How to Start A Blog for $50 or Less (Step-by-step Newbie Guide)

Step-by-step blogging guide for beginners. Learn how to create a blog from scratch, drive targeted traffic, improve people's life, and make more money.

Post updated July 18th, 2016

Starting a blog is not as difficult as it seems.

Sure, it could get very tricky in the later stage; but generally speaking, blogging is do-able for everyone who has a computer with an Internet connection.

About this guide

In this very long (more than 8,600 words) article, we will talk about both the easy part and advance details in blogging.

  • Easy level – Step-by-step guide in registering a domain, purchasing a web host, and setting up WordPress (the blogging platform you are going to use).
  • Mid level – Understand how WordPress works. Fine tune your blog functions and designs via plugins and pre-designed themes.
  • Advance level – How to attract the right traffic and make more money blogging.

Part of this guide is compiled into our ebook “The Unfair Advantage Guide to Blogging Success” in 2016. You might want to check out our ebook if you like what you see here (download form on your right).

Learn How to Create and Run A Blog with less than $50

Before we start , here’s a step-by-step blueprint.

  1. Find a topic for your blog ($0)
  2. Register a domain name ($10.99/yr or free)
  3. Purchase a web host ($23.88/year)
  4. Install WordPress ($0)
  5. Design your blog with free WordPress themes ($0)
  6. Install all essential free plugins ($0)
  7. Monetisation (part 1): Ways to make money (N/A)
  8. Monetisation (part 2): Blogging niche revisit (N/A)
  9. Drive traffic to your blog (N/A)
  10. Free blogging tools you can  make use of ($0)

As you can see – the minimum start up cost for a blog (step #1 – #6) is just $34.87/year. Of course you will need slightly more investment down the road but in the beginning, $35 is all that you need.

We will now go into details for each of these steps.

1. Find a right niche for your blog

Credit: Dave Walker

There are many different reasons people start blogs.

Some people blog as a hobby. Some blog to expand their business reach online. Some wish to make more money and see blogging as the platform to do that.

Most individual bloggers started a blog because they have a passion for the topic and they have something to say. They also believe they can make money from this topic, either through selling memberships, selling products or through advertising.

What is your reason?

No matter the purpose of the blog, figuring out the niche market is vital.

A blog simply can’t be everything to everyone. Instead, you need to figure out who you are writing to and what topics you’re writing about.

A good blogging niche should fulfil the following three criteria.

1. Fill a need

If you’ve ever thought “I wish someone would blog about this”, that’s the a-ha moment. If it is a topic that you’d like to know more about, then it is likely a topic that other people want to know about.

What is your unique knowledge? How can you provide something unique to the topic that no one else can? It could even be through an interview with an expert.

2. Something you are passionate about 

Whatever subject you choose as your niche will be something you have to write about frequently. If you really care about the subject, it will be easier to come up with multiple topics. Plus, you’ll enjoy writing on those topics.

There is nothing worse than writing about something you really don’t care that much about. While you can learn enough about almost any topic to write a short article, if you don’t like what you’re writing, it will show.

3. Profitable

Your blog needs to be able to stand alone by itself. That means that your blog needs to be in a niche that you can monetise on. Ask yourself if it is a topic that will attract readers AND create income – whether through advertising or sales. If you are blogging to support your existing business, does the blog bring in new clients? If you are blogging just because you are passionate about the subject, is there a way to monetise your individual blog?

That’s all we will talk about blogging niche for now. We will revisit this topic again later and go deep on how to pick a profitable niche. Stay tuned.

2. Register A Domain Name

There are two ways to host and operate your blog.

  1. Host it on a web-based platform such as Blogger and WordPress.com; and,
  2. Run it on a self-hosted platform (this means you will need to buy your own domain and web hosting service)

I have built a list of free blogging platforms back in 2009 (see it here). Today, there are probably less than 10 of these free platforms that are still active; with Blogger.com, Tumblr, and WordPress.com as the three most popular ones.

While free blogging platforms (FREE! – what’s better than that, huh?) sound like a great option at first, you might want to reconsider your options if you are serious about blogging.

Look around – Most pro-bloggers who make their living off their blogs host are hosted on their own hosting and domain, why? Gina discussed some of the major pitfalls in free blog hosting in this article – if you want more details, that’d be the perfect post to chew on.

We will focus solely on creating a blog in self-hosted environment in this article.

What is a domain name?

A domain name like the address of your blog. It is not something physical that you can touch or see; but merely a string of characters that give your website an identity.

How to register a domain name?

To own a domain name, you need to register the domain with one of the registrars.

GoDaddy and Name Cheap are the two domain registrars that I have been using since the beginning of time. GoDaddy is the world’s biggest domain registrar (phone support world wide and managing more than 6 million domains) and has a very user-friendly admin area; Name Cheap, on the other hand, is slightly cheaper and offer free domain privacy for first year.

At this time of writing, a .com domain costs $10.69/year at Name Cheap and $19.99/year at GoDaddy.

Does domain name matter?

When choosing your domain name, pick something that’s unique but will be easy for visitors to remember. As a rule of thumb, the shorter the domain name the better.

It is also best to avoid too many dashes or other elements that a user might find difficult to remember. However, as more and more people get on the Internet and get their own domains, it gets harder and harder to find a unique name that is memorable. Using domain tools like Dot-omator or Domain Groovy can help.

