How to start a successful blog to make money in your sleep!

picture of a girl brainstorming to choose a blog name

Congratulations!

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably made the decision to start a blog?! That’s AWESOME!

Trust me, you won’t regret it! Starting a blog opens up opportunities. Opportunities to let your creativity flow, to make new friends, have new experiences and, if you follow my tips, make money in your sleep!

But you may be wondering where to start? How to start a successful blog? You know, one that people ACTUALLY read?! How to start a blog that makes you money?

Because there is a huge difference between a hobby blog and a successful financially-viable blog run as a business.

A lot of this comes down to your mindset and the most successful bloggers are those which decided to start a business, not ‘just a blog.’ They treated their blog seriously from day one which is what I urge you to do now.

I don’t mean you have to invest all your hard-earned savings into your new blog or quit your day job. But you DO need to have an idea of where you are going and how you will make it happen. You may need to make a few very small financial investments. ( I’ll let you know which you need and which you can skip for now!)

Don’t worry if this all sounds daunting! I’m here to hold your hand and guide you through the process.

But first, let’s get one thing straight! Blogging is NOT an easy way to make a quick buck or two. You will not have businesses throwing ‘free’ stuff at you the minute you hit ‘publish.’ It may be some time before you make any money at all.

But have patience, my friend!

Because whilst blogging is hard work, it is 100% worth it. If you do it the right way and put the effort in, you WILL reap the rewards. Yes, lovely financial rewards.

So if you’re still with me, it probably means that;

A – you are serious about starting a successful blog as a business

B – You’re not afraid of hard work

So, let’s getting cracking! Stay tuned to find out how to start a successful blog to make money…

how to start a successful travel blog

Please note that there is a good chance this article contains affiliate links where I may make a small commission if you purchase through them (at no additional cost to you.) Make sure you scroll to the end of the post to learn how to create affiliate links like this for your own blog!

How to start a successful blog – a step-by-step approach.

1. Choose a Niche for your blog

Before anyone else can understand what your website is about, YOU need to understand it yourself. Work out what your values are, what topics inspire you and get you fired up, what topics do you know a lot about where you can teach other people?

The more you narrow down your niche, the easier it will be to make your blog a success.

Let’s take travel as an example. Every man and his dog has a travel blog, myself included!

Say you start a blog about travel and write about budget hostels in Paris for one article and then luxurious boutique hotels in Sri Lanka for your next. Google is gonna get confused! Are you a budget travel blogger or a luxury one?!

The most successful travel bloggers pick a type of travel OR a location (or even both) to write about and show google that they are an expert on the topic. Their audience learns that they are a fountain of information for that type of travel and they will keep coming back to learn more.

Say, for example, you love travelling in your campervan. This would be a brilliant niche to start a successful blog allowing you to write about loads of topics all whilst telling Google you are an expert on van life.

You might write about destinations suitable for driving a van, road trip itineraries, how to kit out a van, how to cook in a van, how to create a capsule wardrobe suitable for living in a van…

The opportunities are endless!

But your readers and Google now understand that your blog is generally about living in a van. You are going to rank better on Google for any topic related to van life.

van life is an example of a blog niche - picture of a ed and yellow campervan cartoon

Examples of good niches

Food = too general vs Vegan food on a budget = perfect niche

Mummy blog = too general vs Family travel or How to be a single mum = better niche

Fashion blog = too general vs Fashion on a budget = perfect niche

Beauty & lifestyle blog = generalised vs Beauty hacks for people with busy lifestyles = perfect niche

Now, this is not to say that generalised lifestyle blogs can’t do well. They can. But it’ll be harder to carve a place for yourself in the wider blogosphere.

Not enough time to finish reading now? No worries! Pin it for later!

HOW TO START A BLOG FOR BEGINNERS  - PIN

2. Choose a Blog Name

Choosing a name for your blog is harder than you’d think and not something that should be rushed. Once you’ve settled on a name, sleep on it a few days. Write it down and see how it looks, run it past a few people.

picture of a girl brainstorming to choose a blog name

Ask yourself:

  • Does it convey your style and your topic?
  • Is it catchy and memorable?
  • Is it unique? Make sure you check it doesn’t exist already!
  • Does it work for social media handles? Are they still available?
  • Does it contain keywords you want to rank for to add SEO value? (Optional)

What do I mean by SEO value?

