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How to start a blog

Practical advice for anyone who dreams of making it big online

How to start a blog
(Image: © Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash)

The covid-19 pandemic has left a lot of people looking for income options. One of the simplest ways to do this online is to run a blogging site.

Earning money just by blogging about your passions might seem like a daydream, but lots of people have done it – and some of them are making serious cash from it, especially in areas such as technology, beauty, fashion, health, and parenting.

So how do you get started, build a following and begin making the all-important income that will not only keep the wolves from your door, but hopefully set you up for life?

Our practical step-by-step guide separates the dreams from the reality, giving you indispensable advice on how to make a living doing something you love. It’s not by any means a get-rich-quick scheme, but if you have the passion and the perseverance, this is how you make it happen.

Naming your blog

Before you can become a famous blogger you need a blog, right? So let’s get it up and running.

Name your blog before anything else, because if you buy the domain and then find you can’t get the name on Twitter, it gets awkward. Meghan Cooper, the writer behind lifestyle parenting site JaMonkey, says “I tell anyone looking to create a new blog to start on a website like Namecheck. It allows you to search over all the major social networking sites to see if the username is available.” Handy. 

Your blog name is going to become your brand, so choose carefully. When I started Gadgette, I assumed it would be easy for people to spell and pronounce – how wrong I was.

Nicknames work too – Cooper tells us that’s where ‘JaMonkey’ came from. “I'm a fan of quirky site names because they stand out and reflect the writer,” she adds. “Dooce comes to mind as another odd name choice but a successful blogger.” 

And of course, it’ll be easier to get those all-important usernames if it’s something a bit different.

Choosing a platform

When it comes to blogging platforms there are a lot to choose from. 

A lot of the blogging services out there charge for the hosting, but often have a free package for beginners. Weebly and Wix use this model, and Squarespace charges after the initial trial. 

If you’re already familiar with one of those, you might prefer to use them, but most people who want something free and easy choose the eternally popular Blogger or Wordpress

A nice desk helps: you’re going to be looking at it a lot.

A nice desk helps: you’re going to be looking at it a lot.

Both sites are free, and offer easy-to-use templates (so you don’t need to know any code or pay a designer), a huge range of plugins and widgets to add stuff to your site (e.g. a sidebar that pulls in your tweets), and have a large community of users that can help out if you get stuck.

(A note on Wordpress: there are two types, unhelpfully referred to as and Dot com is the one you want, dot org is more for professionally-built websites).

Getting your URL

Next you'll need to use a domain registrar to register *yoursitename*.com as the URL and, if you can, a few of the variants too (especially regional ones like so no one can pretend to be you. Use these extra domains to redirect to the main site, so if people mistype the address, they still find you. 

It doesn’t really matter who you buy your domain from - Wordpress and Blogger will both let you purchase one from them, which makes the process easier but likely more expensive, or you can use Domcomp to compare prices. Register the social media handles too – you don’t have to use them yet, just reserve the names.

Next, hook your blog up to the domain. How you do that will vary by provider (and some charge for it), but it’s not difficult. Search “domain mapping” in the help files to find specific instructions for your provider.

Okay, you’ve got a blog, a cool URL and a bunch of empty social media profiles. Now what?

Make it beautiful

Artistic talent not required. Thankfully.

Artistic talent not required. Thankfully.

Depending on what you write about, you might be joining hundreds or even thousands of existing blogs. How do you make yours shine? 

Natasha Courtenay-Smith, digital strategist and author of the Million Dollar Blog says: “If you’re entering a competitive niche, you really have to launch strong, with a great website, great photos, high-quality vlogs – you’ve got to look the part of a serious contender.”

That doesn’t have to mean spending money. You’ve probably got an excellent camera on your smartphone, and with a bit of creativity even a basic blog template can look amazing. 

There are plenty of free online tools you can use to create and edit images: Pixlr, GIMP and Canva to name just three, and you can also make use of free stock images from places like Unsplash and Gratisography

If you need a logo, try Squarespace’s free creator. Look at what your competitors are doing well, and mix the best bits into your design (no stealing, though).

If you're using the WordPress platform, then there are lots of WordPress themes available, most of which are suitable themes for blogs. Even better, many of these are free, though premium WordPress themes are also available.

Whichever way you go, once your blog has a look you’re happy with, copy it across the avatars and cover pics of your new social media profiles – consistent branding will help people remember you.

Update it regularly

You’ll want a solid base of content before you start shouting about the site; say, five good posts that give an idea of what the content will be. That’s enough for people to know if they want to follow. 

After that, update the site as often as you can (Google likes frequently-refreshed content), but it doesn’t always have to be laborious longform – a good mix of post formats is ideal. 

There’s no set number of updates per week, and don’t worry if life gets in the way sometimes. 

Meghan Cooper says: “I generally write anywhere from three to five  posts a week, and when things are slow or life is chaotic that number drops to one a week. During big holidays I write more because the demand and traffic is higher. More traffic equals more ad and sponsorship revenue.”

Growing a readership

There’s not much point blogging to nobody. You’ll need to make an effort to attract readers, in the same way a new shop has to put up signs and advertise. This is known as the ‘hub and spoke’ technique: your blog is the hub, and the spokes that draw people in are things like social media, press and search engines. 

However, do expect it to take time for your blog to get established, and at first it will likely seem an excessive time sink. The rewards come through perseverance and great content that attracts visitors.

