A blog has become a powerful online tool. To date, there are an estimated 500 million recognized blogs in the world, with authors contributing over two million blog posts daily.
What was once a hobby for people in the late 90s has become a career for many. Blogs have gone from personal journals to libraries of niche content fit for specific audiences to consume. Advertisers see the value in blogs and often work with bloggers to reach an audience, which in turn generates income for the blog’s owner.
While many people have started a blog with the sole intent of making money, it’s not a career path for everyone. Blogging takes time and requires a lot of self-promotion and hustle to generate enough income to live off.
To help those who want their own blog, this beginner’s guide provides a deep-dive of all-things-blog. It covers how to start a blog, what it takes to run a blog, and provides tips to make money from great content.
What is a blog?
A blog is a regularly updated website featuring articles that tend to focus on a specific topic. They’re meant to be informal and written in a conversational style that’s attractive to everyone. Typically, blogs are displayed in reverse chronological order, which means the most recent post is displayed first.
Types of blogs
There are many different kinds of blogs. For new bloggers, here’s a list of various types of blogs that may provide inspiration:
Bloggers that want to create posts about their life can create a personal blog. When blogging first started, personal blogs were the first to make an appearance. A personal blog is a lot like a digital diary that chronicles daily events and experiences.
As the name suggests, a business blog is one created for a business. The content generated is meant to educate customers about products or company values. Posts are written for customers and therefore don’t have a personal tone.
The blog is used to promote products, but business blogs are focused on informing the customer first and selling second. Any sales tactics are done in a subtle nature.
Blogs created with the sole intent of making money are considered professional blogs. Typically, professional blogs focus on a niche, like cooking or skateboarding. Once a blog has gained an audience, professional bloggers use a variety of monetization methods. From selling ad space to generating a membership-only site, there are many ways to generate money from online content.
A lot of blogs focus on a specific topic. Topics can be broad, like a blog that explores painting, while others can be more specific, like a blog that focuses on Siamese cats.
For niche blogs to work, the person running the site must be passionate and knowledgeable about the topic. To keep a blog running, a blogger must have the ability to create countless posts without running out of things to say.
Popular niche topics include travel, cooking, health, parenting, sewing, religious, lifestyle, pets, money-saving, and meal-prepping – just to name a few.
Bloggers that are into photography, art, video and other forms of media create a media blog. This kind of blog is becoming increasingly popular with the younger generation that enjoys recording and posting their gaming activities.
Personal brand blog
Some people use a blog to create a brand around their name. Usually, a personal brand blog is created for those with a personal service to sell. A freelance writer or a speaker, for example, would create a blog designed to showcase their talents in hopes of landing more jobs. The blog serves as a promotional tool for services that are available for purchase.
What to know before starting a blog
Before penning the first post, here’s what you should know about blogging:
Readers want quality content and that takes time. It takes time to select a topic, research, write, source images, add links, proofread, monitor response rates, promote posts – the list goes on. It’s estimated that one blog takes a blogger an average of three hours and sixteen minutes to write. Without a significant time investment, a blog won’t be successful.
Money doesn’t pour in immediately
Plenty of writers make money, but it’s not a get-rich-quick situation. Generating money hinges on building an audience, which takes time. One blogger says it will take six months to earn coffee money, 12 months to earn a part-time income, and at least 24 months to earn a full-time income.
Select a niche
There’s a lot of content out there, so to be effective a blog must have a focus. Select a niche and stick with it. Trying to create content that caters to a bunch of different people ends up catering to no one.
Focus on quality
For bloggers just starting out, it might seem wise to crank out as much content as possible. However, the blog will build a better following if there’s quality content available from the start. Quality should be the focus, not quantity.
Not all posts have to be articles
The word blog conjures images of written words, but a growing number of bloggers are embracing visual content as well. A short introduction followed by an infographic can serve as a blog post as well. Using DIY tools like Canva, a blogger can create an appealing post that’s different from articles.
Most infographics display statistics or provide step-by-step instructions to complete a task, but the idea is to present information in a visual way.
Learn about SEO
A successful blog has high-ranking pages in search engine results like Google. To capture top spots, bloggers have to use SEO tactics. Beginning bloggers should research the concept and understand how to make it work for them.
