Starting a blog isn't very hard.
Visit WordPress.com or Blogger.com. You can setup a blog for free and begin blogging. This is perfect if you want to simply share your personal experiences with friends and family. This works for millions of people.
But wait! Don't visit those sites! (I don't think that is what you want.)
An income blog is different than a personal one.
To make money with your blog, you need to setup the right platform.
Is this Income Blog Mini Course For You?
If you want to make money with your blog and are ready to invest in it, then this mini course is for you.
You will need to invest both time and money in your new business.
While it isn't expensive, blogging is like any other business: you will have to spend some money to create the platform where you can really begin making money. So much of any business is trial and error. Suppliers, customer segments, marketing and products are tried and adjusted as required. Wouldn't it be great to know the recipe to building your business?
We've been blogging for many years and I've spent thousands of dollars on training, themes, plugins and online services. Some worked – others not at all.
In this short course you’ll get my recipe – a cheat-sheet of the products, services and training that I both use and would buy again – if I had to start over. Are you ready? Let's get started!
The course is broken into 2 sections:
- The Short Version: What you need to know to start right now. It is what we are currently using to run our sites.
- The Long (Detailed) Version: If you want to understand specifics and your other options then this will be perfect for you.
The Short Version: Cheat Sheet
If you don’t want all the explanation and just want to buy/download the stuff and get started, this first part is for you. Some of these suggestion are premium while others are inexpensive, even free. These are the actual tools and services we use to run our business. If you would like other options, see the long version below.
- Choose your blog niche: Before you buy, register or do anything else, read this post about your blog niche. If you already know your topic, move to step 2.
- Buy your domain name: Visit GoDaddy and purchase your domain name. Choose a minimum term of 5 years with private registration. If you aren't sure of which domain name to choose, learn more about choosing a domain name. Cost: $75 (roughly)
- Buy your hosting: Go to HostGator and purchase the Baby Plan on a one year contract. Cost: $95.52
- Buy Thesis: Go to DIYThemes and purchase Thesis Professional. Cost: $197
- Choose your Thesis skin: either use the basic free skin included or choose from one of these Thesis skin designers: Themedy, Thesis Awesome or Kolakube. Cost: Free – $67
- Buy these plug-ins: Optin Skin $67 (list building), BlogVault $9 / month (site backup), Easy Redirect Script $77 (affiliate link management).
- Signup with Aweber: Visit Aweber (email marketing) and sign up for the $1 trial account. After the first month, Cost: $19 per month
- Order these books: The Four Hour Workweek, Attention! This Book Will Make You Money and Bloggers Boot Camp and read them over the next 4-6 weeks.
Share this post: If you have found this to be useful, please take a minute to share the link with a friend or colleague – it may be just what they need.
Looking for more detail? Below the image is the detailed course. Remember – there are free/inexpensive and premium ways to do almost every step. Just choose the combination that's right for your blog.
See the full set of tools and services we use to run our business in our Blogging Resources.
Start an Income Blog: The Long Version
In this course, you’ll learn the following:
- Blogging Overview: Learn about choosing your blog niche, blogging frequency, monetization and commenting systems
- How to buy your blog hosting
- How to choose your WordPress theme
- Which plugins you should use
- How to build your email list – and why you need one
- How to track your progress
- Additional reading and reference
1) Blogging Overview
In this section, you’ll learn some of the basics of blogging, such as choosing your blog niche, blogging frequency, monetization and commenting systems. If you want to get to the tools, skip ahead to section 2.
Choosing a Blog Niche
Choose narrow and own it. When we started our first blog, we were super general (destination-ecuador.com) and planned on covering everything about Ecuador. And in a very sterile way. After reading the book Attention! we changed both our name and our approach. We re-branded our site to GringosAbroad and made it a family travel/expat blog. We wrote from our own experiences – with personality, and people loved it! While we had trouble attracting attention to our first site – the adjusted site is now the most popular English language travel / expat site in the country.
Blogs are popular because they aren't sterile corporate-speak. Write about what’s important to you, with your emotion and humor. People will be able to relate to you and you’ll build a loyal community.
Further reading: How to determine your blog niche.
Some of the popular blogging books and bloggers advocate posting a minimum of once per day. Recently there has been a shift in that mindset. Publishing everyday (or even multiple times per day) puts the focus on volume.
Quality will suffer – eventually – at such a high rate. When we first started, we published 5-6 times per week. Recently I had to go back through those older posts and delete dozens of them – the quality just wasn't there.
Instead of focusing on the number of posts – focus on helping people.