Well, let’s use van life as an example again. You want google to know your website is about living in a van and probably most of the key phrases you will want to rank well on google for, may contain the word ‘van.’

Therefore, if you can get the word van or even better ‘van life’ or ‘living in a van’ into your title, this will make ranking on Google much easier.

For example, VanlifewithKaty.com might be a good option (if your name is Katy obvs…)

Here’s a real-life example. I have a friend who has a food blog called The Rare Welshbit. I encouraged her to write a Welsh Rarebit recipe. Since her blog name is so similar, it gave her the edge meaning she’s been able to rank alongside huge websites like BBC good food! She tells me it now brings her huge numbers of traffic every month!

3. Choose a website host for your blog

If you want to make money from your blog, you NEED to go self-hosted from Day 1. Trust me, switching to a self-hosted website later down the lines is a headache you don’t need!

Being Self-hosted essentially means that you OWN your website. It’s yours to do with as you life be that add affiliate links or join an advertisement network.

You can have your own domain name eg VanlifewithKaty.com instead of Vanlifewithkaty.wordpress.com. It not only looks more professional to potential business partners but it is also much more likely that you will rank better on google with your own domain name.

You will still need a website host. Think of this like buying a flat. You own the flat but you still have to pay lease money which goes towards maintenance and the running of the building. If something goes wrong with the structure of the building, they will sort it out for you.

It’s important to choose the right host as choosing badly could result in a slow website or frequent site malfunctions. Your site may even go down completely!

A general consensus amongst the bloggers I know is that Siteground is the best affordable options for new bloggers. At the time of writing, they are running a sale with plans starting from £2.95/month (approx $3.65.)

I am personally with Siteground for both of my websites and have nothing but praise for them. They help to keep my websites running quickly (they are widely known as one of the fastest hosts in this price bracket) and the customer support is incredible. They have a chat feature so if you have any questions (no matter how silly) they will help you with it within a few minutes! It makes setting up and running a new website way easier than you would imagine.

Bluehost is another popular alternative which might be worth checking out. But in general, most bloggers I know prefer Siteground.

By all means, check them both out using the links above and see which offers a better deal!

Once you have chosen a deal, your webhost will walk you through the process of setting your website up.

siteground deals
setting up a domain with siteground

4. Download wordpress.org

Once your site is set up, you will need to download wordpress.org which is completely free. Don’t get confused with WordPress.com as the later is not self-hosted. You need wordpress.org if you want to add plugins, apps and new themes to customise your website, to run ads, set up an online store or to set up your website with Google Analytics so that you can monitor traffic.

Remember you need to be self-hosted if you want to make money with your blog. It is the only investment which you 100% need to make from day one.

You will be given the option to download WordPress.org for free from within your C-panel when you set up your hosting.

Here is where you will find it if you choose Siteground:

screenshot showing wordpress download icon

5. Choose a theme and customise your website

The theme is essentially your website design. Unless you are a web developer who can make your own, then you will need to choose a pre-existing one.

There are various free options within the WordPress dashboard. You may wish to start with one of these and upgrade later. Free themes can feel a little restrictive and basic especially if you have fixed ideas about how you want your website to look. By choosing a premium theme, you will be able to make a more professional looking website.

If you want the ultimate level of control and beautiful design then you should consider investing in Elegant Themes. The Divi design is the worlds most popular and offers every customisation tool you can imagine and is easy to use with a drag-and-drop style editor. It does, however, have a reputation of being a little slow to load which is why I chose not to use it.

For my travel website, I use ‘15Zine‘ through Theme Forest on the Envato website. Their premium themes are very affordable and easily customised.

But if you want advanced customisation tools, especially if you wish to have an E-commerce page, then it may be worth investing in the pricier Divi theme or looking for faster alternatives.

Right now, I’m looking at Flatsome through Theme forests for this website. This appears to be both fast and easy to customise and looks VERY appealing! It’s also a lot cheaper than Divi…

Once you’ve chosen your theme, head to appearance --> customise theme or theme options and start making changes to the text colour and font, layout and logo.

screenshot of diferent themes in wordpress

Consider designing a blog header image with a logo which you can use for branding.