Understand copyright issues
Let’s say a blogger is writing a post and wants to use an example that was featured on another blog. Is that ok or is there a copyright problem? Before writing any content, writers should have a basic understanding of copyright law and know how to attribute sources.
A quick history of blogging
The first blog was written by a college student in 1994. Over the course of the next few years, several blogs popped up online, and by 1999 a blogger worked for an official news outlet, The Charlotte Observer, and wrote about Hurricane Bonnie.
The word ‘blog’ officially made it into the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2004, which is about the same time blog platforms like LiveBlogger and Blogger went mainstream.
At the time, blogs were used more for personal use and treated like a digital journal. Political blogs started showing up online as candidates looked for a way to share their opinions on the web. Businesses and news outlets followed suit.
In 2003, AdSense was the first advertising platform to match ads to blog content; making it possible for authors to monetize their content. With blogs generating money, a growing number of businesses and marketers started incorporating a blog on their website.
Now, 76% of marketers blog with 36% of Fortune 500 companies using blogs for thought leadership, product promotion, and customer engagement, according to statistics from Simple Marketing Now.
Reasons to start a blog
Many writers launch a blog to make money, but that’s not the only reason why blogs have become so popular.
People start a blog to:
A blog that has a large following has earning potential. Authors can connect with advertisers, sell digital products, or create a membership-only site to generate money. Monetizing a blog takes time, but it is possible.
Attract an audience
Consumers are attracted to blogs. They provide a resource for consumers to learn new information without any sales pressure. They’re so attractive to consumers that they’ve become fairly mainstream with 77% of internet users reading blogs on a regular basis, according to statistics from the Content Marketing Institute.
Consistently written blog articles become digital libraries that offer expertise on a specific topic. Both the quality and quantity of posts that consumers read establishes credibility for a company. When consumers see a company as an authority in the industry, they’re more apt to trust their products.
Gather more leads
Research shows blogs are an effective lead-generating tool. Small businesses with blogs get 126% more lead growth than small businesses without, according to statistics from the Content Marketing Institute.
Certain posts could be gated to capture customer information, or posts can be delivered to a customer’s inbox via a digital newsletter. As a result, companies can ask potential leads to sign up for their newsletter.
Make a company more personable
Consumers are tired of buying from faceless corporations. They want to know what they’re buying, who they’re buying from, and what they stand for. A blog gives a company the opportunity to tell their story, and show consumers the human side of their business.
Posts can encourage customers to act. Let’s say a consumer is looking to buy a new laptop. The consumer has read reviews, compared prices, examined features and functionality, and has narrowed the search to two options. A site that contains informative blog posts that discuss a laptop’s uses and explores its benefits could be enough to sway the consumer to a particular laptop.
Research indicates blogs are quite persuasive. After reading a blog, 61% of U.S. consumers made an online purchase, according to statistics from the Content Marketing Institute.
Blogs offer an organic way to increase website traffic. Posts contain certain keywords that search engines recognize and direct traffic to based on search terms. In short, blogging is an effective SEO tool that can increase a site’s ranking on various search engines.
Blogs provide a way for brands and consumers to interact. Many blogs have a comment section at the bottom of each post, which gives consumers the chance to discuss their thoughts. This two-way flow of communication can be an invaluable engagement tool for companies who want to listen and learn from their customers.
How to start a blog
With a basic understanding of blogging, authors can now explore how to start a blog. Starting a blog might seem like a daunting task, but with the right guidance, a blog can be set up in about 20 minutes.
Here’s how to start a blog in eight steps:
1. Pick a topic
One of the first steps in creating a blog is deciding what to write about. Blogs usually have a narrow focus. A blog might focus on cooking, traveling, saving money, or sewing, for example. All of these ideas are focused on one specific idea or concept. Blogs with a focus are easier to monetize than blogs that cover dozens of different topics.
Aren’t sure what to write about? Bloggers tend to focus on what they know or do. Personal bloggers can write about hobbies, interests, experiences, sports, or family life, while blogs created for business will focus on the company and its values and products.
2. Name your blog
Every blog needs a name. Similar to naming a business, it should be descriptive, giving readers an idea of the kind of content the blog focuses on. A cooking blog might be called, Cooking with Carol, an educational, pet-focused blog might be called, Pampered Pet University.
