How to Start a Profitable Blog: Step by Step

by | Jul 14, 2020

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Welcome to Moonlight Jo, here we’re going to show you step-by-step how to start a blog (updated March 21′).  Before we jump in, it’s important you know a few things.

This isn’t one of those “5 steps to start a blog” articles. This is 4,000 words that will cover everything you need to know in excruciating detail. By following this guide you’ll have a high-performing blog set up in no time, ready to bring in traffic and generate income.

Disclosure: When you reach the end of this guide your commitment to blogging is far from its end.  Sure, blogging can yield great profits, but only if you stay on top of it. It’s like going to the gym – learning how to lift weights and going for a week is great, but you’ll ultimately fail if you’re not consistent. The real work takes place in the daily grind of creating content your readers will enjoy.

Don’t be fooled by the “I make $50,000 a month through my blog, and you can too!” This is done through consistent hard work, day in and day out.

So if you’re ready to make this commitment, let’s dive in! If you have any questions prior, or after reading this guide please feel free to contact us.

Why Start a Blog?

Do you possess knowledge that other people would pay to know? Do you have ideas you’d like to express to the world?

Maybe you just want to start an online business and blogging is the place you’d like to begin. Regardless of your reasons, a blog will help you develop skills that offer a host of opportunities in today’s world.

The knowledge obtained in the guide will help you educate, inform, offer practical guidance, and even sell or promote products your readers might be interested in. This is how many bloggers make a year’s worth of income in 1 month.

Part 1: Identify a Niche

One of the most important pieces of blogging is deciding on a niche to go with.  A lot of people spin their wheels with this step and end up wasting a lot of time.

A lot of the times newbies will pick a niche because they think it’s more profitable.  As opposed to picking a topic they’re passionate about.

Picking a niche to start a blog
Would you want to be stuck writing content every week about a topic you care nothing about? Our advice: go with a blog topic that you know at least moderately well and something you’re passionate about.  Worry about how to monetize it later.

You’ll likely face many challenges and some defeats along your blogging journey, that is why it’s critical you pick a niche you’re passionate about.  Don’t focus on how you’re going to make money, focus on how you can provide as much value to your readers as possible.  Once trust and authority have been established, the sales will come.  

For those adamant about researching profitable niches with low competition, check out Matthew Woodward’s post on how to find profitable niches.

The more sub-niche you get, the better.  If you’re passionate about fitness, great!  Find a sub-niche within the fitness niche.  For example, say you’re a male in your mid 20’s and you’d like to start a fitness blog.  A great sub-niche could be Crossfit training, or fitness for high-elevation running, or fitness for basketball training – you get the point.  Dig your hole an inch wide and a mile deep, not a mile wide and an inch deep.

Picking a sub niche for a blog

B2B Niches

Something else to keep in mind is the B2B play.  If you have B2B experience, you can leverage that knowledge with hyper-focused content that drives value to those in that space.  “Outbound Sales Training” or “B2B digital marketing” or “IT support for small business” are great niches that could yield you great topics.

Part 2: Your Blogging Platform

You have some options here.  There’s a variety of blog management platforms available on the market.  Our recommendation is that you use a platform that allows you to own 100% of the content.  Additionally, we recommend you put your blog on a platform that is SEO friendly and allows you to transfer your website files in the event you decide to move your blog.

For this guide, we’ll be using WordPress If you’re not familiar, WordPress powers about a third of all websites on the internet.  It’s the most customizable and it’s the cheapest.  I’m happy to explain all the other benefits that come with WordPress, just know that for now, it’s your best option.

Disclosure:  There’s a learning curve with WordPress.  It’s not as simple as a website builder like Wix, or Weebly, or Squarespace.  If you decide to go with WordPress take you time and educate yourself thoroughly on the platform.

Wordpress Distribution among top blogs

Alternatives

There’s a host of free blogging platforms out there that allow you to build a blog very easily, for free.  The downside of this is that when you go through a free platform you let that platform own all of the content of your blog.  Do you really want to spend hours developing a blog only to realize that all of your work is owned by the website you built it on?  Some examples of free blogging platforms are Blogger.com, Tumblr.com, and Moveable Type.

Self-Hosted

As mentioned before you could go the route of a website builder like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace.  While this might seem like an appealing option, our recommendation is to stay away.  For one, a blog is likely to get a lot of traffic for the search engines, which means SEO (search engine optimization) is incredibly important for growing your blog.  With this in mind, the SEO capabilities of these website builders are very limited. If you’d like to read more on this check out our WordPress vs Weebly post in which explain the differences in much more detail.

