Learn how to start a WordPress blog. Whether you are just getting started in the blogging world, or switching over to a self-hosted WordPress blog, you’ve come to the right place. For this post, I’ve compiled a list of useful plugins, resources, and some steps to get you on your way.
Starting a blog is extremely fun, especially for a designer like myself, but with so many options and things to think about, it can become stressful really quickly! Now, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve been through the ringer a time or two, and I thought I would share some of my best resources with you to help you make the most of your time and keep having fun while you get your blog going.
First things first—hosting. Ok, so not the most exciting part of the process, but necessary none the less. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of what hosting is, but if you are going to have your own WordPress blog, you are going to need it. I strongly recommend Bluehost. Bluehost was recommended to me when I was in college learning the basics of web design, and I’ve never regretted using them—they are affordable, reliable, and you can host as many websites and domains as you want! Definitely check them out.
Ok, this is one of my favorite parts! Having you own, self-hosted WordPress blog has SO many advantages, but I mostly love the freedom it gives you to customize the look and feel of your blog however you want, whenever you want. Don’t let this overwhelm you though. The awesome thing about WordPress is the endless amount of templates! You don’t have to know any code to have a super sleek website—isn’t that awesome!?
If you are a female blogger, you might spend time looking through the templates on Theme Forest or Mojo Marketplace and think, “These are nice…but I want something pretty.” I’ve been there! The lack of really beautiful feminine WordPress themes is astounding. But, after hours of searching I found and awesome site with nothing but stunning, female-oriented WordPress themes—BluChic. You seriously need to check them out! But good luck deciding which one to get—they are all so beautiful. The theme I went with is called Naomi, and I love it!
This is my second favorite thing about having a self-hosted WordPress blog—plugins! If you have something you want on your blog, there is a plugin for it. Here are just a few that I’ve found to be super useful:
- jQuery Pin It Button For Images – I can’t lend my support for this plugin enough! I spent more time looking for a good “pin it” button plugin than anything else, and this one is the ONLY one I would recommend. The others were not nearly as capable, and one even screwed up the design of my blog when I installed it—terrible. But, this one is so easy to use, and makes it easy to upload your own custom “pin it” button design as well.
- Contact Form 7 – This is an easy to use contact form plugin that you can install to make it easy for your readers to reach out to you. I prefer this to the regular WordPress contact form mostly for the cleaner look and the fact that it can be somewhat customized.
- WP Gallery Custom Links – This one was a must for me. I hate it when I am looking for a specific blog post on someone else’s site and, when I click their drop down menu, it takes me to a long list of every blog post they’ve ever done that happens to include that tag. I much prefer to have a gallery of pictures with just the title to look through—much cleaner. This plugin was the answer to my prayers: it allows you to make a gallery of thumbnail-sized images and link them to your posts.
- EZ InLinkz Linkup – This is a handy plugin for anyone who host a link party on their site.
- Ninja Forms – I know that most bloggers like to use Google Forms for surveys, or to have their readers sign up for something, but if you want to include a a more permanent form on your blog, I would recommend Ninja Forms. Ninja forms have a much better look and feel when they are embedded into a site, and have tons more capabilities when it comes to automated messaging.
- Blogger 301 Redirect – This one if for all of you making the blogger to WordPress switch! I was in your shoes a few months ago, and it terrified me—I was SO scared of losing my content and traffic. This plugin has to be the most amazing plugin EVER! When it finally came time to switch everything over, it took me a total of five minutes, and I was up and going because of this bad boy. It is definitely a must if you are switching!
Making it Yours
As a designer, this part is absolutely essential to me (and extremely fun)! But you don’t have to be a graphic designer to do it. Once you have a beautiful template installed, it’s time to tweak it and make it all your own. And you can do that with just a few simple things too: a header, favicon, custom social media buttons, a unique “pin it” button, and other fun design elements.
This one is the most important. Deciding how you want to display your blog title takes a lot of time, thought, and research. What do you want to say about your blog? What kind of a feel are you looking for? What do you want your readers to think when they see it? And How the heck are you going to make it in the first place?
I could go into this so much more, but I’ll leave you with just a few tips to get you going.
- Hit up Pinterest – Find lots and lots of designs you like. Then, narrow it down to a few simple elements that you think would work for your logo.
- Make use of pre-made design elements – Using pre-made design elements can save you tons of time and can make your header look professional with very little effort. If you explore my blog, you’ll find that I offer tons of free design elements for people to use. The most popular by far is my laurel wreath graphics—lots of bloggers and Etsy shop owners have used these to make their logos look sleek and feminine. Note: if you are going to use these in you main logo design I do require purchasing a commercial license ($10). Also, Creative Market can be a great place to find really well-crafted digital clipart to add to your design.
- Don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator? Use PicMonkey – I could never get by without Illustrator, and if you’re planning on designing thing at a basic level often, I would recommend buying Photoshop, but if you’re not quite ready to take that leap, PicMonkey can be a great resource. Here’s a simple tutorial to get you started.
- When in doubt, keep it simple! – I can’t stress this enough. The number one struggle I’ve seen is failure to just keep it simple. You don’t need to tell your life story with your logo, and the more you try, the more cluttered it’s going to get. Some of the best blog headers I’ve seen were just the name of the blog in a clean typeface and one design element with it. I know it might not seem as eye-catching at first, but trust me, you’ll like it for a lot longer in the end.
Custom “pin it” buttons are another great way to add an element of fun to your blog and help increase your Pinterest reach. Check out these beautiful black, white, and gold “pin it” buttons.
Don’t Forget the Favicon
I don’t mean to be nitpicky, but this is a pet peeve of mine. Someone goes to all the trouble to create this nice blog, and they don’t make a custom Favicon. A favicon is that little 16 x 16 pixel image used in the tabs of your browser (mine is the pink circle with the letter ‘M’). I know it seems like a minor detail, but when you have 15 tabs open (like I often do) it can be the way you find know how to get back to a site you were looking at previously. Plus, if you leave it as the default logo, not only is it not unique, but your website becomes free advertisement for your blog’s host. Bottom line, use photoshop, PicMonkey, whatever, and make a beautiful little mark for yourself.
Feeling a Bit Overwhelmed
“There are just too many things to think about—I’m not a designer, and I don’t have the time to teach myself how to do all this, but I still want my blog to look beautiful.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I totally respect that. Sometimes you have to pick your battles, and if you’re not totally familiar with Illustrator, Photoshop, or PicMonkey, it is definitely going to take time. Or maybe you’ve taken the DIY route before, and you know how difficult it can be. Either way, having someone else take the reins can be a huge relief and leave you time to focus on other important things.
I actually offer a variety or blog kits in my shop, and the selection is always expanding! If you’re looking for a stunning, profession blog design, I’ve got what you need.
An example of one of my branding sets: The Photography Blogger Toolkit
There you have it: my tips and tricks to get you started on WordPress!
What other tips and resources would you suggest for bloggers that are just getting started with a self-hosted WordPress site?
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