When learning how to start a blog, you’ll likely face a bunch of advice from a bunch of different people.
Blogging’s been around for decades now, and because it doesn’t have the same cool appeal as social media or platforms like Instagram, you’ll see plenty of arguments that say blogging is dead.
That you can’t make money blogging anymore.
That it’s too hard.
The truth is, blogging’s here, it never went away, and it’s going to be around for the long haul, in some shape and form.
In fact, as long as people have questions that need to be solved (Google searches), blogs will exist to provide helpful answers.
So if you’re worried you missed the blogging train, don’t be. It’s always chuggin’.
I’d even argue that now’s one of the best times to start simply because of the tools we have and the ease of getting started.
Not only that, but compared to social media, blogging puts you on a nice, steady path of passive income and traffic.
You don’t get that with social media or other channels.
If you stop posting on Instagram, your engagement will come to a halt.
If you stop blogging but have a blog full of good content, your traffic and revenue can continue going up long after you stop making new content.
(But it’s a good idea to keep going ????)
All that’s just a way of saying: blogging is still an effective, profitable and creative endeavor that doesn’t get the same appeal as it once did, but that’s great for those of us who know it’s alive and well.
Making 6-figures and a full-time living online is possible if you just launch your own website. The key is to just get it going.
Below, you’ll find the strategy I’ve used to start and grow numerous blogs from scratch to $1,000 per month in income and beyond.
Let’s get started!
Starting a Successful Blog in 6 Easy Steps
The key is to get your blog up and live – not to get it perfect right away.
There will be plenty of time down the road to get the perfect logo, branding colors, WordPress theme and so on.
Right now, you want to focus on getting a live platform up so you can start blogging.
Here’s a look at the main steps, with links to each section in case you need to jump ahead:
- choose a profitable niche
- pick your domain name
- set up website hosting and WordPress
- add a WordPress theme
- add WordPress plugins
- get to work blogging
- monetize your blog
We’ll keep each of these quick and to the point so you can get started as quick as possible and focus on the things that matter most.
1. Choose a successful, profitable niche
What you need to know: 90% of your initial blogging success comes down to choosing the right niche, then writing about the “right” topics within that niche.
Choosing a niche is incredibly important.
Go with the wrong one and you’ll have a hard time getting traffic or revenue.
The “right” niches are ones that have lots of Google (and Pinterest) searches, which means there are a lot of problems people are looking to solve online.
Each of these niches have millions of searches. That means there’s plenty of opportunity to create content.
As a blogger, your goal should be to help solve people’s problems with helpful, unique content.
And you can do that best when your niche has a ton of questions to go around.
Take the personal finance niche, for example. Every day people look up thousands of very specific searches, like:
- how often can you refinance student loans?
- can you rent an apartment with no credit?
- how to change homeowners insurance with escrow
- what to do with old debit cards
This niche works well because when there are thousands or millions of specific searches, that’s more opportunity for the small or beginning blogger to get their slice of the pie.
In a small niche, on the other hand, where there are fewer searches and questions, it’s harder to get your slice of the traffic and revenue pie.
It’s possible to go too big and too small with your niche, so try to find a good in-between where there’s thousands of questions being asked, but not so many that you’ll get lost in the shuffle.
If you decide on a niche like personal finance, then consider finding a “subniche” within that topic, like creating family budgets, or couponing, etc.
Good Blog Niches
Here’s a list of some great niches for beginning bloggers to work in.
It’s not comprehensive, but in my decade-plus of blogging, these are some of the niches I’ve seen be very profitable for bloggers of all levels:
- budgeting and personal finance
- DIY and crafts
- Home improvement and/or decor
- Travel and outdoors
Important note: part of the success of your blog comes down to you being an online “authority” in your niche.
So if you go with a lifestyle blog, try to pick one angle and stick with it for awhile before you expand.
It’s going to be a lot easier to gain authority, traffic and momentum if your lifestyle blog focuses just on one thing, like fashion or fitness.
If you have a catch-all lifestyle blog that jumps around too much from fashion to food to fitness to travel to parenting, Google will have a more difficult time understanding where your authority lies, so you may have a harder time ranking well and getting organic traffic.
If you go with a lifestyle blog, try to focus it as much as possible.
Do you have to be passionate about your niche?
There are two schools of thought here.
The first is to work on your passion, whatever it is.
I don’t necessarily agree with that 100% – if your passion is collecting pogs, you probably won’t find very much success, traffic or income.
On the other hand, I don’t recommend choosing a niche simply because it will be profitable.
In my experience, the balance has always come somewhere in between: something I could learn more about, see myself being interested in for a few years, and has good potential to make money and improve the lives of my audience.
I’ve worked in niches I strongly disliked, and I wouldn’t do that again.
But I’ve also worked in niches just for the money, and I didn’t have the same drive when I worked on something I really enjoyed.
- success comes from the right niche + the right topics
- choose a niche with lots of questions and searches
- try to find a “subniche” within your larger niche
- balance profit and passion to find your sweet spot
Homework: research and pick a large niche like personal finance or travel, then think about what “subniches” you can explore within that area.
