Friday, April 8, 2016

The Basics of Blog Monetization: How to (Frugally) Start a Money-Making Blog

This blogger makes a full-time income off of blogging! She is sharing a step-by-step tutorial on how to frugally start a money-making blog on the Blogger platform.  She goes through the entire set-up process and gives several ideas for how you can monetize the blog almost from the beginning.  Lots of great tips and tricks, this is a wonderful resource if you're a new blogger wanting to start a blog to make money...you can even do it for free by following the steps in this post!




(Affiliate links used.)

A couple of weeks ago, I started a fun new series on my blog dedicated to showing you guys how you can effectively and (somewhat) easily start a blog that makes money.  Whether it's just a little bit of supplemental income (hello, Starbucks trips!) or a venture that replaces your full-time income, blogs really can make money with a little bit of work and a few good ideas!  I've grown from making just a small extra amount each month to completely replacing my full-time teacher income in just a few years of dedicated effort.  With a little bit of luck and elbow grease, it's totally possible to replace that income quicker than I've done it.  I'm here to share a little bit of insight that might help you too!

(You can see part 1 of the series here!)

So let's say you've thought about starting a monetized blog.  I'm sure there are a ton of questions running through your mind - namely, where do I start?  I feel you...there is so, so much to think about when organizing and starting a blog.  You might have a million blog post ideas and monetization tricks running through your mind.  What's the first thing to do?


If I were a new blogger and I was starting this whole party over again, I'd follow this order:

1.  What is your focus?

This, in my opinion, is the most important question you need to ask yourself before starting a blog, monetized or not.  This question, more than anything else, defines the future of your blog and what potential it has to become a big deal.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself is, "What do I love?" That's it, simple as that.  Write about your passions, something that really lights a fire under you each day.  For me, that's managing a home...from finances to meal prep to finding things to do with my kids, that's what I love to talk about more than anything.  So, that's what my blog is about.  But it's going to be different for each and every blogger out there.

Never, ever start a blog simply because you're trying to money off of it.  Readers are smart - they can see right through it, and I can guarantee you won't make it very far in the monetization game.  Write because you love the topic and love to write about the topic, and only worry about the money after that.  Not only does is writing just for the money obvious, but you will quickly burn out of managing that blog.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  Blogging can be a lot more complex than it looks - there are many behind the scenes facets that the reader never sees.  It's something I absolutely love doing, but it isn't always easy.  Work it around something you love, and it won't seem like work!

2.  What is your blog name?

This one is so important to get right from the very beginning.  You're inevitably going to make a few mistakes in your first stretch of blogging...don't let your blog name be one of them.  It can be difficult (and expensive) to rebrand your blog down the road, so really, really think over a blog name before you choose it.

I would pick something that isn't too complex (maybe 3-4 words, tops), can't be misspelled easily, and centers around the blog focus that you chose in question #1.  Give your readers a good hint into your content from your blog title.  It's also important to make sure there isn't another blog/brand out there with that name already...a quick google search can go a long way with this!  Nobody wants to fall into copyright infringement with their blog name, only to have to change it months/years after they've built the name into something big.  You might also want to check to make sure the domain name of your blog isn't taken...GoDaddy has a feature that checks that for you.








#1 GoDaddy.com - Home of the $1.99 domain name





And, on a personal note, think long and hard before integrating your actual name into your blog's name. :) I've thought many times about rebranding without our name, but I just haven't done it yet.  If there's one thing I regret about my blog name it's integrating our personal last name into it.  Definitely something I'd change if I had a time machine, but I don't, and it honestly isn't a big enough deal to me to worry about just yet.  Maybe someday down the road!

3.  What platform will you use - Blogger or Wordpress?

This is probably one of the biggest debates in blogging, and pretty much everyone (sometimes passionately) falls on one side or the other.  Will you use Blogger or Wordpress to publish your blog? (When I say Wordpress, I'm talking about self-hosted blogs via wordpress.org, not the free service on wordpress.com.  Many forms of monetization of those blogs isn't allowed, so we won't even address that service in this post.)

I am personally a Blogger person, and I intend to stay that way (at least for the near future).  I've been on Blogger the entire 7 years I've blogged and really have had no issues with it.  It has allowed me to build my online presence very frugally and effectively.

First, let me tell you what Wordpress people will tell you is wrong with Blogger...

1) You aren't self-hosted, so you don't technically own your blog. Sort of true.  When you have a blog through Blogger, you are hosted on their site...meaning, all of your content, pictures, etc. is uploaded to and stored on their servers.  Therefore, they have the right at any time to delete your blog.

That sounds scary.  It's really not.

