Businesses of all kinds start blogging as a way to build up a long-term audience.
But the reverse is also happening, with more and more bloggers starting businesses as an extension of their blog. And it makes sense.
One of the biggest challenges new businesses face is building an audience for their products. New bloggers, on the other hand, often work backward, building an audience first by consistently putting out good content and then exploring ways to monetize their traffic.
Starting a blog is easy if you just want to have a side hustle. But if you’re thinking about creative ways to make money as a blogger down the road, you’ll need to be strategic about how you set your blog up for success.
This step-by-step guide will take a thorough look at what you need to know to start a blog and grow it into a source of traffic and income. And while our guide is meant for those who haven’t started a business yet, it’s also relevant for any businesses that want to get into the blogging game.
What is a blog?
A blog is a website consisting of content, usually focused on a specific topic, that you regularly add to. Unlike other publications and articles, blogs tend to take on a personal tone, which helps them connect more deeply with their audiences.
People start blogs for all kinds of reasons, including:
- To share their opinions, passions, or glimpses into their lives
- To teach others what they know
- To build an email list
- To develop their personal brand as an expert
- To make money online
- A combination of any or all of the above
For these reasons, blogging can be incredibly fulfilling—especially when complete strangers start consuming your content—but it’s also a commitment.
Whether you publish daily, weekly, or monthly, it’s important to be as consistent as possible, not just in how often you publish but also in the type of content you publish.
It’s very rare for bloggers to see results right away, so to stay motivated in the early stages, keep in mind why you’re doing it.
How much money do bloggers make?
Full-time bloggers can earn a healthy living writing online content. Finance blog Millennial Money reports that bloggers can increase revenue to more than $100,000 after building traffic and subscribers. It also suggests that you can make between $500 and $2,000 per month blogging in your first year.
How to start a blog with no money as a beginner
The hardest part about blogging is finding the time and the ideas you need to do it consistently. Getting started, however, is fairly straightforward.
Starting a blog with the potential to be a business comes down to the following steps, which we’ll explore in this tutorial:
- Find a way for your blog to make money
- Pick a niche for your blog
- Choose a blogging platform and template
- Choose a blog and domain name
- Plan your publishing strategy
- Get people to read your blog consistently
If you’re wondering why we’re talking about monetization first, it’s because we need to think more like an entrepreneur than just a blogger in order to make this a profitable venture.
1. Find a way for your blog to make money
This might sound counterintuitive, but if you’re blogging to make money, you should start with the money part first and the content part second. Your monetization strategy will determine what types of content you publish and how you grow long term. So to start, you want to think more like an entrepreneur and less like an artist.
There are a bunch of ways you can monetize your blog, depending on the kind of blog you decide to start. For example, twinning a low-investment business with a blog creates a sustainable way to grow for little cost other than time and energy. But many people think using something like Google AdSense is the only way to start making money for some reason.
While ads can be lucrative ways to create income from blogging, they require large amounts of traffic before they become economically viable. Thankfully, there are tons of other ways a new blogger can monetize faster, without the need to have a massive audience.
Here are six ways to monetize:
1. Selling a book. A great example of someone who has done this is James Clear. After writing a self-development blog, James wrote the book Atomic Habits to monetize his blog and capitalize on the knowledge he’d gained over years of writing posts.
This book, sold in digital and physical formats, not only made his blog economically viable, it also landed him on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
2. Affiliate Marketing. This method allows you to gain a commission everytime you sell a partner’s product. When done properly, affiliate commissions can add up and be a great way to make passive income.
Bases Loaded Softball, for example, writes gear reviews to attract readers, then promotes a product from Amazon in the articles. If a reader buys the product after clicking the link, the blog earns money.
3. Digital products. Online courses can be a natural way for bloggers to monetize. Successful bloggers are expert content creators, and courses capitalize on knowledge you already have. Just check out CopyHackers.com for inspiration from a blog that already made the jump.
4. Physical products. Physical products align with the message of the brand. One example of this is Glossier, a makeup brand that grew out of Emily Weiss’ fashion blog, Into The Gloss.
