This might date me a little, but back in 1996 I built my first website. It wasn’t pretty but it was amazing. The background was a basketball court and the page was filled with plenty of animated gifs dancing around, blinking, and looking magnificent.
Luckily the web design world (and my skills) have greatly evolved since those days.
One thing I remember back then was the great amount of learning that went into building that first site. It felt like I was climbing a mountain blindfolded, but eventually I reached the top.
Talking with people new to the world of building websites for profit, it seems that things can be just as confusing today. It takes more than just building a site to make money with it, and there seems to be a million questions to ask.
This daunting task keeps people from just jumping in and getting their feet wet. Instead they get caught in the cycle of reading without implementing.
If this sounds like you, then this post might just be the starting blueprint you need to create your first successful website.
Note that there is no way I can show you everything you need to know in these 4500 words, but think of it as a starting point that will get you one step closer to making money with your own sites.
What is a Successful Website?
First off you need to understand that there isn’t one right way to build a successful site. Everyone has different techniques that work really well in generating income. Below I’m going to give you a guide to the technique I’ve used to make sites that continue to bring me income month after month. I suggest you use it as a guide, but tweak it to your needs and improve it however you can.
You also need to set realistic goals in defining what success means to you. Sure it would be nice to have a site generating $1 million dollars a year, but that’s not something you’ll probably achieve, especially if your new to internet marketing.
Maybe an extra $500 would be considered successful to you. Maybe it’s $2000 to be considered a success. Pick that number. Write it down. Now once you have the realistic number, I want you to commit to building your site until you reach it.
No, I don’t want you creating 10 new sites. You need to focus on just ONE site until you reach that goal. It can be easy to be sidetracked at shiny objects, but if you want to be successful you need to stick with one thing until you reach your goal.
Just another word of warning. It’s much easier to build a $500/month website than it is $5000/month.
Set your realistic goal and let’s get started.
Step 1: Pick Your Niche
Picking the topic of your website is probably the most important step if you want to be successful.
There are a few ways people think about selecting their site topic.
The first is to select a topic in a niche that is known to be profitable. These type of sites would most likely fall under the health, wealth, and relationship categories. People are making huge money by niching down these 3 categories into something less broad. Topics such as “Fitness For Pregnant Women”, “How To Date After a Divorce” or “Investing Your Money In The Stock Market” work as some basic examples of ideas.
For detailed info on a great strategy to do this, check out the post How to Conduct Niche Research for an Affiliate Site from Rae Hoffman.
The second way to select a topic and what I generally suggest is to create a site around something you already know. Everyone has knowledge that others don’t. Maybe you have a lot of knowledge in things such as baseball, knitting, teaching 3rd graders, nutrition, planting gardens, babysitting, etc… Just think of everything you can and make a list of what you know and are good at.
For me one of my passions is craft beer. Yeah, it’s not the most profitable niche, but I built up a pretty good blog around it which has made some decent profit along with helping me secure 2 book deals.
Think about it this way. You are going to be spending a whole lot of time working on your website. A few months from now if it’s a topic you don’t enjoy, you will get burnt out pretty fast.
So go ahead and make a list of at least 10 possible ideas for your site.
Next comes the important part, the market research. You want to make sure your idea isn’t too broad, while at the same time you don’t want such a small niche that you will struggle making money with it.
Look through your list and cross off or modify anything that is too broad. For example if you have “fitness”, you need to drill deeper into that. It will be really hard to create a site about general fitness. A better topic might be “fitness GPS watches” or “crossfit workouts for people without equipment”. Whatever you choose, make sure you aren’t going too small or too big.
Once you find a topic or two that really interests you, start brainstorming some article or blog topics you could write about in that niche. Make sure you can come up with at least 25 or more, otherwise you might be in too small of a niche.
Next do some research on other sites out there. Do multiple Google searches for ideas you have in your niche and see what comes up. This will give you a general idea of what’s out there and how competitive the market is. If you’re just starting out, it might be tough to recognize if there is too much competition.
People use different means to gauge the competition. I generally like to just look at what other sites are coming up in the search results. If you’re competing against a lot of branded big sites such as Amazon, Wikipedia, WebMD, etc. you could have a tough time. However you can still do well in these niches as long as you become a specialist in them and stay away from trying to be a generalist.
Another test I like to do is do some searches on Amazon to see if I can find products on there that would fit well in my niche. If you’re having a tough time finding products that are being sold on Amazon, chances are you’re going to have a tough time monetizing your site.
