How to Start a Successful Blog in 2020 (And Make Money)

If you’re new to blogging, this guide can be a valuable resource for setting up and running a successful blog right away.
Last updated Oct 4, 2020 | By Ben Walker
How to Start a Successful Blog

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The idea of running a blog is pretty straightforward. You create a website about one of your passions or interests, people visit the website, and you profit. What could go wrong?

Well, if you don’t have a clear plan about how you’re going to set up your blog and run it, your blog won’t make you any extra cash, and it could still cost you a lot of time and effort.

But by following our guidance, based on the experience of many successful bloggers and others who know how to start a businesses, you can create a successful blog and maintain that success for the foreseeable future.

This step-by-step guide is our complete answer to the question of “how to start a successful blog.” Keep reading and get your blog started today.

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Why you should consider starting a blog

Blogging is appealing to many people because of the abundance of benefits. You can work full time from home or anywhere in the world. It’s not uncommon to see successful bloggers posting on social media from exotic locations, which is appealing, though not necessarily for everyone. You may just want to earn money with blogging as a weekend side job and spend more time with your family and friends. Or maybe you want the flexibility to work on other aspects of your life, such as getting outside more often and improving your health.

You may simply want to share what you’re passionate about, like Matt Kepnes, the creator of the Nomadic Matt blog. He learned some basic HTML to create a website years ago to talk about his travel experiences and now he’s one of the most popular travel bloggers in the world.

If you’ve ever heard of Groupon, you know they’re a big company that offers discounted deals on food, services, products, and more. What you may not know is that Groupon’s founder, Andrew Mason, started the company with an idea and a WordPress blog. He would post deals for local businesses on the blog and then email coupons to people who purchased the deal. He took an idea, put it into action with a website, and hasn’t looked back since.

If you’re considering starting a blog, you should go for it, whether you’re starting a business or marketing an existing business. Think about how most people, including yourself, go about researching anything these days. We do it all online, so if there’s no website for your business, there’s nothing for potential customers to look at.

If you offer creative services, such as photography, writing, or web design, then you should already know the importance of a website. It’s where you put your work on display and it shows a level of professionalism to your audience, including potential customers and employers. If you offer any kind of services or products, you should definitely start a blog.

How to start a successful blog

Talking about blogs is one thing, but actually starting a blog is another. And making it a successful blog is even one step further. But first things first, you need to start somewhere.

The original Nomadic Matt website didn’t look professional at all. And Groupon’s founder said something similar himself about their original website. The point is, what their websites are now isn’t what they were in the beginning. It takes time and effort to create something great, so don’t feel like it has to be perfect right now.

Just work through these five steps and you’ll be off and running:

1. Choose your blog name

Your blog name may be the first thing a potential customer learns about you and your business. A blog name can immediately turn someone off or generate enough interest for someone to stick around your website. Either way, it’s a declaration of what your business is about.

When choosing a good blog name, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What will you be selling or offering?
  • How will your name set the tone for a customer’s experience?
  • Will the website itself be what visitors expect based on the name?
  • Does the name leave room for growth into new products/services in the future or will it be too limiting?

If you’re at the point of choosing a blog name, but you don’t know what you want to sell or offer, you may need to go back to the drawing board. Assuming you do know the products/services being offered, you can use that to brainstorm names.

Take the popular yoga teacher Adriene Mishler, for example. Her website is called Yoga with Adriene. It’s simple and gives you a lot of information in a few words. You know the business is about yoga and you assume Adriene is the name of the founder. If you delve into the website or any of her social media channels, you’ll find exactly what you expected.

On the flip side, the name of Adriene’s blog is very specific, so there might not be room for growth into other markets in the future, but it does leave room for simple pivots if needed. She has articles on her website about vegetarian cooking, so another potential website could be Cooking with Adriene if she wanted to pursue that interest more.

The best blog names are easy to understand and give you insight into the content. Photographers will often use their first and last name and then simply add the word “photography” to the end. You get their name and you know they’re a photographer. It’s simple and straightforward.

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2. Set up your blog hosting

Before you can set up a website for your blog, you’ll need to pick a domain name and set up web hosting. This may sound a little technical, but it’s not hard to figure out, especially if you use the right web hosting service.

Your domain name should correlate to the name of your website. It’s what someone will type into a web browser or search engine to pull up your blog. Most of the time, the domain name will be exactly the same as your company name. If not, it will be related enough that someone could still find your blog online. A lot of domain names are already taken, so it may require a little creativity to come up with something catchy and memorable, just like with your business name.

Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when choosing a domain name:

  • Using .com instead of another extension such as .net or .org will generally be better because it’s the most commonly used and remembered
  • A shorter name is easier to remember
  • If you’re going to use a creative name that doesn’t necessarily imply what your business sells or offers, make sure it’s brandable, like Google or Yahoo!
  • Get creative and use a thesaurus for more ideas
  • Try not to get too crazy with creative spellings. If someone hears the name of your website but doesn’t see it in writing, you want them to be able to find you.

You can use a web hosting company such as HostGator to buy your domain name once you’re ready. HostGator offers domain registration services at affordable prices, and you can also use its website to see which domain names are already taken when brainstorming names.

For an all-inclusive experience that’s easy and affordable, we recommend registering with one of HostGator’s web hosting plans. Domain registration is included with the plan, along with important security and usage features. Even better, all its web hosting plans start off at less than $10 per month.

There are other web hosting services out there, including WordPress.com, and some of them even offer a free domain name or a free blog. But, as with anything, you get what you pay for and a free hosting service might not give you the space and tools you need to grow your blog into a profitable business.

3. Set up WordPress

About 36% of all websites currently on the internet were built using WordPress, which makes it one of the most widely used blogging platforms available. There are countless written and video tutorials all over the web on how to use WordPress, which makes it one of the most accessible platforms for new bloggers to start building a website.

You can easily use WordPress to design the look and feel of your business’ website. This includes adding text, images, videos, links, a contact form, and more. You can create multiple pages, a menu, navigation bars, and integrate plenty of features to make your blog design as unique as your business.

To start out with WordPress, you first need to install it on your new website. If you’re using a HostGator WordPress web hosting plan, it just takes a few simple clicks to install WordPress. These plans are similar to normal HostGator web hosting plans, but have been specifically designed for WordPress users. They’re affordable and include 24/7/365 support from WordPress experts if you have any questions.

Once WordPress is installed, it’s a matter of putting together your website using the WordPress admin panel. You can typically log into your WordPress admin panel by adding /login or /admin or /wp-login.php to the end of your website URL. To get back to the login page quicker next time, you can add a bookmark to your web browser.

Choosing a ready-made WordPress theme will help you pick a visual design that you like so you don’t have to worry about much programming. There are plenty of free themes available online, including within your WordPress dashboard in the Themes section under the Appearance tab. Once you’ve downloaded a theme that fits your business, you can install it in your admin panel and begin to edit your website by clicking on the “Customize” button, which is also in the Appearance section.

As you start building your website, you may see Lorem Ipsum or Hello world! text on some of the pages, but don’t worry, that’s just placeholder text to show you how the website can look. You can delete it and put in your own text, including the title of each page or blog post. You can also put in images, such as a background image for your homepage. At any point, you’ll be able to see a live preview of your website to see how it looks whenever you make changes to it.

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4. Start writing interesting and useful content

Now that you have your website set up with WordPress, it’s time to write your first blog post. Content is what draws people in and keeps them coming back in the future, so it’s essential to offer good content that serves a purpose for your visitors.

As you think about what content you can offer, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there an issue or problem I can solve for people?
  • How can I help or inspire people?
  • What kinds of fun, interesting, or catchy headlines can I think of for possible articles?

Creating content takes time and you may not naturally gravitate toward writing. But if you’re going to run a successful blog, you’ll have to write some articles. Take some time to consider your target audience and the kinds of blog topics they’d like to read.

But don’t get overwhelmed with writing the perfect blog articles every time you sit down to write a new post. It’s more important to write consistently than it is to write perfectly. It’s natural to get better at something the more consistently you do it, so put in the time to brainstorm new content ideas and to actually write those articles. Get started by writing your first post today.

5. Promote yourself and your content

If you want to grow your blog and get more visitors/customers, you need to promote yourself and your content. You can do this through social media, newsletters, and more.

Social media

Fortunately, websites and blogs pair perfectly with social media channels. There are multiple social media channels you can get started on, but these are the big three:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

Instagram is mainly used on mobile devices and is centered on sharing photos and videos. As such, it’s the perfect way to showcase photography and video for creative professionals, but just about any business can find success on this platform.

If you sell products or offer services, you can use Instagram to show photos and videos of your products or services. Who doesn’t love beautiful food photos? Or fashion photos? You can even sell your products directly from Instagram after you’ve set up a business profile. And it’s easy to link Instagram and Facebook posts together to grow two social media profiles at the same time.

LinkedIn has more of a professional feel to it as it’s a community for employers, employees, and potential employers and employees. It’s the perfect place to talk business if, well, you’re running a business. You can share articles you think others in your field might find interesting, and you can grow your network by making valuable connections with other individuals in your industry. LinkedIn may not be right for everyone, but it can help in certain situations.

