While making money from blogging is a realistic goal for just about any Canadian, it is not a get rich quick scheme. Creating a blog that reliably generates income takes time and effort. This guide will cover everything you need to know about creating and growing a blog that generates money for you.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Blog?
A blog is a type of website that features regularly written articles, or blog posts. At first, blogging was seen as a type of online journaling, hence the name, a combination of the words “web” and “log.” Today, blogging has a much wider definition.
Is a blog different than a website? A blog is a type of website, but the differences aren’t major. A blog’s focus on continually published articles is the main difference to a static website that doesn’t often change. In reality, most blogs have elements of a website, and blogs have static pages as well.
Should I Start a Blog?
If you want to make money online, blogging is a good option. But it’s no silver bullet, there are pros and cons to blogging:
Pros of Starting a Blog
Cons of Starting a Blog
How to Start Your Blog
The rest of this article will walk you through the work you’ll need to do to create and launch a blog that you can make money from. We’ll start with higher-level, preliminary planning that will impact your blog’s success before moving on to the nuts and bolts of actually creating and marketing a website.
Finding your niche
When starting your blog, you should start with a niche, or a narrow subject your blog will deal with. Focusing on a narrow subject will let you grow your audience more easily than if you have a diffuse subject. You can’t be everything to everyone (at least not at the start) and your best bet is to find an area you hope to become an expert in.
Here are some areas to think about when looking for your niche:
- What you know – What you know, what you are passionate or knowledgeable about, is a good place to start. If you are familiar with a subject, the writing will come more easily. You’ll have a better idea of what people want.
- Can you / do you want to become an expert? – Blogging, as opposed to a static website, requires constant publishing. For people to trust you, you’ll need to provide helpful and expert information. Pick a niche you want and feel comfortable being an authority in.
- What are your goals? – When you start a blog you should have some idea of what you want out of it. Are you looking to make money, or are you blogging out of a sense of creative passion? Having a clear goal makes making decisions easier.
- What do people want?– Your blog needs to deal with issues people care about. Most articles are written to either inform, entertain, or to solve problems. Make sure your niche has an audience that is seeking information. To understand what people want, you’ll need to do a lot of market research.
If you are serious about the long-term success of your blog, especially if you are counting on it making money, you must spend time on market research before you decide on a niche. You could have the best blog in the world about a subject, but if people aren’t interested in it it won’t do you any good.
Take some of the ideas you have for niches and research them. Who are the big players? What do they sell? How are they getting customers? Here are some tools and techniques to help:
- Google search – If you are going to be successful as a blogger you should be intimately familiar with Google results around your subject. Who will you be competing against? What search results does Google show for related searches?
- Keyword research – Refers to understanding how people search for products or services on search engines. You can see what queries are popular and get volume on how many searches are performed a month.
- Google trends – is a free service from Google that lets you see how popular different searches or entities are, compare them to others, and see changes in volume on a seasonal basis.
- Social media – Social media has become a big part of the business world as people spend more and more time on it. Find popular accounts related to the niches you are exploring. Understand what resonates and what doesn’t. Find organizations like the one you want to build.
Choose a name for your blog
You’ll need a name for your blog, ideally something unique and memorable. Check with domain registrars (more on that later) to see if the domain is available. Don’t just put the domain into your browser because oftentimes domains are purchased, but there isn’t a site up.
Exact match vs branded domain names
There are two strategies to picking a blog name:
- “Exact match” refers to a blog name that is a match for the search terms people use. For example, if you were starting a blog about public transportation issues in Toronto, you might name it “Public Transportation Toronto.” In the past, having a domain name that exactly matched the search term gave you an advantage for higher rankings on Google. Most agree that advantage has diminished. An exact match also helps the user understand what the blog is about before they click over to your site. If your name matches what they are looking for, you increase the chance they will visit your site.
- A branded name strategy doesn’t necessarily limit itself to using keywords people search for and instead aims for uniqueness and originality. Many of today’s biggest brands (Google, Amazon, Apple) have names that don’t reflect what they do. The goal of a branded name is to be memorable, helping you to build an ongoing relationship.
There are pros and cons to each approach. The exact match might improve your CTR and allow users to understand what your blog is about more quickly, but it could be a bit bland. On the other hand, a branded strategy might be more memorable and help you stand out. There isn’t a right answer, it depends on your preference and niche.
