If you plan to start a WordPress blog, let me tell you this is one of the best decisions to make in 2021. Why so? Because there are more than 4 million blog posts published daily and the majority of these are on WordPress.
In this post, I will first briefly introduce you to WordPress and why you should use it to create your blog in 2021.
Then I will share 12 easy to follow steps for building your WordPress website from A to Z. But why 12 steps and why not just 3 or 4 like other blogs on WordPress promise their readers? Because you want to set up a fully functional WordPress blog that you are ready to share with the world and not just a bare-bones web page for your private consumption. Am I right?
So let’s get started right away.
What is WordPress and Why You Should Use It?
Before you start your WordPress blog from scratch, you should know something about WordPress. WordPress is a content management system (CMS) to manage your blog’s content, including, pages, media, files, galleries, online store and much more.
It is a free and open-source software offered by the WordPress.org foundation and developed by contributors from around the world, which implies that it can be customized as per your needs. The second benefit of using WordPress to create your blog is that it requires zero coding skills. So an absolute beginner can build beautiful and highly functional blogs or websites with WordPress.
And if you wish to use some custom code to tweak your site, you can easily do it. But for me, what seals the deal, is the availability of an extensive library of plugins and themes for extending WordPress in a limitless manner.
On top of this, there are regular updates to WordPress being released on a regular basis which makes it so exciting to build your blog in 2021.
So do you need any more reasons to start your blog with WordPress? Probably not; so let’s dive into the juicy details on how to start using WordPress for beginners.
To make this guide easy for you to understand, I am breaking down this step-by-step guide into 3 sections.
Start a WordPress Blog Basics
Setting up Your Blog for Success
1. Start a WordPress.com or WordPress.org Blog
You can use WordPress in two ways. You can either start a blog for free on WordPress.com or use the CMS from WordPress.org (which I introduced above) on your self-hosted domain.
Now, you might be thinking what on Earth are these two versions of WordPress? So let me quickly explain the differences between the two. WordPress.com is a free to use blogging platform developed by Automattic.
Think of it as any other free blogging platform like Blogger, Weebly, Tumblr etc. where you get your own customname.wordpress.com address, which is actually one of the millions of sub-domains of WordPress.com. But if you choose to start your blog on WordPress.com, remember, that you cannot install 3rd party plugins or themes to extend your blog’s functionality. Moreover, plugins and themes are, for many, the primary reason to choose WordPress over other CMS’.
I will also add that you will have a difficult time in getting traffic and readers to your blog since Google does not give much prominence in its search results to pages from free blogging platforms like WordPress.
Of course, you can upgrade to one of the paid plans offered by WordPress.com and get your customname.com address i.e. a primary domain in place of a sub-domain. But note that your blog will still be restricted to the features available to free WordPress blogs.
This includes limited storage space and very restricted ability to monetize your blog, unless you opt for their Business plan. Speaking of which…
I have already explained the benefits of WordPress.org in the earlier section on what is WordPress. But to recap let me list the advantages of using the CMS from WordPress.org to create your blog over using a free blogging platform like WordPress.com once more:
- Ability to use thousands of freely available 3rd party themes and plugins
- Ability to tweak your website using custom code
- Ability to manage big and complex websites that get thousands of visitors daily
- Possibility of featuring high in Google’s search results by optimizing your site settings
- Ability to monetize your blog or website
So now that you know the clear benefit of using the CMS from WordPress.org over a blogging platform like WordPress.com to build your blog, let’s address the all-important question running through your mind. Is the WordPress CMS free to use as in ‘free air’? Yes, as I mentioned earlier, WordPress is a free and open-source CMS developed by WordPress.org foundation.
However, before you can use this wonderful CMS to start a WordPress blog from scratch, you will need to invest a small amount in getting hosting (where WordPress will be installed and your site’s data will be hosted or stored) and a domain name (your own address on the web).
Fortunately, the investment needed is very small and you can get started immediately. So onto the next step of your WordPress journey.
