Is it too late to start a blog? Is blogging so early 2000's? Should I just post stuff on Instagram? No way! There is always something to share and it is never too late to start a blog even if there are a lot of them out there already. If you want to create and be heard, a blog can be the hub for all of your social media. In fact blogs are more important than ever in the evolving media landscape and here is why... Full content has real value and a blog is a good place to consolidate and protect that. Snippets, teasers, updates, etc are great for social media. Blogs are an important medium to complement and not compete with your social media. Technology is easier than ever to create great content wether it be photo or video and there are a lot of new ways to monetize - so no excuses! There is an audience out there that is waiting to hear what you have to say. Now that we have established that you should blog, below I will provide details on how to setup a Wordpress blog and tips to help make it as easy as possible.
Decide What Your Blog Will be About
With so many captivating topics out there how do you determine what to blog about? First, the prevailing guidance is to pick one topic or niche area to focus on. If you like surfing - blog about surfing, if you like personal finance - blog about personal finance, etc. So far I am guilty of not choosing any one niche but I am focusing on reviews and sharing tips learned from my experiences. Not every blog has to be about a single topic - for example, a lifestyle blog can cover a range of topics or a comedian's blog can tie together different topics through the use of comedy. Over time I will figure out what works for and makes sense to me. When you focus on a singular topic or concept, it gives your audience something to identify and remember you by.
If your goal is to monetize your blog, focusing on a singular topic can help. Just note though that if a niche is too obscure, the potential audience may be really small. The best topic is something you are passionate about. It will take time to build an audience and you need to produce a lot of quality content so better to be passionate about something that won't bore you over time. It doesn't matter if someone is already blogging about your topic; what is important is that you put your own spin / angle on it.
Own or Rent?
First let's decide if I should open my own site or leverage a platform like Blogger or Tumblr? This depends on what I want to accomplish and both could be good options. Owning--as in buying my own domain, paying for Web hosting, setting up a Content Management System (CMS) like Wordpress, and maintaining it--is more work but offers more control, flexibility, and revenue avenues in the long run. Working with blog platforms like Blogger or Tumblr are easier and quick to setup but conversely can limit control, flexibility, and revenue avenues. A blog on a platform like Blogger or Tumblr also has the advantage of being within "network" or within their platform so there is the benefit of the platform pushing traffic to or exposing the blog within the platform. However, success still depends on producing high quality and engaging content at the right cadence. Joining other social media sites like Twitter and Instagram and pointing your social media posts back to your own self-owned blog can have a similar effect. Switching later between the rent and own option is possible but can be difficult so I don't recommend this as a strategy. Also to clarify when I say "rent" I just mean you don't own. Platforms like Tumblr and Blogger offer free accounts.
I like to have full control over my content so my blog, e1up.com, is owned and operated by me. My goal is to grow my blog and for me owning gives me more flexibility in the long run when I scale. For example on the flexibility side: I can control my look and feel more, add more functionality, and work with unlimited 3rd party partners in the way I want for monetizing.
Choose a Hosting Partner
My advice is to choose who you will host your blog with prior to just going out and purchasing a domain. While I can buy a domain with one hosting company or domain registrar and host my actual blog somewhere else, it is just a little easier to have my domain purchased and my site hosted by the same company. This enables me to manage everything in a single admin dashboard with the hosting company and receive support for both domain and hosting at the same time if needed.
I have registered most of my domains and hosted most of my sites with both Godaddy and Hostgator. I have also used other providers at times too from a personal and enterprise level. I have looked at the features, pricing, size, technology, support community, and other features of other hosting companies and for the average blog or site, these companies are great options. There are other really good companies out there too. For this post, I am going to provide the example of how to setup a Wordpress blog in Hostgator because I have personally used this provider with high satisfaction. I recommend them and have written the below to follow in real time while you setup Wordpress hosting at Hostgator. I also recommend BlueHost as they are recommended directly by Wordpress.org. Bluehost has a very similar setup process.
If I change my hosting provider later, I can leave my domain where I originally purchased it or usually I have the option to transfer it to the new hosting provider if I want.
Once I know who I will go to for hosting, I start the purchasing process. For first time bloggers, many hosting companies have consolidated the domain and hosting purchase process in to a single form/process, which makes things really easy.
Understanding Content Management Systems (CMS) like Wordpress
Before we talk about hosting packages let's quickly review what a CMS is. The reason this is important is because hosting companies sometimes market hosting packages for a specific CMS. First, a CMS is the tool used to build a site, create/manage its content, and actually run the site--as in the engine of the site--on the server. Once the domain, hosting, and CMS are setup, I will go in to the CMS often to add/edit/delete content, customize my site, and do other things. Wordpress is the most popular CMS because it is free (but some advanced features may require payment), easy to use, has a large support community, and offers many already made templates (aka the way your site will look) that are modern and attractive. When I choose a hosting package, as part of getting started I will need to specify a CMS to use so good to understand a little about this now. I also like Drupal which is another free CMS; this blog -- e1up -- actually uses Drupal. There are pros and cons to each CMS out there but that is beyond the scope of this article. Since I gave Drupal a shoutout here I will have to say that I do not recommend it for first-time, non-technical bloggers because there is a steeper learning curve. However, if you are more technically inclined and want a challenge that may take a bit more time, it is a solid platform that offers many benefits. For many people and as much as I am a fan of Drupal, Wordpress is directionally where folks go to for basic blogs and sites. Thus, I will be recommending Wordpress here.