Just be aware that though social media can be helpful in bringing in traffic, you don’t have control over your accounts. Instagram, Facebook, and others reserve the right to affect your account whenever they want. So if you’ve built up an Instagram account with a million followers and it gets shut down, there’s not much you can do about it. That is exactly what happened with every single account on Vine when it was shut down in 2017. Suddenly, people making a livelihood off Vine videos had to pivot elsewhere. Social media can be helpful, but it does come with certain risks.

Guest posting

If you want to grow your business and cement your legitimacy as a professional in your field, guest posting on other websites can also be beneficial. When you first start your blog, there are going to be plenty of other blogs that are bigger than yours. If you’re able to do a guest post on a popular blog, you can probably get some of their traffic to head your way. Even better, you can post on your own blog about how you posted on such a popular blog. The popular blog gets content and you get some traction. It’s a win-win situation.

Email newsletters

A more future-proof stream of traffic to your website can come from building out a weekly newsletter. You can guide people to your website by offering something valuable, such as a free guide on photography or anything you’re an expert in, and then have them put in their email to receive the guide. At that point, you’ve begun to build an email list of people you can send newsletters to — people you know are interested in your blog topic or service.

The newsletters you send should contain valuable content, of course, but also link back to your website. The best way to do this is to provide links in your newsletter to articles you’ve already written. Your schedule in sending out new newsletters will need to be consistent, just like your article writing.

Other ideas

As you add new content to your blog and continue to put it out into the world, it might start to get shared by other people across various networks. This is one of the best ways to promote yourself, though you won’t have complete control over if or when it might happen.

The best way to get your website shared is to create unique content that you think people would want to see. Funny videos and cool infographics are always interesting things for people to see on the internet. You might eventually decide to start a YouTube channel, launch your own podcast, or get active on Pinterest. Each time you put content into the world, you’ll learn more about your target audience and how to reach them.

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Tools for leveling up your blog

As you become more experienced with your blog, you’re going to want to learn more about these things:

SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization. When you search for a word or phrase in Google or any other search engine, you get back a list of websites that correspond to your query. Why do some of those websites show up first and why do some of them show up later? Why are some of them on the second page? It’s because of SEO.

The more the search engine (in this case, Google) thinks your webpage corresponds to the query, the higher on the results list your webpage is placed. Basically, Google and other search engines are simply trying to make sure they give people the most relevant answers to their searches and questions.

You can help Google see that you’re relevant and build your SEO ranking by including pertinent information across your website, including within the articles you’re writing. If you want your website to show up for specific keywords that people search, you’ll need to write about those keywords in your blog.

To figure out what keywords you should be writing about, you can do some basic research. Keyword research is the process of looking up keywords that can help your SEO ranking on search engines like Google and Bing. The higher your SEO ranking for a certain keyword, the higher up the page you’ll appear in search results.

Tools like Moz and Ahrefs make it easy to do keyword research. These types of tools allow you to see which keywords are popular and whether it’s worth it to invest time using these keywords in your articles. Some keywords may already be so popular on certain websites that it would be nearly impossible for a new blog to compete.

Fortunately, there are thousands of keywords out there to research and choose from as you do keyword research for your blog. It can take some time to improve your site’s SEO, but targeting keywords is a proven method to increase traffic to your blog.

Analytics

As you work on your website’s SEO optimization, you can track how well your website is performing by using analytics tools. Google Analytics is one of the best tools around and it can be easily integrated into a WordPress website through a plugin like MonsterInsights or by adding a code from Google Analytics directly into your website.

With Google Analytics, you can track your most popular pages, how many visitors you have on your website, how visitors are arriving to your website, which country your visitors live in, what time your visitors are actually visiting, and much more.

With this type of information, you can better understand a lot of things about your audience, such as what kinds of posts they enjoy and when they normally read them. This will help you as you write new posts and share content on social, and it can be critical in turning your blog into a profitable blog.

Security

As you become more invested in your website, it becomes more important to make sure it’s protected, both for you and your visitors. You may think your website may not warrant the attention of hackers, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. They go after everyone.

When you use web services from a hosting provider such as HostGator, you receive additional security for your website and data. An SSL certificate (the HTTPS and little lock icon you see at the beginning of many website domain names) secures the transfer of information on your website. SSL certificates can help protect your website from hackers who would want to steal personal data such as credit card and contact information. Make sure when you’re shopping for your web hosting service that you pick one that includes SSL certificates.

