From 0 to 5,000 Blog Subscribers in Eight Months: How You Can Do It Too

When I began blogging for the first time, nothing seemed to work.

In my eyes, my content sounded great, and the people I told about my articles appeared interested, but each post only received maybe ten or twelve visits from random folks who stumbled upon the post on accident.

Everyone told me that I must build an email list to be successful with blogging.

But, even efforts to build an email list, my main motivator for finding an audience for my writing, failed on every level. It was at this point when I stopped and thought…

What if I completely changed my approach to blogging?

Was there something that these top bloggers, with thousands of people on their emails lists, were not telling me? In all honesty, I knew there were blogs producing better content than what I was creating, but without a doubt my content provided value to beginner writers out there.

After all, I was working a day job while running a freelance writing business (on the side) that brought in around $2,000 per month.

Writing jobs were crammed in during lunch hours and after I arrived home at around five in the evening. Pitch emails and marketing designs were completed while sitting on the phone speaking to my day job customers.

As chaotic as it was, someone must want to hear how I was able to pull it off.

Rethinking the My View of Blogging

My first job out of college was a struggle for me, along with the one after that. I was craving more substance in my life, along with the freedom to work for myself.

Blogging became a great outlet for me to express myself and build my business.

But, it required that I think differently than the traditional way people used blogging.

To build a business around your blog, you must think of blogging as more than a journal or a random collection of posts. When you take the time and organize a plan of action, it is going to multiply your chances for success.

For me, much of that plan consisted of reverse engineering what is working for other bloggers. Finding people who have done it successfully before you and tweaking those tactics to fit your unique brand.

Where most people go wrong is they see something that they think is working, and blindly adopt things into their own blog. They try it because it is what everyone else is doing. Then, when it doesn’t work for them, they give up.

Understand that everyone’s audience is different and will respond to different approaches to blogging. And the timeline on how rapidly your list will grow will be different for everyone.

My timeline looked like this…

Hitting the 3,000 mark took roughly four months from when I started blogging. It was at this time when my freelance business replaced my income of my day job, and I was able to quit for good.

If you are new to email marketing, MailChimp states that average open rates for email newsletters range from around 17% to 28%.

Every email I was sending out was being opened at a rate of 40 to 50%. My community was engaged and loving what I was sharing.

From here I shifted strategies and accumulated another 2,000 subscribers over the following four months.

That’s a total of 5,000 subscribers in eight months from starting blogging.

list growth graph
My Eight Month Email Subscriber Growth

Standing at the starting line, I remember thinking just 1,000 subscribers is an ambitious goal.

But, it’s not as intimidating as you may think, and putting in work is worth it.

Why? A recent study by Ipsos shows that 85% of the people online use email, compared to social networking sites, at 62%. That means, to effectively communicate and form relationships with your blog readers, you must build an email list.

Once you have built your email list and established trust with your audience, you have a very low resistance sales channel for your products and services you want to offer that help solve their problems.

In the paragraphs to follow, we’ll walk through exactly what I did to grow my blog and email list and the impact it has had on my business. My hope is that you can take some of these tips and strategies to apply in your own business to get your first 5,000 blog subscribers.

Growing From 0 to 1,000 Email Subscribers

Let’s assume this is where many of you are starting, and by that I mean zero.

The inescapable bottom floor that says you need more followers for your blog to get traffic, but at the same time, you don’t have the social credibility for people to care about your site whatsoever.

After scouring internet marketing forums, blogging guides, and expert tips to see what others were doing, I concluded the most productive path to grow my audience would be through guest blogging.

It would allow me to tap into blogs that already had an established audience related to mine.

But, my biggest hurdle to overcome was my preconceived beliefs about guest blogging. I always thought I should receive compensation for my work and that the blogs I’d be writing for would entirely benefit because they were not offering compensation.

In my mind, I related this to an unpaid internship. I had worked one of those, and it brought me nowhere.

However, what if that unpaid internship was for someone truly special? Imagine if Elon Musk or Warren Buffett wanted you as an unpaid intern? I can’t think of a faster track to success than learning from the greats for free.

That’s how I realized that a well-calculated guest post was invaluable. By associating with the “top-dogs” of your industry, it can rapidly boost your blogging career to a level you never could dream possible.

After all, at that point I was writing on my blog for free and not bringing in any subscribers. So, why not post for someone with a huge following to send some people my way?

It’s also important to remember that these influencers with large followings have worked tirelessly to build their communities.

Many have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, contractors, link building, and design. When you think about it, being grateful for this free exposure is the only option, considering the site owners could charge for guest post opportunity.

Think about it. When you eventually build your blogging empire, you want to be recognized for it and not have to give away all that hard work for free, right?

That said, guest blogging isn’t just about finding any site and writing an article.

The site must relate to your niche, and YES, you must pick a niche if you want folks to take you seriously. My blog, Write With Warnimont, teaches amateur writers (with limited tech and marketing experience) how to build a freelance writing business.

Although my strategy has changed a bit since then, my goal at that time was to bring in authors, bloggers, poets, and other writers who needed tech and marketing assistance.

While I should have been hard at work in my day job, I spent most of my time creating a landscape of the blogs in my niche. In Google Spreadsheets, I compiled a list of notable blogs with audiences comprised of authors and writers.

guest posting contacts
Researching the Blogs of My Niche to Guest Write For

Once I had a good amount of blogs to work with, the networking began.

I hit the list hard, sending out short, yet informative emails, or simply abiding by the guidelines given to applying as a guest writer. Your success hinges on you contacting other people with useful, yet short, emails.

My results?

Out 100+ blogs contacted, I saw a 40% response rate, and 15% out of them approved me to write guest posts.

Many of these people are known as top bloggers in my industry, so the response rate left me quite satisfied. It truly is a numbers game.

How can you formulate an email that prompts a similar response?

Carol Tice from Make a Living Writing published an interesting article that profiles three of her best guest post pitches. Much of what is contained in this article, I used as the core rubric for my emails.

Here are the must-haves for your pitch email:

  • Mention if you’ve had any contact in the past.
  • Tell them that you read their content and you put it to use for your own business. (Don’t lie. If you haven’t checked out the site, read through a few articles to gain some knowledge.)
  • Although this extends your email message, most bloggers expect an outline for your guest post.
  • Include a killer headline for the guest post.
  • Reveal one of your favorite guest posts that received many shares or comments. If you don’t have any, find a post from your blog that reflects your voice.

Now that you have your pitch email in mind, how should you prepare your website?

