Starting a blog for hundreds of clients and quite a few times for ourselves, how to start a blog has just become second nature. But after handling support requests for our Genesis Themes – tru & (in)SPYR – we figured it was about time to start writing some of this stuff down.
The more we write the more there is to expand upon. And the more this turns into a massive guide to starting a blog. Hopefully this will come in handy as a reference for whenever you start a website.
Please note that this may get a little overwhelming for those of you who aren’t into the nitty gritty of configuring your website, so if you’d like to get a bit more of the how and why to start a blog from the perspective of an accomplished writer have a look at the How to Start a Successful Blog Today essay from our good friends The Minimalists.
Enough blabbering… Onward!
Please note that purchasing products or services from some of the links on this page will earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. That said we never recommend anything that we don’t already use ourselves and wholeheartedly believe in.
Table of Contents
How to Start a Blog: Step by Step
- Purchase Hosting (We Recommend: Bluehost)
- Install WordPress
- Purchase Genesis (Purchase Genesis from StudioPress)
- Purchase a Genesis Child Theme (Our Themes: tru & (in)SPYR)
- Install Genesis and Your Genesis Child Theme
- Secure WordPress (We Recommend: Sucuri)
- Install WordPress Plugins
- How to Choose a Name For Your Blog
- What Are the Best Domain Extensions?
- What is WordPress?
- What is a WordPress Theme?
- Is WordPress Only for Blogs?
- How to Choose the Right Theme For Your Blog
- How to Customize Theme CSS Without Breaking Automatic Updates
- How to Configure the tru Theme
- How to Configure the (in)SPYR Theme
How to Start a Blog
For 99% of website owners the simple step by step guide to starting your blog will be perfect.
We however host 40+ sites, some of which have several million annual readers so we’ve tailored our advanced server configuration to meet our needs. If you think that you may also benefit from an advanced hosting configuration tell us about your project.
In this guide you will purchase your hosting, install WordPress, install Genesis and a Genesis Theme and finally secure your new website. Let’s do this!
1. How to Purchase Hosting
Out of all the standard web hosting companies out there, Bluehost is our favorite. We’ve built hundreds of custom websites for clients, proudly recommending Bluehost time and again with spectacular results for as low as $3.95/month.
When selecting Bluehost you will not only benefit from their stellar quality service, but you will also receive a free domain name and email forwarding, which makes life much easier and more cost effective. Win, win, win.
Click here to sign up for Bluehost and receive 40% off ($3.95/month).
Click Sign Up Now.
Enter your new domain name into the I Need a Domain Name section, click Next and cross your fingers! If you already own a domain name enter it into the I Have A Domain Name section.
If your domain name is available proceed to enter your personal and billing details. Within the Package Information section select the term of your Account, deselect SiteLock Domain Security and check Site Backup Pro and Domain Whois Privacy. While SiteLock sounds like a nice service we will be setting up a far superior security solution, Sucuri, later in this tutorial.
Site Backup Pro is an automated nightly backup service provided by Bluehost. It will automatically handle the vital task of backing up your files and data on a nightly basis. At a mere $1.67 per month this service cannot be beat. High quality site backup alternatives, such as VaultPress, start around $5 per month.
Domain Whois Privacy retains your privacy in the Whois database. Every domain name is registered with ICANN and must provide public contact information via the Whois registry. While you can certainly share your personal information publicly, the Domain Whois Privacy service is a nice way to keep your personal information private. If you’re curious what a Whois record looks like search Whois here.
After completing your registration you’ll receive a confirmation email like the following which will give you all the information you’ll need to proceed.
2. How to Install WordPress
Once you purchase your Bluehost account you are just a few clicks away from your first WordPress installation! (if you’d rather go the manual route use the Installing WordPress guide at WordPress.org)
Go to my.bluehost.com and sign in using your new credentials.
In your Bluehost cPanel click WordPress within the Website Builders section.
This will open a new tab and direct you to MOJO Marketplace where you will initiate your WordPress installation. Click the Start a Brand New Install button.
You’ll receive an error that installation directory is not empty. Click the OOPS! Looks like something already exists there! checkbox.
Click Show Advanced Options and enter your new Site Name, an admin username, a strong password and your email address. Ensure Automatically create a new database for this installation. is checked, click the Terms and Conditions checkbox and Install Now.
Give it a minute and your WordPress install is complete!
There are several premium WordPress theme frameworks on the market, but Genesis is without a doubt the best (and only) choice.
