Starting a book blog is one of the best side gigs you can have. With blogs, you work at your own pace, learn profitable career skills, can make money and even sell them!
That being said, blogs do require some initial effort to get off the ground. Your first 1,000 monthly visitors will be the hardest, but it gets easier after that.
Blogs are long term projects, and this guide contains step-by-step instructions to help insure your book blog will be fast, flexible when it comes to design and features, and also get good support from specialists when you’ll have technical issues.
The last 3 sections of this blog cover important subjects such as how to generate traffic, finding subjects and books to write about and also how to monetize your new blog. Blogging can require a lot of time, and those 3 sections will help you not waste yours by writing articles people won’t get a chance to read.
Starting and setting up your book review blog
Choose your domain name
The first step to any blog or site is to find an available name and domain (.com, .co, .net etc.) that can also provide a unique identity.
To see whether a domain name is available, you can check it out on Namecheap.com.
When choosing a domain name, you have to balance 4 things:
How specific a domain name is. As an example, dailystoicism.com is a blog about stoicism (duh). In search results related to stoicism, their domain name is a competitive advantage that draws more clicks because it seems like an authority on the subject.
How general a domain name is. General and vague domain names are great if you don’t want to be boxed into niche, and want to write about a wider variety of topics.
Lifehack.com is a great example of a more generalist domain name. At first glance, it gives the impression of a site that help you find shortcuts in life, but it’s also compatible with self-help articles, book suggestions, do-it-yourself tips etc.
How catchy you want your domain name to be. Some domain names are simply more brandable than others. FourHourWorkWeek.com is a very catchy name for a site. It has a good cadence, rolls nicely off the tongue and has that irresistible value proposition of working less but making the same.
WaitButWhy.com is another catchy name, that can turn your attention on a dime and do a double take.
Whether the social media handles are available or not. This one is always a great bonus, but ultimately domain name is more important than the social media handles. If you’ve found an amazing domain name, but no social media handles, take it nonetheless.
In terms of cost, a domain costs around $10-$12 per year. Namecheap is usually pretty aggressive in its discounts so you’re likely get prices as low as $8-9 per first year.
That being said, registering a domain name is only the first step. The next thing you’ll need to do is to find a hosting provider for the domain. Because of this, I personally suggest you buy the domain name directly from the hosting company, as shown below.
It will cost you around $14, so a bit more than Namecheap, but it will also reduce the amount of work and time you need to set up a website.
If you do decide on Namecheap, this guide has an optional section to help you integrate Namecheap with the hosting company for free.
Choosing a host
Hosting providers are the real workhorses for running the technical side of your site. They’re the ones that contain (“host”) the files and information of your website in a dedicated datacenter or server. Once there, they are accessible to be displayed on the Internet.
A good host is incredibly important in running a blog, for multiple reasons:
- Good hosts ensure will keep your site up 100% of the time.
- They offer technologies to make your site more secure and harder to hack (https vs http).
- They have solid data centers and servers across the world to maximize site speed.
- They have fast and responsive support to help you if you have technical problems.
The hosting company that I suggest is the one this blog uses: SiteGround.
The reason I like them is because they have a solid technical infrastructure to run a website, but most importantly, their support is amazing.
As a solo blogger that isn’t technically oriented, I’ve heavily relied on SiteGround’s support team over the years to properly set up services such as Cloudflare, custom email servers, DNS records, security certificates, etc.
Knowing there’s a dedicated support team you can live chat with 24/7 in case of issues is a huge source of confidence and comfort. You know that even if you mess up your site pretty badly, you’ll still be able to recover it and fix any issues.
If you’ve decided on buying the domain name on SiteGround, the process of setting up is very straightforward.
- Go to SiteGround’s Web Hosting page.
The Start Up plan should be more than enough for what you need, at least in the first few months, maybe even a year.
- Register your domain with SiteGround
If you’ve already registered your domain with Namecheap (or another provider), choose the “I already have a domain option” and we’ll get back to that later.
- Fill in your details and choose data center
The next step requires you complete the payment details. After doing so, scroll down the page at the Purchase Information section and change the data center your site will be hosted on to the one closest to your target audience.
