How to start a blog in 6 steps (Platforms, SEO, and more)
Ready to learn how to start a blog? This guide is for you. From hosting to SEO, follow these six steps to get your blog up and running.
You know that blogging should be part of your marketing strategy. It’s a tried-and-true way to bring in new visitors and share your expertise with the world.
But every time you sit down and try to begin your journey to blogging excellence, you find yourself filled with questions:
What platform should I use?
How much will it cost?
What should I write about?
How do I get people to read my posts?
What the heck is SEO?
It’s enough to make your head spin. That’s why we put together this step-by-step guide to starting your own blog.
Starting a successful blog is hard work, but the benefits for your business and your readers are well worth it. And with the right research and tools on your side, you can build a blog that you and your audience will love.
Let’s start at the beginning: What should you blog about?
Step 1: Choose your blog topic
One of the best things about blogging is that you can start a blog about pretty much any topic in the world.
People love blogs. 77% of internet users read blogs, and internet users in the U.S. spend 3X more time on blogs than on email. So if you’re passionate about a subject, chances are there’s an audience out there that feels the same way and wants to read about it.
Here are just a few examples of successful blogs and their niches:
Web developer Daniel Bogan’s blog, Uses This, is dedicated to interviewing creators of all kinds about the gear and techniques they use to create.
On her blog, Kaleigh Moore shares her expert insights as a freelance writer for eCommerce & SaaS companies.
Neuroscientist Stefanie Faye Frank uses her blog to “translate complex scientific concepts into real-world language”.
One thing all of the above blogs have in common? Specificity.
Instead of blogging about general freelancing, Kaleigh talks about writing in her niche. Rather than including travel tips for parties of all sizes, Queenie focuses on advice for solo travelers like herself.
To find your own specific niche, consider using the Passion/Profit Matrix.
The matrix helps you judge your digital product ideas based on two factors:
Passion: How excited are you to work on this? If you hate working on something, its profit potential doesn’t matter, because you’re more likely to quit before you get there.
Profit potential: Do people already spend money to solve this problem? You can also think of “profit” here as interest or search traffic. Do people already spend time researching this topic?
The right product idea — or niche for your blog — falls in the upper right quadrant: The nexus of high passion and profit potential.
Once you find that sweet spot, content marketing consultant Ryan Robinson recommends asking yourself these questions to validate your idea:
Are you interested enough in this blog niche? Don’t pick a topic you feel lukewarm about just because it seems lucrative.
Do you know enough about this blog niche? You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need some background knowledge in your topic.
Is there a paying audience for this blog niche? In other words, are there products or services aimed at this audience? If you want to make money blogging, you need a paying audience.
Is this niche likely to be around for years to come? It takes time to build a popular blog, so choose a topic you can write about for a long time rather than a passing fad.
Is there a moderate amount of competition in your niche? A crowded market can be a good thing — it means there’s demand for content and products in your niche.
Once you choose what your blog will be about, it’s time to figure out where you’ll host it.
Step 2: Pick a blogging platform
From Tumblr and Blogger to Medium and Wix, there are countless blogging platforms out there.
In this guide, we’re going to focus on two of the best options available to bloggers: Squarespace and WordPress.
That said, Squarespace can be more user-friendly for beginners, especially if you don’t have any coding experience.
Here’s how the two platforms compare when it comes to features, customization, and cost.
(A quick note: All of the prices listed throughout this article are accurate at the time of writing.)
For first-time website builders, Squarespace is an easy-to-use platform that requires no coding skills. Its drag-and-drop interface has a much gentler learning curve than WordPress.
However, that simple block interface comes at the cost of flexibility and customization options. Squarespace offers fewer designs, plugins, and themes than WordPress and doesn’t offer nearly as much dedicated blogging functionality.
Overall, Squarespace is a website builder that includes basic blogging features, rather than a platform built with bloggers front-of-mind.
How much does Squarespace cost?
In addition to a 14-day free trial, Squarespace offers four different pricing plans. Pricing ranges from $16 to $54 per month paid monthly, or $12 to $40 per month paid annually.
These plans come with unlimited storage and a free domain name for the first year, and unless you need ecommerce functionality, the lower two tiers should work just fine for running your blog.
WordPress is a content management system (CMS) built for bloggers. That means it comes with built-in templates and tools for blogging, including:
Multi-author advantage & multilingual settings
WordPress also offers a huge library of paid and free plugins for bloggers, as well as thousands of free WordPress themes designed specifically for blogs.
So, what’s the caveat?
