I’m not claiming to be the master in all areas of web development here, but I have learned A LOT about what to do and what not to do when it comes to creating my own blog through my work here at Embracing Motherhood. (My sister owns a web development company called Curly Host, and she has been my patient guru through this whole process which has helped me a great deal!)
I started out just wanting a platform to blog about motherhood and to keep track of the wonderful and amazing things I learn along the way, and now I’ve got a complete website that is actually generating a modest income. So without further adieu, here are my 13 steps for starting your own blog.
1. Brainstorm Ideas
Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just start creating a mind map of all words that you would use to describe your website. (You could also use a mind mapping application like this.) Don’t worry about organizing your ideas at this point, just free associate the first words that pop into your brain when you think of your website.
For me, my initial brainstorming web included words like: pregnancy, birth, natural birth, healthy food, nutrition, recipes, food science, fitness, teaching, parenting, lesson ideas, homeschool, young children, stay at home mom, and so on.
2. Find Your Niche
Once you have a broad idea of where you’d like to go, find some other websites or blogs out there that are covering the topics that you are hoping to explore. I enjoyed finding several mothering, nutrition, and education websites and following them on social media to get their latest content. I would read their latest blogs, peruse their sites, notice things that I liked and didn’t, and thought about how I would try to define myself in my own way.
You will be constantly honing your writing style and finding your voice as you write. It is not something that will happen overnight. If you look at some of the earlier blogs I’ve written (mainly about health and nutrition), you’ll notice that my voice and style are different than they are now. Once I started getting an audience, getting feedback from others, and seeing my content live, I was able to see what things were working better than others. I learned how to create a certain flow that people could skim and scan through by adding quotes, headlines, lists, numbers, bolded and italicized text, and images so that a reader could get the general idea without reading every word.
3. Come Up With a Name
Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas and done your research, it’s time to start thinking about a name. Same as the original brainstorming session, get a piece of paper and a pencil and just start writing down every possible name you can think of, no matter how crazy or silly, just get it out there. I think it’s a good idea for your name to be a pretty obvious representation of what you want to write about, but you can just go ahead and make up a new word too. Basically, you’re looking for something short, simple, easy to share with someone verbally, and something that has a nice ring to it.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few favorite names, start doing a Google search to see what comes up. After I had my heart set on Embracing Motherhood, I discovered that the domain name embracingmotherhood.com was only available if I wanted to spend $4,888 so I did what you really shouldn’t do, I used a hyphen…embracing-motherhood.com.
LeanDomainSearch is a great way to brainstorm ideas with available domain names. Once you have a name you think you’d like, run it through Domainr to see if it’s available. Also check out social media platforms like FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter to see if your name is already being used. *Check out some more great tips for coming up with a name here and here.
4. Purchase Your Domain and Hosting
Now, because my sister is helping me out, she helped me buy my domain name and does my hosting for me. She uses a company called BlueHost. This company is great, and I would recommend going with the plus package that gives you unlimited storage and will run you $5.95/mo. When you sign up for hosting, it will walk you through registering your domain name as well (for free). For an extra $2.99/mo. you can get Site Backup Pro that automatically creates a daily backup copy of your entire site. If you’re creating a lot of content, this is a good idea.
5. Design a Logo
This might be something that you want to save for later, but I enjoyed getting mine done early on. My sister Andrea knows a freelance artist who helped me design my logo, but there are many different logo makers online. This one is pretty good and will cost you from $20-$100 and this one is pretty great too and will only cost you $39. (Beware, many sites that claim “free logo design” will actually make you pay for the high-res image.)
As you pick a logo, keep your color scheme in mind. Because I was wearing a purple shirt in the profile picture I chose, I ended up using purple for my main color. Then I used green as my accent and went with a rainbow pattern of colors because I like rainbows! I hope to keep working on my design in the future, but right now I’m more focused on content. 🙂
6. Pick a Blogging Platform
There are many different platforms to choose from such as Squarespace (7 pages for $12/month), Webflow (20 pages for $20/month), Weebly ($8/mo. for unlimited pages or free with limited services), or a free blogging platform like Tumblr or Blogger.
But I HIGHLY recommend going with WordPress.org. (WordPress.com is also an option, but you cannot connect to affiliate programs such as Amazon Associates so I would advise against it. Once you secure your domain and hosting, you can download WordPress and get started. They have some free themes ready to go, but after checking out many many different themes, my sister highly recommended going with Enfold for $59. This is what I use, and I love it! Everything is drag and drop and there is a great online support forum. (Just log in with your WordPress info and search for your question or write a new one. I have used this many times, and always gotten excellent support.)
There are two ways you can get familiar with WordPress. You can just dive in (like I did), and look online when you have questions (just do a very specific Google search). Or, you can check out this WordPress for Beginners Blog or watch this great tutorial series to learn everything you’ll need to know before or while you’re playing around with your own site.