2. Choose a Domain Name and Get Hosting
To start your own WordPress blog, you first need to get your address on the web i.e. a domain name (something like www.mylovelyblogsite.com). So head over to Namecheap where you can find great domain names starting for as low as $0.88/year.
I trust only Namecheap for buying all my domains and not any other domain provider.
Why is that? Because…
- Namecheap DNS changes and propagation are lightning quick.
- It provides an easy to navigate and intuitive user interface.
- It provides free Who.IS domain privacy.
- The Namecheap support is outstanding even if you buy a $0.88 domain.
Get quality web hosting
Once you have made your pick, it’s time to get hosting where your website will be hosted. This is the most crucial decision to make when starting your WordPress blog. After all, you don’t change your hosting company like you change your clothes. So, take your time to decide on the right place to host your WordPress blog.
We are hosting all our websites on Dreamhost, a quality hosting company that’s been around since 1996. If you like the combination of affordability, reliability, ease of use, and quality support, you should take a look at Dreamhost.
Why we use Dreamhost to host our WordPress blog (and you can too)?
- Dreamhost plans are very affordable and start at only $2.59 per month
- They provide an excellent user panel with a 1-click WordPress install
- They provide an uptime guarantee of 99.9%
- Blazing fast speeds when combined with a free CDN like Cloudflare
- Unmetered and unlimited bandwidth to your websites
- Unlimited storage for your websites
- Launch unlimited websites on the WordPress Unlimited plan
- Get unlimited email hosting ([email protected])
- Free automated migration using their custom-built plugin
Dreamhost support response is also pretty quick. We usually receive a response to our support ticket within 10 minutes, which is good enough. For the complete list of features, check out Dreamhost.
3. Install WordPress and Jump-start Your Site
Once you have purchased hosting from Dreamhost, you should login to your Dreamhost user panel. After this you will need to first add the domain that you purchased from Namecheap or elsewhere.
For this, go to Domains > Manage Domains > Add Hosting to a Domain/Sub-Domain. Then add the domain details here.
Once you’re done, click on the Fully host this domain button to add hosting to your domain.
After this, we need to install WordPress on your newly hosted Dreamhost domain.
In the user panel, go to WordPress > One-Click Installs. Click on Learn More and Install to open the Dreamhost One-Click Installer.
Select the domain on which you wish to install WordPress and click the Install it for me now! button.
From thereon the website wizard takes over and helps you with installing WordPress and pointing the name server from your NameCheap account (or any other domain registrar) to your Dreamhost hosting.
The entire process should take no more than 5-10 minutes.
Once your WordPress site is up and running, you should login to the admin dashboard by visiting the URL: yourwebsite.com/wp-login.php
4. Select a Theme to Make Your WordPress Site Look Good
A WordPress theme is a collection of templates and CSS codes to define the layout and design of your website with different custom functionalities. Most importantly, it should make your site look appealing to your visitors.
At this stage, your site is bare bones with no content and the default WordPress theme installed. So it’s time to do something about this.
From within the WordPress dashboard navigate to Appearance > Themes. Now to change your theme, click on the Add New Theme tab and you will be taken to the WordPress repository with thousands of themes to choose from.
You can even upload your own theme that you have downloaded from a 3rd party by clicking the Upload Theme tab on the top.
Select a theme that not only looks good but also offers features that you are looking for like single or multi-column layout, single or double navigation menus, theme control panel, mobile responsiveness, and so on.
For this reason, we use and recommend the GeneratePress WordPress theme.
Of course, you don’t need to turn your site into a Picasso masterpiece at this stage and you can always tweak your design later on. After all, web design is a process and not a destination.
With this gem, onto the next tip.
5. Tweak the Settings to Give Your WordPress Blog an Identity
Ok so you have selected a theme and made some changes to the site layout but what about the site title, tagline, language, and other identity options?
In this tip, I will show you the exact steps to give your site an Identity by modifying the site settings and uploading your logo.
