How to start a blog?
Here is my ultimate guide about how to start blogging.
I will present you a great checklist, tips and advice about:
- choosing the best niche;
- blog setup;
- scaling traffic;
- blog monetization.
Here is a screenshot from one of my blog projects, where I was able to reach 100K+ sessions per month.
- It wasn’t easy.
- It took a lot of time.
- And mistakes can be super costly.
But, in the end – it is possible.
Here is a screenshot from my PayPal account from another project, with less traffic.
And this is only for branded posts in one of many blogs.
So, it is also still possible to monetize your traffic.
Let’s go through specific steps needed to start a blog.
1. Choose a niche, which you LOVE
Choosing your ideal blogging niche is one of the most important decisions in this blogging journey.
You should find a perfect balance between three things:
- a profitable niche
- good traction
- this is what you love.
If you select some great niche – e.g. personal finance, tech, but don’t love it – it will be tough for you to produce a lot of quality content.
Don’t just run after some hyped content topics. Again, if you don’t like it, you won’t be able to put the needed amount of hours and work, required for you to succeed.
Same, if you love your content, but it doesn’t bring any money and there is no traction whatsoever – not the best solution as well.
Here is a great selection of 100 plus blogging niches and other top 7 blogging niches.
2. Choose your medium and concentrate
There are many ways to do blogging: text blogs, Youtube, podcasts, Instagram, etc.
In this post, I will describe mainly the classic text blog.
Overall, in order to make money online, to achieve your dream passive income, you need to figure out these three things:
- your preferred medium (Google, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, etc);
- your content type (images, text, video, audio);
- your topics or niche (what you will write about – pets, SEO, tech, travel, making money online, etc).
For example, you run a text blog, about digital marketing, which goes viral on Google.
Or Husky videos on Youtube.
Or recipes on Pinterest, which link to your blog.
Or fitness images on Instagram.
So, you need to test as many combinations as possible and find the one with the most traction.
My advice, that after you found it – focus on this one medium.
So, if you found out, that your images on Instagram are going viral – focus just on Instagram. Don’t try to spread to Pinterest, Youtube, etc. Especially, if you have limited resources and trying to bootstrap your online business.
3. Test your traction – fail fast
Before even going any further…
It is super important to test your traction first.
Many startup founders and CTOs actually say this: developing is a piece of cake, but testing and finding the product-market fit is super hard.
In my experience, you need to treat your blogs like an expensive technical product or full-scale business.
You won’t invest several million and many years in something if it doesn’t have at least a little traction in the beginning, right?
Let me be clear, full-scale blogging can become super expensive (both in time and money).
Don’t underestimate the hours and dollars needed:
- to learn to blog, design and SEO,
- to do a technical setup,
- scale your content (research, copy, visuals, etc),
- boost domain strength (backlinks, outreach, amplification),
- maintaining your blog,
- of course, setting up monetization,
Don’t rush into spending hundreds and thousands of dollars into content, backlinks, virtual assistants, technical help, etc – until you have some signs of future traction.
Believe me, it can be super painful to figure out, that it “just didn’t work out” after 3 years of work and thousands of dollars spent.
The good part is, you don’t even need to setup WordPress (let alone developing your custom website or product) to test things.
Select a few niches and do some testing.
Test your ideas, content, topics, etc with:
- Social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin stories, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest) – just post content and test engagement;
- Use Facebook ads or Google ads;
- Build a super simple landing page or blog (with e.g. Wix or Weebly) – and test with Facebook ads, Google ads;
- Test content, ask feedback on Medium, or Reddit, or Quora, etc…
Try to spot that interest boost, that spark of an engagement or some good feedback on your quality in particular topics, niches.
Then test more.
If successful, then this is the time to go full in.
Also, there is a famous expression in Google culture: “Fail fast“.
