I still remember starting my first “real” blog in 2016. I was pretty clueless about everything, but as I began to do it, I started wondering how difficult is it to start a blog that makes money?
After a LOT of trial and error, I am now at a point where I know a thing or two. Here’s what I know worked for me, and could work for you:
Focus on content creation above all other priorities, avoid time-wasting activities like creating Facebook or Twitter pages, but do consider adding a YouTube and/or Pinterest account for your blog. Don’t pay for traffic or backlinks, but learn SEO and you can easily replace your full-time income within 2 years.
But there’s a WHOLE lot more to know about blogging, getting traffic, and monetizing that traffic. It’s not hard to start a blog that makes money but it’s not a quick process easier.
The good news is that IF you can get substantial traffic to your blog, there are a lot of different ways to make money.
So let’s dive in!
What do I need to start a blog to make money?
Honestly, the biggest thing you need to do is just start!
You can read all the blog posts you want, watch all those YouTube videos about how to make money online, or buy everybody’s course on blogging. But if you never start, all you will have done is waste time and money.
But I hear your concerns:
- I don’t have the time
- My job is crazy busy right now (but I’ll have more time in a few months)
- I just need a little more information
- I’m waiting until my writing skills are better
- I’m not very good at writing
Honestly, those are excuses.
Excuses come from our own fear and insecurity. But they also come from our own laziness and not wanting to step out of our comfort zone.
I wish I could tell you some secret that will instantly make you money online tomorrow. But I’ll leave that to all those YouTube people with the big homes and fancy cars.
No. If you want to build a successful business online and quit your job, you’re looking at 1-2 years to get there. And that’s if you really work hard, avoid a lot of the mistakes I made, and are laser-focused.
But you also have to want your goal more than you like being comfortable.
By that I mean my alarm goes off almost every day at 4:15 am. I don’t enjoy getting up that early, and I look forward to the day when I don’t have to. But to make it happen, I need a little time every day before my family wakes up and before work.
So what do you need to do to start a blog that makes money?
Here are the basic steps and then we’ll break it down in greater detail below:
- Pick a niche to make your blog about (something you have knowledge and passion about, but you don’t have to be an expert).
- Start a website (follow my detailed step-by-step guide. Just click to see it on my site)
- Learn the basics of SEO (Search engine optimization which allows people to find your website on Google)
- Start writing articles on your website (it will take a minimum of 6 months in most cases before those posts start to get enough traffic to be able to monetize)
- Be consistent with publishing (the faster the better) minimum of once a week
- Avoid making social media accounts for your blog other than maybe YouTube and Pinterest
- Sign up for Google Analytics so you begin to track your site’s traffic growth (it’s free)
- Make writing new content (ie: blog posts) your #1 priority. Nothing will move the needle faster on making money online than having a lot of content on your site.
- Once your site gets to about 5,000 page views a month, apply for Amazon Associates affiliate program. You must earn at least 1 sale within your first 90 days, so no point in starting before this point.
- Then look for products you can recommend in your blog posts that you can link to on Amazon. Target items between $50-200 as anything lower than that pays terrible comissions and anything much above that often doesn’t get people buying.
- Once your site gets to 25,000 sessions a month, apply for ads through MediaVine. They’ll set everything up and you could almost immediately start earning a few hundred dollars a month.
Then as your site continues to grow you can look at other affiliate networks like MaxBounty, Share a Sale, ClickBank, and Flex Offers. There are a ton of others, but those are the ones I’ve been most sucessful with.
Add links into your posts where it makes sense and doesn’t seem spammy. Build trust with your audience by recommending things you use, know about, or at least have verified in some way. Don’t just blindly recommend something solely because it has big commissions.
Also, make sure you abide by any restrictions each of those companies may have so you don’t lose commissions or get your account shut down.
What are the biggest challenges bloggers have making money?
The first challenge a lot of bloggers have is focusing on the money before you have traffic.
If your website isn’t at least 6 months old, unless you are paying for traffic through ads or have a killer YouTube or Pinterest channel sending your blog traffic, you don’t have much traffic.
If you don’t have much traffic, don’t focus on making money; focus on creating new, helpful, and better content than what’s out there.
