How to Start a Successful Blog and Make Money

Vanessa and I started this blog more than 2 years ago. Since that time, we have learned a lot about the process of writing, growing an audience, and internet marketing. This post will attempt to convey some of the lessons learned and hopefully will help someone else get started in the process.

This post will be a long guide filled with information. I’ll try to outline sections so you can skip around.

What Is A Blog?

A blog is a website that allows you to write content and publish it for the world to see. Most blogs display the most recently published content first.

Today, a blog is almost synonymous with a website. Most websites that you visit are setup using WordPress as a simple blog, and then customized to provide a better user experience. You can customize almost every detail to make it look professional.

It has all become ridiculously easy to get started. Most bloggers don’t know any programming languages and are not website designers. It’s just a simple point and click exercise to get everything started.

Who Should be Blogging?

I think most people should at least consider the idea, but a few categories of people absolutely need to have a web presence:

1) Business owners (including any individual offering a product or service)

Hands down, every single business owner should have a website/blog combination. More and more people continue to utilize search engines when evaluating products and services. Most internet users look for reviews and will evaluate a business based on their online presence. Despite these facts, there are still thousands of small businesses that cannot be found online.

Business owners should take this one step further by using their website to define their ideal customer and their unique selling proposition. They should then write blog posts that answer the questions being asked by potential customers. As you answer questions and provide value through your website for free, you are building trust with your audience. That will result in paying customers and eventual profit. That whole process is called inbound marketing.

Am I qualified to make these claims? Yes

I recently helped a family member create a website for his local business, and helped him build backlinks to get the site ranked for local search terms. The results have been phenomenal for him. He receives a continual stream of free, targeted traffic that is converted into paying clients.

2) Anyone Desiring a Personal Brand

Students, Professionals, and anyone else who desires to promote and control their personal brand should consider creating a simple WordPress website (a.k.a. blog). You have complete control over the content displayed and the information provided. Furthermore, when people use a search engine to look you up, your website will often be near the top of search results. This allows you to control your public image.

If you have something to say, you can build recognition and begin selling yourself as an expert in your field through the process of blogging. This can lead to great opportunities and potential income streams.

If you’re looking for a job, you can find outstanding WordPress templates that showcase your skill-set, experience, resume, etc.

3) People Wanting to Make Money Blogging

I’m sure you’ve been told, “Don’t start a blog to make money.” And I understand where that advice comes from, because most bloggers don’t make squat.

But there are numerous ways to make money blogging online. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. I know people who are making a killing online and they aren’t any more talented than you or I. They just put in the time to learn about making money online through blogging, niche sites, paid advertising, SEO, etc.

Blogging has definitely become more crowded in the last few years, but there are still many opportunities, and the overhead is non-existent. Very few other business avenues exist where you can start-up for next to nothing and make good money in a relatively short period of time.

Your First Decision – Paid or Free?

You can blog for free on a number of different platforms. The two most commonly used are:

When I first started, I actually used the free WordPress.com. I made a little site and wrote about politics (Yes, it was terrible).

I later left WordPress.com (free) and jumped over to WordPress.org (not free) when I started Cash Cow Couple.

Why did I choose to pay for the blog if a free option is available? Well, you can’t have a legitimate blog on any of the free platforms. And you can’t make money because advertising options are quite restrictive.

If you intend on making money, offering a product or service, or growing your audience, you don’t really have a choice. If you want to have complete control of the appearance, functionality, and advertising on your site, it’s only possibly through a self hosted (paid) WordPress.org site.

If you are serious about blogging and ready to get started, continue on.

How to Start Your Blog Today

Find a Great Domain Name

The domain name is your title on the internet and you don’t want to be stuck with a terrible name. We spent a few weeks brainstorming and came up with Cash Cow Couple (We’re brilliant, I know). You want this to be something catchy and unique but related to your niche that you’re going to write about.

The easiest way I have found is to visit Instant Domain Search and start typing. It will tell you what is available and even give related suggestions if your domain name is already taken.

Once you find an available domain that you like, you have to purchase the domain and you will then own that domain for as long as you decide to keep the domain active.

Your chosen domain name will be free if you go with Bluehost for your hosting. You can also choose to purchase a domain separately from your hosting package. This is sometimes recommended if you decide to switch hosting providers at a later date. We have been with Bluehost from the start, so I don’t think it’s necessary, but you have the option. We have used Google Domains to buy other domains in the past for $12/year.

