I would have loved to call this the blogging guide for dummies because that’s basically my aim here- make this the easiest how to start a blog post on the internet. But I’m a bit worried about copyright issues so let’s just say this is the how to start a blog guide that even your grandma could follow.
Because, let me tell you, I am a self-proclaimed tech idiot and am the last person who thought they would be writing a guide on how to create a website.
And yet here I am. I have actually created two blogs (this one in 2012 and my newest in 2018). Sure, there have been a few curveballs along the way but here I am with two successful websites as part of my business.
Trust me, my friend, if I can do it- so can you.
In this post, I’m going to share the easy basics on how to start a blog, how to get your content ready, and how to monetize right away. You will have to spend some money to do this. You won’t, however, have to spend thousands of dollars which is the going rate to hire a designer and build a site from scratch.
Ready? Here we go! Here’s how to start a blog in 5 easy steps.
Step 1: Choose a Name, Niche, and Social Handles
Chances are you already have a name and niche in mind but in case you don’t, please check out my post on how to choose a niche for my tips on making sure you choose the right topic (aka one that can make you money).
As for the name of your blog, it should reflect your niche and be pretty obvious about what you are writing about. For example, it’s pretty obvious that “Eat Sleep Breathe Travel” is a travel blog. Now, is it the most creative name in the world? No, but again, you are learning from my mistakes.
My second blog is “Ireland Stole My Heart” which I think I did a much better job on. It’s cute plus very obvious that it is a blog about Ireland.
A couple of things to consider when choosing your name: make sure it’s one that can grow with you. “Travel Tales of a 20-Year-Old” may sound fun when you are 22. But, what happens when you turn 30?
Another important thing to consider when choosing your blog name is to check and see if the name is available as a domain and on social media as well. Namely Instagram and Twitter but also Facebook and Pinterest.
Funnily enough, I actually barely used social media when I started my blog. It took about 3 years for me to start a Facebook page. Which is why my social media handles (IG, Twitter, and Pinterest) are all hannahlogan21 – literally just my name and nothing to do with my blog. Granted, I’ve made that benefit me a little bit because those accounts cover my whole business (both blogs and freelance). However, if someone is like “oh I love that blogger, Eat Sleep Breathe Travel- I want to find her on Instagram. Well. Good luck searching ‘Eat Sleep Breathe Travel’ and expecting to find me. It’s not going to happen.
Again, learn from my mistakes. Make sure you can get social media handles that match your blog name and sign up for those right away.
Step 2: Build Your Blog
Ok, let’s get this out of the way really quick.
Can you start a blog for free?
Yes. But, it’s a terrible idea (been there, done that, don’t recommend it). Sure, not having any bills sounds great, especially if you are just starting out. However, free blogs are incredibly limiting and if you ever want to turn it into a business (aka make money) you are going to have to join the big boys and girls and pay for a domain name and hosting. So do yourself a favour and pull out your credit card from the start. Don’t worry, it’s not going to cost you a fortune.
Domain Name and Hosting
There are dozens of companies out there offering domain name and hosting. I’m going to recommend Bluehost to anyone just starting out.
That’s who I used for the first couple of years of both my blogs. Price points are low and affordable, I didn’t have any major issues, and when I did run into trouble I was quickly able to get help with the little chat bar on the side. Again, I’m a tech-idiot, so when I say the team were really helpful and friendly I mean it. I probably was not the easiest person to help because they never knew what I was talking about.
Once you are on the Bluehost website you will be offered a choice of 4 different plans and price points. To start with, all you need is the Basic.
After choosing your plan you will be asked to choose your domain name. So, for this site, its EatSleepBreatheTravel.com.
If the domain is available (which it should be if you did your research ahead of time) you’ll then be asked to enter your personal information, confirm your package including the length of the package. The three-year option is definitely your best bet in terms of pricing, however, it is up to you.
The last thing you will notice before you get to payment is a set of additional add-ons you can pay for. Again, the choice is yours, however, you absolutely want to add Domain Privacy Protection. This protects your personal information from getting in the hands of spammers.
Finally, enter your payment details and ta-da! You are the proud new owner of a domain and are set up with a hosting plan! (Please note, it could take up to 48 hours to propagate your domain).
