Guide to Starting a Profitable Blog
Your step-by-step guide, from basics to monetizing
I'll earn a commission if you purchase through the affiliate links in this article. Thanks for your support!
I’ve been blogging for a long time. In that time, I’ve learned a lot, from writing the perfect blog post to learning the algorithms of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Blogging isn’t easy. In fact, it takes a lot of work. And hard truth: it takes some money. To do things right, you shouldn’t just start a blog on a site like Blogger or Wix. You need to host your own site. It sounds scary, doesn’t it?
Well, here’s another hard truth: if you want to blog, you’re going to have to get over the fear of the unknown. Because trust me, there’s a lot that you don’t know. And unless you have boatloads of cash to sink into virtual assistants and freelancers, you have a steep learning curve ahead of you.
That’s why I put together this step-by-step guide to help you get started. Just know that, although you can make a lot of money from blogging, it typically takes a while. And I’m not talking a couple of months — I’m talking a solid year or two, and that’s with a ton of work.
Still, it’s a great way to make money if you’re willing to play a long game. So consider this your beginner’s guide to starting a blog.
Step 1: Get the basics down
Here are some things you’ll need to know to get started with blogging:
How to write.
And I don’t mean any kind of writing. Blog writing takes skill. You want to be conversational, but you don’t want to bog down your copy too much with personal anecdotes. You need to know how to write good headlines, how to use headings, and how to determine your ideal reader and what they need/want to read.
Your ideal reader.
You can’t write a blog to please everyone. There are just too many people with too many different opinions. So decide who you want to target. Maybe that’s college students living on a shoestring budget, working moms with no time to themselves, or people who want to start living a healthier lifestyle. Seriously, whatever you want to write about, there’s probably an audience waiting to devour your content.
While you don’t need to know how to draw, you’ll need some basic skills for creating a logo and making social media graphics. Learning how to create infographics can also seriously expedite your growth. You can use a free tool like Canva, which comes with tons of editable templates to make your life easier.
SEO (Search engine optimization).
Can you promote your blog through social media? Yes. But imagine if you didn’t have to work for your traffic because you show up at the top of Google search results. Sounds amazing, right? Of course, you can’t just write a blog post and expect it to show up in Google right away. But after you put in the work, you can reap the benefits without thinking about it.
Some things that you’ll need to work on for good SEO include:
- Getting backlinks from high-quality sites: This tells Google (and other search engines) that your content is worth mentioning — and thus worth reading. Some ways to get backlinks include guest posting, collaboration, and creating high-quality, helpful content that will naturally get backlinks because people love it.
- Keyword optimization: Adding keywords into your posts/pages is essential to ranking high in search engine results pages (SERPs). Of course, you don’t want to overdo it — that’s called keyword stuffing. But using a tool like Ubersuggest or Keyword Tool will help you get an idea of what people are actually typing into the search box when they want to know about something in your niche.
- Site speed: While site speed may not seem like it should affect your SEO, it does. If your site loads slowly (takes longer than a few seconds), people aren’t going to wait around for it. They’re going to find the answer to what they were looking for somewhere else. And that tells search engines that your site sucks, so they’ll push it down in search results. So keep that in mind when building your blog/writing content. Things that factor into your site speed are image sizes, your theme (what makes your blog look nice), plugins, code, etc.
- Good user experience: This one goes along with site speed. If people get onto your site, even if it loads quickly, they’ll leave pretty fast if your site is a pain to navigate. If your text is too small to read, or if you have annoying pop-ups, or if there are ads (especially video ads) literally everywhere, people will get frustrated and leave your site.
- Having long-form content: In my opinion, long-form content is anything over 1,000 words (bonus points if it’s 1,500+). Google prefers in-depth content so a user can find their answer — plus more — all in one place. Of course, if you have 1,500 words of keyword-stuffed fluff, you’re not going to get anywhere. Content should be high-quality, helpful, and meaningful.
Please keep in mind that it’s not typical to rank in Google search results with a site that’s less than 6 months old. Though it can happen, you have to know what you’re doing. For more advice on SEO, check out this full guide on SEO and this guide on backlinks.
Step 2: Get your blog set up
Ultimately, it’s up to you where you decide to host your blog and what theme you use. But if you want my advice, here it is:
- Get yourself a domain name: Your domain name is your site’s home address. Medium’s is medium.com. Yours is whatever you want it to be. You could use your name, or you could make up a name. If you’re blogging about one specific thing (say, laptops), then try to put that keyword in your domain (like laptops.com). Also, consider the future. Do you want to blog for the rest of your life? If not, consider not using your name as your domain, but instead using a brand name. That way it makes it easier to sell your site down the road to someone who wants to keep it going and keep earning a profit.
