates are of use to you, the updates often include security updates that have been included in order to fight new viruses or hacking methods. So it is important that you keep your WordPress updated.
When you have WordPress installed, it will tell you when a new version is available so you can manually update it yourself.
However, if you want it to automatically update itself – you need to click this box.
If you want to control when your WordPress updates itself – untick the box.
The email that you would like to use for your WordPress site – for things like login and forgotten passwords etc. Make sure this email address is working because this is where your password information will be sent.
This is what will appear in the header at the top of your website when you initially set up WordPress. It can be very easily changed later, so you don’t need to agonize over it but likely it will be the same name as your website.
Admin User Name
The admin user name that you would like to use.
Tip: For security reasons, do not use ‘admin’ for this as it makes it easier for unscrupulous individuals trying to hack your site (don’t worry about this too much though – we will cover how to install free security plugins to your site later, it’s very simple and effective).
First and Last Name
Hopefully all this technical talk hasn’t turned your brain to mush and you can still remember your own name. If not, resort to caffeine and continue.
Hit the button. Celebrate again, why not, you’ve deserve it.
A little progress bar should appear at the top to let you know what stage the installation is complete. Once it’s done you should hop over to your email to collect your username and password – as well as a link that will take you to your WordPress dashboard.
Note: Technically speaking it can take up to 48 hours for an account to be set up, although I haven’t heard of anyone having to wait that long. When I did my website, it was pretty much instant but I’ve had others report that it’s taken an hour or so.
Overview of Your Dashboard
Once you’ve got your log in details you can click the link and be taken to the WordPress dashboard –where dreams are made! …Well OK, sure, it doesn’t look that exciting – yet!
So, on the left hand side you will see there are a number of different options. It’s quite fun just to have a rummage through them and get to know your way around them all. I know it looks kind of daunting to start off with but, trust me; it will seem totally familiar in no time at all.
Let’s have a little look at what each options does shall we?
If you are going to be blogging, which I image that you will be, this is where you are going to spend a lot of time. This is where, by clicking ‘Add New’, you can start adding blog posts to your site.
It is more than likely that you will want to upload some pretty photos and, maybe, even video to your website. This is where you can store all of your photos.
As you might imagine, this is where you add pages to your website. So, for example, if you want to create a page for an ‘About You’ section, you would simple click ‘Add New’ and pop ‘About’ into the title area and begin to write all about your lovely self.
This one is exactly what it says – where all the comments will come rolling in.
For you, beginning on your WordPress journey, this will be your new home. Many an hour you can spend here tinkering, tweaking and, um, tailoring your website to your needs.
Two important aspects are: theme and widgets.
These are what you use in order to insert little bits of functionality into your header, sidebar and footers. For example, you can insert a widget into your sidebar which will display all your recent posts.
This is probably the first thing you will want to decide on. The theme is the foundation of how your blog will look. Whilst you can tinker around with where you place your widgets and what your colour scheme will be – your theme is like the structure of your website. We’ll talk more about themes below.
From adding Twitter feeds to your sidebar (full tutorial here) to adding extra security to your site, plug-ins are like little programs you can install into your site. It can be quite easy to go into ‘child in candy shop’ mode when hunting around for plug-ins. However, keep in mind that the more plug-ins you add, the slower your site will run (and if they are out dated plug-ins you may also run a security risk) – so keep them on a ‘need to know’ basis.
We’ll talk about my recommended plug-ins below.
If you’ve got a lot of contributors or a team that works with you on the site you can give them permission to add things to the site here.
If you have moved over from a service like Blogger, you can import your posts and comments from your old site. This is also where the backups of your website will be stored (when you use the plug-in below)
Here are the general settings that you can change and fiddle with, for example your comment settings. They are all fairly self explanatory so it’s just a matter of changing them to your preferences.
As we said above, the first thing most new WordPress users do is jump straight into the theme section. As you can see WordPress has a number of free themes that you use to get started with. There is also a vast world of paid themes out there.
Should I go for a Paid or Free Theme?