Get Hosting

Hosting will be your biggest (and pretty much only) expense when starting a blog. The web host is the company that will store all of your blog files and content. You are paying for them to host your site, make sure it runs fast, and stays protected.

It is important to pick a well known host because it will affect the speed of your site and how you rank for Google search results. In addition, some host providers have down time where your site will not be viewable by anyone.

There aren’t many options in the quality, low budget hosting scene. We went with Bluehost for hosting and we recommend their services. I did a lot of research before starting the site and kept getting recommendations for Bluehost. They have worked really well for us (We are still using them after 2.5 years of blogging) and the price was the lowest that we found. In addition, there are a couple of other benefits.

  • We’ve seen almost no down time since creating the site. That is huge.
  • You can get a free domain name at the same time as your hosting package, it’s a one stop shop.
  • WordPress can be installed in one click after you sign up.
  • They feature automatic backups for your blog. We found this out a couple weeks ago after the site was acting funny. You never know when something will go haywire, but Bluehost will already have a backup so that you can restore the site.

To get started, go to bluehost.com and click “get started now.”

Bluehost homepage

You can select one of three plans and you can lock in the rate by purchasing up to 3 years in advance. You can also upgrade the plan at any time to a better plan.

We went with the plus plan at the time, but I’m not sure it adds a ton more value than the starter plan if you are just wanting to give blogging a test run.

Bluehost Plans

If you have not already registered a domain, enter your desired domain on the left. You will be registering your domain for free while signing up for hosting. If the domain is unavailable, you will have to choose another one.

I’d recommend using a domain with a .com extension because it’s still the most widely known. You can pick others, and it’s not a huge deal either way. Also try to avoid using lots of punctuation or obscure words. People will type this domain into their search bar to browse your website, so make it as simple as possible.

If you already have a domain purchased elsewhere (such as Google Domains), enter it on the right. Click Next.

Domain Registartion

Input your Account Information on the next page.

Make sure your email is correct because that is where they will send your login information.

Contact info

Then proceed to choose your hosting package. Choose the 12 Month, 24 Month or 36 Month price based on your preference. Uncheck all boxes except for Domain Whois Privacy. This prevents your real name and mailing address from being publicly associated with your domain name. If you don’t mind the publicity, uncheck it too!

5-Choose Plan

You’ve now completed your domain name and hosting. The hard part is done.

Next, complete you billing information and pay for the services.

6-Billing Info

Install WordPress

You’ll want WordPress as your blogging platform. It’s free, highly customizable, and well supported which makes it easy to use and user friendly.

To quickly install WordPress, navigate back to the Bluehost dashboard and login with the credentials provided via email.

bluehost-login

bluehost-login-panel

Once you login to the Bluehost dashboard, you can easily find the one click WordPress install icon.

7-cPanel

Click the icon and you will be prompted to start a new WordPress install.

8-WordPress

Select the domain you want to install. You will probably want to use the default location and click check domain. If you have special circumstances you can create a subfolder instead.

9-Install WP

Check the box next to Show advanced options. Enter your Site Name or Title. Choose an Admin Username and password. These will be what you use to login to WordPress once it’s installed. Enter your email address (All WordPress information will be sent here). check the last box. Click the Install Now button.

10-WP Login

It should say installing for a few moments, and then success!

11-Installation

You can now type in your domain name and your new website should pop up.

You can also use the login credentials to now access the admin part of your blog and begin making changes.

Optional Final Step

If you purchased a domain name outside of Bluehost instead of registering a new domain in the process I just outlined, you need to tweak a few settings.

Your existing domain will not display your new site until you change your name servers wherever your domain is currently registered. Changing your name servers points your existing domain to the Bluehost servers.

As soon as you change your name servers, your domain will bring visitors to this new site. Therefore, if you are currently using your domain on another site, do not change your name servers until your new site is set up and ready to go. In the meantime, you can still access your new WordPress blog via the credentials provided in your welcome email from Bluehost. If you didn’t receive the login information, simply call them.

To change the name servers where your domain is currently registered, go to the registrar where your existing domain is currently registered (Namecheap, GoDaddy, etc.) and change the name servers to those provided below. This process varies among registrars, and Bluehost has a help section that outlines the exact procedure for each.