In all of my years of blogging and working with hundreds of other bloggers, I've only seen a blog deleted once.  It was for a bogus spam report, and the blogger was able to get it back online after a few frustrating days of working with Google to restore it (FYI, Google owns Blogger, so I might refer to these two interchangeably in this post).  From what I've seen, as long as you're writing quality content (i.e. not spam or something illegal/unethical), Google typically isn't going to touch your blog.  Just in case though, I back up my blog once a month or so...that way, just in case the worst does happen, I have all of my content ready to upload to either another Blogger blog or a self-hosted Wordpress blog.  (To do that in Blogger, just go to Settings, Other, and click "Export Blog" to save an .xml file to your computer.  This is what a web developer can use to restore your blog if needed.)

And let me address another very important point that is often misunderstood...Google/Blogger does not own your blog content.  You do.  You have the right to take it and go to another blog platform at any time you wish.  Google can't use or claim your content without your consent, contrary to a popular rumor.  They can use your blog (with or without your consent) to promote the Blogger service, but honestly?  I've never seen them do it.  If you pay for a custom domain name (i.e. the part in between www. and .com in the url), that is also yours to keep.  So, for example, I own www.lambertslately.com, not Google.  More on that a little later, but that is a pretty big deal too.

2) You won't be taken seriously with a Blogger blog.  Not true at all in my opinion.  Besides people that are way into blogging, most people don't even know what platform you're using.  Now, I do agree that the look of your blog is important...I couldn't in good conscience not include that after years of designing blogs. :) I'll address that a little bit later.  But, the vast majority of people that will visit your blog will have no clue that there even is such a thing as different blogging platforms, much less have an opinion on the one you're using.  So don't worry too much about that.

There are many "big bloggers" out there that do still use Blogger (most bigger bloggers are on Wordpress, admittedly, but many do still use Blogger too).  Most of the Blogger holdouts have a very customized blog design.  In my opinion, it's all about the look/functionality of your blog and not so much about what platform you're using.  And remember, content is the most important thing...readers don't really care what platform you're using as long as you have a blog with great content that is easy to navigate!

3) There are so many more features available to Wordpress blogs. I'll give them this one - this is true. There are literally thousands of plug-ins that make Wordpress blogs so much more user-friendly (for both the user and the blogger).  But, not worth the added cost and headache in my opinion...many of these things can be achieved through knowing a little bit about Blogger and coding.

Now, let me tell you what advantages I think Blogger has over Wordpress...

1) Hosting on Blogger is absolutely free, incredibly reliable, and much more secure.  Because your blog is hosted (i.e. all of your information is stored) on Blogger's servers, you never have to pay for it.  This is going to save you money (Wordpress hosting is done through a variety of outside companies that can charge anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds each month) and a lot of headache.  I am constantly seeing Wordpress bloggers complain about their hosting being down or unreliable.  If your hosting is down, your blog isn't working, costing you potential readers and blog hits.  I think, in 7 years of using Blogger, my hosting has been down twice (for maybe an hour each time).  You won't find that kind of reliability with self-hosted Wordpress hosts! In addition, Blogger's servers are so much more secure than a lot of the outside hosting companies that run Wordpress blogs.  You have a much lower chance of your blog being hacked or losing precious content.

If you're looking for no-fuss, no-cost hosting, Blogger is the way to go!  It is totally possible to start a Blogger blog and not pay a dime for it.  I'll address some of the things that might cost a little extra later on, but just know that there can potentially be zero start-up cost for a Blogger blog.  Not true for self-hosted Wordpress.

2) Blog customization is much easier (and much cheaper). The html code for a Blogger blog is much, much easier to work with.  Therefore, it's easier to learn how to manipulate that code, which makes it much less expensive to hire out a blog designer when needed.  Here's the basic rundown of a Wordpress blog: their design is based off of what's called a theme that can then be customized.  Those themes have several different files that are uploaded via Wordpress and must be hand-tailored to your design.  It sounds complicated, and it is.  It's also much more expensive to hire out.  With Blogger, you have one template file that is really pretty easy to work with.  Someone with a limited background in coding can usually manipulate it with ease.

Custom Blogger designs usually run anywhere from half to a fourth of the price of a custom Wordpress design.  In addition, it's so much easier to go in and edit code yourself in Blogger if you need to make minor changes.

3) The overall Blogger platform is much more user-friendly.  I have started a Wordpress blog before just to see if I could get a feel for the platform.  Maybe I was already used to Blogger, but I honestly found Wordpress to be kind of complicated.  Especially for new bloggers, I'd recommend going with Blogger initially...the dashboard and editing pages are both incredibly user-friendly.  It's also so much easier to play around with the basic look of your blog on Blogger.

