Starting a blog is pretty easy. Making money from a website? Not quite as easy. But we’ll get to that.
A focus on money is probably the cause of the #1 mistake made by new bloggers. If you’re dying to know what to do instead, jump ahead to #5. But you can’t do #5 without number one, two and three!
And if you’re not sure whether or not you should start a blog, give this a listen:
The first three steps to starting a blog are quick and simple:
1. Think of a Name
Spend a bit of time on this. Like a tattoo, changing it later is possible but difficult. If you have one topic in mind, start there. If you want to write about stuff all over the map, Benjamin McEvoy recommends using your own name.
Check domain availability – that’s the “blahblah.com” part – while you’re brainstorming. Don’t wait to come up with the perfect website name only to find the domain is taken!
2. Buy It & Get Hosted.
To keep anyone else from using your brilliant domain name, you have to buy it. Then you have to pay for a place for your website to live. Preferably on a fast computer at a super-secure, air-conditioned facility where a team of tech geniuses are constantly updating virtual security.
(A note on SquareSpace – I think using it creates barriers to success if you want to start a blog that makes money. Click this footnote marker ^ aSquareSpace is adequate if you’re trying to point people you already physically know to a website. To gain organic search traffic? To be discovered by customers or readers you weren’t expecting? Terrible. They don’t allow you to control features I’ve experienced to be critical to good SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is always changing, and maybe one day those features won’t matter. But for now, SquaresSpace creates barriers to success. I cannot speak for Weebly or Wix. But having done a SquareSpace to WordPress conversion for a farm where I work-exchanged, I can say that it’s much harder to learn WordPress in the context of a site transfer than it is to learn WordPress from day one. They started out thinking, “Eh. We should probably have a website.” After a few years of slowly adding content, they wondered why they still didn’t come up in Google search results for their own farm name! When I started to search-engine-optimize their content, I discovered SquareSpace’s faults. After the switch to WordPress, I had them at #1 in a matter of weeks and appearing in results for keywords they had been trying to rank for for years. The switch to WordPress would have cost them thousands of dollars or a scary, grueling month of DIY if they hadn’t ended up with a WordPress-saavy work exchanger (yours truly). If you’re going to go with SquareSpace anyway, here’s their coupon code. But just suck it up and learn WordPress if you want to start a blog that makes money someday! ^ for why.)
Siteground is a newer player on the scene, and everyone’s jaw is on the floor. They are providing the best customer service in the industry… at the lowest prices?! I’m looking forward to switching when I go visit my tech friend who can hold my hand through any potential explosions. Don’t have any tech friends? Siteground has real humans available to talk with you about this. My blogging podcast co-host just switched her site to Siteground (from a free WordPress.com account), and they held her hand as needed! If you’re just starting out, I tell every newbie – go Siteground!
Dreamhost stole my heart for many reasons. After seven years, they were still topping the review charts, and I was still grinning from ear to ear. I loved that they were honest, authentic people whose newsletters I actually open, because… they’re hilarious! But then… my site started getting so much traffic that I needed to level up. The way they told me this was unprofessional and coercive. Next, their customer service unprofessionally let me know I’d been breaking the rules for seven years by backing my personal computer up on my “unlimited space” with them. And that I had a week to get seven years of data off their servers (including files related to my site!) off their servers. They were flexible after I called them out, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve still been with them for five months after those initial seven years + meh experiences. If you decide they’re the host for you, okay. At least they don’t make you pay for a whole year, like Bluehost. If you found other reviews about Dreamhost that you liked, then sure – go Dreamhost.
Bluehost is popular because they are the best at paying bloggers to talk about them. They offered me a lot of money to be dishonest with you and say that I think they’re the best. They also offered me a discount code I could give you to coerce you to signing up for a service I don’t believe in. Many of the positive reviews you’ve read or will read about Bluehost are written by people earning tons of money for getting you to choose Bluehost. As a hosting provider, they’re cheap while still meeting basic standards. They don’t have the best load times baccording to these experts as of March 2017 (something you’ll care about when you get internet famous). They upsell pretty aggressively. They don’t have a monthly option, which I think is important for new bloggers. But if price is more important to you than all those things, go Bluehost!
No matter which provider you choose, select the shared hosting plan. All hosting providers will guide you toward more expensive services with more bells and whistles. Worry about those things once you have a huge following. Just start with basic shared hosting.
Just like everyone else writing about hosts, I’ve applied to the affiliate programs of all these companies. So if you use the links here to buy your hosting, they will share a slice of their profits with me as a thank you for all the time it took to write up this guide. (They will not charge you more. They just share their profits to help keep this site going and growing.)