Once a name is selected, writers must choose a domain extension. A .com domain extension is most common, but .net, .org, and .biz are also options.
Combine the name of the blog with the extension to get the domain name. For example, the pet blog’s domain name is PameredPetUniversity.com. Before moving forward, content creators have to make sure that no one else has a site with this domain name.
There are several sites like InstantDomainSearch that can tell bloggers if the domain name is already taken. If it’s taken, try adding small words to the domain name like YourPameredPetUniversity, or add dashes in between the words, Pampered-Pet-University.com and see if these choices are available.
Sites like InstantDomainSearch may also provide a list of alternative names that are available for purchase. Generally, bloggers have to pay for a domain name, but there are free domain names available.
3. Put the blog online
Once the name is purchased, it’s time to establish the blog online. While this might sound technical, there are many platforms that make the process simple.
To get a blog online, you need web hosting and a blogging platform. BlueHost is a popular hosting company. This site will register the blog name, works well WordPress, and offers customer support.
If you select BlueHost, bloggers will:
- Select a monthly plan that’s $5 a month or less
- Register the blog name
- Provide billing information
- Select a hosting package that’s about $5 a month
- Set up login credentials for your blog
4. Customize the blog
BlueHost works with WordPress.org, which is a popular, easy-to-use website and blog builder. Most authors create a WordPress blog because it’s simple to navigate and it’s also easy to install WordPress on a laptop or desktop. While WordPress sites are the most common, there are other choices like Wix, Weebly, Ghost, or PageCloud.
No matter what software is selected, bloggers should customize the site. Most platforms have ready-made templates that bloggers can select from to alter the appearance of the blog.
For WordPress users there are customizable templates are called WordPress themes, which are all managed in the WordPress dashboard. There are further customization options, both free WordPress themes and premium WordPress themes to choose from, but to start, it’s easiest to select a new theme that’s free.
5. Consider plugins for the blog
Most blogging software offers plugins, which can give a blog added functionality or improved features. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the available plugins, but if you’re just starting out here are a few WordPress plugins to consider:
- Yoast SEO: Getting a blog to rank high in Google search results is important for visibility, which is why an SEO plugin is needed. Since SEO can be a bit confusing for beginners, the Yoast SEO plugin can provide easy-to-implement advice on each post.
- Akismet: Bloggers planning to allow comments on their blog should install Akismet. This plugin keeps spam comments off the site.
- Contact Form 7: At some point, content creators will want to collect information from readers. To collect names, email addresses, and birthdays, bloggers need a form to make it happen. Contact Form 7 has a variety of ready-made forms available.
- WP Smush: Images are a vital part of every blog post, but if they’re the wrong size it can create problems. Avoid picture problems with WP Smush, which will resize and optimize images automatically.
6. Writing a blog post
Within the blogging software, there’s usually a menu on the left side of the screen. From there, writers can ‘add new post.’ The writing process will take some time, but here’s what the process looks like:
- Give the post a title or headline
- Write the post in the text box
- Add images to the post
- Organize the post with subheads
- Include both external and internal links
- Proofread the post
- Preview the post, look for formatting problems
- Correct any mistakes
- Publish the post
7. Publish the post
After the post is written and proofread, it’s time to publish the article. When a post is published, it’s live for the public to see. Bloggers can either publish the post immediately or schedule it for a later date and time.
Ideally, writers post content on a regular schedule, like publishing a blog every Wednesday afternoon. Writers try to create posts ahead of time and schedule them out so the blog is filled with consistent, fresh content.
8. Advertise the post
Blogs are only useful if they’re read. To attract readers to a blog, promotion is important. Many bloggers use social media to promote a new blog post. In fact, some blogging software has social media integrations that give authors the power to create and schedule social messages about new posts.
How to promote a post
Promoting a blog is crucial to its success. Some bloggers suggest spending the same amount of time promoting it as it takes to write it. In other words, if it takes three hours to write a post, a blogger should spend three hours promoting it, according to advice from CoSchedule.
To help, here are several ways to promote a post and encourage readers to check it out:
Notify people of the post immediately
As soon as a post goes live, push it out on social and consider creating a text-based email that links people to the post as well.
