Author: Mary Ambrose, CPA/MBA
Many people dream of making a living by doing something they love. Having a 9-to-5 job may not be able to combine passion and money perfectly well together. But blogging about topics that you truly believe in might be a path to that dream life style you’ve always wanted.
Blogging isn’t a passive income source because you may have to spend a lot more time and efforts on your blog than a regular corporate job during the first few months of site creation. For a very long time, you may be your only content writer, funds provider, marketer, graphic designer, webmaster, bookkeeper, legal matter researcher…… the list goes on and on.
However, with strategy, patience, persistence and hard work, you will be rewarded with a sufficient side income or even full-time income source that will enable you to have both financial freedom and location freedom. You might be able to just spend a few hours a week creating and marketing blog content while soaking in the sun on the beach.
If you’re interested in having that kind of life style and are willing to learn, then read more from this complete guide to creating a successful blog.
This is a comprehensive guide. If you need more time later to digest this, please download the PDF version here or just sign up below to receive it for reference later.
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Choose The Right Niche For Your Blog
You might be passionate about cats and you want to start a blog focusing on how to care for your favorite furry companion. As long as you can manage to create awesome content and find ways to put your blog posts in front of other cat-lovers online, you should go ahead and do so!
However, not all blog niches are created equal. Personal finance, fitness and health, dating and relationships are among the so called “evergreen” niches that are not impacted by seasonality or fluctuations in trends over time. At the same time, these niches are somewhat “saturated” and could be overly competitive for a new blogger.
I’ve heard of a girl-scout leader who created a blog a few years ago simply to organize scout members and distribute activity handbooks. This is a typical example of a “not-so-competitive” niche. Exactly because of lack of fierce competition, the creator of this blog gradually grew it from a non-profit tool to $5,000 per month steady income source.
The bottom line is, no matter which niche you’re in, you need to write something you’re familiar and comfortable with. Ideally, topics that you cover on your blog should be what you’re truly passionate about. After all, money isn’t everything. It would be a blessing to spend time and energy on a pursuit that we love and can make a good living from at the same time.
Choose Domain Name Carefully
Once you have a solid vision about your blog’s focus, next step is picking a domain name. Your blog’s domain name is as important as your own brand name because you might run into issues later if it’s not selected properly. Let me walk you through the necessary steps you must take to land on the right domain name.
There are various ways you can check to see if something you’re interested in is available:
- Type in the exact domain URL that you’re thinking of into web browser search bar and see if something identical or even similar show up in the search results.
Apparently, if there’s a close match, you would be better off steering clear of that selection to avoid unnecessary confusion or competition.
- Go to Bluehost domains search bar by clicking on the “Domains” tab on its Home page. Enter your desired domain name, including domain extension (e.g., .com, .net, .co, etc.).
As an example, if you entered “queensdomania” in the search bar, you will see the following screen after clicking the green “search” button because this domain was already taken.
On the other hand, if you entered something available, e.g., “newdomainexample.com”, the following screen will appear which means that you can go ahead and register this domain by entering the account information below.
Check Current Patent Databases
You might be surprised how often you’ll discover that certain names or phrases are already patented or pending approval. One thing you definitely want to avoid is unintentionally using terms and words that are under current patent law protection.
Do a quick search on USPTO official website below by following the on-screen instructions:
In addition to the national database, it would also be necessary for you to check your state’s active patent database online. Remember, it’s better safe than sorry!
Don’t forget to try different variations of your desired domain name and see if you find something similar that’s already patented. It’s up to you if you want to create a blog with a URL that’s similar to a term “owned” by someone else. I personally would avoid doing that.
Find The Right Web Hosting Service Provider
There might be free or super cheap web hosting services out there, but you usually get what you pay for. I never even considered these options because I know one has to spend money to make money. Faster website speed and stable site performance come with appropriate price tags.
Page load speed is critical in your blogging success formula. No viewer wants to wait for more than 3 or 4 seconds for a page to load. If it takes forever, most people would just hit the “back” button and bounce right off of your site. You don’t want that, do you?
There are three main hosting service types:
- Shared hosting
This is the most common hosting service used by majority of bloggers. All domains using the same hosting provider will be sharing the same server resources. This could translate into slower page load speed if there are an overwhelming number of websites sharing the same server.
- Cloud hosting
This is the latest trend in the industry. Instead of using one specific server, cloud hosting utilizes multiple computing resources over the internet. This feature enables websites to grow and scale, and only pay for what the site needs.
