One of the best career choices I’ve ever made was to learn how to start a blog (this blog).
My decision to learn how to start a blog and begin making money from it on the side of my day job, is what propelled me into building a six-figure freelance writing business with clients like LinkedIn, Zendesk, Google, Intuit and more. On top of that, starting a blog has helped me generate thousands of dollars in passive income each month and book interviews with some of the world’s top entrepreneurs for my podcast.
More than anything, my choice to start a blog has allowed me to connect with and teach more than 2,000,000 incredible, talented, and passionate readers (like you) every single year. 🙏
Whether you’re trying to build a freelance business, launch a personal brand, earn a living from blogging, or are just passionate and want to write about a certain topic, there’s nothing I would recommend more than challenging yourself to learn how to start a blog today.
And while it’s now easier than ever to get started with writing and publishing online, the last thing you want to slow you down is all the technicalities of starting a blog.
That’s why I created this ultimate guide that’s taken me years to build. In it, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know when it comes to learning how to start a blog and actually profit from it. I’ll show you the exact techniques and strategies I’ve used for both myself and my highest-profile clients I’ve helped to go from 0 to millions of readers a year. Most of all, we’re diving deep into how I went from learning how to start a blog myself, to making this blog a source of more than $100,000 in side income each year.
And because your writing deserves an audience, I’m also going to share the exact strategies you can use to promote, market, and grow your blog—the same ones I’ve used to increase my blog’s traffic by 2,052% in the past year alone.
So, if you’re ready to take a leap and learn how to start a blog, let’s get into it!
Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission. Know that I only recommend products, tools, services and learning resources I’ve personally used and believe are genuinely helpful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to purchase them. Most of all, I would never advocate for buying something that you can’t afford or that you’re not yet ready to implement.
💥 BOX OUT: The Essential First Step to Start a Blog (Today) 💥
In order to get you started down the right path with building a brand new blog, you're going to need an (affordable) domain name and hosting—we'll be using the hosting provider I personally use, Bluehost—throughout this guide to accelerate your progress.
Get your domain name and 65% off a hosting plan with Bluehost to get your blog online.
Now first before we dig into how to start a blog, let’s take a quick step back in time.
All the way back to the year 2014...
Yes. That’s the first post on my blog. And while it’s a far cry from the highly tactical, in-depth and entrepreneurial-focused content I publish today, I wanted to share a message from it that I still regularly refer back to:
“It’s so easy to continue down the path you’re on in life, allowing the feeling of comfort to rule your daily actions… but if you never take calculated risks, you’ll find yourself regretting that you never tried.”
Starting a blog was a calculated risk for me. But it's one that's changed my life for the better both personally and professionally. And I believe that if you put the work in, starting a blog can do the same for you.
But first... I know first-hand that learning how to start a blog can be a massive undertaking.
And if you need a little more hands on guidance, I put together a free master course for you to take that spreads all of this work out into a series of action-packed lessons.
While the first crucial step to getting your blog started today is registering your domain name and setting up hosting (get 65% off your domain and hosting right here from Bluehost), my free course breaks the entire process of starting a blog and actually growing it, down into an incredibly simple 7-day process for going from zero to publishing (and promoting) your first blog post in less than 1 week. I can't recommend it enough.
So let's pause right here, grab your domain and hosting on Bluehost, then come back and let's get back to business!
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Next, I've broken this guide down into ten distinct sections that'll guide you through the process to starting your blog today and getting to your first published post within a matter of hours. Each of the ten steps (menu items) below are clickable and will take you immediately to the section of this guide that you click on.
👋 I recommend bookmarking this guide so you can come back to it and pick up where you left off. And remember, if you take 30 seconds right now to sign up for 65% off your domain name and hosting with Bluehost, you'll be able to take action with us at every step of this guide.
How to Start a Blog (on the Side) in 10 Easy Steps
Starting a blog is a fantastic way to grow your business and make money online. If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my 65 legitimate ways to make money online.
Kicking off this guide, it's important to address one of the most common questions I field from readers that want to start a blog for the first time...
Can you start a blog for free in 2019?
If you’re just getting into learning how to start a blog, you might be worried about the cost of building and hosting your own blog. Luckily, today that isn’t much of an issue. There are tons of ways you can get started blogging today (in half an hour or less) that are absolutely free.
Free blogging platforms like Medium, Tumblr and Blogger are awesome resources for testing things out.
And these options are great... if your blog is a hobby.
However, if you’re looking to build a business out of your blog or make money blogging, I would highly recommend some of the paid (yet still very affordable) options that I’m going to cover below. If you're on the fence about whether to use a free or paid hosting provider to get started... here’s why you should consider (an affordable) paid hosting provider:
- When you go with free, you’ll have a lack of control over how your blog looks and acts: Free blogging services (like Blogger, Medium or Tumblr) will pretty much always limit the design and functionality of your blog. This means you won't be able to make your blog look like your favorite other sites. Plus, you might not be able to do the things you want (like capture email addresses from your readers using tools like ConvertKit, include ads, join affiliate programs and other activities that'll help you actually make money blogging).
- Most free services have limits on monetization: If you plan on making money from your blog, a free service might limit the amount you can earn until you pay for an upgrade (which defeats the purpose of using a “Free” service in the first place!)
- Switching or upgrading to a better service is a serious hassle: As your blog grows, you’ll quickly outgrow the free service that you started on. However, switching to another blogging platform takes time, effort, money and knowledge to do properly and not lose your hard-earned traffic.
- There’s a lack of support if something goes wrong: While a paid blog hosting service like my favorite, Bluehost, wants to keep you happy with stellar support, there’s not as much incentive to look after you if you’re not paying for a service. If things go wrong (and they sometimes will), it might be difficult to get the help you need.
- Free blog hosting services can disappear overnight: A free service doesn’t make a company much money and there’s always a risk that they might decide it’s not worth it anymore. The last thing you want is your hours of hard work to disappear based on something you can’t control.
All of this is to say that you should think about your plan and what you want from your blog before you get started.
While it’s perfectly fine (and insanely easy) to learn how to start a blog for free, sometimes a little investment in yourself up front can go a very long way toward paving a future that's much more lucrative. But, that’s your choice and it's just as admirable if you start out as a hobby blogger on a free platform today.
So in this post, I’m going to show you both routes (as well as what I’ve done to scale my blog to 2 million+ readers a year) so you can decide for yourself what makes the most sense for you, your goals and your blog.
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How to Start a Blog (on the Side) in 10 Easy Steps
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: The only thing standing in the way of starting your own blog is you. It’s easy to say that you don’t have time or you’re tired from work or that it’s too much effort. But that effort is what makes starting a blog so worth it.
When I spoke to Preston Lee, the founder of Millo.co, for my podcast, he told me that he first learned how to start a blog on his train commute in to his day job. He had 40 minutes each way going to and from his full-time gig, and he used that time to write, design and create his blog that now brings in upwards of $15,000 a month in sponsorship revenue.
Now, yes, Preston did a lot of things right (that I’ll cover in this guide about how to start a blog). But what it all comes down to is that he started in the same place you are right now and committed to creating his blog. That commitment is something that we’ll talk a lot about here.
The bar for how to start a blog—and what constitutes great content—has been raised in 2019. And if you’re starting your blog looking for extremely quick results (i.e. earning money from a blog tomorrow), you’re going to be disappointed. You need to set realistic expectations.
This isn’t to say you can’t start a successful blog in 2019. In fact, there are more opportunities than ever. It’s just that you need to make sure you’re not falling into certain traps early on. Traps like...
- You think you can make a bunch of money writing about something you aren’t familiar with or passionate about
- You’re not committed to publishing regularly and interacting with your audience
- You want quick results without putting in the work
Here's a dose of reality: The most popular, successful and profitable blogs in 2019 are all run by people who care deeply about the subject matter they’re writing about. They're committed and excited to post. And they know that running a blog is an investment that will only bring them bigger returns the more they keep at it.
And as long as you’re on the same page, your blog will be a success! Let's dive into the first step of starting a blog.
Next, it’s time to pick a name for your blog and make sure that your (future) readers out there are able to find it—which you'll be able to do in just a few clicks over on Bluehost right here.
There are two sections to this part that we’re going to cover: Picking a name for your blog and buying a domain name. Let’s start with the slightly more technical part first.
What is a domain name and where do I get one?
When you type Google.com (or ryrob.com) into your browser in order to visit a site, that’s the website’s domain name. In a nutshell, a domain name is like your address. It tells people (and web browsers) where to find your site.
If you’re using a free blogging service, you'll most likely get to pick your own domain name with it. However, it will almost always have the company’s name attached to it.
So, if you use something like a free Wix site to make your blog, your domain name will look like this:
Ugh. Not very nice, right? If you’re trying to build a business around your blog, or want other people to take it seriously, this isn’t a great start.
Instead, when you buy an affordable domain name, you get to choose exactly what you want it to be as long as it’s available.
Head over to Bluehost and get 65% off on both your domain name and hosting plan right here on Bluehost and you'll be able to quickly search to see if your domain name idea is available—and get smart suggestions on a second best domain name if your first choice is already taken.
Grab Your Own Domain Name in 30 Seconds.
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You can also choose the extension to use for your domain name, such as .com, .io, .ai or otherwise. While a .com is still the preferred domain extension, it's becoming less important as time goes on—so don't shy away from other less common domain extensions, especially if they're more affordable.
You can buy your domain name from a number of companies. Most charge a relatively low yearly fee of $10–$20.
My personal favorite, that I've gone out and secured a great deal for you on, is Bluehost, because of how affordable, trustworthy and easy-to-use their domain registration process is.
A quick note: Domain registration and website hosting are different things (I’ll get into that next). However, many website hosting sites like Bluehost will host both your website and domain name for you, meaning there’s one less step for you to take.
How to pick the right name for your blog.
The name you choose is one of the more important parts of setting up your blog. This is the first thing people see when you show up in search results and can often tell them about who you are, what you’re writing about, and even your personality.
There are tons of ways to come up with a name for your blog (you can even use your own name—or a nickname like me 😊). So let’s run through a few fun exercises to help you pick a name while you're learning how to start a blog.
First, dig deep into your niche.
The first thing you want to do, is get familiar with other people in your industry (if you're not already).
For example, if you want to start a blog about hiking and you live in the state of California... one name you might consider for your blog could be letshikecalifornia.com (what I chose for my 30 day business idea validation challenge).
Check out the other blogs in your niche and pay special attention to how they name and brand themselves.