  • ns1.BlueHost.com
  • ns2.BlueHost.com

Customize

You are now ready to begin writing. I wouldn’t start just yet though. It’s far better to set up the site as you see fit. Usually this means customizing the appearance and choosing some plugins to make life easier.

The theme is the core component of your site’s appearance and you might not want the stock WordPress theme. There is nothing wrong with the preset theme, but it certainly isn’t remarkable.

Change the theme to something you like, that is easy to read. There are thousands of free themes available, just search Google for “free WordPress themes.” We’ve had luck with Woothemes (they offer free and paid themes), and MyThemeShop.

There are folks who say that premium themes (they cost money) help rankings in Google and will set your site apart from the competition. I think that might be true to a limited extent, but you should weight the benefits and the costs.

If you do want a premium theme, there are two excellent options that we have experience with. Genesis Framework is easily customizable with a number of different child themes. Elegant Themes are also an outstanding option. These are among the most widely used premium themes on the market.

If you want to try different themes on, you can do a live preview and check out how your site will look before choosing a theme.

Choose Plugins

Plugins are exactly what they sound like. They plug into your new blog and make your life a lot easier. Some are free, some cost money. Here are my chosen free plugins that you might consider installing:

  • MailPoet – A simple, free email subscription service that allows you to build a list of email subscribers. 2,000 subscribers or less is completely free.
  • Akismet Plugin An automatic spam catcher. Sometimes people will post stupid spam comments and without Akismet, you’d have to trash each one manually. As your blog grows, there are thousands of them!
  • Ajax Comment Editor –  Allows users to edit their comments for a period of time. Administrators have a lot more features, such as the ability to edit comments directly on a post or page.
  • CommentLuv – Reward your readers by automatically placing a link to their last blog post at the end of their comment.
  • Digg DiggHas a floating share bar so that people will share your content on social media sites.
  • Google Analytics for WordPressAllows you to track useful information about site visitors, sources of traffic, etc.
  • SEO Friendly Images – Automatically adds alt and title attributes to all your images. Improves traffic from search results and makes them W3C/xHTML valid.
  • Yoast WordPress SEO – The all-in-one SEO (search engine optimization) solution for WordPress, including on-page content analysis, XML sitemaps and much more.
  • WP Super Cache  – Speeds up your site by caching pages.
  • Optin Feature Box Pro – The best method to generate email subscribers. Clean, great design, and extremely effective at capturing emails.

Start Blogging

It’s time to write! You can write a couple of posts and save them as drafts, or you can just write and publish. It’s all up to you.

You should definitely set up a Twitter account, Google Plus page, and a Facebook page for your blog at some point, but I don’t think it’s necessary to begin.

You should also set up an about page, a contact page, and possibly a few other pages that help readers connect to you.

Don’t get overwhelmed with all the tiny details in the beginning. So many possibilities can cause paralysis. You’ve got to get started and just continue learning as you go!

Some Blogging Advice

I’ve learned more than a few things since starting this blog two years ago. And to be fair, I still know very little. But I think I’ve learned enough to offer a little advice to all you aspiring bloggers.

1) Become an Expert in Your Niche – Your niche is the topic area that you will write about, and you should choose something that you find interesting and meaningful. When you actually care about a topic, you will spend time reading about it and absorbing it, which will give you something of value to write about. Over time, you’ll become extremely knowledgeable about a specific topic area, and the articles and videos will follow your knowledge and passion.

There are thousands of blogs covering the same underlying topic. The only way your blog will grow is unique, valuable content. Content is still king in the digital world. You’ve got to have something of value to say or people just won’t listen. The most successful bloggers are considered experts in a given field, and they are paid well to share that expertise with their audience.

2) In the Beginning, Write Less – This may sound crazy, but you shouldn’t be writing 5 posts per week after creating your blog. You don’t have an audience. No one is reading what you write.

Spend enough time to create 5-10 pieces of awesome content, and spend the rest of your time networking. Leave thoughtful comments on authoritative blogs that you enjoy reading. Reach out and email influential bloggers without asking anything in return. After a month of being selfless, try to secure a guest post on those authoritative blogs and capture some of their audience (your guest post should be amazing).

