What It Takes To Create A Successful Blog – The 3 Crucial Aspects

It has been over two years since I started this blog. And in that time it has gone from a small site only read by my friends and family, to a source of full-time income with thousands of readers. So I think it’s time to write a detailed blog post looking at exactly what it takes to create a successful blog.

Post: Two Years In – My Blog Earning Report

This post includes pretty much everything I have learnt about blogging. It is long and detailed. So here are the contents. Read it all or just click to skip to the parts you are interested in.

  1. Content – Write Stuff People Want To Read
  2. Marketing – Get People To Read Your Blog
    1. Leveraging Your Network
    2. Appearing On Google
    3. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
    4. Forum Marketing
    5. Public Relations
    6. Giveaways
    7. Pay-Per-Click Advertising
    8. Guest Posts
  3. Monetization – Make Money From Your Blog
    1. Affiliations
    2. Creating And Selling Products
    3. Creating An Online Course
    4. Subscription Content Or Ebook
    5. Traditional Adverts
    6. Coaching Or Consultancy
    7. Sponsored Posts

Starting a blog is actually very easy. It is very cheap, the technology is simple, and it can be done in under an hour. Anyone can launch a blog. And it sometimes feels like everyone does.

Post: How To Start A Blog In Under An Hour

But that doesn’t mean that turning your blog into an income stream is easy. It is not just about creating a cool looking site. Or even about writing excellent and engaging content.

Yes, you need both those things. But you also need to find a way to get people to read that content in the first place, and then you need to find a way to make money out of those readers.

I’ve split what it takes to create a successful blog into what I consider are the three crucial aspects. Content, Marketing and Monetization. I am going to go through each one and show you what I do. While throwing out a few extra ideas for things I could do if I had the time.

This is perhaps the most obvious one and the one I am going to spend the least amount of time on.

Your content doesn’t need to be perfectly polished. It doesn’t need to be completely original. And it doesn’t need appeal to everyone. It just needs to be interesting enough that a large enough segment of the population will like it and will want to read more.

That’s what’s cool about the internet. You have millions of people who can access your site at a few clicks of a button. That’s a huge potential audience. You don’t need to appeal to all of them.

I think my blog is a good example of that. My writing is pretty bad (especially when I first started), and my content isn’t particularly groundbreaking. But my posts are useful and often targets exact questions people are asking.

Here are some ideas for blogs I would be writing if I weren’t doing this one. I am pretty confident I could create a successful blog with any of these:

  • A Jiu-Jitsu video blog where I try and learn new techniques from accomplished black belts. There are lots of tutorial videos online, but very few of them have an average person learning the techniques.
  • A travel blog for digital nomads. Where I write up my experiences trying to work and fit in on a month long stays in different countries. Most places I go to have almost nothing online written about them for digital nomads. It’s annoying.
  • A travel blog for full-time travellers that aren’t on a strict budget. There are thousands of travel blogs, but most of them are from the point of view of someone trying to spend as little as possible. I want to know what you can do in different countries when you are travelling full-time on a middle-class income.
  • I’d write a blog solely on skill acquisition and getting good at learning. It’s something I’m really interested in.
  • A matched betting blog. This post on matched betting is both my most popular and my biggest earner. It deserves its own site.

You can write a blog on pretty much anything. But good content is only part of the story.

2. Marketing – Get People To Read Your Blog

Even if you write the bestest most awesomest blog posts ever, but don’t tell anyone they exist, then it will be impossible to create a successful blog.

Apparently, there are something like 150 million blogs online. But the vast majority of them have no readers, and the people who started them have given up.

Let’s cover some different ways you can market your blog. Some of these I have done, and some I will like to do.

Leveraging Your Network

When I started writing the blog, the only way I could think of to get readers was to post it on my Facebook page.

I was terrified. I don’t mind some stranger who doesn’t know me reading my blog. But getting my friends to read it? Waaa. What if it changes the way they think about me?