Disclaimer: As I said, I used Bluehost on both my websites to start. Here, on ESBT, I used them for 2.5 years. I used them for 1 year on my Ireland site. I have since made the decision to go with a smaller Canadian company that manages all of my hosting/domain/tech needs. They are considerably more expensive, however, the services I pay for also means I get to just send off an email to someone saying “please fix” when I have a problem rather than doing it myself. For me, the money I pay is worth not having to spend the time on it. Chances are, if you continue to blog successfully, you will outgrow Bluehost as well. But, to start, they are great.
Download WordPress and Design Your Blog
Now that you have paid for your domain and hosting, you will get the chance to set up your blog. For some, this is a ton of fun and super exciting. For others, it’s very daunting. But I promise it’s not as scary as it seems!
After you pay, you will be directed to set up a password for your Bluehost account, and once you log in, you will be asked to download WordPress- follow the installation process, it won’t take very long.
Quick note: like with hosting, there are multiple blogging platforms. WordPress, however, is the main go-to for, well, everyone. This means if something goes wrong, you can easily get help. It also means there are plenty of free themes, plug-ins etc built for WordPress which, in the end, also makes it an easy option. Moral of the story: choose WordPress.
Back to themes. WordPress, as I said above, has plenty of free theme options. Scroll through and see what you like the looks of and, when you have made your choice, click ‘install’. Don’t worry, you can change your theme as often as you like but I suggest starting with something easy and simple. I use the free theme ‘Type’ for Ireland Stole My Heart.
Once you have installed the theme, it’s time to customize it. You can go crazy doing this if you want to but the main things to worry about for now are adding your header, tagline, and a logo if you have it. You can also customize colours of fonts, the background, etc. but that doesn’t have to be done right away.
You can access all of this from your WordPress dashboard. Click on appearance- customize. The next page will have a sidebar with everything you can customize and you will be able to see the changes happen in front of you. When you like what you see, click ‘publish’ at the top left corner.
Again, don’t worry too much about appearance at this stage. I find it easier to play around with looks after I have some content ready to go as I also want to be able to customize menus etc.
Congratulations, you have designed the basics of your blog!
Pick Your Plug-Ins
The next step is to install some plug-ins. Now, plug-ins can be incredibly helpful. However, you don’t want to have too many of them. You need to be selective. Many plug-ins are free. Some have paid upgrades and some you need to pay for right out of the gate. Over time, you will learn more about plug-ins and be able to pick and choose what you really need but to get started I recommend the following:
- Yoast: This is for SEO (which I will come back to later). It helps you structure your blog and create meta descriptions easily.
- Google Analytics: to help track your analytics (visitors, page views, etc).
- Social Warfare: for social media sharing
These will get you started, but as you continue to learn more about blogging you will find more to add and perhaps even purchase to make your life a little easier.
Step 3: Get Writing
Now that you actually have your blog’s website, you need some content to fill it.
Start with an ‘About’ page to let people know who you are, what the blog is about etc. Don’t forget to include photos.
You’ll also need to create some actual blog posts. I recommend having 5-6 ready to go before you make your blog ‘live’ so readers have a few things to scan through.
Now, blog posts may seem like the easy part, but you should be putting a lot of work and research into your content. From figuring out what makes a good title to keyword research and SEO optimization, there is a lot to learn. I have a full article sharing all my tips on how to write a good blog post here.
One of the most important parts of writing online is SEO. SEO is Search Engine Optimization and, essentially, knowing SEO is the difference between getting your blog posts to rank on Google-or not. SEO is an essential skill for any blogger.
There are plenty of resources out there for learning about SEO but I highly recommend the ebooks from Make Traffic Happen. There is one for learning SEO and another for optimizing old content. They break it down into simple steps and teach you exactly how to optimize your posts and your website for SEO. These products are worth the investment because being good at SEO is a must if you want to succeed in this industry.
Step 4: Monetize
Ok, let’s talk actually making money from your blog.
How much can you make from blogging?
Well, technically the sky is the limit. Some people make millions but that’s not the reality for most. It’s certainly not my reality (maybe one day!) However, there are still plenty of us who still make a good income from our blogs. Enough for us to live comfortably, save, and be able to afford a travel-filled lifestyle.
There are a number of ways to make money from your blog. Here are a few of the most common:
- Affiliates: I LOVE affiliate marketing. It’s easy, it’s lucrative, and you can start literally right away. Affiliates are when you have a personal link to a brand or company you partner with so if a sale is made from your specific link, you receive a commission. Commissions vary depending on the partner and often come with a time limit which means you need to be pretty strategic when coming up with your affiliate marketing strategies. Affiliate marketing is one of my strengths in blogging (I made over $20,000CAD from just 7 affiliate partners in 2019). For those interested in learning more, I have created an ebook sharing everything you need to know including my money-making strategies in the book. It is available for purchase here.