Summary: There’s a lot of options as to which platform to build your blog on.  Our recommendation is WordPress as you own 100% of the content and it’s the most customizable in terms of functionality and SEO.

Choosing platform to start a blog

Part 3: Pick a Domain Name and Hosting Provider

If you’re going with the recommendations and decide to build your blog on WordPress you’ll have to purchase your domain name and hosting separately.  One of the benefits of website builders like Squarespace is that they’re self-hosted.  If you went to the website builder route, don’t worry about this step.

Domain Name

Even though this is a very important step in creating your blog, please do not spend too much time overthinking what the name of your website is going to be.  People don’t buy off the name of your website, they buy based on the trust and value you provide them.  Use a website like Godaddy.com to research domain names that are available and go with it.  Here are some tips for best practices when choosing a domain name.

  • Try to use a .com whenever possible
  • Keep your domain name as short as possible.  www.thisisthenameofmynewblog.com is too long
  • Make it easy to pronounce and spell.
  • Try to avoid hyphens
  • Make it brandable
  • Get ideas from tools like Nameboy.com

Once you’ve identified the domain name you’d like to roll with, go ahead and purchase it.  Typically domain names cost around $12 per year.  Don’t fall victim to the Godaddy upsells, all you need is the domain name for $12 per year.

Blog Domain Name Generator

Hosting

Hosting is needed to store all of the files for your website. Think of your website as a brick and mortar store.  Your website is the storefront that people see when they walk past.  Your hosting is equivalent to the warehouse where all of your products are stored.

There’s a lot of really good hosting providers out there.  Our recommendation is either Siteground or Bluehost.  Both of these platforms offer exceptional customer service and offer shared hosting for a low monthly cost ($3-$12 per month).

Each hosting provider offers a unique set of benefits.  Check out this article by Wpbeginner to learn more about which hosting company is right for you.

Point your Domain Name to your Host

Once you’ve signed up with a hosting provider you now need to point your name servers to your host.  Essentially we need to tell your domain name provider where to point the domain name to.  See the video below on how to point your nameservers if you’re having difficulties completing this step.  If you’re still having trouble, call support for whichever hosting provider you decide to go with.  In this guide, we’re using Siteground.com for our hosting provider.

Once the nameservers have been pointed it typically takes 24-48 hours for your host to receive the request.

 

Install WordPress to Launch your Website

As mentioned before, we’re using WordPress.  Once you’ve pointed your domain name to your hosting you can now install WordPress.  Simply just click on the “install WordPress” and choose the domain name you decided to go with.  Once this step is complete you’ll have a basic WordPress install ready for customizing!

Summary – Our recommendation is to use WordPress as the Content Management System to build your blog on.  We also recommend using a popular hosting provider such as Siteground or Bluehost to store your files.  Choose a domain name that fits your blog, point your name-servers, and install WordPress.

How to install a WordPress Blog

Part 3: Building your WordPress Website

Picking the right theme is crucial for making your website visually appealing.  If you’re not happy with the aesthetics of your website you’ll have a difficult time adjusting the theme later on.  While WordPress has an entire database full of free themes you can use, our recommendation is to go with a premium theme.

Before moving forward with any theme, keep these tips in mind:

  • Check the ratings – your theme should have good reviews and a lot of them
  • Make sure it’s mobile responsive – Most themes are mobile responsive.  If you decide to go with one that isn’t, it’ll create huge headaches for you later on.
  • Preview the theme – go through and check out what the theme actually looks like.

 

Why a Premium Theme?

Personally, I don’t mind forking out $80 for a premium theme. Why?  Support. As I’m creating my website and something looks off, whether it be spacing, font, colors, etc. I message Divi support and they can usually help me with my issue.  If you’re using a theme that is free, don’t expect support.  Also, free themes are not updated as often.  If WordPress updates to the latest version of PHP and your theme aren’t compatible, you’re going to have issues.  You don’t have to worry about this if you’re using a premium theme.

Our Reccomendations for Premium Themes

Divi – Divi is a complete design framework with a drag and drop builder.

Elementor – Elementor has a free version and is great for beginners.  Also a drag and drop builder

Avada – #1 selling WP themes on the market.  Over 550,000 premade templates to choose from.

Customize your Theme

Truly, this is where the fun really begins.  Your WordPress Dashboard is where all the magic happens.  From here you can essentially do all customizations.  Once you’ve purchased your theme (assuming you’re going with a premium theme) you can download the theme into a zip file onto your computer.  Next, in your WP dashboard go to “themes” and upload the zip file.  Once the theme is installed, activate it and you’ll be good to go!

