Welcome to the definitive guide to starting a blog in 2021 that actually makes money! I know there are LOTS of similar posts out there, but my hope is that this one will be the most comprehensive and will give you ALL the information you'll need to get started.
Affiliate disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I'll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Please read my full disclosure here.
Here's how it's organised:
So, if you’re reading this, you’re probably considering starting a blog, or are at least intrigued by the idea of blogging for money. Congratulations, reading this article is a great first step!
If you’re still unsure, read on in this section. If you’re already ready to start, click here to dive right into how to actually start a blog.
First of all, blogging is a fun hobby. It allows you to share your personal knowledge and experiences with the world and connect with others who share similar interest. And, even if one of your primary motivations for starting a blog is to make money, you should also be excited by the idea of sharing valuable content with the world. Blogging is HARD work but can be extremely rewarding.
Now, I’m not at the point where I’m making a full-time income from my blog yet, but LOTS of people are! And, even without making a full-time income, I’m still starting to make some revenue which is extremely motivating!
As a blogger, your job is not just to write articles (though that is important—and writing and communicating clearly and persuasively are useful skills in pretty much every job!). You’re also learning things like digital marketing, affiliate marketing, sales, business, advertising, SEO, graphic design, web design, and a plethora of other skills! Finally, you’ll gain some really in-depth knowledge about whatever you’re blogging about; it’s never a bad thing to be an expert in something!
In the first few weeks, having 10-20 people reading your blog a day feels like a massive achievement. However, when that number is merely eking up slowly, it can feel like you’re talking to a black hole. And, when you’re putting in LOADS of effort, this can be demotivating. You really have to be committed to persevering through this for at least a year before deciding whether blogging is or isn’t for you. Growth can be incredibly slow at times.
As I said above, one of the pros of blogging is that you learn a TON of different skills. On the flip side, this means LOTS of work learning and implementing new things. Particularly in the beginning when you’re trying to get everything set up and get lots of content up, there are a lot of tasks competing for your attention. However, as you get on with it, you’ll a) take care of all of the set-up tasks and free up some time and b) get into a routine and figure out what it is that’s working best for you and focus on that.
There are some bloggers that probably have legitimately made $5,000 in their first few months blogging, or some equally impressive amount of money. From what I can tell, though (and from my own experience) that is not the norm. Now, I’m not saying it isn’t possible, and professional bloggers starting, say, a second site who already have everything down pat and can pay for things like ads, etc. could very well do this. But I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation for so-called ‘normal people’ starting a blog. There is a high earning potential, of course, but it also takes time to grow an audience and build their trust. This is why I say to stick with it for at least a year and see how you go before giving up.
Once you start looking into how to set up a blog, costs can seem to start to add up. When I started my blog, I wish someone had been more transparent with me about what you *actually* need to pay for.
In my opinion, all you *really* need to pay for is hosting and a domain name. Basically, in order to make money from your blog you need to have a self-hosted site, particularly for applying to ad networks (more on that later).
I personally use Bluehost for hosting as it starts at only £2.28 per month (and the basic account is really all you need to get started if you’re on a budget). AND that includes a free domain as well (which is the other thing you absolutely need). But, more on that below.
Now that we've come up with some good reasons you should start a blog, it's time to dive in!
Okay, so before you actually set anything up, you need to figure out what the heck you’re going to blog about.
So how do you decide?
My advice would be to figure out what you’re an expert in and what you would enjoy writing about. For me, I thought about the things my friends and family ask me for advice on, things I’ve taught others, etc.
Many bloggers will say you need to decide on one niche right away. I think, if you’re an expert in multiple things, you can definitely blog about all of them (as long as there’s some vaguely common thread). Personally, I found it most successful to write on a few different topics and gauge the response to them in order to plan my future content. Eventually, your niche will naturally narrow down based on your audience’s interests.
Some popular niches are personal finance, business, blogging, beauty or fashion, and food. Figuring out what things you like to read and that you also know about yourself will help guide you in picking a niche.
Once you’ve got a niche, you’ll need to pick a name for your blog. I’ve gone with my own name so that I can blog pseudo-anonymously but also offer a range of content. If you want more anonymity, a catchy title related to your niche will also work. Do some quick searches to make sure your desired name is available (and that it’s not trademarked!).