The trouble with guest posting is having your site ready to capture emails or even to make money once the flood of people read your article, click the link in your author box and go to your site. I wasn’t in any way prepared for monetizing the site, but I at least had an email subscription form. This way, I could try to sell to these people in the future.

Each guest post brought in an average of 50 subscribers.

It’s important to point out that not every guest post is created equal. For example:

  • A guest post for a site called Write to Done accumulated more than 100 email addresses for my site.
  • I also posted to a smaller writing blog, and not a single person subscribed to my email list after the guest post went live.

The point is, some guest posts land while others can bring you no results.

The key is to find reputable blogs. Here are some of the requirements when screening blogs for whether or not you should guest post on them:

  • Find blogs that get talked a lot about in your niche.
  • Find blogs with sizable email lists, social followings, and comment counts.
  • Consider blogs run by people who are noted authors or contributors in a certain industry.
  • Locate blogs owned by companies that are leaders in the products or services they sell.
  • Search Google for blogs in your niche, and submit to all of the ones on the first page.

Now, you may wonder, is this enough to get you to 1,000 subscribers? You bet.

I wrote about 20 guest posts in this period of time, and although some of them were flops, the big-hitters pushed me to just under the 1,000 email subscriber mark. It wasn’t long until that number surpassed the goal of 1,000.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that my freelance writing business (mainly WordPress, app, and other tech articles) was just as useful as guest posts. Why? Because I still received author attribution for them. In fact, I also got payment for them.

Building A Tribe of Amateur Writers

One qualm I had with guest blogging was that many of the followers on these sites were established, or at least consistent writers. My goal was to target the beginners, those who had a story to tell, but didn’t know how to do it.

Therefore, I built a list of prospective blog owners who may have found my site interesting at the time. The goal was to locate blogs in their early stages–messy, unprofessional, yet promising.

Think about this like visiting a business, leaving your card and maybe saying a few words to the owner. The idea was to let the website owner know I had visited, comment on some of their content and extend a helping hand with a portion of their site that needed improvements.

That’s right. Most of my initial followers came from reaching out to amateur writers and bloggers first.

And you know what? Those initial followers are the ones that turned into my tribe. They contacted me through email, asked for advice on anything from RSS feeds to selling on Amazon.

My favorite example is a friend named Jay, who sent me dozens of emails asking my advice on email marketing, widgets on WordPress, newsletter design, eBook formatting, and more.

I later learned that he shared my blog with a writing group, wrote a review about my eBook, and even mentioned me a few times in his own book.

emails from a followers
Establish Yourself As A Leader by Helping Others

At the time I felt a little strange giving away all of this free advice. Not to mention, it sucked up quite a bit of time. However, your strongest allies, when looking for exposure, are those people who talk about you constantly.

I don’t know if it’s the best way to get past that first hump, but it certainly helps to show new visitors that you at least have a few people talking in your comment area and sharing on social media.

Doubling to 2,000 Subscribers in Under 30 Days

I was still at my old job at this point, so while sitting on the phone I made a push to follow as many WordPress writing blogs as I could.

The guest blogging efforts subsided a bit, but they still continued when time allowed. It was simply about clicking follow buttons while chatting with my day job customers on the phone.

I’m not sure if everyone would consider this a sound business practice. For example, I know many folks consider blindly following people on Twitter a joke, but it actually connected me with plenty of nice people, and I still read a few of the blogs that I found interesting.

following and commenting on WordPress
Following blogs on

At the time, I compared this to cold-calling people or knocking on doors. Regardless of what some people may think, this method worked rather well and I found two of the editors whom I work with quite frequently.

A follow here, a comment there, and even a few likes were sprinkled in there. This was one of my biggest spikes in email subscriptions, and it’s because people actually responded with interest.

I constantly checked out new blogs, and in the process I started filling my own Feedly reader with cool sites that I was learning from. They even have a cool filter and tag function in WordPress to locate relevant blogs that you might deem worthy to take a look at. If someone didn’t respond there was no harm done. I simply moved on in search of folks who wanted to strike up a dialogue.

Commenting on blogs and interacting with other people in your niche should be part of daily routine. It’s not easy to measure the return on investment when commenting, liking content and following blogs, but Neil Patel says that if you want commenters and followers on your own blog, you must go out and make blog visible by marketing it and being visible.

You can’t expect visitors if they don’t know you exist.

Outstanding content and a well-designed blog will determine if people are willing to follow you back to your own blog. How can you make your blog outstanding once those connections land on your site? Kevin Muldoon provides some nice tips that I follow regularly:

  • Make your blog design professional, so people don’t cringe and click the “X” in the corner.
  • Spend time on your topics so that they’re relevant to the people you’re marketing to.
  • Write awesome articles, since they are more likely to be read and shared.
  • Blog on a consistent basis, so that it doesn’t look like your site is dead.
  • Make it easy for people to share your content.
  • Talk to your readers so that new visitors are more likely to comment.

Offline Interactions Took Me Beyond 3,000 Subscribers

A few months were spent targeting local writers in Chicago (where I currently live). The goal was to find potential blogging partners, send amateur writers to my own blog and to seek out more experienced writers with advice for my own career.

I’m not sure if it was the most efficient way to bring in email subscribers, but it certainly gave me a fresh perspective on what it takes to run a business, along with providing some much needed face-to-face time with people in the industry. The experience also located some people who are still quite active on my blog.

My strategy was two-fold: Reach out to the companies to find freelance work, and see if I could find any local writers working for the companies. I sent emails to all of them and got a decent response.

I went on to visit local Meetups just about every week, gave a few speeches and exchanged business cards at all of these events. Part of this was for one of my clients, but I used the time to network for my own blog as well.

local meetups
A local Chicago writing meetup

The power of getting out from behind the computer and meeting people in person cannot be underestimated.

A past freelance client of mine would send me to local Meetups to network and locate people to write about or work within the mobile app industry. The client managed a fairly popular Android blog out of London, and they planned on expanding to the US, using me as somewhat of a transition guy.

This process started by visiting a somewhat techie Chicago Android Meetup.

After the first of three speakers concluded, I quickly realized I was in over my head with the technology talk.

I packed up my notebook and pen, looking for a chance to slip out the door. That was when the final speaker started discussing his journey to write a book in three months, using Google Hangouts to conduct his interviews.

This guy had signed up to speak at the wrong Meetup!

He quickly addressed his mistake at the beginning of the speech, but proceeded on to talk about his journey, insisting that someone might find it helpful.

