I often get emails from people asking how to set up a blog. In fact, I’ve had so many people ask me about it that I created an email course on how to launch a profitable blog.
Today, I’m going to give you a step-by-step look at what I do to get a WordPress blog up and rolling in just 9 easy steps, which I will explain in detail.
This will give you a good blueprint for setting up a blog with WordPress, especially if it’s your first time. You may wanna grab a cup of coffee (or a beer, depending on what time of day it is, but hey – I’m not judging), because this is going to be a long post.
The Short Version
- Purchase domain name
- Purchase web hosting
- Change DNS servers to point to web host
- Assign domain name to your web host
- Install WordPress
- Set Up WordPress (install plugins and remove unnecessary plugins)
- Select and install theme
- Customize theme
- Start blogging!
Ok, now let’s go into detail about each of the above steps. I will try not to leave anything out, but if you follow these steps and get hung up somewhere, just leave a comment and I’ll try to help you out!
Step 1: Purchase a Domain Name
The first thing you’ll need to do is choose your domain name. The best domain names are easy to remember, fairly short (15 characters or less is best), and pertain to your blog’s niche.
Don’t pick a domain name with hyphens or numbers. They are a pain to type, hard to remember, and if you ever have to explain in person your URL, you have to literally spell it out for them.
If at all possible, go with a .com suffix, but .net will work, too. Google is rumored to give higher priority to dot-coms. It’s best to stay away from any other extensions such as .info or .biz. You want to stick with dot-coms and dot-nets.
I use Namecheap for all of my domain names. I like them because they are inexpensive (around $12/year) and their customer service is top notch.
If you’re a new Namecheap customer, you can get a new domain for as little as $3.98/year if you click on my affiliate banner below when you go to purchase your domain. This doesn’t cost you any extra (in fact if you go through my banner, chances are it’s cheaper than you’d normally get), and I get a small commission off the sale.
Step 2: Purchase Web Hosting
Selecting a good web host for your blog or website is also important. There’s a lot of research on different hosts and which one is the best, and depending on your needs, your requirements may be different, but I’ve been working with Bluehost exclusively for 6 years now for all of my websites, and have never had any problems. I currently have 25 domains that I host through Bluehost so that tells you something, and you can get a great price on web hosting if you use the banner below (again, I get a small commission if you sign up).
Step 3: Point Your Domain To Your Web Host
Now we need to point your domain to your web host, and this is done by pointing your domain’s DNS records to your host’s nameservers. Without getting too technical (if you really want to give yourself a headache learn how it all works, you can check out this article), let’s just say that this simply allows your domain and host to talk to one another so that content can be delivered when someone types in your URL.
It literally takes all of 30 seconds to change the DNS records on Namecheap so they point to Bluehost:
- In Namecheap, click on your username in the upper left corner and select “Manage Domains” from the dropdown.
- Click on the domain you want to edit
- Select “Domain Name Server Setup” from the left menu
- Enter the nameservers for Bluehost. I know that Bluehost’s nameservers are NS1.bluehost.com and NS2.bluehost.com, so just type the nameservers in the first two spaces and hit save. If you have your hosting with another web hosting provider, I’ve put together a list of some of the most popular ones, alo
That’s it! Sometimes it can take up to 24 hours to propagate, but in my cases, it’s usually instant and you can start creating your blog right away.
“But can’t I just buy my domain through a webhost and keep them together, saving myself the 30 seconds of misery to do all this DNS server crap?”
Yes, you can – in fact, most hosts include one year of free domain registration with any new hosting package, but there are two reasons I recommend keeping them separate:
- If for some reason you aren’t happy with your hosting provider and decide to move to another host, it can be a real pain to try to transfer the domain. Some hosts make it such a frustrating process that the customer just gives up and stays with them to avoid conflict or hassle.
- Namecheap’s annual domain registration fees are almost always more affordable than the recurring hosting fees.
Those are the two reasons I like to keep them separate, but it’s up to you, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
Step 4: Assign Your Domain Name
In this step, you’ll need to assign your domain name to your host’s cPanel, since we didn’t purchase our domain name through our host. This just tells the host that they will be hosting that domain. Go to cPanel, and select “Addon Domains” and when you get to the next screen, enter your new domain name.
If you set up your nameservers correctly in the previous step, that will count as your verification in step 2 on this page. I leave the other steps at their default settings, then hit “Assign Domain”. That’s it! Now you’re ready to rock and roll… almost. Now we have to install WordPress, which is the best blogging platform out there. But first, a quick note about the difference between WordPress.org (what you want) and WordPress.com.
WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
Oftentimes when someone wants to set up a WordPress blog, their natural inclination is to go to WordPress.com, but WordPress.com is different than WordPress.org, which is the preferred platform for WordPress blogs. While you can set up a blog from WordPress.com, it’s you will want to make sure you’re informed before you do, to save yourself money and headaches later should you ever want to change.
WordPress.org is an open-source, free platform that has a ton of free themes and plugins, and you have full control over your site. You can customize as you please by tweaking the code to your liking and there are no limitations. You will need to purchase your own domain and hosting, but you can get these for minimal costs.
WordPress.com is a commercial site that gives you sort of a one-stop shop in that you can get your domain, hosting and the WordPress platform all in one place. However, there are limitations on the customization. For example, you can’t upload your own theme or theme from a 3rd party. You are limited to the themes on WordPress.com. You also have no custom plugins, limited storage space (unless you pay premium prices for more), limited control of your content, you must pay to remove ads, and you can’t use 3rd party platforms such as Adsense to monetize your blog, or Google Analytics to track stats. In the end, a WordPress.com site will likely cost you much more, and will give you no added benefits.
Step 5: Install WordPress
Ok, now we’re getting closer to getting your WordPress blog up and rolling! At this point, we should be done with the domain name stuff. Now you want to go into cPanel on your hosting account (this is like a big toolbox for your hosting) and find the button to install WordPress. On my Bluehost cPanel, it has it’s own WordPress Install icon, but on some, you may find it hidden behind an icon that says “Installs” or something along those lines.
Once you’ve installed it, don’t forget to note your username and password for WordPress because it’s time to start putting it all together.
(I know this sounds like a ton of steps, but it’s all relatively easy, especially once you’ve done it a time or two.)
Step 6: Set Up WordPress
After installing WordPress, you’ll need to get to the login page, which will be at: http://yourdomainname.com/wp-admin. You should have the login info from the previous step. I use ‘admin’ as the username for all my WP logins just to keep it simple.
Once you’re in, if you’re not familiar with WP, take some time to look at the Dashboard, which is on the left side of the page. The first thing I like to do is delete the sample page and sample post. To do this, select PAGES, then ALL PAGES, then trash the sample page. Same thing for the post. Go to POSTS, then ALL POSTS, and trash the sample.
The reason I don’t keep these and just edit them is because I like a fresh start, and also I’ve tried editing them in the past and Google crawls the page prior to my getting content on it, and when the content is put on there, Google still shows the “Welcome!” default message as the meta info. Not good. I also have forgotten to change the “slug” when I did it this way, so for me, I want a clean slate.
Now, I go to the PLUGINS section, and select INSTALLED PLUGINS. It lists all the plugins that are already installed by default. These will vary depending on your hosting provider, and in my case, I get rid of them all and start from a clean slate.
One plugin that usually comes installed (at least with Bluehost and GoDaddy) is Jetpack. I used to love it – it had analytic settings, a built in contact form, image widgets, and tons of other things. Then I discovered how much it slowed everything down. I mean, I had one site that took about 15 full seconds to load.
That’s just ridiculous, and I was losing a ton of visitors as a result so I deleted Jetpack, and it immediately made my site faster. I also deleted Jetpack from my other sites, just in case. However, one of the handy-dandy things that apparently came installed within Jetpack was an email subscriber list. I didn’t realize that it was part of Jetpack (I thought it was a WP feature), so when I deleted Jetpack, guess what?
I lost ALL. MY. SUBSCRIBERS. Huge fail, and lesson learned. That said, I don’t want something that slows my site down so I always delete it right off the bat now. You can get non-speed-sucking plugins to cover your needs. So in my opinion, delete Jetpack, delete anything else you don’t think you’ll need or use, and start getting some really good plugins installed.
And if you were a subscriber to this blog before, you may want to resubscribe because this site was one of the ones I lost all my subscribers for. Eek.
NOTE: If a pre-installed plugin is active, you’ll have to deactivate it before it will let you delete the plugin.
WordPress Plugins I Use
Broken Link Checker: This is a tool that checks your site for broken links due to misspelling, typos or if they link to pages that no longer exist.
Fast Secure Contact Form: A quick and easy contact form. I used to use Contact Form 7, and found that this one was faster to set up and more user friendly. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, but it’s perfectly adequate for my site.
MailChimp for WordPress: This allows you to create a subscriber list via MailChimp. It also allows you the option of having a check-able box in your comment section so anytime someone goes to leave a comment, they can subscribe to your mailing list.