Make sure you spend enough time picking out your niche so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot in the future. However make sure to pick one fairly fast. It’s easy to get stuck on this step and never end up building any site. Sometimes you just have to jump. You can always change course in the future, but you can never get back wasted time in trying to decide what to do.
Now that the tough part is done, lets roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Step 2: Pick Your Site Name and Domain
Choosing your domain name always hangs me up when I’m building a site. I sometimes think it takes super powers to come up with the right domain.
Just because it can be tough, don’t let it keep you from launching your site. I’ve seen a lot of successful sites with mediocre domains. However you can still find a good name.
First off, if you’re new to buying a domain, just know that it’s not that difficult and is cheap (about $10 a year). When I buy domains I generally get them at Name.com. You can use their search box to see if a domain is available (don’t just type the domain into your browser as that will never show if the domain is actually available).
So what makes a good domain?
Your domain needs to be something that is easy to type, isn’t long, and sounds good.
A few years back exact match domains were all the rage. If your main keyword you wanted people to find you in Google was “Purple Socks For Basketball”, then you could just buy the domain purplesocksforbasketball.com, build a small site and have it ranking highly in Google fairly quickly. Those days are gone, so don’t worry about exact match domains.
Here are my suggestions:
- Stick with a .com (I know, my blog isn’t a .com but I couldn’t get it). Others might disagree and there really isn’t anything wrong with .net and .org domains, but a .com is more trustworthy looking and will help you out in the long run.
- Avoid any kind of hyphen in your domain (-). They cheapen your site.
- Avoid spelling words wrong to be
kcute. (never use a k instead of a c, that is terrible English and makes it harder for users to find you).
- Don’t make it too long. It’s ok if it’s a bit lengthy, but mytotallyawesomebasketballshoeswebsite.com is a bit much.
- If a domain you love is taken but no website is up (even if it is up it doesn’t hurt to ask), you can always try to negotiate with the owner of the domain to buy it from them. I’ve bought and sold a few hundred domains, it’s not that hard. Just go to Who.is and see who the owner of the domain is and email or call to start negotiating. The worst they can say is no.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a good name, try asking your friends and family. You could also pay to use a service such as Picky Domains where people will give you suggestions and you only pay if you find a domain you like.
You now should have your niche and domain. Get ready because you should have your website setup in no time. Before you go grab a beer and take a break, move onto step 3 first.
Step: 3: Buy Web Hosting
Your web hosting will be the service you pay monthly for where you’re website will be located. Before you start freaking and looking over hosting websites trying to understand what language they are written in, take a deep breath.
You don’t have to be Nick Burns to sign up for web hosting or even build your site.
I generally suggest everyone new to building a site go to Blue Host. I won’t get into the technical details because you probably don’t really care (if you do just look at their website). It’s less than $7 per month, they have good support, and it’s a perfect web host to get started on.
If you’re site starts receiving tons of traffic (like you get a link on the front page of Yahoo big), then you can start worrying about moving to a dedicated server. Don’t worry about it now though.
With Blue Host you can even host multiple sites, so when your first site is taking off you can create your next site without having to pay for anything extra. One nice bonus is they make setting up WordPress (the content management system I suggest everyone use) so easy.
Once you sign up for hosting, you are going to need to go back over to name.com (or whatever domain registrar you used) to update the nameservers. Don’t worry, it’s usually pretty easy.
Basically this tells the domain were the website is hosted. Read through the welcome email you get with Blue Host and they will tell you what they are. Just take those to your domain registrar (contact their support if you need help) and enter them in for your domain.
Sweet, you now have a niche, a domain, and web hosting. You are turning into a real computer nerd. Don’t worry though, in just a short time you’ll be one of the cool internet marketers. Now is the time to take a break. Grab a beer. Go for a run. Watch some YouTube videos. Then make sure to come back and move onto step 4.
Step 4: Setup Your Website
Now comes the fun part, creating your website. Guess what? It’s not very difficult to get it up and running.
Beware the time suck factor however. It’s easy to get sucked into tweaking your site for hours and days to make every little thing perfect. Here’s my suggestion, get it looking somewhat decent quickly and focus on the content and promotion. You can always tweak it later.
Like I mentioned before we will be using WordPress, the number 1 content management system used online. Why exactly? It’s easy to use plus there is tons of support out there.
If you signed up with Blue Host, all you need to do now is follow these directions to get it installed.
Log into BlueHost. Click on “cPanel” up top and scroll down to the header “Software/Services” and click on “WordPress”. Click the green “install” button and follow the directions. Congratulations, your site should be setup now.
