Blogs can provide a healthy passive income when they’re done right. But there’s a catch. With over 500 million blogs out there, you need to know exactly where to invest your time and money to succeed.
Since it can take up to six months before your blog even gets noticed by Google search, the sooner you understand the basics of blogging the better. Think of those first six months as a testing ground.
What I wish I’d known before I started my blogs.
I’ve read hundreds of articles, viewed dozens of Youtube videos and researched successful blogs and websites to learn what makes a successful blog.
Here’s what I’ve learned so you can save time and money.
11 Essential Steps to Start a Blog
1. What Do You Want to Accomplish with Your Blog?
Before you even get started on your blog journey, ask yourself why. Why do you want to start a blog, what’s your ultimate goal and what will success mean to you?
Reasons to start a blog:
- as an outlet for creative expression
- as a information resource for a community
- as a way to earn income
Your reason determines the next steps; how you’ll structure your time and how much effort you’re willing to devote to get your blog going.
If you’re using a blog for creative expression, chances are you won’t worry about pageviews or following a consistent publishing schedule.
As an information resource, you’ll want to update a blog with new details as they come available but without setting any strict deadlines.
However if you’re starting a blog with the intent to earn income, everything changes. If you want to be successful, you’ll choose a target audience, plan your content carefully and set up a steady publishing schedule.
Before you start a blog, first be very clear about your reasons.
2. How to Choose a Successful Niche for a Blog
When you choose the right niche – area of interest – for your blog, your chances for success skyrocket.
Choosing a niche because it interests you isn’t a guarantee of success. You run the risk of writing for yourself instead of your readers unless it’s a niche readers can’t get enough of.
Most successful blogs fall into two camps. They either offer a crave-worthy lifestyle or real life solutions to everyday questions.
To take the path of a lifestyle blog, you’ll need to become an influencer. Someone who embodies an ideal lifestyle that others covet and want to emulate. From fashion to interiors you’re the go to expert.
To take the path of a solutions blog, you’ll need to become a trusted source. Someone to give rock solid answers on how to solve a problem. From succulent care to RV maintenance, you’re the go to expert.
Whichever camp you fall into; start by asking yourself these questions to find the perfect niche for your blog.
FINDING THE PERFECT NICHE
- Is this a topic you could write 50-100 posts on and never run out of ideas or get tired of the topics? Are you passionate about this niche?
- Do you have a personal connection to share? From rehabbing an old RV to taking care of a succulent plant collection, what have you learned. Are you becoming an expert in the process? Can you tap into a need for step by step instructions or guidance that your readers may be searching for? Answering questions is a solid niche strategy.
- Ask yourself if it’s going to be easy to get graphics and images for this topic. This can be a stumbling block to some niches. Where will you get unique photos to illustrate your blog posts? What costs will you have to factor in to buy good quality images?
- Image options do affect your niche choice. Unless you have access to high fashion images or the ability to create your own, it’s going to be hard to run a high fashion blog. An interior design blog needs original images to gain credibility. Ask yourself if you’ll be able to create good quality images for your blog niche idea.
- Have you walked the walk and learned about a topic or process you can share with your readers? From managing your money to renovating a farmhouse, readers love to go along with the journey or story. Sharing helps them figure out how they can do it too. If you’re one or two steps ahead of your readers, this may be a successful niche idea for you.
- Some of the most successful blogs are aspirational. They show the reader how to dream and live an enviable lifestyle. Do you have what it takes to create that type of content along with high quality images you create or pay for?
When you’re deciding what niche to choose, think about the categories your content will be grouped into. Thinking this all the way through can help you decide if your niche idea will work. Use Google trends to research topic ideas for validity.
Categories are like buckets, they’re an easy way to gather similar ideas.
Let’s say you’ve decided your niche is renovating a farmhouse. Example categories could be:
FAVORITE FINDS | RESOURCES | INTERIOR DECOR | FURNISHINGS |BUDGET
We’ll talk about this later under publishing schedules and content.
