You have two main options when it comes to actually setting up a blog – you can use a free blogging platform, or you can create your own website. We’ll take you through both, outlining their pros and cons.
- Free blogging platformsBest for: Casual bloggers and those not interested in making money from their blog.Pros: Super easy to set up and completely free.Cons: Limits on customisation and video/image uploads, you often can’t place adverts or use affiliate links, you can’t create a custom URL and the platform retains the right to delete your blog.A lot of platforms will allow you to set up a blog for free, and they’re super easy to use. If you’re just wanting to blog casually at first, this could suit you well.But, free blogging platforms can be very limiting. You’ll only be able to customise to a limited extent, and your blog will have a storage limit which could make it harder to upload large videos and images.Another drawback is that your blog URL will be something like ‘www.yourblog.wordpress.com’ with the platform branding.Most free blogging platforms also don’t allow you to place banner adverts or affiliate links on your site, which are key revenue streams for most bloggers.However, if these things don’t bother you, here’s a quick rundown of the best free online blogging platforms.Best blogging sites
- WordPress.com – This is a free basic blog hosting service that’s easy to use. You’ll have to put up with WordPress ads and branding unless you pay a monthly fee. It’s also not possible to earn ad revenue unless you pay for the Premium, Business or eCommerce package. There are also limited options for customisation and expansion.
- Blogger – Google’s free blog hosting service, Blogger, is really simple to use. But, the customisation and design options are very limited, and there aren’t a lot of options if you want to add new features.
- Medium – With Medium, the emphasis is on the writing rather than design. It’s used by lots of journalists, writers and experts and is a great way to share your work with a particular community. You can’t run any ads and it’s difficult to create your own personal branding.
- Create your own websiteBest for: Dedicated bloggers and those looking to make money from their blog.Pros: Complete control over design and customisation, your own custom URL and the ability to use adverts and affiliate links how you like.Cons: You’ll have to pay. Firstly for your domain name (URL) and then for hosting, but we’ve got tips on cheap web hosting.If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, the thought of creating your own website might seem quite scary. But in reality, it’s actually pretty easy to do, and you can create one in just 20 minutes.Save the Student’s founder, Owen, has written an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to show you how to start a website.With your own website, you’ll be able to create unique personal branding (with your own URL), and there’s no risk of your blog being deleted by the platform – you’ll own the site and be in complete control.WordPress has an insane amount of templates or ‘themes’ for you to choose from – take your time to decide on one which suits both your personality and the topic of your blog.Opt for something clear and simple, with space for large images and easy-to-read fonts (Comic Sans and Courier fonts are no-nos).Create your own website »
How to choose a blog topic
This can either be the easiest or the hardest part of starting your blog.
The most important thing at this stage is to choose a niche in which you can call yourself an authority. The biggest mistake new bloggers make in such a crowded blogosphere is starting a blog without trying to do something surprising or different.
For example, if fashion’s your thing, instead of combining generic fashion content, you could combine your love for clothes with your big-hearted concern for the environment by blogging about environmentally-conscious designers instead?
These are the best ways to find a topic for your new blog:
- Look at other blogs – This should be your first port of call. What’s already successful? And more importantly, what’s missing? Find the gaps in the market.
- Use Google – What are people searching for? Use Google suggested searches and autocomplete to discover what people are looking for. If they’re searching for it, that shows there’s a demand.
- Search forums for common FAQs – When people can’t find answers to their questions, they go to forums. What are they asking? What do they need advice on? This will show what people are interested in and what there’s a lack of available information on.
- Track current trends – What topics are in the media right now? It’s good to pick a topic with longevity, but if you can piggyback on a trend early on, you can quickly establish yourself as an expert on it before anyone else. Searching #journorequest on Twitter shows what kind of themes journalists are currently reporting on.
- Think about different types of content – Could you do tutorials/how-to guides? Reviews? Interviews? Lists? It might not be what you write about, but how you write which sets you apart.