The next mistake people make is thinking that more is better. If 1 affiliate link in a post is good, then maybe 10 links will get me 10 times as much money, right? Wrong.
The trouble is two-fold.
Google knows affiliate links and sees them as just another ad. Too many ads and Google thinks you might be a spammer and they’ll push you down in the rankings.
But if your post is more focused on making you money than it is helping the searcher who landed on your post who has a problem, then people won’t stay on your post.
Landing on your post and then quickly leaving to go to the next search result also tells Google you post isn’t great and they’ll again push you down in the rankings.
Lastly, bloggers (and I was guilty too) tend to think that making their website pretty with constant tweaks, or posting a bunch on Facebook and Twitter, or redesigning your logo (again) are high priority things.
In reality, the #1 thing that will move the needle forward on your blogging career is writing new content.
Think of it this way. Each blog post is an opportunity to get people to your site. I have a few blog posts that generate thousands of views each month. But my average is really probably closer to 800 people/month per blog post.
You won’t be able to make a full time living by blogging until you’re around 100,000 page views a month.
So if you average 800 views a month per blog post as I do, that means you need 125 blog posts on your site; so get writing!
The other reality is that unless you are an experienced blogger (and I’m guessing you’re not since you’re reading this), your first several blog posts probably won’t be great.
I have a boatload of blog posts I wrote early on I thought were great. And maybe they are, but almost no one sees them.
So write, write, write, and then write some more.
What is SEO and how does that help a website make money?
The key to writing blog posts that will get seen and generate traffic (and then earn money) is what’s known as SEO (search engine optimization).
You will never get anywhere blogging without at least a basic understanding of that.
Basically, we’re talking about figuring out what to write about that people are actually searching for (on Google). But it doesn’t end there.
The next step is to also make sure what you want to write about doesn’t already have a ton of other posts on that same subject or from well-known websites.
For example, I would NOT write a post targeting “best vacuum cleaners 2019”.
Why? The top results on Google right now include:
- Good Housekeeping
- Consumer Reports
- The Wire Cutter
- and many other extremely well-known websites
I would never outrank those sites no matter how good my blog post was, how long it was, or even how much better it was than those posts.
What could I write about to try and sell vacuums using an Amazon affiliate link?
The search phrase “best vacuum for pet hair and hardwood floors and carpet” is certainly less competitive. But even better might be “can bed bugs crawl out of vacuums”.
That last phrase probably gets fewer people each month searching it, and it’s also true that those people are less likely to be looking to buy a new vacuum cleaner. BUT, if you can get in the top 3 spots on page 1 of Google for that phrase, you can bet there are a lot of people searching that phrase.
And there might also be bed bug products on Amazon I could link to also.
I’d take spots #1, 2, or 3 on page 1 of Google for a phrase like that any day compared to page 2, 3, 4 or 17 for a phrase like “best vacuum cleaners 2019”.
If SEO is still a bit of a mystery, check out my Ultimate Guide to SEO using free tools. Just click the link to read that article on my site.
It’s a little comprehensive, but it breaks down SEO in simple terms that are easy to grasp and get started with. Plus you get my recommendations on what tools to use and they are all FREE!
The easiest way to find users’ intent when writing blog posts
When you are looking for search terms (sometimes called keywords or keyword phrases) to write about, sometimes you find something that seems like a no-brainer.
But then you write the post and no one comes to it. What went wrong?
Well, it could be a few things, like maybe the top-ranking posts were from Time Magazine or Huff Post. Or maybe you wrote an article about heart attack prevention but you have no expertize in the medical field (more on that below).
BUT, one other possibility is you found a keyword phrase that seemed like it would get a lot of traffic, but you didn’t quite understand the person most likely to search that phrase and what they were looking for.
That is called, most commonly, user intent. And misjudging user intent can easily tank an otherwise well-written article.
For example, you could write a post targeting the phrase “Amazon Associates”, but if most people searching for that term are simply looking for Amazon’s login page, even if you rank initially for that term, no one is likely to click your article.
Without many clicks, or if people do quick but instantly hit the back button, those are clear signs to Google that you aren’t providing their users with what they were looking for.
When that happens, they will bury your article deep on page 13 and you’ll never get traffic.