Genesis is the bottom most layer in your theme sandwich. Many themes merely handle the aesthetics of your new website, but Genesis provides a secure core foundation for your Genesis Child Theme.
Simply go to StudioPress and Purchase the Genesis Framework ($59.95).
Purchase a Genesis Theme
After securing your copy of the Genesis Framework, next you’ll want to find that perfect Genesis Theme. You’ll find a wide selection on BYLT, the Genesis Themes Marketplace from SPYR (hey, that’s us!)
At BYLT we have a great collection of Genesis Themes from some talented Genesis Developers, but if we had to choose we’re slightly partial to our own themes 😉
Have a look at our beautifully simple Genesis Theme, tru. As seen at The Minimalists.
And our robust-y Genesis Theme, (in)SPYR.
Purchase your Genesis Theme from BYLT.
Install Genesis and Your Genesis Theme
Installing Genesis and your Genesis Theme are as simple as navigating to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress dashboard, clicking the Install Themes tab, followed by the Upload link. Once there click Choose File, select your genesis.zip and press Install Now
Don’t click Activate just yet.
You can now upload your child theme zip file following the same installation procedure. Upon completion click the Activate link and you’ll be good to go!
Next you’ll want to ensure that shiny new website of yours is secure and remains in tip top shape. You’ll want to head on over to Sucuri, sign up for their Premium Plan ($89.99/year) and have peace of mind knowing your site has a top of the line security team by your side 24/7.
After purchasing your Sucuri plan they will guide you step by step through the configuration process.
Install WordPress Plugins
Last but not least, it’s time to install some key WordPress plugins! It’s always a good idea to keep your plugins list to a minimum and only install the best of the best plugins. We install each of these plugins for each and every one of our and our client sites.
In your WordPress dashboard navigate to Plugins > Add New and search for, install and activate the following plugins one by one:
WordPress SEO by Yoast 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.
Next you’ll want to purchase a couple premium WordPress plugins. These are, in our humble opinion, the best premium WordPress plugins available today.
If you’re in need of a contact forms or more advanced form capabilities purchase the spectacular Gravity Forms plugin.
And if you purchased a theme other than (in)SPYR, which has the (in)SPYR FlexSlider built in, then the Soliloquy will be for you. Sure a slider isn’t a requirement for your site, but if you want one, Soliloquy is the only slider plugin – the rest can’t compare.
How to choose a name for your blog and why it’s important
Naming can be ridiculously fun if you let it. Don’t let the bleak prospect of a domain being unavailable hinder your brainstorming process. Your best bet is to just start brain dumping ideas onto the page.
Think about what you plan on writing or your business focus. Look at the style of different letters and the feel of different sounds. Get creative and see what you come up with.
When establishing the name of our brand we ended up landing on the name SPYR as a result of the visual appeal of the S, Y and R. There was something about those characters that I really liked. The combination of those characters felt like the brand we were building so I started tinkering with different combinations. In the end we came up with an extremely versatile name from which we have many variations for use in current and future products / experiments. For example, our first Genesis Theme is (in)SPYR, our email newsletter about happenings behind the scenes is (tran)SPYR and our current fitness challenge is (per)SPYR, just to name a few.
So like I said, just have fun with it. Approach naming from a purely creative standpoint and I guarantee you’ll come up with more than a few names that really scream your new brand.
But if you’re just not feeling it when it comes to naming we totally understand. That’s why we offer SPYR Namestorming, a service where you fill out a simple questionnaire describing your new brand and we spend the time creating names and searching for domains so you don’t have to.
If you’re interested in SPYR Namestorming simply fill out our inquiry form here.
What Are the Best Domain Extensions?
When selecting a domain name you’ll quickly discover the plethora of extension choices. Long gone are the days of merely .com, .net and .org. While those are still our domain extensions of choice if the name is available, the possibility of getting your perfect .com is dwindling by the day.
Thankfully there are a near infinite number of additional extensions to choose from today. The challenge, however is that not all domains are seen as Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).
When you own a .com, .net or .org Google marks your site as a global domain. The problem with certain domain extensions is that, although they provide for some interesting combinations, but domains that are not gTLDs are seen as country specific. My awesome short domain for my last name http://sarr.is is unfortunately an Iceland specific domain.
As a result, although I love that domain name, it may not get the same positive Google vibes on the global scale.
So the question is, how do I find gTLDs? Simply reference the guide that Google regularly maintains. If your extension makes the cut you’re good to go!
What is WordPress?
Simply put, WordPress is free, web-based software used for building and managing websites and blogs.
