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I'm going to take a wild guess and say you're probably here on this page because you're thinking about starting a new blog to make money. You probably have a lot of questions:
- Can a blog ACTUALLY make money, or is it all a big scam?
- Can *I* make a blog that makes money, even with my limited technical skills?
- How long does it take to make money blogging?
- How do I actually get started blogging?
- What should I blog about?
- Am I going to invest a ton of effort and get nothing but heartache and expenses?
- Do regular, average people make money blogging – or are successful bloggers limited to the super rich, connected, and educated?
- Did I wait too long to get into blogging? Is it totally saturated?
We're going to talk about all these things – but first, an introduction.
Who Are We?
We're Stefanie and David, an engaged couple (exciting!!) who met 10 years ago in Boston when we were speaking at a conference about online marketing. We've each been self-employed for a decade or more, and blogging has always been a big part of how we earn a living.
Of all the ways David and I have ever made money, blogging is by far our favourite – and it's something we've doubled down on in the last several years. The combination of income potential, creative expression, and freedom is unmatched by anything I've ever found, aside from maybe self-publishing.
I built my first blog back in the 1990s, and I've built at least one or two new blogs every single year in the last decade. Some I've sold, some I've kept, and others I've phased out because they weren't delivering the right kind of return on investment. I'm pretty sure I've made every possible blog mistake there is to make, and it's taught me what it takes to build a successful blog in a wide variety of niches. We're definitely not a couple of newbies who just decided to blog about making money blogging.
Not only can you generate a healthy monthly income blogging, you're also building an ASSET – something you could sell, should you ever be so inclined. Depending on your traffic quality, growth patterns, and income sources, it's not uncommon for sites to sell between 20-50x the average monthly net profit. So – if you build a site that averages $5000/month in profit, you've got something you could potentially sell for $100,000 – $250,000.
That's great for you guys, but I don't have that kind of experience…
Neither did we, in the beginning. Everybody has to start somewhere, and we've made TONS of mistakes over the years – meaning we can help you avoid those same problems.
Neither of us came from wealthy families, we didn't go to those fancy suburban high schools with great computer labs, and we didn't enter adulthood with all kinds of crazy connections. I used to live in a rural Southern Illinois trailer park. David was mostly raised by his mother.
With blogging, there's no “Step One: Start off with a small million dollar loan”… You can start with almost nothing and transform it into a serious income-producing asset. Monthly costs are extremely low as a percentage of income, especially once your site starts to pick up steam. There are very, very few businesses where all of that's true. Imagine trying to start a restaurant or shop with $50-100…
But I suck at technical stuff – can I still make money blogging?
YES! While it might seem mysterious and tech-y, you really don't need much technical knowledge AT ALL – and what little you do need, you can figure out as you go. The hardest part initially is just figuring out how to actually buy and set up your site, and we're going to do a walk-through of that a little later in this post.
You don't need to learn to code, you don't need to know how to take apart a computer, and you don't even need to know basic HTML. A few bits and pieces don't hurt, but there's basically nothing a blogger needs to know that isn't (a) fairly simple, and (b) easy to figure out with Google.
Okay, but you guys started blogging ages ago. Starting one in 2020 has to be a lot harder…
Actually, just the opposite is true in many ways. Every year brings new challenges, but also new opportunities. The first time I blogged, WordPress didn't exist. For many years, it was an awkward tool that required a fair bit of HTML (programming/coding) knowledge to really do much. Plugins were pretty minimal. Search volume was much lower for many things, because there weren't nearly as many people using the internet – and certainly not to the extent they do now. Monetization opportunities were also much lower, and the tools for making that stuff easy to implement were few and far between.
Today, much more of the world is online – across all age groups. There was a time when it was hard to reach certain demographics (like older people) because they weren't using technology the way they are now. In industrialized nations, most of us are carrying tiny computers around with us constantly. So, not only are there more people online, but we're all using the internet more and viewing more pages than ever.