Basically, it means it’s ok to fail and have mistakes, and it’s much better to find out mistakes fast until you invested too much time and money…
If you already started some serious blogging effort and seems it is not getting any views, clicks, engagement, money – it is important to stop fast. And switch to another niche, medium, topic ASAP.
The more money and time you invest in the blog, which is still unsuccessful, the harder it will be to justify to yourself to switch to something else.
Sorry for maybe putting too many words about choosing your niche, medium and testing everything, but this is really important, IMHO. And not so many bloggers are paying attention to this part at all. I think you should just try to avoid wasting too many resources in something, which could be stopped with a simple test.
Now, let’s focus now on the concrete steps to start your blog.
4. Buy a domain
After you finally found out something, that seems to work – time to buy a cool domain.
Use tools like Namechk to identify free domains also usernames available on main social media accounts.
Don’t spend too much time on choosing a domain/brand name. In blogging it matters, but not that much.
What matters in blogging is your content quality, even if it is served from the domain with the weirdest name.
Then I personally use GoDaddy to buy the domain.
5. Choose a host
There are many hosting providers out there.
In my experience, choosing a good (and maybe expensive) host will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Stick to well-known, reliable hosting providers, such as Bluehost or Wpengine.
A good host will provide you with:
- 1-click, easy WordPress install;
- Fast loading speed (one of the key ranking factors for Google);
- SSL certificate (important ranking factor);
- Staging environment (to test your ideas);
- Reliability (your site won’t crash during high traffic);
- Technical Support.
I have two favourite ones: Bluehost and Wpengine.
Bluehost is a great balance between price and quality. It is a go-to WordPress hosting solution if you are a starting blogger. Bluehost also tops many hosting ratings these days.
Wpengine – a nice choice for more complicated projects, with lots of traffic (e.g. e-commerce or marketplace). It has some more advanced features, but also it’s much more expensive – starts from $35 per month per site.
Of course, there are other options to set up your website. Wix, Godaddy (they also offer to host WordPress), or you can host your blog on Hubspot, etc.
Here is an additional list of good WordPress hosts, ranked by performance.
6. Setup a CMS – WordPress
There are a lot of CMS – content management systems – out there.
In my opinion, WordPress is the best option so far.
WordPress is the most popular CMS platform in the world with a 50-60% share in the market. It provides ease of use, saves time and money – especially, compared to developing a custom website.
WordPress has also the biggest number of integrations, plugins and also relative security.
It is a perfect place to start blogging and test some of your ideas online.
More and more people also choose Hubspot for hosting their blogs – especially in a startup world.
Of course, Hubspot is a CRM, but you host your site or blog with them too.
Minus: it allows much less customization, flexibility.
Massive plus: you track everything.
With Hubspot, you can see a complete journey of a lead from newsletter subscriber to customer. All form submitted emails opened, CTAs clicked, etc.
Also things like:
- lead scoring;
- progressive forms,
- sequences, emails, popups, landing pages…
It is super easy just too have all the marketing tools in one place.
Bottom line: I would recommend starting with WordPress. It is the best CMS to scale traffic. If your blog grows and becomes a business with a good income, you will need a CRM. And then, this is Hubspot. Instead of using 10 different tools (for emails, workflows, forms, lists…) – use one. It is the best tool to optimize conversion rates on different stages of a Sales Funnel.
7. Carefully choose your WordPress theme
Same as with hosting, it makes sense to invest in a good, reliable and fast WordPress theme.
With cheap and poorly designed themes there is a lot of risks:
- Significantly slowing down your website,
- Lower conversion rates,
- Messing up your links and redirects,
- Breaking website structure and so on.
All these factors are really important for SEO. You don’t want some cheap WordPress theme to ruin your whole blogging effort.
So, choose wisely and don’t try to save $69, if it’s worth it.
Good themes to consider are Divi or Genesis Framework (more advanced).
On another note, similar to a domain name, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time with design or branding. Serious branding exercise can be super expensive and time-consuming. The main value of your blog is amazing content.
