Start A Blog On A Budget: Part 2

Start A Blog (On A Budget): Part 2

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After reading the first steps in setting up your blog, there are still quite a few tasks and decisions ahead of you. But this article will walk you through them!

By setting up your site with the right look and plugins, you can set yourself up for success from the very beginning.

Let’s look at what that means:

Download a PDF of this blog post for reference or print out (free!). No email required.

When To Launch Your Blog

Before going into some additional steps prior to launching your blog, let’s talk a little about WHEN your site is ready to go live (launch).

Honestly, you can launch your blog at any time in the process of getting it set-up! The sooner you launch, the faster Google will start looking at it.

It’s very easy to delay your launch until everything is PERFECT!

The Perfect Blog

Here’s the truth: your site will never be perfect.

There will always be some detail (design, content, cool plugins to try, etc) to delay just getting your content out there. But, once you have a somewhat cohesive site, just launch!

You can try to form a following on social media to bring up hype around your site so that when it launches you have readers ready and waiting.

But, force yourself to just do launch even if you don’t have the number of posts you are aiming for or all your plugins worked out (or an active following waiting).

Again, there will always be more you want to accomplish.

Pre-Launch Checklist

If you want a short checklist, this mama would make sure the following are in place before launch:

  1. Choose and sign up for a blog host
  2. Purchase a blog name/URL (hopefully with an SSL to make your site trustworthy)
  3. Create an About Me page
  4. Create a Privacy Policy page (even with WordPress default text)
  5. Write and publish at least 5 posts (preferably your “pillar” or “epic” content)
  6. Connect Google Analytics to your site
  7. Choose and install a blog theme
  8. Provide a way for readers to share your content on social media

What isn’t listed is providing a way for readers to join your email list. You want to set this up ASAP!

Next Steps

Why is there a checklist but tons more information on this page?

Well, the below information is fairly comprehensive to help you be better informed and make choices that are right for you and your blog.

The checklist is merely a guide so you don’t get stuck in all the nitty gritty details to follow!

But let’s get going:

Blog Theme

Why did this section come after it was suggested to start writing posts (in the Part 1 post)?

Having some content to see within context when testing a theme makes the process of finding the right theme so much easier.

Web Hosting

Your words will NOT be the first impression. Your site theme will be!

The theme you choose will be the first thing your readers will notice about your blog before they even get to reading your article. Most blog posts will require even a little scrolling past your header, title and featured image (the image at the top of your post if you choose to use them).

But, now that you have your brand colors and logo ready to go, now you can go find the right theme for your blog!

Note that his section assumes you are using WordPress for your blog. Please do your own research if you are using a different service.

Finding Your Theme

There are thousands of themes out there for you to choose from. BEFORE you go searching for a theme, make sure to decide on a budget (free IS possible to start out).

After you sign up for hosting and link your host to WordPress, you will automatically be signed up for a free theme.

After you have chosen and installed your new theme, you will want to go back and delete the theme(s) automatically installed on your blog.

Choosing Your Theme

What is the right theme for your blog? Only you can answer that.

If you have no clue where to start, try looking at other sites you go to regularly. What about the site do you enjoy?

A few rules of thumb when choosing a theme:

  • Find a theme with a lot of reviews/downloads
  • Check to ensure the themes are updated regularly. When was the last update for the theme? (if the theme is not updated with each WordPress update, there could be issues (called “bugs”) that can hurt your blog performance)
  • Make sure the theme you choose provides support for any issues you may run into. Is there customer support? If not, you may need to contact someone to help you with issues that they may not know how to fix. If you spend your hard-earned money on a theme without support, you may lose more money down the road hiring help!
  • Generally, themes with more white space (meaning empty, white sections on the blog so content can “breath” and users can easily find what they are looking for) provide a clear and easy user experience. (source) (source)
  • Many themes for free or for purchase are not easily customized without contacting the theme creator (can cost money to get help). In a bit there will be a couple of themes that provide amazing customization without the need for help from the developer.
  • Only choose a theme that is responsive. This means your site will display on desktop computers AND mobile devices (phones and tablets). For many sites, readers are generally 60-90% on mobile devices!

Here are some sources to purchase for your theme:

If you are looking for a free theme, you can easily search directly from your Appearance > Themes section and click “Add New Theme”.

You will navigate to an area you can search all the themes you can download directly through WordPress (though these may not be created or managed by WordPress so make sure to check out the details and refer to the list above on what to look out for).

If you Google “free blog theme” you should find a lot of sites that offer or do reviews on free themes, like this one.

