Did you want to know how to start a blog in 2020?
I’ve been blogging since 2013, and I’m often asked why I started blogging?
In short: to write and to connect with readers.
But, there’s more to it than that.
In this guide, I will explain the differences between an author website and a blog, why I started blogging, and how you can to start a blog in 2020 today.
I’ll also reveal the blogging tools you need, the ones you can ignore and how to attract blog traffic once you’re up and running.
Let’s dive in.
- What’s the Difference Between an Author Website and a Blog?
- Should You Build an Author Website?
- Should You Start a Blog in 2020?
- Why I Started a Blog
- Step 1: Decide on a Blog Topic to Write About
- Step 2. Pick a Domain Name for Your Blog
- Step 3. Pick a Hosting Provider for Your Blog
- Step 4: Find the Best Theme for Your Blog
- Step 5: Build Your Blog
- Step 6: Start Your Email List
- Step 7: Write Your First Blog Post
- Step 8: Get Blog Traffic
- Step 9: Earn an Income from Your Blog
- Now, Start a Blog Today
- 5 Top Tools That Will Help You Get Started Blogging Today
- How to Start a Blog for Beginners (Video)
What’s the Difference Between an Author Website and a Blog?
A blog is a website that you regularly update with information about your work, ideas and more. It’s a place where you solve problems for your readers.
An author website is a place for showcasing your latest books and for connecting with readers, but you don’t need to update the content frequently.
As an example, lots of writers who have no interest in blogging keep author websites. These writers update their author websites when they’ve a new book out or news to share with readers.
Bloggers, on the other hand, will typically publish posts (like this one) frequently alongside sharing information about their books and more.
5 of The Best Author Websites
K.M. Weiland sells her historical fiction novels, and she provides her readers with resources and news on her author website.
EL James features book trailers and the latest information about the Fifty Shades film series on her author website.
Thriller writer James Scott Bell provides courses for writers and updates about his latest books on his author website.
Philosopher and author Alain de Botton features his thoughtful books on his author website.
JF Penn or Joanna Penn features her thriller books and more on her author website.
5 of the Best Author Blogs
Jeff Goins shares his thoughts about writing, life and creative work.
Joanna Penn shares her adventures and advice about writing and self-publishing, updating this blog more frequently than her author website.
Hugh Howie author of the Silo series blogs about his books and his voyages at sea.
Best-selling author Seth Godin keeps one of the internet’s most popular blogs and updates it daily.
Joel Friedlander offers practical advice for people who want to build better books on the Book Designer.
Should You Build an Author Website?
If you’re a fiction writer or author with no interest in blogging, you can start an author website and publish occasional updates about what you’re up to.
Your author website will help you connect with readers and provide you with a place to showcase your books and your work.
An author website is also a good idea if you publish books under a pen-name.
Should You Start a Blog in 2020?
Many people start blogging as a form of creative expression, and that’s as good a reason as any.
If you’re a non-fiction writer or author, you should certainly start a blog.
It’ll help you test your ideas, solve problems for your readers and even sell more books.
You can also start a blog if you have a purpose or mission that you want to pursue or share with others.
You can also start a blog to earn money or to become self-employed.
For example, Pat Flynn helps people build ethical online businesses on Smart Passive Income.
And James Clear teaches people how to live better.
There’s no reason why you can’t build an author website and start a blog, like Joanna Penn or K.M. Weiland.
Why I Started a Blog
I am sometimes asked why I started a blog?
Become a Writer Today is my third blog.
In the mid-2000s, I experimented with blogging by publishing short journalism articles on Google’s Blogger service.
I wasn’t serious about it though and I let that blog disappear.
I tried again in 2013.
I was working for a charity in Dublin. After six months, they let me go. It was during a recession, and I struggled to find work… for months.
Because there’s only so much daytime television one man can watch, I started a blog called WorkReadPlay to pass my time. On that blog, I wrote about technology and productivity.
I wanted to create an Irish personal alternative to Lifehacker.
The funny thing is starting a blog helped me find work because I was able to point to it as a portfolio.
The nice people at an Irish blogging award even nominated WorkReadPlay for best technology blog.
I closed down that blog because I wasn’t passionate about writing about technology for weeks and months at a time.
And so I started Become a Writer Today in 2015.
I started this blog about writing for two reasons.
I wanted to learn more about the craft of writing and self-publishing.
I also wanted to connect with readers and writers.
Now, let’s cover how to start a blog in 2020.
