As the business manager of 100 Days of Real Food, I have learned SO MUCH working behind the scenes on Lisa’s blog, and now I want to share this information with you. You can read about my back story here and about the birth of Pro Blog School here, but the important thing to know is that I was able to monetize Lisa’s blog – while remaining true to our ideals – and go on to quit my corporate job in July of 2012. It has been a huge turning point in my life, and I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity. I would like to help others do the same, which is the reason I started this site.
If you are just starting a blog (hey that’s probably why you are here, right??), I’ve got some resources and tips for you below (note there are affiliate links within). I’m going to expand upon these in a more in-depth free course down the road (and later a course for purchase with even more modules), so be sure to subscribe to be notified when those are released. Here are the best ways to follow along with me at Pro Blog School.
- Subscribe to email updates.
- Follow me on Facebook.
- Tell me your challenges and suggestions for future posts here (your feedback is super important).
- Explore past posts and interact via the comments.
Already Have a Blog?
You are in the right place. My main focus here will be discussing how to monetize your blog, grow your audience, and build a small business. I have lots of good stuff planned, but bear with me on timing since I also work full-time on 100 Days of Real Food. As I experience successes and failures on the business side of 100 Days of Real Food I’ll be sharing them with my readers in real time, as well as going back and sharing lessons learned.
Thinking of Starting a Blog?
Hey, why not? All the cool kids are doing it! 🙂 In addition to Lisa’s blogging tips, I want to share some of the basic first steps for starting a blog that you may want to turn into a business someday. We use and recommend WordPress content management software to run your blog, but you might be confused about the difference between WordPress.com (free hosting) and WordPress.org (self-hosted). If you are just starting a hobby or family blog, WordPress.com is cheap and easy.
However, if you intend to make money on your blog you should host it yourself and use WordPress.org. This will give you much more flexibility, will remove restrictions and 3rd party ads, will allow you to run your own ads and use affiliate links (i.e., make money), and will provide a professional URL (yoursitename.com as opposed to yoursitename.wordpress.com). Hosting your own blog runs about $12 a year for the domain name and about $17-20 a month for the hosting service I recommend. So, assuming you’re down with self-hosting, read on.
How to Start a Blog in 4 Easy Steps
1) Pick Your Domain Name
A domain name is simply your web address, such as www.100daysofrealfood.com. Choosing the right domain name upfront is very important because once you start building your online presence, it is part of your brand (ideally it is your brand name), and you’ll be tied to it. So how do you pick a domain name? Brainstorm using the following tips to create a list of options, and then check to see if they are available. Instantdomainsearch.com is a good search page, but you don’t have to buy your domain name there. It may be more convenient to purchase your domain name through your host, as explained in step #2. The following tips are just guidelines; it’s not like you have to satisfy every single one of them.
Tips on Picking a Domain Name:
- Ideally, your domain name will contain some keywords related to your future site. For example, “real food” is part of 100DaysofRealFood.com. This will help with SEO (search engine optimization).
- Your domain name should be easy to spell, pronounce, and remember. Word of mouth advertising is powerful so don’t sabotage yourself here.
- Use “.com” if possible (as opposed to “.net”). People expect it.
- Keep it short.
- Avoid ambiguous spellings or number/word choices. The “100” in 100daysofrealfood.com is an example of what not to do, but it has the side benefit of putting us at the top of alphabetical lists.
- Scope out the competition. You don’t want to be easily confused for someone else in your space, and you also don’t want to infringe on anyone’s trademark or copyright.
Once you have a domain name picked out, you have to register it and then pay a small fee every year to keep it. It is critical that you stay on top of this payment (make sure the credit card and email info on file are ALWAYS up to date), otherwise you risk someone else snagging your domain name after it expires! For this reason I pay for our domain names for 5 years in advance and set up calendar reminders to renew. You can register your domain with a variety of services, but if you are just starting a blog it is easiest to do it all in one shot when you purchase hosting.
2) Purchase Hosting
So what is hosting? Well, your blog has to live somewhere, as in on a server. Since most of us aren’t IT experts we pay to rent server space from a host, but there are enough hosting options out there to make your head spin. The most inexpensive is shared hosting, followed by virtual private servers (VPS) and on to dedicated servers. When you start your blog you don’t have much traffic and therefore don’t need an expensive plan, but as your traffic grows, so will your hosting needs. We’ve tried out many options, and based on our experience and the guidance of our web developer I’m going to make it easy and just tell you which plan to pick. But first I want to tell you a story.
Back on August 24, 2011, 100DaysofRealFood.com unexpectedly landed on the front page of Yahoo.com, right between Obama and Bieber. Sweet. We received about 480k pageviews in one day, and a lot of those visitors liked what they saw and became regular readers. This was a huge opportunity, and we had no idea ahead of time that it was going to happen. But since we were on a cheap hosting plan, the blog was slow to load (and wouldn’t load at all for many people) and there was nothing we could do about it. We have no way of knowing just how much more traffic we could have seen, and the resulting new regular readers we could have captured, if we had only been on a more robust hosting plan.
So the trick is to find a reasonably priced plan that will handle these unexpected traffic spikes, and I recommend Media Temple’s Grid Shared Hosting, which runs $20 per month ($16.67 per month if you pay for a year). Sure you’ll see a lot of people recommending Dreamhost or Bluehost for $7-9 per month, but I want to save you that terrible experience of having your blog go offline when you finally get that big break from a popular blogger or Facebook page sharing your site, not to mention the cost and trouble of switching hosts later (about $150 if you hire someone else to do it). So I say start off right with a plan that can grow with you! Here’s how.
