How I Replaced My Wife's Day Job Income With This Blog
Over the past 2 years I've been blogging on Bible Money Matters 5-6 days a week, generating over 800 pages of content, 5000+ comments and over 1.3 million page views. The site has become more popular than I ever dreamed it could be, and I feel blessed that the site has grown to a point where it is now able to replace my wife's day job income. That means we'll be able to afford for her to stay home with our children, which is even more important now that we're expecting our first child!
So how do you go from having a small blog that no one has ever heard of, and take it to a point where it generates more income than some people do at their full time jobs? I get a lot of questions from people who are wondering how they too can start a blog, and use it to generate income for their family. Instead of writing up a new email every time they ask, I thought I'd put together a post detailing what I've done to become successful. That post has quickly gotten a bit too long for just one post, and I decided to break it up into a series which I'd like to call “Blueprint For How To Make Money With A Blog“. Here's a table of contents for today's post if you'd like to skip ahead.
- How I Began Blogging
- What Is A Blog?
- What Blogging Software Should I Use?
- Choosing A Niche, A Name For Your Blog And Buying A Domain Name
- Buy Web Hosting For Your Site
- Setting Up WordPress On Your New Host
- Install A Custom WordPress Theme
- Install Plugins On Your Site to Increase Functionality
- Setting Up Your WordPress Blog – Wrap-Up
In this first post I'm going to talk about the beginning stages of starting a blog. I'll look at things like choosing a niche, coming up with a name and a domain for your blog and optimizing your site to give yourself the best chance of success. First, let me give you a little background on my site.
How I Began Blogging
At the end of 2007 I discovered the personal finance blogosphere. After reading some of the bigger blogs including The Simple Dollar, Get Rich Slowly and Christian Personal Finance, I decided that I wanted to start my own blog . I love to write and I enjoy talking about finances. I knew I had something to contribute.
I finally launched my blog to zero fanfare at the end of January of 2008. At the time my wife and I were really starting to pay more attention to our money, reading a lot of books on financial topics, and even taking classes about personal finance. We discovered Dave Ramsey through some friends, and were energized by his debt free message. A fire was lit, and I knew that I had found my topic. I began writing about personal finance almost daily, networked with other bloggers, promoted my site and worked hard on coming up with interesting topics. Even with all the work, the blog was still just a fun diversion. About 6-7 months into it, however, the money started to materialize and I realized that you could make some decent money blogging. I started treating it more like a business. That was when things really started to take off.
When I first started writing back in early 2008 I was definitely a newbie, and I made a lot of mistakes. I created a lot of roadblocks for myself by not doing things the right way from the start. Now that I've been around the block a few times, I think that I've learned some things that can help others to increase their chances of success. So let's get started!
What Is A Blog?
Before we even get started, let's look at the most basic question. What is a blog? Wikipedia defines it this way:
A blog is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries.
So a blog is a website that has regularly updated content that contains news, commentary and other informative content. In short, blogs are a powerful medium for communicating information – and for making money!
What Blogging Software Should I Use?
Over the years there have been a wide variety of platforms developed to make the process of blogging extremely easy, to the point where just about anybody can publish their own regularly updated website. There are both self hosted and developer hosted options. Some of the most popular free blogging software include: (for a more exhaustive list, click here)
- WordPress.org blogging software (self hosted): This is the one that I use, and it is quickly becoming the industry standard for those who take their blogging seriously. It is a free software, but it does require that you have a web host, and some basic know-how or help to setup. If you're serious about blogging, I'd suggest using WordPress.org self hosted software as it will give you the most options for your new blog.
- WordPress.com blogging software (developer hosted): This is similar to the above software, except that it's hosted on the service's servers, and your options when using it are much more limited. If you're looking to make money from your blog, advertising options on WordPress.com are extremely limited. Skip it!
- Blogspot.com blogging software (developer hosted): I actually started out blogging using Blogger's free blogging software. It was easy to use, allows you to have advertising on your site, and has a decent back end for writing. The problem? it is also extremely limited when it comes to adding functionality, themes, and if your traffic grows your site will suffer. If you're not sure about this blogging thing, you can test the waters with Blogger, and if you don't like it, nothing is lost. I started my blog on Blogger, and then ended up moving it later on to WordPress.org. Looking back I wish I had just started using WordPress.org's software to save myself the headache of moving.
