Build a self-hosted blog that looks like a million dollars on a budget. Read step by step advice, tips, and free resources.
If you look at some of the big and successful blogs out there, you will notice many of them are going with a clean, simple look versus a colorful, busy blog. Less seems to be more. But that simple yet stylish look isn’t as easy to achieve as it would appear!
Like many bloggers, I started out writing a nice little blog on blogger.com and then wordpress.com about something I enjoyed (fitness) in my free time and it didn’t cost me a thing.
I quickly caught the “blogging bug” and really enjoyed being a part of the fitness and blogging communities, connecting with other bloggers, and being able to kind of run the show and be creative with my blog. So I got the brilliant idea to go self-hosted.
Here is the thing… you can run a free blog on wordpress.com or blogger and not spend a dime!
But this post is not about that, we are going to be talking about starting a self-hosted blog on wordpress.org.
If you want to be a serious blogger, you have to go self-hosted.
Designing a blog on wordpress.org is a whole different ball game than wordpress.com. It is like moving up to the big leagues from the minor league. You think you are ready, but boy, you are in for a surprise!
Before I go any further, let me quickly explain the difference between self-hosted on wordpress.org vs. not self-hosted on wordpress.com:
WordPress.COM – This is a free platform for your blog, it has some really great choices for themes and is very customizable. Since your site is hosted by wordpress.com, you cannot sell on your blog or make money from it.
WordPress.ORG – While this platform is not free (cost anywhere from about $4-6/month), you have MUCH more control over the design and look and feel of your blog. You have the ability to add customization through plug-ins (like that little Pinterest button that floats in the left hand corner of each picture). You also own the site so you can sell and make money on it if you wanted to.
While wordpress.org offers many blogger perks, it is no walk in the bloggin’ park…
Buying a domain name, paying for a hosting company, picking a theme, trying to customize that theme only to realize the theme you picked is not very customizable, attempting to learn code before coming to your senses, searching for themes again, installing plug-ins, creating a logo (or a bunch because you aren’t satisfied with any of them), deciding on fonts and colors, choosing an email marketing service, and the list goes on… This can all quickly turn into a time consuming, expensive, and frustrating endeavor and make a blogger miss wordpress.com!
I spent A LOT of time, money, and energy learning things the hard way.
So I wanted to share some valuable, easy-to-follow tips that I wish I had known sooner to help you create a clean and stylish blog on a budget, and hopefully, save you from a few gray hairs!
You will most likely either already have a blog on wordpress.com or blogger and want to transfer it to wordpress.org OR you are starting a blog from scratch on wordpress.org.
I heard horror stories about transferring blogs, so just decided to start a new blog when I went self-hosted. I did re-write a few of my favorite posts from my old blog and included them in my new one, but for the most part, I wanted to create something new and fresh and different.
Ask yourself these questions before you go any further:
- Who is my target audience?
- What is my mission statement?
- How is my content valuable to my readers?
- What sets me a part from my competitors?
- Who is doing what I want to do? Find a couple people/bloggers you admire and see what they are doing!
- What do I want to ultimately achieve with my blog?
This gives you a framework or starting point so that your blog and you stay focused! This was a big step I did not take with my first blog and I began to just feel like my posts were so random and scattered. I was not even sure what the purpose of my blog was so how the heck was anyone else supposed to know!
Once you choose a blog name, you will have to buy the domain name. I use BlueHost and it is very simple, affordable, and, if you host with them, it just makes things simpler.
Also, many times they have deals where if you host with them, you get the domain name for free.
Go to BlueHost and click “Get Started” and search to see if the domain name you want is available. I would suggest trying to snag the .com if possible, but you could also buy a .org or something else.
Your domain name will also come with an email address.
Now that you have a domain name, you need to set up hosting. Think of the domain name as your address, the hosting account as the house you live in, and the theme is how you decorate your house.
There are many companies that offer hosting services. I highly recommend BlueHost – I use them and am very happy with their services. The prices are reasonable and customer service is great. If you have any questions, you can live chat them pretty much anytime.
BlueHost also offers an affiliate program. So if you do decide to use BlueHost, help a sista out and please CLICK HERE to sign up so I get credit! And then go create an affiliate account for yourself!
Install WordPress.org to start getting creative.
Log onto your cpanel (control panel) in BlueHost and click the “Install WordPress” button. It pretty much walks you through what to do, but here is a short video tutorial.
Once you install wordpress.org, you can get out of the cpanel and start working on your blog in wordpress.
