How To Start A WordPress Blog: 5 Quick Steps

Part of the beauty of a blog is how quickly and easily you can get going. You can go from zero to blog in about ten minutes by using good blog software, especially if you go with hosted blog software. 

If you spend much time looking at blogs or talking to bloggers, you can’t miss references to WordPress, one of the best-known and well-liked blogging software options available today. WordPress comes in two flavors — hosted and installable. 

This article runs through an overview of how to install WordPress on your server, use the administration panel, play with themes and widgets, and find out where to connect with other WordPress users in your local community and online. 

Step 1: Choosing between WordPress.com and WordPress.org

WordPress.org is the open-source release of the WordPress platform. Some blog software is available as both a hosted service and a version that you can download and install. WordPress is one of those packages. 

References to WordPress are uniformly about the version of the software that you download and install on your own server. You can check it out online at www.wordpress.org. However, the option at WordPress.com is a hosted version. Fortunately, you can use both types of WordPress for free.

When WordPress.com was launched, many bloggers rejoiced because WordPress had reached the blogging mainstream. Bloggers could now create blogs with ease and use the tools that they had come to love without having to tinker in the background or stress over how to maintain those blogs.

Although choosing a version of WordPress may seem daunting, it really isn’t. You just need to ask yourself these questions: How much control do you want to have over your site? Do you worry about not owning your content? Do you prefer freedom over ease? If your answers are positive, you should continue reading this article! If not, WordPress.com may be the WordPress for you.

Step 2: Installing WordPress

You can get your WordPress installation up and running without a huge amount of difficulty, but in order to get your site going, you need to follow some very important steps.

1. Registering a domain

Have you already chosen a name for your blog? Have you purchased the related domain? When you’re itching to get your blog online and want to control every aspect, the domain is the first thing that you need. 

A domain is the name and brand of your blog, and the web address (or URL). It gives visitors an idea of what your blog is about and who you are. You can have some fun getting creative with your blog name! Before committing to a blog name, why not see what others have done? The following list gives you five examples of some of the world’s top blogs and their domains:

  • Mashable (www.mashable.com): A news aggregation site with the purpose of informing and entertaining.
  • TechCrunch (www.techcrunch.com): A technology-industry blog.
  • Gizmodo (www.gizmodo.com): A blog that talks about almost anything.
  • Lifehacker (www.lifehacker.com): A site that suggests ways that you can make your life better and more efficient.
  • Gawker (www.gawker.com): A site featuring the most-talked-about stories on the Internet.

The domains in the preceding list make quite an impression despite the fact that, at first glance, they don’t necessarily tell the visitor much about the content. If you find and bookmark a blog that you like, you keep going back for the great content, not the domain name.

2. Selecting a web hosting

After you choose an appropriate domain for your blog, you need somewhere for your WordPress install to live.

Most web hosts have similar configurations and should be able to handle what you need, but you can review the official WordPress requirements page at http://wordpress.org/about/requirements/.

WordPress also has a handy bit of text that you can copy and send to potential web hosts to see whether their services can handle WordPress. How cool is that? Although the web hosting field changes from time to time with new hosting companies popping up, the following are some of the industry’s top picks for providing everything that you need for WordPress:

Each of these companies offers well-known, quality web hosting.

3. Getting the software

After you sort out your web host and site domain, you next need to download and extract the WordPress files from WordPress.org and put them on your computer. Choose a place you’ll remember, such as a Documents or Download directory. Follow these steps:

  1. Point your web browser to www.wordpress.org. The main WordPress page appears.
  2. Click the blue Download Word Press tab in the top-right corner. The site takes you to a short instructional page that has download information on it.
  3. Click the Download WordPress plus version number button. Your web browser may ask you to select a location to place the files that are downloading. If it does, choose a place on your computer that you will remember. Your Desktop or Documents folder are decent choices.
  4. After the compressed file downloads, double-click it to expand(or unzip) the files it contains on your computer.

WordPress.org provides the downloadable file in two compressed formats: GZip (.tar.gz) and ZIP (.zip) format. These days, most computer systems recognize the ZIP format, and you should be able to open it without installing any additional software. 

After you expand the .zip file, you can delete it from your computer. Many host companies walk you through the downloading and installing of Word-Press on your site via your cPanel (control panel). Ask your web host whether it offers packages that include WordPress installation as part of the setup.

4. Uploading the WordPress files

Do you have your files unzipped? Great! Now, the installation process gets a little more technical. You need to upload these unzipped files to your web hosting space by using an FTP (file transfer protocol) client. If you don’t have an FTP client installed on your computer, you have plenty of free options that you can download and install.

