This step-by-step guide will turn unrealistic expectations of how to make passive income online into stone-cold blogging awesomeness, from scratch. All you need is a good attitude.
A lot of people are trying to make a living from writing online. A lot. Most don't. The vast majority don't. Many won't make anything at all. Literally, zero dollars.
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Good. Writing is a wonderful way to earn a living, if you can. It's just important to go into it with your eyes wide open. Understand what's involved and how to be smart about finding gaps that allow you to flourish while others tread water and slowly sink.
Get things right and, hopefully, you'll start seeing revenue like this (affiliate commission report for a blog post I wrote a few years back).
Affiliate earnings in excess of $5000 from a single blog post.
Let's get down to brass tacks.
Step 0. Most advice you read is designed to give you unrealistic hope
Think about the mountains upon mountains of new content being posted online every day. It's a stupendous number.
WordPress accounts for just over one-third of all websites on the Internet. Here's a screenshot showing how many blog posts have been posted on that platform this morning (Sunday).
Millions of blog posts are published daily.
The sheer volume of content coming online is staggering, yet many bloggers hope against all odds to get noticed amidst that raging torrent. Straight up, it's not going to happen. Not unless you're doing something different from everyone else.
But what to do differently?
Most advice comes with one of two possible flaws. Either it focuses on 'necessary, but not sufficient conditions', or it relies on putting the cart before the horse (i.e. leverage social media to grow traffic… before you have grown a meaningful following).
Good examples include:
By all means, spend time honing your craft to become a standout writer. Being a better writer will help. Just be aware that great writing is necessary, but not sufficient.
The Internet is not short of talented writers; it's short of talented entrepreneurs who can write.
Being creative will also go a long way to helping you. In fact, I spend a lot of time talking about strategies to boost creative thinking and creative problem solving. Check out the creative heuristic algorithm for a quick catchup.
Thinking out the box and finding interesting and engaging topics will help differentiate you as a writer. Creativity is necessary, but not sufficient.
Absolutely. Do your best to build up a following using social media (or preferably an email marketing list). A huge email marketing list will definitely lead to earnings, but the advice itself is putting the cart before the horse.
How the hell can you build a social media following if you can't get your content in front of anyone in the first place? Don't neglect social media, but realize it suffers from the same (if not worse) saturation issue as blog content.
The list goes on and on.
This type of advice has value but it also deflects from the real issue. There is simply too much content and too much competition to do the basics right and hope for the best. Those days are long gone. Time to evolve.
Step 1. Redefine your understanding of blogging
Blogging isn't about writing. It's about being an entrepreneur. It's about becoming an information entrepreneur. Just like captains of industry from the industrial era, ideas are your factories, words are your employees, publications are your mode of transport.
You get my point? If profit is your goal, treating a blog post as anything but a startup business makes it a great hobby or pastime. Nothing more.
Think of a single blog post as a startup business in its own right.
Avoid aimlessly spewing out content in the hope that something sticks. While I'm sure plenty of people have succeeded doing precisely this, the odds of it working decrease with every few million additional posts going online each day.
Like any startup business, there needs to be some planning involved. Data. Knowledge. Insights. Analytics. All of these must be diligently researched.
I'm not suggesting a cathartic ramble about how ladybugs are super needs a business plan. I'm talking specifically about money posts you intend to use to carve out your own slice of the pie.
Step 2. Find a gap with a killer business plan
If you accept the premise that a single blog post is akin to a startup business (or side hustle, at the very least) then it's time to treat it as such.
Content is a battle ground. Competition is fierce. The people on top understand how to protect theirs. You need to marshal your energy, creativity, skills and resources to mount a meaningful assault.
Every dollar you earn is a dollar out of someone else's pocket.
A good blog post business plan helps differentiate your article from millions of competitors. It helps you find a gap. Find the gap. But only once you've learned everything there is to know about the battlefield.
- How much time and effort is required.
- What financial costs there are.
- What gaps or angles exist.
- What obstacles exist.
- Who the competition is and what they're doing right (and wrong).
- How much traffic there is.
- Who your audience is.
- How much money you can make.
- How to make that money.
- How long it will take to start making money.
Most of all,
A blog post business plan will tell you whether or not your blog post idea is viable and worth pursuing.