Address a concern or question that is common among your readers (or one you imagine will be) and solve it. Tell them the issues involved and what they need to consider. Include video tutorials, links and clear photos. Many bloggers aim for 400-600 word posts. Instead, you should aim for 1000-3000 words. Make it epic. Readers will become advocates for your site and it will be shared socially. Create a huge set of these types of posts and your site will quickly become an authority in its niche.
Of course, there is a minimum posting frequency that you should follow. We aim to publish a minimum of 3-4 times per month – once every 7-10 days. We follow this minimum even when we are traveling, working on another project or on vacation. Once you establish a pattern, its important to stick to it – your readers will expect that of you. There is nothing more disappointing than finding a blog that answers your questions – and then noticing that they haven't updated in months.
A blog without recent posts is a dead blog.
While many people start a blog with the intention of selling a specific product, there is a better way. Begin blogging and build your community first.
Community building includes more than getting traffic. Interact and build a following across social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc) and your email list.
Once you have a group of people who trust and respect you, you’ll learn what interests and troubles them. You’ll be in a position to create an educational product (e-book, course, consulting) that will be just what they are looking for.
Remember: build an audience then find a way to monetize it. If your niche is well chosen, you won’t have any trouble.
Further reading: How we make money with our travel blog
I have experimented with the top three systems (Disqus, Livefyre and IntenseDebate) and I dislike them all. They frequently have errors and functional issues. And while they generally don’t require users to register to leave a comment – their format can confuse and frustrate commenters. Unless one of these commenting systems has become the standard in your industry, I recommend not using any of them.
The alternative to these systems is the already-installed WordPress commenting system. Because it is part of WordPress it always works. There is never a need to log-in or connect-with-Facebook so it increases the level of interaction. There are four simple fields: name, email, website (optional) and comment. There are plugins that add more options (social sharing, subscription, etc) to the comments. The only one I use is Subscribe to Comments (see more in the Plugin section).
2) Purchase Your Hosting
I've hosted with many different companies. The one that I recommend is HostGator. As you get started you will need just their basic shared hosting plan. Their service is stable and their customer service knowledgeable. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal. I recommend the Baby Plan because you can host all your sites within the one hosting plan.
They offer three hosting plans:
- Hatchling Plan: One Domain, unlimited bandwidth and disk-space. Cost: $5.56/month with 1 year commitment.
- Baby Plan: Unlimited Domains, bandwidth and disk-space. Cost: $7.96/month with 1 year commitment.
- Business Plan: Same as Baby Plan (unlimited domains, bandwidth and disk-space) plus free Private SSL & IP and Toll Free Number. Cost: $11.96/month with 1 year commitment.
Pricing reduces even further with a two or three year commitment.
A key feature of HostGator is that you can start out with a very inexpensive, albeit powerful, hosting plan and then upgrade to either VPS or Dedicated hosting – without having to switch hosting companies.
HostGator offers a number of entry level packages at a very low cost. Their customer service is exceptional – both in terms of short wait times and in solving problems.
We also host two of our larger sites with MediaTemple – a cloud-based host. If you are just getting started, HostGator will be all you need.
Further reading: How to choose your blog hosting.
3) Choose Your WordPress Theme
There are three options (aside from designing it yourself) for WordPress themes.
- Free Themes: WordPress provides free themes (Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven and Twenty Twelve) that come as part of your WordPress installation. They load fast and work smooth. They are not very easy to customize but might work for you if you are on a budget. You should consider upgrading to a more robust theme as your site grows. WooThemes – a low cost option – also offers 15+ free themes. They are worth checking out. If cost is a concern, I think a free WooTheme is your best option.
- Low-cost Themes: WooThemes is a favorite of mine. When I was getting started I used a number of WooThemes. They are produced by fluent English speakers (different from many of the lower cost themes) which means you’ll understand all the instructions. Sounds funny – but some of the other theme designs are frustrating to use because of poor English. WooThemes has a ton of theme options, and they offer a buy-1 get-2-more-for-free deal. It’s great if you are planning a couple of sites (or if you just can’t make up your mind). They also produce a set of eCommerce themes known as WooCommerce.
- Premium Theme: If you are serious about blogging and have a little money to invest – I recommend that you choose Thesis from the beginning. The Thesis framework isn't cheap. There are three options. You get the same framework with all options. The biggest difference is support. The less expensive option only gives you 12 months of upgrades. That means in a year from now, you’ll have to pay to get the latest version of the framework. With Thesis Professional you get lifetime access. You also get a couple of free skins with the two premium versions. Choose from Thesis Basic ($87), Thesis Basic Plus ($164) or Thesis Professional($197). You can use them on unlimited number of your own sites. In addition to the theme, you'll also need a skin – that you can get here: Themedy, Thesis Awesome or Kolakube. A free skin comes with the theme as well.
