Stay updated with the latest in Tech, Science, Culture, Entertainment, and more by following our Telegram channel here.
So you want to start a blog and carve out a little corner of the internet to call your own — that’s a pretty brilliant and popular impulse. We as humans are literally creating a whole cyber-dimension, skinned right on top of our own; having your own square inch of a brand new world is exciting! Highly recommend!
I’ve been blogging since 2012 in some form or another, and starting a blog way-back-when has gotten me almost every single job (and many of the friends) I’ve had since. If it’s something you’re curious about doing, don’t let anything stop you from diving right in. Here’s our step-by-step guide for what you need to know to start blogging.
1. Choose your topic and make a plan
What will your blog be about? Blogging isn’t journalism (though it can be, if you’re a journalist); it’s personal. It doesn’t shy away from the “I.” Starting a blog is a commitment — you’ll potentially have to come up with years’ worth of posts on a topic, so it should be something that speaks to your soul. If it’s something you have a pre-existing expertise in, bring that knowledge to the table. If it’s something you’ve always wanted to know about, bring a zeal for research and be honest about where you’re starting — begin as a beginner. What your followers are really interested in, no matter if you’re talking about donuts or car tires, is you. So if you’re taking a journey and learning new things (as we all are, continually, forever), talk about your process and the things that surprise you.
When posting content on the internet, you have a responsibility for truth. Yes, you might be posting creative pieces or changing names — blogs come in all shapes and sizes, after all — but what I tell everyone when I talk to them about starting a blog is that we all have a responsibility, as citizens of the internet, not to erode the facts. That doesn’t mean you need citations (though you might, if you’re laying out academic arguments or using statistics). If you’re changing names, make a note in the about section. If you’re focusing on opinion, make it clear in the writing. When in doubt, link it out: where did you find the fact or story or study you’re blogging about? Stay as transparent as possible.
Pro tip: Find your lane
You might not start out with expertise in a topic and that’s okay, but be aware of the cultural and social history of the topic at hand. Are you blogging about Indigenous Hawaiian Art when you’re neither Indigenous nor Hawaiian? Take a step back and think about why you’re telling the story you’re telling. I’m not saying don’t write it; I am saying find ways to uplift the folks already talking about it and try not to pass yourself off as an authority. Remember: when it comes to a blog, your readers are interested in what YOU bring to the table. So if you’re going on an information journey, bring us along. Tell us exactly where you’re coming from (and how you’re coming to) a topic.
2. Build your community
Topic is fine, well and good, but a lot of topics are fairly narrow, and maybe you’ve got five or six pieces on a topic in you before you’ve explored all you can. That’s why I say along with topic, think about community. What communities on the internet do you belong to? Where do you hang out? Who are you interested in conversing with? Is it the lesbians who write erotica? The cryptozoologists? The folks focused mostly on skincare and makeup? Carve out your niche and create content just for them.
When it comes to the internet, community wins every time: the world wide web is about connecting people to other people, after all. So brainstorm a list of your favorite people to read and listen to, and the kinds of communities they hang out in. How can you participate in the conversation?
Pro tip: Actually participate
I’m not just talking about responding to comments on your own blog, though it starts there. I’m talking about reading and commenting on other people’s blogs who are writing similarly. Follow them on social media and truly engage, and not just because you want them to feature you on their blog, or to come do a guest post on yours (though collaborations are amazing and you should totally do them). Participation only works when it’s genuine, because you’re interested in what they’re saying or doing and aren’t looking to get something for yourself.
3. Set a posting schedule — and stick to it
I’m going to get technical for just a moment. When it comes to SEO, blogs that aren’t updated regularly fall in the Google search results. But more importantly, don’t leave your readers hanging! Pick a schedule and, unless planned vacation or total disaster happens, stick to it. Be realistic about that schedule — three times a day is probably not for you, unless this is your full-time job (and even then, slow down, buddy). Does once weekly work? Once monthly?
Defining what success looks like should be an important part of the initial process. Step back and ask yourself why you want to do this. Is it because you’ve always wanted to make a webcomic and you don’t care how many folks see it? Or do you want to potentially launch another aspect of your career or business? Whatever success means to you, know this: it doesn’t happen in a week. I’m giving you permission to start at the very beginning. As Julie Andrews says, it’s a very good place to start. Keep updating regularly and your success will come, whatever that looks like to you. It might take a minute, so sit back and enjoy the journey.
