I’ve had many readers and new bloggers e-mail me for tips on starting a blog. I love answering e-mails and helping people, but I often found myself answering many of the questions multiple times. So I thought writing a series on how to start a blog would be a more effective method of helping people realize their goal of starting their own blog.
This “how to start a blog” series is intended to help you decide if blogging is for you, and if it is, how to set up a blog and get it going. There are thousands of other topics that can be covered outside the scope of this series, but I will leave it to the hundreds of blogger that blog about blogging, getting traffic, making money and similar topics. At the end of the series I will link out to several other resources that will help you on your journey of improving your blog once you get it going.
What is a Blog?
Blogs, or weblogs, originally started out as a way to share links and stories with others on the web. As time and technology evolved, so did blogging. Now blogging is something that anyone can do – from a teenager, to a CEO from a Fortune 500 company, to your grandmother who may have only recently learned how to use the internet. Blogs can be set up for free within minutes or you can buy a domain and hosting and spend hundreds of dollars on customization, advertising, and other miscellaneous expenses. The quick answer is – a blog is what you want it to be – there are no rules except those that you set for your blog.
Why start a blog?
Blogging can be a great creative outlet that you share only with friends and family, it can be your full-time job, or it can be anything in between. The internet is the cheapest and most accessible way to communicate quickly and easily with a large amount of people. The internet also keeps a permanent record of what you post, which can be a nice way for friends and family members to keep up to date, or for businesses to share their product or services with the world.
There are many benefits to and reasons for starting a weblog:
- Informational: sharing news, information, photos, videos
- Professional: enhancing your business, as a career journal, to display your writing skills, market yourself or your business
- Personal: personal or family blog, thoughts and musings, as a family photo or video journal
- As a business: internet marketing, consulting, brand development
This list is by no means comprehensive and there can be overlap between the categories. The uses of a blog are limited only by your imagination.
Who Should Start a Blog?
The beauty of blogging is that it is incredibly easy to do – anyone who can surf the internet or use a word processor can start a blog. But that doesn’t mean everyone should start a blog. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you enjoy writing?
- Are you passionate about a certain topic?
- Do you have specialized knowledge you want to share?
- Do you want to enhance or grow your business?
- Do you want to create an online journal to share with family and friends? What about a career journal?
- Do you have a portfolio of photographs, artwork, or web designs you want to market?
- Do you want to earn money?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg, but they are a good place to start. If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you may want to consider starting a blog. Note that I added “earn money” last on the list. While some blogs are profitable and there are some professional bloggers, blogging can be hard work and it is not a get rich quick scheme.
What to Write About – Why You Should Consider Your Purpose Before Starting a Blog
So you after reading the introduction on starting a blog for fun or profit you have decided you want to go for it and start your own blog. Great! But what should you write about?
This is one of the most important questions you will face when deciding to start a blog. You want to write about a topic in which you are knowledgeable, and more importantly, that you are passionate about. But before we go further, you need to ask another important question to help you define your blog.
What is your blog’s purpose?
Before putting pen to paper, you need to ask yourself what the purpose of your blog will be. We asked similar questions in the first part of the series, and you may have already answered this question. Once you know your blog’s purpose, you need to narrow your focus until you can answer this question with a one sentence answer. There is no right or wrong answer – your blog is what you want it to be.
You will need more than just a purpose, you will also need knowledge and passion.
Two key elements of blogging: Knowledge and Passion
Without knowledge and passion, your blog is doomed to fail. These two elements feed off each other and it will give you the energy you need to continue writing, even when you hit a down period and don’t feel as though you have anything to contribute.
The knowledge test. Let’s try a quick test – grab a sheet of paper and and start writing down article ideas; a title or rough sentence is all you need. If you can’t come up with 30 article ideas in about 5 minutes, it might be best to think about a different topic.
The passion test. Ask yourself a few questions about your topic idea – Do you think about this topic every day? multiple times per day? Can you talk about it for hours? Do you actively search out new information on your topic or actively bring it up in conversations? All of these answers should be yes.
How many topics should you write about?
Give your blog one main theme. People will usually expect to read related topics on the same site, so it is usually best to focus on one topic or a set of related topics. On Cash Money Life I focus on “personal finance and career” topics. These aren’t the same topic, but they are related closely enough that it makes sense to combine the topics. It wouldn’t make sense for me to write about personal finance today, then fishing tomorrow, then ballroom dancing on Friday, then… catch my point?
It will be infinitely easier to grow you blog in terms of subscribers and traffic if readers know what to expect.
But I pass the knowledge and passion test on multiple topics!
So you are a Renaissance man, eh? Schooled in math, science, engineering, economics, politics, art, music, and travel? Why not write about all of these topics and place them all on the same site?
Because readers won’t know what to expect on any given day – which will turn off many people. If you want to write about all these topics you have two choices to consider – creating separate sites for each topic, or use a subdomain for each additional topic.