So, not only was I at a meeting that was way over my head, but this author was also in the wrong place. I grabbed him afterwards and we starting chatting about the mishap. We talked for maybe an hour, until the lights went out in the building and we had to head home.

I discovered that he had just written a book with dozens of interviews with authors and writers all over the world. He volunteered to connect me with every single one of them.

It resulted in new followers of my blog, finding a co-author to my ebook, and a few new ghostwriting projects.

All that after just getting off my butt and fighting past my fears of interacting with people for long periods of time. Writing originally attracted me from the peace I found in the solitude, but building lasting connections amazed me with the results.

Other useful events included Live Lit and the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, where I networked with the speakers and attendees.

printers row lit fest

You might say, “Well Joe, that’s Chicago. It’s a huge city with tons of literary opportunities.”

True, but my parents have a lake house up in Burlington, Wisconsin. Every Friday there is a literary reading at the local coffee shop.

My point is, no matter your niche, people are interested about it in even the smallest of towns. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone in order to bring exposure to your blog. There are no set “rules” to this game.

What I Learned About Email Marketing and Open Rates

My open rates gradually decreased with more subscribers, but that’s natural when you jump from 100 subscribers who you know by name to a few thousand folks you can’t keep track of.

open rates
Graph of the Open Rates of the Write With Warnimont Newsletter

Open rates are nice for checking to see if people are still engaging with your content, along with managing clickable subject lines; however I have one word of advice on how to use your open rates wisely.

Like I talked about before, a small percentage of your followers are your tribe. Can you guess the best way to single out these VIP followers? With open rates, of course.

MailChimp, and most other email services have stats on which people open and click through on your emails the most. MailChimp rates these folks with stars, and it even separates VIPs from the five-star people, since the VIPs are even more engaged than the best on your list.

vip follower list
Segmenting Your Email List for VIP’S

I can’t say this enough: Locate your VIPs, give them all the love they need and make them love you back.

Here are a few examples of how I treated some of my VIPs:

  • I respond to any emails from them within 24 hours.
  • I have a list of them in Excel for addressing them by name when commenting.
  • Whenever I get deals on products or free goodies, I send them to VIPs first.
  • Any eBooks I write are given out to VIPs for free.
  • I even found two subscribers who lived in Chicago and met up with them for coffee.
  • Any type of monetization strategy I have in the future will always be given to VIPs for free or at a discount.

Hitting 4,000 Subscribers By Leveraging Content From Top Bloggers

For about a two-month stretch, I focused on boosting the quality of my posts, really trying to figure out what made people share on social media.

I don’t claim to be a social media expert, but I wanted to start by finding bloggers with insane amounts of social shares. My theory was that they did something right, so maybe I could reverse engineer their success.

Remember that quality is essential, yet the quest for perfection is a sure-fire path towards failure.

Steve Jobs once said, “Real artists ship,” referring to the fact that everyone has ideas, and many people work hard to shape those ideas.

However, you can’t expect to get started on your way to success by critiquing every little detail of your work. You must eventually “ship,” or publish your work.

That said, my list of bloggers and authors is rather long, but here are a few people I tried to reverse engineer in their social sharing and traffic building strategies:

These mentions are random, and many other bloggers out there have solid reputations, but these were ones that I had been following for a while. I tried to copy their techniques and even turned some of my website designs into similar layouts you might have noticed from Jeff Goins or Michael Hyatt.

This research revealed one simple conclusion: Even the top bloggers are not perfect.

In fact, it’s impossible to assume that one person’s techniques will work for your own niche, but by picking and choosing, you can slowly form your own voice, presence, and design.

For example, I noticed that Maria Popova from Brain Pickings doesn’t have her comments section open. I tried this for a bit and my followers hated it, sending in emails wondering what was going on. However, the Brain Pickings titles are marvelous, not focused on SEO, but packed with specific details, names and intriguing words that get creatives excited.

As I turned my focus towards creative titles, I began seeing my open rates increase for almost every email.

If you have ever seen my newsletter, you’ll find that various components are eerily similar to the newsletters of Jeff Goins and Michael Hyatt, each of which have wonderful components for their own past articles, books, social pages, and more.

my email newsletter template
An Example of My Email Newsletter Template

Looping Top Bloggers Into My Posts

Around this same time I also started including mentions of top bloggers in my posts, along with a few roundup posts (featuring advice from top bloggers), which gained quite a bit of traction.

My blog followers told me they had an interest in this through emails and comments. On Reddit, I noticed threads where writers debated vehemently about which is more important–giving your audience what they want, or remaining true to your own creative needs.

I sent quick emails to people like Seth Godin, Hugh Howey, Carol Tice, Jon Morrow, K.M. Weiland and several others. To my surprise, about 90% of the emails I sent out received responses, some brief, others close to short stories.

My followers had been clamoring for a post like this and the response was great.

Example of a Roundup Post

In addition, several of these prestigious writers tweeted about the article, bringing in a few waves of people who wanted to hear more from my blog.

And the icing on the cake…

I was now on the radar of all-star writers like Seth Godin and Hugh Howey.

They are my idols, and I’ve been able to reach out to a few of the contributors for help on other projects. All because I opened up a dialog with them.

An Interesting Raffle, Along with Strategic Friendships Lifts Me Past 5,000 Subscribers

For my most recent list building push, I strayed away from just mentioning top bloggers in my articles, and instead tried to partner with them for projects.

My first attempt was a Kindle raffle, where I used a Rafflecopter module to gain email subscribers and social shares.

The deal was that people had to post a comment about their biggest fears as writers. After that, they were entered for a chance to win an Amazon Kindle Fire HD, with additional entries for things like social shares.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HD contest served as an experiment, but the item was purchased with income from freelancing.

rafflecopter module for the kindle raffle
Results from the contest I ran

Overall, 92 comments (and 2,706 entries) came in.

This equated to roughly 700 subscribers in total to my email list.

I was happy with the results of the contest and you should definitely consider a contest or raffle on your own blog.

HubSpot states that one-third of contest entrants will accept to receive information about your brand upon conclusion of the contest.

Of course, many entrants were interested in the prize alone. You will want to take that into consideration as some of the people may mark your newsletter as spam when you send out that first email following a raffle.

I highly advise you to include some sort of disclaimer saying that by joining the contest, they also understand they will be added to your newsletter list with periodic updates. And in the first email, give them a very clear and blatant way to opt out.

Probably the most traction for the raffle came from a partnership formed with Hope Clark from Funds for Writers.

She agreed to a sponsorship deal, where she posted an ad for my raffle in her own newsletter read by thousands of writers (40,000 as of now) looking for paying jobs.

