Beginner’s Guide: How to make money from your hobby online.

This is a beginners guide for those who are looking to turn their personal hobby into a means of making more money.

Firstly, let me point out that there are no easy “quick fix” ways to make money online. In the vast majority of cases, it requires a lot of time and patience, as well as the continuous acquisition of knowledge relating to search engine optimization and online marketing. Simply put: You are just going to have to accept the fact that you will not be an overnight success. If you can come to grips with the slow nature of building and promoting a website, you will have a much better chance of success.

Pick a topic to write about.

The most important thing of all is to pick a topic that you are actually interested in. This way, creating and updating your website will be less of a chore and you’ll avoid feeling burnt-out or disinterested after a couple of months. A lot of people make the mistake of choosing a topic based on what they think the financial return will be for writing about said topic. These people struggle to maintain their enthusiasm and it inevitably shows, as the quality of content falls over time and the site updates become less frequent.

The best topic is something that you are passionate about. It can be anything from horseback riding to stamp collecting.

What kind of content can you write about this topic?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Beginner guides. What type of questions did you have when you first became interested in this hobby of yours?
  • Reviews of products relating to your hobby. Think of all the products that you’ve purchased – Both good and bad. Be extremely honest and straight-forward, as people in your niche will come to trust you for it.
  • Personal findings: Write about the things that you’ve discovered over the years. Tips and tricks are always well-received, even if some people don’t agree with them…
  • Humor: Don’t be afraid to inject some humor into your website. Not everyone in your niche is looking to learn – Some of them just want a place where they can chat / laugh about their hobby.
  • News: Write about the latest news in your industry.
  • Stats: Do you have raw statistics that others might find interesting? Translate them into graphs and publish them.

“I’m a bad writer.”

This isn’t much of an excuse, to be honest. Sure, you might not have the best grammar, and sure, your spelling might be bad. However:

  1. If you create your content in a word processor such as Microsoft Word or Libre Writer (free with Libre Office), you’ll be given warnings and prompts whenever you’ve messed up on your grammar or your spelling.
  2. Most browsers have some sort of spell check. If you don’t have one, you should look into downloading an extension / add-on that will highlight some of the most common spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
  3. Focus on keeping your writing to-the-point. Remember: The vast majority of your visitors will be looking for information. Most of the time, they’re not interested in reading flowery language or lengthy drawn-out paragraphs.
  4. Like with most things, this is something that you can improve on over time. Practise makes perfect.

Pick a name for your site.

Choose a short and snappy name that relates to the topic that you plan on writing about. Don’t flood it with a lot of keywords / buzzwords – Just keep it plain and simple. Your content should be able to speak for itself.

Setup a website.

You don’t need to be technically gifted in order to setup a website. In fact, there’s a free service called Blogger that will allow you to setup a blog within minutes. My advice is to setup a test site, just so you can play with it and get your head around modifying the design and creating new posts. Once you’ve setup your test site and you’ve learned how to manage your blog, you can delete the test blog and start afresh with the site that you plan on going forward with.

If you’d rather have your own www.domainname.com, then you should look into getting a local designer / developer to set you up a basic WordPress installation. This will cost a bit of money, but you’ll have much more freedom and independence as a result. The problem with free services such as Blogger is that you end up relying on another entity to keep your website going. If, for whatever reason, they decide to close the service down, you’ll be out of luck.

Note: If you are looking to save money on a WordPress installation, then you should attempt to learn how to do it yourself. There are plenty of forums and tutorials for WordPress, so you shouldn’t be short of help or support.

If you’re forced to enlist the help of somebody else, then you should ask for a basic WordPress installation and nothing more. Shy away from offers of custom designs and whatnot. There are plenty of free themes out there that will get you through the first year or so.

Quality content.

This is the most important piece of the entire puzzle, simply because you’ll get nowhere in this game if your content is lacking. Make no mistake about it: It takes time and effort to create quality content that is of use to other people. In most cases, it can take several revisions / drafts before the page in question is ready to be published for the world to see. If you feel as if you’re losing interest while you are writing your content, then you should save it as a draft and return to it at a later date. Too often, people will run out of steam and then half-ass their way to the end, just so they can publish the post and “be done with it”. Unfortunately, this is about as useful as not writing anything at all. The content will come across as undercooked and nobody will really bother with it. Congratulations. You’ve just wasted your own time.

Be descriptive.

A lot of beginners make the mistake of choosing vague titles for their content. For example, the title “New thing I discovered” doesn’t really tell the user what your post is about. It also makes it a lot more difficult for your content to rank well in search engines.

Let’s say, for example, that you run a blog that is dedicated to the topic of fishing. Now think: Which one of these titles is more descriptive?

  • Tips and tricks.
  • Fishing: Tips and tricks.

The first title is so vague that it can apply to almost anything, whereas the second title tells both users and search engines that you are writing a “tips and tricks” article about fishing.

