Blogs are insanely popular nowadays. Over four million new posts are published every single day. If you’re wondering how to grab a piece of the action (and why you should), this article takes you step by step through exactly how to start a blog.
But before we move on to the practicalities, let’s look at WHY you should start a blog. To the uninitiated, blogging can seem like a mysterious world. Can you really make big money from writing about your interests?
The simple answer is “yes.” But there’s a lot more to it than that, so let’s delve right in.
Why you Should Start a Blog
Here are some of the main reasons people start a blog of their own:
The Potential to Make Money from your Passions and Interests
What could be better that talking about the things that you enjoy, and potentially making money from it?
The reality is that blogging truly does allow you to do that. If you’re any doubt, just think of any possible hobby and spend a little time searching Google. There are blogs about everything: from car customisation to cupcake decoration, and from gardening to goal-keeping!
Obviously some subject niches have much more revenue-generating potential than others (and we discuss that shortly). However, never assume that a relatively obscure niche has no potential at all.
Over four billion people use the internet across the world, and that number keeps growing. You can be sure that there are people out there with the interests you plan to talk about.
An Enduring Business
As the statistics show, blogging continues to gain in popularity.
Yes, there’s plenty of competition, especially in the more lucrative niches. But if you’re willing to work hard at your blog and strive to be the best, you could – over time – build a money-making business with an impressive shelf life.
Passive income is a true “Holy Grail” for many people.
There’s plenty of room for debate as to exactly how passive the income from blogging can be. You certainly need to do plenty of up-front work before any blog can begin to earn money on autopilot.
However, many people do make genuine passive income from blogs. This can mean doing absolutely nothing to your site whilst on holiday, and watching money stacking up from advertising and affiliate revenue. It can mean waking up each morning and seeing what you’ve earned while you were sleeping.
There’s no debating that that’s a pretty special feeling.
Building an Asset
One thing many people don’t realise about starting a blog is that successful sites can have considerable cash value, beyond the money they can earn each month. Once a blog is making money consistently, it become a valuable asset – an asset you can sell.
There are lots of factors to take into account, but typically sites sell for something between 20 to 60 times their average monthly profit.
Think about it: Start a blog, and take it to a place where it’s regularly making £3000 per month in profit. At a “30x” valuation, you have the choice of continuing to run the blog, or “cashing out” for £90,000 – a life-changing amount of money by any standards.
How to Start a Blog
You’ve now seen several compelling reasons WHY you would want to start a blog. Let’s move on to how you do it.
The most important thing to emphasise is that research is everything. Experienced bloggers who’ve run multiple sites, and perhaps “flipped” (sold on) some of them in the past, know how crucial this is.
It’s best to be absolutely certain of your blog’s direction before investing time and money in building the site.
Choosing your Niche
Successful blogs have a very clear niche.
One very important thing to understand is that you shouldn’t just start an unfocused blog that spans a handful of unrelated topics.
Say, for example, that your specific passions are death metal music, Japanese anime and Italian cuisine. Starting a personal blog about all of those things would be very unwise.
However, subject to research, starting a blog about just one of them could work out just fine.
Why Passion Matters
The first thing to remember is that passion for your subject is really important, assuming that you intend to run the blog and create content for it yourself.
It can be tempting to pursue what you perceive to be a “lucrative” niche instead. But that can backfire hugely a few months down the line, when the thought of writing more about it makes you shudder and you lose all your motivation.
Obviously it is an option to start a blog about a subject that doesn’t merge with your interests. You can hire people to write the content (discussed below), and take on more of a management role.
However, it’s fair to say that it’s probably not the best idea to do that with your first ever blog. Learn the ropes with a subject you care about first.
Researching the Competition
Once you’ve whittled down your ideas to a shortlist, it’s time to look at who your competitors are, and how crowded your niches are in general.
An unavoidable reality is that some subjects are extremely competitive. This is especially the case for well-established niches with high earning potential. Markets like web hosting and personal finance are good examples, and in some cases big, blue-chip players are already involved.
There’s nothing to say you can’t aim for a unique take on a competitive niche, or try to corner the market for a specific sub-section of a niche. However, if you’re starting your first blog, it’s best to try to find a “sweet spot” where:
- You’re blogging about a subject that genuinely interests you.
- You’re confident you can produce something as good or better as the existing competitors.
- There’s enough interest in (or search volume around) the topic to warrant pursuing the idea.
- There’s little enough competition to give you a chance to make a splash.
Finding that sweet spot may feel initially intimidating, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. As we’ve already said, there are billions of internet users. There are also new products, hobbies and trends emerging all the time.
So how do you actually do the research?
The first place is obvious: Google.
Looking for your topic(s) will quickly show you who you’ll be competing with, and who’s already battling for the top spots in the search rankings.
