Successful Blogging: 10 Steps to Building and Growing a Website
I don’t consider myself to be an authority on all things website related. I started this one in January of 2016, knowing next to nothing about blogging. While I’m still learning how to best do some of the behind-the-scenes technical wizardry, I know a lot more than I did when I first got started.
Why should you listen to me, then? In a little over a year, I’ve grown this blog’s readership from a few dozen a day to a few thousand a day, and those numbers continue to grow at a steady and rapid pace. 2017 was my second year blogging, but technically my first full year, and this site had 1.5 Million pageviews in 2017.
I regularly field questions from other relatively new bloggers, and I do what I can to give sound advice and help them out. I’m creating this page as a resource to share with them, and to give my non-blogging readers an idea of what goes into this endeavor.
Consider this your free “factory tour.” If you enjoy shows like How It’s Made (as I do), please read on while I describe how to start a site, create great content, and help readers find it.
Step One: The Idea
Before you start a website, you ought to have a good idea of what the premise of the site will be. What will it be about? How will it be different from similar sites in that niche? How will creating this site add value for the reader who already has thousands of blogs to choose from?
I chose to create a FIRE blog for high-income professionals because that’s what I wanted to read and I wasn’t finding it.
Be specific. If you want to start a personal finance blog that also shares hot sauce recipes, crossfit regimens, travelogues, and pictures of your stupid cat, you might have a hard time finding a dedicated audience. Narrow it down. Also, I don’t care to see your cat.
It’s also best to have something unique you bring to the table. If it’s been done before and done well, be prepared to do it differently (and preferably better).
Step Two: Start Your Site
You need a domain name, which you may purchase separately or with your hosting, depending on the company or companies you choose to buy from. Your name should be memorable, available (check here), and not too long.
www.moneyhotsaucebufftravelerandalsomycat.com would be a poor choice.
To get your domain name registered, website hosting, and WordPress installed, I would follow any of the following excellent guides from my friends. I won’t repeat the step-by-step instructions here. It’s already been done and done well, so I’m not going to reinvent that wheel. Please note that those sites and this one contain affiliate links, meaning the site gets paid if you the links to sign up for a service. Also note that I donate half of my site profits.
- Retire by 40: How to Start a Blog and Why You Should
- Financial Samurai: How to Start a Profitable Blog
Here are my affiliate links. If you appreciate my advice, I would be pleased if you would return to this page and click through these to start your own site when you’re ready. I will receive a commission and I’ll donate a decent chunk of the reward.
Bigscoots: When I outgrew my first host, I switched to Bigscoots for improved performance, and have been please with the VPS service. Starts @ 2.95 a month.
Siteground: I see them recommended more and more. Starts @ $3.95 a month.
GreenGeeks: Also starts @ $3.95 a month. Powered by renewable energy.
Dreamhost: hosts more than 1.5 million sites, blogs, and apps. Starts ~ $5 a month.
HostGator: Another popular host. Also part of EIG, and also starts @ $3.95 a month.
Step Three: Select a WordPress Theme.
Browse through the options within different themes. Find one that appeals to you, is at least somewhat customizable, and select it. You can always change it later. I used two or three different themes before I settled on this one, and I have added a “child theme” to further customize the font, colors, and spacing. Check out what this place used to look like!
Step Four: Add Plugins
Plugins are little helpers that performs tasks within WordPress. Many are completely free or have a free “lite”version. I haven’t paid for one yet, although I’m sure I will at some point. Consider adding plugins for the following tasks:
- Site backup: I use WordPress Backup to Dropbox.
- Security: I use Aksimet Anti-Spam, Wordfence Security, and All in One WP Security.
- Social Sharing: I use Shareaholic and Add to Feedly.
- E-mail signups: I use MailChimp for WordPress, Mailchimp Forms by MailMunch, and Optin Forms.
- Comments: I use Subscribe to Comments Reloaded, Simple Comment Editing, and Basic Comment Quicktags
- Speed / Optimization: I can’t say how well these work together, but I’m currently using Autoptimize, WP Fastest Cache, and WP-Sweep.