BryanHaines is powered by Thesis Professional.
What is a WordPress Theme?
The theme is what makes a WordPress installation look like “your site”. It takes the basic looking free theme and makes your site look like an authority. A theme gives your site/blog its appearance.
- WordPress is the back-end – it is a content management system (known as CMS).
- The theme/skin manages the front-end: the width, colors, fonts and function of your site.
A good theme will allow customizations so you can test conversion rates and increase page views (or whatever your desired action is). Free themes should be avoided. Low cost themes (under $50) have their place but I’ll never use them again. I've used a number of frameworks (Pagelines, Genesis and Thesis) and I feel strongly that only this level of theme should be used for your online business.
I've used dozens of premium themes. The one that I’m the most happy with is Thesis – it is the fastest and most stable framework that I've used. It’s design features are intuitive and there are many designers creating great skins (like a miniature theme) for it. In fact, the skin I’m using here is a modified version of a premium one I purchased. Some of the best Thesis skin designers: Themedy, Thesis Awesome or Kolakube.
Here is how WordPress / Thesis / Thesis Skins fit together:
- Install WordPress on your hosting server.
- Then, inside of WordPress dashboard install Thesis as a theme.
- Then, inside of your Thesis dashboard you can upload (and modify) your skin. It is kind of like a layer cake.
4) Required WordPress Plugins
WordPress plug-ins are small files / programs that install inside of your WordPress installation. They allow added function to your blog. Many plug-ins are marketing tools, to generate more page-views, improve site navigation or encourage social sharing.
Here are the plug-ins that we use on our blogs:
Free WordPress Plugins
- Jetpack Related Posts: This is a simple plugin that displays a set of photo/text links at the bottom of each post and/or page on your site. Because it displays contextually similar posts, this increases page views by more than 20% on my sites – and it creates a better user experience.
- Subscribe To Comments Reloaded: This free plugin is like having a secondary newsletter list. Here’s how it works: Readers can either subscribe to replies or new comments (or both) on a specific post. Every time someone else posts a comment, they get an email with a link back to the post. Not only is this good for traffic, it also creates a great user experience because they get updates on topics that interest them.
- Tweet Old Post: This free plugin connects your blog archives to Twitter and automatically tweets the links at a set interval. It is a great way to bring attention to past posts. You can add specific or category based #hashtags. It will build your Twitter following and bring a steady flow of traffic to your blog. Very customizable.
- Akismet: If you hate spam comments, you must use this one. You can sign-up for a free account and it blocks more than 99% of spam comments. In the past 2 years, this spam filter has blocked 48,561 spam comments on GringosAbroad (we have a respectable 4,663 real comments published). I can't even imagine sorting out that number of spam comments.
- Smart Archives Reloaded: This simple (and free) plugin generates an attractive archives (site map) for a blog. See it in action here. This is an important component of your site navigation.
- WordPress SEO: I don't pretend to understand the depth of SEO – but I do know a good plugin when I see it. This plugin doesn't affect page speed / load time but it does structure your posts (and site in general) in such a way to make it easier for search engines and search users to find your content. It manages the following: post titles and meta descriptions, canonical, breadcrumbs, permalink clean up, XML Sitemaps, RSS enhancements, edit your robots.txt and .htaccess, and clean up head section. Once setup, it manages these aspects automatically.
Premium WordPress Plugins
- Optin Skin: Increase your newsletter conversion rate with this powerful plugin that allows you to place sign-up forms all over your site. Above, below or inside of posts. The use of short-codes lets you insert a signup form inside of any page, post or sidebar. There are options to run A/B testing to determine the best signup form – both text, colors and images can be tested. Comes with a nice set of skins – that are customizable.
- BlogVault: This is a plugin that I can’t do without. It automatically backs-up and protects my sites. Every 24 hours a complete backup is generated and available for download. Every time I’m going to make updates or significant changes to a site, I log-in and generate a backup. If something goes wrong on what I’m doing, I can just restore it – and the tool restores the site as it was before I broke it. You never think about this until your site crashes – a necessary safety net.
- EasyRedirect Script: Creating clean affiliate links doesn’t have to be hard. A tool like Easy Redirect Script changes a link like this: http://nanacast.com/vp/100004/382460/ to one like this http://bryanhaines.com/ers Both go to the same place and we get affiliate commissions either way – but it sure looks better, doesn’t it? I can see click count and organize links by categories. And if the affiliate changes the coding in the future, I only need to update the change in the tool (it installs on your server, sort of like a WordPress install) and it updates all links – even if they are in an old email or even in a pdf file someone has stored on their computer.