Examples To Get You Started:
2. Pick your domain name
What you need to know: your domain name doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does.
Starting a blog is all about moving forward and making progress.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is getting hung up on finding the “best” domain name for your blog.
Because here’s the truth: most people won’t give two you-know-whats about your domain name.
They want answers to their questions, and they don’t usually care who offers it.
They want to find a seafood restaurant in Houston, or a way to build a raised garden bed, or how to improve their credit score.
If you can help, great.
So don’t get hung up on finding the perfect domain name.
That said, some domains are better than others, depending on your niche and interests.
Here are some tips.
Try to find something that indicates your niche.
Sure, there are sites like LinkedIn.com, Twitter, Facebook with abstract names, but when you’re starting out, you don’t have any brand recognition, so try to go with something that’s easy to understand or explain when people get to your blog.
You don’t have to go super generic, just imagine what “image” people get from the thought of your domain and choose something aligned with your niche.
If you are interested in blogging about healthy food and recipes, a domain like My-Favorite-Healthy-Food-Recipes.com or MyFavoriteFoodRecipes.com is not the way to go.
Try a catchy, unique domain such as EatWell.com or HealthFanatic.com. Similarly, you can brand your domain after yourself by using your name.
A blog name like “Pinch of Yum” works well because it’s creative but still indicates its niche: food blog!
Consider that people will see your domain in Google search results.
Although your name alone won’t send people from Google or Pinterest to your site, remember that your domain will show up in Google results, and that can affect if people click your page or not.
So you’ll want to pick a name that makes sense showing up for your searches.
It’s also good to pick something that has a positive connotation.
For example, if you’re writing about hiking with dogs, picking a domain like AmazingDogHikes.com seems positive and related to your searches.
If you chose a domain like BeforeMyDogDies.com that covers hikes to do before your dog dies, that might not have the same positive vibe or relevance to your topics.
Give yourself room to grow.
Don’t pick a domain that limits your content or blogging options down the road.
If you start a blog like AquariumAccessories.com, you’ll pretty quickly run out of ideas to talk about.
But if you start AquariumLife.com, now you have many more things you could potentially blog about, including your original idea of covering aquarium accessories.
But now you can also blog about visiting aquariums around the world, or what fish work best in certain aquariums and so on.
Just remember you’ll hopefully be blogging for months and years, so give yourself a domain that makes sense now, in a year from now and even years down the road.
But I’ve also worked in niches just for the money, and I didn’t have the same drive when I worked on something I really enjoyed.
Where To Buy A Domain
It is usually best for you to buy a domain and hosting package together, especially since the best hosting companies will give you the domain for free when you buy hosting, saving you both time and money.
For example, Bluehost will let you register a free domain if you choose their shared hosting packages.
If you get hosting through Bluehost, definitely take advantage of the free domain name. If you go with another host that doesn’t offer a free domain, you’ll usually want to register a domain through an outside company.
Although there are lots of registrars to lease domains from, it is always better to go with a reputable company.
Seriously, always stay away from GoDaddy.
They’re so well known that they’re able to price gouge their customers, and it’s almost predatory. It makes me furious.
To further illustrate what I mean, let’s do a quick test.
I priced out the domain “mynewblog1234.com” through my favorite registrar Namecheap, and my least favorite, GoDaddy.
If I register the domain through Namecheap, you can see it will only cost me $11.16 for a one year registration. If I apply a promo code, this price will drop to around $9, and they even throw in a free WhoisGuard subscription for the first year.
When checking the price on GoDaddy, however, you’ll see the amount is nearly double that of Namecheap.
Not only that, but when the domain renews I’m looking at even HIGHER prices. $9.99 for domain privacy? Give me a break.
But at any rate, do some shopping around to find deals. You’ll save money up front and thank yourself in the end.
- don’t waste time finding the perfect domain
- focus instead on how you’ll help people with your content
- try to indicate your niche if possible
- consider the connotations of your blog name
- get a domain you can grow into
Homework: Without searching online, make a list of at least 20 domain names you can think of. Run them through the domain tool below to see what’s available.
Now, either choose one that has the “.com” available, or work through a new list if there’s nothing. From there, choose one domain name to move forward with, but don’t register it yet.
3. Set up website hosting and WordPress
What you need to know: like a domain name, a hosting account’s all about moving forward and not getting hung up on the details.
Your blog has two components that make it run: a domain and hosting.
Your domain is your blog’s online address (URL), and we covered that above.
Your hosting is what stores and organizes your blog’s files, databases and storage. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of web hosting for more info.
In 2021, there are hundreds of options for blog hosting, and many of them are good.
We’ll show you the best host for your blog in a minute, but before we do, let’s quickly touch on why you should use WordPress instead of other options out there.
Which Blogging Platform To Use
A blogging platform, or CMS for short, is a necessary piece of a blog that helps manage your content, images, and design. The free WordPress blogging platform is the best in terms of being simple, reliable, and flexible.
