How to start a blog for beginners

In today’s world blogs are the new book’s, you can now publish your own unique content to the world without the need to have been signed by a publisher or heavy investment in printing and marketing. As well as getting your word out to the world blogs can also be highly profitable through display advertisements and product/service endorsements. Years ago launching a blog was not possible for anyone without extensive tech knowledge or paying an expensive developer, today however it is possible for anyone to start one provided you have some basic computers skills.

The most simple way to get your blog online is to use a service like Wix or Weebly which provide you with a drag and drop builder for designing the site and a very straightforward interface for adding content and managing the blog. Simply signup, fill in a few basic details such as your blog name and personal details then you are away!

What I would highly recommend as an option is opening a blog on WordPress which is an open-source platform that runs through a web host, see our WordPress Hosting Comparison page for WordPress hosting & this article I wrote for instruction on installation. Once you have an active WordPress installation, you can then to get your blog to appear how you desire visibly, buy a WordPress theme from a site like ThemeForest or TemplateMonster These themes are normally pretty customisable, check the descriptions of these themes for details of what you can customise. Look out for themes that come with/are compatible with a plugin called WPBakery. WP Bakery is a drag and drop builder which allows you to easily edit elements on pages within a WordPress theme visually.

SSL Certificates, what are they and how to get one free

On most websites these days you will find a little padlock in the address bar of the browser, especially any reputable shopping website. People tend to trust websites with this sign of security and are more likely to trust the thing you are trying to sell or the information you provide. It is quite a crucial thing to do also because generally people are under the impression they are more susceptible to hacking/viruses which is something you definitely don’t want users to worry about.

In order to get this trusted symbol of authentication you will need to get yourself an SSL certificate, these make the connection between the visitors browser and the server secure. Your web host can provide you with this certificate and a lot of them are providing free certificates signed by a foundation called LetsEncrypt who are trying to make the internet more secure. If this is not supported by your hosting provider you will be able to purchase one from them. There are different grades of SSL:

  • Standard
  • Wildcard
  • EV

A standard certificate is all that is required to get you the padlock, the others offer more features such as PCI compliance & turning the address bar green. You can find the option to buy SSL certificates in your hosting’s billing control panel usually under add ons. It is generally pretty straightforward purchasing a certificate, all that is required is an address to register the certificate to.

Installing a LetsEncrypt certificate in cPanel

LetsEncrypt security certificates are very simple to install in cPanel if that is included with your hosting, here’s how:

Go to your cPanel homepage and under the category of security you will see an icon for SSL/TLS, click this icon.

You will be taken to this page:

You will see your domain name and any sub domains or prefixes. On the right of your domain click issue.

On this page just make sure all variations of your domain are checked that you want secured and select issue.

That’s it, your website is now secure! You can ensure this by prefixing your domain with ‘https://’ in the address bar in your browser and hitting enter. You should be able to see a padlock on the left-hand side of the address bar and if you click the padlock it should detail that the certificate was issued by LetsEncrypt.

How to set up and use a professional email address with your domain using cPanel (eg john@johnsbusiness.com)

An essential feature to look out for when choosing your hosting plan is if it includes email hosting with it, as not all of them do. This feature allows you to have custom email addresses @yourdomain which to any potential visitors or clients would look far more professional than a gmail or hotmail email address. 

This guide is catered for hosting plans that use cPanel control panel which is the most popular control panel among web hosts, however the steps would be very similar with any other control panel provided by your hosting provider. If your hosting provider does not include email hosting with your package do not worry as you can get separate email hosting with another provider or often you can purchase it as an add on with your existing provider.

First things first, head over to cPanel, you will find the link to this in your web hosting control panel or welcome email.

There is a category called ‘Email’in cPanel, under this you will find an option called ‘Email Accounts”. Click this link.

After following the link you should be brought to this page where you can add your email address: 

If this is not the first page you see click the ‘Add Email Account’ Tab at the top. 

Fill in your desired email address, it can be anything you like. After entering your password you will need to give the mailbox a quota, this is the amount of storage space you are allocating to the email account you are creating. The quota you provide here will depend on your mailbox storage capacity provided by your hosting and the kinds of messages you intend on sending. If you intend on sending and receiving a lot of HD videos you will need significantly more space than a mailbox only being used to send and receive raw text. You can always start of with 250mb-1gb per inbox depending on your allowance to see how you manage with that and then change the allowance or upgrade the storage at a later stage if necessary.

Click ‘Create Account’ and you’re done! Congratulations you have just created your own custom email address. Now you just need a way to access and use this email address.

There are 2 ways you can access your emails:

Using your own mail client such as Outlook, Mail or Thunderbird

To set this up you need to be on the ‘Email Accounts’ tab in the ‘Email Accounts section of cPanel(where you added the new email address. Start by clicking ‘Connect Devices’ and some new links will appear under your email address, you want to click on the ‘Set Up Mail Client’ link. 

On older cPanel versions there is no option to ‘Connect Devices’ you just directly click ‘Set Up Mail Client’.

You will after that be brought to a page where you can either click a link to download and automatically install the information required to use your mail client or if your client/device is not supported by the automated install you can find the details to manually key in to your client below.

Via webmail

This allows you to log straight in to your email address without any setup using a web client as if you were signing into gmail or hotmail. To launch webmail you can click the link on the right side of the email address on the page that lists all email accounts as shown below.

You can often access your webmail by simply adding ‘/webmail’ onto the end of your url or by prefixing your domain with ‘webmail.’, this is entirely down to your host though. Normally you will be given the option of 3 web clients when you navigate to webmail: Squirrelmail, Roundcube & Horde. They are all basically the same but I tend to lean more towards Roundcube.