How to start blogging for free
If you are serious about making money from your blog, you probably want to avoid using a free hosting service. But if you want to dip your feet in the water without any upfront costs, you have options. They can get you writing and help you understand what works online before you make a financial commitment.
- Medium – Aims to build a community of bloggers writing about various topics. You can publish under your name or start a publication. Popular topics on Medium often deal with marketing, technology, writing, and current events. Medium will even pay writers if their articles get a lot of readers. If you are interested in writing and seeing if there is an audience for your content, Medium is a good place to get started. Additionally, lots of businesses use Medium as a way to build recognition and promote their business. So if you get started there, you can launch a website later and leverage your audience on Medium.
- WordPress – WordPress is a type of software called a Content Management System (CMS). CMSs are how you manage your site, where you publish articles and pages. WordPress is opensource, meaning that the code is available for free. There are two versions of WordPress.
- Blogger – Owned by Google, Blogger is similar to WordPress.com and allows you to start blogging for free under a sub-directory.
- Social media – Today, you don’t strictly need a website to grow an audience. Entrepreneurs are posting directly on social media sites and growing their audience there. You lose a lot of control when you decide to publish only on social media, but the cost is free. If the audience is there it could be a good place to start. And it’s not just Facebook and Instagram. LinkedIn and Quora have more of a business market and might be better suited to building your expertise.
A hosted blog
If you want to start a sustainable blog that makes money, you’ll likely want a hosted site. This is what people traditionally think of as a website. You’ll need two parts to set up your site.
- Domain – You’ll first need to purchase the domain name, the web address where your site lives. You’ll purchase your domain from a domain registrar, which is good for at least a year, but you can purchase several years as well. The cost of a domain varies by providers, but you can buy a .com domain for less than $15. Popular domain registrars include GoDaddy and Namecheap. Google offers domain registration as well. Note that in Canada you’ll need to prove you are in the country legally to purchase a .ca site.
- Host – You’ll need a company to host the files that run your site. Hosting contracts are normally for a year and the cost is usually between $100 and $150 for a basic package. Popular hosting providers include Greengeeks, Bluehost, HostGator.
Most hosts will let you purchase the domain from them, which makes it simpler. If you look around you can likely find hosts that offer a free domain for a year when you sign up for hosting. But you might want to have a different registrar than host. Should worst come to worst and you have a dispute with your host, you’ll still be in complete control of your domain.
We’ll talk about website builders like Squarespace and Wix in a bit, but they can be both host and registrar as well as your CMS.
Choosing your Content Management System
While there are countless choices for Content Management Systems (CMS), the software that powers your site, for most new bloggers the choice will come down to WordPress or a “website builder.”
WordPress powers thousands if not millions of websites around the globe. As open-source software, it is free. It became popular due to its “famous five-minute set-up” which these days is even easier because most hosts come with software that lets you install the WordPress software with a few clicks.
WordPress is the most popular open-source (free) CMS, but it’s not the only one. Drupal and Joomla are other popular free CMSs.
If you don’t want to spend the time learning the ins and outs of WordPress, a website builder might be a good purchase. Website builders is kind of a catch-all term for website publishing tools that strive to make it easy to create a website through a drag-and-drop visual interface. These services are paid for. Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are some of the most popular builders.
Note that website builders will also serve as your host and can be a domain registrar.
What to look for in a hosting provider
No matter what you choose as a host or CMS, there are several things to look for when you are making your purchasing decisions. It might be a good idea to call a few options and speak directly with a representative to find out more.
- Reliability – In this case refers to the host ensuring your domain is up and running and functioning properly all the time, referred to as “uptime.”
- Load speed– Speed is vital to a successful blog. Users, particularly on mobile devices and slower connection speeds, won’t wait for a site to load and will move on.
- Security – Especially if you are taking purchase information, you need your site to be secure. You’ll likely want an SSL certificate for your blog. Some hosts provide SSL certificates for free while others charge a (usually) small fee.
- Backups – Websites crash, stuff breaks, and oftentimes restoring a backup is the easiest way to fix the issue. Talk to your hosts about backups, if they happen automatically, additional related charges, etc.
- Customer service/support – Customer service is always important, but when it comes to your host, it’s vital. If your site is down it means you can’t make sales, so being able to speak with someone right away can make a big difference
Content – How to Create Content for Your Blog
With a website up and running, the next step is to populate the blog, to get content on it. If the primary goal of your site is to make money, you’ll want your content to align with and support your monetization strategy, which we’ll talk about in the next section.