- Identify your own interests and passions – While all of the above are important, there’s no point in blogging about something you have zero interest in. You’ll quickly get bored and people will spot your lack of enthusiasm. Write about something you really, truly care about.
Check out our extensive list of small business ideas. Get your entrepreneurial juices flowing and bring in some cash!
How to increase your blog traffic
Once you’ve created your website, come up with a kick-ass blog topic and you’ve published your first posts, the big question is – where are all the readers?
You can’t just expect people to magically find your blog and start reading it. You have to promote it!
Here are the best and easiest ways to get more readers for your blog:
- Promote your blog on social mediaCredit: NBCAs with any business nowadays, you’re not likely to get noticed if you don’t have social media accounts.We recommend setting up pages/accounts for your blog on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and even LinkedIn (you’re essentially your own business anyway, right?). Design these accounts in a similar colour scheme/theme to your blog so your brand is consistent and easily recognisable.Use them to share new posts and tag fellow bloggers/influencers/companies who might share your content and help it to reach an even bigger audience.You could also dabble in some paid advertising to help your blog reach a wider audience, or run a competition to generate more likes. Once you’ve got the followers, keep them interested by posting on a regular basis (not just for new blog posts).
- Connect with other bloggersMake yourself known to other people who blog about similar topics. Despite the fact you’re technically a competitor, you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by how supportive the blogger community can be.Many bloggers even have a ‘links’ page on their site which they use to link to loads of their friends within the community in return for a link on your own blog. This will help massively with your SEO (that’s search engine optimisation – how likely your blog is to pop up in Google searches).If you engage with other bloggers and share their content, they’ll likely return the favour. You could even work on some collaborations!
- Respond to news stories on your blogCredit: Warner BrosIf something happens in the news which is related to your niche, get involved. This is what we refer to as ‘newsjacking‘ and it can work a treat for getting you some great exposure.For example, if you blog about cheap student cooking, keep an eye out for things like the reveal of our latest Student Money Survey. Students might spend an average of £116 a month on groceries, but you can tell them how to spend less (while eating better food!).You can get on social media to say your bit with relevant hashtags, get involved in discussions and even reach out to journalists to say you’re available for comment.If you’re really great at owning your niche, journalists might even come to you.
- Create viral contentCreating viral content will help you reach a new market and, in turn, increase your readership.This might be easier said than done, but the key to creating viral content is to tap into controversial or highly-discussed topics related to your niche blogging field. As you can imagine, this often involves newsjacking, as mentioned above.As this is your niche, you’ll be passionate, opinionated and knowledgable about it, so you’ll be able to post an opinion that people want to read, share and talk about.
How to make money from blogging
Once you’ve got your blog up and running, you can (finally!) start looking into ways to make a profit from it.
These are the best and easiest ways to make money as a blogger:
- Use affiliate marketing on your blogCredit: Tong_stocker – ShutterstockAffiliate marketing works by adding tracked affiliate links into the text of your blog. You can make a small commission every time a reader clicks through to a site you recommend and makes a purchase.The links will lead readers to the website of a brand, and the money you receive is to say ‘thanks’ for sending some of your lovely readers to their site.Almost all online eCommerce websites have an affiliate program of some sort, like Amazon, ASOS and Apple.Sign up to Affiliate Window. This is a huge affiliate network where you can promote thousands of well-known brands and services from around the world.Money-saving blogger, Claire Roach, revealed:We mainly use affiliate marketing as our main source of revenue, although there’s also Google AdSense on there for an extra few pounds each month.Affiliate marketing is a natural fit for many bloggers. As writer Ceri Jones suggested:As a blogger, you’re always recommending products and services to your readers. A lot of companies offer affiliate programs so it’s really easy to find relevant programs to join and start earning commission.The key is to be authentic and genuine with affiliate marketing. Write reviews and articles with your honest opinions and only encourage your readers to buy something if you think it’s a good product or service for them.
