Ah, to quit your job and just make money online for a living. No more boss. No more terrible commute. No more alarm clocks. What a dream! After my first full year of blogging, I began to have such dreams.
After three years of blogging, I decided to take the leap of faith and kiss a steady paycheck goodbye! By then, Financial Samurai was making roughly $80,000 a year. Today, my site makes more than I did as an Executive Director in banking with 80% less work and 100% more fun.
Starting a blog is pretty easy. Surviving long enough to grow your blog into something that can sustain your cost of living is the harder part. You’ve got to have a genuine passion for writing and connecting with other people. You’ve also got to have tremendous discipline to keep on going even when you’re sick or not in the mood!
This post will show you how to set up a blog. It’s a post I wish I read when I first started in 2009. But to get you excited, here’s a real life income statement of a personal finance blogger today.
How To Set Up A Blog
1) Find a Domain Name
When selecting your name, you can head down two different avenues:
- Choose a domain that is unique, fun, and easy to remember e.g. Yakezie
- Choose a name with a phrase or key word that is often searched for e.g. Financial Samurai
In order to find a domain name that is still available, simply go to Bluehost or Godaddy.com and do a search filter, or start punching names in. That’s what I did for one our one evening in bed eight years ago in order to come up with FinancialSamurai.com. It’s fun and pretty easy.
Always register a *.com domain extension if you can. Dot com is by far the most popular extension and the most respected. But if you can’t find *.com for your URL, then consider *.net second. However, if there is already an active site with your ideal URL name in a *.com extension, I highly suggest you move on because your new *.net will find it difficult to rank well in the search engines.
2) Find a Web Host
A web host is simply a site server that has the ability to power your site and troubleshoot it whenever necessary. Without them, you cannot have a running website.
There are free web hosting options out there, but if you want a more stable site with higher up times and faster load speeds, then it’s best to pay for a web host company. There are three main types of web hosting plans:
- Shared hosting – Recommended for new sites as the cheapest way to start. Your site is placed on a server that also hosts other websites. I started off on a shared hosting plan for six months until my site started crashing the server and taking down other sites due to a growth in traffic. Estimated cost: under $5 a month
- VPS hosting – Your website is placed on a server with other websites, like shared hosting, but with less websites per server. VPS has better server specs and allows you to install more customized software packages beyond what’s available with the standard shared hosting. VPS also includes admin access to its own operating system installation in a virtualized environment. Estimated cost: Under $35 a month
- Dedicated servers – Once you’ve grown your site large enough where even a minute of downtime could cost you money, it’s time to get a dedicated server. The main benefit of a dedicated server is that you don’t share hosting with anybody. My site would often go down in the beginning because other sites are taking the server down. It was frustrating. You get full root or admin access, and get to customize exactly how powerful you want the server to be with the CPU chip, HD space, RAM, and so forth. Estimated cost: Under $150 a month.
BlueHost For Bloggers
Bluehost has some of the fastest loading speeds for your site and is especially customized for bloggers. Follow the instructions below to start:
1. Enter your domain name
2. Check the box “Add domain privacy” if you do not wish for people to see your name and address.
3. Skip all of the add-ons for now (be sure to uncheck them). You can always add these later once you get your blog started.
(Insider info: If you want to get a better rate than what’s advertised, simply try to exit the page in the middle of your sign-up. Sometimes, there will be a pop-up that says, “Are you sure you want to leave?” and will show an even better rate than what was initially displayed on the home page.)
4. Enter your billing information and select “Checkout”
Congratulations! You now own your very own website!
3) How to Link Your Site to a Domain Registry
If you decided to buy your domain name before signing up with a web host, then this step is for you. If you took my advice and entered in your domain name while signing up for a web host then you can skip this step and move on to Step #4.
Alright, so you purchased a domain name without securing a web host first. No big deal. When you decide which web host you are going with, just enter your newly purchased domain name in the “Domain” box. There are typically very few follow-up questions as this is quite normal.
If you already have a web host (perhaps you operate another website), simply sign into your web host page, go to the control panel, and click on “Domains”, then “Add a domain”. Here, you can add your new domain and set it up in full.