4) The commitment is lower.  You are going to invest a lot less money and time in starting a blog on Blogger.  That's why I recommend at least starting out on the Blogger platform.  If you get started and just aren't feeling it, you aren't out a thing (except maybe a little bit of time)!  If you start on self-hosted Wordpress and hate it, you've probably already paid for a theme, hosting, etc...it can be a much more expensive mistake.

As a veteran blogger, I've seriously thought about moving to Wordpress a few times.  Some of it is the "peer pressure" aspect and some of it is the fact that you do have more control over your blog ownership, which I really would like.  But, in the end, the positives of hosting on Blogger still outweigh the negatives for me.  It's a personal decision that I think you really have to consider before starting your blog!  But, in my opinion, there's very little risk to starting with Blogger...if you start out there and hate it, your content can be moved to Wordpress (for a fee) later on.

Now, have I convinced you to start out on Blogger?  If so, here are the (super easy) steps to starting your own Blogger blog:



1.  Head over to blogger.com and sign in.  If you already have a google account, you can use that (but I'd recommend making a new one to correspond to your blog name...for example, for this blog, I'd registry lambertslately@gmail.com).


2. Once you sign in, you'll see this page...typically called the Blogger dashboard (and if you've never started a Blogger blog, you'll have nothing where it says _______________'s blogs).  Click the button that says "New Blog."


3. This box will pop up.  Type in the blog name you've decided to use and the address you'd like.  The little message below the address box will tell you if it is available after you get finished typing.  You're given the option to select a template (how the blog will look)...this can be easily changed later, so for now just quickly pick your favorite.


4.  From there, Blogger will give you the option to go on and register a domain name.  The domain name is the address users type in to get to your blog.  You can skip this step and have a blogspot.com url for free if desired (your address would be formatted yourblogname.blogspot.com), or you can pay for a .com for a small yearly fee (your address would be formatted www.yourblogname.com).  You can definitely do this registration outside of Blogger, but the easiest way to do it is to do it right now through Blogger.  Your blog title should already be there, but change it if needed and press search.


Blogger will tell you all of the similar url's to your blog name.  Click "buy" next to your desired url if you see the one you need!


5. Now it's time to add your first post!  Click the button circled in the above image.


This is a screen you will become very familiar with...the Blogger edit post page.  I go a little more in-depth on how to use the various parts of this page in this post.  For now, just type a title and enter some content.


You are now a blogger...congratulations! :) Of course, there is so much more to the process that we'll go into in further posts, but you've taken the biggest step to starting your monetized blog.

If you're still wanting to give self-hosted Wordpress a try, this post is a great resource for starting a blog over there...check it out!  (Just FYI though, I've recently heard nightmare stories about Bluehost, one of the hosting companies she recommends...definitely do your research before using them.)

4.  What will your blog look like?

So you picked one of Blogger's preset templates when you started, but you probably won't want to stick with that if you're getting professional with your blog.  I mentioned earlier that, for years, I designed custom and premade Blogger blogs.  I initially started doing it when I couldn't find a free blog template that I really liked - so, being the relentless DIY-er that I am, I started looking up ways to customize my design.  I eventually got it where I wanted it, and a friend asked me to design her blog.  Then another friend, and another...and eventually a fun side business was born.  I probably designed somewhere around 500 blogs in my time.  When I was pregnant with Jackson, I hung up my designing hat - after weighing how much I was making vs. the time it took, it just wasn't worth it anymore (this blog had started making much more money than designing...one of the reasons I'm writing this series!).  And, if I'm being honest, it just didn't light a fire under me anymore...and life is too short to do things that don't strike passion in you. So it had to go.

All of that to say this...because of my background (and as an avid blog reader, myself), I am very adamant about making sure your blog is presentable.  Your design is the very first impression your blog makes on a reader, before they ever start to browse your content.  There's not necessarily anything wrong with starting out with a standard blog template (one that is provided through either Blogger or Wordpress), but with the availability of premade designs on etsy, it's incredibly easy/inexpensive to achieve a custom look with very little money and no design experience. I recommend using a premade design to begin with, and after you know you're in it for the long haul, then considering paying money for a custom design (or, like me, learning to do it yourself).

With your initial blog design, think about a few things...

1) Do the fonts/colors/overall feel match focus of your blog? (And if not, will the designer make changes be made to the premade design to match what you need?)
2) Does the functionality of the template meet what you need?
3) Is the site easy to see/use on both desktop and mobile browsers? (I could write a whole post about this, but in a quick summary, it is a big deal...definitely something to consider.)  By searching "mobile responsive" when looking for your designs on etsy, you can find many different options with beautiful (and functional) mobile templates.

