Starting a blog can be an excellent side project for those that enjoy sharing information about their passion. Web Tech Gadgetry has been going for just over two and a half years, and although it’s no where near being the most popular site in the world. We have enjoyed watching it grow. If you have ever wondered how to start a blog, and at that a successful blog, then you’re in the right place. We’ll be going through finding a suitable WordPress host, configuring SSL/HTTPS and enabling a CDN.

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Starting a successful blog

The key to success is patience. This site, and many other blogs on the internet use WordPress as their content management platform. WordPress has long been the industry standard, mostly due to its ease of use and famous five minute install. This makes it very quick and easy for the less tech savvy to start blogging. When it comes to WordPress you have two choices – to host your own install on a hosting platform of your choosing or run a blog through WordPress.com.

If you are serious about blogging then we would suggest that you purchase your own domain name and host it with a reputable provider. Almost one hundred percent of hosting companies offer a WordPress auto installer, meaning anyone of any level of technical ability can install WordPress in a matter of minutes. However,  WordPress.com is a good option for those who want to see whether or not blogging is for them.

Choosing a hosting provider

If you do opt to choose to self host WordPress, which we recommend, it is important to find a reliable host that offers great support, performance and value for money. When just starting out there are some excellent budget hosting options that don’t break the bank but still offer awesome speed and reliability.

Start a popular blog with HostGator

When starting out you want a reliable host that offers good value. HostGator offers just that with affordable and highly optimised WordPress hosting packages. For most just starting out, shared hosting will be suffice until a dedicated plan is required. Besides what’s nice about shared hosting is that you don’t have to worry about managing and configuring your own server.

How to start a successful blog with HostGator

Choosing a hosting plan.

The Starter plan should be sufficient for most people as it will be take some time until your blog gets over 100,000 visits per month. Most importantly all of HostGator’s WordPress plans come with backups as standard, something we learnt the hardware with the 123-Reg data disaster – almost costing us years of hard work.

Choosing a domain name

After you have selected your chosen plan, you will be asked to select a domain name. We recommend you choose something short and catchy that people will remember. Of course it’s worth considering where your target audience live. If you wish to target primarily UK based visitors then it may be worth getting a geo-specific domain such as .co.uk. However, a .com is will be suitable in almost every other circumstance.

Choosing a domain name

Choosing a domain name.

Billing

After you have selected a domain continue on to the next step, billing. You have a few options to choose from here. You can either pay monthly or pay for a number of years upfront. Of course paying yearly is cheaper – economies of scale after all.

Additional services

By default HostGator comes with HackAlert monitoring and backups. Optionally, you can opt to add domain privacy. If you are blogging from a personal residence then I’d definitely opt for domain privacy to protect your identity. Additional services

Picking an awesome theme

The age old adage “never judge a book by its cover” is never true when it comes to blogs, unless you already have a strong following. If your site doesn’t convey a good first impression, visitors are unlikely to return. Equally so it is not recommend to use the default themes as they lack some functionality whilst also being overly common.

Choosing a theme

Choosing a theme.

We would encourage you to purchase a premium theme as this will set you apart from the crowd. Premium themes also commonly boast support and added functionality that can be very useful for when your blog starts to grow. ThemeForest offer an excellent selection of WordPress blogging themes that all come with six months free support included.

Installing WordPress

HostGator makes it easy for anyone to install WordPress. No FTP or command line knowledge is required.

Integrating with Cloudflare

Let’s go global. If you want your blog to be fast around the world you’ll need to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Thankfully Cloudflare has you covered with their free CDN, Anycast DNS and flexible SSL.

Switching name servers

After signing up for a Cloudflare account you will be asked to input your domain name. After a minute or so, Cloudflare will ask you to update your domain’s name servers.

Cloudflare nameservers

Changing your domain’s name servers.