4) What Publishing Platform To Use
Go with WordPress. That’s what I use and it is by far the most popular platform on the web. WordPress is easy to set up, easy to use, and extremely customizable with endless amounts of widgets and themes to choose from.
After you sign up with your web host, log into your control panel (you should get here by simply signing into your web host with your new login information) and look for an icon that says, “Wordpress”.
Follow the step-by-step process to download and install WordPress. Once installed, simply enter your site name followed by “/wp-admin” and sign into your WordPress powered site. Here, you will be able to transform your website and shape it into whatever you choose. One of the best ways to do this is by first selecting a theme.
After you sign into your WordPress account, you should see “Appearance” on the left sidebar, and then “Themes” as you hover over the options.
Here, you will be able to explore the many themes available to you. This can be quite overwhelming, so here are the most popular options among personal finance bloggers.
The Genesis Theme is one of the most beloved WordPress themes out there. At a low cost of $59.99 through StudioPress, Genesis will provide you a simple, sleek layout, with excellent Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and speedy page loading. Yes, it comes with an initial cost, but many feel that it is worth it. Financial Samurai is currently on Genesis.
For $87, you can download a 1-year use of the basic Thesis framework and for $197, you can download the lifetime use of the full package, which includes various skins, add-on boxes, and direct support. Much like Genesis, Thesis will provide you an easy-to-use layout, will load quickly, and will provide you with excellent SEO options. However, when comparing Thesis to Genesis, many webmasters prefer Genesis.
If you are brand new to blogging and aren’t sure if you want to drop $60 or more on your WordPress.org theme, then Atahualpa might be right for you. This option is completely flexible and allows you to transform your page in many different ways. And, the best part is, it’s free. There are quite a few personal finance bloggers that have done quite well for themselves by implementing this theme, and one of the best parts is if you have any questions there is a ton of help online.
There are also plenty of generic themes you can choose for free. Surely one of them fits you, so give them a try. I went generic for the first three years on Financial Samurai and my site grew just fine. It was only when I started seeing other sites company my layout and color scheme did I go with a custom Genesis theme for $50.
5) Website Analysis
Now that you have purchased your domain, selected a web host to power it, and have selected a theme to customize it, you can now start writing your articles and attracting readers from all over the world! Well, hold on one second, there are a couple of other things you should do so that (1) readers can find your content, and (2) you can be aware of their presence and study their habits.
Since your site is registered, the search engines are technically aware that your site exists, but it is best to set up a sitemap so that your site is easily “crawled” by all of those search engine bots. Simply go into your WordPress Plug-in area and search, “Google Sitemap” and install the plug-in.
Set Up Webmaster Tools
Webmaster Tools is your communication between your page and Google. By setting up Google Analytics, you will be able to see what errors exist on your site, the speed of your page loads, and most importantly, this is where Google will let you know if you are violating any of their policies.
Set Up Google Analytics
If you are curious to see how many people are viewing your page, then I would suggest using Google Analytics. The service is completely free and will allow you to study your visitors and their actions while on your site.
How To Make A Money Making Blog
Many people start a website and just assume that the online masses will somehow flock to their page. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t happen. You must take time to build your brand. Perseverance is key here folks!
The main reason why people fail at blogging is because they can’t keep up a consistent writing schedule. They’ll start off publishing three posts a week, and then go for a couple months with nothing. It’s important to keep going, no matter what to gain momentum and build that great portfolio of content.
Do these five things to grow your site:
1) Comment on other well-known personal finance blogs or other blogs. If you leave a well-thought-out comment on a popular article, you will most likely have some readers trickle your way. It might just be one or two from each comment, but if you comment in many well-known places you will notice your readership increase quite impressively. Each comment will leave a link-back to your site and links are the currency of the web. The more link-banks you have from a variety of authority websites, the better. However, in order for these readers to stick, you need to have something worth sticking around for, which leads us to the next tip…
2) Write great content where you have an edge. It’s better to write from experience. If you are not retired, then writing about retirement life isn’t going to provide you with any credibility. If you are renter, then write about renting. Writing about the benefits of homeownership wouldn’t be as effective since you have no firsthand knowledge. Always try to write where you have direct experience and expertise. You can do everything imaginable to get eyeballs to your site, but if you don’t have anything worth reading then none of your guests will stick around and they certainly won’t revisit your site in the future. It’s important to be consistent with your writing schedule so that readers are “trained” to keep checking in. If your new reader discovers that you constantly have new material on your site, they will be prone to visit more often.