Pro-Tip: Write your first three posts
Before you even start futzing around with platforms and hosting, write your first three blog posts to see if you like your chosen topic and you have enough to say about it. Don’t put them anywhere just yet — use a program like Ulysses, iA Writer, or Byword that allows linking (and publishes to a variety of platforms) to cut down on steps (and to get yourself a distraction-free writing environment). This will allow you to sharpen your voice before you’ve ever committed to putting a single blog post on the internet.
4. Select a blogging platform
Now that you’ve got a plan, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to execute it. There are two places you might want to start when it comes to the technical aspects — the first is a blogging platform. While many website builders are great for static pages, make sure you’re choosing software made specifically for blogging, or you’re in for a very frustrating time.
Squarespace is pricey, but in terms of bang for beginner buck, it’s an excellent option. It provides the blogging content manager, the host, and the domain name all in one go. And with templates, the design looks great right out of the box. They also have 24/7 customer support and they’re very effective. If you don’t have any previous blogging experience, I highly recommend at least considering a start here. They’ve got a free trial so you can play around and see what working with Squarespace would feel like.
I often recommend WordPress because it powers more than 40% of websites (according to data available as of July 2021.) That way, even if you stop blogging in a year or two, the skills you’ve learned are translatable to a lot of different jobs since chances are good that your company’s website will also run on WordPress. I also recommend it because WordPress is a tool that grows with you: whether you know nothing about HTML or web development, or you know a lot, you can use WordPress at your level. And because it’s so popular, a ton of designers have made free and paid templates for it, making the platform hella customizable. There are two different WordPresses. WordPress.com is a profit-based platform with free and paid features where you can host and get your domain name for a price. WordPress.org is the home of the open-source WordPress software, which is free but requires a few more steps to set up (like acquiring hosting and a domain name).
Listen, if you want a solid looking blog and you have no money and you’re good with a beautiful (but generic) look, Medium is an excellent choice, and it’s the fastest way to start a blog out of any of the options listed here. There’s a lot that’s positive about Medium besides that as well. Many publications run on Medium (think The Nib or drDoctor), so if you happen to write for anyone else who uses Medium while you’re blogging, it all stays on your Medium Profile. You can also start a collaborative blog very easily with Medium, so if you’re looking at something you and a friend can do together, this one might be for you.
While those are my top picks, there are plenty of blogging platforms out there to try. A classic one is Blogger by Google, which is free and easy, but those blogs have a reputation for being a bit on the ugly side. Then there’s Weebly, which has a free variant and different tiers of pricing depending on what you need, starting at US$4 monthly to connect a domain you already have (more on that in a moment).
Wix is quite similar to Weebly, with its most basic paid plan starting at US$5. Tumblr is an option if your blog is geared toward fandom or another die-hard community (think Studyblr, a community of studying students, or Witchblr, a community of practicing Pagans), and it’s a free service. You can even use a domain name you already have, but it’s a bit…advanced.
Pro-Tip: Free trials
Do them! In fact, even for the platforms that are free to begin with, make an account and try them out. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about the pros and cons of each, but in the end and no matter what I say, if you hate using what you pick, you won’t blog.
5. Claim your domain name
A domain name is the URL that folks type into the browser to reach your website. It’s like your fingerprint on the internet — no two are exactly the same. Which means if you have an excellent idea, you have to search it right away to see if it’s taken, and then snap it up if it’s not. But if you do snap it up and then you decide to go with Squarespace, which comes with a domain name registration, you’re paying unnecessary money. There are so many ways to go about this that a definitive step-by-step is nigh near impossible. All I can say is this: if you have a brilliant idea for a domain name right now, stop reading and search it at one of the following registrars.
Namecheap is my personal favorite registrar, mostly because I’ve never had a problem with it (and I’ve bought domains from a lot of places). It’s easy to use with good customer support.
Domainr lets you get a bit more clever with your domain names by presenting you with several options to spell what you type using the TLD (top level domain, otherwise known as “the bit after the period.” .com is the most common one). For example, I helped found and run a literary magazine called qu.ee/r — and that was our URL. .ee is the Estonian TLD.
In the era of internet past, the common wisdom was to take the name of your blog and make sure to get the .com, .org and .net URLs. That actually made a sort of internet gridlock and we now have a lot more TLDs to choose from — things like .design and .camp and .fun. The common wisdom doesn’t apply as much, but if you can, grab the .com and a couple others with the same name that still apply to your blog title.
Even if you don’t really plan to use it to its fullest advantage, you should get your name so no one can do things you hate with it and then have it rank number one in Google searches when people Google you. If you can’t get the .com, use another TLD — something, anything, just get a variation of your name and put a landing page with a résumé up there, or forward it to your blog by adding it on your host as a forwarded domain.