If you want to do this on the cheap, you can do so for free by using Canva. You can use various free graphics and patterns to design your own header or use a free template. If you want to make your website look really plush, consider using Creative Market.

You can buy illustrations, graphics, pictures and fonts to make your logo really stand out. I love the watercolour paintings for logos, I’ve got my eye on some travel icons for my travel website right now!

You can also get some really cool add-ons for photoshop which will help you make your own designs!

If you are planning on monetising your website in the future, then you will need to choose to pay the commercial fee. However, prices are still very affordable.

If you’re not ready to splash out on illustrations or graphics for a logo then make sure you check out their free goodies. They always have 6 goodies for free download which changes weekly. See below!

Powered by Creative Market

Another option is using Fiverr. This website connects you with people who offer various technical skills including graphic designers. Though prices vary, you may be able to create a logo from as little as $5!

7. Add a few plugins

Think of plugins like apps. They add functionality to your website and allow you to achieve effects that would usually require extensive knowledge of coding.

Most plugins are free and easy to use but before you get too carried away downloading a million of them, you need to know that they can slow your site down so stick to the ones you actually need.

Here are a few of the ones I use personally;

  • Akismet Anti Spam – filters most spam comments
  • Broken Link Checker – alerts you by email when any of your external links become broken and need changing. Important for SEO (see below)
  • Contact Form 7 – to allow your readers or potential clients to reach out to you without giving them your actual email address
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – a simple way to install Google Analytics code on your website so you can get information about how people interact with your site including the number of visitors.
  • Header and Footer Scripts – makes it easy to add Html to specific pages, vital for technophobes like me!
  • Pin it button for image hover and post – allows people to share your images on Pinterest helping to grow your traffic.
  • Ultimate Add-ons for Gutenberg – adds useful features to the usual post creator such as multi- buttons, author boxes etc.
  • Yoast SEO – allows you to edit the meta-data (which gets shown as a snippet on Google) as well ass access site maps which you may need to show to Google Console occasionally to ask Google to search your site! Do not get hung up on the other features of Yoast, it teaches you how to keyword stuff which is bad! We’ll talk about that soon in an SEO article…
  • Updraft Plus – backup/restore – regularly creates backups of your website and emails them to you in case anything goes wrong!

To add a plugin, find Plugins on the side menu, click ‘add new.’ You can then browse recommended plugins, use the search box or you can upload them if you have previously downloaded a plugin to your desktop. Make sure you ‘activate’ the plugin once it’s downloaded and check if there are any settings you need to modify.

8. Create an ‘About me’ page

So you now know how to start a successful blog so it’s time to start filling it!

The first page you should write is an ‘About me’ page. Add a photo of you and tell people who you are, why you started the blog and what they can expect. Here is mine here.

This is the page people might read before they decide if they wish to sign up to your newsletter or join your Facebook group so make sure it is enticing to make them want to get to know you or learn from you!

9. Create a privacy policy / legal page

It is vital that, like any business, you protect yourself legally. So this is an extremely important page you must include and make easily visible on your website.

In this page, you should include sections about;

  • Copyright – so no one steals your content or photos
  • Privacy – stating how you will use information you collect
  • Disclaimer – so you cannot be sued for providing out of date incorrect information
  • Disclosure – talk about affiliate links or sponsored content here.
  • Terms and conditions – e.g spam and abusive comments won’t be tolerated and will be deleted immediately etc.

For more information about how to write the perfect legal page, check out this resource.

10. Add some Widgets

Now the most important pages are complete, it’s time to start adding some widgets. Widgets are used in sidebars to showcase important information to your audience. In most themes, this will stay the same for every page n the blog unless you choose to make a specific one for a specific topic.

In mine, I include a photo of myself plus a little introduction, links to follow me on social media, a search box, newsletter sign up and sometimes I will add an affiliate link or links to my most important posts.

You can edit your sidebar widgets go to Appearance – Widgets and then using drag and drop to create your own.

adding widgets to your sidebar

11. Start writing some articles

The bit you’ve been waiting for. Now you have the framework to start a successful blog, you need to fill it with some content!

I’d recommend your first few articles are cornerstone articles. This means they are detailed articles about your core subjects – the subjects you want Google to recognise you as an expert in! From these articles, you’ll be able to link out to lots of your other content as you build your website.