- Additional: Jetpack does a whole bunch of stuff, and Yoast SEO helps you do things to increase search engine optimization. RS Feedburner directs your RSS feed to feedburner.
Step Five: Read.
Before you do a lot of writing, do a lot of reading. If you are starting a blog, you’ve probably read some blogs and have an idea of what your voice will sound like, and how it will be different from the rest.
Read successful blogs. Read magazines and columnists — these authors are getting paid for the words they drop on a page. Dissect those paragraphs and think about what makes their writing special.
Are they writing in the first person and drawing you into the scene? Do they circle back to ideas or visuals presented earlier in the piece? Do they utilize literary tricks?
I might make mention of alliteration. I might start the next sentence the same way (we call that anaphora). Or, Boom! Hit you with onomatopoeia. Even a moron can come up with an occasional oxymoron. Of course, hyperbole is way, way more important than all those other tricks combined.
The King book is simply a book about writing with an autobiographical slant. In summary, the author tells you to avoid the passive voice, allow your story (or post) to develop without too much predetermined, and understand that sometimes less is more.
This may sound ironic coming from the man behind It and The Stand, but he’s telling to cut out the excess. Words like really and very are really very unnecessary. You could say they are superfluous, and that only took one word, a more descriptive word at that.
I include the Stein book because the man has a knack for solid, self-depreciating humor. He describes how he inserts himself into all sorts of testosterone-rich situations as part of a grand experiment in which he is the subject. Sort of a scrawnier, less cerebral Tim Ferriss, although Stein is clearly quite intelligent — he bested my SAT score by 40 points. #humblebrag
When I’m struggling to find a way to add humor to a post, I wonder WWJD (What Would Joel Do) and find inspiration.
Step Six: Write Compelling Content.
Content is King.
This is The Most Important Step. You can’t get to this point without the first steps, but if you are going to gain any traction, you need to create articles that readers will not only enjoy, but also comment on and share.
Start by identifying your target reader. Who are you writing for?
I think for most of us, it will be someone like us. Someone who has similar interests, goals, and circumstances. My target reader is essentially the person I see in the mirror, or in the photo albums when I see a younger version of myself. A physician (or similar high-income professional) who is interested in living a life less ordinary.
Write with that person in mind. Assume he or she shares your quirky sense of humor and affinity for craft beer. Let your personality shine!
Give your reader actionable content. Show them how to minimize capital gains taxes. Walk them through a Backdoor Roth contribution. Demonstrate how a 2% fee on their investments will cost them millions, using Biz Markie’s friends as examples.
Entertain your reader. Throw in a non-sequitur. Use fancy Latin-ish words. Hell, make up words, like lupid. Just don’t swear. Make obscure references to hip hop songs (or country if you must, but don’t expect me to get it). Doowutchyalike. If 60% of the time, your attempts at humor work every time, you deserve a medal. Or at least a cuddle.
You might also want to mix in some humor that requires no savant-like knowledge of song lyrics and movie quotes. If the previous paragraph was pure gibberish, you might be a standard deviation or two away from my target reader, but that’s alright. As long as you smirk at least a little at “a skeleton walked into a bar and said, ‘gimme a beer and a mop.’”
Of course, humor may not belong in the content you’re creating. If your site’s focus is on hospice care or fighting the opioid epidemic, humor may not serve you well. Money can be a dry topic, so I try to stir in a little bit of the funny, but you might be better off with writing that educates and inspires.
How do you inspire your readers? Personal stories. Tales of your fears and failures will help the reader identify with you. Tales of your triumphs are good, too. Show them what you’ve done and what you hope to do. Readers don’t want to read your diary, but mixing in some personal details helps readers develop a connection with you.
Step Seven: Ensure Visual Appeal
Part of your site’s look will depend on your chosen theme, but there are additional considerations within each post. If the font is too small or too large, reading your posts will be a pain.
Be sure to look at your blog in a couple different browsers and on a mobile device and / or tablet. Customize your theme’s settings until you get the look you like.
White space is your friend.
Reading on a screen is not the same as reading on a page. While paragraphs eight sentences long might make sense and work in print, a paragraph on the screen becomes tedious after the third sentence. I don’t know why; it just does.