Another thing to consider is what primary keyword visitors might be searching for when they are looking for the niche you’re in. Can you incorporate that keyword into your domain name? While there’s no guarantee, having that primary keyword in the domain may give you a tail wind SEO.

3. Choose A Suitable Web Host

My recommendation for newbies is to always start small with a shared web host. In shared hosting – you share the server resources with a number of other users. The hosting capacity is smaller than other hosting options (VPS, dedicated, etc) but you’ll pay much lesser (often <$5/mo at signup) and need less technical knowledge to start.

iPage, BlueHost, InMotion Hosting, A2 Hosting, and SiteGround Hosting are some popular names that I recommend.

I will use iPage as our example in this guide. I picked iPage mainly because…

  1. The company has a good business track record. You don’t want to host with a fly-by-night hosting operation because everything on your blog might be jeopardised if the host goes out of business (which unfortunately I have seen quite a few lately).
  2. iPage is very affordable. With WHSR’s special discount – an iPage shared hosting account costs $1.99/mo at signup, which is much cheaper than the rest.

You can read more about my experience and review on iPage here.

Quick references

Here are a quick comparison of hosting options I recommend.

Web HostFeaturesPriceWHSR RatingAction
iPage hosting Affordable unlimited hosting
WHSR’s Best Budget Hosting Pick #1
$2.25/moWeb Host RatingHosting Company RatingWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting RatingHosting Star Rating Read review
Visit online
Inmotion 90 days full money back guarantee
Special discount (only at WHSR), save 55%
$4.19/moWeb Host RatingHosting Company RatingWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting RatingHosting Star Rating Read review
Visit online
Pressidium Hosting WP Hosting by real WP experts
Reliable server – 100% uptime record
$17.90/moWeb Host RatingHosting Company RatingWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting Reviews Read review
Visit online
A2 Hosting Full SSD hosting, blazing fast server
1-Click installation for 300+ scripts
$7.99/moWeb Host RatingHosting Company RatingWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting Reviews Read review
Visit online
Siteground Hosting In business for more ~10 years
Premium hosting service
$3.95/moWeb Host RatingHosting Company RatingWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting RatingHosting Star Rating Read review
Visit online
eHost Free Site Builder with 300+ themes
Extremely reliable hosting (longest uptime streak so far)
$2.75/moWeb Host RatingHosting Company RatingWeb Hosting ReviewsWeb Hosting ReviewsHosting Star Rating Read review
Visit online

The key to finding a good starter host is to pick up a reliable web host (hint: this is why you need to look at the uptime records we published in our review section) that you can afford of and that provides you with an auto-installer like Fantastico, Softaculous, or SimpleScripts.

It is vital that you have auto-installers at your disposal so you can set up your block with a  few clicks. Otherwise, you’ll waste untold amounts of time trying to figure out coding language and how to install basic software. That can be completely overwhelming to a first-time blogger.

Ordering a web host: A walk-through guide

The following diagrams will walk you through the ordering process at iPage – just in case you got stuck in any of those steps.

1. Order iPage hosting from homepage

iPage Hosting Review

To get started, visit http://www.ipage.com and click ‘Sign Up Now’ at homepage. The current price for iPage is $1.99/mo – which is one of the cheapest shared hosting services.

2. Insert your domain

ipage - blogging tip - add domain

Shortly after you click “Sign Up Now”, you’ll be directed to “Step 1: Select Domain” page. Select “Register a new domain” if you are registering a new domain, which is free for all iPage first time customers, or insert your existing domain name if you already have one. For those who are registering a new domain for the first time, you will need to come out with a unique name that has not been registered by other bloggers. We use whsrbloggingguide.com in this example and just in case you are unsure, check out my Domain Name Tips here.

3. Personal info and additional hosting features

Next, you will need to key in your personal info (name, address, email, etc), your credit card info, and the subscription period (2 years by default). As you scroll down, you will see a number of additional features to be added to your account. Some of these are actually unnecessary or can be done free (for example you can always use WP Total Cache to boost your WP performance) so my suggestion is to uncheck all.

Next, you will need to key in your personal info (name, address, email, etc), your credit card info, and the subscription period (2 years by default). As you scroll down, you will see a number of additional features to be added to your account. Some of these are actually unnecessary or can be done free (for example you can always use WP Total Cache to boost your WP performance) so my suggestion is to uncheck all. When you are done, just click “Check Out”. If your payment is successful, your iPage hosting account should be ready instantly.

As soon as you click “Check Out”, iPage will charge the payment from your credit card.

Under normal situation, if your payment is successful, your hosting account will be ready instantly. You will receive a welcome email with all the login details to your account. And you are set to login to your iPage account for the first time to setup your blog.

4. Install and login to WordPress

As mentioned, your iPage account should be ready as soon as you made your payment. Now it’s time to login to your admin area. The admin area is like the cork pit of an aeroplane, where you can control all the aspects of your hosting account.

There are two ways to install WordPress – the platform where you are going to setup your blog.

One, you can do it manually by downloading the files from WordPress.org and uploading them to your web host; or, use the auto-installation app provided by iPage. Both methods are fairly simple but for newbies – I don’t see why you should do this manually.

