How to start a self-hosted WordPress blog – a step by step guide
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Want to start a blog, but don’t know where to begin? I’m here to help! Here is my easy to follow step by step guide to how to start a successful WordPress blog.
Hooray! You want to start a blog. You have just made THE BEST decision of your life. Blogging has totally changed my life for the better and I know it can change yours too! Blogging is not only a great way to earn a living, but (if you do it right!), it can also be deeply fulfilling AND (again, if you do it the right way!!) you can earn good money, while still getting to spend quality time with the people who matter to you, and have free time for fun stuff – in fact if you choose a good niche, you could find that it’s difficult to distinguish between work time and fun time – because you love what you do so much!
But we are racing ahead, before you can get to all that good stuff, you need to actually turn that blog into a reality! And that’s what I am going to teach you in this blog post. Not some high level vague ‘this is how you start a blog in principal’, but actually step by step in detail (with pictures!) ‘this is what you have to do to go from no blog to a brand-new blog’.
Ready to start? Yay! There’s just 2 things I’d like you to do first. Number 1, if you haven’t already go read my post 9 essential things to do before starting a blog. And number 2, again if you haven’t already, go read my post on how to choose the right niche for your blog… and come straight back here when you’ve read them!
OK, well done – you are all set… You now have a good idea of what you want to blog about and what you want to call your blog… and hopefully I’ve done a good job at convincing you that you want to start a self-hosted blog – because that’s what I am going to be teaching you in this tutorial – ready?
Let’s do it!
(Please note since I originally wrote this blog post I have moved my two main blogs from SiteGround to BigScoots. However, I still have a couple of smaller projects with SiteGround and I still recommend them as a good host for new and smaller bloggers. To see how SiteGround compares to BigScoots, check out my post BigScoots vs SiteGround – which is the best hosting company?)
Step 1 Choose a hosting plan
If you’ve done the pre-work, you will hopefully have a good idea of what your blog’s going to be about and what you want to call it…
Now I am going to be showing you how to do this with SiteGround*, they are who I currently use to host this blog because they are awesome (see this post on How to choose the right host for your blog) – but the same principles hold for other hosting companies, so if you have your heart set on being hosted with another company, then this process will be very similar…
(side note – I am a SiteGround affiliate, so if you click on my special link to SiteGround and go on to purchase hosting with SiteGround, I will get a little commission but you won’t pay a penny more – thanks in advance!)
So head over to www.siteground.com* and you will see a screen like this…
Click on ‘sign up’ and choose your plan. I highly recommend going with the ‘GrowBig’ plan as it will give you room to grow, but is still reasonably priced. (Find out more about which plan to choose in How to choose the right host for your blog.)
Hit ‘order now’ and you get taken to a screen that looks like this.
Step 2 Choose your blog name
Now this is the fun part – choosing your blog name!!
Type in the name that you want to give your blog and hit ‘proceed’…then cross your fingers that that name is available. If it is then yay – congratulations!!, proceed to step 3. If it wasn’t available then try again until you get one that is available.
Remember the points I made in my post on essential things to do before starting a blog – make sure it’s easy to say and spell. Write it down and check there are no rude hidden words and make sure you go for the .com ending. (In general endings like .biz or .tv just look weird and spammy. If you have your heart set on a name and it isn’t available as .com, you could at a push try .net or .co, but really, I’d try for .com.)
Alternatively, if you already have a blogging domain name then check the ‘I already have a Domain’ box and type that in instead.
Congratulations – your blog now has a URL and a name – yay!!
READ MORE >>> How to choose the perfect blog name
Step 3 Buying your hosting
Now you just need to fill in your details and hit ‘pay now’. You are given the option part way down to buy SG Site Scanner. I highly recommend you do that. It will alert you if your site has been hacked and give you peace of mind that your blog is OK. I also recommend you buy Domain Privacy. If you don’t do this your name, address and email address will publicly available on the WHOIS register. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to have my data made public!
Now hit ‘pay now’ and you are ready to go on to the next step…
Step 4 Setting up WordPress
Remember how I described your domain name as your car, your hosting company as the garage and WordPress as the engine? Well now we need to put that engine under the bonnet and here’s how we do it…
First, sign in to your SiteGround account at login.siteground.com, using the password you just created.
