Things I wish I knew before starting a blog
I wrote this article after committing several mistakes that cost me time and money.
Also, this is another piece of the puzzle for someone starting writing online. Similar to WordPress not being efficient for bloggers.
So, if you want to avoid some of those mistakes and make decisions with more intention, keep reading.
This list isn't a complete list of all mistakes you can think of. Instead, this is based on my experience.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links are affiliates. This means that if you buy after clicking on one of those, I get a commission at no additional cost for you.
When starting a blog is essential to:
- Decide the things you want and don't want;
- Have an idea of a budget;
- Keep links short and unchanged;
- Try WordPress alternatives.
But it's also:
- Don't buy themes in the beginning;
- Don't get distracted by customizing the design;
- Don't delay publishing and making the blog public;
- Don't follow advice blindly.
Things to do when starting a blog
Again, this is based on my experience and is some of the best advice I can give.
So, this is a list of things I would like to know when starting. And I think it is beneficial for you when starting a blog.
Decide what you want and don't want
When you start, have an idea of what you want on the blog.
I'm talking about the way to structure things and design.
But it's also essential to have in mind stuff you don't want.
- I didn't want my blog to have sidebars as I think they are awful;
- I didn't want to write code after the experience I had with WordPress;
- I liked the website to be fast.
So, before you start, look for 2 or 3 blogs and use them as inspiration.
At this stage, a beginner won't know if the design they are looking for is complex or easy to achieve.
And my take is that minimalist is better. Why? Because there will be fewer things to build before launching the website. Also, you can add more stuff later.
For example, I had design ideas but didn't have the technical knowledge to execute them. And I wasted several hours trying to implement them.
You see, I haven't talked about deciding to use WordPress or not. However, that isn't the point of this article.
Instead, I'm telling you that focusing on the wants and don't want will help you make better decisions.
And most people default to WordPress because it's the most popular option.
But think about what you want before talking about tools.
So, you can think about it this way:
- What do you want your website to look like?
- What things do you consider essential to have on the blog from day 1?
- What is the thing you don't care about or don't want on your blog?
After answering these, you start looking for the tools to help you. Not the other way around.
And even then, WordPress isn't the only choice. I defend that it's not efficient for blogs. And I know my take isn't popular.
But if you want to use WordPress, have a motive. Either because you want to do almost everything with it. Which is the flexibility people talk about.
As an alternative, if you want to customize a lot and don't use code, you should look into Webflow, Wix, or Squarespace.
Don't be afraid of the poor historical reputation of some platforms because they have gotten better. And even John Mueller said website builders like Wix are fine:
If you want to focus on writing, my advice is:
- Ghost: more flexibility in case you want to use code to add features;
- blogstatic: cheap, simple, and nothing to install.
Know your budget
I'm not saying you have to define a strict budget, like "I won't spend more than 100 dollars per year on my blog".
But also, not having a budget isn't helpful.
For example, I didn't define a budget. I wanted something cheap/ affordable, but this was a vague concept.
Why does it matter? I chose WordPress and saw that there were plugins for doing a lot of the stuff I wanted.
The problem? Those plugins weren't always free. It should've served as a warning that I couldn't afford most of it.
The consequence? I didn't build my "dream website" and hated the website I had.
As the saying goes: you don't know what you don't know.💡This is a tangent to the topic, but this article explains why I moved from WordPress to Ghost.
So, make a budget before you start.
And you should:
- do a lot of research before buying anything;
- look for alternatives if the tool you want goes over your budget.
Let me tell you an important lesson: you can change ideas.
You can also change tools later.
You're not stuck with that CMS/ website builder for life when you start your blog.
Surprising, I know.
Yes, it might be tedious and hard to do a migration, but do what you can within your budget.
And when you're profitable, make decisions not based on money.
Let me give you 2 examples. 1 for WordPress and 1 for Ghost.
Example 1: WordPress
You start using WordPress but don't have money for plugins. Then build what you can with free plugins.
Later, when you have the money, buy plugins for speed optimization. And to add more features you want to the site. And so on.
Rome wasn't built in a day.
So, be patient and respect your budget.
end of example 1
Example 2: Ghost
Imagine you want to use Ghost CMS, and you don't know how to code. In this case, you should pick a managed hosting for Ghost.
And even if you can't afford the most popular managed hosting for Ghost, you can use DigitalPress because they have a free plan.
end of example 2
My take is to research well and find solutions that fit your budget. And lower your expectations a bit if you use WordPress ;)
Keep the links unchanged
Another thing I should have paid more attention to was keeping the links of posts and pages unchanged.
This is easy to do, and my advice is to avoid using nested links if you're not sure about the long-term structure of the blog.
Let's see an example.
You decide to have the menu titles (menu 1) in the links like this:
Nested links = including menus titles in the pages.
I would avoid this because you can change your mind over time, and it will be a pain to create redirects into the new URL.
Also, it could result in a loss of rankings if not done correctly.