Step 1: Decide on a Blog Topic to Write About
If you start a blog, one of the biggest blogging challenges you’ll face is finding a good topic to write about.
Well, if you want to succeed at blogging, you have to write consistently about your topic…for the long term.
What you feel inspired about on week one or month one may feel like a chore after a year or two.
Think carefully about your blog topic!
Now, if you’re a non-fiction author, you could always blog about your latest book.
If you write fiction, blogging presents a modest challenge, although you could write about your research, story ideas and so on.
Please understand there could be a difference between what you want to blog about and what interests readers.
So, your job is to find a middle ground between what fires you up creatively and what people will read.
But, what if you still need help picking a topic for your blog?
Help is here.
The Most Popular Blog Topics
For the State of the Blogging Industry 2017 report, the email service provider ConvertKit surveyed professional bloggers around the world.
They found the most common blog topics professional bloggers write about include:
- small business
- online business
- personal development
- career development
If you want to start a blog that matters to you and your readers, ask yourself
Which one of these blog topics do I want to learn the most about?
Which one of these blog topics will still excite me today, tomorrow, next month and next year?
Because the best way to learn about a topic… is to teach it.
And there’s no better way of teaching and mastering an exciting topic than blogging about it.
Step 2. Pick a Domain Name for Your Blog
What makes a good domain name?
You could pick a domain name based around your blog topic, a problem you readers have or your area of interest.
For example, Pat Flynn picked the domain name Smart Passive Income because it’s a topic he wanted to write about and teach.
I picked the name Become a Writer Today because I wanted to teach people how to write.
What Makes a Good Domain Name for a Blog
People will struggle to remember your blog domain name if you get too clever or creative.
I had first-hand experience of this with my old blog WorkReadPlay. It didn’t sum up what that blog was about and clever word-play confused people.
When you start a blog, your domain name should be to the point, clear and memorable.
Where possible look for the.com version of the domain name. However, it’s possible to build a successful blog using variations like .net or .me.
For example, one of the internet’s biggest bloggers Leo Babauta blogs at Zenhabits.net.
However, he said it would have been easier for him starting off if he had picked a.com domain name.
If all else fails, use a variation of your name.
I’d avoid picking a domain name that’s a new or a made up word.
And please don’t use abbreviations, as you’ll spend hours explaining your correct domain name to people.
Don’t overthink it.
I recommend purchasing both your domain name and web-hosting) (more on that in a moment) from the same company to keep things simple.
- Name your audience e.g. Smartblogger
- Name a benefit e.g. Smart Passive Income
- Look for a .com or a .net domain name
- Name your mission or yourself e.g. Jamesclear.com
- Consider branding yourself e.g. Jeff Goin’s blog is called Goinswriter
- Use a thesaurus to brainstorm variations of your domain name
- Pick a clever or ambiguous domain name
- Use hyphens or unusual spellings
- Copy a successful domain name
- Use abbreviations
- Use alternative, newer extensive like .club and so on
Step 3. Pick a Hosting Provider for Your Blog
Before I get into how to pick a good hosting provider, I want to explain why you need a self-hosted blog in the first place.
What is a Self-hosted Blog?
A self-hosted blog is a blog you have complete control over. You’re able to manage every aspect of your blog including the domain name, web hosting and the blogging tools you use.
There are many platforms where you can start a blog such as Medium, LinkedIn or Squarespace and so on.
Unlike self-hosting, you don’t need any technical skills to blog on these platforms.
I regularly write articles for Medium.
With platforms like Medium, LinkedIn, you don’t have complete control over the hosting or what happens to your content.
For example, Medium may decide to start serving ads and charge readers or writers a fee to use their platform.
LinkedIn will show other people’s posts next to yours.
Now, I’ve got nothing against platforms that give writers a voice.
You can always publish on your self-hosted WordPress blog and republish your blog posts on these platforms later.
Why I Recommend WordPress for Blogging
WordPress is the most popular self-hosted blogging tool.
It’s easy to use, it’s free, and it’s what almost all of the top bloggers around the world use.
In fact, according to ManageWP, WordPress powers up to 26% of the internet’s websites today.
You can set up a self-hosted blog on WordPress in less than 10 minutes, and it’s a good skill to develop.
Picking a Good Hosting Provider for Your Blog
You can pick from lots of different hosting providers, many of whom are cheap and aimed at people who want to start a blog.
However, I caution against going for the cheapest hosting provider.
They may not provide you technical support when things go wrong and their hosting may be less secure than other hosting providers.
For this reason, I recommend new bloggers use Siteground web-hosting.