Install a Theme
Now you’ll want to do a few things to your site. The first is to setup a theme to make it look good. I generally always use the Thesis Theme, which is a premium theme that is incredibly powerful. However if you are new to building websites, it can be a bit confusing.
With WordPress you can find hundreds of free themes to make your site look how you want. I would suggest you spend a little money for a decent theme though for a few reasons.
The first is most paid themes will be better for SEO and are usually coded better, making your site faster. Also free themes generally have links hidden in them that link out to all kinds of websites that you might not want to be linking to. Another main reason is that paid themes just look better. Check out Theme Forest for hundreds of themes to buy.
Once your theme is installed, I suggest you go to Settings > Permalinks in WordPress. Then check “Post Name” under common settings and click save. Basically this allows you to customize your urls so instead of looking like loganthompson.me/?p=123213 it can look like loganthompson.me/about/
Plugins are addons that allow WordPress to do other functions. You can install hundreds of different plugins, but I suggest you try to limit them to as few as possible. The more plugins you have the longer load times your page will have and that leads to a not fun user experience.
Here are the few I suggest you install:
- Pretty Link Lite – This will allow you to shorten links and mask your affiliate links. I use this when linking out to any affiliate link I have.
- Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin – This has been my favorite anti-spam plugin. It works effectively to get rid of a majority of spam when used alongside Akismet, which is a plugin that comes preinstalled with WordPress.
- Google XML Sitemaps – Generates a sitemap that you can give to Google using their webmasters tools so they know what pages to index.
That’s about it. You can search for plugins to do all kinds of things, but like I said before if you have tons of plugins, it will slow down your site.
So now you should have a website setup. The next thing you need to do is setup some content.
Step 5: Create Good Content
All you have to do now is write some great content and you’ll be rolling in the cash. Not exactly.
You might have heard the phrase “Content is King”. I don’t buy into that philosophy. Sure, content is very important and a big part of your success, but it isn’t king. It’s just part of a team.
You can have the best content ever, but if no one knows about it, it’s useless.
What you want to do is balance good content with good promotion.
All of this is to say don’t worry about having 50 pages of amazing content written before you launch your site. In fact you can launch with just a few before you start promoting your site.
You’ll want to first decide on how you want to structure your site. Will it be a blog? Will it be an authority site? Will you be creating videos? Etc… This is up to you here depending on your preference. People are successful at all different kinds of sites, so choose what makes sense to you and make it the best you can.
Figuring out what content you need on your site shouldn’t be too difficult if you chose a topic you enjoy.
Now go out to forums, how to sites, and other sites in your niche and start reading through posts and find questions people are asking. See what you can take from that and turn into an article or video. Bam, you now have content people are actually looking for. Plus if that question is recent, you can offer your link as an answer and you are already building traffic to your site.
Don’t just put up content just to have it. Create good stuff that actually helps people and is what they are looking for.
A lot of people at this stage in the game focus on keyword research and try to figure out how to rank their sites in Google. In my opinion when you are just starting out don’t worry about that much.
Your goal now is creating content that other people will want to link to on their sites. You might not know it, but you are slowly building up your websites authority. Plus you are creating a quality resource that is useful to your visitors. Yeah, you can make money focusing completely on search engine optimization of your site, but search engine traffic is volatile.
That’s why I prefer to focus more on building up the site with good content, getting quality links, building up my social media presence, and then once I have a solid foundation, really creating content based on keyword research (don’t worry, I’ll cover how I do that in a future post).
If you don’t like writing, don’t worry, you can outsource it if you have the money to invest. Outsourcing is another topic that needs multiple other posts to fully grasp (which is something I’m a huge fan of and will be posting more about), but for now you can go to places such as oDesk and Elance and post writing jobs to get other people to write for you.
Keep in mind when outsourcing your writing, you generally get what you pay for. Sure you can find people to write a 500 word article for less than $5. You can also hire people for $150 for a 500 word article. There will be a huge difference in quality. Fit something into your budget that works for you.
Otherwise just write the content yourself while you’re just starting.
Ok, now you have some content written and your website looks good. It’s time to promote.
Step 6: Promote Your Content
Start With Social Media
Whenever I create a site, one of the first things I do is to go create a Facebook fan page, Google+ page as well as a Twitter account just for the site. If you’re site is also very female oriented or has to do with food, fitness, tattoos, or anything else where pictures are very important, also create a Pinterest account.
What you’ll want to do is build each one of these social media accounts up to match the branding of your site. Don’t worry about it too much, the content is what’s most important. Keep my blog bookmarked and I’ll be showing you in the future how I build targeted fans to each of these.