- Use Siteground or NameHero to host your site: Your blog needs somewhere to live — and that somewhere is a server. Do you own one? That’s what I thought. So use a hosting company. My favorite two (and ones that a lot of bloggers recommend for beginners) are Siteground and NameHero, but I’ve also heard good things about Lyrical Host and Big Scoots. All of them pair with Wordpress.org, which is the content management system (how you access the back end of your site) that most bloggers recommend. You can find plenty of YouTube tutorials that will guide you through setting your site up through these. Make sure you get an SSL certificate so that your site is secure.
- Choose your theme: When you’re setting up your site on Wordpress.org, you’ll need a theme. This is how you make your site look the way you want it to — colors, fonts, sidebars, menus, etc. But it’s more than that. A lot of themes can really slow down your site, which is bad for user experience. To avoid that, I’d recommend using Astra (there’s a free version). You can find plenty of YouTube tutorials on setting this up, as well.
- Create your About page: Most people think your About page is a place to explain to curious readers who you are. It is, but it’s also the place where readers can find out what your site’s purpose is (aka, what your site has to offer for them). Add both to your page. This is also a good place to collect email subscribers (more on that below).
Step 3: Write blog posts
Before you launch your blog, you need some content! It’s a good idea to keep all your blog posts at least semi-related to each other, but I’ve never been a fan of “niching down,” so really it’s up to you. However, there are a lot of benefits to only blogging about one topic, especially when it comes to things like SEO and list building.
To figure out what to start writing about, think about two things: your ideal reader and the topic you’re planning on blogging about.
Let’s say your niche/topic is sustainable living, and your ideal readers are moms looking for simple solutions to make their home more eco-friendly.
What are the first moves they need to start down the path of sustainable living? Come up with three (or whatever number you choose) simple steps they can take, and write about them in a helpful, informative way.
Here are some potential points to hit on:
- What are your best tips for a smooth transition?
- What are some potential obstacles they should look out for?
- What products do you love and use every day that are relevant to the post?
And voila! You have your first blog post. Plus, you can expand on each of your points to create a separate blog post that goes more in-depth into one specific topic.
After that, write about some more steps they could take that might require a bit more effort — or more money. Start at a beginner level, and with each blog post, take them one step closer to pro. You’ll find that, when you write each blog post as the next step in someone’s sustainable living journey, you’ve got endless ideas for blog posts.
This technique can be applied to basically any niche. And it can also help you create an effective content plan to help you stay on track.
So now that you know what to write about, let’s talk some more about how to write blog posts that people will love:
- Write headlines that make people want to click: I’m going to tell you right now, if you don’t write headlines that evoke some sort of response from users, they won’t click through to read your post. Something like “Going Zero Waste” won’t get nearly as many clicks (and thus page views) as “10 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Reduce Waste in Your Kitchen.” Get it? Good.
- Actually write an introduction. Maybe it’s just a pet peeve of mine, but when I find a blog post or article that doesn’t have an intro, it bugs me. It’s the perfect place to sprinkle in some keywords while slowly introducing your readers to what you’re going to be talking about. Keep your intro short, and make sure it keeps readers curious about what your solutions will be.
- Give what you promised in your headline. If you promised 10 easy ways to reduce waste in your kitchen, you need to actually put those solutions in your article. No clickbait, please.
- Make your content easy to read. This is pretty simple. Keep your paragraphs short, as people will scroll right past long ones. When you have multiple points to make on one subject, consider bullet points instead of one paragraph. Also, make sure your copy is clean! Please proofread your content.
- Make sure your content is helpful. Your blog is going to grow way faster if the content you provide is helpful. You’ll also be able to rank in search engine results easier. Think about it: when you hop onto Google to learn how to live more sustainably, do you want actionable tips, or do you want to read about, say, what some random person did the other day? Exactly — you want helpful content.
- Use headings properly. Headings are a great way to break up your blog post into easy-to-digest chunks. If you’re writing a post with 10 points, make every point a heading — specifically, a Heading 2. Make sub-points a Heading 3, and on and on. Reserve the Heading 1 tag for the title of your post.
- Use images to break up the text. Adding pictures to your blog posts is a great way to give your readers’ eyes a break while giving them something nice to look at. Typically, your images should relate to whatever your blog post is about. I usually have 2–4 images per blog post. Be careful how many you have, as they affect loading times. Also, watch for size — typically, images from sites like Unsplash are huge. I keep all of my photos under 500 KB.
- Consider time. While seasonal content (posts that are only relevant at specific times of the year) does really well when it’s the right time, you also want to write evergreen content. This is content that is relevant the day you post it, two months after you post it, and two years after you post it.