What is the post’s purpose?
Each of your posts should have a purpose, something you’re providing to the reader. What’s the point you’re trying to convey?
Most content serves one of a few purposes:
- Entertain – Is aimed at entertaining the reader with funny or interesting content. This content is often more difficult to monetize but at the same time, it has a better chance to resonate with the audience because it’s not promotional.
- Inform – Blog posts are meant to explain a concept to the reader. How-to articles are a good example. You are helping to solve the reader’s problem.
- Convert – These posts are meant to convince the reader to purchase a product or service or otherwise “convert.” i.e. you could be persuading the reader to sign up for your email newsletter.
Types of posts
The sky is the limit when it comes to your posts types, but some of the traditional post choices are:
- Lists e.g. “the ten best X”
- Interviews, usually with authorities or celebrities
- Image collections
- Breaking news
- Informational and “how-to” articles
- Long-form explorations of a subject
- Reviews of products, movies, etc.
Cohesion between content and money
If you are blogging to make money it’s important that your content supplements what you are trying to sell. If your readers are interested in the content, there’s a good chance they will be interested in related products.
Most people think about blogging as dealing with timely content, but the true power of writing for the internet comes from what’s called evergreen content because it’s popular year-round. The power of evergreen posts builds over time, as more and more people read it. For evergreen content in competitive niches to rank highly in Google, it usually needs to be incredibly detailed and authoritative.
Website Hubs / Silos
When building out a website, many content creators think about their content in terms of hubs or silos. The “hub” represents one of the key subjects of your overall site, a broader subject like “internet marketing.” The central hub page is supported by supplemental pages (e.g. search engine marketing, social media marketing) that link back to the main hub.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and content
As you are thinking about your website overall and posts specifically, it’s important to keep some broad concepts of SEO in mind. A little forethought and research can make a big difference when gaining traction in organic results. We’ll talk more about SEO when we deal with getting traffic to your site, but for now, creating your content with SEO in mind provides a lot of benefits.
- Keywords – We talked about keywords earlier. As you are researching your topic you should understand how people search around the topic. Keyword research can help you outline the sections of your posts. And you’ll want to use the keywords in your post to help rank on Google for those specific and related searches.
- Title tag – The “title tag” refers to the page title as Google understands it. You’ll set it in your CMS. You can think about it as the headline of your post, although the title tag and headline can be different. Google recommends you keep your title tag to less than 60 characters. You’ll want to include your keywords in the page title an H1.
- H1 – Short for “Heading 1” – this is the headline of the post users will see.
- Sub-headings – Think of headers like the sub-sections of an article. For long articles, you should break your post up into sections with headings. You CMS will let you designate the different headers.
Links are the foundation of the web and play a big role in SEO. Google places a lot of faith in links when determining the value of a webpage as well as when determining what the page is about. In general, the more links to a page from related, quality pages, the more authoritative Google will see your site, and the higher it will rank.
Anchor text – The anchor text refers to what the words used to link to a page are.
Anchor text is usually blue and underlined. The words in the anchor text, as well as the text around, it helps Google to understand what the page being linked to is about. When you link to another page, use text that describes what the page is about instead of generic text like “click here.”
There are two kinds of links:
- Internal links – Refer to links on your site to other pages on your site.
- External links – Link to another website. It can refer to either outbound links from your site to another site, or inbound links from another site to yours. Finding ways to get other sites to link to you is perhaps the most challenging but powerful for SEO success.
Content Best practices
The success of your blog will come down to the content you produce. You should continually be educating yourself to improve your writing ability. As you are writing your content, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Good Headlines – A quality headline is vital to getting people to read your post. Content professionals spend a lot of time coming up with the best headline possible. Many recommend brainstorming up to 20 different headlines before deciding on the best.
- What is the point of this post? -You should have a main idea you’re trying to convey for each post. Everything in your post should support that point.
- Good imagery – Images are important to engage readers. Imagery isn’t just important on your blog, but when promoting your post on social media as well.
- Call to Action (CTA) – Refers to asking your reader to do something. This can be to make a purchase, sign-up for your newsletter, leave a comment, or share on social media. A “buy now” button is the web’s most popular CTA. Each page on your site should be asking the reader to do something that helps your business.