Paradoxically, the work you do in creating a business plan should save you time and energy in the long run because it directs your energies into content that'll have the most impact. Conversely, writing articles day after day without any understanding of whether or not they're going to succeed only serves to sap your time and energy.
Time is your most valuable asset as a writer; not money.
Here's a quick summary of what's involved in drawing up a blog post business plan.
Blog post business plan template.
Download a free blog post business plan template.
For me, the most valuable part of putting together a business plan is the market research - more specifically, competitor analysis. Competitor analysis uncovers the diverse array of strategies and tactics successful competitors are using to capture market share and convert it into revenue. If you want to be the best, learn from the best.
Competitor analysis uncovers the diverse array of strategies and tactics successful competitors are using to capture market share and convert it into revenue.
Once you have found a blog post topic worth pursuing (in the business startup sense), it's time to start creating the content. Only this time you come pre-equipped with a ton of useful information about the market, audience, competition and, most importantly, where the juicy, juicy gaps lie.
Step 3. Write to blow people away
Your job is to take whatever niche topic you have chosen and blow your readers away. There is literally zero value in writing something that's not going to be the absolute best you can muster.
Don't rush the writing. Plan it out beforehand. Allow it to evolve as you learn or discover new things. Take your time. It might take days, weeks, or even months to get a world beating piece of content out the door.
Flood your post with passion. Stuff it full of brilliant insights. Sprinkle with attention grabbing media. Wrap it all in punchy, concise writing and beautiful, clear formatting.
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It's gotta have something about it. Some substance. Audacity. Freshness.
Picture in your mind how you're going to wake people up. Work them into a frenzy. Get them laughing, crying or shouting out loud. All the better if it's all at once.
Aim high in each and every aspect of the article. Strive to be unique. Better. Unusual. Different. Here are some specific areas to focus on.
Win the title
Titles are hard!
You have to juggle three things at once in a single, short sentence:
- Target SEO keywords
- Describe the content
- Spark intrigue
Take time over the title. It is absolutely critical to the success of your post because it directly impacts where it will be seen (i.e. will it rank for relevant keywords in Google search) and how many of those views convert into reads (i.e. will it spark sufficient intrigue in casual viewers).
A title is to a blog post what an elevator pitch is to a startup.
Wired wrote an article about what a difference clickable headlines make.
The difference between a good headline and a bad headline can be just massive. It's not (in the ballpark of) a rounding error. When we test headlines we see 20% difference, 50% difference, 500% difference. A really excellent headline can make something go viral.
Don't panic if you don't have the perfect title to start with. Leave the wording 'til last. Adapt and fine-tune as you go, until it's ready to go out there and captivate people.
Draw 'em in description
Make the description a promise of something greatly valuable for the reader. What is your blog post going to offer them that they really, really want?
A blog description must inspire readers with an exciting promise of value.
Along with the header, the description is about the only chance you have to convince visitors to click thru. Don't waste it on a dry, boring description.
If a description can't instantly light an inspire fire readers will simply browse past your article. Gone. Don't mess around. Get straight to the point in the first few words in a way that will spark intrigue. Learn how to do it in a game-changing way.
To do this properly you need to understand who's going to be reading the article and what they need to know. What are their pain points. What type of information is genuinely valuable. Genuinely valuable.
The description isn't about the content; it's about the reader.
This is one aspect of writing I struggle with the most. Often, writing about topics in which I have a lot of experience causes me to lose the audience quickly. Avoid assuming too much or too little knowledge. Both are equally adept at turning readers off.
The better you understand your audience, the easier it is to pitch content in a way that keeps them captivated.
Punchy section titles
Boring. Is. The. Enemy.
Make sub-titles and headers gripping. Never, ever let go of the reader's attention. Not for a second.
Think of headers as the cheerleaders of your content.
Like the description, sub-headers should inspire and intrigue, pulling readers along. Gary Korisko gives us this great quote,
The four main ingredients of great sub-headers are curiosity, surprise, personality & emotion.
This needs a high level of awareness and understanding about what a reader is looking to learn at each point in the article. Go too slow and they'll be bored. Too quick and they'll get confused. Like the proverbial bread-crumb, good section titles draw readers along.
Be engaging, damn it
Let your content evolve as new ideas emerge. One of the advantages of taking your time writing is that creative new ideas have more chance to surface and find a home in your article.