WordPress Manual Installation

Official step-by-step guide can be found here. In a quick glance, here are the steps you need to do:

  1. Download and unzip the WordPress package to your local PC.
  2. Create a database for WordPress on your web server, as well as a MySQL user who has all privileges for accessing and modifying it.
  3. Rename the wp-config-sample.php file to wp-config.php.
  4. Open wp-config.php in text editor (notepad) and fill in your database details.
  5. Place the WordPress files in the desired location on your web server.
  6. Run the WordPress installation script by accessing wp-admin/install.php in your web browser. If you installed WordPress in the root directory, you should visit: http://example.com/wp-admin/install.php; if you installed WordPress in its own subdirectory called blog, for example, you should visit: http://example.com/blog/wp-admin/install.php
  7. And you are done.

Auto WordPress Installation

Okay, I suppose you just skipped the manual installation guide and come to this part. Wise choice ;)

The easiest way to setup WordPress in your iPage hosting account is to “auto” install it using iPage’s built-in app. With the support of iPage’s auto installation service, the process is pretty much idiot-proof and can be done in just a few mouse clicks. You can refer to the following images for additional details.

This is how your iPage admin area looks like. Under "Website" section, there's a WordPress icon in second row, click on it to begin.

This is how your iPage admin area looks like. Under “Website” section, there’s a WordPress icon in second row, click on it to begin.

iPage one-click installation is now supported by Mojo Market Place - which could be helpful should you wish to purchase a premium them and get it installed to your WordPress. But for our example, we will just focus on installing a free version of WordPress.

iPage one-click installation is now supported by Mojo Market Place – which could be helpful should you wish to purchase a premium them and get it installed to your WordPress. But for our example, we will just focus on installing a free version of WordPress. Simply click “Install” once you come to this screen and the following steps are pretty straight forward (select the domain to install your WordPress, insert your email address and click finish – that’s it!).

Note that things might look different if you are doing this (auto-installation) on other web host but the process is generally the same.

As long as you are sticking with an auto-installation app like Fantastico or Softaculous or Simple Scripts, the process shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

Writing your first blogpost

Once you have got your WordPress system installed, you will be given an URL to login to your WordPress administrator page.

In most cases, the URL will be something like this (depends on the folder you installed the WordPress):

http://www.exampleblog.com/wp-admin

Tip: It’s a good idea to bookmark this wp-admin login URL since you will be coming in here very often.

More tip: It would be even better if you change this login URL to something else (ie. exampleblog.com/login-page) for security purposes. 

Now, go to this admin URL and login with your preset username and password (the one that you key in when you installed your WordPress earlier); and there, you are now in the WordPress administrator area. This will be the part of the blog where only you as the administrator can access.

Here’s a quick view on how WordPress (version 4.1 Dinah) dashboard looks like. Pretty cool, isn’t it? And we are ready to publish our very first post.

WordPress 4.1 Dinah

WordPress 4.1 Dinah – Click “Add New” to start posting on your blog. We currently have more than 700 posts published on WHSR – so there’s a lot of catch up to do for you! :)

To write and publish a new post, simple navigate to the left sidebar, click ‘Posts’ > ‘Add New’ and you’ll be directed to the writing screen. Click ‘Preview’ to preview how things look like on the front-end (what your readers will see), click ‘Publish’ once the post is complete.

Hola! You now have your first blog post published.

5. WordPress Blog Designs

Now that we are done with the basics in blogging, it’s time to take a deeper dive.

Generally speaking a WordPress blog is supported by 3 main elements:

  • CMS Core – the system that we installed earlier using auto installer.
  • Plugins – add-on functions that give you additional controls and features on your blog
  • Themes – the design of your blog

In other words, to design your WordPress blog, all we need to do is customise the design of your blog theme.

The beauty of WordPress is that your blog’s design, also known as the theme, is separated from the backend system.

You can change your theme as often as you’d like, customize a packaged theme, or even create a new theme from scratch, if you have the design skills.

However, to have a nice design for your blog, you don’t have to create a theme from scratch.

Other people have already done this for you, after all.

Yep – that’s right.

Truth is, most individual WordPress bloggers do not create their own blog themes. Rather, what most of us do is to pick a ready-made theme (or a raw theme) and customize it according to our needs. There are endless numbers of beautiful (and useful) WordPress themes around the Internet – a simple search on Google will lead you to millions. If this is your first time establishing a WordPress blog, my suggestion to you is to start with a ready-made theme and tweak it along the way.

Where to find well-designed blog themes?

Official WordPress Theme Directory

Wordpress theme directory

This is where you can get all the free WordPress themes. Themes listed in this directory follow very tight standards provided by the WordPress developers, hence in my opinion this is the best place to get free, bug-less theme designs.

 WordPress Theme Directory

Paid Theme Directory

Another way to get high quality paid themes is to subscribe to blog theme clubs. Theme clubs offer a wide variety of designs for one low price.

Elegant Themes and My Themes Shop are two examples, but there are many others out there. Some clubs even cater to a particular industry, such as business or education.

I used to be a subscriber to Elegant Themes (my top fav, love Nick’s code and design!) for years but not anymore as I am not building as many sites per year as I used to.

elegant themes samples

For your reference, here are some of the WordPress themes available on Elegant. You can go check out all their theme designs in this directory.

Perks of using a paid themes

Free is (always) good. But do keep in mind that you might not get the kind of professional designs and comprehensive functions you wish with those free themes.

Generally speaking, paid themes are better supported and frequently updated.

Plus, there will be far fewer bloggers using a paid theme at any given time (if branding is important).

6. Essential WordPress Plugins

One of the big reasons why WordPress is so widely accepted is the ease of use of plugins.

Plugins are additional functions that you can add to your blog, such as site backup or social media share buttons.  Plugins not only make your life easier, they can enhance your blog and protect your work. Contrary to popular belief, a well-designed plugin does not slow down your blog. There are some plugins that you must at least know about and have.

