Starting A Blog, Part 1: Getting started with a platform, hosting and plugins

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This is the first post in our “How to Start a Blog Series”, here are the last 3 posts:

  1. Starting A Blog, Part 2: Blogging basics and no-nos
  2. Starting A Blog, Part 3: How to Make Money Blogging
  3. Starting A Blog, Part 4: Optimizing your blog

We’re often contacted by up-and coming bloggers, or people who are interested in starting a blog, looking for advice. I’m going to try and do my best to compile everything I can come up with here.

Note: this is my take on things, you can definitely do things other ways. Also, some things will be specific to frugal blogging, as that is our  expertise.

Pick a platform

If you’re looking to blog for free, then you’ll need to use blogspot, wordpress.com, or some other free blog hosting service. The main downside is that you really have no control over your blog. If you think you may want to treat your blog as a business in the future, I would not recommend these options. If you’re just looking for something very simple to get into, and maybe for just a personal blog, those services are fantastic.

My recommendation: use the WordPress.org platform. With your own install of WordPress on a webhost of your choosing, you are in complete control of your blog. All content is completely managed by you. The rest of this article is going to focus on and apply to using WordPress.

Pick a theme

There are TONS of free themes to pick from at WordPress.org. There are also lots of paid themes; we use Thesis, which is a very popular blogging theme. If you’d like to customize your own theme, you could also try Artisteer. Honestly, Thesis is a much better choice, as it is more than just a design – it has TONS of built in functionality, but Artisteer can be fun to play around with.

Pick a webhost

For beginners I recommend Blue Host; setup is a breeze with 1-click script install, and their tech support is top notch. They helped me migrate my database over, and then when there was an issue they helped me fix it in just a couple minutes. Absolutely amazing – $6.95/month is not a bad price either. Granted, it’s not the cheapest hosting, but you DEFINITELY get what you pay for.

If you’re already established and are looking for more than shared hosting, check out Part 4: Optimizing your blog for info on VPS setups.

Download and install WordPress

You don’t even have to download WordPress with Blue Host – just use their 1-click install script to install it. But in case you need it, you can download wordpress here.

WordPress Hints

First thing to do – go make your links look decent (or “pretty”). Login to your wordpress install, go to Settings>Permalinks. I use the Custom Structure option with the following code: /%postname%/
This results in this page URL being http://yourdomain.com/your-post-title/ instead of http://yourdomain.com/?p=12345. It looks much more professional that way,

Here is a list of plugins that we use or have used. There are TONS of plugins out there, hopefully this will save you some time searching.

  • AdRotate – The very best and most convenient way to publish your ads.
  • And the Winner is… – AWESOME plugin for picking giveaway winners out ofcomments on a post
  • Clean Contact – Basic contact form
  • Datafeedr Random Ads v2 – allows you to simply and easily show randomized ads anywhere in your template files or using widgets
  • Duplicate Post – lets you create an exact copy of an existing post so you can edit freely without messing up prior content
  • Facebook Share (New) – adds the little Facebook share button to your posts and pages
  • Google Analyticator -inserts your Analytics tracking code for you and lets you see your stats in your Dashboard
  • Google Analytics for WordPress – inserts your Analytics tracking code for you
  • Google XML Sitemaps – generates a special XML sitemap which helps search engines better index your blog
  • Mobile Press – automatically sense mobile browsers and delivers a mobile-friendly version of your site
  • Print Friendly & PDF – allows your readers to print a clutter free page
  • Search Meter – keeps track of what your visitors are searching for
  • Subscribe to comments – allows your readers to get updates when a newcomment is posted on a post they subscribe to
  • Twitter Tools – automatically sends out a tweet whenever you write a new post
  • W3 Total Cache – The ultimate caching plugin. Don’t need this when you first start out, but definitely comes in handy later.
  • WordPress.com Popular Posts – Shows the most popular posts, using data collected by WordPress.com stats plugin.
  • WordPress.com Stats – lets you see your pageviews right in your WP dashboard
  • WordPress Editorial Calendar – makes it possible to see all your posts and drag and drop them to manage your blog
  • WP Greet Box – Greets each visitor with a unique message depending on how they found your site
  • WP Super Cache – Another caching plugin; if W3 Total Cache doesn’t work for you, try this.