The location of your data center matters quite a bit. If your target audience is from the USA, but your site is hosted in an Australian data center, then it will take longer for the US visitors to load up your site since the information has to travel all the way from Australia to the USA.
Slower site loading speeds often translate into lower traffic since many people are impatient and would rather press the “Back” button instead of waiting a bit more for a page to load.
- Extra Services (not required)
These extra services are nice to haves, but not necessary. I myself use neither.
You have now registered your site, but it’s now empty. The only thing left for you to do now is to add a WordPress installation and figure out how you want your site to look.
Creating site and installing WordPress
- After you’ve processed payment, your account should now be created. To continue building your site just press “Proceed to Customer Area”
- Next, click on “Set Up Site”.
In the next menu, choose “Start a New Website” and click on WordPress. WooCommerce is a plugin designed for eCommerce stores, so it’s not something you really need right now. Plus, you can install it at any time once you’ve finished setting up your site.
- Next, create your WordPress admin account. You’ll use it later a bit later on.
You’ll be prompted again if you would like to install SiteGround’s site scanner functionality. I don’t personally believe it to be necessary so my suggestion is to just press finish.
(OPTIONAL) Point your nameservers from Namecheap (or other registrar) to SiteGround
! If you’ve registered your domain name through SiteGround, skip this step. If you’ve registered it through Namecheap or another registrar, follow the instructions!
If you haven’t registered your domain name with SiteGround, you will have to point your name servers away from the registrar and unto your host.
This basically tells the Internet that all of the files and information that make up your site are hosted on SiteGround’s server, and that’s where the Internet should go to display the information on your site.
Fortunately, it’s very easy to change your name servers.
In the next screen after setting up your WordPress account, you will be given two name server addresses.
- Copy these, and then login to your Namecheap account.
Go back to your Namecheap.com account, navigate to Domain List, select your Site and click the “Manage” button on the right side of the domain name.
Then scroll down to the “Name Server” section and simply copy the Name Server addresses you have in your SiteGround dashboard.
After you’ve completed this step, continue with the setup process as described below.
Securing your site with an SSL certificate
Next, you’ll need to install an SSL certificate on your site. This basically means your site will be configured to appear as https://yoursite.com instead of http://yoursite.com.
This is important, because browsers will often block http websites behind a “Warning, site not secure” pop-up. This can be devastating to your traffic since most people refuse to go any further.
Fortunately, this doesn’t cost anything, is completely free and takes only a few seconds to set-up permanently.
- After you’ve created your site, press the “Manage Site” button.
- On your SiteGround Dashboard, simply navigate to the “Security” tab on the left hand menu, expand it, and choose “SSL Manager” and on the “Select SSL” choose the “Let’s Encrypt” option.
After you’ve selected “Let’s Encrypt”, simply click the “GET” button below your domain name and wait for the certificate to be installed.
The SSL certificate is only valid for 3 months. However, it will renew itself automatically so it’s something you don’t ever have to worry about again.
- Next, click on HTTPS Enforce on the right hand menu, and activate “HTTPS Enforce” for your domain.
This will redirect all traffic going to insecure http links over to the secure https versions.
Congrats! Your site setup is complete and now is the time to customize its appearance!
Customizing your WordPress
Your site is now live, but empty. If you want to see how it look, simply go to yoursite.com and check it out.
It will probably be something like this:
Currently, you are running the default WordPress theme, which is most likely Twenty Twenty or Twenty Nineteen.
Themes are essentially different “skins” for a website that can be turned on or off whenever you want, at the click of a button. The best part is that there are thousands of themes, and most are free.
- To install a new theme, first go to yoursite.com/wp-admin
To do so, simply navigate to yoursite.com/wp-admin, which will take you to a login screen. There, you will have to introduce the WordPress login details you filled out at step 7.
- Choose whether to skip or follow the WordPress tutorial offered by SiteGround.
WordPress is pretty easy to learn, plus there will be a few links attached below to help figure out what each options does so it’s safe to press “Exit” and continue with this guide.
- To install a new theme, go to Appearance -> Themes -> Add New
To test them out, all you have to do is go to your WordPress dashboard (yoursite.com/wp-admin), log in, then go to Appearance -> Themes -> Add New.