So for example, if you are a beauty-on-a-budget blogger, you may wish to have a cornerstone article about budget beauty hacks. From this, you can link out to more specific article about make-up tips, hairstyles, beauty regimes etc. Aim to have about 5 or so cornerstone articles to help Google understand what you are about.

You can label your article as Cornerstone using your Yoast SEO plugin.

When you are writing your article, remember you need to keep your reader engaged. Use lots of headings and subheadings, images, bullet points, tables to keep their interest. Blogs also use very short paragraphs. I rarely write a paragraph with more than 3 sentences to help keep my readers engaged.

In general, longer more detailed articles will be preferred by search engines. I almost never write an article with less than 1000 words and 2000-4000 is more usual for me.

picture of a person writing a blog article

12. Add Social Media Channels

Now you have some content on your blog, you will want to let people know about it. In time, most of your traffic will come from Google and Pinterest (if you follow the tips on this website) but initially, social media will help get you some early views.

Having active engaged social media channels is also important if you want to work with brands in the future.

If you want to gain traffic to your website, Pinterest and Facebook will be most beneficial. If you also want to work with brands then having Twitter and Instagram is important too. If you make videos, you may also want to create a youtube channel.

Try to choose a handle as close to your blog name as possible. If your Blog is called ‘Van Life With Katy’ then your handles will preferably be @vanlifewithkaty.

Once you have social media channels, you will want to connect them to your blog. Head to widgets and add social media icons with links to your social media channel pages.

This means if someone visits your website and loves your content, they might head over to your social pages and follow you there.

Another way to grow your social media following is to follow other people in your niche. Many will follow you back. Also, use relevant hashtags on Instagram and Twitter and relevant keywords on your pins/board descriptions on Pinterest to help the right people find your content.

Check out my Facebook page here!

social media icons

13. Set up an email list

Whilst social media algorithms change constantly, one way you can have complete control of your communication with your readers is via a mailing list. You can choose how often to contact them and you know every person on your list will receive your email.

I set mine up for free with Mailerlite. It is free to use for under 1000 subscribers.

It can be a challenge to get people to part with their email address so it’s often worth offering a freebie to entice them. Here are a few examples of freebies you could offer;

  • Van life blog – a road trip packing list via PDF which can be downloaded or printed.
  • Beauty blog – An everyday beauty cheatsheet
  • Fitness blog – a downloadable PDF with an exercise or pilates regime or a diet plan.

Speaking of mailing lists, wanna join mine?! You’ll get all the tips and tricks I use to make up to $5700 per month via affiliate marketing just 2 years into my blogging career.

14. Learn SEO and Pinterest and start gaining traffic

Social media will only bring you a small amount of traffic (unless you have huge numbers of Facebook followers.)

Therefore, It’s important you learn about how to use search engine optimisation skills and Pinterest as soon as possible.

Don’t do what I did and wait until you’ve been blogging for 6 months. I ended up with 80 posts I needed to update!

Pinterest is likely to give you success fairly quickly. SEO may take longer but is absolutely worth the effort. SEO accounts for over 60% of my blog traffic on my travel website.

SEO involves using specific targetted keywords/key phrases in your articles to tell Google what your article is about. That way, your article might appear on the first page of Google when someone searches for that exact phrase or something similar.

It’s important to choose key phrases with the following;

  • A decent search volume (that’s the number of people searching for that term.)
  • Low competition. (perhaps the topic hasn’t been covered much o eben covered well already. Can you write a better article than those ranking on google for that search term already? When you are first starting out, you should choose very low competition keywords to stand a chance of ranking.
  • Well-aligned user-intent. Choose keywords which perfectly match the topic of your article. Google is all-knowing and will work out very quickly where you are playing the system!

You may be wondering how on earth you can find out this information?! Well, I personally use a tool called Keysearch. Aside from hosting, it’s the most important investment you can make in growing your website and I would consider using it from day one.

You may even want to use it to help you choose a blog name by finding what relevant keywords people are using to search for the topic you are writing about. (Don’t worry too much about the difficulty factor in this instance.)

Get 20% off Keysearch using this link! Use the referral code KSDISC at checkout!

If you want to learn Pinterest and SEO, stick with me as there will be lots of articles about both coming very soon. Maybe sign up to my newsletter to make sure you hear about it first!

