I’ve always been the person looking for different ways to make extra money. I would do extra chores around the house. I looked into selling baseball cards. There were always ideas swirling around my head for ways to make money.
When I was in college, the dot com boom hit. It changed everything. I remember discovering eBay for the first time. Back then, it was so popular you could sell anything for money. I sold a crisp $5 bill for $8. Seriously.
My roommate and I started to attend estate sales and bought stuff for pennies and resold everything on eBay for a profit. We joined BMG Music to get 12 CD’s for a penny and resold them for $10 a pop. We may have even signed up under fake names too in order to milk the system.
As the eBay craze died down, I found other ways to make money.
That’s where blogging comes in. I never planned to start a blog. But here I am, 6 years later with a blog that makes money. In fact, I now blog full time.
No more running outside when it is zero degrees to warm the car. No more scraping ice off the windshield. No more fighting traffic. No more Office Space experiences. No more stress because the company downsized and now I have double the workload.
I make my own hours and love every minute of it. So how did I start a blog and make money from it? My original goal was to create financial guides and sell them in newspaper classifieds. But I realized I could reach many more people online. So I started this site.
I slowly posted new content here and there and over time, it morphed into what you see today.
The first 3 years I was moonlighting as a blogger. I was making a side income while I worked a regular 9-to-5 job. In reality, the first year and a half I really didn’t make money blogging. I wasn’t serious about it. But once I caught the bug, I was hooked.
Then in 2013, I was laid off and I had a choice. I could either try blogging full time or I could find another job.
After a lot of thinking and talking things over with my wife, I took a shot at being a full time blogger. Over the past 6 years of blogging, I’ve experienced many ups and downs.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’ve learned a lot. Even though starting a blog is easy to do – you could buy a domain and hosting and have a site up and running in the time it took you to read to this point – there is a lot more to it.
Because of this, I decided to write this guide for starting your own blog. I’ll walk you through how to get started and suggest tools that you should use that will help you out. I’ll even cover some of the mistakes I’ve made as well as some of the successes. I’ll show you how to grow your site and how to monetize it so that you can start making money from it as well.
The goal is to help you avoid some of the common stumbling blocks and set you up on a path to success. And if by chance you read this and think starting your own blog isn’t for you, or you’re just not ready yet, don’t give up hope on making money online. You should read my post for over 51 legit ways to make extra money. There I cover everything from making a few extra bucks a month to replacing your job with various online opportunities.
A Word Of Warning
But before we begin to talk about blogging, I have two points I need to make.
First, understand that you won’t be making enough money to quit your 9-to-5 job anytime soon. It takes time to build and grow a site. In fact, most new bloggers quit in the first 6 months. This isn’t because it is so hard they can’t do it. Rather they were under the assumption that they would be rolling in money by the end of the week.
Blogging doesn’t work like that. It takes time and hard work. Yes, you probably can find some shady way to rank in Google so that you make money quicker than the next blogger out there.
But Google will catch up to you. And you’ll be left with a site that earns nothing. You’ll then have to work twice as hard to make your site be accepted by Google again. Then you will have to start at the beginning in terms of trying to monetize the site. It’s not worth it. I know because I tried this tactic with another site and it blew up in my face.
So don’t be tempted to take the quick path to making money from starting a blog. Start out doing it on the side and follow my steps and you’ll have a solid source of income for the long term.
Secondly, know that even though it takes time to earn money, it can be done.
You can make money doing this. You just have to put in the effort. You don’t have to go years without making money. You can start bringing in money as soon as 6 months. You just have to put in the effort.
Now that you know what to expect in terms of income, let’s begin the process of starting your website!
Start A Blog And Profit From It In 8 Steps
Step #1: Decide On A Niche
In order to have any chance of success with starting a blog, the niche you choose has to be something that you are interested in. There is no point in just picking something with high potential income if you have no desire to write or talk about it.
If you did go that route, after a few weeks or months you would give up because it’s not something that interests you. I am a perfect example of this.
After I grew this site and was making a couple hundred dollars a month, I had the bright idea that if I can make $500 per month with one site, I can add another site and make another $500 per month. Then with 2 sites, I can grow my income even faster!
In theory this logic was good. The problem was I just created a random site in a random niche. After spending countless hours trying to come up with a catchy domain name and designing the site, it was time to write content.
I lasted about 2 days writing content for that new site. It turns out I had nothing to really say or write about. I wasted all of that time creating something that never had a chance.
Had I instead focused that time and energy into this site, I probably could have been making $1,000 a month in a short amount of time. Instead, I was still making $500 and I had a second site that I had zero interest in doing anything with that was taking up valuable time.
