The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Blog, Attracting Readers and Making Money
Blogging can be a great way to make some extra money or earn a full-time income.
Take, for example, Helene Sula, a professional travel blogger who visited more than 85 cities last year and earned $200,000, in part through her blog, “Helene in Between.”
Then there’s Suzi Whitford, a stay-at-home mom who decided to create a blog. That, plus spin-off products like an ebook and e-course, were grossing her more than $6,000 a month within 10 months of the site’s launch.
Heck, The Penny Hoarder is a prime example. This website started out as founder Kyle Taylor’s personal blog in 2010. He used a free blogging platform and updated the content about once a week.
Fast forward to 2018, and The Penny Hoarder has transformed into a media company. Taylor’s no longer a blogger. He’s the CEO of a company that employs more than 100 employees. In 2017, The Penny Hoarder brought in more than $37 million in revenue.
OK, so you don’t have to go that big. Maybe you just want to make some extra money from your blog. We put together your step-by-step guide to starting a blog from scratch — no technical experience required.
How to Start a Blog: Table of Contents
- Introduction: Why Start a Blog?
- Step 1: Find Your Niche
- Step 2: Pick a Domain Name, and Choose Web Hosting
- Step 3: Select a Blogging Platform
- Step 4: Build Your Website
- Step 5: Start Writing
- Step 6: Promote Your Blog
- Step 7: Monetize Your Blog
Why Start a Blog?
Blogging can be a fun and breezy hobby, a way to share your words with the world. It can also generate some serious income.
Here are some perks to making money from a blog:
- You can work from home — or from anywhere in the world. Blogging offers a sense of freedom that a full-time job might not. You can set your own hours and work as you need.
- If you know what you’re doing (and you will after reading this post!), blogging can become a source of passive income. You put time and money in up front to create profitable content; once it’s out there, it takes little maintenance.
- You can share your opinions, ideas, life hacks, experiences — almost anything you want — with the world.
- It’s fun! If you enjoy writing, blogging feels less like work and more like a hobby.
If blogging sounds like a fit for you, let’s launch into our guide to starting a blog.
Step 1: Find Your Niche
When Taylor started his personal blog in 2010, he wanted to document his efforts to pay off $50,000 worth of debt. He wrote about odd side gigs and how he saved money on groceries.
At the time, not as many folks talked so openly about finances, and people were intrigued.
Here’s another example: Travel blogging is a fairly saturated market these days, so if you want to become a travel blogger, find a way to differentiate yourself. The Blonde Abroad is unique in that it focuses on solo female travel. The Nomadic Boys are a gay couple who travel the world and share gay-friendly guides and reviews.
Rather than choosing a broad blog topic, choose your focus (as long as there’s plenty to write about), and run with it.
Step 2: Pick a Domain Name, and Choose Web Hosting
In this step, you’re basically creating a home for your blog — giving it a place to live on the internet.
There are two mini steps to this:
1. Pick a Web Hosting Service
First things first: You need to find “internet real estate” for your website. This requires choosing a web host. Your host will provide the storage, bandwidth and speed to keep your website alive and well.
There are a number of hosting options out there, and they all essentially do the same thing. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to focus on one of the most well-known services: Bluehost.
We recommend Bluehost, because it’s straightforward and offers great customer service.
Plus, it’s pretty affordable. Its basic package starts at $2.95 a month. This includes a single website, a free domain for a year and 50GB of website space. This should be plenty of space to get you off the ground and running; however, feel free take a look at its other options:
If you want to get that premium $2.95 monthly rate, you’ll have to commit to 36 months. In all, that comes out to less than $120. Not bad for three years.
If you’re not quite ready to sign up and pay for a hosting service, you can also start a blog for free through a platform like WordPress.com or Blogger. Once you get the hang of it, you can retroactively sign up for hosting, which will allow you to better monetize your blog.
Once you make your selection, it’s time to choose your site’s domain.
2. Choose Your Site’s Web Address
Your domain name (or web address) is like your street address. It helps readers find your website.
The site’s domain name should reflect the contents of your blog and be easy enough for people to remember — and spell correctly.
But here’s where it gets tricky: Just like a street address, your domain name must be unique. If you want to see whether your dream domain name is available, use this domain name checker from Bluehost.
