How to Start a Successful Blog That Earns Links, Traffic and Revenue

A blog is one of the best ways to let the world know your idea or your product or services exists. In fact, each year, writers, thought leaders, small business owners and sundry other creatives credit creating a blog with helping their brand get noticed. So, yes, you need a blog. 

The challenge for many people revolves around the question of “How do I start a blog?” You’re in luck. After reading this in-depth, actionable how-to guide, you’ll not only know how to create a blog, you’ll also know how to create a blog that earns brand affinity, traffic and, if desired, revenue. The best part is that starting a successful blog is far easier than you think. Let’s get started.

What’s the Best CMS for Starting Your First Blog?

There are literally thousands of content management systems (CMS) to use for starting a blog, with more coming online each year. Each has their own pluses and minuses, with several specializing in making it as fast and as easy as possible for you to get up and running. The plethora of selections can lead to confusion and anxiety. The question you have to ask yourself is “What’s the most trusted, most reliable option?” The answer is simple: WordPress. Year after year, WordPress retains the title of being the most popular CMS in the world and is currently used by more than 43% of all websites. 

Data courtesy of W3Techs

It’s little surprise that WordPress is the most popular platform, too. Not only is it beginner-friendly, but it’s easy to get up and running quickly, whether for an ecom store, a blog or just a place to share your creativity through design, images, video, etc. Additionally, no platform is as customizable as WordPress, for it has myriad free themes and plugins, making it fast, easy and affordable.

Now that the choice of CMS is clear, the next step is to choose between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Both offer all of the same great benefits. It simply comes down to your specific needs. 

Understanding WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org

WordPress.org is for those who plan to self-host their own site. You download the free WordPress software, install it on your hosted server, select a theme, add any plugins you want, and then you’re basically done. While a number of website hosting companies provide one-click installation, hosting your own site does require a degree of technical acumen, making it best suited for those with a design and development background, or a working knowledge of either or both. 

However, WordPress.com takes all the heavy lifting off your plate, allowing you to get up and running in minutes. There is no software to download, no hosting to pay for, and no servers to manage—making it an excellent choice for bloggers, service providers, designers, restaurant owners, or anyone else who wants to publish content without the hassle of managing the technical aspects of a website. 

How to Choose The Best WordPress.Com Hosting Plan

You can publish a website for free on WordPress.com, but there are paid upgrades available to help you take things to a whole new level.

There are two options: WordPress.com Starter and WordPress.com Pro

WordPress.com Starter

WordPress.com Starter gives you the essentials plus some extras to help your site start its journey off right. Starter unlocks custom domains, a boost in storage to 6GB, a simple payments system so you can start earning, and an integration with Google Analytics. At just $5/month, you can begin your journey, knowing that you can always grow with WordPress.com’s plugin-enabled plan, whenever you’re ready.

WordPress.com Pro

With WordPress.com Pro, you get 50G of storage, unlimited plugins, premium support (email or live chat), premium themes, WooCommerce, the removal of ads, and much, much more. And, at $15 monthly, it’s a whole lot cheaper than paying for web hosting and retaining a site administrator, which can be many multiples in price. WordPress.com Pro is the inexpensive option most bloggers and online store owners have been clamoring for. It provides all the features and benefits, but requires little effort.

Choose a Domain and Blog Name

Once you’ve selected a place to host your site, the next big, important choice is to choose a domain and a blog name.  A domain is what appears in search field, also known as a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). This is what people use to find your site and how Google and other search engines will find, list and crawl your site. 

With WordPress.com, you can do a domain search from the CMS, as you set up your site. You can try out different names to see if they are already taken, but you can also see how the name looks as part of a URL as well. (Many names sound good but look wonky when placed inside the https://www.example.com) structure. Another benefit of searching for a domain is taking the time to think about what your site will be called.

While choosing a name for your blog can seem arduous, it needn’t be so, provided you keep three key elements in mind:

  • Make It Obvious: The name of your blog should make it obvious what your site is about and what information you’ll be sharing. Yes, there are exceptions, including Google.com and Southwest.com, but assuming you aren’t a multi-billion dollar brand, your blog’s name will matter greatly for gaining attention, building trust and authority.

