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What You Need to Know Before You Start a WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Matt Hooper.

After reading through Darren’s census of ProBlogger results, a couple of numbers stood out to me.

  • 8.7% of ProBlogger readers haven’t started a blog of your own yet.
  • Only just over half of the respondants are on the WordPress.org platform.

The latter caught my attention since you will find a lot of tips and tricks for the WordPress.org platform here on ProBlogger. From looking at these two numbers, you could make a relatively educated guess that there are still a lot of people out there looking to start a WordPress blog.

Finding a home: web hosting

Before you can even start writing your first post, you need to figure out where your online home is going to be. This will be the place that all of your files will live online.

There are different kinds of hosting but they can essentially be classified into three types.

  • shared hosting
  • virtual private server (VPS)
  • dedicated server.

Shared hosting is where most people start out and it is usually adequate for new site owners. Shared hosting is where different users are all on the same physical hardware. This can be compared to roommates. Everyone has their own room but there could be times when someone has a party and nobody gets up early. Like I said, this is good in most cases but if you or one of your roommates gets too much traffic, then the whole server could become slow.

A VPS is the next stage. You are still on a shared machine, but you are more isolated from your neighbours. This usually gives you more processing power and more RAM so that when your traffic spikes, your site isn’t likely to go down. Think of this as having your own apartment where there is a shared building but you can lock the door, and your noisy neighbours really need to have a shaker of a party to disturb you.

Finally, when your traffic is at massive levels, you might consider moving to a dedicated server. As the name implies, this is a dedicated piece of hardware that is entirely yours. All the RAM, the processing power and disk space is yours to do as you wish. This is your own house on acreage and you have no neighbours to worry about. However, the mortgage can start to put a dent in your finances. If you’re at this point, the rest of this post probably isn’t for you.

There are many hosts online, and I’m sure that someone will recommend a good host if you ask nicely. Make sure that you do your research and know what you’re getting into, though. Some shared hosts are crippled in their abilities and will only let you have one domain hosted with them, for example. Or, once you sign up, you discover that “unlimited” isn’t really unlimited.

Moving in: installing WordPress

After you’ve found a place for your blog to live, you’ll need to install the software that will be managing your posts and pages. If you’ve gotten to this point in the post, I’ll hazard the guess that you are probably going with WordPress.

Most shared hosts that are worth their weight will have something called “one-click” installs (it’s actually more than one click, but not much more) or something similar. The “one-click” software varies a bit depending on hosting provider, but they all do the same thing.

This gives you the ability to install WordPress with a few clicks of the mouse. You’ll still need to fill out a username for your site, passwords, site name, etc., but it’s a relatively painless process. The one-click software will set up the database for you, so you don’t need to worry about messing around with that. If you do encounter any problems, the support team at your host should be able to help you out.

Painting the walls: installing a theme

It’s not difficult to find WordPress themes on the internet these days, but you do need to be a little cautious. It’s widely know that the number one result in Google for free themes are full of malware and other nastiness that you’ll want to stay away from.

If you are interested in a free theme then you’re best to look in the WordPress theme repository. The people over at WordPress do their best to vet the themes before they make them available in the repository.

You may not be interested in any of the free themes; instead you might be looking for something with a bit more of a professional look and feel. If this is the case then, you are probably going to want a premium theme or framework. A premium theme or framework usually has a stronger development team behind it, and that team’s there to give you support when you need it. You won’t often get much support with a free theme.

These themes won’t often break the bank, but they will give your WordPress site a little more polish. Frameworks are becoming more and more common, and are probably your best bet. They take a little more work to set up than themes, but will provide you with a custom look without requiring you to drop the cash on a completely custom design.

When you are more established, you may decide that you’re bringing in enough income to justify the custom development costs of a one-off design. A custom design is a complete ground-up design, but in these days of custom frameworks, I think you really need a good reason to want to go with something like this.

Choosing your art: creating content

It’s often a good idea to have some content ready to go on your blog before you launch. This ensures that your visitors have more than just one thing to read when they visit for the first time.

I often recommend what I refer to as the “rule of fives”: launch with five pages, five categories, and five posts for each category. This rule isn’t etched in stone, so there is some flexibility for you to use your creative judgement; nevertheless, it gives you a starting point.

You don’t need to publish all of those posts on the first day—if you like, save some content to slowly roll out. It helps you set the theme of your blog and keeps your content focused. Keep in mind, too, that this doesn’t all need to be written content. It can be a mix of text, audio, images and video, for example.