They’re affordable, but they specialise in WordPress hosting. Prices start at USD3.95/mo, renewing at USD9.95/mo.
When I had a problem with my site, their support contacted me within minutes, and they took care of a lot of the technical headaches for me.
Plus, if your site attracts a lot of website traffic you won’t have to worry about things slowing down which can be a problem if you’re using cheap hosting.
And because Siteground specialises in WordPress they can answer any of your questions about broken plug-ins and so on.
Speed is important if you’re starting a blog. Mark Berka of Berkaweb.com provides great resources if you want to learn more.
Step 4: Find the Best Theme for Your Blog
Your WordPress theme determines the look and feel of your blog.
Again, if you’re ready to start a blog, you can spend hours agonising over this decision.
It’s more important to start a blog than it is to pick the perfect theme.
Studiopress offer more than a dozen premium and attractive WordPress themes. I use a custom version of their Eleven40 Pro theme.
They also offer many quality WordPress themes, including a theme of the month.
If you like a Studiopress theme, you can purchase your theme and your web hosting as part of the StudioPress Site package, for just USD24/month.
This option is more expensive that Siteground, but it’s a good alternative for bloggers and authors.
If you don’t like the Studiopress suite of WordPress themes, Thrive Themes offer a nice selection too.
You could also purchase a premium theme by top bloggers like Pat Flynn, Michael Hyatt and Mark Manson.
However, these bloggers are well-known, and their themes are instantly recognisable.
So, pick a professional WordPress theme aimed at bloggers or authors and get on with it!
You can always change or customise your theme later on.
Step 5: Build Your Blog
Many bloggers and writers ask what pages should I have on my blog?
After you start a blog, I recommend creating the following pages.
An about page should introduce you, explain your mission and how you can help readers.
A start here page explains to readers and visitors what they should look at first like a key blog post, information about your books or a bonus for email subscribers.
A landing page will help you succeed at guest blogging and grow your email list faster. You can use your homepage for this.
A books page should tell readers about your book(s) and where they can buy them.
A contact page will give readers a way of getting in touch with their questions.
A services page is useful if you offer coaching or some other form of services e.g. copywriting.
An archive page will show all of your posts, and it comes with many WordPress themes.
A tools and resources page is a great place for sharing what you consider useful with your readers. Here’s my blogging software page.
Tip: You can use LeadPages to create dedicated landing pages where people can opt into your email list.
What WordPress Plugins to Use
WordPress plugins help you add new features to your site and change the appearance of pages and blog posts.
When you’re starting off, you don’t need to worry about them too much.
Today, these are some of the following plugins I use:
- Akismet for taking care of spam
- Yoast SEO Premium for optimising blog posts for Google
- Jetpack for its advanced content creation tools
- Redirection for managing links and redirects
- Autoptimize for speeding the load time of my site
- Medium for automating the publication of articles on Medium
- Sumo for attracting website traffic
I also use several plugins related to my theme.
Depending on the type of web hosting provider you picked you may need to purchase a plugin like BackupBuddy to backup your WordPress website.
Design Tips to Improve Your Blog
Should you worry about customising your blog theme or about logo design when you start a blog?
In short, no.
As a new blogger, you’re better off spending your time attracting readers than learning how to customise a WordPress theme or design a logo.
Once you’ve attracted readers, you will be able to earn passive income from your blog and you can use this to hire a designer to customise your site.
With a modest budget, you can run a logo competition on a site like 99 designs.
But what if you still want some blog design tips?
If you’re creating images, use a free tool like Canva.
Keep the font choice and colour as close as possible to the look and feel of your blog theme.
If you want to change your fonts, use Google Fonts to find a serif and san-serif font that suit each other.
If you want to change your scheme, use Adobe Kuler to find complementary colours.
Step 6: Start Your Email List
After setting up a blog, start your email list.
You can do this using an email service provider like MailChimp or ConvertKit.
I’ve used both of these tools.
MailChimp is free and it’s great when you’re starting off, but when you need something a little more powerful ConvertKit can help.
You’ll need to offer a free incentive like a short ebook, a checklist, a PDF, a video or something of value… that readers will exchange their email addresses for.
For example, I created 101 Writing Prompts that visitors for this site can get for free if they subscribe.
I also recommend asking new email subscriber what they’re struggling with right now.
This is a great way of connecting with your readers and also finding ideas for things to write about.
Once you have a list of email subscribers, you can let readers know each time you publish a new blog post.
It’s far more efficient that tweeting out and sharing your latest posts.