Next select SET UP SITE
Select START NEW WEBSITE
Then select WORDPRESS
Finally, type in your email address and a strong password and hit FINISH
Your new WordPress site will now be automatically created for you. This should take about 2 minutes.
If you get stuck at all with this process contact SiteGround’s helpdesk and customer service person will help you through it all.
Step 5 Log into your WordPress account
Now use the username and password you created in the previous step to log into your brand-new blog!!
Navigate to https://www.YOURNEWBLOGNAME.com/wp-admin and type in your username and password.
Note – if you already have your own domain name registered somewhere else, it may take 24-48 hours before you can log in to your WP dashboard. If you’ve just bought your domain name from SiteGround, you should be able to do this straightaway.
If you have bought your domain from somewhere else you will also need to point the nameservers at SiteGround. Don’t worry, this is very easy and the helpful people at SiteGround will help you out with it.
Step 6 Install a theme
Next you need to install a theme – a theme is like the bodywork and the paintjob for your car. And like cars in real life, generally the more you pay, the better your car/website looks. But also, the more you pay, the better your car/blog will go.
You can get a free theme, and if that’s all your bank balance can cope with right now then do that – just navigate to APPEARANCE => THEMES (on the left-hand side of the screen) and click on ADD NEW, then choose something that you like the look of. You can always change it later.
HOWEVER – if you can possibly manage to spend a little more at this stage I HIGHLY recommend it. It will save you so much time and so many headaches later and it will help get your little blog off to the best start possible. Not only does a pro theme look more professional, your theme can really help your blog perform better on search engines, give you more functionality and give your readers a better experience.
Remember you are starting a business here and you need to spend a little to get your business off to the best possible start. Remember too that most traditional businesses cost thousands to start and keep going. With a blog you can in theory start for nothing, but in practice if you spend out on just a few small things – good hosting, a good theme and a good email service provider, you will be giving your business a flying start and that should mean you start making that money back sooner too.
The theme company I most highly recommend is Restored 316*
If you choose to go with Restored 316, then head over to their website and choose one of their gorgeous themes. Buy it and pay for it and then use their brilliant guides to set it all up. They literally take you through the process step by step and if that’s not enough you can also watch these fab videos which show you just how to do it.
Once it’s all set up, you can play about to your hearts content with how it all looks and where you want to put things. The great thing about Restored 316 is that they also supply you with some dummy content which you can upload too – so if you are starting out with a brand-new blog, it really helps you to get a better idea of how it all might look.
Not sure which theme to choose? Restored 316 has a great quiz to help you choose the right theme*.
Step 7 Create a logo for your blog
Now your blog should be starting to look more like a blog! But before you go any further, you need to create a logo for your blog. It doesn’t have to be flashy…and you don’t need to pay a designer a fortune…you can design a simple text-based logo by yourself using a programme like Canva or PicMonkey*. That’s exactly what I did to create the logo for this blog.
You can then put your logo in your header space to make your blog look more professional. Make sure you keep to a limited colour palate for your logo and that your logo and blog colours match, for a professional look.
Step 8 Install plugins
‘What on earth are plugins?’, I hear you cry!
Well, if you’ve installed a professional theme like one from Restored 316 then you’ll have already met with quite a few plugins, but if you have a free theme you may well be wondering what they are. A plugin is basically a little bit of magic that does something on your blog without you having to get your hands dirty in the code. Before plugins, if you wanted to do something on your blog, you would have to actually hard code it. Nowadays, there’s a plugin for almost anything you want!
(Little side note – plugins are so cool, once you get to grips with them it’s quite easy to go a bit mad and get loads of them – DON’T! They will slow your blog down and a bad one could even cause security problems for your blog, so just be careful. Only add good quality ones, only add the ones you need and get into a habit of deleting any you no longer use and updating the ones you do use.)