Security & Spam Protection

akismet

For security and spam protection, Akismet, Vault Press, Limit Login Attempt, and Better WP Security are the four plugins that I recommend.

Akismet is one of the oldest plugins that comes along with your WordPress by default. This plugin helps check all your comments against its service to see if they are spam. It collects all the spam and lets you review it under your blog’s ‘comments’ admin screen. Vault Press, on the other hand, is a real-time backup and security scanning service designed by Automattic, the company that operates more than 24 million sites on WordPress. This plugin gives you the functionality to backup and synchronize all your posts, comments, media files, revisions and dashboard settings on the servers. WordPress allows unlimited login attempts by default. With the Limit Login Attempt plugin, you can limit the number of login attempts through normal login and using auto cookies. After a specific number of retries, it blocks an Internet address from making further attempts to log in, making it difficult for attackers.

Last but not least, Better WP Security is the one plugin that combines all major WordPress security features. The main function of this plugin is to tighten a blog’s security without having to worry about conflicting features or missing anything on your site or blog.

 Plugins: AkismetVault PressLimit Login Attempts, and Better WP Security

Search Engine Optimization

Although WordPress is a SEO-friendly blogging platform, there is quite a lot more to do to improve your basic on-site SEO scores with the help of plugins. WordPress SEO developed by Yoast and All In One SEO Pack developed by Michael Torbert for examples, could be very good additions in your plugin list.

Plugins: WordPress SEOAll In One SEO Pack, and WordPress SEO by Yoast

Social Media Sharings

Once you have your blog live and are writing compelling content, you are going to need an easy way for visitors to share your content. In fact, this needs to be part of your marketing strategy to gain more traffic. The best option is a social media plugin, which will automatically position small icons above, below or beside your content so that people can share it. For the sake of variety, here’s a list of 30 free social media plugins. Go check them out and pick one that suits your style the best.

Plugins: Shareaholic, Jetpack by WordPress.com, and GetSocial.io

Blog Performance

When it comes to blog performance optimization, W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular options. It improves the user experience on your site by increasing the server performance, reducing the time taken to download and increases page loading speed. W3 Total Cache is recommended by many top web hosts and used by quite a number of big blogs. The two other plugins that come close in this category are Cloud Flare and WP Super Cache. Cloud Flare is a free plugin provided by the CDN company, Cloud Flare; while WP Super Cache is developed by Donncha O Caoimh and Automattic (the company that developed and operates WordPress now).

Plugins: W3 Total Cache, Cloud Flare, and WP Super Cache

Other Essentials

  • Revive Old Post Revive Old Post is used to promote old posts on social media (Twitter mainly). In fact, this plugin used to be called “Tweet Old Post”. The plugin “helps you to keeps your old posts alive by sharing them and driving more traffic to them from social networks”. You can also schedule posts, schedule how many at one time, and how far to space them apart.
  • Easy Tweet Embed This plugin helps to improve social media user engagement. Make it easier for people to share your tweets and increase retweets by as much as 25%.
  • Schema Creator by Raven When I need schema marking on my blog, I turn to this plugin. It is just a matter of filling in a form to build properly formatted schema.org microdata into a post or page in WordPress.
  • It can help improve the snippets that are shown when your site comes up in searches and thus translate into better SEO.
  • WordPress Editorial Calendar If you have a blog with multiple authors submitting posts, it can grow confusing quickly. The editorial calendar plugin allows you to see all the posts at a glance and drag and drop them into the calendar, scheduling them easily and without toggling back and forth between posts and general post view.

7. Monetisation (Part 1): The Best Way to Make Money

Note – Some part of chapter #7 – #9 is originally published in a separated blogpost; critical information, tools suggestions, and links are updated.

Question #1: How much can you earn via blogging?

If you search ‘make money blogging’ on Google, one of the relevant search results suggested by Google is “can you really make money blogging”.

This shows there are many doubtful searchers who have no idea how much one can earn from a blog (Google’s suggestions are based on how often the key phrases are searched).

To answer the question, let’s look around the Internet.

Harsh Agrawal brought home $16,963.67 in January 2016Matthew did $22,208.26 the same month, and Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income made a whopping $109,743.83 in March 2016.

And, you can find dozens more other bloggers who share their income online – from hundreds to ten of thousands of dollars monthly.

The key takeaways in this –

  1. It can be done. Many bloggers are making good money online.
  2. With the right ideas and strategies, there is literally no limit on how much you can make online. Pat Flynn is personally making (almost) as much as a small-cap public listed company.

Question #2: What’s the best way to make money blogging?

There are many ways to monetize your blog.

Advertising, affiliating other people’s products, selling your own products, selling sponsored posts and the list goes on. Depending on what industry you are in and where your blog is at, there will be a better way to monetize your blog.

Gael Breton from Authority Hacker recently analysed the numbers and came up with the following conclusion:

Own services and product sales are overall the most profitable way to monetise your blog

As you will see from the table below – while the incomes between most categories are quite comparable, the profit margins differ greatly.

Business ModelTotal IncomeTotal ExpensesProfitProfit Margin
Services$21,508$2,805$18,703666%
Ad Selling$235,977$135, 041$100, 93674%
Affiliate Marketing$214,232$47,664$166,568349%
Own Product Sales$434,004$113,767$320,237281%

Services are generally hard to sell and therefore generate less revenue but the profit margin is excellent. A lot of top bloggers make a decent living blogging and selling services.

