What You Need to Know Before Starting a Money-Making Blog
Some people use the word "blogging" to refer to any kind of online writing, but strictly speaking, a "blogger" is a person who creates their very own website where they can write regularly.
There's a big learning curve to becoming a really successful blogger, but there are just a few basic secrets you need to know, to lay a solid foundation for that future success!
Secret #1 - Specialise!
Some writers get frustrated with the rules set by writing sites, and start their own blog so they can write whatever they darn well please. That's your privilege - just be aware that Google won't send you traffic.
You may enjoy writing whatever you want, but will it be as satisfying if no one comes to read it?
To get readers, a blog MUST focus solely on one subject.
Why is this such an important secret? Google respects three things in a blog: age, size and authority. As a new blog, you can't do much about the first two - but you can establish authority, by concentrating on one subject and writing plenty of good solid material about it.
It's a good idea to choose a broad topic, and something you're knowledgeable about, so you don't run out of material (remember, you're going to be writing at least one post a week for many months or even years!).
Here's an article which explains in more detail:
NEVER link to any website, blog or web page that's not directly relevant to the subject of your blog. You will damage your own blog and the page you've linked to.
Secret #2 - Choose The Right Platform
When deciding where to start your blog, you have two choices: Wordpress.com or Blogger.com. ALL the other free sites have major downsides, the main one being transferability - so don't be tempted by fancy "website builders", they are traps!
Most seasoned bloggers will say, "if you're serious about blogging, forget the free sites - sign up with a hosting company and create a blog on their server with Wordpress software". That's called "self-hosting". Having helped several newbies launch their very first blog, I disagree! Self-hosting is the most powerful way to run a blog - but if you're not technically-minded, getting started can be very daunting indeed.
I prefer to start newbies on Wordpress.com. It uses exactly the same software, but you don't have to manage complicated installation or maintenance - it's all done for you. That means that when you're ready to take blogging seriously, it's child's play to move your blog over to self-hosting, and you don't have to redo everything or learn the ropes all over again.
You also have the choice not to move your blog at all - you can keep it on Wordpress.com and upgrade to the paid version, which is not expensive, and good value considering they do all the "back office" maintenance for you.
Note: the one drawback of the free version of Wordpress.com is that you can't put Adsense or other advertising on it. That's not as big a problem as it sounds - because for your first six to twelve months, you're only likely to earn pennies anyway, so you can afford to be patient. And if you upgrade to the paid version, there are no restrictions.
If you can't bear the thought of living without ads for a few months, then Blogger.com is your only alternative. It will be harder to transfer your blog later if you want to upgrade to self-hosted, but not impossible - though you will lose some readers in the move.
Secret #3 - Buy the Right Domain Name Upfront!
When you start a blog on Blogger.com, your blog name will have "....blogspot.com" tacked on to the end of it. A blogspot name makes your blog look amateurish to both readers and Google. Also if you need to transfer your blog later, you can't take that name with you, so your loyal readers won't know where to find you. You'll have to start all over again from scratch! So you need a "proper" domain name.
You can buy your domain from Google but for the sake of transferability, I would recommend going to a site like Namecheap.com. You'll find their tutorial for "attaching" your domain to your blog here.
On Wordpress.com, your blog name will have "...wordpress.com" on the end. This is less associated with amateurism or spam, but it's still a good idea to use a proper domain name, so that your website name doesn't change wherever you go. The snag is that Wordpress recently changed their rules, and now you must have a paid account to get a domain name. The good news is that if you use a free account, it's possible to redirect it to a Wordpress.org blog when you're ready, and your readers will still be able to find you.
How to Choose a Domain Name
Choose a domain name that tells Google what your site is about (i.e. not your name, or something cutesie). Never choose a domain name with hyphens or underscores in it, and make sure it ends with .com, .net or .org, nothing else.
If you can, try to include as few words as possibly in the domain name and make sure at least one of those words in an appropriate "keyword" that helps describe your site.
- www.wheels247.com doesn't really describe your website or what topic you specialize in.
- www.mountainbikeridersblogcentral.com is much too long and can hurt any possibility of a visitor remembering your site and typing it into the address bar.
- www.mountainbikers.com is a great name. It's short, ends in ".com", describes what the blog is about (mountain biking), and is memorable.
Spend some time searching through available domain names on a website like godaddy.com and make a list of available domains. Then from your list of available names, pick your favorite one.
Secret #4 - Write, Write, Write!
The biggest mistake I see newbies make is that they agonize for hours over what their blog looks like. Google's robots can't judge the prettiness of your design - they judge your blog based on content. So, you need content before anything else!
Be content with a basic layout in your first few weeks or even months. Most bloggers change their mind about their blog design several times in their first couple of years - and with Wordpress or Blogger it's easy to do, so don't stress about getting it right first time. Focus on creating wonderful content to enchant your readers and they won't care too much what it looks like.
Secret #5 - Menus, Menus, Menus!
The other big thing newbies forget about is navigation - how your readers find posts of interest to them.
Traditionally, a blog lists posts by month, because blogs were originally online diaries. That navigation is less than useless for most of your readers! Think about it - would you trawl back through twelve months' worth of posts on the off-chance there might be something interesting in there?
Your blog needs at least one menu which lists your posts by category. You might even have separate menus for some sub-categories. It all depends how big your blog is and how many categories and child categories you have. The easier you can make your navigation, the longer your readers will stay on your blog and browse.
Secret #6 - Build an Email List
Many people transition to blogging from article writing sites, and try to make money as they did there - by using Adsense and affiliate ads. You can read more about those methods of monetizing your blog here.
Sadly, revenue from that type of advertising has declined over the years, and now the best way to earn income from your blog is to build an email list. You do that by offering a regular newsletter (monthly is fine), or a free product, and inviting your readers to sign up for it.
That's another reason why you need to specialise: it's very hard to get readers to sign up for an ebook of anecdotes - and they will soon unsubscribe if your newsletter isn't consistently useful and relevant to their needs. Whereas if you can establish yourself as being knowledgeable in a subject, and offer ongoing advice on that topic to your email list, people are far more likely to sign up and stay with you.
Once you have an email list, you can start to make money from it. You have several options. The best one is by selling them product - your own products, or products you earn commission on. You can also approach suppliers, with your email list as proof of readership, and invite them to advertise on your blog or newsletters for a fee.
It may take you some time to think of (or create) products to sell, or to have enough traffic to be attractive to advertisers - but you should start collecting your email list immediately! That way, by the time you're ready to use the list, you've got a decent number of names. Use a mailing list company like Mailchimp or Mad Mimi to ensure you meet all privacy regulations.
I started my first blog because learning about affiliates and layout on HubPages whetted my appetite to create something of my own. And about that time, a new eBay affiliate software became available - and I couldn't use it on HubPages. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to have some fun, and make money at the same time. Even though I'd learned a lot on HubPages, creating that site was a big learning curve. That's one of the reasons why I say, don't start a blog because you "should" - start it because you want to, because you'll need that enthusiasm to carry you through!
© 2010 Kate Swanson