The blog is one of the most common website formats in the world today, with the number of live blogs now running into the hundreds of millions. From small hobby blogs to business blogs and enormously popular websites that receive millions of unique visits per day, the modern Web is now awash with these dynamic content portals. However, only a relatively tiny fraction of them actually make any money.
This guide deals with running a money-making blog rather than running a blog to promote a business by way of content marketing. In other words, it refers to monetizing a hobby blog by integrating affiliate marketing (click that link for my free affiliate marketing guide for beginners), pay-per-click advertising and various other features. Whether you’re just starting out for the very first time or you’re planning to monetize an existing blog, these tips will help you succeed.
Things to Know before You Start Blogging For Money
Long gone are the times when almost anyone could make money online just by having an innovative new idea. Blogging has been around in one form or another since the mid-nineties, but as is the case with any kind of online publishing, it has changed enormously since then. With the vastly competitive online world, a different approach and a clear focus is now crucial for success. If you’re hoping to make easy money overnight, then blogging is definitely not for you. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but with the right approach and a high degree of dedication, you can climb through the ranks and become one of those bloggers that everyone talks about on their favorite social networks.
There’s a lot more to blogging for money than simply launching a website and posting content. There’s marketing to think about in the form of social media and search engine optimization. It is also necessary to formulate a long-term strategy, track analytical information and learn to define and communicate with your target audience. The reason why the vast majority of blogs fail to make money is that their owners make the grave mistake of seeing it as a simple way to make an income. You should not expect to quit your day job any time soon, but even a few months can be enough to start making a decent secondary income in return for a few hours of work per week.
Before you get started, you need to make sure you have adopted the right mindset. If your only aim is to make money, then you’ll almost certainly be disappointed. Blogging should primarily be about sharing your passion and enjoying the strong social element that comes with it. It’s not about attempting to capitalize on a popular niche that you personally have little interest in. Instead, approach blogging as a form of art, and realize that you need to have the passion in order to succeed. Just as is the case with any form of art, whether novel-writing or landscape painting, a passion behind the scenes is what ultimately leads to both financial and emotional success.
Choosing a Topic
Before you start worrying about which blogging platform to use, and before you even think about committing yourself to a Web-hosting package and paying for domain registration, you’ll need to have a good idea of what type of content you’re going to post. Choosing a topic and defining your target audience are the most important first steps to take and, if you don’t have any ideas already, they are often among the hardest. To an extent, the topic defines the target audience, but more on this later. When choosing a topic, you’ll probably be asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I actually want to write about this topic?
- Do I know enough about the topic to write regular content about it?
- Is the topic a profitable one?
An affirmative answer to the first question is an absolute must. Forget what anyone might tell you about blogging in a popular niche, yet one that you have little or no interest in. It simply won’t work out. A good starting point would be to write down your own interests and take a look at some existing blogs on the subject.
Regarding the second question, you will certainly need to know enough about the topic to get started, but you don’t necessarily need to be an expert. Writing for the Internet is a learning experience in itself, and expertise comes with experience and passion for the topic at hand. At this point, you need to find the right compromise between first-hand knowledge and passion for the subject. After all, you might want to travel all over the world, but if you’ve never been outside your own country, you’ll have a hard time being taken seriously if you decide to run a global travel blog.
Since this guide is about blogging for money, the third question will likely be of most interest to you, despite the fact that the previous two are far more important at this stage. The fact is, you can make money with almost any niche, provided you approach it with the much-needed passion and desire to become an authority on the subject matter. On the other hand, there are some topics that have been overdone to such an extent that the Internet has become saturated with them. For example, you’ll have a much harder time trying to succeed with a blog that deals with topics such as health and fitness or money and finance. For a personal blog of the type this guide is referring to, you’ll usually be best off choosing a topic that you can more easily take a unique approach to in order to stand out among the competition.
The problem with blogging is, that no matter what you choose to write about, there will already be many blogs out there dealing with the same subject matter. Finding an underrepresented niche can be a good place to start and, even if the topic is popular overall, you might still be able to take a unique approach to it. Going back to the example of travel blogs (a very popular niche), it would be wiser to narrow your focus to a certain style of travelling, such as budget travel, luxury travel or romantic getaways etc. However, there also needs to be a market for the topic you choose, since creating one from scratch is an extremely lofty goal at this stage. You can always diversify later on based on the feedback of your readers.
