I originally thought I was writing a book but found my topics too disparate and unrelated to collapse into a sequence of chapters within a single bound, cohesive structure. Consequently, a blog seemed the better format for my musings.
The problem – I had no idea how to setup a blog from scratch with a unique domain and host it on a server. So, I learned the hard way… by figuring it out myself.
As I implemented each piece of the puzzle, I kept a running list of the steps. This produced a step-by-step guide (outlined below), which I thought might be useful to others.
Guess how many people have since asked me how to setup a blog? Zero. But I’m sharing it anyway.
NOTE 1: This blog post does not resolve into a funny story or anything mildly entertaining. So, unless you are just curious how to setup a blog, stop reading here and instead, jump over to read how I got Lost in Ukraine or read about how I got Detained by the Police.
NOTE 2: The steps below are only for those who would like to create a blog and host it on your own server or on a server you manage. I wanted a unique domain and I already had spare server capacity. So, this was my use-case. These are not the steps one would take to post to a blogging platform (like Medium or WordPress itself) where much of the work has already been done for you.
Step-by-Step Guide to Setup a Blog with Your Own Domain
Step 1 – Register your new domain name. Sometimes I use Go Daddy. Sometimes I use Ionos. Both are relatively inexpensive. Of course, you need to ensure the domain name is available. The domain you really want is likely already taken so you’ll need to be creative with your URL. It’s worth spending time on this to get what you want and like. You can read why I chose PastMidway for my URL.
Step 2 – Setup email for your new domain. I use Google’s G-suite… and you should too.
- Create an alias for the new email if you already have a G-Suite account with Google, assuming you are happy with the same email prefix for all your domains. For me, this is “ajones@”. If you setup a new alias, you won’t have to pay for another email account even if the domain is different. If you would like a different email prefix, you’ll need to purchase another license from Google/gmail. If you don’t already have a G-Suite account, you’ll need to get one. It’s fairly inexpensive. The alternative is to just use a personal gmail address… but this feels less polished to me.
- Google requires you to prove you own the domain. You do this by loading a snippet of code to your server. The assumption is, if you can add a line of code to the server, you are most likely the owner (since you obviously know the login credentials). If you can do this yourself, great. Otherwise, just ask your web developer or web host to do this for you. It should only take 2 minutes. OK, nothing takes two minutes… but ten minutes max.
- Verify domain ownership with Google once your code is loaded… just a click on the G-Suite panel. Google will prompt you to do this to move forward.
- Update the MX records at your domain registrar to point to the correct address for your server. MX records just tell the rest of the internet where to route your email so you can send and receive.
Step 3) Setup your new email in Outlook or whatever email client you use. Add a new account. Send yourself a test message from another email account to ensure everything is working properly. Send a message out from your new account as well and verify it was received by the recipient. If it’s not working properly, sometimes you need to change the incoming and outgoing port numbers for that email account. Google this for further instructions because it varies by email provider.
Step 4) Install WordPress on your server… or ask your web developer to do this for you, which is what I did.
Step 5) Select a theme. Rather than have a web developer design a custom theme for your blog, just pick a pre-existing WordPress theme. There are literally thousands to choose from. Many are free. Most are inexpensive.
At first, I thought I would design my own user interface because I had specific ideas on how I wanted it to look (simple and clean). I made some mock-up designs and sent these to my web developers. The pricing I got back was more than I wanted to spend on my personal blog, something I intended as a hobby. Consequently, I began to browse the pre-built themes on WordPress. If you don’t limit yourself to only the free options, you can surely find one that works for you, even if you have to tweak it a bit (which I did not). There are many affordable, pre-existing designs available for instant purchase that will suffice. I purchased a WordPress Template for my blog for $29 (one-time fee) because it was clean, simple and allowed for some customization of color palettes, easy page creations, etc. I played with various colors before reverting back to the default color scheme.
Step 6) Your WordPress installation (on your server) will come with a backend admin panel as well as front-end public pages. For good WordPress themes, you can manage everything from the admin panel, including posting/editing/deleting blogs, creating new pages, changing menu options, changing template default colors, etc. I’ve found my template to be quite versatile, at least as much as I wanted it to be. So, spend a little time getting your layout setup the way you want.
Step 7) Create an “About” page for your blog (and potentially other pages too). People who like your writing will generally want to read at least a short blurb about you.
Step 8) Create a sign-up form on your blog so people who want to be notified of new content can sign up. I put my sign-up form on a separate “Follow” page. If I write elsewhere, and it feels appropriate, I add a link to my Follow page.
Step 9) Sign up for an email marketing service. I use MailChimp. It integrates with WordPress so visitors who sign up to follow me automatically get registered with MailChimp and added to my list. This is done through a WordPress plugin provided by MailChimp. Here’s how:
- Create an embed code from MailChimp. (You’ll need to setup a MailChimp account first).
- Edit the MailChimp embed code to only include those input variables you want your visitors to complete. For me, I prefer the minimalistic [first name], [last name], [email] only.
Step 10) Install Google Analytics on your blog so you can monitor traffic and see your audience grow, or not.
Step 11) Then it’s just a matter of writing. Lots of writing. And even more editing. And sometimes posting.
The so-called experts advise keeping to a scheduled output. I agree and it makes sense. For the few blogs I read, it’s nice to see a steady, consistent stream of new material. That said, I find it quite difficult to produce quality content at regular intervals. But then, I’m not trying to make an income from my writing. If someone else enjoys it, great. But it’s primarily for me because writing is akin to thinking, with the added benefit of forced structure. This helps me sort things out within my own mind and doubles as a creative outlet.
Leave a comment below if I forgot to mention a step (very possible).
Best of luck with your blog!
P.S. Follow Past Midway if you would like an email notification of new posts.