Ready to start an amateur blog but not sure of where to begin? This article shares my best blogging tips and some of my biggest amateur blogging mistakes. All of this is broken into 15 manageable steps to help you start creating your blog today.
Hello, and welcome to the blogging world! If you are here, you are interested in content creation and starting an amateur blog. While blogging is about writing quality content, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
As a newbie blogger, I made every mistake a person could make. Looking back, I had no idea what it took to be a successful amateur blogger. It's been two years since I started Sinful Kitchen, and I have learned a lot. I will also be the first person to tell you I have a lot more to learn.
In writing this guide, I wanted to share my best blogging tips to help you avoid making some of my largest blogging mistakes. I wanted to create an amateur blogging guide with the basics to help you start a blog.
If you are wondering if there is room for a beginner blogger, the answer is yes! It can seem intimidating with so many great professional bloggers; I know I felt intimidated. But there is room for everyone who creates high-quality content. Yes, there is competition, loads of it. But don't let that detour you. The internet is vast, and your blog can rank with hard work!
Before we start, take a deep breath. It can all seem overwhelming. However, take blogging one step at a time; before you know it, things will start to make sense.
Let's get started; there is a lot to learn, and you have hard work to get your blog off the ground!
- 1. First Principle of Blogging: Play The Long Game
- 2. Define Goals for Your Amateur Blog
- 3. Define Your Niche
- 4. Brain Storm the Perfect Name
- 5. Find Your Domain Name and Extension
- 6. Find a Domain Host
- 7. Themes
- 8. Plugins
- 9. Site Speed
- 10. Google
- 11. Keyword Research
- 12. Monetize
- 13. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- 14. Backlinks
- 15. Marketing/Social Media
- Tool References
1. First Principle of Blogging: Play The Long Game
Yesterday I read a story of someone who works 2 hours a week and, in only six months of working, she already makes 2M a year blogging. Crazy, right? Yep, it is. It is so crazy that I do not believe it.
Any successful blogger will tell you the first principle of blogging is to play the long game. That is because blogging takes time to learn, gain domain authority and build backlinks. I will go into more depth about all of this, but at the end of the day, if you want to make money quickly, blogging is not the way to do it.
However, if you are prepared to play the long game, blogging might be for you. The benefit is that you can create a unique space and earn passive income.
Start by taking things slow. Know that no one will ever see your early posts, let alone read them. This is to your advantage. It gives you time to learn the ins and outs. With time and consistency, you will feel the rewards.
Key Takeaway: A successful blog happens over a long period of time.
2. Define Goals for Your Amateur Blog
Whether this is your first or your tenth blog, one of the most important things is to define the goals for your blog. For example, do you want your blog to be a hobby or to generate income? Is the income a side gig, or do you want to grow it into your primary source of income and become a pro blogger?
This definition will help you determine how much time and money you should invest into your blog. Defining goals is also a great way to start a business plan, which I highly recommend if you plan to grow into a professional blogger.
For me, my blog started as a hobby but has grown into a side gig. At first, because it was a hobby, I first used a free domain name, a free word press platform, plugins, and everything. Over time, I became obsessed with blogging and started investing in improving structural quality.
In general, I currently invest about $200 a month. While I could easily spend more, I limit my spending. The limits were easy to define because I knew my blog would always be a side gig and an amateur blog.
Key Takeaway: Define if blogging will be a hobby, side gig, or primary source of income. This definition will guide time and investment choices.
3. Define Your Niche
Defining a niche is critical to determining who you are in the blogging world, but it is also crucial to your audience finding your blog. The wrong niche means visitors leave as soon as they land on your site; this is your bounce rate.
Some popular niches include food, fashion, lifestyle, gaming, and business. But don't limit yourself to what is popular. Find a niche that is right for you and authentic to you.
Once your broad niche is defined, you might need to narrow it down. For example, I am a food blogger, and that is a very large niche. I needed to narrow down my niche to target my audience so my audience could find me. Three basic steps I recommend are:
- Define your product or website.
- Ask yourself if there is a need or desire for your site.
- Narrow down your niche to target your audience
From personal experience, this step took me a long time to define clearly. I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years. Because I had been a vegetarian for so long, I did not see that as a niche. Over time I transitioned to veganism, which is an overly crowded niche.