You’ll then want to post quality content on them at least once a day, but make sure not to over do it. Then when you create a new post or article, you can link out from your social media accounts. This will be one of the first things you’ll want to do once your article is live.
Bookmark Your Content
Next you’ll want to go and add your blog post or article to multiple social bookmarking sites such as Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, Del.icio.us, and anywhere else your target market might hang out. While this traffic isn’t generally high quality, you can get a ton of free traffic. I’ve had articles get 100,000+ visitors each off of StumbleUpon alone.
Network With Other Sites
As long as you have good content, you can email other sites (in a non spammy way) and ask them to either link or share your article with their audience. The better you are at relationship building, the easier this will become.
You can also leave comments on other blogs in your niche and join in their discussions. Don’t be that guy that is just there to try and get people to click through to your site. Use it as a networking tool to build relationships with other website owners. Once you have a relationship started, it’s much easier to ask them to share your content.
Talk About Your Post
Along with commenting on other sites, go to forums, Quora or anywhere else your target market is hanging out. Answer their questions and be useful. It takes time but pretty soon you’ll be known as the expert in your niche. Weave your links in non spammy ways only if it is relevant to the discussion.
Mail Your Newsletter
I know I didn’t mention it earlier, but you do need to get an email newsletter setup for your site. Start building a list and email your list when you add new content.
I use Aweber to build my lists and they make it extremely easy. You can setup the form on their site and plop the code into WordPress. Don’t spam your list, but send them out new articles or content once a week.
While asking questions isn’t technically promotion, you’ll want to ask your readers if they have any questions they want answered. It will give you some good info for future topics to write about. Plus they will love that you care about what they want.
Step 7: Monetizing Your Site
Now that you have a fully functioning site up, two main questions arise.
First, when should we start monetizing the site. I don’t care what anyone else says. My belief is you should start monetizing it right away. You’ve put so much effort into building it, why not start making money right away.
Now you don’t want to be overly aggressive, but even if you can make enough to pay your hosting fees and have a little extra to invest back into the site, you’re doing well.
The next question is how do you monetize the site?
Before I get into my suggestions, understand that there are hundreds of ways to make money off your sites. This is where you need to start thinking for yourself and using your knowledge of your target audience.
Here are some of the main ways to make money with it:
If you are getting solid traffic you can always take on advertisers to your site. The plus side to this is if you can find the right advertisers, you’ll get a guaranteed payment as long as you can make them happy. However with a newer site it will be hard to attract anyone willing to pay you without a history of your traffic.
This is where Google AdSense is beneficial. If you’ve been around the internet for more than 5 minutes you’ve seen AdSense ads on other websites whether you realize it or not.
You just sign up, copy the code they give you, and place ads around your site. You’ll get paid when your visitors click on the ads. It’s an art form to make money with AdSense, but it’s one of the oldest and most common ways for sites to make money.
Just a word of caution, make sure you read completely through their terms of service. Many people have had their accounts banned because they broke the rules.
I love affiliate marketing. It’s how I make a lot of my money. What you do is link out to different products and services and get paid when people either buy the product, or complete the action that the advertiser wants.
I suggest you head over to Shareasale and signup. They are one of the best affiliate networks out there. Hundreds of merchants use their system and you can promote thousands of products on your sites.
My personal tip is to write real reviews of the products on your sites and link out to them. Lots of money is to be made in affiliate marketing.
Your Own Products
Creating your own products is your best bet if you’re looking to turn your site into your full time income. If you create good enough products and services based around your niche, you’ll be doing pretty well.
So what kind of products should you create? It will vary by niche, but just think about things such as membership sites, ebooks, physical products, private forums, etc…
Is there a service you can offer your niche? Maybe your niche is based around job hunting. You could create a resume building service. Just figure out what people need and are spending money on and create your service around that. Thousands of dollars are to be made in consulting services alone.
Use Your Imagination
I have faith that you’re a smart person. Hopefully if you’ve chosen a niche that you love, you’ll be able to come up with other ways to monetize your visitors.
So Get To Work
I’m hoping that this guide will at least give a few people the foundation to get started. I’m sure you’ll have a hundred questions, but the main thing is to just get started.
Action is better than inaction.
There is no way I could cover every little thing there is to know about making money with websites in one post, nor is this meant to do that. I just wanted to give you a starting point and general overview.
Please ask any questions you have below and make sure to join the newsletter. Each week on the blog I’ll be tackling different issues for creating your online business.
Best of luck and let me know how I can help your business in the comments below.