I have now been blogging since January 1st, 2016, (4 solid months) and have a few items to share with anyone who is just as new to blogging as I am, or who is thinking about taking the leap and begin blogging. I can't even begin to tell you how many articles I read at the beginning, writing tidbits from items that everyone else suggested. I felt like I was constantly on Pinterest researching this topic!
A lot of bloggers post their earnings reports and you think, "Holy crap, people can seriously make $10,000 and more per month blogging?!" Those numbers got me thinking blogging would be a great way to earn some income while I was currently not working, but that isn't the case! You know the little warning the profitable bloggers share: "Results are not typical" or "I've been doing this for 5 years and it has involved a lot of blood, sweat, and tears!," well, I believe it. You might get there much quicker if you have products to sell, write e-books through amazon, offer classes to help others, or partner up with a successful blogger and promote their services for a referral bonus. I guess I'm doing it the old fashioned way, as I don't offer any of those, so I will be relying on page views from a growing audience.
What I've Learned So Far
1. Find your niche - Successful bloggers share this, and I believe it's true. I began my blog thinking I would focus on camping location reviews and camping tips, but now that I am 8 months pregnant we haven't camped at all this year so far, which left me with no new content. I also realized I liked writing about DIY projects and remodeling tips, recipes I enjoy making, and of course, sharing my experiences raising my toddler and soon-to-be newborn. I morphed into more of a lifestyle blogger, but it really is important to narrow down a topic you are passionate about so you have somewhere to begin. Then you can expand into other niches once you have a routine down.
2. Choose a blogging platform - Now we are getting technical.... I researched platforms and it seemed WordPress was the most popular among bloggers because it had more flexibility for customization and could be "free" if you didn't get all fancy. There is going to be a big learning curve no matter which platform you choose, though. But the more I researched WordPress, the more I found that the things I would want to add on my website would start adding up, "nickle and diming me," plus, I found that if you just went with generic web templates you were more prone to being hacked. So once you add up purchases like domain names, improved templates, etc., it truly didn't end up being free and you would still need to build it all. Since I wanted to focus more on writing content and learning blogging techniques, I opted to use Squarespace instead after a developer friend gave me pro's and con's about both platforms.
I chose Squarespace because you could start a free trial with no credit card (very uncommon nowadays!), they already had pre-built templates, their help desk has been great and they have a large set of FAQs. You lose some flexibility but overall I am still very satisfied with my choice, as my website is fresh and clean and does not come across as cluttered or "spammy". Just make sure you put some time into researching your options and don't get lured in by the "special deals for almost no money at all" things you see online for new websites, because remember that they will make their money somehow!
3. Advertising - Let's talk some about some potential revenue opportunities! Many advertising companies require you to have a certain amount of followers before they are interested in working with you. Some bloggers say wait 6 months and focus on building your content, others say jump on right away. I'm somewhere in the middle, and only have experience really with Google Adsense and Amazon Associates.
Google Adsense: I would say yes, go ahead and set up your account since this is a free service. Google Adsense gives you a little control on the ad topics and the style, meaning you can choose which types of ads to ban (like dating or financial ads) so that they match your audience more. Adsense is supposed to pick up key words in your post and pull the appropriate targeted ad, and when your viewers click on the ads you get some money. There is no harm to start working on learning this platform and testing it out on your posts prior to having a large following, plus you may get lucky and have a post that goes viral early on! My recommendation is to make sure you create a new ad each time, meaning if you are writing a post about cookies and you want to have 3 ads (that's the max) in that post, create 3 separate ads and name them appropriately: Cookie ad #1, Cookie ad #2, etc. This will help you track which ads are truly successful or not. I made the mistake of reusing some ads so I don't really know which article is getting the successful clicks. Note: As of today, I still have not made any money with Adsense but I could see how this will be possible over time with more page views. I am only using Adsense ads in this post.
Amazon Associates: This is also a free platform to earn money because you can generate links to products, like gift cards or a specific product, and when readers click on the link and purchase the item you get a referral payment. Unless you have an e-book, or specific product that you feel will sell quickly, I would recommend waiting to set this up. If you do not get a referral sale withing 180 days of signup, you get a lovely email letting you know your account will be cancelled and you will have to reapply, meaning any effort you put into building the associate ads will go down the drain! Use your own discretion here, though!
One quick bit of advice on ads...... although its an opportunity to make some money, don't go crazy with them! I do a lot of mobile reading through Pinterest, and sometimes I really want to read an add but there are so many pop ups, banners at the top and/or bottom, "join my mailing list" flags that sometimes you can't close, just so much spam that you can't even read the content and I get so frustrated I leave the website! I guess that's another perk of Squarespace they try to keep your site from getting too spammy so that it continues to be SEO optimized and not flagged with Google.
4. Social Media - Social media is a great way to expose your content, so when you set up your site, go ahead and snag accounts with a matching username for all of the big players, even if you don't plan on using them right away. Once you get comfortable, you will naturally progress to promoting your content on different social media platforms. Squarespace can automatically share your posts on places like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc, but I also snagged a Google+ and Instagram account although I currently do nothing with them. Right now most of my website traffic comes from Pinterest, as I finally started doing some networking and joined a couple group boards, joined the Pinterest Weekly Game, and joined a couple Facebook groups that promote your Pinterest Pins. There's a lot to learn, but so many online resources that you will figure it out!
5. Google Analytics - Another free resource, and this one will give you your website statistics on traffic, devices used, times of day your page is visited, where your readers are from, etc. They have an app for Apple users as well. I have mine set up to show monthly stats compared to the previous month, so at the beginning of each month it looks bad but I'm more interested in the monthly totals at the end to see how my page views are growing. Warning..... at first you may become obsessed looking and watching your growth (or lack there of!) like I was, but soon I learned I was just wasting my time and I should have been writing posts instead!
Did You Learn Anything New?
I know this doesn't nearly cover everything needed to be a successful blogger, but I think this is a great beginners list as I look back on my own experiences. There is SO much more to take into consideration, like how to get quality images, how to make vertical images for Pinterest (I don't do this), setting up options to join your mailing list..... and the list goes on! Like I said before, there are so many resources out there on how "to be" a blogger, but my best advice is to be YOU! Don't try to be like another blogger that is completely successful financially as the same may not happen for you (or me!). Also, read a variety of articles on the same topic you are researching so you can gain different perspectives and decide what fits you and your goals. Best of luck in your writing adventures!
Do you have any tips or experiences you'd like to share about blogging? Please comment below!