NB: Do NOT add too many keywords to your title. Search engines know when somebody is overdoing it, so don’t assume that you’re the first person come up with this bright idea. Keep it simple, descriptive and to-the-point.

Sowing seeds for the future.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

In the world of search engines, everything takes time and patience. Realistically speaking, five or six months can pass before a website starts to get any traffic from search engines such as Google or Bing. This is because your website is the new kid on the block and search engines are going to treat it with suspicion until they’ve deemed it to be OK. You might get the odd hit here and there, but for the most part, your site will be on lockdown (people often refer to this as Google’s “sandbox”).

This is why you should think of your content as an investment in the future. You need to get it into your head that a blog post written now will probably go unnoticed for three or four months; before it is judged, assimilated and ranked by Google. This happens to almost everyone, and it’s the number one reason why newcomers are so quick to give up. They set everything up, publish a few posts and then, when they think that things aren’t going to take off, they call it a day.

Burn-out…

A lot of beginners become so anxious about getting their site up and running that they start flinging content onto the page. This is bad because:

  1. One excellent blog post a week is much better than five or six “OK” blog posts a week.
  2. There’s a good chance that overdoing it will leave you feeling burnt out.

Instead, you should pace yourself and focus your efforts on writing one great piece of content per week. Put all of your effort into it and if you feel like you are beginning to lose interest, then stop, save it as a draft and take a break. Remember: In most cases, there is no deadline and you can take as long as you want. Not only will this ensure a higher level of quality, you’re also giving yourself the chance to come up with more ideas on how to improve the article that you’re currently working on.

The competition.

Have a look at some of the websites that you will be competing with. Look at their content and ask yourself “what is it missing?”, or “how could they improve this?” The only way that you’re going to rise above them in the search engines is if you provide content that is noticeably better.

Note: Do NOT copy their content or “reword it a little.” Search engines do not take kindly to websites that are hosting duplicate content. If you must: Take the information, break it down and then rewrite it from scratch, while adding a lot of extra quality content of your own. Basically, use your competition as a means to generate more ideas; don’t use them as a means to cut corners.

Get involved!

As soon as you create your website, you should sign up to two or three forums that are related to your hobby (maybe you’re already a part of one). Become a contributing member of the community by taking part in discussions and polls. Not only will this help you figure out what people in your niche are currently talking about, the questions that you see other members asking will give you ideas about the type of “help guides” you should be working on.

Setup a Twitter account and interact with people who are in the same niche as you. Follow them, respond to their tweets, retweet them and stay up-to-date on the industry. Do the same for Tumblr and Pinterest as well.

Read blogs that relate to your hobby. Try and build up a relationship with the webmasters that own these websites by commenting on their posts and emailing them with questions etc. Try and get it to a point where they recognize your username / name.

Note: At this point, you do NOT want to be advertising your website. At this stage, you should be focusing on building great content and networking with people / communities. If you sign up to forums and immediately start advertising your own stuff, there’s a good chance that you will be labelled as a spammer and banned.

Submit your site to Google.

Once you’ve finished creating your first piece of content, you can submit your website to Google’s index by using this form. As I said before, it’ll probably take months before you see any real effect, but it’s worth getting your name on the list, so to speak.

Re-work, re-work, re-work…

If you think that you could have done a better job, then re-work the article in question. Do this every single time that you see a piece of content that could be improved, regardless of whether it has already been published or not. Sometimes you’ll forget to proofread something or you’ll end up rushing a paragraph or two – It happens. Just learn from your mistakes, right your wrongs and carry on.

Search Engine Optimization.

Start building your knowledge of how search engines work by reading up on the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Luckily enough, there’s a great introductory article on MOZ that you can digest. Bookmark it, read over it a couple of times and come to grips with it.

Stay away from shady tactics and “potential” shortcuts.

Do NOT try and game the search engines. If you’re caught using shady underhanded tactics, your website will be penalized and your rankings will take a nose dive (we’re talking about a drop from page one to page twenty, where your website won’t be seen).

Stay away from people who offer links and traffic in exchange for money. In a lot of cases, it’ll be a waste of money and there’s a good chance that your site will be penalized.

Remember: You are not as smart as the algorithms you are trying to deceive. Sooner or later, bad practises will catch up on you and you will be penalized. This means that things like keyword spamming and link exchanges should be avoided like the plague (be sure to stay away from spammy link directories as well; they’re usually full of crap).

Read up on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which provides information about quality guidelines and the techniques that should be avoided.

Self-promotion.

After about a month or so, you should have:

  • Built up a reasonable amount of quality content.
  • Networked with various people and communities.

Now, you can start asking people to check out “your stuff”. Tweet a link or two to the people that you’ve been following and conversing with, drop a link to one of your articles on the forum communities that you’ve been visiting and contact the blog owners that you’ve been networking with.

