I get a lot of questions from friends about how to start a blog.  I’ve set up a lot of friends with a blog over the years, and have been noticing that the whole process is getting easier and easier.  So I thought I’d write up how we normally get a blog started, so that anyone could just do it for themselves.  This will be part of a series of posts on how to get started with blogging, starting with the technical stuff.

These days, it’s pretty easy to start a blog:

  1. Get your own domain and webhost
  2. Setup WordPress
  3. Add a beautiful design

1. Get your own domain and webhost

When I set up my first blog years ago, I used a free blog hosting service. It ended up being a lot of work to move my blog to its own website at a later point – plus I had to ask everyone that had linked to me to link to my new site. So now I recommend buying your own domain name and using a real webhost right from the start.

Please note: I recommend a number of services below, all of which I use or have used in the past. These are all services I’m very confident recommending, based on my experience and research. Some of the recommendations include affiliate links, which means that Hellobee earns a commission if you click the link and buy.

Picking a domain

First you have to pick your domain name. Picking your domain is a very personal decision, and it often takes me days to come up with a domain that feels right.

Take Hellobee, for example: at first, we weren’t sure what to call it. Babybee.com was taken, and even if we wanted to buy it, there are so many trademarks with that phrase in it that we weren’t sure it would work. What if we bought babybee.com, and then someone else sued us claiming a trademark violation? That froze us up for a while and we weren’t sure how to proceed.

Then one day, Mr. Bee was brainstorming names for a possible personal site for me and came up with hellobee.com. Makes sense for a personal site, right? It was easy to see a tagline along the lines of, “Hello, it’s Bee!” We were both pretty excited, and even more so when we discovered that while someone else did own the URL… the hellobee.com domain was due to expire that very week. It felt like destiny! I registered with a domain sniping service, and we crossed our fingers… and then later that week, we got the email. Hellobee.com was ours! I was so excited.

So now I had a domain name for my personal site… but still wasn’t sure what to call the baby site. Coming up with names is just so hard. But then one day, it hit us: what if we shelved a personal site, and just used the Hellobee.com domain for the baby site? To help people understand what the site was all about, we could add a tagline to the header that said something like, “Say Hello To Baby.” Maybe that would help people make the connection between “hellobee” and parenting? We were both pretty nervous that people would be confused.

In the end though, there’s something about the name “hellobee” that just felt friendly and catchy. (I guess we like friendly names, since we named our kids Charlie and Olive.) So we went with hellobee.com!

As you come up with ideas for domain names, you can check if they’re available here. Side note: there are a wide range of options for the end of your domain name: .com, .net, .org, and more. I recommend that you go with .com, unless you absolutely can’t come up with a domain that’s available.

Picking a webhost

Once you have a domain picked, you have to pick your webhosting service. There are lots of options, but it comes down to one key question: do you mind having roommates?

What I mean is that picking a webhosting service is like moving to a big city. It’d be ideal to rent a big apartment all by yourself, but often that’s not in the budget. So a lot of people end up renting an apartment with a roommate, to save money until they can afford to get a place of their own.

Webhosting works the same way: you can either rent your own webserver all by yourself, or you can share a webserver with a bunch of other websites.  The first option is called dedicated hosting, and it costs a good amount of money. When your website gets millions of pageviews a month, you’ll probably need a dedicated host of your own and a webmaster to administer the server. That usually isn’t really an option when you’re just getting started out, since it’s so expensive.

The second option is called shared hosting, and is a lot cheaper. Basically, you share a single server with a bunch of other websites. Unless you have a huge budget, it makes sense to go with shared hosting until your site is bigger and generating more revenue.

One of the best shared hosting is Bluehost. They have an 99.910% uptime percentage according to Best Host Ratings (which gives you a sense for how reliable the site is), and an A+ rating at the Better Business Bureau (which gives you a sense for how responsive they are to customer service).

Lifehacker lists 4 other options in their article on “five best webhosting companies“: Dreamhost, Linode, HostGator and A Small Orange. Here are their BBB grades in order: Dreamhost F, Linode D, HostGator A+, and A Small Orange A+. I had a bad experience with HostGator last year, so can’t recommend them. But A Small Orange has a good uptime percentage and BBB rating like Bluehost, so they look like a good choice too.

My top recommendation for shared hosting though – just based on personal experience – is BlueHost. They’re offering a special rate of $3.95/month that’s a great place to get started:

2. Setup WordPress

Once you’ve bought a domain and setup your shared hosting, now it’s time to setup your blogging software.

I recommend WordPress. We use it for Hellobee, and it’s pretty much the program most people use when they install blogging software on their own server.

To install WordPress on BlueHost, first sign in and click on Hosting and then Server.

There will be a a section called Website Builders with the WordPress logo.  Go ahead and click on that:

That will bring you to a page with a one-click installation process.  Go ahead and click on that:

Now, just check off the terms and conditions and click Install Now!

The installation process takes a few minutes. Once it’s done, the installation wizard will show you a fancy theme upgrade and ask if you want to pay for it. Just dismiss the premium theme offer by clicking, “No thanks, I am (or know) a web designer.” Bluehost will email you your login, and you can get started!

3. Add a beautiful design

Adding a beautiful design is one of the hardest parts of setting up a blog!  When I set up my first blog back in 2006, I just asked Mr. Bee’s friend to come up with a quick and simple design in a couple hours. Now though, a professionally designed site has become standard. We hired Lauren O’Neill to design the Hellobee website, and Minhee of Paper+Cup to create many of the graphic elements you see on the site, including buttons, layouts, printables, etc.

Most people don’t have a budget to hire a designer at first though. There’s something called the Genesis Framework though, and it’s a great place to get started with a new site. It costs around $60, and automatically takes care of a lot of the tricky stuff for you. For example, their themes have built in mobile layouts, so you don’t have to pay a programmer to make your site mobile-friendly. That’s especially important these days; just for Hellobee, smartphones and tables make up over 2/3 of all the traffic that we receive! So it’s really important that your site look good on phones and tablets, which Genesis should take care of for you.

A lot of designers uses this framework to generate their own Genesis-compatible themes that you can purchase (they’re called “child themes”). There are some free ones too which I recommend as a starting place, including the lovely Unfiltered theme available here.

To download it, just click the button called “Download Zip” – then upload it to your server and activate!

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That’s the basics for getting started!  We’re going to be posting a series of posts about how to build a blog; you’ll be able to see the posts here:

Be sure to check it out for updates – and good luck with your parenting blog!