Branding is super important for making your blog look more professional and I’d recommend everyone start with building a brand kit. So, what should it include?
You can use a free product like Canva to design your logo. I also recommend looking on Pinterest and at brands you love for more inspiration. You could also pay someone to design one for you, but this can get expensive, so I don’t think it’s necessary for someone just starting out.
Now there are lots of resources on brand personalities online, but my advice is to keep this simple. Basically, you’re just looking for a word to describe your brand’s personality, as it if was a person. If you’re writing a personal blog, this may very well be related to your own personality.
Here are 10 archetypes to choose from:
It’s important to have an idea of your vision and mission for your blog from the beginning, though it may change throughout your journey. Your vision is, essentially, what you want your blog to be for the world. Your mission, on the other hand, is how you plan to make an impact on the world with your blog and content.
A related element is your purpose. What specific problems are you solving for your readers?
Your UVP, or Unique Value Proposition, is what differentiates you from other bloggers, particularly in the same niche. Do you bring a unique perspective or experience in your content? Why should people read your content over others’ on the same topic?
Your brand values are also important to define early on in your blogging journey. What is most important to you personally and what are values are you trying to convey to your readers?
This one goes along with your UVP, but what specific things are you hoping your readers will take away from reading your blog?
In order to write for your audience, you’ll need to figure out who they are. When you’re first starting out, you won’t be able to see who your audience actually is yet from analytics and other insights. However, you should have a specific idea of who you’re looking to engage. Try to think of your audience as a specific person, maybe even one you know. How old are they? What gender do they identify with? How much money do they make? What are their interests?
Your brand aesthetic is the first thing people see when they land on your blog. You should be using consistent fonts and a colour scheme. It’s also important to develop any additional artistic elements you’ll have on your blog.
This step is optional, but I’d recommend looking on Pinterest for some photos that embody your blog, add your fonts, colour scheme, logo, and other artistic elements, along with any keywords that specifically embody your brand. This will help make sure you stay consistent with your branding.
As I said above, you need to sort out hosting and a domain name. My recommendation for hosting is to use Bluehost because it’s cheap and works well. There are other hosting options, but I’ve been using Bluehost since I started blogging so it’s what I’m going to recommend.
I personally chose the 12 month Choice Plus Web Hosting package because it included domain privacy and protection and Codeguard Basic (security). I also paid for Bluehost’s SEO tools, though you probably don’t need to go for that. All in all, I paid £103.91 for the year, though you can pay as little as £55.20 in total without the extras for an entire year. As I mentioned above, this also includes a free domain name registration as well.
Through Bluehost, you can install WordPress.org (note: this is different from WordPress.com) which you can use to build your site. Also, if you already have a WordPress.com site, Bluehost will now migrate it for free if you set up a new hosting account.
Once you’re set up on WordPress, you’ll need to pick a theme, design your homepage, all the relevant other pages, and get posting!
WordPress has lots of free themes and, to be honest, I think these are perfectly fine for starting out, as long as you make sure your theme is mobile responsive and has SEO tools and support built in. I, personally, started with the free theme Astra.
Now, a word of warning, when you install your theme, it’ll take some tweaking to actually get it to look like the *inspiration* photos they have when you download it with the customisation tools they provide. Once you’ve installed your theme, you can customise it by hovering over ‘Appearance’ on the sidebar and clicking on ‘Customise’.
Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s get to work on the pages you need to have before you launch your blog.
You can create these pages using the Pages option on the sidebar of your WordPress admin page.
I’d recommend choosing the option to have a static homepage (found under Appearance + Customise + Homepage Settings, though this varies by theme so check out your theme’s documentation if you can’t find it).
Before you get to customising your homepage, I’d plan out how you’d like it to look using a free tool like Canva. They have their own webpage templates, or you can look at some of your favourite blogs for inspiration. It’s much easier to design your homepage before you actually get to the nuts and bolts of editing it on WordPress.
Go to Pages on the left-hand sidebar and select ‘Add New’. Name it something easy to remember like ‘Home’. Then, use the WordPress tools to build the homepage to match your Canva design. The WordPress editor works by adding blocks to the page (like paragraphs, headers, images, galleries, etc.).
