Today I’ll walk you through how to set up a free blog at WordPress.com. There are other free blogging platforms out there, but I prefer WordPress. It’s super easy to set up and use, and since it’s free, you can try it and see what you think. Having said that, and even though I do have this how to here, I highly recommend going with a self-hosted blog right from the start (I wrote in more detail about the pros and cons of each here: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org).
For step-by-step instructions for how to set up a self-hosted blog, go directly to the next post in this series: How To Start A Blog Part III: Domain Names and Web Hosting
To set up your free WP blog:
1. Go to WordPress.com and create an account by clicking on Get Started.
2. Fill out the form and type in a blog name to see if it’s available. If it is, you’re good to go, if not, you’ll have to think of another one (WordPress also lists a few suggested alternatives, however, those are paid options). Once you have found an available name, scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the plan you want (free or paid).
3. A new window opens with your blog title, tagline, language and blogging goal. Make any changes you want here (note that the URL you picked in the first window will be the same even if you change the title of your blog) and click on Next Step. In the next window, choose a theme (you can always change it later). Next, you have the option to customize it (which you can also do later as well); in the next window, you can choose to connect your blog with Twitter and Facebook, so that any posts you publish are automatically shared there. Make your selections and click next and if you want, you can now create a post right here.
If you’re not ready to do that yet, click next again and your blog is ready to go. If you click on Dashboard in this window, you will be taken to the dashboard of your blog. This is the main “control center”, where you can see stats, comments and navigate to all parts of the blog.
4. The left sidebar is your menu of options, and if you want to change the theme right away, scroll down and click on “Appearance” to select a new theme. Once you’ve clicked on Appearance, you will end up in a window that shows your current theme up top and all your other choices below. To only see free themes, make sure to click on “Free” in the upper right hand side of the page menu.
When you find one you like, click on it, and you will get a preview window of what your blog would look like with that theme. If you like it, click on Activate, if you don’t, close it and try another one. Once you have one you like, activate it. Click on “visit site” to see what it looks like “live”. Most themes come with some customization options, so edit these until you like what you see.
5. In the Appearance section on the menu bar, click on Widgets. Widgets are little extras that you can add to the sidebar or footer of your blog to add elements like “recent posts”, search windows, etc.
You can pick and choose any widgets you want; I would suggest adding at least these to your Sidebar (if they are not already there): Recent Posts, Categories, Search, and Archives. You add Widgets by just pulling them over from the Available Widgets to the gray area underneath the Sidebar heading. As soon as you drop them in the sidebar, a few options will appear where you can change the settings of that particular widget.
6. Next, click on Comments in the left menu. There will be a comment already, automatically generated by WordPress, so you want to delete that. Select the comment (put a checkmark in the little box next to it), pick Delete from the drop down menu above, and click Apply. You’ll get a warning that you’re about to delete the selected items, just click OK.
7. Click on Pages in the left bar menu. You will see that there is a page already called “About”. Click on it, and you will come to a window where you can edit the text that is already there. Type in (or copy from word if you already typed this up – I recommend doing it that way) the information you want to put here. Once you’re done, click “Update Page” and your changes will be saved. If you want to see what it looks like on the blog, right click on the blog name in the upper left hand corner of the screen and select Open Link in New Tab (note: this only works if you use tabbed browsing. The function is different for each browser). Now you’ll have a tab where you can see your updates as you make them (as long as you reload the page after each change).
That’s it. This is what your blog would look like if you picked the “Misty Lake” theme and called the blog Animal Massage Guide.
8. Now you’re ready to start posting. To publish a post, click on Posts in the left hand menu and then on Add New. In the next window, look at the Publish section in the upper right hand area of the page. Click on the Edit link next to “Public” and it will drop down and give you more options. I always like to select Private and work in that mode until I’m ready to publish my post. So select Private and click Save. You will see that the blue button that previously said Publish now says Update Post.
9. Type in (or copy and paste from Word or, even better, a text file) your post title in the window just below “Add New Post”. Paste your text in the window below that, in the Text tab (sometimes pasting text from word in the Visual tab results in weird layouts, and if you know html and include code when you type up your post, it’s a must to paste it in Text). Click on Update Post to save your changes.
In the Category section, click on Add New Category and type in an appropriate name. It will show up in the window, with a clicked checkbox next to it. When you first start out, there is only one category – Uncategorized – and you will add categories as your blog grows. If you know what your site will contain and which subjects it will cover from the get-go, it’s a good idea to set up your categories ahead of time and stick to them rather than adding new ones as you go along. It makes organizing the site and finding posts so much easier.
In the Tags section, type in a few keywords that relate to your post (for this post for example, I might put in starting a blog, setting up a free blog, etc.) to make it easier for readers to find your post when searching online.
10. If you want to make any changes, go back to your post, make them and remember to click Update. Once you’re happy with your post, go to the Publish window again, click on the Edit link next to “Private”, and then on Public. Click OK and you will see that the Update Post button now says Publish again. Click Publish, and your post is up.
Other posts in this series:
- step-by-step guide to setting up a self hosted blog (where you own your own domain name)
- choosing a theme (which provides the look of your blog)
- how to install WordPress and activate your theme
- how to publish pages (and what to include)
- publishing posts and working with categories and keywords
- how to install plugins (and the ones I recommend)
For a list of the blogging products I use and recommend, see the Recommended Blogging / Website Resources page.