You’ll then be taken to the “Featured” themes screen, which contains curated lists of themes. Right next to the “Featured” tab is the tab for “Popular” themes.
My personal recommendation is to settle on a theme from the “Popular” list. The themes in this section are popular because they are exceptionally good, are very customizable, are lightweight and receive constant updates.
Just to give you an idea, Hestia theme is 12 years old and still receives constant updates, improvements and adaptations to the newest technologies available.
This blog uses a theme called Lovecraft. Back when I first started this blog I knew very little about WordPress. Instead of looking for a beautiful and flexible theme, I chose the one that I thought looked the most pleasing to the eye.
It’s been more than 5 years since then, and I wish I could turn back time and pick a different theme. While this theme has served this blog well, it does have some severe limitations in terms of customization.
For instance, I cannot change the font for this blog or the size without plugins or code. I also cannot adjust the width of the content box without code.
Why don’t I change the theme? Mostly because this blog now has a fair bit of technical debt and code changes in the background. If I were to change themes, I’m afraid it would impact my SEO and how much traffic I receive from Google.
So which theme would I use today if I could? In all honesty it would be either one of the following:
- Hello Elementor
At first glance, they all look the same. However, these themes are extremely powerful and customizable. If you’re the tinkering type, it’s easily possible to make 1 Neve site completely unrecognizable from another Neve site.
If you’re not the tinkering type, I still suggest you install one of these themes and work with their standard, out-of-the-box settings.
You may not want to design your site right now, but as the years will pass you’ll see that there will come a time when you will want to modify a font size here, add a clickable button there, adjust the position of an element, add a header image etc.
Ultimately, themes such as these offer you a very strong foundation for a long-term book blog that will last you years or decades.
And as promised, below are a few guides that can help you learn the ins and outs of WordPress.
How to write blog posts, setting up pages
After you’ve decided on a theme (maybe even customized it a bit), you can start adding pages and posts.
- To write your information pages, just go to the WordPress Dashboard -> Pages -> Add New.
Once you’ve finished writing the pages, you’ll need to add them to your navigation menu.
- Go to Appearance -> Menus and choose which pages to appear in the navigation menu.
Once you’re done, press “Save Menu” and refresh your site. You should now see the updated navigational menu.
- To write blog articles, simply go to Posts in the dashboard and start writing!
How to generate traffic
Social media traffic is great, but it’s not self-sustaining
So you’ve setup your brand new book review blog and you now want to start writing, build traffic and gain a readership. How exactly do you do that?
If you’ve never blogged before or have 0 experience with generating traffic for websites, then chances your first instinct is to write a few articles, share them with friends, acquaintances, specialized places such as forums and groups, popular media sources etc.
This kind of traffic can be classified as “Social” traffic. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that Social traffic disappears in a few days and almost never comes back – even for the wildly viral popular articles.
Focus on search traffic
What you really want is constant, sustainable traffic for which you have to do (almost) nothing to maintain.
As an example of this, here are the stats for an article on this blog and how much traffic it has generated over the years.
In the case of this article (as with all of the other article on this blog) the vast majority of traffic has been generated by Google search.
The only work I did for the article was to 1) write it 2) get a few links from some bloggers and 3) do a rewrite when it started to slide in the rankings. Total work? 30-40 hours in 2 years.
The advantage of Google search traffic is that once you reach the top of a page for a certain keyword, you’re likely to stay there for a very long time with near 0 effort. This is guaranteed to bring you traffic day in and day out.
How to rank in the first page of Google is the main subject of SEO. It is a gigantic topic so there’s no point in trying to cover it in depth-here.
So how long does it take to generate meaningful SEO traffic?
In the case of this blog, it took ~42 months to reach 10,000 monthly sessions. After that however, things accelerated rapidly and 9 months later it reached 50,000 monthly sessions.
Will it also take you this long? Probably not. In my case, I wasted at least 2 ½ years by not doing even the most basic forms of SEO.
Also, I wrote extremely few articles. Two years after I started this book blog, I had published only 6-7 blog posts. That’s simply too little to generate any meaningful traffic.
If you avoid my mistakes and write 20-40 articles, while also targeting easy keywords you will absolutely crush the 10,000 session mark well within the first year.