So begin, as Stephen Covey says, with the end in mind. In other words, think about who is likely searching that terms and what they are really looking for. I would never write an article targeting Amazon Associates.
But I might write one targeting the phrase “amazon associates conversion rate” which is clearly targeting other bloggers wanting to know what a good conversion rate is for clicks to purchases.
So as much as possible, focus on targeting keyword phrases that are 4 or more words, as it’s much easier to gauge user intent than 1 and 2-word phrases.
How does Google’s E-A-T update affect blogging and making money?
In 2019, Google made some dreaded algorithm changes that everyone refers to as E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust).
Basically, it means that they are lowing the rankings on websites that are lacking in those areas.
So what does that mean for a blogger like you or me? Well for starters, if you aren’t a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, I wouldn’t create a website about heart health.
I also wouldn’t create a website all about financial planning if you aren’t a CPA, accountant, or at least have a lengthy career in finance. In other words, if Dave Ramsey were starting today, Google may have never let his career get off the ground.
But does that mean blogging is doomed? No!
You just need to ideally start websites that are about topics you have some passion and/or experience for as opposed to just thinking about topics you think you can make the most money in.
That does NOT mean you have to be a licensed expert.
BUT, I would tend to steer clear of topics that are commonly referred to as YMYL (your money or your life) unless you have some level of experience. Those would be topics related to physical health or money. You don’t have to be a doctor to start a health-related site.
But I wouldn’t start one if you have no experience (ie: job-related) or accrediations.
Think about your career and hobbies, and ideally target something that gives you knowledge and insight. For me, being married, a homeowner, and father of 3, I went after all the things a Dad might have to deal with;
- Homeowner DIY stuff
- Family travel
- Personal finance
Also, with E-A-T in mind, make sure you have an About Page on your site with your real picture and a bio that talks about who you are and your experience. If you want to take that even further, have a contact page with full name, phone number, and address.
Google is starting to take this seriously and so should you.
What are the best types of blog posts to write to earn money?
There are really 2 types of blog posts out there:
- Opinion posts
- Information posts
An example of an opinion post would be “Why I Hate Camping in Yosemite National Park”. Now if that was written by Oprah, many of her millions of followers might indeed be curious why she hates camping there.
But if you or I write that post . . . . crickets. Nothing. That post will likely never, ever, get traffic.
Why? Because, and I hate to break it to you, nobody cares whether you or I like camping in Yosemite. More importantly, we aren’t targeting a search term people are actually typing into Google.
Let me crystal clear. If you aren’t making your posts an answer to a question people are typing into Google, you will probably never succeed as a blogger unless you are already an established personality or have a lot of money to throw at paid traffic.
Now if I wanted to share my opinion about camping in Yosemite, but go after it from the standpoint of an information post rather than opinion, I could write a post called “Do I need a reservation to camp in Yosemite?”
Now personally I wouldn’t write that post because most of the results on page 1 of Google are all National Park website results and it could be hard to outrank them.
BUT, I stand a way better chance than I do writing that opinion piece.
So DO share your opinions and personality in your posts. Let people get a taste of who you are. But make sure EVERY post is answering a question that people are asking on Google. Otherwise, you may never make any money at all blogging.
I’m going to get into details, but for the most part no.
When I started my blog, the very first thing I did, even before I launched my website, was to start a Facebook page for my brand. Then Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest.
Once upon a time, I was scheduling posts to go out on all those platforms daily. I was using paid scheduling tools, and spending hours a week finding things to post and creating helpful or funny memes.
I suddenly had this revelation last December of how much of a time suck that had become, because except for Pinterest, none of it was doing anything to drive traffic or money to my blog.
To be fair, I need to completely revamp my YouTube strategy as I do believe that could work. But stay away from creating brand or blog pages on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn & Facebook (unless you think you will eventually use paid ads to generate sales, which is possible).
I go into a lot greater detail on this, in a recent article about whether Facebook works for marketing your blog or small business. Just click the link to read it.
What really surprised me was the change in my traffic from when I was posting regularly to what it is now with zero posting.
Is blogging expensive?
In short, it doesn’t have to be.
I started my blog on a shoestring budget. As it grew and my revenue grew I added services. But you can do a lot for little to no money.