SEO depicted by scrabble parts

15. Start thinking about ways you can monetise your website.

Now you have worked out how to start a successful blog, you will be wanting to start making money with your blog.

Whilst yes, you can earn money through sponsored posts, it’s not my preferred way. I prefer making Passive income.

Having sources of passive income on my website means that I can make money in my sleep. I mostly use affiliate marketing and ads for this purpose but you can also create digital and non-digital products, E-books, courses etc.

Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways to earn money with your website from day one. You mention a product you love and link to it with a special referral code. If someone buys through that link, you will earn a commission at no extra cost to them. It’s win-win for everyone.



You can see in this article how I make money with Booking.com

Or read my beginners guide to affiliate marketing.

Some companies have their own affiliate programmes but you can also join larger affiliate networks where you can promote various companies without having to deal with lots of different accounts.

AWIN is my favourite affiliate network. Commission Junction is another popular option but I always seem to convert between with AWIN even for very similar products within the same article. When you are first starting out, you may find it difficult to get accepted into some affiliate programmes. In this case, Skimlinks is a great option. It will automatically convert ANY links you use into affiliate links for any of their affiliate partners.

I don’t earn a lot from Skimlinks but it helps to mop up any affiliate links I forgot to use or ones where there is no regular affiliate programme such as is the case with Airbnb.

Affiliate marketing isn’t the only way to make money blogging. In this article, I discuss 9 ways to make a big income from a small or a new blog.


Click here to get your FREE copy of ’99 Affiliate programmes for all bloggers’ to start learning which programmes can make you money as a blogger. Suitable for bloggers in the following niches: Travel, blogging, food, finance, health & fitness, parenting, crafting and fashion.

picture demonstrating some of the 99 affiliate programmes you can join

How much money do I need to spend to start a successful blog?!

passive income graphic

If you only want it as a hobby, then absolutely zero money is required. Join wordpress.com but be aware that you cannot make money from ads or affiliates, brands are not likely to work with you and you will be restricted with blog design etc.

If you are a complete beginner but you want to keep the option open for making money later on, then you should pay for a Self-hosting plan. This starts at just £2.95/month with Siteground. This is the only essential investment you should make on day one!

Bluehost is another popular affordable alternative.

If you are serious about starting a successful blog, you will want to get traffic to it quickly! I recommend getting Keysearch as soon as possible. Aside from hosting, this is the most valuable investment you can make early on. I wish I had invested from day one and saved myself a LOT of work, later on, editing old posts.

Remember to use the discount code KSDISC to get 20% off when you get Keyserach using this link.

I’d recommend getting a premium theme and a logo as soon as you realise you are serious about making money with your website. A premium theme will make your site look more professional. These are not essential for starting a successful job but it will make it easier!

Another early investment I would consider is Tailwind. This is a scheduler for Pinterest allowing you to pin consistently throughout the day when you are nowhere near your laptop. This will help you get lots of lovely traffic from Pinterest and is the easiest way to get large volumes of traffic quickly. You can, however, wait to get this if you are not sure if you need it.

You may want to consider investing in a course to help you learn and grow your blog quickly. Courses can seem like a financial owch but if you choose wisely, they will be money spent well. You won’t waste months and months trying to work out what on earth you are doing (like I did) and you will start growing your traffic, landing sponsorships and making money much sooner.

I will be releasing some courses and Ebooks during 2020 but they are aimed at intermediate to advanced bloggers. If you are looking for a comprehensive beginners course which covers all topics eg Instagram, blog creation, monetisation, growing traffic, getting sponsored etc then I would recommend this one.

Read next:

From Zero to Blog Hero – with Greta and Marta.

Trust me when I say these girls know their stuff. Greta is a whizz with blog traffic and Marta is a pro at landing 4 figure sponsorship deals and is passionate about teaching people how they can do this even without huge followings! It’s definitely worth checking out!

Watch this space and sign up to my email list to be made aware of new courses and E-books as I release them!

cartoon depicting a man under a pile of money enjoying his passive income

Hopefully, you now understand how to start a successful blog which can actually make money! If you have any questions, drop them in the comments box below or get in touch with me via my Facebook page.

Good luck and have fun!

Don’t forget to pin this article to refer back to later!

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