The following are my two favorite FTP clients:

  • FileZilla (www.filezilla-project.org): Available for all computer platforms
  • Cyberduck (www.cyberduck.ch): Available only for Macintosh computers

Both of these programs have the capability to connect and transfer files to your new web host. To place the WordPress files on your web host, follow these steps:

  1. Download and install the FTP client of your choice. Look for installation instructions on the FTP software website.
  2. Start your FTP client.
  3. Connect to your web server by using the details that your web host provided you for FTP access. These details usually include a URL, username, and password. The directory in which you store the WordPress files is normally the main directory that you see when you connect via FTP. Check with your web host if you’re confused.
  4. Using the FTP software, upload the WordPress files from your computer to the server. In some FTP clients, you can drag and drop the WordPress files to the location on the web host. Others use arrow interfaces.
  5. When the files finish uploading, close your FTP client.

At some point in the future, you may need to upload additional files (although WordPress is fairly good at doing most of its updates directly through the interface). That said, make sure to retain the information that you used to connect to your web host.

5. Setting up the database

You’re doing great! But don’t rest on your laurels; this next step is probably the most technical. Take a deep breath and prepare to set up a database for your WordPress blog. You can do it! Arguably, setting up a database isn’t actually terribly difficult. 

However, each web host handles databases in different ways, so I can’t give you straightforward instructions for accomplishing this task. Your web host is in the business of handling technical issues, and of course, it sets up the environment in the first place. 

Don’t hesitate to request assistance with your database setup. The database system that you need to use is called MySQL. (Without MySQL, you can’t use WordPress.) MySQL is a relational database management system. 

It can store all kinds of data for WordPress — from your blog posts to sidebar widget links, as well as all your WordPress settings. 

So, MySQL stores the blog posts that you write inside a database that’s fast, efficient, and flexible. 

After you know how to access your database setup tool, follow these steps:

  1. Log into your web host. 
  2. Create the database. You need to name your database something that makes sense. If you have a blog called Joe Smith’s Wondrous Adventures, you can name the database joesmith. The length of database names and database usernames are normally limited, and you can’t include special characters in the names. 
  3. Create a database user. You can make the username anything, except the name that you used for your database. The same length and special character restrictions apply, though. 
  4. Assign a password to that user.

Don’t forget to write this information down so that you can use it when you run the WordPress install script. Because web hosting companies can choose for themselves which MySQL database system to include in their hosting packages, I don’t know which of the following applies to your situation. But web hosts commonly use one of the following management systems:

  • phpMyAdmin: A database management tool (shown in Figure 5-5) that a lot of web hosts provide to their clients. You can create and delete databases, manage database users, and (depending on what permissions the web host gives you) manipulate the data itself.
  • cPanel: A common web host interface that generally enables users to create and delete databases. You normally do any additional manipulation by using phpMyAdmin.
  • Plesk: Yet another web host interface that allows users to create and delete databases and manage database users. You do any data manipulation by using phpMyAdmin.

The web host that you choose probably uses one of the interfaces in the preceding list. You can figure them out and use them fairly easily. If you’re running only one blog, you need only a single database. If you’re thinking of running more than one, you need to find out how to keep your databases healthy and separate by using tools that your web host provides.

6. Running the install script

After you put the WordPress files in the directory your web host recommends and write down the database information, you only have to run the WordPress installer. The installer is super simple. Things can go wrong, of course, but if the installer gets stuck, it does a very good job of letting you know exactly what you need to do.

Follow these steps to install WordPress: 

  1. To run the installer, point your Internet browser to www.yourwebdomain.com/wp-admin/install.php. Remember to replace www.yourwebdomain.com with your domain name! The installer checks to see whether you’ve created or edited the configuration file. If it doesn’t find one, it will create it for you. 
  2. Click Create a Configuration File. This creates your WordPress configuration file. Now all you need to do is enter the information the configuration file needs. 
  3. Make sure you have the database name, username, password, and hostname. If you do, click Let’s Go!
  4. Enter the database information. You can usually leave the database host as localhost because most web hosting environments use that host without complaint. You don’t have to change the table prefix, either.
  5. Click Submit. 
  6. Click Run the Install. 
  7. Enter a blog title and your email address in the text boxes provided. 
  8. Click Install WordPress. If everything goes well, the installer displays the word Success on the screen. The username and password of the administration user also appear on the screen. Keep a record of this information in a safe location because if your blog experiences any problems or you need to conduct any WordPress configuration or management, you will need to log in using the admin account. 
  9. Click Log In. The log-in page appears, where you can log into your new installation. That’s it! You’ve done it! You can now log into your new WordPress installation and get busy publishing.

The configuration file is named wp-config.php. If your installer can’t create the configuration file automatically, follow the instructions that WordPress provides at http://codex.wordpress.org/Installing_WordPress#Setup_configuration_ file to create the file by hand.