How to Launch a WordPress Blog

WordPress is both the most popular blogging platform available on the internet as well as being the most popular content management system, it is also 100% free. WordPress is so popular because it is very straight forward and easy to use and is extremely flexible due to its vast plugin library that allows you to personalise your site and add the functionalities it needs. These plugins allow you to expand WordPress from blogging software to a framework for all kinds of other site formats such as online stores, wiki sites, message boards and more. You can see all the available WordPress plugins at wordpress.com/plugins or inside the WordPress admin panel under plugins once installed.

There are 2 ways you can install WordPress:

Remotely via web hosting

In order for your blog to be on the internet and accessible to other users you need web hosting, you can get general web hosting or WordPress specific hosting that is optimised for WordPress. For more info on what kind of web hosting to go for check out the guidance page

Remote Installation

Once you have chosen your hosting provider it is time to install WordPress. This is an extremely simple process with the vast majority of hosts, especially WordPress specific hosting. If your hosting plan has cPanel look out for an application within cPanel called Softaculous;

with this useful tool you can install all the most popular open source applications including of course WordPress. If you don’t have cPanel there will be a tool for automatic installation of WordPress somewhere on your control panel. If it is WordPress specific hosting it should be very straight forward to create a new installation of WordPress, usually there is a one click installation button. Provider specific information can be found in their FAQ’s.

During the installation you will be asked for information about yourself and your site. Fill this information out and follow the steps.

Once you have followed these steps you should have a running WordPress site. 

Locally

This is where you install WordPress onto the computer you are using acting as a virtual server. There is much benefit to installing WordPress locally to mention a few; you can edit and test your website in an environment not accessible to anyone but yourself meaning you won’t have a half finished live site whilst you are building it which would not look professional, especially as there is a chance your unfinished site could get indexed in google and users would be directed to your unusable site. Having a local environment is also essential because when making changes to your WordPress site and plugins you may cause an error crashing the site, with a local test environment you can ensure the site works before updating the live version.

Local Installation Guide

To install WordPress on your computer/laptop locally you will first need a program for your computer operating system that emulates a server environment locally. There are plenty of programs that do this such as MAMP, XAMP, LAMP and many other letters preceding AMP. My personal favourite is MAMP which has a free version and a paid version, the free version is more than enough for running WordPress and is what I will demonstrate with. 

Once you have downloaded your program of choice you will need to find the root folder where your files will be stored. On MAMP for Mac you can find this folder inside your applications folder>MAMP>htdocs:

Once inside the MAMP application folder you will find a folder called htdocs, this is your root folder:

On MAMP for windows you will find your root folder by going to ‘This Computer” and double click on the hard disk containing your operating system (most likely C). Inside this file you will find a folder called MAMP and inside of that ‘htdocs”, the root.

Inside of this root folder we will be putting the WordPress files. You can download these files from wordpress.org/download/The files will arrive in a compressed archive folder, you will need to expand these first before copying the contained files over to your htdocs.

The last thing you need to do before you can run the WordPress installation is create a database for it to use to store the data from the blog. Open up MAMP, click ‘Start Servers’ and then click ‘Open WebStart page’

Click PHPMYADMIN on the menu under tools.

Click Databases on the top menu

Name your database and click create, take a note of this database name as you will need it for the installation.

Now that’s done the install can begin!

Open up your MAMP start page and this time on the menu select ‘MY WEBSITE’. This should take you to either to the WordPress installer or it may show you a list of sites installed on MAMP, select the one which has the same name as the folder you installed the WordPress files inside of.

On the install screen you need to input your name, your password, your email, your site name, your database name, the username which is ‘root’ and the password which is also ‘root’. Following the installation you should be taken to the WordPress admin panel to get cracking.

There are also simpler dedicated programs purely for installing WordPress locally that will allow you to perform the install in one click, if you are interested in getting a dedicated program have a look at Bitnami.

Migrating your site from local to a web host.

If you plan on having a local site you will need to be able to upload these files to a hosting provider at some point and to do so you will need to transfer the files and the database to the server. A tutorial will be uploaded for this shortly.

Admin Control Panel

To access the WordPress control panel you can select the url in your browser when on the blog index and add”/wp-admin/“ to the end of it and press enter it will take you to the login screen for the admin panel. You will have set up your username and password on installation. You use the menu down the left hand side to navigate your way round the back end and its pretty straightforward as you can see. 

Theme

WordPress will have been installed with the standard stock theme called TwentyEighteen. You can of course crack on and use this theme however you would be among millions sharing the design which is not desirable or good for seo. There are loads of places you can pick up a new theme and you can find loads free of charge on wordpress.org/themes and various other independent sites. There are also plenty of options for premium themes such as Themeforest & TemplateMonster that can vary in price depending on features and quality. You can spend hundreds on themes but this is generally not necessary and I would say that you don’t often need to spend more than £50 for a genuinely good theme if you look in the right place.

WPBakery

There is a very popular plugin for WordPress that allows users of any ability to change and customise most aspects of your site and change the layout of elements in your site using a drag and drop builder. In order to use this plugin you will need to have a theme that was made to be compatible with it. This will often be in the title of the theme or in its feature list. This allows you to have a site tailored to you without knowing how to code or hire a developer.

Plugins

As stated previously plugins allow WordPress to expand into whatever you need it to be such as the WooCommerce plugin which turns your blog into an online store.  You can get some really useful tools on the plugin marketplace including: SEO tools, analytics tools, image sliders and many more. See the wordpress plugin library at wordpress.org/plugins or navigate to plugins in your wordpress admin panel.

Hopefully this is enough information to get you started. Any questions, leave a comment.