There are likely other ways to find and download free themes than going directly through WordPress. Just do some research.

Installing Themes From A Download

Some themes will not automatically upload to your site, especially if you are purchasing your theme from a third party (meaning not directly through WordPress).

You will be given a .zip file to upload to your WordPress account. Make sure to not “unzip” the file (by trying to open it). WordPress will unzip the file when it is uploaded.

Here’s what to do:

  • Go to Appearance > Themes from your WordPress dashboard.
  • Click the button near the top that says “Add New”.
  • Locate the .zip file on your computer and upload.
  • Navigate back to Appearance > Themes.
  • Locate the theme you uploaded and click “Activate”.
  • Refer to the section above about deleting unused Themes.

If you experience any upload issues with your .zip file (WordPress may say you are missing a file…something you cannot fix), contact your theme provider for a solution or updated .zip file to upload.

Switching Themes

If you install a theme and later decide to change your theme, this is easy! Just make sure to back up your site before installing and activating a new theme, especially if you have content on your site!

See the plugins section below for a potential, free backup solution (though some hosts will offer free backups based on the plan you sign up for).

Merely go to Appearance > Themes. You can activate and deactivate a theme right there with a click of a button.

Removing Old Themes

Since your blog came with one or more free themes already installed, it’s good practice to delete old themes to keep your blog optimized (running fast and smooth).

All you need to do is go to Appearance > Themes from your WordPress dashboard to find all the themes installed on your site. There will be a button on each to delete (but only on those that are not active on your site).

Updating Menus & Widgets

Now that you have your theme installed, there may be specific instructions from the theme creator on how to update the look of your blog within the blog template (theme) you have installed.

But I’ll give you a quick walkthrough on how to find the “normal” location for updating your menu, footer, and other widgets (this includes your sidebar if you have one).

After you save changes to any menu or widget (outlined below), check your site to ensure the changes you made look the way you want.

TRICK: If you haven’t launched your blog yet, go to Appearance > Customize to see a live preview of your site. Refresh the Customize area every time you make a change to see what your site will look like.

Menus

To access your menus:

  1. Go to your dashboard (wp-admin)
  2. Click on Appearance > Menus

Please note that some of the more advanced themes may have you update the design of your menus within the Appearance > Customize area (but will generally require you to set-up the structure of a menu within the area outlined in the bullet points above).

Next, let’s talk about the main menu areas of your site that are usually persistent (remain visible on nearly all your blog pages):

Main Navigation

This is the menu right at the top of your screen and generally contains your site logo and top-level links (like to your homepage, blog, About Me Page, Contact Page, and anything else you want to add).

You may also see this called the “Main Nav”, “Top Nav”, or “Top Navigation”.

All you need to do is select the appropriate menu then move it over to the Pages you want to include in the main nav (you can rename the text for each if you want). So, you will want to create all the pages you want on your site then modify this menu.

Please note that the logo or site name is generally controlled by your theme and can usually be found in Appearance > Customize (with a live preview for editing).

There are many ways you can provide a clear way for your readers to find the section they want to find. Check out your favorite bloggers’ sites for inspiration (though you may be confined on design by your theme).

Footer

The footer of your site is the menu located at the very bottom of the screen.

Generally the footer will contain your copyright information (even if you don’t have a formal copyright you can write in “COPYRIGHT [YEAR] BLOG NAME”) and links to your Privacy Policy or other legal pages.

For inspiration, look at the footer of your favorite bloggers to see how they create and manage their footer information. It doesn’t have to be fancy!

As a side note, the footer may also be found within your theme settings! It all depends on how the theme was set-up.

On many of my own sites, I use Elementor Pro (there is a free version) that has a separate section to create headers and foots.

Widgets

Widgets are basically little programs on your site that are created by your theme or with plugins. They can be used in different locations (mostly based on your theme).

To access all of your widgets:

  • Go to your Dashboard (wp-admin)
  • Click on Appearance > Widgets

Here you will see all the different widgets you can choose from – text fields, image fields, embed fields, and so much more!

In the window you will also see the different widget areas you have on your blog, including your sidebar.

Find the widget that you want to update then drag and drop elements (widgets) into the area.

For example, say you want to update the widgets in your sidebar – find the sidebar widget area and then search the available widgets for text fields, image fields, html fields, or whatever you want. Drag and drop them in the menu and hit the triangle to open or close the edit options for each.

Make sure to save your changes as you go for each widget area!

Your Homepage

Many bloggers start with their blog being their landing page (meaning their “blog archive” is the first thing readers will see if they go to your URL). This will be the default setting in WordPress.