Home sweet home: everything else

The above will get you started on your journey to blogging bliss, however there are other items to look at. WordPress is very extensible and things like plugins and widgets can really start to make your website your own. However, if you ask 100 different bloggers what their favourite plugins are, you’ll get a hundred different lists.

Later today on ProBlogger, we’ll be talking more about plugins. We’ll show you how to install your first plugin, and take a spin through some of the more popular plugins you might want to consider.

In the end, it’s all about building something that you can be proud of. If it isn’t enjoyable, you might be on the wrong path. Take your time and discover only what you need in order to get to the next step, just don’t sit around trying to figure out everything before you begin. Take action and push through the road blocks—and enjoy the process!

Matthew Hooper helps individuals, small businesses and organizations start blogs or websites as a step to building an internet presence. You can get his free guide on building an internet presence or check out his online WordPress course full of step-by-step videos so that you can learn WordPress in a single weekend.

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Comments

  1. Max West says:

    A handy read! I’ll definitely share this. BTW, what I learned about WordPress I learned from the book, Teach Yourself Visually WordPress. It not only has explanations but pictures too for guiding. I recommend that book for anyone interested in the WordPress blogging platform.

  2. Sheyi says:

    Thanks for writing this and your conscience research on the topic too.

    I doubt anyone should still encounter in this age we are in about blogging. Everything has been simplified by wordpress – themes and plugins.

    Sheyi

  3. Lee smith says:

    I am using wordpress and found your post stimulating for further improvement. Thanks

  4. Dwayne@TWC says:

    I think the hardest part for me when I setup my blog was choosing a good theme that would work for me. There are so many of them out there that it can get difficult to choose but when you find the one that works for you it makes the whole process worthwhile.

    • Barzrul says:

      Yeah.. When I think of it, that is the most difficult part for me.
      Another think is the during plugin selection, which one to use, which one is better and etc..

    • It’s true that it can be hard to find a theme that best suits your needs. This is why frameworks can be a good solution. They can be a little more intensive to setup but are A LOT more flexible.

      - Matt

  5. Jack says:

    In my point of view, the hardest part is to create a custom theme for your blog not to search for some free themes. The free ones are really ugly, in the past when I’ve used WP it tooked me more then 3 hours to find a decent free theme..

    • There are a lot of bad looking free themes but they aren’t all ugly. Like you said, the downside is that you could spend hours sifting through all the themes out there to find “the right one”.

      You do have be careful how much time you spend looking for a theme. Too much time spent on this can also be called procrastination. ;-)

      - Matt

  6. Dragan Palla says:

    For me paid or premium wp theme is a good investment. There are so many nice looking themes it’s difficult to choose one. A little bit of CSS can make you stand out.
    Great and informative post Matt.

    • Agreed. Premium themes are often a good investment, especially when you look at a lot of them costing less than a dinner out.

      - Matt

  7. Lincoln Lim says:

    Creating content is probably one of the biggest hurdles for bloggers, as we have to consistently write content that are representative of us or what our readers once…and maybe finding the readers and traffic. Probably the last 2 factors stopped some from starting or giving up on blogging later on.

    • Content is obviously one of the most (of not THE most) important parts of creating a blog. It doesn’t matter how great your site looks if there is no content there.

      - Matt

  8. Super tips Matt, I wish I had read this before I started my WP. Excellent detailed breakdown, thanks for sharing with us.

  9. Josh Johnson says:

    Great analogies – especially when comparing hosting providers. Unfortunately, my site has been thrown offline by some of my “roommates” on numerous occasions. Of course, with one surge of StumbleUpon traffic, I did the same.

    I have to admit, though, that I’m genuinely surprised that only around half of ProBlogger readers are using WordPress. I find it to be…magical? It’s to the point now that I’m comfortable tinkering with themes until they look the way I want, but I’m seriously considering breaking into theme development. Everybody should use WordPress…everybody.

    • Like I said, I too was surprised that a lot of the readers here are not using WordPress.org …yet! ;-)

      I’ll admit that I am biased but I also believe that WordPress.org is the best platform out there for bloggers. So you’re right, everybody should be using it.

      - Matt

  10. Bryan says:

    It’s really important to have several posts written before launch. I launched on the fly and I sometimes struggle to keep up and post regularly.

    If you can’t follow or get close to Matt’s rule of fives, then you might not be writing in a sustainable niche. Though I’m lucky enough to be in a niche that writes itself as I go.