- Take the date out of your slug. A slug is the part of your URL that specifies what page of your site you’re on. So for yoursite.com/about, /about is your slug. The default for most places is to add a date to your slug. This means that your content won’t truly be evergreen, and people will see it as outdated in a year or two after it’s published, even if you update it regularly.
- Write a meta description. This is what shows up in Google search results underneath your headline. Sometimes Google will use it, and sometimes it’ll pull more relevant text from the body of your post. But it still matters, and you definitely want your target keyword in your description.
- Use keywords. I linked to a few keyword tools above. Use them. Type “sustainable living” (or whatever your blog post will be about) in and see what pops up. For new sites, try to rank for search terms with low search volumes. Also, try to rank for cluster keywords. Add your target keyword to your title, your headings (it’s okay if it’s not in all of them), your meta description, and in the body of your post.
- Use alt text. Alt-text is something that can (and should) be added to your images. It’s a simple sentence that explains what’s going on/what’s in the image for people with visual impairments. It’s not a caption — it’s something you can’t see. But it’s there, and you should make sure to put it in.
- Actually write a conclusion. There’s nothing more jarring than reaching the last point in an article and then not seeing a conclusion. Maybe this is a personal pet peeve, maybe it’s not. But I personally think having a conclusion gives your articles a higher-quality feel. Plus, it’s a great place to add a call to action (CTA) to sign up for your email list, buy a relevant product, comment on the post, etc.
I know this list is already long, but there’s actually even more that goes into writing the perfect blog post. Check out this article for some more tips.
Step 4: Launch your blog
Once you have 5–10 blog posts written, share your blog with the world! You’ll find that it takes a while to gain traction with a new site, so don’t worry about not having a ton of content up yet. Your new readers can grow with you!
Just make sure you:
- Have your about page set up
- Have your social media accounts ready to go + listed on your site
- Have any design kinks worked out
- Have social share buttons on your blog posts
- Have email list sign-up forms on each of your pages
You can grab a free blog launch checklist on this page, which will help you stay organized.
Step 5: Promote your blog on social media
Have you ever thought of social media as work? Well, you’re about to.
I’m going to give you some general promotion tips for my top three social media networks: Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
How to Use Instagram to Promote Your Blog
Instagram is a visual platform, and you can’t have clickable links in your posts — only in your bio. Once you hit 10K followers, you’ll be able to use the “swipe up” feature in stories.
A lot of bloggers don’t think Instagram is worth it because it takes a lot of work to get a decent amount of traffic from it. And while I once thought the same thing, I’ve recently come to realize that Instagram has value to bloggers — as long as it’s used ethically and authentically.
So here are my best tips for using Instagram as a blogger:
- Post consistently (at least a couple times a week) in your feed and in stories
- Try to get people to interact with your stories with things like polls, sliders, etc.
- Having high-quality pictures makes a difference
- Your captions really do matter, so make them good
- Let your followers into your life so they can get to know you
- Do collabs/giveaways with other bloggers (only a few at a time) to gain a following
How to Use Facebook to Promote Your Blog
Is Facebook’s algorithm frustrating? Yes. But honestly, what algorithm isn’t frustrating? You still get some free exposure, and that should make it worth it.
So here are my best tips for using Facebook as a blogger:
- Don’t just share new blog posts — try memes, infographics, quotes, etc.
- Your posts will do much better on Facebook if they include an image
- Post on your page 3–4 times a day for growth
- Focus on creating content that makes people want to share it
- Ask simple “this or that?” questions and respond to people’s comments
How to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Blog
Pinterest may be known for crafts and wedding inspiration, but it’s actually a goldmine for website traffic. So many bloggers attribute hundreds of thousands of pageviews to Pinterest, in niches such as parenting, personal development, lifestyle, etc.
Not sure if Pinterest will work for your blog? Create an account and search for terms in your niche. Do a lot of pins pop up? What about related keywords? If so, you’ll be able to reach a decent amount of your audience on Pinterest. If not, I’d still say it’s worth it. You may not have a large audience on Pinterest, but you also don’t have a lot of competition.
So here are my best tips for using Pinterest as a blogger:
- Create a business account, get your website verified, and enable rich pins
- Create a bunch of boards relevant to your niche (think 20+) that have relevant keywords in the title and the description
- Pin! Start off by pinning other people’s relevant content to the appropriate boards so Pinterest will begin to understand what your boards are about
- Create long (2x3) pins with relevant images and text overlay of your headline (Canva has lots of pre-done templates)
- Pin your own pins to your boards, along with continuing to pin others’ content
- Consider joining group boards and joining Tailwind to schedule out your pins and join Tribes
- Pinterest takes a lot of work. Do your research! Start with this article from Buffer and this one from Social Media Examiner
Step 6: Start an email list
In my experience, there are two things that new bloggers put off doing until “later” that hurt them in the long run:
- Investing money in tools they need
- Starting an email list
Trust me, I get it. I put both of these things off when I first started my blog. And let me tell you, I regret it.
