1. Choose a successful, profitable niche.
What you need to know: 90% of your initial blogging success comes down to choosing the right niche, then writing about the “right” topics within that niche.
Choosing a niche is incredibly important.
Go with the wrong one and you’ll have a hard time getting traffic or revenue.
The “right” niches are ones that have lots of Google (and Pinterest) searches, which means there are a lot of problems people are looking to solve online.
For example, anything related to travel, money, fashion, fitness, etc.
Each of these niches have millions of searches.
That means there’s plenty of opportunity to create content.
As a blogger, your goal should be to help solve people’s problems with helpful, unique content.
And you can do that best when your niche has a ton of questions to go around.
Take the personal finance niche, for example.
Every day people look up thousands of very specific searches, like:
- how often can you refinance student loans?
- can you rent an apartment with no credit?
- how to change homeowners insurance with escrow
- what to do with old debit cards
This niche works well because when there are thousands or millions of specific searches, that’s more opportunity for the small or beginning blogger to get their slice of the pie.
In a small niche, on the other hand, where there are fewer searches and questions, it’s harder to get your slice of the traffic and revenue pie.
It’s possible to go too big and too small with your niche, so try to find a good in-between where there’s thousands of questions being asked, but not so many that you’ll get lost in the shuffle.
If you decide on a niche like personal finance, then consider finding a “subniche” within that topic, like creating family budgets, or couponing, etc.
Good Blog Niches
Here’s a list of some great niches for beginning bloggers to work in.
It’s not comprehensive, but in my decade-plus of blogging, these are some of the niches I’ve seen be very profitable for bloggers of all levels:
- budgeting and personal finance
- DIY and crafts
- Home improvement and/or decor
- Travel and outdoors
Important note: part of the success of your blog comes down to you being an online “authority” in your niche.
So if you go with a lifestyle blog, try to pick one angle and stick with it for awhile before you expand.
It’s going to be a lot easier to gain authority, traffic and momentum if your lifestyle blog focuses just on one thing, like fashion or fitness.
If you have a catch-all lifestyle blog that jumps around too much from fashion to food to fitness to travel to parenting, Google will have a more difficult time understanding where your authority lies, so you may have a harder time ranking well and getting organic traffic.
If you go with a lifestyle blog, try to focus it as much as possible.
Do you have to be passionate about your niche?
There are two schools of thought here.
The first is to work on your passion, whatever it is.
I don’t necessarily agree with that 100% – if your passion is collecting pogs, you probably won’t find very much success, traffic or income.
On the other hand, I don’t recommend choosing a niche simply because it will be profitable.
In my experience, the balance has always come somewhere in between: something I could learn more about, see myself being interested in for a few years, and has good potential to make money and improve the lives of my audience.
I’ve worked in niches I strongly disliked, and I wouldn’t do that again.
But I’ve also worked in niches just for the money, and I didn’t have the same drive when I worked on something I really enjoyed.
Find somewhere in the middle, but remember that your passions may not be profitable, and profitable niches may not be sustainable if you’re just there for the money.
- success comes from the right niche + the right topics
- choose a niche with lots of questions and searches
- try to find a “subniche” within your larger niche
- balance profit and passion to find your sweet spot
Homework: research and pick a large niche like personal finance or travel, then think about what “subniches” you can explore within that area.
2. Pick your domain name.
What you need to know: your domain name doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does.
Starting a blog is all about moving forward and making progress.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is getting hung up on finding the “best” domain name for your blog.
Because here’s the truth: most people won’t give two you-know-whats about your domain name.
They want answers to their questions, and they don’t usually care who offers it.
They want to find a seafood restaurant in Houston, or a way to build a raised garden bed, or how to improve their credit score.
If you can help, great.
So don’t get hung up on finding the perfect domain name.
That said, some domains are better than others, depending on your niche and interests.
Here are some tips.
Try to find something that indicates your niche.
Sure, there are sites like LinkedIn.com, Twitter, Facebook with abstract names, but when you’re starting out, you don’t have any brand recognition, so try to go with something that’s easy to understand or explain when people get to your blog.
You don’t have to go super generic, just imagine what “image” people get from the thought of your domain and choose something aligned with your niche.
A blog name like “Pinch of Yum” works well because it’s creative but still indicates its niche: food blog!
Consider that people will see your domain in Google search results.
Although your name alone won’t send people from Google or Pinterest to your site, remember that your domain will show up in Google results, and that can affect if people click your page or not.
So you’ll want to pick a name that makes sense showing up for your searches.
It’s also good to pick something that has a positive connotation.
For example, if you’re writing about hiking with dogs, picking a domain like AmazingDogHikes.com seems positive and related to your searches.
