Ever thought about launching your online business? Ever wondered what it takes, not only to start up that blog, but also to successfully build it over time to make money online or generate a passive income? Clearly, you're not alone. Millions of people try their hand at blogging, but so few actually ever generate a substantial income from their efforts.
However, if you're starting a blog for the purposes of making money, and you're not actually passionate about writing in the first place, then you're largely wasting your time. The art of blogging isn't simply scientific or formulaic. Without a deep-seated passion for your craft, you'll face a tide of frustration and upset.
Why? While it's relatively straightforward to begin a blog, it's a monumental undertaking to generate any semblance of traffic and profit from your arduous efforts. You need laser-focus and persistence to build an audience or reach mass saturation with your prose. It takes time and it takes long and drawn out evenings burning the proverbial midnight oil.
Take it from me. As a blogger who's built a substantial platform with hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors, I can bask in the warm glow of success. However, I can't sit around for too long enjoying the freedom and passive income that my blog has created. Without constantly adding insatiable content, any blog can die off.
So, what does it take to start a successful blog and actually make money online? I suppose that depends on what you consider successful and what you consider making money. If, like millions of other potential bloggers out there, you're looking to rake it in, you'll have a long road ahead.
But if you're willing to put in the time and the effort, and you can stay persistent over the years (and yes, I said years), then you can most certainly generate a substantial income online. In fact, your blog is quite possibly one of the best hubs of passive income generation, and if done the right way, it can attract the right clients and customers no matter what industry or niche you might be in.
How to Start a Blog: Step-by-Step
Okay, if I haven't dissuaded you just yet, and you're serious about launching the next Mashable or TechCrunch or whatever other blog you might think is wildly successful in your eyes, then here's what you need to do in a step-by-step fashion. The more you prepare and plan, the more likely you'll be to succeed in the long term.
1. Pick a Topic
Get clear on what you'll write about. Define a topic or niche, and design all your content around those things. This will help you to not only laser-focus your writing, but also to build digital products and services that compliment your content.
This allows you to attract customers in, enticing them with your highly-informative posts, then tempting them with a lead magnet before dropping them into your sales funnel (more on that shortly).
2. Select a Platform
While Wordpress is the most popular platform for blogging by far, there are others out there that can be leveraged such as a micro-blogging platform like Tumblr, Blogger.com and even Medium. However, if you're serious about your blogging efforts, you'll likely want to go with a self-hosted Wordpress installation on a custom domain.
While you could setup a blog atwith a subdomain such as , you'll get more traction with a self-hosted solution, and then be able to use subdomains on popular platforms for your content-marketing efforts.
3. Pick a Domain Name
Custom domain names are important if you're serious about making money from the blog you start. Rather than relying on a third-party-hosted subdomain, find a short but relevant keyword-rich (if possible) domain name that's descriptive of your intended topic, industry or niche. Use BlueHost, HostGator, 1&1 Hosting or any other number of domain name providers to source your domain.
If you're at all concerned about things like SEO, when selecting your domain name, you should adhere to the following suggestions:
- Use a known top-level domain (TLD) such as .com or .net
- Keep the domain short, no more than 15 characters or so
- Try not to purchase a domain name with hyphens, since they're more often associated with spammers
- Avoid using self-hosted subdomains to rank or categorize posts
4. Find a Good Web Hosting Company
There are loads of good hosting companies out there. If you're starting a Wordpress, self-hosted blog, there are a near-endless amount of options. The important thing is to do your due diligence and pick the right one that's suitable to your budget and to ensure that the service-level and up-time guarantee is there.
At the beginning, you'll likely want to start out with either a Managed Wordpress solution or a Virtual Private Server (VPS), and scale from there. Eventually, you'll probably need a dedicated-hosting solution with a CDN (below) once you break through a few thousand visitors per day.
5. Caching and Content-Delivery Networks (CDNs)
Use a system like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache and turn on browser caching to ensure that you speed up the delivery of your webpages. In the beginning, this might not seem as important. But as you grow and your traffic increases to thousands of visitors per day, this will be critical. Use Google's Page Speed Insights to test things before and after the installation.
It's also important that you setup a CDN, which will speed up the global delivery of your content. For example, your page might load relatively quickly in the United States, but what happens when someone in Australia tries to load your content? CDNs replicate data across multiple repositories around the world, and make content delivery ultra-fast.
This is important for the user's experience because most people who are foced to wait even a few seconds for a page to load, often abandon the website and go to the next one in the search results. W3 Total Cache integrates with Amazon's AWS and MaxCDN, two very good options when it comes to CDNs.
