If you’re looking for a way to bring in some extra income and have a passion you’d enjoy sharing with others, blogging could be a great side gig or even potential full-time job for you. From travel to fashion, cooking to pilates, budgeting to home decor, it’s possible to blog about almost any topic, allowing you to share your interests with like-minded people while also potentially bringing in some extra cash.
To be sure, blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes a lot of hard work, consistency, and dedication to learning everything from basic technical skills to how to drive traffic to your site through social media channels. But when it comes to getting started, you can set up your blog in a few minutes with some simple clicks. And you can do it on the cheap for only the price of your domain name and hosting, which you can get for as little as $3 per month through Bluehost.
If you’re ready to set up your blog, this step-by-step guide will walk you through the process.
Step 1: Choose a Domain Name
Your domain name is your online “address”; it’s how people find you on the Web. It’s also your brand; it lets your audience know who you are and what you’re all about. So it’s worth it to take some time to think carefully about the name that will forever be attached to your blog. Although it’s possible to change your name in the future, once you’ve established an audience, it can be difficult to change it without causing confusion and potentially losing some readers.
How to Choose a Domain Name
Start by brainstorming a list of names for your blog and then decide on your top three to five favorites. Keep the following questions in mind, and if you’re still having trouble choosing something, ask friends and family for their suggestions and feedback on your top picks.
1. What Is Your Niche?
Consider what your blog will be about. What will your specific niche be – cooking, personal finance, travel, or something else?
Many bloggers choose a name that reflects their site’s core focus, such as Scary Mommy or Pinch of Yum. In these two cases, not only are the topics – motherhood and cooking – immediately apparent, but the names also convey the tone of each website. Readers know the kind of attitude or perspective to expect. That’s important because your readers will find and stick with you not only because of your topic, but also for your unique voice and perspective.
Before deciding on a name, ask yourself:
- What general niche will you be writing in?
- What specific topics will you cover? For example, will you have a generalized cooking blog or write about a specific type of cooking, as From Pasta to Paleo does?
- Who is your target audience? Knowing who your readers will be directly affects your content.
- What will be the general tone or voice of your blog? Will you be humorous or serious? Will you relate to your readers as a mentor or as their BFF?
It’s important to consider your answers to these questions because the name you pick should reflect your niche and tone and resonate with your target audience.
2. How “Tied Down” Do You Want to Be?
While you want a name that makes your brand immediately clear to your audience, if you aren’t entirely sure at this point what you want to blog about, it might make more sense to choose a name that’s more broad than narrow. For example, Pinch of Yum covers all kinds of cooking, while Sweetapolita focuses exclusively on desserts. The benefit of such a specific name is that it lets readers know exactly what the blog is about, but it could be a potential drawback if you decide to pivot and blog about something else later on.
If you really have no idea what you want to blog about at this point – not even your general niche – consider using your own name as your blog title, as Sarah Titus does at SarahTitus.com. Sarah started out blogging about saving money but now blogs about everything from parenting to organization to her Christian faith. If you decide to go this route, your brand may not be immediately recognizable, but over time, your readers will get to know your unique voice and perspective and will come to associate that with your name, which will ultimately become your brand.
3. How Easily Do You Want Readers to Find You?
This is a rhetorical question; of course you want your readers to be able to find you easily. However, if you’re serious about making money with your blog, here are a few pointers you should keep in mind when it comes to your blog’s domain name:
- Avoid Using Hyphens, Numbers, or Special Characters. Although it may be tempting to add these if the name you want is taken, readers will have a hard time remembering if they’re supposed to spell out a number or use its numerical symbol or if there’s a hyphen between your first name and your last.
- Make It As Short As Possible. Readers will remember a shorter name more easily.
- Make It Catchy and Unique. A catchy name is also easier to remember, and the more unique it is, the more it will stand out in readers’ minds.
- Don’t Include Brand Names or Trademarks. Even if you’re planning to blog about brands, a domain name like HowToSellOnEbay.com is likely to get you sued by eBay. Instead, try something like HowToResellOnOnlineAuctionSites.com.