As much as you want to earn an income, know that to earn the most income from a website, it has to be about something that interests you. As a result, you need to break your focus of coming up with a topic idea down into three groups:
Make a list of things that you are passionate about. Then do the same for things that scare you, and finally again for problems you face. You will want to come up with 5-10 ideas for each. Once you do this, you will need to narrow the list down to ideas that could actually work.
This is where you will have to put in some time. For example, doing this exercise for this post, I came up with the problem I have which is ring around the collar on my dress shirts. While I am sure other people have this problem too, it was too narrow of a focus.
How much can I really write about ring around the collar? And how quickly will I get bored writing about that? Off the top of my head I can think of 3 potential posts to write. After that, I’d be struggling for new content ideas.
These are the things you need to ask yourself when starting a site.
Once you have your list narrowed down to 3-5 ideas, you need to check out the competition. Do a search for your niche and the term “blogs”. If your potential niche is investing, for example, you would search for “investing blogs”.
While investing is a good niche, there are tons of investing blogs already. Does this mean you have to scrap this idea? Not necessarily. You might be able to approach it in a different way than everyone else is.
I personally love reading Budgets Are Sexy. While there are many blogs about budgeting, Budgets Are Sexy has carved out their own little piece.
Finally, you need to determine how you would go about monetizing the site (making money from it). The most common options are as follows:
- Affiliate sales
- Advertising (banner ads and Adsense)
- Product creation
- Private membership
How could you see yourself making money on your site? Going back to my ring around the collar idea, I could do some Adsense advertising to earn money.
But I doubt I would take the time to create a product that would solve my problem. And I doubt anyone would pay for a private membership to the site (and I have no clue what types of “extras” I could offer them either).
In other words, there isn’t a good way to make serious money with this site. It’s too narrow of a focus. I would go back and look at my list of passions/fears/problems and pick another idea and see if I can make it work.
There is an overview of the first step to start a blog. You need to:
- Decide on a niche that interests you and that you can write a lot of content about
- Choose a niche that doesn’t have a lot of competition
- Pick a niche that allows you various options for making money
Step #2: Picking A Domain and Hosting Your Site
The next step in the process of starting your own site is to pick a domain name and find hosting for your website.
When it comes to a domain name, you want something catchy and that people will remember. You also want it to give the reader an idea of what the site is about.
In all honesty, MoneySmartGuides is a poor domain name choice for this site. But when I started the site, the goal was to create various guides on being smart with your money. I never intended it to be a blog to help people build wealth. But before I knew it, I was blogging and making money and it was too late to change.
If I were to start a site about personal finance, potential domain names could be:
They are all short, to the point and memorable.
When creating a domain name, you want to brainstorm 3-4 possibilities. You would be surprised at how many domain names are taken. Having a couple ideas allows the greater chance of finding one that you like and works.
Once you have your domain name figured out, it is time to host your website. I highly suggest you pay for web hosting and not use the free hosting with wordpress.com. I know that it is free and at this point you would rather not spend any money, but if you are serious about starting a blog, you want to buy hosting.
The reason is because when your blog grows in popularity, you are going to have to move it to a self-hosted platform. It will cost you money to have someone move it for you and ensure that you don’t lose any content. And even then, odds are things will go wrong.
So save yourself the headaches and just pay for hosting. When starting out, you can buy the basic hosting package and pay less than $100 a year.
Now there are many options when it comes to hosting. It can be confusing to first timers, so I’ll just recommend the company I use, Big Scoots. (You can see all of the products and services I use to run my site on my resources page.) They are a dream to work with compared to the 3 other hosting companies I’ve worked with in the past.
They are honest, they are quick to help me out when I have any issues, and my site has never had any downtime. I can’t say that for the other hosting providers I’ve used in the past. And the best part, you can start with a hosting plan for just $2.95 a month!
Whichever hosting provider you end up choosing, make sure they offer the things you need. And don’t pick the cheapest one you find. Most times it is the cheapest because they either don’t offer the same things as other hosting companies or their customer service isn’t as good.
Also, make sure they offer a refund. I suggest you sign up for an annual agreement because that will be the cheapest option. In the event you decide blogging isn’t for you, the hosting company should credit you back any unused months. Surprisingly, one hosting company I used refused refunds. With Big Scoots, you don’t have to worry about this.
It was a headache to switch hosting companies. I wish I had found Big Scoots from the start.
Step #3: Choosing A Theme And Hosting Your Site
When I first started this site, I used one of the free themes that you can get with wordpress. While it was a simple and quick way for me to get up and running, I realized that all of the other sites in my niche were much nicer than mine.
