How to Start a WordPress Blog: A Guide to Themes, Plugins, Hosting and More!
WordPress has long been the world’s most popular content management system. However, while today it can be used to power virtually any nature of website, WordPress began as a simple blogging platform. Even now, more and more blogs are being built using WordPress.
The question is, how do you build a blog using WordPress? Are there any special considerations that you must keep in mind? Simply put, what is needed when you intend to start a blog with WordPress?
If you have ever faced such questions, this page will answer them all. We will now discuss how to successfully start a blog using WordPress.
How to Start a WordPress Blog
Basically, there are certain things that you need in order to start a WordPress blog. These can vary depending on the nature of your blog, but here is a broad list:
- Domain name
- Web hosting
- Getting the most out of WordPress
- WordPress themes and plugins
Domain Name and Web Hosting
The first thing you will need is a name and home for your blog. In essence, you need to decide on a domain name for your WordPress blog.
It is a good idea to separate your domain name registration from web hosting. Always buy your domain names from an accredited registrar, such as Namecheap. Likewise, opt for a web hosting provider who has earned a good reputation, but avoid purchasing your domain names from your web hosting provider. Furthermore, try not to fall for the “free domain name” marketing ploy, it generally ends up costing people more headaches in the future. Read more about the importance of separating domain name registration and web hosting on this post.
Once you have secured a domain name from a reputed registrar, you will need to select a web hosting provider. It is very easy to make a bad pick here, simply because there are way too many web hosting providers out there and a good number of them offer below par service.
However, that does not mean there is any shortage of good web hosts. You can make use of our rankings and reviews to learn more about which web host you should pick (and which ones you should avoid). Furthermore, here are some rules of thumb that you should bear in mind:
- Avoid unlimited web hosting providers. “Unlimited” is just a marketing terminology — no hardware in this can offer unlimited storage.
- Try to stay away from EIG web hosts. Read more about this here.
- Instead of searching on Google for a web hosting provider, try to read forum posts on portals such as Web Hosting Talk.
- Most web hosting review sites are just placeholders for affiliate links — be wary when you find a review that is too positive (and repeatedly asks you to click a specific link to sign up and get a discount).
- Look for certain features: clearly specified memory limits, regular backups and restores, latest software versions for cPanel, Softaculous, etc. If a web host refuses to share details about server memory and hardware because “our policy prevents us from telling you”, stay away from them.
With that said, if you still are at a loss about which web hosting provider will be a good fit for your needs, here are some reputable names:
Setting up WordPress
Now, once you have purchased a domain name and web hosting, it is time to start building your blog. In order to use a WordPress blog, you will first need to setup, well…. WordPress itself!
Most decent web hosting providers offer a one-click installation for WordPress. This can be accomplished by going to an auto-installer program like Softaculous within the cPanel menu.
While installing WordPress is a piece of cake, you need to take extra care to ensure that your website is safe and secure. Make sure your database and table prefixes have been changed from the default wp_ to something else — this can be anything of your choosing. This makes it difficult for bots to inject code into your database. Similarly, avoid using the default “admin” username for the WordPress administrator account.
Lastly, make sure you use a strong password that is hard to guess.
Learn more about WordPress safety ideas here.
Getting Started with WordPress
Now that you have installed and setup WordPress, how do you get things started?
WordPress will provide you with all the blogging features that you need, right out of the box. You can find the ability to create posts and pages, monitor and curate comments, add images and other media, and so on. However, there is more to blogging than just that.
The world of WordPress themes is immense and it is easy for a beginner to feel confused.
Basically, a WordPress theme lets you personalize the appearance of your website by adding a new design layout or structure. You can choose any free WordPress theme that you like, or you can go for a premium WordPress theme that is not free. While the general notion is that premium WordPress themes are better than free ones, this is just a marketing ploy for the most part. You can expect to get good quality support for your premium WordPress theme, but when WordPress themes are concerned, you should not need support very often. If you do, you will spend more time customizing your theme than blogging — not a good idea, is it?
So the question is, where can you find good quality WordPress themes?
For free themes, make sure you refer only to the official WordPress repository. Nowhere else! It is easy to hide malicious code, viruses, malware and even secret adware in theme files. If you are downloading from unknown sources, your website can easily be infected. Themes in the official repository are quality tested for coding standards and are also guaranteed to be free from malware. Looking for free WordPress themes elsewhere is always a bad idea.
For premium and paid WordPress themes, there are many established theme shops that you can purchase themes from. Most of them offer a club membership program too, which entitles you to access all of their themes for a given period of time. This is useful if you have multiple blogs or websites and are looking for a new theme for each of them. Some well known WordPress theme sellers are:
Some things to bear in mind when selecting a WordPress theme:
- Make sure your theme is responsive and fully mobile-optimized.
