In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about how to start a blog. We’ll look at choosing a domain name, deciding where to host your blog, the best software to use for blogging (HINT – it’s WordPress, IMO), and how to make it look good.
Before we get started, I should let you know this is a guide for creating a self-hosted blog on its own web server.
I should also let you know this method isn’t free. You’ll need to buy a domain name and hosting but you can get started for well under $10 a month. Which is nothing if you create a popular money-making blog.
How do blogs make money?
Before we get deeper into the subject of setting up a money making blog, lets look at they ways they generate revenue, and what you need to do to get enough traffic to your blog.
Blogs make money in several ways. Some blogs use one or two of the methods listed below, while other use them all!
- Display ads – These are the ads you see plastered over pretty much every website you visit. The easiest network to join is Google’s AdSense, followed by Ezoic. Other display ad networks include MediaVine and Monumetric.
- Affiliate marketing – A simple concept – you promote products and services by other people and companies and when your special link generates a sale, you earn a commission.
- Amazon Associates – This is an affiliate program most people can join. You send people to Amazon and when they buy a product through your link, you earn a commission. The biggest plus-point for the program is the trust factor. Everybody knows, recognises and trusts the Amazon brands so it’s fairly easy to generate sales. Also, you get a commission on whatever they buy. So, they may have clicked a link to a $2 dollar product, but they end up spending $2,000 on a powerful new laptop, you get commission on that sale as well.
- Creating and selling their own digital products – ebooks, printables, spreadsheets, software.
- Publishing sponsored and guest posts – Once your blog is established and gained some authority, you can make money by publishing sponsored articles and guest posts. The two are slightly different. When you publish a sponsored post, you work with a brand to create content that promotes their product or service. They’ll pay you for this. Guest posts, on the other hand, are provided by people with other blogs and websites looking to gain a backlink to their website to improve its rankings. A lot of the time, these posts are fairly low quality but you can ask for fee to publish such posts. Lots of bloggers do this and can command a few hundred dollars for each post. However, you should be aware that this kind of content can hurt your blog because Google considers those links to be manipulating the search results in favor of the site you’re linking to. The way around this is to add a ‘nofollow’ tag to that link. You can do this by using a plugin or piece of code.
By far the easiest option is display advertising. Which is where most people start.
How do you get traffic to your brand new blog?
The best source of traffic for your blog is Google. But Google won’t send you any traffic in the early days because your blog is new, doesn’t have much content and doesn’t have enough trust signals to warrant Google showing your pages in the search results.
More often that not, this is where most blogs fail. And it’s not surprising. For the first few months, you’ll spend a load of time creating content and putting it online without seeing any traffic at all.
It’s hard to keep going but keep going you must!
Either that, or get enough content online (30 to 70 articles), then take a step back for a little while so your blog can start gaining the trust signals I mentioned earlier.
Typically, blogs start seeing increasing traffic from Google when they’re around six months old (but don’t hold me to that!)
In the meantime, you could use your social media accounts to generate traffic. Pinterest is the most popular choice for blogs aimed at a female market but there’s also YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to consider.
What should you blog about?
One of the first decisions you’ll need to do is decide on a topic for your blog. Popular options include food, travel, money and other lifestyle topics.
Don’t be put off if you’re not interested in any of these subjects. Blogs on less popular or more obscure topics can make money too.
With that said, you should choose a topic that:
- You enjoy writing about (this is a long journey that could last several years)
- Has the potential to generate revenue (hobbies that require equipment are a good choice)
Blog about a subject you have experience of doing
Many successful, full-time bloggers blog about the things they did in a previous life.
By that, I mean their offline jobs and careers.
So somebody with a financial background might blog about personal finance. Somebody with a skill for playing the bass guitar might blog about playing the bass guitar.
If you want to get into an over-crowded niche like travel or food, pick a sub-niche or write in a way that helps you stand out.
Here are a few ideas for niching down in the travel and food niche:
- Create a blog about a specific location – City, country or continent.
- Create a blog for a certain demographic – Singles, LGBT, under 30s, over 50s.
- Create a blog about travelling by a certain mode of transport (or not) – Car, train, plane.
- Create a blog around a certain kind of diet – Vegan, low carb, real foods.
- Create a blog about a certain type of meal – Breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, slow cooker.
- Create a blog about a certain kind of food – Tomatoes, pasta, steak, chicken.
There is a big issue if you go this niche – you might find it difficult to grow your blog to cover other topics. For this reason, choose a domain name that won’t limit what you can write about.
Choosing a domain name for your blog
Now you have some topic ideas floating around your head, it’s time to choose an awesome domain name. The chances of grabbing the first one that comes into your head are probably zero! But never fear, with some creative thinking, you can find a suitable alternative.
Choose a domain that’s relevant to what you’re going to be blogging about. Try to include one keyword so people get it right away. Here are a few suggestions for domains that may or may not exist (I’m not checking!):
- superblogging.com (super blogging or superb logging?!)
If you’re looking for a global audience, buy a .com domain. If you’re looking for an audience from a specific country, choose that country’s domain extension. For example, .co.uk is for UK sites and .fr for French sites.
Registering and managing a domain name
When you decide upon a domain name, the next step in the process is buying it. The average cost for a domain is around $10. But you can get them cheaper if you shop around.
Typically, you register a .com domain for one year at a time, but you can register them for longer. If this is your first time, don’t bother registering your domain for longer than a year.