An About Me page is also crucial for your blog. Think of this as an opportunity to showcase your UVP that you decided above. There are loads of more in-depth articles out there on how to create a good About Me Page and I’m far from an expert on this. But, basically, the crux of it is that your About Me page should highlight what you blog about, what unique value you provide, what problems you solve, and what qualifies you to be giving out information on these topics.
Legal pages are a SUPER important and oft-ignored aspect of setting up a blog. I personally wanted to be protected, so I bought this starter bundle that was written by a business lawyer. It's a bit pricey and you can definitely start with free legal pages if you absolutely can't afford them (I initially got mine from Rocket Lawyer), but you really do need proper legal pages, especially if you plan to monetise your blog.
Askimet keeps your blog safe from spam which is super important!
If you’re using Bluehost to host your blog, this plugin integrates their control panel with WordPress’.
This plugin creates a pop-up for visitors to make sure they consent to cookie collection and shows users that your website is GDPR-compliant.
Insert Headers and Footers allows you to easily add code to the header or footer of your site. This is super helpful for adding code to verify the ownership of your website for Pinterest, Google, etc.
ShortPixel will optimise your images to make your site run faster (crucial for SEO, see below). You get a certain number of free images with this before you have to pay for it. If you have too many images on your blog, you could also use imageoptimizer.net and do it manually.
UpdraftPlus is another must-have as it lets you back up your site so you don’t ever lose any of your content.
Squirrly is THE BEST SEO plugin I’ve found. SEO, or search engine optimisation, is crucial to getting your site to appear on Google’s search results, resulting in sustainable, free traffic. Squirrly really takes into account ALL aspects of SEO and they give you 14-day freemium access when you first sign up where they take you through ALL the steps to getting one of your pages to rank in the top 10 on Google. It’s AI powered and has a live AI assistant to help make sure all your pages are 100% optimised. For more information on SEO, see below.
Yoast SEO is another, more basic SEO plugin. Once I found Squirrly and saw such great results with it, I more or less stopped using Yoast, but it’s good to have for beginners if Squirrly is too overwhelming for you It also has other useful features like changing external links to ‘no follow’ for SEO purposes.
I recently discovered this plugin and it speeds up your site SO MUCH, which is super important for SEO. Some people say it does conflict with some plugins, so be careful, but it works great for me!
Canva is an absolute godsend for people like me who aren’t naturally visual people. You can use it to design everything from IG stories to designing web pages. The pro version has lots of useful features if you’re using it for your business, but the free version is generally sufficient if you’re trying to save money.
Tailwind is a Pinterest scheduling tool and saves me SO MUCH time. It’s an official Pinterest partner, so you know the advice they give is in line with Pinterest’s best practices and they offer loads of additional analytics. Their free trial is good for 100 pins and there’s no time limit which is pretty cool.
They also offer Tailwind Tribes, which helps get your pins in front of more people.
It’s up to you whether or not you pay for it or not (I personally don't, especially now that I have a Pinterest manager), but I’d recommend at least using the trial!
As a blogger, you NEED to set up a Google Analytics account to see how much traffic you’re getting and where it’s coming from. It’s pretty easy to set up, but there are also a lot of good resources out there on how to make the most of the insights they provide.
Google Search Console is also important for all bloggers, particularly when you get into SEO. Basically, it allows you to check the indexing status of your site by Google and also shows what keywords your site currently ranks for.
If you have too many images for Short Pixel to optimise for free and don’t want to pay for the full version, this site will allow you to optimise images individually for free.
Okay, now that you’re done with the set-up, it’s time to start the fun part—writing! But, what should you be writing about? It’s important to write about content that not only you, but also your audience, finds interesting. Your ultimate goal and focus should be on providing useful content to the world that actually solves people’s problems and pain points.
So, how can you figure out what your content should be about?
I used Buzzsumo’s 30-day free trial to plan my website’s content in the beginning. Basically, it allows you to type in a topic and see the top articles about it, related content that’s popular and that people are looking for, and the level of engagement for that content. They crawl through millions of forum posts, Amazon, Reddit and Quora to see what people are actually looking for information on. They also have information on trends in content and can help you with finding keywords for SEO (see below for more options and information).
