We’ve been blogging for nearly ten years now, and although we don’t quite know where the time has gone this makes us some of the older kids on the block in the blogging world.
As the years go by the question we end up getting more and more has nothing to do with our blog’s niche, but is simply this: how do you start a blog?
This is somewhat of a loaded question because our most popular response goes on a long and winding tangent about how our blogs were a decade in the making, required a lot of trial and error, and also a bit of luck thrown in along the way.
But when I stopped to think of it there is a point that I always seem up emphasizing over and over again, which is: blogging is a lot of work.
In fact, we’ve spent the last three years sharing all of this work in our Grow Your Blog series on this site, and this guide is the culmination of all of those articles focusing on the topic of how to start a blog.
But we’re not going to talk about the basics of registering a domain on GoDaddy, grabbing a server on Bluehost, installing WordPress and a custom theme, loading up on a few plug-ins, and setting you off with no direction. That is the easy part (don’t worry, we cover it). In this one going to really dive into the weeds on how to make your blog the absolute best it can be, because, yes, blogging is indeed a lot of work!
Table of Contents
As this guide is long, we’ve broken it up into six chapters. They are the following (click the links below to jump to a specific chapter):
- Chapter 1: Qualifications and Finding Your Niche
- Chapter 2: Make Upfront Purchases to Get Started
- Chapter 3: Learn Blogging Best Practices
- Chapter 4: Establish Yourself as The Expert / Audience Building
- Chapter 5: Monetize Your Blog
- Chapter 6: Never Stop Optimizing and Final Notes
At the end of each chapter further reading links will be featured as well as links to read more chapters within this guide.
Why We Are Discussing How to Start a Blog
Before we dive into the weeds, we want to talk a bit about why we are jumping into this topic of how to start a blog.
There are a lot of things we could share to get into why we’re publishing this guide, but the three most important points we want to share (other than the fact that we’ve been doing this for a decade) are the following:
- We currently operate two successful blogs that receive a combined 150,000+ monthly page views.
- We currently earn, on average, $3,500 a month from our blogs- the vast mostly through passive income streams.
- Finally, while we have two blogs that are quite successful, we had at least six others that failed.
The last point is probably the most interesting in regards to this guide, as it highlights the significance of what happens when you blog without direction. You can try, try, and try some more, but you will ultimately be spinning your wheels for weeks, months, or years until you feel compelled to give up. Your idea could have great potential, but without the right direction and execution you are almost certain to get lost along the way.
This guide is our way to try and help provide the direction new bloggers need in order to set off on the right foot. Many of the steps below are the ones we’ve personally taken to get our existing blogs to grow and succeed, and would be the exact steps we take if (or rather when) we launch a new blog in the future.
The above traffic and income is accurate as of January 2018. Our short-term goal for the 2018 calendar year is to double our traffic and quadruple our income. (Yes, a calendar year is a short-term timeline in blogging!) Track our progress at our monthly blog income and traffic report if you are interested in following along.
Ready to get started? Good.
Pour a glass of something delicious, grab a notepad, and lets do it. But before you start, bookmark this page just in case you want to stop and return later as this one is fairly long.
Before Doing Anything, Find the Right Niche
If you’re looking to make a blog be anything remotely professional, you cannot jump into it head first and expect it to go anywhere.
By most accounts there are more than a billion blogs out there, and the sad truth is that most of them suck. Take the best 1% of all blogs, and statistically speaking, nearly all of them will be terrible. Take the best 1% of those, and you may just start finding some quality blogs. Take the best 10% of those, and you will get a selection of some of the finest blogs out there.
If you’re following my math here, that’s just 10,000 blogs out of a billion.
While it doesn’t take much to stand apart from the pack and be a professional blog in its own right (jumping inside that 0.01%), you have to do a fair bit of work to stand apart from other professional bloggers (and get inside that 0.001%). What it takes to make that leap is what we want to cover in this guide.
From our perspective, there are two reasons most professional blogs do not get into this top tier category. They are that the blogs do not have:
- A clear and well defined niche (or purpose) people want to read.
- A voice as the expert in the above niche that people trust as an authority.
Standing out in the blogging world depends on having both of these.
The problem is that it is easy to have a defined niche (#1) and it is easy to be a perceived expert in your field (#2), but the hard part is putting it all together to become the expert in your niche above all others.