- If a WordPress theme offers way too many features that are beyond its scope — SEO, shortcodes, custom post types, etc — avoid it. Down the road, you will find yourself locked down to this particular theme as its custom features will not work with any other theme.
- If your WordPress theme requires you to install multiple external plugins (especially if those plugins are not in the official repository), avoid it. (Not familiar with WordPress plugins yet? Read on.)
- Be sure to ask theme seller about their support and refund policy. Generally, it is the norm for theme sellers to provide 12 months of updates and support for no additional cost.
- If in doubt, use the Theme Check plugin to scan your WordPress theme. If it returns any red flags, you should probably consider staying away from that WordPress theme.
After WordPress themes, the next big thing that we need to talk about are WordPress plugins. Essentially, a WordPress plugin can be used to extend the functionality of WordPress. Say, for example, WordPress offers the ability to allow your users to comment on your posts. You can use a plugin to extend this ability — say, allow users to sign in via social networks before commenting, or allow them to upvote and downvote comments, or even turn off all comments globally on your site.
Pretty much like WordPress themes, WordPress plugins too are available both as free and premium variants. However, unlike WordPress themes, WordPress plugins need to be used in more than one capacity. That is, you can have multiple plugins active on your site at the same time. Be cautious though, too many WordPress plugins can slow down your site especially if you are on a shared hosting package! It is a good idea to keep the number of active plugins to the bare minimum, so as to not compromise server stability.
Unfortunately, the problem of plenty means for each good WordPress plugin, there are many bad ones that perform the same function. Thus, you need to be cautious when selecting a WordPress plugin. Also, it is not always easy to migrate away from a WordPress plugin — say, you use a shortcode plugin to add tables on your site. Now, if you were to change the plugin, your existing tables will not work. There is no easy workaround to this, sadly. As a result, the best thing to do is to try and pick the perfect WordPress plugin right from the start, so as to avoid migration headaches later on.
Here is a list of some of the best WordPress plugins (only free ones) that can prove useful for your website or blog:
- For search engine optimization, the best bet would be Yoast SEO or All in One SEO Pack. Both of these plugins have been in active development for years now and have a loyal following of millions of users. Whichever one you pick, make sure you install only one of these and not both — since both of them perform the same function, conflicts can arise if both are active at the same time.
- Make sure you have a good security WordPress plugin in place. Wordfence Security should almost always be preferred; Sucuri SiteCheck is also a worthy plugin in this field. Read more about WordPress security and related tips and tricks on this page.
- For caching, the options are plenty and most of them are praiseworthy. WP Super Cache is the most popular one and is developed by Automattic (the company behind WordPress), so you cannot possibly go wrong with it. However, for performance benchmarks and in terms of features, WP Fastest Cache almost always beats the other plugins in its league — sadly, its interface is not as eye-pleasing as that of the others.
- Of late, there has been a tendency among many LiteSpeed web hosts to install LiteSpeed Cache WordPress plugin by default on all WordPress websites hosted with them. Personally, I have not experienced any gigantic speed boosts from this plugin, but for what it is worth, this plugin supports object caching and code minification, so it is a solid pick for most websites.
- In terms of optimization, you should install a database cleanup plugin, such as WP Optimize. Next, you can also install a speed boost plugin, such as Autoptimize. It is also a good idea to install a solution such as Jetpack that offers a conglomerate of features in terms of optimization, security, statistics, etc.
Beyond that, you can pick WordPress plugins as per your needs, such as blogging, eCommerce, and so on. Some useful things that you can bear in mind when picking a WordPress plugin are as follows:
- Make sure you opt for a plugin that is not very new and has been updated at a regular pace.
- Also, look at the number of active users, and read some reviews about the WordPress plugin.
- If the plugin is not GPL, avoid it by all means. All plugins in the official repository are GPL, but for premium plugins, you can simply ask the developer about the licenses.
- Lastly, if you are on a shared web hosting provider, try to outsource some of the tasks to other services rather than using plugins. For instance, you can use a cloud service such as Contextly to showcase related posts on your articles, rather than having a plugin scan your database for related posts and cause server memory consumption. Similarly, you can use a service such as MailChimp to send email newsletters, rather than sending email from within WordPress and possibly having your account suspended (many web hosts have stiff limits on the number of emails you can send per hour).
So far, we have learned about web hosting for WordPress websites, WordPress setup as well as WordPress themes and plugins. Once you have started a blog with WordPress, you also need to keep it in good health and maintain it. Thus, you need to publish good content at regular intervals, share it on social media, and build a loyal readership.
Blogging requires a good deal of patience as no publication can grow overnight. So be prepared to spend some time on your blog. Eventually, you will see your readership graph going higher. The rewards are plenty, but patience is a virtue in the world of blogging.
Have you been running a blog on WordPress? How has your experience been? Share your views and thoughts with us in the comments below!