Starting A Blog Step 5

Once we have our blog’s back end set up with some rockstar hosting, we can do the last technical step before taking our blog live – setting up a great theme and a handful of essential plugins.

Read More: Setting Up Your Blog’s Back End (Step 4)
Read More: The Best Hosting for WordPress

The first three steps were fun, step four was kind of boring, and this step will be sort of in-between. It’s fun to pick out a theme and start to get the first hints of how your blog will look, but it’s boring to click around inside your WordPress dashboard and make sure all the little pieces of software are doing their little-piece-of-software things correctly.

But, we’ll make the best of it. And remember, this is the last step where we have to mess around with this software stuff. After this, you’ll have a full-fledged, ready-for-the-world blog. Neato.

WordPress Themes

Choosing a Theme

There are so many WordPress themes available you wouldn’t even believe it. Thousands, at least.

Most of them are pretty terrible.

Either they’re clunky, look bad/cheap/lame, or have problems under the hood, where the code fairies live. Themes that are clunky or weird looking are usually pretty easy to spot. More insidious are themes that have problems with their code base.

Codebase problems can cause issues with search engines, mess up plugin integration, make your site look wonky on mobile devices, or make your entire site super s l o w. Did you know that site speed and responsiveness are one of the things Google is considering when it decides how to rank your site in search results? It is.

Bottom line: All of these things are big problems, and unless you’re some kind of coding super genius you might not even realize your theme has these problems until your $59 has evaporated into the nighttime wind.

Avada WordPress Theme
The Avada WordPress Theme has a number of features that make it well suited to blogs and blogging. It’s written by actual professionals, so the codebase is pretty solid.

Oh yeah, by the way, themes aren’t free.

I mean, there are free themes, but you’re going to want to avoid those. A lot. We’re starting a business here, remember? Not running a hobby blog.

Read More: Eight Essentials for New Blogs & Why They’re Worth Your Money

A free theme that saves you $50 right now could cost you thousands and thousands of dollars later. Maybe it has some crazy flaw that screws up how search engines see your content. Or maybe the twelve-year-old who coded it during study hall left a big security hole that lets Mr. (or Ms., I guess) Romanovian super hacker poke around your database and replace your carefully written articles with ads for penis pills and thai casinos. Cue sad music.

You can avoid all of these business-derailing-problems by choosing a good theme, from a reputable source, right from the start.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when you’re looking for a theme:

  • Choose a theme from an actual company with an actual reputation
  • Read the reviews – even if the theme is from a good source, good sources still screw stuff up sometimes. Maybe there are problems with the currently available version, or some key feature isn’t included. People on the internet love to complain, so if there is a problem, you’ll hear about it in the reviews.
  • Make sure the theme you’re choosing can be live-previewed. You’ll want to click around, see the different post types & layouts, and get a feel for how the theme actually feels when it’s used. Some themes look great, but the flow is strange, and they feel…off. The only way to know this is to use it yourself.
  • Your theme should have some kind of drag-and-drop editing function built in. You can skip this requirement if you happen to be a coding super genius. If you’re not, this functionality will save you a billion hours of heartache and frustration. At some point, you’ll move beyond the basic templated layouts your theme includes and you’ll want to build your own layouts. A drag-and-drop editor makes that happen, Batman style.
  • To get up and running quickly, choose a theme that has pre-built templates waiting and ready to go. Themes and templates are different. Themes are the system you use to build layouts. Templates are layouts that are already built and just need to be filled with content (articles, images, links, etc). Lots of new WordPress users confuse these two terms. If your goal is get your blog up and running by copy/pasting content into pre-built containers, you’re thinking of templates.
  • Don’t get sucked into the trap of complicated layouts. A lot of blog and magazine themes have layouts that are visually complex. This looks amazing in small doses – like when you’re choosing which theme to buy – but doesn’t look amazing for long stretches of time. The most effective blog themes are simple and easy to navigate. They avoid content fatigue.

Where to Buy Great WordPress Themes

There are a few reputable sources for good themes

The Genesis Framework is the flagship theme from StudioPress and it’s simple, easy layout is a good choice for blog sites.
  1. Themeforest – Part of the Envato marketplace, which sells all kinds of digital goods – themes, plugins, video intros, AfterEffects templates, etc. Tons of stuff. Themeforest has a good reputation and carries products from reputable developers. Not everything on themeforest is great, so read, test, and read some more.
  2. Elegant Themes – Elegant themes isn’t a marketplace, like Themeforest. Instead, Elegant Themes only sells the stuff they make. It’s all pretty high-quality stuff. Elegant Themes makes Divi, which is one of the best drag-and-drop layout builders around. Prices are competitive, and their pricing model is a little unique. Rather than buying a one-off product, you can pay a chunk of money upfront for total access to all of their stuff, forever. It’s a little pricey at $249, but you get an awful lot for that money.
  3. StudioPress – StudioPress is similar to Elegant Themes – they sell stuff they make themselves. High quality, high performance stuff that’s been tested in the real world with millions of blog pages. These are the dudes who make the Genesis Framework, which is a solid theme choice.

Which Theme Should You Buy?

There are only a handful of themes I feel comfortable recommending.

You don’t have to use one of these themes, but I can vouch for their quality, speed, and available support.

If you choose a different theme, fine. Just make sure to keep the guidelines listed above in mind.