Send a newsletter featuring several posts
A newsletter offers several pieces of content to readers. Bloggers should find an email service provider that has ready-made newsletter templates like MailChimp, so content can be dropped into a newsletter easily. The visual nature of a newsletter, along with several article choices, is appealing to many readers.
Resend the newsletter
Watch analytics and resend the newsletter to those who didn’t open it. This simple task takes minutes but could result in many, many more opens.
Strengthen the email signature
An email signature is at the end of an email. It usually contains a name and website, but writers should make sure that their signature includes their name, blog, and maybe even a link to a newsletter or specific post that stands out. Tools like WiseStamp can help build an amazing email signature complete with links and the blogger’s picture.
Put a post on LinkedIn
Consider repurposing a blog post for LinkedIn: promoting on LinkedIn has proven to be wildly successful in some cases. Content that’s considered thought-leadership typically fares well on this platform, so if there’s a piece that exemplifies a blogger’s knowledge or credibility in the industry, copy the article into LinkedIn’s platform and post it as part of a profile.
Promote successful posts frequently
Use a tool like Google Analytics to see which posts are well received by readers. Make a list of the ten most-read posts and share these articles on social media frequently. It’s easiest to schedule posts ahead of time.
Promote a new post more than once
Some writers assume that one share on each channel is enough to promote a new post, but it’s not. It’s okay to share a new post several times throughout the week. Make sure the messaging is fresh, but the link can stay the same.
Use trending hashtags to inspire content
Before writing a post, review the most popular hashtags of the day. If there’s a hashtag that a blogger is knowledgeable about, consider using it as a blog post idea. Craft a post on the topic and share it on social with the popular hashtag to increase the reach of a post.
Remember though, hashtags change frequently, so a writer must finish the post in a timely manner.
If an author writes a post and uses a quote or information from another expert in the field, share the content with the influencer on social. Most of the time, influencers are willing to share the content with their audience, which is a win-win. The influencer builds credibility and the blogger introduces content to a new audience.
Create a guest post
Consider writing a post (for free) for another site. By providing a guest post, bloggers can expose their writing to a new group of people.
Sites that accept guest posts usually have rules for guest posts, and won’t allow self-promotion in the article. However, the blogger usually gets a byline and a brief bio that can include a link back to his or her blog.
How to make money blogging
For those wondering how to start a blog and get paid for it, there are several ways to generate income from a blog. It’s important to note that to make money blogging takes time. A blog needs a following first, then more financial opportunities become available.
Here’s a look at ways bloggers monetize their blog:
The most common way for authors to make money is by placing ads on their blogs. There are two kinds of ads: PPC and CPM.
- PPC ads, or pay-per-click, are typically banners that are placed on the blog. When someone clicks on the ad, the blogger gets paid.
- CPM ads, or cost-per-impression, are ads placed on a blog that pay the blogger a set amount of money.
Fortunately, content creators don’t have to contact advertisers to get ads on their sites. Platforms like Google AdSense streamline the entire process.
2. Affiliate links
Affiliate marketing gives bloggers the ability to work directly with a company, influencer, or advertising agency.
Let’s say a company wants to sell its new package of cooking utensils. The marketing team reaches out to bloggers with cooking-based blogs and asks them to create a blog post that promotes the utensils. Usually, the company sends the blogger the product to use so the blogger can incorporate the product into the post organically. The utensil company gives the blogger a specific link to put on the blog, and the blogger earns a commission off of each sale that stems from that particular link.
Amazon Associates is a good place to look for affiliate opportunities, but for the most part, companies search out bloggers of interest.
3. Monetize your own content
Bloggers have a wealth of knowledge on a particular subject, and people are willing to pay for that expertise. Some writers package their content into ebooks, courses, templates, or ready-made projects.
A baking blog could sell a mini-cookbook online; a seamstress could create and sell patterns, a meal-prep blogger could sell a monthly menu complete with a grocery list and prepping instructions.
Research other digital products online to settle on competitive pricing, and make sure customers can easily buy the product. A complicated check-out process can result in lost sales.
4. Host a webinar
Similar to selling your own content, authors can generate a one-time class known as a webinar to generate money as well. A webinar is a virtual presentation that customers are invited to attend. The webinar usually includes a slideshow or a demonstration and gives attendees the chance to ask questions and learn about a specific topic. Bloggers can create their own webinars and charge a small fee to attend.