Is there anything you can learn from, play off of, or subvert? Don’t just think about the biggest bloggers in your niche, but look for fresh inspiration and things that stand out to you.
You can even get a little outside your niche and look for words that some of your favorite companies use. I like to call this looking for “good words.” What words keep popping up that you’re drawn to? Make a list of these.
Next, uncover your why.
You’re learning how to start a blog for a reason, and a powerful name speaks to that reason. Go back to your list from picking a niche and start to dig into what represents the core message you’re trying to say. As Nate Weiner, founder of Pocket said:
“The first question to ask yourself is why do you want to rebrand? What does your company and product mean? Where do you want to take it into the future? Does your existing or new name let you do that?”
This might feel like a big question, but don’t let it paralyze you. A great name has meaning, but there are plenty of good ones that are just plain fun and memorable.
Now, put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
You’ve laid some good groundwork, but now it’s time to get serious. Think about your future blog's general topic area and who your ideal reader is. What do they want to read? What’s going to grab their attention? What’s going to tell them they have to read your blog?
Start with a list of everything you want your blog to be about. Go deep. There are no bad ideas here.
Once you’ve got a massive list, start to look for connections and combinations that might work. Try to keep them simple and memorable.
Some great blog name examples are:
- Art of Manliness
- Smart Passive Income
- The Huffington Post
- Learn to Code with Me
Finally, say it out loud and tell it to people.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in some fun wordplay when it comes to picking a blog name.
But it still needs to be easy enough that people will remember it and be able to tell their friends about you. To practice, say the name out loud and to friends and family. What do they think about it? What emotions does it bring up for them?
They might not be your ideal reader, but they can still give you a good outsider’s perspective either way.
If You Haven't Registered Your Domain Yet, it's Time.
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I made this quick video tutorial to walk you step-by-step through the entire process in less than 7 minutes:
The last of the technical parts of learning how to start a blog, is what’s called... finding a blog hosting service. If you’ve gone the free route, you can skip this step, although I highly recommend reading through it and making a decision at the end.
Again, I don’t want this to feel overwhelming, so let’s get the basics out of the way:
What is website hosting?
To make your website accessible to other people on the Internet, you need a “host.” The host keeps all your website files safe, secure and makes sure that people can access your site when they click on a link or type in your URL.
I use and recommend Bluehost to every blogger, because it acts as a one-stop shop for great (affordable) hosting and quick & easy registration of your domain name in one swoop.
Think of hosting like being your home. When someone comes over (types in your URL), they’ll be able to see all the things you’ve been keeping inside. Yes, it comes at a cost you don't have if you're on one of the free blogging platforms, but having a proper website host is one of the most important investments in starting a successful blog.
When my friend, Michelle Schroeder started her personal finance blog, Making Sense of Cents, she started by using a free blogging platform called Blogger to host her site. This choice ended up costing her more than she’d saved:
“My biggest mistake was probably starting on Blogger, because you don’t own it. At one point Google deleted my blog with no notice. I finally begged them and they gave it back to me, but that was the moment I decided to move over to self-hosted WordPress.”
Michelle’s gone on to grow her blog revenue well into the millions of dollars a year—something she says never would have happened if she hadn’t switched over to a paid hosting provider.
In fact, her number one piece of advice for new bloggers is to start on a self-hosted WordPress site and use Bluehost as your host.
What are the best blog hosting services?
There are tons of great website hosting services out there for your blog.
But what you should be looking for in all of them is:
- Track record
The one service I’ve found that checks all of these boxes (and more) for just getting started is Bluehost. Yes, I know I’ve mentioned them several times already in this guide, and that’s for very good reason.
For one, Bluehost offers an incredibly simple 1-click WordPress install, which makes starting a self-hosted WordPress blog super easy. It also comes with a free domain name (if your desired URL is available) and offers 24/7 support to answer all of your questions and help with troubleshooting (which is fantastic when you’re just getting started).
If you’re going the paid route in learning how to start a blog (the way I recommend you doing it), nothing gives you the security, features, and peace of mind that your blog will be up when you need it to be like Bluehost does.
Now we're at the point in this guide where everything from here on out will be built upon the assumption that you've already registered your domain name and chosen the right hosting plan—so if you haven't done so already, take just a few minutes to quickly get set up on Bluehost.
Quickly Grab Your Domain Name and Hosting Today
Now that you've gotten through the first technical bit, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of how to start a blog.
This is where you might start to feel a little friction with the process of starting a blog.
But... the last thing I want is for the very minor technical side of starting a blog to derail your progress today. That's why, in my free course How to Build a Blog in 7 Days, I break this technical setup process down into an even more actionable, step-by-step checklist for you.
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If you’re completely new to learning how to start a blog, some of this might seem a bit daunting.
So let’s get the basic terminology out of the way first.
What is a CMS?
A Content Management System (or CMS) is where you'll be writing, designing, and publishing your blog posts. A good CMS is easy to use, let’s you organize your content, upload images and videos, and have control over how your entire blog looks using themes or custom design elements.
The most popular CMS you’ve most likely heard of is WordPress, which is what I use here on my blog. In fact, the latest numbers say that over 60% of all blogs run on this CMS, including the websites for Forbes, New York Observer, TED, Thought Catalog, TechCrunch, NBC and others.
Should I start my blog on WordPress? And is WordPress free?
Of course, there are other CMS options you can look at, such as Squarespace, Ghost, and Wix when learning how to start a blog. However, I strongly recommend setting up a self-hosted WordPress site for your blog as it’s the most sustainable, long-term solution—and really the only option worth considering if you're starting a blog with the eventual goal of making money from your website in some way, shape or form.
Since I learned how to start a blog, I’ve been running my blog on WordPress (hosted with Bluehost for the first few years) and I couldn’t be happier with the amount of flexibility, control and long-term growth potential I have over my site.
Now, one thing you need to be careful of is that WordPress comes in two very different platforms. WordPress.com and WordPress.org. They have almost the same name, but there are very big differences between the two:
- Is free to use
- Doesn’t let you pick a custom domain name (i.e. 👉 yoursite.wordpress.com)
- Has very limited monetization options (you can’t sell your own ads)
- Doesn’t let you upload plugins (for email capture and other things)
- Has limited theme support so you’re stuck with very basic designs
- You have to pay to remove WordPress branding
- Limited SEO and analytics
- Fully customizable design, unlimited plugin options, and no branding
- Total control over your own monetization efforts
- Powerful SEO features (so people can find your site easier)
- Let’s you start or add an eCommerce store or membership site
- Small monthly fee (approx. $46 – $100/year +hosting)
While the choice is yours, if you want to take full advantage of your blog, be able to have it grow with you, and eventually make money from it, WordPress.org is the way to go when learning how to start a blog. It's the backend CMS of choice that'll sit in the background and power your blog.
Plus, with affordable hosting plans from providers I trust like Bluehost, you can be up and running with WordPress installed and powering your site in a matter of just a few minutes using their one-click WordPress installation after signing up.
What are some other free CMS options?
If you don’t want to use WordPress, there are plenty of other options you can choose from, including free ones like Medium, Blogger, Wix, Squarespace and even starting out on more scaled back social media sites like Quora and LinkedIn.
However, I just have to say it again, every free blogging platform will have limitations.
And if you want to maximize your blog’s potential for earning an income (maybe the reason you're learning how to start a blog in the first place?), then it’s always worth it to own your platform and go with a self-hosted WordPress blog, powered by a hosting provider like Bluehost that'll have your back on any of the technical questions & issues you run into.
You don’t read a blog because it looks nice. You don’t read a blog because they publish frequently. (Although those both help).
You read a blog because you care about what it says.
Before you get too far down the road of learning how to start a blog, deciding everything your blog is going to do, and what it’s going to look like, you need to answer one simple question: Why?
Why do you care about the topic you’re blogging about?
Why should other people listen to what you’re saying?
Why is this a topic that you can add value to?
To answer these questions, I like to think of a blog like any other business and pick a niche.
What is a niche? And why does your blog need one?
A niche is more than just a topic. It’s the approach you’re going to take, the audience you want to go after, and the way you’re going to talk to them and position yourself as an expert.
A niche doesn’t have to be your passion (although it’s definitely easier to stay committed to starting your blog when you’re passionate about it). But it does have to be an interest of yours. The best niches are exciting enough that you’ll be motivated to continually post about it, and accessible enough that you can build an audience.
So, whether that means Medieval history, traditional Mexican cooking, starting a drop-shipping business, or knitting tips, is up to you.
The reason your blog needs a niche is that it gives it focus. Your niche is how you’ll plan your content calendar, decide on design, and know where (and how) to market your blog. It’s also how your audience will find you and how you’ll make connections with other bloggers.
Remember, when you write to everyone. You’re writing to no one.
We all have our own individual tastes and opinions—and a blog is the perfect destination to put those out in the world.
Now, if you’re unsure, or if no niche comes to mind right away, that’s still OK. We can coax it out of you with a few questions.
Let’s begin with some basics:
- What's an interest or dream from your childhood that you find exciting?
- What’s the absolute best part of your day?
- Do you have any hobbies or hobbies that you want to learn?
- What is a deeply held value of yours?
- What’s one achievement that you’re incredibly proud of?
Right away, you should have an idea or two for what you could learn how to start a blog around. But let’s go a bit deeper before we decide on a niche.
Next, list out 5 things you find easy to do. We tend to be interested in things we’re naturally good at. Which means you’ll be able to write about them from a place of authority and confidence. Don’t overthink it too much. But be as specific as possible.
For example, instead of saying “photography,” say “taking photos of beautiful landscapes, especially at National parks.”
Now, write down a list of 5 things you spend your free time on. Try to stick to things that are both what you “want” to do and that you "have" to do in order to hit some goal.
Finally, look through your answers and pick out the patterns, phrases and common keywords. Is there anything that jumps out right away? Are there any themes you can see like wanting to spend time outdoors or cooking?
Pick these out and rank them in true importance on a scale of 1–10. Boom! You just found your niche.
Now, at this point there’s a good chance that you’ve got a niche... but other people have already blogged about it!
Well, that’s fine. Yes, it can be scary to think that you’re going to have competitors that have been blogging about a topic for years, but know that there’s always space for your unique voice and angle.
As my friend Austin Belcak, founder of the career blog Cultivated Culture, shared with me:
“A lot of people think they don’t have anything they can talk about and add value to. If you’re good at something and you’ve had success with something, just think about that and write out everything.The steps you took, the strategies you used, and the mistakes you made.”
Your experiences are what will make your blog and your niche stand out.
So don’t be afraid if someone else has already written about this niche.