I held off, and it was only after I had written about ten posts that I worked up the courage to stick them on Facebook.

arbing blog create succesful blog

And that is where my first visitors came from.

For the next year or so I would share every post I wrote straight to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Some of my friends would read them, and if they liked the content they would then reshare the post.

Or they would tell other people about my blog.

Slowly over time, more people discovered my blog. And as I released more content they kept coming back.

For the first six months, friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends were my only readership.

But then, because they were slowly spreading my articles out around the internet, I started to appear on Google.

Appearing On Google

Currently, about 2/3rds of all my visitors come from Google.

But Google’s job isn’t an easy one. There are thousands of blogs and websites about every conceivable topic, so how does it know which to display?

Google tries to work out how relevant your website is for the search term. And the easiest way it can do that is by tracking how many and what quality of sites are linking to your articles.

So my friends sharing my posts on their social media and around the web is what told Google that people are interested in my articles.

And that is the secret to SEO.

Anything you can do to convince people to share your articles will have a double benefit. 1 – you will get direct traffic from anyone clicking on the link. 2 – it tells Google that your site is important.

So please do me a favour and share this post!

To make it as easy as possible to share, I added a non-invasive bar that follows you down the page.

sumome seo

It was a free plugin called SumoMe.

Once I started appearing on Google I decided to try to search engine optimise my blog. I wanted it to be as possible for Google to work out what each of my posts is about.

Luckily that is very easy. I write my blog on WordPress, which is set up to be easily read by Google.

Post: How To Start A Blog In Under An Hour

The only extra thing I did was instal a free plugin called Yoast SEO. Here is the Yoast dashboard for my last blog post.

yoast seo

You select a keyword or phrase that you want to show up in Google for. And as you write the post it gives you an analysis of how relevant your writing looks to that keyword.

You don’t even really need to understand what it all means. Just make sure as many as possible are green.

Forum Marketing

My blog continued to grow, but not as quickly as I would like. So I started looking for other ways to get readers.

Eventually, I started doing something I call forum marketing.

I had just written an in-depth guide titled How to Self-Publish an Audiobook. It was a good article, but very specific and I was struggling to find anyone who found it useful. The average person has zero interest in self-publishing an audiobook.

So instead of just hoping that the right people would stumble across my blog, I started scouring the internet looking for people or communities where they were asking that exact question. Then I could just reply with my blog post.

My biggest success was finding Quora. Quora is a question and answer website where people can ask any question, and others reply with long-form answers.

I would find a question asking exactly what I was answering in a blog post.

Here’s a pretty typical example:

Sam Priestley’s answer to How should I go about starting a business using Alibaba?

A shortened version of my main blog post, with a read more link to my blog.

I spent the next few months writing loads of answers on Quora and now have 4.3 million views.

quora page

As well as Quora I also got involved and started posting in other communities. Such as subreddits on Reddit, Hacker News, forums and Facebook groups.

Each community is different and my results have been varied. But when I get the balance right, the community is large enough and they like my content the results can be excellent.

Here is a post I did on the Entrepreneur subreddit that led to an 10,000 visitors plus some Google juice.
reddit post forum marketing

What sort of post works will vary depending on the community you’re targeting. So go and experiment.

What is also cool about forum marketing, is that each link I post back to my blog helps to convince Google that my site is awesome.

I now have an assistant whose job it is to look for communities that could be interested in my posts. When she finds one, she either shares a relevant article or passes it over to me.

Public Relations

If you ever need to be convinced of the power of the media, just look at the recent presidential election.

Donald Trump spent about half the amount of money on his campaign that Hillary Clinton did and still won. Instead, he got a huge amount of ‘free’ publicity from doing or saying something outrageous and getting everyone to talk about it.

Convincing the media to talk about or link to your site is an excellent way to get more traffic and look impressive to Google.

Here’s me looking very dopey on BBC news.

what it takes to create a successful blog, appear on BBC news

A friend of a friend is a freelance journalist and was up for writing an article about one of our projects (the Expert in a Year challenge).