After that you’ll want to delve a little deeper. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tools like AHRefs and KWFinder can prove hugely useful here.
These tools can show you things like how many people search for a given topic each month. They can also give you an insight on the competition.
SEO tools aren’t particularly cheap, but they continue to come in useful throughout the lifespan of your blog. They can help you to find out exactly which subjects to create content about, and to keep an eye on how your site is performing.
Thankfully, you can often grab free trials too, which will give you enough access for a good few research sessions while you’re doing your initial fact-finding.
At this point, it can feel like the learning curve is steep. However, it’s important to remember what we said at the start of this section: research is everything. The more time you spend with these tools, experimenting and searching, the more chance you have to find the niches and micro-niches where the competition is low but earning potential is high.
Choosing your Domain Name
Once you’ve decided what to blog about, the next challenge is coming up with your domain name.
This is very important, because it will form the whole brand of the blog, and it’s not something you’re likely to want to change later. It shouldn’t just be a five-minute decision.
The best thing to do is start putting ideas into a site like LeanDomainSearch. You’ll probably find some of your best ideas are already taken, but persevere until you come up with a shortlist of site names.
It can be a good idea to run some of your ideas by your family and friends, to gather some independent feedback.
Here are some important considerations:
- Make it memorable: One or two word domain names are generally considered optimum, but can be harder to find.
- Think about the .COM: Many people believe that .com domains are “better” than others, but there are plenty of successful online businesses built around .co, .co.uk, .io and others. Having said that, there is some wisdom in aiming for the .com if it’s available.
- Avoid symbols and hard-to-spell words: You’ll be telling a lot of people your site’s address, so you don’t want to be spelling the words or explaining where dashes go.
- Check for existing sites and companies: Don’t get too excited if you think you’ve found the perfect site name, before you’ve checked all the other .org, .co, .biz etc. variations. Similarly, check you’re not using a company’s existing name or trademark.
- Don’t worry too much about keywords: If you’re blogging about cameras or laptops, it’s certainly desirable to include “camera” or “laptop” in your brand and domain name. But it’s not essential. Sites like Gizmodo and Bustle have been perfectly successful with quite obscure names!
Once you’ve chosen your domain name, you’ll want to get it registered to make sure nobody else grabs it. Usually you’ll do this at the same time as buying your hosting, and we discuss that more below.
Generally, you will only have one main domain name, be it the .com or whatever else you’ve decided on. Some blog owners decide to register other variations, such as .uk, .biz, .info etc. They can then redirect these to the main site.
Whether you choose to do that is something of a judgement call. It introduces extra expense and complication, and nowadays there are so many extension variants, it’s almost impossible to cover them all.
However, it’s something to give some consideration to – especially if you fear a competitor may grab another variation and attempt to compete with you.
Choosing your Platform
This part we can make very easy for you! If you’re building a blog nowadays, there’s a 99.9% chance you’ll want to build it using the WordPress platform. (We have a detailed article on WordPress here).
There are other options available to you, but WordPress has become the industry standard for commercial blogs. It’s well supported and widely understood.
There are a few other platforms to be aware of, just in case you’re attempting something slightly different:
Blogger is an alternative blogging platform that’s now owned by Google. Once a far more direct competitor to WordPress, it’s now seen as more a hobbyist platform.
Tumblr bridges the gap between blogging and social media. It is possible to create a blog on Tumblr, but like Blogger it’s more an environment for hobby bloggers than for people wanting to profit from their sites.
Joomla is a content management system (CMS) with some basic similarities to WordPress. However, it is considerably more complex, and a better fit for large companies with very specific requirements. It’s hard to imagine any scenarios where it would be a better fit for a new blog than WordPress.
Your domain name gives your blog a brand and an identity. Meanwhile, your hosting gives your blog somewhere to “live” on the internet. We have a detailed guide to how hosting works and how to choose a provider here.
If you’re starting from scratch, you will probably find it most simple and convenient to register your domain(s) with the same company you use to host your site.
As our hosting guide explains, hosting costs can vary massively, from just a few Pounds per month to a few hundred. Generally speaking, you can manage with one of your host’s most inexpensive “starter” packages initially. Then, you can upgrade as your site and your traffic begin to grow.
As such, you don’t need to budget a tremendous amount to run your blog for the first year. £100 or less should probably have you covered. That said, do be aware that many hosting companies run promotions where you enjoy a reduced-price first year, with the cost rising after that.
Generally, you pay for domain registration on an annual basis, and for hosting either annually or monthly. You can almost always save if you’re willing to pay for a year or more up front, so it’s wise to do this if budget permits.
How to Set Up your Blog on your Domain
Once you’ve purchased your web hosting, you’ll be given a logon to an online dashboard or control panel.
Depending on your level of technical experience, this panel could feel quite overwhelming, as there are typically many options. However, you can usually get by with only using a small number of them.