Step 3: Getting Familiar with Settings

After you have your new blog software installed and running, you can log into your WordPress admin account and take a look around. The WordPress software does a lot right out of the box to make your blogging life as simple as possible. 

You have the ability to create blog posts; create static pages; add images and multimedia files; connect to social networking sites, such as Instagram and Pinterest; and chat with blog visitors by using the commenting system. 

Either these functions come with the WordPress install, or you can add them by using a plug-in that you download and install. Each of these plug-ins typically has an administration page. In the following sections, I introduce you to the administration section of the blog itself.

1. Logging in 

Before you can start posting, you need to head on over to the Log In page and enter the username and password that were provided to you during the installation process. To log into your new website, you may want to bookmark the following link: www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin/wp-login.php Remember to replace www.yourwebdomain.com with your domain name!

2. Setting up an Editor account

WordPress allows you to set up and maintain several levels of user accounts in addition to the administrative account created during the setup process. These account types are called roles. They are as follows:

  • Administrator: Administrators have access to all features and areas of the blog software, from technical configuration to user accounts to content tools. This is the most powerful level of access on your blog; handle with care! 
  • Editor: This is a user who can publish posts, manage posts, and manage other account posts. 
  • Author: This is a user who can publish and manage his or her own posts.
  • Contributor: This is a user role that allows someone to write and manage posts but not publish them live to the blog. 
  • Subscriber: This is a user who can read comments, post comments, and receive other private information.

If you are the only person blogging on your website, you should still go ahead and set up an Editor user account for creating blog posts. 

I recommend that you don’t use the administrative account created during installation as the account you use when you author blog posts; it’s a bit like driving a car by opening the hood and manipulating the engine directly. 

Instead, use the perfectly good steering wheel that comes with WordPress by setting up an Editor account. Reserve the administrative account for administrative tasks like installing new themes, plug-ins, and any other general maintenance. Set up your Editor account by following these steps:

  1. Log into your WordPress installation. 
  2. From the Dashboard, click Users. You see the full list of users and their roles. 
  3. Click Add New. WordPress loads the Add New User screen. 
  4. Fill out the user fields. You see a listing of text boxes: username, first name, last name, email, website, and password. Only three are required: username, password, and email address. I recommend filling in the first and last names as well. 
  5. Select the Editor role. 
  6. Click Add User. The user is created.

When you set up a new user, you can choose to send the account information to the new user’s email address. In this case, the account is for yourself, so you don’t need to select this check box. 

If you want to have additional writers on your blog, consider setting them up as Authors — instead of Editors — and notifying them as you set up their accounts. After you create your new Editor account, don’t forget to log out of the administrative account and then log in again as an Editor!

3. Using the Dashboard 

Each time you log into your WordPress blog, you end up on the Dashboard page. Get to know this page well because you spend most of your blogging time here. You can configure the front Dashboard to your liking by moving panels around and turning panels on or off.

On the left side of the Dashboard, a series of menus point you to the various sections of the admin

  • Posts: Find links that allow you to edit posts, add new posts, and manage categories and tags. 
  • Media: Get a link to upload new media files to your media library or manage previously uploaded media. 
  • Links: Manage lists of links on your website. For example, group links together into categories and post them in sidebars as link lists.
  • Pages: Click to go to the Page Administration section. Pages in WordPress are considered static pieces of content (pages that change only once in a while) and aren’t blog posts. Use them for pretty much any section of your websites, such as a bio page or contact page. You can then link to these pages from a sidebar menu or via another blog post. Some themes may also provide you with menus that you can use to link to different sections of your blog. 
  • Comments: Post, delete, and respond to comments that readers have added to blog posts on your website. 
  • Appearance: View installed themes, activate new themes, edit existing themes, and search for additional themes from the online WordPress theme catalog. 
  • Plugins: View installed plug-ins, activate and deactivate plug-ins, search for new plug-ins from WordPress.org, and edit plug-in files right in the interface. 
  • Users: Manage the users for your blog, including readers and additional authors. 
  • Tools: Manage additional tools for improved speed by using Google Gears, import and export blog posts and comments, and conduct WordPress upgrades. Google Gears is an optional plug-in for browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer and adds functionality to your browser.
  • Settings: Make all the general changes to the blog, such as the name of the site, your email address, and the date and time-zone settings.

 

  • General: Contains basic account information such as email address, time format, and site language. 
  • Writing: Contains settings for the editor interface, as well as default settings for categories, RSS, and tags. You can also access settings to set up remote email. 
  • Reading: Choose the number of blog posts that appear on the front page of your blog and the number of postings available in your RSS feed. 
  • Discussion Settings: Control what kinds of communication your blog sends out. For example, you can get the blog to notify you by email when someone adds a new comment. 
  • Media: Upload and manage any of your media files. You can add titles and descriptions, organize images and audio, add captions to images, and make minor changes to image sizes. 
  • Permalinks: Permalinks are the permanent links to your individual posts. You can configure the format of the post URLs so that they contain both date information and keywords, or keywords only. You can also set default categories for posts and tags.