If the domain name you want isn’t available, Bluehost will offer similar alternatives. You can always change “.com” to “.net,” for example, but remember people are used to typing “.com.” Deviating from the norm might throw them off.
Also, you can change your domain name later on; however, it’s best for your brand recognition to stick to one.
Once you secure your unique domain name, you’ll continue on, creating a Bluehost account and paying for the hosting.
Bluehost will ask if you want to purchase a ton of add-ons to your package. We don’t think any of these are absolutely necessary, but you might want to consider privacy protection. It’s less than $1 a month, and it’ll keep your contact information private. Note, though, savvy searchers will know how to check this information, and if it’s anonymous, it could hurt your credibility.
Step 3: Select a Blogging Platform
Now that you’ve got your domain and hosting down, it’s time to set up a blog platform. This is the tool you’ll use to build out your site and publish content.
Heads up: There are a number of blogging platforms to choose from. It’s easy to wade knee-deep into research, comparisons, and pros and cons. You’re going to want something that’s fairly easy to navigate and manage but that also supports the monetization of your blog.
Some of the most popular free blogging platforms for beginners include Wix, Weebly and WordPress.
For this guide, we’re going to recommend WordPress. It’s easy enough to use and navigate, and it won’t limit your ability to create content and make money.
And, hey, we’re a little biased. We use WordPress to run The Penny Hoarder, and other major sites do, too, including TechCrunch, Bloomberg and Disney, according to the WP Beginner blog.
Here’s one quick note: Make sure you’re downloading the software for a self-hosted WordPress blog at WordPress.org. WordPress.com allows you to create a website, but it’s less customizable and more difficult to monetize.
The good news is Bluehost and WordPress work really well together, so don’t worry about installing WordPress, playing with code or getting lost in your computer’s innards. After you’ve signed up for your Bluehost account, you can install WordPress with a single click.
If you have any questions along the way, Bluehost has a great customer service team you can reach out to via chat or phone.
Now you’re ready to get started with the fun part…
Step 4: Build Your Website
At this stage, your blog won’t quite be live yet. It can take up to 24 hours for your domain to fully register. There’s no rush, though. You need some time to get it looking spiffy.
Choose a Theme
We recommend first choosing a theme. WordPress offers both free and paid premium themes. You can also buy third-party themes from a marketplace like Etsy. We recommend starting with one of the free themes.
Here’s a fun pro tip that can save some time: Different themes will offer different features. Depending on your needs, you can filter your theme search in the WordPress Theme Directory by clicking “Feature Filter.” Check off the feature boxes to find your perfect fit.
Maybe you’re looking for a template optimal for blogs that allows for custom colors and a custom logo and has a left-hand sidebar. Perfect!
You can test each theme, clicking around to various pages to get a feel for what you want.
It’s easy to get stuck in this part of the blog-building process (oh, the vanity), but remember it doesn’t need to be immediately perfect. You can change the theme in the future.
Create a Menu
Once you’ve selected your theme, start building your pages.
First, determine which pages you want to feature in your menu. Start with an “About Me” and “Contact” page, and fill in the others. Maybe you want to start with a general “Blog” page. Later on, as you build your content, you can create more specific topic categories nestled within your blog.
Second, set up a menu. Go to “Appearance,” “Menu” then “Create Menu.” You can name this something generic, like “Navigation.” Check off which pages you want on your menu, and save.
Once you get the basics down, consult the WordPress menu user guide for more intricate matters, such as adding and deleting menu items and creating multi-level menus.
All right. You’ve got the essentials. Keep playing around with the site. If you have any questions, the WordPress blog offers a ton of guidance. You can also search most questions on YouTube to find step-by-step video tutorials.
Step 5: Start Writing
Ready to create content? Let’s review some of the most important pages on your site.
Your homepage is arguably the most important page on your blog. Here, you’ll want to clearly define your brand and the topic of your blog. Tell readers why they want to stick around.
Think about these questions when drafting the text:
- Why should someone read your content?
- How is the information going to help them?
- What expertise and experience can you offer?
- How is your content different from similar blogs?
Don’t be afraid to show some personality and use your voice. People want to feel connected to you — like they know you.
Your About-Me Page
This is another important page — and a great place to showcase who you are. Share your likes and interests, where you’re from, why you started this blog, what makes you an expert. It’ll help the reader feel connected to you — like a trusted friend.
