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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

How to Set Up a Beautiful Blog Today: Step by Step

How to Start a Blog

Want to create something meaningful? Why not start a blog? Creating this blog is one of the best decisions Ryan and I ever made. After all, our blog is how we earn a living. It’s also how we add value to other people’s lives.

So, let’s say you’ve thought about starting a blog to communicate your thoughts and express your feelings. Now, let’s say you’re overwhelmed with options and you don’t know where to start. Sound about right? Good, that’s exactly where we started—clueless, confused, confounded with choices.

Since creating this blog three years ago, we’ve garnered an audience of more than 4 million readers, and we’ve learned a lot about blogging along the way. Perhaps the most important lesson learned was that starting a blog was much easier than we thought. Thankfully, you needn’t be tech savvy (we certainly aren’t). You don’t need to know how to code or design (we still don’t). You don’t need much money (you can get your domain for free and host your site for just a few bucks a month). And you don’t need to spend a ton of time either (you can set up your blog in less than an hour).

Because we receive so many questions about how we specifically set up our blog, we decided to provide our readers with a soup-to-nuts, comprehensive guide for how to start a blog. This blog post is intended to function as a how-to manual, a guide that will illuminate the path toward launching your new blog, replete with easy-to-follow screenshots, step-by-step written instructions, and even an instructional video.

Video: Joshua Discusses How to Start a Blog

Can’t see the above video? Watch it on YouTube.

Step-by-Step Instructions: How to Set Up a Blog

While there are free blogging platforms out there like Blogger.com and Tumblr.com, nearly every serious blogger uses a self-hosted WordPress site because of its creative freedom and flexibility. The Minimalists uses WordPress because it gives us greater control over the look and feel of our blog—more creative control than any other platform.

After much experimenting and endless tinkering, we discovered the best way to set up our blog. These are the exact steps we took when we created this blog. If you follow this sequence, you can set up a blog in less than one hour.

Step 1. Preparation

Before you get started, you’ll need two things:

  • A credit or debit card (to pay for hosting)
  • 30–60 minutes to set up everything

Step 2. Domain Name & Hosting

Your domain name is an important part of your blog. Also known as your URL, your domain is your address on the web. For example, our domain name is www.theminimalists.com. But before you run off and spend money on a domain, you’ll first want to set up hosting for your blog. We recommend Bluehost web hosting for several reasons:

  • We Use Bluehost. We personally use Bluehost to host The Minimalists. If you recommend a company, you better be willing to use their product yourself.
  • Outstanding Customer Service. Bluehost’s customer service is 100% US-based. With hold times that average less than 30 seconds and 100% in-house, on-site staff in their Utah offices, you can rest assured that the person helping with your site knows how to help. In other words, if you have any questions, they will help you through the entire set-up process.
  • Great Pricing. TheMinimalists.com is a Bluehost affiliate partner, which means that in addition to using their service, we also receive a commission for referring new customers. To be fair, though, we would still use Bluehost even if we weren’t an affiliate. Ergo, we don’t recommend Bluehost just because we’re an affiliate (every hosting company offers a similar affiliate program); we recommend Bluehost because they are the best, most reliable option. Plus, because we’re a partner, Bluehost offers a special price for The Minimalists readers: only $2.95 a month. That’s a phenomenal price.
  • Free Domain. When you sign up for hosting, Bluehost will give you a free domain name, which allows you to avoid the upfront and recurring fees associated with purchasing a domain on your own. If you’ve already purchased your own domain name, don’t worry; you can still use your domain with Bluehost (it’s just one extra step).
  • Reliability. Bluehost’s facilities are world class. They have their own datacenter and they build our own servers. Their headquarters includes over 50,000 square feet of office space, a custom-built 20,000-square-foot datacenter, and enough backup generators to power a city.
  • Money-Back Guarantee. Bluehost offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so there’s no risk if you change your mind.
  • Friends & Family. Many of our friends and family also use Bluehost to host their blogs.

The first thing we did was go to Bluehost and click the “Sign Up Now” button. This will take you to a screen with two options:

If you still need to register a domain, you’ll use the left box followed by your desired extension (e.g., .com, .net, .org). If you’re having a hard time thinking of a good domain name, try Wordoid, a wonderful naming tool that will give you plenty of great options (just make sure you don’t buy the domain from them, since Bluehost will give you one for free).

If you already purchased your domain somewhere else like GoDaddy.com, don’t worry, because Bluehost will provide you the information you will need for easily transferring your domain.

On the next screen, you’ll need to fill out your personal information and then select your web hosting package:

You’ll notice that prices range from $5 to $7 per month, depending on whether you want 12 months, 24 months, or 36 months of hosting. That is, you get a huge upfront discount the longer you’re willing to commit.

Note: Because we’re an affiliate partner, Bluehost offers a special price for The Minimalists readers: only $2.95 a month. That’s a phenomenal price.