- Tumblr.com blogging software (developer hosted): Another free blogging software that is easy to setup and use, but will limit your options if you're serious about making money from your blog.
All of the above mentioned options are free options, with the last three probably having the least amount of up-front work to get your site up and get running. If you're really serious about making money blogging, however, I'd suggest starting out with a WordPress.org self hosted blog as it will give you the most options when it comes to design, functionality and monetization.
The WordPress.org blogging software may be free, but you will need to find a place to host your site. In most cases that will cost you anywhere from $5-7/month, in addition to a domain name, which will run around $10/year. I believe it's a worthwhile investment. For some more discussion on choosing a blogging software, check out Problogger.net's post on the topic.
Choosing A Niche, A Name For Your Blog And Buying A Domain Name
Choosing a niche: Before you even choose a name for your blog, you need to figure out what niche that you'll be blogging in. For me that was easy – I chose the personal finance niche because I found it extremely interesting, there was already a pretty large community surrounding the topic (for networking), and because I knew there was sufficient search volume for personal finance topics. I also chose to focus on a sub-niche, Christian personal finance, because it helped to set me apart. You'll want to carefully consider your niche (and possibly a sub-niche) as well. Make sure it's something you enjoy writing about, and make sure that there is money to be made in the topic (if you plan on doing this for money!). Do some research on big blogs in that niche and figure out how they're making money. Then figure out how reasonable it might be to try and duplicate their success.
Choosing a name: Once you've chosen a niche, one of the most important first steps is to choose a name for your blog. There are two main types of names for a blog.
- Brandable name: A brandable name is about creating a name for your blog that is memorable, and that can be used as an identity of sorts for your site. Examples of brandable names include sites like Boing Boing, DoshDosh and Dooce.com. Brandable named sites can be ideal for sites where you're trying to build a loyal community of readers, and for building a site with some personality. Brandable names can also be keyword rich depending upon the name you choose. For example a site like Engadget has a name that is brandable, but it also includes the word “gadget”. Double duty name!
- Keyword rich name: A keyword rich name will include keywords in the title that can give cues as to what your blog is about. This can be great for search engine traffic as search engines will often look to your url to determine whether your search results are relevant to a given topic. I can't tell you how many times my site has come up higher in a search because I have the word “money” in the title, along with other keywords in the url. Try brainstorming names for your blog by choosing some relevant keywords, putting them together in different ways, and seeing what you come up with. My blog title, “Bible Money Matters” includes two keywords that are extremely important to the subject matter of my site and that help me to come up in search results. Those keywords are “money” and “bible”. Try to find keywords for your site niche that will translate to good search traffic.
Choosing a domain name/URL: If you're going to be trying to come up with keyword rich name like I did, a fantastic site to check out is NameBoy.com. The site will allow you to enter in a couple of keywords you are considering, and then it will come up with a list of possible domain names and tell you which ones are already taken.
Once you find a couple of names that you like you'll want to run it by a couple of people to make sure it doesn't sound funny, or conjure up things that you didn't intend. Remember, once you choose a name, you're probably going to be stuck with it for a while.
The next step is to register your domain name. Some of the more popular places to register a domain include:
- Godaddy.com: This is where I have my 5 domains. Works good for me.
- Enom.com: Another of the more popular domain registrars.
- Dotster.com: I've had this one suggested to me.
A couple of things to remember when buying your domain name:
- Try to register your domain name separately from your website host or other provider: Some website hosts will give you a free domain name when you sign up for hosting with their service. The problem is that often they still own the domain name, or it is tied to your account. That often makes it troublesome to switch hosts in the future if your traffic has grown or if you aren't satisfied with a certain host. By registering your domain name separately you can guarantee that you'll always have control over your domain.
- Try registering your domain with a company that will keep your information private: When registering your domain you will have the option to register your domain name privately, or to have your name and contact info available to all who look up your site's “WHOIS” information. If you can, register your domain name privately to avoid having everyone know your name/address/phone.
