Starting a blog that makes money takes a long time and a lot of work, but isn't overly complicated. Once you’ve installed WordPress on your host, you’ll be able to start building your site. If you want to try another category, start a new blog. Personal finance for people making over $100,000 per year is a good example. If this is your first blog and you’re not completely sure what you want to blog about, I recommend that you use your personal name. While there are a few other choices it really comes down to two options: Best WordPress Host for Beginners = SiteGround For your first blog, you want a host that is popular, trusted, easy to use, reliable, and reasonably priced. Best WordPress Host for Advanced Bloggers = WP Engine In my last few jobs, I managed blogs with hundreds of thousands or millions of visitors per month. WordPress Popular Posts – Easiest way to add a list of your most popular posts to your blog sidebar. That’s how email lists work. At least if you want them to work well enough to make six figures per year… And to get that much traffic, you’ll need a lot of time on your blog.
Starting a blog that makes money takes a long time and a lot of work, but isn’t overly complicated.
I started my first blog to avoid getting a job.
I’m completely serious.
I was coming to the end of my undergraduate degree in international affairs and the thought of getting a job at the state department or in journalism sounded like a horrible idea.
So I learned how to start a blog and built one on international affairs with the hopes of eventually monetizing it and supporting myself.
That didn’t really work out as planned. Hah.
But it did lead to a career in online marketing and now I do work on blogs to avoid having a real job.
Whether you’re trying to avoid a job entirely or trying to quit your current job, starting a blog is a reliable path to supporting yourself and your family. It takes a lot of work and some time but it is a well-traveled path at this point. It’s not nearly as crazy as it was when I started.
I’m going to walk you through the 12 steps to start a blog, which are particularly useful for beginners who have never done this before.
Before we begin, let’s cover how website technology works. There are a few things you’ll need to sign up for so it’s good to see how they all connect before starting.
First, there’s the domain. This is the URL of the website. Think of it as the address for your business. You’ll need to buy your domain.
Second, the domain registrar. This is the company that you’ll use to buy your domain and hold it for you. They don’t host your site or anything — they just store your domain and point web traffic to your site which will be on your web host.
Third, the web host. This is the company that hosts your site. Your site will be on its servers.
Fourth, the tool to build your site. Very few sites are built by hand using raw HTML and CSS these days. Almost all of them are built using a tool. The tool handles a lot of heavy lifting and makes building a site substantially easier, especially if you have no idea how to code. This is how you’ll configure your site and publish your blog posts. For blogging, these tools are called content management systems (CMS) and the only real option is WordPress. Once you’ve installed WordPress on your host, you’ll be able to start building your site.
To recap, you’ll buy a domain using a domain registrar, install WordPress on your host, then start building your site.
Now let’s dive into the step-by-step process.
Step 1: Pick a Category
The most important decision to make when starting a blog is which category you’re going to write about.
Why pick a category at all? Why not write about anything that interests you?
When it comes to building an audience, increasing traffic, and monetizing your blog, you’ll get a lot further a lot faster if you stick to a specific category.
Think of it like this: Let’s say you stumble on a blog of mine. You find an amazing post about how to turn email subscribers into fully passive income. You love it and subscribe to my email list. Then I send you an email about how to organize your closet. How would you react? Maybe you’d love it if you also really love organization. But most people would be turned off. They want more content about email lists and making passive income.
Jumping categories can be really jarring for any audience. Google also greatly prefers blogs that are focused on a single topic, which will help you with SEO a lot.
Whatever you do, pick a category and stick to it. If you want to try another category, start a new blog.
Here are a few popular categories that always do well:
- Personal finance
- Online business
- Real estate
- Test prep
My recommendation is to pick one of the categories above and niche it down one more time. Personal finance for people making over $100,000 per year is a good example. Or fitness for people over 60 is another.
Categories get tough when they’re super consumer focused and have extremely large audiences. Celebrity blogs are a great example. There’s tons of competition in this space but also very limited money compared to other blogging categories. It’s a brutal combo. All the work without any of the payoff. Recipe blogs are another example of a brutal category. World-class competition and very few ways to monetize. Try to avoid categories like these.
One of my favorite category types is B2B. This includes categories like how to do marketing, build products, HR, customer service, manage a team, or improve your sales skills. The volume in these categories is always lower than the popular categories that I listed above. But the quality of traffic is always incredible. Businesses are always willing to spend more than consumers to solve their problems; they have access to a lot more cash. The downside is that you need to have experience and skills in these areas before being able to blog about them. They’re not nearly as easy to break into.
Hobbies can also do okay, but they’re typically more difficult to monetize. That said, I’ve come across entrepreneurs who have built six and even seven figure businesses in hobby spaces like horse riding or learning the guitar. It’s doable. It’s just more difficult because people aren’t willing to spend as much on their hobbies.
