Before You Start Your Blog
The hardest part of starting a blog is writing all of the content, right? Not necessarily.
Before you even begin picking topics and creating content, there’s some work to do to get your blog set up and running — the design, settings, plugins, comments, social sharing buttons, etc.
So where do you start? And how do you know if you did everything you need to do?
All blogs are different but there are some elements that (almost) every single one should include.
The Blog Setup Checklist
I used to have an e-book on my hard drive called “The Blog Setup Checklist.”
Unfortunately I somehow deleted it.
And I couldn’t find another one anywhere.
Therefore I decided to write my own.
Then I decided to improve it even further.
Setting Up Your Host
We already covered getting a domain name and signing up for a hosting account. You usually get some kind of a subdomain automatically, based on the user name you provide. So make sure you pick your user name accordingly. You can use your own name, in which case you will have a yourname.xyzhost.com subdomain or your can use your business name. In this case you will have a yourbusiness.xyzhost.com, which sounds a lot better.
After you log in, you are taken to your control panel, which may be different for each host, but it has the same functions.
Pointing Your Domain To Your Host
Usually you have your domain name and your host from different providers.
Your domain may already be added to your hosting account at signup, but you may have to find the “add-on domain” or similar function on your control panel do add it.
You also need to change the name servers of your domain in order to point it to your host. First you need to locate the domain name servers on your host. They usually look something like ns1.yourhost.com and ns2.yourhost.com. You will need at least two name servers for your domain to function. If you have trouble finding it, just Google “nameservers xhost” and it usually shows up.
Once you have your name servers, you need to go over to your domain registrar and change the existing name servers to these new ones. It may take up to 48 hours for this change to show up in the physical universe. If you haven’t entered your web address previously, the change may take place instantly, as the old domain name servers didn’t get stored in the different internet domain caches.
Setting Up Email
If you want a professional operation, you will need to set up an e-mail address that matches your domain, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be cheesy to use a Gmail or other free account, and also most email providers like Google would send your emails straight into the spam folder of the recipients.
What you need to do is go to Email in your cPanel. You have two options. You can click on “Forwarders” and forward email@example.com to your Gmail address or you can click on Email Accounts and set up an email address that you can answer right there in its Webmail or any similar program.
Installing Your Blog
You can install WordPress in about 60 seconds using cPanel or a similar feature of your host for free. Just log in with the account details into your host, scroll to locate the icon to set up WordPress or an icon to set up scripts, click on it. Make sure you install it to your new domain.
When this is done, you can go over to http://yourdomain.com/wp-login.php and log into your blog admin panel.
I am not going to go into great details of your admin panel. If you never did this before, get familiar with it. On the top you will see your dashboard with a welcome message and the most vital links to get you started. You can dismiss it when you feel you don’t need it any more. The same links are available to the black control bar on the left side of your blog.
Elements of Your Blog
The most important things you will need to know are the following:
This is where the content goes. On a fresh installation there is usually a dummy post “Hello world”, which you want to delete, as you don’t want the search engines to index it. It is really cheesy if this shows up in the search results.
These are very similar to posts. The main difference is that no comments can be added to a page and, unless you change it, pages will show up in your menu.
Plugins give extra functionality to your blog. When you add a new plugin to your blog, extra links may appear on the left black control bar of your admin panel. When adding a new plugin, you need to first install it, then activate it.
This is where you can change the basic settings of your blog.
One major thing new bloggers need to do is make their website URL’s search engine friendly in order to get traffic. If you look at your first blog post URL, it will be YourDomain.com/?p=15 when you really want it to say YourDomain.com/your-keyword. You want your URL’s and blog post titles to be what you expect people to be searching in Google, and something that sounds good.
To make your links search engine friendly like I just said, go to your WordPress Admin and click Settings>Permalinks on the left side. Change the settings to Custom Structure and use the code /%postname%/
This will now make your blog post links SEO friendly.
Then go to Settings>General and update your Site Title and Tagline. See more on Branding Your Website.
If you switch over to https, this is where you need to change your website address to https:/yourdomain.com
Add your e-mail address, timezone.
Setting Up New User
One thing you want to do on your WordPress blog is set up a new author in the Users menu with administrative access. Don’t use the default “admin” user to write your posts; create your custom username and give it admin privileges. Then your posts will not show up as written by “Admin”. Then, log out of WordPress and back in as your new username.
For security reasons, some like to delete the admin user completely (as some WordPress attacks have used it to do bad things to blogs). Once you’ve got your administrative account working, you can also add other authors to the list of users who might be posting to your blog.
I recommend that you add the following plugins. You shouldn’t add too many plugins as that will slow your website down.