- Dedicated hosting
As you can tell by the name, a website with dedicated hosting service has exclusive control and “ownership” of the server that’s specifically dedicated to this site. Naturally, most newbie bloggers do not need a high-priced dedicated hosting from the start. When the blog generates sufficient income and has tons of traffic on a daily basis, then it would make sense to have a dedicated server.
With the above general overview in mind, coupled with my personal experiences, I would recommend the following hosting services and believe you’ll get the best value from your investment.
Due to high volume of sites hosted by the same shared server, the regular shared hosting plan from Bluehost is no longer the best deal for your bucks because site speed is not optimized. On the other hand, Bluehost introduced its new Cloud Hosting Service that’s both affordable and cutting-edge.
From the home page, select “Cloud Hosting” from “Hosting” drop-down menu. You will then see plan details and side-by-side comparison. For less than the price of Netflix monthly subscription or one lunch, you can host unlimited blogs with unlimited storage and bandwidth. Best of all, this is the much-coveted cloud hosting service.
Bluehost also comes with the best customer service I’ve ever encountered in any industry. All service representatives I talked to at Bluehost are located in the U.S., and they are very professional and courteous. You know that it’s something rare in customer service nowadays.
Bluehost does have 30-day money back guarantee. So try it out and see for yourself!
QueensDomania.com is currently hosted by SiteGround “GrowBig” plan as it was running a promotion at an unbeatable price with premium server infrastructure. Fortunately, the discounted rate is still active at the moment. So grab it while you can.
The reason why I switched from Bluehost shared hosting plan to SiteGround shared hosting is because of expected faster page load speed. SiteGround’s shared hosting plans provide free Content Delivering Network (CDN) with Cloudflare, in addition to its premium server hardware.
Based on Cloudflare’s official description, CDN refers to a geographically distributed group of servers working together to provide faster and more reliable delivery of internet content. It’s definitely a bonus that SiteGround gives out Cloudflare CDN for free to its users. Most other low-cost shared hosting providers do not offer that.
You can also install the free speed-enhancement WordPress plugin “SG Optimizer” provided by SiteGround once you start using their service. This plugin is designed to integrate your site with SiteGround performance optimizations.
Site speed tests did show that my blog’s page load performance grade improved by at least 50%.
Yes, among shared hosting plans, SiteGround GrowBig plan is the way to go and you’ll get the best value for only $6 a month. Get a 30-day free trial with SiteGround today while the low price still lasts!
WP Engine is a premium web hosting service that caters to those website owners who desire faster site speed and don’t mind the extra cost per month. Currently, the cheapest monthly rate with WP Engine is $35. It also provides baked-in CDN and 35+ StudioPress Premium WordPress themes free of charge to all customers.
Considering the slightly higher monthly hosting fee, WP Engine does come with the flexibility of a monthly plan, which is typically not available with most other low-cost shared hosting plans such as Bluehost and SiteGround. In addition, the free-trial period is 60 days with WP Engine, instead of industry standard of 30 days.
Best of all, if you choose to go with the annual plan, you’ll get the first two months free!
If cost is not a concern for you, then WP Engine should be something to consider.
Effective July 2018, Google’s Chrome browser started to mark all non-https websites as “not secure”, which makes https feature practically mandatory for all sites. Good news is, all recommended hosting providers mentioned above come with free SSL certificate to ensure you’re covered for this new Google requirement.
Other must-have features that Bluehost, SiteGround and WP Engine provide include:
- Free domain name registration
- Free one-click WordPress installation
- Free site migration service if you’re switching from another provider
- Free WhoisGuard privacy protection for your personal contact information provided when you register the domain. Without the WhoisGuard protection, anyone online can find out your name, your business name, and email address, etc.
- Free trial period and money back guarantee
Choose The Right WordPress Theme
In case you didn’t know, WordPress is the number one Content Management System (CMS) for blogs. Once you’ve signed up for one of the web hosting services above, WordPress is easily added by the “one-click” installation feature.
Next, you’ll need to pick a WordPress theme, which will determine what your blog will look like. Under the “Appearance-Themes” tab, you’ll see tons of free themes tested and recommended by WordPress once you click “Add New” button.
If you downloaded a theme from somewhere else on the internet, you can upload it to your site by clicking the “Upload Theme” button below. Just make sure that the unzipped, not the original zipped theme folder, is uploaded, otherwise your theme won’t be successfully uploaded to WordPress.
Of course, there’s the downside of free themes: they are typically not as optimized for speed as some premium themes and the coding isn’t always safe and clean in free ones. On the other hand, premium themes usually cost $35+ one-time payment and you can use it for life.