Defining Your Audience
You know what you want to write about, but do you know who to write for? A clearly defined target audience is critical for success, otherwise your readership will be all over the place and your future income anything but reliable. As stated previously, the niche you choose plays a significant role in defining your target audience, but the same can also be true the other way round.
When defining your audience, you will need to think about the sensitivities you are trying to appeal to. Let’s say you have a passion for astronomy (a relatively underrepresented niche), and you want to make it more accessible to the general public. In this case, your target audience will likely consist of amateurs, often those who have only a passing interest in the subject. These are the types who will be more interested in content dealing with quick facts, amateur sky-watching and beginner telescope reviews.
Going back to the example of the popular travel niche, let’s say you want to write a blog covering some of your favourite destinations around the world. However, travel is an extremely broad subject, and you simply cannot hope to appeal to the entire market. For this reason, you need to narrow your focus by defining a small but enthusiastic target audience. For example, you might choose to target an audience consisting largely of students, backpackers and others who are more likely to be interested in a budget-travel perspective. On the other hand, you might prefer to target readers who are more interested in things like high-end dining experiences or luxury train travel. Either way, the target audience is very different even if the subject matter itself is broadly similar. Check out this successful website that caters to a very specific island destination.
The very first thing you should be writing down, before your blog is even on the air, are some profiles of hypothetical readers of the type you intend to target. Write down the interests and key demographical attributes of the typical individual you want to appeal to with your passion and unique style. More likely than not, your ideal reader will be someone who you share many attributes with, in which case it shouldn’t be at all hard to put yourself in their shoes. Ultimately, your goal should be to pick a person to write for before you actually pick a topic to write about. You can carry out some research by perusing other blogs and joining social media groups to get a better idea of the market you want to appeal to.
On a final note, it’s never a bad thing to draw in readers from outside your target audience, since this will give your blog some space to expand. However, while there’s certainly no harm in broadening your horizons further down the line, you must make sure not to lose your focus.
Getting Your Blog Online
Now for the easiest part of all. In the earlier days of the Internet, all websites (blogs included) were hand-coded from the ground up, meaning that a thorough knowledge of HTML was a must for any half-decent website. Fortunately, things have changed a great deal, and from a technical point of view, blogging is barely more complicated than using a word processor. What you’ll be using is a content management system (CMS), which is basically a platform for creating and publishing content as well as customizing the look, feel and navigation of your blog. Thanks to the minimal learning curve of popular platforms such as WordPress, you can literally get a functional blog up and running in a matter of minutes. Check out the below video and watch step-by-step how to set up your own WordPress blog in a couple of hours (while having fun doing it!):
Although there are many blogging platforms to choose from, some of the lesser-known ones are relatively limited, particularly with regards to integrating features such as advertising. For best results, you’ll probably want to stick with WordPress. Many beginners choose to start at WordPress.com, which provides hosting with the platform already preinstalled along with many additional features. It is the easiest option, since you don’t even need to install the platform on your hosting server but, it is limited with regards to customizability. For best results, you should consider going for a WordPress hosting package featuring a one-click installation of the full platform from WordPress.org. Most of the major hosting companies offer such a feature, and it is simply a matter of registering a domain name (Web address) and logging into the administrator panel of your website to start posting content and customizing your website right away.
While WordPress is usually the go-to platform for bloggers due to its ease of use, the learning curve does get a lot steeper when you want to start taking advantage of its more advanced features. There are many other options available, with another of the most popular being Google Blogger. However, while Blogger presents the advantage of being hardwired with Google’s advertising and analytics platform, it is generally not suitable for a fully-fledged website due to its lack of scalability and customization options.
Since your goal is ultimately to create a blog that has plenty of space to grow and make a decent income from various sources further down the line, WordPress.org is the best option to go for, and there is plenty of support available for it. However, be sure to opt for a WordPress hosting package from a reputable provider so that you can start blogging right away. The web host I personally use for ALL of my WordPress websites is WPengine.com and I highly recommend them.