Looking at my site through the eyes of a potential visitor, I knew I had to have something that looked clean, modern and was easy to navigate. I knew I had to pay to get a decent theme.
When it comes to paying for a theme, you have 2 options. You can hire someone to create a completely custom theme for you, or you can find a company that offers what are called premium themes.
I chose (and I recommend you do as well) a premium theme from a company. The cost is low (about $100) and there are many other people that will be using the same theme. You can customize it to look how you want in terms of color schemes and you will have many others that know how to manipulate the coding in case you get stuck on making any changes.
There are a lot of premium theme companies out there. Most charge you a one-time fee for a theme. Some charge you annually. I love StudioPress themes. You pay for the theme you want and their themes are easy to customize so that they look original. Plus, they have a great community of other users that you can easily get help on when customizing the theme to your liking.
To recap this part of starting your own blog, you want to pay for hosting and not fall for the trap of the lowest priced hosting company. Find one that offers the features you need and want and who has good customer support.
From there, look into themes. If money is tight, I suggest you just use a free theme to start and save some cash. No one will be finding your site right away. Just focus on creating content first, which is covered in the next section. But if you can afford to pay for a premium theme, get it from the start so you can then just focus on content creation.
Step #4: Creating Content
Once you have your domain name, hosting and theme, it is time to start producing content for your site. The best way to start producing content is to sit down and brainstorm some ideas for posts. Come up with a list of 5-10 ideas and outline them and start writing.
As you write, try to keep in mind length. You want your posts to be at least 500 words but it is better if they are longer, between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Every so often write an epic post that is close to 5,000 words.
But don’t just add fluff to get them that long. You want to be clear and concise and get your point across.
The reason you want long, detailed content is simple. When a post is that long, it has a lot of detailed information that people will find valuable and they are more likely to share it. This helps Google to assess the posts value and rank it higher in search results.
Also, as you are writing, you will want to add internal links to other posts you write. The more you interlink your posts, the more relevancy the search engines will see you site is on a particular topic and that will help you in search rankings. It also makes it easier for your readers to find related content as well, which keeps them around longer. This is beneficial when it comes time to making money.
Once you have a few posts written, you can move on to the second part of content writing. Here, make it point to check out other bloggers sites in your niche. If you find a good post they wrote, see if you can link to it in one of your posts.
Or maybe you feel differently about their conclusion or you have more to add. In these cases, write a post on your site and include something to the following:
“I was reading <SITE NAME> about <TOPIC> and while the post was great, I feel there is one additional benefit from doing <STRATEGY MENTIONED> in the way that was outlined.”
Make sure you link to their post and then once your post is live, you should email them. Tell them how much you enjoyed their post and that you agree/disagree and that you wrote a post about it. Then link to your post in the email.
The goal here is to get on their radar. There are other things you can do as well which I talk about in the next section, but this is a good content related step to use.
Finally, you have to keyword research when writing content. There are other sites in the same niche as you. If you want to get found on Google, you need to rank high. Finding high quality, low competition keywords is the best option for this.
When you find good keywords, you simply write a post on that topic. For example, a keyword might be “how to save money when in college”.
This keyword phrase probably has a lot of people searching for it. But my guess is that many people are writing about this as well. To know for sure (and to know what keywords to target), you have 2 options.
Your first step should be to create a free Google Adwords account. You won’t be buying advertising here, but creating this account will let you use their free keyword tool.
When using the Google keyword tool, there are a few things you need to pay attention to.
- First, make sure that you have “Exact” checked on the left side as opposed to “Broad”. This tells the tool to find matches for just your search term, as opposed to other closely related terms.
Next, make certain that the Global and Local Searches along with Approximate CPC columns are showing.
From the screenshot below, you can see that I searched for “niche websites”. Ideally, I want something that has low competition, global and local searches of at least 1,000 and a CPC of more than $1.50. The reasons for this are as follows:
- Lower competition along with at least 1,000 global and monthly searches means that people are searching for this term but there aren’t very many sites competing for the keywords.
- The CPC is important because this gives you a rough idea as to what you can earn from Adsense with this keyword.
Using this tool is a great way to develop content that can attract some visitors to your site. The only problem with this tool is that it isn’t as robust or feature-rich like other tools out there.
For this reason, Long Tail Pro is a great option. It does cost money, but the price is worth it in my mind. Plus you can try it out for $1 for 7 days. It is very easy to use and it gives additional information like keyword competitiveness which helps you better determine which keywords to pick and which ones to avoid.
Long Tail Pro can really help you to target low competition keywords and start ranking in Google. When you do this, people find you and if you write great content, they will buy what you recommend.
