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How to Start a Successful Blog
As a food blogger I understand the frustration of not knowing where to begin. This guide shows you how to start a successful blog step-by-step. There are probably hundreds of resources for starting a blog. But many if not most are looking to turn a profit. They have a wealth of knowledge and are willing to share it for a price. Not wrong at all but that means for the newbie, who hasn’t made any money from their work yet, an initial investment is needed presenting a barrier to that knowledge.
For those with the means, it might be fine and well. But for the rest of us, it will be a hard road ahead. So, I’m writing this free guide for the new or aspiring food blogger starting out with basically nothing to invest.
When I started out, it took me months to understand what a host was and that it was different from a blogging platform. I wasted money trying to decide between hosted and self-hosted. I lost countless hours trying to figure this whole thing out on my own piece-by-piece. So having this knowledge to share with others is meaningful to me. I hope that you will find it useful guidance on their journey.
Choose a Blog Name
If you’re here that means you really want to do this and you have a pretty good idea of what you want to call your blog. However, before you settle on a particular name, which is probably awesome, consider these five things:
- Is it short, simple, and catchy? Will your readers easily confuse the letters with like-sounding or spelled words? Be careful to choose a name that describes your site.
- Is your blog name SEO friendly? Does it use keywords related to your blog’s niche that pop up when people search Google? Be sure that the name fits your site.
- Is it a name that you can brand? Will it be rememberable? Choose a name that can be what they call a household name. Brands that stand out get great engagement and loyalty.
- Is your desired blog name available? Does that name exist in any form? Be sure to check the name and its variants to ensure that no copyrights are violated. Also, using a name with .net or .co could be copyright infringement so just steer clear of that.
- Is it available across other social channels? Is someone already using that name on Instagram or Pinterest? Search all of the social platforms for the name so that you are able to create a cohesive presence across the web. That’s how branding works.
A helpful fun resource to refer to is a domain name generation. You can do a Google search and find a ton. Domain Wheel is a blog name generator that might be a good start.
Choose a Web-Host and Domain
Once a name is selected you will need a domain from a host that will allow your blog to be accessible on the internet. There are tons of host available but ones I have personally worked with are Bluehost, WP Engine, and Wpopt. Currently, I am with the latter. All devices have their benefits and drawbacks. But I recommend each one for different reasons.
Bluehost- I started with them and they served me well. I recommend them for newbies with no traffics and little funds. They offer domain email which is perfect for legitimizing your brand.
WP Engine- Another great hosting service. They handle growing traffic with great performance optimization. Meaning they focus on your site's performance intently. The drawback is that you will need to get your domain and email from another host like Bluehost and they strictly work with those on the WordPress self-hosted platform.
Wpopt- I have been with them for about a year at the time of writing this and I can say that I have had exactly one issue with performance. The owner of the company is often personally involved with getting you set up with domain transfers or whatever you might need.
Choose a Platform
So now that you’ve got your domain and host, you will need a pretty face to display your content and a home for it to live. The blog platform is the house in which your blog lives. While I am partial to WordPress, there are other platforms to explore.
WordPress.org- Not to be confused by WordPress.com. They are totally different functioning entities of the same company. WordPress.org is self-hosted meaning what you put there belongs to you.WordPress.com- This a free hosting platform that doesn’t require registering a domain name because it’s all hosted in-house. The problem then is it is not really your blog. You only own the content and there are restrictions keeping you from generating income. This is for those who want a hobby.
Blogger- Before food blogging, I did my fair share of blogging attempts on the Blogger platform. I did not love it because I do not code. Nor do I wish to learn. Which at the time was necessary for a beautiful blog. WordPress is for those who like nice packaged material in a few clicks. Blogger is for the brave and tech-savvy.
A couple more worth mentioning are Squarespace, Wix, and Gator by HostGator. None of these I am familiar enough with to expound on but when you do your homework check out their features and costs to compare.
Choose a Blog Theme Template
I currently use the Divine theme by Restored316 Design. They have lovely feminine themes. But if you prefer more utilitarian themes you might want to consider using WP Engine’s Studio Press. They have hundreds of great theme templates to choose from.
Studio Press’s themes, as does Restore316 and many others, run on the Genesis Framework to operate the functionality of the theme. If you sign up with WP Engine, you have access to the Genesis Framework and more than 35 of their premium themes included with your plan.
Bluchic is another place to find more feminine theme.
Bluehost also offers themes for an additional cost depending on what platform you choose.
WordPress offers free themes for self-hosted plans but they are very basic.
Installing Your Theme
There are several ways to do this. The first being is to install your chosen theme on your own or to do it through your hosting service is available. The following tutorials are for WordPress.org installations only. You will need to refer to the guide for your chosen platform.
For all any method of install, you will need to create a WordPress.com account. WordPress requires it as a way to unify its products for payment and issues. So you will need to:
- Go to WordPress.com and click “sign up”
- Enter an email, username, and password and hit enter. You will be prompted to follow the next steps to create a blog; DON’T. Refresh the page and go back to WordPress.com. You will be taken to your account.