In 2020, we've got more tools, more monetization opportunities, and more people to get in front of. Sure, some things are a little harder – but we continue to build new sites even today, and the same basic tactics still work. It's definitely not too late to get started.
Am I going to invest a ton of effort and get nothing but heartache and expenses?
Not if you approach this the right way and put in the work. Blogging for money requires you to think about what your audience wants to read about – not what you want to write about. It also takes time to gain some traction and build your skills.
Some people make money in their first month blogging, but those people are rare. It's usually a case of either luck or a lot of experience. Most people start to see money coming in around the 3-6 month mark, and returns usually become significant somewhere between 6-12 months. From what I've seen, most people will blog seriously for about 1-2 years before they're able to earn a middle to upper-middle class salary. Some much faster, others a bit slower.
Some people will never make it, and it's usually because they're resistant to one of the major blogging success factors. Some people can read every book and take every course, then reject the crucial advice that's given to them over and over. There are plenty of ways to be unique and do things your way, but there are some things you just NEED to do if you really want to give yourself the best chance of succeeding.
Do I have to blog about blogging and making money to make any money?
Absolutely not! We've all heard the stories of how back in the Gold Rush, the ones who made the most money were the ones who sold mining supplies and not the actual gold miners. But here's the thing – if nobody was making any money from actual gold, there wouldn't be a Gold Rush.
Indeed, quite a few people got wealthy from gold during the Gold Rush. Some did it intentionally, either panning for gold or running large-scale mining operations. Others got rich by accident (like George McKnight, who found gold while chasing his cow).
Can you tell we live in Northern California?
Anyway, the point is that yes, you can make money talking about blogging and how to make money – if you have some actual credibility. You can ALSO make money blogging about virtually anything else, and in most cases you'll have a lot less competition. One of our favourite blog projects these days is our British TV site. At the time I'm writing this, it's on track to make almost $9k for the month in just Amazon commissions and ads. That doesn't include the books we publish or the products in our shop.
And now, I'm going to hand over the reins to David, who will continue below (in case you notice a slight difference in tone)…
Let's Get Started: How to Start a Blog in 2020 – and Make Money With It!
Here's what you'll learn in our “How to Start a Profitable Blog” guide:
- How to research and choose a great blog topic
- How to plan and set up a domain name & hosting
- Get your feet wet with WordPress
- Making your blog look great with themes, and extending functionality with plugins
- Write your first blog post
- Next steps to keep learning
Step 1 – Choose a Profitable Blog Topic & Name
The first step in your journey is to decide what you're going to blog about.
Do you have any interests or hobbies? These often make perfect blog topics because you have a personal connection to it.You'll be writing a lot of blog content, and it will be much easier to write about something that you'll actually enjoy.
Maybe you love baking? Traveling? Craft making? Model railroads? Almost anything can be a good topic for your blog.
What would you love to talk about?
Don't worry about making money from your blog at this stage. Any topic you choose can make money, and it's more important to pick something you'll stick with.
We see blogs in even smaller, unknown niches making a great income. I know it sounds weird, but think about how you'll make money after choosing your topic.
You won't know what's right for you until you try it.
Speaking of sticking with it. Some people worry If they start out with one topic they're stuck with it forever. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes the only way to know if a blog topic will work, or if you like it is to actually try it.
Even if you decide to stop working on the blog you started with, it isn't a waste of time. You can use that blog for links to your sites (to help with SEO you'll learn about later), or even sell it.
The number one most important thing is to just get started. Don't agonize for weeks about the perfect topic (or anything else in this guide!). Every successful student we see gets started asap.
What if you can't think of anything?
What if you don't have any interests? Sometimes I hate the advice ‘follow your passion', because if you haven't identified any passions yet, it's discouraging. If you fall into this category, don't worry! We know lots of people who blog successfully but aren't wildly passionate about the subject.