In exchange, I announced that Funds for Writers sponsored the raffle, hopefully bringing exposure to her platform.

Once again, a nice wave of subscribers came over from the Funds for Writers site, and I brought in more from various shares that came from the excitement that is a raffle.

comments from my contest
People Entering My Contest By Leaving A Comment

At this point, it’s worth noting that my subscriber growth was compounding from my previous efforts. I’d be silly to think that my raffle accounted for another thousand subscribers, but it still helped quite a bit.

My final example comes from what I like to call a fortunate friendship. Carol Tice, from the Make a Living Writing blog, reached out to me to partake in her Freelancer Fear Buster audio campaign, which highlighted the fears of 17 freelance writers, and how they overcame those fears.

freelancer fear buster campaign

I’ve interacted with Carol several times, from roundup posts, to simple Twitter conversations.

I also find it tough to not stumble upon one of her Entrepreneur Magazine articles from time to time. This was a fortunate friendship since she asked for a short clip, put in all of the work compiling this podcast-style resource, and in return, sent me lots of subscribers.

When you set out to reach that initial 5,000 subscriber count, take a moment, or rather a few hours, to formulate a strategy for how you can reach the magical 5,000 mark.

A blog, or any business opportunity, sits dormant without action. A long term content strategy is the first step to ensuring your visitors are pleased with their browsing experience; yet reaching out to people, whether in-person or through comments, is what has served top bloggers well in the past.

After looking at how I managed to jump start my blog to 5,000 email subscribers in eight months, several mistakes and obstacles occurred. Plenty of successes came along the way as well.

Here’s a roundup of the key points to take away from this journey, allowing you to implement the tips yourself for an invigorating and eye-opening quest to 5,000 email subscribers:

  • After choosing a niche for your blog, scour the internet to see what people in the market are talking about. This is your goldmine for content ideas. If it’s not relevant to your niche, scrap it and move on.
  • Use lists to your advantage. Consider making lists with contact information for guest posting, lists for blog post ideas and lists of links and resources for sharing and marketing your own blog.
  • When searching out sites to guest post on, only pitch those with strong followings. You may befriend someone with a blog, but it’s not worth your time to write a free blog post for their 200 followers.
  • When pitching for guest posts, keep it short, but include personalized connections, an outline of the post, past work and even a short sentence on how you admire the person’s site. Craft your guest post outline using the seven crucial tactics for successful guest posts, from the folks at Copyblogger.
  • Foster relationships with people who admire your work (regardless of how amateur they are,) since word of mouth is one of your biggest strengths for gaining exposure.
  • “Knock on doors” by commenting on other blogs, interacting with people online and giving your opinions. Simply following blogs or liking them work as icebreakers as well.
  • Check out relevant groups in the area. Book speaking gigs, or go listen to speakers to learn more and meet people who may find your blog interesting. A face to face interaction is always more memorable to potential partners and followers than an email.
  • Jot down bloggers you admire and try to reverse engineer the blogging elements that make them great. Remember that no one is perfect, so your best bet is to piece together strategies to develop your own voice.
  • Always work on improving your content. Forget being perfect, but accumulate feedback from your followers to see what they like and don’t like.
  • Consider holding a contest or raffle to bring in new readers and to generate buzz about your blog.
  • Think strategically about your online friendships. It’s always fun to chat with people, but constantly think how you can capitalize with the people you chat with on Twitter, blogs, Reddit and more.

Going from 0 to 5,000 may take you less than eight months, or it may take you a little longer. The key is to use this advice to weed out the tactics that fail and to discover your own new and exciting methods for expanding your online presence.

What List Building Methods Work For You?

My goal with this article is to present the ideas and methods I have used in the past.

Yes, I put in a great amount of work over those eight months to accumulate 5,000 email subscribers, and yes those users are fairly active on my blog, but I stumbled upon quite a few roadblocks, and found that some of these methods may not be worth trying again in the future.

Like I stated above with the top bloggers I tried to copy from, consider picking and choosing from your idols to find your own voice. Refrain from simply copying one or two people, because chances are, some of the tactics won’t work for your audience.

Frank Lloyd Wright was known for copying his mentor Louis Sullivan.

In fact, much of Wright’s work reflects hints of Sullivan, with his signature ornamental designs. However, once Wright matured and combined that knowledge with his own surroundings and creative needs, he eventually strayed away from Sullivan, finding his own vision. That’s what you’re tasked with as a blogger.

Now, I want to hear from you…

What is ONE STRATEGY you are focusing on this year to grow your email list?

It could be something I covered above, or totally new method. Let me know in the comments below, and I will be sure to reply.

What Bloggers Need to Know About Affiliates, Sponsorships, and the Law

Many people dream of monetizing their blog…

Few break through to the other side, creating an automated income stream that works while you sleep, pick up the kids, or while traveling.

There are many ways to make money with your blog.

You can put ads on your site or even sell your own products. But, two of the most common ways to make money as a new or established blogger, is through affiliate marketing and sponsorships.

Why? Affiliate marketing allows you to earn high margins on product sales with established companies, without having to handle any of the fulfillment.

Along with the opportunity to easily make money with affiliate marketing and sponsorships, come many questions about what you can and cannot do in terms of the law.

As a former practicing lawyer for eight years, I know how hard it can be to understand legal jargon. My intention with this post is to help clarify some of the gray areas in this relatively new territory.

Once you understand basic rules of the road, you will feel empowered and can steer clear of any issues and be on your way to living the dream.

How the Law Views Bloggers

In many ways, the law hasn’t quite figured out what bloggers are. In some circumstances, they are journalists. Sometimes bloggers are just hobbyists, chronicling their lives and passions for the world to see. But, some bloggers, and this most likely includes you, are considered businesses.

If you make or are trying to generate money from your blog, the law views you as a business.

You are a business even if you don’t sell any products or services. If you have ads on your site, you use affiliate links, or you have sponsored posts on your site, you are a business.

Being a business can be great. You have the tax advantages open to all small businesses. You are part of a developing economy that is creating new wealth for people all over the world. But, being a business also comes with responsibilities.

Various state and federal laws make it illegal to run a business that’s purpose is to lie to its customers. Being a business, you have a higher duty of honesty and transparency than someone putting up reviews of last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

If you want to avoid trouble with the law, you need to be honest with your customers.

The FTC and Disclosures

The primary federal agency that regulates bloggers is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC watches all businesses, not just bloggers. They want to make sure that nobody is profiting from false claims. They also require transparency with how you are making your money.

Their job is stop fraud.