It is so easy to use that nearly 100 million websites use this CMS, and most hosting companies even offer “1-Click Blog Installation” features specifically for new bloggers who want to install WordPress.
Without any HTML or technical knowledge, you can build your own blog and customize it with different free themes (designs), layouts, plugins, and features.
On the other hand, you may want to learn how to start a blog for free using Blogger, Tumblr, Wix or Weebly.
A free solution offers users a chance to get their feet wet, but if you intend on making any money blogging online, I can tell you that starting a free blog is the wrong decision.
Let me explain why “free” is not actually free.
1. You can’t have your own domain.
This site, Yahoo.com, Google.com and CNN.com have their own domains.
With a self-hosted blog, you can pick any available domain name you want and register it. However, if you choose to start a blog on Blogger.com or Tumblr.com, your website’s URL will look like YourSite.Blogger.com or YourSite.Tumblr.com.
Imagine if you had to go to Yahoo.Blogger.com – what would you think? Credible or easy to remember? Would you share that “blog” with your family and friends?
2. You don’t really own your blog.
Because your blog is hosted on their site, you aren’t even the “owner” of it. Your blog can be removed or deleted without warning.
If you decide to move to your own domain and hosting later, you won’t be able to take your traffic or readership with you, either.
3. There is no flexibility.
When you make a blog using a free blogging service, you are limited to their infrastructure, design, and layout. The themes these platforms offer are limited and boring, and you can’t install any 3rd-party plugins.
4. You can’t make money, or at least not as much.
Many people make money blogging, from $100 a month to $1,000,000 per month. Unfortunately for you, most of these free blogging sites won’t allow you to, and if they do, the platform will take a percentage of your earnings.
For all these reasons and more, I HIGHLY recommend you use an inexpensive hosting company and register your own domain (i.e. MyBlog.com or MyBlog.org).
With costs almost negligible, we’re sure you’ll turn a profit in your first few months. More on that later in this article.
Cost of Starting A Self-Hosted Blog
The biggest advantage of starting a blog or business online is that it’s incredibly cheap. Unlike the days of old where starting a business was capital-intensive, starting a blog in 2021 can usually be done for under $100.
Here are the costs you may incur hosting your own blog using WordPress’s free blog software.
- Domain: $15 per year.
- Hosting: $3 – $5 per month, or about $36 per year with our discount.
- Themes: Some are free. Others, such as the Genesis Framework, can cost around $100.
The best part is there is no commitment, making learning how to start a blog a very low risk decision. Even if you try and don’t succeed, as long as you don’t go overboard spending money, you’ll only be out a little chunk of change.
If after a month or two, you decide blogging isn’t for you, you can usually cancel and get a refund. Many hosting companies even offer a 30-Day or Anytime Money-Back Guarantee.
What You Need
Now that we’ve sold you on WordPress, you’ll need the hosting to power it.
Most website hosting companies offer normal website hosting, which can run WordPress or any number of other site platforms, like forums, community sites, etc.
But they a lot of them, including WP Engine and Bluehost, also offer managed WordPress-specific hosting.
This is the way to go if you can – it’s the easiest to set up and eliminates the manual install of WordPress you’d have to do normally.
When you first build a blog, you won’t want anything fancy. You probably won’t need managed WordPress hosting or a dedicated server. You just want a cheap hosting plan that allows you to host your files and get your site live.
If that is the case, go with Bluehost.
In my years building blogs, I’ve learned that BlueHost is one of the best inexpensive hosting companies, especially for new bloggers. Because they have so many users, they are able to operate at scale to offer super cheap shared hosting plans that allow you to get a site live for little money down.
We’ve negotiated a super low price with Bluehost, one of the best hosting companies in the world. Normally a shared hosting plan would cost you $7.99 per month, but our readers receive exclusive pricing of only $2.95/month when they sign up through this link.
*Shared hosting is when a web host will give multiple users access to the same server, and they share resources like storage space and memory. There are often tens, or even hundreds of users on the same shared hosting plan, sharing the same resources.
If you go with Bluehost, you’ll be totally fine. But I would suggest looking for a better hosting option, and I recommend WP Engine. It’s what I use for all my blogs.
If you have a larger budget and are looking to start a blog with rockstar hosting from the start, then I would suggest going with WP Engine. You can get started for as little as $25/month.
And instead of worry about learning how to set up cPanel, installing WordPress, blah blah blah, just let WP Engine automate much of that process so that you can do what you do best: starting your blog.
Why Go with WP Engine?
Anytime I set up a new site with them, it takes less than an hour to get my hosting purchased, my account set up and my blog ready to go.
They also have an amazing customer service team that’s always responded to any questions I had incredibly fast.
Their hosting is great, but their customer service is what makes them stand apart as a blog host, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more bloggers moving from Bluehost to Siteground over the next few years.
Again, if you do go with Bluehost, you’ll be totally fine – they’re like the Walmart of website hosting.
But if you’re the type that wants more customer support, great service and few technical issues, I’d highly recommend WP Engine.
Hosting doesn’t make or break your site.