Don’t be afraid to lean into who you are. Use your unique experiences, perspective and personality to differentiate yourself.
Additionally, if you don’t already have a decent photo of yourself, ask a friend or family member to snap one of you. Phones these days have powerful cameras, so don’t feel like you need to hire a professional and spend money on headshots, at least not at first.
Your Contact Page
Your readers are going to want to reach out to you. Maybe they have a question, or want to suggest a story idea or recruit you to write a guest post. Make that easy on them by setting up a “Contact Me” page.
Include your email address and how to find you on social platforms. If you don’t want to hand out your personal email address, you can create another one specifically for your blog.
You can also install a contact form plugin. This allows readers to reach out without nabbing your personal information. Plus, all inquiries go straight to your primary email account, so you don’t have to juggle multiples.
Your First Blog Post
Although blogging offers a lot of creative freedom, it does require some strategizing if you want to land readers on your site.
To create your first blog post in WordPress, click “Posts” and “Add New.”
Here are some basic tips to help you write a successful first blog post:
- Brainstorm catchy headlines. Plural — because your first idea might not be the best. Folks won’t click unless they find the headline engaging, but it also needs to accurately reflect the topic of your post. If you’re looking for inspiration, head to your favorite website to peruse headlines. Use those as a formula to create your own.
- Pull people in. In the age of the internet, people are impatient, so you need to immediately capture your reader’s attention within the first few sentences. Get to the point, but do so in an engaging manner that’ll make them want to keep reading.
- Break up large chunks of text. Just like people are impatient, they’re also easily intimidated. Big blocks of text might seem scary. Plus, these chunks might look even bigger on a phone screen. Break up text with new paragraphs, bullet points, numbered lists, graphics and photos.
Edit yourself. We know you’re ready to click “publish,” but take a minute to self-edit your work. (The Write Life has some great self-editing tips.) If it’s laced with errors, you’re going to lose credibility — and readers. Recruit a friend or family member to have a second look. If no one’s available, read your work aloud. This is a great way to view it from a different angle and identify areas that need polishing.
A note on photos: You might want to set a featured image for each post, so if you’ve taken some awesome photos, use those freely. If you don’t, you can find photos online — just be careful to source and cite them ethically. Follow guidelines like these on Writtent.
Unsplash is a resource for beautiful (and free!) photos.
Once everything’s set, click “publish”!
Step 6: Promote Your Blog
If you’re just starting out, don’t worry too much about promoting your blog just yet. Your goal right now is to build up your high-quality content. But when it comes time to build your audience, we’ve got some strategies you can employ.
Track Your Analytics
You’re going to want to get a better understanding of what’s working and what isn’t working on your blog, so take a look at your numbers with a free analytics tool, such as Google Analytics.
Fill out some basic information about your website, and Google Analytics will give you what’s called a tracking code. Paste this into your website’s pages and posts, and Google will start tracking your visitors.
We suggest paying attention to the source of traffic (social media, direct, Google, etc.), the number of pageviews and the time spent on the page. If, for example, a page has a high number of views but folks aren’t sticking around, maybe your headline is working but your article is not.
Over time, this information can help you tailor content to your readers’ needs and interests.
Share Posts on Social Media
Social media platforms are a a great, free way to get your words out to the world. Think: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr…
The best platform for your content will depend on your goals. If you’re relying on visuals, share a photo on Instagram. If you’re in the crafting niche, Pinterest could be a great resource.
When starting out, don’t feel like you need to create new social media accounts for your blog. You can simply share them on your personal accounts and see how they perform.
Add social media buttons on your site, too. This will help your readers easily share your content. For this, you’ll need to explore a WordPress plugin. One simple and free option is Simple Share Buttons Adder.
For context, here’s an example of share buttons on a post at The Penny Hoarder, just below the headline:
Learn Some Simple SEO Best Practices
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Here’s the easiest way to explain it: If an article is optimized for a specific keyword (a word, phrase or question), then it should rank higher when someone searches it on Google.
The goal is for the post to land on page one of Google search, so it will garner more clicks. (In fact, that could be how you stumbled upon this guide!)
SEO is intricate and cavernous. Specialists study it for years and years, and Google likes to switch things up quite frequently, but here are some basic, tried-and-true tips:
- Use keywords. Think of keywords within your post. This isn’t simply the most frequently used word but the word that encompasses a topic that someone would search.