Readers can forgive you a bit crappy look if the content is awesome, but it doesn’t work in the opposite way.
8. Technical WordPress setup
Here is a basic performance, security and maintenance checklist for WordPress.
Cloudflare is an additional layer of security for your site. If offers DDoS protection, DNS management, CDN, caching, etc.
Also, if your site is down, Cloudflare will serve a placeholder page. And it’s available on a free plan!
Use Caching system or plugins to speed up your website. Same as with Image optimization, it can have a positive effect on your conversion rates and Google ranking.
There are plenty of freemium caching plugins, such as W3 Total Cache, WP Rocket and others. Also, with Wpengine, Bluehost or Cloudflare you have caching options (I would recommend these).
Enable content delivery network.
Some premium hosting providers (that’s why you need to choose a good one) have CDN option, which makes your site faster, as your content is delivered from the nearly located server. It can be a great boost for SEO.
d. Consider Jetpack
Jetpack – all-in-one security, marketing and design plugin.
You will need a backup solution – it is included both in WPEngine and Bluehost and other major hosting providers. Otherwise, you should find a backup plugin.
Sometimes you will need a WordPress staging environment, where you can test new features, ideas, without affecting live production site. Staging is available in both Bluehost and WPEngine.
9. Install WordPress plugins
a. Page builder
First of all, you need to decide, how will you build and design your blogs and pages. That’s why I recommend all-in WordPress themes, such as Divi or Genesis, where page builder is included.
If your theme doesn’t have, you can consider Visual Composer with add-ons. But, keep in mind, it can significantly slow down your site.
b. Image optimization
One of the most common mistakes, which bloggers make, is not optimizing images.
Heave images can significantly slow down your loading speed – > increase bounce rate – > decrease Google rankings.
There are plenty of Image optimization WordPress plugins, which will automatically optimize your image on upload – Smush, TinyPNG, etc.
Optimized images -> fast website -> boost in Google rank.
Best anti-spam plugin for WordPress comments.
d. Social media
I personally use Social Warfare. With the premium feature, just under $40 per month, you can adjust styling, and Pin hover buttons, migrate your shares count from old URLs, etc.
I prefer 301 Simple redirects. Also, you can manage redirects in Yoast plugin (premium version).
The things to remember with WordPress plugins:
- keep them updated
- limit only to most important plugins
- deactivate plugins you don’t use
If you have too many plugins, or some of them are not-updated – it may bring security, speed and bug issues in WordPress.
10. Technical SEO setup
The truth is that SEO still has one of the highest ROI among all inbound channels.
Also, organic search results tend to perform 5.7 times better than paid search ads (in terms of conversions).
SEO is the cornerstone of driving evergreen traffic and free evergreen traffic is one of the keys for making sustainable revenue online and growing your blog.
In my experience, the majority of traffic to your blog will come from either: Google search or Pinterest. On one of my projects with over 100K session per month, 85% of traffic is organic.
Where to start with WordPress SEO?
WordPress and SEO should always come together. Without a proper SEO strategy, your site won’t run on a full pace and won’t reach its full potential.
SEO is a complicated process, which includes content creation, link building, on-page SEO, technical aspects and so on.
Usually, for every new site, it’s very important to do a correct tech SEO setup.
a. Install an SEO plugin
There is a number of options you can choose from.
Yoast – one of the most popular ones and is free for a basic version.
With SEO plugin you can:
- Easily modify Titles and Meta descriptions for many posts;
- Manage Open Graph tags for social media;
- Optimize your content for a specific keyword;
- Analyze on-page SEO;
- Check difficulty of reading;
- Create sitemap and robots.txt;
- Manage redirects;
- And many other things
b. Create a sitemap
Make sure you have your sitemap.xml and robots.txt files.
What is a sitemap?
A sitemap is basically a list of all your pages. You can auto-generate sitemap with Yoast. And then make sure to submit it in Search Console.