6. Enable Permalinks
In Wordpress, you should enable permalinks before getting things off the ground, which will give you nice canonical URLs that are SEO-friendly. Permalinks are located within the settings > permalinks section of your Wordpress admin and select the post name option.
7. Install the AMP plugin
The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an initiative by Google to speed up mobile accessibility to a large degree of their content. The AMP specification, which you can read more about here, helps to thin down a webpage to its basic structural components with scaled-back JS and minified CSS code, makes for lightning-fast page speeds.
8. Install Google Analytics
Install Google Analytics so that you can keep track of your efforts while building out your blog. This is a great way to keep track of your results while using the URL campaign builder when dropping links in social media and other places so that you can effectively determine where your traffic is coming from.
9. Setup Google's Webmaster Tools
Anyone who's serious about building a blog and making money, needs to leverage Google's webmaster tools to see what keywords they're ranking for and any messages that would impact their ability to rank. This will also allow you to submit an XML sitemap and track keyword impressions along with click-through rates. This is one of the most useful tools for growing your site or blog through constant analysis of your efforts.
Do you have a local business that’s not making the money it deserves yet? Would you like to gain more clients and tap into the online space that so many other local businesses have benefited from?
Do you need to expand your brand online and learn the right way to blog and have a social media presence?
1. Robbie Richards
WHERE are they online? This comes from a heavy stint of market and competitor research.
Finally, I’ll pull the backlink profiles of my top 5 local competitors and see where (and how) they are getting their backlinks. Then, I’ll try and replicate as many of those links as possible. This is also a good way to build an informed content strategy. See what is working for them, and do it better.
Make review acquisition a part of both your online and offline marketing strategy. Have a section on your site dedicated to reviews, send emails soliciting reviews, ask customers at the point of checkout. Use a service like Get Five Stars to faciliate this effort.
You can use a free plugin like SumoMe to capture leads via popups, sidebar widgets, scroll boxes and more, or use a more robust solution such as Thrive Leads which I’ve used to double my email opt-in rate to over 9% in the last 45 days.
I use the Thrive Content Builder plugin to build these pages in minutes for most of clients and personal projects. Once they opt-in have them redirected to tripwire (low ticket offer) page. Sell a product at break even price. Once they purchase you’ve successfully turned a lead into a paying customer.
You can automate this process with tools like GetResponse, or another great solution is Active Campaign.
In a nutshell, Ecommerce merchandising is a blend of retail-centric science and art, and its sole goal is to boost sales. Online merchandising and search engine optimization work in tandem and sometimes overlap, but they’re not the same thing. Your site is a retail space on Internet Lane in the middle of the night: SEO techniques switch on the lights so that people can see your business. When visitors enter your store, ecommerce merchandising tactics turn them into paying customers.
Why Ecommerce Merchandising Matters
Effective SEO campaigns help landing pages rank highly on search engines, like Google. Optimized snippets make promises about products and services, while strategically placed links in articles or blog posts about consumer problems or products funnel visitors to sites.
If SEO best practices drive consumers to online stores, ecommerce merchandising strategies take over when people arrive. Top-notch visual merchandising drives revenue and increases your average order value (AOV) — and you’ll also build up a repeat customer base. Both of those factors positively influence business growth.
Differences Between Traditional Merchandising and Ecommerce Merchandising
On the face of it, traditional and ecommerce merchandising are completely different from one another. Traditional stores are buildings made of brick and mortar; ecommerce stores are made of code and appear only on a screen. Traditional stores usually contain shelves full of products; ecommerce stores have pages full of items in list or grid form. Traditional stores hang posters in windows; ecommerce stores put banners at the top of microsites.
If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll find that ecommerce merchandising strategies closely emulate traditional merchandising tactics.
1. Store layout.
Both traditional retailers and ecommerce retailers follow a set of best practices when they design their store layouts. Both offline and online, store layouts have to encourage maximum sales while remaining accessible.
Brick and mortar
Ever felt a sense of deja vu when you walk into a big box store? There’s a reason for that. Successful traditional retailers, like Costco, Walmart, and Walgreens, go back to the same set of time-tested floor plans whenever they build or refit stores. Companies with enough financial clout erect buildings based on existing store layout maps, while smaller firms modify their floor plans to fit inside extant premises.
When they standardize stores, companies create a feeling of familiarity. Returning customers instantly feel at home and use visual cues to find the products they’re looking for — even if layouts are a little different from location to location. End caps, clip strips, and seasonal displays highlight special offers and specific brands, while distinct departments and well-organized aisles contain a range of everyday items.
