Creating a blog is one of those things that people always say they’re going to do, but never get round to it. If that’s you, our guide will give you a concrete action plan that you can use to get your blog off the ground and turn it into a profitable side hustle.
What’s on this page?
- How to start a blog
- What to blog about
- How to increase your blog traffic
- How to make money from blogging
How to start a blog
Getting started with blogging can seem like a bit of a minefield, particularly if you don’t have much tech knowledge.
You have two main options when it comes to actually setting up a blog – you can use a free blogging platform, or you create your own website. We’ll take you through both, and outline their pros and cons, so you can make the right decision for you and your blog.
Free blogging platforms
Best for: Casual bloggers and those not interested in making money from their blog
Pros: Super easy to set up and completely free
Cons: Limits on customisation and video/image uploads, you often can’t place ads or use affiliate links, you can’t create a custom URL and the platform retains the right to delete your blog.
There are a lot of platforms out there which allow you to set up a blog for free. You can be up and running in minutes, and it doesn’t take any technical knowledge to do so – it’s as easy as setting up a Facebook profile.
If you’re just wanting to blog casually and you’re not that interested in making any money from it, then this could suit you perfectly.
However, if you’re really serious about blogging then a free blogging platform can be very limiting. You’ll only be able to customise to a limited extent, and your blog will have a storage limit which could impact your ability to upload videos and images.
Plus, your blog URL will look something like ‘www.yourblog.wordpress.com’ – you won’t be able to get rid of the blog platform branding.
While some money-making options will be open to you, most free blogging platforms don’t allow you to place banner ads or affiliate links on your site, which are key revenue streams for most bloggers.
However, if none of these things particularly bother you, here’s a quick run down of the best free blogging platforms out there:
• WordPress.com: Not to be confused with WordPress.org which allows you to create your own website, WordPress.com is a free basic blog hosting service that’s easy to use. However, you will have to put up with WordPress ads and branding unless you pay a monthly fee, and you can’t put advertisements on your site. There are also limited options for customisation and expansion
- • Blogger: This is Google’s free blog hosting service, and it’s incredibly easy to use. However, the design options and customisation are very limited, and there aren’t a lot of options if you want to add new features
- • Medium: With Medium the emphasis is all on the writing rather than design, and it’s used by lots of journalists, writers and experts. It’s a great way to connect with and promote yourself to a particular community, but you can’t run any ads and it’s difficult to create your own personal branding
- • Tumblr: This is a micro-blogging platform, so it’s more of a cross between a blog and a social media account. Social media and sharing functions are integrated throughout, and it’s useful for blogging videos, GIFs and images. Again, there’s not a lot of customisation or design features here.
Create your own website
Best for: Dedicated bloggers and those looking to make money from their blog
Pros: Complete control over design and customisation, your own custom URL and the ability to use adverts and affiliate links how you like
Cons: You’ll have to pay – firstly for your domain name (URL) and then for hosting, but we’ve got tips on how you can keep costs low.
If you’re not a particularly tech-savvy person, the thought of creating your own website might seem quite scary – but it’s actually easy to do, and you can create one in just 20 minutes!
Save the Student’s founder, Owen, has written an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to show you how to start a website.
With your own website, you’ll be able to create your own unique personal branding (with your own URL), and there’s no risk of your blog being deleted by the platform – you’ll own the site and be in complete control.
Remember that the look of your blog can have huge implications on your readership – you want to create a platform that looks good, is easy to read, and makes readers want to return.
WordPress have an insane amount of templates or ‘themes’ for you to choose from – 2,500 to be exact! Take your time to decide on one that suits both your personality and the topic of your blog (and therefore your readers too).
Opt for something clear and simple, with space for large images and easy-to-read fonts (Comic Sans and Courier fonts are a serious no-no!).
What to blog about
This can either be the easiest or the hardest part of starting your blog.
The most important thing at this stage is to choose a niche to own and call yourself an authority in – the biggest mistake new bloggers make in such a crowded blogosphere is to start a blog without trying to do something interesting or offering readers something different.
For example, if fashion is your thing, rather than become a run-of-the-mill fashion blogger, why not combine your love for fashion with your big-hearted concern for the environment by creating a blog that focuses on environmentally-conscious clothing instead?
There are literally millions of bloggers out there covering pretty much every topic – your challenge is to find something original!
The worst thing you can do is a “Oh hey, this is my blog and I’m gonna tell you about things I like”. Unfortunately, readers of your blog aren’t really interested in who you are (well, not yet anyway); they want to know what you can offer them that will make them more knowledgeable/better dressed/better at life/a better cook etc.