Once you register a domain, remember to renew it when the time comes!
A lot of hosts provide an automatic renewal service so you never forget to renew a domain.
Choosing and buying web hosting
This is where things start getting a little tricky.
It’s a lot of fun and exciting choosing a domain name for the first time, but looking for a suitable web hosting company isn’t.
There are tons of companies to choose from. And loads of technical jargon to get your head around.
Here are a few words you’ll come across:
- Cloud hosting
The list goes on.
When you start your first blog, it’s a good idea to choose one of the well-known hosting companies. If you find it hard to make a decision, ask a friend or associate for a recommendation.
As you learn more about running a blog, if you don’t like the hosting company you signed up with, you can move your site to another provider.
One of the most popular hosting companies is US-based Bluehost. They provide a reasonably priced shared hosting service good enough for most beginners.
Step 1: Visit Bluehost.com and click on the ‘Get Started’ button
Step 2: Scroll down the page and choose a plan – the Basic Plan is good enough for beginners (even though Bluehost recommends the Choice Plus package).
Once you’ve made your decision, click on the green Select button and go to the next step.
Step 3: Choose a domain name for your new blog
If you’re still trying to decide on a domain name, you can create your hosting account without one.
Click on the “I’ll create my domain later >” link.
Step 4: Success! Now enter your personal account information
If you’re registering a new domain and it’s available, you’ll see a message like this.
Step 5: Setup your Bluehost hosting package
In this step, you get to choose the type of hosting account you want. First though, enter your personal details.
You should pay close attention to every detail from this stage on otherwise you could end up paying more than you want to.
The image below shows the default options offered by Bluehost. If you don’t change any of these, the bill for setting up your blog could be more than you expect.
Pay special attention to the information in the Account Plan box at the top as this is the one that determines the length of service and therefore has a major impact on the amount you pay.
Without changing any options, you’re signing up for three years and paying a total of $273.72.
Switch off SiteLock Security and Codeguard Basic and the bill drops to $142.20.
Switch to a 12-month plan and the bill drops even further to $71.40 (at the time of this writing).
The price you see at the bottom of the package information section is the price you pay when you create your account. There is no option to pay monthly.
Do you need the addons? That’s for you to decide. Click the ‘more information’ links to find out more about each one.
Step 6: Enter your billing information
7: Check your email for details of your new web hosting package
Once your payment has gone through, check your email for the details specific to your account.
If you’ve registered a brand new domain or the domain you’re using isn’t pointing at Bluehost’s servers, you’ll be issued with a temporary domain.
In the next stage of the process, you’ll install the software needed to build out your blog. There are a few options, but most people (including us) choose one called WordPress.
Here’s a mind-blowing statement for you: WordPress powers almost 40% of all websites, including some of the largest brands in the world, making it the world’s most popular blogging/website building software.
Installing WordPress might sound difficult but it’s very easy. You just press a button inside your hosting account and follow the onscreen instructions. A minute or two later and your blog is alive and kicking on the internet.
When you’re a beginner you’ll need help understanding how WordPress works.
Instead of walking you through the process of creating a WordPress blog with Bluehost, take a look at this video to see how easy it is. The sound is really poor so turn up the volume and/or plug in some headphones.
How to make your barebones WordPress blog look like a blog!
Once you’ve installed WordPress, the next step is making it look good.
WordPress uses something called a ‘theme’ to create the design. There are thousands of free themes to choose from and you have easy access to them via the admin area of your WordPress blog.
WordPress has several default themes, which change each year, so you can stick with one of those if you like.
Once installed, you can make changes to the theme. All you have to do is log in, look for, and click, the blue Customize Your Site button in the dashboard.
Once clicked, you’ll see a list of options which enable you to do many things including enter your site’s name, change colours, add a video to the front page, change the default photo and create menus.
Play around with them to see what you can do. If you like what you’ve done, hit Save & Publish. If you don’t like the changes, hit the X button to switch everything back.
Be aware that these options aren’t available in every theme
Changing the default WordPress theme
If you don’t like the 2021 theme and prefer choosing another, while in the dashboard, click the Appearance link in the menu or change your theme completely under the blue button.
On the next screen, you’ll see the currently installed default themes. When you move your mouse over the icon for the theme, two text boxes appear – Activate and Live Preview.
If you have content on your site, use the Live Preview button to visualize how your site will look if you use the new theme. If you like it, click Activate. If you don’t, keep looking.
This is how you test and install any new theme you want to use. Not just the default ones.
To find themes created by the WordPress community, click on the Add New button.
On the next screen, you’ll see a few recommended themes and a menu you can use to switch the filter between Featured, Popular, Latest and Favorites and you can use the Feature Filter to search for themes with the features you want.
And the features you might want to search for.
As you can see, there are loads of themes you can search through to find the perfect look for your website. When you find one you like, just click the Install button.
Starting a blog is so, so easy. It really is.
The hardest part comes after you’ve passed the setup stage. Now it’s time to start creating content, generating traffic and making money from your blog.
I’m sure you’ve read the blogging success stories you find all over the internet and you probably feel inspired by them. Take heart in realising that all successful bloggers started somewhere, often with an audience of zero. But as time passes, through a lot of hard work, focus and networking, they saw traffic and income grow to the point where they could support themselves and their family.
It’s all up to you.