4. Checking out the panels

On the right side of the Dashboard, you see a series of panels. Each panel gives you access to parts of the administrative interface for WordPress. The default panels are

At a Glance: Contains a quick overview of what’s happening on your blog. The panel displays  

  • The number of posts on the blog 
  • The number of comments 
  • The spam count 
  • The number of categories and tags currently in use on the site

Activity: Lists the most recent comment activity on your blog and provides links that allow you to moderate and respond to comments without leaving the Dashboard.

Quick Draft: Allows you to post a quick note on your blog right from the administration panel.  

WordPress News: Contains a listing of blog posts from other WordPress blogs that talk about WordPress.

Step 4: Creating a Post

I’m sure you’re bursting at the seams to get your first blog post online. The process is quite simple in terms of using WordPress. The real challenge is coming up with good stuff to blog about!

To start a new blog post, follow these steps:

1). Click the Posts menu in the Dashboard and select Add New. WordPress opens the Add New Post page. 

2). Give your post a title by entering it in the text box below Add New Post. 

3). Add some text in the body text box. Use the formatting buttons if you want to change the style of your text, create a list, or otherwise add elements.

4). Use any of the other options that you want for this post. WordPress gives you the following options: 

  • Excerpt: If you want, you can write a short summary of your post for the Excerpt field.  
  • Post Tags: Tags are keywords that describe the topic of your post. Tagging your posts lets search engines easily identify the subject material you discuss and means your post is likely to rank higher in search engine listings. 
  • Categories: Use the Add New Category link in the Categories box if you need to create a new category for your post. Categories are general groups that you can sort your blog posts into so that readers can easily locate the content most interesting to them. 
  • Discussion: You can choose whether you want to allow readers to post comments on this posting and whether you want to permit trackbacks. Trackbacks link two or more blog posts together. 
  • Custom Fields: You can add custom fields to your posts, which you fully control. Custom fields are simply fields that appear in each blog post that you can display by altering the template for your blog. For example, if your blog is a restaurant-review blog, you might choose to add custom fields for the location or rating of each restaurant that you review.

5). Click Publish to save your blog post and check out your blog to see how it looks! 

If you’re not ready to post your blog entry to the public, you can save your posting as a draft or preview it before you post it. Also, you can set a particular date if you want to schedule your post for publication in the future. Look for a Visit Site link at the top of the Dashboard; the link takes you right to your blog.

Step 5: Customizing Your Design

After you’ve played around with a few of the WordPress features, you may be thinking, “How do I make this new blog pretty?” The answer is as simple as a menu click. Just follow these steps:

  1. From the menus on the left side of the Dashboard, click Appearance. The Themes tab opens, displaying a list of themes that you can install and allowing you to install new themes. 
  2. Select Add New to search for themes based on color, keyword, columns, width, features, or subject, make your selections, and then click Find Themes. WordPress returns a list of themes based on your search query. 
  3. Click Live Preview to see how a particular theme looks. 
  4. After you find a theme that you like, click Install to load the theme onto your server. 
  5. Click Activate to apply the theme to your blog.

You can install several themes all at the same time and then take time to test which theme best suits your blog. Now, do you want to get into the code even more? If so, get ready to dive into HTML. Only the brave venture into this territory because it requires knowledge of HTML, CSS, PHP, and WordPress’s own markup language.

The code editing for WordPress includes a little more than just plain old HTML. Some bloggers love playing with HTML code; others run away as fast as they can. If you have the chops, however, the developers of WordPress have made accessing and modifying the theme files a fairly easy task.

Select Editor from the Appearance menu to get at the editing interface for the currently installed theme. The editor is simply a text editor in which you can manipulate the files in your theme without using any other technology (such as FTP) to access the files. It’s simple to use and doesn’t have too many frills. 

The drawback to using the editor is that you really need to know your stuff when it comes to HTML code, CSS, and a little PHP threw in for good measure. If you don’t know what these technologies do, I don’t recommend touching your theme without a little practice beforehand. Make backups!

Final Words

You could spend a lot of time figuring out WordPress, and I just can’t fit it all into a single article. (I tried!) But you’re far from alone in your search for a better understanding of your new WordPress blog. A great many websites and blogs can help you further your WordPress education.

The official WordPress documentation is available online and updated regularly. You can find out about the latest functionality as well as see what’s coming up in the future. The community offers a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section, and you can get involved in this large and active web community.

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