This way, Google search bot will be automatically notified and immediately crawl new pages on your site. Therefore, you will have faster indexing and your pages will appear in search results faster after publishing.
A sitemap is especially important for new sites.
Make sure you have a robots.txt file. This a very simple file with just a few lines of code, created for search bots, where you specify indexing status of your site.
For example, with robots.txt you can enable or disable indexing for the whole site or specific pages, folders.
TIP: For fresh new sites, don’t forget to uncheck the box in Settings -> Reading “disable search engines from indexing this site”. If this box remains checked, your content won’t be discoverable by search engines! Proven on own experience 🙂
TIP 2: It is considered the good practice to discourage search bots from indexing some of WordPress files and folders – e.g. /wp-admin folder.
d. Search Console
Search Console (former Google Webmasters tools) – one of the central tools for your SEO journey. It’s free and developed by Google (so, it has a lot of trusted data).
When you create a profile and verify your site in Search Console, this is what you need to do.
- Set the preferred location of your traffic (e.g. if most of your traffic comes from the US, you can tell that in Search Console);
- Submit sitemap;
- Check robots.txt;
- Request indexing (if you want Google to speed up crawl of a specific new page, you can do that in Search Console);
- Check tech errors (structured data, rich snippets, AMP pages, mobile performance, etc) – Google will notify you via Search Console, that something is not right – fix these errors;
- And of course, monitor your organic traffic – Impressions, Clicks, CTR and average position.
TIP: Connect Search Console with your Google Analytics account. This way you can relate all GA data to specific search queries.
e. Optimize for mobile, AMP pages
It depends on the niche, but in a lot of them, mobile traffic is already more than 50%.
Make sure your WordPress theme has a responsive layout, which works for different mobile screen sizes.
One of the great WordPress SEO tricks, which boosted my Organic traffic by 30%, was implementing AMP.
AMP (Amplified Mobile Pages) – technology, pushed by Google, which makes your mobile pages lightning fast. Google prefers these pages in search results.
You can either hire a developer to create AMP templates for your site or just start with a free AMP plugin.
f. Check out free SEO tools
Here is my ultimate list of SEO tools – both free and paid.
You should consider some SEO tools for:
- keyword research;
- link building;
- on-page SEO.
Obviously, you need to track your site traffic.
a. Google Analytics
Again, there are a number of options. Some bloggers prefer JetPack, but I would recommend Google Analytics – as it excludes bot traffic.
To install Google Analytics, you will need to create a free GA account and then put GA snippet on all your pages. To simplify the process, try MonsterInsights WordPress plugin.
With the help of Google Analytics you can analyze:
- Acquisition (where your users come from)
- Audience (who are your users)
- Behaviour (what do they do on your site)
- Conversions (how they convert).
b. Tag Manager or Google Optimize
Google Analytics is a great tool, but sometimes it’s not enough, especially if you want to track events and optimize your conversion.
Consider installing Google Tag Manager or Google Optimize – great free tools, where you can track events, clicks, form submissions and optimize your site accordingly.
So, at this stage, you have your blog up and running. The next part is to scale your content and traffic.
12. Traffic strategy
After your blog is live, you need to decide which type of content, which topics and which medium you should focus your efforts on.
If your resources are limited, I would suggest choosing one narrow area in the end.
Here is my ultimate guide to increasing traffic, with more than 60 ways how to bring traffic to your site for free.
Some main sources of traffic:
- Google organic
- Social media
- Social media groups
- Referral traffic
- Messaging apps
- Paid campaigns
For 60 more free traffic sources in detail visit my guide.
Again, it’s about testing different sources and content and then concentrating on the one.
In short, you should focus on sources of evergreen traffic – i.e. traffic, which is also coming from old posts.
For example, if you have a viral post on Facebook – your site traffic will spike, but just for a few days. And then it will be gone forever. It is hard to rely on these traffic spikes.