Ad selling generates a lot of income (2nd best) but because ad sellers need to produce a lot of content and sometimes acquire traffic, the profit margins shrink quickly.

Affiliate marketing is actually the most profitable monetization tactic, which makes it excellent for new bloggers who need to build an income quick. This site is mainly funded by affiliate income – and we managed to grow from a one-man-blog into a team of one editor, six active bloggers, and two social media marketers.

Own products sales generate the most revenue with great profit margins. The margins are slightly lower than affiliate marketing because of the costs associated with customer service, payment processing, etc., but the higher conversion rates make up for it and make this the #1 best source of income for bloggers.

8. Monetisation (Part 2): Blogging Niche Revisit

Some say content is king.

“Build good content; money and traffic will follow.”

Well, that’s not entirely true.

From my experience, content is only 50% of the game, if not less.

Yes. As bloggers, it is our duty to create engaging, informative and, perhaps, entertaining content.

But to make money, you must have two other key elements – a profitable niche and targeted web traffic. Without any one of these elements, your blog will not go far in generating cash.

The importance of a profitable niche

Inflatable boat

This is how an inflatable boat look like.

Here’s a story I have shared in one of my guest posts at ProBlogger.net earlier.

Back when I first started my career as an Internet marketer, I made an affiliate site to sell inflatable boats. Can you imagine how many people might buy an inflatable boat online? You don’t need to be an expert to answer this – not many.

What’s worse, this product is a seasonal product and only sells during the summer, so I was further limited in my sales. That said, I did make some money from the site – averaging not more than two sales per year. My inflatable boat business didn’t even take off enough to launch it onto the small pond, much less a big pond.

The lesson in this – No matter how well written your content or how beautiful your blog design – if you fail to pick the right niche, you will fail converting your effort into money.

Revisiting Step #1: How do you find a profitable niche?

There are countless ways to find a profitable niche on the Internet. I will cover three methods that work best for me.

Method #1: Follow the money

Why do most robbery cases happen in banks?

Simple. Because that’s where the money is.

The same theory applies to finding a profitable niche. We simply look for industries where advertisers are spending boatloads of money. It’s basic business sense. Advertisers would not invest that much money unless the ads are bringing back positive ROI.

Now this leads to our next question: How do we know if the advertisers are spending money? And, how much they are spending?

Search Engines + Google Keyword Planner

One quick way to find out is to search online – Google or Bing – to see if there are any advertisers in that niche. Generally speaking – if there are more than three advertisers competing for a key phrase – there is money to be made in that area.

Teak wood furniture anyone?

Teak wood furniture anyone?

You can then use Google Keyword Planner to guesstimate the average price of a click for that search term and predict how much you can earn per Google Adsense click*; and hence how much you can earn via selling ad space.

Note that there are no clear rules written but rough estimation (correct me if I’m wrong), Google pays 30 – 50% of cost per click to Adsense Publishers.

Spyfu

Another way to determine how much (and more importantly, where) advertisers are spending on PPC ads is via SpyFu.

Spyfu, originally GoogSpy, is a search analytics tool that shows the keywords that advertisers are buying on Google Adwords. It is the most accurate tool I’ve ever used. I use it every time I need to research a niche in depth.

The following images demonstrate how you can make use of Spyfu (free search). These niches were found when I was doing research for this guide – each of these searches take less than 5 minutes to complete. There are more valuable details if we go beyond the free search but we will stick to the free edition for now. To do your own research, simply key in your competitors (or the big players in your shortlisted niche) domain into the search bar.

Niche #1 – $64,000/mo on Adwords

_niche1-monthly budget 64k

Niche #1 – Soft products, business solutions. There are more than 10 other companies offering affiliate programs in this industry. Spyfu estimated this merchant is spending $64,000 on Adwords monthly.

Niche #2 – $100,000/mo on Adwords

_niche2-monthly budget - sport appearels

Niche #2 – Sport apparel – think sport brands like Adidas, Nike, and New Balance but on a smaller scale and focus on one type of sport. This company is spending more than $100,000 a month on more than 57,000 keywords according to Spyfu.

Niche #3 – $60,000/mo on Adwords

Niche #3 - IT solution provider - a global market, most people who run a site will need them. There are 10 - 15 other big players in this field. This company bids on 3,846 keywords on Google and spends about $60,000 per month.

Niche #3 – IT solution provider – a global market, most people who run a site will need them. There are 10 – 15 other big players in this field. This company bids on 3,846 keywords on Google and spends about $60,000 per month.

Niche #4 – $9,500/mo on Adwords

Niche #4 - Web service provider. This company is one of the cool startups few years ago. I am surprised to see them spending almost $10,000 a month on Adwords.

Niche #4 – Web service provider. This company is one of the cool startups few years ago. (I am surprised to see them spending almost $10,000 a month on Adwords).

Niche #5 – $71,500/mo on Adwords

_niche5 - monthly budget 71.5k - financial market

Niche #5 – Global financial products. The screen captured is the analysis on one of the biggest players in this niche. I had two websites in this industry back in 2000’s – wouldn’t be surprised to see businesses spending more than $100,000 per month on Adwords.

Niche 6 – $24,200/mo on Adwords

Niche #6 - Web service provider. This website is actually an affiliate site and does not sell its own products. I am quite surprised to know that they are spending more than $20,000 monthly on PPC ads.