Creating Content for Your New Blog
Now comes the most exciting part. If you’re using WordPress, your blog will be live as soon as you have signed up for your hosting package and installed the platform. However, since the website is under construction, you might want to temporarily block it from public view using a plugin like WP Construction Mode until you have some content to share. Here is a step-by-step video showing how to set up the WP Construction Mode plugin:
At this point, your goal should be to spend some time customizing your blog, organizing its navigational characteristics and writing your first blog post. However, before you start publishing any content, let’s take a look at some of the design features that every successful blog should have:
- Your blog absolutely must be mobile-friendly so that the rapidly growing number of mobile Internet users will be able to enjoy it fully as well. If you’re using WordPress, be sure to go for a mobile-friendly theme.
- Choose a banner image or logo for your blog. The banner image is usually the first thing people will see, so take the time to choose one that stands out and captures the essence of your individual style and the topic of the blog itself.
- Essential navigational features include a search box, a category list and/or a tag cloud. If you’re using WordPress, all of these features are provided with the platform.
Feel free to experiment with different themes and plugin combinations until you get the style you’re looking for. Enjoy the opportunity to unleash your inner creativity, without feeling that there’s any need to rush. Once you have established the right look and feel for your blog and thoroughly tested out its speed and ease of use, you’ll be ready to start posting content.
Although you should already have a defined audience, you’ll still want to diversify your content in order to appeal to as many people as possible. A great blog should ideally contain a mix of article styles, plenty of images and even some video content embedded from YouTube. Following are some of the most popular blog content formats that are sure to get people’s attention:
- Tutorials are among the most powerful of all content types. After all, people often turn to the Internet to find assistance. For example, if you’re blogging about mobile phones, you might want to write a tutorial on jailbreaking an iPhone or improving mobile security settings.
- Lists are so popular that there are even thousands of websites solely dedicated to them. Numbered lists providing brief snippets of information, typically combined with eye-catching images, are the epitome of the type of easily digestible, scannable online content that many people want.
- Reviews are another type of content that people invariably turn to before making a purchase, provided they are clearly unbiased. Reviews may come in the form of a straight review of a single product or a comparison between multiple products of the same type.
- Buyer’s guides are particularly useful for any blog that hopes to sell affiliate merchandise. For example, if you’re blogging about travel, you might want to write a post comparing travel insurance packages, backpacks, camping gear or hiking gear.
- Image slideshows often make for a good break from the usual written content, particularly for very visually orientated niches such as travel, fashion or entertainment. However, it is a good idea to include at least one image with all of your blog posts.
- Guest posts can lend a new perspective to your blog, and they give you the opportunity to get some free content in return for including a link to the guest blogger’s website. However, guest posting really only becomes a viable option once your blog already has a significant amount of traffic.
The above content formats should give you some idea where to start. It’s always a good idea to have a notepad handy at all times, since this will allow you to write down content ideas and title propositions whenever they come to you. After all, you’ll need to establish a consistent posting schedule in order to keep hold onto your readers.
Marketing Your Blog
It is generally not a good idea to start monetizing your blog the moment you launch it, since this may turn people off. Before you can hope to make any money from your blog, you’ll need to build up an engaged audience. While consistently posting unique, entertaining and informative content should make your blog market itself to a degree, there are some additional steps you should take to raise awareness and build your audience. In fact, promoting your blog will likely account for most of the work involved, particularly during the first few months.
You might have plenty of ideas for great content and have a few posts published, but it’s all for nought if you’re not getting any traffic or people are leaving after spending only a few seconds on the site (this is known as the bounce rate). The first thing to do is to make your content more sharable and encourage engagement and feedback by enabling comments. WordPress users can integrate social media sharing buttons through the use of an add-on such as ShareThis. These buttons will automatically accompany all of your posts, allowing your readers to share content they like on Facebook, Twitter and other networks at the click of a button. You’ll also want to add an RSS button allowing people to subscribe to your blog, and most blogging platforms natively include this feature.
Social media is one of the most important areas of digital marketing, since it allows you to tap into the enormous audiences of the likes of Facebook and Twitter. However, in order to succeed, you should consider opening your own Facebook page and Twitter account specifically to market your blog. You may also want to open accounts at various social bookmarking sites such as StumbleUpon and Digg. You should use your social media resources for discussing your work and the topic around it with your target audience as well as for sharing your new posts and other content from elsewhere on the Internet. It is important to maintain a conversational tone rather than be too promotional.