The FTC wants you to tell people when they click on one of your affiliate links and buy a product that you are getting money.


To avoid your customers thinking you are an unbiased source of information. Most of you would publish content endorsing products whether you get paid as an affiliate or not. But, the FTC knows some people are not that ethical.

If you want to keep the FTC happy and keep your platform transparent to your audience you need to tell people when a link is an affiliate link or when you publish sponsored content.

The FTC calls these statements disclosures. A disclosure doesn’t require jargon and legalese. It’s best if your disclosures are simple, short truthful statements.

While the web is still the Wild West in many ways, the FTC is striving to bring law and order. And the last thing you want is for them to make an example out of you.

Their biggest weapon is imposing a fine. In 2009, the FTC set out guidelines for disclosures and consequences for failing to use them. If a blog post or social media post does not accurately disclose the sponsorship, both the blogger and the sponsor can receive fines.

Here are some examples of what kind of arrangements between bloggers and sponsors that require disclosures:

  • If you receive a free product and review it
  • If you receive money, products, or services in exchange for a post about the company or its products or services.
  • Affiliate links
  • Review a product or service that comes from an advertiser on your site.

How to Include Sponsored Content Without Ruining Your Credibility

The single most valuable asset to any blogger is his or her credibility.

Once your audience believes in you, you create influence and can build a profitable business. But, for any reason your credibility is in question, it’s tough to get it back and losing credibility can cost you your business.

Sponsored content is when a third party pays you to write content about their product or service for your site. You have to tell people when you are being paid for a post like this. That doesn’t mean you have to have red flashing lights and a pop-up warning, but it does mean you need a disclosure or signal that the content is more than just your opinion.

You can create a tag and blog category for your post called “sponsored.” But, this alone is not enough to keep your reputation with your audience. The FTC requires a disclosure statement in each piece sponsored content or in any content containing affiliate links.

At the beginning or end of the post, you should have a short statement.

Here are some examples:

  • This is a sponsored post. I have been paid by ____ to write a post explaining to you why they are such a great company. I never accept sponsored posts from anyone I have not used before. I love the service ____ provides and am happy to tell you more about how they have helped me.
  • This is a sponsored post. I was lucky enough to get paid to write about a product I already use and love. I never accept sponsors I do not 100% believe in.
  • I was paid to write this article. Sponsors help keep this blog up and running. I never accept sponsors I don’t believe in. My rule is I don’t accept sponsors unless I would write the same thing for free.

The most common type of sponsored post is a paid review. In 2011, the FTC imposed a $250,000 fine on the company Legacy Learning for a series of actions where it paid people to review its products and generated income from non-disclosed affiliate links.

The most critical elements are to signal to the audience that the content is sponsored and explain your philosophy about sponsors to your audience. The FTC requires that the disclosure is obvious and clear. That shouldn’t be a problem because you want your audience to know what is going on.

How to Use Affiliate Links That Build Credibility

Before you decide to use an affiliate link always ask yourself how you would feel if you saw that link on your favorite blog. If it would make you feel funny or angry, don’t use the link on your site. But, if you would click on the link because the product makes you excited, use the link.

You aren’t being a scammer, you are being helpful and deserve compensation.

Many bloggers worry that by having a disclosure their audience will feel scammed and will leave the site and never come back. While some people will always react negatively to anyone trying to earn a living, most understand that you are not selling out; you are just trying to build something great.

Some people are afraid that if they know you are making money in the arrangement, that people won’t buy through your affiliate link.

This is the opposite if you frame it correctly.

In 2013, Author and Blogger Jonathan Fields conducted an experiment with a video promoting a third party digital product. He gave the readers two links to visit the website of the product, disclosing one link as an affiliate link and one as a non-affiliate link.

The results showed 76% of the readers clicked the clearly labeled affiliate link.

When asked why they chose the link that they did, the comments posted from his community were quite interesting.

Comments From Jonathan Fields Affiliate Test Blog Post
Comments From Jonathan Fields Affiliate Test Blog Post

Most people were just happy to support. Several people who clicked the non-affiliate link remarked that they had no intention to buy the product, which is why they clicked the direct link.

Either way, this is proof that people are likely not going to care if you make money on products, as long as you invest into building trust first.

If you want to use a disclosure that covers you legally and keeps your audience happy, keep it short and simple.

Here are some sample disclosures for affiliate links:

  • This content contains affiliate links. When you click on a link and buy a product I get a commission. I never link to anything that I don’t think is perfect for you and that I wouldn’t recommend even if I wasn’t getting paid.
  • This post may contain affiliate links. If you click the link and make a purchase I get a small commission to help me keep this blog running.
  • This article contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase from the link I get a commission.

The disclosure can be put at the top or bottom of the post. You know your audience, write a disclosure that speaks to them. Most people will think better of you for being transparent and will trust you even more once they see your disclosure.

You need some type of disclosure for every post that contains affiliate links.

While this was once a gray area, the FTC requires that disclosures be obvious and as close the actual advertising (or affiliate link) as practical.  Having it in the actual post is what the FTC prefers. If you have a footer that is the same for every post that has the disclosure information or a link to the disclosure information, that may work. But it will depend on how easy it is to find the footer and how easy it is to read. The FTC is trying to discourage “fine print” disclosures that are hard to read and understand.

Katie from Wellness Mama, uses the strategy of having a footer on every page. Her footer looks like this:

This is an example of how to use a footer for your affiliate disclosure.
This is an example of how to use a footer for your affiliate disclosure.

Notice it clearly says affiliate disclosure. If you click on the words “Affiliate Disclosure” you are taken to a great explanation of her how she uses affiliate links that informs and builds trust.

She even uses her affiliate disclosure page as an opportunity to link out to affiliate products and popular blogs posts that produce affiliate sales for her.

Wellness Mama including affiliate links on her affiliate disclosure page
Wellness Mama including affiliate links on her affiliate disclosure page

Blogger Carrie Rocha at Pocket Your Dollars uses a short sentence under the title of each post that links to her much longer policy.

This is an example of adding a short sentence to each post with a link to more information.
This is an example of adding a short sentence to each post with a link to more information.

If you produce ebooks you can use the same type of disclosure in the Introduction.

When using affiliate links limit yourself to a small number of links. The more links you have the more desperate you look to make money. Nobody likes desperation. They can smell it through the computer screen and will leave your site. Only use the bare essential number of affiliate links to really great products.

Just like you can only make so many recommendations to your friends before you don’t get invited to coffee anymore, your blog audience only needs a few of your suggestions for purchases at a time.