5. Services. If you’re an aspiring blogger, chances are you’re an expert in a given area and are great with words. Services like consulting, coaching, and speaking at events are great ways to monetize a blog.
6. Subscriptions. Patreon isn’t only for YouTubers. When people find value in the information you provide, some will be willing to pay a monthly fee to access exclusive content, making subscriptions a great way to monetize a blog.
The truth is, there are better and faster ways to make money with your blog that don’t require a massive volume of pageviews every day. That’s twice as true if you can build a loyal audience, not just a large one.
Your most important consideration—more than making money—will be who your audience is and how you’re going to serve them.
2. Pick a niche for your blog: What’s your “thing” going to be?
There’s no shortage of content on the web. It may seem hard to stand out, but there are two ways you can compete: by choosing a specific niche to focus on and by creating content that has something about it that readers can’t easily find elsewhere.
It’s important to choose a niche that is an inch wide but a mile deep. This will ensure you can consistently create content without running out of ideas, and influence your blog name (which we’ll cover later).
You’ll also need to ensure that your chosen niche creates an audience that aligns with your monetization strategy. What products or services would this audience be interested in buying?
You can do this in a number of ways:
- Focus on a specific location (e.g., New York)
- Focus on a specific segment within a larger category (e.g., not just recipes, but vegan recipes)
- Deliver your content in a different style or voice (e.g., humor)
- Compete with high quality (e.g., in-depth posts on a topic that no one else is willing to do)
BlogTO, for example, covers a wide range of lifestyle topics but focuses specifically on the diverse city of Toronto.
The niche you choose is important, as it not only has to be an audience you can sustainably serve with a steady flow of content ideas but, ultimately, will determine how you explore monetization.
Ask yourself what products or services would this audience want to buy? Whether you plan to monetize with display ads or the other strategies we’ll mention later, it’s a critical question to ask when choosing a niche for your blog.
After you have some ideas for a niche, conduct a competitor analysis for the specific vertical. Use a tool like BuzzSumo or Ahrefs to see how content on this niche performs and to get ideas for future topics.
You don’t want to skip this last step. A competitors analysis can help build your brand and create a unique voice in the space. The key to a successful blog is looking for a gap in perspectives and filling it.
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3. Choose a blogging platform and template
Before you write your first blog post, you need to set up your blog hosting and content management system. This is where many would-be bloggers get stuck if they’re not exactly sure which platform they should invest their time and money in.
The choice usually boils down either to a self-hosted or hosted platform:
- Self-hosted. These platforms generally offer more customization options, but you will still have to pay a monthly fee to host the site yourself, and it requires some initial setup. WordPress is the go-to open-source platform if you’re considering the self-hosted route.
- Hosted. A hosted site will allow you to set up your blog faster. Shopify, for example, includes hosting in all it’s plans. However, unlike Shopify, some hosted sites, like Blogger or Wix, will limit customization options.
When choosing a platform, you will want to pick one that is:
- Easy to use
- Doesn’t require coding or HTML skills
- Will be able to grow with you
During your blogging journey there will come a time when you may want to change the look and functionality of your site as your brand matures, your traffic grows, and you have more posts to organize.
You’ll also want to ensure that it has a healthy ecosystem of plug-ins and apps—they can make a world of difference in optimizing your site’s performance, running site backups, marketing your new blog, and simplifying tasks.
Some bloggers opt for free hosting accounts, like Medium and Tumblr, because they give you access to an engaged community of other bloggers and readers on the platform. We’ll discuss that in more detail later, but it’s good to know that you can republish your posts on these platforms to take advantage of their audiences—you don’t need to build your own blog on these free platforms to use them.
4. Choose a blog and domain name
Companies like Bluehost will give you a free domain name if you sign up for a hosting plan. Bluehost also offers a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re unhappy with the service.
Shopping for a domain name is a good time to think about what you’re going to call your website. Unless you’re trying to build a personal blog or a portfolio site, I would recommend against using your name as your custom domain. You can still be the face of the blog, even if your personal name isn’t in the URL, and it’s a lot easier to build a sticky brand when you come up with a creative name that reflects your mandate.