3) Focus on What Matters – When I started blogging, I was terrible at it. I spent hours upon hours obsessing over stupid little details that never mattered. Over time, I changed my focus, but it took a long time for me to understand the 80/20 rule as it related to blogging.

Spend the majority of your time reading, learning, thinking, writing great content, and networking with other successful bloggers. Also setup a simple email subscription service like MailPoet ASAP.

Spend very little time tweaking plugins to perfection, worrying about finding the perfect blog theme, filling out every detail of your Facebook fan page, Tweeting a bunch of nonsense, and publishing content that people won’t read.

4) Don’t Worry About Making Money – You should not expect to make money for at least a year after starting a blog (unless you are a business capturing customers).

Making money with a blog is a slow process. You want to establish yourself as a thought leader first, then get savvy with marketing. That means you shouldn’t focus on search engine optimization (SEO) or linkbuilding schemes, or plastering 20 ads on your newly founded blog. You should focus on the things I mentioned above in point (3). If you have excellent content that readers love, you will eventually find ways to make money.

Don’t get me wrong, you will have to eventually learn about internet marketing if you want to make money. But most bloggers (myself included) focus on these things way too early in the blogging process.

5) Be Real – Put a picture up on your website. People want to connect with a real person, not a bunch of words on a screen.

Content is important, but so is your voice. I’m convinced that people want to laugh, cry, and get angry when they read a blog post. People also love honesty. There isn’t any replacement for brutal, open honesty. Write about yourself. Relate to your readers. Tell what you do, how you do it, why it matters, or what it will cost.

6) Consider the Commitment – Starting a blog will take more time than you probably imagine. If you plan on doing everything yourself, realize that it takes time to learn each little skill. You can spend forever trying to design the site and find the right plugins. Researching an article idea and typing it all up also takes time. Expect things to move a little quicker with experience, but it all takes time!

Make Money Blogging

When I first started this blog, I had no idea about online marketing or how to make money. That wasn’t my intention when I first started to write. Over time, I began reading about monetizing a blog, and as traffic started to grow, so did the opportunities to make money.

In the first year, we made basically nothing. In the second year, income gradually began increasing. Today, we make more money through our blogs than we do at our day jobs.

Here are a few ideas to help you begin making money online:

Niche or Authority Blog?

This may seem a little bit confusing if you are brand new to internet marketing, but you need to understand the various websites that can be created. Think of blogging as a spectrum of possibilities. At one extreme, you have massively popular authority websites. At the other extreme, you have very simple niche websites. Everything in between is possible.

An authority site is often one with great content, thousands of followers, and thousands of links from other websites. This doesn’t all happen overnight, so many of these successful sites have aged for several years. An example:

A simple niche site is about one specific topic. The entire website might only have 10-15 posts, and they will cover a specific niche topic. These sites are meant to passively make money with little upkeep. An example:

Do you notice the difference between those sites?  The shaving site is very narrowly focused. Almost every post is designed to make money through affiliate marketing (see below). The Social Media Examiner is a thought leader in all things social media. Great content, thousands of links, aged domain, etc.

For most bloggers, there seems to be a typical progression as they learn more and more about internet marketing. Many who started an authority site have dabbled with niche sites. That’s how I would approach things as well.

In today’s crowded online world, an authority site has the major advantage in all things marketing related. Niche sites are becoming increasingly unprofitable because manipulating search engine rankings has become more difficult. Many niche sites have terrible content because the writer’s sole goal is income.

It doesn’t matter what you want to write about, you have to write to inform. Ask yourself if you would choose to read the content being published on your blog. Is it informative? Valuable? If not, you’ll never make a dime. That’s true for any site.

Different Ways to Make Money on Your Blog

Google Adsense

My first dollar made online came from Google Adsense. I was in awe at the time.

To get started, you open a free Adsense account and link your website. After approval, you just decide on the size of ad you want to display, then copy and paste the code into your blog’s html text box for display. For example, I had Adsense show image and text based ads and found that 250×300 pixel ads work best.

Google then reads the post and pulls keywords, and matches the post to the reader’s browsing patterns to display relevant ads that readers are likely to click on. Each click results in payment to the website owner.