No one goes to your site because it’s hosted on Bluehost, Siteground or GoDaddy.
As long as you pick a reputable website host, it won’t make or break your blog (avoid cheap unknown hosts that may have speed, security or technical issues).
They go there for the content – for the help.
So don’t get hung up on hosting.
Choose a host that has good reviews and fits your budget.
If your blog really takes off and you need more help in the future, you can always upgrade to better plans or move to another host at some point.
The goal is to make a decision and move on.
How to Set Up WordPress Hosting
Since most of you will probably go with the cheaper option, we’ll show you how to set up WordPress on Bluehost.
First, click here to take advantage of my special 60% off discount with BlueHost. Then on the BlueHost homepage, click on the “Get Started Now” button.
You will be asked to choose a hosting package.
I recommend the “Starter” option for new bloggers, but if you can afford it and want the added flexibility of starting multiple blogs on the same server without buying new hosting, I suggest you opt for the “Plus” option.
On the next page, in the “New Domain” box, choose your desired domain name. If the domain is available, you will move on to the next step of the registration process.
Otherwise, you will need to choose another name. If you already own a domain name, input it in the “I Have A Domain Name” box to proceed.
Once you have chosen a blog name, you will need to fill out your account information. Afterwards, scroll down the page to select your web hosting and options.
As a new blogger, we recommend picking the “36 Month” option because it maximizes your discount and since BlueHost offers a “Money-Back Guarantee”, you can cancel your hosting plan anytime you want to get a refund of your balance. Plus, your domain is free with BlueHost – a $15 savings.
However, if you aren’t completely sure about starting a blog and making money but still want to take advantage of a discounted rate, choose the “12 Month” option and give yourself a year to grow your blog.
Please keep in mind that you will be required to make payment upfront. That’s how BlueHost is able to offer my readers some of the lowest prices in the industry.
Here’s the math, based on using my special discount.
- 12 months at $4.95 per month is $59.40 per year and $59.40 upfront.
- 24 months at $3.95 per month is $47.40 per year and $94.80 upfront.
- 36 months at $2.95 per month is $35.40 per year and $106.20 upfront.
Additionally, we recommend you uncheck all the add-on options, but keep the “Domain Privacy Protection” to protect your blog’s ownership details (your name, mailing address, email, phone number, etc.) from being associated with your domain name and publicly shared.
I can tell you from experience that if you don’t register the domain as private, spammers will find you. Once a spammer finds you through these details, you’ll be subjected to a never-ending stream of emails offering SEO services for your new site.
Under no circumstances should you EVER actually give these spammer’s SEO services a try. They don’t work, and will likely do nothing but hurt your site in the end.
Finally, you will need to input your billing and payment information. BlueHost is one of the best and most secure hosting companies, so you can feel safe inputting your credit card details.
When the transaction completes, you will receive an email to confirm the creation of your BlueHost account. Log in to your new BlueHost account to install your WordPress blog.
On the main page, find the “Website” section and click on “Install WordPress” to begin the installation process.
On the pop-up screen, you’ll want to click on “Install” to start a brand new installation of WordPress.
Here, choose your domain from the drop-down list to install your WordPress there. Leave the second “Directory” box empty.
The last step is to setup your basic WordPress login details.
Click “Show Advanced Options” to type in your credentials. Your “Site Name” is effectively your blog name, and can always be changed later. Your “Admin Username” should be something unique and not publicly available for security purposes.
Finally, choose an easy to remember “Admin Password”, which you also change later.
Obviously keep your username/password login information handy because you will need it to access the back-end of your fresh WP install.
Finally, press “Install Now” to start the WordPress installation.
After the installation is complete, visit your “Site URL” to check out the template WordPress theme and layout, which you will be able to edit and customize.
To log in to the back-end, click on the “Login URL” and enter the username/password you created above.
For convenience, bookmark “yourdomain.com/wp-login.php” or “yourdomain.com/wp-admin/” because that will be your login URL going forward.
- there are tons of good hosting options, just choose one and move on
- WP Engine offers great customer service and support
- you can always upgrade or change plans later
Homework: pick a website host and walk through the process of creating an account. If you’re using WordPress, which we recommend, you can choose to go with a WordPress hosting plan.
When you pick a host, you can also register your domain at the same time. It’s easy to do it this way and keep your domain and hosting together with the same company, though you can also register your domain somewhere else, like GoDaddy.
But in general, just keep it easy and register your domain wherever you’re hosting your blog.
But I’ve also worked in niches just for the money, and I didn’t have the same drive when I worked on something I really enjoyed.
4. Add a WordPress theme
What you need to know: there are a ton of free and paid themes out there – start with a free one until you know exactly what you want out of your blog.
In WordPress, a “theme” is a visual design that changes the appearance of your blog.
When you first set up your blog on WordPress, it’ll come with a very basic free theme that you’ll likely want to change to fit your style preferences.
There are all sorts of themes out there for all types of blogs and websites. Some are free, some cost money.
My advice: don’t get hung up on getting a paid theme at first. Install a nice free one that you like, then learn what you’d like to have in your ideal theme.