Take a look at the Black Girls RUN! blog by Ashley Hicks-Rocha and Toni Carey. The blog, though a collection of Ashley’s and Toni’s personal experiences as Black female runners, falls under their brand name, Black Girls RUN!
When choosing a domain name, aim to make it:
- Fun to say
- Easy to spell
Choosing a name for your blog can be tedious, but a good brand name makes a memorable impression on readers and allows them to know what to expect from your company.
Building a blog on Shopify
Shopify is a hosted platform that includes both an ecommerce website builder and a blogging platform, with add-ons such as hundreds of plug-ins and apps to help you grow and sell physical/digital products or services right away. You can start your 14-day free trial today.
Once that’s settled, you’ll need to pick a blog theme.
A “theme” is just a template for the blog design, layout, and features of your website. There are plenty of great Shopify themes available for free that you can set up with one click, whatever platform you choose. You can pick a theme in the Online Store tab in your Shopify dashboard, under the Themes tab.
But if you’re not happy with those options, consider paying the one-time fee for a premium theme, as it will have a big impact on the overall user experience.
The design of your site can also affect your search engine optimization (SEO) and the engagement metrics on your blog content. Readers make a snap judgment on a site’s trustworthiness based on how it looks and feels.
Take The House That Lars Built,. First glance at the interior-design-and-crafts blog and you know it’s going to be a fun experience.
From the quick load time to the soft colors and playful illustrations, it’s bound to appeal to you if you’re into arts and crafts and design.
Most of us can also remember landing on a poorly designed site and bouncing when it became hard to find what we were looking for. Take some time when choosing a new theme, as it can make a world of difference in how your blog performs.
Some Shopify apps, which are plug-ins to extend the functionality of your site, for bloggers include:
- Related Blog Posts, to suggest relevant posts and increase site engagement
- Blog Studio, to spruce up your blog posts with a drag-and-drop article builder
- G2D Page & Blog Maker, to convert blogs from Google Docs
- Philyra, to create stylish product pop-ups based on keywords in your blogs
- Yoast SEO for Shopify, to improve your website’s SEO
Building on WordPress
Self-hosted WordPress is a good blog platform for new bloggers. Note that WordPress is only free if you use .com. If you use WordPress.org, you’ll need to pay for hosting and your own domain—all which you can do in Shopify.
If you sign up for a Bluehost account, you can automatically install WordPress from your hosting dashboard. If you want to start a free blog, you can pick a theme on WordPress.com. There are many free WordPress themes you can choose from, including ones for blogging.
If you don’t want to pick a theme right away, click “Skip for now” and the top of the page. You’ll be redirected to a new page where you can start building your blog.
Click Name your site, then fill your information and click Save settings.
Next you’ll want to choose your WordPress theme, either a free theme or a paid one if you have some money to spend.Find a free theme in your WordPress dashboard under the Appearance tab in your sidebar, seen in the screenshot below.
Or find great WordPress themes for blogging on marketplaces like ThemeIsle or ThemeForest. To install an external theme from a site like ThemeIsle, go to Appearance, then Themes, and click Install theme. There are also many WordPress plug-ins you can install to help market your blog pages.
Want to turn your WordPress blog into a mini ecommerce site? The Shopify Buy Button lets you sell on any WordPress site or blog for only $5 per month. All you need is a product to sell and you’re ready to launch in just a few clicks.
5. Plan your publishing strategy
Every blogger needs to keep a healthy supply of ideas, and it helps if you plan ahead to ensure you never run out. Create a content calendar to help you keep track of your ideas (and keep yourself on track, too).
You can use a simple spreadsheet to plan your content calendar, but I recommend Trello since it’s free and also makes for a good place to dump ideas and organize them.
Your content calendar should include:
- What content you’re creating
- What audiences you’re targeting
- Which distribution channels you will be releasing on and on what date
You can use a simple spreadsheet to plan out your content calendar. However there are a lot more effective tools available. Trello, Airtable, or Asana are great options because they make organizing content more intuitive.
Thinking about your content mix is also important to get a sense of the scope of your blog and what categories/tags you might use to organize it all as you add more great content in the future.
