*This "how to start a blog" post is an AD.
One of the questions I get asked the most is "how to start a blog?" So I thought it was time I finally wrote a post on this topic while we're all deep in lockdown and suddenly have all this time. With weeks left in isolation and potential for further extensions into the summer. It's a perfect time to start a blog. Why is that? Because starting a blog takes time, patience and a lot of learning. It's one of those jobs you could easily put off forever, but instead, why not take the opportunity you've been handed during lockdown to make the most of the time by investing in your business, or your hobby?
If you had told me six years ago...
If you had told me six years ago when I started blogging that this website would have helped me travel the world solo for six years. That I would get to work with high profile travel and lifestyle brands and have amazing opportunities. I don't think I would have believed you. I started this blog as a hobby, something to add to my CV.
Over the years it has taken on a life of its own. Even winning highly commended in travel at the UK Blog Awards. I have had amazing opportunities like hot air balloon rides and safari camp stays in Sri Lanka, free stays in Slovenia, Romania, Thailand and Bali. I've attended music festivals in across Europe with brands like Ryanair and Debenhams. But the reason I've had these amazing opportunities is because of the work I put in from the beginning to build up Absolutely Lucy into a brand of it's own.
Key things to remember when starting a blog
Are you launching a business or a hobby?
This is an important thing to think about when you're starting out. Whether you want to run a blog in the business sense. Or whether you simply want to write and put it out there but don't plan to grow beyond friends/family. This will dramatically affect the amount of money you spend and the time you invest into working on your blog. Be honest with yourself about how much you want to give this blog. They can easily take over your life if you give them the time. If you just want to try blogging as a hobby, or aren't sure about where it will go – you don't need to worry about following all of the points in this blog. This post is aimed more at those who want to know how to start a blog with hopes of it becoming a business.
Choose your niche
It can be difficult at first if you want to write about ALL the things. But if you want to know how to start a blog, choosing a niche early will really help you later on to cultivate your content to really give your audience value. If you can at least narrow it down to a few things, that will really help you to stay focused. Don't forget, you can always change niche later on – just be sure that your audience will enjoy the change and keep following.
For example, I started writing a lifestyle blog, but then changed to a travel blog – and later I narrowed it down even more to adventure travel and solo female travel. I still cover other topics like fashion, sustainability and responsible travel, lifestyle, careers/blogging and wellbeing in smaller amounts. But when I do this, it's always in a way that relates it to my audience. Keep this in mind when choosing, and always choose a niche that you enjoy and can write lots of content about, otherwise it will show.
Pick a name that can grow with you
Choosing a name for your new project can be tricky. But it's important to pick something that is memorable and unique to you. Try to avoid overused and cliché phrasing – for example the word "nomad" is hugely overused in the travel blogging industry. Also you need to pick a name that can grow with you over the years as the focus of your blog might change. Don't pick anything too specific or you may find it holds you back.
For example – don't go for something like Adventures of a Teenager in Paris – why not? Because you won't be a teenager forever and it will be difficult to work around that. I was lucky and when I thought of Absolutely Lucy – it was actually one of the first names that came to me. It's also meant that the name has fit well with my full career of blogging and while I'm focused on travel, it also encompasses all topics.
Don't have any expectations and don't do it for the money
This is the most important one – I get so many messages from people wanting to know how to start a blog because they want to make money easily. Let me start by telling you that nothing about blogging is easy. Blogging is time-consuming, it's complicated and the truth is, every time you think you're getting the hang of it, you'll learn about something else that you should be doing. Unless you get very lucky, it's unlikely you'll be making any money off your blog straight away or even for the first six months to a year. You have to be prepared to work a lot for free before you ever get anything back.
Don't do it for the money – it's obvious when people are just in it for the £££. Do it for the passion, for the love of the topic and that will shine through. You audience will see your passion and will engage with that. Helping you to grow a community and stand more chance of making money in the long-term. Blogging is always about the long game. I was lucky and started earning within a few months of starting my blog but that's because I took the time to build up an audience. I certainly wasn't earning enough to even justify the costs of setting this blog up for a year.
Follow the ASA guidelines when working with brands
Over the last two years, the ASA have become the regulators for bloggers and influencers in any capacity. They have guidelines available for any paid work including ADs and Gifting. It's important to follow these and will make it much easier if you do it from the start instead of trying to fix issues later on. Find more about the ASA guidelines in the posts linked below:
- Read: New guidance launched for social influencers
- Read: An Influencer's Guide to making clear that ads are ads
How to start a blog – the 5 stages:
Pick a platform for your blog – which one is best?