Copy and paste these values within your HostGator control panel, of course in your case the values will likely be different. Cloudflare’s DNS updates are generally quite quick, and shouldn’t require you to manually switch over your previous DNS records as it’s clever enough to do all of that automatically. That’s pretty much all that is required for the initial setup, however you’ll want to add a couple of page rules to smooth out any niggles. We’ll cover shortly, after first going through setting up flexible SSL.

Enabling SSL

This step is completely optional, but when starting out fresh it’s best to give yourself a head start. Search engines such as Google are now starting to favour sites that use SSL in the search results. Inside the security section of your Cloudflare dashboard select flexible from the dropdown of available SSL certificates.

Cloudflare Flexible SSL

SSL/HTTPS with Cloudflare

Issuance of the certificate may take a bit of time. Whilst you’re waiting, head over to the page rules section and add the following rules:

Cloudflare page rules

Cloudflare page rules

The first rule redirects all traffic to the secure version of your site (you may want to wait until the certificate has been properly issued before you do this). The secondary rule disables all page speed enhancements and caching within the WordPress admin. This prevents any weird session caching behaviour when making changes to your site.

Installing the Cloudflare plugin

For Cloudflare’s SSL to work correctly you will need to install their plugin. To do this, simply search for Cloudflare from within your WordPress blog’s plugin dashboard. An example of what you should see can be seen below.

Cloudflare's official WordPress plugin

Cloudflare’s official WordPress plugin

Once Cloudflare has been installed hit “Activate” and navigate over to the settings tab. Here you will need to enter a Cloudflare API key.

Writing your first post

Writing your first post is exciting, and hopefully the first of more to come. When writing a new post we advise you to follow these three vital steps to writing quality content:

  • Write posts of at least 800 words in length.
  • Post frequently, but only as time permits.
  • Quality is better than quantity.

Since Google Panda, Google has put a large emphasis on authoritative content. Posts that are content rich are much more likely to get better rankings within Google and similar search engines. Before starting a new post we should always check to see what other content is already available. Take a look at this content and make notes of what they have done well, and what they haven’t. Note down how many words they have written, and possibly what keywords they have used. When writing your own post you can use this data to make yours even better. Make your post longer, and feature content or information that the others didn’t.

Optimising your content

As much as the age old adage “content is king”still rings true. Search engine optimisation is still required to get the most out of your content. If you go ahead with WordPress, we highly recommend the critically acclaimed Yoast plugin. Yoast allows you to edit post titles and meta descriptions based on a focus keyword, all the while giving you pointers as to how well optimised your content is.

This is what makes blogging both hard, and also rewarding – it takes a jack of all trades.

There are many elements to running a blog. Writing quality content alone is no easy task, but good content alone isn’t no longer enough these days. We have to be able to market our content through social media, and search engine optimisation. This is what makes blogging both hard, and also rewarding – it takes a jack of all trades.

Tracking performance

Now that you have a brand new blog, you’ll probably want to track its performance. Or else how do you know if anyone is reading your content? The industry standard in tracking page views and visits is Google Analytics. This is a free service, available to anyone with a Google Account. Fortunately, for users of WordPress, there are many plugins available that make implementing this service easier.

Analytics is a great way of keeping track of site traffic. We are able to see how many visitors landed on a specific post or page, which pages they exited from and whether they came from Google, or a site linking to your content.

We love scaling back the time line and looking at the visitors graph steadily increase from when Web Tech Gadgetry first went live.

Summary

Remember. Keep going and eventually you will succeed. Building up traffic and a reader base takes time, but is certainly possible. The first steps are always the hardest, but once you get the ball rolling it will only get faster. Becoming a popular blogger doesn’t have to be the only indicator of success. Set reasonable targets for yourself that can be achieved within a timely manner. For example, aim to increase your blog’s traffic by 10% over a three month period. We’re always keen to set our targets high, but ultimately this is likely to result in disappointment. Please comment below if you have any questions. We are always happy to give a fellow blogger a helping hand.