Ever since I started blogging way back in 2013, I’ve heard the same questions, myths and misunderstandings over and over again:

  • What is a blog and how does it work?
  • What is a blogger?
  • How do blogs make money?
  • Is a blog the same as a website?
  • Isn’t a blog just an online journal?
  • How do I start a blog?

Let’s answer these questions and more, in this handy beginner’s explainer guide to blogging.

What is a blog anyway?

The word ‘blog’ is short for ‘weblog’, which is itself a mashup of ‘web’ and ‘log’. A blog was originally a type of journal that people kept online. Blogging software allows you to add new posts in chronological order, and sort them into different categories.

I’ve been around a long time (being a ‘geriatric’ millennial đź«Ł) and I remember the good old days when people would launch blogs about every topic under the sun.

Here’s the old school Blogspot homepage – where many blogs were launched.

From sharing their daily thoughts about life to publishing amateur poetry, stories, or recipes, and countless other things in between. What’s more, it was super common for the earliest bloggers to use free platforms like Blogspot (now Blogger), WordPress dot com, or Tumblr.

Personally, I have a hunch that blogging’s trivial origins are one of the reasons why it’s not always taken seriously today. But in fact, you can use a blog as the main engine to grow a profitable business.

What’s a blogger?

Quite simply, a blogger is anyone who publishes articles (or blog posts) on a blog. To be called a blogger, the topic of the articles doesn’t really matter – they can be anything from an online journal to blog posts that drives a six-figure business. All the people writing these can be classed as bloggers. Here, we’re more interested in the latter sort of blogger – one who wants to build an online business around their blog.

What’s a blog post?

A blog post is any individual article that’s published on a blog. This article you’re reading right now is a blog post. A typical blog consists of many different blog posts published over a long period of time, usually grouped into categories.

What’s the difference between a blog and a blog post?

I’ve heard many people talking about ‘writing more blogs’ or asking ‘what to write about for my next blog?’

But this use of the term “blog” is technically incorrect. Here’s the main difference between a blog and blog post. A blog is the entire website full of multiple blog posts, whereas a ‘blog post’ is each individual article (such as the one you’re reading now).

For example:

  • Here’s my blog with all my posts: https://samanthanorth.com/blog
  • And here’s one of my blog posts: https://samanthanorth.com/how-to-start-a-blog

Can you see the difference now?

Is having a blog the same as having a website?

This is where people often get mixed up. All blogs are websites, but not all websites are blogs.

A blog is a special kind of website that includes a specific section where you can publish regular new articles in chronological order. You could also have a website that includes a blog section – it’s really the same thing.

For example, let’s say I had a website that was just a landing page and contact form, nothing else. It would definitely be called a website. But calling it a blog would be inaccurate.

It’s also worth noting that ranking websites in Google without a blog section can be challenging. Having a blog set up on your website gives you a lot more scope to publish content targeting relevant keywords for your audience.

This website, samanthanorth.com, could be called a blog, because it includes a section where I publish regularly updated articles (blog posts). But I could equally call it a website with a blog section included, which would also be correct.

What are the pros and cons of blogging?

After spending over 10 years of my life as a blogger, here’s my roundup of the main pros and cons.

The Pros

  1. Boost your existing income
  2. Replace your day job
  3. Create new career opportunities
  4. Become location independent (‘digital nomad’)
  5. Work flexibly on your own terms
  6. Expand your network
  7. Start a low-investment business with high profit potential

The Cons

  1. Blogging takes patience and motivation (it’s not an overnight solution)
  2. You’ll need basic tech skills to write, publish, and promote blog posts
  3. Blogging calls for good organizational skills to publish frequently
  4. You’ll need to enjoy writing (or learn how to write good AI prompts)
  5. People might criticize/troll you or your blog (you need a thick skin)

How does blogging work?

Blogging mostly involves publishing high quality articles online (also known as ‘blog posts’).

These help your target readership solve specific problems related to your area of expertise (at least, if you want to build a business with your blog. If you don’t, then it’s fine to use your blog as a personal journal).

But writing and publishing blog posts isn’t the only thing blogging involves. There’s a lot more.

At the start of a blog’s life, bloggers usually do everything themselves. Typical tasks include:

  • Buying the blog’s domain name
  • Getting web hosting set up
  • Setting up blogging software (such as WordPress)
  • Designing the blog
  • Writing the first blog posts
  • Managing associated admin tasks (such as software updates, design issues, and other tweaks)

This sounds like a lot of work, and it can be, especially if you’re serious about growing your blog into a viable business. But on the bright side, it means a blog is an extremely affordable business to get started with.

In the early days, you’re basically paying with your time instead of money. You’ll have just a couple of small costs at the beginning, such as buying your domain name and web hosting, but you can keep these minimal.

Once your blog starts making money, you can think about outsourcing some of these tasks. I recommend hiring a developer to manage important tasks related to your blogging platform. You could also hire a freelance writer to help with some of the burden of publishing regular content.