    Also make sure you research and decide on your permalinks structure at the beginning and stick to it. I changed the URLs of my posts about three months into my blog and then fell off the face of Google for a few weeks before I started to reappear in search results.

    • It’s funny (well maybe not funny at the time) how many people make the mistake of changing permalinks. When a lot of bloggers start out they aren’t even aware that the default WordPress permalink structure is not optimal. It’d be nice if WordPress would change the default to something a little better so that new bloggers don’t keep making this mistake.

      - Matt

      • Can you describe why the default is not good and how to change the structure to something better? Is there a plug-in for that! :) Totally green on some of the techy- but very important aspects of running a blog (which I do all on my own)

  11. Romy singh says:

    Hi Matt,

    When I stepped into blogging, I found that setting a single blogs takes to much effort and time. As you mentioned in your article that we have to find everything from head to toe of our blog, not only we have to find, we have to find it good. And I think finding good things is not easy until you get proper guidance like your article ;)

    So thanks for such nice and informative article…. :)

    • I think that is the appeal of simple services like Blogger. There isn’t much to worry about. However, after a short time, it becomes clear what the limitations are.

      When starting out research is great and it’s also very useful to find a solid resource that will help guide you through the process.

      - Matt

  12. I think this is the best article for WordPress beginners

  13. Fantastic post, Matt
    I know several bloggers who are either switching from Blogger to WordPress or considering the switch and this will be helpful to get them started, because it can be overwhelming.

    Thanks
    Kimberly

  14. I think the most important thing to figure out first is WHAT your blog is going to be about. Since there’s so much noise in the “blogosphere” (bet you didn’t hear that one in a while) you really should think about what you’re bringing to the table. It doesn’t have to be 100% fresh and unique content but you HAVE to have a unique spin. Otherwise why should I read your blog and not blog X?

    If you haven’t got this, then you’re doomed to begin with.

    • Standing out from the crowd is getting harder and harder. As the barrier to entry keeps getting lower, this will get even harder. Good point!

      - Matt

  15. Nice post.. and great explanation about different types of hosting plan. However, It’s really essential to choose right hosting service and interesting theme as per your niche and requirements.

    • Good hosting is something that a lot of people often overlook. The allure of cheap hosting can often be deceiving. Again, something each person needs to research for themselves.

      - Matt

  16. Great read for new bloggers wanting some information to get their own url and onto their own wordpress platform. I like the analogy of moving into a house, nice! It brings another great way to visualize the blogging experience from idea to establishment.

  17. Good advices, thanks, i think all points are very important, but hosting i think is the most important… because if your hosting is poor, your visitors will see it…. is my opinion, good article and greetings from spain

    • I couldn’t agree more. Going back to my analogy from the article, any home built on a bad foundation is going to fall.

      - Matt

  18. Lark says:

    Good examples of shared hosting or VPS? Anybody have a good tool to look into this?

    Thank you for this structure.

    • I’m not sure if there is a specific tool for finding the right host. The best thing to do is find out what others are using and find out what they like or don’t like about their current host.

      I have an article on my site where I wrote about what to look for in a host. You might find it helpful. You can find it here: http://j.mp/HDtygo

      - Matt

  19. Technary says:

    Very good post! Can you suggest the best hosting service in min cost? Thanks in advance!

  20. Rajiv says:

    Good introductory article for wordpress new users, along with hosting knowledge.

  21. Before starting your own blog i would really prefer to set up your content strategy first and content theme. Once you are done with your strategy then you are ready to get started.

    • Good point! This is why I suggest people follow my rule of fives as I described in the article. It’s good to have a reserve of content when you start.

      - Matt

  22. Binny Oinam says:

    Great post Matt. Thanks for understanding and analysing the inherent stumbling blocks a new blogger always faces. I started blogging 3 months back with no basic understanding of the medium on the free blogger platform. I have also upgraded to a custom domain name with a minimum charge. But the entire thing is so limited and I also lately learned that the content I wrote would not belong to me. Well, I’ll definitely take action very soon along the lines you have clearly out-lined. Thanks once again.

    • I try not to put down Blogger but it’s really just a platform for hobbyists. Anyone serious about creating a website or blog really needs to investigate a self-hosted WordPress.org blog. The problem is that in the beginning, many of us don’t know what we don’t know.

      - Matt

  23. A handy read! I’ll definitely share this. BTW, what I learned about WordPress I learned from the book, Teach Yourself Visually WordPress. It not only has explanations but pictures too for guiding. I recommend that book for anyone interested in the WordPress blogging platform.