They can never write it from the same place that you can. And that's a competitive advantage for you when learning how to start a blog.
Taking it a step further: How to know if there’s a business opportunity for your niche
If you want to make money from blogging, you’ll also want to do a bit of research to see if there is a market demand for your niche. What this means is: Are people actively searching for what you’re writing about? And can you add value and help them in a way that makes you money?
In order to create a business from your blog, you need to solve a problem for people. To do this, I use a simple spreadsheet I call the Niche Market Demand Checker (you can get a free copy of it in my course right here).
Take the niche that you’re thinking about and come up with 5–10 keyword phrases or topics within that niche that you would write about. So, if we wanted to learn how to start a blog about playing guitar you might choose keywords like “best guitar books”, “how to play guitar”, “beginner guitar chords”, “what guitar should I buy” and so on.
Now, enter one of those keywords into your Google search. If there are tens of millions (or more) results, that’s a pretty strong indicator that people care about your topic. But to be extra sure, I like to use a free tool like KW Finder or SEMrush to check the Monthly Search Volume (how many people are searching for this term each month).
Do this for each of your keywords and look at the results. If all of your top keywords have a Monthly Search Volume of 5,000 – 10,000, you’ve definitely got a potentially profitable niche. If you’re too much over that up into the high hundreds of thousands of Monthly Searches, you might want to get more specific with your niche rather than competing with much larger, established websites on more popular subjects.
Over time, as you move from this beginning phase of learning how to start a blog and into the stages where you're progressing in different ways to drive traffic to your website, growing your established base of readers and focusing on improving your domain authority, you'll be able to start competing on the bigger topics—but for now, picking a niche is the name of the game.
Who is your ideal reader?
Another great exercise if you’re trying to decide on a niche for your blog is to think about who your ideal reader is. This is the person most likely to visit your blog and get value from your writing. For me, the easiest way to think about this is to use myself as an example. If you’re writing about an interest, then you’re most likely your ideal reader.
But that isn’t always the case. And what you might find as you learn how to start blogging, is that the audience you thought you were attracting is actually different from who’s reading you.
Take Millo.co for example again. When Preston first started the blog, he was publishing 3–5X a week on a variety of topics like design, freelancing, and starting a small business. But then he started to see that his audience was being attracted to a certain type of post:
“The turning point for me came when I realized that of the 3-5x a week I was publishing it was the ones that were about small businesses and freelancing that really took off. I also really enjoyed writing that kind of content. So that was this pivotal moment of understanding if I want things to be shared and I want to be consistent, this is what the blog should be about.”
Don’t worry about this too much as you’re beginning your journey of learning how to start a blog. But do think about how much you can write for the niche you’re picking. Can you come up with 10 blog post ideas for this niche that you would be interested in? How about 100?
Remember, consistency is going to be key when you start a blog.
Therefore picking a niche you can keep up with and stay excited about is essential to growing a successful blog.
Now that you’ve got the nuts and bolts of learning how to start a blog and it's put together, it’s now time to turn this blank canvas into a work of art.
The first place to start is with your blog theme. You can think of a theme as the template for the visual layout of your blog. If you’re not a web developer (and I’m definitely not one), having a good theme makes design and organization of your site a snap.
If you’ve gone with a self-hosted WordPress site like I suggested, you’ll have literally thousands of amazing free and paid theme options at your disposal. Plus, once you buy a theme (which are relatively inexpensive investments) like the one I use for my blog here, OptimizePress, you'll own it forever and get all the benefits of excellent support and customization options that come with premium WordPress themes.
However, if you’re using a free blogging platform, you’re most likely going to be quite limited in the themes and design options you have.
Let’s assume at this point we’re working with a self-hosted WordPress blog (like mine). Here’s what you should be looking for in a theme and your site’s design.
Why design is so important when learning how to start a blog
Even if you don’t really care about design, your readers do.
In a 2012 study from Google and the University of Basel, researchers found that users judge a website’s aesthetic beauty and perceived functionality in 1/20th – 1/50th of a second. Plus, thanks to a little psychological bias called the Halo Effect, we extend that judgement to all parts of your blog.
What this means is that in less time than it takes to snap their fingers, a reader has decided whether or not to trust your blog.
Good design builds trust. It tells people that you care enough about your blog to make it look nice. This doesn’t mean you need crazy animations or tons of fonts and colors. In fact, the best designs are simple, clear, and easy to read.
A nice theme and design for your blog is one of the best (relatively inexpensive) investments you can make early on as you’re trying to attract more readers.
As Michelle Schroeder of Making Sense of Cents shared with me during our interview:
“One of the best investments I ever made was getting a designer to create a more professional design for my blog. It was a big investment because at the time I wasn’t making a lot of money from it. But everything has just grown from there.”
However, I know it can be difficult to just “know” what kind of design you want for your blog—especially as you're just learning how to start a blog in the first place.
I suggest gathering inspiration by starting with looking at the blogs you admire the most. What is it about the way they look that you enjoy? Look at their logo and branding. The way they layout text. How you navigate and search for topics. What makes this site look good and feel good to use?
Write all this down in a blog inspiration document. It’s important to have this foundation before looking at themes and talking about design. These values will guide you through the sea of blog themes we’re about to dive headfirst into!
How to pick the right theme for your blog
Picking a blog theme can be a lot of fun. But it can also take up a ton of time that you could otherwise be using to write and promote your posts (and thus getting to your first blog income faster).
There are so many themes to check out, that it’s easy to get swept away by the ones that look awesome, but might not be functionally great.
Remember, design isn’t just about how your blog looks. It’s about how it works. And the easier it is to navigate and read, the better.
Here are a few suggestions of what to look for when checking out themes:
- Keep it simple: At the end of the day, the goal of starting a blog is to share content that can be easily consumed (read, watched, experienced). And unfortunately, a lot of fancy blog themes get in the way of that. Don’t get too drawn in by crazy looking themes that compromise on legibility and usability. If a theme looks good, but doesn’t help you share your thoughts and engage with readers, it’s not a good theme.
- Responsiveness is a must: Responsiveness refers to themes that make sure your blog looks as good on a laptop, as it does on someone’s smartphone. Today, more and more people use their phones to read blogs and depending on your audience, that number could be 50% or higher (like mine is). Google also favors mobile-friendly websites and ranks them at the top of their organic search results. If you’re not totally sure whether a theme is mobile friendly or not, copy and paste the URL of the theme’s demo page into Google’s Mobile Friendly Test page. (This test will almost always show some warnings. But major red flags to watch out for are text too small or content wider than screen.)
- Does it work in different browsers? Your readers won’t just be using different devices, but different browsers. Most theme developers rigorously test their themes across browsers, but sometimes mistakes slip through. Try testing on a couple different browsers just to make sure.
- Supported plugins: If you’re using WordPress, the real power of your blog comes from plugins. These are “Add-ons” to your blog that give you extra functionality. Make sure the theme you’re choosing supports all popular plugins. If you’re unsure, ask the developer.
- SEO friendliness: SEO, or search engine optimization, refers to how well Google and other search engines can find your information when people search for it. Some themes use bulky code that makes it difficult for search engines to read. And while no one expects you to inspect a theme’s code you should see if the developer has said it is optimized for SEO.
- Support: Problems happen. And when they do, you want to be able to ask for help. Lots of free theme developers won’t offer support for their products. So that’s one thing to be aware of when making your choice.
- Ratings and reviews: Look for themes with a good track record. If the theme is sold on a third-party marketplace you should be able to see reviews no problem. For free WordPress theme, you’ll see the ratings just below the download button.
My favorite blog theme
If you’re looking to set up landing pages, a blog, and a membership site, my favorite blog theme (and the one that I’ve been using for years here) is OptimizePress. One of the biggest reasons why I love this blog theme so much, is the visual editor—which ensures I never have to write custom code in order to do something on my blog.
This is important to me for many reasons, most of which being that I don't have to rely on help from someone else in order to make changes to my blog—something you should keep top of mind when learning how to start a blog if you don't have advanced technical skills.
Not only does OptimizePress give you a powerful and visually appealing blog template to start with, but it can help you accelerate your progress toward building an online business with things like:
- Templates and themes for landing, marketing, and sales pages
- Mobile-ready versions of every single page you create
- Tons of monetization options like membership portals, courses, and webinars
Price-wise, OptimizePress is definitely on the more Premium side of things. But the functionality, support, flexibility, and ease of use has made it a no-brainer for me—and if you're here to learn how to start a blog with the goal of building an online business for yourself, this is the best route to go.
Over the past few years, I’ve saved hundreds of hours and more than a few headaches by using it. So if you’re looking for a great foundation for a blog and online business, this theme is an awesome option.
Though, OptimizePress is not the only theme out there. Here are a collection of some of my other favorites:
- ThemeForest's best-selling WordPress themes
- wpbeginner's roundup of the 31 best multi-purpose WordPress themes
- 50+ beautiful, responsive WordPress themes on the colorlib blog
Once you've settled on the right theme for your WordPress-powered blog, it's time to dive into the world of plugins, to help unlock even more customizations and must-do prep work in order to give your blog a strong chance of developing into a full on business.
10 Essential blog plugins you should have if you’re using WordPress
I mentioned plugins above, but they’re an absolutely crucial part of your blog and warrant a bit more of a deep dive.
If you’re using WordPress as the CMS for your blog, plugins let you add all sorts of features, like email capture, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), site analytics, ways to optimize your images, increasing page load speeds and more.
The only problem is that, like themes, there are literally thousands of them to choose from. And if you add too many (or poorly built ones) to your blog, it can weigh your site down and make it run slowly.
To help you cut through all the noise... these are the 10 must-have plugins to install right on day one when you start a blog. Keep in mind, however that some plugins will make more or less sense depending upon the type of blog you want to build:
1. Yoast SEO.
The more people that can find your content, the better your blog will do. Yoast helps you to optimize your blog post titles, descriptions, content length and other elements across your entire blog so that you can be found easier by search engines.
2. OptinMonster. If you’re building an email list of readers, OptinMonster has a suite of tools to help you convert more readers into email subscribers, especially with their exit-intent popups that catch visitors with a custom offer as they’re about to leave your site.
3. WPForms. You’ll want your readers to be able to get in touch with you easily. WPForms lets you drag & drop contact forms onto pages so you can do this easily.
4. Sumo. Social shares, email captures, and more. Pretty much a no-brainer if you want to build and grow your blog.
5. MonsterInsights. This is probably the best Google Analytics plugin for WordPress. Connect MonsterInsights to your Google Analytics account (you can sign up for a free Google Analytics account right here) to find out who’s coming to your site, how long they’re sticking around, and what your most popular blog posts are.