So what plugins do you need on day 1? There are so many plugins available that it can be a bit nerve-wracking where to start. So, here’s the list of what I consider to be the essential plugins for a brand-new blog (all of them except the last one are FREE):
- Akismet – this is a fab little plugin that will make sure your comments aren’t littered with spam. I have it set up so the first time someone comments I have to approve it, then after that, a person can comment freely. Make it a habit to go into the spam section regularly and delete anything unwanted (and release anything the spam filter accidentally trapped)
- Ninja Forms – this simple plugin will allow you to create a contact form anywhere on your site. You can create a contact me page and add a form there so people can contact you without having to share your email address.
- Simple Social Icons – another very simple plugin that will allow you to create attractive links to your social media profiles to put in your sidebar.
- Social Warfare – this is a social sharing plugin that will allow your readers to share your blog post with their friends and followers.
- All In One WP Security – you need a security plugin. There are a number of good ones around, but this is the one I recommend. A security plugin will prevent your blog from getting hacked
- Yoast – this plugin is essential if you want to perform well on search engines. For more on search engine optimization (SEO) read: A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers and for more information on the Yoast plugin, read: How to set up the Yoast SEO plugin PROPERLY!
- WP Recipe Maker (for food blogs only) – having a recipe card plugin is essential if you plan to share recipes on your website. This is the one I recommend and the one I use on my food blog, easypeasyfoodie.com.
- VaultPress – this one is not free, but its only $3** a month and it’s well worth it. This plugin will do a backup of your site every day. This gives you peace of mind that if the worst should happen to your blog, you can always restore a backup and the most you will have lost is the last 24 hours. For less than the price of a takeaway coffee PER MONTH, I’d say that was worth it! Head over to the VaultPress website* to get this one.
To install a plugin on your site is very simple. Find the PLUGINS section down the left-hand side of your dashboard and hover over it. Choose ADD NEW and you’ll be taken to this screen…
Use the search box on the right-hand side to search by name for the plugin you have chosen. Then click on the grey INSTALL NOW, then ACTIVATE. You will usually be taken to a screen where it shows you how to set up the plugin. Set up the plugin how you want it and you are good to go.
READ MORE >>> 15 essential plugins for WordPress blogs
Unlike blog posts, which are the mainstay of your blog and which you are constantly adding to, pages are the core content that you just update occasionally.
So what pages do you need?
- An About Me page – a short page which describes who you are, who your blog is for and what you hope to achieve. A blog is a personal thing and people who read blogs like to know a little about the person behind the blog. Make sure you include at least one bright and smiley photo too. If you blog about other people (e.g. your kids) or have a team helping you, make sure you include them in your about page too. Read my post on how to write the perfect ‘About Me’ page.
- A Contact Me page – it’s really important you give people a way of contacting you…or rather several ways! You really want to foster a sense of community on your blog and make yourself approachable and encourage interaction. On this page you can include your email address and/or a contact form (using the Ninja Forms plugin), your social media accounts (see below), any other ways they can find you or contact you, and encourage them to comment on your blog too. See my Contact page to give you inspiration.
- A Category Index page – you may not need this right at the start, but as you go along you will want to organise and display your posts in an attractive and easily navigable way. This will not only enhance your readers’ experience, it is also really good for SEO. This is one of the reasons I love Restored 316 Themes because they come with a category index built in. You can see examples of my Category Index here on Productive Blogging and my Recipe Index on Easy Peasy Foodie.
Step 10 Set up your menus
Once you have some pages you can create your menus! To create a menu, you need to navigate over to APPEARANCE => MENUS (1). The screen will look like this…
Hit CREATE NEW MENU and give it a name (2). I have 2 menus on my site imaginatively called ‘menu a’ and ‘menu b’! The number of menus you can have will depend on your theme. Usually you have the option of 2 menus, one above the header and one below.
Once you have named your menu, you need to edit it to add the items you want to include (3). You can add anything to your menus…. a page, a post, a category or even a custom link. Choose from the options on the left-hand side by clicking in the checkbox and then clicking ADD TO MENU.
You can move things around within the menu by dragging and dropping, and if you want to make something a sub category of another menu item, simply drag it below and then move it slightly to the right and it will stay there and include the note ‘sub item’ On your menu bar you can see the sub items in the drop-down menu. (To see how this looks, hover over ‘recipes’ in the menu bar on easypeasyfoodie.com.)