All In One SEO Pack
Use All in One SEO Pack to optimize your WordPress site for SEO. It’s easy and works out of the box for beginners. It has useful features:
- XML Sitemap support – submit your sitemap to Google and Bing and improve your SEO
- Google Analytics support
- Automatically optimizes your titles for Google and other search engines
- For beginners, you don’t even have to look at the options, it works out-of-the-box. Just install.
Jetpack by WordPress.com
Most of Jetpack’s features and services are free. Jetpack also provides advanced security and backup services, video hosting, site monetization, priority support, and more SEO tools in three simple and affordable plans. Jetpack includes:
[free] Site stats and analytics
[free] Automatic sharing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, and WhatsApp
[free] Related posts
[paid] Search engine optimization tools for Google, Bing, Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress.com
[paid] Advertising program that includes the best of AdSense, Facebook Ads, AOL, Amazon, Google AdX, and Yahoo
[free] Brute force attack protection
[free] Downtime and uptime monitoring
[free] Secured logins and two-factor authentication
[paid] Malware scanning, code scanning, and threat resolution
[paid] Site backups, restores, and migrations
[free] Email subscriptions
[free] Comment login with Facebook, Twitter, and Google
[free] Fully-customizable contact forms
[free] Infinite scroll for your posts
Akismet is a WordPress plugin which comes with the automatic installation of WordPress. In order to activate it and start using it, you need to add an API key. When you click on “Get your key”, you will be directed to Akismet’s website where you will get lost looking for the non-existent “free” option. Here is the way out:
- Click on “Get your key.” (You will need to log into your WordPress.com account or set one up if you don’t have one.)
- Under the “Personal Contribution” plan, select ” Basic : Use Akismet for Free on a personal site”.
- On the next page, move the slider all the way to thoue left under the column which says “What is Akismet worth to you?”
- Get your API key, and add it onto your Akismet configuration page. Once you have added the API key, Akismet will start protecting your blog from spam comments.
Really Simple CAPTCHA
Protects your blog from bot spam.
WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache improves the SEO and user experience of your site by increasing website performance, reducing loading times.
After activation, you will need to go to the options and turn caching on.
An easy-to-use plugin for managing your affiliate links. You will definitely need it if you want to make money with your blog.
Your WordPress site gets pretty cluttered up with old copies of your posts, etc. and this will slow down your site. You will need to run this plugin now and then to clean it up.
That’s it. You may need other plugins for other functionality, but the above is enough to set up your blog.
Picking Your Theme
There a multitude of themes, which will make this subject confusing. Here are a few basic facts.
Make sure you pick a mobile-friendly theme. Unfortunately not all themes are built that way. It should say “mobile-friendly” or “responsive” in the description.
Avoid single-page themes. One-page websites are trendy and look fancy. That is why more and more companies are choosing them over elaborate multi-pagers. On these sites when you click on a menu, instead of going to a different page, you will be scrolled down to a different section.
However hard you try, with a one-pager you won’t be able to drive a lot of search traffic. Simply because you won’t have enough content to target a wide range of keywords and topics. Thus, if you hope Google to be the key source of new customers for your site, a one-page website could be your biggest mistake.
Best to have a theme where you can instantly convert your visitors into subscribers. If they don’t instantly subscribe, they can still continue reading your site. For this you need a front page where you have an opt-in box (unfortunately I haven’t found any free themes that would do this) or alternatively a “Download” button that takes your visitors to another page that has your opt-in box only.
These modern themes have sections on the home page. These sections will display either a page or a blog post assigned to that section. First I picked “Book Landing Page” theme, it looks optimum for advertising a free e-book. This shown your assigned posts in each section. Unfortunately it was cutting the displayed posts in half with a “read more”, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix that.
Eventually I picked the “App Landing Page” by RaraThemes. This shows pages, not posts, and wasn’t cutting them in half. The featured image of the page shows as the image for that section.
But you should pick your own theme, just enter “free landing page themes” into Google and you have a wide selection.
Setting Up Your Theme
After you picked your theme, you need to install it in Appearance>Themes and then you need to activate it. You can get rid of your old themes as otherwise these will keep prompting you for updating them, which is annoying.
It is not obvious how to to it, therefore I will include this here. Click on Appearance>Themes. Click on the theme you want to delete. You will see the description. There is a “delete” button at the right bottom corner.
Customizing Your Theme
To customize a theme, go to Appearance>Customize. This will give you a live view and at the same time change the settings on the left site. As a general rule, any sections/elements that are available on a theme, you will see these on the left customization panel.
You can change the site identity (title, tagline, logo) colors, background image, set a static front page.
Setting A Static Home Page
Per the default setting, on the home page you see your recent blog posts. This is however not the best for conversion. Therefore it is recommended that you change your home page settings to “Static home page”.