But you don’t just need to target traditional media outlets. It is pretty difficult to get featured on a major site like BBC News. But there are lots of small independent blogs, podcasts and YouTube channels that are still valuable.

My tactic was to get my assistant to research all the blogs and podcasts in the various niches I write about, and then email each one with a brief bio of me and asking to be interviewed.

I have only done a few interviews (here’s one), but I have a long list of ones ready for when I have the time and inclination.

Giveaways

I don’t really like self-promotion. As much as forum marketing does work, it isn’t much fun and if I get the balance wrong I feel a bit spammy.

I’d much rather encourage other people to share my stuff. I’ve already mentioned that I have a share link on the side of each post, but unfortunately, most people don’t just share your content for no reason.

One way to encourage them is through a giveaway or competition. You know the sort of thing, “share this post for a chance to win” or “share one of my posts on Facebook and email proof for a chance to win”.

I have had mixed success. Normally, I email my subscribers with the competition and only a few people enter. A couple of times I have only had one person enter.

My plan for the future is to do a regularly monthly competition where I post the winners and how many entrants we’ve had. Hopefully, that will encourage some more of my regular readers to enter once they see the odds are on their side.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

All of the above are free and work well. But they are not very scalable. They take a lot of time and as my blog has grown, I am starting to outgrow them.

It is becoming a better use of my time to focus on creating more content and letting my current readership do the marketing for me.

But the one other type of marketing that I am going to be spending quite a bit of time trying to get to work is pay-per-click advertising.

The concept is pretty simple. I know how much money I make per visitor (about 15p – I cover how it makes money in part 3). If I can find a way to pay less than 15p per visitor, I will make a profit.

What’s awesome is that pay-per-click advertising is completely scalable. Provided the maths works I can just purchase as many as will be sold to me.

I have made this work with my other businesses. In particular my table tennis brand:

Post: The Great Marketing Experiment – PPC Update

For every £1 we spend on advertising the table tennis equipment, we make about £2.

Guest Posts

The last tactic I am going to talk about is one that a lot of other bloggers have used to great success. In fact some of the most popular bloggers I follow put their initial success down to guest blogging. Full disclaimer, I haven’t used this technique myself.

If you are churning out lots of good content, but no one is reading it on your site. It could be worth giving that content away to other more popular bloggers.

They get a well crafted, useful and unique article. In exchange, you get a link to your site (Google juice!) and hopefully some of their readers will move over and become your readers.

Have you tried this method? Let me know if it worked out for you!

3. Monetization – Make Money From Your Blog

Phew. Ok. That marketing section was a lot longer than I had planned. Now onto the final step of what it takes to create a successful blog.

Now we have some good consistent traffic to the blog it’s time to make some money.

This is the part most people seem to be baffled by. Whenever I tell someone that I am a blogger I always get asked, “well how do you make money out of that?”.

Looking around my site, you will notice that there are no adverts and no way to spend any money. So how on earth can this site provide me with a full-time income?

Well in this section I am going to go through my favourite method of monetization. Speak about a few other ones I use and talk about the techniques I have specifically chosen not to do.

I am unusual in that I purposely decide not to make money through certain techniques that I know work. Anything that I think would create a worse experience for the reader; I don’t do.

Affiliations

Affiliations are where this blog makes almost all of its money. It is a businessy way of saying ‘refer a friend schemes’.

Affiliate schemes are easiest to understand with how I have used them in this blog post:

Post: Peer-To-Peer Lending – Why I’m Moving From Funding Circle to Ratesetter

In it, I talk about a few different peer-to-peer lending companies. Each of which have a refer-a-friend scheme.

For instance, if you click on this link and sign up to Ratesetter, you will get a £100 bonus on your first £1,000 invested and I will get £50. In the last three months, 18 people have invested with Ratesetter and I have made £900.