If you chose a domain like BeforeMyDogDies.com that covers hikes to do before your dog dies, that might not have the same positive vibe or relevance to your topics.
Give yourself room to grow.
Don’t pick a domain that limits your content or blogging options down the road.
If you start a blog like AquariumAccessories.com, you’ll pretty quickly run out of ideas to talk about.
But if you start AquariumLife.com, now you have many more things you could potentially blog about, including your original idea of covering aquarium accessories.
But now you can also blog about visiting aquariums around the world, or what fish work best in certain aquariums and so on.
Just remember you’ll hopefully be blogging for months and years, so give yourself a domain that makes sense now, in a year from now and even years down the road.
- don’t waste time finding the perfect domain
- focus instead on how you’ll help people with your content
- try to indicate your niche if possible
- consider the connotations of your blog name
- get a domain you can grow into
Homework: without searching online, make a list of at least 20 domain names you can think of. Run them through GoDaddy’s bulk domain search to see what’s available.
Now, either choose one that has the “.com” available, or work through a new list if there’s nothing. From there, choose one domain name to move forward with, but don’t register it yet.
3. Set up website hosting and WordPress.
What you need to know: like a domain name, a hosting account’s all about moving forward and not getting hung up on the details.
Your blog has two components that make it run: a domain and hosting.
Your domain is your blog’s online address (URL), and we covered that above.
Your hosting is what stores and organizes your blog’s files, databases and storage.
In 2020, there are hundreds of options for blog hosting, and many of them are good.
You’ll see a lot of bloggers recommend Bluehost because it’s super popular and they have a good affiliate program.
If you go with Bluehost, you’ll be totally fine.
But I also can’t recommend them only because of the customer service and down-time issues I’ve seen with them in the past, both on personal websites and my employers’ websites over the years.
If you’re looking for a better hosting option, I recommend Siteground.
It’s what I use for all my blogs.
They offer WordPress-specific hosting that starts at $3.95 per month and includes plenty of room to grow.
Update: Special COVID-19 Discount
Right now, Siteground is offering 3 months of hosting for $0.99 to help those who’ve been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak still get their blogs up and going.
Why Go with Siteground?
Anytime I set up a new site with them, it takes less than an hour to get my hosting purchased, my account set up and my blog ready to go.
They also have an amazing customer service team that’s always responded to any questions I had incredibly fast.
Their hosting is great, but their customer service is what makes them stand apart as a blog host, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more bloggers moving from Bluehost to Siteground over the next few years.
Again, if you do go with Bluehost, you’ll be totally fine – they’re like the Walmart of website hosting.
But if you’re the type that wants more customer support, great service and few technical issues, I’d highly recommend Siteground.
Hosting doesn’t make or break your site.
No one goes to your site because it’s hosted on Bluehost, Siteground or GoDaddy.
As long as you pick a reputable website host, it won’t make or break your blog (avoid cheap unknown hosts that may have speed, security or technical issues).
They go there for the content – for the help.
So don’t get hung up on hosting.
Choose a host that has good reviews and fits your budget.
If your blog really takes off and you need more help in the future, you can always upgrade to better plans or move to another host at some point.
The goal is to make a decision and move on.
There are a handful of platforms you can use to set up a blog, but really it comes down to this: if you want to take blogging seriously, get traffic and make money, go with WordPress.
It offers the most options and flexibility.
You can stay small or grow into a larger blog over time.
If you choose another platform like Squarespace, you can still run a blog.
But if you want to give yourself the best chance of success and work on a platform made for bloggers like you, go with WordPress.
Most website hosting companies offer normal website hosting, which can run WordPress or any number of other site platforms, like forums, community sites, etc.
But they a lot of them, including Siteground and Bluehost, also offer WordPress-specific hosting.
This is the way to go if you can – it’s the easiest to set up and eliminates the manual install of WordPress you’d have to do normally.
How to Set Up WordPress Hosting
Go to the WordPress hosting plans available – for most people, the StartUp plan will do just fine to begin.
If you go grow fast, you can always upgrade to another plan seamlessly.
On the next screen, enter the domain name you’d like to use.
And on Step 3, enter your account information to finalize your hosting plan.
After that, setting up your WordPress blog is easy – just follow Siteground’s instructions!
- there are tons of good hosting options, just choose one and move on
- Siteground offers great customer service and support
- you can always upgrade or change plans later
Homework: pick a website host and walk through the process of creating an account. If you’re using WordPress, which we recommend, you can choose to go with a WordPress hosting plan.