Extra is a blog & magazine theme built on the Divi Framework from Elegant Themes. Packaged with Divi’s excellent drag and drop editor, this is strong contender for a good blog theme
  1. The Genesis Framework: A world famous theme. Simple, elegant, extensible, and well coded. If you choose WPEngine as your host, the Genesis Framework is included, so you can save some money
  2. Divi & Extra: Divi is the drag-and-drop theme from Elegant Themes. It’s very good. Extra is sort of a template that’s built on top of Divi. Extra is a pretty good theme for most blogs, and Divi offers a lot of customizable options for building kick butt layouts
  3. Newspaper: Offered on themeforest, newspaper is the theme that currently powers this site. It has a lot of pre-built templates and will get you up and running faster than most other options. There are well customized templates suited for blogs in many different niches. The food templates are the best I’ve seen. There’s a drag and drop editor and lots of cool features. We have a video about getting your site setup with Newspaper.
  4. Avada: Avada claims to be the #1 selling WordPress theme of all time. Similar to Newspaper, Avada has a lot of pre-complied templates to choose from. The customization engine for Avada is more powerful than the one behind Newspaper, but Newspaper includes some features – ad management, social integration, built-in post/page types – that Avada does not.

Installing Your WordPress Theme

Once you’ve picked your theme – and purchased it – you’ll need to install it to your WordPress environment. This part is super easy and will take like two minutes.

Here’s a great video from WPBeginner that walks you through the process.

WordPress Plugins

With your site set up and your theme installed, it’s time for the last technical hurdle on your road to happy fun blog land – installing some plugins.

Like themes, there is an endless variety of plugins to choose from.

The plugin environment in WordPress is amazing, and is one of the main reasons that WordPress dominates the world. There used to be a lot of different platforms like WordPress, but WordPress was the only one that wholeheartedly embraced the whole idea of plugins. And it paid off.

Most of those other platforms are long gone, but WordPress continues to grow.

Essential Plugins for Startup & Why You Should Have Them

Luckily, you won’t need to wade through the vast sea of plugin options to get your blog off and running. In fact, you only need a handful of plugins to get going.

  1. Akismet – A comment spam filter. Included with WordPress and almost-ready-to go, right out of the box. You’ll need to set up an account, which the software will guide you through.
  2. Yoast – For search engine optimization. Lets you edit everything about each post’s metadata and checks for several different metrics of readability and voicing
  3. ThriveLeads – Lets you build forms to collect email subscribers. It does a bunch of other stuff, too. But, right from the beginning, the email form functions are the ones you’ll want to use. There are other options in this space – a lot of other options – but this one is the best. If the Thrive Leads people stole your dog or something, and you just cannot do business with them, check out ConvertKit. **UPDATE** We’ve moved away from ThriveLeads in favor of an integrated solution from ConvertKit. If you’d like to know more, we’ve assembled a ConvertKit Hub to give you a walkthrough of the hows and whys.
  4. Thirsty Affiliates – An indispensable way to manage all of your affiliate links. It provides masking and redirects, keeps statistics, and even checks the health of each link to make sure none of them go kerflooey while you aren’t watching. Since affiliate links make you money, ensuring they always work and keeping tabs on how they perform should be very important to you.
  5. Monster Insights – A stats plugin that takes data from Google Analytics and makes it easy to read and understand. I don’t know if you’ll keep it forever, but in the beginning, it’s much more approachable than trying to figure out the ever-increasing complexity of Google Analytics.

Are there other plugins that do the same jobs as the plugins I’ve listed? Yeah, probably. But the ones I’ve listed are the best. Take Thrive Leads as an example. There are several other good plugins that do the same thing, and I’ve tried them – Bloom, ConvertKit, etc. They were fine. Even good. But Thrive Leads was better.

Don’t take my list of plugins to be the only list that will ever work for anyone. Take it as “I know these particular plugins work well, with minimal hassle, because I’ve used them myself.” If you happen to know enough to prefer a different option, fine. Go for it. But, if you’re super new, don’t waste time, just use these – they’ll work and do a good job.

Thrive Leads WordPress Plugin
The Thrive Leads plugin lets you easily and quickly create a number of customized forms for collecting email signups on your WordPress site. Thrive Leads supports easy options – like sidebar widgets – and advanced forms like light boxes and exit-intent popups.

How to Install WordPress Plugins

Once you’ve chosen your plugins, you’ll need to get them installed on your WordPress instance. Don’t worry, it’s easy. So easy even I can do it. Click, click, done.

WordPress has set up the whole plugin system so that there’s nothing to download, upload, unzip, or fiddle with. You can do everything from the WordPress dashboard, and the actually downloading, unpacking, and installing is done by WordPress itself.

Here’s a video from WPBeginner showing you the skinny. Be aware that while this video shows you three different ways to install plugins, I can’t imagine any reason a beginner would need to do anything except Method 1. That happens to be the easiest method, too. So, you know, bonus.

Wrapping Up The Tech Behind Your WordPress Install

Well friends, that’s it.

If you’ve made it to this step, your blog is officially built and ready to go. The only thing you have to do it pop in your content and boom! Totally a blog.

Things get easier and more fun from this point on, so my congrats on making it through this boring technical stuff. I promise many more green pastures filled with unicorns from now on.

Coming up in Part 6, we’ll add content to our theme, post it, and proudly call ourselves real, actual bloggers. Nice work.

Starting From Scratch? Check Out Step One

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hey there would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re utilizing?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most.
    Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a fair price?
    Cheers, I appreciate it!

    • Sure, we use Kinsta. They’re a little pricier than bargain hosting, but worth every dollar. Fast, secure, great backups, and the support rocks – you can talk to them 24/7 with their instant chat system, no dumb tickets or sitting around waiting for a reply. They help us all the time with tons of stuff. If you want to try out how fast different hosts are, you can give pingdom a whirl.

  2. Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple tweaks would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Many thanks

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