For webinars to work, a blogger must have a large audience, a lengthy email list, and the ability to present information clearly to a group. Usually, writers offer a few free webinars to start and then charge a small fee once the audience sees the value of the event.
5. Sell memberships
Once a blog has a solid following, selling memberships is another way to make money from blogging. A bowling blog could sell a membership that gives visitors access to how-to videos, or a freelance writing blog could sell a membership that gives writers access to the latest job postings.
For memberships to work, a blog must offer consistent, useful content that the audience finds relevant. The cost of the membership must be reasonable as well.
6. Write reviews
Since blog owners have established credibility in a particular industry, their review of a product carries weight with consumers. Companies ask bloggers to craft honest reviews of their products and pay them for it.
A company finds a blogger, reaches out, asks him or her to write a review, and sends a product to the blogger to try. In turn, the blogger tries the product and crafts a review of the product. The review could be written on the blogger’s site and potentially used on other sites as well, with the blogger’s permission. The blogger gets to keep the product and is paid a flat fee for the review.
Most companies approach bloggers for reviews, but writers can take the initiative and contact companies that sell related products. In addition, the site PayPerPost can connect bloggers with review-writing opportunities.
7. Sell products
Businesses that use blogs as a marketing tool can encourage sales in posts. An electronics company could create content that subtly sells a product. For example, the company could create a post called, “The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a 4K TV.”
The guide gives customers a list of things to consider, like brands, pricing, delivery, set-up, and features. Most of the content is neutral. In other words, it’s purely informative for customers. However, at the end of the content or subtle woven into the guide is a mention of a specific 4K TV sold by the electronics company, along with a link to purchase the TV online now.
How a blog fits into an overall content strategy
The best blogs have an overall content strategy. Sixty-percent of organizations with a written content strategy are effective, compared to 32% with a verbal strategy, according to the Content Marketing Institute.
A content strategy is essentially a plan to make the blog successful. Remember, generating income hinges on growing a following, so creating a content strategy is one way to achieve that goal.
While a content strategy might sound complicated to someone that’s never heard of it before, it’s a fairly straightforward process.
Creating a strategy can be done in these five steps:
1. Define a goal
To start, bloggers need to know why they’re blogging. To help, answer the questions below. Is the purpose of the blog to:
- Drive website traffic to a specific place?
- Earn income?
- Generate leads?
- Educate customers about a product or service?
- Build a brand?
Select one primary goal and one secondary goal. Goals should have a narrow focus. Having too many goals will lead to failure.
2. Research the audience
Bloggers must know who their target market is, where they hang out online, what they like to read, what they shop for, and why they buy certain items. Essentially, bloggers need a good understanding of who they’re trying to attract to make sure the content is a good fit.
3. Conduct SEO research
Here it is again: SEO. To get organic traffic, bloggers have to identify keywords and create articles around them. Tools like SEORush, Moz, and Ahrefs can help writers find keywords to inspire specific posts.
4. Set a calendar
A blog requires regular updates, which means blog owners have to create a content schedule. For starters, decide the number of posts published each month along with the dates of publication.
Advanced bloggers create larger content calendars that include both social media and email marketing. The calendar provides daily tasks that must be completed to meet goals. For example, a blogger might craft a new post on Monday and Tuesday, design a newsletter that showcases the new content on Wednesday, delivery the newsletter via email on Thursday, and schedule social posts for the next week on Friday.
Since there are many tasks to juggle, bloggers tend to use an organizational tool to keep things straight. A free tool like Trello is an option for beginners, while more advanced writers might use a platform like CoSchedule.
5. Make every post amazing
The success of a blog rests on the quality of the content. Every post must be intriguing, helpful, well-researched, and organized. To accomplish this, make sure posts:
- Help readers with a problem
- Offer compelling research
- Contain subheadings for easy-to-skim content
- Include links to internal blog posts
- Include links to outside sources for credibility
- Display compelling visuals
Blogging has become common in the digital world, and many bloggers have used the platform to generate a steady income. Starting a blog is easy, keeping up with it and making money off it are a bit more complicated. The information above is meant to serve as a guide to help people understand blogging and decide whether or not it’s a viable career choice. If so, the steps above should help a blogger get started now.