Niche #6 – Web service provider. This website is an affiliate site and does not sell its own products. The site owner is spending more than $20,000 monthly on PPC ads.

Commission Junction

Another method I often use to judge the profitability of a niche is looking at the numbers at CJ.

Login to CJ.com and search for merchants in the niche you are studying.

  • Are there any relevant merchants?
  • Are these merchants offering good commissions?
  • Are these merchants paying their affiliates?

You can use Network Earnings (the green bar) as a potential earning indicator.

See image below to understand how I interpret the numbers at CJ.

Network Earnings = How much the advertisers are paying compare to overall. Higher Network Earnings = more affiliates in the program;. 3 month EPC = Average earning per 100 Clicks = How profitable is this affiliate program in long term; 7 day EPC = Average earning per 100 clicks = Is this a seasonal product?

Network Earnings = How much the advertisers are paying compared to overall. Higher Network Earnings = more affiliates in the program;. 3 month EPC = Average earning per 100 Clicks = How profitable is this affiliate program in long term; 7 day EPC = Average earning per 100 clicks = Is this a seasonal product?

Method #2: Facebook

You can do a lot more than sharing travel photos and posting status updates on Facebook.

The world’s largest social media is actually a great tool to understand the new niche you are getting into. Learn more about your target audience, stalk your competitors, find an angle to tackle your niche, and so on.

I will demonstrate these functions using examples.

Using Own Facebook Page to understand your own fanbase

If you already have a Facebook page (you can create one before you start a blog, it’s free), the first place to look at is your fan base. Dive into some of these fans’ profile and pay attention to their demographics (male/female, locations, married/single/divorced, age, etc) and their interests.

Using Facebook Suggestions to find competitors

For those who own a Facebook page, go to Insights > Overview > Pages to Watch. This is where you can find and compare similar pages suggested by Facebook. You can click on each link to find out popular posts published on these pages.

facebook watch page

Pages to watch – as per Facebook’s suggestion in one of the pages I manage.

Using Facebook Relevant Page to find even more competitors

facebook similar page

Say I am starting a blog about finding jobs, here’s what I will do to discover relevant websites and Facebook pages.

  1. I know Monster is one of the major players in the job listing niche, so I will start with them. First, I’ll dig out Monster’s Facebook page via Google search (search “Monster job Facebook page”).
  2. Next I will extract the page id using this free tool – Find My Facebook Id (the Monster page id number is 87877000648).
  3. Replace X in the following URL “https://www.facebook.com/pages/?frompageid=X” and paste it to your browser.
  4. And this is how I found 20+ more similar page in the job listing niche (see image on your right).

How to make use of Facebook intel

There is a lot you can do with the list of competitors and fans’ details you have on hand.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Stalk big players’ activity on Facebook and learn their marketing strategies.
  • Find out trending topics in your niche – What’s the latest hype in town? Can you find a new angle for your blog by looking at these trends?
  • Expand to a new niche by looking at other players’ activities – This was how I discovered the typography niche when I studied web design (CSS/jQuery/HTML5) blogs.
  • Understand your target audience – Where do they spend time online? What are their problems? Can you provide a solution?
  • See why people are buying from your competitors – Can you provide something similar and make money?
  • See why people are not buying from your competitors – Are their products too boring? Perhaps they are not marketing it right. Can you do something better and win their visitors over?
  • Write better headlines and content – Find out which Facebook posts get the highest engagement, write similar headlines.

Method #3: Old School Keyword Research

I am sure you have heard about keyword research by now.

Or wait… you haven’t? Well I am not beating a dead horse again, so here’s a good read for the beginners.

Why keyword research?

Image source Send In The Fox

Long tail vs short tail keywords. Image source: Send In The Fox

Keyword research is usually performed in the beginning of an SEO campaign. Its objective, more often than not, is to identify frequent searched keywords (be it short or long tail) and set directions for the campaign.

What’s more in keyword data?

But as most experienced marketers know – there is more to harness from this keyword data. With the right set of keywords, we can also understand the following better (and might as well spot new business opportunities):

Level of Competition

More searches = higher demand; more results returned in a search result page = higher supply.

Relevant Brands and Names

Examples: For cameras – Nikon, Canon, Sony; for honeymoon getaway – Bali, Maldives, Hawaii; for web hosting – iPage, BlueHost, Hostgator; for celebrities – Taylor Swift, Linkin Park, Bruno Mars.

Searchers’ intentions

Generally speaking, buying intention is higher when there are lots of searches on ‘widget review’, ‘widget model number and name’, ‘10 best widget brands’, ‘buy widget online’. In contrast, searches for ‘widget history’, ‘complain widget’, or ‘the making of widget’ are less likely converted into business transactions.

Commercial Value

The more advertisers bidding on a particular search term, the higher commercial value is for that search term.

Using keyword research to study a niche: Quick demonstration

Back when I first started, many webmasters (note – back then ‘blogger’ was not yet a popular term) relied on a tool named “Overture” – where you can simply input a search term and the system will give you a rough figure of how often that term is searched, for free. We will then compare these numbers with the amount of results returned and judge the competitiveness (and profitability) of a niche.

Now that Overture no longer exists we can hardly get reliable keyword data for free.

Google Keyword Planner is one of the very few keyword tools that I am still using today (the other two are Google Trends and Ubersuggest).

In the following images, I will demonstrate how I use these tools to study a niche and interpret data obtained. This process could take a very short time (less than 30 minutes) or it could take days to complete. It depends on how big your keyword list is and how deep you wish to dive in to understand the business landscape.