I actually didn't even realise quite how many blogging platforms there were until I started putting this post together. You have so many to choose from so take the time to do a bit of research and compare different functionalities of each with the type of blog you want to start. I'm a lifelong WordPress girl and have been with them from the start, but you also have Blogger, Tumblr, Gator, Squarespace, Wix, Medium and Ghost. When I started out, WordPress was the only one I knew of, but it's by far the most popular. It's a great option if you have no coding experience but want to be able to set up a website in minutes. Plus free themes, plugins and full control over every aspect of your website.
Find a host – Should I go self-hosted?
Just like blogging platforms, there are loads of hosting providers to choose from. The main question here is – do you want to work with brands and make money from your blog? If the answer is YES, you need to go self-hosted. It's your choice whether you do it from the beginning or wait, I went self-hosted after 4-5 months and it was the best decision. Going self-hosted takes your website from www.wordpress.com/absolutelylucy to www.absolutelylucy.com and just means that you have full control/ownership over your website.
Brands will only want to work with self-hosted sites so if this is your goal, it's best to get set up before you start to approach them. Do your research when picking a hosting provider, I found this whole process very confusing so luckily had a good friend who helped me with the process. If you're not sure, choose a hosting provider with a migration service who can change everything over for you. I bought my domain name from GoDaddy and my website is hosted by Bravenet – I've found both great over the years and really supportive.
Downloading the right plugins
Increase the functionality of your website by introducing the right plugins. This can help increase the speed, the organisation and the look of your website both for your audience and Google. Plugins are kind of like an add-on which you can add to your site to help tidy it up. I used loads of plugins and find them super helpful for growing my site. These have included social media plugins which link to my social feeds, Smush which is a great one for compressing images and making your website run faster. The GDPR Compliance plugin is great if you want to ensure you're abiding by the ASA regulations. There are loads more great ones which will help if you want to know how to start a blog. The trick is, anytime you find something you can't do – research it because there's usually a plugin that can help you.
Choosing a theme/layout and a logo
You have a choice with themes and logos – it all depends how much you want to spend. If you are setting up a new business and want it properly branded, I recommend working with a designer who have give you a branding package. These help you with a new logo, plus colour themes and a choice of fonts. You can even get a designer to create a brand new and unique website just for your business. However, this can be pricey, costing anywhere from £150+ for a branding package, to thousands for a full website redesign. It all depends on what stage your business is at and how much you wish to spend.
Another option that is more budget-friendly, is to create your own logo using Canva or another programme. Then picking a blog theme with full functionality from a website like Envato or Themeforest. You can set it all up yourself and just spend around $50-70 on a theme. Or, if you really don't want to spend any money – WordPress has a lot of free themes which, although basic, are great if you just need something simple.
Learning SEO & creating content
If there is one tip I can give you when reading about how to start a blog – it's learn SEO. It might seem a daunting task but search engine optimisation is a huge part of blogging.Making sure your site is up-to-date helps you stand the best chance of your content being found organically. That means when people search in Google for topics you cover, that your content will actually show up in results, helping a much wider audience to find your site. There are lots of great posts explaining SEO in more detail – like the one I have linked below. You can also download great plugins that can help make SEO a lot easier, such as the Yoast SEO plugin.
8 easy ways to upgrade your website today
Improving the look and functionality of your site
It's worth getting a friend to look over your website and test it to make sure everything is working properly. Get them to check it is easy to find everything, and that all text is easy to read. If they find any text or graphics cannot be understood, it might be worth checking out these free fonts and script fonts, to see if they might be better for your site. Check out the font bundles for free and premium resources. These could be useful if you need to redesign or tweak the layout and style of your website. You can also use them for graphics, branding, invites and any marketing you might need for your website. While checking the lettering of your site – make sure you check every link in the menus and any imagery is still relevant.
Checking for broken links
Checking your blog's DA and Google positioning is really important for keeping track of your views and audience. This information is what you will present to brands when pitching to them. You can check your blog's DA using Moz and the goal is to get it as high as possible. One factor that can cause your DA to remain low is broken links which are easily fixed and can make a big difference. Checking for broken links is really easy to do by downloading the Broken Link Checker plugin from WordPress, or finding an equally good tool in your own blogging platform. You can then identify any broken links and either fix the links or remove them from your website.