- Popup Domination: This plugin consistently spiked new subscriber sign-ups by more than 400%. A/B testing helps determine which version works best for conversion and there is the option to limit on which page the popup will display. A powerful tool to build your list – and your community.
5) Email Marketing
Building an email list should be one of your principal objectives. Your email list is a tangible asset that needs to be cared for and grown.
Why is the Email Newsletter So Important?
Your email list is important because it gives you the ability to contact these readers again: every time you publish a new post, have some big news or release a new product.
These subscribers will become the core of your community – they have raised their hand and asked for you to contact them with your news and offers.
Who should you use to build your list?
I recommend AWeber. They are the best option that I've seen. Aweber offers a powerful auto-responder tool, newsletter creation tool, signup form tool, RSS to email, powerful analytics, high deliverability rate and subscriber segmenting. If you don't really understand what this all means, don't worry. With time, many of these tools will be useful to you. For now, just start with Aweber and learn their powerful tools as you go.
The first email marketing service I used was Constant Contact. And I would never have switched, except that they didn't allow multiple lists with unique branding. This became an issue because I wanted to use the one account to manage lists for different sites. They couldn't do it – I would have had to purchase multiple accounts. This wouldn't only be inconvenient – it would also be expensive. After sorting through a dozen options, I settled on Aweber. I currently have 5 email lists within the one account.
6) Track Your Progress: Analytics
There are a number of ways to track the progress and growth of your site. Here are the two that we use:
- Google Analytics: To use this free service, you'll need to sign-up for a free Google account. If you have a gmail email account you can use that. Then you will have to copy a small line of tracking code inside of your WordPress site. Many themes have a specific place to paste it. This is the most powerful analytics service that I've used – and it's free! You can track numbers of visitors, page-views and sources of traffic. Be warned: analytics can be addictive!
- Site Stats by JetPack: There is a free plug-in produced by WordPress.com called JetPack. This is a powerful set of tools – the best of which is Site Stats. I like this because it is inside of WordPress. While I check Google Analytics every week – I can keep on eye on actual site traffic right inside of the WordPress dashboard. Site Stats display the following charts: Referrers, top pages/posts, search engine terms and out-bound clicks. The “referrers” chart is important because you can see right away if another blog is linking to you – and you can both thank them and join the conversation on their site. This is even easier to setup than Google Analytics.
7) Additional Reading
Recommended Business Books and Training
- The Four Hour Workweek: This recent classic has come to define the lifestyle design movement. Tim Ferriss takes societies standards and turns them on their head. He covers lifestyle design for employees, business owners, singles and families.
- Empire Building Kit: This is one of the most comprehensive step-by-step guides to starting an online business. A full years worth of daily emails, plus case studies and action plans – this course is sure to help you go from wishing, to a functioning online business.
- Attention! This Book Will Make You Money: This is one of my favorite business books – and yet it reads more like advice from a good (expert) friend. Jim Kukral speaks from personal experience about topics ranging from idea generation and selling online to proper use of social media and powerful branding.
- Bloggers Boot Camp: Think you have what it takes to be a professional blogger? Long-time bloggers Charlie White (Mashable.com) and John Biggs (TechCrunch.com) give a glimpse into just what’s required to make a successful blog/business. They cover tools and tactics. Not all that deep, but definitely a solid introduction.
Recommended Travel and Expat Books
- The Family Sabbatical Handbook: If you are lacking the confidence to pull up your family and head to another country, then reading about these 16 families who have successfully done that will certainly help. The book covers families who have taken sabbaticals in Europe, China, Mexico and South America. Learn about how they made things work – everything from money and schooling to language and the reentry to their home country.
8) Other Blogging Considerations:
Writing a blog is simple. Running a profitable blog is something else entirely. If you follow the above seven steps, you’ll have a functioning and professional blog. Now you need to build an audience and begin building a community. As your community grows, so will your income.
Over the coming months, we'll be covering the following topics:
- Social media networks
- Build a blogging schedule
- Video blogging / marketing
- Guest blogging
- Effective outsourcing
- HTML for bloggers
- Image editing
- How to write a blog post
- Free sources of targeted website traffic
- SEO for bloggers
- Keeping it under control: Time management
- When to go pro
- Handling accounting and payments
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So there you have it. The basics to starting a successful income blog.
Questions or comments? Great! Please share them in the comment section below: