How to Start a Blog (and Make Money) in 9 Easy Steps in 2020

how to start a blog and make money

If you’re looking for a step-by-step beginner’s guide on how to start a blog, this in-depth post will walk you through the process. It just takes 9 easy steps to launch your blog, design your site, and learn how to make money from it.

So if you’re ready, let’s dive in. 

DISCLAIMER: Some of these links in this post are affiliate links. So if you click through and end up making a purchase, I’ll get a small commission at no cost to you. That helps to support me and keep this website running. Please know that I personally stand by all the software and products I recommend.

Choose Your Blog’s Niche and Name

This is the first and most important step in starting a blog — deciding on your topic or niche. Do you want it to be about technology, cooking, deep sea diving, etc.? Before you make that decision, here are three things you should remember:

1) Write about something you’re interested in.

  • You’ll be spending a lot of time working on your blog. I’m talking hours, days, weeks. If you want to be successful at it, you should enjoy creating your content, at least to some degree. It can’t all be drudgery or there’s a chance you’ll quit. Come on, we’ve all been in that situation before. Being forced to take a job you despised or enroll in a class you didn’t care about (for me it was AP history). And what happened? You failed, because you hated every second of it. What I’m saying is, don’t let your blog turn into history class. 

2) Pick a topic where you can be an authority on the subject.

  • At the end of the day, there are no new ideas. And that’s okay. You just have to provide a unique angle. This is where your personal experience comes into play. If you have a background in your blog’s topic, you have a better chance of building trust with your readers. Because they want to know you’ve been there before — that you’ve been in the trenches. Being trusted is how you attract followers. If you don’t believe me, just look at Jon Snow in Game of Thrones.

3) Pick a niche that has potential for profit.

  • If your goal is to make money from your blog, then that should be a key factor when choosing your blog niche. The last thing you want is to build a beautiful site, write a bunch of blogs, promote the heck out of it on social media, only to discover there’s no audience or income from all your hard work. 

How do you pick a profitable blog niche?

First, make sure your niche has an audience and search interest. The easiest way to do this is by typing your blog topic (i.e. fitness, travel, digital marketing, finance, etc.) into a SEO tool. With tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs, you can find out how many people are searching for your specific target keyword on a monthly basis. Choose a keyword that has at least 1,000 searches a month, so you’ll be more likely to get a decent amount of traffic coming to your site.

Next, make sure your topic has affiliate programs that pay out at a reasonable rate. (An affiliate program is when you make money promoting another company’s products.) Some niches tend to pay higher than others. For example, have you ever wondered why there are so many credit card review sites? It’s because the commission from a credit card referral sale is very lucrative.

Pick a Domain Name

Now that you’ve decided on a niche for your blog, it’s time to name it. Ideally, you want it to be something brief and descriptive, since it’s the first thing users will see when they land on your website. If possible, try to include any relevant keywords in your blog’s domain name. So if your blog is about beauty, fashion, or cats, include that in the domain name — as long as it sounds natural. Try to avoid using weird misspellings or special characters. You want something that’s user-friendly, so people will remember it when they type it into the search bar.

Once you’ve found a domain that you love, check to see if it’s available. You’ll be able to do this when you sign up for hosting. But if you’re eager to check ahead of time, you can always visit bluehost domain checker to see if it’s available.

Bluehost Domain picker

How much does it cost to buy a domain name?

Typically, buying a new domain name will cost you between $10 to $20 per year. Price will depend on the domain registrar you’re buying it from, length of the contract, and domain extension ( .com, .org, etc.).

Should I use .com, .org, or .net for my domain name?

The .com domain extension is the most popular of the three and tends to be most recognized and trusted by users. When in doubt, use .com. I would only choose .net if you’re unable to find a decent.com domain. Choose .org if you’re launching a non-profit. 

Sign Up for Web Hosting

Web hosting is where all the magic happens. Where your website comes alive. If you are unsure about your options, I recommend reviewing Money.com’s best web hosting guide for some suggestions. Once you’ve chosen one, it’s time to go through the set up process.

Even though all web hosts differ, their set up process tends to be pretty similar. I’ll take you through my set up experience with Bluehost (this link will get you 63% off). For me, Bluehost is the best option for beginners starting a blog because:

  • It’s super easy to set up.
  • It’s budget-friendly.
  • There’s great customer service.
  • You can click to install WordPress in under a minute. 

First go to Bluehost.com and click the “Get Started” button.

bluehost web hosting

Choose your plan.

Bluehost offers multiple hosting plans to choose from. I recommend Choice Plus, because it’s the best value. And it comes with domain privacy, which keeps your personal contact info private from the public eye.

Blueshost pricing plans

Choose a Domain Name

If you’ve already thought of a domain name, now is the time to enter it. If you need more time, skip this step. You can always choose a domain later. If you already have an existing domain, you can enter it here as well.

Create an Account

In this next stage, you’ll enter your contact information. You’ll also need to confirm your package information. Bluehost bills in different timeframes, so choose the one that works for you. This will also determine how much of a deal you’ll get. The longer the timeframe, the more discounted the price.

bluehost account information

Once you’ve confirmed everything and entered your billing information, click on Submit. That’s it! You’ve signed up for web hosting.

If you’re ready to launch your blog, click here to get started with Bluehost with 63% off.

Install WordPress and Pick a Blog Design

wordpress theme

You’ll need a CMS (content management system) to build and manage your blog. The number one choice is WordPress. It’s the most popular CMS in the world, and if your goal is to make money off your blog, this is the one to choose. It’s free (you just need a web hosting plan), and it comes with a lot of free themes too.

When it comes to WordPress, it’s important to remember that there are two different WordPress platforms — WordPress.com and WordPress.org. 

What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

On WordPress.org, you host your own site. On WordPress.com, the site is hosted by WordPress.com.

WordPress.com is also more limited in the number of themes, amount of storage, SEO, and analytics available. You also have to pay to remove ads. WordPress.org offers a lot more flexibility, is fully customizable, and has great SEO features. It’s the one I recommend (and use). 

The great thing about Bluehost is that it offers one-click installation for WordPress. After you’re done installing, you can choose a free theme.

How do I choose a good WordPress theme?

When deciding on a theme for your blog, look for a theme that follows these best practices:

  • Simple – Choose a design that’s clean and easy to navigate. Otherwise, users will leave your site for someone else’s.
  • SEO-Friendly – SEO is key to ranking high in Google search results. Choose a theme that’s optimized for SEO from the start.
  • Customizable – If this is your blog, you’ll want the ability to edit it as you see fit, so find a flexible theme.
  • Optimized for Speed – Website speed is also a ranking factor for Google. Choose a theme that loads quickly.
  • Optimized for Mobile – More people spend time on their phones than their desktop computers. You’ll need a theme that looks good on both.

A few themes that I recommend are Astra, Hello, and Generate Press. They’re all free (with the ability to upgrade for more features). You can choose one by searching for it in the WordPress admin panel, clicking on Appearance > Themes > Add New. 

choose a wordpress theme to get started on your blog

Install Plugins

WordPress offers thousands of plugins to meet different needs like SEO, email, image optimization, and site speed. Here are some of my favorites I recommend when you’re getting ready to start a blog:

Yoast SEO

Yoast is one of those companies that every blogger knows about. They are the go-to place for optimizing your blog for SEO — like your title, meta description, and other content — to make your website more visible to search engines.

WP Rocket

This plugin is all about making your website faster. And the faster your site, the better chance you have in ranking in Google. So what does WP rocket do? It caches your site to improve speed, reduces and minimizes your file sizes, and includes lazy loading.

Easy Table of Contents

You’ll need this plugin when you’re writing a long-form post. It lets you add a table of contents to your page, including links to certain sections of your content. This will create a better user experience for your visitors, because they can choose which content to jump to.

