How to Start a Blog
What an interesting hobby this has become. I started this “just typing some stuff into the computer” hobby almost two years ago, and it has totally shaken things up in the Mustache household (which is only even called the Mustache household because of this blog). I’ve had the privilege of meeting many new people, surfing on quite a few couches, and eating several free lunches provided by generous visiting readers. Several trips (including Hawaii and an upcoming one to Ecuador) are a direct result of this gig, with more sure to come. On top of that, there has been challenge, learning, and nowadays even some significant earning. So, although I was reluctant to add this new thing to an already-busy life back in 2011, now I’m glad I did (and most of the credit for that goes to the lovely Mrs. MM for forcing me to do it).
Many people email me these days asking for advice on starting their own blogs. Since I’ve only ever started one, I can’t claim to be an expert on the topic. But given the number of requests, I figured it might at least be helpful to share what we have learned over this time, in case it helps the other people on the fence get going more quickly.
Why would you even want to start a blog?
In my opinion, the only reason you should do this is because you enjoy writing and learning. Maybe you discovered an aptitude for busting out some fine phrases in high school English class, but then got shunted into a career path that leaves those skills neglected. Maybe you would like to learn more about computer, web and internet technology, and prefer to learn by doing. In general, if you really notice differences in writing style, and passionately enjoy some of them while actively hating others, you might be a writer yourself. But blogging isn’t reserved for people with some magic bit of proven talent. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. It just matters that you enjoy it.
What are the benefits of having your own blog?
The neat thing about these things is that if you’re lucky, they force you to write. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, but you find the idea daunting. 200 pages or more of carefully-edited and researched stuff.. who has time to make something like that? So you never get started.
This is where a blog comes in handy. You can write a 500-word diddy, or a 1500′er like most of the ones you see here, or any other quantity. You still wrote something, which means you have greased your mind and wiggling fingers for more writing in the future. It all adds up, and you get some practice and refine your ideas, and at some point you might have everything you need for a book, without even realizing it while you wrote posts.
But it’s not just for aspiring authors. A blog is also just a place to tell the world how you think, or connect with other people, or record your progress on something that is important to you. It can serve as a place to be publicly accountable. Or maybe just to post funny stories about your cats or your kids. And its purpose can change at any time.
There is also a strong business case behind learning blog skills and technical skills in general. This is a real and growing industry, with jobs and real money flowing about for organized people. For example, the job title ‘WordPress Developer’ didn’t even exist when I was a software engineer, and now it is a field were a software person can earn a six digit salary or start her own similarly lucrative business, and get a job entirely by demonstrating things they have developed – no degree required. ‘Blog Advertising Consultant’ is another that came out of nowhere, and of course there is the King of self-made internet entrepreneurs, Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income.
But I’m not a programmer. Aren’t these things difficult to set up?
Not really. The simplest way to create a blog is to simply visit blogger.com or wordpress.com and sign up for a free account. Following the prompts and poking around will have you writing your first post within five minutes, and it might be all you ever need to do. Although it’s a good way to start, that is not the subject of this post, since I’m going to cover how to start a larger-scale, self-hosted blog instead.
Why would I want to have my own hosting?
If you are starting a blog for just friends and family, you wouldn’t. Those wordpress.com and blogger.com accounts keep millions of people happy. But if you’re planning a blog that might become a business, and have things like advertising, affiliate links, or high traffic, you’re better off going for a blog that you really own, because it allows you to control many more aspects. With your own hosting, you get much better visitor statistics via Google Analytics (which works well with blogger.com but not wordpress.com), the ability to control your look and feel with more plugins and customizations, plus the ability to run your own advertising (which is not allowed on wordpress.com and blogger – in fact, they reserve the right to run their own ads on your site to pay for the free account).
Plus, your web hosting account can serve as your personal online headquarters, since you generally get unlimited storage space and fast transfer speeds even with starter accounts. Store your backup files there, create additional websites for your family, share those 8GB video files with your friends in other countries via HTTP or FTP, and much more. Mrs. MM and I have had dedicated web hosting accounts for 10 years or more for all of the reasons above, long before blogging was invented.
So how do I do it?