For example, if you’re writing about your experience with Blue Apron, your keyword could be something like “Blue Apron review.” That’s what people are searching — a lot more than something like “my Blue Apron experience.” Use this keyword a few times throughout your article as well as in its headline, URL and meta description.
- Write lengthier posts. If you’re trying to optimize your article for “Blue Apron review,” it should be a comprehensive review. We’re talking 1,000 to 2,000 words, generally. However, don’t write for the sake of writing. Your information needs to be helpful and relevant.
You can check out what other top-ranking sites are writing on the topic by searching it in Google. There you’ll also find questions people ask Google as well as related searches.
- Link! Linking to your content is super important for SEO, but you don’t want to insert links in your articles for the heck of it. Google can detect that. But if you’re writing about easy dinner recipes in another post, perhaps you link back to your Blue Apron review.
Once you get the hang of these basics, start exploring the SEO world more deeply. You’ll find there are tons of online tools and tutorials that’ll guide you through the complicated world of Google.
Write Guest Posts
Which other blogs or websites do you like in your niche? Think big and small (but the bigger the better), and reach out to see whether you could contribute a guest post. Many sites are open to new, quality writers covering interesting topics. Then, you can link back to articles on your blog within the post.
This will help you gain exposure with an audience that’s already into your topic.
Remember Suzi Whitford, the stay-at-home mom who started her own blog? She wrote a guest post for The Penny Hoarder that received more than 20,000 views and helped draw more readers to her website.
Build an Email List
Want to let people know when a new post has been published? Or deliver great cross-stitching tips to their inbox? Build out your email list to gain loyal subscribers.
There are a number of tools for this, but one of the most popular that’s been around for a while is Mailchimp. Start with its “Forever Free” plan, which allows you to send up to 12,000 emails per month and maintain 2,000 subscribers in the account.
You can build up your subscriber list and design your emails right within the platform.
Mailchimp put together a beginner’s guide, so check that out for all the nitty-gritty details.
Step 7: Monetize Your Blog
Once you start feeling comfortable and confident, it’s time to start thinkin’ money.
There are several ways to make money from blogging. You can sell your products or services, or you can sell ads and feature affiliate partners.
Here’s what you need to know about monetizing your blog with ads and affiliates:
Dip your toes in the advertising waters by tapping into an ad network.
An ad network acts as the middleman between you and advertisers. One of the biggest ad networks right now is Google AdSense. The tool automatically serves up display ads. Those are the ads you see along the sides of a webpage.
The price advertisers pay varies, so there’s no way to say how much you can make using Google AdSense, but you’ll get paid when a reader interacts with the ad. The reality is, you might not make a ton of money this way, but it’s a great start.
We don’t suggest plaguing your readers with ads. This is distracting and overwhelming — feels quite spammy. Instead, opt to display one or two ads per page.
This option is worth experimenting with to start. Once you build up your audience, consider approaching advertisers directly for advertising partnerships.
Affiliate marketing is super popular. Basically, you include a link to a company’s product or service in your content, and each time you direct traffic to that, you’ll get a piece of the sale.
Let’s go back to Blue Apron as an example. The Blue Apron affiliate program allows you to earn a commission when you promote its two-person and family meal plans. You can earn up to $15 for each new subscription sale, according to its site. These sales are noted through a tracking system — a special link and program that’ll keep tabs on customers.
Many times, you have to apply to join an affiliate program. Once you have a tracking link, you’ll create content around the affiliate. Like we talked about earlier, maybe you write a Blue Apron review for your blog.
There are hundreds of affiliate programs out there, and each one pays differently. The key is to do research and find ones that fit your blog’s niche and mission.
Ready to Start a Blog? Let’s Do It
Many online resources claim starting and monetizing a blog is easy as pie. As you can see from this comprehensive guide, it’s rather intricate.
At times, you’ll get frustrated. You’ll look at the clock and realize it’s 4 a.m. You’ll feel like you’re out of ideas. But, if you’re really passionate about your cause, keep going.
It’s going to take time and patience, but so many people have made money from starting a blog, and we have faith you can, too.
Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She understands firsthand the intricacies of starting a blog. Her tip? Stock up on wine and candy.