But, if you have e.g. good SEO – even old blogs will bring some traffic. And of course, each new post adds up. This way you can build reliable, predictable traffic, which creates a foundation for online business.
In my experience, evergreen traffic mainly comes from search engines: Google, Pinterest or Youtube.
At least this is what works for me.
Of course, maybe Facebook or Twitter works like a charm for you.
So, let’s dive more about SEO strategy.
13. Implement SEO strategy
I just have more experience and results with SEO and Google traffic, so I will show my findings here.
In short, if you are planning to get a lot of traffic from Google, prepare for three things:
- keyword research
- link building
I call these steps “3 whales of SEO” 😆
If you remove one of the whales – SEO earth will crash. E.g. if you post content, but don’t build links.
a. Keyword research
I have created a super detailed keyword research guide. Check it out.
In short, all your content should be related to some keyword or keyword phrase. A famous approach to “put stuff on the wall and hope it sticks” – won’t work with SEO.
You can find keywords using keyword research tools.
Go after long-tail niche keywords first. After your site has more authority, you can tackle more difficult, high intent ones.
Competitor keyword research works like a charm for me. Use tools like Ahrefs to see, which blogs and landing pages receive most Google traffic and/or shares. Then just create better content on selected topics.
You can also stumble some great topic ideas on Twitter, Reddit, Quora, Facebook.
b. SEO content
I also have a guide on SEO content.
Content is the king – the most important part of your blogging effort.
If you produce content in English, it should be of incredible quality these days. Competition is just super high.
There are some specific requirements for SEO content, so it has a better chance to rank on Google.
Organise your content around keywords, you found earlier;
Create comprehensive content, which gives a full answer to a search query. So, the user won’t need to go to another page after visiting yours;
Long form content – instead of five 500 word blogs, create one with 2500 words. Content length should be at least 1800 words per blog, ideally in the range – 1800-2200 words. However, long-form doesn’t always guarantee first rankings, the key is in comprehensive answer to a search query.
On-page SEO – include keywords in copy, alt tags, title, meta tags, headings, anchors, etc. Use Yoast SEO plugin.
Obviously, only original, high-quality content. $5 Fiverr gigs won’t bring you anywhere far.
Visual, rich content. Add infographics, graphs, visuals, also embed videos, podcasts, polls, quizzes – everything, which increases session time and lowers bounce rate.
c. Link building
If you apply a famous 80/20 rule to SEO, it will sound like this:
“Spend 20% of your time on creating content and 80% on amplifying it.”
Majority of bloggers just never do link building (for a whole number of reasons), however, it is one of the most important ranking factors in Google, along with content.
Read my link-building cheatsheet with more than 40 ways to get backlinks to your blog for free.
In short, here are some ways to get backlinks to your site:
- Local listings,
- PR campaigns,
- Guest posts,
- Link exchanges,
- Stealing competitors links,
- Backlinks from your customers,
- Influencer link building,
- Comments, …
For 40 more ways, go to my cheat sheet.
Spam, PBN links just don’t work. You can get those high quality referring domains by actively participating in your niche community, getting in the relationship with key influencers and bloggers.
You can also use some SEO consultancies for link building, take a look: SEO services in Los Angeles.
If SEO doesn’t work for you – find something else. For example, if you are more into visuals – go to Pinterest.
Maybe you are a future viral Youtuber or Instagram influencer – choose what fits you best.
14. Grow email list
Email is still an important factor in 2019.
Your email list is a crucial thing to keeping the most loyal fan base. It is also one of the best ways to monetize your blog.
When your email list grows, it can become the second biggest traffic source, after organic traffic.
Even, if you have thousands of subscribers on e.g. Instagram – try to convert them to e-mail. You never know, what will happen to Instagram algorithms/product tomorrow.
There is a number of great tools and tactics to grow your email list.