Niche: Movie Posters

Movie posters have always been one of my favorite collectibles. I don’t really collect them but I appreciate the art and sentimental value in them. Let’s see if we could turn my interest into a profitable blogging idea. Note that I have not done any research before writing this guide – so I am as curious as you are right now.

Google Trends

First let’s take a look on Google Trends.

movie poster google trends

Looking at the graph, it seems that the topic is losing traction on the Internet – which is absolutely logical if you look at the time people spend on YouTube these days.

movie poster regional interest

Scrolling down, we can also see that most searchers are located in the United States, Kenya, India, Australia, and Canada.

movie posters vs hosting reviews

To understand the chart better, I often compare an unknown search trend with something I am familiar with. In this example, I have added the search term “hosting review”. You can see that relatively there are more people searching for “movie posters”.

Google Keyword Planner

Next, we will go to Google Keyword Planner to get more ideas.

Key in “movie poster” into the search box and hit “Get Idea”.

Key in “movie poster” into the search box and hit “Get Idea”.

The first result page (see image below) shows that there are plenty of searches for vintage movie posters (41,900+ monthly searches), horror movie posters (5,600+ monthly searches), star wars movie posters, classic movie posters (3,400+ monthly searches), Hollywood movie posters (1,600+ monthly searches), and so on. Also, there is also a relatively high demand for information on creating your own movie posters (~22,000 monthly searches).

blogging niche - google keyword planner - what people are searching for

Relevant keyword stats from Google Keyword Planner.

To go one step deeper, we can click on the keyword for more details. This is where we can understand searchers’ intention better. Pay attention to what type of information the searchers were looking for. Can we spot buying intentions in these searches (if our plan is to sell movie posters directly)? Also, these keyphrases can be our blogging topics.

blogging niche - google keyword planner image 3

Key phrases containing “Make Movie Poster” – these searchers are most probably looking for tutorial and printing accessories.

Ubersugggest

To get an even broader view of our topic, let’s go to Ubersuggest for more keyword ideas.

ubersuggest

Perhaps movie posters jigsaw puzzle is a good online business idea?

Back to Google Search

What if we prefer not to sell physical products? You know – it is no fun handling inventories and logistics. Can we just blog and sell advertising space? To answer this question, let’s try some relevant searches on Google and see if we can spot any advertisers or any affiliate programs.

Also, you can take a closer look on the advertisers’ marketing approach – do they advertise on blogs on top of search ads? If so, what kind of blog? Can you sell ads directly to these merchants? To guesstimate the profitability of this topic, we can apply this keyword data to Spyfu to determine how much advertisers are spending.

To go deeper, we might want to dig into organic search results (site back links, onpage optimizations, social media shares, etc.) to see how difficult/easy it is to compete in terms of SEO.

Money!

Money!

Making Decision: Small vs Big Pond?

crowded fish bowl

Now that we have all the necessary market insights – it’s time to decide. Should we jump in? Is this a good niche? What would be a good angle to approach this niche? I’ll leave it to you to draw the conclusion.

One thing, however, I wish to make clear before we end this section – is about how you decide on a niche.

Quite a number of experts advise newbies to avoid steep SEO competition and pick a smaller playing field when choosing a niche.

“Be a big fish in a small pond”, they say.

I believe the exact opposite. You should try the big pond (target search terms with high demand and lots of big competitors) because that’s where the audience and money are.

 

9. Drive Traffic to Your Blog

To make decent money off your blog, you must pull in sufficient, targeted traffic.

Obtaining a targeted audience (and serving information they want) has always been the key to online success.

The more targeted traffic your blog gets, the more money you can make.

It is simple math.

Let’s say that you run a DIY blog and sell handcrafted art. Your blog’s average conversion rate is 3% and average conversion value is $25. On average, for every 100 visitors you will make 3 sales and make $75. If the number of targeted visitors goes up to 200, then theoretically there will be six sales and $150 profit down the road.

Smart blog traffic tips from team WHSR

So how do you pull in targeted traffic for a new blog? This is where your web marketing skills kick in. Think search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), word of mouth, email marketing, and so on.

We have covered quite a lot on building blog traffic from both search engines and social media in the past. Below are some of the best you should read and bookmark.

My personal blog traffic tips

To avoid repeating what has already been said (and to give you actionable tips to start right now), I am going to give you a quick list of specific tactics that work well for me.

1. Guest posting

Regardless of how Google bashes guest posting practices – this strategy works. Writing quality guest posts on others’ blogs simply is the most efficient way to reach targeted audience and build blog readership.

If you are new to guest posting, Lori wrote a detailed how-to guest post guide in the past, go check out.

The key to success, as I see it, is finding the right blogs – those with real readers and social media followers. You can use Topsy or Buzz Sumo to spot popular blogs and influencers in your industry. Or, you can simply take a closer look at the comment section to see if readers are interacting with the bloggers. Always keep in mind that you are blogging for real readers (hence the quality of your content is crucial). Forget about posting on blogs with high Google PR but zero readers – this practice simply doesn’t work anymore in 2015.

2. Crowdsourcing post

Teamwork.

Teamwork.

Crowdsourcing posts is a good way to network with other bloggers in your niche and share each others’ social media followers attention.

I have gotten (and have seen many others getting) some good results via this strategy. This post written by Sue Anne Dunlevie (21 experts reveal their biggest risk that paid off), for example, garnered more than 500 social shares and 80 comments. Another crowdsourcing post on Triberr marketing that I recently bumped into (by Abrar Mohi Shafee) pulled in more than 1,000 tweets in a very short period.

