16 Things to Know Before Starting a Blog or Niche Website

Monastery in the ancient city of Petra Jordan

Monastery in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan

One thing I like about publishing this site is it attracts a lot of people just starting out with blogs or thinking about launching a blog.  I know this because many people contact me and tell me.

I remember starting out years ago like it was yesterday.  It was exciting and confusing at the same time.  I remember liking it all instantly.  The thought of making money by publishing articles was amazing.  When I was in my early 20’s I thought it would be really cool to earn a living publishing non-fiction books on topics I enjoyed.  I’d also love to be a novelist, but I’m not much of a creative writer.

When I was practicing law and started the law blog for more clients, I couldn’t believe marketing could be so much fun.  I enjoyed writing about the law and publishing those articles which would then attract new clients to the firm.  That was how I got started.  It worked really well.  I branched out from law into other niches that interested me.  Over time, I built up a website publishing business.

If you’re new to this blogging thing, here are a few tips that might help you get started.  I don’t delve into the technical steps of setting up a blog. There are umpteen articles and videos that show that with Bluehost, Kinsta and other lower cost hosting providers.  Instead, this article offers tips on the content and monetization side of blogging when just starting out.

1. It takes a long time to make good money (usually)

I’ve had some fast successes with sites, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.  For me, most sites have taken 12 to 24 months to gain some traction.  It takes time to publish lots of great content, attract natural links and build up traffic.  On top of that, you need to optimize your revenue.  It’s a long, arduous process, but if done right, you’ll end up with a more sustainable website.

2. Keep expenses to a bare minimum in the beginning

Far too many new entrepreneurs waste time and money on things they don’t need.  You don’t need business cards.   You don’t need a custom designed website (I have 8 blogs and they all use themes out-of-the-box).  You don’t need a fancy office.  You don’t need the best laptop.  You don’t need much software.  Keep your expenses as low as possible.

All you need is some inexpensive shared hosting and a WordPress theme.  That’s it.  Start publishing.  Ahrefs is a good investment but you can get by with Ubersuggest and Keywordshitter.com (free keyword research tools).

Don’t buy stuff.  Instead, write stuff.

3. Choose a niche that you know something about

One of my niche sites is in the law niche.  Why? Because I used to practice law.  I know what I’m talking about (most of the time).  I like it.  I have the credentials.  It’s a natural fit for me.

I publish this site (Fat Stacks) because I’ve been a full-time blogger for 6 years.  I have several successful niche sites.  I know what I’m talking about.  I enjoy blogging about blogging.  Again, it’s a good fit.  Note, that I didn’t start Fat Stacks until I had 2 successful blogs in other niches.

While I’m not as well versed in my other niches, I got up to speed pretty fast.  I have a tech-related niche that I knew nothing about.  I solved that by buying 20 different products that were the leading products in the niche.  I used them all extensively.  After 4 weeks, I knew the niche extremely well.

While you can succeed in niches about which you know nothing, it is easier to publish excellent content if you know the topic and have the credentials.  If you have a job or career, is there a niche you could pursue from that knowledge?

Do you have a hobby or play a sport or follow something that interests you?

The point is you can actually publish great content when you know the niche.

Again, there are many exceptions to this.  Many people have done well in niches that they know nothing about.  I have as well.  However, I tend to focus on sites and do a better job when I know the niche well.

4. Start with long tail keywords

I’m all about ranking high search volume keywords, but that’s not going to happen with a newer site.  Your best bet is to cover more obscure topics even if there isn’t all that much traffic to be had.  The name of the game is to get a trickle of traffic and just keep growing.  If your content is good, natural links will come in as well and that will help grow your site’s authority so you can go after more competitive keywords.

This is a very long process, but get that trickle of traffic coming in by covering obscure topics (and cover them well).

My course covers keyword research unlike any other – it’s the foundation of my niche site business.

5. Invest your time and/or money in content

If you’re going to spend money, spend it on content.  It’s content that makes money, not fancy designs, graphics and social media accounts.  That stuff can come later.

If you have no money for content, that’s okay.  I didn’t for years.  I wrote it myself day in and day out (evenings too).  I wrote like a maniac. I still do.  I like writing.  While I supplement my writing with content from writers, I still write quite a bit per day.

Just the other day I received a report from Grammarly which said I’m in the 99th percentile of writing output of all people who use Grammarly.  That means I’m pumping out a lot of content.  Granted, my VA uses my Grammarly account too and she formats a ton of content every day, so that report isn’t just my efforts, but I can tell you I put out a lot of words each day (as well as edit content I receive).  Here’s part of the Grammarly report:

Grammarly content report

6. Investing in an aged site can be worth the up-front cost

I don’t want anyone to spend money they don’t have so this strategy isn’t for everyone.  When I started online, I was in no position to buy an aged site.  My only option was to start one from scratch.  However, after some success, I did spend $10,000 on an aged site.  I knew it was a great site, but I didn’t know what to do with it.  I held onto it and after 3 years I figured out what to do.  Within 6 months, that site is now earning $1,500 per month and growing quickly.  It’s now worth over $30,000 and if it keeps growing like it is, will be worth more than $100,000 in a few more months.