- Display Ads: Perhaps the easiest way to make money from your blog is through display ads. This is the goal for many bloggers, however, the catch is that the best ad networks (aka the ones that pay the most) have minimum traffic thresholds to join. I, along with many others, use Mediavine. When I joined there was a minimum of 25,000 sessions required to apply. However, that threshold has doubled at this time due to the pandemic (I will update if it changes). There are alternatives, however, payouts are much smaller. That’s not to say don’t join, the choice is yours, but given that ads can be a pain to readers and slow down your site, it might be worth waiting. Pre pandemic, I was making $1,500-$2,000USD per month from display ads alone.
- Sponsored Posts: A really popular route is also to have brands and companies reach out to you and ask about sponsored posts (either on your blog or on your social media channels). These can be lucrative, but also tricky. First off, legally, sponsored posts need to be identified as sponsored and links should be a no-follow. If the company requests that you ignore these rules, say no. If Google catches you and penalizes your website, you’ll lose a whole lot more than that one paycheque. I rarely ever do sponsored posts, when I do it’s with a brand I know and trust and I write the content myself rather than have some other writer do it for me. That way its natural and a good fit. Make sure to get a fair rate too. Most people start around $100 USD per post once their blog is up and running and getting regular traffic. My rates start at $500USD for a sponsored blog post.
- Ambassadorships: You will often see big-name bloggers working as ambassadors for companies on certain campaigns for even on a long-term basis. This is something I do on a small scale, so I’m not really an expert. The main thing to note is that ambassadorships should involve you making money somehow so please don’t fall into any of those ‘can you be our ambassador? I’ll send you $20 of free merchandise” type emails. These brands just want free promotion at no cost to them.
- Paid Press Trips: This is something I personally do not have experience with. Most of my press trips are either with partners I work with on another basis (as a writer/affiliate) or in conjunction with my freelance work, not blogging, and therefore not paid. That being said, there are paid press trip opportunities out there, although they can be tricky to find. Being based in Canada for ½ the year, I often don’t qualify for many because the cost of my airfare is too high to get me to the destination. Blogging friends in Europe have often had a lot more luck and opportunities.
Step 5: Build Up Your Presence on Social Media
Social media and blogging go hand in hand these days. Social media is one of the easiest ways to build up your online presence, direct traffic to your blog, and monetize. You should be sharing/posting regularly your own content as well as content from others in a similar niche as you.
Chances are, you won’t use all social media channels the same but will come to rely on one or two. I have a Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest account.
Facebook I share to probably about 3-4 times a week. Specifically, when I post new content, have some photos to share, or see something interesting and travel related that I think my audience may enjoy.
Twitter I rarely use but have automated my posts to go out automatically every 3 hours with a plug-in called Revive Old Posts (it’s free).
Pinterest I use to share all my new content. I partake in Pinterest ‘threads’ in a couple of facebook groups as well to better circulate my content. I did have tailwind at one point, but it wasn’t doing much for me so I got rid of it. Personally, I don’t think you need it.
Instagram is my favourite social media. I have a very engaged audience that loves my content. As such, I focus on there the most to turn the audience into buyers. This is one of my most lucrative monetization strategies and I share more about how I do that (and how you can to!) in my ebook on Monetizing Instagram Through Long-Term Partnerships which you can find here.
Not only is social media a good way to build your audience, but it’s great for networking with others in the industry as well. There are dozens of Facebook groups for bloggers where you can share tips, advice, opportunities etc. These Facebook groups can be a goldmine for helpful information as you grow your blog. I personally love groups like Make Traffic Happen & DNW Making Money From Blogging.
Final Tips on How to Start a Blog
As you can see, starting a blog isn’t necessarily hard. But, it is time consuming and a lot of work is involved. Especially if the end goal is to turn your blog into your business. Keep in mind, like everything else, it will take time. It’s not necessarily a fast process but hard work and implementing the tips and tricks I have here, and in other posts on this section of my blog, will definitely give you a leg up.
You will get flustered, you will get overwhelmed, it’s normal. I started at the bottom once too and even now, 8 years later, I’m still learning new things because things are constantly changing. My biggest piece of advice is to just stick with it.