Head over to Media Temple, click “Add to Cart,” click YES, and enter the domain name you picked in step #1. If you’ve already registered your domain name elsewhere choose “I already own this domain.” Otherwise, choose “I want to register this domain” to have Media Temple do it for you. Next simply follow their instructions to create your account.
3) Install WordPress (from WordPress.org, not .com)
Here are instructions for installing WordPress using Media Temple’s one-click install, and here’s a video to show you how. Note if you just set up your hosting account, you won’t actually be able to access your WordPress site until DNS propagation has occurred, which can take 24-48 hours. In reality it will probably be under 4 hours, but I’m just letting you know so you don’t get impatient (this has nothing to do with Media Temple…this is just how the Internet works).
After installing WordPress and waiting for DNS Propagation, to login to WordPress you’ll go to http://yourdomain.com/wp-login.php (replace “yourdomain” with your domain name, of course). At this point you could use the default WordPress theme and start blogging, but there are a few things I recommend you do first.
4) Make It Your Own
You’ll undoubtedly want to customize the look and feel of your blog to make it your own, and the best way to do this is through a new theme. While it is possible to further tweak a theme using code, make your life easy and select one that most closely matches your needs out of the box. Note that a “responsive” theme automatically adjusts your site to various screen sizes, including tablets and mobile devices, so this feature is something you may want to look for (50% of our traffic on 100 Days of Real Food is mobile!).
Lisa has been on a free theme for years, but we are outgrowing it and are in the process of having a custom child theme developed for the Genesis framework. You can find some free themes here that may suit your needs, however there are premium options as well. Personally I use and recommend StudioPress Themes for WordPress, which run on the Genesis Framework and offer customization through child themes. The result is a secure, fast, SEO (search engine optimization) friendly site that is flexible with the option of beautiful, mobile responsive designs.
Here are a few other tips to consider when just starting out.
- Change your login to something other than “admin” to improve security (in WordPress under Users>Your Profile).
- Edit your permalinks settings to “post name.”
- Install some useful plugins
In WordPress go to Plugins>Add New and then search by name. Once you find the plugin you want, click “Install Now.” Here are a few I recommend you install right away. In general you don’t want to install plugins unless you really need them.
- Google Analytics (easy analytics installation so you can see how many people are actually reading your blog).
- Akismet (fights spam).
- Install Google Analytics
Google Analytics is key for knowing how many people are coming to your site and what pages they are viewing. Navigate to http://www.google.com/analytics/ and sign in or create a new account. Once you’ve filled out your details and created your account, take note of your UA code. Then in WordPress enter this under Settings>Google Analytics (assuming you installed the plugin as directed above) and save. It may take up to 24 hours before results show up, and you won’t have much traffic at first, but analytics will become important over time.
You Did It!
Woo hoo! Pat yourself on the back. Now comes the fun part! You get to start writing and interacting with readers. I’ve got so much I want to share with you, but for now I will just leave you with these blogging tips of my own.
- As Lisa mentioned, be authentic. While it’s fine to get cues from others, there’s only one you, and you need to be yourself.
- People can see through to your true intentions. Keep the reader’s perspective in mind when making decisions.
- The best way to learn is just to do. Don’t plan too much because you’ll make false assumptions.
- Be concise. More people will make it through your blog posts, and you’ll be more effective in getting your message out.
- Keep your site design clean and uncluttered.
- View your fellow bloggers as collaborators, not competitors. Don’t be afraid to share others’ good content with your audience. It’s good kharma anyway!
- Don’t be afraid to experiment.
- Having a few key blogging friends can really make your journey more joyful. Blogging conferences are great places to network and learn, and you can keep the conversations going in Facebook groups.
- Monetize early so you can afford to pay for help early. It will make your life easier and your blog will grow faster.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below as well as through my suggestion box. Good luck with your blog!
1) My blog is (or will be) about “_____________.” Do you think it will be successful?
I have no idea. There are successful sites about cats. It could happen.
2) Should I start off paying for hosting myself (WordPress.org) or would it make more sense to start with a free blog and switch later? I’m just starting out after all, and don’t know if my blog will be popular.
It really depends on your intentions. If you are going to put a lot of effort into your blog and wish to make money from it, you should start off with WordPress.org. For the cost of moving blogs and forwarding your traffic for a year you could have paid for 7 months of hosting with Media Temple.
On the other hand if you do not have much time or otherwise do not want to put much effort into your blog, then maybe a free account on Blogger.com (possibly with Google Adsense ads) or WordPress.com (easier to move to WordPress.org later) is the way to go for you. Pro Blog School is not targeted at this group of people because quite frankly I don’t know much about that. Last I checked, the hobbyblogschool.com domain name is still available though. That could be the ticket! 🙂
3) I already have a free blog. Is it worth it to switch to WordPress.org (paid hosting)?
The answer is really the same as for question #2, except that you’ll have the additional expense of switching over (see question #4).
4) I already have a blog on WordPress.com (free). How can I move it to WordPress.org (paid hosting)?
I would definitely have someone do this for you; we had our web developer move Lisa’s over. WordPress has a guide on moving your blog and apparently will do it for you for $129. Also if you have a fair amount of traffic going to the WordPress.com blog and you want it forwarded to your new WordPress.org account, that will cost you $13 a year. Media Temple will also move your blog for you at a cost of $150.