3. What Software or Knowledge do I Need?
To start a blog it’s helpful to have at least a basic knowledge of writing, image editing and blogging software. It’s not necessary to know how to code, you can learn it as you go. Most blogging platforms are designed to make it easy to run a blog without coding experience.
These are the three main skillsets you’ll need to start and run your blog:
1. Basic Writing, Grammar and Text Editing.
Start writing using basic software like Notes (Mac) or OneNote (PC). To keep track of your blog post content ideas, titles and categories take advantage of free software like Evernote or a Google docs spreadsheet.
Software that allows you to organize your blog posts by topic is helpful. Both Notes and Evernote have the option of creating folders or notebooks.
Stay away from word processing software for writing blog content – it just adds unwanted code when you copy and paste.
2. Basic Image Creation and Editing.
Most blogs need images to illustrate content and act as a visual break between blocks of text. Find stock images on free sites like Unsplash (my favorite), take your own photos with a phone or camera or use illustrations you’ve drawn or hired out to an illustrator. Try Fiverr, Creative Market.
To edit, crop and size blog images, try free online platforms like Canva which also have extensive image collections. Learning basic image editing with software like Picmonkey, Affinity Photo or Photoshop Elements will be very helpful.
3. Basic Internet Skills.
Understand how to upload images to your blog platform such as WordPress. You’ll need to manage your blog platform (Wix or WordPress), learn to use the theme customization panel and install and tweak plugins.
As you create content, learning to research keywords for SEO (search engine optimization) friendly content will be essential to getting pageviews.
Setting up an email service like Mailchimp or Mailerlite (my favorite) on your blog to capture visitors email addresses is another handy skill to learn.
4. What’s the Best Platform for a Blog?
Think of publishing platforms as containers that hold the coding needed to publish a blog online.
In the past the only way to publish a website was to code it in HTML (hyper text markup language) and CSS (cascading style sheets) then upload the files with FTP (file transfer protocol) to be published online. You needed HTML coding knowledge to add text and images.
Now with a CMS (content management system) platform like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace, coding is done in the background. A CMS platform is a pre-coded container for you to customize with your own images and words. You don’t need to understand HTML language (although it helps).
CMS platforms are pre-coded to create professional looking web pages so you don’t need to code. However you’ll need basic internet and software skills to customize your blog the way you want it.
Hosted or self hosted platform?
Hosted platforms like Squarespace and Wix offer drag and drop blog builders that make it easy for a beginner to start now. Most platforms let you sign up with a free account. Second step will be pick a theme and start publishing content.
Hosted Pros – Require less technical know how. You don’t need to set up your own domain, hosting or worry about renewal fees and monthly costs above the cost of your plan. Design is drag and drop.
Built in SEO functionality means you don’t need to be an expert.
Hosted Cons – Technically you don’t own your site or content because you’re publishing it on a public platform. It’s comparable to renting a home vs owning one (self-hosted).
Sites like Squarespace charge a fee if you run transactions on your site.
In theory, the platform could fail, go down or go bust and you’d lose your site and content. Unlikely but worth knowing. Cheap starter plans may lack functionality and upgrades will cost more.
- Wix – starts at $14. per month and includes a domain name when paid annually
- Squarespace – starts at $12. per month and includes a domain name when paid annually
- WordPress.com – starts at $4. per month and includes a domain name when paid annually
|Hosted||Monthly Cost||Annual Cost|
|WordPress.com||No monthly plans||$48.- $480.|
|Squarespace||$16. – $46.||$12.- $40. x 12|
|Wix||$14. – $39.||$14. – $39. x 12|
|Weebly||$0 – $26.||$0 – $26. x 12|
SELF HOSTED PLATFORMS
Self hosted platforms require more technical know how but have greater flexibility for future growth. You’ll choose a host (Godaddy or Kualo), install your software (WordPress), a theme and then periodically update the WordPress software and plugins through the WordPress dashboard.