If you find yourself struggling with a topic, start brainstorming anything you're interested in or just interested in learning about. I'll bet almost any activity you enjoy could be turned into a blog topic. Even something you don't consider a hobby, or worthy of considering – like watching TV – can be a great topic. One of our successful blogs was started because we like watching British TV shows.
If you don't have an idea in mind, here are some to get you started.
- Personal finance
- Recipes or baking
- Crafts and DIY projects
- Home decorating
- Video games
- Family and parenting
Remember – there are many different ideas for each of those. For example, you don't have to do a ‘travel' blog. You can do a European river cruise blog. You can even combine several niches if they speak to a specific audience.
Step 2 – Choose the Best Blogging Platform
Getting your blog online these days is super easy. The first thing you need to choose is your blogging platform. A blogging platform is just the tool you'll use to customize your site and write posts.
What tools do I need to create a blog for free?
There are a few ‘free' options you might have seen like Wix, Tumblr, or Blogger. These aren't good options for building a blog you can make money from. They don't offer the customization, options, and features you need to build a blog and make it a profitable business.
We strongly recommend WordPress. It's far superior to any other platform, and is used by 35%+ of all sites on the internet last we checked. Nearly every successful blog we can think of uses WordPress.
Note, there are two different versions of WordPress. WordPress.com is not what you want. This is a service that's basically a pre-packaged version of WordPress with limited options.
The WordPress version you'll use is installed automatically when you sign up for blog hosting (more on this soon).
This version of WordPress is also on WordPress.org. Back in the olden days (you know – when we had to crank start our computers), you would have to download WordPress from there and manually install it on your blog host. Talk about walking uphill in the snow to school both ways!
The process is streamlined these days. Bottom line – You'll be on the correct version of WordPress when you sign up for hosting, so you don't need to do anything.
How much will it cost to start my blog?
Thankfully, you can start your blog for very little money. One reason we love blogging so much – there aren't many (if any) opportunities to build a high earning business without investing much money.
WordPress is 100% free to use. The only thing you need to pay for is 1) a domain name and 2) hosting. Let's dive into those next…
Step 3 – Get a Domain Name & Hosting for Your Blog
Now it's time to choose a great domain name for your blog.
What is a domain name?
The domain name is the ‘address' people type in to visit your blog. On this site, BlogEmpireBuilder.com is our domain name. Domain names are how we navigate the internet, and go to sites we want to visit.
Domain names cost about $15/year to register.
Choosing a domain name can seem like a daunting task, but you can get through it quickly by following this guide.
Don't register a domain yet – wait until you get to the next section and sign up for hosting.
These are the 2 important points to consider when selecting a domain name for your blog.
1. Choose something related to your topic, and easy to say/spell.
Say your niche is photography for example. You want a domain name at least somewhat related to that topic. In other words, someone should be able to look at the domain name and know it's about photography.
Your domain name should be easy to say and spell.
An example of a bad domain name would be Davidsawesomephotographyandstuffblog.com.
Try to keep your domain name to 2-3 words. For the same reasons, avoid using numbers and hyphens in your domain name. You want to choose a domain name that's easy to say and remember.
Imagine I was at a dinner party and told someone about my blog at ‘Davidsawesomephotographyandstuffblog.com'. There's no way they're going to remember that.
Avoid hard-to-spell words and altered spellings.
Try to avoid words that are hard to spell, or with some kind of spelling variation. An example would be ‘DavidBlogz1.com'. There are a few issues (other than just sounding dumb) with that domain name.
Let's use our ‘dinner party conversation' test. Imagine I tell someone my blog name is ‘DavidBlogz1.com'. By the time they get home, they wont be sure if it's ‘blogs' or ‘blogz' or if its the numeral ‘1' or spelled out like ‘one'.
You can keep your domain name on the broader side if you want. For example, if you were starting a blog on wedding photography, but thought you might want to expand to other photography topics later, you wouldn't want to ‘lock yourself in' with a wedding photography specific domain.
2. Use a .Com domain
You've likely seen all kinds of domain extensions, called TLD's (Top Level Domains). The .com domain extension is the most widely used. There are many others like .org, .biz, .co, etc.