The phrase “blog archive” refers to the feed of all of your blog posts in order of posting. How this will look depends on the theme you choose.

Other bloggers want a static landing page (meaning a single page created for the initial experience for readers):

Why Use a Static Homepage

Using a static landing page for your blog homepage can clearly outline the intention of your blog and provide an easy way to create sale funnels and opt in offers right off the bat.

Think of it like your chance to put your best foot forward marketing to you readers.

That isn’t to say you want to hit up your reader with tons of prompts and sale offers!

You want to welcome your reader and provide a clear impression of the purpose of your blog: How will your blog help them? Why would they want to return to read more? Why would the reader want to subscribe to your email newsletter (opt in)?

Personally, if there is an instant ask to sign up or purchase something, this mama will leave the site. Why would you sign up for something before you even know anything about the blog?!

Plus, if you set up content pillars (covered later), this is a great way for your readers to navigate to the information they are actually looking for.

Once again, search your competitors or look at sites you enjoy. Do they have static homepages? What kind of content do they share?

How To Change To A Static Homepage

Some themes will automatically set you up with a homepage you can build without any real work on your part.

However, if you need to set this up on your own, here is how to do it:

Please note that this workflow for creating the page may merely require you to modify a page that already exists from your theme (meaning you may not need to create a new page if it already exists).

  1. Go to Pages > Add New from your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Create a page called “Home” or whatever you wish to title the homepage.
  3. Modify the page however you want. Make sure to change the setting to “full width page” in the right panel.
  4. Once finished, click “Publish”
  5. Go to Settings > Reading from your WordPress dashboard.
  6. Change the setting from “Your latest posts” to “A static page”
  7. Select your new Homepage from the dropdown.

The image below shows the homepage and posts page created by a theme. Choose the page title you have created.

Wordpress settings to change your homepage to a static page for your mom blog.

Static Homepage Suggestions

Do you want more from your homepage than what your theme or WordPress allows?

Many themes may come with a static homepage option. But, if it doesn’t, how do you create a homepage that you can customize without the help of a developer?

As mentioned before, if you are still debating on your blog theme, the Astra theme has fantastic homepage designs (but you will also need Elementor Pro to take advantage of the theme – but Elementor is by far the easiest page building plugin I have ever used).

To find example homepages that look amazing, you can always search for images or reviews online of other homepages.

TIP: Do you love a theme you found on another blog and want to know what it is? Follow these instructions to discover the theme the site is using!

WordPress Settings

Now that you have a theme, there are some details you need to work out within WordPress.

Some of these suggested settings changes some from SEO recommendations and others are from courses and research I have completed.

Here are the suggested settings changes (and places to enter your blog information):

General Blog Settings

Some of these settings will already be set for you when you linked your blog host to WordPress. But, it’s a good idea to double check that everything is filled out correctly.

Here are some areas in WordPress to update information about your blog (found in the dashboard of your blog):

  • Settings > General: Ensure that your blog name, tagline and general information are filled out correctly.
  • Settings > Reading: Make sure search engines can find your site! The box for “Search Engine Visibility” should NOT be checked. You WANT search engines to find your site!
  • Settings > Privacy: Every blog should have a privacy policy. For now, you can just go to the Privacy section and create a default privacy policy (WordPress can create one for you). We will look more at how to get your legal pages set up later in this post. For now, just make sure you have one!

User Information

Whether you are the only writer on your blog or not, make sure you go to Users > Your Profile from your WordPress dashboard to make sure all your information is displayed correctly.

  • Do you want your name to appear in your blog? Change this in the “display name publicly as” section. If and where your name is shown is determined by your theme.
  • Do you want to display a short biography? Again, this is mostly determined by your theme. Enter this under “Biographical info”.
  • Do you want to upload an image of yourself? Add this under “Profile Picture”. Yup, this is also depending on your theme if it will display anywhere.

There are other fields you can fill out if you choose, as well and some preferences that affects your dashboard but will not change your site.

Make sure to click “Update Profile” at the bottom after any changes are made.

As a side note, make sure your password is “Strong” to keep your site as safe as possible from hackers!

Remove The Date From Your Posts

The thought behind removing the dates from your posts are to provide content (whether it be seasonal or evergreen) that never appears old. Plus, your URLs will look much cleaner.

If you don’t change the default setting, your blog URLs will appear like “myblog .com/2019/2/9/blog-post-title/”. By removing the date, your URL will look like “myblog .com/blog-post-title/”.

By removing the date from your posts, you are able to create content and have readers be unaware of when the article was written.