Again, premade designs on Etsy are not expensive at all, so if you get one and hate it, it's really not difficult to change later.  Yes, readers will associate the look of your blog with your overall brand, but it's not a huge deal to change looks as needed as you start out.  As your blog grows though, you should start thinking about branding...that includes your name, your overall look, fonts used, graphics used, etc.  That comes a little later though...not necessarily something to lose sleep over as you start your blog!

5.  How will you promote your blog?

I recommend starting blog promotion from the day you start blogging.  If you haven't noticed, the blog world is absolutely saturated now.  You might have the best blog/post idea ever, but your content will have a difficult time being noticed if you don't get out there and promote it!  Go on and set up social media accounts to promote your blog and start utilizing them.  Also go on and start an email list...you won't regret starting this early, I promise!

I actually did a post not long ago that goes into detail about how I promote my blog posts, both through social media and email...click here to see it!

6.  How can you to monetize from the beginning?

Now we're getting to the good stuff, right? :) Let me say this first - when you start a blog, focus on your content, not monetization (at least at first).  I'd recommend getting a good 5-10 posts under your belt before thinking about monetizing.  But, once you do that (which can easily be completed in a few weeks) and you know this is something you'd like to pursue, here are a few ways to monetize from the very early stages of your blog:

Ads

I typically recommend that new bloggers start by using Google Adsense.  They do pay a little bit lower than some of the bigger ad networks, but they are incredibly easy to use and usually accept any blog that would like to display them, no matter the popularity.  To sign up for Adsense through your Blogger blog, go to the "Earnings" page from your Blogger dashboard and you'll see a link to apply.

Affiliate Sales

If you happen to be talking about a product, look into using an affiliate link for it.  I have found many of the affiliate programs I use by simply googling.  I typically search the product name plus "affiliate program" to see if it has a program available.  From there, you can apply for the program and, if approved, get your links!

By far, my most profitable affiliate program is the Amazon Associates program.  It is typically pretty easy to get accepted to and, as you probably already know, Amazon sells just about every product imaginable, so it's super easy to generate a link to a product you're discussing.  You can apply for that program here.

Sponsored Posts

Honestly, I wouldn't recommend pursuing sponsored posts at the very early stages of your blog.  Most companies that are looking to actually pay bloggers for these posts are looking for high-ish numbers (page views, higher social media followings) before they ever sign up with you.  And if we're being honest, you just don't have that in the early stages of blogging.

Instead, I'd recommend integrating brands into content you're already writing.  Start showing these companies your future potential!  Write a highly-pinnable post about cleaning that integrates several different favorite cleaning brands.  Or write a recipe post that integrates a food product.  That way, you'll have a little bit of experience under your belt with writing these kinds of posts (even if you're not getting paid for it) to show off to potential sponsors when you do have the numbers to support them working with you.

There's no magic number for what kind of page views/social media following you'll need before you can start getting sponsored posts.  Of course, payments will start off small and become larger as your following/experience grows.  I've got a post of this series coming up that's dedicated to sponsored content...it should be live in the next few weeks!

So, what happens if you get a sponsored post opportunity early on?  That's great!  Take a look at the opportunity and make sure it's worth your time.  Is the company just offering payment, or just a couple of samples of their product (or nothing at all) for you to spend your time advertising for them?  I can't answer whether this is worth it to you or not - only you can.  You might consider taking a couple of these lower (or no) paying opportunities at first to get your feet wet.  But, think about the time it's going to take you to write the post and promote it on social media - are you being compensated appropriately for the amount of time you're spending helping this company?  Really think about it before you take it.  I'll address this topic a little more in my sponsored post part of this series!

I will go into much, much more detail about each of these categories in further posts in this series.  This is a really basic run-down of what you can start with in the monetization world.

And you're off! :)  You've officially opened your blog up for business and started down the road of monetization.  Now, where do you go from here?

First and foremost, keep producing quality content and promoting it (using some of the methods here).  You've really just scratched the surface of blog monetization by following the simple methods above.  In the next few posts in this series, I'll address how you can go even more in-depth in the three areas of monetization discussed above.  These should be live in the next few weeks or so!

**Please note: I am not a lawyer, so nothing in this post is intended to be taken as legal advice. If you have questions regarding the legality of starting a blog I'd suggest consulting a professional!  I also cannot guarantee the results I discuss in this post...it is just to be taken as an example.**


Check out the other two parts of this series here!