The learning curve in starting a blog is steep, the internet is a big place, and there is so much information to absorb… so where do you even start? This article is long and detailed – I put it together as a broad overview of everything, so try not to feel overwhelmed… I’m calling it my blogging brain dump.
If you’re just starting out, need help to increase traffic through social media, or you want to know about the options for monetizing your blog, you’re in the right place so let’s get started.
** This page contains affiliate links. That means I may get a small commission if you choose to sign up with one of the resources I use.**
Blog Hosting and Starting Up
There are a number of blogging platforms to choose from. WordPress is by far the most popular and it’s what you see here at Twin Pickle. You can quickly start a blog for free through WordPress, although you won’t get the features and polished finished you will get through your own website. If you want something similar to what I have here, you’ll want a self-hosted blog with the WordPress software installed.
WordPress.com is more limited in template choices, and you can’t use all the fancy plugins used for e.g. pop-ups, image collages, ads etc. I’ve often heard it is not possible to monetize a blog on wordpress.com but this is not true. There are restrictions and I don’t recommend it, but you can still include affiliate links and ads through WordPress’ own ad network. The main downfall for me is your site URL will be in a yourblog.wordpress.com format instead of yourblog.com and I enjoy the freedom to design and edit the blog freely. It mattered to me, it doesn’t to everyone.
WordPress.org provides free WordPress software which is easily downloaded onto a self-hosted blog. This means you buy a web-hosting and domain (web address) from a hosting company (Bluehost offer the domain for free), allowing you the freedom of any website name you like, no advertising restrictions and thousands of design templates. Twin Pickle is bursting with plugins, nearly all of which are free, from the newsletter pop-up to the ‘pin it‘ button on all my images. The downfall, of course, is that I had to pay for the hosting, but blogging is my hobby (and now providing an income) and it’s not an expensive one. My sister rides horses, I can assure you blogging is cheaper!
Since writing this post I have started a second site for blogging tutorials and if you want a step-by-step guide to get up and running you can find it here –> How To Start Your Own Blog
Gaining Traffic to your Blog
In my pre-blogging days I suppose I thought if I put something out there, a few people will find it through a Google search and share it with all their friends. If only. The grim truth is that the Internet is vast and the big boys have more than the majority of the playing field. This does not mean ‘organic traffic’ (visitors than find your site on their own), should be ignored, but you’re going to work so much harder than you ever imagined to get those visitors. There is a lot to say on this subject, but for now I’ll leave it at this:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO will probably only bring you a small amount of google traffic at first, but importantly, when your site has been up and running for longer and ranks higher, all your previous blog posts will start to resurface and gain more traffic because the work was put in when they were written:
- Choose a keyword carefully and use it in the title of your blog post, the url, first paragraph, image names, sub titles and anywhere else you can think of without your post sounding weird. This keyword is what google is searching for. If you’re publishing on WordPress through a self-hosted blog, activate the Yoast SEO plugin, it’s free and will get your SEO skills up to scratch in no time.
- Your choice of keyword is important for SEO. You want something that is specific and longer than one word (despite being called a ‘keyword’ it should be more of a ‘key phrase’) because there will be fewer competing sites with the same keyword. At the same time, you want it to be something people actually search for. There are a number of tools for researching keywords, unfortunately, none of the good ones are free anymore. I off and on use Jaaxy.com (the subscription is easy to start and stop), and they do a free month trial. I do warn you though, it’s totally addictive and you will become obsessed with keywords like a proper geek.
Social media is a minefield. There is so much to say here I don’t even know where to start! My best advice is to not take it all on at once, it’s too much and you will be overwhelmed. I focus on a different social media platform every couple of months. Although promotion through social media can feel like a huge undertaking, there are some great tools to make your life easier:
- Twitter is big and fast, so it’s important to tweet the same post multiple times. I usually tweet my latest blog post 3 times a day and in between I tweet some older posts and other bloggers’ posts. I use a free scheduling tool called Buffer which is easy to use, and allows you to pick the correct image (which doesn’t always happen automatically).