6. BackupBuddy. Again, sometimes things go wrong. It’s always smart to have a backup of all your hard work.
7. W3 Total Cache. Faster websites rank better in Google and give your readers a better experience. W3 Total Cache reduces your file sizes so that your blog loads faster for everyone.
8. MaxCDN. Speaking of speed, MaxCDN makes images and other static elements of your blog load faster as well.
9. MemberPress. If you want to build a gated community around your blog content, there’s nothing easier than using MemberPress. You can create subscription, restrict content, and set up payment options.
10. Insert Headers and Footers. Sometimes to edit your theme you’ll have to add code snippets to your header or footer (it’s not as scary as it sounds). However, doing it in the code of your theme can cause issues. This plugin lets you add small snippets of code easily.
The best places to find a designer for your blog.
Before we move on, I want to give you one last option for creating the blog design you’re after: hiring a designer.
Yes, it’s an additional cost. But we’re not all design-minded. And I’m a big believer that we should always play to our strengths and outsource our weaknesses. So, if design isn’t one of your strong points and you have the budget to accommodate, it might be a good idea to hire someone to help you out.
Luckily, there are tons of amazing resources for hiring freelance blog designers out there. If you want to go this route, here are a few I suggest:
- Upwork. One of the largest and most well-established marketplaces for freelance talent. You can easily find a web designer or graphic designer looking for work from home jobs that can help with your blog on Upwork. Simply post your job and they’ll send you a shortlist of people to work with.
- Fiverr. Browse thousands of profiles of blog designers offering their services for as little as $5. You’ll pay significantly more for quality and more complex work, but it’s a great place to see profiles and check out styles.
- 99Designs. Unlike the other marketplaces, 99Designs runs on a contest system. Which means you write what you’re after and multiple designers will send you ideas to “compete” for your business. This is a great option if you’re not totally sure what style you want and are looking to get some ideas from multiple people.
If you do decide to hire a designer, it’s always a good idea to do your homework beforehand and know exactly what you’re after. There’s nothing more time-consuming (and expensive) than going back and forth with a freelancer because you didn’t have a clear vision of what you wanted in the first place. If you're looking for more sites to track down some freelance designers, check out my list of the best freelance job sites.
If you find yourself getting lost, go back to your original blog inspiration doc and remind yourself of what’s most important when it comes to your design.
Every blog needs to showcase some basic, foundational information. Who you are. Why people should listen to you. How they can get in touch with you if they have questions or want to work with you.
These pages are all pretty standard, but they’re also a great way to have some fun and let your readers get to know you. In fact, I use my About page to not only introduce who I am and tell my story, but also to explain my value proposition (for potential clients looking to hire me as a freelance content marketer) and show off some of my recent achievements.
It’s a great place for people to get to know me, my business, and how I work.
Here are some step-by-step instructions for how you can create an about page that does the same:
How to write an About page for your blog
You might not think much about it, but your About page can quickly become one of the most popular pages on your blog.
Think about it... someone’s stumbled across a post you wrote, they liked what they read, and they want to know just who this person is.
Now, you can either give them an old High School photo and a couple thrown-together sentences (like most people). Or, you can tell them a story and turn them into a fan. I’d also opt for the second path, and that’s what we’re going to explain how to do here.
Writing about yourself isn’t easy. So let’s start with a few basic questions that every great blog About page should answer:
1. What value are you creating for your readers?
It might be called an About page, but you don’t want to make the mistake of only talking about yourself. Yes, you’ll get to talk about who you are, but your About page should be just as much about your readers and the value you’re creating for them.
First things first, you need to be ultra clear on who your audience is and the value you create for them. For example, my blog is all about helping people find the best business ideas and to launch profitable side projects. So, that’s exactly what I say at the top of my About page.
This helps readers get grounded and know that they’re in the right place.
2. Who is your blog for?
Your value statement will touch on who your ideal reader is, but you want to make sure when the right person gets to your blog they know they’re in the right place. This is like a secret handshake for your blog. Nail it, and you’ll make every single person feel like they’re where they belong.
So how do you do this? There’s a couple approaches you can take:
- Tell them who the blog is for: There’s nothing more basic than just saying what you are. So, for example, if you’re making a community for cooking tips for working moms, just write: “Started in X as a cooking resource for working moms.”
- Show proof that you’re part of their community: You can show your readers that you’re part of their community in a number of ways. Do you write for other blogs or sites that are in your niche or actively contribute to popular communities and forums? What about adding a testimonial or social post from someone in the industry who read and liked your blog.
Personally, if you have the resources I would go for the second option. Not only does this tell readers who you are and if they’re in the right place. But it also gives you a chance to show social proof (that other people have recognized you as a thought leader). Of course, you might not have this right away, so it’s perfectly fine to just go with the first option.
Now, what if someone reads your About page and says “Well, this isn’t for me?” That’s perfectly fine. The more you know your ideal reader, the better your blog will serve that person. Just like when you were picking your blog niche, if you try to write for everyone, you’ll end up writing for no one.
3. Why should they listen to you?
If you’ve done a good job in the first few sections, your reader should have a pretty good idea of who you are and be able to decide whether or not they want to keep reading you. However, at this point, it doesn’t hurt to talk a bit more about yourself and sell them on why you’re the blog they should follow.
That means answering a few more questions and setting their expectations. Here’s what you might want to include:
- What types of blog posts you write: “If you love X, Y, and Z, you’ll feel totally at home here.”
- What they will get out of reading your posts: “I share everything I’ve learned building a 6-figure consulting business from nothing.”
- Where should they start: “If this is your first time here, check out my Ultimate Guide to X.”
- Why do you and your blog have credibility: “I’m a regular contributor to Fast Company, Business Insider, and Inc. Magazine…”
- How did you get started: “Back is 2003, during an especially bad Colorado Winter, I fell in love with snowshoeing…”
Don’t be afraid to get personal here. People connect with stories and vulnerability more than they do with carefully crafted prose. So be who you are! The whole reason readers will come back is to hear your voice.
For my niche, I know my readers are here to get personal, actionable advice on starting a side business. And so I show them that I not only talk the talk, but walk the walk as well.
4. Where should your readers go next?
The last (and probably most important) part of your About page is also the one that most people forget about. Telling your readers what to do next!
Do you want them to read your latest blog post? Sign up for your newsletter? Follow you on Twitter? If someone has made it all the way to the bottom of your page, why leave them alone now? Here’s what mine looks like:
I know that if someone’s made it to my blog About page, they probably just met me.
Which means I don’t want to ask anything too taxing like signing up for a newsletter or following me on social media. Instead, I want them to get to know me better, so they can do that on their own.
That’s why my Call-to-Action (CTA) is simply to read more of my best content.
I know that the value I’m creating will hopefully get them to stick around, but at this point, I still need to earn their attention. Whatever you choose is up to you, but don’t forget to think about the context of the person you’re talking to.
How to write a Contact page for your blog
Another often overlooked page that you’ll want to include on your blog is a simple way for people to contact you.
While mine goes into more depth, your Contact page can be as simple as having your email and social media accounts listed on a page. Or, if you’d rather not have your personal email out there for anyone to find, you can include a contact form.
If you’re on WordPress, one of the best ways to do this is to use a plugin like WPForms, which lets you create custom contact forms just by dragging and dropping elements.
When you’re making your blog Contact page, it’s not enough to just put up the form, however. You need to think about why someone would want to get in touch with you. Can you answer basic questions upfront with an FAQ on your contact page? If you’re selling your services, can you tell people basic requirements so you don’t waste each other’s time?
For my blog, I know that people reading it might want to hire me to help them with their own content marketing. Which is why I’ve chosen to make my Contact page more focused around the topic of how to “Work with Me” on my blog. This page says exactly what I do, who I’m looking to work with, and gives opportunities for people to get in touch.
What’s so great about this is that I get mostly business-related messages because of this. For everything blog and content-related, I try to get people to stick to comments and social media. This way, comments are public and other readers can learn from them and engage.
Think about what types of communication you want your readers to use and for what. You can use your Contact page to set those expectations right away.
Most articles about how to start a blog stop at this point.
But I think it’s important to not only explain how to get your blog up and running, but to also look at ways to grow it into something you’re proud of (and something that can actually earn you a decent amount of income).
Over the past few years, I’ve grown my blog from a small side project to a profitable site that brings in millions of readers a year.
And that wasn’t by accident. I've been lucky enough to work for some fantastic companies and (get paid to) learn about the importance of having a content strategy for your blog. And I've successfully applied those same lessons to my own blog as well.
First off, why have a content strategy?
Creating a “content strategy” might sound like a complex, time-consuming, buzzword-laden process requiring an MBA and a keg filled with coffee. But it’s really not.
A strategy is really just an actionable plan for all the things you’ve already figured out.
If you know your niche and understand your why...
If you know your ideal reader and what they’re looking for...
If you know the value you want to give them and your unique angle...
Then creating a content strategy is as easy as solving your readers most pressing challenges.
Better yet, having a content strategy will help you when you’re feeling unmotivated (more than just a motivational quote poster can ever accomplish), when you don’t know what to write about, or when you're thinking about giving up on your blog.
Here’s how to put a basic blog content strategy together:
1. Define your goal for your blog.
What do you want to achieve with your blog content? Is it to drive traffic and get readers? To get people to sign up for your email newsletter? To get them to download a book you wrote or some other resource?
This goal might change as you start to build your blog, but it’s still important to know it early on. As prolific blogger and marketing guru Seth Godin explains:
“You have the freedom to make these choices at the beginning when they’re free, fast, and easy. Not later on when you’ve made commitments.”
Once you understand your bigger goal (i.e. why you chose to learn how to start a blog in the first place) we can start to define the mini-wins that will help you get there.
2. Really get to know your readers (and where they hang out).
Your readers determine whether or not your blog is successful. And to write for them, you need to really understand them—which is why it helps if you're also writing for yourself. This guarantees at least an audience of one.
I'm a firm believer that you write your blog posts for, is equally as important as what you write about.
In a lot of cases, you’re going to be your ideal reader, which makes this whole process easier. But in almost every case, it’s useful to do a bit of research around the audience you’re writing for (heck, you might even learn something about yourself!)
To start, you want to think about the demographics and psychographics of your ideal audience:
- Demographics: The quantitative traits of your readers. Think, age, gender, location, job title, etc…
- Psychographics: The more “unmeasurable” traits like values, interests, attitude, and belief systems.