Here’s what happens: a lot of bloggers buy a theme right away, install it, then realize shortly after that it’s not quite what they wanted.
So they have to buy something else.
And then buy something else again.
It happens all the time – even to me.
What I’ve learned after helping plenty of friends and family set up their blogs is that it’s good to go with a free option until you learn more about what you’d like to see.
This way, you can avoid having to buy multiple themes because you’re focusing on learning what you want before you get distracted by a nice shiny paid theme.
Also, when you’re shopping for themes, realize that the creators of those themes try to make them look as pretty and done-up as possible, but that when you install yours, it’ll likely look more basic.
So don’t get thrown off by big beautiful header images – pay attention to the layout of the content, the formatting of the blog and so on.
You can still make your blog look like the theme demo, but you’re looking at the “bones” of the design rather than specific images or anything like that.
Criteria For Picking A WordPress Theme
Below are five of the most important rules you need to observe when picking a theme for WordPress:
1. The Theme Should Not Have Malicious Code
Site security should be one of your top priorities when building and running a WordPress website. Unfortunately, security could be the first thing you compromise by picking a theme with an embedded malicious code.
Hackers insert such codes to steal backlinks from your website, have unrestricted access to your digital assets, display unauthorized ads or links, or simply bring your site down.
Before installing a theme, make sure you run a quick virus scan of the compressed file immediately after download. You can also use a security plugin for WordPress to thoroughly examine a theme for malicious code.
Of course, you can always stop downloading third-party themes and use the ones already available from the WordPress library.
2. The Theme Should Load Fast
Although it is tempting to choose a theme with flashy visuals and fancy design elements, remember that appearance only comes second to performance when it comes to user experience.
According to statistics, 40% of the online audience will abandon a site if it loads for more than three seconds.
To help you pick a fast WordPress theme, a good rule of thumb is to perform a speed test on the theme’s “demo” version. All you need to do is to plug in some dummy content, install the theme demo you are considering to buy, and then run Pingdom Tools to see how long it takes for your site to load.
3. The Theme Developer should be Trustworthy
Picking a theme means trusting the company behind it. Downloading a theme from an unknown, shady resource is simply too risky especially your website’s future is on the line.
Instead, see to it that you download themes and plugins only from reputable sources with plenty of positive user reviews.
Just don’t forget that people have different preferences and needs. Don’t let a single review influence your decision entirely. Determine what you specifically need from a theme first, pick out your candidates, and then let the ratings validate your options.
Basing on the reviews, look for websites that use the theme to test the experience firsthand. A reputable theme provider may also provide you with sample websites or “live” demos.
4. The Theme should be Easy to Edit and Customize
Even if you pay for a premium theme, it will still look and feel generic if you do not implement your customizations.
However, not all themes have many customization options while others simply have too much—turning the theme’s appearance editor into a mess.
Sure, you can make in-depth customizations by making a child theme and modifying the CSS and PHP codes. It should be easy to make quick customizations with the basics such as theme colors, menus, the header and the footer.
One way to figure out the customization options in a theme is to look for online reviews and guides. In case neither is available, your best bet is to contact the theme provider’s customer support, which leads to the next and last most important rule of picking a WordPress theme:
5. The Theme Must Have Great Customer Support
Since you will be working with the theme provider in constructing your site, you need to check how effective they are with communicating their support.
Keep in mind that bad customer service is costing not only customers but companies as well billions of dollars per year.
If you want a secure and more stable future for your online business, it is best not to associate yourself with brands that couldn’t care less for the experience of users.
As much as possible, use a contact method that will help you get faster answers such as live chat or a phone call.
To make the conversation more productive, make sure to prepare a list of questions to ask the theme provider. You can ask anything from how to change the theme’s layout to licensing restrictions, but your top priority is to determine how fast they will be in answering your inquiries.
Making the call and sending a message via live chat or email should answer this question for you.
Here’s a list of some free WordPress themes to check out:
All of the above aside, when you’re looking for a theme, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is less is more.
You might think you need a bunch of bells and whistles to make your blog look good, but the truth is that if you’re focused on solving your readers’ problems, then your goal should be to make that process as efficient as possible.
That means putting your content – your answers to readers’ problems – front and center.
Don’t get hung up on fancy features. Remember that the value you provide is related to solving readers’ problems. So pick a nice, clean design that showcases your value.
If your blog takes off, you’ll have plenty of options down the line to make things look really, really nice. But for now, all you need is a blog that works well and makes your content the focus.
Make a decision and spend time on writing – something that’ll actually move your blog forward.
Customize your site
Now that your site has form and style, you’ll still need to tweak a few things to make it your own.
I recommend at least the following actions:
- Set your site name and tagline
- Specify link structure
- Add a header image
- Arrange widgets in your sidebar
- Activate Akismet (a default comment spam blocker)
- Add plugins to increase functionality
- Decide on appropriate settings
- Add an RSS feed
- Add a subscription signup
- Create categories and tags
- start with a free theme, learn what you like and don’t like
- your theme should highlight your content, not bells and whistles
- a less is more theme is easier to update and maintain over time
Homework: look through some of the best free WordPress themes out there and choose 3-5 to test out on your site. You can upload and delete these pretty easily, so don’t be afraid to test out a lot until you find one you like.
