Starting a blog can be a life changing decision.
I started blogging on a sabbatical while road-tripping through Mexico one year, and had no idea just how much my life would change as a result.
Because I started a blog, I have:
Maybe most importantly, starting a blog has helped me become the person I was meant to be. I feel more fulfilled, creative and useful than I ever did in my traditional career. All because I started a blog.
Are my results typical? Of course not. Are they entirely possible if you show up, do the work, and build a truly great and useful blog? Absolutely!
Starting a blog is just the first step, but it’s an incredibly important one.
You’ll find lots of advice on how to start a blog around the web. Most of those articles focus on the nuts-and-bolts. But here’s the thing: anybody can start a blog in minutes. Very few will start a blog that actually matters.
Here at Fizzle, we want your blog to matter, so we’ll focus on the essential steps you need to start a blog that grows an audience and makes a difference.
So if you’re ready to start a blog, let’s begin!
Choosing a great topic for your blog is really important.
Ideally, you will choose a topic that 1) you can write a lot about (either from experience or interest), and 2) is popular or growing with a group of people you understand and can connect with.
So, what kinds of topics should you choose from?
We once surveyed our audience about what they were going to start a blog about, and they delivered with 81 blog topic ideas. Start with this list for inspiration if you’re having trouble coming up with an idea on your own.
Once you have a topic in mind, don’t worry if it doesn’t feel perfect. You can always adjust later, or even change your mind completely. You can always start somewhat broad now, then narrow things down as you discover more about your audience and yourself.
Need more advice on choosing a topic? We dedicated an entire podcast episode to choosing a topic and defining your audience, complete with examples.
Listen to the episode here:
After you have decided on your topic, it’s time to name your blog.
Choosing a name can be tough. Finding a domain name that goes with your chosen name can make things even harder.
We have found there are two approaches that work to naming your blog. These also apply to naming a business:
1) Choose something you can grow into. Select it quickly and move on.
2) Or, follow a process and use our name evaluator.
The important thing is that you don’t get stuck here. I’ve seen people give up on starting a blog simply because they couldn’t find the perfect name. So silly. For now, just choose a name that is good enough and move on. You can always change it later. I’ve changed blog names several times and it wasn’t a big deal.
OK, now you should have a topic and name in mind. Let’s move on to the next step.
For almost everybody, we recommend WordPress for blogging. WordPress is an amazing flexible platform that powers most of the biggest blogs on the web. In fact, WordPress is behind 34% of all the websites on the internet, and there’s good reason for it.
Now, of course there are other choices out there for blogging. There’s Squarespace and Wix and Weebly and Joomla and Drupal and Ghost…
You could spend weeks evaluating one vs. the other. At the end, you still wouldn’t have a great answer.
We wrote a few thousand words just comparing WordPress to Squarespace. The answer? Either can work.
Because WordPress is SO popular for blogging, there are a ton of resources out there to help you if you get stuck. It’s the safe choice, and happens also to be the most flexible and best supported option.
So, either just go with WordPress, or if you decide to do an evaluation of other platforms, limit your time to an afternoon so you don’t get stuck down that rabbit hole.
Assuming you’re going with WordPress, next you need to choose a WordPress host.
There are essentially three kinds of WordPress hosts:
Budget hosts are good enough to get started, but probably aren’t the best choice if your site starts to grow. With a budget host, you’re also on your own if you run into problems. Bluehost is the most popular choice, with plans starting at $3.95 per month.
Premium hosts offer a whole lot more to make sure your site performs well and doesn’t get hacked. Plus, they have amazing support ready to answer your questions and help you with all the common issues that can crop up when you start a blog. Flywheel is the highest rated premium WordPress host. Flywheel plans start at around $25 per month, but we partnered with Flywheel to offer premium WordPress hosting to Fizzle members for no additional charge!
Now, it may seem confusing but WordPress is actually two things: 1) it’s an open source software platform that can run on any server (including the budget and premium hosts we mentioned above), and 2) it’s a company that offers hosting and other services itself. You can host your blog directly with WordPress for plans that start at $5/month. They won’t offer all the extras of a premium host, so I would compare this more to budget hosting. If you do go with WordPress, just DON’T choose the free plan because it does not allow you to use a custom domain.
Once you have chosen a host, let’s move on to Step 3 (setting up and designing your blog).
Depending on which host you choose, the instructions for setting up WordPress will differ. We have instructions for both BlueHost and Flywheel.
I made a video to show you how to set up WordPress on BlueHost and have you first post published in just 15 minutes:
If you decide to become a Fizzle member and use the free Flywheel premium WordPress hosting option, we have a full course inside Fizzle that shows you step-by-step how to use everything Flywheel offers.
WordPress is flexible enough that you can do basically anything you want with it. That also means you can get into trouble if you try to do too much. You can also spend countless hours tweaking and trying to get things to look just right.
In the end, design matters, but if you’re not a web designer it’s crazy to think you’ll be able to make something look and function like you want right away.
To avoid the design trap and get 95% of the benefits of a great design with only a couple hours of work, we recommend just choosing a great looking WordPress theme that does most of what you want out of the box.
