I’m going to take a break from my normal crafting, sewing, baking type posts and talk for a minute about the *hows* of blogging. I’ve had quite a few people asking me lately about how blogs work, how to make money blogging and how to get started on their own. So, take a minute with me now to take a peek inside how blogging works.
I’ve now got a free eBook that goes much further in depth on this subject. Download it here.
First some background. My blog will officially be two years old this month. It’s been a ton of fun for me to run this blog. I started it out just to see if I could make something of it. Truthfully, to see if I could make enough money doing it that I could sell my home based business because I was burned out with the business. Within a year I discovered that the answer was yes, so I sold the business and now my full focus is on the blog.
I worked very hard to push this blog forward fast because I had a goal (to sell my business) in mind and wanted to get there fast. And I’ve had a lot of success. But the beauty of a blog is that you can put as much or as little into it as you want. It’s yours to do what you want with. But I am here to tell you that you can be very successful with blogging.
How to Get Started:
Well, first thing’s first-what do you need to do to start a blog?
Idea: First, you’re going to need any idea of what you want to blog about. A general concept of where you are going with this blog. I can tell you that you will change this and fine tune this as time passes, but you definitely need a starting point. There are blogs about just about everything from crafting to parenting, fashion to politics, whatever you want. Just think about your audience and who is going to read it.
Platform: To create a blog you will need a platform to blog on. The two main ones are Blogger and WordPress. Blogger is run by google and you can host a blog there for free. You’ve seen many of these blogs-they’ll have a blogspot.com in their title. (Or you can buy your domain to avoid this-more on that later). With WordPress you will be paying to host your own blog.
Now, the title of this post was “How to Blog Professionally.” If you are looking to start a blog that you want to do professionally (as in make money on), don’t even mess around with blogger. Go straight to WordPress, pay the little bit of $$ that it will take to get you up and running and just start off right. (I didn’t do this-I started on Blogger and it was a major headache to switch over 6 months later.)
Why WordPress? With WordPress you have much more power and control over your blog. Not only the look and feel and design of your blog, but the search engine optimization and just how the blog runs overall. There are certainly professional bloggers out there succeeding on Blogger, but from my experience I recommend WordPress.
Domain & Hosting: OK, so you’ve got your topic and you’ve decided on your platform, next you need to purchase your domain and hosting plan. Come up with a good name for your blog. Remember, you want it to be easy for readers to remember and something that you will be happy with for years to come.
Hold onto that name idea for a second and let’s find you a web host. The web host is the company that will actually house your blog online. You are basically purchasing space from them and then they are putting up your content for the world to see.
Basic hosting will cost you only about $5-10 a month or so. This will usually include the hosting (with somewhat limited space but that’s fine for now), email addresses and some tech help. There are a bunch of big name companies out there that you can choose from. A very popular host for starting out is Bluehost. They’ve got plans starting at as little as $4.95 a month.
So, pick your host and go to their site and register your domain name (I will warn you now-domain names are fairly picked over so it may take some searching to find one that you like that is available) and sign up for your hosting.
Putting It All Together: Once you’ve done all this, you are ready to go. Almost. Now you need to build the blog. I can’t tell you how to do all of this because it can get a little technical and I am not a very techy person. What I suggest, since we are talking about wanting to make this professional, is hiring someone to do this.
Assuming you are on WordPress, you are going to need 2 things done-you are going to need WordPress installed and working through your hosting. This isn’t hard to do-I just googled for tutorials on this and was able to do it myself. With WordPress you will need to choose a theme. I am working under the Genesis theme. This is something that you have to purchase. (It costs about $59.95.)
You will also need what is called a child theme. Think of it like Genesis is the skeleton and the child theme is the flesh and everything else. Genesis holds it all together, the child theme gives it its appearance and design.
Here is a sample of what you will see while shopping for themes. As you can see here, with this deal you get Genesis AND the theme for $99.95.
Wit this theme you should be able to set up your blog on your own now.