- Make sure your domain name is easy to spell: If your name is hard to spell or if people are unsure of it's meaning, it can be tough to get people to remember it.
Buy Web Hosting For Your Site
Once you've chosen and purchased a domain name, it's time to find and purchase a web hosting package. For a new blog you're probably OK purchasing a cheap shared hosting package that will cost you in the neighborhood of $5-7 a month or so. That will most likely be fine until your blog has built up traffic of 1000 page views or more per day – at which point you may need to consider upgrading. A few recommended options for cheap shared hosting packages:
If you're looking for a higher end host to begin with, it'll probably cost you a bit more money, but you are more assured that your site won't go down, go over it's allotted amount of CPU usage, or have other common problems. The host that I'm currently with is Media Temple. It costs me about $33/month (I have a discounted rate) for my own dedicated virtual server where I run several websites . Since I've switched to them from my shared host I've had exactly zero problems.
- Media Temple: You can read about my experience switching hosts from a cheap shared hosting plan to my dedicated virtual server at Media Temple here.
When shopping around for hosting make sure to search for coupon codes and discounts to make your service cheaper. When I signed up for media temple I used a coupon code that allowed me to get 20% off for the life of my relationship with them. (In case you're interested – Media Temple coupon code: retailmenot – will give you 20% discount on (gs) and (dv) hosting plans for the life of the plan.)
(Disclaimer: the hosting links above are affiliate links and this site will receive compensation if you choose to sign up through our link. (Thanks!) It should be noted, however, that we only promote affiliates that we believe in and that we think would be beneficial to our readers.)
Setting Up WordPress On Your New Host
Once you've signed up for your new hosting package, you'll want to get WordPress setup on your host. Most hosts will have an option to do a 1 click install of WordPress through their hosting administration panel. If you have that option, I'd suggest using it (If you can't find it, ask tech support!) It makes things a lot easier. Have your site name, url and a username and password ready to go because it will ask you for them.
If you prefer you can install WordPress yourself using an FTP software. I won't go through all the detail here because WordPress.org has already put together a detailed manual walking you through how to setup WordPress for your blog. You can find it here
Some things to consider when setting up WordPress:
- Change your permalink structure in WordPress: Most blogging experts think that having your permalink structure show your post name only is the best for SEO and for traffic. By default, however, WordPress has a structure that looks like this: “http://www.yourdomain.com/?p=4“. Change your permalink structure to have just your post name showing by going to “settings/permalinks” and entering “/%postname%/” under “custom structure“. That will make your posts look something more like this: “http://www.yourdomain.com/post-about-permalinks”. More about permalinks here.
- Check security, discussion and other WordPress settings: Consider enabling pingbacks/trackbacks, disabling remote posts and setting up how people can comment. For a great list of things to set up and change, see this post: The Ultimate Guide to Setting up WordPress after an Install.
Install A Custom WordPress Theme On Your Site
WordPress comes with some basic default themes that a lot of newbie bloggers will just use on their site for loss of something better to do. If you're serious about blogging you'll want to consider upgrading from the basic theme to a more customized WordPress Theme. While having a nice looking theme isn't the most important thing, it can give you some credibility by making your site look more professional that 99% of the other sites out there.
On this site I use the Thesis WordPress Theme as my framework of choice. It's extremely easy to use, is customizable and if you're an advanced user you can make your site look pretty incredible. Thesis would be my first choice if I had to recommend a theme. Read my review of it here.
There are plenty of other good themes out there beyond Thesis, and some of them are even free, however, if you're serious about blogging I'd consider a premium theme first. It will more than pay for itself through the upgrades, support community and other perks that you'll receive. Premium themes are also often better optimized for SEO.
With that said, here are a few of my favorite premium and free themes below.
- Thesis WordPress Theme: $87 for a one site license, $164 for the developer's option. Lifetime upgrades and access to their excellent support forums. Hundreds of tutorials on how to optimize the theme.
- Headway WordPress Theme: $87 single use or $164 for developer's option. Theme that is similar to Thesis, but has it's own strong points. Also has support forums and a large community.
- Frugal WordPress Theme: $87 single use or $164 for developer's option. Another great theme with a ton of options and great customizability. Smaller community, but growing.