Some types of blog posts to include are:
- Evergreen content. This is a type of content that answers common questions people have. Evergreen Content is, at its heart, educational.
- Topical content. Topical content capitalizes on currently trending events or topics. The great thing about topical content is that it can fuel quick growth on social channels when done correctly. However, don’t make this the cornerstone of your strategy Use topical content strategically but don’t lean on it for traffic. It’s unpredictable.
- Curated content. Curated content can be a great way to augment your original content strategy. The web is a big place, and readers appreciate thoughtfully curated content that aligns with their values and interests.
- Feature pieces. Interviews can be a great way to build rich content in an editorial style. Feature stories tell a story and take readers into the minds and lives of extraordinary people. Interviews with notable people can be a great way to build authority as you gain some credibility by association.
- Visual content. Visual content is something that all bloggers should have in their strategy. Search engines reward blog posts that incorporate videos, original images, and graphics.
- Interactive content. Quizzes can be a great way to increase engagement like time on page and unearth deeper insights about your audience.
Try to plan out your blog posts at least one month in advance, and publish on a consistent schedule so your audience has an idea of how often to expect new content. You can always tweak the calendar if a feature story pops up and needs to get published fast.
Before writing blog posts, write an outline. While this is a step that some bloggers might opt to skip, writing an outline is an effective way to hit all the points you need to hit. It’ll help make sure you include any relevant keywords and liberate your mind from the destination so you can focus on the journey.
When you have finished writing your blog post, before hitting Publish, here are some simple things you should do:
- Edit your work. While coming back with fresh eyes and using a tool like Grammarly can help to catch syntax and grammar errors, having a human editor to bounce ideas off of can help take your blog posts to the next level.
- Ensure you have organized the information under a hierarchy of headings. Subheadings help scannability and make the piece feel more approachable for readers.
- Workshop headlines and social sharing images. A headline and image can make or break your distribution. While we wouldn’t advise creating clickbait, headlines and images that stand out on social feeds and inspire curiosity are vital to getting people to read your work.
Keep in mind that you won’t grow your audience overnight. You’ll have some hits and some misses, but you need to keep going to keep growing.
6. Get people to read your blog consistently
We usually talk about growing an audience after we start publishing. But if you want to build up momentum quickly, you need to start thinking about it even before you launch.
Many bloggers struggle with distribution, and I think there’s two reasons for that:
- They don’t have a concrete, repeatable distribution strategy within their publishing process.
- Publishing is already a nerve-wracking experience, and amplifying your reach makes it that much scarier.
The latter is something you eventually get over, but the former requires some initial thought and investment of time before you launch.
So let’s walk through some of the ways you can plan for growth and get the most out of every post you create.
Start collecting emails as soon as possible
It doesn’t matter what platform you’re blogging on, you should be focused on getting email subscribers. Every new subscriber is a sign that you’re doing something right and is a potential repeat reader you can easily reach.
Even if you switch platforms down the road or decide to start something new, your email list remains with you.
But it’s not enough to just have a subscriber list. You need to capture these emails at every turn and you do that with contact forms.
A good habit to get into is embedding contact forms directly into your content or homepage with a call to action to subscribe. You can even embed one in an exit pop-up to convert abandoning visitors into subscribers.
Many email marketing solutions let you create and use these forms easily. You can even generate a link that directs to a separate contact page you can link out to in your blog posts, social media, and email signature.
Remember that people aren’t going to subscribe to your blog if you don’t ask and if you don’t make it easy for them.
Every time you hit the Publish button, you should email it to your list—a process you can automate down the road once you get into the swing of things.
Brainstorm opportunities to go after search engine traffic
Using keyword research, you can get an idea of how much search volume there is for particular search queries in your blog niche. The higher the number, the more demand there is for a topic and the more traffic you can potentially generate long-term.
The easiest way to do this is using Ubersuggest and entering search terms from your audience’s perspective to try to unearth interesting post ideas. Queries that start with “how to” or “best” are a good place to start.
Even if you don’t land a spot on the first page of the search engine results, you’ll have a content idea with proven demand. But if you want to aim high, you can learn more about SEO. And if you’re on Shopify, consider the free SEO checker app for optimizing your posts.