From the left navigation pane, go to Settings > General. You will be taken to the General Settings page with 12 settings to customize.
So let’s go through each setting on this page.
- Site Title: Enter your site’s title here. Example: John Smith’s Blog
- Tagline: What is your site about? Describe it in a few words. Example: Flab to Fitness Tips
- WordPress Address (URL): Unless you want to move your WordPress installation to a sub-directory, this will be your site URL by default. Example: https://johnsmith.com
- Site Address (URL): Again, unless your WordPress directory is different from the root directory, this will match your WordPress Address URL by default. Example: https://johnsmith.com
- Email Address: This will be your email you entered when installing WordPress for the first time by default. You can enter a different email here to change your email.
- Membership: Are you running a membership site? If yes, tick the checkbox to allow user registration. If not, leave it unchecked.
- New User Default Role: If you are running a membership site then you can select the default role to assign to members who register on your site. You can also assign different roles to other members of your team who register on your site like Editor, Contributor etc. Otherwise, just leave it to the default ‘subscriber’ role.
- Site Language: You can select the language in which the WordPress interface will be displayed to you. It also affects the interface language for your visitors like the language on widget titles. By default, it is set to English (U.S).
- Timezone: Select the timezone you want WordPress events to occur and be displayed like Post publish date and time. It will also affect the WordPress Cron job. You will usually want to set it to your own time zone.
- Date Format: What is the date format you want your published pages and posts to appear to your visitors and within the WordPress dashboard? Set it here.
- Time Format: Just like the above but for the time displayed.
- Week Starts on: Which day does your week start on? This will affect any calendar plugins that you might install.
After you’ve gone through the above settings, click on the Save Changes button for the settings to take effect. You will immediately see the new title and tagline that you set on the front end of your new WordPress site.
But your site’s identity is still not complete without a custom logo.
So from the left navigation pane, go to Appearance > Customize to open the WordPress customizer.
Within the customizer, you can see various options like Site Identity, Menu, Colors etc. At the moment we are interested in uploading a logo, so click on the Site Identity link.
Here you can upload your own custom logo with the suggested dimension of 190 x 190 pixels. But this will vary from theme to theme. You can also upload your site icon that appears at the top of a tab in a web browser and also on Google’s search results.
Don’t forget to hit the Publish button to make the changes on your new WordPress site go live. You can see that you can set your site title and tagline from within the Site Identity tab as well.
Don’t bother about other customizer settings like colours, menus, widgets etc. right now since I will explain them in the tips to follow.
6. Install the Essential Plugins to Extend Your Blog’s Functionality
Before you start posting content, you should first install and activate the essential plugins to extend the reach of WordPress. There are thousands of plugins to explore and you can install your favorite plugins at leisure later on.
Here, I will list the essential plugins that you should install right away on starting a new WordPress blog.
To install or uninstall plugins first head over to the Plugins tab in the WordPress navigation pane on the left.
Here you can see that two plugins, Akismet and Hello Dolly, are pre-installed but they are not activated yet. You can delete the Hello Dolly plugin since it does not add any functionality to your new WordPress blog but only a random lyric from the Hello Dolly song on every admin page.
Then add these plugins by clicking the Add New button:
- Akismet: Akismet is super important for filtering out spam comments from your blog. It has some very cool features as well. Since it is already installed you just need to activate it. You will need to get an Akismet key by signing up for a free WordPress.com account. Enter the API key in the Akismet settings and say goodbye to spam.
- Jetpack: This is another super useful plugin from Automattic, the company behind Akismet and WordPress.com. It has tons of features, the most useful being site analytics, downtime monitoring, image optimization, Brute force attack protection, social sharing etc. An absolute beast.
- Rank Math: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing your site’s visibility on a search engine like Google. There is a whole industry devoted to SEO. For your purpose, you should install this plugin to take care of on-site SEO settings. Learn how to configure the Rank Math plugin in my ebook WordPress SEO 101.