When you pick a host, you can also register your domain at the same time. It’s easy to do it this way and keep your domain and hosting together with the same company, though you can also register your domain somewhere else, like GoDaddy.
But in general, just keep it easy and register your domain wherever you’re hosting your blog.
4. Add a WordPress theme.
What you need to know: there are a ton of free and paid themes out there – start with a free one until you know exactly what you want out of your blog.
In WordPress, a “theme” is a visual design that changes the appearance of your blog.
When you first set up your blog on WordPress, it’ll come with a very basic free theme that you’ll likely want to change to fit your style preferences.
There are all sorts of themes out there for all types of blogs and websites.
Some are free, some cost money.
My advice: don’t get hung up on getting a paid theme at first.
Install a nice free one that you like, then learn what you’d like to have in your ideal theme.
Here’s what happens: a lot of bloggers buy a theme right away, install it, then realize shortly after that it’s not quite what they wanted.
So they have to buy something else.
And then buy something else again.
It happens all the time – even to me.
What I’ve learned after helping plenty of friends and family set up their blogs is that it’s good to go with a free option until you learn more about what you’d like to see.
This way, you can avoid having to buy multiple themes because you’re focusing on learning what you want before you get distracted by a nice shiny paid theme.
Also, when you’re shopping for themes, realize that the creators of those themes try to make them look as pretty and done-up as possible, but that when you install yours, it’ll likely look more basic.
So don’t get thrown off by big beautiful header images – pay attention to the layout of the content, the formatting of the blog and so on.
You can still make your blog look like the theme demo, but you’re looking at the “bones” of the design rather than specific images or anything like that.
Here’s a list of some free WordPress themes to check out:
- The 23 Best Free WordPress Themes for Bloggers in 2020
- Free Featured WordPress Themes
- 75 Best FREE WordPress Themes for 2020
When you’re looking for a theme, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is less is more.
You might think you need a bunch of bells and whistles to make your blog look good, but the truth is that if you’re focused on solving your readers’ problems, then your goal should be to make that process as efficient as possible.
That means putting your content – your answers to readers’ problems – front and center.
Don’t get hung up on fancy features.
Remember that the value you provide is related to solving readers’ problems.
So pick a nice, clean design that showcases your value.
If your blog takes off, you’ll have plenty of options down the line to make things look really, really nice.
But for now, all you need is a blog that works well and makes your content the focus.
Make a decision and spend time on writing – something that’ll actually move your blog forward.
- start with a free theme, learn what you like and don’t like
- your theme should highlight your content, not bells and whistles
- a less is more theme is easier to update and maintain over time
Homework: look through some of the best free WordPress themes out there and choose 3-5 to test out on your site.
You can upload and delete these pretty easily, so don’t be afraid to test out a lot until you find one you like.
At the same time remember that having something up and live is better than waiting on the perfect theme.
Just keep moving.
5. Get to work blogging.
What you need to know: the only way your blog grows is with targeted, well-written blog posts. Time to do the work!
Without traffic from Google, your blog can still survive, but it’s really hard.
But when you figure out how to get search engine (organic) traffic to your blog, you’ll see it’s an absolute game-changer.
Almost every successful blog I come across gets a ton of search engine traffic.
It might also get social media and email traffic, too, but it usually doesn’t get those without a strong organic traffic base.
Here’s how to get started.
First, realize that when you’re just starting out, your trust with Google and readers is low – pretty much zero.
And when you don’t have trust yet, that means you need to start building it.
The best way to start is by writing blog posts that solve small, specific problems for people.
Why does this work?
Well, websites have been around for decades now, and a lot of them have answered a lot of “big” problems and challenges for people.
Take the search “how to get a credit card,” for example.
The sites ranking for this search include:
They pretty much have that problem solved, and they are considered extremely trustworthy sources in the credit card and financial world.
There’s really no way you’d be able to outrank those sites for that search without years and years of writing and building up your authority.
Even then, there’s no guarantees you could do it.
So instead of going after big, massive problems that have already been solved by big websites, you go after small ones because they are less competitive and more open and accessible to new bloggers.
When I say a small problem, I mean one that is very specific, usually a “long” phrase with more words in the search, and one that doesn’t get as many searches in Google.
For example, instead of covering how to get a credit card, let’s take a search like “can you make a down payment with a credit card?”
Now, that’s a very specific question and according to Ahrefs gets about 90 searches per month.
On the other hand, “how to get a credit card” gets about 8,600 searches per month.
The mistake many new bloggers make is thinking they have to go after “big” searches and ignore the small ones.
But that’s the worst thing you can do.
Instead, you want to prove your value and build trust by tackling the small problems that Google and readers need answered.
Let’s go over that again because it’s the single most important thing to know about blogging.