- Scanability – Readers want to be able to skim your posts. Using clear headings and bullet points where appropriate helps the “scanability” of your site. Break up your paragraphs.
- Simplify – Website visitors are usually in a hurry, so keep your writing clean and simple. Don’t use jargon or complicated words when simpler words suffice.
- Plan first – Outline or brainstorm the post before sitting down to write.
- Flow – Have each paragraph flow into the next.
How often should I post?
There isn’t a hard and fast rule regarding how often you post, but it’s key to be consistent. What’s more important than timing is putting out good content that resonates with the audience. If you publish thin content that doesn’t meet the reader’s needs, it will get ignored. Crafting good, quality content takes time.
When thinking about posting, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Be regular – When you are building a blog it’s important for you to post regularly. Once a week is a reasonable goal, but you could do twice a week or twice a month too.
- It depends – Readers might appreciate hearing from you more often if your posts are short and entertaining. But if your posts are long and will take readers a long time to finish, you might be better off posting less regularly.
- Start with at least five articles – When you launch your blog, it’s a good idea to post several articles at once, so that visitors can see more of what you offer.
- Scheduling blog posts – Keep in mind you don’t need to publish a piece as soon as you are done writing it. WordPress will let you set your post to publish in the future. It might make your life easier to schedule your post so that you don’t need to rush to put something out because it is “due.” Many bloggers operate with a backlog of posts set to publish so if they are unable to write for a few days, their blog will still be getting new content.
Designing Your Blog
It’s important that you have an attractive website that loads quickly and serves the needs of you and your users. Usually, it’s a good idea to keep your designs simple. The more “stuff” you have on your pages (ads, social media plugins, email signup forms, etc.), the more distractions the users see. It’s easy to keep adding new features. Think about all your site elements and make sure they are supporting your business goals.
Your website’s theme determines it’s appearance. Whether you use WordPress, a website builder, or any other CMS, they’ll come with different themes to choose from. Themes change the layout of your site, affecting the size of the logo, sidebar width, fonts, colors, etc. There are free and premium themes. Some themes are elegant, others playful. You’ll need to find a theme that complements your site goals.
Using Images on your site
Images will play an important role in your posts’ ability to resonate with the audience. You’ll use images in your posts to grab and keep readers attention. And when promoting your content on social media, images are even more important.
Compress your images – The filesize of images on the web should be a lot smaller than the files you’ll get from your camera or download from a stock photography site. Large images will affect the load time of your site, which is increasingly important as more people connect to the internet on their phones. If your site takes too long to load, users will simply move on. Use a service like TinyPNG or iloveimg to make your images smaller.
Getting Visitors to Your Blog
To make any money from your blog, you’ll need website visitors. Don’t expect visitors to flock to your website as soon as you post something. The truth is that you’ll likely end up spending more time trying to get website visitors than you will on creating your content and website.
You can gain an audience for free or pay for marketing. Getting free traffic will require more work and take longer. You can advertise pretty cheaply if you are careful.
There are two primary channels to attract visitors, Search Engines and Social Media.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
The power of search engines lies in the nature of search. People are typing the search into Google because they are interested in it. Therein lies the value of being ane of the first sites users see.
- SEO – We covered SEO in the content sections. SEO is all about understanding how people search and figuring out how to make your content rank for those searches.
- PPC – Pay Per Click refers to paying for each website visitor. Bing and Google both offer PPC advertising. You’ll choose the keyword that you want to trigger your ad, write the ad, and decide your budget. Depending on the industry, PPC advertising can be costly.
Google Search Console
Google provides website owners with a Search Console, a free platform that lets you see some important information on your site. You’ll be able to see what keywords your site is showing up for as well as what your popular pages are. It will also alert you to some technical issues if they are present.
Just like SEM, there are paid and free ways to leverage social media to grow your audience. Remember that one of the goals of starting your site is to be seen as an expert in your niche. Social media provides you with the ability to grow your authority.
Using social media for free – You can find and interact with people interested in your niche. Remember that your goal should be to provide value. Find related authors in your niche and interact with them. Look for people asking questions and help them out. As your followers grow you’ll gain authority.
Facebook and Instagram (owned by Facebook) are by far the biggest social media platform. Their ad platform allows for the most powerful targeting.
Other popular social media sites include Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Pinterest, and Snapchat. While not strictly a social media platform, Youtube offers a huge opportunity to interact with others interested in your niche.