Another important area to consider is search engine optimization (SEO), whereby you take additional steps to make your blog and its content more visible to the search engine robots as such that your website receives more visibility in the search engine results. While unique, quality content should market itself to a large extent as far as the search engines are concerned, there are a few additional steps you can take to improve your chances of success:
- Do not overcrowd your content with key phrases that you think people are most likely to enter into the search engines, since doing so will end up being counterproductive by making your content look like spam.
- Optimize your visual content by filling in the alt tags, adding captions and using descriptive filenames. Optimizing images is important, since the search engines otherwise have trouble defining the subject matter of visual content.
- Ensure that your website is easily navigable on mobile devices. There’s no substitute for testing it on your own smartphone or a similar device to make sure it is easy to use on a touchscreen and the text is large enough to read.
- Post content regularly, and define a posting schedule so that both your readers and the search engine crawlers alike won’t start thinking your blog is fading into obscurity.
- Use concise and accurate titles and meta descriptions, since these will appear in the search engine results. In WordPress, you can easily add meta content using the free plugin WordPress SEO by Yoast.
- Make good use of permalinks. These are permanent Web addresses to specific pages, and in WordPress, you can edit them when you enter the title for your new post. Generally, a permalink should be the same as the post title less minor words.
- Create an XML Sitemap for your website so the search engine crawlers can more easily navigate the website. WordPress and many other content managements systems feature plugins for automatic sitemap generation.
Now that you have an idea of how to start spreading the word about your new blog, you’ll be able to draw in your audience. With a consistent approach and a presence on social media, your readership should grow to the extent that monetizing your blog becomes a viable option.
Making Money with Your Blog
Most blogs are monetized to the extent they include context-relevant advertisements, but very few make more than a few dollars per month. Making money from blogging relies heavily on having a large, engaged readership, but you should eventually add multiple streams of income. Before you begin, it is important to remember not to include too much advertising content on your blog, since this will hinder your SEO efforts and annoy your readers. This section takes a look at three of the top strategies for monetizing your blog.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
Most blogs use Google AdSense, the publisher’s component of Google AdWords. To get AdSense, you’ll need a free Google account before you can sign up to the program. It doesn’t cost anything, but there are some important rules and regulations you will need to review first. Once you have been accepted, you’ll be able to customize the appearance of your ads, and Google will provide you with your AdSense code, which you can simply copy into a text widget on your blog. Once installed, ads will automatically be displayed in the sidebar of your blog (or anywhere else you place them), and they will be relevant to the subject matter of the content on the page. However, be aware that Google will only pay out once you have earned $100 through the program.
Affiliate marketing concerns selling other people’s products for them, allowing you to earn a commission in doing so. Here is a short video explaining how affiliate marketing works:
While there’s still a lot of junk out there, particularly with regards to digital products, there are some affiliate advertising programs that are definitely worth joining. Among the most popular is Amazon Associates, which allows you to choose from the millions of products from the online retail giant for selling on your website. You can earn up to 10% commission on sales, and you’re bound to find some relevant products to advertise on your blog. The beauty of affiliate advertising is that you don’t have to concern yourself with any additional advertising, payment systems or anything else. The procedure couldn’t be simpler: someone buys a products starting from a link on your blog, and you get paid. Below is a fantastic webinar on how to earn money through the Amazon Associates affiliate program.
The selling of knowledge in the form of digital products such as e-books is enormous on the modern Web. However, a lot of this type of content is worthless junk. On the other hand, if you write your own e-book, your blog will serve as the perfect place to sell it. Let’s say, for example, you run a blog dealing with computer tips and tricks, and you already have a lot of content. In this case, you might want to consider writing a more in-depth guide in the form of an e-book that you can sell to your most dedicated readers for 100% of the profit. Selling your own informational products, or even your own services as a writer, consultant or coach, can be a particularly effective way to top up your income further down the line, once you have built up a reputation for yourself.
Blogging for money can seem like a long and arduous journey towards success, and patience is undoubtedly a crucial trait for any would-be blogger. The most important thing is to maintain a positive attitude and a desire to engage your target audience in such a way that you can make a meaningful connection with them. Once you have built up your community and you have a decent amount of quality content, you can start to monetize your blog. With a consistent effort, you can expect to start seeing results in just a few months.