To put this into a real life example, we started Living the Dream to be a leading global travel blog. We had a well defined niche within the overall field but we had several other experts that we were going up against within that same niche. What made us more qualified to be the expert over any of those bloggers who were all doing the same exact thing? As it turns out, not much.
No matter what we excelled at there were others who did it better, we failed our test above, and our growth stagnated despite being ranked in the Top 100 for our field for quite some time.
As the years rolled on more and more people jumped into the field, making it harder and harder to become the expert, and again, our growth stagnated further (we later changed our niche altogether once we recognized this).
Enter our hyper local Pittsburgh blog, Discover the Burgh. We started the site with a nearly identical model as Living the Dream, but with a drastically more focused niche tied to a geographical location. We worked tirelessly to set ourselves apart as the expert on things to do in Pittsburgh, and as our competition was almost non-existent we think we achieved this one quite well. Copycats can come along to try and challenge our foothold, but we have a comfortable head start from them all with our expertise.
If you’re going to start a blog with the hopes of going professional at some point in time, this is what we mean by having a clear and well defined niche and also becoming the expert above all others.
We’re going to keep emphasizing the fact that you have to become the expert because if there is anything you should take away from this section, it is that your niche should be one where you can become the absolute best blogger without exception.
It can be a smaller subset of a larger and more competitive niches (hyper local travel within travel blogging, for example), but when taking your ideal focus of [your niche here] there should be no ambiguity that you are the person for the topic. Otherwise you’ll be one in a sea of many, and you’ll face an uphill battle that most of us know all too well.
So before you do anything, you have to do your research.
Things you should research before getting started on anything having to do with your blog include the following:
- Find out how many other blogs and websites exist within your intended niche.
- Look at their primary focus, traffic figures, and if your intended niche is different in any way. Can you become the expert or someone else already it? Do they do a good job at it? What do you have to do in order to be better? How long would it take for you to do so?
- Define your audience, who they are, what they like, where they live. This will come in handy for advertising later on.
- Determine if your content is time sensitive and if it will be relevant six months, a year, or two years from now.
- In the vast majority of cases, content that is always relevant will do better in search results whereas content that is time sensitive may not get indexed by the time it becomes irrelevant. In the latter case, having a large and highly engaged social media following is key for this style content.
- Another angle for the concept of “time sensitive content” is whether or not your niche has an intended goal in mind (e.g. completion of a project, taking a one-year trip, doing everything in a region, etc.). What will you do if you complete your goal before achieving suitable growth? Will your blog be able to adapt? Or will it be a failure and have to close? Keeping things open-ended helps a lot for longevity.
- Research popular keywords and determine how much traffic is out there in search engines.
- Then Google those keywords and see if the competition is something you could potentially beat after a few years. You won’t beat Wikipedia, but could you outrank a small blogger or independent media company? Certainly.
- Figure out how much content you could produce. Break it down into what would be needed to illustrate that you are the expert versus the absolute max you can get out of your niche.
- If either is too high or two low you may be looking at your niche wrong.
- We like to think a good baseline for becoming the expert in any given niche is 100 posts or less (~1 year of blogging). If you can write 5,000 posts on your topic and need 1,000 to become the expert, you’re probably too broad. If you run out of topics at 100 when you become the expert, you’re probably too narrow in your focus. Generally speaking, most professional bloggers write anywhere from one to five articles a week within their niche, although some do significantly more. We average two to three per blog.
- Develop a realistic figure for the max traffic a blog like yours can receive, keeping in mind that your competition may already be at a peak themselves. If you’re coming up with numbers in the millions a month, you’re either being too generous or are perhaps looking at a niche that is too broad to become the expert in.
- Finally, answer this simple question: will you still be interested in your niche in a year, three years, five years, or ten years? Will your audience still care? Determine your end game.
If you’re writing as a hobby blogger the above points do not matter much. But if you’re looking at going at it as a professional blogger all of the above are essential in understanding how your blog fits within your niche, what you need to do to become the expert, the ultimate potential of your site, and get a modest understanding on what is needed to get there.
If you’re still interested in proceeding, it is time to get started on your blogging journey.
- Should I Start a Blog?
- Blog Traffic – The Three Kinds of Audiences Your Blog Can Have
- Niche Websites – Why it Matters for SEO
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