Basically, I just typed in the things I was interested in writing about and tweaked them based on Buzzsumo’s insights. I used this information to plan my blog’s categories and my first chunk of posts.
Buzzsumo is pretty expensive as a paid tool, so I don’t use it anymore, but it was INCREDIBLY useful for the 30 days I had it.
You can also supplement your Buzzsumo research with research from Pinterest. Type in some topics that are interesting to you and Pinterest will generate recommendations for related topics. You can’t see when people have posted things on Pinterest anymore, but check back periodically for your chosen topics to make sure there are new posts about them (but not too many that your content is likely to get buried). You can also use insights from Tailwind and Tailwind Tribes to see what’s working on Pinterest at the moment.
You should figure out who your competitors are pretty early on. Look at their most popular posts for some inspiration on topics that you can write about. It’s important to note that you should NEVER copy anyone else’s content, but it’s perfectly okay to get ideas from others.
Now, it’s time to get drafting! Since you’ve already created pages in WordPress, you know how it generally works (but, this time click on Posts- Add New). You should try to write posts that are at least 1,500-2,000 pages and focus on writing super high-quality content that’s better than anything else out there on the same topic.
You should also determine your blog’s categories (under Posts- Categories) and make sure each post is put in a specific category with additional tags.
On the topic of how often you should post, most people recommend between 1-3 times per week. I was posting once a week but am now upping my posting so will update this if I see better results with more posts. Overall, consistency is most important, so find a posting schedule that works for you and your personal schedule!
The answer to this question varies depending on who you ask, but I’d recommend having at least 10 posts up before you launch. Make sure you have at least a couple of posts in each of your categories.
Now, there are a couple of super important steps you need to take before you actually hit ‘Publish’.
First, re-read your post and make sure there are no spelling or grammar mistakes. For this, I recommend using Grammarly.
Make sure you’ve set the post category, optimised your post for SEO (using one of the plugins I recommended above), and set a featured image.
That’s it! Congratulations, you’ve just written your first post!
SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, involves making changes to your website in order to increase traffic from search engines. It’s basically how you get free traffic to your website, which is super important! It can seem like a bit of a minefield at the beginning, which is why I’d recommend getting a plugin like Squirrly to help you out.
Basically, here are some of the basics of optimising your content to rank in the top 10 on google for a chosen keyword. Feel free to skip this section if you're a true beginner and just download Squirrly instead. But, if you're interested in how it all works, read on!
Squirrly offers free keyword research tools, and UberSuggest lets you search for a number of keywords for free daily. You can also do keyword research with Buzzsumo during your free trial. Basically, you’re looking for a combination of words (long-tail keywords of 2-3 words work best) that has enough searches, but is also easy enough to rank for. Squirrly specifically tells you which keywords in your search you have a good chance of ranking for. For UberSuggest, you’re looking for keywords with an SEO difficulty of less than 20. As far as search volume goes, you should aim for something that has at least 500 searches per month, but more is obviously better. However, there’s no point in going for one with thousands of searches per month if you have no chance of ranking on the first page, so it's okay to use a keyword with less search volume if it's the only one you'll actually rank for.
It’s important to also look at the trend projection of this word, which Squirrly and other tools allow you to do. If interest is going down steadily, you may want to skip that keyword.
In addition to optimising your post for the keyword you’ve chosen, you should also find a related, contextual keyword and at least partially optimise for that as well. You can find more guidance on this in Squirrly’s Focus Page tool.
You need to make sure that your site is going to actually show up on search engines. This is usually not the case, but make sure in Settings that your theme or plugins don't instruct Google NOT to index your target page. Ditto, for having ‘no follow’ instructions for links to your page within your blog. Your page should also have a ‘canonical link to itself’, showing that it is indeed your original content.
Make sure you have a sitemap, that it has been submitted to Google, and that the page your working on is present in your sitemap. Squirrly can help you create and submit a sitemap to Google.
Finally, your permalink structure should be good, i.e. easy to read, and include your keywords in your post URLs.
Generally, you don’t need to worry too much about these as these settings should be enabled automatically.
Each of your posts should:
You should also update each of your posts at least every three months to help them rank and stay ranked on Google.
Make sure your posts are at least 1,500-2,000 words each.