- Add banner adverts to your websiteAs a more visual way of advertising, you can sell banner advertising space on your blog page to brands that relate to your readers.Adverts can be placed anywhere, but they’re commonly found across the top of blog pages or in the sidebar.You can earn income in one of two ways. CPC (cost per click) means you’ll get a set payment for every reader who clicks the advert, while CPM (cost per thousand) means you’ll negotiate a set payment for every 1,000 ‘impressions’ the ad gets.With the growth of AdBlocker plugins, the CPC and CPM can be low, but it does depend on your industry, and there’s little harm in trying them out.A quick way to get started is to create an account with Google AdSense.
- Write advertorials and sponsored contentCredit: TierneyMJ – ShutterstockAccording to the bloggers we spoke to, one of the best ways of monetising a blog is through offering sponsored content opportunities (or advertorials). These are essentially adverts in the form of a paid-for article or blog post.As an example, if Adidas brings out a new swimwear line and you have a blog on women’s sportswear, they might offer to pay you to write an article about their range. You may also be able to add some affiliate links on top.This monetisation method usually works best when you have a strong niche audience. Once you’ve grown your readership, brands will often approach you to discuss sponsored posts.As Kenzie Harvey, from beauty, fashion, lifestyle and travel blog LemonaidLies said:I have only ever had sponsored content opportunities come to me though PR companies, either directly or through apps like the Instagram agency Takumi.
- Charge for sponsored social media postsIf you have a strong social media presence, you’ll be very attractive to brands. Some people actually make their entire blogging income through sponsored posts on social media. You can charge per post/re-post and the fees can be surprisingly high.You’ll just have to work hard on building your followers first. Your ‘social proof’ (or how many people follow you on social media) is seen by brands as evidence that readers will like what you post about them, too.
- Write guest blog posts for media outletsCredit: astarot – ShutterstockOccasionally, members of the press (or even brands who have a blog of their own) will reach out to you if you’re an authority on a certain topic, asking you to make a little cameo appearance on their website.If you’re particularly knowledgeable on cooking on a budget, for example, a newspaper might get in touch and ask you to contribute some budget-friendly recipes to their cooking magazine.Don’t be shy in pitching ideas to publications either. If editors don’t know who you are, a quick email intro is a great way of getting your blog’s name out there.
- Work with an agency to build your blogBelieve it or not, blogging’s become so popular in the advertising world that there are now agencies exclusively catered to promoting bloggers to big brands.Working with an agency can be super lucrative and it offers you security, but you’ll need to have a pretty decent following to be scooped up in the first place.Agency fees are also incredibly high, meaning only the biggest brands will be able to afford to work with you, and smaller independent ones will be scared off.Depending on the kind of blogging business you’re aiming for, this may or not work to your advantage. To use the example of ethical fashion blogging again, agency fees might prevent you from working with the small independent designers you really want to promote.
- Sell digital products on your blogCredit: Kaspars Grinvalds – ShutterstockIf you have skills or advice to offer, another option is to charge a fee for access to eBooks, video tutorials, courses or workshops.In order to make this option work, you need to be able to show you’re extremely good at what you do, or that your content has proven to be incredibly valuable. This isn’t easy.It can be pretty difficult to convince online communities to pay up, as there’s a tendency for people to think everything online should be free of charge. Worth a try though, right?
- Sell your blog’s newsletter spaceIt’s also an option to charge a brand for either advertising space or a mention in your weekly/monthly newsletter (if you have one!). It’ll take very little time to do, and you could get a fair amount for it.However, you’ll need to build up a decent size mailing list for brands to consider this.
- Get employers’ attention as a bloggerUsing your blog to promote your own business or even land yourself a job is another (albeit indirect) way to make more cash with your blog.If you’re one of the many students selling stuff online, your blog is the perfect platform to promote what you have to offer (although don’t go in too hard, or you’ll put readers off).You can also use your blog as a sort of online profile. It’s a place to build credibility, show your skills and hopefully, you can get a good job out of it.Think of it this way: your blog is like your own small business in itself. By showing potential employers that you can do this successfully, you’re showing that you’ve got an entrepreneurial mind, and know how to achieve success with it.