Building a strong foundation of high-quality content plays a central role in success with blogging. If you want to grow a real business with blogging, then it’s no longer enough to simply publish a new post every other month, or ‘whenever you feel like it.’

Or you can learn how to use AI tools as assistants to speed up your content writing process (without sacrificing your authority, expertise or unique style).

Do blogs still make money?

Recent Google updates have been quite damaging for some bloggers. They’ve even raised the question “is SEO dead” (and by extension, blogging).

But you can still make money from a blog, if you choose the right strategy. Let’s take a look at the most common ways to monetize a blog.

#1. Selling services

If you’re an expert in a certain area, you can use a blog to promote and sell your expert services to a wider audience. It’s a great way to gain authority online and build a viable business.

Start by writing a series of blog posts that tackle relevant pain points for your audience. Solve their problems in the blog post, then suggest your service as the logical next step. You can even use an online booking software such as SavvyCal or Calendy to get new bookings locked in directly from your blog post.

Coaching and consulting are the best kind of services to sell from a blog, but you can also sell other services such as psychotherapy, legal services, graphic design, freelance writing, photography, handyman services, and so on. In fact, the list is endless.

Just make sure you have the relevant expertise in your target topic area. That’s vital, because it will give you the natural authority to write high-quality, genuinely helpful blog posts for your audience – which will lead to more sales.

#2. Affiliate marketing

Another way to make money with a blog is by affiliate marketing.

In a nutshell, this involves promoting other products on your blog via a link where people can buy that product. For each successful sale, you’ll receive an affiliate commission payment.

Common ways to promote products as an affiliate include writing review blog posts, writing comparison blog posts, or by including links to the product in your blog’s sidebar area.

#3. Sponsored posts

Once your blog grows and starts to attract more traffic, you’ll be able to sell sponsored posts. These involve writing a blog post all about a certain brand (or including a brand in a roundup of others).

The brand will pay you a fee for the time and effort spent writing a blog post about them. They’re also paying for access to your audience.

Sponsored posts are commercial in nature and so you should always mark them clearly as “sponsored”, to avoid misleading your blog’s readers.

#4. Display ads

Another way to make money from your blog is by running display ads on it. You’ve probably already seen these ads on various websites that you visit.

Some of them can be obtrusive and ugly, such as popups, while others blend in with the website’s content. But despite their ugliness, display ads can be an effective way to earn truly passive income from your blog.

All you have to do is write blog posts targeting high volume keywords, and then let an ad company such as Ezoic or Mediavine automatically display various ads on your blog posts. But keep in mind, if your blog loses its traffic, then you’ll lose your ad income.

What’s more, certain ad companies, such as Mediavine, require your blog to reach a certain threshold of traffic (at least 50K monthly visits) before you can use their service.

#5. Digital products

One of the best ways to make money from a blog is by using it as a vehicle to sell your own digital products. This is a great way to monetize your knowledge and skills, while providing authentic help to your target audience.

Even better, you don’t need a huge amount of traffic to sell digital products successfully. The best way to get started is by writing helpful blog posts to solve problems for your target audience, then using those blog posts as a jumping off point to get them on to your email list. Once you’ve got them on your list, you can then promote your digital products via email.

You can also sell your digital product directly from your blog. But it’s really important to build an email list as early as possible, because it’s one of the most effective marketing channels you can have.

How do you start a blog?

Here are my recommended steps for starting a blog:

  1. Choose your topic area (ideally one where you’re already an expert, that also has potential to sell in)
  2. Purchase a domain name for your blog (ideally a dot com)
  3. Get web hosting set up (I use and love WPX Hosting)
  4. Launch WordPress on your web hosting (many hosting companies can handle this for you)
  5. Choose a suitable WordPress theme (I like Kadence, Astra, and GeneratePress)
  6. Build out your basic standalone pages (Home, About and Contact)
  7. Do keyword research to select keywords for your first blog posts (I currently use Semrush, but Keysearch is a more affordable alternative)
  8. Write and publish those first blog posts on your blog
  9. Track your progress in Google Search Console and Google Analytics
  10. Create a regular publishing schedule which includes at least one new blog post per week

Next Steps

I hope this guide has helped demystify some of the most common beginner questions about the world of blogging.

By now, you should be clear on what blogging is and how it works, plus the different ways you can make money and build an online business from blogging.

I’ve also given you a basic rundown of how to start a blog in 10 easy steps. For a more in-depth walkthrough, check out my detailed 2024 guide to starting a blog.

To make money from blogging, you first need to get people to visit your blog. That’s why one of the most important cornerstones in successful blogging is mastering SEO (search engine optimization) and making sure your blog posts show up in Google Search. Here’s my guide on SEO for bloggers, with lots of tips on how to get up to speed with SEO fast.

I also offer private SEO coaching sessions for those seeking personal support to launch and grow a blogging-based online business.

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