Select a Hosting Package
Once I know which hosting company I want to work with, I then need to decide on the hosting package. Hosting companies offer many packages but since we will be setting up a Wordpress site, this makes things easier. Many hosting companies offer Wordpress specific hosting packages because it is such a popular CMS. With Wordpress specific hosting packages, the hosting company manages many of the things that I would typically need to do if I purchased a normal hosting account and then installed Wordpress or another CMS on my own. Even with Wordpress hosting there can be several packages. Hostgator for example offers 3 Wordpress packages and I, like Hostgator, also recommend their middle plan: the Standard Plan.
Once I click on Buy Now! I am taken right to the registration form where I will purchase both my domain and hosting package.
Step 1. Signup - Select a Domain
A good domain is great but I wouldn't put a tremendous amount of emphasis on finding the perfect domain name. Ideal for it to be memorable and easy to type in but most likely I am counting on my audience to eventually bookmark my blog, get to it by clicking through on search engine results, or follow my brand on social media. If it is easy to remember and easy to type in, it is an added bonus but because so many good domains are already taken, we can only hope for the best here. The Top Level Domain (TLD) is the last segment of the domain after the dot such as .com. I like .com TLDs because everyone is familiar with them. However, there is nothing wrong with using other TLDs.
This is the first part of the Hostgator purchase form and it prompts me to select a domain. This is really a search box where I search for available domains. If the domain I search for is already taken, I will keep searching until I find something I like and that is available. Many of the good .com domains are already taken so don't get frustrated. It may take a while for me to find the right domain and I usually need to be creative with the spelling or choose another TLD. The domain search results will also present alternate suggestions that are available. Again though, the domain is not the most important thing. What is important is that you just get started!
Hosting companies offer all sorts of add-ons for a cost that can add up after a while. Domain Privacy is a good option for individuals but maybe not for businesses. When you own a domain, if your info is not private, anyone can lookup the domain owner's contact info including name, address, email, and phone number. You may or may not want this depending on what type of information you include in your blog.
Step 2. Signup - Choose a Hosting Plan
Select the plan that makes sense for your needs. If I commit to paying up front for a long term plan, my price per month goes down drastically. Low total cost of service is the obvious pro here by selecting a 24 or 36 month plan but if I decide to quit my blog in 7 months then I am stuck with a non-refundable sum that I already paid. If I don't want to pay for 2 or 3 years upfront right now, a good deal is to pay for the 12 months upfront because it is about $5 more in total than paying for 6 months upfront.
Step 3. Signup - Enter Your Billing Info
I think this is self explanatory so I won't insult you with details here.
Step 4. Signup - Add Additional Services
Hosting providers will provide different options, some for free and some for an additional fee.
Here Hostgator.com offers 2 free add-ons while they charge for the Domain Privacy mentioned above and the option to make my site HTTPS:// as compared to HTTP://. The HTTPS:// adds a SSL certificate to my site and what this means is that the data that is transferred to and from my site is more secure. For example, if I collect personal data or credit card information, HTTPS:// would be a better option. Additionally, Google looks at whether a site has an SSL certificate or not when determining search result rankings. To keep costs down this option can be skipped for the time being if you aren't collecting sensitive data and your users do not login to your site. However, HTTPS:// should definitely considered for later.
Step 5. Finish Registration
The registration forms for different hosting companies are all similar but not exactly the same. Most likely there will be steps to add a coupon code, accept terms of service, and review my order. Once I finish the process, I pat myself on the back because now I know my blog is real. However, more work is ahead and it is fun if you are committed. Unless you already have a huge following on social media and are setting up a blog as a linchpin/home-base between your social media sites and audience, do not expect to be successful in just a month or few. If you stick with it and actively promote yourself, you can achieve success.
Step 6. Setup Wordpress Site
Now that my account is setup, I now need to setup my Wordpress site.
- In my Hostgator hosting account I just click on the Hosting tab > then Wordpress Manager icon > then Create Blog
- I am prompted to enter in a domain (I type in the new domain I just purchased) and the title of my site. Then I click on Add Blog.
- Last I click on the gear icon next to my domain name. Here I can setup email accounts and get in to my Wordpress site as the administrator.
- Also I doublecheck that my nameservers were updated automatically and correctly. The nameservers basically let the internet know that the domain name I chose belongs to my Wordpress site. My welcome emails contains the nameserver info that I need and instructions on where to update.
Step 7. Configure, Customize, and Populate Wordpress Site
Now that my Wordpress site is setup, I can actually go in as the administrator of the site and work on it. When I go to the domain that I purchased at this point I should see some version of my site already there. If I don't, then I may need to wait a bit until everything updates on the backend and I may want to check my nameservers as mentioned above. There are whole books on using Wordpress and there will be some learning curve. Here are a few things to do to get the site working asap. It make take a few clicks around the admin dashboard to find where to do things...
- Configure some of the basics of your site like the site name
- Find a theme (e.g. start here: https://wordpress.org/themes/) you like and load it in to your Wordpress site
- Add some content starting with About and Contact pages
- Create some menus for navigation
- Add additional content, like your first blog post
- If you don't want to pay for images for your content to keep your initial investment down you can get images by either taking your own pics or by going to sites that offer free royalty free images
Closing the loop back to the start of this post, I hope you are more informed about making a decision to "own or rent". I own and think this is a great option for many. As you can see there is a time commitment, learning curve, and financial impact to just setting up a blog that you don't have with platforms like Tumblr and Blogger. However, for me the pros to setting up my own blog outweigh the cons. From a cost perspective, you can start small for a few dollars a month and then scale as needed.