To understand this better, click on this link to go to the home page of this site (it will open in a new tab). See how the home page is its own static entity. Then click on “Blog” and see how the Blog page contains the latest posts. Without changing this setting, your Blog page would be your home page.
First go to “Pages” in your WP admin panel, click “New” and create a blank page. On the right side under “Page Attributes” you will see a “Template” pull down box. Change “Default Setting” to “Home Page”. Then click on “Publish”. Then click on “New” again, and create another page called “Blog” or something similar. This is where your blog posts will live.
Now go back to Appearance>Customize, find “Static Front Page”. Find “Front page displays” and pick “A static page” instead of “Your latest posts”. From the “Front page” roll down box click the name of the home page you just created. Then for the “Posts page” roll down box select the name of the blog page you just made, press “Publish” and you are all set.
Customizing Your Home Page
In most themes, you will then need to go to “Home Page Settings” and you can activate the sections you will need. As an example, on the Apps Landing Page theme that I use, there are the following section options:
- Banner (the top of the website)
- Featured (to show which other sites your blog was featured)
- Features (you can show different features of your main product)
- Intro (You can use it as an “About Us” section or an introduction)
- Service (Display your services)
- Stat Counter
The available sections are different in each theme, and you can turn them on or off individually. Create the pages you will need and for each section in the drop down box assign the page you want to be shown.
Search Google for a documentation of your theme to get the specifics.
Setting Up Your Menus
In most themes you can have full control over your menu(s). In the default setting, whenever you create a new page, it will automatically be added to your main menu, which is very annoying. Blog post don’t get added automatically.
To fix this, go to Appearance>Menus. Create a Menu, name it as you wish. On the left side you will see “Pages”, “Posts”, “Custom Links” and “Categories”. You can click on any and then press “Add to Menu”.
On the right side, under “Menu Structure”, you can drag each item into the order you prefer. Click the arrow on the right of the item to reveal additional configuration options, e. g. the text you want to appear on the menu or you can also delete each menu. You can select “Automatically add new top-level pages to this menu” if you want. Click “Save Menu” when you are done.
Then go back to Appearance>Customize, select “Menus” then on “Menu locations” assign the menu you just created. Make sure you save it. Depending your theme, there can be more menus that you can set up similarly, e. g. you may have one or more footer menu.
Under this menu you can set up different widgets, such as site search, your latest posts, categories, etc. This usually depends on your theme.
Pages You Will Need
Your blog will need to have certain pages. Some are customary, some are required by law. We already covered Home page and your Blog page.
It a good idea to have such a page for your visitors to contact you instead of having to find your e-mail address. You can also add your phone number and physical location.
JetPack has a Contact Form function that is very simple to set up.
This is the page where you can describe yourself, your business. Visitors expect you to have such a page. Give a good story to build trust. Put photos, make yourself real.
If you want monetize your blog, you’ll of course want to cover yourself legally from all of the possible angles that may impact you. For instance you’ll want to make sure that you have a Disclosure Policy that covers your rights as a blogger and advertiser to your readers. If your site has affiliate links, you will need affiliate disclosure.
You should have a page for Frequently Asked Questions.
Setting Up FTP
FTP is a simple way to upload files to your website. This is sometimes needed in order to verify your site or to upload an e-book you want to have for download. I recommend using FileZilla, which is a free program.
Once you set it up, you will need your FTP Hostname, FTP user name and password. You can get these data from your hosting provider. Enter all these details and press enter. They will be saved in the QuickConnect bar, this way you will not need to go through the trouble you use it next time.
The files of your subdomain will be displayed in a folder like “htdocs” or “public_html”, this can vary for each host. If you have your own add-on domain on the account, there may be a folder called “yourdomain.com” and inside that you will be able to see the “htdocs” or “public_html” folder and the WordPress files for your domain.
If you ever need to verify ownership of your site, this folder is where you need to upload the provided verification file.
This is also useful in creating a manual backup of your site in case something goes wrong. You can find more details under Migrating Your WordPress Site.
Improving Website Performance/Protection
There can be different problems that come up. Website uptime because of hosting, malicious attacks, slow loading speed, user security. Here I am going to describe a solution to all this that is not well-known and I bumped into it accidentally.
Web Support Revolution provides the following services:
- Increased website speed with CDN: A content delivery network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers (network) that deliver web pages and other web content to a user based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the web page and a content delivery server. This decreases the loading speed of all content types.
- Backup and Antivirus Monitoring
- 100% uptime: When monitoring detects that your website is unavailable from hosting server then it makes your website to be fully or partially available with archived copy until its recovery.
- Free Let’s Encrypt SSL frm the CDN
Free plan has 3 GB for backup and 100 GB CDN-traffic, Web-Firewall and Antivirus.
With this, your website is now pretty much set up.