Republish Old Posts

If you want your content to appear fresh, I would recommend using the Republish Old Posts plugin. How does it work? It resets your posts’ publish dates to the current date, so it appears that you recently updated your content. It’s an additional trick to make your website stand out in the search results pages.

WPForms

With this plugin, you can drag and drop a contact form onto any page of your WordPress site. If you want readers to easily be able to contact you, this is the form I would use.  

MonsterInsights

This plugin lets you add and manage Google Analytics tracking for your site. It also ports in the relevant data, so you can get insights without leaving WordPress. All you need to do is connect it to your Google Analytics account.

Install Google Analytics

Once you’ve launched your blog, you’re going to want to measure traffic. The most common way to do this is through Google Analytics. 

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free website analytics tool that helps you analyze your website traffic. It shows how many people have come to your blog, where they’re from geographically, how they got to your site (i.e. organic, social, etc), and how they interact with your content. You need this tool to help you determine how to optimize your web traffic and grow your blog.

How do I sign up for Google Analytics?

Go to the Google Analytics homepage. If you already have a Google account, you can just sign in. Otherwise, click the Create an Account button to get started. It will walk you through the signup process. You’ll need to add a few details about your site like the website name, URL, category, and your time zone. Once that’s complete, you’ll have to add the Google Analytics tracking code to your website.

Add Google Analytics code to your MonsterInsights Plugin

Connect MonsterInsights to Google Analytics

Go to MonsterInsights in your WordPress panel under Plugins. Choose Insights > Settings. Click on the Connect MonsterInsights button to authenticate your Google Analytics account. You’ll need to choose your Google account and allow MonsterInsights access to your Analytics data. Select your profile, then click Complete Authentication. After that, your WordPress site should be connected to Google Analytics.

Optimize Your Blog for SEO 

If you want to rank well in search engines, you need to think about the structure of your URLs. WordPress refers to this as your permalinks. By default, when you post a page or blog post, it will be set to yourdomain.com/postID. That would give you a pretty ugly URL that could turn off users checking results in the SERP (search engine results page).

To clean this up, head into your WordPress dashboard. Go to Settings > Permalinks. Out of the choices provided, I recommend choosing “Post Name” or “Custom.” Then hit save. You’ll still be able to customize new post URLs before publishing, but this will ensure that the default setting is SEO-friendly.

optimize your blog seo with wordpress permalinks

Write Your First Blog Post

Congratulations. You got all the hard parts out of the way. You started your blog, launched it, and now it’s time to have a little fun by writing your first post. Before you begin, plan what you want to write about. Remember earlier when you did keyword research to figure out your niche? Follow that same process now for your blog post. This will ensure you’re writing a post with a built-in audience.

Additionally, you want your post to provide value. The more value it has, the more likely people will share it. So try to have your blog post answer a common question. Use tools like SEMRush for suggestions on the type of questions users are searching for. 

sem rush keyword magic tool

Once you’ve decided on a topic, try to optimize your blog post for organic search. As I discuss in my SEO best practice guide, you want to integrate your target keyword throughout your content. This includes putting it in your page title, headlines, URL, and meta description to let Google (and other search engines) know what your page is about. Don’t overdo it though. Having your keyword appear once every 100-200 words is probably plenty.

Now that you’ve got the general structure of the post ready, let’s write your post. In the WordPress dashboard, click on Posts > Add New. You’ll see a screen like this:

add your first wordpress blog post

Add your content in the appropriate spots. If you have the Yoast plugin installed, it will give you real-time feedback on what’s working SEO-wise and what’s not. For example, if your meta description is too long, the plugin will give you a heads up. Once Yoast gives you the green light and indicates your post is appropriately optimized, hit that publish button.

First blog post down!

Now create some key content pages. These include your home page (if it’s not just recent blog posts), about page, and contact page. You need these pages on your site so users can understand more about who you are, what you stand for, and most importantly, how to reach you.