Cleverly planned and expertly implemented traditional floor plans guide customers through stores without frustrating them, creating opportunities for impulse purchases along the way.
Online businesses don’t use physical floor plans, but they do organize sites into departments and sub-departments. Banners and pop-up windows replace end caps and clip strips, highlighting special offers and seasonal items. Because they’re not bound by the physical limits of buildings, ecommerce retailers have a lot of freedom when they design their sites. That being said, customers expect to encounter reasonably predictable ecommerce layouts: intuitive sites tend to create the greatest number of conversions.
In general, ecommerce retailers publish one main site per country; sometimes, they produce additional minisites to highlight new products, mega deals, and sales. By standardizing their site layouts, ecommerce retailers achieve the same comforting sense of familiarity as brick-and-mortar stores with similar floor plans in multiple stores.
Mega menus — like this one on the Jeep People homepage — make navigation easier.
Stellar branding is an essential part of business success, both online and offline. Long-standing companies with market dominance almost invariably have iconic logos. Take the word “Pepsi” off the Pepsi logo, and people still recognize the logo; similar things happen with the Nike Swoosh, McDonald’s’ Golden Arches, and other corporate trademarks.
Brick and mortar
Corporate branding is a holistic thing. Companies usually start with a logo, which they use as the basis for all their subsequent visual branding decisions. Great logos have three things in common:
- They’re minimalist.
- They’re distinctive.
- They scale well.
Companies with brick-and-mortar stores have to spend a lot of money on branding. Large physical items are usually top of the list, including exterior store signage, interior and fixture signage, and vehicle decals. Many retailers extend their branding to include uniforms, banners, posters, till receipts, letterheads, flyers, and various promotional products.
What’s it all for? Well, successful branding promotes consumer awareness. When you apply your memorable logo to a desirable product, you trigger a connection in consumers’ minds. Later on, those consumers see your logo and feel compelled to buy the product they associate with it. Branding begins with a logo, but it ends with an emotional connection.
Profitable ecommerce retailers often spend less on signs and more on brand narrative. What’s brand narrative? It’s the story you tell about your business — it’s your company mythos. You don’t have a physical store, so you need to recreate the ambiance of a physical store in your customer’s mind. Emblematic logos, rich corporate colors, standardized web fonts, compelling imagery, sleek banners, and smooth transitions work together to create a branding sensation.
Physical items wrap a ribbon around your brand. When customers open the logo-stamped boxes, you send them and see your carefully packaged products nestling inside, their positive experiences complete your branding narrative.
Check out Cutter and Buck’s branding: a simple, instantly recognizable logo on the top left, coupled with a coordinating white and dark blue theme. Timeless.
3. Product grouping.
Have you ever gone to the store for milk and come out with more than you bargained for? Maybe you saw french fried onions, beans, and cream of mushroom soup on an endcap and thought, “Oh! I’ll make green bean casserole tonight!” Perhaps you came across a cardboard display full of personal care items and went down a rabbit hole. Either way, you probably fell for product grouping.
Brick and mortar
Product grouping is an essential part of brick-and-mortar retailing. Sometimes it’s obvious — the green bean casserole end cap is one example. Hairstyling tools, extra-hold mousse, and bobby pins work well together; nail polish and emery boards are another classic combo. Razors, refills, and shaving cream almost always live next to each other.
Product grouping isn’t limited to end caps. The beer-and-diapers data mining story may be an urban myth, but certain products complement each other on the shelf. Burgers and fries. Strawberries and cream. Digital cameras and memory cards. A shirt and slacks. Speaking of pants — the children’s clothing and women’s clothing sections sit right next to each other for a reason.
In the grocery department, typical lost leaders, like milk, boost orange juice and bread sales. Over in electronics, laptops promote headphone sales and smartphones never leave without a case. Visual merchandisers plan product groups and cross-selling techniques to help increase revenue across the whole store.
Unbound by the physical constraints of concrete and steel, ecommerce stores can innovate when grouping products. Given limited space, physical shops place products on a single end cap — they have limited real estate in-store, so they have to optimize each display. Online, retailers can put products in multiple groups simply by associating tags. One particular type of face cream, for example, might appear in a makeup group, a spa-themed group, and a seasonal gift group.
You can tinker with groups in your shop as much as you like. Some ecommerce retailers put bestselling items together and give the group an enticing title: kitchen classics, must-have holiday accessories, super-smart technology essentials, etcetera. Groups work exceptionally well on high-traffic pages, and some e-tailers promote them via email as well.