That being said, first time bloggers should focus on two major aspects of SEO:
- Write articles that target certain keywords
People search for stuff on Google with keywords. In order to get search traffic, you have to signal to search engines that the subject of your article is that particular keyword.
Take this article for example. It was optimized to answer the query “how to start a book review blog”. As a result, I included that keyword right in the headline, and also in the link of the article itself: hastyreader.com/how-to-start-a-book-review-blog.
Some people consider SEO to be unethical, since it seems like “gaming the system”. However, that’s mostly not true. The vast majority of SEO is really benign stuff where you tell search engines what a particular article is about, so it can then appear in search results.
Also, Google is really sophisticated and organizes results on a page depending on how good each article is. So how does Google know the quality of an article?
The Big G almost certainly measures how users interact with search results: when they enter, exit or reenter certain search results, or even retype a keyword so it’s a better fit.
If a particular article is the “end point” of a user’s search, this means it answers a user’s question. As a result, that article is probably the best result for that particular keyword. Thus, over time it gets placed higher up the search results.
In other words, quality articles go up the search rankings.
- Whenever possible, get links
Certain keywords are extremely competitive, to the point where hundreds of articles are written on that particular subject every week.
As an example, consider the keyword “philosophy of mind”. Google can’t possibly rank every single one of these articles based on the content alone, so they use another metric to sort them out: how many other sites link to that article.
In SEO terms, links to articles are viewed as positive reviews of the article’s quality.
For instance, if article A has been linked to from 10 other sites, it will tend to rank higher than article B that has 0 outside links pointing to it.
The number of links an article has received (or backlinks, in SEO language) isn’t visible for regular users of search engines. Instead, one must use specialized SEO tools such as SEMRush to figure this out.
These SEO tools also neatly show how rankings tend to increase with the number of sites linking to an article.
However, things don’t end here. Backlinks from bigger sites, such as Forbes or the New York Times, carry a lot more weight (think 60x-100x more valuable) than backlinks coming from miniscule, brand new or no-traffic websites.
In fact, one backlink from Forbes can often be enough to catapult an article from the 10th page of search results, right up to the first 2-3 spots on the first page.
Because of this, there is a huge, underground economy of people approaching (and paying) writers / bloggers in order to get a backlink to a particular article.
Depending on how big your blog becomes, the sums involved can be quite handsome and a good source of revenue.
More about this in the “How to make money with a book blog” section.
Pinterest can also generate sustainable, organic traffic
Believe it or not, but Pinterest is actually an extremely good source of sustainable, constant traffic. Many, many successful blogs have actually been built on majority Pinterest traffic.
This is because Pinterest primarily functions as an image based search / suggestion engine. Its users type in keywords similar to how they do on Google, browse through pins, click on the ones that are interesting and end up on your blog.
Plus, they can also repin (share) Pins, which can make them go viral.
Below are the traffic stats from Nikki’s Plate, a food blog that generates more than 90% of its traffic through Pinterest.
The traffic is designated as “Social” but that’s just because Google Analytics considers Pinterest to be a social network, rather than a search engine.
What to write about
The cool thing about book blogging is that new books are constantly published, meaning there’s always something to write about.
Not only that, but millions of books have already been published these past few millennia and most of them haven’t been reviewed by a book blogger.
The only problem however is that it’s difficult to find a book that can both generate traffic, and also be an enjoyable read. Trying to power through 10 books you just don’t connect with is absolutely not fun!
Fortunately, there are quick fixes for both these issues.
Read summaries of books before reviewing
These companies basically read thousands of books and then condense them into 10-15 minute articles that contain only the major talking points.
This can seriously cut down on a lot of wasted time and frustration with books you don’t like and can’t connect with on a personal level.
Use SEO tools to see traffic potentials
Let’s say you’ve found 10-15 books that are interesting enough for you to review. How do you know which can generate you traffic and readers, and which are dead ends?
One free option is to use Google Trends:
With this tool, you can quickly allow you to compare the search traffic between two keywords.
The more professional option is to use an SEO tool such as SEMRush.
These SEO tools give you a lot of information when choosing what to write about, such as:
- How difficult a keyword is, meaning how many backlinks you may need to rank for it.
- Related keywords.