- Updraft Plus: Backing up your site’s data is crucial in the event of a site crash or if your site gets hacked. You should not just backup your WordPress database but also all your themes, plugins, and media files. Unless your web host provides free daily backups, you must install this super useful and popular plugin that allows for scheduled backups to your Dropbox, Google Drive, Rackspace, Amazon S3 and Email accounts.
- WP Fastest Cache: Install this plugin to drastically reduce your site’s loading speeds on desktop and mobile devices. It also supports every content delivery network (CDN) and is very easy to configure as compared to other caching plugins and delivers equal or even better performance than other free caching plugins.
- Wordfence: Ensuring rock-solid security for your new WordPress blog is crucial and this plugin secures your website using multiple methods.
Read this post on the recommended plugins for every WordPress blog.
7. Complete Your Profile to Let Others Know About You
If you’ve reached this far then you’re no longer a WordPress novice but are turning into an Amateur user. That’s great progress considering that you have just started your WordPress blog.
At this stage, you should complete your profile to display it on your posts to your visitors. For this, you should head over to Users > Your Profile.
Here you will different options and fields to complete. But we are not interested in most of the options. You should first change your nickname from your real username and set this nickname as your public display name.
You can read my WordPress security guide on how to hide your real username and URL from your site’s readers.
Then jump over to the About Yourself section. Enter a small but effective description of you and your site in the Biographical Info field. You can also set your Gravatar as your profile picture here.
Once you are done, click the Update Profile button at the bottom.
8. Setup WordPress Permalinks to Make Your Content Easily Searchable
Before you get down to publishing your first page, you should take care of your site’s permalinks. Permalinks are the URLs of your site’s posts and pages. For instance, http://johnsmith.com/hello-world/ is a permalink and hello-world is the slug.
You can read more about WordPress post and category slug.
The default permalink structure is set to post name and for most users, this is the right choice. However, if you wish, you can choose another permalink structure or even create your own custom permalink structure.
However, you should avoid the Plain and Numeric permalink structures like the plague since they are really bad from the point of search visibility and user navigation.
Also read: How to Fix the WordPress Permalink Errors
9. Create the Primary Pages and Publish Your First Post
Now let’s move onto the reason why you started your WordPress site – publishing content.
You should first start with creating your primary pages – About, Privacy, Contact, Disclaimer and Disclosure pages.
At this point, you might be wondering what is the difference between a page and a post? The primary difference is that a page is meant for publishing static content that will not be updated often while a post is meant for publishing dynamic content that gets updated frequently.
Also, you can categorize posts and tag them but this is not possible with pages without the help of a plugin. With this, start creating your primary pages by going to Pages > Add New in the navigation pane.
You will be taken to the WordPress editing screen with the block editor in front. This is the heart of WordPress.
At the top of the editor, you can add your page title. Then using the ‘+’ sign you can insert blocks like a paragraph, heading, table, layout and many more. Just play around a bit to get a hang of the editor. Once you have published a page or two you will enjoy working in the block editor, as I do.
Every WordPress site usually needs these primary pages:
- About: This page contains information about you or your company, your blog’s mission statement, it’s history and anything else your readers might be interested in knowing about you.
- Disclaimer – If you’re running a membership site or selling products online or offering any product or service in general then you need a disclaimer page as well.
- Contact – Every site needs a contact page where your readers can easily reach you either through an email or a contact form.
Once you’ve published these primary pages, it is time to publish your first post. But before this, you should delete the default Hello World post if you haven’t already done so. Not deleting it implies you are announcing to the world that you’re a WordPress novice.
Now head over to Posts > Add New from the navigation pane. You can write the post in the same way as you created your primary pages. But before hitting the Publish button, there is a checklist to tick off.
- Keep a title that describes what your post is about. Is it about dog training? Then let it be known in the title.
- Next, you should categorize your post by creating a parent category or you can categorize it under a sub-category. By default, the post will be Uncategorized.