What sets me apart is that my vegan and vegetarian blog is for anyone who loves to cook and bake. This is unique in the vegan blog because most blogs are about healthy eating, fast, low-calorie, or vegan copycats of meat recipes. With that in mind, I responded to the steps above.
- A vegan food blog focused on quality recipes for the home cook
- Yes, there is a demand. Many vegan blogs focus on healthy, low-calorie, vegan reproductions, meat-heavy, or fast recipes. My niche will avoid those topics.
- Vegans. Home cook. Likes the process of cooking and baking.
Key Takeaway: Your niche helps guide your blog posts and your audience to find you!
4. Brain Storm the Perfect Name
Ideally, the name of your blog should immediately tell your reader what your blog is about. In reality, that is much easier than it sounds. The best way to get started is to grab a pen and paper and write down keywords related to your blog.
For example, when I came up with the name for my blog, Sinful Kitchen, I wanted the word kitchen in the name. Soon I came up with the name cinnamon kitchen. I felt it was perfect for me.
I was so stuck on wanting that cinnamon kitchen I could not move forward with any other idea. The problem was the person who owned this domain wanted more money than I was willing to pay for the URL.
Luckily my daughter-in-law helped me brainstorm names. Our list was about finding something similar to 'cinn' for cinnamon. We bounced ideas off each other for a few days. Then suddenly, 'sin' popped into my mind. From there, it quickly became sinful. That was it; I knew my blog would have to have the words sinful and kitchen.
My next step was to see if an aligning domain was available.
Key Takeaway: Brainstorm keywords to come up with blog name ideas.
5. Find Your Domain Name and Extension
Now that you have created a list of possible blog names, the hard part is finding an available web domain (URL). Much like blog names, it can feel like all the good ones are taken. However, with a bit of flexibility and creativity, you should be able to find a match.
The first thing about domains you need to decide is if you want a free domain name or if you want to purchase a domain name.
- Free Domain Name
Identifying a free domain name is always easy because the host's company is in the URL. This domain address typically looks like 'sinfulkitchen.wordpress.com.' The word press part of the URL will change depending on which host you use.
- Purchased Domain Name
Purchased domain names are usually inexpensive, around $10 - $20 a year. However, the cost can be higher if someone ones the name but is willing to sell it. In the example with Cinnamon Kitchen, the owner wanted $6,500 for the name, which was about $6,480 more than I was willing to pay.
With a purchased domain, you can start to create a brand, which makes it easier to find your blog. One of the challenges of a purchased domain is finding one that can align with your desired blog name. This task often will leave you feeling like there are no .com names left.
One option is to get creative with your blog name by adding additional letter/s, word/s, or grammar. Commons words include:
Another option is to use a different extension than .com, .org, or .edu. Don't worry about knowing all the other extensions. When searching for a domain, search tools will do this work for you.
Helpful Hint: I recommend Using Domain Search Tool - Go, Daddy,
6. Find a Domain Host
Before determining a domain host, you must decide if you want a self-hosted blog or a free domain host. This comes down to one question, do you want to monetize your blog? If the answer is yes, you must have a self-hosted blog.
- Self-Hosted Blog
To have a self-hosted blog, you must first determine your platform. I recommend WordPress.org. It is easy to use and the backbone of most blog owners. Because you have a self-hosted blog, you must own your domain name.
Next, you need to determine who is going to host your blog. A paid domain host offers more data storage, faster speed, and usually better customer service. Much like free domains, there are several hosts to choose from. However, I suggest one and only one paid domain host, Big Scoots.
Big Scoots charges $35 monthly for a starter plan at stores with up to 10GB of data. Their dedication to customer service sets Big Scoots apart from everyone else. They are fast, reliable, and will go out of their way to help.
- Free Domain Hosts
There are several free blogging hosts. But as with most free things, there are limits. Common limitations with a free platform include; a small about of data storage, ads on your site, unstable resulting in downtime, slow site speeds, and limited visibility on the web.
A slow speed might not matter or be detrimental depending on your goal. I started with a free site and quickly moved to a paid host. I found I wanted my own URL address, and I needed the help of customer support.
If you are considering a free domain host, a few good options include:
Key takeaway: You will need a domain host for your blog on the internet.