- Mythemeshop is one of the most popular premium themes with over half a million users worldwide. These premium features and coding will give your online shops extra boost and speed up the page load process.
- And don’t forget, WP Engine comes with over 35 StudioPress premium WordPress themes at no cost to hosting service customers. StudioPress themes are among the best options out there to improve your site performance because of its speed optimized coding.
- Divi premium themes and plugins are top-notch WordPress “child themes” that are customized based on “parent themes” without loosing the capability to upgrade from the base themes. If you subscribe to Divi’s informational newsletters, you can get 10% off all their products.
- Elegant Themes has a huge selection of premium themes and plugins for bloggers and online publishers. It has a unique membership-based customer base of over 500,000, and members have access to all selection of Elegant Theme’s products and tool-kits for unlimited number of websites. There’s also money back guarantee for a 30-day free trial.
Install Must-have WordPress Plugins
Overall, activating too many plugins will slow down your site and create more opportunities for hackers to attack. So it’s absolutely necessary to limit to maximum of 8 or 9 must-have plugins in your first year blogging. For anything unnecessary, you’ll want to deactivate and delete from your WordPress to completely remove the potential negative impact.
When you first log into your WordPress account, you’ll see at least a couple pre-installed plugins including:
- Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights. Google Analytics is a must-have free website performance and monitoring tool. But to put the tracking code on every page of your blog post or modify your site coding to embed the tracking code is just not something everyone wants to do. That’s when MonsterInsights plugin come in handy. All you need to do is just to verify your site ownership and link to the plugin, you’re all set! You must check out the thorough guide to connect your blog to Google Analytics and Search Console for more details.
- Jetpack (connect your blog to your WordPress.com account). This plugin is essential in incorporating a WordPress “Contact Us” form to collect feedback from your blog visitors. It also easily showcases social share buttons on your blog posts.
- Akismet for anti-spam in blog comments. If you choose to manually approve comments posted by visitors to your site, then there’s really no need to keep the Akismet plugin.
On the other hand, there are a few plugins that you should install by yourself to optimize your site.
- For Search Engine Optimization (SEO):
- Integrated webmaster tools to submit your site to major search engines (Google, Bing, Baidu and Yandex) for indexing and validating your site ownership easily without touching the coding.
- Visible SEO reminders and tags to optimize meta descriptions, keywords and alt text for images.
- Easy access to your site’s XML sitemap
- For Page Load Speed:
- “Autoptimize” – optimize your site’s performance through JS, CSS, HTML, images, Google fonts, etc.
- “W3 Total Cache” – top-notch caching plugin to improve speed and user experience.
There are quite a few free website speed test platforms that you should utilize to monitor your site performance on a regular basis:
- For Affiliate Marketing:
If you want to use affiliate marketing to generate income from your blog, then try the plugins below:
- “NoFollow ExtLink” – have complete control over each hyperlink’s “nofollow” tag. This feature essentially prevents Google from transferring PageRank and anchor text data across these links that you appended the “nofollow” tag to. Generally, you want to do that for affiliate links and all links in comments posted to your blog posts. Otherwise spammers will get the Google link juice that they don’t deserve. Grab the “Complete Guide To Master “Nofollow” Tags And Links For Your WordPress Blog” here.
- “Pretty Links” – easily shrink, track and share your links and be protected from affiliate commission thefts.
The first step of generating income from affiliate marketing is to get accepted as an affiliate.
From trial and error, I’ve developed a system to get 100% success rate of getting accepted into any affiliate program I applied to.
You can sign up to receive the secrets to get approved for affiliate programs here or fill out the form below, whichever way you prefer.
And for my subscribers, please feel free to send me an email once you received the secrets via PDF in your inbox, and let me know if you still encounter difficulty getting accepted into affiliate programs.
Tools For Logo Creation & Image Editing
As a blogger, you’ll need to design and create your own site icon and logo. The tools I used and loved are as follows:
It’s a popular tool to customize images and logos for social media publishing. As you can see from the screenshot below, you can click on one of the buttons on Snappa to create your customized images ready to be shared on varieties of social media platforms. This is the feature that I love the most. It’s a snap!
Try Snappa free here. If you love it, it’s only $10 a month to get unlimited downloads and unlimited social accounts sharing.
Stencil is another good image creation and editing tool that’s fast and easy to use. With their growing images library and premium support, it’s definitely worth trying them out as well!
Get Legal Protection For Your Blog
A blog typically will collect “cookies” when viewers visit the site as part of the Internet browsing history. In addition, when readers opt in to be on the newsletters, view affiliate offers or purchase products/services sold through the blog, you’ll need the following legal documents published on your site:
- Terms and Conditions
To be on the safe side and to avoid unnecessary legal hassles down the road, it would be a good idea to have these documents drafted by a lawyer.