Fonts, Colors, Logo

As you start to customize your theme it would be a good idea to have brand colors, fonts, and a logo ready to go.

Colors

Let’s start with the colors.  There are a few tools we like to use when we’re helping to develop a brand.  The first being Coolers.co.  This tool automatically generates 5 colors, if there’s one you like you can lock that color and auto-generate the other 4.  Repeat the process until you have a few colors you’d like to use.
Color Scheme Generator for new blog
Next, I really like this post written by Nayomi Chibana that offers over 50 different color schemes that came from high-quality websites. This post will provide a lot of inspiration in the direction you want to go in terms of branding.
Visme Color Scheme

Fonts

For fonts, our recommendation is to go with a Google-friendly font.  Maintaining consistency with your font is difficult if it works on some browsers and not others.  Also, make sure your font is easily legible.  Your content serves no purpose if it’s difficult to read.

Logos

One of the most exciting parts of building a business is generating a logo!  There are a few different ways to go about this.  If you’d like to take on the creative design yourself I’d suggest using a tool like Canva.  Canva is a graphic design platform that will allow you to customize a high-quality logo with transparent backgrounds.

Outsourcing Logo Design

If you’d like to put your creative skills to rest, you can rely on a professional to fulfill your logo making duties.  Websites like Upwork and Fiverr offer large networks of freelance designers and creators that can develop great looking logos for you at a cheap price.
Blog Logo Design

Install Essential Plug-ins

If you’re a smartphone user you’ve probably heard the saying “there’s an app for everything”.  Well in the world of websites “there’s a plug-in for everything”. Another selling point on WordPress is how customizable it can be through its plug-ins.

While plug-ins are great, I exercise caution when using too many.  They can sometimes lead to issues with each other and updating them over time might become cumbersome.  Here are a few reliable plug-ins we’d recommend adding to your website.

  • Akismet – You’ll quickly find out that comment spam is very real.  Akismet helps filter out these comments and leave only real value-add comments to your post.
  • YoastSEO – This plugin is great for SEO.  It’ll make sure you’re covering the basics in terms of on-page SEO and makes adding meta-data very easy.
  • WP-Forms – A necessary part for any blog is being able to get users’ information, typically in the form of an email address.  WP-Forms allows you to create beautiful contact forms that link directly to your email provider.
  • WP-Super Cache – The plugin helps speed up your website
  • Email MarketingMailchimp, Aweber, or Get Response are all great email marketing platforms that will integrate seamlessly into your WordPress site via a plugin
  • Smush – will compress your images and remove unnecessary metadata to improve page speed.

A word of caution about plug-ins.  Be sure that you’re checking the number of active installs a plug-in has.  The more the better.  Make sure you also check how long it’s been since the most recent update.  It’s a good sign that the plug-in is well maintained if it’s been recently updated.

Adding Essential Plugins to Blog

Set Up Tracking

It’s important you know where your readers are coming from.  You might decide you want to run paid advertisements, or maybe you want to see how many visitors are coming from Social Media.  These are the reasons why you need Google Analytics.

Check out the video below to see how to set up Google Analytics into your WordPress website.

Set up your Email Marketing

Email marketing is still the king marketing channel for generating online sales.  Some people say email marketing is dead, this is far from the truth.

Once you’ve built an email list that you can continuously promote new content and stay top of mind to your readers.

You don’t have to worry about sending emails right away, as long as you’re collecting them you’ll be able to use them later on.

As a beginner Mailpoet is a good bet because it’s completely free.  However, once you start growing your list of 500 subscribers plus it’s good to go with a premium provider like Mailchimp or Constant Contact.

Email Marketing by the Numbers

Part 4: Start Blogging

By now we’ve identified our niche, purchased a domain name and set up hosting, developed a brand, installed WordPress, added plug-ins, and customized our theme.

Everything up until this point is basically a one and done procedure.  Blogging requires you to consistently post content.  “Content is King” has been said many times over for a reason.  If you want to stand out from the crowd and keep people’s eyes on your website you need to create great content.

We need to know how we can best be consistent when writing content.  Can you post a new blog article once a week?  Twice a week?  Three times a week?  Whatever your frequency, just make sure you’re consistent with it.

It goes without saying but your content needs to speak to your audience.  Know the type of person you’re writing to and how they might talk.  If your audience is a 65-year-old retired school teacher than you might write differently to an 18 high school graduate.