Updating the SEO of old posts
This is a huge job and one I am currently working on myself by going through hundreds of old blog posts to bring them up-to-date. If there's one thing I can really advise you to learn as early as possible, it's SEO – search engine optimisation. But if you didn't learn it early on, you have a lot of work you can be doing. Make it easier on yourself by reading some blog posts about SEO and downloading the Yoast SEO plugin. It provides you with all the boxes for creating meta-titles and meta-descriptions. It can check keyword density plus readability factors which can all influence your positioning in Google and your DA. These small things can make a big difference. Plus it really helps to update your content regularly so your website stays relevant.
Interlinkage between posts
The links on your website are a very important factor in strengthening your website in the eyes of Google. Each blog post should have multiple links to various other blog posts relevant to the post. This helps to make the entire website stronger, but also helps to strengthen categories and individual blog posts by linking them to similar content. Links to outside sources are equally important and you should always be including links to high authority websites in your blog posts. High authority sites are ones with high DAs that appear high in Google searches, come from reputable sources and are relevant/similar to your own website. Combining the two of these is an important part of SEO optimisation of your website.
Streamlining your website
This can be done in a number of ways and just helps to keep your website as easy as possible for Google to process. So much of blogging is just keeping Google happy so that your website can be found as organically as possible. Over the last 18 months, I've been having regular clear outs of old blog posts. This is also useful to bear in mind if you're in the process of finding out how to start a blog. If content is no longer relevant or can't be brought up-to-date, I've been deleting the post and redirecting the page to a more relevant post, It helps even out the addition of new blog posts by removing older content – when you have 600+ pages on your website – this is a necessity. You can also look at shortening blog URLs and redirecting the old links, and tightening up on interlinkage.
Create a media kit and start pitching to brands
If you're not already working with brands – what are you waiting for? There is no right time to start, there is no number you have to hit before you can. So why not start today? I was working with brands from early on in my blogging career both in a gifting and paid capacity. Make sure you read the blog post I have linked below on pitching to brands and setting your blogging rates. Always remember that if you are working with a brand and are providing a service by sharing their product with your audience. You deserve to be paid!
Create a media kit using programmes like Canva which is great for all graphic content. You can sign up for the free version of Canva here which is great for all the basics. Or get a Canva Pro subscription which gives you unlimited access to design materials, images and much more including creating your own brand kit.
Either upload it to a page on your website, or download a copy to send directly to brands in PDF format. Don't just pitch to everyone. Take the time to research brands that would be aligned with your blog's values. Choose brands you love and use all the time, brands that would resonate with your audience. Always pitch with suggestions/ideas for content. Always ask if there are any opportunities, or to let you know about future ones.
Start a mailing list
This is huge and something I wish I had started from the very beginning – but starting at any time is valuable. Think of a mailing list like your personal address book with direct contacts to all of your followers. If you want to make money from blogging – this is a good place to start. You can read more about affiliate marketing in the next section of this post – but think of it as a way to gain passive income 24/7. The bigger your audience, the better because you have a direct contact with them.
Even better – you have complete control over these followers. Imagine if Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook went down tomorrow, you could lose all of your followers. But you will always have your email list! And approaching brands with a solid email list can be a great way to secure work. I use MailChimp which is great and free (up to 2000 subscribers), although there are lots of other options available.
Sign up for affiliate marketing channels
One of the main draws of blogging is being able to set yourself up to receive passive income. This can be done through affiliate marketing, or selling products online. It means that even when you're on holiday or asleep, you can be earning money. It takes time to set this up, but put the work in and grow an audience. You can make money simply off their clicks on your website! Sign up for affiliate marketing partnerships with networks such as AWIN, Impact Radius, Rakuten, CJ. Then join programmes of brands that you love so you can earn a % off any purchases made through your unique links. Read more about it to find out how to start a blog and get started with affiliate marketing.
The truth about running a blog
If you've read this blog post on how to start a blog and still want to try it – I'm hoping that's because your passion for blogging far outweighs your hopes of getting paid. No blogger can honestly say they're in it for the money. Blogging is all about building a community and sharing your passion and knowledge with others who want to learn. That's the truly fun part – if you make money out of it or get to do amazing things – that's just a bonus!
Have you always wanted to start a blog? Do you still want to start a blog after reading how much work is involved? What blog would you like to start?