You build trust over time by writing about small, specific problems in order to build trust with readers and Google.
Once you build that trust by answering “small” problems, you can move up to bigger ones over time.
Then things really get interesting.
Let’s say you start a DIY site, and blog about small, specific problems like “what to do with old broken bricks,” which gets about 90 searches per month but has little competition.
You cover stuff like that for a while, then one day you realize you have a lot of traffic, a lot of trust with Google, and your readers know you’ll provide useful content.
At that point, then you can start to write about bigger, more competitive topics because you’ve built a solid foundation of trust, expertise and authority in your niche.
Then you can write about something like “DIY Halloween props” which gets thousands of searches, especially around Halloween.
But if you were to try to cover DIY Halloween props right away, you’d likely have a hard time ranking and getting traffic because it’s a bigger, more competitive topic.
Because you waited and built up your authority first, you’re now in a better position to rank for it.
Two Rookie Blogging Mistakes to Avoid
Here are two mistakes most new bloggers make.
1. They skip the small, long-tail topics and go right for big ones.
When you do this, you don’t get the opportunity to build trust because you go right into a competitive topic where you don’t stand a chance of ranking.
With this mistake, you might never get any traffic at all, and you’ll think blogging doesn’t work for you.
That’s what happens to a ton of bloggers.
2. They only write small, specific blog posts even when they’ve built up trust and authority.
This is a much better mistake to make, but still limits your blogging success.
Once you’ve built your expertise with long-tail, specific blog posts, it’s time to swing for the fences and go for those bigger topics with more traffic potential.
This is how a successful blog grows: starting small, then growing over time.
Avoiding these two mistakes, here’s what the ideal blog plan looks like:
- Step 1: write blog posts about specific topics with fewer searches, less competition
- Step 2: do this enough times that you build trust with Google, readers, and your niche
- Step 3: work your way up to bigger, more competitive topics with more traffic potential
The process is simple – the hard part is finding those long-tail topics and knowing when to move up to bigger ones.
If you have a tool like Ahrefs, that makes it a lot easier because you can find long-tail keywords that other sites are ranking for – then you can figure out what you want to go after.
But that tool and ones like it can be expensive (Ahrefs starts at $99 per month).
You can also use free tools like Ubersuggest, but those don’t always tell you if specific topics actually drive a lot of traffic for a blog.
Because even though we’re looking at “searches” as a single phrase, there are actually hundreds and thousands of variations of these searches.
So it’s actually better to look at topics rather than keywords.
Topic = lots of related searches.
When you’re looking for the best things to blog about, you want to find searches that have a lot of variations, if possible.
Here’s an example – DIY & Crafts has a page on how to cut t-shirts.
It gets a lot of traffic, but all that traffic isn’t coming from 1 or even 10 searches.
It’s coming from more than 5,000 keywords, including:
- how to cut a tshirt
- t shirt cutting ideas
- t shirt cutting techniques
- t shirt alteration ideas
- cool t shirt cutting ideas no sew
You don’t really get that info from a tool like Ubersuggest – that usually comes from Ahrefs or SEMrush.
Good (Successful) and Bad Blog Post Topics
Here are a few examples of good and bad topics to cover for new blogs for some of the main niches we mentioned at the beginning of the guide.
- Good topics = low competition, low searches, super specific, perfect for beginning bloggers.
- Bad topics = high competition, higher searches, broad topics that require a lot of trust first.
Here we go!
1. DIY and Crafts
Good topic = how to make christmas light balls with plastic cups
Very specific project, gets about 100 searches (more at xmas), low competition.
Bad topic = diy stained glass
This is a pretty broad topic within DIY, and gets about 2,900 searches per month.
It’s doable, but would be very difficult for a new blog to rank for and get traffic.
2. Home Improvement
Good topic = how to match paint color on wall
This is a specific problem that gets about 200 searches per month.
Bad topic = exterior house colors
This is a super broad, competitive topic that won’t be specific enough to really get traffic.
The first page of results includes sites like Better Homes & Gardens, Bob Vila and Sherwin Williams.
It would be really hard to get any traffic at all from a topic like this.
Good topic = what to do with leftover lasagna noodles
Again, a very specific search that’s not too competitive and gets about 300 searches per month.
Bad topic = chicken salad recipe
Too broad, too competitive and hard to beat big sites like Food Network that have been ranking for this recipe for years and years.
Start from the Bottom
When you’re just starting a new job, especially if you have no experience, sometimes you gotta start at the bottom.
You don’t walk in and take the corner office.
Same thing happens with Google rankings and traffic.
You can’t start a new blog and expect to get immediate Google traffic – especially from big topics and searches.