A theme is a template you use to create the appearance of your site. This includes the layout, color palette, fonts, spacing, etc. There are a gazillion options of different themes you can use. While I can't cover everything, I will give you a high level to help you get started.
- Free Themes
- Premium Themes
A designer creates premium themes with a unique look and feel. This look and feel can be specific to your style or your niche. Hosts will offer premium themes for $10 - $20 in general. You can also purchase a theme on the internet or Etsy.
In addition to a premium theme, some designers offer plugins that keep up with SEO trends and google updates. The theme I used was $19 to purchase, but there is an annual fee of $249 for the plugin.
I believe the plugin is worth the additional cost. However, one knock against my theme is how similar it looks to other bloggers. A long-term goal of mine is to hire someone to modify the theme for a unique look while keeping the plugin for the SEO advantages.
- Must Haves
Accessibility Statement - Providing access to all users of all abilities is essential. However, not all blogs can provide this. Your blog must acknowledge the importance of accessibility and outline what steps you are taking to become accessible for all users.
Contact Page - Contact information seems basic, but when creating a blog, it can be overlooked. I like to incorporate the contact page as part of the 'About Me' page. If you do not want to create a page, you can put your contact information in the sidebar or footer of your blog.
Legal Page - Some blogs also include a legal page. The information on this page will be specific to the site and the content. Please consider speaking with an attorney for the correct language if you need a legal page.
Themes have essential functions for creating a blog post, such as a block editor, media, etc. While the vital functions are nice, all successful bloggers opt for plugins, which add additional capabilities to your site.
There are thousands of plugins to choose from. Most bloggers will want to add plugins to help with site speed and SEO. Further customization can vary depending on your blog's audience and goals.
When adding a plugin, look for one with high ratings and recent updates. I will not consider a plugin that has not been updated in 3 or more months. It can be a sign that the developer is not maintaining the plugin.
The steps to choose a plugin are straightforward. Go to "plugins" -> "add new." Then enter the plugin keyword—examples: SEO, Forms, Commerce, etc.
Search the available plugins to determine the best fit for your site. If you want additional details, click on "more details." When you are ready, click "install." Depending on the plugin, you might need to adjust the settings.
Select plugins as needed, in general, 20 or fewer. Too many plugins will weigh down your site and slow your speed.
Best practice: Once the plugin has been added, check your site to see that everything is displaying correctly. Plugin conflicts are common. In some cases, the developer has included notes on how to overcome conflicts.
9. Site Speed
The down and dirty is that if your site takes too long to load, the user will go somewhere else. Studies have shown that too long is 3 seconds for a site or 2 seconds for an e-commerce site. When the user goes somewhere else, this impacts the user experience and bounce rate—two factors in the google algorithm for ranking your site.
A site can be slow due to several factors, such as:
- Photograph size
- Video content
Improving site speed is a blogger decision point; how much are you willing to invest? What are your long-term goals? Here is a breakdown of my costs to improve site speed to help you.
|Total Monthly Cost||$136.75|
|Total Annual Cost||$1641.00|
Before spending a lot of money, I recommend using free services. If you enjoy blogging, add the services as needed. The services listed above, I added over 16 months. One at a time, as I discovered I truly enjoyed blogging.
Key Takeaway: Visitors will leave your site if it does not load in t 2 - 3 seconds.
Google handles over 92% of the worldwide traffic on the web. As a blogger, your goal will be to rank as high as possible in google search results. Generally, you want to rank in the top three Google search results.
While ranking this high is not easy, it is also not impossible. It is important to note that ranking takes time, usually months. So when you start publishing articles, give them time to age before evaluating them for keyword improvement.
Google offers several tools to help you identify how visitors find you, how long they stay, and which pages visitors are going to most. This is not just helpful information; it is invaluable information.
While I can't cover all the tools or even go into depth, I want to introduce you briefly to helpful Google tools.
Google Analytics is a free data tool provided by Google that collects visitor data. This data is formatted in an easy way to analyze user behavior. If you plan to monetize your site, you will need to have Google Analytics installed. This is how ad companies validate your traffic.
The first page of Google Analytics offers several glance widgets, which provide valuable information.