So, if you're not 100% sure about the link and URL structure, you should use shorter and simple links like:
When you start blogging, you might have an idea of talking about a topic, but later, you might want to remove it from the website. And, by doing for the simple route, you avoid the trouble.💡Having nested links can be helpful if you talk about several topics on your site and want to have some cluster pages. But this is more advanced stuff and a conversation for later.
Try WordPress alternatives
Most people default to WordPress because they have heard about it and are recommended.
I did this too. But I advise you to try WordPress alternatives.
Again, you don't know what you don't know.
So, how would you know if WordPress is the right decision before giving another CMS/ website builder a chance?
My experience tells me you won't.
WordPress isn't bad but can be more expensive or complicated for the task you want.
So, if you are inclined to use WordPress, create a WordPress.com account and test it.
By doing this, features will be limited, but you won't have to spend money to try WordPress.
And after you create a basic blog, go and try another CMS or site builder.
I'm talking about Ghost, blogstatic, Wix, Squarespace, etc. Anything. Test other tools.
By creating basic websites with other tools, you get more comfortable with the things you want or can do with each one.
For me, Ghost and blogstatic are much better to focus on writing. But you must try yourself.
I had my blog on WordPress, but it was game over when I tried Ghost CMS. And I couldn't go back.
Since then, I have loved using Ghost.💡I hated opening my blog when using WordPress and spent a lot of time tweaking the design. But with Ghost, it's the opposite: I only focus on writing, and I love opening the website!
So, this experimentation is valuable.
Experiment until you find a tool you feel is right for you.
Things to avoid
I also made several mistakes along the way that I wish I didn't. And here are some of them.
Avoid buying themes
One of those was buying a theme.
This advice is valid for WordPress users.
I say this because if you don't know how WordPress works, committing to buying themes or plugins could backfire.
Again, I'll use my story as an example.
When starting a blog, I bought a premium theme because I didn't want to use Divi.
But it was so much work that I hated the experience. And I abandoned WordPress 3 months later. So, those were $60 burned.
So, I defend you should only buy a theme after writing some content.
I say this because you will think you know what you want at the start. But only when you gain some experience will you really know what you want.
And yes, a theme will significantly impact the design and way of customizing. But, for a beginner, this is an unnecessary expense.
Caring too much about design
It's better to have a blog that looks ugly full of articles than a well-designed blog that is empty.
The design isn't essential for success. And it's something I wished to learn earlier.
In the first 6 to 9 months, your site won't rank for basically anything. As Google won't index your website because it's new.
So, it's better to keep publishing articles and improve your writing instead of tweaking the design.
A good design will serve to help visitors enjoy your blog. But at first, almost nobody reads your articles.
So, what's the point of thinking about design at this stage?
There's no point.
Focus on writing and promoting your blog via social media to attract early readers.
My advice: do what you can to have a website with reasonable accessibility. And never use the time for writing for tweaking the site's design unless there's a problem.
Delay publishing "because it's not ready"
You will never feel ready. Especially if this is your first attempt at writing online.
Ignore the fear.
Make the website public as soon as possible. Even if it only has 1 article.
Doing this will serve as a forcing function to keep publishing without overthinking.
Your actions will perform better than your plans.
Yes, the first articles won't be great. But the best part is that you can go back and add more text or improve them.
So, focus on the frequency of publishing and keep going.
You will get more confident and write better over time.
Also, you shouldn't be afraid of publishing. Most people won't read what you post, and even the ones who read won't remember if it's "bad".
Read that again.
You can think my words are demotivating, but they aren't. They are liberating.
As I write this article, I consider my blog to have extremely low visitors per month. And most won't remember my words in a 1 week's time.
But when I have 10x or 100x more readers (hopefully, in a couple of years), people will remember more of what I post and discuss more of it. But they will also think it was built in the blink of an eye.
This is an iteration game where I go back and write more to older articles as time goes by to make them better.
So, you're not stuck with your first published articles.
Be careful with feedback received
You should be careful with the feedback people give you.
Ironic, I know.
But let me expand on what I mean by this.
Imagine you ask a developer about the best place to start a blog. And they say WordPress.
Ask why they make that recommendation.
Then, see if those motives are good for you.
So, if the developer says they like WordPress because it is flexible to add code for missing features. But you don't know how to code. Is WordPress the best for you?
It wasn't for me. It might not be for you.
Ask for advice, but see if it applies to you.
Don't follow advice blindly.💡Some people recommend that others use WordPress for blogging. But they don't use it themselves.
As I said, this list isn't complete.
It's imperfect and based on my experience building websites.
Being a beginner is challenging and frustrating.
And this article contributes to your journey by giving guidelines from someone a few steps ahead of you (aka, a few mistakes ahead).
So, use this article as a starting point.
A good order of action is:
- Deciding what you want and don't want before starting;
- Define a budget;
- Try WordPress;
- Try a WordPress alternative;
- Write 1 article and make the blog public immediately;
- Tweak design over time;
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