Instead, you start at the bottom, put in the work and prove that you’re useful to others.
Then, once your work is recognized, you can move up.
That’s the exact strategy I’ve used for blogging and it’s always worked well.
Start small, build trust, grow to bigger opportunities down the road.
If you do this right, you’ll be blown away by how well blogging can work, even if you’re just covering small topics that get 200 searches or less each month.
- build trust by writing about small, specific problems first
- focus on topics more than individual keywords
- move to bigger topics once you’ve built up trust with readers and Google
- avoid the two big rookie mistakes of choosing topics
Homework: if you have a niche in mind, think about some examples of small, specific problems and try to compare them to broader topics that would be too competitive.
This is a great way to get in the habit of finding long-tail topics to blog about.
For example, if you’re thinking about going into travel, a small, specific problem and search might be “fun things to do with kids in London.”
The broad version of that would be “things to do in London,” which would likely be extremely competitive.
Get in the habit of finding specific versions of broad problems and searches.
6. Monetize your blog.
What you need to know: before you try to monetize your blog, make sure you’re providing real value with your content.
When you first start to blog, I wouldn’t worry about monetization whatsoever.
A small amount of traffic is hard to monetize, and if you focus on providing value instead, you’ll be more likely to create genuinely useful, valuable content.
Content created for the sake of making money has a different quality than content made out of an effort to really help readers.
Successfully Making Money from Your Blog
Once you’ve established some traffic, there are three main ways bloggers can make money:
- affiliate marketing
- display ads
- their own products
If you’re just getting started, affiliate marketing and display ads are easy monetization methods because they don’t require as much time and energy to implement.
Creating your own products – ebooks, courses, memberships, etc. – is more lucrative, but takes more time and resources.
If your initial goal is to get to $1,000 per month and beyond, affiliate marketing and ads can definitely get you there.
If your goals are to make $5,000 or $10,000 per month or more, then you’ll want to consider creating your own products.
You’ll have higher margins to work with, more control over what you promote, and you’ll be able to build long-term assets like an email list.
Research Sites in Your Niche
One of the best ways to figure out monetizing your blog is to see what other blogs in your space are doing.
If you’re starting a travel blog, for instance, check out a bunch of travel sites and see what they’re doing to make money.
Do they sell ebooks? Do they have ads on the site? Do they have an advertising page with specific information?
If I was a travel blogger, I’d check out a site like NomadicMatt.com and see what he has going on.
For one, he has a shop with ebooks and destination guides, but he’s also part of the CafeMedia network, so he’s earning money from ads.
Do research on enough sites and you’ll get plenty of ideas on monetizing your blog.
Blog Income Reports
Another great way to research blog monetization is to find income reports from blogs in your niche. There are plenty of blog income reports being published all the time in all types of niches.
When you see one, see if the blogger shows where their revenue comes from – ads, affiliate marketing, products, courses, ebooks?
Reverse-engineer what’s working for other bloggers and see what you can learn and apply to your own blog.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to making money from your blog – follow what the market’s doing and find opportunities to add value and get compensated in return.
- focus on providing value before making money
- affiliate marketing, ads and products are great ways to monetize
- follow other blogs and income reports to see how they earn money
Homework: look at 5 to 10 sites in your niche or subniche, and see what they’re doing to earn money.
Can you picture your blog using those channels? How could you monetize your blog in 6 months or a year? Could you grow to the point where it makes sense to start your own products?
Now’s also a good time to set some financial goals in general. Are you looking to make an extra $1,000 on the side, or quit your full-time job to blog? That’ll also determine the best monetization methods to go with down the road.
That’s a lot of stuff packed into 6 steps, so here’s a quick recap of how to start your blog:
- choose a profitable niche
- pick a good domain name
- set up your hosting and WordPress
- start blogging!
- monetize your content over time
From there, it’s just about sticking with it.
Successful blogging isn’t about starting, it’s about blogging consistently over time.
That doesn’t mean you have to churn out content, but it does mean that you’re not going to see success unless you keep at it.
You can’t publish 3 or 5 or even 10 posts and think you’ll make $1,000 each month.
You’ll need to consistently deliver value to your readers in the form of helpful and engaging blog content.
Enjoy Your Success (the Journey)
Most importantly, enjoy the blogging journey.
There will be ups and downs, but if you stick with it, you’ll learn a lot about your niche, yourself, your goals and what you want creatively out of a project like a blog.
Again, if you’re blogging just for the money, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are quicker ways to do that online.
But if you’re in the business of writing great content and have a genuine desire to help people with their problems, blogging is a great way to serve your audience and share your expertise.