Hosting is charged monthly or annually but WordPress is free to install. You’ll need a theme to run on top of the WordPress platform to give function and design to your blog. Themes can be free, have a one time or annual cost.
|Self Hosting||Annual Costs|
|Web Hosting||$3.-20 monthly ($36.-240 annually)|
|Domain Name||0-$15. annually|
|WP Theme||0- $75. one time fee|
|Plugins||0- $25. one time fee|
Self Hosted Pros – The self hosted option compares to owning your own home. You’re able to make the changes and updates you want at your own pace. You have complete control over your blog content, how it looks and how it functions.
Self Hosted Cons – Setting up a self hosted blog site requires more advanced technical knowhow. Some hosting companies will install WordPress for you, but it’s still up to you to learn how to use WordPress and customize your blog to look the way you want.
What’s the best blog platform to use?
Hosted options like WordPress.com, Squarespace, Wix are great if you want a plug and play site ASAP. Whether you have a blog, retail business or entertainment venue, these platforms offer a wide range of built in modules to add functionality.
Self hosted options like WordPress.org have more of a learning curve but greater potential to grow as your business grows. Plugins add functionality.
For ease of use, flexibility and cost my choice is self hosted WordPress.org
WordPress is the first choice for most bloggers. There’s a reason the WordPress CMS is used by almost 40% of websites worldwide, plus installing WordPress is free!
5. What’s the Best Theme for a Blog?
Themes add design and functionality to your blog and with thousands to choose from, your options are unlimited.
The hosted version of WordPress.com offers multiple themes you choose from a menu within the site.
The self hosted version of WordPress requires you to install a third party theme. Start with the free WordPress default theme, Twenty Twenty if you just need something basic. Once you’ve installed WordPress you’ll install a theme from within the dashboard.
We’ll talk about themes for self hosted WordPress.
SELF HOSTED WORDPRESS THEMES
WordPress is infinitely customizable with a theme. Themes take the basic structure of WordPress and give it personality and function. A good comparison would be: WordPress is like the builder grade home, very basic, no upgrades. A theme takes that basic shell and adds color, design, function plus some nice bells and whistles.
Themes vary in cost. Paid themes offer unique functionality and features but there’s many free themes available too. To take customization one step further, child themes can be added to an existing theme to further personalize it.
|1. WordPress||Blog Foundation|
|2. Theme||Adds unique design and extra functions|
|3. Child Theme||Adds unique design and extra functions to a theme|
|4. Plugins||Extends functionality of theme – ex email signup box|
Through trial and error I’ve found some inexpensive or free themes aren’t even worth installing. Do your research and read reviews. The best way to see if a theme will do what you want it to is try it out first.
How to Try out a New Theme
- Find a theme to try out, download it into your WordPress dashboard.
- Go to Appearance > Themes > Add New Theme
- In the Search Themes box type the name of the theme to try- ex Astra
- Once it’s downloaded, click on Live Preview
- You’ll be able to preview how your blog would look in this new theme.
- Tweak and try out the features. You can make as many changes you like, they won’t go “live” unless you click Activate & Publish.
- If you like what you see and want to save the changes and theme, click Activate and Publish.
Not ready? Just click the X in the upper left corner of the customize dashboard to exit the theme preview.
Recommended WordPress Themes
Pipdig – used by some very well known bloggers, these themes look sophisticated and come with built in support for Pinterest feeds which is rare. Very easy to set up and good customer support. I use Holly & Weave for my Hipoverfifty blog.
Astra – Well rated by Amylynnandrews, I found the Astra theme was too basic for my needs with not enough custom options, but it may work very well for what you need. Plugins can help customize a basic theme, but be careful not to add plugins that will slow your site speed.
OceanWP – Free version has a lot of customizability including fonts and colors. Downside is there aren’t many options to display blog posts in different formats on the home page. I started using this theme for LittleTechBook but switched to Ashe.
Ashe – I installed the free version but upgraded to the custom version ($20.) for more options. Lack of custom options for heads and text so you’ll need to install Easy Google Fonts. Strangely you need a shortcode to put a blog roll on the home page, but overall a good basic theme. I use this theme for Healthyhomelove and now Little Tech Book.
6. Features to look for in a WordPress Theme
Two features to look for in a WordPress theme are: design and functionality.
Design Features: You want a well designed blog that’s inviting to look at and easy for visitors to read. Look for these design theme features:
- Built in support for Google fonts
- Head and post customization options
- Multiple color style options
- Doesn’t rely on visual page builder plugins like Elementor, Divi or Beaver Builder for design
- Options to display home page blogroll
- Home page header image or slider
- Customizable headers and footers
- Customizable widgets
- Social media integration
Functionality Features: Make it easy for readers to find what they’re looking for fast. Look for these functional theme features:
- Optimized for speed
- Responsive for mobile users
- Theme is regularly updated
- Cookie notice (GDPR)
- Social sharing
- Lazy load image option
- Search box integration
7. What Costs Can I Expect with a Blog
|Hosting||$9. – 435. Annually|
|Themes/Plugins||$100. one time|
|Camera/Phone||$200. – $1000.|
|Photo Editing Software||$0 – $140. per year Canva|
$99. Photoshop Elements
|Stock Photo Subscription||$0||$169. Adobe Stock per year|
8. Why You Need a Publishing Schedule
A blog isn’t a blog without content. Before you install WordPress, it’s OK to get a jump start on writing posts to have content ready to publish. A publishing or content schedule keeps post ideas and research organized in one place – the goal is to have a list of ideas and titles to prompt you to write when you have time.
While you were choosing your niche did you also come up with category ideas?
Take the Farmhouse Renovation example. Use categories to group your post ideas in a Google docs spreadsheet.
FAVORITE FINDS | RESOURCES | INTERIOR DECOR | FURNISHINGS |BUDGET
Decide how often you want to publish a blog post. Once or twice a week is a good pace to start.
Before you even hit publish come up with at least a dozen ideas for blog posts that fall under each of your categories. Let’s say you have the 5 categories above, write 2 blog post ideas for each.
Start by creating a spreadsheet in Google docs (free). Add your categories, then blog title ideas for each category. This is also a good place to add keyword phrases for your post to help you get a jump start on writing blog posts that get found.
|Category||Favorite Finds||Resources||Interior Decor||Budget|
9. Getting Traffic to Your Blog
We automatically assume once we’ve started publishing content, we’ll get visitors and page views.
In the early days of a blog, don’t be surprised if no one reads your content! Google will crawl your site, but keep in mind it can take up to 6 months for your site to get authority and be found in search results.
Aim for a goal of publishing at least 30 blog posts in that 6 months. While you’re adding content, start to explore methods for attracting visitors to your site. Where do they hang out online? What are they looking for and what questions are they asking?
Getting traffic to your blog means writing well researched long form posts with catchy titles. Then make sure to share your content, story, pins or tweets to social media.
If your target reader is hanging out on social media, find out which platform they use the most. Here’s some general guidelines for who is hanging out where:
- Facebook – Groups for communities, Pages for showing off your voice and brand, Ads for any targeted group you want to reach
- Twitter – Business, media and breaking news
- Instagram – Visual themes like fashion, travel, design, lifestyle, beauty and self awareness
- Pinterest – How to and where to go; travel, crafts, lifestyle, fashion, parenting, beauty and self care
- Linkedin – Business peer to peer, networking
Social media is free unless you decide to use paid ads. It can be highly effective at connecting with your tribe.
Pick one or two platforms relevant to your reader and focus on building a following or brand. Don’t post the same content to each social network. Treat each network individually. Even though some of your readers may follow Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest; they’re looking for different answers on each platform.
Running a Google search is the easy and free way to keyword research. Choose a phrase or question your blog post has the answer to. Type it into the Google search bar. Then add “a” and see what results come up. Continue through the alphabet until you have some great keyword search terms to use in your posts. After all Google is telling you those keyword phrases already have search history.