At the same time remember that having something up and live is better than waiting on the perfect theme. Just keep moving.
6. Customize your site by adding WordPress plugins
Within the realm of WordPress, plugins allow users to add a number of different extended software programs to their website. They enhance the functionality of your site and add exciting features that engage site visitors in a myriad of different ways.
There are over 55,000 third-party plugins within WordPress’ directory, giving you plenty to work with as you customize and brand your blog.
But what are the must-haves among such a vast collection of add-on software?
Let’s walk you through the basic WordPress plugins every beginner site-maker should have, regardless of the content that will soon inhabit your unique domain.
1. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO has become one of the most popular WordPress plugins for novices and seasoned site-makers alike.
Yoast boasts the most comprehensive search engine optimization solution, packed with an impressive selection of features and tools to improve your on-page SEO.
Add meta tags, create sitemaps, and optimize your site for Google, social media, and more.
When it comes to conversion rate optimization plugins, no software performs better than OptinMonster.
Designed to allow users to convert bouncy visitors into interested email subscribers and paying customers, OptinMonster works hard so you don’t have to. By giving you the power to personalize campaigns to users, OptinMonster makes you more money.
OptinMonster is a valuable tool for bloggers, eCommerce entrepreneurs, and new business owners.
When building your blog, security should be at the forefront of your mind. Sucuri is one of the leading security WordPress plugins that offers DNS-level network firewalls, and intrusion/brute force prevention, as well as malware and blacklist-removal services.
By sending all of your website traffic through their cloud proxy, Sucuri is able to scan every single request and decide whether or not traffic is legitimate and what traffic can successfully pass through.
While everyone wants their site to receive traffic, nobody wants the traffic to be dominated by spam and bots. Akismet’s number one job is to filter out and delete spam comments that can hurt your site’s legitimacy.
Akismet is lauded for its 99.4% accuracy rate that gives you the peace of mind you need to tackle unwanted content on your blog.
Designed to prevent third-party hackers from running a brute force attack on your blog, Loginizer is another security essential worth lining up on your plugin list.
Loginizer works by blocking an IP address after a maximum number of login attempts has been reached. The plugin also allows you to blacklist or whitelist specific IP addresses.
Venture into higher-level security features like two-factor authentication, reCAPTCHA, Passwordless login, and more to bolster your site’s safety.
7. MailChimp for WordPress
MailChimp is one of the world’s most popular email marketing services that allows users to manage subscribers, send emails, and track the fruits of your labor in bulk.
It is an absolute must-have plugin for WordPress webmasters and business owners and it’s completely free to add to your blog. If you’re looking to spruce up your eCommerce site, opt for the premium version, instead.
- Plugins add functionality to your blog, allowing you to build out a fairly robust blog in little time
- Don’t go crazy with plugins. While adding functionality is cool, only add the stuff your readers will use
Homework: Install the most essential and necessary plugins on your blog. These include Yoast SEO, Akismet, and Securi.
6. Get to work blogging
What you need to know: the only way your blog grows is with targeted, well-written blog posts. Time to do the work!
Without traffic from Google, your blog can still survive, but it’s really hard.
But when you figure out how to get search engine (organic) traffic to your blog, you’ll see it’s an absolute game-changer.
Almost every successful blog I come across gets a ton of search engine traffic.
It might also get social media and email traffic, too, but it usually doesn’t get those without a strong organic traffic base.
Here’s how to get started.
First, realize that when you’re just starting out, your trust with Google and readers is low – pretty much zero.
And when you don’t have trust yet, that means you need to start building it.
The best way to start is by writing blog posts that solve small, specific problems for people.
Why does this work?
Well, websites have been around for decades now, and a lot of them have answered a lot of “big” problems and challenges for people.
Take the search “how to get a credit card,” for example.
The sites ranking for this search include:
They pretty much have that problem solved, and they are considered extremely trustworthy sources in the credit card and financial world.
There’s really no way you’d be able to outrank those sites for that search without years and years of writing and building up your authority.
Even then, there’s no guarantees you could do it.
So instead of going after big, massive problems that have already been solved by big websites, you go after small ones because they are less competitive and more open and accessible to new bloggers.
When I say a small problem, I mean one that is very specific, usually a “long” phrase with more words in the search, and one that doesn’t get as many searches in Google.
For example, instead of covering how to get a credit card, let’s take a search like “can you make a down payment with a credit card?”
Now, that’s a very specific question and according to Ahrefs gets about 90 searches per month.
On the other hand, “how to get a credit card” gets about 8,600 searches per month.
The mistake many new bloggers make is thinking they have to go after “big” searches and ignore the small ones.
But that’s the worst thing you can do.
Instead, you want to prove your value and build trust by tackling the small problems that Google and readers need answered.