If you are trying to make money by creating online content, please do not use Wix/Squarespace/Weebly. I don’t know any online content creators who have gone this route and been happy with it. If you are a hair stylist or construction worker or dog trainer and just need information about your business to be available online, fine. Wix/Squarespace/Weebly are acceptable solutions. If you are trying to start a website that makes money, do not give up the layers of control that Self-Hosting + WordPress (see below) allows.
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3. Pick a Platform & Theme
WordPress is the go-to platform in the blogging world. It’s free. All the hosting services I mentioned above have “one-click” installs of WordPress. You don’t have to use it, but I leave the alternatives to your capable Googling.
What is a blogging “platform?” Think about it as the bones of the website. Or maybe the infrastructure in a house. It’s the behind-the-scenes plumbing, electricity, gas lines, drains, framing, etc. Every website needs basic structure, and blogging platforms deliver that.
From there you choose a Theme – the appearance of your site. Keeping with our house metaphor, this is like adding drywall, toilets, showers, cabinets, appliances, windows, doors, etc.
After that’s all done, next comes the interior decorating – i.e. “Plugins.” But, you shouldn’t worry about those for now. You just need a basic “house” to get started. Pick out the furniture, paint, and curtains later.
WordPress is so popular because it’s an open-source content management system (CMS). CMS is just a fancy way of saying “system for organizing all the bits and bobs required for websites.” And “open-source” is what makes the internet awesome. Open source means the computer code used by WordPress can be seen, edited, and added to by any tech whiz. Programmers have been piggy-backing off of WordPress’ awesome-ness for a long time, making even more, mostly-free awesomeness.
That’s it for the “easy” part. Now it’s time to bust out your patience.
4. Get Direction
If you read Blogging Is No Easier Than Being a Stripper, you know running a website for a living isn’t as easy as it seems. It takes way more clarity than a 9 to 5 job.
Especially at the beginning, there are an overwhelming amount of things to do. I wish I hadn’t tried so hard to figure it out on my own. It’s the same stubbornness that kept me from flying for free for so many years.
If you take the “Ready, Fire, Aim!” approach so common to excited entrepreneurs, you’ll end up overwhelmed and frustrated. Find a how-to blogging course like this one – one that has a community and a place to ask questions – and you’ll save yourself tons of stress and meet your goals way faster.
If you’re going to insist on being like me and learning your lessons the hard way, at least listen to a few episodes of the podcast for blogging newbies that I co-host.
Also – you need realistic expectations. Here’s How Much Money I Make Blogging, and there’s a link in there to an article that explains different income thresholds and what it takes to get there.
5. Create Content
If I’d been smart enough to buy a little guidance years ago, I might have learned what I now tell every new blogger:
DO NOT WAIT to create content.
It’s tempting to want to get your design perfect first – to learn CSS and HTML and tweak the heck out of colors and fonts and layout. It’s easy to feel like you shouldn’t write anything until you understand SEO and alt text and meta tags. No way!
The thing is, Google’s robots don’t care what colors you used. The age of your content is a critical factor when you’re a new blogger. Get it published and on the search engine robots’ radar. For awhile, they’re the only ones who are going to be reading it anyway.
My site ranks really high in Google for some search terms that have almost nothing to do with travel. Example: go Google, “How to Milk a Sheep.” See me at either #1, #2 or #3? For almost five years, I was #1! Sometimes I still am. Me – a woman who has milked sheep for exactly five days total of her entire life. My content is some of the oldest out there, however, and so that page remains at the top of Google’s results and ranks higher than pages written by people who are legitimate experts.
So please – WRITE and PUBLISH NOW! Don’t wait until you’re “ready.” If you’ve got something you’ve been dying to write about, skip #4 for as long as it takes you to get that burning idea out of your fingertips and into your keyboard.
It also takes way longer to create content than you think it does. Even if you can write one really good, useful page a week – which is a good goal even for a veteran blogger – that’s only 50 pages a year. Go, go, go!
6. Start a Mailing List
It true. If you open a restaurant that just serves blueberry muffins, you can’t expect to have very many customers. But once your site has more than “blueberry muffins” – even if it’s just banana and raspberry muffins – give people the option to follow along.
Whether you use Mailchimp or Aweber (the two best fits for beginning bloggers), make sure to get your list started. It’s okay if you’re not publishing on a schedule, or you don’t have an editorial calendar, or you’re not sure what you have to offer readers. You will someday. And those people who stuck around while you figured it out will be some of your biggest fans.