I’d say probably 2/3rds of anything you can spend money on will have some sort of affiliate scheme. Even huge retail stores like Amazon.

Here is a screenshot of my Amazon affiliate report.

amazon associates report

I am making a bit of money from all sorts of random things.

You can see the exact breakdown of what I make from each affiliate scheme in this blog post:

Post: Two Years In – My Blog Earning Report

It is a bit out of date now but gives you a good idea.

Pros

  • Affiliations are my favourite way of making money out of a blog because they provide such a good experience for the reader.
  • The reader gets all the content for free.
  • There are no annoying pop-ups or adverts.
  • The writer has complete control over what is displayed and what their site looks like.

Cons

  • The writer has a slight conflict of interest as they only get paid when the reader spends money based on the post. It therefore discourages bad reviews.
  • If you’re writing about something with no affiliate deals, then you make no money.
  • It doesn’t work with offline businesses such as restaurants.

Creating And Selling Products

My friend Ben runs a very popular table tennis blog. But unfortunately for him, there aren’t many good affiliate schemes in table tennis.

He was making a bit of money from Amazon, but nowhere near as much as he should be given his number of readers.

So we teamed up and created a table tennis brand, the first customers of which were from his blog.

Here is an example of one of our recent items he has posted about on his blog:

table tennis bat product to sell

What is really cool about this technique, is that although our first customers were from his blog, our table tennis brands have now grown to become independent businesses that make a decent profit.

They even have their own affiliate schemes and are promoted on other blogs.

Post: Step-By-Step Guide to Creating and Selling a Physical Product

Pros:

  • Huge profit potentials.
  • A chance to create a new business with very little chance of failing.

Cons:

  • It is a lot of work.
  • You need quite a lot of startup capital.
  • It is basically a whole new business.

Creating An Online Course

After we had started the table tennis brands, Ben found another way to try and profit from his table tennis blog.

He teamed up with top-level table tennis coaches to create online video courses on different aspects of table tennis.

Here is his table tennis university:

table tennis university video course

Pros

  • The profit margins are large.
  • The commission for affiliates is high so it is easy to get other bloggers onboard.

Cons

  • Creating good quality courses takes a lot of work.
  • Anything you charge for you can’t give away for free.

Subscription Content Or Ebook

A simpler version of creating a whole online university, is to sell an in-depth e-book or put some of the content of your site behind a pay wall.

This is very popular with bloggers. It is quite easy, the ebook doesn’t need to be that in-depth and it allows you to really dive into pay-per-click advertising.

I’m sure you’ve seen sites like this before. They tease you with some very good free content, but it’s only a taster. To get access to the really good stuff you need to pay up.

Then you pay $200 for what’s basically just a really long blog post. Oh and access to a private Facebook group with no one on it.

Pros

  • Gives an exclusive feel for your followers.
  • Can sign up affiliates to refer people straight to your blog.

Cons

  • If your paid-for content isn’t really really good then you risk your readers feeling conned and never returning to your site.
  • Anything you charge for you can’t give away for free.
  • You can probably tell that I don’t really like this method.

Traditional Adverts

I don’t have any traditional adverts on my blog, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have them.

You can sign up to a service like Google Adsense. It will place adverts automatically on your site and pay you based on how many views or clicks they get.

It’s a very easy way to monetize your site and takes just a few moments to set up. But you need to have loads of visitors to make any real money from it. It ranges depending on what your site is about, but $0.25 per person clicking on the advert is about right.

Pros

  • Very very easy to set up. You can be up and running pretty much instantly.

Cons

  • You need a lot of readers to make any money.
  • I believe adverts detract from the user experience.
  • If your reader is using an adblocker you won’t make any money.

Coaching Or Consultancy

If you go to the contact page of this site, you will see that I offer one-to-one business consultancy.

Post: How I Started A Consultancy Business

I don’t do it very often, perhaps two or three times a month. But it is something that if I really pushed I reckon could become a very nice earner.