How to Buy Your Domain Name
Fortunately, choosing your domain name is the hardest part. If you decide to go with Bluehost as your hosting company (see Step 2), you can buy your name for free with any hosting package as part of the setup process. The benefit of this, aside from the price, is being able to manage your website and domain name in one convenient place.
However, you can also buy your name from a domain registry service, such as GoDaddy. If you plan on having multiple blogs hosted at different places, or if you’d like to buy a bunch of domain names for whatever reason, buying through a service such as GoDaddy gives you the convenience of having all your domain names in one location. I experimented with several different hosting companies for my personal blogs over the years before settling on Bluehost, and though I’m so far very happy with them, I like that my names aren’t tied down with one hosting company. It’s always possible to transfer domain names, but some Web hosts charge for it, and it can make your website inaccessible for a few days while the transfer takes place.
The other reason I like having all my domain names with GoDaddy is that I own several that aren’t currently in use, but I’ve bought them in anticipation of needing them someday. I write both fiction and non-fiction, so I have two different versions of my name – one for each genre – with two different corresponding websites. Additionally, I’m working on a number of books and novels, whose names I’ve bought solely for the purpose of making sure I’ll have them when I need them. Altogether, I have about 12 different domain names registered with GoDaddy. If you’re a domain name junkie too, you may also want to use a standalone registry service.
What to Do If Your Domain Name Isn’t Available
There’s a high possibility that whatever domain name you settle on may already be taken. You may have to go with your second or even third choice, which is why it’s helpful to brainstorm several different names and pick more than just your top choice.
However, if your heart is set on your top name, here are a few ways you can put enough of a spin on it that you’ll be able to preserve it as much as possible.
1. Add One or Two Extra Words
As a writer and author, I use my name for my blog because in my case, my name is my brand; it’s how my audience knows me. Unfortunately, Sarah Graves is a fairly popular name, and there’s another novelist named Sarah Graves who claimed that domain before I did. So, to distinguish myself, I was forced to add my middle name, Elizabeth, for my fiction website. For my non-fiction website, I added my “Ph.D.” title.
Though short domain names are easier for readers to remember, adding another word or two might allow you to hang onto the name you want without compromising it too much.
2. Get Creative
No rule says that your blog name has to be a real word. In fact, giving your blog your own “made-up” word can help it stand out. Think about brands such as Google, Twitter, or Spotify – none of these are real words.
To come up with your own made-up word that’s catchy and easy to read and remember, try a tool such as Wordoid. Take a fragment of your original domain name, plug it into Wordoid, and it will use it to generate something unique. Say, for example, that you want to blog about baking and you came up with the name Sweetapolita, which is taken. If you plug in the beginning of that name, “sweet,” Wordoid will give you several unique variations on it One of these is “Sweetable,” which would make a great blog name.
3. As a Last Resort, Try a Different Extension
Always aim for a .com extension on your domain name, for two reasons. First, while people are likely to remember your blog’s name, they’re unlikely to remember if it has another extension, such as .tv, .net, .biz, or .co. Most people assume Web addresses end in .com.
Second, chances are that if your domain name is taken, it’s because someone else is already using it as their own brand. A subtle change to the name may not be enough to distinguish your brand. For example, even though I added my “Ph.D.” title to the end of my non-fiction domain name to make it unique, if you try searching for “Sarah Graves” on the Web, you’re more likely to come across the other fiction author than you are me. That’s especially problematic because potential readers may not know we’re two different writers. In my case, it might have been better just to make up a unique pen name instead.
So keep in mind that you don’t want your audience to confuse you with another blog or brand. But if you truly have your heart set on your chosen domain name and are willing to accept that risk, you can try a different extension. There are some well-known blogs and famous personalities that have done this successfully.
Step 2: Choose a Website Host
Once you have your domain name, the next step is to set up hosting for your blog. Your host is where your blog will “live” on the Web.
What Is Hosting?