Make no mistake. There are loads of folks trying to sell you things. I still see ads from “web designers” charging thousands of dollars to make you a website.
DON’T DO IT!
When you get to be the next Oprah or Tony Robbins you can spend thousands on your website. For now, I want you to build your website simply, quickly, and cheaply, doing the work yourself. When you get successful you can hire a VA (virtual assistant) help you manage everything.
My step-by-step beginner’s guide to building a website will walk you throgh every step with a ton of screen shots to follow along to. Just click the link to read it on my site, or bookmark it for later.
If you don’t build your business on a foundation where you have a clear understanding of how everything works, how will you ever know if people you hire down the road are doing a good job?
In short, while you don’t have to be an expert at everything, or love every aspect of running a blog, you should know how to do all the basics, from:
- Building and updating a website
- SEO basics
- Knowing affiliate marketing basics
- Understanding how to build an email list/email marketing
- Basic graphic design
- Pinterest pinning
That may sound daunting, but those are great skills to learn. Plus as you hire people, you’ll be in a much better place to gauge if they are doing a good job.
So what are the main expenses a beginning blogger has?
When you first start your blog, I only want you to spend money on the following:
1. Web hosting (the company who provides the serves where your website lives).
I have only ever used Siteground and I love them. My website has almost never had downtime, is very fast, and they have 24/7 live chat support for virtually any problem including me messing things up accidentally.
Just CLICK HERE to learn how you can get started with Siteground for about 3 bucks a month. That link takes you to their website to see all the pricing and options.
2. Domain name registration
A domain name is simply the URL that people type into a browser to go to your website. It can be different than your company name. For instance, I call my blog Middle Class Dad, but I had to pick the URL of newmiddleclassdad.com because middleclassdad.com was taken.
This will cost you about 15 bucks a year and you can register it right in Siteground after you create an account. While you can buy URLs, I personally think that’s a waste of money. For instance, I just started a new site all about hot tubs.
I could have bought hottubowner.com, probably for thousands of dollars, or I could (and did) build my site on hottubownerHQ.com which cost me nothing except the $15 registration.
Ultimately what matters on that site is the quality and quantity of posts I write; not whether the URL has an HQ on the end of it.
3. WordPress theme
Arguably there are a lot of great free WordPress themes, but sometimes the paid themes have more options, are faster, and are easier to get looking great faster.
If you do opt for a paid theme, most are in the $50 (one-time) range.
While it’s not the theme I use now, my very first theme was a free theme I got from aThemes (click to see all their free and paid options). I recommend them highly, and they also have a great support team if you need to customize your site.
And that’s it!
You can eventually add an email service provider and Tailwind for scheduling your Pinterest pins. But to get your blog off the ground, those are the only expenses you ABSOLUTELY have to have.
Do bloggers actually make money?
Yes, is the short answer!
Personally, while I’m not at the level yet where I can replace my income from my 9 to 5 job. I am about halfway there. I’m not one of those bloggers who posts income statements but suffice to say my blog earnings are in the thousands per month.
I got my start in blogging by following Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. Pat has always posted his income statements, so click the link to see how much he earns (it’s a lot!).
But you and I may not ever get to that level (and that’s OK).
The next guy I started following after Pat was Brandon Gaille of The Blog Millionaire. Brandon is a blogger and a podcaster, and I highly recommend his podcast for nuts and bolts tips and techniques you can immediately implement to see improvements.
Pat has a podcast too, and while I do still listen to it a lot, he’s drifted quite a bit from blogging tips into more of a Tim Ferris kind of self-help area, so great for motivation, but less actionable.
One of Brandon’s best podcast episodes was a complete breakdown of blogger income; how much people make on average, how they make it, and how to take your income to the next level.
The link takes you to his written post which covers his podcast content, but either way, it’s a must-read/listen.
But you can definitely make a full-time income blogging.
Who is the highest paid blogger?
It’s not so much a person (anymore) as it is a brand and company, but Huff Post (Huffington Post, started by Ariana Huffington) earns a whopping 41.6 million a month in revenue.
Now to be fair, they also have a huge staff at this point, and likely have some huge expenses. So it’s not quite the same as what you and I do or are looking to do.
It is worth noting, however, that no other blog site even comes close to Huff Post in terms of income.