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Set up your social media strategy
At first, it might seem like a smart move to be on every single social media platform, but that gets hard to manage fast and isn’t always effective. Instead, focus on the channels where your audience spends the most time. Do they join specific communities or forums? Are they on TikTok versus Facebook? Depending on your niche and your resources, your choice of channels will vary.
A Facebook page is a good all-around asset for any blogger who’s willing to pay to promote their content. On the other hand, a cost-conscious food blogger will probably stand to get a lot more free engagement on Pinterest and Instagram than Twitter. You can also create short videos on TikTok to promote your blog posts about any topic.
For example, Oh Happy Day, an online party-goods shop, taps into its growing list of over 1.7 million followers every time it publishes a new blog post.
Don’t neglect your personal networks either—your friends and family make a great early audience.
Reduce, reuse, and resurface your content
You can’t put out large posts every day. A good blogger knows how to reuse and repurpose their content to get the most mileage out of it.
So, here are some post ideas to keep in mind as you go forward:
- Create “micro-content” for social media from existing posts, with free tools like Canva.
- Post a roundup of past blog posts with a common theme (e.g., “Our Best Posts of 2022”).
- Recreate blog posts as other types of content, such as infographics or quizzes.
- Regularly republish your content on blog sites with built-in audiences, like Medium, LinkedIn, or Tumblr, to get more early exposure. Add a link to the original post title at the top (“Originally published on youblog.com”) to increase your chances of getting clicks back to your site.
- Occasionally update and republish old content after a good amount of time has passed to boost ranking in Google Search. This works great with seasonal content (e.g., “10 Lazy Halloween Costume Ideas”).
- Consider accepting guest posts once you’ve started to amass a following. Guest authors will likely share this content with their own audiences, too.
- Add links to related content within and at the end of your posts. (If you’re on Shopify, install the free Related Blog Posts app.)
- Become a podcast guest and discuss a few blog topics you already wrote about.
When time is money and you’re in the business of blogging, you need to constantly squeeze more value out of your efforts.
Understand analytics to understand your audience
The best opportunities are hidden in your data.
Depending on the platform you choose you’ll have different metrics to look at, but you’ll at least see the number of views and where your visitors are coming from, which can tell you a lot about your performance.
Whether you’re using a WordPress blog or the Shopify platform, take the time to set up Google Analytics on your site (it’s free). You can get deeper insights, like the average amount of time people spent reading your post, the quality of the readers coming from different sources, and even the number of readers in real time.
Data can also be used as leverage for bloggers. The ability to prove how much traffic you bring in is a huge asset that makes others more likely to want to work with you or gain access to your audience.
Get started now and make money blogging
Whether it’s your first time or you’ve done this a million times, it’s your audience that ultimately determines the success of your hard work. Focus on growing this audience as you add new content on a regular basis and you'll see your traffic and reach grow as well.
You can learn more about blogging better by checking out the following resources:
- Blog to Business: How Black Girls RUN! Began a Community-Powered Movement
- An interview with the co-founder of Wait But Why about monetizing content
- Free stock photography sites
- How to Make Money On YouTube (Without a Million Subscribers)
Blogging isn’t just fun and fulfilling—it’s also one of many paths to entrepreneurship. If you think like an entrepreneur when you start your blog and aim high when it comes to growth, you can build a valuable audience that can help power your business for a long time to come.
Illustration by Alice Mollon
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How to start a blog FAQ
How do bloggers get paid?
- Selling digital products
- Selling physical products
- Publishing an ebook
- Affiliate marketing
- Online courses
How do I start blogging with no money?
- Choose a blog name.
- Register your blog through a hosting provider.
- Choose a free Shopify or WordPress theme.
- Start writing and publish your first post.
- Promote your blog.
- Monetize your blog.
What are the best blogging tips?
- Start collecting emails as soon as possible.
- Brainstorm opportunities to get more organic traiffc.
- Set up a social media strategy.
- Repurpose your content.
- Understand your analytics and audience.
How much does it cost to start a blog?
Depending on the blog you want to create and your hosting plan, your costs could be between $65 and $240 in the first year.