When it comes to building a customized website and blog, WordPress has a steeper learning curve than Squarespace, making it harder to get the hang of for new bloggers. There’s no drag-and-drop interface, and you’ll need some basic HTML knowledge to fully customize your WordPress site.
Don’t let that scare you away, though. Setting up a basic WordPress blog doesn’t require hacker-level technical skills, and because WordPress is so widely used, there are tons of free resources out there to help you learn the ropes.
How much does WordPress cost?
WordPress itself is free, but you still need to pay for website hosting, a custom domain name, themes, and plugins.
According to blogging expert Ryan Robinson, the starting investment for a WordPress website runs between $140 and $200. However, your recurring costs with WordPress will almost certainly be lower than those with Squarespace.
Squarespace vs. WordPress: Which should you use?
Here’s a complete breakdown of the main differences between the two platforms:
(You can also connect websites built on either platform to your Podia site, which is especially important for infopreneurs looking to monetize their blog and sell digital products. Here’s how.)
While the learning curve for WordPress is steeper, the possibilities for customizing your blog are practically endless. Squarespace is a website builder; WordPress is a CMS originally developed for bloggers.
With all of the above in mind, WordPress is the better blog hosting choice for creators and bloggers looking to create, grow, and eventually monetize their blogs.
Next up, let’s talk about how to set up your blog on WordPress.
Step 3: Set up your blog
To get your WordPress blog up and running, you need two things:
A domain name
A web hosting plan
If you don’t already have one, choose a domain name.
Your domain name is where your website and blog live. If your website is your online home, your domain name is your online address.
Make your new domain name the name of your blog if it’s available. Don’t add unnecessary confusion for your customers by choosing an unrelated URL.
But what if you don’t have a website or blog name?
If you’re an online coach, blogger, or sell online courses, consider using your own name.
Take business mindset coach Becky Mollenkamp, for example. Becky’s blog and digital products focus on sharing her personal expertise with others to help them succeed.
Becky is her brand, so it makes sense for her to use beckymollenkamp.com as a business and domain name.
Once you finally find the perfect name, you need to register it with a website hosting provider.
We recommend Bluehost. One of the largest web hosting companies in the world, Bluehost offers free domain registration for the first year on every hosting plan. Their most basic plan starts at $2.95/month.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, Bluehost also offers managed hosting accounts for WordPress sites.
These managed hosting plans start at $19.95/mo.
As an alternative to Bluehost, Siteground hosts more than 2,000,000 domains and is known for having some of the best customer service in the industry. Starting at $4.99/mo, Siteground is slightly more expensive than Bluehost's basic plans, but if you feel like you may need to contact tech support frequently, they could be your best option.
Once you've chosen a hosting provider, set up your blog in WordPress. This means installing WordPress on your site, choosing and setting up plugins, and finding and installing the perfect theme.
These are excellent tasks to outsource if you have the budget. Outsourcing your website work to an experienced web developer can help you create a website that loads quickly, works well, and fits your brand.
If hiring a developer is out of your reach, I recommend these in-depth tutorials from WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource:
Remember that your WordPress blog doesn’t need to have the fanciest premium themes or the shiniest plugins for you to create great blog content. It just has to work, so you can start writing and publishing your posts.
Step 4: Start writing
It’s finally time to write a blog post.
You could open up a new doc, start writing off the top of your head, and hope for the best.
Some people really do work best that way.
I’m not one of those people. If you aren’t either, let me introduce you to my blogging BFF: outlining.
Outlining saves you time, keeps you organized, and helps you arrange your content in a way that makes the most sense for your reader. You can jot your outline down by hand, or use Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, or Microsoft Word.
Here’s how the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) recommends writers structure their outlines:
Brainstorm: List all the ideas that you want to include in your post.
Organize: Group related ideas together into sections.
Order: Arrange your ideas into subsections.
Label: Add headings and subheadings to your post.
Our content team uses this template to outline each section of our blog posts:
Once you create your outline, you’re ready to start writing — even if you may not feel ready.
So how do you overcome writer’s block?
Just start writing.
Don’t pressure yourself to find exactly the right words or avoid typos at all costs. You can always go back and edit your writing later. The most important thing is to keep writing. Before you know it, you’ll have a piece that’s ready to be edited into a beautiful blog post.
That’s not to say that writing is the speediest process, though.
The average blog post takes nearly four hours to write.
If you’re short on time, fear not. You can still create great content for your blog by repurposing your content. For example, you can repurpose video content or podcasts by editing transcripts into blog posts.