But that’s all easier said than done. To get you started, here are a few of our top tips for finding your niche if you’re struggling:
Look at other blogs – This should be your first port of call. What is most popular? But, more importantly, what’s missing? Find the gaps in the market that no one else is covering
Use Google – What are people searching for? Use Google suggested searches and auto-complete to explore certain topics and what kind of information people are looking for – if they’re searching for it, that shows there’s a demand
Search forums for common FAQs – Forums are the places people go when they can’t find the answer to their questions anywhere else. What are people asking? What do they need advice/help on? This will show what people are interested in and what there’s a lack of available information on
- Track current trends – What stuff is in the media right now? It’s good to pick a topic with longevity (you don’t want something that will fall out of fashion), but if you can piggy-back on a trend early on, you can quickly establish yourself as an expert on it before anyone else. Searching #journorequest on Twitter shows what kind of people/topics journalists are currently reporting on
- Think about different types of content – Could you do tutorials/how-to guides? Reviews? Interviews? Lists? It might not be what you write about, but how you write about that sets you apart
- Identify your own interests and passions – While all of the above are important, there’s no point in deciding to write a blog about something you have zero interest in. You’ll quickly get bored and people will spot your lack of enthusiasm. Make sure you’re writing about something you actually care about.
How to increase your blog traffic
So you’ve put the time and effort into creating your own website, you’ve come up with a kick-ass topic to write about and you’ve published your first posts – but where are all the readers?
You can’t just expect people to magically find your blog and start reading it – you have to promote it! It’s not easy, and it takes some serious hard work and dedication, but here are some crucial tactics:
As with any business nowadays, you’re not likely to get noticed if you don’t have social media accounts.
We recommend setting up pages/accounts for your blog on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and even LinkedIn (you’re essentially your own business anyway, right?). Design these accounts in a similar colour scheme/theme to your blog so your brand is consistent and easy to recognise.
Use them to promote new posts and tag fellow bloggers/influencers/companies who might share your content and help it to reach an even further audience.
You could also dabble in some paid advertising to help your blog reach a wider audience, or run a competition to generate more likes. Once you’ve got the followers, keep them interested by posting on a regular basis (not just for new blog posts).
Connect with other bloggers
Make yourself known to those blogging on similar topics to yourself. Despite the fact you’re technically a competitor, you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by how supportive the blogger community can be.
Many bloggers even have a ‘links’ page on their site that they use to link to loads of their friends within the community (in return for a link on your own blog, of course!) which will help a lot with your SEO (that’s search engine optimisation – how likely your blog is to pop up in Google searches).
If you engage with and share their content, they’ll likely return the favour – you could even work on some collaborations!
Jump on news stories
If something happens in the news that’s related to your niche, get involved. This is what we refer to as ‘news jacking‘ and it can work a treat for getting you some great exposure!
For example, say you’re a food blogger who focuses on Paleo dietary cooking for those who suffer from gluten intolerances (there’s your niche audience right there!).
A report is released in the news that states research has found that gluten is much worse for our health than previously thought: the bread and pizza-lover’s world collapses.
But now’s your chance to shine, since you’ve been preaching this on your blog for ages! (Disclaimer: this report is entirely fabricated – we don’t know anything about the benefits of Paleo).
Use this news story as leverage to promote your blog. Get on social media and say your bit (using multiple appropriate hashtags, of course), get involved in discussions and even reach out to journalists to say you’re available for comment (don’t forget to search #journorequest on Twitter).
If you’re really great at owning your niche, the journalists might even come to you!
Creating viral content will help you reach a new market and in turn increase your readership. Again, we understand that this isn’t so simple!
The key to creating viral content is to tap into controversial or highly-discussed topicsrelated to your niche blogging field (as you can imagine, quite often this also involves newsjacking, as mentioned above).
As this is your niche, you’ll be passionate and opinionated about it, and so be able to post an opinion that people want to read and share with their mates – in turn, pulling in a whole load of shiny new readers!
How to make money from blogging
Now we’re on to the interesting stuff – how bloggers actually make any cash! Monetising a blog takes time and relies heavily on you having a decent following. The more followers/readers you have, the more attractive you are to advertisers – simple as that!
To make any decent income from blogging, you’ll need to have multiple streams of income coming in from different sources and through different means.
You might not be too impressed at first by some of the figures you see online (we’re normally talking pennies), but that’s the nature of monetising a blog – the more readers and clicks you get, thequicker your pennies will grow into pounds!