- Facebook is tough. To make your page and start posting to it is easy, especially if you’re already familiar with the platform. However, gaining ‘likes’ for your page is tough, and what’s worse, Facebook doesn’t show everyone that does like your page your content. Facebook likes to show popular posts so when you’re starting out it’s tough. You can pay to ‘boost’ your post… but this can get expensive, especially if you’re starting out. Getting interaction (likes, comments, shares) on your Facebook post in the first few hours is key. This triggers the reach to broaden because it is flagged as a popular post. You can recruit family and friends to like and comment, or join a blogging Facebook group for ‘like for like’ threads. However, the random mix of people liking your stuff can cause confusion in the Facebook algorithm, meaning your page is not suggested to the right audience. If you really want to explore your page, I highly recommend Rachel Miller’s Facebook Growth Strategies… you will learn loads from the free facebook group and the paid course is the bomb!
- Pinterest is where 70% of Twin Pickle traffic comes from. This is most likely because I spent a lot of time at the end of last year perfecting my profile and joining many group boards. I also use Tailwind to automatically pin for me throughout the day. It’s a subscription but they have a free trial. The key to Pinterest is to pin a lot (50+ pins a day), so being organized about it is crucial. You can pin the same pin to multiple boards, but don’t do it all at once, spread your pinning out, and pin other people’s content too. Make your account a business account (this is easy and free) and activate ‘rich pins’. This, along with a high rate of pinning will trigger Pinterest to start increasing the visibility of your pins to others. Pins need to be long in shape and pretty – I use Canva to make mine – it’s free. I have a whole post on Pinterest Group Boards… they are key!
- Instagram is all about pretty. Brush up on your photography skills and post regularly. One quality photo a day with the right hashtags will soon get you followers, and if you let people know you have just published a new blog post, some will come on over for a read. You can’t post links directly on the image, but you can tell people the link is in your bio. You are allowed to use a maximum of 30 hashtags per post and I would recommend using a lot. You don’t have to post them in the main text, you can add a comment once you’ve posted with your list of chosen hashtags. Use popular hashtags that you can reuse for many posts, that way you can just copy and paste instead of coming up with thirty unique ones everyday. #love #photooftheday #momlife #candidchildhood are all favorites of mine.
The Blogging Community
The blogging community is a very friendly place. There are so many opportunities to build confidence and get advice from other bloggers more experienced than yourself. Here are just a few ways you can boost traffic and engagement by interacting with other bloggers:
- Facebook groups are an endless source of support. Join a few, and use them to ask questions and share blog posts. Many groups run daily threads for blog or social media posts, where you comment on a post and someone else will comment on yours. This may seem like false traffic, but if a visitor likes what they read they may well sign-up for whatever you’re offering. And while you may only have 300 twitter followers, you can easily get your post retweeted by someone with 10,000 followers. My traffic got a huge boost once I started participating in group threads. I am a member of a few groups including the large ‘Grow Your Blog‘ group and the small but marvelous ‘Tribal Chat‘. Another of my favorites is ‘Growing Social Media for Bloggers‘.
- Linkies are perfect for the new blogger because you find friends and build a real sense of community. A ‘linky’ or ‘link-up party’ is a regular feature run by a blogger where you can upload your post onto their site. There will be rules about participation, such as “comment on the hosts’ posts and the one before yours”, the idea being that everyone gets some engagement on their site. One of my fave linkies is #SharingtheBlogLove.
- Guest posting on other blogs is a great way to increase the visibility of your site. Guest bloggers are usually given the opportunity to leave a bio at the bottom of the post, linking back to their site. Large sites like Scary Mommy allow contributors but the competition is tough. I’m not suggesting you don’t pitch to the big sites, but I would also seek out smaller blogs which are looking for guest writers too. If there’s a blog in your niche that you absolutely love, just drop them an email to see if they’re interested. I hosting one from another blogger a while back because she had experience with the NICU that I didn’t.