If you’re using WordPress, you can also install security plugins to help protect your website from malicious attacks and malware. Some of the best options, like Sucuri, will scan your website for common threats and filter out bad traffic when it’s detected.

In addition to security provided by web hosting services and plugins, you can be proactive with making sure your website is always updated. This includes updating WordPress and WordPress plugins. This should also include updating any passwords connected to your website on a regular basis. You should make your passwords strong in the first place — a password generator can help with that — but every now and then they should also simply be changed.

If you do experience a data breach or hackers lock you out of your website, you might end up losing a lot of information. If you have automatic backups in place, you can considerably decrease what you lose. With automatic backups, you can always restore your website to a previous backup point, which makes sure you never have to worry about losing everything. Again, when shopping for your web hosting service, make sure to ask about their backup protocols and how you can set up and access automatic backups.

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What about monetization?

The most common reason for starting a blog is to make money online. But how does creating a profitable blog work? Here's how to make money with your blog:

Google ads

Ads are a simple way to make money with your blog because it’s easy to put ads on your website with Google AdSense — especially with WordPress. There are also alternatives to Google, but they all basically work the same way. If someone clicks on an ad that’s shown on your blog, you get paid.

>> $100 Google Adwords/Bing Ads offer

Affiliate marketing

Have you ever referred a product or service to someone else and they purchased it because of you? Or have you been referred by someone else? That’s how affiliate marketing works. Companies want you to refer their products or services to other people, so they create affiliate programs that provide you with a unique link you can put on your website. When someone clicks on that link and ends up purchasing the product or service, you get a cut of the profit.

Selling products/services

If you sell products or services, there’s no better place to put them than on your own website. It’s easy to outfit your blog or website as an online shopping portal with tools like Shopify or the WordPress plugin, WooCommerce. You just integrate the tool with your website and add in all your products and services. Then, your visitors can put whatever they want in their shopping cart and go through a checkout process, using secure payment methods to pay for everything.

Sponsored blog posts

As your website becomes more popular and gains traction, people will want to use your blog as a means to market their own products and services. Basically, they will pay you to talk about them on your website. Companies and brands may reach out to you themselves, but you can also reach out to companies that offer products and services you’re interested in.

If you can prove how popular your website is by using analytics tools, you can start making money from sponsored posts. This is exactly what money-making Instagram influencers do to make money across their social media platforms and websites.

FAQs about blogging

Can you still make money blogging in 2020?

If you couldn’t still make money blogging in 2020, most blogs wouldn’t exist anymore. New blogs are being created every day, but only some of them end up becoming profitable. If you follow the best practices we’ve outlined above and put in the time and effort required, you can significantly improve your chances of running a successful blog that makes money.

What type of blogs make the most money?

The types of blogs that make the most money are the ones people find the most interesting and useful. It doesn’t necessarily matter what industry you’re in: fitness, travel, music, or anything else. If your content, products, and/or services can meet a need that people have, your blog can make a lot of money.

Why do most bloggers fail?

Most bloggers fail because they don’t put in the time and effort required. In most cases, blogging isn’t going to be an overnight success. It can take a lot of time to create engaging content that people want to read or watch. And even then, if you aren’t consistent with the quality and frequency of your content, your audience may lose interest.

The key is to actually get started, learn how to create the best content, and then do it on a consistent basis. If you can do that over a sustained period of time, your chances of success will dramatically improve. So make a habit of hitting that publish button.

How can I increase my blog traffic?

Create great content and create it often. And then promote it as much as you can with guest posts, social media posts, newsletters, and more. You can further increase your traffic by doing some basic keyword research and using tools like Google Analytics to leverage audience insights to your advantage.

How long does it take for a blog to show up on Google?

There’s no exact time frame for how long it will take for your blog or blog post to show up on Google. It could be hours or weeks; it depends on Google.

If you’re referring to how long it takes for your website or blog post to rank on Google, it depends on multiple factors, including the keyword being searched and the time and effort you’re putting in to get a higher ranking. According to Ahrefs, many top-ranked pages that would show up on the first page of a Google search are at least two years old.


Bottom line on starting a successful blog

If you want to start a successful blog, you have to begin by actually starting a blog. Most blogs aren’t the best looking or most useful when they’re first launched, but over time they can become better and better. So don’t be afraid to get started now and just go for it. It can be hard work, but it can also become a profitable effort.

There are plenty of resources available online to help you on your journey of creating a successful blog. If at any point you’re stuck and don’t know how to get past a certain obstacle, search the internet for a tutorial on the obstacle and you’re sure to find some helpful tips.

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