An example of a subdomain: I enjoy finding deals, ways to save money, and ways to make free money, but I couldn’t fit them all in on Cash Money Life without adding a lot of extra posts. That would eventually dilute the personal finance articles I write so I added a subdomain to take care of this.
Using multiple subdomains: You aren’t limited to just one subdomain. You can make as many as you want. Check out Curious Cat and how he uses subdomains to cover 3 diverse topics.
- Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog
- Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
- Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
If you notice, each of these “sites” has a different feel to let the reader know the topic has changed. By doing using subdomains, he is able to maintain his site’s brand while branching out into the topics that interest him. And he does this without confusing his readers.
So which topic should you write about?
Only you can answer that question. My advice is to brainstorm, take the passion and knowledge tests, then start off with the topic that interest you the most. It may be tempting to try and start 5 blogs at once because you have the passion for those topics, but you will be more successful if you focus on one blog to begin with. The learning curve and time commitment are much larger than most people realize.
Should You Have a Hosted or Self-Hosted Website?
Now we will discuss different types of blog hosting – an important consideration that must be made before starting your blog. This determines where you website is hosted – either on your own domain, or on a free blogging platform. There are pros and cons to both, which we will cover. Ultimately, the decision is yours.
Hosted vs. Self-Hosted Blogs
There are two main types of blogging services you will need to consider: Hosted or self-hosted. With a self-hosted blog you will typically purchase a domain and a web hosting package, set up the blogging software, and take care of all the details yourself. With a hosted blog, all you do is sign up for an account, select a blog name and start blogging. The company hosting your blog takes care of (most of) the other details. While this sounds nice, there are usually a lot of limitations that come with hosted blogs.
As with everything there are pros and cons. Be sure to understand what you are getting into before you commit to either blog hosting choice.
Pros and Cons of Hosted Blogs
Advantages of using a hosted blog service. There are many advantages to using a hosted blog service, chief among them is price. Many hosted blog services are free. The most common examples of free blogging services are Blogger and WordPress.com. Another popular hosted blogging platform is TypePad.com, which is a subscription blog service geared more toward people and businesses who do not want to mess around with the technical side of blogging. For most of these services, you simply set up an account and start writing. It’s that easy!
Disadvantages of using a hosted blog service. The biggest disadvantage is limited flexibility and control. Some blog services have a limited number of available themes (The “skin” that gives blogs their unique look), some do not allow advertising, and some do not have an easy way to back up your data. Ownership is another issue. While you own the content you have written, you do not own the domain – such as “mybloggerwebsite.blogspot” – and you will not be able to sell your site should you want to.
Lastly, should the host cease to operate or randomly delete your blog (this has happened to many people), you are out of luck. To sum up, you are at the mercy of your blog’s provider.
Other notes regarding hosted blogs: WordPress.com is free but does not allow advertisements. TypePad.com requires users to pay a monthly or annual usage fee (however, this may be the perfect solution for your business).
Who should you hosted blogging? Hosted blogging is a great solution for people who are looking for a free or inexpensive blogging solution and don’t want to hassle with many of the technical details of blogging. However, they should be aware that there may be certain limitations regarding the design of their blog, the ability to earn money with their blog, or the ability to sell it in the future.
The Pros and Cons of Self-Hosted Blogging
Cash Money Life is a self-hosted blog and is what I recommend for anyone who is serious about building a website with staying power and earning potential.
Advantages of using a self-hosted blog. Control. You control everything. While this might seem daunting at first, this is actually a blessing. With full control of your website, you can change the look or feel of your site whenever you want. You can place advertisements, back up your data, export data, run analysis, or even sell your blog. You own the domain and all the content within it.
Disadvantages of using a self-hosted blog. Control. A blessing can also be a disadvantage. When you run a self-hosted blog, there is a learning curve involved. Thankfully, most of the software is very easy to use, much of it is free, and there are hundreds of free resources available if you know where to look (more details on that in a future article).
The other disadvantage is cost. You will need to buy a domain and a web hosting package to host your domain. Fortunately, the cost is not prohibitive. You can get started for under $100, including the domain and your first year of web hosting service. Just look for Go Daddy coupon codes when you register your domain and use an inexpensive and reliable web host like LunarPages. LunarPages also gives customers a free domain with the purchase of a year’s hosting plan, so you may be able to skip using a registrar like GoDaddy.
Who should use a self-hosted blog? I recommend using a self-hosted blog for anyone who plans on making a serious attempt at blogging, has plans on making money with their website, wants total control of their website, or wants the option of selling their website in the future.
Should You Choose a Hosted or Self-Hosted Blog Plan?
The choice, of course, is up to you and you should get the blog setup that best meets your needs. If you only plan on sharing your blog with close friends and family, then a free hosted blog plan like Blogger or WordPress.com is probably sufficient. TypePad would be a good solution for a business that wanted an inexpensive hosting solution but didn’t want to take care of many of the technical aspects of the blog.
But if you have plans on starting a blog that will be highly trafficked and will hopefully make money, then I strongly recommend purchasing your own domain and web hosting package. For less than $100 you will have 100% flexibility and save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.