    For example, a Denver area candy shop might well go with Denvercandies.com; a blogger or personal consultant might use their name to further establish their brand (e.g., randynelson.com); and a mom-and-pop tackle store in Denver City, Iowa, might go with denvercitybaitandtackle.com.)
  • Make It Memorable: Take some time to think of the associations you want visitors to have with your brand via your site. It could be your name, a product or something else noteworthy, like a location or a service.
  • Make It Relevant: As tempted as you might be to use your name for the blog name, consider how relevant your name is to what the site serves up for content. michaelwhite.com might be great if you’re famous, but it’s likely a bad idea for a name otherwise. Something along the lines of michaelwhiterealty.com would be better, more relevant.  

One other word of advice regarding your blog’s name, don’t overthink it. Once you ensure the name is obvious, relevant, and meaningful, your work is done. 

Select The Best WordPress.Com Theme

Think of your website’s theme as its facade, as it will convey to visitors the image you wish to portray. The theme is what makes for the look and feel of your WordPress.com. You select a theme right from the dashboard. You’ll find dozens of themes options to choose from. (Keep in mind that you get unlimited themes with a WordPress Pro account. In fact, with a Pro account, you can also add a custom theme.)

Scroll through the themes until you find one that suits your site. Then click on the theme to activate it. Now you’re ready to start customizing it, adding colors, text, images, etc.

Choose Your Blog Categories

One of the most aggravating experiences of reading blogs is finding a post or item but finding it difficult to locate similar items on the site. This creates a poor user experience, often leading to Web visitors leaving the site before they’ve found what they are looking for, which has the added effect of leading Google to see your location on the Web as less than ideal for information on the topic. That’s where blog categories come into play. When you add categories to your menu, you’re able to tag similar content under the same umbrella, making the information easier to find. 

Add A Menu To Help Visitors Navigate Your Site

The menu acts as directions for your blog, making visitors aware of where to go and what they should expect to find. A clear, well-thought-out menu also has the benefit of leading visitors to your site’s most important pages. 

Before designing a menu, take some time to think of the pages you have on the site, or will have on the site, and the posts you’ll create on an ongoing basis. How would visitors who land on your site find those pages and/or posts? Though there are a number of ways to set up the menu on your site, the key is to spend some time thinking of how your site is structured, what you’ll name each category, and what you can do to make it as easy as possible for readers to uncover your content.

Get A Logo For Your Site

One way to make your site distinctive is by adding a logo. An impressive, eye-catching logo can make people stop and pay attention. One thing to keep in mind: Don’t get too creative. Make it simple, easy-to-read and understand. Your time is better spent focused on the content your blog will share. Another benefit of using WordPress.com is the ability to easily create a logo using the platform’s Fiverr Logo Integration, making it possible to create a logo while setting up your site.

Creating A Blog Content Strategy

What do you want to write about? Sounds simple enough, but in reality, writing one-off, disjointed, infrequent blog posts leads to lackluster (if you’re lucky) results. Take the time to create a content strategy for your blog. 

A simple but effective strategy many successful blogs employ is the what-who-why method. That is…

  • What topic will you consistently share information about?  
  • Who is the audience that cares about and consumes this information? 
  • And why should they care about your information on the topic?

Let’s break this down a little further using the example of a plumbing company blog. 

  • What: Jim Smith’s family-owned plumbing company shares how-to information covering simple plumbing fixes for do-it-yourselfers.
  • Who Cares: Budget-conscious homeowners
  • Why Is Your Information Important: You started your business as a low-cost alternative to high-priced plumbing companies

Immediately, you can see that the ethos of the brand likely appeals to to several audience segments:

  • First-time homebuyers
  • The elderly or those on a fixed income
  • DIY-ers
  • People who feel it’s important to support small businesses

Now that you better understand the audiences your content will likely serve, the next step is to consider the ideal format for your content. For example, for DIY-ers and first-time homebuyers, vlogs might be a good idea, while blog posts could likely cover the entirety of the audience. The main point of developing a content strategy is it helps order your steps:

  • You’re clear on what content to share on a consistent basis, 
  • You understand who the audience is and why they care, and
  • You understand the unique place your brand occupies in the space.