I'm naturally a bland, technical writer. My background is in programming and development books intended to be concise, precise and thoroughly devoid of any style, humor or flair. I need to have several passes at editing and rewriting my content to make it snappy and engaging for the Web. I build it up layer by layer.
Don't underestimate how important being engaging is. Research by the Nielsen Norman Group shows that the longer someone stays on a page, the less likely they are to leave.
The first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users' decision to stay or leave. The probability of leaving is very high during these first few seconds because users are extremely skeptical, having suffered countless poorly designed web pages in the past. People know that most web pages are useless, and they behave accordingly to avoid wasting more time than absolutely necessary on bad pages.
If the web page survives this first - extremely harsh - 10-second judgment, users will look around a bit. However, they're still highly likely to leave during the subsequent 20 seconds of their visit. Only after people have stayed on a page for about 30 seconds does the curve become relatively flat. People continue to leave every second, but at a much slower rate than during the first 30 seconds.
Always maintain your energy and enthusiasm for creating the best possible content. Take regular breaks to keep your mind fresh. Write when inspiration strikes.
Find a method that works for you and do everything in your power to avoid slipping into a mediocre, run-of-the-mill voice that allows readers to drift away (without a conversion) as they lose interest.
Format for skimmers
Formatting plays a big role. Spacing, structure, fonts & layout all contribute to how well readers digest and retain information. Above all else, be concise & clear.
According to Hubspot,
73% of visitors skim rather than read the blog post thoroughly.
Formatting is a way to break up content in a way that entices readers to keep going. Especially people who are starting out with a cursory scan of an article to see if it's worth their time.
Great formatting can entice skimmers to stay on-page and become engaged readers.
Perhaps they notice a heading that interests them. Perhaps they see a quote in a callout box. A useful bullet list of resources. An interesting stat, chart or infographic. Dense, monolithic text is not your friend in the online world. Avoid it at all costs.
Cite experienced influencers & experts
Don't look at blogging as something you do alone.
Blogging is a collaborative effort and diverse perspectives add value.
Gathering input from influencers in your niche is incredibly important for a bunch of reasons.
Experts know stuff (you don't)
- Improve your content using the experience and knowledge that other people have gathered on their way to becoming an influencer.
- These external insights will help to flesh out your own article.
Relationships you build with influencers are valuable
- Reaching out to other people also helps to establish contact with people in the know. Getting them to contribute wisdom to your article means they get to know a bit about you too.
- Down the line they may ask you for insights or be prepared to work on other projects.
Influencers can increase your reach and buzz
- People who have contributed to your content are far more likely to mention or promote it, assuming they like what they see (which they will because you're making it the best in the world).
- Promoting content is also a lot easier when you can drop a few names.
Influencers help build trust & authority with your audience
- Think of someone you respect and admire. Someone at the top of their game. Wouldn't it be great to have them contribute a quote to your article?
- A lot of other people might also be interested in what they have to say. For that they'll visit your article.
Out of all these points, really the most salient and immediately valuable one is that including quotes and inputs from great influencers helps turn them into evangelists for your article .
Influencers who have contributed to your article are more likely to mention or promote it.
Step 4. Add income generators
The content you have created at this point has been created with a specific purpose in mind. It's got everything it needs to go after the specific niche or gap you identified in the planning and research phase.
It's time to dress it all up in irresistible CTAs (Calls To Action) that help readers towards a conversion.
Making money is about understanding what readers want and offering irresistible CTAs to help them get it.
How you actually make money is up to you and the models best suited to your content. Find the combination of revenue generators that work well for your particular blog post niche and audience.
Here are a few to get you started:
- Google AdSense: Google makes it incredibly easy to monetize content using their ads. Sign up. Paste their ad code snippet into your site. Monitor earnings reports. Simple.
- Private advertising: Unlike automated ads from AdSense you'll can sell advertising to companies directly. Keep track of traffic volumes and email list size (collectively, reach) and charge accordingly.
- Sell services: You're the expert. Why not become a consultant?
- Sell digital products: I generally prefer creating free eBooks, but there's nothing stopping you from charging for one, or an online course. Paid subscriptions are also a great way to generate purely online income.
- Sponsored content: Many companies have an in-house marketing team that generates content. They'll pay handsomely to get that content onto the right blog.
- Paid events: Promote a webinar that shares compelling insights not available via your blog content and sell tickets.
- Affiliate links: Find a diverse range of high quality companies that offer affiliate commissions for conversions your readers will be interested in. Join popular affiliate networks like Commission Junction and Impact.