If you recommend your audience buy great products that make their life better, not only will you make more money, but also you will build up more trust. The more your audience trusts you the easier it will be to find new ways to monetize. But, the second you lose their trust you also lose any chance at building a sustainable blog-based business.

When to Turn Down a Sponsor

You should never accept a sponsor that isn’t 100% in tune with your values and the mission of your site. You are putting your credibility on the line every time you have a sponsor. If the product or service isn’t something you would feel comfortable recommending to your mother or best friend, turn the sponsor away. It can take years to build up authority and credibility with an audience. But, it only takes one post to ruin it.

Even if a sponsor is in line with your values and mission, you may still want to decline if it will distract for your long-term goals. If you plan on developing your own products or services, sponsored content may distract and compete with your future plans.

One trigger of big FTC fines is misleading content. This includes recommending a product you have never tried, but making it seem like you have or making false claims about the features or benefits of the product.

Difference Between Ads and Sponsors

Most of this post has been dedicated to sponsors and affiliate links. But, another way some bloggers monetize their site is through ads. Ads are different from sponsors and affiliates in that you do not need a disclosure so long as it is clear what is an ad and what is the content. Most ads are obvious and many even have “ad” or “advertisement” in tiny letters around the frame.

The FTC and the law treat advertising differently because there is an understanding that the content provider is not standing behind the ad content in the same way. However, remember the goal is not to just obey the law, but to build trust with your audience. Advertising may sometimes be legal, but interfere with the relationship you have with your audience. Your job is to eliminate anything that interferes with that relationship.

The FTC does require that you disclose any other benefits you are getting from your advertisers beyond paying for the ad. If an advertiser pays for you to attend a conference and you then blog about the conference, you need to disclose how your trip was funded.

If your focus is always on transparency and keeping the trust of your audience, you won’t have to worry about the FTC because you will naturally follow the guidelines.

How to Deal With Social Media Promotions

Much of the marketing for blogs is done with social media. The FTC has recently updated its FAQ about the standards for Internet marketers using social media. The update is not very specific on what it would like to see. But, the main message seems to be endorsement or sponsorship relationships need to be disclosed even on social media.

This can be problematic, especially on platforms like Twitter where you only have 140 characters to communicate. Using a hashtag such as #ad or #sponsored or #affiliate can help make it clear that a social media update is not just you passing on a friendly idea. Shortening the hashtag to #spon or #aff probably isn’t clear enough and would be frowned on by the FTC.

The more you are on the web the more clear it is that most scammers and spammers are not being dealt with. Even though the FTC would be hard pressed to take down even a fraction of the fraud on the web, you do not want to do anything that will risk your customer’s trust or run the risk, even if it is small, of legal action.

Focus On Building Trust With Your Audience

The smart way to introduce affiliate links into your content is to focus on transparency. If you don’t have a massive following on your blog of people who trust you, you can work towards that by being honest in with your disclosures. Tell people it’s an affiliate link.

Your community will gladly support you when you put in the work to establish trust with them.

As you can see in the screenshot below, a member from the Learn To Blog community specifically requested to use an affiliate link in order to purchase the WordPress theme DIVI.

Learn To Blog Affiliate Request

If someone reviews a product and you get value from it and they don’t give an affiliate link, reach out to them and ask them for one. It’s a great way to build goodwill with someone and it doesn’t cost you anything.

You will succeed faster if your primary focus is on building trust and authority instead of making money. The money will come after you have put in the work. This approach also keeps you on the right side of the law every time.

Now I Want to Hear From You…

From the outside looking in, affiliate marketing can be a little intimidating when first getting started. Which is why I love hearing about how people got started online…

QUESTION: Have you ever made an affiliate sale online? 

If so, what is the backstory behind your first ever online sale? What was it? How did you feel when you made that sale?

We’d love it if you shared your story with our community, as it may just inspire someone here. If you haven’t made a sale online, what is your biggest challenge with affiliate marketing?

Let me know in the comments below so we can have a discussion.

Want to Make Money Blogging? Build An Email List

A lot of people want to start a blog and make money. If you ask people, they will tell you that the blog market is saturated, and you can’t make money. Lies.

“If you have a blog about smurfs, smurf if up.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

As funny as that sounds, it’s true. You can make money talking about anything online. There are niches and communities for everything.

For ideas on what type of communities you can create, check out the subreddits on Reddit.

Check out this list of the top 200 subreddits categorized by topic. Remember there are thousands more.

So how do you make money blogging? Simply build an email list.

If you focus on this and this alone, you will be able to make money online.

Why Email Marketing is Important…


Because people check all day long. Someone giving you their private email is like someone giving you their home address and saying “yea send me stuff. I like what you have to offer”.

Email gets viewed way more than social media. You can post stuff on your Twitter timeline or Facebook fan page, and your viewers can completely miss it. But with email they have to act on it. They will view it and choose to open it, click it, archive it, spam it, or delete it. They have to take action with it.

Other mediums have a high probably of being completely missed or overlooked.

Email Pays Off

To put it in perspective, let say that you have a blog about fresh organic, eco-friendly DIY projects. You have been active in creating content for the site, guest blogging, and outreach. You are capturing emails and have a list of 1000 people.

You send out relative information to your list, and they look forward to your emails. One day you announce that you are creating an ebook or video course on how to do some advanced DIY projects that will save your readers 100s of dollars a year in energy bills.

Let’s say 5% of your email list buys the video course at a price $49 each. You just made $2450 from your email list.

Keeping this same conversion rate, let’s say in one year you grow your list to 5,000 people. Now you introduce an expanded version of your course with interviews, a private community, etc. for $97. You sell 250 (5%) at $97 each. You just made $24,250. Imagine if your list was 10k or 50k?

Growing a list can be profitable.

Proof That It Works…

I have a course called the Import Crash Course that I created after validating it online in a couple different forums. I was able to build up a list of 1,200 interested people and sell 300 copies of the course when I launched it.

I grow the email list by giving away awesome content like recorded webinars or case studies of people who have succeeded or failed at importing. I get their emails and after providing value, I offer them the full course (which is more valuable than any free content they have received).

How to Get Email Subscribers


There are are a couple ways to get subscribers. Most people think that just creating great content will attract people to your site. The “build it, and they will come” approach doesn’t work unless you write something super amazing or have an established brand. People like Neil Patel can just publish and get 1000s of views and hundreds of comments.

Guest Posts

I always thought this was a waste of time. Write something for someone else’s blog and let them have it? What the hell? Blasphemy!

