While there are other blogging platforms out there like Blogger.com and Tumblr.com, nearly every serious blogger uses a self-hosted WordPress site because of its creative freedom and flexibility. The Minimalists uses WordPress because it gives us greater control over the look and feel of our blog—more creative control than any other platform. Oh, and WordPress itself is free!
These are the exact steps we took when we created this website. If you follow these five steps, you will learn how to set up a blog in less than one hour.
Step 1. Choose Your Domain Name and Host
The first thing we did when starting our blog was go to Bluehost and register our domain, which is free with hosting. We’ll explain hosting in a moment, but let’s talk about your domain name first. Your domain name is an important part of your blog because it creates a first impression—it is the name of your blog. Also known as your URL, your domain is also your address on the web. For example, our domain name is www.theminimalists.com.
So, what do you want to call your blog? Maybe it’s YourName.com. Maybe it’s YourBusinessName.com. Or maybe it’s a creative brand name you thought up. If you’re having a hard time thinking of a good domain name, try Wordoid, a wonderful naming tool that will give you plenty of great options. Just make sure you don’t buy the domain from them since Bluehostwill give you a free domain. (If you’ve already purchased a domain elsewhere, that’s okay, too, because Bluehost will make it easy to transfer your existing domain during the set-up process.)
Once you’ve decided on a domain name, you’ll need to set up hosting for your blog. While WordPress itself is free (see Step 2 below), you need a reliable place to host your WordPress blog (your blog needs to exist on a server somewhere on the Internet). For hosting, we recommend Bluehost for several reasons:
- We Use Bluehost. We personally use Bluehost to host The Minimalists. If you recommend a company, you better be willing to use their product yourself. We also use them to host several other websites of ours.
- Outstanding Customer Service. Bluehost’s customer service is 100% US-based. With hold times that average less than 30 seconds and 100% in-house, on-site staff in their Texas offices, you can rest assured that the person helping with your site knows how to help. In other words, if you have any questions, they will help you through the entire set-up process.
- Great Pricing. TheMinimalists.com is a Bluehost affiliate partner, which means that in addition to using their service, we also receive a commission for referring new customers. To be fair, though, we would still use Bluehost even if we weren’t an affiliate—we’ve used them for a long time. Ergo, we don’t recommend Bluehost just because we’re an affiliate (every hosting company offers a similar affiliate program); we recommend Bluehost because they are the best, most reliable option. Plus, because we’re a partner, Bluehost offers a 50% discount for The Minimalists readers: only $2.75 a month for the first year. That’s an outstanding price!
- Free Domain. When you sign up for hosting, Bluehost will give you a free domain name, which allows you to avoid the upfront and recurring fees associated with purchasing a domain on your own. If you’ve already purchased your own domain name, don’t worry; you can still use your domain with Bluehost (it’s just one extra step).
- Money-Back Guarantee. Bluehost offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so there’s no risk if you change your mind.
- Reliability. Bluehost’s facilities are world class. They have their own datacenter and they build their own servers. Their headquarters includes over 50,000 square feet of office space, a custom-built 20,000-square-foot datacenter, and enough backup generators to power a city.
- Friends & Family. Many of our friends and family also use Bluehost to host their blogs.
So, now that you’re ready to get started, go to Bluehost and click the “Get Started Now” button.
On the next screen, you’ll need to select your hosting plan:
You’ll notice that prices range from $3 to $6 per month, depending on whether you want a basic, single site hosting plan or a more robust plan that allows you to create multiple sites.
Note: Because we’re an affiliate partner, Bluehost offers a special price for The Minimalists readers: only $2.75 a monthfor the first year. That’s a significant discount.
Once you’ve selected a plan, you’ll be taken to a screen with two options:
If you still need to register a new domain, you’ll use the left box followed by your desired extension (e.g., .com, .net, .org). If you already purchased your domain somewhere else like GoDaddy.com, don’t worry, because Bluehost will provide you the information you will need for easily transferring your domain.
After selecting your domain you’ll need to fill out some personal information:
Once your registration is complete, you’ll see a congratulations page indicating that a confirmation email was sent to your inbox. Go to that email and click the confirmation link.
After that, click the “Create your password” button.
Step 2. Set Up Your Blog
Next you will install WordPress, which is free. Don’t let the word “install” intimidate you, though. It’s much easier than it sounds and Bluehost does all the work for you.