3) Guest post on other personal finance blogs. This takes a fair amount of work, but if you want to get a solid wave of readers on your site then I would suggest guest posting. Simply email the blog owner with a guest post proposal that you think his/her community will find interesting. I wouldn’t send them the already written article, because that makes it look like you are just shopping around to many blog owners. Instead, be very personal in the e-mail, highlight a few specific good posts s/he has written and why you liked them, and then segway into your proposal. Nothing makes a blogger happier than knowing someone else found who s/he wrote interesting and helpful. In the beginning, you have no audience. All you can do is give without expecting much in return. Once again, you will slowly build relevant link-backs and new readers with guest posts. Make sure that you already have at least 10 posts worth of meat before going on the guest post circuit.
4) Forget about the money. It seems counterintuitive to somehow earn money without focusing on it, but if you flood your website with advertisements early, then you will likely turn away readers. No reader wants to read crappy sponsored posts with no personality. No reader wants to read product review posts every week as well. Build a community first and The biggest personal finance blogs in the world have built great followings because they share personal stories and opinions on things you care about.
5) Have a consistent writing schedule. Financial Samurai usually publishes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday. I stuck with this three-posts-a-week schedule without fail for five years and readers have come to appreciate the consistency. It’s important that you also create a regular publishing schedule in order to build appreciation, loyalty, and trust with your ever growing reader base. If you publish three posts a week for two months, and then disappear for two months, you’ll lose plenty of readers who will go to other sites that have much more regular content.
Main Ways To Make Money With Your Blog
Now that you have set up your blog name, gave it a professional appearance, and have added tremendous content, it is time to consider making money from your blogging efforts.
Google Adsense and Media.net – CPC Ads
So what can you do to start earning money? If you have developed some traffic with your blog, I would recommend starting either a Google Adsense account or a Media.net account. Both of these businesses offer you a wide variety of color options for text ads and can also deliver image ads as well. The sign up process is very simple and once you choose the options that you desire (text color, type, size of ad, etc.), you will be provided with a simple html code that can be placed anywhere on your website. Often the most popular area for this type of ad(because it is the area that is most often seen) is on the upper left side of the page.
To place your Adsense or Media.net ad, simply enter your WordPress account, click into your widgets, place a new text widget in the top slot on the left side of your page, enter in the html code, and you will soon see your very own ad displayed on your website. Each time there is a click on your new ad, more money will be added into your earnings account! One click can generate anywhere from $0.01 to over $10, depending on the types of ads that are displayed on your page. When your earnings account reaches a certain amount (typically $100), that money will automatically be deposited into your bank account.
When companies (or their ad agents) contact you directly and pay you a lump sum to have their ad displayed on your page for a determined amount of time, this is a direct ad. In other words, if a company emails you and asks to have a 250×300 banner ad on the right side of you page and offers to pay you $1,000 to place it for a full year, this is a perfect example of a direct ad. Direct ads can also come in the form of text ads, which are simply phrases that have links in them that direct your visitors back to the advertiser’s site.
Direct ads were all the rage a few years ago, and companies were willing to pay $500 to even the smallest of sites to place their banners and widgets for a single year. For the most part, those days are over, largely because of Google’s crackdown on passing PageRank. Since this page is about making money and not about Google’s guidelines, I won’t go into detail regarding this. However, if you receive communication from an advertiser regarding a direct ad, be sure to ad rel=”no follow” to the link to adhere to Google’s guidelines. If you do not, Google has the authority to take away your PageRank and can even remove your site from their search engine.
Affiliate marketing is the go-to form of advertising for many bloggers that target a specific audience. For instance, if your blog is all about leadership and self-development, it would probably be a good idea for you to sign up with Amazon.com and set up a banner that offers books related to leadership.