Tips:

  • Don’t overdo it. If you do, you’ll run the risk of being banned / blocked for spamming.
  • Be courteous towards people.
  • Try and link directly to a specific article that you wrote instead of your website’s homepage. Linking to a specific topic gives people something to talk about.
  • Links that are included as part of a discussion are much better received than links that are submitted for “show”. Title’s such as “check out my website” will not sit well with people.
  • You will not be able to please everyone. This is a fact, so don’t take it personally.
  • Be open to constructive criticism. Be diplomatic and polite with people who dish it out.
  • Ignore those who are rude towards you. Do not get into silly arguments with people who are clearly trying to goad you into an online argument. The Internet is full of people who like to vent their frustrations at others.
  • Don’t be disappointed if your site didn’t receive the reaction that you expected. People on the Internet have short attention spans, which means that they’re not going to read something unless it covers a topic that they’re interested in (at that particular moment in time).
  • Be willing to admit the fact that your content is not as good as you thought it was. Review your site and re-work the parts that you think are lacking.

At this stage, your primary concern is to get your website seen. If people like your content, they might link to your website or share your articles via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit and Pinterest.

Adsense

Google Adsense gives website owners the ability to display advertisements in exchange for money. The amount of money that you can earn from Adsense depends on two things:

  • CTR: This stands for “Click-Through-Rate”. The more clicks that your adverts receive, the more money you’ll end up making. The amount you make per-click depends on the type of advert that is being displayed.
  • CPM: This stands for “Cost-Per-Thousand-Impressions”. Some advertisers won’t pay-per-click. Instead, they’ll pay for CPM. If an advertiser pays $0.70 CPM to display adverts, that equates to 70 cents per 1000 views, regardless of whether people click on them or not.

With Adsense, you’ll get a mixture of both.

The amount of money that you earn from Adsense will primarily depend on the size and type of advertisements that are being displayed on your website. For example: Advertisements relating to lawyers or car insurance will earn a lot more than advertisements relating to “funny pictures.” This means that a law-related website is more likely to earn more money per visitor than a website that displays funny animated gifs. Why? Because advertisers who create adverts for lawyers etc are willing to pay more per click / CPM.

Some very important notes:

  • Adsense has a review process. If your website looks bare, undercooked or spammy, they will reject you.
  • Do NOT click on your own advertisements. If it was as easy as you think it is, more people would be doing it. Google put a lot of effort into detecting fraudulent clicks. If you are suspected of foul play, your account will be suspended.
  • The higher the payouts, the bigger the competition. Because law-related websites earn more per visitor, the competition will be fierce and it is unlikely that you will come out on top (Note: it will be nearly impossible for you, a newcomer, to make any dent in this market, simply because you will be competing with companies that can hire a team of Search Engine Optimization professionals). Funny animated gifs? Not so much. This is why I said that you should choose a topic that you are passionate about. When the going gets tough, it is your general interest in the topic that will keep you going.
  • Wait until you are getting a sizeable amount traffic before you use Adsense. Advertisements can turn certain people off.
  • Read up on placement guides for Google Adsense. Generally speaking, advertisements perform better when they are intertwined with your content.
  • Try and blend your adverts into your website. i.e. If the links on your website are red, then the titles in your advertisements should also be red. If your website has a white background, then your advertisements should also have a white background. Contrasting colours make adverts look like adverts.

Affiliate Links

Affiliate marketing works like this:

  1. You place an affiliate link to a product on your website.
  2. A visitor clicks on the link.
  3. The visitor purchases said product and you get a (insert percentage here) cut out of the total price.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is an approachable angle for a newcomer, simply because there are a lot of caveats to take into account. Google can (and will) penalize websites that fail to treat their affiliate links in an appropriate manner. There’s also the risk that having too many affiliate links will cause your rankings to drop.

All in all, this is something that you pursue after you’ve learned about the ins and outs of Google and its treatment of “paid links”.

Sell Merchandise

Depending on what your website is about, you might be able to sell your own merchandise, directly or via an intermediary.

You could do this by:

  • Adding an online shopping cart to your website.
  • Linking to the products that you are selling on EBay.
  • Asking visitors to contact you directly if they are interested in purchasing an item.
  • Creating merchandise on a website such as Spreadshirt.

General Advertising

If websites in your niche / industry are willing to pay more than what you typically earn via Adsense, then you could strike up a deal where you advertise their site for a set price. For this, you will probably have to provide them with traffic statistics (visitors per day and the location of your visitors). Note that these will be paid links and should therefore be treated in the same manner as affiliate links.

Conclusion

Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you stay patient and continue to work on your website, you’ll inevitably see the fruit of your labor. Self-doubt will creep in at certain stages when traffic is barely trickling on through, but you will need to power on regardless. Continue to build both your content and your knowledge of Search Engine Optimization.

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