After completing your registration you’ll receive a confirmation email, which will give you all the information you’ll need to proceed:

Step 3. Install WordPress

It’s easier than it sounds. Don’t let the word “install” intimidate you. Bluehost walks you through every single step. Besides, in this context, “install” just means “make a few clicks.” So, once you’ve purchased your Bluehost account, you’re just a few clicks away from WordPress installation.

First, visit my.bluehost.com and sign in using your new login and password. Click “website” under “hosting”:

Next, click “Install now” under “WordPress”:

Now you’re at the “One Click Install” page. Next, under “do it yourself (FREE)” click “Install”:

Then, select your domain and click “Check Domain”:

Next, read and accept the terms and conditions and click “Install Now:”

After you wait for a moment, your WordPress install is complete. Congrats! You’ve just installed WordPress on your blog.

Step 4. Design Your Blog by Selecting a Theme

A theme allows you to control the specific look and feel of your blog without the need for coding expertise or design knowledge. In other words, a good theme helps you to design your blog exactly how you want it to look. If you’re not a coder (we certainly aren’t), then a theme makes the design work a million times easier.

There are two halves to your theme: the framework (the bones) and the child theme (the beauty).

Framework. There are several premium WordPress theme frameworks on the market, but Genesis is without a doubt the best and most flexible choice. Genesis (the theme, not the awesome 80s band) is the first half of your theme. Many themes merely handle the aesthetics of your new website, but Genesis provides a necessary foundation for your Genesis Child Theme. Simply go to StudioPress and purchase the Genesis Framework ($59.95).

Child Theme. After you procure your Genesis Framework, you’ll want to find that perfect Child Theme (which is just a silly way to say “blog design” or “the half of your theme that makes your blog pretty”). The Minimalists uses the beautifully simple “tru” theme, which is available at BYLT, the Genesis Community Marketplace. Head on over to BYLT, browse their carefully curated collection of themes, and find the design that’s right for you:

Step 5. Install Your Theme

Remember how easy it was in install WordPress? Well installing your theme is even easier.

First, log in to WordPress:

Then, in your WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance > Themes and then click the “Install Themes” tab, followed by the “Upload” link. Then, click “Choose File,” select your genesis.zip (which you downloaded when you purchased Genesis in step 4) and press “Install Now.”

Wait! Don’t click “Activate” just yet. First, upload your child theme zip file following the same installation process. Upon completion, click the “Activate” link and you’re all set.

Totally Unrelated Bonus Step: Watch Genesis’s “I Can’t Dance”

Well that was fun. Now let’s get back to setting up your blog…

Step 6. Install WordPress Plugins

Plugins are third-party appendages that add additional functionality to your blog. It’s best to keep your number of plugins to a minimum and install only the best plugins. (Too many plugins, as well as unreliable plugins, can slow down your site.) We use only a few plugins at The Minimalists (below).

In your WordPress dashboard navigate to Plugins > Add New and search for, install, and activate the following free plugins one by one:

  • WordPress SEO by Yoast is the defacto standard SEO plugin for WordPress. For details and everything you’d ever want to know about WordPress SEO read Yoast’s Definitive SEO Guide.
  • Google Analytics by Yoast allows you to track your blog’s traffic easily and with lots of interesting data: overall traffic, traffic sources, views per author & category, automatic tracking of outbound clicks and pageviews.
  • Jetpack by WordPress.com is a WordPress plugin that supercharges your self-hosted WordPress site with the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com.

Finally, so people can receive our blog posts via email, we established a free Feedburner account. MailChimp is another great email-subscription option, and it’s free if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. (By the way, if you don’t already subscribe to The Minimalists via email, you can here.)

Step 7. Tinker Until You’re Happy

You’re done. But this is actually where the fun begins. Now that you have your own blog, you get to make it yours; you get to turn your vision into a reality. So tinker away:

  • Experiment with various color palettes.
  • Add a photo of yourself (pro tip: when you get a chance, get some professional photos taken; they’re well worth the cost).
  • Spice up your blog posts with high-quality stock photos: Paul Jarvis (free), Unsplash (free), iStock (fee-based), Shutterstock (fee-based).
  • Create a basic logo using a program like InDesign or Photoshop or a text editor (note: even though we have no design skills, we were able to use Apple’s Pages application to create our simple logo after downloading some free vector art and choosing the typeface/font [Helvetica Neue] that best suited our aesthetic), or you can hire someone like 99designs to design a professional logo.
  • Determine whether or not you want comments on your blog.
  • Establish a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ (or all three).
  • Keep tinkering until you obtain the right look.
  • And, of course, start writing new blog posts and publish them.

We hope you have loads of fun expressing yourself on your new blog. We’re certain it will be a huge growth experience for you during the coming months. Wherever you’re going, make sure you enjoy the journey ahead.

Additional Resources

20 Recommendations for Your Blog (The Minimalists)

What Kind of Media Counts? (Seth Godin)

How to Publish an Indie Book (Asymmetrical Press)

How to Write Better: Online Writing Class (Joshua Fields Millburn)

Some Funny Thoughts on Search Engine Optimization (Exile Lifestyle)