NK Google Analytics: This gives you a quick and easy way to set up your Google Analytics code on your site.
Pretty Link Lite: This might just be one of my favorite plugins. What it does is allows you to mask an affiliate link with an extension of your website url. For example, with Pretty Link, my affiliate link for Bluehost is savingtosail.com/bluehost instead of the long, ugly type of link you usually get from affiliates. It makes it so much easier for me to remember, and saves me time from having to go find my affiliate link each time I need to.
W3 Total Cache: This plugin caches your site for optimal speed and page load times. No one wants a slow site.
WordPress SEO: This is my other favorite plugin. It provides a simple way to inject SEO into each post, as well as to your main page. At the bottom of each post page, you’ll see spots for Target Keyword, Meta, Title, etc. Input your desired keyword or long-tail keyword for that post, and it will calculate your keyword density and other SEO metrics and give you a score. It will tell you what you can do to improve (such as inserting your keyword into the alt section of your images, etc.). It has helped me write smarter for SEO.
Wp-Insert: This is an ad-insert plugin. You can set it to insert an adsense banner in the middle of each post automatically, or to insert an ad at the bottom of a post or page. Many variations, and because you set it and forget it, it makes it much easier to write without having to worry about where to insert an ad.
It’s also very useful if you ever decide to change your ad size within a post. Let’s say you’ve done some A/B testing and you find that you get more clicks within your posts on a banner ad vs. a leaderboard. Instead of having to manually go through all your posts and change the ad out, you can change it in one spot in Wp-Insert and voila! Job done.
WP-SpamShield: A lot of people use Akismet for comment spam, but I find this one to be effective as well, and easier to set up.
XML Sitemap & Google News feeds: This one creates a Google sitemap for your website. A sitemap is just that – it maps all links within your site and helps with your SEO.
I’m sure there are a ton of other great ones, but these are the ones I currently have on most of my sites.
Step 7: Choose and Install a Theme
Selecting a theme, for me, is one of the hardest parts, but also the most fun. There are a few considerations when choosing a theme.
You will want to consider your basic layout. Do you want a right sidebar? Do you want to be able to add widgets to your footer? Do you plan on selling anything direct from your website that will require e-commerce capability?
You definitely want a theme that’s responsive. This means that it will change or rearrange the layout in order to adapt and fit to any sized screen that it’s being viewed on. More and more people are reading online content on their mobile phones, iPads or other tablets.
According to the Google Analytics on one of my themes, over 58% of my readers visit my page from a mobile phone. This means that my content needs to look good on their phone, or they won’t come back. Simple as that.
Another thing to ask yourself is whether you want a free theme or if you want a premium theme. There are lots of great free themes out there. The only problem with the free WP themes is that a lot of them aren’t supported, or have very little support if anything goes wrong or you have questions. There are good ones out there, though. Just check the reviews from other users and make your decision based on that.
Premium themes can be great to have. For starters, most of them aren’t that expensive – you can find a good premium theme for around $50. If the theme comes with thorough documentation and/or good support, then it can make it worth the money spent. Again, there’s no right or wrong. I use free themes on some blogs, and premium themes on other sites, just depending on what my visual needs are for the site.
Good Places For Premium Themes
If you select a free theme from within your WordPress dashboard (under the Appearance link), you can install and activate it right from WordPress. If you select a theme from an outside party, you’ll need to upload the theme manually. You do this by going to Appearance —> Themes, then at the top, select Add New, and upload the zip file from the 3rd party.
Step 8: Customize Your Theme
Once you install your theme, you’ll want to go in and customize it. Depending on the levels of customization within your theme, this can take awhile, but take the time to play around with it and get it set up how you like it.
Some themes will have options such as the ability to upload a favicon or to change the font without having to edit your CSS stylesheet and other themes will just have the bare bones options. One great thing about WordPress, however, is that if the theme doesn’t have an option for something you want, chances are, there will be a plugin that will give you what you need, so I always look to see if there’s a plugin that’s popular before I start editing any CSS.
If you must edit your CSS, however, ALWAYS CREATE A CHILD THEME. I can’t stress this enough. Creating a child theme isn’t hard to do, and trust me, you’ll wish you had in case you mess anything up when editing CSS. I’ll talk more about that in another post.
Step 9: Start Posting!
This step is pretty self explanatory – just start writing! Of course, you’ll now need to start promoting your blog, which I’ll talk about in a future post, but in the meantime, post away!