Monetizing your Blog
Many people blog for fun, many people blog for money. Most are somewhere in-between, like me. I started the blog because, as a SAHM I was missing the intellectual challenge of my previous job, and I found writing helped to keep me thinking. I also missed not having my own income, and enjoy the idea of working on a project that brings me a little spending money. Here are some ways to monetize your blog:
I’m sure you have clicked on many affiliate links in the past without even realizing it. Such a link is usually just a normal text link, highlighted in the usual way within the body of text. Affiliate links can also exist in images. These links will take the reader to a shopping site or service provider in the same way a normal link would. The difference is, if the reader buys something, the blog it came from gets paid. Sometimes this is a percentage of the sale, sometimes it’s a fixed fee.
If you are using affiliates link you must let your readers know. I highlighed that this post contains affiliate links at the top of the post, and I have a disclosure featured in my footer. Some businesses and shops such as Amazon have their own affiliate programs, others use network sites such as shareasale.com. They don’t cost anything to join, and you might make a little money off links you were going to include anyway!
Many bloggers dream of kicking back with Pina Coladas while their site ticks away, bringing in money from adverts. Google Adsense is the most common way to monetize through advertising – you know those ads that seem to know what you’ve been looking for? That’s because you’ve been googling and Adsense is always taking notes… Although it might sound like easy money, here’s a few words of warning about advertising:
- Ads don’t look great, and can be irritating for readers. We are all used to seeing a few here and there, but if a site is full of pop ups, banners and those awful click though scroll boxes, you may lose visitors.
- You need a lot of traffic to make money off ads. The click-through-rate (CTR) for ads will depend on your niche. Ads do well on websites about insurance and finance for example, and not so well on lifestyle blogs. An average CTR is 0.1%, meaning you can expect a click on an ad for every 1000 visitors; and depending on how Google ranks your site, you may get $0.50 for that single click.
- You do not control the content of Adsense. Because the ad box is catered to the reader viewing is, you have no idea what it being advertised on your site.
A sponsored post is one that has been written to promote a certain product or service. You as the writer are compensated in some way for writing a review or recommendation. Of course, I would not suggest you recommend any product you do not genuinely believe in, so do pick your sponsors carefully. Once your blog has been up and running for a while, you may find companies start to contact you asking for you to write sponsored posts. Often bloggers are insulted they are only offered free products instead of hard cash, but remember that we all have to start somewhere, and once you get the hang of sponsored posts, the paid jobs will come. Sponsors will pay anything from $50-$1000’s, depending on a number of factors, including:
- How many visitors a month your site gets (5,000+ a month is good, 10,000+ a month is better, Twin Pickle is up to 20K these days, wahoo!)
- Your Domain Authority (DA) Score (20+ you’ll start getting interest, 25+ people may start paying)
- Your engagement with social media, including your Klout score (50+ is good, 60+ is great)
- The overall look and content of your site;
The last one should not be overlooked… you may feel deflated by your numbers, but if a company like your blog they will want to collaborate. Offers may come to you, but don’t be shy about approaching companies you’re interested in either. It helps if you’ve already mentioned them in the past and you can send them a link to such a post.
There are a few influencer marketing companies you can register with directly, creating an account that makes you visible to companies looking for bloggers and social influencers. I am a fan of Linqia because they work with a huge range of companies, and are extremely professional to work with. Linqia works on a pay-per-click basis, although I have received fixed fees for video posts.
Selling Products or Services
If you have a product or a skill that can be marketed, this may be the path for you. You can set up a shop directly on your blog, although it may be easier to link through to an Etsy or Zazzle store. Maybe your graphic design skills are wondrous, and you want to sell custom logos or letterheads? Maybe you’re a crafting queen and want to make DIY snow globe kits? Maybe you want to offer a Virtual Assistant service? The possibilities are endless…
EDIT: Since writing this post I have started a whole new blog just for blogging advice and support. Find it here at bloggingfundamentals.com