I am not talented at design though, so I the main thing I needed help with was the blog design. I highly, highly recommend just biting the bullet and hiring someone who really knows what they are doing to do this part for you unless you have a real flair for design. To find a designer there are a few things you can do-run a google search for blog designers or go to some of your favorite blogs and scroll to the very bottom and often there will be a link to their designer. (Up front I might as well tell you that I don’t recommend my designer. Love how it turned out but they were awful to work with.)
Blog design (a good one) will run you probably between $200 to $1000. I know that can sound pricey right?! I think I paid on the low end of that and was happy with how it turned out in the long run. Remember, if you want this to succeed, you want it to look nice, so in the end, the money is worth it. Do some good research before finding a designer. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want your blog to look like. Make sure your design is clean and easy to navigate. Really delve into other blogs that are successful and see what is working for them.
Then, take the plunge and get a blog made!
Blog is Up, Now What?
OK, so the blog is up and running, now what? I mean, obviously it is time to start posting right? So, get some ideas and start writing some posts! I can tell you now that the first posts you write are eventually going to make you cringe! That’s ok. That’s simply because you will learn and grow so much and find out so much about what works and what doesn’t. So for now, get some ideas and start putting them out there.
How to Make the $$?! I know that’s what you really want to know, so let’s start there. I get asked this a lot when I tell people that I blog for a living. How do you make money blogging?
The #1 way that I make $ is through the ads that you see in my sidebar and at the top and bottom of this page. I get paid for 1,000 page views by those ads. But how did those ads get there?
Ad Networks: There are many ad networks out there that you can sign up to work with. You then put a little bit of code on your page and the ads are served each time someone views that page. That’s all you have to do. The most common, easy to get going ad network will be Google Adsense. Apply for them and then place their ads on your blog and you will start making at least a little bit of money. One thing to note though-google adsense doesn’t actually pay per page view (or impression), they pay per click. So when your readers click on the ads, you make money.
Google will limit you to just 3 ads on your page, so as you grow you are definitely going to want to ad more networks. Most bloggers have one premium network on their blog and then some smaller networks to fill in the rest. When I started I knew that I wanted to work with BlogHer as soon as possible. (BlogHer is an example of a premium network. This means they pay well but you also sign an exclusivity contract with them meaning there are some limitations on what other ads you can run and things. This varies by network.) You need to have been blogging for 3 months before you apply to BlogHer and they are exclusive so you need to make sure your blog is in good working order before applying.
I am currently working with Martha’s Circle as my premium ad network. They have page view requirements that you must reach before applying to work with them, so you need to give it some time if you are wanting to work with them or other premium networks. Another premium network is GLAM.
Other ad networks that you can sign up for include Lijit, Pulse Point, Burst Media, etc. Do some searching and you will find that there are tons.
I am not going to go into detail on this because it is highly techy, but once you really get up and running you will want to get Google DFP setup. This allows all of your different ad networks to bid for space on your page so that you are only running the highest paying ads with each page view, therefore making more money. When you are ready for this, begin your research and get this installed. I hired someone to do it and run it for me and it works wonderfully. When you are starting though, focus on the other things first.
Sponsored Posts: One other way to make money blogging is by doing sponsored posts. These are posts that you are writing for a company about their product or what they offer and they are paying you to write the post. Some of these will come through companies that you can sign up with who will find the sponsored post opportunities for you (examples: Collective Bias, The BluePrint Social, Clever Girls Collective, Pollinate Media) and some may be through independent relationships that you form with brands. For example, for the past year I have had a working relationship with a craft company and an agreement that I post twice monthly on my blog and twice monthly on theirs and I am paid for my work.
Keep in mind that if you do too many sponsored posts the quality of your blog may go down. So be choosy about what you will post about.
Affiliate Links: One other way that I make a small piece of my income is through affiliate links. Amazon, for example, allows you to sign up for their affiliate program and place the links on your site. Then, when your readers click through and purchase something at Amazon, you make a portion of the profit. There are many platforms to find possible affiliates such as Share a Sale and OsCommerce.