The following guide was written with enormous help from Mrs. Money Mustache, so all thanks go to her:
Part 1 – Think up a Domain Name and Get Yourself a Hosting Service
Perhaps you’ve already got the perfect domain name. If not, let me offer you some advice. Don’t name your site something like mydebtfreerevelation.com or billyissavingforretirement.com. Make it something catchy, like the catchyfisherman.com or thoughtful/artsy, like texanmuse.com. (I just made those up, if you can believe it, and they’re still available until some lucky reader claims ‘em :-))
I’ve grown pretty content with Bluehost hosting. People keep telling me, “Man, you can’t run a site as big as Mr. Money Mustache with shared hosting! My site is 10 times smaller and I upgraded long ago!”. But after upgrading to their “Pro” service and running some speed tests, I find that we still have capacity to spare, even with over 1.5 million pageviews per month, and often more than 200 simultaneous readers clicking away. Although a costlier hosting plan may still be in the cards after additional growth, I’m amazed at how much output we’re getting right now. The biggest benefits, however, are just in the ease-of-use of using a bigger provider like this:
- domain registration and hosting are all done in one step
- wordpress blog installation can be added with the click of a mouse
- automatic backups save you from accidentally erasing your own site, as I did a couple months ago
- forums (like our own Money Mustache Forum) are easy to install
- FTP and email accounts and all sorts of other stuff come for free as well
So anyway, if you decide to follow the same path, here’s how you’d sign up with bluehost:
Step 1: Go to Bluehost.com (affiliate link) and it will take you to this page:
The cost varies, but right now it looks like it’s $6.95 per month – still amazing to me since I remember paying much more for 100 megabytes of storage (about 20 modern digital pictures). Click Sign Up Now.
Step 2: If you want to register your newly-invented domain name, enter it on the left. If you already have one registered elsewhere, enter it on the right. Since you can register a free domain name with every new account, it might be worth locking in one either way, depending on your needs. Click Next.
Step 3: Oh look at that… CatchyFisherman.com is available. Lucky me!
Here’s where they tell you about your Free new domain name. Enter your account information and then choose your package details. It looks like they’re trying to sell me a bunch of extra stuff. The only thing we chose was the Domain Whois Privacy for an extra $10 per year (this prevents your real name and mailing address from being publicly associated with your domain name).
Oh look at that! When I drop down the account plans, it looks like it’s cheaper than initially advertised. We picked the 12 month price at $5.95 per month when first starting MMM. No need for a pro package just yet — you can upgrade your site at any time once the traffic is a flowin’. I found basic hosting was good up to at least 10,000 pageviews/day.
Step 4: Don’t worry, I didn’t really register CatchyFisherman.com. It’s still available. I’m assuming that once you fill out the page in step 3 and click Next that you will get some kind of login information for your Control Panel (‘cpanel’).
You now have a domain name and a hosting service. Congratulations!
Part 2 – Create your WordPress Blog in 4 Steps using Bluehost
Step 1 – from your cpanel, choose SimpleScripts Installations – WordPress
Step 2 – Click the Install Button for a brand new site
Step 3 – The first box will already be set to a nice, recent version of wordpress. You will also choose the location for your install — this will probably be the root of your new URL, so you would leave this unchanged. In my case, I’m installing a new blog under www.mrmoneymustache.com/mrsmm. You might consider unchecking all that fiddly stuff in Step 3, depending on your needs. Check off the legal information box in Step 4 and click Complete.
Step 4 – Bluehost will automatically install the whole WordPress system, and you will get a Site URL and a Login URL with your default login information. This information will also be e-mailed to you.
Your wordpress blog is up and running already! Check it out by clicking on the link. You can login with the login details provided (you will want to change these, of course). Here’s the Mrs. MM blog after the initial Install. Not bad.
As you can see, using Bluehost makes a WordPress Install quick and easy. You can set up numerous sites this way on the same host by using the same 4 steps above.
Part 3 – A few customizations within WordPress
Now you have a site and you can start typing and publishing right away, but you may want to do a few things within WordPress first. I’m far from a WordPress expert, so if any of you recommend any other setup steps, please let us know.
Step 1 – click the 2nd link (login URL) to get to your WordPress administration area. Enter the username and password you were given.
Step 2 – You will arrive at your WordPress Dashboard. This is the “back end” of your blog. This is where you go to do almost everything, including adding posts, changing the look and feel, adding plugins, etc.
For added security, the first thing you’ll want to do is change your login by removing the Admin username:
- Choose Users -> Add New
- Invent a memorable new username and password for yourself
- Choose “Administrator” in the drop-down box at the bottom labeled “role”
- You should now have two Admin level users.
- Logout as “admin” and log in using your new username.
- Then, delete the old Admin account. Now you should only have one admin profile.
Step 3 – you may have noticed that your dashboard gave you a notice to sign up for a WordPress.com account. This is an account with the actual WordPress company, which is different from the accounts just created here on your own server.
You do want this, because it is required to enable an essential plugin called ‘Jetpack’ (which is valuable for site statistics as well as other plugins). So click “Connect to WordPress.com” and then register for an account there (I have no idea why you need to sign up for a separate account for this, but hey, whatever). Save the login information religiously.
Once you have an account, you can authorize Jetpack and you will see a new option under the left hand menu for “Site Stats”. Your site stats will start to display in a little while, although at first you will get a “Take ‘er easy, dude.” message.