Generate Your First Topics in 30 Minutes

You know your business, you know what you want to write about, and you know the audience you want to write to. But how do you come up with ideas for what to write?

When you’re starting a blog, the best path is keeping it simple: Think about the biggest challenges faced by your audience. Then think, “How can I take their pain away?” For example, if you’re a mommy blogger who wants to help young mothers feel less guilty for going back to work, share your struggles, your successes and your learnings. You could spend 30 minutes on the weekend thinking of ideas under the buckets “struggles,” “successes,” and “learnings,” and have enough ideas for a week or two. And, if you’re concerned some of the ideas don’t seem relatable or interesting, use a grading system: 1 for great, 2 for OK, and three for discard. 

Create a Simple Editorial Calendar

An editorial calendar not only helps you get your ideas down on paper, but it also gives you a level of accountability, which is needed to sustain a successful blog. You’ll need to produce content with a consistent cadence—daily or weekly, for example—to get web visitors to return to your site. There is no magical number of blog posts to create each week or month; the best idea is to create content as often as you can while maintaining the quality you hope to reproduce consistently.

There are lots of editorial calendar templates online, but many bloggers use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to create a barebones template that’s easy to visualize and simple to manage. Over time, as your blog has been live for a while, you can invest in a fancier template or process. There is no need to do that at the outset, however.

As an added measure of accountability, you could also create an event on your calendar to remind you of the publishing date and time for your blog post.

Write Your First Blog Post

While you know generically what topic you want to write about, you need to know if people care about the specific area of the topic you plan to write about. For that, you need to do a little keyword research

Google Trends shares the interest over time of topics. Simply plug in the generic terms you wish to write about and you’ll see how searches of the topic have increased or decreased over a predetermined timeframe.

For more specific information, Ahref’s Keyword Generator shares keyword difficulty (that is, how difficult it would be to rank for the terms) and the volume of searches. (The tool gives you 10 results for free.) What you really care about is volume, which provides an estimate of how people are searching for the terms. Don’t worry about low volume numbers; it also likely means there is less competition for the terms.

Now that you know what to write about, who to write to, and that there is interest in the topic, the next step is to start writing. Well, almost.

Create an Outline

An outline provides you with a template to guide your writing. Don’t start writing without it. You’ve likely seen the template used by many newspapers:

  • Most important information
  • Important information
  • Additional information

Writing for the Web is similar, but with a few slight variations:

  • Most important detail
  • Important details
    • Supporting facts and data
    • Supporting facts and data
    • Supporting facts and data
  • Important details
    • Supporting facts and data
    • Supporting facts and data
    • Supporting facts and data
  • Summary/ending/conclusion

Because we are looking for search engines to help crawl, uncover and serve our data to would-be readers of our blog, we use headers (e.g., H1, H2, etc.) to highlight the most important information. A mommy blogger writing about overcoming struggles related to going back to work, might structure an outline this way:

  • Intro/Title: How I let go of my guilt and found happiness in returning to work
  • Heading No. 1 – I prioritized my happiness
    • Subheading No. 1 – I stopped feeling guilty
    • Subheading No. 2 – I cooked meals on the weekends
    • Subheading No. 3 – I asked my spouse for support
  • Heading No. 2 – My kids are happier
    • Subheading No. 1 – They need time with friends
    • Subheading No. 2 – They’re more independent
    • Subheading No. 3 – They get more time with Dad
  • Conclusion 

By taking 15-20 minutes to create an outline for each post, you’ll save yourself untold hours of procrastination, overthinking, and rewriting. Outlining cuts through the clutter and makes it easier to publish more consistently. 

How to Increase Traffic to Your Blog

Once you’ve created a blog post, then it’s time to help it get found on the Web. There are a number of simple but effective steps for ensuring that search engines and web searches find your site.