Paying for social media advertising – In contrast to the directness of SEM, social media is more like a magazine or newspaper advertisement, where you are hoping to get someone’s attention when they are not actively seeking you out. Advertising online can be much more powerful because social media platforms allow you to target your audience to increase your chances they will be interested in what you offer. You can target by location, age, sex, and perhaps most importantly by interests or likes.
With social media, you’ll need to create the ad, set targeting options, and send users to the page on your site.
Grow a community
Depending on your niche, goals, and long-term vision, creating and growing a community likely represents the best way to grow your business sustainably. Social media or an email newsletter, preferably both, are the most powerful way to grow your community.
Growing your email list
Growing an email list of people who have opted in to get regular emails from you is perhaps the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Compared to other forms of marketing, email is inexpensive. It allows you to interact with your audience on your terms, not Google or Facebook’s.
You can put an email sign-up box on your site to start collecting addresses. There are several email marketing platforms out there that make it simple to collect emails. A good email strategy is to set up a chain of emails new subscribers get introducing them to your service. Popular email services include Mailchimp, Aweber, ConvvertKit, and Constant Contact.
Making Money from Your Blog
With a site up and running and some solid content, it’s time to get your website to bring in revenue. There are several ways to make money from your blog, each with their strengths and weaknesses.
Show ads on your site
Having ads on your site is perhaps the easiest way to start earning money.
Ad networks – The simplest way to place ads on your site is to join an ad network. Google’s AdSense is the largest and you can sign up for free. Google will provide you with a string of code you place on your site. Based on your content and what Google knows about the visitor, their algorithm will determine the best ad to show. While it’s relatively simple to set up, you’ll need a lot of traffic to make significant money from these types of ads.
The alternative to ad network ads is to show affiliate ads you choose.
Affiliate marketing – Refers to a relationship you have with another website where you’ll get paid a commission based on any sales you referred to the site. You’ll first sign up with the advertiser, get their ads, and place them on your site. If one of your website visitors clicks on that ad and then buys something on that site, you’ll get paid a percentage of what they purchased.
Affiliate Networks – Most affiliate marketing is done through affiliate networks, third parties that act as the intermediary between the merchant (the person paying you to advertise), and the publisher, the person advertising on their behalf, in this case you.
The networks provide the tracking code you’ll need to place on your site to make sure you get paid. Popular affiliate networks include Commission Junction, Linkshare, and Awin.
Amazon Associates – Amazon runs its affiliate program, the largest on the web. You can sign up as an affiliate and create an ad for your site for any product on Amazon. If users click on the ad and then buy from Amazon, you’ll get a commission.
Another option to monetize your site is to sell digital or physical products right on your site.
Digital products – The web lends itself easily to digital products, the most common being e-books. You can develop your own ebook and sell it right on your site. Online learning courses are another popular digital product to sell online.
You can also sell digital products as an affiliate or as a white or private label offering (more on that shortly).
Physical products – You can sell physical products on your site. You could find a wholesaler you will buy a stock of merchandise from and take orders and do the shipping yourself.
Drop-shipping – These days it’s much more common to sell products via drop-shipping. Drop-shipping refers to using a third-party to fulfill the order. You take the order from the customer, and then the drop-shipper will mail the product from their warehouse to the customer.
White vs Private Label – In the world of online commerce, the goods you sell can be white or private label. White label products are generic and can be for another brand. With private label products, you are paying the producer to brand the product on your behalf.
Other Ways to Make Money from Your Blog
Sponsored posts – As you grow your audience, eventually you should get to a point where businesses will want you to feature their products on your site via sponsored posts. You can approach businesses and offer to review or feature their product in exchange for payment.
Subscription – Another option to make money from your blog is to offer a paid subscription to your posts. In essence, you put some of your content behind a paywall, just like many newspapers do. Substack is perhaps the most well-known service for charging readers to view your content.
Donations – Another option to make money from your blog is to solicit donations right on your site. Paypal offers you the ability to place a button on your site asking for donations. Patreon is a popular service for journalists and artists to have people sign up to support you on a recurring basis.
There’s a lot you’ll need to tackle to create a profitable blog for the long haul. While getting a blog up and running is relatively simple, getting to a point where you are making money will require significantly more work. This guide serves as a basic introduction to making money through a blog, but it’s just the first step. But if you get started, keep learning and stick with it, there’s no reason why you can’t make money from blogging.