Think of hosting like renting a home for your blog to live in. Your domain name is your “address”; it tells Web browsers where to go to find your blog. Where you host your website is the actual physical “space” for your blog – a Web server where all your data and files are stored securely. It’s also the place where you will install the WordPress software that will allow you to design, publish content on, and manage all other aspects of your blog.
Why You Need a Self-Hosted Blog
Your blog can be “self-hosted” through a service such as Bluehost, or you can set it up on a free blogging platform, such as Blogger, Tumblr, or WordPress.com. Although you can blog for free with these platforms, if you’re serious about making money with your blog, self-hosting is the only way to go.
One of the main reasons for this is that if you opt to blog on a platform such as Tumblr, your blog will be a subdomain of theirs; it won’t be your own. On Tumblr, for example, my domain name would be “sarahgravesphd.tumblr.com” and not “sarahgravesphd.com.”
In addition to the name, you have far less control over a blog that isn’t self-hosted. You’re extremely limited in the ways you can manage it, including your ability to monetize it. If you want to have full control over your site and content – especially your ability to make money with your blog – you need self-hosting.
Choosing a Website Host
There are hundreds of hosting services available, but based on my experience, I recommend Bluehost for several reasons:
- They Have Excellent Customer Service. It’s possible for even for the technically challenged to set up a blog, but having access to help is essential when you run into issues you can’t solve on your own. Several times, I’ve experienced technical difficulties, whether from installing faulty plug-ins or the periodic WordPress update, and have made frantic phone calls to Bluehost for help. Every time I’ve called them, their customer service reps have been helpful, patient, and understanding. I’ve never encountered the same level of customer service with a different hosting provider. Plus, they’re ready to help you fix any issues 24/7 with live support via email, phone, or chat.
- They Make Their Service Easy to Use. Pretty much everything about Bluehost’s setup and installation processes is “plug-and-play.”
- They Provide Fast Page Uploads. When you’re first starting out, you may not have to worry too much about page-load speed. But if you decide to monetize, you may be posting ads or videos, and the more of these you have on your site, the more they’ll drag down your load time. Your readers are likely to lose patience and go elsewhere if it takes forever for your pages to load, so the faster your upload speeds, the better.
- Their Packages Are Highly Affordable. Bluehost offers its “Basic” hosting package for $2.95 per month, plus a free domain name if you commit to 36 months. That price is pretty much unbeatable. Once you have more readers and content and need to scale up, you can rent your own server for only $23.95 per month, which is a price many other hosting companies offer for only a shared server.
- They Include a Free SSL Certificate. A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate authenticates the identity of a website and encrypts information sent to the server. The encryption process scrambles data into an indecipherable format that can only be read with the proper decryption key. All websites that collect user credit card information use SSL certificates to keep buyers’ information secure from hackers, but bloggers need SSL certificates too. As of 2018, Google ranks sites with SSL certificates higher in their search engine results. Plus, if you don’t have one, most browsers will alert readers with a popup that says something like “This site is not secure,” which will no doubt turn off readers. So even if you never collect any information from your readers, you’ll still need an SSL certificate.
Step 3: Set Up Hosting & WordPress
You’ve made all the tough decisions; now it’s time to get started with Bluehost. If at any point you get stuck or have questions, look to the “Chat” and “Call” links on the right-hand side of Bluehost’s upper menu. They are available 24/7 for customer support.
1. Click “Get Started”
Once you’re on Bluehost’s homepage, click the green “Get Started” button.
2. Choose Your Plan
If you’re just starting out, the Basic plan should give you everything you need for now. To get the lowest price of $2.95 per month, you will need to sign up for 36 months of hosting, and you’ll be billed for the entire amount at once. However, Bluehost has a money-back guarantee, so you can cancel at any time and get a prorated refund. You can also upgrade at any time for a prorated amount if you decide a different package will better suit your needs.
3. Enter Your Domain Name
On the next page, you’ll be asked to enter your domain name. If you’d like to register one for free with Bluehost, you can do that in the left-hand box. If you already have a domain name that’s registered with an outside domain registry, such as GoDaddy, Bluehost will help you transfer it, or you can keep it where you registered it and have your domain name directed to Bluehost by updating your nameservers. Bluehost will walk you through both of these processes.