Let’s go over that again because it’s the single most important thing to know about blogging.
You build trust over time by writing about small, specific problems in order to build trust with readers and Google.
Once you build that trust by answering “small” problems, you can move up to bigger ones over time.
Then things really get interesting.
Let’s say you start a DIY site, and blog about small, specific problems like “what to do with old broken bricks,” which gets about 90 searches per month but has little competition.
You cover stuff like that for a while, then one day you realize you have a lot of traffic, a lot of trust with Google, and your readers know you’ll provide useful content.
At that point, then you can start to write about bigger, more competitive topics because you’ve built a solid foundation of trust, expertise and authority in your niche.
Then you can write about something like “DIY Halloween props” which gets thousands of searches, especially around Halloween.
But if you were to try to cover DIY Halloween props right away, you’d likely have a hard time ranking and getting traffic because it’s a bigger, more competitive topic.
Because you waited and built up your authority first, you’re now in a better position to rank for it.
Two Rookie Blogging Mistakes to Avoid
Here are two mistakes most new bloggers make.
1. They skip the small, long-tail topics and go right for big ones.
When you do this, you don’t get the opportunity to build trust because you go right into a competitive topic where you don’t stand a chance of ranking.
With this mistake, you might never get any traffic at all, and you’ll think blogging doesn’t work for you.
That’s what happens to a ton of bloggers.
2. They only write small, specific blog posts even when they’ve built up trust and authority.
This is a much better mistake to make, but still limits your blogging success.
Once you’ve built your expertise with long-tail, specific blog posts, it’s time to swing for the fences and go for those bigger topics with more traffic potential.
This is how a successful blog grows: starting small, then growing over time.
Avoiding these two mistakes, here’s what the ideal blog plan looks like:
- Step 1: write blog posts about specific topics with fewer searches, less competition
- Step 2: do this enough times that you build trust with Google, readers, and your niche
- Step 3: work your way up to bigger, more competitive topics with more traffic potential
The process is simple – the hard part is finding those long-tail topics and knowing when to move up to bigger ones.
If you have a tool like Ahrefs, that makes it a lot easier because you can find long-tail keywords that other sites are ranking for – then you can figure out what you want to go after.
But that tool and ones like it can be expensive (Ahrefs starts at $99 per month).
Because even though we’re looking at “searches” as a single phrase, there are actually hundreds and thousands of variations of these searches.
So it’s actually better to look at topics rather than keywords.
Topic = lots of related searches.
When you’re looking for the best things to blog about, you want to find searches that have a lot of variations, if possible.
Here’s an example – DIY & Crafts has a page on how to cut t-shirts.
It gets a lot of traffic, but all that traffic isn’t coming from 1 or even 10 searches.
It’s coming from more than 5,000 keywords, including:
- how to cut a tshirt
- t shirt cutting ideas
- t shirt cutting techniques
- t shirt alteration ideas
- cool t shirt cutting ideas no sew
You don’t really get that info from a tool like Ubersuggest – that usually comes from Ahrefs or SEMrush.
Good (Successful) and Bad Blog Post Topics
Here are a few examples of good and bad topics to cover for new blogs for some of the main niches we mentioned at the beginning of the guide.
- Good topics = low competition, low searches, super specific, perfect for beginning bloggers.
- Bad topics = high competition, higher searches, broad topics that require a lot of trust first.
Here we go!
1. DIY and Crafts
Good topic = how to make christmas light balls with plastic cups
Very specific project, gets about 100 searches (more at xmas), low competition.
Bad topic = diy stained glass
This is a pretty broad topic within DIY, and gets about 2,900 searches per month.
It’s doable, but would be very difficult for a new blog to rank for and get traffic.
2. Home Improvement
Good topic = how to match paint color on wall
This is a specific problem that gets about 200 searches per month.
Bad topic = exterior house colors
This is a super broad, competitive topic that won’t be specific enough to really get traffic.
The first page of results includes sites like Better Homes & Gardens, Bob Vila and Sherwin Williams.
It would be really hard to get any traffic at all from a topic like this.
Good topic = what to do with leftover lasagna noodles
Again, a very specific search that’s not too competitive and gets about 300 searches per month.
Bad topic = chicken salad recipe
Too broad, too competitive and hard to beat big sites like Food Network that have been ranking for this recipe for years and years.
Start from the Bottom
When you’re just starting a new job, especially if you have no experience, sometimes you gotta start at the bottom.
You don’t walk in and take the corner office.
Same thing happens with Google rankings and traffic.
You can’t start a new blog and expect to get immediate Google traffic – especially from big topics and searches.
Instead, you start at the bottom, put in the work and prove that you’re useful to others.
Then, once your work is recognized, you can move up.
That’s the exact strategy I’ve used for blogging and it’s always worked well.
Start small, build trust, grow to bigger opportunities down the road.
If you do this right, you’ll be blown away by how well blogging can work, even if you’re just covering small topics that get 200 searches or less each month.