The thing about Adsense is that you need a lot of traffic to make any real money. Furthermore, the payout per click is quite low, which is why many bloggers eventually decide leave Adsense to embrace affiliate marketing (myself included) and other revenue streams.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing involves recommending a product or service to readers. If the reader purchases what you recommend, the affiliate company pays your a fixed amount or a percentage of the conversion.

There are thousands and thousands of available affiliate marketing opportunities. You can find and promote almost any product or service imaginable. Some people get carried away and end up promoting garbage, which ruins their reputation.

But if you decide to only promote the services that you actually use and genuinely recommend, you can make money and help readers. Examples on this site include some of the reviews I write, and even Bluehost as seen in this guide.

Some of the affiliate marketing networks that are worthwhile:

Create a Product or Service

Another outstanding way to make money online is to create a valuable product or service, and sell it yourself. Think E-books, online courses, paid advice, etc.

If you are successful, you can then reach out to other bloggers and have them promote your product as an affiliate (#2 above).

This is an excellent way to make money, but it takes serious time and effort to produce something that will continue to sell over time. It has to be top-notch.

And you should be careful with this. You can throw hundreds or thousands of hours into a $1.99 e-book that will sell 250 copies in 3 years. Unless you just love that idea, it’s a terrible return on your time investment.

Direct Advertising.

Once your site has serious traffic, a high domain authority, and numerous sites linking in, you will likely start receiving a ridiculous number of emails looking to advertise directly.

This can include sponsored posts, which are posts that either you or the sponsoring company writes to get a link back to their site or product. I would also include sponsored reviews in this category, where the site owner is paid to review a product or service.

There are also direct ad opportunities, where companies will pay you to display a text or visual ad on your site for a fixed dollar amount.

The problem with direct advertising is that it often looks spammy. There are people who do it well and manage to stay classy, but it’s more difficult than other methods.

Other Marketing Resources 

If you have created a blog and want to learn more about internet marketing or making money, here are some sites that I have found very helpful:

Benefits to Blogging (Outside of Making Money)?

There are numerous reasons to start a blog. I couldn’t possibly list them all and I won’t try. What I’ll do is share my thoughts on what I’ve learned thus far on the blogging journey and hope that inspires you to start blogging.

  1. You’ll Inspire Others – This is by far the greatest thing about blogging. Nothing compares to the tweet or email saying thank you for writing an article that inspired change and progress in the life of a reader.
  2. You’ll Become a Better Thinker – blogging forces you to think, research, and then type your thoughts into the computer. It’s much more involved than I just made it sound. Try writing for 5 minutes without stopping if you don’t believe me. It takes critical thinking and concentration. You will think deeply and with more clarity as you practice writing.
  3. You’ll Develop New Skills – If you commit to starting a blog, you will become a better writer. Writing is a life skill and a key form of communication. My writing has improved tenfold since I began blogging. In addition, you might decide to learn about web design, search engine optimization, marketing, and much more. Those are skills that employers find valuable.
  4. You’ll Become Intentional – Blogging is a reflective process. If you choose to reveal your identity to the world, the world becomes your audience and your accountability partner. There is no fooling around with that. Blogging forces you to think about your actions, your words, your thoughts, and your goals.
  5. You’ll Meet Great People – I’ve had conversations with brilliant people through my blog. I love getting emails from strangers. Sometimes it’s just a hello, sometimes it’s a request that I review a product or a new book, sometimes it’s an opinion that encourages ongoing dialogue. Seriously, the internet is full of awesome, talented, passionate people.
  6. You’ll Evolve – Blogging doesn’t just change the reader, it changes the author. Comments left by readers force you to consider their position and opinion. You’ll develop a well rounded mindset if you’ll learn from the feedback of others.
  7. You’ll Become More Confident – Or at least I did. Blogging as myself has forced me to become comfortable in front of an audience. I lay my opinions on the table for the whole world to see. Sometimes readers agree, sometimes they disagree. Either way, it helps me grow.

Get Started Blogging Today

Blogging can seem complicated, but getting started is simple if you follow my guide.

It’s extremely easy to create a new blog via Bluehost in less than 45 minutes. After you begin writing, then take some time and read about internet marketing.

I’ve been where you are, and my best advice is to get started. Much of the learning comes through the blogging process, which evolves over time.

Let me know if you have any questions about starting a blog and making money. 

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