I was able to get such fast growth because the site was aged and had lots of great content and natural inbound links.  It helps that once I had a plan based on sound keyword research that I was able to publish great content that ranked quickly.

Buying a site is risky.  It may not work out, but if you have the money (don’t buy one on your credit card or last dollar) and you find a quality site that you know you can grow, it can speed up the process.

What can go wrong buying an existing site?

Lots.  Here are a few things:

  • It’s distressed with Google as in it’s been penalized in the SERPs:  Avoid these at all costs.  I bought a very bad domain and moved a site to it which killed traffic.  I failed to check Wayback Machine to investigate the domain’s history.  That was a huge and costly mistake that I’m still paying for.  You want to check the entire history of the site and you want all Google Analytics traffic data from the seller.  Look for any sudden drops in traffic.
  • Niche is a bad fit:  You might think the niche will be good, but then find it’s not a great fit.  That said, you can try pivoting the niche to something different.  I did that with a site purchase and it’s working quite well.
  • AdSense issues:  You definitely want to ensure with the seller that the site is not banned from AdSense.

But if you buy a winner that works for you, it can be money very, very, very well spent.

7. Be prepared to write a lot

Many people get into this line of work thinking they can order articles and do nothing else.  This is not the case.

Ordering content is just the start.  I know many big publishers who order lots of content, but they put in a lot of work into their sites every day.  Ordering content merely helps to scale; it is not a ticket to doing nothing.

When starting out if you can afford to order content, do so, but it does help to write it out yourself so you know what to order.  I wrote everything for years.  Once extra money started coming in and I had a solid content plan, then I could outsource a lot of content because I had the funds and I knew exactly what to order from whom.

Moreover, it can speed things up if you outsource content and supplement that with your own. The faster you get awesome content out there based on good keyword research, the faster your site will grow.  I still write daily – on this site and others because I want the content to be excellent.

Please keep in mind my suggestion that you’ll write a lot is only if you plan on launching and building a niche website or blog.  There are many other online models that don’t require daily or weekly writing.

8. Have a good understanding of your monetization options before you start

You may very well change monetization strategies along the way, but it helps to have a plan in place when you start.  Will it be display ads? Affiliate links? Selling stuff?  Selling services?

If you don’t know how you can best monetize your niche, check out other sites in the niche.  It doesn’t take long to figure out how they’re monetizing.  You can see the ads if they have them.  You can see the affiliate promotions if they have them.  Get on their email lists and see how and what they sell via email.

I didn’t do this with my biggest niche site when I launched (avoid my mistakes).  I launched my site to be an affiliate site (I had only done affiliate marketing up until then).  By month 3 I had earned nothing despite traffic starting to trickle in.  Then I put AdSense ads on the site.  The revenue was incredible in one day.  That’s when I changed my focus from affiliate promotions to display ads and have never looked back.

9. Also, have a good understanding of your content model

Are you going for huge amounts of traffic with lots of content or focus on fewer pieces of content and serve a more specific audience?

Some bloggers in the “how to blog” space talk about publishing less often but to write extensive articles and then promote them for weeks.  It works… in some niches like “how to blog” niches.

But that doesn’t work in every niche.  If it did, sites like Huffington Post would crank out dozens or hundreds of articles per day.

Be careful about what you read.  Each niche is different.  I know, I’m in 8 niches.  Again, see what the competition is doing.  Are they publishing frequently targeting long tail keywords or do they publish twice per month going after larger keywords (because there aren’t all that many keywords to go after).

The reason I like broad, big niches is I have a lot of keywords and topics to go after, many with low competition.  This way I can publish a lot of content frequently.  This is what I do on my B2C sites that serve a larger audience.

However, I also publish narrower niche sites with a narrow audience where there aren’t all that many keywords to target. I publish very infrequently.  The existing content attracts traffic daily, who sign up to my newsletter and buy stuff via the sequence of emails.

These are two very different content models. Both work, but both must be executed differently.

10. Will you finish your site or will it never be finished?

Some niches have a finite number of topics to blog about.  These sites can conceivably be “finished”.  Sure, you might add a bit content here and there, but for the most part, you can exhaust the topic.  An example would be raising and caring for a particular type of fish.  There’s only so much you can cover – info about the fish and equipment needed.  You can expand that site into other fish, but again, at some point there’s only so much that can be said.

Other niches have no end.  HuffingtonPost will not be finished.  Broader niches typically are never finished because there’s always more topics and keywords that can be covered.

Both approaches work.  You might start in a narrow niche and expand it.  That’s a viable strategy.  Just be sure to avoid domains that really niche specific.  For example, returning to the fish example, don’t register guppyhq.com if you think you might expand into other types of fish.  Instead, do something like fishhq.com.

11. If you have to force yourself to do it it’s probably not the best business for you

I’ve never begrudged having to work on my blogs.  I love doing it.

When I used to work at home and told people, they would ask how I stayed focused and avoid distractions in the house such as watching TV or doing other things instead of working on my sites.  This was never a problem.  There wasn’t anything else I preferred to do.  I loathed distractions (and still do).