Limit your paragraphs to just a few sentences even if you think the sentence, like this one, belongs in the paragraph above.
A one sentence paragraph is perfectly acceptable.
Break up the monotony of the text with images. I try to insert two or three images per post. I’ve got a vast library of digital images I’ve taken over the last fifteen years, so I mostly draw from that, but there are archives of images that you can use for free if you prefer stock images.
Use headings to break up the text.
Even if there’s no natural break point in your prose, it’s a good idea to mix things up with a heading (that one’s an H4 heading) so that you don’t have an entire screen of just plain text. A free plugin I use (Yoast SEO) actually gets mad at me when I place more than 300 words under a single heading.
Step Eight: Help The World Discover Your Compelling Content
If you write the most important post of the 21st century, but you write it on stationary you keep in a drawer in your nightstand, exactly one person will know about it.
It’s like that with blogging. If you write great stuff and make no effort to publicize your site and yourself, you’re essentially keeping a journal in your digital nightstand.
A few months into this venture, I submitted a guest post to The White Coat Investor and we exchanged a few e-mails about blogging. He told me something that made no sense at all — that successful bloggers spend 10% of their time creating content and 90% of their time marketing that content.
A year later, I understand what he meant. You need to help people find you. You need to get comfortable with promoting yourself. That wasn’t easy for me and my Midwest sensibilities, but I realized no one would be reading my work if I didn’t give them a reason and a way to find me.
How do you help people find your blog?
Read the posts of the blogs you admire and make meaningful comments on them. This is your chance to introduce yourself to the author and hundreds or thousands of readers. Put some thought into your comment. Add to the conversation. Be witty. Be clever. Be comical, but try not to be redundant like I just was. Some bloggers love to ask questions; it’s a great way to encourage a response.
Participate in forums. You’re an expert in the field you’re writing about, right? Prove it by being an active participant in forums within your niche. These are the forums that I visit regularly.
Secure your domain name as your username if allowed by the forum. Comment frequently and intelligently, and occasionally drop links to posts written by others and posts of your own as long as you’re not breaking any rules.
Frequent and blatant self-promotion is crass and will likely get you suspended or banned, so use self-linking sparingly, and wait until you’ve established a presence on the forum with dozens of worthwhile contributions to the forum beforehand.
Guest post UP.
When you’ve got an idea for a killer post, pitch it to an established blogger in your niche that publishes guest posts. Don’t ask to swap guest posts. Contribute. It’ll be a one-way deal but when you’re successful, it will be reciprocated when newer bloggers looking to emulate your success will offer guest posts to you.
Sometimes, it makes sense to swap guest posts. I would suggest this strategy can be mutually advantageous if two criteria exist. One, your readerships are of a similar size. Two, the overlap between your readers is small. Now, you’re exposing readers of one blog to readers of another blog, and both readers receive a roughly equal benefit. If you’re the more established blog, swap with whomever you want, but recognize that you get more benefit from your efforts by guest posting UP.
The best way to utilize social media is the subject of many a blog post — another wheel I’m not going to reinvent in this behemoth of a blog post. Grab your domain names as usernames on the top sites and devote as little or as much time to them as you like.
I do more with Twitter than anything else. It took me awhile to figure out what to do and how to do it, but now I actually kinda like it, whereas initially all I saw was a bunch of people yelling and nobody listening.
Step Nine: Make Friends!
A one-man wolfpack lives in perpetual hunger. Grow your wolfpack.
Many of the efforts I outlined above will serve as an introduction of your blog to the titans in your niche. For a while, it won’t make a lick of difference. Almost no one will visit your site. Don’t worry about it.
Remain persistent, and people will start to notice your logo and moniker popping up all over the place. That is, they’ll notice it if you’ve done what I told you to do and you’ve been highly visible with perceptive or comedic comments all over the place. Give your favorite bloggers a great guest post and you’ve got instant rapport. Interact on social media. Retweet your favorite posts and add 140 crafty characters of your own.