- eCommerce: Sell physical goods. Use a 3rd party drop shipping service to handle everything from warehousing to delivery.
- Endorsements: Create relationships with companies that pay you to endorse their products. Do this on an ongoing basis to become a brand ambassador.
- Paid reviews: Businesses are constantly on the lookout for infuencers who can reach their audience. They may approach you with a request for a review of their service. Writing a good review takes a lot of research and effort so don't be afraid to charge.
Don't be lulled into settling for Adsense ads because they're easy to implement. You might be leaving a lot of money on the table by not perfectly tailoring your own sales funnels towards high value conversions (think, recurring affiliate commissions that generate ongoing income).
Out of all the ways you can monetize content, growing an email marketing list is a must-have if you intend to make a go of blogging in the long run.
Starting & growing an email marketing list is non-negotiable for career bloggers.
Converting visitors into email signups is vital to long-term sustainability and earnings because every other channel relies on a 3rd party.
Content relies on Google search, or social media traffic. Affiliate marketing relies on the company that's paying commissions (companies like Amazon can simply cancel your associate account without warning and withhold payment at their discretion, making it a dangerous way to build a business). Advertising relies on relationships with advertisers. And so on.
The email list you build is your own. A Google algorithm update can't take it away from you.
Step 5. Release 'the Kraken'
'Release the Kraken' might sound like I've exaggerated this a bit. I mean we're only publishing a blog post and doing a bit of promotion to launch it, right?
You've only invested weeks or months of work to get to this point. All with the sole intention of creating the most valuable niche post in the world.
The people currently making money from your niche probably won't mind one bit that you're after their lunch. They won't notice as your post captures a bigger and bigger slice of the pie. They won't do everything in their power to preserve the revenue streams that are their lifeblood.
Oh wait. They will.
Blogging is an online war and each post is a new battleground for visibility & revenue.
You are in a war. Be prepared to run a tough campaign for domination right from the start. Luckily, you have a bunch of serious advantages in the shape of a business plan, killer content, influential allies and a professional marketing campaign waiting to be unleashed.
Here are some steps you'll want to take right out the gate:
- Review your post carefully. Edit carefully for spelling, grammar and clarity.
- Review all CTAs to ensure they are relevant and helpful in their specific context.
- Get family and friends to read the article to check for content that is boring, confusing, unclear, ambiguous, or anything else that might cause readers to lose interest.
- Choose to publish at the best time of day on the best day of the week - based on the needs and habits your target audience.
- Share quotable quotes & rich media from your article via social networks. It's a good idea to use quotes from contributors as they might well retweet or reshare your posts because it reflects well on them.
- Make a list of every blog, website, resource, expert, influencer, organization or source mentioned or involved in some way. Send them emails. The goal here is to let contributors know the article is live, they have been included (because they are awesome in one way or another) and to start a dialog that could end up with backlinks, social media buzz and/or related writing opportunities.
Here's a quote from GrowthBadger that should provide suitable motivation.
70% of bloggers who earn over $50,000 per year say they are active or very active promoters of their blogs, compared to only 14% of lower-income bloggers.
With publication done and dusted, it's time to start marketing in earnest.
Make the news
There's gotta be at least one (preferably more) hook that will appeal to the media within your content. Either:
- Include newsworthy content (original research, current trends, novelty, conflict, etc) in the post.
- Create news that cites your blog post.
If you can't work out what is newsworthy about your niche topic, you're doing it wrong. Try this trick.
Create a newsworthy story by talking about other people, organizations or businesses doing incredible things.
Include local content if local media coverage is important. Interview people. Do Research. Offer a prize. Offer a scholarship. Do whatever it takes to be able to pitch something unique and interesting to reporters and journalists covering your beat.
Just. Be. Newsworthy.
By way of example, I wrote an article highlighting the best new business ideas coming out of U.S. universities. It's newsworthy because it's a showcase of up and coming entrepreneurial talent and has nothing to do with me.
Pitching to the right media led to coverage (in this instance USA Today).
Reach out with attention-grabbing headlines that journalists and reporters will love. Ideally, become a preferred source. This can lead to additional coverage down the line without having to cold-call and pitch (with generally low success rates).