You may have also noticed that there are some updates to install. Like most pieces of software, WordPress is under constant development (and it’s amazing that it is free to use!). Under ‘dashboard’, choose ‘updates’ and let WordPress do its thing.
Step 4 – Finally, you can now check all your settings and learn about them. Go to ‘Settings’ and poke through each menu item. Under ‘General’, you can type in your site name and tagline (i.e. early retirement through badassity), your e-mail address, as well as your time zone. Be sure to click the ‘save changes’ button for every page.
Advanced option: check out the ‘Permalink Settings’ to ensure the links to your articles URLs show up the way you’d like them to. This will be handy when your catchiest articles later go viral on the Internet, as well as increasing the number of visitors you will get from search engines. The default of using Post Name seems pretty good, especially since an MMM reader friend of mine who is a Search Engine Optimization expert recommends leaving the date out of the permalink.
At this point, your site probably looks blank but enticing and ready to go. If you added a site name and tagline, you’ll see that. Since we deleted the Admin account, your hello world post is probably gone. Note that you are currently set up using the default theme (a theme is what dictates the look and feel of your site). The default theme is called “Twenty Eleven” in this case, and mrmoneymustache.com is running one called “skeptical” at the time of writing.
Part 4 – Updating your blog’s look and feel
Step 1 – when you choose Appearance – Themes, you’ll see the theme that is currently installed on your site at the top. The range of available themes is almost endless and people are making hundreds more even as you read.
After initial install, you have the option to choose another theme (in my case SmallBiz or Twenty Ten) from the Manage Theme tab, or search for themes using a keyword under the Install Themes tab at the top of the page. You can search by keyword or by filter (as I’ve done in the image in Step 2).
The upload link at the top of the page also allows you to upload your own theme. It’s a flexible option, but be careful only to use themes from a trusted source lest you end up installing malicious code. A few reliable sources we’ve used are the Free WordPress Themes (which are built into the search), WooThemes, and Elegant Themes.
WooThemes has some free themes that you can use and Elegant Themes allows you to have access to ALL their themes for $39. I have purchased themes from both places and have never had any issues. I’ve also heard that ThemeForest is a good place to purchase themes, although I haven’t done so myself.
Note that it is often difficult to change the basic look and feel of a theme, so make sure you start out one with basic positioning that meets your needs. If you have experience with CSS and PHP, you can dig in and change almost anything, but without that knowledge you may be stuck with a theme’s default options.
Note the “Live Preview” link under each available theme. This allows you to see what your site will look like using the new theme. If you save and activate, then the new theme will be used and your previous theme settings will likely be erased… so be careful!
Here’s an example of a preview of the iRibbon theme, which I decided not to use after fiddling around with it a bit.
Step 2 – If you decide to use one of the free WordPress themes, just use the built-in search box. For example, suppose you want one using the color orange, with two text columns and a right side bar. I’d also like to be able to upload my own logo so I choose Custom Header. Check the appropriate boxes and click ‘Find Themes’.
Step 3 – You could spend all day or all month looking for just the right theme. This is one of Mrs. MM’s weaknesses. For this example, we will stick with the default theme (Twenty Eleven). After updating a few options under Appearance – Theme Options, we end up with a web site that looks like this.
Note: I uploaded some sample data from a theme at Elegant Themes (which I’m a member of). This is a great option within Elegant Themes to get your theme to look just like their demo. Here’s a video that explains how to do it, if you have purchased an Elegant Theme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXSOEkR5xFY.
Part 5 – Start Blogging!
Once you have the theme you want, you can start creating blog posts (under Posts) and pages (under Pages). You’ll probably want to link to your social media accounts and start letting people know about your blog once you have some good content.
Under Settings -> Privacy, you can choose to make your blog visible to search engines or not.
Under Appearance -> Menus, you can create a menu which helps users navigate to key pages in your site.
Under Plugins, you can add any of the thousands of plugins developed by other people. These are like phone apps for your blog, and many are quite powerful. But again, be careful since some may have bugs or security holes.
The MMM site contains the following plugins that might be useful: Ajax Edit Comments, Akismet, BackupBuddy, BNS SMF Feeds (for the forum feed), Jetpack, LinkWithin, Random Redirect, RSS to Email, Subscribe Sidebar, WP-Optimize, WP-Table Reloaded, WP Security Scan, and WP Super Cache.
You can see the new example blog we just created here: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/mrsmm/
If you do create a blog as a result of reading this article, and you feel it might be useful to other Mustachians, feel free to share it in the comments. It is normally considered bad form to blatantly plug your own blog in somebody else’s comment section, but in this case, we’re here to support each other in the wonderful world of self-publishing. Happy Blogging!
Here’s that Bluehost link, in case you choose to support this blog while creating your own.
(It doesn’t affect price to you, and many thanks if you do!):
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