Pro-Tip: Read ‘em out loud
I have a friend named Carmen Rios whose URL is carmenfuckingrios.com, which sounds badass and on-brand for her. I use her website as an example of a good domain name purchase all the time. A student of mine who we’ll call John Michael tried to copy her and bought the domain name johnfuckingmichael. He didn’t realize until after he purchased it that maybe this was not exactly the same brilliant choice for him. Remember: there are no capital letters or spaces in a domain name. Always read your domain names aloud and show them to a couple of people you trust before hitting the “buy” button, lest you wind up here.
6. Find a host
If you’ve chosen Squarespace, Medium, or the .com sort of WordPress, you actually don’t have to worry about this bit. But if you’ve gone the route of the .org sort of WordPress (or any number of other blog management platforms), you’ll need to put your blog on a server. Basically all that means is a computer that’s connected to the internet 24/7 and can serve it quickly to browsers all over the world, no matter the time or place. A host is a third party that literally “hosts” your website on a server. Here are a few good options:
Bluehost is cost effective and has excellent customer service. I use Bluehost myself, and whenever I’m advising students or clients, I have them use Bluehost as well. You get a free domain with a lot of different packages, which means your domain and your host can all be from one place (easier to keep track of and easier to set up). And if you’ve chosen to work with WordPress, they’ve got a one-click WordPress install. Installing software on a server is a little more complex than doing so without your computer, and you might have to do it without the benefit of an installer, so the one-click install really is clutch.
I bring this up because you might have already bought your domain through them. Namecheap also provides hosting, and if you want the benefit of paying one provider instead of several (and having the host and domain name work together without doing anything on your end), Namecheap is another excellent option. They also have a super-cheap WordPress option for one dollar a month. Perfect for a budding blogger!
Web Hosting for Students
If you’re working on multiple projects and you want the barest of bones and you’re a student anywhere (not just at a college or university), you might want to consider Web Hosting for Students. It’s US$25 yearly for one website, US$50 for three (so if you and your friends all want to start blogs, going in together on that is an excellent deal), and US$100 a year for unlimited websites (excellent if you’ve got an eye for managing websites as a business).
There are so many hosting services that it’s nearly impossible to try all of them, so there are plenty out there that might make sense for you that I don’t have personal experience with. Among them are HostGator, which begins at US$2.75 monthly, and Dreamhost, which begins at US$2.59 monthly. (Read more about some of the best cheap hosting platforms here.)
Pro-Tip: Name servers
If your domain name is purchased somewhere other than your host, you’re going to have to enable the domain name and host to speak to each other — that means changing the DNS, or name servers. All hosts have different name server names, so look those up on your host first. Then head to your domain registrar. Each one of these is different too, but likely you’ll click on the domain name and there will be a section for DNS or name servers. If you’re using Bluehost, here’s a shortcut to their tutorial. If you’re using Namecheap, here’s a shortcut to theirs as well. Most registrars will have documentation with a step-by-step that’s specific to their own user interface. Remember that sometimes this change is effective pretty quickly, and other times it can take up to 24 hours for it to occur.
7. Learn some basic SEO
When it comes to SEO (search engine optimization, or the art of appearing on the first page of Google), some things remain a mystery. Google’s precise algorithm is a carefully guarded secret that they talk about only vaguely, and understandably so. A lot of what we know about SEO are constructed by press release, guess, trial-and-error, and to top it all off, it’s all likely to change at any moment. What we do know is this: people write search engines to try to think like humans. So write clearly and organize your ideas like a human being would and you’re golden. Also use some of these quick tips and tricks — they aren’t the be-all and end-all, and if any of them interrupt your creative flow, feel free to scrap them. But they might help people find you when they Google for your topic.
Organize using headers
Exactly like I’ve done here, clearly label your sections with headers. Google ranks topics in headers as more important than what’s on the rest of the page.
Stick to that schedule
Websites that are updated frequently and most recently rank as more important when it comes to Google search. So remember that schedule we talked about way in the beginning? Well stick to it—your readers will like it and so will the robots.
Links are endorsements
Whether or not it’s actually true, search engines view links as endorsements for the content on that particular page. This is me telling you to link both wisely and well, and I am also letting you know that when you collaborate and participate and other blogs link to your site, that’s helpful. The robots read your content as trustworthy, and therefore more important.
Don’t rely on search engines alone
People seem fixated on SEO, and I actually discourage that fixation. The robots can help you, but they cannot save you. Remember to cultivate a healthy social media posting schedule as well, and if you’re going to rely on anything at all, rely on participating in the internet communities that are blogging about the same or similar topics as you. Community wins every time.
The good news is that some of the SEO pro-tips also make it easier for blind folks using screen readers to access your content. So go ahead and caption that photo in a really detailed, descriptive way. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your readers who can’t see the display.
8. Learn to code.
All of the solutions listed here don’t require any knowledge of code or web development to use. But the more you know, the more you can do. If you know PHP, for instance, you can customize WordPress templates or make your own theme. If you know JSON, you can register as a Squarespace developer and do the same. Here are some places to get started if you’re feeling ambitious:
I’ve used Treehouse for years to brush up on things as I forget them (which is rapidly). Treehouse taught me CSS and enough PHP to get myself into trouble. They could teach me more PHP, in fact, if I were a more dedicated student. They have excellent forums, video courses, and badges for completing things, which appeals to the Scout in me. It’s US$25 a month, and they have a 7-day free trial (always do free trials!). They also have an SEO course, which has proven very informative.
Lynda is the learning website everyone knows best, and boy is it tried and true. Whereas Treehouse is focused on coding, Lynda has coding AND courses in design, photography — basically in anything and everything you’d want to do with a computer. This might be especially important to you if you want to include any sort of photography in your blog. Are you blogging about fashion? Your homestead or farm? This might be an excellent solution for you at US$30 monthly (and of course, they’ve got a free trial that you should totally do).
If you’d like the same breadth as Lynda for half the cost, Skillshare might be an option for you. At US$15 monthly, you can access more than 22,000 classes taught by professionals. As a platform, it also has a digital focus. Learn on topics like making webcomics, mastering Illustrator, or the basics of DSLR photography. Depending on what sort of production your blog requires, you might find Skillshare very useful.
Coursera is a little bit different in that these are courses from universities and colleges. You even have the option to get certificates by doing multiple courses, most of which are US$49 per month. The reason I include this one is not only can you do a web design specialization, you can take courses in subjects such as art history, physics, and psychology. If you’re blogging about a topic and you’re going on a knowledge journey, taking one of these courses on your topic of choice might be a fun way to get inspiration. Udemy is another great option for online learning — you could even take a class like this one on how to start a blog.
9. Explore options for multimedia
This entire article has operated under the assumption that the story you want to tell fits best in a blog. But what if that’s not the case? There are so many ways to tell a story online.
If your topic includes a lot of demonstration — like makeup or painting miniatures — or you’re just very charismatic, then YouTube might be the place for you. When you’re figuring out which communities you want to be a part of, check out the YouTube scene and ask yourself if you’d prefer to partake in the conversation via video instead. The pro for this is increased visibility. The autoplay feature might help you out, for instance. The con is a higher barrier to entry. Video requires more equipment and software than writing. Also if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, do beware. YouTube is actively hostile toward the LGBTQ community and demonetizes videos by queer creators. Consider using another service to host your videos, like Vimeo, and setting up services like Patreon or Ko-Fi to allow your viewers to pay you for content.
I subscribe to two Substack newsletters (Mara Wilson’s and Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s, if you’re curious) and honestly, if you’re thinking about the sort of musings that the Golden Age of Blogging in the early aughts provided (ones that are far less about topic and community, and more about the interesting lives of the individual author and the ways in which their brain operates), Substack might be a better home for your story. The email newsletter is having a renaissance, and because it’s going straight to an inbox, it can be easier to manage nasty comments (people seem less inclined to leave them) and feel nicer to share something more intimate (even though it also goes on your Substack page). Consider how your voice would sound in an email to make the decision between the two. For your readers, would it be better to feel like they’re receiving a letter from a friend?
Microblogging on Instagram is another option, especially if your posts are fairly short and always include a video or a photo. For a few successful microbloggers, check out Juniper the Fox and Desserted in Paris. If this kind of thing looks like exactly what you’d enjoy doing, try reading Styling for Instagram by Leela Cyd and Read This If You Want to be Instagram Famous, edited by Henry Carroll.
10. Most important of all: Follow your heart
Seriously. Follow your heart. Go where you’re curious, talk to the people you want to talk to. Try out a few different things. You’ll certainly make mistakes and course-correct along the way, and that’s okay. It’s all part of discovering what your corner of the internet is going to be about. Just remember: make the world, both physical and digital, a better place with what you put there. Now get out there and start blogging. See you on the internet!