Pro Tips by Ashley Faulkes, Mad Lemmings

Ashley Faulkes from Mad Lemmings

When you are just starting out (or even an experienced blogger) one of the smartest things you can do to grow, and grow fast, is leverage experts in your posts. This can be done in a number of ways, but one of the most popular right now is “expert roundup posts”.

Expert roundups involved asking a large group of experts a question or two and then collecting their answers. However, I have found this format not only a little overwhelming for the reader, but also not super organised. So, instead what I recommend is writing a significant post on a topic and including experts in it instead. That way you have a solid blog post with structure and can then add relevant tips as you go along. One of the first places I saw this done really well was by Andy Crestodina when he featured me in an events post.

The benefits of including experts in posts are many:

  • you get a lot more exposure as they help share the post
  • you get in contact with these experts
  • your post gets extra credibility

and there are probably a lot more.

Next time you are thinking about creating a large (or epic) piece of content, try including some expert tips in it to give it a boost.

Credit: Ashley Faulkes / Website: Mad Lemmings, Twitter: @madlemmingz

3. Facebook ad

Facebook is a cost efficient way (it goes as low as $0.06/web click in certain industries) to pull in new targeted visitors. The challenging part in Facebook advertising is that you need to test a lot (different ad versions, different countries, different interests, etc.) in order to succeed.

facebook ad

Here are a few ad samples I did on Facebook recently.

4. Syndicate blog posts to other popular sites

Promote your blog to sites that syndicate others’ content; self-promote, beg, bribe, or blackmail (okay, I am kidding) the editor to accept your blog feeds into their syndication.

Make sure your new posts link back to your old content to draw in traffic. WHSR blog is syndicated to a number of popular sites including Social Media Today and Business 2 Community.

5. Attend conferences

websummit

Make new blogger friends and promote each other’s blogs online. I don’t particularly enjoy talking to strangers (honestly I am very bad at that).

However, my previous visit to WebSummit 2014 in Dublin brought me some new experience, and I have to agree it’s an effective way to promote a blog.

6. Blog comments

Leave constructive comments on others’ blogs (do not spam!). Write in a way that makes people want to find out more about you.

Here’s a great example of someone who has done it right.

miller comment

For starters, Mr. Miller goes into some detail, offering a unique perspective relevant to the original post while also letting readers know about him and his relevancy to the topic. By sharing his own experience, he displays his own expertise in the search field, earning my attention and drawing me to learn more about him… so much so that I clicked on his Moz profile and now follow him on Twitter.

7. Forum posting

Find relevant forums in your niche (Google search “keyword” + inurl:forum), post helpful content/replies, promote your site on signature links or drop links in your forum posts, but only when it’s appropriate.

8. Google+ community

Google+ community works pretty much the same as forum – the key to success is to give out lots of valuable info to community members in exchange for social media followings and blog traffics.

9. Giving out free tools and freebies

Everyone loves freebies. After all who doesn’t like getting something for free?

However, keep in mind that not all freebies are good on their own. You need to offer something in demand so you give the public a reason to talk and share your blog on social media. Remember the whole point of this is about getting traffic.

My core business at Web Hosting Secret Revealed (WHSR) is promoting hosting services. Rather than squeezing into the crowded Google SERP, I’ve found better odds targeting web designers who likely have use for my hosting advice. To land a seat with that audience, I’ve created loads of freebies.

Those loads of free icons? Yep – freebies targeted to my primary audience.

The free icons actually earned substantial attention from the blogosphere, bringing in new visitors and social followers. If you’re interested, these are just a few of the blogs that featured our free icons.

10. Twitter

Social followers correlate directly with revenue.

Revenue vs Twitter Followers

Revenue vs Twitter Followers

Many bloggers wonder what metric to trust when it comes to growing their income. The guys at Authority Hacker correlated revenue with a bunch of metrics and nothing came closer than social Twitter followers. If you want to grow your revenue, focus on connecting with people on social media and engaging them with your content. That’s your best shot at improving your bottom line!

Growing your Twitter followers & traffic 

A few quick tips in growing your followers and direct traffic from Twitter:

  • Tweet frequently. To have your followers retweet and click on your tweet links, you will need to first appear on their Twitter wall. To do this I use a plugin named Revive Old Post and spend 20 – 25 minutes every other day on Commun.it to interact with my Twitter followers.
  • Connect truly with your followers. A simple personal message is 100x better than blasting out hundreds of canned messages.
  • Be hyperactive – respond to others’ tweets, join popular conversations, and tweet trending hashtags.

10. Free Blogging Tools You Can Make Use Of

Even though useful free tools and web services do exist online, the trouble is picking up them among all other junk or/and outdated tools.

As a parting gift for reading my guide till here, I am going to provide you a list of free tools that we use all the time at WHSR. Good luck, and I wish you success in your blogging journey.

Writing Tools

  • Write or Die 2 – Writing tools that keep you (well) writing.
  • OmmWriter – Simple writing environment for PC, MAC, and iPad.
  • Hemingway App – Write short and bold with this tool.
  • Freedom – Block distracting websites so you can write some shit.
  • ByWord – Distraction free writing tool.
  • Evernote – The one tool that needs introduction.

Image Tools

References, Researches & Blogging Materials

Social Media, Marketing & SEO

Web Statistics & Productivity