Setting up a WordPress blog can be a daunting task, especially your first time.
So don’t forget to check out our first post in this series Choosing the Right Host for your Self-Hosted WordPress Blog.
There are themes, pages, plug-ins… and all before you even write your first post! It can all be a bit overwhelming. After all, you know you want to write a blog, you’ve chosen a name and a blog host, but now you don’t know what to do next.
So while this is not a guide for the technical aspects of a blog, it is a guide to the most essential elements to get your blog started. But remember, you can always modify and add to your blog as you grow. For now, keep it simple with the following tools.
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Choose a Theme
Don’t lose sleep over this one. You can always change it later. Start with a basic theme that you like and then update to the paid version later on so that you have more options for customization. A paid theme will help you to stand out and appear more professional.
The theme we use for both of our blogs is Ashe Pro. There is a free version that works well, but the paid version offers much more in terms of customization. I like its simplicity and options.
To choose a theme, go to your WP-Admin dashboard, choose Appearance-> Themes. You can browse these and try them out in the customizer. I like to find a theme that allows for a static front page (instead of just your blog posts page), has multiple widget areas, and has a clean look.
Once you have chosen your theme you can customize it to your preferences. You can do this by going to Appearance -> Customize. Again, don’t spend too much time on this in the beginning as you will likely change it once you have some more content up and a clearer direction for your blog.
Get some basic plug-ins
Plug-ins are how you make your blog or website work for you. They allow you to add things like pop-up subscribe forms, search engine optimization for posts, and add social share buttons. There are literally TONS of plug-ins to get your site to work for you. For starters, keep it simple with these
- Yoast SEO. This plug-in is a MUST if you want a blog that can be monetized and will show up in search engines like Google and Pinterest.
- JetPack. This plug-in shows you your site statistics, like the number of visitors to your site in a given time-period and from where they were referred.
Smush.(edited) I used to use the Smush plug-in, but after reading up on SEO, I’ve switched to ShortPixel. This plug-in compresses and optimizes your images as you upload them to your site so that it doesn’t get slowed down by images that are too large. ShortPixel is way more efficient than Smush. Smush only compresses images 5%, while ShortPixel compresses 45-50% (Smush may also ignore large images completely). This makes a huge difference in loading time which is a major factor for good SEO. ShortPixel is a low-cost plug-in with one-time or monthly purchase options, but this is an important investment in your site if you want to rank in Google.
- Grammarly. This is a Chrome extension that helps you with your grammar! It helps you fix spelling and punctuation. I consider this a must-have for busy bloggers!
- Hustle. This plug-in allows you to gather your visitors’ contact information and add them to your mailing list.
Speaking of mailing list- do you have one? You should! Find out why you should start building an email list..
Build some pages
To get your blog started, all you really need is a posts page. This is the blog page where all your posts will go. So, go ahead and get started.
Now, if you are planning to write a blog that you can monetize, you’ll want to do a bit of planning before you start throwing up posts. Think about what your purpose is. Who are you writing to? What are their pain points/problems? What can you solve for them? Think about your niche and the topics you want to write about. Think about your reader and what he/she is going to want to read.
Then, if you have a vision, start putting up some posts. It’s a good idea to have 4-5 posts published before you “launch” your blog officially. THEN, when you have a few posts up, you can start to think about adding some pages.
Adding pages is just like adding posts, just put in your content. To start, add the following:
- About. Add an about page to tell your ready who you are and what they can expect to find on your blog.
- Contact Us. You can combine this with your “About” page, but make it clear how people can contact you.
- Category pages. Your blog should have 3-4 main categories. Because your posts page displays your posts in chronological order, valuable posts can get lost in the shuffle. Add category pages by going to Posts-> Categories. Then you can add your category pages to your site’s menu so people can find them easily.
- Start Here. This may come a little bit later but is worth a mention. A Start Here page is similar to an About page, but it directs your readers where you want them to go and what you want them to do. You can highlight your best content and direct the reader to sign up for your email list. Get clear on your message and make sure that your reader knows what to expect from you. Check out our own Start Here page for ideas. Include a link to this page on your home page and make it obvious.
Do you need training to write a blog?
You might be wondering if you need some more training to write a blog. The answer is, it depends.
What are your blogging goals?
Think about what you want to get out of your blog and start there. Are you aiming to make an income from your blog? If so, you don’t want to wait too long before you think about things like SEO and how to write a blog post (which is quite different than other types of writing). If you wait too long to learn SEO, you will end up having to go back and optimize posts you’ve already written, which takes a lot of time- time away from building up new content. Considering it takes about 6-9 months for Google to really pick up on a new blog, learning to optimize from the beginning can save you a lot of time and help you gain some traction early on.
To learn SEO, there are a lot of options. I just finished reading the ebook “Easy On-Page SEO (for Beginners)” by Debbie Gartner and I highly recommend it if you are new to SEO (like me). She writes in a way that is easy to understand and that you can implement right away. The book also includes an SEO checklist for writing and publishing new posts. Get your copy of Easy On-Page SEO (for beginners).
If you want to learn about other trainings (paid or free) for bloggers, check out our Blogging Resources page for my favorites.
You probably wanted to start a blog because you like to write! So get to it! It will take some time for your blog to get traction and the more you post the faster it will go.
Generally speaking, one post per week is a good minimum to get going but two posts per week can help improve SEO and get momentum going more quickly
This post is not meant to be a technical guide explaining how to go about setting up a WordPress blog- but don’t worry, that information is easily accessible. Instead, use this as a tool to know what you need to get started sharing your writing with the world.
So now that you know what you need to get started, you can start thinking about your blog posts. Stay tuned for next week’s post, How to Write a Killer Blog Post People Actually Want to Read.
AND, if the set up feels too overwhelming for you, you can always hire a professional to do it for you. We highly recommend Ampersand Digital Marketing if that’s the route you decide to go.
What did you find most important when getting started blogging? Share in the comments below! If you are new to blogging, tell us in the comments what you plan to do next!
Also, check out my FREE Killer Blog Post Template & Checklist which includes a headline brainstorming worksheet.
Even more Blogging Resources
Check out this video from Yoast on SEO Tips for Bloggers: