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25 Steps to a Wildly Successful Personal Finance Blog

The beauty of blogging is that anyone can do it. What follows is a blow by blow account of how I created a personal finance blog that grew from a readership of 3 (my girlfriend, myself from home, and myself from work) to one that averages about 1,600 and earns me a nice side income for doing what I enjoy.

This list was designed for my friend, who just started blogging about personal finance, and so it is as basic as it could possibly be. It is not all-inclusive and it’s by no means definitive, but it is what it is: a step by step guide to what you should do to establish a solid foundation for success with a personal finance blog.

These days I write about blogging, from making more money to attracting more visitors to writing more compelling content, at Microblogger.com [3].

Please critique and comment freely! If there is a step I missed or that you think needs to be tacked onto the end, please let me know and I’ll add it.

  1. Buy a domain from GoDaddy [4] for $8.95 a year (look for coupons)
  2. Buy decent hosting, many people use Bluehost. Personally, this site is located with Hurricane Electric [5] but every other one of my blogs is hosted with Bluehost.
  3. Install WordPress [6]. Your host may have a one-click install (Bluehost does) which makes installing WordPress a cinch.
  4. Find or buy a good theme (I’ve never bought one) – Preferably at least two columns, no more than three, with at least one sidebar on the left.
  5. Review and install some of the WordPress plugins on ProBlogger.net’s list of must-haves [7]. I always install wp-cache, Spam Karma, Google Sitemaps, an email form of some kind, and a couple others when I start a blog, they’re mandatory. Some of the plugins come standard so double check your plugins folder.
  6. Turn on permalinks! Go to your admin screen, click on Options, then click on the sub-menu heading Permalinks and make sure somewhere you see ‘%postname%’ as part of your postname. This is critical in improving the search engine rankings of your posts.
  7. The only acronym you need to learn about being successful in blogging is SEO – Search Engine Optimization. Now search and consume every bit of information that you can on the subject. Kingpins in the SEO business [8] and SE insiders [9] all have blogs (it’s their business), here’s a good list of SEO related blogs [10] you should read. Once you’ve dipped your toes in, I recommend getting Aaron Wall’s SEO Book [11] (Aaron just released an SEO glossary [12], a must read)if you really want to get serious about SEO (it’s $79, has a money back guarantee that I never used, and is 290 pages long!).
  8. Now register/login with Google Webmaster Tools [13] and add your site’s sitemap (that you generated with the Sitemap plugin).
  9. Go to Sitemeter [14] and install a sitemeter.
  10. Go to Crazy Egg [15] and install their stuff too (it’ll let you see a heatmap on where people click).
  11. Write twenty good high quality posts in the next month. Try to write at least four times a week, preferably at least once every weekday.
  12. If your site hasn’t been aggregated on PFBlogs.org [16] by now (which is likely), talk to Flexo [17] about getting yourself in. Tell him I sent you and you’ll get preferential treatment. Tell him nickel [18] sent you if you want to have your emails ignored.
  13. Start/continue reading other personal finance blogs and interact with the writers and other readers. Get a Feedly account [19] and subscribe to everyone’s feed. I recommend every one of the blogs on my sidebar to the left. A blogger cannot survive alone. (email me, I love email! [20])
  14. Register at MBN Forums [21], read the posts, reply, comment, interact. MBN Forums was started by the Money Blog Network and it’s a place where other personal finance bloggers can learn from each other. There are 154 registered users and at least three of them aren’t spammers.
  15. Participate in the personal finance related blog carnivals each week and sign up to be a host (then do a creative job like Nick at Punny Money [22]): Carnival of Personal Finance [23], Festival of Frugality [24], Carnival of Debt Reduction [25], Carnival of Investing [26], etc. There are plenty of other personal finance related carnivals, so search around.
  16. Keep writing and commenting. Even consider emailing your bloggers if you ever have questions. Build a rapport.
  17. You should have maybe fifty good posts at this point and some of them should be linking to other blogs. If you haven’t started a blogroll, start one and start linking to the blogs you like. Then ask those bloggers if you could be put on their blogroll. Chances are they will if you’ve been an active contributor on their blog and since you’ll probably be around two months old at this point.
  18. You should have a sizable number of inbound links now as a result of kind personal finance bloggers and your participating in Carnivals. Remember, earning links is the key to gaining traction in the search engines and the community.
  19. Now here is when you start thinking about monetizing… sign up for Google Adsense [27] and install some ad blocks. Be sure to turn on the channels and the tracking, that will prove to be invaluable as you test out advertising configurations.
  20. Don’t click on your ads. Don’t tell your friends to click on yours ads. In fact, explicitely tell your friends that they cannot click on your ads (or “help” you out). Adsense can make you a lot of money for a long time if you’re patient. If you aren’t, it can make you a little money for a short time and then you’ll be kicked out. The ads work, you don’t need to test them.
  21. Re-read the step above.
  22. If you failed to heed the advice of the prior two steps, sign up for Yahoo Publisher Network, they offer a similar product. YPN pays higher per click but has a lower click through rate because their targeting is not as good as Google. I liken YPN as Google’s uglier stepsister, don’t screw it up with Cinderella.
  23. Look at other affiliate programs like Commission Junction [28], Linkshare [29], Performics [30], etc. Each one will have affiliate programs with popular merchants (and unpopular merchants) that you can use to generate money. Write a post about a company, make their link an affiliate link and earn some cash. Almost every product and every store that is online will have an affiliate program. Remember that you are generating free content and these links cost your readers nothing.
  24. For Pete’s sake, don’t force your readers to register before they can comment unless you’re already big time, or insanely successful, like Consumerist [31] (put that blog in your aggregator too). If I ever see a “you must be registered to comment” then I will never register and probably never go back to the blog.
  25. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep experimenting. Keep active.

Bonus Tips

Here are a few I thought of after I wrote the title…

  1. Two “long tail” type sites that will analyze your referrer logs and give you suggestions on what you could possibly write about are HitTail [32] and ahrefs [33]. I use both and found both to have strengths where the other has weaknesses. (thanks for the reminder Allan!)
  2. Make absolutely sure that other people can subscribe to your RSS feed. You can do things like have a huge orange button (like I do in the sidebar) or do something else prominent. I find that Feedburner [34] is a great service that lets you see your statistics, clickthroughs, etc; something worth checking out.
  3. Save for the future. You will start earning a little money through your blog and it’s tempting to spend that money on things that you like or things that are flashy. Don’t! Save it in a high yield savings accounts [35] or a certificate of deposit [36] for the day that you can make an investment back into your blog. You can hire someone to create a professional logo, you can buy tracking services, etc. Save the money so you can use it to take your blog to the next level.