- build trust by writing about small, specific problems first
- focus on topics more than individual keywords
- move to bigger topics once you’ve built up trust with readers and Google
- avoid the two big rookie mistakes of choosing topics
Homework: if you have a niche in mind, think about some examples of small, specific problems and try to compare them to broader topics that would be too competitive.
This is a great way to get in the habit of finding long-tail topics to blog about.
For example, if you’re thinking about going into travel, a small, specific problem and search might be “fun things to do with kids in London.”
The broad version of that would be “things to do in London,” which would likely be extremely competitive.
Get in the habit of finding specific versions of broad problems and searches.
7. Monetize your blog.
What you need to know: before you try to monetize your blog, make sure you’re providing real value with your content.
When you first start to blog, I wouldn’t worry about monetization whatsoever.
A small amount of traffic is hard to monetize, and if you focus on providing value instead, you’ll be more likely to create genuinely useful, valuable content.
Content created for the sake of making money has a different quality than content made out of an effort to really help readers.
Successfully Making Money from Your Blog
Once you’ve established some traffic, there are three main ways bloggers can make money:
If you’re just getting started, affiliate marketing and display ads are easy monetization methods because they don’t require as much time and energy to implement.
Creating your own products – ebooks, courses, memberships, etc. – is more lucrative, but takes more time and resources.
If your initial goal is to get to $1,000 per month and beyond, affiliate marketing and ads can definitely get you there.
If your goals are to make $5,000 or $10,000 per month or more, then you’ll want to consider creating your own products.
You’ll have higher margins to work with, more control over what you promote, and you’ll be able to build long-term assets like an email list.
Research Sites in Your Niche
One of the best ways to figure out monetizing your blog is to see what other blogs in your space are doing.
If you’re starting a travel blog, for instance, check out a bunch of travel sites and see what they’re doing to make money.
Do they sell ebooks? Do they have ads on the site? Do they have an advertising page with specific information?
If I was a travel blogger, I’d check out a site like NomadicMatt.com and see what he has going on.
For one, he has a shop with ebooks and destination guides, but he’s also part of the CafeMedia network, so he’s earning money from ads.
Do research on enough sites and you’ll get plenty of ideas on monetizing your blog.
Blog Income Reports
Another great way to research blog monetization is to find income reports from blogs in your niche. There are plenty of blog income reports being published all the time in all types of niches.
When you see one, see if the blogger shows where their revenue comes from – ads, affiliate marketing, products, courses, ebooks?
Reverse-engineer what’s working for other bloggers and see what you can learn and apply to your own blog.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to making money from your blog – follow what the market’s doing and find opportunities to add value and get compensated in return.
- focus on providing value before making money
- affiliate marketing, ads and products are great ways to monetize
- follow other blogs and income reports to see how they earn money
Homework: look at 5 to 10 sites in your niche or subniche, and see what they’re doing to earn money.
Can you picture your blog using those channels? How could you monetize your blog in 6 months or a year? Could you grow to the point where it makes sense to start your own products?
Now’s also a good time to set some financial goals in general. Are you looking to make an extra $1,000 on the side, or quit your full-time job to blog? That’ll also determine the best monetization methods to go with down the road.
That’s a lot of stuff packed into 6 steps, so here’s a quick recap of how to start your blog:
- choose a profitable niche
- pick a good domain name
- set up your hosting and WordPress
- start blogging!
- monetize your content over time
From there, it’s just about sticking with it.
Successful blogging isn’t about starting, it’s about blogging consistently over time.
That doesn’t mean you have to churn out content, but it does mean that you’re not going to see success unless you keep at it.
You can’t publish 3 or 5 or even 10 posts and think you’ll make $1,000 each month.
You’ll need to consistently deliver value to your readers in the form of helpful and engaging blog content.
Enjoy Your Success (the Journey)
Most importantly, enjoy the blogging journey.
There will be ups and downs, but if you stick with it, you’ll learn a lot about your niche, yourself, your goals and what you want creatively out of a project like a blog.
Again, if you’re blogging just for the money, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are quicker ways to do that online.
But if you’re in the business of writing great content and have a genuine desire to help people with their problems, blogging is a great way to serve your audience and share your expertise.
Frequently Asked Questions
Our guide has helped many people get started in the blogging world. Here’s a few of the most commonly asked questions we’ve received.
Do I need WordPress to start a blog?
No, you don’t need WordPress to start a blog. There are other platforms available, but WordPress is the simplest and most easily customizable platform currently available.
Can I make money on my blog?
Yes, you can monetize your blog and receive income from your traffic. There are many different ways to make money blogging, but we suggest first focusing on growing traffic and gaining new readers.
How do you come up with blog post ideas?
Using Google is a great way to come up with new blog post ideas. Type a query into Google, then look at the results that come up with autocomplete. This is a great way to see what people are actually searching for.
Can I create and run an anonymous blog?
Yes, you can create and run a blog anonymously without anybody knowing who is behind the scenes. Regardless of the reason for anonymity, tools like Private Registration and lack of public knowledge on your blog will allow you to remain in the shadows.
We suggest viewing our “How to Start An Anonymous Blog” guide for more details.