- Overview dashboard
- Real-time visitors
There are several steps you must take to set up google analytics. I recommend using this step-by-step tutorial from Word Press. This document makes the process a little easier.
Note: If you have been on Google Analytics, Google will transition to its next generation, G4, on July 1st, 2023.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site's presence in Google Search results. You don't have to sign up for Search Console to be included in Google Search results, but you must have submitted a site map and a tag manager to review the data.
Visit Google Seach Console to get started. Much like analytics, this will take several steps, but the value outweighs any setup frustration.
Key Takeaway: Google is the most used search engine. They have several free tools to help you analyze your data and improve your results.
11. Keyword Research
A blogger must write about what people are searching for to appear in search results. That simple concept took me almost a year to comprehend. Once I understood it, I began investing more time in searching for the right keywords, aka low-competition and high-volume keywords.
Early keyword searches will probably leave you feeling like there are no more keywords. To get around that, focus on long tail keywords, which are phrases of at least three words.
My preferred tool is Keysearch. Using chocolate chip cookies, I will show you the steps I follow when looking for the right keyword.
First, I search "Chocolate Chip Cookies." I look for a few things in the results; the number of searches, competition score, and DA (domain authority) results. In this result, I can see many inquiries and a lot of competition, and the DA is all in red. That means the sites ranking for this keyword have high domain authority. For comparison, my DA is 19. Immediately I knew I would never be able to organize against this competition.
I next typed in "Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Cookies." The results are entirely different. The number of searches a month is 590, the competition score is 21, and the ranking DA is on the low side between 9 and 32.
My only concern is the low number of searches at 590. However, sometimes the low result is not indicative of the cumulative possibilities this keyword combination can rank for. When I click on the "Ranking/Traffic" tab, I see the overall traffic is much higher than 520. This long tail keyword ranks for more than just "Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Cookies."
To see the keywords that the top positions are ranking for, I click on "URL Keywords." From here, I can see the organic keywords this post is ranking for. I write down these keywords and add them to my post.
While this is helpful, it is not a guarantee of a high-ranking post. Despite my best efforts, you can see that my blog post is ranked 8th, with only 26 visits a month.
If you are looking for a keyword search tool, here are a few popular choices among bloggers:
- Keysearch - $17 a month or five free daily searches
- RankIQ - $49
- Ahrefs - $99 a month or free top ten keyword results.
- Moz -$99 a month or three free searches a day.
- SEMRush - $119 a month or ten free daily searches
Key Takeaway: Keywords are what searchers type into the search engine. You need to align your blog post with what people are searching for.
Your blog is up and running, and it's time to make money. Not exactly. Focus on building traffic through social media, Reddit, and other appropriate avenues. All your efforts should focus on quality blog posts and building traffic.
Once you reach 10,000 monthly visitors, it is a good time to monetize. There are two types of monetization; affiliate links and ads.
- Affiliate Marketing - Affiliate marketing is a partnership between you and another company. You will post a link to their site with a unique identifier. If a purchase is made, you will earn a small commission. A site with high-dollar affiliate links can make a lot of money. Other sites, such as mine, make very little with affiliate links.
- Ad Networks - In the world of blogging, there are five major ad networks. Ad networks will pay you on revenue per mille (Mille = thousand), commonly referred to as RPMs. The five most popular ad networks are:
- Google Adsense - Adsense is the most basic and lowest-paying network. This network will also slow down your website. As a result, I do not recommend not using Adsense. The few pennies you make are not worth the consequences of slow site speed.
- Ezoic - It does not require a page view minimum to sign up. The RMPs average between $12 - $18.
- SheMedia - 20,000 page views per month (per Google Analytics), around 16,000 sessions. I am currently using SheMedia. They are a great mid-level ad service. I was accepted when I was just below 10k visitors a month. The RPMs have ranged from $12 - $22.
- MediaVine - Requires 60,000 - 80,000 page views per month (per Google Analytics), around 50,000 sessions. The RPMs can vary but generally are higher than SheMedia.
- AdThrive - Requires 100,000 page views per month (per Google Analytics), around 80,000 sessions. Generally, AdThrive pays more than MediaVine. However, this is not always the case.
Key Takeaway: Focus on growth before focusing on monetizing.
13. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Search engine optimization is the cornerstone of driving organic to your blog posts. This is a vast topic and not one I can fully cover, but in general, SEO is about being the best you can be so that search engines can find you.
Too vague? Some factors that are critical in SEO include:
- Keywords that match what people are searching for
- Quality content, meaningful content
- Site speed
- Links into and within your site
Google uses bots and algorithms to determine where your site ranks. Trying to sort it out can be overwhelming. I recommend listing to Top Hat Rank Episodes to learn more about SEO.
Backlinks are so critical that initially, Google was named BackRub. The name implied that linking one site to another is like a backrub from one site to another. Today, search engines see backlinks as a seal of approval for your site and a specific page.
Having backlinks is not enough; you want to have high-quality backlinks. This means having backlinks from sites that have high domain authority.
While working on adding backlinks to your site, remember there are no shortcuts. It can be tempting to purchase backlinks. This is a huge mistake. Purchased backlinks are low quality. Worse, google will recognize purchased backlinks, and your site will be penalized in the algorithm.
It is also tempting to comment on other blogs as a way of backlinking. I admit, in moments of frustration, I have used this method. But in the long run, I found that my time was better spent building quality do-follow links.
- Do Follow Backlinks
A do-follow backlink is when one webpage links to another and allows google to follow the link. I find these are the most valuable backlinks. Here is where I find avenues to build connections:
- Facebook round-up groups
- Reviewing competitor backlinks for ideas
- No Follow Backlinks
A no-follow backlink is when one webpage links to another and does not allow Google to follow the link. The result is search engines will see your link, but as a blogger, you will not receive the seal of approval. You are commenting on others' blogs; often no follow backlinks.
As an example of just how important backlinks are, just before the last Google update, I read to delete posts that have low visits. While this is good advice for a large blog, I had just over 100 posts at the time. I deleted about ten blog posts, mostly my first posts, which were of really bad quality.
I did not realize that I was deleting backlinks I had established over two years. Because I had so few posts, these backlinks were critical to my domain authority. The result was a sudden and dramatic drop in traffic. In the five months since I have been active on Facebook roundup groups several times a day and actively seeking publications for backlinks. It has taken five months of hard work to get back to where I was in August. Ouch, that is all I can say. It has been a painful learning experience.
Key Takeaway: Backlinks are critical to driving traffic and ranking higher in Google.
15. Marketing/Social Media
Now your site is up and working, you hit publish on your first post and wait for visitors. The cold hard truth is it will be a while, quite a bit, before your site is ranking in Google.
Marketing and social media platforms are the answer to begin driving traffic to your site quickly. While it is tempting to be on every platform, consistently focusing on 1 - 2 platforms will deliver the best long-term results. Here is a quick recap of social media and marketing tools.
- Email List - Create a popup, gather addresses, and begin email marketing.
- Facebook - Join relevant groups. Post and provide links to your site.
- Instagram - Skip pictures; Reelz, short videos, will drive the most traffic.
- Pinterest - Is a long slow game. The upside is that a popular pin can continuously drive traffic for years.
- Reddit - Varies by a thread and the rules. Reddit can drive traffic, but it will not be the same as other social media platforms.
- Tiktok - Is all about fun and funny videos. Nothing serious here.
Key Takeaway: Use social media to begin driving traffic to your blog.
Below is a list of recommended tools I use to run my blog. Several tools offer a limited service for free. Additional features can be available at an extra cost. That is why some tools are listed twice.
- Word Press
- Keyword Research - Keysearch (5 daily searches), Semrush (10 daily results), Ahfrefs, Moz (3 daily searches.)
- Design - Canva, limited features.
- Grammer - Grammarly.
- Domain Search - Go Daddy
- Domain Host - Big Scoots - $34.95 a month
- Keyword Research - Keysearch - $17 a month
- Design - Canva - $13 a month
- SEO - RankIQ - $49 a month
- Grammer - Grammarly - $12 a month
Starting a hobby blog can be a fun and exciting adventure. The first year of blogging will be filled with many learning experiences, frustrations, and growth. Overall making money blogging can be fun, but it's not easy. Remember, hard work, dedication, and consistency are essential. There are no shortcuts. In fact, it will probably hurt a little when you publish your first blog post and do not see it on google. But over time, with consistency, you will see your post and reap the rewards.