Step 2: Find a Domain
Find a domain that’s somewhat related to the category you picked and is also available for purchase.
I highly recommend you keep searching until you find a domain that’s available. While it is possible to buy a domain from someone who already has it, that’s an advanced option and can get expensive fast.
Low quality domains will usually go for a few thousand dollars. Highly quality domains that are two words can easily go for $10,000 to $50,000. I’ve even been in discussions to purchase domains for over $100,000 and the really hot ones can break seven figures. Not to mention all the hassle that comes from finding the person who owns the domain, negotiating with them, and transferring the domain if you can get an agreement.
Your best bet is to keep going until you find a domain that you like and can purchase directly from a domain registrar for about $10.
We go into lots of detail on which domain registrar to use here. The short answer, use Namecheap. It’s awesome, it’s the best, it’s what I personally use.
We’ve also got some more tips on buying a domain here.
Should you use your personal name as your domain?
If this is your first blog and you’re not completely sure what you want to blog about, I recommend that you use your personal name.
The reason is that changing your domain later will mean that you have to start over from scratch. There are a lot of mistakes in blogging that can be corrected later; having the wrong domain isn’t one of them.
Let’s say you pick a domain like fitnessfordoctors.com. Then after six months, you realize you’d rather be doing personal finance blogging for doctors. You’d need to get a new domain and start over from scratch.
Personal domains are much more flexible — it’s just a name after all. So if you jump categories after a few months, it’s not a big deal. Take down any old content that’s not relevant with your new direction, start posting new content, and you’re good to go.
That said, personal domains have two major downsides:
- Scalability – It’s much more difficult to recruit other writers or grow your blog beyond your personal identity later on.
- Sellability – Personal blogs, even if they’re generating serious cash, are much harder to sell. Prospective buyers want a site that isn’t dependent on a single person.
These are pretty advanced problems to have though. So if this is your first blog, the benefits of using your name as the domain greatly outweigh the costs that only show up down the road.
Step 3: Get a host for your blog
Every site needs a web host. This is the company that stores your site on its servers and makes it available for anyone who visits your site.
We went through all the main hosts for WordPress sites (by far the best tool for blogging) and put together our recommendations here.
While there are a few other choices it really comes down to two options:
Best WordPress Host for Beginners = SiteGround
For your first blog, you want a host that is popular, trusted, easy to use, reliable, and reasonably priced. No need for anything fancy.
SiteGround fits this need perfectly. The best part is that its plans start at $4/month. That’s a steal considering how many positive reviews it gets.
For the vast majority of folks starting blogs, SiteGround is going to be the best bet for hosting their blog.
Best WordPress Host for Advanced Bloggers = WP Engine
In my last few jobs, I managed blogs with hundreds of thousands or millions of visitors per month. They had thousands of posts on them. We always used WP Engine for sites of that size.
WP Engine comes with a lot of extra hosting features for security and scalability. For sites of that size, you end up having to do a lot more maintenance in order to keep the site healthy. WP Engine handles all that stuff for you. Their support team is also world-class. They do a great job.
But there’s a major downside: it’s more expensive. The lowest plans start at $35/month. This is 7X the price of other hosts.
If this is your first blog, I wouldn’t go with WP Engine.
Step 4: Point your domain to your host
Now you have a domain and a host for your site.
The next step is to point your domain to your host so that people end up at your site when they go to the URL of your domain.
Every host has slightly different settings you’ll need to configure at your domain registrar. They definitely have a support doc on with the details on what to do.
Here are the details for our recommended hosts:
If you have any trouble with this, contact the support team for your host and they’ll walk you through the exact steps.
Step 5: Install WordPress
You’ll need a content management system (CMS) to build your site and manage your blog posts.
There’s only one option for this: WordPress.
Seriously, it’s not even a decision. Use WordPress.
Years ago, there were a few competitors to WordPress like Joomla, Typepad, or Blogger.
No one uses those anymore.
This is going to sound kind of bad but whenever I hear of someone using one of those old WordPress competitors, I just laugh. It’s hard to take them seriously.
WordPress powers 30% of ALL websites. That’s how popular it is.
Use WordPress for your blog, end of story.
Because of how popular WordPress is, most web hosts offer a one-click install for WordPress. It’s super easy. Log into your web host, find the install WordPress opton, click it, then follow the instructions. This is what you’ll need to do if you signed up for SiteGround.
And if you’ve decided to go with WP Engine, it comes pre-installed since WP Engine is a hosting company for WordPress specifically.
Step 6: Pick a WordPress Theme
WordPress is the foundation of your site. There’s an easy way to change how WordPress looks without having to code anything yourself.
WordPress uses “themes,” little packages…