Once you’ve written down these qualities, you can start to come up with an audience persona—a fictionalized version of your ideal reader. So, you might say that you’re starting a cooking blog for Chad, a 30–40-year-old stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon who values organic ingredients and isn’t too worried about food costs.
Now, the next question is: Where does Chad hang out online?
- Is he searching for recipes on Google or Pinterest?
- Is he a heavy Facebook user or does he prefer niche community sites and forums?
- Does he comment on other cooking sites or is he consuming content just to read?
The goal of your blog is to create value for your Chad.
BUT... you can’t do that until you know who your ideal reader is and where they spend their time. If you’re not totally sure, it’s fine if you have more than one ideal reader. It’s important to make sure that your personas aren’t too broad (as your readers might not know that you’re writing for them right away).
3. Decide on your content pillars.
When it comes to actually deciding what you’re going to write about, it’s good to have a few guiding topics that you refer back to. I like to call these content pillars as they’re the foundation that holds up the rest of your blog.
Having a few set pillars like this helps keep your blog focused. It also gives you a lense and a voice that you can write from. For example, if you’re starting a personal finance blog, your pillars might be:
- Personal finance tips and tricks
- Interviews and stories from people who’ve found financial independence
- Your take on important financial industry news
- The basics of personal finance
- How to pay off your debt quickly
Each of these pillars can have 10s if not 100s of blog posts to be written under them. But they also all work together to show that you’re a thought leader in your niche.
4. Brainstorm blog post ideas and use keyword research.
Alright, at this point your content strategy answers who you’re writing for and what topics you’re going to cover.
But what about the actual posts you’re going to write? The good news is you can honestly write whatever you want! This is your blog after all, and one of the major benefits of learning how to start a blog for yourself—it's your platform to speak and share.
And, if you’re interested in starting a blog, you probably have a ton of ideas for posts you want to write. However, I can say from experience that those ideas aren’t always there. Sometimes running a blog is harder than it seems. And it can be incredibly hard when you run out of ideas, especially when you’re writing about topics you’re passionate about.
This is where I believe a simple editorial calendar is so important. This is just a basic doc to fill out that means you'll always know what you’re writing next and frees you up to spend more time on the fun of actually putting posts together. Not banging your head against the wall trying to come up with ideas.
Sign up for my free 7-day course on starting a blog and I'll give you my editorial calendar template that I've honed over years of helping some of the world's top brands nail their content strategies.
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Here’s a simple process I use for coming up with the specific blog post ideas I write for my own blog:
- Brainstorm topics and terms and write them all down: Start by writing down as many ideas or keywords that you can. Aim for things you know your ideal audience would find valuable. What questions are they asking? Where do you have expertise and can help fill in the blanks?
- Use a keyword research tool to gather even more ideas: We want a TON of these blog post topics, so let’s use a keyword explorer tool like Ahrefs (pictured above), Google Keyword Planner, or Moz to help us fill it out. These tools basically just show you terms and topics related to the ones you’ve already come up with, as well as how much traffic those terms are getting (to show that your audience cares about them!)
- Clump similar ideas together: Your list should be pretty huge at this point. So take all those terms and start to refine them. Are there duplicates that you can lump together? Do some just not look right now? Refine and edit it down.
- Put your ideas in a spreadsheet and prioritize: Ok, let’s get this list a little more organized now. Start a spreadsheet and include your keyword, estimated search volume, difficulty, and opportunity (You should be able to get all this info from the keyword tool you use). Looking at all these, assign a priority to each one either on a scale of 1-5 or a basic High-Medium-Low. Join my free blogging course to grab my editorial calendar template.
- Outline content that hits all three key needs: Take your top priorities and set deadlines for them. Look for topics that hit all three key needs: Fits your content pillars, are genuine needs of your readers, and have some potential to drive traffic to your website in the long run.
If I'm still left needing more blog post ideas, I'll turn to even more creative tactics...
- Asking my existing readers what challenges they're facing and what they want to hear most from me.
- Taking a look through my most successful posts to see which topics and tones of voice my readers liked most.
- Doing more quote roundup series-style posts (like my post about business advice and online business tools) that don't require a ton of original thought and effort from my end.
- Chatting with fellow bloggers in my space and brainstorming fresh ideas with them.
- Talking about specific lessons I've recently learned or experiments I've launched on my blog.
- Reflecting on both the mistakes I've recently made and the tactics that are working today (and why).
By this point, I've usually got a fully restocked content calendar.
But what's important to keep top of mind when deciding how to prioritize which posts you should write first vs last, is how much potential traffic you could stand to drive from eventually ranking well in organic search for that topic.
This goes back to consistently doing keyword research before ever starting to write a new article. Not only does it ensure you'll have the opportunity to eventually monetize your traffic, but it validates that other people out there in the world actually want to consume content on the subject at hand.
5. Map out the content you’re going to create before launching your blog.
Before you launch your blog, you might want to have a bit of content already ready to go. This is optional, and I personally do this both ways with new blogs I launch, depending on many variables.
But if you have a decent sized audience on a social network that you plan on alerting once your block launches, you never know if your first post might blow up and go viral. In that case, you'll want to have at least a game plan to engage the new readers you get.
As Grace Moser of Chasing Foxes told me on the podcast recently:
“I think it’s important to create a number of blog posts before you launch. We did 40 and put them all up on our site when we first launched. If you want to get lots of viewers right up front you need to create that content beforehand. People want instant gratification.”
Now, you don’t have to go all-out like Grace did and write 40 pieces of content before you go live. It helped that she was working full-time on preparing to start a blog for several weeks leading up to their big launch day.
Even just a post or two under each of your major content pillars is definitely enough, but if writing comes easily to you, it's ok to do a little more. Remember though, it’s always better to start small and grow consistently.
You’ll learn more about your audience, your process, and what works well as you write and publish more.
And lastly, remember to have fun and be interesting. If you picked a niche that you care about, remember why you care about it. People want to hear your voice and your take on things.
That’s how your blog and your content will stand out in the end.
The best content strategy and management tools
Putting together a blog content strategy (and sticking to it) can be a bit daunting at first. Luckily, there are tons of fantastic tools to help you stay organized, motivated, and on track. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Trello (free)
- Google Docs (free) & Google Calendar (free)
- CoSchedule (paid)
- Airtable (free limited with paid upgrades)
Personally, I prefer using a combination of Trello and Google Docs to manage my content pipeline. Trello because it's so visually appealing and easy to wrap my head around—but a Google Sheet is where I track much of the ongoing promotion work I do to make sure my articles rise in organic rankings.
Here's what my Trello board for managing my blog content looks like:
You can see there's various different columns, indicating the stage a post (or even page/post updates) is currently in. From ideas to chosen, in-progress, scheduled and published, I like Trello so much because I get a quick visual snapshot of my content pipeline without having to wade deep into a Google Sheet.
After I decide an article is approved in my editorial process, it does make it's way into my Editorial Calendar Google Sheet, like so:
From here, I'll take to the more granular management of writing up a description of my approach to tackling this topic, confirm my keyword research, and this is where I'll spend time updating the status of the post even after it's published (when I secure new backlinks from high authority sites or it gets some press pick up).
If you want readers to consistently come back to your blog, you need to give them a reason to.
Consistency is one of the least celebrated, yet most important aspects of starting a successful blog (and one of the reasons you decided to learn how to start a blog in the first place, I'd imagine).
There are a couple reasons why consistency is key. Writing consistently:
- Sets expectations with your readers: People know when to come back and check out your blog and will check in regularly for new content.
- Sets expectations with yourself: It can be easy to get out of the habit of publishing regularly if you miss a couple days. However, if you decide on and commit to a schedule, you know when you have to publish. We all do better with a few deadlines in our lives.
Not only this, but publishing consistently helps you test and understand what types of content work with your readers. As Grace Moser of Chasing Foxes shared with me during her interview, they grew their blog to millions of monthly readers by putting out 4–6 pieces of content a week for several months in a row before getting real traction:
“Even if the majority of your posts don’t go viral, the more you publish, the better the odds that one will send a lot of traffic your way.”
Now, there’s a fine line to walk when you first start a blog and want to set a rigorous publishing schedule.
You might have a ton of ideas and enthusiasm, but over-committing is the easiest way to kill both of those. Instead, you should commit to the minimum amount you want to publish—say once or twice a week—and try to stick to that religiously.
As author and blogger James Clear said in an interview on my podcast, “Sacrifice the scope, not the schedule.” If you can’t write a 1000-word post every week then write a 500-word post instead. Just make sure you’re consistent.
Perfectionism is a deadly killer when it comes to projects like this. So remember, done is better than perfect.
This is where having a clear content calendar becomes so important. If you can spend a couple hours each month mapping out all the posts you want to write, you’ll always know what you should be working on and when it’s due. This can be in a simple Google Doc like the one in my free blogging course, or by using a tool like Trello that lets you track posts through the whole process from idea to writing to published and promoting.
Just like when you’re working out or investing money, the more consistent you are with investing time into your blog, the bigger returns you’ll get.
Oh, and side note—once you've started generating a decent amount of traffic to your blog, it'll be a smart long-term decision to move up your hosting plan to a managed WordPress hosting provider like Kinsta that have even more features (which is what I use now that I'm in the hundreds of thousands of monthly readers), especially when you're in need of speeding up your WordPress blog.
Before you hit publish on your brand new blog posts, there’s one last step you need to do.
Studies show that blog posts with images get 94% more views than those without. And when it comes to posts getting shared on social media, tweets with photos get 150% more retweets that those without one, while Facebook posts with images get 2.3X more engagement.
Simply adding a few visual elements can almost double the amount of views and significantly expand the shares a post gets.
In fact, including high-quality images was one of the main things that former celebrity chef and founder of What’s Gaby Cooking? Gaby Dalkin says made her blog explode in popularity:
“It wasn’t until I hired two of my best friends—who happened to be a food photographer and food stylist—that my blog really took off. Because people eat with their eyes. And it allowed me to focus on what I love to do, which is developing recipes and engage with my readers.”
Now, it’s pretty unrealistic to think that you’re going to hire a professional photographer to work on your new blog.
And that’s totally fine (hint: I don't either)! There are some incredible free blog photo and design resources you can use to enhance your posts, even if you’re not very design-minded at all. You can even just use product screenshots throughout your content, depending upon the subject matter—take for example my recent article about the best CRMs for small business.
Free blog photo resources
One of the easiest ways to add some design elements to your blog posts is with images.