There are a handful of other small ways that I have made money blogging, but those are the basics.
Promoting Your Blog:
Once you have your blog up and running, this is the main thing you need to focus on. How do you get the word out about your blog?
#1 for me for sure (and for most bloggers) is Pinterest. Of course Pinterest is a powerful force on the internet right now, so much of my traffic comes through there. You will want to set up a Pinterest account for your blog, make sure to mention your blog name in your description, create some nice boards and begin pinning. Don’t just pin your own stuff though, pin anything that strikes your fancy. You will gain followers by doing this. Just keeping pinning and pinning.
One major Pinterest tip that I wish I had realized when I started was that vertical pins are MUCH more successful than horizontal ones simply because they take up more space so they are easier to see. There is soooo much more to learn about Pinterest that won’t all fit here. Do your research-find out what works for you and do it.
Photography: I probably should have put this before Pinterest because you WILL NOT be successful on Pinterest if you don’t worry first about your photography. Good photography is an absolute must if you want to have a successful blog.
That being said, I am no pro at photography. I have no background in photography and I am very much learning as I go. But I know enough to know that I need to work hard on this (and it’s the hardest part of blogging for me) because it matter so much. I look back at my pictures from the early blogging days and just cringe because I have improved so much, and I am sure that someday I will cringe at the pictures I am taking now.
A few tips for your pictures: first, take them in natural light! Go outside. If it’s cloudy, take them anywhere, if it’s sunny, take them in the shade. Or, take them near an open window or door. Natural light is a must.
Second, stage them well. When I need an idea of how to stage something I sometimes do a little research first. I look around on Pinterest or other sites to see what a pretty picture of a skirt or cookies looks like. I don’t copy what the other person did, but I use their ideas to make my pictures better.
Practice, practice, practice on this. Take a class if needed. Just know that without good pictures, you won’t go far.
Search Engine Optimization: Take some time to learn the basics of Search Engine Optimization. Just google and you will be able to find free ebooks that will teach you the basics. (Here’s one I recommend.) Then use them. This will make a huge difference in your page views.
Social Media: Of course I already mentioned Pinterest, but there is other social media to think about too. Facebook is a big one and Twitter and Instagram lurk out there too. Basically the more social media channels you are using, the more likely people are to find you. Work to build up a following on these channels. Make sure to use the same name on all of them where possible and keep things easy for your readers to jump between.
Link Parties: Link parties are a chance to show your stuff on other blogs. I don’t use them often but I know many bloggers that do. You simply go to the hosting blog at the time that their party goes live and add your link. Then others can see what you have been up to. Sometimes you will get featured and that can drive more traffic. The two link parties I recommend if you are in the creative niche are the Link Party Palooza and The Party Bunch. They both go live on Fridays I believe.
Networking: One other way to build your blog is to network with other bloggers. Join facebook groups for blogging and start getting to know the blogging crowd. You will learn TONS from rubbing shoulders with other bloggers and you can help promote each others stuff. Take time to get to know some bloggers who are similar to you.
Submissions: There are also a lot of sites that you can submit your content to to be featured. These can be good traffic drivers as well. If you are a creative blogger, try the Gawker pages such as craft gawker, craft gossip, looksi square, and places similar to that. These can be good traffic drivers.
Conferences: Finally, if you are really serious about this blogging thing, try to attend some conferences in your niche. You will learn a ton AND get to network with other bloggers AND get a chance to meet face to face with sponsors. This is invaluable in your blogging career. There are many blogging conferences out there and which conference you should attend will depend on what your blog is about. Do a little research and GO! It will be worth it.
OK, have I loaded your brain too full of info?! I probably should have broken this down into several small posts, but there you go. The ins and outs of starting a blog. I am open to answering questions if needed or doing followup posts if there are topics you want to know more about. Just ask!
And good luck!