Where would my blog be right now if I’d invested in tools to help me grow the second I started my blog?
How many email subscribers have I missed out on because it took me so long to start my list?
I’ll never know.
All I can do is tell you to invest in the tools you know you need and to start that email list.
It’s actually quite simple, and you can do it for (almost) no cost.
Services like Mailerlite and Mailchimp let you start your email list for free up to 1,000–2,000 subscribers. However, it’s required by law to list a physical address at the bottom of the emails you send out through your email service provider (ESP). So you’ll either have to list your own address (yikes!) or pay for a P.O. box.
Alternatively, you can go with ConvertKit, who’s worked it so you can use their address. They’ll scan and email you any legal documents that might get sent to you. You can get started for free with the referral link above.
But . . . how do you get people to subscribe to your list?
The simple answer is this: give them something free (like a PDF/eBook, a tutorial, a mini-course, etc.) in exchange for their email address.
If you’re in the sustainable living niche, try something like “101 Ways to Make Your Home More Sustainable.” If you’re in the personal finance niche, try something along the lines of “The Strategy I Used to Save $3,000 in a Month.” It all depends on your niche and your knowledge. But stuff like this will get people to sign up for your list, and then you can send them emails!
But . . . what kind of emails do you send to your email list?
- Blog post updates
- Extra bonus content that only your email subscribers get
- Offers you think your list will like (bonus if they’re affiliate links)
Try to be consistent with your emails! Once a week is a good place to start, and that’s a sustainable pace for publishing new blog posts as well.
Step 7: Start earning money
Once you’ve got some content up on your blog, and you’re starting to get some page views, it’s time to consider monetizing your blog. Here are the main ways to do this:
- Affiliate marketing
- Display ads
- Sponsored posts
- Selling your own products
How to Monetize Your Blog with Affiliate Marketing
To put it simply, affiliate marketing is promoting other people’s products and receiving a commission when someone purchases through your link. You’d be surprised how many brands have affiliate programs, including big names like Target, Walmart, and Amazon.
You’re required by law to disclose affiliate links in your posts, emails, etc. More on that here.
Affiliate marketing is the #1 way I’m currently monetizing my own blog. Here are some of the programs/networks I go through:
- ShareASale (commission varies per program)
- Rakuten Marketing (commission varies per program)
- Impact (commission varies per program)
- Ultimate Bundles (40% commission)
- Amazon (commission varies per category)
How to Monetize Your Blog with Ads
This one is pretty easy to understand. You can put ads on your site, and you’ll earn money when people click them or view them.
I personally have decided to leave ads off of my site for now, but that may change soon.
Some ad networks you can join are:
- Google AdSense (I don’t recommend using them)
- Monumetric (you need 10K pageviews/month to apply)
- Mediavine (you need 25K sessions/month to apply)
- AdThrive (you need 100,000 pageviews/month to apply)
How to Monetize Your Blog with Sponsored Posts
As your blog grows, you’ll have brands reach out to you for collaborations. Most of them will be looking for product reviews/features. When you’re just starting out, charging brands for this isn’t fair because, honestly, it’d be a waste of their money. However, most of them will give you their product for free.
Typically, brands are looking for a feature on your site and on your social media, so this is a good reason to work on your social media if it’s something you want to get into.
I’d check out this guide if you’re interested in doing sponsored posts.
How to Monetize Your Blog with Your Own Products
A great way to make a profit from your blog is through products. They don’t have to be physical-digital products do just fine.
The reason for selling your own products is so great is because you make such a large profit margin when compared to affiliate marketing.
Some products you could make are:
If you want to sell physical products but don’t want to deal with shipping, customer service, etc., consider opening something like a Society6 shop. You could also consider opening up an Etsy shop that goes along with your blog. But there are ways to add a store to your site as well! It all depends on what you want.
Overwhelmed? I was too when I first started blogging. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s hard to stay consistent with it. But honestly? I wouldn’t give up blogging for anything. I make my living off of it and freelancing, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who knows they can keep up with the work.
My advice to the new blogger? Don’t expect yourself to be able to do everything on day one. I’m years into blogging, and I still learn something new every day. Do what you can, and make peace with what you can’t get done until later. Focus on growth, but remember not to run yourself into the ground while doing it.