Omygosh, I wanted to rip my hair right out of my head trying to figure this one out! I had just spent $100 buying a domain name and paying to host my website for the next three years, so I was really trying not to spend a bunch of money on my theme when I designed a perfectly great one for free on wordpress.com.
Well, the free theme options are limited on wordpress.org and even once you choose one, the amount of customization varies on all of them. I did the best I could with the free themes but I just wasn’t satisfied.
So I researched a few blog posts about themes and started looking at the bottoms of other blogs to see what they used to design their sites.
It seemed pretty clear that many bloggers were using the Genesis framework. I had heard a lot about Genesis and how ideal it was because of it’s features, updates, plug-in options, and customization options.
So I bit the bullet and paid $60 to download and install Genesis.
DO NOT DO THIS…yet!
Let me explain…
I read this post that put it very well. Genesis framework is basically like the make and model of your car, it’s just the basic frame. The theme is what makes the car that shiny red color or puts an ornament on the front hood or whatever one might do to snazz up their car (I am so not a car person… as long as it runs, I am happy).
When you buy the Genesis framework, it comes with the Child theme. This theme is very limiting, to say the least. If you want a more customizable and stylish theme, you would have to buy it.
The expenses seem to just be adding up, eh?
I, for one, was really annoyed and frustrated at this point.
In a last ditch effort before smashing my computer on the ground, I tweeted Amanda from Run To The Finish who had recently did a blog make over and was using Genesis. I asked her if she had any designer recommendations and she gave me the BEST ADVICE!
She said to check out Etsy.com.
I went on Etsy and found a theme I liked from Studio Mommy and it was on sale for $12! Most themes are anywhere between $20-$50. Once you buy the theme, you can download it to your computer and then upload it to the theme section on wordpress.org. It is that easy.
Aside from it being a great price, the theme I bought also came with the Genesis framework that I had just paid $60 for!! Grrr.
Apparently, once you buy the Genesis framework, you can use it for multiple sites and share it with others. That may change one day, but right now you could buy a really nice theme from a designer and get the Genesis framework with it for free!
Not only did I get a stylish and chic looking theme and the Genesis framework (again), but my purchase also came with a tutorial, a sample blog with the design I chose, and a pdf. with all the fonts and color codes that are used in the theme. TOTALLY WORTH IT!
Etsy is also a great place to look for pre-made logos and headers that you can add your own text to. Or you could have one custom made for a minimal price.
I bought a watermark logo for $3 from Dutch Lady Designs. Then all I had to do was go into a program (PicMonkey and Canva are free) and add my text. Save it and then upload it as the header on my blog, Facebook ,Twitter, etc. Easy peasy.
[UPDATE] I have updated my blog header since this post, but below you can see my old header.
Plug-ins are one of the fantastic benefits of hosting your own site. They allow you to add cool, extra features to your blog that you typically cannot do on a free blog.
There are a TON of great plug-ins out there and a bunch of articles/blog posts with recommendations. So I suggest doing your own research based on what you want.
Below are the plug-ins I currently use and recommend, they are free and pretty user-friendly:
Yoast SEO – Search Engine Optimization for each post.
Askimet – Filters out spam comments.
Jetpack by WordPress – Simplifies managing WordPress sites by giving you visitor stats, security services, speeding up images, and increasing traffic
CommentLuv – Places a link to your readers’ last blog post at the end of their comment.
Better Click to Tweet – Allows you to include tweets within your posts for people to just click to share
Bloggin' ain't easy. But if you are going to do it, here is how to build a killer blog on a budget. Click To Tweet
Magic Action Box – Opt-in box that you see on my sidebar and after posts.
Worpress Pop Up – Simple to navigate and integrates well with MailChimp
Related Posts by Zemanta – Shares related posts at the end of each blog post.
Pin It Button for Pinterest – Allows readers to easily pin your images by clicking that little Pinterest logo you see in the corner of images.
Simple Share Buttons Adder – Allows users to share your posts on social media by clicking the icons at the end of the post.
Instagram Feed – Display beautifully clean, customizable, and responsive Instagram feeds.
PixelYourSite – Add the Facebook Pixel code into your WordPress site and set up standard events with just a few clicks.
Building your email list is all the rage in online marketing. Direct email has proven to result in more reads and clicks than social media alone.
An influential marketing blogger Derek Halpern ran a test where he sent his latest blog post to the same number of people via both email and Twitter. The results: 300 people clicked through to the article from Twitter and 4,200 people clicked through to the article from email. (source)
Even if you are not sure what or if you would sell something in the future, if you are going to spend the time and money to create your own blog, you might as well collect your readers’ email addresses.