- Verify your email and you are done. You now have an Admin account to sign into when adding WordPress plugin after installation
Self Installation WordPress.org:
First of all, I don’t really recommend this method. It can be done easily through your hosting provider. If for one reason or another you cannot use your provider for assistance and must, I mean absolutely must do it on your own, please refer to this excellent tutorial by wpbegginer.com.
Installation Through Hosting Provider WP Engine:
- Sign in and go to your dashboard
- Click the tab that says “Site” then “Add Site”
- Add your site name under “Create New” then click “Create Environment”
- You will then be sent an email with credentials to your new WordPress.org site
- You will need to change your password to access your dashboard
- From your WordPress dashboard, you can change your username and update any information you desire (a tutorial for another time)
- If using Genesis Framework and/or a theme from another source, you will need to upload them into your dashboard. Since they would have been purchased separately, you should have zip files for them
- To install them, you will select “Appearance” then “Theme” then click the “Upload” tab
- Once your theme is installed you will follow any instructions included with your purchase. Restored316 offers many tutorials for each of their themes
- You will also be able to make changes to your site, like site identity and applicable theme colors, etc. through the Customizer
- The final step is to make your site Live by following the Going Live Guide found on WP Engines knowledge base
For a more comprehensive guide to starting your blog with WP Engine please refer to this tutorial from wpbeginners.com.
Securing Your Site
You must protect your work. It’s your time, your money, and your creativity. This world is full of people looking for open doors to take what’s not theirs. So we must be proactive. There are my must-have security features:
- Akismet- An anti-spam plug-in powered by Jetpack that blocks nonsense comments from ever making it into your box.
- Vaultpress- Another Jetpack product that backups your site.
- Cloudflare- They provide security against attacks, customer data theft, and abusive bots.
- Google Authenticator- This is the newest app to my security detail. This is a two-way authenticator to make sure I am who I say that I am when signing into my dashboard.
I’m sure that there are more and possibly even better plugins but these are my top picks. They’ve served me well. Do your research to see what in addition to these might benefit you.
Essential Widgets and Plugins
Email Converter- Mail Munch: I use this in conjunction with Mailchimp to attract visitor signup.
Newsletter- MailChimp: If you have the Genesis Framework you will need Genesis eNews Extended to allow subscribers to signup using your child theme. I’m currently using Mailchimp for my newsletter. To connect your account to your WordPress site you will need the Mailchimp Plugin.
Social Sharing- Social Pug: Used to display your share counts. It’s though that when readers see how many shares a post has, they see it is more reliable and are more willing to share it them selves.
Social Profiles- Simple Social Icons: Displays your social media accounts using the platform icons. Very clean and beautiful. Can be formatted to specific colors to match themes.
SEO- Yoast for WordPress: SEO or search engine optimization is the number one thing you need to focus on once you begin creating content. If you want your blog posts to be searchable on any search engine you must have key components that this plugin can help you achieve.
Search Performace- Google Search Console: Helps you to monitor broken links, SEO errors, and much more.
Landing Pages- Bluchic: Lansing pages come in handy when you want to share a pdf or special news.
Email- Google Apps: Not a plugin or widget but definitely a necessity. I pay about $6 a month for a domain email address.
Tasty Food Photography- I love this ebook because it really taught me how to use my camera. Like I said I knew nothing. This was pivotal to being able to use the equipment that I had in the most effective way.
The Food Photography Book I have not used this book but I really respect Nagi’s discipline in content creation. Her images are beautiful. I’m in her Facebook group that helps bloggers to grow. I’ll have a post on growing your blog really soon.
Adobe Creative Cloud- Best software to edit photos in my opinion.
Education & Support
Food Blogger Pro- I invested for a couple of months in this program. It was helpful in learning SEO and good video creation. They have so much to offer food bloggers new and old. Highly recommended.
WP Rocket- Helps with site speed.
Camera & Equipment
I own a Canon Rebel T3. My baby is very basic and sort of old but she gets the job done. I have a 50mm portrait lens and 60mm macro lens besides the 18-55mm lens that came with it. You really don’t need the latest model camera starting out but I do think higher quality image capabilities will open more doors for sponsored work. There are many successful bloggers who use their camera phones and that’s awesome. But when you can, an upgrade should be priority.
Speaking of upgrades. That is my next move. I have a whole wishlist of equipment in my Amazon account. I’m thinking that a full frame camera like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV will be it.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens and Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens- Both beautiful lenses with different purposes. I’ll do a post about my equipment choices if you all are interested.
Tripods & Stands
I just broke my tripod, so I’ll be purchasing the Manfrotto 055 Aluminum 3-Section Tripod really soon. What I had before was really basic and flimsy. This one is more sturdy. I’ll be add the Manfrotto MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO Ball Head for smooth transitions during shoots.
Neewer Photo Studio Heavy Duty Adjustable C-Stand- This is good for overhead shots.
This list could go on forever so I’ll stop now. If there’s anything in particular you would like to ask, please send me a message through my contact page. If I know it, I’ll share or at least point you in the right direction.