  • Optimize your blog posts for SEO: Every successful blog owner hears the words “write for humans.” This means expressing ideas clearly and thoroughly, and structuring the information in a way that ensures it gets read. The second part of “write for humans, however, is “and for machines,” as in search engines. Search engines, as mentioned earlier, help uncover your content, ensuring your site has the ability to show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs). That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. Basically, SEO refers to methods used to help improve your site’s visibility, including using title tags, meta descriptions, and proper keywords. Additionally, WordPress.com users with plugin-compatible plans can access and install dozens of SEO plugins, including the Rank Math or Yoast SEO plugins, which makes it easy to keep track of keywords, content quality, and meta descriptions for each post.
  • Write great headlines that include your main keyword and add heading tags (H2, H3, etc.) with secondary and tertiary keywords. This tells search engines and readers what each section is about and makes it easier for readers to consume the content. Also, make certain to include descriptive file names and alt text on images. Alt text and descriptive file name helps search engines find and share your images. 
  • Share blog posts on social media to ensure they get seen. It takes time for a website to generate organic traffic. By sharing your posts on various social channels, you increase the likelihood that people visit your site and return in the future.
  • Start an email list to share new blog posts and to foster greater communication with your audience. People who sign up to receive your emails are expressing a heightened level of interest in your brand. Make them feel special by creating a compelling thank you email for all new signups and invite them to comment, like and share your posts.
  • Reaching out to other bloggers in your niche might seem a little awkward at first, but consider that blogs thrive when they are part of a community. Look for other bloggers in your niche and reach out to them via email to say hello. Better yet, read their blog and comment from time to time. They will likely be open to sharing ideas and collaborating. 

How to Monetize Your Blog

Once you have your strategy nailed down, have a steady posting cadence, and have a nice base of frequent readers, it’s time to consider ways to monetize your blog. 

Here’s a few tips for specialized blog verticals.

A food blogger might consider running affiliate ads for products sold on the site, become a brand ambassador for a line of products, create recipes using sponsored products, write a cookbook, or sell classes online, to name just a few options.

A travel blogger could sell their favorite products through affiliate links on their site, use their favorite brands’ products in social media posts or onsite videos, or create their own line of travel products.

A sports blogger has a host of interesting monetization options open to them as well, including the sales of merchandise, offering exclusive content or becoming a brand ambassador for their favorite team or apparel/gear brand.

If your blog doesn’t fit into any of those categories, you’re in good company. Most blogs are unique in some way, but they all have some things in common, including the ability to be monetized.

Some options include, but are not limited to:

  • Advertising: Your site isn’t just a useful vehicle for others to advertise their products; you can advertise your brand as well, especially on social media, which can be great for generating traffic back to the site. This can aid in the reading of your content, increases the likelihood of people clicking affiliate links, and makes it possible for you to sell your site to brands because of the added reach.
  • Affiliate Marketing: You can use your site to sell products by affiliate links, which can be tracked via special codes in the URL. 
  • Memberships / Subscriptions: Selling subscriptions or memberships can be very beneficial for sites with a significant number of active members. You can charge for premium, membership-only content
  • Sponsored Posts: Blogs with significant traffic are great vehicles for brands to use for sponsored posts. Even large brands have been known to reach out to bloggers with significant traffic to ask about sharing, creating or collaborating on sponsored posts.
  • eBooks: If you’re a blogger, it makes sense to package some of your posts to offer for sale as ebooks. This can help you get the blog in front of a new audience and become a revenue generator.
  • Selling physical products: If your blog sells any physical products—be it bait and tackle, jewelry, food, etc.—there is no reason for you to refrain from using WooCommerce, which makes selling on any website seamless.

Summary

The information in the guide places you in a great position to start and manage a successful WordPress.com blog. Get started today and you’ll be up and running in a few hours, ready to share your ideas with the world.


Your Site. Your Content.

With WordPress.com, you always own your content. No lock-in. Export it any time. Wherever life takes you, your content follows.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ronell Smith

Ronell Smith is a digital marketing strategist helping brands do amazing things with content, including grow their audience, increase qualified web traffic to their websites and outwit the competition. He has extensive experience with enterprise and small business content strategy, having worked with household names, including ESPN, HubSpot, Moz, WordPress, CMXHub, and numerous others. Currently, his mission is to grow brands who recognize the value of creating a best-in-class content experience, one that creates trust, authority, customer love and, of course, revenue. When he’s not writing or coaching clients, he can usually be found reading, exercising or annoying his two beautiful daughters.

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