Step #5: Finding Traffic To Grow Your Site
Now that you have content created, it is time to start generating traffic to your site. Understand what I said there. I went to find traffic. As a new site, people won’t be stumbling upon your site through a Google search. You have to let people know you are out there.
You may ask why you need to create content before trying to find traffic. This because you want to give people a reason to come back. As good as your first post might be, you want visitors to see a handful of posts so that they know that this site is updated regularly and has great content.
To find traffic, start with Google and simply type in your niche followed by the term “blogs”. For example, if my niche was classic cars, I would search “classic car blogs”. I would then look over those blogs that I found and take notes.
I am most interested in the date of their most recent post, the number of Facebook “likes” and followers, Twitter followers, and comments.
I do this because I want the most bang for my buck. If someone hasn’t updated their blog in a year, there is no point in me taking time to visit it in the future. Likewise, if a blog doesn’t have an audience, it isn’t worth my time. It isn’t worth my time at this moment as I am trying to build an audience. Once I have an audience, those newer and small blogs can be very helpful.
These various signals help tell me which blogs I should focus my attention on. I will also find other blogs in my niche through comments on these new blogs as well as through their twitter followers. I will also do another search for “top classic car blogs”. Many times this will get me a return of more popular blogs.These tend to be the influencers in the niche and you want to get on their radar.
I make sure to follow those blogs I find as a good fit and sign up for their RSS feed as well. I then make it a point to comment on their posts and share their posts on social media.
As you do this, they will notice you being a fan of theirs. In time, this will pay off when you begin looking for quality links back to your site. But for now, their readers will get used to seeing your comments and their followers will notice you sharing content. This will encourage some of them to visit your site and ideally become your readers as well.
Step #6: Backlinking
Speaking of linking back to your site, we are now going to talk specifically about backlinking. You will find a lot of information on this topic on the internet. Just know that there are good ways about obtaining links and there are bad ways.
The bad ways allow you to easily acquire links. Unfortunately, they are usually spammy links and when Google updates its search algorithm, your site it going to get dinged. So don’t take the quick and easy route here, get good, reputable links which will help grow your site and not hurt it.
Here are a handful of ways you should go about trying to get links back to your site and a couple of not-so-smart ways.
Guest Blogging: Despite that many bloggers think, guest posting is not dead. It’s not as valuable as it once was, but if you know what you are after, it can be very beneficial to you. First, what is your goal? If you are just looking to gain links, then find any site in your niche and ask if they accept guest posts.
If you are looking to gain exposure, then you want to make sure to limit your guest posting to sites with a large following. Check to see how many comments their posts get. Look at the number of social shares. If you see lots of engagement, then you know the site is worth trying to guest post on.
Before you reach out to a site to guest post, become known to the blogger. What I mean by this is share some of their posts or comment on new posts for a bit. This will increase your chances that they will take you up on a guest post offer.
If you just come in cold, they will probably reject you because they think you are just trying to get a scammy backlink. When they see you have a site and it has good content, they will be more open to allowing you to guest post.
Pinterest: This social media channel is big for many bloggers. And you thought it was just for women. The key is to make eye-catching images and to join group boards. This will get your pin shared many times and increase the traffic coming to your site.
Other bloggers may even find it and link to your post in one of their posts.
Help A Reporter Out: Ever wonder how some people get mentioned on big sites or in magazines? Most times they help out the reporter writing the story. Every day, there are hundreds of reporters and journalists looking for help with the story they are writing.
This is where Help A Reporter Out (HARO) comes into play. The reporter adds their story outline to the site along with details and a time when they need your submission. HARO then sends out to you an email 3 times a day with story ideas. When you find a story you can add value to, you email the reporter back with your story/insights. If they can use your story, they will email you back. You can (and should) sign up for it here. It’s 100% free to use.
Commenting: While this isn’t the best strategy, it will help you to get your name out there. Remember, just because you have a website, it doesn’t mean anyone other than your mom knows about it. You have to market your site.
You do this by commenting. But make sure you comment the right way. Only comment if you can add value to the post. Maybe you have a different insight or something more to add. Maybe you have a personal example. These add value. Simply saying “nice post” does nothing.
The goal of a comment is to have people who read yours interested enough to click over to your site. In other words, it’s your first impression.
Including Links To Others: When you write a post, try to find a great post written by another blogger in your niche about a similar topic. When the post goes live, email that blogger and let them know you thought their post was good and that you linked to it. Make sure you include the URL to your post in the email.
That’s it. Most bloggers will thank you by sharing the post on social media. However, sometimes they won’t. Don’t get mad. Just accept it and move on.