While the words “stock photography” might make you think of cheesy photos of awkward people in a fake office with their thumbs up... in recent years, there have been a number of much higher quality sites pop up that offer incredible photography that’s completely free to use for your blog.
Here’s a few of my personal favorites:
Unsplash is probably the best online resource of completely free-to-use, user-uploaded photos for your blog. Every photo that makes it onto Unsplash is curated by their team to make sure it’s high quality, meaning you’re not sifting through terrible photos to find the one you’re after.
Under the Unsplash license, you don’t even have to attribute the photographer (however, they recommend you do!) Making it the easiest option for free blog photography.
2. Death to Stock.
If you’re looking for something a bit more exclusive and are willing to spend a bit of money, Death To Stock sends you a curated collection of free images you can use on your blog each week. Or, for $12/month you can get access to the 2,000+ professional photos on their Premium site.
If you’re after quantity over quality, Pixabay has a collection of 1.4 million photos, videos, illustrations and vector graphics you can use for free. Many of these are from other free stock photo sites and the quality isn’t as curated as the other two I mentioned, but it’s still a good option if you want to spend some time scrolling.
Other great free blog photo resources worth mentioning
- Wikimedia Commons: 21+ million photos and images from throughout history that are now in the public domain and free to use.
- New Old Stock: Vintage photos from public archives. Lots of cool options depending on your niche and design style.
- Life of Pix: Awesome free-to-use photos donated by an advertising agency in Montreal, Canada.
Free blog design resources
Along with stock photos, there are a ton of great design resources out there that can elevate the design of your posts. And you don’t need a deep understanding of Photoshop or even a creative bone in your body to use them. Here’s a few of my favorites:
1. Canva for social media images and quotes.
Canva is an incredible free design tool that’s been around since 2012. It’s got drag and drop templates for pretty much any design element you’d need for your blog, from social media posts for Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook to custom quotes.
Basic usage is free and you get access to a ton of design resources, logos, and photos.
2. Visme for infographics and presentations.
Like Canva, Visme is a free online tool that lets you make custom designs for your blog. After quickly signing up, you’ll be able to choose from hundreds of templates for blog graphics, infographics, social posts, and more.
3. Noun Project for design icons.
If you’ve got design chops and want to do a bit of work yourself, there’s no better place for icons that Noun Project. With over 1 million+ royalty-free icons, it’s a fantastic resource for blog icons.
Other great design resources:
- Subtle Patterns: Basic blog backgrounds and patterns made by freelancer marketplace TopTal.
- PicMonkey: An online photo editor with a fun smartphone app for editing personal photos.
- Pixlr: More advanced online photo editing (for people who are comfortable with tools like Photoshop).
What does a well-designed blog post look like?
Ultimately, what looks "good" is subjective and totally up to you—based on what you think your (future) readers will resonate most with.
However, there are a few time-tested design principles and tips I can offer on constructing an appealing blog post (that's easy for readers to digest) from my years of practice.
1. Make it readable
Design isn’t about crazy colors, multiple fonts, and tons of images and videos. It’s about making the experience of your reader as enjoyable as possible. That’s why the first thing you should think about when it comes to transitioning from the basics of learning how to start a blog over to perfecting your design, isn’t what you can add. But what you can take away.
White space or negative space is so important to the legibility and readability of your blog. So don’t start by cramming a bunch of design elements everywhere. Look for ways to make things flow easily (a good theme should do this for you).
Next, make sure your font size is big enough. 12pt is fine in a Word doc, but for your blog you’ll want to go 16pt or higher. You’ll also want to be careful with line length. Most designers say the ideal length of a sentence on your blog is 50–85 characters as it helps keep readers moving through the post.
I’m on the higher end of the spectrum, but feel it works because I write in-depth, long-form content:
If all this sounds complicated, don’t worry. We have a very emotional response to good design. Try some fonts and spacing options out and see what feels good to you.
2. Always include a relevant image at the top of your blog post
The human brain has two ways it remembers things: verbally and visually.
If you can combine the two at the top of your post, you have a better shot at people remembering you and becoming a fan of your blog. What I mean is that you should always have an image at the top of your post that relates to it.
Here’s one from my post about the 101 Best Online Business Tools:
By including a relevant image at the top of the post (and superimposing the title on it), I’m making a stronger connection with my reader. Now, you don’t need to put text over your image. Anything that’s relevant and works with the theme of the post is good.
3. Use lots of sub headers to break up copy
Readers get tired quickly. And looking at a giant wall of text is intimidating and can make people leave your blog. That’s why I suggest including a heading or sub-header every 300-500 words. Some people say it should be even less than that, but I think it depends on your niche and how long your posts are. As always, do what feels natural to you.
I also try to include images around each heading in my post to break up the flow of text. Here’s an example from my 101 Best Online Business Courses post:
4. Use styling to emphasize key parts of your post
Good blog design guides your reader through the post. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to emphasize key parts with bold or italics. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Notice how I used bold text to highlight the key phrase I want you to pick up on? And italics to indicate just how much value you can expect to get from this post?
It’s a great tactic, but also one that can be overdone quickly. You can’t say everything in your post is important. So use it sparingly.
5. Make sure people know where they are
I get a lot of my blog traffic from organic search. Which means people might not necessarily know who I am when they get to the page. To build a lasting connection with them and make them feel comfortable, I make sure to have a short blurb about who I am at the top of the page. It looks like this:
Not only does this let people know where they are, but it tells them what they can expect if they stick around. Plus, studies have shown that using photos of real people increases the time readers spend on your blog.
Related side note: Today you're learning how to start a blog, but soon you'll have people joining your email list...
Apply this same strategy to how you communicate with your blog subscribers via email—always ensure you're sending your email newsletters from an email address that at least appears to be coming from a real person, with a photo set to the account and a personal signature at the bottom of the email.
Here's an example from a recent email to my subscribers, sharing a new podcast episode. Notice that the sender name is set to my name, Ryan Robinson, and I have my usual profile photo set to display too:
Not only will the personal touch help immensely in building relationships with your readers and increase the likelihood of starting more conversations over time, but it'll create a sense of visual recognition—readers will start to recall your name and photo when they see it.
And that's the beginning of building a personal brand.
6. Crafting the perfect headline that encourages readers to click through
One of the primary reasons you chose to start a blog was to attract readers, right?
Well, it pays dividends to put some time and concerted effort into writing headlines that'll be interesting, engaging, and most importantly—deliver on the promise of what your blog posts are actually helping the reader to accomplish.
As a starting point, learn by observing the headlines of other successful bloggers in your niche. Do they often lead with numbers? How many of their article headlines include parentheses? Does it seem like a best practice to capitalize the first letter of every word? Here are a few of my most recent headlines from my blog.
At first when I chose to start a blog, I had no idea how to write compelling headlines. Today, I've developed a formula that includes several key traits that work very well for attracting readers in my space of entrepreneurship and personal finance.
My essential elements of a successful blog post headline:
- Lead with a number (like 10, 32, 55 or 101) to capture a potential reader's attention
- Use a blend of emotional, common, uncommon and powerful words to make the headline flow nicely
- Place a part of the headline within parentheses to make it stand out more
- And most importantly... make sure your headline matches the intent of what your reader is hoping to achieve
If you're unsure whether or not you've written a strong headline, take it for a test drive by using the free headline analyzer tool from CoSchedule. It's super cool—you just paste in the headline you're thinking about using, and it gives you a score on a scale of 0 to 100 (with 100 being a truly perfect headline), based on their analysis of millions of headlines.
Once you've progressed from your early days of choosing to start a blog and you make your way deeper into content optimization, you'll start to develop a consistent style—which should be informed largely by what your readers respond to best.
If you’ve made it this far, you should be in fantastic shape on your journey of learning how to start a blog, picking up the basics of writing compelling posts, and creating a beautiful design for your site.
But there’s one last piece of the puzzle that hardly any other bloggers openly talk about: Promotion.
What do you do once you’ve hit publish?
Well, this is the exact reason I'm hired by companies like LinkedIn, Zendesk, Adobe, Intuit and more—to not only write in-depth content for their blogs, but to teach them how to promote their content and drive new readers.
So you're learned how to start a blog... How do you drive traffic now?
It’s a question I hear time and time again. And it's one that separates the great blogs from the ones that are only read by your mom and a few spam bots. If you’re looking to drive traffic and build a successful business from your blog, you need to know how to promote your posts.
In fact, I'm a strong believer that you should spend as much time promoting a post as writing it.
But where do you start?
Here are a few of the best ways to start sharing your posts and getting in front of new readers. And if you want even more strategies, here's my guide to learning how to drive traffic to your website where we dig even deeper into the tactics I've used to grow my blog to millions of yearly readers.
The obvious first place to turn to is social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat. Whatever platform best suits your niche and your audience is the right one for you. And that’s an important note.
There’s no point in trying to promote your blog posts on every social media platform.
Instead, look for the ones that give you the best return.
For Michelle Schroeder of Making Sense of Cents, she told me Pinterest has been her #1 source of traffic for years and brings in more than 25% of her readers. Same thing goes for the husband and wife team behind Chasing Foxes who have used their own techniques on Pinterest to drive millions of readers a month:
“I learned that Buzzfeed will put out multiple images for a post and so I decided to do the same thing. I’ll create 5 or 6 Pinterest pins per post with sometimes different titles or images. Once we started doing that, that’s when I started to see a lot of traffic come through.”
The key thing here is to experiment and see what works for you.
Each social network naturally appeals to a certain niche and a certain type of reader. This is a pretty broad statement, but generally speaking, here’s what works best on each social platform:
- Facebook: Videos and curated content
- Instagram: High-res photos, quotes, and Stories
- Twitter: News, blog posts, and GIFs
- LinkedIn: Professional content and career news
- Pinterest: Infographics, step-by-step photo guides, visual content
- Google+: Blog posts you want to rank well on Google
- Reddit: Comments about topics in your niche
It’s a lot. But luckily there are lots of tools that can help you manage your social media posts throughout the week. In fact, with the right tool, you should be able to promote all your posts across social in just an hour or two a week. Here are my favorites:
- Buffer: One of the easiest ways to schedule social shares in advance for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus. Their browser plug-in is also great for quickly adding interesting posts you find to your social promotion queue.
- Hootsuite: If you want something a bit more in-depth, Hootsuite is a powerful social sharing, scheduling, and monitoring platform. It’s probably a bit too much for a beginner blogger, but is a worthwhile option to check out once you start to grow.