There are some people who prefer to display the date, especially if their content relies on the dates for accuracy (like a product review site – the date helps readers know how relevant the information is). For the vast majority of us, it’s best just to remove it.

Note that if you have already launched and wish to change the format of your URLS, you will need to redirect the old URLs to the new format BEFORE you change this setting. See my post on plugins for ways to do this.

Settings > Permalinks: Select “Post name” so the date does not display.

Plus, “Plain” is usually selected by default and will make your URLs not so pretty.

If you do not create redirections, any links you have on the internet will receive a 404 error when readers navigate to your site (meaning your page or post will not display, only an error message).

Keep in mind that although your reader can’t see the date, Google can. According to some, Google is more interested in the last time the content was updated rather than the original publish date. (source)

Plugins add funcationality to your blog. There are TONS to choose from. But you’ll want to choose the right ones for your blog.

Just remember that you want to limit the number of plugins you install on your blog – the more plugins you have the longer it may take to load your site!

See this post to see all the plugins I recommend (most have a free option!) that I have actually used (or currently use).

Google

Google. The number one search engine everyone is trying to master. Google has complex algorithms that every blogger tries to understand but can’t (only those at Google REALLY know what they’re looking for).

While we aren’t going to dive into SEO (that will be here), below are some things to set up for your blog:

Google Analytics

If you want to succeed at blogging, you need to be able to tell what is working and what is not.

To do that, you need to see the numbers. So, here’s how you connect your site to Google (your site does not need to be live/launched, though you will understandably not see metrics until your site is live):

Note: In a lot of forums and blog conversations, you may see Google Analytics listed merely as “GA”.

  1. Go to analytics.google.com
  2. Sign in with a Google account (or create one)
  3. Follow the prompts and enter your website name and URL (note that you will need to specify http or https depending on whether or not you purchased an SSL)
  4. You can now either link your account to a plugin on your blog (like MonsterInsights) or authenticate your account by adding code to the <head> (see the Plugins section for a helpful plugin to use for this). Most bloggers like to be able to see their numbers through their blog AND through the Google Analytics app or online, so authenticate if you want more visibility.
  5. If you choose to authenticate your account, go to the Admin section of Google Analytics (should be found on the left bottom of the screen with a gear).
  6. Click on Tracking Info > Tracking Code
  7. You will now see a bunch of HTML code to place above the <head> section of your site.
  8. Copy and paste the code above the <head> section of your site (in the plugin if you choose)
  9. Once your site is live, want to test if it worked? Click the button near the top that says “send test traffic”

Google also has instructions on connecting your blog to analytics here.

You’re all set!

You won’t be able to do much testing to ensure it’s all hooked up correctly until after you launch.

Check out the plugins you can use to display your analytics right in WordPress here.

Google Search Console

The next thing you want to do is claim your sight through Google Search Console. You are merely validating that the site is one that you own:

  1. Go to Google Search Console
  2. Login with a Google account (the same one you used for Google Analytics)
  3. Follow the prompts to fill out any required information about your blog.
  4. Go to Settings > Ownership verification
  5. You will presented with a number of ways to claim your account (the easiest are adding more code to the <head>, use your Google Analytics account or verify through your blog host)
  6. If one method doesn’t work, try another. You are all done when you see you are confirmed.

You can also submit an index of your site to Search Console to help Google see your site structure. But, according to some sources, indexing has not been shown to help your blog much. Google will crawl your site (meaning basically scan and read every page and piece of content) and have the best information that way. (source)

Check out this post about legal pages on your site.

The confusing (and at times scary) part of creating a blog is trying to understand the legal side of blogging.

  • What kind of legal documents do you need?
  • Should you form a company (LLC, etc)?
  • What in the world is GDPR and CCPA?

While these are all things you will need at least a basic understanding of, there are sources to help you.

Legal Pages

Yes, there are free legal page builders out there. But, they are notoriously unreliable. My blogging lawyer friend says she reviewed a couple of the most common sources and found gaping holes in the language that leave you vulnerable for lawsuits!

In a nutshell, here are the legal page you should include on your site:

  • Privacy Policy (required by CAN-SPAM)
  • Disclaimer (required if you monetize your blog)
  • Terms And Conditions
  • Cookie Policy (usually in response to GDPR &CCPA – info to follow)
  • CCPA

Final Thoughts

Starting a blog can be amazingly overwhelming between learning new skills, potentially perplexing technology, and the ins and outs of the million things to run a blogging business.

Download a PDF of this blog post for reference or print out (free!). No email required.

Need help setting up or maintaining your site? Check out our services!

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