Drive Traffic To Your Blog
What good does your blog do if no one visits it and reads what you wrote?
This is when Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes to play. There are some seasoned and expensive digital marketing agencies out there that website owners can hire to optimize SEO and drive traffic to the site. But for most beginner bloggers, that’s just not an option in the budget. That’s why we all have to learn a thing or two about tactics to gain more readers and subscribers for your blog.
Below is a list of major blog traffic sources:
- Direct traffic – visitors entered your site’s URL directly in web browser
- Organic traffic – originated from clicks in Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) when internet users searched for keyword phrases contained in your blog posts
- Paid traffic – when you place an ad through Google AdWords on Google linking to your site. This works with other search engines as well.
- Social media traffic coming from
- Email marketing traffic – when your email subscribers clicked on URLs included in your emails, which brings to our next topic of email marketing strategies to grow your subscribers list.
Visitors to your blog come and go. Some like your content so much that they would stick around and sign up to your email newsletters. These are your precious customers and key target audience to market products and services to.
Here’s a list of top-rated tools to generate leads and grow your mailing list:
Constant Contact has been a leading email marketing software for about 20 years. With its full spectrum of lead generation and email automation features, free online resources library, and 60-day free trial, you have every reason to give it a try if you want to grow your blog and customer base.
AWeber is a widely used email marketing tool that caters to those busy bloggers and entrepreneurs who won’t have much time customizing email automation and marketing campaigns themselves. Try it for free today!
ConvertKit is a powerful and one of the most popular marketing tools used by content creators including online courses creators. Its user interface and automation features are optimized for the best user experiences. Try ConvertKit for free and see if it’s the best for you!
OptinMonster is a must-have WordPress plugin for lead generation and subscribers growth. Versatile “Exit-intent” popup forms generated by OptinMonster is among the most effective ways to grow your mailing list. Join over 700,000 users worldwide to increase your sales revenue and stable audience base by trying out OptinMonster for free.
As an extra bonus for my subscribers, you’re encouraged to fill out the form below to enter in a contest to win a FREE 12-month license to use OptinMonster for your blog. You can also simply sign up here for the chance to win.
How To Make Money From Your Blog
One common way of making money online is to become an affiliate of brands and services that have good potential for sales in your target audience and make commissions from the net sales accordingly.
To be more effective and convincing in your sales pitch, sometimes it’s necessary to have first-hand knowledge and experience in the products/services that you’re promoting by becoming a customer yourself. That’s why you should only be advocating something you truly believe in and then recommend to shoppers seeking the best value.
There are thousands of affiliate programs out there offered by various merchants. You can either apply to them one by one directly, or join at least one of the affiliate networks below.
- CJ Affiliate (f/k/a Commission Junction)
- Impact Radius
- Flex Offers
Sell Your Own Products
Being an affiliate and selling other people’s products can be limited. The ultimate method of monetizing a blog is marketing and selling products and services that you created yourself. Some ideas for starters:
- Write eBooks
- Create digital products such as online courses
- Design your own physical products with your own brand
While there’s fierce competition in the blogging world, sky’s the limit once you’ve established your own brand recognition. Remember, be original and creative.
There’s a saying that some people like to quote and it’s rumored to have come from Picasso: “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. Unfortunately, copying or stealing content from other creators not only will NOT make you a great blogger, but that kind of lazy practice will also lead to copyright infringement and lawsuits.
If you are aiming for long-term success, then make every effort to produce your own content and market effectively.
Earn Advertising Revenue
Once your site starts to generate a lot of traffic and have steady flow of readers to your site, you can start to place well-targeted ads on your blog pages.
Top Ad networks to consider:
- Google Adsense
Advertising revenue is largely dependent on volume of traffic to your blog. It would not be a good idea to pace ads prematurely. After all, not every visitor comes to your site to get bombarded by loads of banner ads. Inappropriately placed ads might even turn off some readers. Be extra cautious and tactful when implementing ads on your site.
Blogging isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s just the opposite. With the competitive digital marketing environment today, you may have to wait for months or even years to see significant improvements in earnings generated from your site.
There might be a few “instant success” stories out there, but that’s not the norm. The key here is to continue to perfect your growth strategy and think outside the box. As long as you don’t give up, you will be a successful blogger eventually!
Disclaimer: Some links within this guide are affiliate links. I’ll be rewarded with small commissions, at no additional cost to you, if you decide to make a purchase by using my affiliate links above.
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