If you find yourself clipping nails, cleaning, organizing, watching TV, rearranging furniture or doing anything other than focusing on your blogging business, it may be a sign you’re really not into this.

12. SEO traffic is the best unless you make paid traffic work

My preferred traffic source these days is Google search.  I love it.  I love the work involved to get it.  I love growing it.  I like that it allows me to focus on content.  I love how websites that attract organic search traffic can be sold for valuations ranging from 10 to 50 times net monthly income (as in I’m creating assets every day that can be sold).

However, if you can earn a profit from paid traffic, there is no faster way to sky-high revenue.  If you set up a system where for every $1 you spend you receive $1.50, you have goldmine (assuming you can scale the paid traffic).

I’ve done paid traffic and it’s great.  However, it stopped working as ad prices increased so I switched to organic search.  I didn’t want to sell products.  i wanted to continue with a content model.

What about social media traffic such as Facebook or Pinterest?

Free Facebook traffic is pretty much non-existent.  Don’t count on it.  Pinterest can be excellent, but in my experience, it’s not as high nor consistent and organic search traffic.

13. Pay attention to what’s working

Once you have some traffic, check Google Analytics to see what’s working.  You might be very surprised to find you’re ranking for stuff that you never really intended to.  I did and do across my sites.

This is a great development because it gives you a direction.  Once you see topics that Google favors your site for, publish more on those topics.

14. Try different things

One experiment I suggest you try is injecting your personality and experiences into your content.  I don’t do this for every article, but I do it quite a bit and I think it helps.  At the very least it makes content more interesting.  Let’s face it, most outsourced content isn’t interesting.  It may be informative and well researched, but it’s not interesting unless you pay premium rates for writers to go the extra mile.

That’s why when I order content I instruct writers to NOT include an introduction or conclusion.  I write those because I want them personalized.  I also sometimes inject personalization in the body of the content as well.  While this adds time to getting content published, in my view, it’s worth it.

Also try different article formats and concepts.  See what other websites do for ideas and put your own spin on it.

15. Carve your own unique angle

This is huge.  I see way too many newer sites essentially being the same as many other sites.  I don’t really see the point of this.  I strive to make each niche site unique carving out an angle within the niche or sector.  Take Fat Stacks as an example.  Yes, there are no shortage of “how to blog” websites out there.  However, I focus this site to cover my niche site business.  Sometimes I publish more generic stuff, but for the most part, the content here is me writing about what I’m doing with my other niche sites.

Moreover, I have my own approach with growing niche sites and blogs.  I surely don’t expect everyone wanting to do it the way I do it.  That would be ridiculous.  There are many ways to go about this business.  However, I have my own approach and based on readers’ feedback, my writing about what I do can be helpful.  At the very least, you might pick up an idea or two around here.  If you do, mission accomplished.

16. Content content content

The only thing that ever made me money as a blogger and website publisher is publishing great content.  I’m not saying this is the only way to build an online business, but if it’s a blog or niche website you want, it’s all about the content.

 



What do you think? Leave a comment!

  • Dave Starr says:

    Great article, it was valuable to me. In particular, I resonated with point 13. In almost no other business I can think of do we have as much actionable information available to us as in blogging/niche websites.

    In addition to the large number of site publishers who publish detailed income reports (thanks for the connections, guys and gals), we have Google Analytics and the Webmaster Console to tell us exactly what Google “thinks” our site is about.

    Want to argue with Google? Not this writer. I cut my sails to fit the cloth.

  • DAN says:

    As I get closer to actually have all my eggs coordinated to have a WordPress website, secure, settings correct and ready to write content, I now find myself reading your blog here more and more.

    You already know your guidance is very relevant such as in my situation. I am stubborn so I have to double-check myself. I don’t want to lock myself out of ad network revenue by making fancy web pages with all the features in these page builders like Architect or Elementor.

    I am reading a number of cases where affiliate revenue can be slow at best and affiliate site owners actually have done better inserting ad revenue to their content. So what do I concentrate on to not fall into the page builder trap? I get suckered into thinking I should make fancy webpages with these pagebuilders because Gael Breton has stated that fancy well-designed webpages increase the ability to accumulate backlinks which boosts authority and thus rankings.

    Do I strictly use the back end WordPress editor(I guess that would be Gutenberg now) for blog posts and use the page builder for the infomation content? Or can I use the page builders like Architect or Elementor on blog posts too, BUT KEEP IT SIMPLE, SIMPLE FORMATTING like you do here in your blog articles?

  • Richard says:

    Hi Jon,

    You mentioned checking Analytics and seeing which post is ranking for keywords it is not directly targeting. If you get these keywords, do you write a new posts on them or your expand the previous article to include the new keyword?

    • Jon says:

      Hey Richard,

      Yes and no. I avoid duplicate topics. My aim with checking for keywords that I do rank for is to discover large topics that Google favors my site for. This happens in all my niche sites which is interesting, especially broader niche sites. For example, for one niche site, Google ranked my content on a particular type of software. I then did research to find many other keywords I could cover/target for that topic and published 15 in-depth articles on the topic. They were all different topics within the software realm for that niche. Many of those articles do well and generate tens of thousands of page views per month.

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