Keyword Research and Content Calendar

In the early stages of growing a blog, you’ll find that it’s difficult to get wins (my friends from Create and Go call this the “poop” phase) You might find it hard getting everything set up properly or even getting visitors to the site.  It’s for this reason that we like to research easy-to-rank keywords that will be easy to rank for.  Seeing your content rank in Google is a very small win that goes a long way when starting a blog.

Think of at least 10 ideas for content you want to write about.  Make sure these ideas align with your niche.  Take those 10 words and use a tool like Ubersuggest to see which ones have a low competition to rank for.

Filter the SEO difficulty between 0-10, what’s generated is a list of keywords that will be easy to rank for.  Once you’ve identified these keywords structure a content calendar around writing about them.

As a good rule of thumb, we like to have one month’s worth of content planned out ahead of time.  Many bloggers plan their content out more than that but as a minimum we suggest one month.

Blogging topic ideas

Types of Content

Types of blogging content

Part 5: Blog Promotion

Almost as critical as the content you write is actually promoting your blog.  At Moonlight Jo we spend the same amount of time creating content as we do promote it.  Promoting your blog comes in many shapes and forms.  Below are the various ways you can promote your blog to start getting subscribers.

Share with your Network

If you’re comfortable sharing your content with your network, do it.   This is a great way to build a base of users, subscribers, and activity on your blog.  It’s not the end of the world if you decide not to share with your existing network.  The reality is that most of your personal networks probably won’t be that interested in your niche.  This is an easy first win if you’re ok with self-promotion.

Submit a Sitemap to the Search Engines

Think of Google as the library and your website as the book.  You need to tell Google that your book/website exists so Google can crawl it with their bots and get you indexed in the search engines.  You expedite getting rankings by consistently submitting a new site map with every piece of content you create.  Just create an account in the Google Search  Console and submit an .xml sitemap,
Submitting a sitemap to the search engines

Build Site Authority by Earning Backlinks

With every new website, you need to build authority on the website. A great way to build authority is by earning backlinks.  There’s a variety of ways you can do this.  Check out our post on Best white Hat Backlinking Strategies for 2020 to learn more.

Submit Blog to Bookmarking Sites

Bookmarking sites are great for getting your content in front of people in your niche actively searching for your subject matter.  It’s best practice to submit your newest content to bookmarking sites like Reddit or Twitter.

Get Active on Niche Websites

Whatever your niche, there’s surely forums, blogs, and other websites that focus on your niche.  Get active on these websites.  Comment on blogs, start conversations, and promote your content.  Link to your content when you can.

Post / Promote on Social Media

Promoting your content on Social Media is an excellent way to quickly get readers on your website.  Find groups and pages focused on your niche and promote your content.  Share your content and encourage engagement.  Be careful not to sound spammy or too promotional, page admins might block you from the group.
Blogging Groups on Social Media

Guest Post

Offer yourself to post on other websites in your niche.  Find reputable sites you can be proud to write for.  This will provide a nice traffic boost and overall improve your online presence.

Email Marketing

Your promotional efforts will go much further once you have a dedicated base of fans and readers asking for your newest content whenever it comes out.  Email marketing makes this possible.  Stay top of mind and give your fans the first taste of your newest content.

Buy your Traffic

Paid advertising will get you, readers, asap.  If you have money to spend and you don’t want to put in the boots-on-the-ground work, paid advertising is for you.  Set up an account with Google Adwords and drive traffic to your best content.

Part 6: Monetize your Blog

Monetization is the process of earning profits from your blogging efforts.  I can tell you the best blogs do not focus on profits as their #1 priority.  Without delivering valuable content you’ll never make serious money from a blog.

Place Ads in your Content

Place ads in your content.  Using a tool like Google Adsense you can get paid for allowing Google to place ads throughout your post that are specific to your niche.
Blog Monetization via Paid Ad
Team up with other bloggers or retailers to promote their products and earn a cut of the commission.  Affiliate marketing is great for the simple fact that you can offer recommendations to your readers and get paid every time they sign up through your link.

Selling Products or Services

Companies all over the world leverage content marketing in order to drive traffic and push the sale of their services or products through the website.  A good example of a large company that leverages content marketing is Hubspot, check out their blog here.

Sponsored Post

As your blog grows more and more popular, people will come to you asking to guest post on your website.  Advertisers love strategically placed sponsored posts.

Summary

I hope you found this post insightful and informative.   If you were able to get value from this please share on social media!  Thank you for reading and happy blogging!

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