Influence the influencers
Having worked hard to collaborate with a whole bunch of experts and influencers, it’s now time to put those newfound contacts to good use (apart from the, hopefully, great quotes and info they contributed to your piece).
Put together a personalized pitch for each person you mentioned or collaborated with. Here’s a quick template that should do the trick for someone you only mentioned (but don’t necessarily know personally):
Subject: Congrats! You’ve been mentioned in my latest article.
I really learned a lot from your piece about [title] and mentioned it (with a link) under [sub-topic] in my latest article [title][link].
I’d love it if you would consider contributing an additional insight for this article?
It can be as long or short as you like. I will of course cite and link your contribution. If you can also share a link to a head-shot that would be great.
The purpose of this outreach is primarily to thank them for being awesome enough to include in your post. Next, you want to tell them you’ve already given them great coverage (without asking for anything first). Finally there’s an offer to contribute more — requiring them to at least take the time to look at your article.
This type of marketing designed to pull people towards your content - instead of push advertising at them - is known as inbound marketing.
It is significantly more effective than any of the hundreds of emails I get on an ongoing basis asking me for coverage in one of my posts. Instead of asking for something, reach out to share what you’ve already done for them (not a promise to do something, if only they…).
Influence any influencer with an easy 3-step process. Offer. Engage. Pitch.
Alternatively, if they collaborated with you, the outreach email might look more like this:
Subject: I’ve added your awesome insights!
I added and linked your contribution. Thanks so much. I’m super happy with it.
Check it out at [title][link].
I’ve also followed you on [social network] and [2nd/3rd/etc social network] to keep up to date with what you’re working on. Feel free to drop me a line if I can help out or contribute in any way.
If you love the article please consider linking or mentioning it.
In this instance you are thanking them for being awesome. Letting them know that you’ve become a fan and are following them. Offering to work with them and collaborate on future projects. Requesting a link or a mention if they really like the article (their name is on it already so it’s far more likely they will at least share it around).
Cast a wide net
Initially, if the article is self-published, it’s likely not going to drive much traffic — unless you have a huge audience and/or a good relationship with Google’s first page rankings.
Spend some time exploring related content. It could be drilling down into more depth, new research, finding opposing views, or whatever. Get new content up and about that links back to your article from other blogs and sites.
Draw on your newfound experience and knowledge to write and pitch fantastic guest articles to related blogs, websites & media.
An article is never really finished. There will always be new opportunities for marketing and promotions to explore. Opportunities to add and update the article with great new content. Opportunities to unearth new opportunities.
It’s up to the entrepreneur in you to find clever new gaps to exploit, build new partnerships to generate more revenue, or simply decide to move on to the next exciting article. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch earnings build up passively over time.
Step 6. Refine to shine
No startup business on the planet gets everything right first time. A blog post is not exception. There are going to be plenty of gaps you missed, new opportunities you shouldn't miss, and an ever-changing landscape of marketing and promotion to explore.
As I like to say,
It doesn't matter what business you are in; the business you are in is marketing.
At this point, you've recently completed the world's best blog post in its niche. You. Are. The. Expert.
It's time to start sharing what you've learned with a wide audience on established blogs and sites. It's important to write great content and get it placed on the best possible sites. By any means necessary.
- Draw on your newfound experience and knowledge to write and pitch fantastic guest articles to related blogs, websites & media.
- Collaborate with great influencers and experts on new projects.
- Keep adding new auxiliary content to cast an ever wider net to draw new audiences into your sales funnel. Great new content is behind every cent you earn.
- Accept invitations to chat on podcasts. Go on TV. Go on radio.
- Look for new revenue channels - explore new affiliate partners, update your content with new info, dazzle email subscribers with amazing new insights, etc.
Do all this and maybe, just maybe, you stand a chance of making good money from online writing. A chance, is that all? Yep. There's no guarantee you'll hit the jackpot, regardless of how awesome your content is.
What I can say is that the longer you're in the game, the more chance there is you'll strike it big. How you come to succeed no-one can really say. It could be dumb luck. Perhaps Google mistakenly allows real traffic through to one of your articles (as opposed to draining all valuable traffic into paid ads, high paying partners, or into their own properties). Perhaps an article will be picked up and shared in the news.
Dumb luck happens.
The more you research, prepare, plan and write, the more likely you are to create your own luck. Smart luck, that comes from well-planned, awesome content, is a much better way to do things in the long run.
Either way, I wish you the best of luck.