Here are several places with great looking (and highly functional) themes:
Before you launch your blog, you should have some posts published for people to read. How many blog posts should you write before you announce your blog to the world? I would aim for 3-5. Just enough to show people what your blog will have in store for them.
So, what should you write about first?
Some people just blog about whatever they want whenever they like, but content strategy is what the pros use: a plan of topics to write about in order.
Because you need to know this: the topics you choose for your blog posts are actually a huge part of how your blog grows. It’s what you write about as well as how you write about it that will make your blog great.
I recommend coming up with at least 10 content ideas that you could use for your first blog posts. You don’t have to stop at 10, if the juice is running and you feel like it, write down more, as many as you can!
But don’t stress too much about trying to come up with the only the best ideas. These post ideas don’t have to be your 10 viral hits, or your 10 deepest cuts. However, you would do well to spend a little time thinking about this strategy.
Think about what your audience needs right now. Are there any topics that are big enough you could break into a series of posts? Which ones do you think would be most helpful for your audience in the beginning.
Write down at least 10 ideas for blog posts.
For each idea, you should write down a sentence or phrase to describe the overall concept plus several bullet points about the main concepts of the post, so you don’t forget later.
Here’s something every blogger needs to know: headlines are insanely important.
A headline has to grab the reader’s attention enough to click on a link or to start reading your article. That’s the headline’s job. It doesn’t matter if you have the cure to cancer in the post, if your headline doesn’t do it’s job, your content isn’t going to even get the chance to make an impact.
So, here’s the thing about headlines: They really matter, and they really take work.
We need to spend some time on our headlines. A lot of first time bloggers will just slap on a title because they don’t know how important a headline is. But we’re not going to make that mistake.
Good headlines take some work. They need to be shaped and molded and fooled around with. In fact, in advertising it’s normal to come up with 100 headline ideas for a single ad. They know it matters THAT much.
Now, you don’t have to write 100 versions of each headline, but it would be smart to write at least 3, if not more, versions of each headline… This gets you really thinking about this topic and how you can grab your reader’s attention.
Consider how people discover blog posts for a minute: the two most common ways someone will find one of your articles is either by searching in a search engine, or by seeing it on social media. In either case, your headline will stand completely alone, maybe with a single supporting sentence. That’s all a potential reader will have, to decide whether your link is worth clicking on.
So it matters. Your headlines really matter. Arguably the headline is the most important part of your blog post. Of course, once your headline does its job of pulling someone in, your article has to live up to the promise your headline made, but that’s the next step.
To help you with headlines, I sat down with Leo Babauta of the enormously popular Zen Habits blog to talk ask him how he writes such amazing headlines:
So what’s left to do is simply to sit and write out the rough drafts.
There’s this big myth about the creative process that applies to writers, artists and creatives of all kinds. We tend to romanticize the creative process. We talk about “the muse” and being “struck by inspiration.” We imagine creativity as something we wait for, like a surfer watching for the next big set to roll through.
But real writing doesn’t work like that. If you sit around and wait for creativity to grace you with its presence, you won’t produce consistently enough to feed your blog the vital words it needs to thrive.
So, instead, we’re simply going to focus on the practice of writing. Take off all that pressure to hit a homerun. Your goal right now is simply to have a lot of at-bats. Do you know what that means? In baseball, it’s simply being a batter, stepping up to the plate, and taking some swings. Because this is the heartbeat of blogging: showing up and consistently producing useful stuff for your audience.
And the crazy thing is, if you have a practice, if you’re making useful stuff consistently, at some point the stars align and you hit a homerun. It blows up, goes viral, you’ve made a truly epic post.
You already have headlines for each. Now it’s time to sit down and write each blog post. Use whatever writing method feels right to you.
Here are a few tips to help your writing:
OK, it’s time!
Your blog has been set up, and you’ve written your first posts. Now it’s time to launch your blog and share it with the world!
What do we mean when we say “launch?” It’s the grand opening, the day you unveil your site to the public, and there are two ways to go about launching your blog:
First, you could quietly hit publish on your first post and be fine with the fact almost nobody will show up. Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint, after all. After you publish your first post, you can slowly work to build buzz and share your stuff using the techniques we covered in the post promotion lesson. Slow and steady.
Or you can make your launch something of a special event. This is an opportunity for your blog to start with a bang. So you could try to guest post on other sites the week of your launch, get some social media recognition from other bloggers, and generally make more of a splash.
Either way, we want you to consciously decide what you plan to do leading up to and following the launch of your blog. So in this lesson, you’re going to create and execute a launch plan.
Listen, there’s no right or wrong way to launch your blog. In fact, no matter how it’s launched, what matters most is that in 3 to 5 years you’re still blogging. So on the grand scale of things your launch isn’t the most important thing.
Here’s a list of launch activities you should consider for your launch week to help spread the word:
If you follow the steps in this article on how to start a blog, you’ll be off to a great start.
If you’d like to dive deeper, we have LOTS more blogging resources for you here at Fizzle. Here’s some of our best stuff on how to start a blog and how to grow your blog into something meaningful:
13-week course: Start a Blog that Matters — this course has been used by thousands of people to start blogs that get noticed. Get started with Start a Blog that Matters for with your free 14-day trial of Fizzle here »
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