Once you get your theme, you’ll want to customize it to work for you. This part can seem really overwhelming and is probably where you’ll need to do the most amount of learning/research, so you might want to skip this step and come back to this later.
- Hide Your Site: As you’re building your site, you might want to hide it from search engines. To do this, go to the “Settings” option on the left toolbar, select “Reading”, and the click on the box that says, “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”. You might also want to install a plug-in like this that will give a “Coming Soon” message.
- Theme Options: On the left toolbar, you’ll see a gear shaped icon with the name of your site. You will want to go here first and click on every option to set things up and get familiar with what you can do. When I was learning about WordPress, I spent a lot of time here changing one thing at a time, looking at things live (on the top toolbar, click on your site name with the home icon, and click “Visit Site”), and tweaking it until I liked what I had. This is where you’ll add your logo, set up your social media icons.
- Widgets: On the left toolbar, under “Appearance”, you’ll find “Widgets” (along with themes, menu, etc.). Widgets are a great way to customize the look of your blog. For my sidebar widget, I have a search tool, my picture, my affiliate’s disclosure, a subscribe widget, popular posts, and recent posts. In my footer widgets, I have four columns for my social media profiles.
- Plug-ins: Whenever you want to add something specific to your site, there’s a plug-in for that. Just like with everything else, you’ll want to play around with different plug-ins to see what you like/don’t like. *Now, don’t get crazy with the plug-ins, sometimes they can be the reason your site starts acting crazy, and you’ll have to deactivate them one at a time to figure out the problem. Here are the plug-ins I love:
- Askimet: Stops spam
- Broken Link Checker: Tells you on your dashboard page where all of your broken links are
- Pinterest Pin It Button: I always pin my own articles and have gotten a lot of hits this way.
- Print Friendly and PDF: Provides a button that allows users to easily print your blogs.
- Stop Spammers Spam Control: Prevents spammers from leaving comments
If you’re like me, you’ll want to have a framework of organization for your content before getting started. It’s a bit time consuming to do this on the front end, and so you may just want to write 20-30 blogs or build your content before you worry about organization, but then you’ll have to go back to each blog to add categories, etc. So, here’s what I recommend, but as with everything, you have to do what works for you.
- Create Pages: You’ll first of all want a home page (some people like their blog to be their home page, but not me, it feels too random). Then create pages for all of your main ideas and link them to your home page. (Mine are: Home, All Blogs, Parenting, Teaching, Mom Talk, Health, How To, and Guest Bloggers) Start by using the “Advanced Layout Editor” to create a “Page Template”. Basically, everything needs to be in a layout box, then you can put a “Text Box” (under “Content Elements”) inside of a layout box to create a header. Then, you can add a “Magazine” or “Blog Post” layout to put under that and it will automatically put all blogs with a matching category there. Watch this tutorial to learn more about creating pages.
- Create Categories: These are how you’ll organize your blogs. Under “Posts” on the left toolbar, select “Categories” and just create categories for all of your main ideas. You can also create subcategories by selecting a “Parent”, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this at first. Now, when you write your blogs, just select which category they belong in and you can sort them to the appropriate pages.
- Create a Menu: Now that you have your main pages, you can organize them into a menu. Under “Appearance”on the left toolbar, choose “Menu”. There, you can add what pages will be on your main menu.
- Write Some Content: Once you have a general layout, you can start writing some posts! It may take awhile to find your voice and your writing style, but don’t worry about that at first, just start getting some content out there so you can see how everything works together.
8. Adding Images
When I first started writing a blog, I was so sad that I couldn’t just do a Google image search and use whatever photos I wanted. 🙁 How easy would that be??? But thanks to Creative Commons, there are lots of free works available to use.
- Use Your Own Pictures: It can be so tempting to buy stock photos, but using pictures that you have taken gives your blog a much more personal touch, and it won’t cost you any money!
- Attribution: When you use someone else’s photo, even if it’s “Creative Commons”, you should give attribution according to the specifications of the image. If I use an image within my blog, I’ll put the attribution right under the photo saying something like: Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Pearson Scott Foresman, 2008. I’ll also link my photo to the original source. You can also credit the image source at the end of your blog. Here’s a good article with more information about giving image credits.
- Canva: Canva is a very simple photo editing program that allows you to custom design images with text. This is what I use to create my featured images for my blogs (845 x 321 pixels are the dimensions you want for a featured blog image with sidebar). I like it because there are suggested dimensions for a variety of social media and other outlets many basic templates available, simple tools for adding text, and basic tools for modifying your image. You can even search for a particular image and purchase it for $1.
- Photo Pin: Here, you can search millions of Creative Commons photos and easily add them to your blog posts. A photo attribution link is provided for each image.
- Flickr: Start by clicking on “Explore” and then search for the type of image you’re looking for. Look at the image description to see if it is “Creative Commons” or free to use, if so, attribute the image according to the author’s request.