This of course, is very much up to you. If you are just starting out, you might find it a little overwhelming to start searching for a paid theme straight away. Most decent themes vary between £60 to £200 in price, so they can certainly be a sizeable investment.
The most important thing to consider is your purpose. If you are just starting out and aren’t sure what you really love blogging about and what the purpose of your site is, you might want to experiment with free themes first.
Once you are ready to commit to a paid theme, you might want to check out our complete guide on choosing the best WordPress theme for you.
Our lovely friend Kathie over at Bluchic has some very cute free themes available if you want something a little fancier than the standard themes the WordPress installation comes with.
This where you can adjust your site title and headline that will appear at the top of the page. If you would rather just have a picture header, without the headline, you can also choose to remove the text here as well.
Pretty self-explanatory, this is where you can choose the colours of your website. You might find that with a free theme that you are limited to colour of your header or title page, for example.
In this theme we are given the option of having a header image. This is a fantastic way to show new guests immediately what kind of site this is and what they can expect from you.
Generally speaking most free themes will only give the option of having the menu at the top of the page, or in one location.
In this section you can add pages to menu, for example, your About Page that you will have created in your ‘Pages’ area in the dashboard. You can also add links to your menu, for example if you have an Etsy shop you would like to link to, you can include a link in your top menu.
You can also include categories of blog post in the menu. When you create a blog post, you may have noticed you can decide what category to assign the post to. So, for example, if you want to let people choose what category of blog post to go to eg cooking or travel – you can also do this from the menu.
There are an array of standard widget’s that come with WordPress, for example recent posts and archives. In the free themes you will generally have the choice to put widgets in the footer area and in the sidebar.
By installing plug-ins you will have more choice as to what widget’s you can use.
Static Front Page
WordPress gives you the option of setting your homepage to either a list of your most recent blog posts or a single page. If you would prefer to have a page, rather than your blog, to be the first page guests see, you can change to the ‘static front page’ option.
Security and Backup
This handy and important plug-in will secure your website and alert you to any wrongdoings that might be happening. It’s totally free and will be like your very own surely bouncer, preventing anyone getting in the club that just shouldn’t be there.
This is not just a recommended plug-in but an essential in my view.
Back Up WordPress
It might be the early days of your blog venture but, as you may have heard, collecting your followers emails is a really important thing to do. I wouldn’t worry too much about it when you are just starting out and deciding what to do, however it might serve you well to set up the systems and learn the ways of the email sign up form because, if you ever plan turning this blog into a business, you are going to need them.
To beginners I one hundred percent recommend setting up your emailing lists with MailChimp. If that all sounds super daunting, do not fear. We have a complete and gentle beginners guide to MailChimp right here that you can refer to anytime.
But, more to the point, the plug-in that you will need for this is the MailChimp for WordPress plug-in.
Contact Form 7
You want your adoring public to be able to easily get in touch with you right? There are many forms of contact form out there but Contact Form 7 is the standard which most people choose to use right off the bat. You can download it here.
NB Just FYI some people really dislike using contact forms so always put your business email along side the form somewhere so people can choose to email direct if they want to.
The standard, go to, app for putting sharing buttons on your website is SumoMe. However SumoMe does much more than just provide you with sharing buttons, it has a whole host of other functions that you can use including; list builders (pop ups), welcome mats, heat maps, scroll boxes, analytics and smart bars – the list goes on.
SumoMe has both free and paid versions, but when you are starting out I think the free set of apps will give you more than enough to play with in the meantime.
OK, so nearly all the other plug-ins on this list are free (or have free versions) but this one is a paid plug-in. Now, for a beginner (and heck even as an intermediate blogger) I am a huge advocate of bootstrapping as much as possible ie getting everything you can for free.
However, when I was starting out, Social Warfare was the first ‘non-essential’ (ie not hosting or theme) paid tool that I decided to splash out on. Over the years I’ve bought a few things for the blog, some things I’ve regretted spending the money on but Social Warfare isn’t one of them.