- Gain App: If you work with multiple people on your blog, Gain is a great tool for collaborating and controlling who posts what from your account. It’s a bit more expensive, but their workflows can save you a ton of time.
Forums and message boards
Sometimes just throwing your ideas out into the social media void isn’t worth it. Instead, being a part of targeted forums and online communities can give you a way better return on your time. If you find the right ones.
Look for a topically relevant group to join. For example, if you're making a blog about photography, you could consider joining Facebook groups like Nikon Digital Camera & Photo Enthusiasts (26,000+ members), Nikon D750 Users (27,000+ members) and Nikon UK Photography (13,000+ members).
(I found these groups by searching for "Nikon" and clicking the 'Groups' sort tab at the top of the menu.)
If your blog is relevant to anyone with a DSLR camera, you're sure to find enough people who'd be interested in reading your posts within those groups.
Now, if your search doesn’t come up with any Facebook Groups with a decent number of members (5,000+) there are some other options. Look for my general Facebook groups that relate to your niche or groups on LinkedIn or Reddit.
For example, if you’re starting a business or entrepreneurial blog, you might want to try posting your blogs to:
Facebook Groups (Entrepreneurial):
- Freedom Hackers Mastermind (39,000+ members)
- The Smart Passive Income Community (28,000+ members)
- The Joyful Entrepreneur (37,000+ members)
- Heart-centered, soul driven entrepreneurs (16,000+ members)
- Coaches, Authors, Entrepreneurs (13,000+ members)
- Women's Entrepreneur Network (32,000+ members, women only)
- Super Hero Entrepreneurs (10,000+ members)
LinkedIn Groups (Entrepreneurial):
- On Startups (626,000+ members)
- Future Trends (474,000+ members)
- I love Startups (248,000+ members)
- Entrepreneur's Network (33,000+ members)
- Band of Entrepreneurs (26,000+ members)
Remember. These aren’t just places to dump links to your blog posts. You need to provide value before you ask for anything in return. So start by building relationships and engaging with people there.
You never know, you might come up with some great blog ideas in the process.
Guest posts and blogging on sites like Medium, Quora, Linkedin, and others
One of the best things about starting a blog is that bloggers love to help each other out. And guest posting on other relevant blogs is one of the best ways to connect with an already established audience.
As Laurence Bradford of Learn to Code with me told me in her podcast interview:
“When I first started my blog, I started guest posting really early on. I’d make spreadsheets and reach out to editors and other bloggers. It definitely took a while to gain traction. I went through a lot of rejection, but over time it became easier because I’d built this portfolio of other things I published.”
Laurence started by going after smaller coding blogs and sites with a similar audience to the one she wanted to build.
It might seem like a lot of work, but those early guest posts are what helped her build her own audience and community. And eventually, as her network grew, she was able to make better connections and start posting on bigger blogs.
For my own blog, one of my biggest early breaks came from my very first guest post going up on the blog for social media scheduling app Buffer. Not only did I tap into their audience of 1 million+ readers per month, but it also associated me with a brand that people in my niche look up to.
However, getting a guest post on a blog like Buffer’s isn’t easy and I was only able to make that happen because I cultivated a relationship with their blog editor over the course of weeks—by first featuring Buffer as a resource both on my blog and prominently in the content I wrote for my day job at the CreativeLive blog.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for other places with established audiences you can write for... in fact, that's one of your quickest paths to building up a regular readership and getting your blog to credibility faster.
For starters... try reposting your blog posts on Medium—a site that’s free to use for readers and writers. You can even look for a Medium Publication that’s popular in your niche and submit your post to them.
There’s also Quora—a question and answer site that lets anyone respond to user’s queries. One tactic I’ve used is to search for relevant topics in my niche and then answer questions I’ve already written about on my blog (like this Quora answer about how to get blog traffic that's received hundreds of upvotes and thousands of views_ . This way I know I’m giving them good value and can even link back to the full post on my blog.
Lastly, if you’re more business-oriented in your blog posts, you might want to post them on LinkedIn.
The key point to all of this is that you want to look for places where your audience is and be there. Whether that’s other blogs, communities, or social platforms.
Using an email newsletter to grow your audience
One of the best forms of promotion for your blog isn’t to other audiences, but to your own.
An email newsletter is probably the most powerful way to keep readers engaged and excited about the work you’re doing and one of the things you should set up as soon as you start your blog.
Building your email list is easy as well. Simply put a signup in your posts and on your site. Or, do what Learn to Code with me founder Laurence Bradford did and offer special content for people in return for their email address:
“If you have a blog post on your site and you have some sort of checklist or book they can get just by giving their email that can work really well. I still get around 50 new email subscribers a day just from old posts that have these content upgrades.”
Personally, I use a tool I love called ConvertKit to manage the 53,000+ email subscribers to my blog.
I send my community an update whenever I post a new blog post, have a resource I want to share, or when new podcast episodes go live—and this now ensures my content will quickly be seen by thousands of people right off the bat.
This has by far been the biggest driver of growth and revenue for my blog, and something I can’t suggest enough.
Other ways to grow your blog’s traffic
Outside of promotion on social and email and guest posts, there are a few other techniques I’ve personally used to grow my blog audience quickly:
- Interview people in your niche: There’s nothing better than learning from famous people in your niche. Not only does interviewing them help you build a relationship, but other people reading your blog want to hear from them. You can use these interviews for blog posts or even start a podcast like I did with The Side Hustle Project.
- Network with other bloggers or mention their blogs: Early on, you want to get on other people’s radars. And one of the best ways to do that is to mention other relevant bloggers and blog posts on yours. For Austin Belack, founder of Cultivated Culture, that meant linking out to relevant blog posts and then emailing the blogger and saying “Hey! I mentioned you in my most recent article. If you think it’s worthy of a share, I’d really appreciate it. But if not, I’m happy to keep sharing yours.” This drove the initial 50,000 to 60,000 readers to his blog.
- Talk to people about what you’re doing: It might seem too simple, but tell the people around you what you’re doing. Get excited about your blog and share the things you’re working on. As Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking told me: “Maybe it’s just your friends reading you to start, but you should be responding to every comment and going out and commenting on other blogs. This is essentially your industry and these are your coworkers.”
- Learn from other top bloggers: If you don’t feel ready to connect with other bloggers in your space, at least try to learn from what they’re doing. For Silas Moser, one half of Chasing Foxes told me, you should study people who are good at what you’re doing: “Look at what works for them and see how you can use it. So many people told us ‘you could never make money from a blog.’ But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are tons of successful bloggers out there that you can learn from and see what they’ve done and apply that to your niche.”
There's a reason why monetizing your readership is the very last step in my guide about how to start a blog.
That's because today... while you're still just getting started, monetization should not be your #1 focus.
You need to find your readers, start building relationships with them, forming a community around your blog, and keep delivering value (in the form of content) before immediately trying to sell them on an online course, buying your freelance services, or otherwise.
Blogging is an investment that can pay massive dividends, but it's a longer-term payout.
Even still, it's good to have an idea of which ways you'd like to make money blogging as you go into this.
Now, keep in mind that when you're just getting started, some of these monetization strategies will be easier than others while your readership is still growing.
Let's dive in!
1. Sponsored Content.
What's sponsored content? Generally, it's when a brand, company or individual pays you a fee in order to get their content (or offer) in front of your audience. That means you'll likely need some semblance of a readership base before you're able to broker a sponsored content deal—because the sponsor's going to want to see your readers click through and at least evaluate the special offer you're writing about.
The best way to do sponsored content without alienating your readers, is to weave it into your typical publishing style (like I've done with this sponsored post and this one too), of which I charged $1,500 to write and publish for Skillshare and Slidebean.
Unless you already have a sizable option on another site (or social account) that you plan to use for driving traffic to your blog, it'll take you some time to grow your readership to a point where sponsored content is a viable monetization option.
Here's a snapshot of my first year of traffic to ryrob.com (in orange) and my second year of traffic (in blue).
As you'll see, my first year of blogging saw only about 9,000 total readers, but I wasn't really taking blogging seriously and I was still learning how to drive traffic. In my second year, you'll see traffic begins to pick up dramatically as I start to figure out who my audience is and which traffic strategies work best for me—that's when I started driving almost as much traffic per month than I'd gotten in my entire first year.
It was at this point, once my readership grew to around 10,000 monthly readers (on average), that it became a viable option to start commanding a decent rate for sponsored content to be published on my blog and emailed to my couple hundred subscribers.
Tune in to my podcast episode with Preston Lee from Millo.co, who's mastered the art of landing blog sponsorships for his side hustle blog... he regularly books $15,000/mo in sponsorships from top brands in the freelancing and design industries.
But, there are much quicker ways to start monetizing your blog. Like...
2. Freelancing (Selling Your Services).
If you want to start earning from your blog right now, then selling your services is going to be your lowest effort option by far.
All you really need in order to land your first freelancing client, is a strong enough pitch, which is where a blog will help significantly. You'll want to build out your key pages (About, Contact, Hire Me) and showcase at least a couple examples of the type of work you've done that you'll soon be pitching freelance clients on.
And if you don't have those work samples yet... don't let that hold you back. Spend a few days right now to create those example articles, designs or other deliverables and host them on your own blog as if they were a project you got paid to produce.
If you have a skill that you can sell as a service, then you're already prepared to go out and start pitching potential clients. That skill could be something like...
- Public relations
- Social media management
- Virtual assistance
- SEO or paid advertising campaigns
- Business strategy or project management
- The list goes on... because any skill can be monetized
Today, I regularly book new freelance clients (like LinkedIn, Zendesk, Adobe) for $5,000/mo or more and I'm brought on to advise and execute on creating content marketing campaigns for their blogs. But that's where I am today... not where I started.
My first freelance client paid me $250 for each article I wrote for their blog. They discovered me because of my blog, and liked the style of content I was producing, so it was an easy decision for them to hire me as a freelancer to ramp up their publishing at an affordable rate.
After having this realization, I started going out and pitching other similar (non-competitive) startups and online brands that clearly needed more business-related content for their blogs... and over the course of the next year, I continued to slowly double the prices I'd charge per article. I'd add new "extras" as time went on and I built a larger community & brand for myself too—always experimenting with my offer to see what clients would pay more for.
If freelancing sounds like your cup of tea, you'll want to grab my (free) collection of all my best resources, tools and templates for freelancers right here. That resource bundle is the culmination of more than 5 years of refining my freelance contract template, proposal template, cold email templates that convert new clients, and more.
I also put together an in-depth guide to getting started with freelancing that you'll want to read over on my blog right here and another great foundational read about how to develop a pitching process that works for your type of business, is my freelancer's guide to cold emailing.