Affiliate links are links that you can weave into the text of your blog that allow you to make a small commission every time a reader clicks through to a site and spends money.
The links will lead readers to the website of a brand, and the money you receive is to say ‘thanks’ for sending some of your lovely readers to their site (or being ‘affiliated’ with the brand, so to speak).
The key is to be authentic and genuine with this – write reviews/articles with your honest opinions and don’t encourage your readers to buy something if you don’t think it’s a good product.
Sign up to Affiliate Window – a huge affiliate network where you can promote thousands of brands and services instantly!
You can bring in some dough by offering space on your blog for brands to advertise themselves to your readers.
For example, banner ads run across the top of the page, and sidebar ads are (you guessed it!) the ones that run down the side of your blog content.
You can charge for these in one of two ways. PPC (pay per click) means you’ll get a set payment for every one of your readers who click the ad, while CPM (cost per thousand – M being Roman numeral for thousand) means you’ll negotiate a set payment for every 1,000 ‘impressions’ the ad gets.
As mentioned, the rates of PPC and CPM can seem low, and quite often they are low – but the more readers you acquire, the higher the clicks (and remuneration) will be!
It’s also an option to charge a brand for either advertising space or a mention in your weekly/monthly newsletter (if you have one!).
However, you’ll need to build up a decent size mailing list for brands to consider this.
Advertorials and sponsored content
Advertorials are essentially adverts in the form of an article or blog post.
So for example, say Adidas bring out a new swimwear line, and your blog is a popular women’s sport fashion blog. Adidas might offer to pay you a set payment in exchange for, say, 500 words plus four images of their products in your blog post.
They’ll even throw in a couple of affiliate links so you can earn some extra cash on any clicks, and to top it all off you get to keep the swimmy the sent you!
Advertorials are the easiest way to make money fast, but in order to be approached, you need to be worthwhile to a brand.
That’s where having a strong, niche audience comes in handy (because readers of a women’s sport fashion blog are way more likely to want to buy something from Adidas’ new line than readers of a generic fashion blog).
Social media posts
If you have a strong social media presence (in fact, some people make an entire blogging career just through Instagram alone!) then you’ll be very attractive to brands. You can charge per post/re-post and the fees can be surprisingly high.
You’ll just have to work hard on building your followers first – your ‘social proof’ (or how many people follow you on social media) is seen by brands as proof that readers will like what you post about them, too.
Occasionally, members of the press (or even brands who have a blog of their own) will get in touch if you’re a particular authority on a certain topic, asking you to make a little cameo appearance on their website.
For example, if you’re particularly knowledgeable on cooking on a budget, a newspaper might get in touch and ask you to contribute some budget-friendly recipes to their cooking magazine.
This is where establishing your niche and honing it comes in handy! Become an authority on your topic and the opportunities to make cash will eventually flow in.
Working with an agency
Believe it or not, blogging has become so popular in the world of advertising that agencies exclusively catered to pimping out bloggers to big brands have popped up all over the shop.
Working with an agency can be lucrative and offers you security, but you’ll need to have a really decent following to be scooped up in the first place.
Agency fees are also incredibly high, meaning only the biggest brands will be able to afford working with you, and smaller independent companies will be scared off.
Depending on the kind of blogging business you’re aiming for, this may or not work to your advantage – to use the example of ethical fashion blogging again, signing up to an agency would probably prevent you from working with small independent designers.
Sell digital products
If you have skills or advice to offer, another option is to charge a fee for access to eBooks, video tutorials, courses or workshops.
In order to make this option work, you need to be able to show you’re extremely good at what you do, or that your content has proven to be incredibly valuable. This isn’t easy.
It can be pretty difficult to convince online communities to pay up, as there’s a tendency for people to think everything online should be free of charge. Worth a try though, right?
Use your blog as a stepping-stone
Using your blog to promote your own business or even land yourself a job is another (albeit indirect) way to make more cash with your blog.
If you’re one of the growing number of students starting their own business or selling stuff online, your blog is the perfect platform to promote what you have to offer (although don’t go in too hard, or you’ll put readers off).
You can also use your blog as a sort of online profile to build your credibility that will ultimately get you a good job.
Think of it this way: your blog is like your own small business in itself, and by showing potential employers that you can do this successfully, you’re showing that you’ve got an entrepreneurial mind, and know how to achieve success with it.
If you’re not sure whether blogging’s your thing, have a look at our other ideas on how to make money online which might be more up your street.