As a successful blogger, your audience will be the most valuable asset you have. If you can offer an audience that not many other sites can, advertisers will beat a path to your door. So think about where the kinds of people you want to reach will hang out digitally, and how to reach them. 

Ensure you're re registered across multiple social media accounts, and cross post links to your content from there. If you find it tough to manage your social media, then consider using social media management tools to simplify things.

At all times, though, be mindful of your audience. For example, if you’re looking for ham radio enthusiasts in their sixties, you probably won’t find them on Snapchat.

Some platforms make discovering new content easier than others; you’re more likely to get new followers by posting on a (relevant!) trending hashtag on Twitter than on Facebook, where you often need to pay to boost posts if you want many people to see them. 

Keep the momentum going

To keep traffic flowing it makes sense to have social posts going out often, but doing that manually can be exhausting. 

Tanya DePass, who turned a hashtag into the popular Need Diverse Games blog, says: “I like to use Wordpress plugins that will let me cross-post on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+ – and even LinkedIn if I need to – in one go.” 

‘Traffic’ is webspeak for readers. We want your site to look like this.

‘Traffic’ is webspeak for readers. We want your site to look like this.

Services like Buffer also let you schedule posts across different sites (the free plan is sufficient for most bloggers), and its free tool Pablo is really handy for quickly making well-designed social images. 

The more you can automate, the more time you can spend writing about what you love, which is the lifeblood of what you’re trying to do. 

Make sure you tag any brands or influencers you mention in your posts. For instance, if your ‘10 types of bacon to try this season’ piece includes a link to Rashers ‘R’ Us, include their handle in your tweet and they might retweet it to all their fans. That’s guaranteed traffic. 

Similarly, people with large followings may agree to an interview or to give you a quote, in which case you can tag them in your social post, and they’ll share it so everyone can read their wise words. 

How to make money

Even when you’ve got all the above up and running, don’t expect to quit your day job anytime soon. 

Courtenay-Smith says: “Of the 50 or so bloggers interviewed for my book, the average length of time building a blog to replace your day job was two to five years. And this is amongst some of the most successful blogstars in the world. 

“But the great thing about blogging is that it can be done around a day job and built steadily over time. It’s important people have the right expectations though; as is always the case with success, it’s not usually an overnight thing even when it appears to be.”

So, in short, do it for love first and money second. It’s a long road, but if you keep going, you’ll get there. 

“Back in the 21st century, this belonged to a famous bacon blogger, hence the name Porkingham Palace”.

“Back in the 21st century, this belonged to a famous bacon blogger, hence the name Porkingham Palace”.

Revenue streams

Going well with your blog but wondering where the money comes from? Courtenay-Smith explains: “So many people automatically think of ads and sponsorship [for making money] but the most successful people think in terms of multiple streams of income."

Take Emma and Elsie, the two girls who run A Beautiful Mess, a hugely popular DIY and crafts blog with annual revenues of well over a million. 

Yes, they do ads and brand collaboration. But they also do a load of other things too, from their own branded merchandise (scrapbooks, planners, diaries, art material), to apps, books and online courses. 

They told TechRadar: “We try to add a new revenue stream each year. We test several, with our goal being that at the end of each year we will have a new permanent revenue stream that will carry on into the future.”

Ads are probably the easiest thing to get started with, though, and depending on the platform you’ve chosen, they can be quite simple to switch on (Blogger has Google AdSense built in, for example). Beyond that, using different affiliate programs can bring in some unexpected extra income, especially if you’re linking to products a lot. 

Amazon has an affiliates program that’s easy to join, and gives you a portion of the income every time someone clicks through from your site and buys anything. For other retailers, one of the most useful tools  is Skimlinks, which automatically converts any link to one of their (many) clients on your site to an affiliate one, without you having to do anything. 

However, they don’t accept everyone, so it’s best to apply when you’ve already built a following.

If you build it, they will fund

If you’ve made something that people believe in but which doesn’t work with the above models, you can use Patreon to get regular sponsorship money from fans, or ‘patrons’. It’s an ongoing Kickstarter-type deal: you offer rewards, they offer cash. 

Tanya DePass uses Patreon to support I Need Diverse Games, and says: “It will take a while to grow your support base. Think about what you can realistically offer supporters. Can you provide physical rewards versus virtual? How much time are you able and willing to put into maintaining your site, and posting updates?

“Be explicit in what you’re offering for that $1, $5, $15 per month. If you know you’ll be doing things like physical items or blog posts, consider the per-creation versus per-month payout model.” 

Keep on keeping on

It can be hard to motivate yourself when other bloggers seem to have already cornered the market. Is there really room for one more?

Courtenay-Smith tells us that it’s completely possible. “That’s like saying ‘can I still be a popstar when there are so many popstars’,” she says. “In any space there are always people arriving and trying, some succeeding and some not. 

“Nothing is fixed, markets are fluid, and opportunities open up all around us even in competitive spaces. Yes the competition makes it harder, but the rewards are so much greater too. 

“There is always room for new people. It’s more important to not give up on your dreams before you’ve even tried – that is something you won’t forgive yourself for.”

So how do you make sure you’re one of the ones that make it? “There’s a saying on the internet,” says Courtenay-Smith. “The only difference between those that succeed as bloggers and those that don’t is that the successful ones didn’t give up.”