It’s also worth remembering that your web hosting company will be well used to people setting up blogs for the first time. There are usually extensive how-tos and video guides, and support departments are always there to assist.
Obviously the exact processes vary from host to host, but these are the key steps you’ll need to undertake:
- Point your domain(s) to your hosting package. This is usually very easy if you’ve ordered the domains from the same company as the hosting.
If not, you will need to log on to a separate control panel for the company you registered the domains with and input some DNS records provided by the web host.
- Install WordPress on your hosting. Look out for a section on your dashboard labelled “WordPress” or “One Click Installs.” Hosting companies are so used to customers installing WordPress, they tend to make these options very prominent
- Set up email for your domain. This is so you have a professional looking email address such as [email protected].
There are many different ways to configure email, and you’ll probably have a couple of options, such as using a webmail system or setting up email software like Mac Mail or Microsoft Outlook. Just follow the instructions carefully, and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
- Set up HTTPS. Most web hosting companies include a secure HTTPS certificate with their hosting packages. Explaining HTTPS in detail is beyond the scope of this article, but if the option is there, it’s worth activating it from the start.
In brief, using HTTPS makes your site more secure, and stops Google’s Chrome browser highlighting it as “insecure” to those who visit.
Again, if in doubt, just ask your hosting company to help.
The initial set up of a blog is very simple. In fact, it sounds more complex than it is. However, one thing to be aware of is that it can take around 24 hours for web servers around the world to learn where to find a new site.
This process is called DNS propagation. You can probably do the basics and start to work on your new site in a matter of minutes, but you’ll need to wait a day or so before sharing the address with others.
Blog Design Options
If you’re building a blog for the first time, and using WordPress, the easiest way to handle the basic structure and design is by using an off-the-shelf theme.
However, there are a couple of other options, so we cover those here too in case they’re relevant to you.
Off-the-shelf themes allow you to customise the look and feel of your WordPress site by doing little more than downloading and installing a theme file. You can then tweak the design by changing accent colours and fonts.
There are around 4000 different FREE themes on WordPress’ own theme directory, and thousands more on third-party sites.
Then you have the option of tens of thousands more commercial themes from sites like Envato Market. These typically cost in the region of just £20-50, and have designs that look highly professional.
Choosing themes can take some time, primarily because of the abundance of choice. Here are a few tips to help with choosing an off-the-shelf theme for WordPress:
- Play properly with the theme. As well as looking at the theme’s demo on a computer, try it out on a smartphone and a tablet too. Plenty of people browse with those devices.
- Think about key features. Do you need a sidebar for adverts? Integration for an online shop? Make sure the theme you select or buy definitely supports all of your “must haves.”
- Do your research thoroughly. Have a look at the theme’s reviews, check when it was last updated, and – importantly – see what people have to say about the quality of the support on offer.
- Don’t worry TOO much. Your choice of theme is important, but it’s not permanent and you can always change it. It’s easy to fixate and waste a lot of time on look and feel
Another option is to go to a developer and pay for a theme to be developed to your exact specification.
This does mean you’ll get something completely unique, and if you’re looking for something really specific, that may warrant a bespoke option.
However, going the bespoke route isn’t without its disadvantages. Firstly, you’ll need to pay much more than you will for something off-the-shelf. You’ll also need to be sure that the theme developer will be around to help and support you in the long term, or an update to the WordPress core could create big problems for you.
WordPress themes, even free ones, are usually sufficiently customisable for most people’s needs. Think carefully before paying for something bespoke.
Bridging the gap between off-the-shelf and bespoke themes are page builders. These include products like Elementor and Divi, and are essentially drag and drop “construction kits.” They help you to make your sites look exactly as you wish.
If you’re not finding that your theme offers quite enough customisation, a page builder can bridge the gaps. More advanced themes often incorporate a page builder as standard, leaving you with an enormous amount of customisation potential.
Developing your Content Strategy
In an ideal world, you’d just be able to write, free-form, about each and every topic that appealed to you. Unfortunately, that’s not the way to gain traffic and momentum for your blog.
The first – and most key – thing to understand, is that a significant proportion of your content should be on topics that you know people are keen to read about.
The Importance of Keyword Research
Earlier in this guide, we discussed SEO tools like KWFinder and AHRefs. These are invaluable for researching what people are searching for online.
For any given keyword, you can ascertain roughly how many people search for it each month, and how many other sites are competing to write the best articles around that keyword.
In the early days, it’s best to go after the “low hanging fruit.” You’ll quickly figure out that the keywords that can bring lots of traffic and money are much more competitive. It’s best to go after these tougher keywords once your site is more established, which includes gaining some incoming links from well-regarded sites.
There is, of course, nothing to say that every article you write has to be slavishly written around a specific keyword. However, it’s best to spread your content efforts out, and ensure you write targeted content as well as more free-form articles.