There are quite a few options when it comes to collecting email addresses. I recommend MailChimp because it is free up to 2,000 email addresses.
While I did not find MailChimp super easy to navigate at first, it does integrate well with blogs and has quite a few capabilities.
Here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to set up Mailchimp for the first time – and send your freebie new subscriber.
So how are you going to get your readers to give you their email addresses?
Provide them with something of value that they are willing to exchange their email for. A downloadable pdf. or ebook is a good place to start. It does not have to be super fancy but it should be something you feel you could charge for but your so nice you aren’t going to. 🙂
There are a couple different ways to go about this…
- Many bloggers write a great post and then offer a downloadable pdf., for free, as kind of an “upgrade” option. In order to get the pdf., you have to put in your email. Amy Porterfield does this with almost every post/podcast and the information she offers is so valuable that it is hard to say no to!
- Another option is to create an ebook like I did. Promote it within your posts, on your blog, and on social media.
In today’s day in age, you have to promote your blog on social media. So if you don’t already have social media accounts set up, I suggest you pick a couple platforms and get active on them!
Pinterest is a GREAT place to share your pretty images and direct readers to your blog. There is also a ton of info on there about basically any subject… blogging, business, DIY, recipes, fitness, you name it, there is probably a board for it!
Facebook is the way of the future and pretty much everyone and their mother is on FB. Here is a post about how to set up a Facebook page for your blog or business.
Twitter is quick and easy to use so why not set up an account, follow fellow bloggers in your niche, and share your and their content. You can connect Twitter to your blog and Facebook so every time you publish a post, it also live tweets it.
Instagram is making waves for blogs and businesses! I always thought it was for celebrities to take selfies but apparently not! Fellow blogger Georgie from In It For The Long Run actually started seeing great success from Instagram, check out her post: How To Transform Your Blog Using Instagram.
There are other social media platforms, but I would say FB, Twitter, Pinterest, and IG are the top four.
The Meat and Potatoes
Now that you have your blog set up, it is time to start filling it with great posts!
This takes times, but be sure your posts are packed with awesome content, provide value to your readers, include some creative images that you can share on social media, and have a catchy header.
In my post Why I Started a New Blog and How To Make Your Posts Better, I dive a little deeper into these points.
After you write your awesome post, you have to promote it. Unfortunately, just because you build it, they will not come.
- Pin your images to Pinterest in your own boards and group boards
- Share your post on Facebook and Twitter
- Schedule a few more creative tweets on Twitter
- Share on any other social media platform (Google Plus, Instagram, Periscope)
- Respond to comments
So let’s break down how much it would cost to buy a domain name, set up self-hosting, and design a blog…
Domain name: Free – $5.99/ for first year if you also host with Bluehost – then about $18/year after that
Hosting Service: $52/year (varies from $3.99-$5.99/mo depending how many years you commit to. I signed up for 3 years so it is about $4.33/mo with taxes)
Design on Etsy: $12 (came with Genesis Framework, $60 value)
Logo Header on Etsy: $3 (added my own text for free in PicMonkey)
Of course there are other things you could pay for ($5 to promote a really good post on FB is not a bad deal at all), but these essentials will have you well on your way to a professionally looking blog for well under what you would pay a designer!
And here is the thing, just KEEP LEARNING. Anything you need to know can probably be found online somewhere. Information is being uploaded to the internet every day at a phenomenal pace. Encyclopedias are a thing of the past.
It was reported that in 2012 that Google received over 2 million search queries per minute and in 2014 that number doubled to over 4 million search queries per minute.
If you are a self-hosted blogger, how was your experience going self-hosted?
What is something you love or hate to see when you visit a new blog?
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the BlueHost links, I’ll receive some commission.
The new blog looks great, Sarah. And wow, this is a comprehensive post. Great work! I will definitely share this one!
Great tips! Your blog is adorable so thanks for sharing how you got it that way! I’m thinking about self hosting someday but it’s so hard to get away from that free wordpress.com site!
Oh I know – it took me such a long time to finally go self-hosted, and it was not easy, but you do have a lot more freedom and I figure if you are going to put all this effort in to blogging, it would be nice to try and make a little money from it someday…
Great post! I had learned this creating Grab Your Kicks (which is no more), but I wish someone would’ve put this together when I had initially started my blog. It can be confusing. Great post, Sarah! Love the new blog too.
Nikki! How are you? What are you up to, how is the baby?!?! 🙂