On this next screen, you’ll be prompted to create a password:
After creating your password, you’ll be directed to a Log In screen. Click “Log In”:
On the next screen you’ll be shown several theme options. Simply scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Skip This Step” (you’ll see why in a moment):
Yay! WordPress is now installing and will be completed shortly.
Next, click “Start Building” to go to your new WordPress dashboard and we’ll move on to Step 3:
Step 3. Design Your Blog With a Theme
A theme allows you to control the specific look and feel of your blog without the need for coding expertise or design knowledge. In other words, a good theme helps you to design your blog exactly how you want it to look. If you’re not a coder (I’m certainly not a coder), then a theme makes the design work a million times easier.
We use BYLT for our theme, a platform created by SPYR. They have a number of beautiful, simple WordPress themes to choose from, and, in fact, you can purchase the same theme we use if you like. Simply go to their siteand find the theme that best fits your desired aesthetic. BYLT’s themes are feature-rich plus, once you buy your theme, you will have the same team supporting your work that we trust to support ours.
Once you purchase the theme you like, you’ll be able to download your WordPress theme (a .zip file) from your BYLT Dashboard. Save this file to your Desktop because you’ll need to upload it to WordPress in just a moment.
Remember how easy it was to install WordPress? Well installing your theme is even easier.
Now, you should already be logged in to your WordPress Dashboard but, if not, go to my.bluehost.com, enter your new domain (or username) and password and click “submit”:
From here, go to “My Sites” and click on “Log in to WordPress”:
Then, in your WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance > Themes:
Next, click the “Upload” button:
Then, click the “Upload Theme” button followed by the “Choose File” button.
Find the .zip file you downloaded from your BYLT Dashboard (this is your theme file) and click the “Install Now” button to install your beautiful new theme on your blog:
Once installation of your theme is complete, you’ll see a confirmation page indicating that your theme has been installed successfully.
Step 4. Select the Best Plugins for Your Blog
Plugins are third-party appendages that add additional functionality to your blog. It’s best to keep your number of plugins to a minimum and install only the best plugins. (Too many plugins, as well as unreliable plugins, can slow down your site.) We use only a few plugins at The Minimalists (see below).
In your WordPress dashboard navigate to Plugins > Add New and search for, install, and activate the following free plugins one by one:
- Yoast SEO is the defacto standard SEO plugin for WordPress. For details and everything you’d ever want to know about WordPress SEO read Yoast’s Definitive SEO Guide.
- Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights allows you to track your blog’s traffic easily and with lots of interesting data: overall traffic, traffic sources, views per author & category, automatic tracking of outbound clicks and pageviews.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com is a WordPress plugin that supercharges your self-hosted WordPress site with the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com.
Finally, so people can receive our blog posts via email, we established a free Feedburner account. Constant Contact is another great email-subscription option. (By the way, if you don’t already subscribe to The Minimalists via email, you can here.)
Step 5: Start Blogging with Compelling Content
Congratulations! You started a blog, and now it’s time to start blogging. This is actually where the fun begins. Now that you have your own blog, you get to make it yours; you get to turn your vision into a reality. So tinker away:
- Start writing and publishing the content for your basic pages: create an About Page, Contact Page, Start Here Page, Archives Page, and any other page you want in the header of your new blog.
- Experiment with various color palettes, fonts, and design elements within your theme.
- Create a basic logo using a program like InDesign, Photoshop, or a text editor (note: even though we have no design skills, we were able to use Apple’s Pages application to create our simple logo after downloading some free vector art and choosing the typeface that best suited our aesthetic), or you can hire someone like 99designs to design a professional logo.
- Add a photo of yourself (pro tip: you can start with a well-lit selfie, but when you get a chance, get some professional photos taken; they’re well worth the cost because people identify with other people more than they identify with logos).
- Spice up your blog posts with high-quality stock photos: Paul Jarvis(free), Unsplash (free), Library of Congress (free), iStock (fee-based), Shutterstock (fee-based).
- Determine whether or not you want comments on your blog; they are often a useful way to receive feedback and directly engage with your readers.
- Establish a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (or all three).
- Keep tinkering with your blog until you obtain the right look and feel.
- Start writing new blog posts. Publish at least once a week so you can build an audience. Below you’ll also find 20 recommendations to improve the writing on your blog, as well as 15 reasons you should start a blog and 3 reasons not to start a blog.