Pat Flynn, who I mentioned above, is a better example as he started from nothing after being laid off as an architect in 2008. So in a little over a decade he’s gone from basically broke to very wealthy.
He now ranks in the #8 spot of the world’s richest blogger.
Ironically, the #1 wealthiest individual blogger is a guy I’ve never heard of. His name is Syed Balkhi. To be fair, a good chunk of his wealth has come from creating paid tools like OptinMonster, but he got his start as a blogger, just like you and I.
How much money can I make from blogging?
The sky is the limit!
I currently have 3 websites and plan to eventually add a 4th. If each of the 4 were to hit 500,000 monthly page views, which is realistic over the next 3-5 years, just from ads alone, that would likely be around $36,000/year.
Then if you add affiliate product links, and maybe my own series of e-books, or other informational products, I could easily be over $200,000/year.
But as I said above, content creation is the driver of income.
As you start to make money, invest some of it back in hiring writers. I know it’s important that we bloggers write our own content. But trust me. I bet the last time Arianna Huffington did much writing on the Huff Post was a LONG time ago.
Blogs like that and other successful blogs know that quantity, combined with quality (and that’s where I think sites like Huff Post sometimes miss the mark) is where the money is at.
Not every post you write is going to shoot to the #1 spot in Google and bring in thousands of visitors a month. While I have several posts that bring in around 700 visitors a month each, I only have a few that bring in multiple thousands of visitors each month.
But the more I write, the better the odds are of getting another money maker.
How to hire quality writers to create content faster on your blog
So once you’re getting at least $500/month, I want you to invest a portion of that in hiring quality writers and supplementing your own content with theirs.
I’m not talking about guest posts. As your blog grows you’ll get hit up daily from people wanting to guest post. Now one of my top ranking posts is, in fact, a guest post (that I have heavily edited and added to at this point).
But the vast majority of guest posters want to give you a short, low-quality article just to get a link back to their site.
I want you to ignore those emails (I get dozens a week). To be fair, I have an autoresponder on my email that tells people how to submit a guest post (I use a form which gives a detailed description of the process and my expectations).
Most people ignore that, and thus never get my consideration.
When you’re ready to hire a writer, skip Fiverr and other places like that. While you probably can find some OK writers there, you’ll go through a lot of trial and error and low-quality writers whose first language may not be English (no offense, but you want a writer whose native language is the one your blog is written in).
I want you to go to iWriter.
You can get 1,500-word blog posts for as little as $31.50 using their elite writer pricing tier. I wouldn’t recommend you write anything much smaller than that, but always size your article 20% longer than the top-ranking posts for the keyword phrase you are targeting in Google.
While they have writers in lower tiers for as little as $12.50 for that length, we don’t want to cut corners on quality too much.
3-4 articles more a month, each month, can really build your blog quickly.
With the Google E-A-T algorithm I mentioned above, it’s important for your authoritativeness that all the blog posts you hire writers to write appear under your name.
After all, no one knows those people and they are unlikely to have expertise in your topic, no matter how well they are written.
DO proof-read those posts and make sure they fit your style of writing, and it’s also very unlikely you won’t have to do at least a little editing. But have them appear as your posts.
How long does it take to make money blogging?
In short, you aren’t likely to see more than a few bucks until at least the 6-month mark, if not 8 months.
After all, the key to making money blogging is getting people to see your blog posts. The best way to have that happen in a sustainable way is by doing SEO and getting Google to rank your posts on page 1, ideally in the top 3 slots.
Yes, Pinterest can definitely help (almost 50% of my traffic comes from Pinterest), and YouTube can also help significantly too (which I’ve only dabbled in). And I DO want you to be diversified in how you get your traffic to protect you from algorithm updates and other fluctuations that might hit 1 of those platforms more than another.
But until you are getting at least 10,000 visitors a month to your site, don’t expect to make much money.
Yes, there are loads of people on YouTube talking about affiliate marketing and how you can get rich in a day. But you have to realize that MOST of those people make money by trying to convince you they can teach you how to make money.
I’m not saying there aren’t successful affiliate marketers out there (there are!) But a lot of those YouTubers with the fancy cars and big houses make their money off of people like you and me.