- Studiopress WordPress Theme: Another great theme made by a true design and WordPress genius Brian Gardner. Highly recommended.
- Atahualpa WordPress Theme: A free theme that has a lot of features of some of the premium themes.
- 50 Top Free WordPress Themes: Check out this list for a mountain of decent free themes. Not all of them are that great, so be careful!
If you do end up using the Thesis WordPress Theme don't forget to install the Thesis Openhooks Plug-in as well, and read up on using hooks in the theme. Which brings us to our next topic – plug-ins. (The links above are affiliate links, however, I genuinely recommend these themes)
Want to really make your site look great? Get a custom site logo and background created through my graphic design site at http://www.logosforwebsites.com!
Install Plugins On Your Site to Increase Functionality
One of the great things about WordPress is it's ability to extend it's functionality using plug-ins. There are an endless number of plug-ins that you can install and use on your WordPress blog, and a few of them are essential. The key is to install the ones you need, but not get carried away with useless plug-ins that bog your site down (especially if you're on a shared host). Here are a few of my favorites that i think most blogs should use.
- Pretty Link Pro: This is a great money making plugin for those promoting affiliate offers. It helps you manage your affiliate links within WordPress, along with giving you reporting on your links.
- Akismet Spam blocker: If your site gets any traffic at all, you'll get a ton of spam. Use this to help weed it out.
- All In One SEO Pack: A great plugin that helps you to optimize your site for search engines by helping you optimize titles, descriptions and more.
- Contact Form 7: Every blog needs to have a contact form so that your readers or people interested in buying advertising can contact you.
- Google XML Sitemaps: Important to have a good sitemap so that google can index your posts!
- Optimize DB: Sometimes your database can get clogged up and may need a little optimizing. This plugin will do it for you.
- Ozh' Admin Drop Down Menu: I use this plugin because I prefer the admin website layout when using this plugin. Purely optional.
- SRG Clean Archives: Plugin that will help you to create a nice looking archive page.
- Thesis OpenHook: For Thesis theme users to more easily access their thesis hooks. If you're not using Thesis you can skip this one.
- WordPress.com Stats: WordPress's built in stats engine.
- WordPress Database Backup: If you don't want to lose your site, you'll want to make regular backups of your WordPress database. I have mine setup to email me a backup file daily.
- WP Security Scan: This plugin will help you make sure your installation is secure.
- WP Super Cache: If you are on a shared host and you get a rush of traffic, it will help to have this plugin installed.
- WP eStore Plug-in: If you plan on selling your own information products, e-books, services, or just about anything else you can think of, this plugin will allow you to sell them easily through your blog. Diversify your income and make money with more than just Adsense!
- WP Affiliate Platform Plug-in: If you're selling your own products you'll want to have an easy to use affiliate program so that other people can help you sell your items. This WordPress plug-in works in tandem with the eStore plug-in, and no monthly fees like some services!
Setting Up Your WordPress Blog – Wrap-Up
In this first post in the “Blueprint For How To Make Money With A Blog” series we talked about setting up your first blog.
I recommended using WordPress.org self hosted software as the best blogging software for monetization. We talked about choosing a name for your blog and why it is so important. We looked at why having good keywords in your domain can mean additional search and referral traffic.
After choosing a name and domain, we discussed how you should get a hosting package that fits your needs, and how shared hosting will work for most new blogs. We then gave some tips for installing WordPress on your new web host.
Finally, we talked about the importance of a custom theme, and how it can make your site look and feel professional – in addition to giving your site better SEO out of the box. After installing your theme we listed a variety of plugins that can increase the functionality of your site, and help it to meet it's potential.
Next Wednesday in the “Blueprint For How To Make Money With A Blog” series I'd like to talk about how important content and SEO are, and then explore the many ways to promote your brand, build traffic and bring more readers to your site. After we've looked at that we'll list a variety of ways that you can make money from your site. Stay tuned!
Do you have tips or tricks that you think aspiring bloggers should know? Good places to host their site? Custom themes you want to point them to? Plugins that have made your life easier? Settings you think they need to make sure to check when setting up their blog? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
How To Make Money With A Blog – Series Links