Oh! And if you want to try out some of the websites where freelance clients are already looking for talented help, here's my list of the best freelance job sites.
3. Online Courses.
Once you have a skill (or experience) that others also want to learn, it's relatively easy to package your best advice, strategies, tactics and tutorials into an online course where people can pay for access to accelerate their learning much quicker than they otherwise would going through the stumbling process of learning through trial and error.
Last year alone, I generated over $20,000 from the launch of a premium online course about validating business ideas.
What's great about online courses as a monetization path for your blog, is that you don't need a huge audience in order to start earning from course sales.
Once you have even just a handful of readers on your blog, encourage them to interact with you—ask questions, offer free downloads, share advice and get them to either join your email list or to personally reach out and connect with you.
Learn about their biggest challenges (as related to the broader topics covered on your blog). Pinpoint the ways you can uniquely help them by leaning on your own skills, knowledge, experience.
After you've determined the right way to help a handful of your readers solve a real problem they're encountering, pitch them (individually in a very personalized manner either over email or ideally on the phone) on pre-ordering your course and getting direct coaching from you in the meantime while you work on building out the actual course material.
This'll do 2 key things for you:
- First, asking people to actually give you their hard-earned money will validate that you're solving a real problem
- Second, you'll get live test subjects to help build and curate your course content in real-time over the coming weeks—and your course can emerge as the result of lessons learned and tactics proven from your direct coaching time
I highly recommend reading and following my idea validation framework where your focus remains on pre-selling your course to a small community of early adopters (or beta testers) and you interact with them one-on-one while building out, testing and refining your course material to make sure it does a good job of solving your reader's challenges.
This is the exact process I've followed to launch each of my online courses (some to very small audiences of just a few hundred people) and earn five-figures from every course launch over the years.
Take your learning a bit further in my interview with Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush where she's built a series of online training courses that have reached more than 15,000 designers and developers over the past couple of years.
4. Traditional Blog Advertisements (Joining Ad Networks).
On my blog right now, you'll see a small advertisement in the right sidebar just below a little information about me...
I'm a member of a small ad network called Carbon Ads, that partners with bloggers and pairs them up with ads from high-quality startups like Slack, Asana, Freshbooks, Monday, Upwork and others. I also have small ad placements from them throughout a few of my highest trafficked blog posts.
Even still, with around 200,000 monthly unique readers on my blog, I only earn about $350/mo from being a member of this ad network. Plenty of other ad networks offer marginally higher CPC (cost per click) and CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) rates, but aren't as restricted in the types of brands & products that are allowed to advertise on my site—so I've chosen to take less in earnings in order to stick with the types of brands I want to promote on my site.
Some of the other major ad networks to consider installing on your blog would be Google AdSense, BuySellAds, and Propeller Ads.
All in all, traditional CPC or CPM advertising doesn't become very profitable (at least as a viable source of meaningful income) until you're driving close to a million monthly readers, so it's not a great monetization channel to focus on in the short-term.
But if you figure out the right levers to start generating massive amounts of traffic, this is a very quick way to flip a switch and start monetizing your readership in a pinch.
Check out my interview with Grace and Silas Moser of Chasing Foxes, who regularly earn around $20,000/mo in income largely from ad networks. They've cracked the code to driving insane amounts of traffic from Pinterest very quickly, and offer up a lot of actionable advice.
5. Podcast Sponsorships.
Another great way to start monetizing your blog is by launching a (simple) podcast for your readers... and use both your traffic & early listener statistics to go out and book sponsorships from brands that want to reach your type of readers & listeners.
Here's the growth trajectory of my podcast over it's first year:
You can even combine podcast ad placement offers with sponsored blog posts on your site to sweeten the deal.
What I like most about podcasting is that it gives me an excuse to interview some of most interesting people in my industry, and depending on the niche you're blogging about, it may be relatively easy to start booking interviews with some of the figures you look up to in your space.
When I launched my show, I already had about 100,000 monthly readers on my blog and 20,000 email subscribers to seed the early listenership numbers. That also helped me sell an early sponsorship slot for 10 episodes to Freshbooks at $500/episode to help fund getting the show off the ground.
That worked for me because of where my blog was already at—but when you're starting out with less traction, I recommend getting a few episodes recorded and launching your show without trying to book a sponsorship in advance.
Release a handful of episodes and ask any guests you've interviewed or mentioned to share with their communities. Those that tune in and like your show will subscribe and stick around. One of the best ways to reach more listeners and grow your download numbers is to be a guest on other (more established) podcasts in your space.
For much more on the mechanics behind launching a podcast with your blog, check out this episode on my show with Michael Sacca of Rocketship.fm, whose grown his show into a $10,000/mo source of side income while he still holds onto his day job in sales and marketing. It's a true masterclass in starting a podcast that you don't want to miss.
6. Affiliate Programs.
Every month, I earn a good amount of passive income from affiliate programs I'm a member of.
Here's how affiliate programs work: You get a special tracking link from the company you're an affiliate for. Then, you'll place that link within posts on your blog, emails to your blog subscribers, and weave it in elsewhere that you reach your readers. When someone clicks on that tracking link and completes a purchase, sign up (or occasionally another metric), then you earn either a set fee or percentage of that sale.
You're getting compensated for referring new customers to your affiliate partners.
Some of the biggest brands have affiliate programs. Think global companies like Amazon, all the way down to key players in specific niches like online education where brands like CreativeLive, Skillshare and Udemy have lucrative programs. Here's a snapshot of my recent earnings from a few of these programs:
You don't need to be a member of an affiliate network in order to start earning, either.
Take my friend Preston Lee over at the blog and community for freelancers, Millo, for example. A few months ago, he launched a new paid weekly email newsletter for freelancers that surfaces the best gigs of the week for them, called SolidGigs.
Since I have a large proportion of freelancers in my audience, he offered to set me up as an affiliate where I'd earn a set fee for each new paid subscriber that signed up as a result of an email or clickthrough from my blog. The week I sent my first email out to my community about SolidGigs, nearly 100 people signed up to try it out. And that number's only continued to grow over the months, adding more to my recurring income that comes from this channel.
The takeaway here is that you don't need to be confined to just the affiliate opportunities you find on the major networks like ShareASale, Rakuten, Flex Offers, Commission Junction and others.
Once you've built even a small readership... if they're engaged and tuned in to what you have to say, that's ammo to go out and broker an affiliate deal with individual business owners, startups and brands that want to surface their products to your kind of audience.
For a LOT more on the subject of monetizing your blog with affiliate income, listen to my interview with Michelle Schroeder who earns $130,000/mo from her blog (mostly via affiliate programs).
7. Physical Products and Software Tools.
Similar in concept to launching an online course to your blog audience, another great way to monetize your audience is by selling (by first pre-launching) a physical product or software tool to the people in your community.
At the end of the day, this one all comes back down to solving the problems your blog readers have.
If you can build a relationship with 10 early readers and work with them to pinpoint a challenge you're interested in building a physical or digital product for, focus next on repeatedly solving that problem yourself, then develop a plan of action for how you can personally help those 10 people solve that problem in their own unique situations as well. This'll be very manually at first, but that's necessary.
Next, ask these 10 readers to "pre-order" the product from you and work with them through a personal coaching regimen that you'll use to make sure your eventual product has all the necessary features in order to successfully solve their challenge.
At the end of this validation process, you'll emerge with a solution that's built on the foundation of genuinely helping your readers.
Tune in to my interview with Hiten Shah, who's used his personal blog to connect with his target audience and release several profitable software tools as a result of the validation conversations he's had with them.
8. Business Partnerships.
Of all the ways to monetize your blog, this is the most unpredictable. Who knows who you'll meet as a result of building your blog? What about future guests on your podcast? The possibilities here for stumbling into partnership opportunities are endless.
As a result of sticking with my blog for several years, I've been able to use it as a tool to meet some incredibly talented entrepreneurs.
I've collaborated with my friend Jory (a writer and content marketer) that I met originally because of my blog, on growing a $10,000/mo content marketing agency together that we both still run as a side project to all of our other work.
I've launched new websites with other established bloggers who have similar audiences as my own.
There's even a former podcast guest who's helping me build a software tool I've envisioned for years.
It's true that there aren't as many ways to authentically engineer the creation of these types of partnerships, aside from growing your personal brand and the reach of your blog... and then being receptive to the creative people & ideas that come your way as others discover your blog.
On the flip side, if there's someone in your space that you really want to collaborate and work with, strategize on a way you can add value to their business first. Build a community of people you know they'll want to reach too—and then start building a relationship with your influencer before pitching them on a collaboration idea.
Over to You...
What this all boils down to is being excited and engaging with your content.
If you want people to read what you’re writing, you need to give them a reason to.
Write exciting content, connect with people in the space, and enthusiastically share what you’re working on.
The monetization and everything else will follow.
We got through a lot here.
I wrote this guide to learning how to start a blog because launching a blog has been one of the most empowering, life-changing decisions I've made in my life.
And I hope that by now you feel confident enough to go out there are start a blog of your own.
I'd love to have you in my free 7-day course that'll teach you my proven step-by-step process to launching a blog in just 1 week and in the course, we also dive deep even further into topics like driving traffic, my personal writing process, monetizing your blog and more.
You can sign up (for free) and join thousands of bloggers I've helped to get their sites off the ground and earning right here...
Want my Free Course: How to Build a Blog in 7 Days?
To sum things up. When you’re looking to start a blog, you need to:
- Find your niche and decide what to blog about (make it interesting and something you’re excited about)
- Choose a blogging platform or CMS (I suggest WordPress.org)
- Pick your blog’s name and domain
- Find a host (Sign up for BlueHost here)
- Choose a theme and design your blog (Here’s my favorite, but there are literally thousands to pick from)
- Fill out your basic pages (About, Contact Me, Hire/Shop)
- Develop your content strategy (You can download my editorial calendar here)
- Commit to a regular publishing schedule
- Use free photos and designs to make your posts stand out
- Publish and promote your posts
- Start monetizing your traffic in a mutually beneficial way
For those of you more visual learners, I also put together this infographic breaking down how to start a blog and my personal process for beginning to generate both traffic and revenue from your blog.
Want to share this infographic on your blog too?
Email me at email@example.com and I'll hook you up!
Now, I want to know how your journey learning how to start a blog is coming along too.
So drop me a line in the comments below!
And for those of you who stay active on Pinterest, I'd be eternally grateful if you'd take just 10 seconds to pin this image 🙏