Link out to your new friends. Be generous, and don’t worry about sending people away from your site. If you send them to quality sites, your readers will see you not only as a creator of great stuff, but also as a resource to discover more. My Sunday Best series sends my readers in ten different directions, and it might be the best thing I’ve done with this blog.
Initially, these online friendships will be virtual. You might only know them by handle and logo. Still, you sorta get to know them. Stick around awhile and the virtual friendship might become something more. I mean that in the most platonic way possible.
What I’m awkwardly trying to say is that eventually you might actually have a reason to meet up and person and have the opportunity to name drop. I met a few influential bloggers early on, and hung out with a whole bunch more at FinCon17.
Step Ten: Monetize Your Blog (Purely Optional)
Owning and operating a website takes time and money. The barrier to entry is quite low, but as your site grows, so do the expenses.
As the heading states, earning money from your site is completely optional. Some popular sites have made no effort to monetize. Our Next Life is a great example within this early retirement niche.
Others, such as my business partner, The White Coat Investor, have monetized quite well, earning more from their site and associated endeavors than their “normal” job. And my friend Pete has made it his life’s mission to teach you how to monetize a blog.
If you do choose to monetize, you should probably wait until you’ve got some traffic. Ads can be a turnoff to readers, although I feel that most of us are accustomed to seeing ads on websites.
I started with Google Adsense, Amazon Affiliates, and FlexOffers for Personal Capital. Google ads are ubiquitious; Amazon and Personal Capital are services I was using long before I was blogging, so I have no qualms with recommending them to my readers.
One cool thing about the Amazon program is that if you direct a reader to Amazon.com, and they buy anything from the site in that session, you get credit. You can link to Calloway’s I Wanna Be Rich, and if the reader goes on to buy a diamond ring, you’ll receive a small percentage of the ring’s purchase price.
Privately Placed Ads
I planned to start thinking about taking privately placed ads once I reached a consistent 1,000 pageviews a day. It happened within four months, and I was not prepared when I reached the threshold so quickly.
I didn’t know how to add an image to the sidebar if I wanted to, and I had no idea what to charge. Fortunately, I found out what others were charging with a little sleuthing and communicating with my new virtual friends, and I came up with some prices and threw together a media kit in MS Word.
I quickly learned how to add an image in a text widget in the sidebar when Contract Diagnostics signed on as my first Site Sponsor. Others followed suit — a number of them contacted me in the first few months. I reached out to others.
When I partnered with WCI, I also gained an excellent business manager. I am grateful because she has freed up some time for me to focus more on content. I finally found time to put together this 3,500 word compendium of blogging tips, for example.
Please don’t ask me to refer this site’s sponsors to you. You are of course free to contact whomever you’d like, but realize that most of my sponsors serve a small niche, and are typically very small businesses with limited advertising budgets.
My advice to you is to think about your target readers, and consider what services would be most valuable to them. Target those businesses. Put your best foot forward, show them your excellent pageview and subscriber statistics, and convince them they’d be foolish not to partner with you.
Be persistent. Early on, I e-mailed dozens of craft breweries hoping to get one to sponsor my site. I haven’t heard back from a single one. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. I could always throw in a freebie for one of the breweries I’ve invested in.
Selling stuff / sponsored posts
Some bloggers choose to sell courses, e-books, actual books, or other objects. Some make a bunch of money doing it. Everything on this site is free, but if I actually retire and find time to write and publish a book, it will be prominently featured here.
Another source of potential income are sponsored posts. When you reach a certain page and domain authority, expect unsolicited e-mails offering to pay you to run a post with a link to a company.
Odds are the post won’t resemble something you would have written, and probably won’t contain advice consistent with your typical recommendations. I used to politely decline; now I don’t respond. I do run guest posts, typically at my request, but I do not take payment to host a post.
As I said, monetizing is optional, but blogging can actually be fairly lucrative when you find an unfilled niche and fill it with an attractive site full of engaging content. If you don’t fill that gap, don’t worry. Somebody will.
Get Started Today!
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today. I tossed around ideas in my head for the better part of a year before finally making a New Year’s resolution to launch this site. I should not have waited so long.