Amanda Nielsen of New Breed Marketing explained to Databox, “You can get tons of SEO benefit by transcribing videos. If you have the bandwidth, create a written transcription and a blog post to promote the video.”
You could even repurpose an ebook by breaking each section or chapter into a blog post. Ebooks and blogs are a content match made in heaven. 40% of bloggers who report “strong results” create guides and ebooks, too.
After you write your blog post — whether from scratch or repurposed — it’s time to edit.
As a writer who struggles to edit my own work, I recommend hiring a freelancer to edit your writing before you publish. But if you have to self-edit, make sure you take a break between writing and editing.
Coming back to your writing after a bit of time away helps refresh your perspective, so you’re more likely to catch small mistakes.
You can also use a tool like Grammarly, but it should never fully replace a human editor — even if you’re self-editing.
Grammarly identifies spelling and grammar errors, suggests synonyms for commonly used words, and provides tons of helpful tips for free.
Grammarly’s AI sometimes misses errors (or finds errors where there are none), so make sure to read over your document thoroughly. Or, better yet, have someone else look over it for you.
Finally, you’re ready to publish your very first blog post — and plan out a schedule for the rest.
Creating a publishing schedule helps you hold yourself accountable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to start a personal blog, written one post, and never returned to publish a second.
The good news is that you don’t need to publish new blog posts every day (or even every week) to build a successful blog. When it comes to blog content, it’s about quality over quantity. Longer, more in-depth, and well-researched posts perform better.
HubSpot reports that the ideal length for a blog post for SEO is between 2,100 and 2,400 words. A survey by Orbit Media found that the majority of bloggers who write 3000+ word articles report “strong results”.
As Jay Baer of Convince and Convert explained to Orbit Media, “Blogging was once an online newspaper: lots of short articles, published frequently. Now, it’s an online magazine: a few longer articles published less often.”
Step 5: Optimize for search (SEO)
Search engine optimization can mean the difference between a good blog with just a few readers and a stellar blog bringing in visitors by the thousands.
Optimized content shows up higher in the search results for relevant keywords and phrases. The more you optimize your content, the easier it is for new people to find it through search.
And given that organic search is responsible for 53% of all online traffic, grabbing the top spots on the results page matters. The first five results of any Google search account for 67.6% of all clicks.
Plus, SEO can play a big role in how profitable your blog becomes. Bloggers who earn over $50,000 annually rate unpaid organic Google traffic as the most important marketing channel for their blog.
SEO is also much cheaper than traditional advertising — and more effective. A Databox survey found that 70% of marketers say that SEO is better than pay-per-click ads for generating sales. That’s why nearly 64% of marketers actively invest time in SEO.
The good news is that starting a blog already puts you ahead of the SEO game. Websites with blogs have a 434% higher chance of performing well on the search engine results page (SERP).
Even better news: If you have a WordPress blog, the Yoast SEO plugin helps you optimize your content right from your WordPress site editor.
Here’s how it works:
You enter the keyword or phrase that you want your blog post to rank for.
Yoast checks your content and tells you whether you’re using the keyword enough and in the right spots, such as headers.
Yoast also lets you preview how your post will look on a Google search results page.
On the backend, Yoast generates and applies schema.org structures and structured data that “helps [search engines] figure out what every part of your site means, who it belongs to, and how everything connects”.
You can also use keyword research tools, like Ahrefs’ keyword generator, to learn what type of content your audience is looking for. They also tell you how difficult it is for content to rank for a certain keyword, plus how many times a keyword is searched in a month.
This helps you land on your ideal keyword.
What does all of this search engine optimization look like in action?
If I’m a busy parent who’s struggling to maintain my family’s budget, I might Google a phrase like “budgeting for busy moms”.
The featured snippet for the search “budgeting for busy moms” shows this article from Simplified Motherhood, a blog that helps busy moms stay organized.
When you optimize your blog for a search term, you have a better chance of showing up on the first page or two of search results. Your target audience is more likely to find your content, visit your blog, and, once they trust your expertise, buy your digital products.
For more SEO tips and techniques, check out these resources:
A guide to DIY your blog SEO on a budget
Simple SEO tips that require zero technical skills
How to do SEO for digital products by ramping up your blog SEO
A list of 11 free SEO tools for infopreneurs and bloggers
All in all, SEO is a must-have for bloggers. But it’s far from the only way to grow your audience.
Step 6: Grow your audience
Blogging is a two-way street: Starting a blog can help you grow your audience, and marketing to your audience can help you grow your blog. Businesses with a blog generate about 67% more leads than those without one.