You then need to choose a location for your menu. You will see the location options at the bottom of this screen (4).
One little tip, for things like pages, posts and categories, the name of the menu item will be the name of the pages, posts or categories…which may not suit the menu bar (For example, the name of the page/post/category may be too long). To get around this, simply use the custom link option instead.
Step 11 Set up your sidebar
Most blogs have a sidebar. This is a place where you can put a headshot, mini About Me section, adverts, links to social media accounts, a signup form for your newsletter, badges and other bits and pieces you want your audience to see regularly. One note of caution, though… your sidebar is getting seen less and less as more and more people read blogs on mobile devices. So that carefully curated sidebar which looks so gorgeous on your laptop…may be lost down at the bottom of someone’s mobile view or not visible at all.
Not that you should throw the whole idea out completely… lots of people still read blogs on computers and like to see the sidebar and actively look for certain information in the sidebar (for example, if I want to find someone’s About Me page or subscription signup box, that’s the first place I’ll look), but I just mean it as a warning that just because you put something in the sidebar, doesn’t mean everyone who reads your blog will see it.
So, what should you put in your sidebar? I generally feel less is more when it comes to sidebars…don’t clutter up your sidebar with lots of useless junk. These are the main things to put in a sidebar:
- A picture and mini bio – really important this one. People want to know who is behind the blog and want to feel they connect with the author. Don’t be shy – put a nice bright smiley photo in your sidebar together with a mini version of your About Me page with a link to your full about me page.
- Links to your social media profiles. I use the Simple Social Icons for this.
- A search bar
- Your archives – really useful if someone wants to read your blog in chronological order or find a post and knows when you posted it (e.g. something from last Christmas) but can’t quite remember the title to do a search.
- A subscription signup box – So you can send a newsletter to your subscribers. Do this when you’ve set up your email list.
- Any features and awards – when you get them!!
- Any adverts or links to affiliates you want to have – again don’t go mad here, just one or two!
- Links to any products you have to sell or services you offer. You could also use this space to advertise a free opt-in offer, if you have one.
How do you add things to your sidebar? This is really simple. Go to APPEARANCE -> WIDGETS (1) and you will see all the available widgets on the left-hand side and all the places you can put them on the right. Simply locate your sidebar on the right (2) and click the down arrow. Then drag and drop items from your left-hand side to your sidebar… depending on what it is you add to your sidebar, you may need to edit the settings too. When you are done, click SAVE and go and see how it looks on your front end. Fiddle about until it looks good!!
You may also find lots of other widget areas here which you can play about at populating. But, like I said before – don’t go crazy!!
Step 12 Edit your permalink structure
BEFORE you start writing blog posts it’s super important that you make sure your permalink structure is set up correctly… by far and away the best one for SEO purposes is the simplest one… just the name of your blog post e.g. www.productiveblogging.com/start-successful-blog
NOT one with a random string of letters and numbers www.productiveblogging.com/?p123
NOR one that includes the date www.productiveblogging.com/2018/04/start-successful-blog
NOR one that includes the category www.productiveblogging.com/start-blogging/start-successful-blog
Trust me you really want to get this right NOW, because it is a real headache to change at a later date. To do this simply got to SETTINGS -> PERMALINKS and choose the option POST NAME and then hit SAVE CHANGES.
One other thing to note is that you can always change the permalink in the blog post if the one it automatically creates is too long or a bit strange…and as you understand SEO better I would actively encourage you to do this to improve your SEO. You can do this in the post editing screen.
Step 13 Start writing blog posts!
Aaaah finally you get to actually write something…I know that seems like a lot of steps to do before you get to your first blog post, but I promise you it’s worth it and will save all manner of headaches later on.
To write a blog post, simply navigate to POSTS => ADD NEW. Give your blog post a title, write your post and then hit PUBLISH. To add photos/graphics, simply go to ADD MEDIA and UPLOAD FILES, then SELECT FILES and choose something from your computer.