For me being able to put all my social sharing buttons where I want, make it look how I want and add them or take them away from particular pages has just been too useful. Plus it lets you use those cute ‘Click To Tweet’ messages in your posts super easily. Like so.You can tweet this post directly to Twitter by clicking here, go on give it a go 😉Click To Tweet
So, if you aren’t ready to make a commitment to a paid plug-in, I one hundred percent agree. Just wait a little, see what works for you and what doesn’t. What you might need more help with or what works fine with a free version. However, if you are looking to help increase your shares and free SumoMe isn’t working for you – I really recommend Social Warfare because I love it. Can you tell? Haha
OK, back to the free stuff! If you want to display your social feeds like Instagram and Twitter in, for example, your sidebar, these are the plugins that I use to display them;
Pretty self explanatory – for displaying your Instagram feed as you can see in our sidebar and footer.
Or, if you want a little bit more creative control you can use our tutorial here, on creating a Twitter feed from your own Twitter account.
This is for displaying your social icons, ie the little logos with links to your social media sites instead of your whole feed.
For those of you that are unsure, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This is simply the term for a number of techniques which you can employ in order to make your blog more attractive to Google and thus more likely to appear in search results for your topic. SEO can be a little bit of an art from in itself, so in order to give you a helping hand I recommend Yoast.
Yoast SEO is pretty much most people’s go to plugin when it comes to getting a helping hand with SEO. Whilst SEO isn’t quite the marketing darling that it used to be, it is still an important factor to consider and Yoast will help you out by telling how well your post is doing. For example, is it long enough? Does it have the right amount of keywords? etc
It’s pretty handy and you can check out all the features here. It does have a paid version, with a vast array of more advanced options but, to be honest, I’ve never felt the need to upgrade.
Ever gone to a website that just takes agggges to load so you left? I know I have. People have very low attention spans nowadays and we expect everything to happen instantly. So if your website is slowing down and taking ages to load then you are potentially loosing new friends! Not cool.
Plus Google has it’s beady little eyes on your load time as well and will ‘punish’ you if your website is too slow. Rude. So, here are a few plug-ins to help.
Despite it’s slightly unusual name, it’s actually pretty descriptive of what this plug-in does. Basically it ‘smushes’ the file size of your pictures so they don’t take up so much room on your website. It sounds like it would distort your pictures but don’t worry you can not tell. I mean, you can’t tell all our pictures had be ‘smushed’ can you
? A sentence I’d never thought I’d say.
I don’t want to get super technical but this plug-in basically increases the loading time of your website by ‘remembering’ what has to be loaded on the page and displayed to people – instead of ‘re-downloading’ all the elements every time.
If that made your head hurt, don’t worry, it’s not important to know how it works – only that it does. Just download it, set it and forget it.
A few other odds and ends I found helpful when I was starting out.
Insert Headers and Footers
It might not be important or useful right now but in the future if you are ever doing anything that requires you to insert a piece of code into a header – instead of opening up all your files and inserting the code, praying you got it in the right place – use this plug-in instead. You’ll thank me later.
For example, if you are planning on using Google Analytics (which I defo recommend) this plug-in will probably come in handy.
Spam – ick. Both the food and the annoying internet robots that leave you inane messages. Let’s not deal with that. Install this plug-in and it will take care of the rest.
Won’t protect you from the food though unfortunately.
I’ve added this in as a totally optional plug-in because I often get a lot of people asking me how I create my landing pages and sales pages (like these here and here). If you have a new blog you might well want to have a coming soon page (we talk all about why these are important here). There are plenty of free plug-ins out there that you can use to create landing pages but for those of you that were wondering Qards is the plug-in that I use to create my landing pages.
Totally optional – it is a paid plug-in. To be honest I use it because it’s just so easy to really quickly put together a really good looking page without having to bother with any coding. However there are plenty of free options out there if you have a little more time.
Now that you are all set up with your blog, here are a few important posts to get you started on your blogging journey.
OK, at well over 4000 words I think it’s a very good place to bring this post to an end. I don’t want to overwhelm you with brand new information!
You’ve taken an exciting and super important step today so congratulations are in order!
Don’t forget your checklist!
If you’ve just started your blog feel free to drop a link the comments! I would love to swing by and check it out!
And if you know someone just starting out then I would be ever so grateful if you shared this post with them!