- Wikimedia Commons: This is my favorite place to go for free photos when I need them…usually to place within my blog. Just search for what you’re looking for and make sure to attribute according to each photo’s request.
- Pixabay: This is a great place to search for free photos, and they don’t require any attribution!
- Shutterstock: If you are willing to pay for some really high quality images (usually $1-2), this is a HUGE resource.
- Pexels: Great stock photos and videos for free use.
- Vimeo: You can find free stock videos here.
9. Search Engine Optimization
You probably won’t be concerned with this at first, but if you can keep these tips in mind as you create content, then you won’t have to go back and rewrite everything. :).
- Write Good Content: This is kind of a no brainer, but if your writing is good, easy to follow, and useful, you’ll have a higher chance of people reading it, sharing it, and linking to it. The more popular a blog post is, the more likely it is to show up on a search engine.
- Make Your Topic Clear: Clever titles (and click bait titles) aren’t as useful as clear titles that emphasize the main idea of your blog post. Then, make sure to state the main idea of your post in the first sentence and repeat key words throughout.
- Alt-Text: When you upload photos, make sure they have an accurate name that describes the image (this can’t be added later), then set the alt text so that it spells out any text used in the picture as well as gives an accurate description of what the photo is. This helps webcrawlers to find your content in search engines more easily.
- Categories: If you group similar content based on content, category names are a great organization tool that recommends similar articles in your website.
- Tags: As you create tags for your posts, think of what people will type into their search engines. Also, include your categories.
- Link Building: The more people who link to your site, the higher search engine ranking you’ll get.
- Networking: By having guest bloggers, doing guest posts for other websites, and teaming up with others selling similar or complementary products/services you can increase your traffic as well.
*Read more about search engine optimization here.
10. Social Media
Social media is a great way to get your content out there and advertise your website.
- FaceBook: This is a great place to network and share your content.
- Twitter: Another great platform to share your content.
- Instagram: A visual platform to share your pictures associated with your website.
- Google Plus: Helps your content to show up in Google searches more often.
- Pinterest: A great way to get your content shared in a visual format.
- YouTube: Think about starting a YouTube channel to share your content.
11. Amazon Associates
If you are going to be linking to products that people can buy on Amazon, you’ll want to start an Amazon Associate’s account. Watch the tutorial here to learn about the program in more detail, but basically, you can earn a percentage (which starts out low, but gets higher when more items are purchased) when people click on your links and buy your recommended items. The really cool thing about this program is that if people search for and buy other items once they’ve entered Amazon via your site (even items you haven’t recommended), you’ll still earn a percentage. This is called a “third party sale”. *On a side note: the cost of the product remains the same as if the customer would just do a regular Amazon search.
Amazon approves accounts on a case by case basis, and you’ll need to get a certain amount of clicks on your links in order to remain in the program. You also have to make sure you clearly disclose your affiliation or they could terminate your account. (Check out my disclaimer here. I also have a disclaimer link on every blog.)
Woocommerce is the best way to set up a shopping platform. It’s free, easy to set up, and easy to use. Once you install the plugin, it will walk you through the install. I recommend creating your own shop page so you can customize it, but if you don’t, it will automatically create one for you. Once everything is installed, all you have to do is set up your products. If you have any questions along the way, check out Woocommerce Docs.
Setting up shipping was the hardest thing for me. I tried setting up a variety of shipping options, and in the end just decided to include the cost of shipping in my product and offer free shipping on everything.
Another option if you’re looking to have all of the work done for you (calculating shipping, printing shipping labels, sending customers tracking information, etc.), you might want to consider opening an Etsy shop and linking to it on your website. The benefit of using Etsy is that it can provide a platform for you to share your product, but the downside is that it doesn’t offer as many options if you plan on growing. Check out my Etsy shop here, and feel free to copy my shipping policies, etc.
13. Nitty Gritty Stuff
- Cite Your Sources: This isn’t English 101 requiring MLA format, but be courteous and find a way to link to the sources that you can use. You can link to the name of the author and/or title of their work, link to some key words in your text, or have a link called “source” in parentheses at the end of the information you’re paraphrasing. If you’re citing something word for word, make sure you put it in quotes and thoroughly cite the source.
- Grammar Police: Think about what tense you want to write in (past, present, or future) and stick with it. Find a pattern for personal pronouns (“you” is informal, “one” is really formal, or you can stick with your experiences and just say “I” or “we”). When referring to gender pronouns, you can try to make the plural form work, alternate between he/she, or take turns with each gender.
- Make Yourself Present: Find a good picture of yourself to post and have a place for a personal bio. People like to know who is creating the content.
I’m not going to lie, having my sister as a web developer at Curly Host has definitely given me an edge as I’ve created my own website, but I hope that by offering these tips, I can help to give you that edge too. I certainly don’t know everything and have a long ways to go before I reach my final goals, but I hope that by sharing my experiences with creating my blog, I can help others out there who are starting from scratch.