It’s also sensible to give some thought to how you plan to make money from your site, which we cover in a little more detail below.
An important principle to understand is the intent behind the different keywords internet users type into the search bar. If they type “buy xxx,” they’re probably ready to spend; If they type “best xxx” they’re likely researching, but could soon cross that threshold into being ready to make a purchase.
There’s a great guide to the intent behind different types of web searches here. Unsurprisingly, you’ll find, when doing research, that the high buying intent keywords are much more competitive!
Writing Yourself vs Hiring Writers
How much you can write for your blog yourself will depend on myriad factors.
For some, a blog is an evening and weekend project. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be able to dedicate all your time to it?
Either way, there are only so many hours in the day, and the time may come when you consider hiring some writers. Here are some good reasons to do so:
- You’re blogging about a subject you’re not knowledgeable in.
- You’re keen to build up your content faster than you’re able to by yourself, and you have the budget.
- You want to create articles written by specialists, so you’re essentially “buying in” the necessary credentials.
Obviously everybody’s time, objectives and budgets are different. And it’s not quite as simple as just finding the money to hire writers.
Quality is very important, and ideally you want people writing content at least as good as you could write yourself. Finding that skill and passion can be expensive, and of course there’s also the fact you have to train, develop and manage your writers.
As discussed already, running blogs about topics that don’t interest you personally is best left until you’ve gained some blogging experience. It’s fair to argue that the same broadly applies to hiring writers.
Developing a Traffic Strategy
One unavoidable general rule of blogging is that traffic will take some time to build up – unless you PAY for that traffic.
The ultimate aim of most bloggers is to have several diversified sources of traffic, including “organic” visitors who find the site on the search engines, people who arrive via social media sites, and those who come directly or via referrals from other sites.
In reality, most bloggers tend to focus in on one or two things. We run through some of the options here:
SEO is essentially the art of getting a website high up Google’s search results. There’s lots involved, including building up links from other websites, ensuring the site structure is logical, and doing all you can to make your blog as fast as possible.
SEO is an industry in itself. You can buy books on it, take courses, or hire expensive consultants to work on your site and implement their interpretation of “best practice.”
The thing with SEO is that it isn’t an exact science. It’s essentially all about trying to beat Google’s algorithm. However, done successfully, it can mean significant free traffic coming from people searching for things.
Furthermore, according to a recent article, SEO is “the most attractive traffic source” if you ever come to try to sell your blog in the future.
Facebook and Facebook Ads
Many people try to generate traffic via Facebook nowadays. In truth, it’s not especially easy unless you’re spending money to ensure Facebook put your posts and adverts in front of plenty of people.
However, using Facebook to market your blog is certainly worth some consideration. If you can find a way to make more money from your visitors than it costs to attract them, that’s a scalable secret formula – but it’s far from easy.
Facebook promotion – and promotion on other social networks – is also worth special consideration in the early days. Especially as, to begin with, traffic can prove hard to come by without paid promotion.
Pinterest is a social network, first and foremost, but it’s also now regarded as one of the world’s biggest search engines.
Some bloggers master Pinterest and manage to make it their largest source of traffic.
It’s fair to say Pinterest works better for some niches than others. Craft, food and household topics are particularly successful.
Learning Pinterest is similar to learning the intricacies of Facebook advertising. It takes a lot of skill, practice and testing to come up with the perfect formula. However, it’s worth noting that plenty of highly successful bloggers use it for the bulk of their traffic.
If you’re comfortable with video creation, YouTube can serve as a valuable source of traffic for a blog. Not only can you embed your videos in your own blog posts, you can also use the YouTube site to attract traffic, by sharing your blog address in videos and in description boxes.
Like Pinterest, YouTube effectively doubles as a search engine. Furthermore, because many creators are rather camera shy, you can grab a great advantage by being one of the bloggers willing to work with video.
Monetizing your Blog
As we come towards the end of this article, we reach the topic that will be of most importance to many readers: How to actually make money from a blog.
It’s such a big topic that we’ve produced a dedicated article which you’ll find here. However, for the purposes of this article, here are some of the ways you can turn your blog into a money making machine:
- Selling Advertising – either by selling adverts directly to related companies, or by freeing up space on your site for the use of advertising networks.
- Affiliate Marketing – promoting products and services using written recommendations, reviews and product roundups.
- Selling your own Products and Services – anything from merchandise to coaching and consultancy services.
- Creating Information Products – such as online courses and eBooks.
- Working with Brands – on everything from sponsored content to social media promotions.
Now you’ve reached the end of this article, you should understand the basics of how to start a blog, and all the steps involved.
It can seem like a lot to take in, but the great thing about blogging is that you only have to take one small step at a time. A blog is a big project, but the individual bricks of success can be stacked at your own pace.
So when are you getting started?