It’s been more than five years since I created frugalbabe.com. Over the years I’ve had lots of readers who have mentioned that they’d love to set up their own blog but are unsure of the best path to take. I’m very fortunate to have a husband who loves web technology and has been my answer guy ever since I started blogging. But I thought I’d sum up some of the basics for my readers who might want to start a blog of their own. I got this email recently from a reader who already has a blog that’s hosted at wordpress.com:
I went to sign up for BlogHer and they don’t put ads on wordpress sites – even if you buy the domain from wordpress. But, I see you have a free wordpress “theme”, how is that different? And how would I go about changing my blog into something that’s entirely mine and I could put up any ads I wanted? I’d really appreciate any advice or link to a good resource – I tried searching the internet a bit and wow is that overwhelming for a newbie.
I’ll address those questions in this post, as well as several others that I’ve heard over the years. I hope it helps!
Your blogging platform: This is the most important decision to get right, to avoid hassle of switching later. There are two main types of platforms: hosted and self hosted. When my husband and I first started playing around with blogging, we tried blogger (hosted) because it was easy. But soon realized we weren’t allowed certain ad formats (BlogHer, etc), and plugins that make your site unique and fun. I hear similar stories from other bloggers all of the time about making the switch from a hosted blog to a self hosted blog.
One of the most common questions I’ve gotten is the confusion about wordpress, the king of blogging platforms, which can be both hosted or self-hosted. The difference is that wordpress.com is the hosted version (like blogger). You just setup a username and password and start blogging, but you won’t have as many options for advertising and fun plugins.
You want to get the self hosted version of wordpress (wordpress.org). Your hosting company will have an auto install of wordpress and installing themes and plugins is cake.
More on the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org:
And how to move from wordpress.com to wordpress.org:
Your domain: Think of what your site will be about and make a cute, memorable .com address. This will be your domain name, like frugalbabe.com. There are a variety of places to register your domain name, but I chose bluehost for many reasons I explain below.
Hosting: You pay to share space on a server. This is like the hard drive on your computer. It stores all of the data for your website, but can serve the data (why it’s called a server) to your website visitors across the web. The first reason for choosing bluehost was because it was cheap. I pay $5.95/month for the hosting, but get even more of a discount for paying semi-annually. I had godaddy in the past, but had issues with installing some plugins I wanted. After some research, we found that people liked bluehost because of their flexibility, but they were also secure, fast, and had good uptime numbers.
Installing wordpress: Any host you choose will have an easy auto install of wordpress (or any of the other popular platforms like Joomla or Drupal). If you understand FTP, that is another easy way to install your files.
Themes: Just do a Google search for “wordpress themes” and you’ll find tons of paid and free themes. I’ve had several different free themes on my blog over the years. Just pick one that suits your blog and your own personal style and click “activate theme”. It’s that simple. And you can always change to a new theme if you get tired of the one you have. If you have a self-hosted blog and you’re tech-savvy, you can also hack your theme to make changes to it.
Plugins: Once you’ve installed wordpress, click on “plugins” > “add new” and go shopping! We can discuss your favorite plugins in the comments, but you’ll thank yourself for setting up google analytics early in your blogging career.
Advertising: It’s definitely possible to earn some money blogging. Some of that comes from affiliate links here and there, but most of it is in the form of paid advertising on the sidebar. I’ve been with BlogHer for about four years and get a small but consistent amount of money from them each month, based on the number of visitors my site receives. In addition, I have worked out private deals with numerous other advertisers who have purchased text links on my sidebar as well as some text links that appear at the bottom of my archived posts. It’s basically up to you as a blogger to decide what you want to do as far as advertising goes. My position is that bloggers put a lot of time and effort into their writing, and advertising helps to make it more worthwhile for them. I know that I have no problem with ads that appear on my favorite blogs, because I’m grateful to be able to access the content for free. And I like them and it makes me happy to know they’re being rewarded for their good work.
If you decide that you do want to pursue advertising and/or affiliate links on your blog, you’ll find that after you’ve been blogging for a while and have steady traffic, offers will start to come your way. Whether you accept them or not is up to you. You may find that people are offering you a lot less than you think your links are worth – in that case, you might be wise to pass on them and select only a few higher-paying links instead of cluttering up your site with tons of low-price ads. You can find advertising opportunities that pay on a per-view basis (like BlogHer) and tons that pay on a per-click basis. I’ve had very little luck with the per-click ones, and have opted to not have them on my site, since I felt like they were cluttering things up. But other bloggers have had much better outcomes with per-click advertising, and it can’t hurt to give it a try for a while and see if you like it. You can always change your advertising strategy as time goes on and you see which ads are working and which aren’t.
Affiliate links is another way to earn money on your blog. Many websites will allow you to sign up as an affiliate and you’ll get a small commission every time someone is referred from your site and purchases a product on the retailer’s site. I’ve never gotten into affiliate marketing of that nature, but I know it works for some bloggers, especially those with a niche that might be particularly interested in buying certain recommended products. I have had some success with affiliate sales of e-books written by other bloggers and authors. E-junkie is an excellent platform for getting started with e-book affiliate sales. You just create an account and then select which e-books you want to recommend on your site. I choose to stick with books that I’ve read myself and/or bloggers/authors that I really enjoy. If you just fill your blog up with affiliate links they won’t seem genuine to your readers and they will probably ignore them. Quality over quantity is a good motto here. Recommend good quality stuff that you enjoy and your readers will be more likely to take you seriously.
The take-away point with earning money from a blog is that the blog has to be first and foremost something you enjoy. If you’re in it just for the money, your readers will see that and will quickly lose interest. If every post you write has sponsored advertising or affiliate links in it, you’re probably not going to have many interested readers – especially if you’re just starting out and trying to gain an audience. But if you enjoy writing and consider your blog a labor of love, you’ll be able to include some advertising and affiliate sales without watering down your content. If you blog consistently, you’ll receive lots and lots of emails asking you to publish sponsored posts and recommend all sorts of products and services. Be selective. If your blog turns into one big mess of in-text advertising, sidebars that are bigger than your content area, banners that flash all over the screen… it’s not going to be a great experience for your readers. But if you limit the advertising to specific areas of the blog and keep most of your content your own, people will be much more likely to be interested in what you have to say. And don’t feel bad about accepting advertising dollars for your site. Blogging consistently over a long period of time is by no means easy – the advertising revenue is definitely not “free money”.
Comments: I guess this goes with “plugins” above, but I just added “disqus“, which is becoming more and more popular. The majority of people will still be able to comment as usual by just entering their name and email, but disqus allows other people to connect their comments with faceboook, twitter, etc. You can even thumbs up or thumbs down comments you like or don’t like. Let me know how you like the “disqus” comment system. If it’s not a winner, I can just click “uninstall”.
I love wordpress!
For my readers who are also bloggers, please feel free to agree or disagree with anything I’ve said, add your thoughts about what’s worked for you, tell us about your favorite plugins, and anything else that you’d like to share with new (or experienced) bloggers.