One of the most important things in Google’s upcoming algorithm update is the time users spend on your page (should be at least 2 minutes) and your bounce rate (should be less than 50%). You can track these in Google Analytics. Having more words increases the time people spend on your page reading your content!
Yoast SEO and Squirrly both have tools to edit the snippets for your posts as they appear in Google. Basically, you should include a short description (with your keyword!) that tells readers what to expect from your post. It should be short enough that the whole thing shows up in Google’s search engine entry field.
Squirrly will help you make sure that you have the Open Graph definitions for your post all set up properly (don't worry, you don't need to know how this all works or what it even means; they will do it for you!).
Again, Squirrly will help you with this, but it generally includes things like enhancing your site map, post type settings, activating something called Patterns, and having a robots.txt file associated with your site.
At least one of your images for each post should include your keyword in the file name.
At least 5 other posts on your blog should link back to whatever post you’re focusing on.
All outbound links in your post should have the ‘no follow’ attribute. You can do this easily using Yoast SEO and toggling the no-follow option to on for each link.
Now, in order to have better success in ranking on google, you’ll need a ‘page authority’ score of over 35, at least 100 shares on social media, and at least 100 backlinks from other sites. This is incredibly hard to get when you’re just starting out, so don’t worry too much about this at first.
Once you’ve made all these changes to your site, use Google Search Console to ask Google to re-index your site, so they know that you’ve made improvements and can rank you higher!
Want to get a lot of traffic quickly (and for free!)? Pinterest is your BFF. A lot of bloggers get most of their traffic from Pinterest, which is the biggest visual search engine. It’s a good way to get traffic even for beginner bloggers, particularly while you’re waiting for your SEO to ‘kick in’.
First of all, you’ll need to make a business account, install Rich Pins, and claim your website. Here’s an article from Pinterest on how to do this. You’ll need to add meta tags to your website header (you can use the Insert Headers and Footers plugin for this).
You should do some research on Pinterest for keywords in your niche (you may have already done this when creating your brand kit). Find some popular keywords that describe your content and how you help your audience. Then, include these in your headline and your profile description. It’s important to, like with your About Me page, focus on how you’re providing value to your audience.
Generally, you should have at least 25-30 boards, each with at least 40 pins each. If you’re just starting out, it will take time to build this up, so don’t worry, but it’s something to work towards.
Pinterest favours what they call ‘fresh pins’. As it’s a visual search engine, they want people posting new images for their posts, rather than recycling old pins. The best case scenario is making a fresh pin for new content on your blog, but you can also make new pins for older content as well and Pinterest will still consider them ‘fresh’.
Note: you should also be using images that aren’t already all over Pinterest for your pin to count as fresh. A lot of people get free stock photos that have been used thousands of times by other pinners. You can use Pinterest’s visual search tool to make sure you’re not reusing an image they’ve seen a million times before.
For each new post, I create 5 pins at a time on Canva. Your pins should be catchy and easy to read. I recommend saving pins that catch your eye to a personal board on Pinterest (that you keep secret) and then using them for design inspiration. Canva also has lots of good pin templates.
I then do keyword research on Pinterest and draft a description (use as many of the 500 characters you’re allotted as you can!) filled with these keywords. There’s some debate about whether you should also include hashtags, but it generally seems that they won’t hurt you so I’ve been including 3-5 at the end of my descriptions again. You can use this description for all five of your pins but, if you make more pins than that, you should use a fresh description.
You can also create video pins with Canva which is a feature Pinterest rolled out just a few months ago. One of the best things about video pins is you can add tags from Pinterest to them, which helps Pinterest know what your content is actually about.
You should always pin your pins to your most relevant board first so that Pinterest has no doubts about what it’s about. You can pin the same pin to other boards (Tailwind gives a two-day interval in between), but you should still focus on fresh pins.
The best practice it seems today is to pin 2-3 fresh pins per day. You can use Tailwind to schedule these at optimal times or look at their optimal time recommendations and schedule using Pinterest (or pin manually).
I also pin a handful of others’ pins per day, focusing on ones that are popular (Pinterest rewards you for this!). You can find these on Tailwind as well (or, sometimes bloggers put the number of shares on their posts as well). Before you pin others’ content, you want to make sure their post is high-quality, they’re using the description, and the link isn’t broken. Otherwise Pinterest will penalise you. Most people recommend focusing on posting 80% of your own pins and 20% other people’s pins.