And some of them are really spammy (in my opinion) in how they suggest you go about it (posting a bunch of Clickbank links on your friends & family’s Facebook pages or in random Facebook groups).
If you want to follow a YouTube channel that has GREAT advice, follow the Income School channel.
How do bloggers get paid?
I get paid in a variety of ways, but the most common is either through Paypal or by direct deposit.
Most companies that pay you also pay you about 60 days after what it is you did to generate money, so just be aware of that too.
For example, the ad network I use, MediaVine, generated about $1,000 for me in June 2019, but they’ll pay me that in September.
Amazon Associates, one of the affiliate networks I use, paid me in late July for the commissions I earned in May. So just expect a delay with most companies you deal with.
Amazon and MediaVine both pay by direct deposit.
I prefer that over companies that use Paypal since Paypal takes a cut, and there’s at least a 1-day delay in transferring from Paypal to your bank account.
Can you make a full-time income blogging?
Yes! I’m not quite there yet, but my goal is to be there by the end of 2020.
However, if you avoid some of the mistakes I made, I know you can do it a whole lot faster than I can. If I hit my goal, then it will have taken me about 4 years from start to finish.
But I want you to do that in 2 years.
Here are the biggest mistakes I made I want you to avoid:
- Learn basic SEO and do keyword research for every post you write!
- Size the length of your posts to be longer than the top-ranking posts you see on page 1 of Google for the term you’re targeting
- Avoid using paid ads just to get traffic
- Don’t start a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn page for your site (or if you do, don’t post on them with any regularity; it’s a time suck that generates few results)
- Don’t buy backlinks
- Post at least 2-3 times per week, each and every week
- Don’t write any post under 1,200 words (even if the competition’s posts are tiny)
- Skip Google Adsense ads (they pay very little) and wait until your blog hits 25,000 monthly sessions to get ads through MediaVine. If you’re going to junk up your site with ads, you may as well get paid well for it
- Review Google Analytics monthly, but avoid the time-suck of checking it daily
- Don’t waste a bunch of time constantly tweaking your website – remember nothing moves the needle forward on your full-time income like just writing more content
If it makes sense for your budget, I want to recommend the blogging course I bought.
It’s actually the only blogging course I’ve ever bought, even though I’ve considered several. I bought it after thinking about it for a few months, after watching the Income School YouTube videos and feeling like the course could take that information to a new level.
Income School, who I mentioned above, has a course called Project-24. Just click that link to learn more about it on their website.
The course is called that because it’s designed to get you to a full-time income in 2 years, and a number of people have done it.
Since I started this site before I knew of those guys, it’s not a fair comparison. But since discovering them, my traffic on this site went from around 25,000 monthly page views to about 70,000.
I can’t attribute all of that to the changes I made from what I learned in the course. But a fair amount of the improvement credit should go to them.
I also started my other 2 sites fully under their system, and both are on track to hit their goals.
It’s honestly not an expensive course compared to many (currently well under $500) and if it can help you to get to a full-time income and the freedom and flexibility that comes from being able to work whenever and wherever you want, isn’t it worth that?
Here are some of my favorite things about being a Project-24 member:
- There’s an amazing free WordPress theme
- They do a weekly podcast of very actionable tips each week for members only
- There is an online community forum for all members where we help one another with problems and the founders of P24, Jim and Ricky, are on there all the time too
- They add new courses to the course list about every other month, so we are constantly learning and improving
- There are a lot of free tools you can download too
Learn more about Project-24 today and see if it’s right for you. Just click that link to go to their site and watch their free video.
Did I cover all you wanted to know about how difficult it is to start a blog that makes money?
In this article, I took a detailed look at the world of blogging and how the most successful bloggers make money. I took you through a lot of my own trial and error over the past 3 years of my serious blogging.
So we looked at some of those pitfalls I want you to avoid. And we looked at some proven strategies that are starting to pay off for me.
To be sure, I am not one of those online gurus showing videos of me standing next to my Lamborgini. I’m a guy probably a lot like you that just wants to have a little more money for my family and eventually have the financial freedom and flexibility that comes from being my own boss and being able to work when and where I want to.
I’m not 100% of the way there yet, but my plan is to get there by the end of 2020.
What stage of blogging are you at?