Scroll down to the bottom of the search page results that come up and look at the additional keyword search terms Google gives you.
“what type of fence is best for wet conditions” “a”
“how do I paint wood floors?” “a”
“where is the best beach in FL” “a”
You don’t need to pay for keyword research tools. Since Google is the dominant search engine (3.5 billion searches per day), why not use Google search to dig up your relevant keywords and phrases.
10. How to Make Money with a Blog
If you want a blog that earns extra income, here’s the main sources for how bloggers make money.
Sign up for a large affiliate network or do one on one deals with a company. Companies pay you when someone buys their product or service from a link on your website. You may also get paid just for clicks.
- You write a blog post about a product
- You put a product link in the blog post
- Reader clicks and buys. You make a small commission
Once you have 30,000 or more monthly visitors to your blog, you sign up with an ad network that pays to put ads on your site. The more visitors the more you make. Different ad networks cater to different niches.
Some ad networks minimum requirements are much higher than 30K visitors and can be difficult for beginning bloggers to get accepted to. Adthrive requires 100,000 monthly pageviews. Mediavine requires 50,000 pageviews per month.
Other well known affiliate networks are Shareasale, CJ Affiliate, Clickbank, Amazon.
Once your blog starts getting visitors, you can sign up with an email marketing company like Mailchimp or Mailerlite. By offering a free incentive like a newsletter you start collecting reader emails. Once you have an email list you start offering paid products to your subscribers. Paid products can be a one time purchase that offers deeper information than what’s on your blog or a package of a series of informational lessons or videos.
Depending on your blog topic, you may decide to offer courses; similar to an info product just a more structured format. You start with offering a taste of your course or a free incentive to sign up to your email list. Once a reader is on your list you can start offering paid courses on “how to_____”. Platforms like Teachable, Skillshare, Thinkific and Udemy are specifically designed for makers or bloggers to easily offer their own courses.
If your blog is in the self help or career niche, you can start offering a free incentive for readers to sign up to your email list. Once you’ve established authority, the next step would be to offer paid services to your email list such as one on one or group coaching packages. Another income earner in this niche could be books or info products.
If your blog niche is related to a group activity or learning over a period of time, consider offering paid memberships. Initially you may offer free information on Youtube or your blog. For readers who want more detail or want access to you in message forums or chat sessions, you can offer membership in your group or program. Some bloggers bundle memberships to private Facebook groups in with other informational products or courses.
11. Where Can I Get More Help?
For beginning bloggers there’s so much advice and information out there that it’s hard to know what to trust and what will work best for your blog. I know. I waded through countless articles, bought courses and kept digging to find answers to make my blogs more successful. I’m still learning!
These are some of my favorite blogger resources. Straight talk, good solid advice and free. Income School has a paid program as does Pocket Business, but they both provide a lot of solid advice at no cost.
- Income School – Wish I had discovered these two guys early in my blogging journey! Check them out on Youtube. Their videos offer a wealth of good information on everything from writing a blog post that ranks to easy Google keyword research tips.
- Amylynnandrews – Sign up to Amy Lynn Andrews email newsletter to get tips every Saturday in your inbox. This is how I found out about Income School. She covers a wide range of topics and her blog post on how to start a blog is easy to understand step by step gold.
- Pocket Business – Scrivs and MaryJane are passionate about what they do and will guide you on your blogging journey with as much hand holding as you need. I discovered Paul Scrivens when I googled blog niches
- OhSheBlogs – I found Lisa on Facebook (I think) and I like her straightforward approach to blogging. Check out her affiliate network post for more tips on using affiliates to earn money.
If you’re thinking of starting a blog, congratulations!
Starting your own blog is the perfect business you can do from anywhere. Work from home or work while you travel while setting your own financial goals instead of living for a paycheck.
If you’re starting a blog just for the fun of it, you can afford to ignore this advice. But if earning income is your ultimate goal, I’m hopeful these tips will help you get started on your successful blog journey.