Pinterest is constantly changing its algorithms, though, so I'd recommend joining a course or blogging Facebook groups for the most up to date information!
There’s mixed information about whether you should use group boards to get more viewers on Pinterest. I personally haven’t tried them, but instead use Tailwind Tribes. It’s a similar idea—you post your best pins (and usually pin someone else’s from the Tribe) and then other people can re-pin your pins, magnifying your reach. That being said, if you can’t afford Tailwind at the moment, don’t worry! You can definitely still succeed without it (or use the free trial!)!
Sign up to the Pinterest Creator's Database to get updates directly from Pinterest on what they’re looking for when they change their algorithm.
Now, in case that’s not enough work for you, there are a variety of other ways to market your posts. I, personally, am still focusing on Pinterest and SEO for now, but here are some other ideas:
Okay, now that you’ve got some traffic coming into your blog, it’s time to think about how to monetise it. Here are the main sources of income for bloggers.
One way to monetise your site is by adding ads. A lot of ad networks require a minimum number of sessions per month, but some, like Google Adsense and media.net tend to accept beginner bloggers. I initially used media.net as they allow more customisation than Adsense, generally have a higher pay rate, and serve contextual ads on your site (rather than totally random things your viewers aren’t interested in). For the moment, though, I'm holding off on having ads on my site until I qualify for Mediavine.
Once you have more than 50,000 sessions in the previous 30 days, you can apply to Mediavine which will make you more money, so it’s a good goal to work towards.
Affiliate marketing basically means that when someone clicks a link generated just for you and buys something, you make a small percentage of the purchase price as a commission.
Note: you’ll need to include the requisite disclaimers for posts that include affiliate links, as well as include that you use affiliate links on the Disclosure page of your blog. But you should check with a lawyer to make sure your site fully complies with the relevant rules!
As a new blogger, you can check out the following affiliate programmes:
You can also Google whether your favourite products have affiliate programmes and apply to them directly. For example, that’s what I did to become an affiliate for The Vegan Kind.
Another way to make money once you’ve built up your audience is by selling digital products. A lot of people, for example, sell printable products on Etsy (or through their own Shopify or Big Cartel store) or e-books. You can easily design these using tools like Canva and they can be a good source of passive income on your blog. I personally do not have any digital products yet, so I can’t offer much advice, but I plan to create some in the future!
Having an email list on your blog eventually is SUPER important. Basically, email followers are the only ones you ‘own’. For example, Instagram or Pinterest can easily shut down your account and you’d lose all your followers, but your email list ‘belongs’ to you.
I know a lot of bloggers recommend starting this from the beginning, but I wouldn’t worry about it for the first few months if you’re already overwhelmed by tasks.
Basically, you’ll need to set up ‘lead magnets’ for each of your categories—these need to be free resources that are SO VALUABLE that your readers are willing to give you their email address for them. Making these kinds of resources takes lots of time, so I’d say, it’s better to do it right when you’ve got more time to spend on it and have more of an idea of what works for other bloggers, but that’s just me.
Once you have an email list, you should communicate with then regularly, sharing things like new posts and products, again, making sure you’re providing content they *actually* want to receive and will find useful (and not just ads for things).
So, some of this was covered when you made your brand kit. It’s important to sit down at the beginning of your blogging journey (and monthly thereafter) to figure out your strategy and track your goals.
Here are some things you should explore and write down in your initial planning session:
Every month, I’d recommend going through the following and seeing what’s working or where you might need to change up your current strategy:
Here’s what’s generally on my weekly blogging to-do list:
Phew! If you managed to read all of that, congratulations! You’ve taken the first step to starting a successful blog!
Now, it’s a lot of hard work and may take a while to reap the rewards of your work but hang in there, be consistent, and wait at least a year before you give up.
Don’t forget to celebrate your small wins—I got super excited when I reached my first 100 blog views and ranked for my first keyword in the top 10 of Google.
If you have any questions, want any advice on starting a blog, or just want some company throughout the process, feel free to contact me! I’d love to hear about your journey 🙃.