Here, Bliss adds an extra kick to a cleanser and moisturizer group with prominent free shipping and samples offer.
Personalization isn’t a new phenomenon — it’s been around as long as brick and mortar stores. Retailers who know their customers individually and familiarize themselves with their consumer bases do better on the high street. When customers feel appreciated, they develop brand loyalty and come back time and again.
Brick and mortar
In brick-and-mortar retail stores, personalized shopping experiences begin when business owners build relationships with customers.
“Good morning, Mrs. Jones. How’s your son? Would you like some more of that fudge you bought last week?”
Statements like that indicate regard. When we remember people and take an interest in them, they feel valued. We’re glad to see Mrs. Jones, we hold her son in the same high esteem, and we remember what she bought last week: we care about her. Customers like Mrs. Jones invariably visit retailers who value her business more than retailers who ignore her.
The more we know about Mrs. Jones, the more we can personalize her shopping experience. Savvy stores encourage customers to sign up for loyalty cards and usually retain their email addresses in the process. When customers use their cards, those businesses track purchases; later, they send personalized emails highlighting specific products with custom coupon codes attached.
E-tailers don’t usually come face-to-face with their customers, but they can still offer personalized shopping experiences. On the most basic level, ecommerce retailers customize product suggestions based on their customers’ shopping habits. Bought a sweater? Well, here’s an email with 10% off a second sweater.
Savvy online retailers begin offering personalized recommendations for potential customers before they get to the checkout. People who sign up for accounts with ecommerce stores before they buy (lured in with the promise of a discount or free shipping) make it much easier for companies to track their preferences. Ecommerce stores with built-in dynamic algorithms display eerily prescient recommendations for returning customers.
Revelry’s More to Love slider shows a selection of dresses based on a visitor’s previous click history.
Picture the inside of a plush department store. Above you, sparkling full-gamut LED lights illuminating the scene. To your left, spotless shelves hold row upon row of perfectly folded hotel-quality towels; to your right, you see a well-stocked luxury skincare display, with every product pulled forward in line with the next.
Beautiful, isn’t it? You can almost smell the vanilla-scented fixture polish.
As an Ecommerce retailer, you need to create that type of ambiance online via ecommerce merchandising. Your sales depend on so much more than SEO; you have to make your products real before your customers ever touch them. That’s digital artistry.
Need an example? Here’s Burrow’s homepage. Lifestyle images help consumers put themselves in the picture.
Scroll down a bit, and each of the products in the hero image appear as thumbnail links. Smart move, Burrow.
Let’s take a look at Camelbak’s landing page, too. Here, happy children who love their colorful water bottles emerge as the first image in a giant hero slider. Adorable.
Helpful links to various other Camelbak products appear a little further down the page.
You need a smart, professional desktop site — but that won’t be enough. Successful online stores travel well. During the first quarter of 2019, nearly 50% of all ecommerce transactions happened on smartphones. Customers who began browsing products on their laptops over breakfast kept shopping on their mobile devices, commuting to work as passengers, of course.
Huge online retailers, like Amazon and eBay, leverage ecommerce merchandising strategies across all platforms. You can copy them — and we’ll show you how. Read on to learn how to use ecommerce merchandising techniques to convert your visitors into repeat customers.
A Brief History of Ecommerce
Ecommerce has come a long, long way since its invention in the 1960s.
Wait — the 1960s?
Yes indeed. Take all the time you need to let that sink in. If ecommerce were a human being, it would probably have Googled “benefits of early retirement” at least once by now. Unlike the rest of us, however, ecommerce is aging backwards like Benjamin Button. Remember Videotex?
There weren’t many merchandising strategy options in the early days of ecommerce. Designed for display on a television screen, Videotex broadcast words and rudimentary graphics in garish rainbow shades. Photographs weren’t an option, even later on. Nevertheless, people all over the world ordered all sorts of things, from mundane grocery items to package holidays, via Videotex.
Like the Ugly Duckling of technology, ecommerce blossomed into a swan when it grew up. Online retail sales have bitten off a progressively larger market share every year since the year 2000. In 2018, nearly 10% of all retail sales happened on the internet — up from a mere 0.9% at the turn of the century.
In 2017, a CouponFollow survey found that 47% of people aged 22 to 37 did most of their shopping online. When they conducted the same study in 2019, 60% of millennials favored ecommerce businesses over brick-and-mortar stores, indicating a 13% consumer shift over just two years.
By itself, that increase is exciting. When you combine it with the paradigm shift in shopping habits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there can only be one conclusion: If you’ve been waiting to make a move into ecommerce, now’s the time to get online.