We recommend using .com because it's the most recognizable, and what most people are used to seeing. This goes a long way to making your site look trustworthy.
Domain Name Research
Note – Don't register your domain name through this tool, you'll do that later.
Lean Domain Search is a great tool that helps you generate domain name ideas. Just use it to help you generate ideas.
Keep a list of a few domain names you like in case one is already registered when you go to sign up. You can use Google Sheets, OneNote (a personal favorite), or even just pen and paper (Stefanie's favorite) to keep a shortlist of domain ideas. It's a good idea to have several domain name ideas in case some aren't available.
Get Your Blog Hosting Set Up
In order for people to be able to visit your blog, you'll need your domain name and a host that holds the files for your blog. This is what enables someone to go to yourdomainname.com and see your blog.
To get your blog online, you'll need what's called a ‘host' or a ‘webhost' – they mean the same thing.
The host is just the service that holds all the files and content for your blog, then serves them up for people who visit it. This is what ‘puts your blog online' so people can visit your domain name and go to your blog.
There are countless web hosting companies out there, but we want one that is fast, reliable, affordable, and secure.
We recommend Siteground, because it fulfills every one of those better than most hosting companies we've tried.
Here's how to get started setting up your blog with Siteground.
Visit Siteground and you'll see this page of pricing options.
The ‘StartUp' plan is perfect for starting out. If you create more blogs later, you can upgrade to the ‘GrowBig' plan which allows unlimited websites.
The price of $3.95 per month is the initial price when you sign up. You can choose terms of 12, 24, or 36 months and you'll lock in that price. After this initial term, your cost per month can go up (normal price is $11.99/month) but you can usually lock in another discount if you go for another 12, 24, or 36 months. We just want to point this out, because it's easy to miss when you're first signing up and trying to keep everything straight in your head. This is just the type of pricing model that all blog hosting companies use.
Click on ‘GET PLAN' under StartUp. The next page is where you'll enter the domain name you want to register. If you already own a domain, you can choose that option.
If your first choice of domain names isn't available, you can go down your list until you find one that is.
If you just want to sign up and choose your domain later, that's totally fine too! Just select ‘I already have a Domain' and type some random letters in there like in the image below.
Then click ‘No, thank you'. If you get an error, just try another domain name. The trick to this is you have to enter a domain name that isn't registered.
You'll get the cheapest rate by selecting 36 months, but it's perfectly ok if you want to just start with 12 months. Note, Siteground (and most hosts) charge for the full term up front. This is just a standard way blog hosting companies handle pricing.
You don't need the SG Site Scanner, so you can leave that un-checked.
Next, agree to the terms and…drumroll please…..
Congratulations, you now have your own blog!
After you sign up with SiteGround, you'll receive an email with instructions on how to finish setting up your site.
Siteground makes everything super easy, which is one reason we like them so much.
Log in with the information you get from the SiteGround email, and the website setup wizard will walk you through everything. Choose the WordPress option here.
For the username, don't use ‘admin'. Partially for security reasons, but also this is the name that will show up when you write posts. You can always change this and/or add other usernames later. For now, just put your name or a nickname.
Don't worry about ‘messing anything up' here. You can't break anything, we promise :)
You can skip the account enhancements for now. Complete the setup and you're ready to go.
Step 4 – Getting Started with WordPress
You'll have an email with a link to your WordPress admin area. It's a good idea to bookmark this, but if you forget it's usually www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin
When you log into WordPress for the first time, you'll see a screen like this:
The main area is the dashboard that just gives an overview, which we almost never use.
All the action happens on the left side menu. Let's start by changing how your site looks.
Changing WordPress Themes
WordPress uses what are called ‘themes' to change the look and appearance of your site. You'll start off with the default theme, but there are an endless number of free and paid themes you can choose from.
To view your site, you can move your mouse over where it says your site name in the upper left, then click on visit site.