(If you want to subscribe to this site – sign up here!)
7. Get a Logo & Personalize
When you run out of the kind of energy and attention it takes to write good content, this is when you can take a break to focus on the bells and whistles.
For logos, a real-estate friend of mine really likes and uses 99designs.com. You get 30 different options for $300. Not cheap, but it’s in the ballpark of what you’d pay a single graphic designer.
And of course there are a million “plugins” and “widgets” that could make your site more wonderful. “Plugins” and “Widgets” are just little bits of code that piggy back off the bones of your blogging platform to create new functionality that isn’t built into the basic structure. They enable things like social media sharing, anti-spam, back ups, SEO, analytics, footnotes, pop-ups, downloads, tables, galleries, etc. But don’t worry about any of that now. That’s later..
8. Start Making Money
When you’re figuring out how to start a blog, you basically have to work for free. But you can’t keep pumping out content without somehow getting those work hours to put a roof over your head. The process of getting cash out of your content is called “monetizing” your site.
Monetizing your website can be done in variety of ways:
- You can remind readers you’re not charging them for the benefits they get from your hard work. Then you can ask them to volunteer to pay for it. This can be done with a PayPal “buy me a drink” button – like mine – or something like a Patreon account. Most people won’t volunteer to give you money until they feel like they know you well. If you’re new here, feel free to prove me wrong. 😉
- You can write sponsored content. This is where a company pays you to talk about their service or product, or sometimes volunteers to write an article for you with a link back to their site (which makes them rank higher in search engine results). Sponsored content can easily be unethical (see: Why I (Mostly) Say No to Sponsored Posts). It can also be way more of a time-suck than you expect it to be. If Google catches you placing paid links, they will punish you by keeping your site from appearing in search results.
- You can force readers to pay for a subscription. Once you’ve spent five or six years putting great content out there and have established a fantastic reputation, you can put all that free content behind a barrier and make people pay to get to it.
- You can sell an ebook, course, webinar, etc. Unless you have uncommon expertise in a field short on experts, it’s unreasonable for new bloggers to expect high sales volumes. Until you build a following and have put in at least a year of writing , it’s easy to end up like the bloggers I watched work really hard to create an ebook… that sold only one copy.
- You can become an affiliate for products and services you use. Affiliate schemes are a system where providers of goods and services thank providers of free info (i.e. bloggers) for connecting consumers of free information (i.e. readers) with useful knowledge as it relates to their product. Confused yet?Basically, the blogger shares for free things they’ve learned. Sometimes the thing involves a product or service they recommend. When the blogger shares their experience, sometimes it drives sales to to that product or service. Affiliate programs are a way for that product or service to say, “Hey Blogger. We’re proud of our product, are glad you like it, and we appreciate that your appreciation sends us some great customers. Here’s a little something so you can keep doing the risky work you do. Thanks!”
Affiliate relationships are the main way I pay for groceries. I have over 22 affiliate relationships. Here are a few:
- Affiliate Window – e.g. to recommend one of The Best (and Worst!) Housesitting Websites.
- Amazon – e.g. to provide examples of What To Pack When You Travel Around the World
- Whoa – it got too hard to make this list and find all the links. Just google “best affiliate programs and networks.”
Good Luck! ♣
References [ + ]
|a.||↑||SquareSpace is adequate if you’re trying to point people you already physically know to a website. To gain organic search traffic? To be discovered by customers or readers you weren’t expecting? Terrible. They don’t allow you to control features I’ve experienced to be critical to good SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is always changing, and maybe one day those features won’t matter. But for now, SquaresSpace creates barriers to success. I cannot speak for Weebly or Wix. But having done a SquareSpace to WordPress conversion for a farm where I work-exchanged, I can say that it’s much harder to learn WordPress in the context of a site transfer than it is to learn WordPress from day one. They started out thinking, “Eh. We should probably have a website.” After a few years of slowly adding content, they wondered why they still didn’t come up in Google search results for their own farm name! When I started to search-engine-optimize their content, I discovered SquareSpace’s faults. After the switch to WordPress, I had them at #1 in a matter of weeks and appearing in results for keywords they had been trying to rank for for years. The switch to WordPress would have cost them thousands of dollars or a scary, grueling month of DIY if they hadn’t ended up with a WordPress-saavy work exchanger (yours truly). If you’re going to go with SquareSpace anyway, here’s their coupon code. But just suck it up and learn WordPress if you want to start a blog that makes money someday!|
|b.||↑||according to these experts as of March 2017|