Not Smart Ways
Buy Links On Fiverr: I did this in the beginning for one of my other sites. In the short term, it was great. I was able to get a handful of backlinks for $5. But then Google updated their search algorithm and my site was dinged for having spammy links. It took a ton of work just to get my rankings back to where they were BEFORE I bought the links on Fiverr. Trust me, this is not worth it.
Upwork: This one is a mixed bag. Many times when you hire someone on Upwork to build you backlinks, they will go the black hat route and get you a bunch of spammy links. Again, I know this from experience.
With that said, Upwork can be an option. You just have to clearly tell your virtual assistant what you want and don’t want them to do and have them send you a list of the links they create each week. Then you have to manually review those links to make sure they are decent links. If you see any that are questionable you need to take quick action.
Step #7: Monetizing Your Site
Now that you have a decent amount of content and you are starting to gain some traffic to your site, it is time to monetize it and start making money.
Way back in the beginning of this post, I was talking about all kinds of ways you can make money from a niche site:
- Product Referrals
- Selling Products
- Email List
- Online Course
While using all of these techniques to make money on your site won’t work, the goal is to pick a couple and run with them. The easiest starting point is Google Adsense. You sign up for a free account and place ad blocks on your site. You can have up to 3 ad blocks per page. If you decide to have this number, be sure to place them strategically. You don’t want your site looking trashy and turning people off. Remember, first impressions matter.
The next easiest option is to become an affiliate and sell other peoples products. There are many affiliate networks out there and all are free to sign up for. Below are the most popular ones:
Your goal here is to find products that are related to your niche to promote. Now, before you run out and start promoting everything, understand that less is more. Your readers don’t want to be sold to every time they come to your site. They come because they want to learn something.
So pick a couple of products and try them out personally. If you like them, then you can begin promoting them. Again, start with 1 or 2 products and in time, build from there as your site grows.
As your site gets larger and more popular, you can look into creating your own products and courses and even creating a members only area of your site if it makes sense. You don’t want to do this now however as your audience is too small to make it worth it. You should instead be focusing on creating new content for your site.
When you do get to this stage, I highly recommend you buy this course on earning money through affiliates. It is easy to read and full of amazing tips and content to help you make money from blogging. I know many bloggers who are making good money thanks to this course.
Step #8: Rinse And Repeat
Once you have content and a following, the goal is to continue to produce great content. Keep reaching out to others in your field to work together on guest posts or promoting each other’s sites too. No matter how successful you become, you can keep doing things to grow your blog.
In fact, with technology changing things up, you can constantly try new strategies for growing your site and increasing your income.
Now we get to the various tools I use and recommend for you to build and grow your site. Note that there are new tools coming out all of the time. I have used these in the past and still use many of them today. They have helped me tremendously and as a result, I think they can help you as well.
Long Tail Pro: As I mentioned, Long Tail Pro is a great option for helping you to find good keywords that don’t have a lot of competition. Going this route will help you to rank quickly in Google for these posts and start driving traffic to your site.
Viral Content Bee: This is a free service that I’ve used to help promote my content. If you write great content, people will choose to share it across their social media platforms. It’s an easy way to get your content out there.
Aweber: This is an email marketing company that helps you connect with your readers through automated blog post updates and newsletters. Having a subscriber base is important as these are your most rabid fans. You can sell to them and have a better chance of them buying products compared to random visitors to your site.
Virtual Assistant: In the beginning, you’ll be doing everything yourself. But as your site grows, you will notice that running a site takes up more of your time. You may also realize that you really enjoy writing and interacting with your community but you aren’t a fan of the technical part of blogging.
This is where hiring a virtual assistant (VA) comes into play. Many current bloggers freelance as VAs and you can find other qualified people on sites like Upwork. Just tell them what you want them to do and they will do it for you.
Bringing It All Together
I know that was a ton of information. But it has everything you need to do in order to start making money from a blog.
If you feel overwhelmed, take a break. All you need to do to get started is come up with an idea and buying a hosting package with Big Scoots. Once you do this, then you can come back and re-read through this post to get your next steps.
I recommend going through the first step of coming up with an idea and then buying a domain name. By doing this, you ensure you have the domain you want. From there, you can work on creating a content outline and figuring out how you want your site to look. You can also then come up with some ideas for monetizing your site as well. But for now, just brainstorm ideas and get a domain name.
And, if your originally idea falls through, you can still claim the costs you pay as a business write off on your taxes.
You can make an income from blogging. If you put in the work, you can quit your job and make a living by blogging. But you have to take that first step. Stop procrastinating and start taking action.
It’s a new year and if one of your goals was to earn more money or set up a path to financial freedom, a great option for you is to start a blog.
[Photo Credit: StockSnap]