- Enter a few tags related to your post’s content like dog training tips, how to train your dog, dog training challenges, and so on. This will help Google to determine what your content is about.
- You can also enter a meta description (the words that will appear in search results) in the Yoast SEO plugin settings on the page. You can find much more detailed information about on-page SEO in my ebook on WordPress SEO 101.
Now that you have written the content and completed the above checklist, go ahead and hit the publish button.
You have arrived!
10. Setup Your WordPress Site’s Header and Footer
Since your primary pages are live and you have just published your first page, it’s time to display them prominently to your site’s visitors by setting up your WordPress site’s header and footer.
First, let us set up the Header. Usually, the header contains the logo and the primary navigation menu. It can even contain links to your contact and about pages.
Given that you have already uploaded your logo, it should already be displayed in the header. So, let’s move to the task of creating your primary menu.
Head over to Appearance > Menus. You can see various options here.
First, begin by entering a menu name. ‘Primary’ works fine here. Then add the pages or categories from the left. You can also group multiple categories or pages under a single head as I have done in the above image.
Now tick the Primary Menu checkbox under the Display Location head in the Menu Settings options to set your menu as the Primary menu and then click on the Save Menu button.
Similarly, you can create another menu and set it to display under the Footer Menu head. This will create your footer.
You can customize your footer further by going to Appearance > Widgets. Here you will find footer widget areas where you can add custom text or links to your primary pages as I have done on this site.
11. Setup Analytics to Track Metrics on Your WordPress Blog
Once your new WordPress site is live, obviously, you want to track its metrics like the number of visitors it’s getting, the search traffic and so on. So first head over to Google Analytics and create a free account.
You might want to refer to Google’s guide on setting up an Analytics tracking property.
Once you have done this, just install the GAinWP Google Analytics dashboard plugin to connect your WordPress site with your Analytics account and also view your site’s metrics right in your WordPress dashboard.
Read how to setup Google Anlaytics on your site using the GAinWP plugin.
Now in the plugin settings dashboard click on the Authorize Plugin button. It will ask for the Access Code.
Just click on the Get Access Code link to link your Google Analytics account with your WordPress account. Copy and paste the access code in the field and click on Save Access Code button.
With this, you have successfully set up tracking for your WordPress website. Wasn’t that easy?
12. Taking Care of the Miscellaneous Settings
In the 12th and final tip for starting a WordPress blog, I will round up a few settings that you should also take care of.
The first is the Reading Settings accessible from the Settings tab in the navigation pane.
Here, you can choose whether you wish to have a blog layout or static page layout for your homepage. If you would like a blog layout, don’t change the homepage display option which is set to display your latest posts.
But if you want to show a custom page as your home page, then select the Static Page option and choose either a page or a post from the dropdown. You can also choose the number of posts that are displayed at once on the blog page.
Then click the Save Changes button.
The second is the Discussion Settings for managing your blog comments. Here you can choose whether you want to allow ping notifications from other blogs who link to your site.
You can also choose from among the different commenting options. You can also completely disable comments if you wish. But I wonder why you would do this?
With this, you have finished setting up your WordPress powered site from scratch in under 2 days. Now you should explore different WordPress options gradually as you continue to work on your site.
Summary of How to Start a WordPress Blog in 2021
In this detailed but easy-to-implement guide, you learned 12 tips to create your WordPress blog from scratch in 2021. I have covered all the essential aspects of setting up a WordPress blog for the first time right from hosting to going into the nitty-gritty of every important setting and the identity aspects of your site. Also, I listed the essential plugins to install on your blog.
If you found these tips for WordPress beginners useful and you have implemented some or all of them on your blog, let me know by leaving a comment below.
Now that your WordPress site is up and running, you can take the next steps listed below:
- Speed up your WordPress site’s loading times
- Manage and optimize your WordPress database
- Install the best plugins to increase your website speed
- Take care of your website’s security
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