Step 7: Write Your First Blog Post
There are so many great ideas to write and blog about.
You could write blog posts about:
- A chapter from your latest book
- A listicle e.g. the 21 top books every writer should read
- Your research for your latest book
- Your personal story (and how it relates to your readers)
- A trending topic in your industry or the news
- Questions your readers frequently ask
- A practical how-to post that solves a problem for your readers
- A step-by-step or ultimate guide to a topic for beginners
- An experience that taught you more about your craft
- A piece of prevailing wisdom you disagree with
- A problem your readers are having (and how they can fix it)
- An interview with or a time you met an influencer
- The blogging tools you use and rely on
- A best-of post summing that sums up a series of other blog posts
- Practical tips related to your topic that you what to share with others
Once you have a post ready, don’t publish it on your site yet.
You’ll need to…
Step 8: Get Blog Traffic
There’s nothing worse than publishing a blog post and being greeted by the sound of crickets.
So, how can you get traffic to your self-hosted WordPress blog and grow your email list?
Well, you could publish your first blog post on your site, tweet it out and share on Facebook.
If you started a blog, this is a difficult and painful way to get website traffic as not many people will click on these links.
You probably won’t have a large following on your social media channels to attract quality blog traffic.
You could advertise on Facebook for as little as five dollars a day.
You’ll require a budget to succeed, which many new bloggers don’t have.
Another option is to write long-form articles (like this one) on your blog and repurpose them on sites like Medium.
This strategy can work.
However, it’s time-consuming as you need to create these long-form articles and then adapt them for other platforms.
The best way to attract blog traffic is to write guest blog posts for other blogs in your niche.
So take that first blog post, and pitch it at the editor of popular site.
What New Bloggers Should Know About Guest Posting
I spent a year writing guest blog posts for sites like Copyblogger, Smartblogger, WriteToDone and more.
I learnt a lot about what editors and readers want, and I grew my email list to over 1,000 subscribers.
Then, I started publishing blog posts on my site.
I recommend writing a guest blog post for a popular website in your niche.
Continue guest blogging until you’ve attracted 1000 subscribers to your email list.
Then, you’ll have an audience that you can write for on your site.
The Power of Guest Blogging
Guest blogging will help you build up a relationship with editors.
You’ll discover good blog topics to write about because these blog editors will provide you free helpful and critical feedback.
Finally, you will be able to build links naturally to your blog and increase your blog traffic over time.
If you need help guest blogging, Jon Morrow offers an excellent Guest Blogging course, which I learnt a lot from.
Step 9: Earn an Income from Your Blog
Many writers who start a blog ask: how can they make money from blogging?
Yes, it’s possible.
You can earn an income by advertising on your site using Google AdSense.
You could also create products like online courses and sell them to readers or subscribers of your blog.
If you’re an author, you could offer your books for sale on your website or a link your Amazon sales page.
You could also offer premium coaching to members of your email list.
Another way to make money from blogging is to become an affiliate for tools that you use or recommend.
For example, I use the tool Grammarly and recommended it to new writers.
An advanced strategy is to create a membership programme whereby readers of your blog join for a monthly subscription fee.
Why You Shouldn’t Rush Earning an Income from Blogging
These are just some of the most popular ways that bloggers earn an income from their blog.
However, I caution against trying to monetize your blog until you’ve built up an email list of at least 1000 people.
If you try to do both, you’ll split your attention and time between earning an income and building an audience.
As a new blogger, that’s a bad place to be.
Now, Start a Blog Today
Blogging helped me find employment during a recession, earn a passive income, connect with readers and sell books.
It also helped me practice the craft of writing publicly and get into the habit of publishing my work regularly.
As a writer, you need a way of connecting with readers and blogging is one of the best ways to do it.
What’s more, blogging will help you explore ideas that inspire you and find out what readers want.
Those are quality habits for any writer.
It’s easier than even to write and publish your work and connect with readers.
If you haven’t started a blog yet, what are you waiting for?
5 Top Tools That Will Help You Get Started Blogging Today
- Siteground for hosting your WordPress blog.
- Studiopress for buying a good looking WordPress theme.
- Sumo for attracting blog traffic.
- Grammarly for checking your blog posts for typos.
- ConvertKit for growing your email list and connecting with readers.
Our blog was selected by Feedspot as one of the Top 25 Nonfiction Blogs. Check it out here!
How to Start a Blog for Beginners (Video)
Join over 15,000 writers today
You'll get a free book of practical writing prompts.