Here are three of our favorite strategies for bringing in new email subscribers and blog readers.
1. Collect emails with opt-in forms
Blog traffic can be a great way to build your email list, but only if you do it right. Before you can start sending them emails, subscribers need to opt-in and agree to hear from you.
Make it easy for readers to join your email list by adding an opt-in popup or lead capture form to your blog. An opt-in popup form asks visitors for their email address, usually in exchange for something of value (like a discount or free digital download).
Developer and trainer Reuven Lerner uses his blog to grow his email list by including an opt-in form on his site.
“I’ve found that posting to my blog, and then getting blog posts repeated and re-posted by others, and then having an opt-in widget on my blog, is a great way to go,” Reuven told us.
Here are two top email marketing tips to make the most of your opt-in form:
Use a strong call-to-action (CTA). Give people a specific reason that they should subscribe to your email list — like “Teach me more Python!” from Reuven’s example.
Set expectations. Tell subscribers what information you’ll send them and how often they’ll hear from you.
One of the best ways to turn blog visitors into subscribers is to give them something valuable in exchange for their contact info.
2. Incentivize subscribers with lead magnets
Lead magnets let you share your expertise while growing your email list. A lead magnet is a resource that users receive in exchange for their contact information.
They give you their email address, you give them valuable content. It’s a win-win situation.
Lead magnets show potential customers why they should trust you. The best lead magnets are actionable, informative content targeted to your specific audience and their pain points.
The workshop highlights Becky’s strengths as a coach and shows readers how much they can gain from working with her.
If you have a blog post that brings in a lot of traffic, add a content upgrade designed specifically for that post. (Not sure how much traffic your blog gets? Check out this beginner’s guide to Google Analytics reports.)
To create a content upgrade:
Identify the content on your site that brings in the most traffic.
Create a lead magnet on that same topic.
Add that content to the relevant page.
Turn more readers into subscribers.
If you’re short on time, you can also use Podia’s Digital Download Generator to create a high-quality lead magnet fast. Just answer a few questions about your download, and we’ll create a ready-to-go PDF.
If you need a place to host your digital downloads — whether they’re digital products for sale or free lead magnets — take a look at Podia. Try it out for free with a 14-day trial.
Lead magnets and opt-in forms are great ways to turn blog readers into subscribers. But beyond sharing your blog posts on social media, how do you get those blog readers in the first place? Our third and final tip has you covered.
3. Guest post on other blogs
Guest posting is a great way to reach a broader audience, especially when you post on a more established blog.
Here are some of the top benefits of guest blogging:
Improve domain authority (a search engine ranking score).
Drive traffic to your own site.
Boost your brand awareness.
That’s probably why 60% of bloggers write anywhere from one to five guest posts each month.
Before you can write a guest post, you need to pitch it. And before you can pitch it, you need to find blogs in your niche that accept guest posts.
Here are some sites to get you started:
List of 200+ websites and blogs currently accepting guest posts
Writers in Charge’s definitive list of blogs that accept guest posts
Most well-established blogs that accept guest posts typically have pitching and writing guidelines for you to follow, like these on Practical Wanderlust’s site.
After your pitch gets accepted, you write your post, and the blog publishes your guest post. Then you can share the link with your social media followers and email list to give the post extra exposure and referral traffic.
For more tips on guest posting, including a free pitch template, take a look at our complete guide on how to guest post.
Once you grow your audience, you can monetize your blog. Check out these resources on monetization to start turning a profit:
Five realistic strategies to monetize a blog
This email marketing guide to convert blog subscribers to paying customers
A five-step guide on how to monetize your blog with ebooks
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It’s time to get bloggin’
Starting a blog isn’t always easy. But when you put in the work and use the right tools and resources, blogging can help you reach new people, share your expertise, and boost your bottom line.
To recap, here are the six steps to follow to start your blog:
Choose a topic and niche for your blog. Find something that you and your audience are passionate about.
Pick a blogging platform. Squarespace and WordPress are the top two options, and when it comes to customization and blogging features, WordPress is a clear winner.
Set up your blog. Choose and register a domain name and purchase a hosting plan.
Start writing your first post. Use an outline to get started, and create a publishing calendar to hold yourself accountable.
Optimize your blog for search. SEO is the number one way successful blogs get traffic, and it helps the right audience find you and your content.
Grow your audience with opt-in forms, lead magnets, and guest posts. Once you build up your readership and email list, you can monetize your blog.
With all of this newfound blog knowledge under your belt, you’re well on your way to becoming a successful blogger. Now get out there and write.