Well, countless entrepreneurs have created 6 figure businesses doing this. If you don’t have an audience in a particular niche, write for a bigger brand who wants content and drive traffic back to your site.

It’s no secret that this guest post will drive many visitors back to my website.


Interviews are easy and fun. Find people who are influencers or experts in your industry and request to interview them. For the Import Crash Course, I wrote about my experience importing from China. It was good buy itself. But I increased the value of my product by interviewing seven people who have been importing for a long time.

This strategy increased the perceived value of my product.

Now your guests share their interviews with their audience, and you get traffic and email subscribers.

You can use these interviews to grow your email list. Sites like Mixergy and Entrepreneur on Fire are prime examples of how you can use interviews to build up an email list and create a large revenue stream. John Lee Dumas has over 14,000 subscribers and according to his last month’s income report, generated $282,353.16.

This flow summarizes what I have talked about plus a couple other methods.

Grow Your Email List 2

Tools You can use

There are a couple tools that you can use to grow your email list.

Sumo MeThe best free option is Sumo Me. It is a suite of marketing apps design by the guys at AppSumo. They are designed to help you grow your blog traffic. List Builder, Smart Bar, Leads, Scroll Box, are all apps in the suite designed to capture your email subscribers.

Here are some great paid options.

There are many others. Your goal should implement an email capture tool on your blog in some fashion to capture emails.

Give Value

This is the most important part of the entire process. People will only give you their email address if you can give them something of value.

What can you give? Video courses, checklists, blog posts, presentations, or guides. Keep it simple.

Closing Thoughts…

Every time I ask an entrepreneur if they had to do it over, how would they start, they always say through email. Relationships for through email, the deal can close via email, and you can build a brand and audience through email.

Build your list and you will grow your business.

How are you using email marketing in your business? Let me know in the comments below.

This May Be The Most Valuable Thing You Own In 5 Years

DAMMIT!  I had done it again!

I went on an epic vacation with my family and never posted about it on my blog. Years ago I used to diligently post everything that happened to me, and you know what’s awesome about that?

 It’s like I had a digital brain to remember my whole life.

Quick question for you:  What did you do in May of 2006?? If you ask me that question, I would have no idea what happened 8 years ago.

BUT…..I have a secret weapon: My blog.

I can click the May 2006 category and instantly see that I was working on a business called FacebookProfile, I had $30,132 in the bank, and I illegally crashed the World Conference of Information Technology in Austin, TX. and got to meet Michael Dell and the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Since I saw those events, my entire life in that era came flooding back to memory. Basically I reclaimed those events in my life thanks to my blog!

So if my blog is so important, then why haven’t I been diligently posting as much anymore…and then getting angry at myself about it?

It’s because of the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. Basically these platforms let you “blog” very quickly by posting stuff and getting instant feedback.  For example, one of my family friends posted this little updated to Facebook from our houseboating trip while we were still on the trip:


Now everyone knows we went on this trip, liked it, commented on it, and saw a cool picture.  Basically 80% of the point came across with that ONE picture and caption that took 20 seconds to post. So when I got back home, there was little motivation for me to format pics for my blog, write about the trip, and describe all the crazy stuff that happened.


Several months later, I’m super bummed I barely remember anything about that trip.  I forgot about the time we had to call the coast guard, I forgot about the raging fire we built and took pictures by, I forgot about our 30 mile speed-boat drive to the Rainbow Bridge Arch.


Because I didn’t take an hour to document this on my blog, all I have is that single picture from a Facebook post. What happens if I start moving away from Facebook or if something new comes out that replaces it?

All my memories will be gone because that platform has changed. I’ve been on Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Prodigy, Orkut, Bebo etc etc etc……all of them go by the wayside at some point. The ONE platform that has stayed constant over the last ten years has been my personal blog.

 It is the single most valuable store of knowledge I have since it acts as a digital brain for me.

Now I’ll eventually start to forget lots of details of that boat trip……but I’ll NEVER forget the time when I *ahem* supposedly *ahem* went to Cuba for my 30th birthday. I did an awesome job at documenting the whole trip with pictures, text, described “hypothetically” getting into Cuba, and even made a video compilation that took me a few days of editing. ( )

Neville's Financial Blog: Tracking the road to financial success

In the end I’ll forever remember that Cuba experience in a much more complete way because I took some time to properly make a blog post which preserves my memory (aka my life).

So 10 years from now, which would you rather have for your memory:

A Tweet you’ll never see again??

Like this:

A single Facebook post you have to find somewhere in your photos??

Like this:

 Or a proper blog post you can share with everyone that..

  • answers questions

  • tells your experience

  • shares your photos

  • shares your videos

  • gets you SEO traffic

  • gets shares

  • gets commented on

  • gets you more email subscribers

  • preserves your memory forever

  • gets you out there and have more people know of you

  • (basically a helluva lot of good stuff):


So keep up that blog!  

It’ll preserve your entire life for you.  


Neville Medhora

How I Became a Guest Writer On One of the World’s Most Popular Blogs

Note From Matt: has a thriving private Facebook community for members. Recently, one of the members, Jenish, told us of a success story where he was featured on the popular site, ProBlogger. This story peaked the interest of our members, and we asked Jenish to write an article with his story on how he was featured by such a well-known blog.

Enjoy Jenish’s story, insights, and action steps for getting seen on one of the world’s most popular blogs…

Enter Jenish:

Imagine yourself as a blogging newbie, only blogging for 6 or 7 months, and the first ever guest blog post you write gets published on ProBlogger (one of the largest blog on the subject of blogging).

Think about how excited you would get… What it would mean for your blog… How much extra traffic you would receive… And most of all, how many other doors it would open for you…

You may be thinking that it’s impossible, but guess what? That’s exactly what happened to me. A post that I wrote titled “ProBlogger in Perth: 10 Things Darren Wishes He Knew About Blogging” got published on ProBlogger (PB) and here is the story of how I got featured.

Before I tell you the whole story, I would like to remind you that “ProBlogger is not currently accepting any unsolicited submissions at this time”. So please keep that in mind before you get any crazy ideas.

Perth Mini ProBlogger Event

Jenish Pandya and Darren Rowse ProBloggerIt was a sunny Sunday afternoon in Perth on the 23rd of February and the time was around 1:45 pm when I entered the venue where the Perth mini ProBlogger event was being held.

This was the first time Darren Rowse had come to Perth and the event had sold out within hours of the tickets going on sale.

Upon entering the venue, I spotted a few people chitchatting near the main hall entrance and decided to join them. One of them was Darren himself. We began talking about blogging and his journey around it.