Some great email tools for collecting subscribers:
Tactics to grow your email list:
Newsletter forms, popups, floating bars, fullscreen. What worked for me – central popup, which appears after 4 seconds on the page and also fullscreen, if user attends to leave your site.
eBooks – create one, amazing eBook. And try similar forms as with newsletter. Often ebook shows a higher conversion rate, than just a newsletter.
Downloadables – use not only eBooks but slides, graphs, blueprints, cheat sheets, lists – to collect emails. Create a dedicated resources page on your blog and lock all these resources under email. Don’t overthink it – you already have all this content in your Google drive, while creating blogs.
Lock content – require an email to see some of your top blogs, videos, podcasts, etc.
There are dozens of ways to monetize your blog…
With different amounts of traffic required.
Remember, it’s not the quantity, but the quality of traffic that matters.
How many users with a buyer intent are going to your site?
My advice would be also never selling the quality of your blogging product for some additional bucks. For example, if someone offers you $300-500 for a guest post, but with gambling links with it, you should never accept that. As it will damage SEO in the long term.
Don’t rush into putting full-screen advertisements and banners on every page. You will scare away your audience.
There should be a perfect balance between ads and the value you provide to your readers.
Some of the main ways to monetize the blog:
Ad monetization – with AdSense you will need tons of traffic. But, there are other networks, such as Mediawine. You can optimize it up to $15-18 per 1000 page views. So, from 50000 page views per month, you will be able to make $700-900 of passive income.
With this approach, you need to focus on creating many niche sites, with content that just drives traffic.
I really recommend checking out fatstacks blog for this tactic. He makes $30K per month just with Ad Monetization.
Affiliate – receive a commission for every product sale. Commission rates can vary, sometimes reaching up to 50%.
The easiest way to start is just by signing up to Amazon Associates portal or Clickbank. There should be many affiliate opportunities in your niche – try to find relevant products, software, services, and ask them to become an affiliate partner.
Some bloggers make $10-100K per month in affiliate sales. If you figure out your affiliate sales process – it is a gold mine.
Sponsored posts – a lot of brands are eager to pay for just publishing their blogs on yours. Pricing starts from $20 per post to thousands of dollars for one post.
There are, however, many caveats with accepting paid guest posts.
Brand deals – all kinds of brand deals… Different brands, other bloggers will be interested to reach your audience.
Your product – this is the real opportunity. If you want to aim for above $10K per month in blogging (*a dream*) – developing your own product (either physical or online product) – is a way to go. Consider online eBooks, courses, gift cards – anything you want.
Merch – you can always sell some tees. Great merch or swag can be a massive source of income.
Donations – test Patreon, ask your most loyal followers to support you financially. In return, offer some value.
Consultancy – your traffic and audience grow, same happens with the expertise in your niche. For example, you run a successful travel blog, after 2-3 years of blogging, you will have enough knowledge either to consult travel companies or open your own travel agency.
Tools and software needed to start a blog
Here is a handy list of tools needed to quickly start blogging.
Godaddy – use to buy a domain.
Bluehost – best cheap host.
WPengine – best more advanced host.
WordPress – best CMS.
Hubspot – best CRM.
Cloudflare – security, DNS management for WordPress.
Google Analytics – analytics software.
Search Console – analyze Google traffic.
Convertkit – email collection software.
Convertful – WordPress lead gen.
Yoast – top SEO plugin.
Ahrefs – best SEO software.
Keywordtool.io – simple keyword research tool.
Moz Link Explorer – identify your backlinks and domain strength.
PayPal – manage payments.
Stripe – payments.
Shopify – sell stuff online.
Patreon – accept donations.
To sum it up
That’s my short overview of some really basic things you need to consider when starting a blog. It is not that easy, sometimes it can be super frustrating and exhausting. But, it doesn’t overcome that feeling, when your content becomes interesting for people and helps them to solve their problems.
What is your experience with blogging?