I do some in-person consulting and do some through a service called Clarity, which is like Skype but people pay per minute for your time. Here is my profile on Clarity:

sam priestley clarity

Remember my friend Ben? He does something similar but with table tennis coaching. If you want to learn table tennis you can hire him by the hour and he will meet up with you and coach you.

If you’re an expert in your topic and confident enough that you want to create a successful blog about it, then chances are there are people out there who will pay to learn directly from you.

Pros

  • You get to actually speak and interact with your readers. A much better experience for them.
  • Easy to set up. I just created an account and put a link to Clarity on my contact page.
  • Speaking directly with your readers helps you get a better idea of what they like which should make your blog better.

Cons

  • It is not scalable. You earn the same amount per hour regardless of how many customers you have.
  • If your blog becomes very profitable, it probably won’t be worth the time.

This is the last one. I promise!

As soon as you start getting a few regular readers on your blog, you will start to get loads of emails offering ‘sponsored posts’. They offer to pay you to write a post and publish it on your blog. Here’s a pretty typical email:

Hello!

My name is xxx and I’m the relationship manager of xxx – a content marketing company specializing in PR, SEO and content strategy. We work with startups and established businesses on boosting their online visibility.

To cut to the chase, I came across your website today and I wanted to start a relationship. We’re interested in running some sponsored/guest posts with you. Can you please give me quote? We want to start asap and aim long term. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best regards

The reason that companies are willing to pay you to post on you blog are that they are trying to game Google’s algorithms. Remember how Google looks at who is linking to your site to determine if your content is any good?

They don’t expect anyone to read the post, and just want to take advantage of your websites Google reputations.

I have never accepted a sponsored post, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on how much you get paid for them. If you know then please post a comment and I’ll update.

Pros

  • Easy money.
  • Pays better than traditional advertising.

Cons

  • You end up with useless content on your blog that provides a bad user experience.
  • If Google discovers you doing it, they will penalise your site.

Conclusion. And Please Can You Do Me A Favour?

And that’s it. The three crucial aspects to create a successful blog: content, marketing and monetization.

If you can do well at all three, you will create a successful blog.

Now you have no excuses. Go and start a blog.

If you found this post useful, please can you do me a massive favour and go and share this post somewhere you think people will find it useful?

Share it on Reddit, Digg, Hacker News, a Facebook group. On your own Facebook. Or on all of them!

Thank you.

 Further Reading:

  • Ed Grant

    Thanks Sam. More good stuff. I`m going to start a blog!. Another one

  • Christine Reid

    Great post Sam, have shared on twitter wish you would start a workshop on match betting. Not the first sign ups I understand that but the rest is beyond me just following a video.

  • Navin Rao

    Hey Sam, those were some great points you have mentioned Which are very effective…!! Though I am not a bug fan of the Give Away strategy, but yes it play a role in New bringing up the Traffic…

    Thanks
    Navin Rao

  • Another great post, Sam. I’ve heard some SEO folk say that social shares don;t count towards backlinks (or backlink credibility). What are your views on that?

    • Same question, but for Quora – do Quora backlinks count towards SEO juice? I’ve started to get more active on Quora but when I look at tools like SEM Rush it doesn’t seem to show in the backlink analysis.

      • Hey. I replied to you on twitter, but will say again here.

        Quora links along with pretty much all other social media sites (with Reddit being an exception) tag all outbound links with ‘no-follow’. That is meant to tell Google to ignore it. And to a certain extent it does.

        But Google for the last few years have explicitly said that they use social signals to help rank your site. Which they can only do by ignoring the no-follow tag. So there is some sort of interesting conundrum there and noone is particularly sure how exactly Google works.

        But in my experience, my Google rankings went up a lot when I started receiving a lot of traffic from Quora.

        • Thanks, Sam. (Sorry to spam you btw – best place for asking questions here I suppose?)

          • No worries! spam away. It’s good to know someone is reading and finding it useful 🙂