Once installed, it allows you to quickly and easily define a visual style for your blog, create pages and navigation menus, add photos and other media to those pages, write, publish and share blog posts, and about a brazillion other things.
Essentially, WordPress gives you the power to control your website without the need for a web developer. At least for the most part.
Once upon a time WordPress was a simple publishing platform for bloggers. Today, however, it’s a full-fledged content management system (CMS) that facilitates the rapid development of not only personal blogs, but of business websites of every shape and size. Some up and coming little companies such as CNN, Forbes, GM, and Sony all use WordPress.
Given that you are probably new to blogging all you need to know is that WordPress makes building and managing a blog quick and painless.
What is a WordPress Theme?
A WordPress theme is what defines both the look-and-feel of your blog and it’s functionality.
Some themes will give you the option to have multiple sidebars, small images, and lots of content areas. Others will allow for only one sidebar (or none) but feature giant images and bold typography. You can think of themes as the lens through which you showcase your content. Theme styles and functionality vary greatly and there are a lot to choose from and choosing wisely is important.
Technically speaking Genesis is a WordPress theme, however it’s been created as a framework for other themes, known as Child Themes. With Genesis you get a rock solid foundation upon which a developer can build a killer design.
We recommend that everyone use Genesis as the core of their WordPress website and complement it will a beautiful Genesis Child Theme.
Is WordPress Only for Blogs?
No. We’ve built hundreds of client websites exclusively on WordPress for years. While WordPress began as a blogging platform it has since evolved into a full fledged content management system (CMS), perfect for bloggers and business owners alike.
How to Choose the Right Theme For Your Blog
Ah, your first big decision: which theme do you choose?
You will almost definitely get hung up at this point and that’s ok, everybody does. It’s an important decision and there are a lot of options to choose from. But, rather than sitting at the computer like a zombie (do zombies still use computers?) cycling through 10,000 possible theme options let’s introduce a little method to this madness.
There are a few key points to consider when deciding on the right theme for your blog.
- What visual aesthetic will best represent your brand?
At this point you want to define things such as…
- Who is your intended audience? If you’re writing for new moms, you may want to forgo that sleek corporate look and find something more warm and inviting with lots of texture and detail.
- What voice and tone will you be using on your blog. Will you be speaking to your readers in a formal, professional manner or will you be taking a conversational approach.
The bottom line is that first impressions matter and your readers and potential customers will make judgements about you or your company based on how you present. The colors you choose, the typography, the content structure, all these components say something about your brand and affect your credibility.
What features do you need now and what might you need in the future?
As you peruse different theme options you will begin to realize there are a literal buttload of possible features you can take advantage of. BUT, do you really need them?
It’s easy to get carried away when building your first blog so it’s important to remain focused on what you truly need to give your readers and customers the best experience possible. So, before you go installing that theme with the dancing kitty cat animation, ask yourself: will my readers benefit from this? If not then you don’t need it.
Some features you will want to consider (besides the dancing kitty cat) include:
- Simple Navigation. Don’t make your readers work. Clean, intuitive navigation is absolutely key.
- Email signup form for list building. This is important for any blog or online business because people who opt in are basically saying “Yes, I’m interested in what you have to offer. Please send me more!” Now, THAT’S good stuff.
- Social media widget. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to connect with you in the ways they feel most comfortable. Some people like Twitter. Others prefer Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest. Make it easy on them.
- Recent posts widget. Writing for your blog is not easy work. Maintaining a posting schedule and creating valuable content is a labor of love and you’ll want to get as much exposure for your hard work as possible. Having an easily accessible list of recent posts will keep your content front and center. Note that the recent post widget is actually a standard WordPress feature but choosing a theme that allows you to properly showcase it is on you.
- Do you have the budget for a custom theme?
It’s true that there are thousands of ready-made themes to choose from but it is also true that there are MILLIONS of bloggers. According to our maths, this would indicate that some themes are being used more than once.
Having a unique and easily identifiable visual brand makes a HUGE difference in perceived value and credibility. I mean, think about it. If you saw guy stepping out of a silver Aston Martin looking like a million bucks, you’d probably think “Wow, this person has it going on!” But if just ten feet down the road you saw another guy stepping out of another silver Aston Martin and then another after him, you may start think “Ugh, look at all this clutter!”
Unique mean unlike anything else and in the crowded space of online blogging and business, unique is critical.
Investing in a custom branded web presence gives you the advantage of not only standing out from the crowd visually but of creating a publishing platform that perfectly serves your needs and the needs of your readers.