4. Enter Your Account Info
Enter and confirm your personal information and your chosen hosting package. Remember, you’ll have to pay the total amount of your hosting package up front. For example, if you choose 36 months at $2.95 per month, you’ll pay the full $106.20. But don’t worry; it’s completely risk-free.
Bluehost also offers a few other services for additional fees, but you don’t need to worry about them right now, so you can uncheck those boxes.
Finally, enter your payment information and click “submit.”
5. Create a Password
Make sure your password isn’t something easy to guess; you want your site to be as secure against hackers as possible. After creating your password, make sure you write it down and keep it in a safe place. You can also use a service like 1password to store all your important passwords.
6. Download WordPress
Click “log in.” At this point, Bluehost will automatically start downloading WordPress for you.
7. Choose a Theme (Optional)
On the next screen, Bluehost will give you the option to choose a theme, or a basic look and design for your website. You don’t need to think too hard about this; just pick anything for now. In the next step, we’ll talk more about options for your theme, which is something you can change at any time.
8. Start Building
Click on “Start Building,” and you’ll be taken to your WordPress dashboard. This is where you’ll do everything from designing the look of your site to writing and publishing content to installing plug-ins, the apps for your website that allow you to do certain things such as create contact forms or sell products.
Step 4: Install a Theme
WordPress is merely a platform for managing your blog’s content. The way you get from a white screen to a beautiful, well-branded design is with code. Every color, element placement, font, size, and spacing has code behind it. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert programmer – or a programmer at all – to get a customized, branded look for your website. That’s where your theme comes in.
You could pay a Web designer to customize the look of your site for you, but it can be pricey – typically a couple thousand dollars or more. You could also install a free WordPress theme, but your options will be limited, and you may not be able to find exactly what you’re looking for. I’ve spent hours scouring the Web trying to find just the right look from a free theme.
The middle ground is to invest in a premium, or paid, theme. Many of these are fully customizable and give you an endless variety of ways to make your site your own, especially if you use a framework coupled with a child theme. A framework is essentially the structure for your website, like the frame of a house. The child theme provides all the unique, customized details, like the painting, shingles, and trim for that house. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make perfect sense to you yet; just choose a theme that provides a lot of great video tutorials, customer support, and, as much as possible, a visual page builder.
Some of the more commonly used blog frameworks and themes are:
- Divi by Elegant Themes
- Genesis Framework by StudioPress
- Make by The Theme Foundry (which has both a free version with fewer options and a paid version with more functionality)
If you decide to go with any of these themes, be sure to check out their video tutorials for how to install and start designing with your new theme. You can also consider getting some DIY tech help through an independent service such as WP-BFF from Web designer Shannon Mattern. Shannon has a free five-day challenge that will walk you through all the basics of installing necessary plug-ins and designing your site so that you can get the look you want.
Step 5: Start Blogging
Once you’ve installed WordPress on your site, you’ll no longer need to go through Bluehost to manage it. Although you may need to access your Bluehost cPanel (control panel) every now and then to manage your domains or set up email, 99% of your work on your blog – including all of your website design – will be done through your WordPress dashboard.
You can always access your dashboard directly without going through Bluehost by typing your domain name plus “wp-login.” For example: https://www.mydomainname.com/wp-login.
To write your first blog post, log in to your WordPress dashboard and select “Posts” and then “Add New” from the left-hand menu column. Then, type away.
If you’re interested in setting up a blog as a way to make some extra cash, but you’re put off by a lack of technical know-how, there’s no need to worry. Setting up a blog doesn’t require a lot of technical knowledge and can be done in as little as 10 minutes or so.
If you get stuck at any point, especially when it comes to designing the look of your website, there are plenty of options on the Web for getting answers. You may only need to perform a simple Google search of your problem to get a quick and easy-to-follow answer from any number of online sources. In no time, you may even feel like a tech genius – or, at the very least, that setting up a blog is more doable than you first thought.
Are you thinking about starting a blog? What passions or interests do you long to share?