With affiliate marketing, you don’t get paid per clicks like you would with Adsense, you get paid per conversion. A conversion can be a sale of a book or a sign up of a new customer. The key to good affiliate marketing is to only highlight products that you actually use and believe in.
Some companies have direct affiliate programs through platforms like HasOffers. Other companies go through an ad network like CJ, Flexoffers, and Impact Radius.
Use Multiple Methods at Once
You are not limited to only one money-making option on your blog. You can choose to implement all of them if you want. You could place an Adsense ad on your upper-left sidebar, put another one in the heart of your articles, place a direct banner ad in your upper right sidebar, put another direct text ad beneath it, and you could place affiliate links on a separate designated page.
Don’t be afraid to try new forms of ads and shift them around your site. Always be testing so you can find your optimal placement based off aesthetics and conversion rates. It’s important not to overload your webpage with too many ads above the fold (the top part of your homepage where a user lands). Google has punished websites before for overstuffing.
How Much Money Could You Earn?
Ah, the big question on everybody’s mind! Despite telling you not to think about the money in terms of helping you survive for as long as possible, it’s nice to know how much money you can actually make after spending so much time producing content and paying to start and maintain your site through hosting.
Let’s first look at the various advertising lingo.
Cost Per Click (CPC, the cost refers to the advertiser) – When you post an ad on your site that pays you each time someone clicks on it, this is a CPC, which stands for “Cost Per Click”. You might earn as little as $0.01 a click or up to $1 a click, depending on how valuable the keyword is being clicked on. For example, you will likely earn more money if your Google Adsense ad has a link to “how to get rich” vs. “fluffy bunny.” Going the CPC route is the easiest way to make money.
Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM) – CPM is usually reserved for higher trafficked sites that can earn money after each 1,000 impressions/pageviews. If you have a banner ad on the homepage with a CPM of $3, you get to earn $3 for every 1,000 pageviews. If your homepage receives 100,000 pageviews a month, you can therefore earn $300 a month (100,000 / 1,000 = 100 X $3).
Click Through Rate (CTR) – Your CTR measures your ads efficacy, however click through is measured. If your CTR is 2% and your ad receives 100,000 pageviews, then your ad will get 2,000 clicks. If your CPC for this ad is $0.50, then you will earn 2,000 X $0.50 = $1,000. Not bad!
You can also measure CTR lower down the funnel. Let’s say you have an affiliate ad that shows 100,000 times. You might get a 5% CTR, which means 5,000 clicks to the ad’s landing page. But, given it is an affiliate ad, you don’t get paid until someone signs up. Then you’ve got to measure your CTR of the 5,000 clicks. If 3% of the 5,000 clicks sign up, that’s 150 clicks. If you get paid $50 for conversion, then that’s $750.
Potential Earnings Based on Traffic
Based on the two examples I used with CTR, the biggest variable to higher website revenue is therefore traffic. I’ve come up with a rough guide to how much a personal finance blogger could organically make if they optimized their website. I’m excluding websites who spend money to gain traffic through advertisement (not organic).
Take a look at the table below based on my experience as a personal finance blogger. The chart is probably relevant to websites in the health, sports, and education genres as well. Websites in the entertainment genre make much less e.g. LOL Cats, Buzzfeed. More specifically, Reddit, a site with over 150 million pageviews a monthly only made $8.3 million in revenue in 2014. That is tiny because Reddit is basically a message board where people come to chat.
Make Money Blogging Is The Best
In the beginning stages of blogging (typically the first six months), you will likely feel a little lonely with few visitors and even fewer commenters. It’s very easy to give up during this stage. Don’t! Instead, network with fellow bloggers, comment on other sites, and build relationships. I commented on hundreds of sites for the first year, and eventually, other bloggers took notice.
I never would have imagined starting a personal finance blog would allow me to break free from Corporate America three years later, let me make money while traveling for months on end, and give me the opportunity to pivot into the financial technology space.
The things you do today could change your life tomorrow. Sign up for Bluehost today to get your blog going. Not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009. Blogging has given me the freedom I’ve always wanted. Now that I have a baby boy, the value of being able to make money blogging has never been greater!