Promote Your Blog to Get Traffic

Now that your content is launched, it’s time to promote it. 

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is a great way to promote your blog, build yourself up as an authority, and drive traffic to your site — all at the same time. It involves reaching out to other blog sites to see if you can write a post on their website. 

How do you find a good guest blogging opportunity?

  • Start by visiting blogs similar to yours. Search their site to see if they allow guest blogging, then reach out with a request to the webmaster.
  • Explore Facebook Groups. Join a group that relates to your niche and network with the community. There are often bloggers out there looking for someone to add fresh content to their site.
  • Network on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a lot of different groups on their platform. Join one that relates to your blog topic and try to build up your authority within it.
  • Visit My Blog Guest, which is a community of guest bloggers. Sign up and search for blogs that are looking for guest posts.

Social Media

If you don’t have a social media account, you’ll need to start one immediately. That’s where people spend a lot of their time — on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. Once you have new content to share, you can blast it out across social media. It’s one of the easiest ways to let people know new content exists.

Build an Email List

Once you get users to visit your site, encourage them to sign up for your email list. Then when you publish new content, you can let them know about it directly. An email list is one of the most powerful ways to keep an engaged audience coming back to your site on a regular basis.

The easiest way to build an email list is a sign-up form that lives in the footer of all your pages. So when a user gets to the bottom of your page or post, they’ll get that reminder. You can also use pop-ups to spur users to sign up for your email list. Just search plugins in your WordPress panel and you’ll find a lot of good options to get you started.

Monetize Your Blog

how to monetize your blog

Now that you’re getting traffic to your blog, how can you get paid for it? Below are a couple ideas about how to make money from your blog.

Affiliate Marketing

Far and away, affiliate marketing is the simplest way to make money from your site. If you’re writing about a specific niche, chances are there’s some company (or more likely, companies) in that niche with an affiliate program. After you join the program, link to their site with an affiliate link (a link that shows your website is the one referring traffic to their website). Then when someone clicks your link and buys the product, you’ll get a commission.

How do You Find an Affiliate Marketing Program?

You can sign up for an affiliate marketing program through networks like Rakuten, ShareASale, Commission Junction, and Amazon. There are many more, but these are the major networks.

Freelancing or Selling Your Products/Services

If you have a specific, tangible product (like clothing, equipment, a book, etc), you can sell it through your site and make money off it. Use the plugin WooCommerce, which will help you integrate ecommerce capabilities into your site. 

If you have a skill that’s marketable, you can sell it as a service. Let’s say that you’re really good at writing (or in my case digital marketing). Use your blog to show your authority on the subject. Blog about what you know and what you bring to the table, then people will want to hire you. At the end of the day, you can’t be good at everything. But for what you are good at, put it out there and market yourself.

Sponsorships or Regular Ads

Once your blog gets enough traffic, businesses will start reaching out to you to promote their content. This usually involves asking you to write about their product or placing their ad on your site. You know all those Instagram influencers who are constantly chatting up products? They’re doing it because of sponsorships. You can do the exact same thing with your site.

Summary of How to Start a Blog in 9 Easy Steps

Phew. That’s it. You made it to the end. We went through all the steps on how to start your blog, set up hosting, optimize your site, and how to eventually make money from it. I hope you found this helpful.

If you’re ready to start a blog, head on over to Bluehost (get 63% off with my link) and let me know how it goes.

FAQS: How to Start a Blog

What is a blog?

A blog is a website that gets updated regularly with posts or articles. It’s typically written in a conversational style.

How much does it cost to start a blog?

This depends on your goals and the type of blog you’re launching. Typically, it costs around $50-$80 per year.

How do I get my blog to stand out?

The most important way to get your blog noticed is to be different. Too often, people choose niches that are already bloated with other bloggers. If you want to rise above the pack, you have to bring something unique to the table. It could be your tone of voice, the in-depthness of your articles, infographics, videos, etc. In other words, make your blog your own.

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