How to Choose a Domain Name
Now you need to choose a domain name. Your domain will be with your site forever and it is a very important factor in the success of your blog. These tips should help you find the perfect domain name for your new blog.
How to choose a good domain name
Your domain is your website’s calling card – it will be one of the first things people recognize and it will be with you for the life of your blog. The difference between a good domain and a poor domain can mean many more repeat visitors. That is why it is so important to get it right the first time!
Qualities of a good domain
A good domain is something that will be relatively short, easy to remember, and more importantly, easy to type. Branding is another factor to consider – popular sites such as Google and Twitter are made up words. If you do this well, you might be on to something. If not, you might find your domain in the next section – poor domain names.
Qualities of a poor domain.
A poor domain may be hard to remember, have complicated words or spellings, be confusing, and may use excessive numbers or dashes in the name. Be careful when using a made up word; while Google and Twitter were mentioned as good examples of made up words that succeeded as brands, there have been thousands of made up words that died a slow, lonely death from lack of visitors.
.Com, .net, .org… What’s the difference?
In the hierarchy of the web, .com extensions are the most common and most favored, followed by .org, .net, other country codes (.co.uk, .ca, etc.) then other extensions. Always try for the .com first, then if it is not available, try for the .org, or .net. Try to avoid the .info extension, as many of these are used by spammy websites and infomarketers.
Where and how to purchase a domain
I have purchased my domains from a variety of sources, including GoDaddy, Google, Name Cheap, and Register.com. Another option for registering domains is through your webshost. However, many people prefer to keep their domains separate from their host, for various reasons. GoDaddy and Register.com also offer hosting packages, which you will need to get your site up and running.
Brainstorm and try different options. When you visit GoDaddy you will see a box to input your desired domain name. Enter it and click the submit button and GoDaddy will check your desired name against all registered domains. You may find your first choice is taken – if so, keep trying variations or other domains until you find what you are looking for. When you find your desired domain name, go to the checkout, and don’t forget to use your GoDaddy promo code before you purchase it!
How to Make Money with Your Blog
What about money? Ah, you noticed I didn’t bring up money yet! That’s because money shouldn’t factor into why you want to start a blog. If you have the knowledge and the passion, it will show and you will eventually get readers and traffic. And with those two elements, you can start thinking about making money with your blog.
Not all websites make money, nor should every website make money. But it is no secret that some websites make money and the potential is there. I started this website in 2007. By 2010, I was running websites as my full-time job. But that doesn’t mean it was easy or that I didn’t have a lot of lucky breaks along the way. It took a lot of late nights and hard work, and in many ways, I was in the right place at the right time.
Ways to Make Money with Your Website
AdSense. No doubt you are familiar with this one. The AdSense locations on your site are good, however, I noticed that the large leaderboard in the header section on your hiome page is partially covered, which is against the AdSense TOS. This could get you a nastygram from Google, or even booted from the program. A 468x 80 ad should fit there perfectly and might even look better, leading to more clicks.
Affiliate ads. This is where I am trying to concentrate now because this is where the most opportunity lies. Since your site often deals with stocks, affiliates for online discount brokers such as TradeKing, ShareBuilder, and Zecco would be ideal products to link to. There are several companies I recommend for affiliates, including Commission Junction, Pepperjam Network (there is currently a $10 bonus for new publishers), LinkShare, LinkConnector, and ShareASale. Once you sign up for any of these companies, you search their advertiser inventory, apply for a program, get approved, and place affiliate links in your articles, on the sidebars, or anywhere else you think might bring traffic. You make money when someone buys something from your link. TradeKing has affiliates with Pepperjam and Commision Junction, ShareBuilder is with LinkShare, and Zecco is Commission Junction. It helps to sign up for multiple affiliate companies.
Display Ads (Banner Ads) / CPM)Ads. CPM means “cost per mille” or cost per thousand. They pay out on a cost per thousand page views. Many publishers use a 3rd party tool Like Google DoubleClick for Publishers to manage ads from multiple ad agencies, since agencies don’t always fill every impression. The other agencies act as backup ads. The payouts vary, usually anywhere from $1-3 per thousand page views. I don’t look at CPM ads as a way to make a lot of money, but they can be a nice source of income to augment your other income.
Text Link Ads. Google doesn’t like these because the can wreak havoc on their page rank algorithm, so use at your own risk. I have used Text-link-Ads and Linkworth in the past, as well as sold private text link ads. I no longer sell text links, but some people still sell them.
Direct ad sales. I don’t get many of these, but they come on occasion. I have sold banner ads and text links. I don’t currently sell text links any more, though they can be extremely lucrative.
Use online tools to help you build upon growth
Using online tools such as Google Analytics is just one way to track your traffic statistics. Once you get your site up and running, you will notice that certain articles are bringing in more traffic than others. A good way to increase your traffic more quickly is to leverage your growth by increasing your content by writing on similar topics.