Writing a blog post is a subject in its own right, so I have written a whole separate post on the topic: How to write your first blog post. You will also find lots of useful information here: The 10 essential elements of a successful blog post. And you can find lots of other tips on what to write and how to optimise what you write for your readers and SEO in my Blog Content section. So, head over there, write a blog post or two, and then come back here and I’ll show you what to do next!
Step 14 Set up your social media accounts
So, you’ve written your first blog post…or three! Hoorah…but next you are going to need to share them with the world. Yes, it’s true that in the long-term people will find your stuff in Google searches, but it takes quite a while for a new blog to start ranking. Before you get there, you need to get social and share your posts on social media… and before you do that you need to set up your social media accounts…
So which social media platforms should you join? There are a lot of possibilities and new ones popping up all the time, but the 4 I would recommend…and the ones almost all bloggers are on, are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
The first thing you need to do is set up your accounts on each platform. They are all pretty easy to set up and self-explanatory… a couple of things to take care of though:
- Try to make sure your account name is very similar to your blog name, ideally the same – this will help people find you and make you look consistent across your social media.
- Make sure you use a nice smiley picture of yourself as the profile pic, rather than a logo or a random picture of your dog (unless your blog is about dogs, maybe… and even then, make sure you are in the pic too!), ideally use the same photo across all your social media accounts and in the sidebar of your blog, this is good for consistency and recognition and makes you look more professional.
- Make sure you put a nice, relevant photo in as the cover photo of your social media profiles – you could use a stock photo that is related in some way to what your blog is about, take a photo yourself, or create a collage in PicMonkey* or Canva.
- Make sure you fill in your social media bios and any other sections with as much information as possible and make sure you keep coming back and updating this every now and again. I always do this in January each year to make sure my bios etc. are fresh, up to date and still relevant.
- Extra bonus…write a little post for each social media platform introducing yourself and your new blog, then reach out to friends and family and ask them to follow you!
And one last note, you may be on some of these platforms already, so have a good think about whether you can use what you already have (it helps to have followers already!) and turn it into something for your blog or whether you’d rather have a separate account for your blog. With Facebook you definitely need to set up a page for your blog, as you are not allowed to use your personal profile for promotional activities.
Step 15 Promote your blog content
Now you have some posts and your social media accounts you can start to promote your blog content! For each piece of content write a tweet, a Facebook post, an Instagram post and create a couple of graphics or pictures that you can pin to your Pinterest boards. You can just send these out directly or you can use a scheduler such as Hootsuite, Buffer or CoSchedule* to do it for you.
I also recommend spending time trying to find similar accounts on all these social platforms to follow and liking/commenting/sharing/retweeting their content too. Not only will this make your social accounts more interesting, but it will also hopefully gain you some new followers and/or blogging friends!
READ MORE >>> How to use Pinterest to grow your email list
READ MORE >>> How to schedule social media with CoSchedule
Hoorah!!!! You now have a blog, a few posts and social media accounts to share them on. Hopefully you have had a few visitors by now too. Keep it up and check out my BLOG CONTENT and GROW YOUR BLOG sections for ideas on what to do next…
Need help to set up YOUR self-hosted WordPress Blog?
Want a full plan that takes you through everything you need to do in the the first 7 weeks of blogging – including what you need to do BEFORE you start a blog? Then check out my my FREE guide to starting a PROFITABLE blog.
Want a course that will take you step by step through everything you need to do to START and GROW a PROFITABLE blog the RIGHT way – including screengrabs, VIDEO TUTORIALS, cheatsheets, worksheets, planners and more? Then you need my Profitable Blogging Jumpstart Course!
- How to choose the right niche for your blog
- 9 essential things to do before starting a blog
- How to choose the right host for your blog
- How to start a PROFITABLE blog – plus FREE 7 week plan
- 20 reasons why you should definitely start a blog this year
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*This blog post contains affiliate links, this means if you click on a link and go on to buy the product I recommend, I will get a small commission, but you will not be charged a penny more – thanks in advance!
**Prices correct at 17/08/20
Working my way through this list to set up my new site has been a godsend – thanks Eb!
A pleasure! So pleased you are finding it useful. Let me know if there’s anything you wish I’d included! Eb x