- See what other book blogs have written about.
- See a rough approximation of monthly searches for a given keyword.
- See the backlink profiles of other articles.
That being said, these SEO tools can be pretty expensive. SEMRush has a 1 week free trial, after which it costs $100 per month, so certainly not cheap. You can however use a 1 month subscription, gather up enough ideas to last you 4-5-6 months, and then cancel it.
How to make money with a book blog
The hard truth about blogging is that you need to put in a lot of upfront work before you start to make any real money, especially as a beginner that’s never done this before.
This up-front work is all about generating traffic. Without traffic there is no monetization.
Fortunately however, SEO and Pinterest traffic is usually very stable when generated which allows you to then focus on building an income stream.
This section below explains the very basics of blog monetization as well as what traffic goals you should have in order to generate some meaningful revenue.
When you mention putting ads on a website, most people immediately think of Google Adsense. 10-15 years ago, AdSense was pretty much the only ad network available to monetize a website.
Things have changed a lot since then. Nowadays, most high traffic blogs have moved away from Adsense and instead migrated to other ad networks that pay 15x-30x as much: AdThrive, Monumetric or Mediavine.
Just to give you a comparison, Mediavine can provide around ~$20 per 1,000 sessions. Thus, a blog with 50,000 sessions can earn roughly $1,000 per month.
This screenshot is from a review of Mediavine from thisonlineworld.com.
So what’s the catch? Well, you have to meet certain conditions to join these high paying ad networks:
First, your site must have majority US/UK/Canada/Australia traffic (~65% or more).
Secondly, your blog must generate significant amounts of traffic per month. For instance, Monumetric asks for 10,000 pageviews, Mediavine requires 50,000 monthly sessions and AdThrive demands 100,000 monthly pageviews.
As mentioned previously, there is currently a huge underground industry of people paying to get links from other sites. Google absolutely hates this and tries its best to crackdown on the practice, but not even they can consistently differentiate between a bought link and a natural one.
These links usually point to “money articles”, meaning posts that generate traffic from people who want to spend money. A few examples of such posts would be “Best Mattresses to Buy in 2020”, “Best Flashlights for Engineers” etc.
Sponsored articles are generally priced at around $1 per 100 pageviews. Thus, a blog with 10,000 monthly pageviews can ask for around $100, while one with 50,000 can demand a minimum of $500.
This blog doesn’t do sponsored articles, but it does receive offers on a weekly basis:
There are multiple reasons why I don’t accept sponsored posts:
- The buyers are extremely obvious in their demands, meaning you risk a severe Google penalty.
- They propose subjects that don’t align with your niche.
- The articles they provide are so poor quality, you’ll have to practically rewrite them from scratch to make any sense.
That being said, bloggers that are willing to work with these limitations can create a good revenue stream from sponsored articles.
In a nutshell, affiliate marketing means you promote a product and get a commission in case one of your visitors purchases it.
As an example, on this blog I promote CuriosityStream documentaries on relevant articles and books from Amazon as well as Audiobooks.com.
The nice part about affiliate marketing is that there are tons of advertisers across a wide variety of niches. This means it’s quite easy to find products that align with your values, and you can safely promote on your blog without feeling like a sellout.
To get into affiliate marketing, you’ll need to sign up to affiliate marketplaces. These are big sites that act as middlemen between advertisers and publishers as yourself:
- Commision Junction
- Amazon Affiliates
Some of these affiliate marketplaces have a vetting process. It’s pretty relaxed, so it’s not that hard to enter but I do suggest you first reach at least 1,000 monthly visitors before applying.
This way you’ll have some traffic and can generate some sales, which is important since inactive accounts or ones that can’t generate sales are often deactivated after a few months.
Monetizing a website through Patreon is now a viable option. The only downside to Patreon is that it requires you put in a lot of work into building and nurturing a core audience of readers that will visit your site again and again.
Traditional blogs usually monetize with affiliate links, ads and email newsletters. These can all be automated so that you don’t really have to interact a lot with your readers. This frees up the blogger, allowing them to focus on writing and promoting their articles.
Patreon bloggers on the other hand have to put effort into interacting with their audience. This can mean answering their emails, asking them what to write about, creating offers to entice donations etc.