Keep in mind – there are LOTS more plugins that do LOTS of different things – spend some time searching the WordPress codex for plugins whenever you need something done. Chances are, someone has made a plugin for it already.

Want to start selling product? I tried a couple WordPress store plugins – I needed a store to handle processing sales/payments, I needed a membership plugin to allow people to pay for protected content, and I needed an affiliate plugin to track all my affiliate sales.
This package handled that with flying colors, and it was the cheapest AND easiest to implement :

WP Affiliate PlatformWordPress Membership PluginWP Shopping Cart

Need more plugins? Check out the WordPress codex.

Have questions about plugins? Ask in the comments and I’ll see if I can find something for you.

This is the first post in our “How to Start a Blog Series”, here are the next 3 posts:

  1. Starting A Blog, Part 2: Blogging basics and no-nos
  2. Starting A Blog, Part 3: How to Make Money Blogging
  3. Starting A Blog, Part 4: Optimizing your blog

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(12 Comments)

Comments

  1. Jeanette Branham says:

    Our Facebook group is branching out into the Blogging world. There is so much to learn out there. I must say that this is the most valuable information I have found yet on starting a blog. I visit your site daily to find deals etc. It is great to see that you are willing to help out others who are just getting started. I am proud to say that The Frugal Find is one of the best sites on the Web. Thank you so much!

  2. Great info! Thanks!! No definitely plans on starting a business just yet, but I will have to bookmark this for future reference. ;) Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  3. Jennifer says:

    This is great! I’ve seen a lot of people cover how to get started in blogging, but there is one piece of the puzzle I never see mentioned. How in the coupon blogging world do you use someone else’s post for the store deals. For example some sites have “experts” for each store because it would be almost impossible to list the deals for all the stores yourself. So I guess my question is when I see these types of posts that say XXXX is the “Frugal Find’s” store expert for CVS (for example) have you/another blogging site specifically contacted this person to ask her to do this?

    • Jennifer, great question. Typically when you’re starting out you trade store deal with another blogger. The key is to NEVER copy the entire list – you simply highlight 5 or 6 of the deal and then link back to the original blogger for the full list. In the case of a “Store Expert” these are typically paid jobs. Does that help?

  4. I’m curious what you use for commenting that merges Facebook comments with the regular blog comments. Is that a WordPress plugin? Thanks!

  5. Hello!! I am loving how your doing this because I am just about to start a blog with a friend. But my question is, How do you get into getting paid to advertise? I saw that somewhere and now can’t find it. Thanks again for your awesome work!!

    This site was the first one I came across when I started getting into couponing and I learned A LOT! :)

  6. I read your posts regularly thru your rss feed and I’m happy to see you providing such good advice regarding setting up a blog, specifically pointing out what a worthwhile investment it is to start with wordpress.org.

    Another downfall of blogger or wordpress.com is their restrictions on advertising/affiliate income – you must read their TOS very carefully as they can and will delete your site without warning if you are not in compliance.

    I’d also like to point out to your readers to never search for free themes via the search engines. There’s a good chance you will find a theme which is infected with malware of even embedded links which lead out to shady sites. Best to stick with wordpress.org to find themes or purchase a premium theme which is always a good investment.

  7. Sorry to sound “dumb” but what exactly is a blog?

    • Never saw your question, sorry! A blog is just a way of formatting a website, basically it means it’s updated semi-regularly, instead of just being static content.

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  1. [...] There’s always a learning curve when you try something new, hopefully some of these tips will help!  If you missed Part 1 of this blogging series you can find it here. [...]

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