I was quite surprised by how down to earth and honest this guy was. My respect for him increased ten fold after meeting him.

In the presentation, Darren covered two topics “10 things he wished he knew when he started blogging” and “7 Quick Blogging Tips“.

After the presentation, we went for drinks where I continued to build upon my initial conversation with Darren. We both shared a few interesting stories, and I also met quite a few other business owners.

The Blog Post “7 Quick Blogging Tips”

Darren Rowse's 7 Quick Blogging TipsDarren was a celebrity in my mind and in the “I can’t believe it’s him” excitement, throughout his presentation, I was taking photos of him with his slides. The photos were meant as simple “memory joggers” for my personal use.

On the way back home, a brilliant idea hit me. I could convert these photos into a blog post! This would not only help me, but it would also provide an inside look for those who weren’t able to attend the event.

Once back home, I was so excited that I started putting the blog post together. I quickly realized that it was going to be a very long post if both topics were put together. Then another genius idea struck me. Why not publish one of the posts on ProBlogger and the other on my own blog?

After another 4-5 hours, and not getting to bed until around 2 am, I had finished a draft of the post that I was going to publish on my blog.

On the 24th, after returning from work, I reviewed and tidied up my post and hit the publish button.

The Magic Email

After Publishing the post, I contacted Darren through the contact form on ProBlogger and sent the following email:

Hi Darren,

Cheers for coming down to Perth and sharing some awesome tips.

I know you have stopped taking guest bloggers but was wondering if you would accept me publishing a slightly different post than normal about the main presentation you did at the Perth Mini PBevent.

I have published the 7 tips you talked about at and would like to do a similar one about the “10 things he wished he knew about blogging” on ProBlogger but with more detail and linking to all the old PB posts that talk about each specific thing.

What do you say Darren?



I was aware that ProBlogger wouldn’t be taking new guest bloggers (especially newbies) but I gave it a shot anyway, relying on these three things:

  • The rapport I had built with him in person.
  • The uniqueness of my content.
  • The example of what it would turn out to be.

The Green Light

After waiting for three days for a reply, I thought that’s it, no one is going to reply to me, I’m not at high enough standards to get published on ProBlogger. Silly me!

On the morning of the 28th I received an email from the editor of ProBlogger saying:

I love the idea of the topic you’d like to write about, I think it will work well. The sooner you get it through, the sooner we can look at getting it up!

I jumped up and down a few times and probably would have shouted like crazy if there weren’t people staring at me already.

I was super stoked to receive such a reply, I just couldn’t believe it. They liked it, and they wanted to feature it on ProBlogger. I read the email another four or five times to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.

The 2,500 word Epic PostScreen Shot 2014-08-25 at 12.13.47 PM

After realizing that I was really invited to guest post on ProBlogger, it hit me; I had a lot of work in front of me and I wanted this to be something that would stand out and provide incredible value to the readers. I did not want to disappoint Darren or the editor in thinking that they made the wrong decision.

The other important thing was that I had never written a guest post before. So think of that for a second. A guy who has never published a guest post has to write for one of the leading blogs on the topic of blogging.

I was nervous and happy at the exact same moment. It was a weird feeling but in a good way.

It took me roughly three days (a long weekend) to get the post ready.

First day: I researched how to write guest posts (lol), wrote a draft, added all the images, formatted it and made it look pretty.

Second day: I spent time researching ProBlogger for all of the articles that were related to this post and then did a bit more editing and reviewing.

Third day: I called in a favor from a friend to review the post and advise me on any mistakes. Then I reviewed it once more.

The Scare

Stressed businessman at computer

Once I was happy with the final version, on March 3rd, I sent it to the editor for review and then waited…

After waiting a few days and receiving no reply, I was concerned that they hated the post and that it was so bad that they wouldn’t even spend the time to reply back.

You know that feeling that you get after deciding to do something and then once complete everything starts going pear-shaped, and you start asking yourself “Why did you even bother?”. That is exactly what I was going through.

But I pushed through that feeling and decided to continue following up. I knew the whole ProBlogger team was busy with the launch of their membership site so I didn’t want to be too pushy about my post. I followed up every other week through email.

I didn’t hear anything back the entire month of March. Imagine that… Here I was, I had spent three days meticulously crafting this post and I had no idea what was going to happen with it. The uncertainty is tougher than rejection.

Finally, in the first week of April, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I received a reply from the editor.

The Waiting Game

We went back and forth a few times due to some technical issues with the viewing of my draft but, after everything was sorted, I was told to wait for it to get published. Their calendar was quite full and my post would need to be slotted in somewhere.

Everyday, I waited eagerly for the post to be publish with no such luck. After May, I just stopped worrying about it and patiently waited. Lesson learned from the Scare I had received in March.

After a long wait of almost three months, without any knowledge of when the post would go live, it finally popped up at the end of July.

All is Well that ends Well.

Lessons Learned (Action Steps)

This whole guest post experience was an emotional roller-coaster filled with very important lessons along the way. I would love to share my top 5 lessons learned:

Go to live events and meet/network people

Anyone who has gone to an offline event and networked properly can guarantee you that it is one of the best ways to grow your business. In my case, if I had missed that event, I would have never been published on ProBlogger and I would have never written this blog post. You never know what opportunities might come up.

Create Unique content

One of the most important reasons that I think my post was published was that it was unique. The post was nothing like previous posts published on ProBlogger and it also borrowed some credibility from Darren himself.

The other part that was unique was that I had added my own takeaway on each point. It was not just a recap of what happened at the event, it was from the angle of how I saw it. ProBlogger readers found that really useful.

Have Samples

Since I had a similar post already published on my blog, the editor could see my writing style along with an idea of what my guest post would be. This helped me overcome the typical guest post barriers of whether “I am good enough or not” in the eyes of an editor.

So make sure when you are approaching people that you send them your samples along with your email.

Follow Up

Popular blog editors are busy people. It is possible that your guest post might get missed due to their workload. It is your responsibility to remind them about it. Following up is key!

Have Patience

This would be my biggest lesson learned through this whole process.

Things never happen the way we want or at the time we want them to. It took roughly four months to get the post published but, once it got published, it was all worth it.

Never give up and be patient.

Get those guest posts cranking and you never know what opportunities will pop up.

Just keep in mind “Even if all the doors are closed, there is a chance that a window is still open – Jenish Pandya“.

11 Steps to Secure Your WordPress Site and Deter Those Nasty Hackers

** Note from Matt **

Recently, our site was hacked. We were being told by customers and readers that our site was redirecting them to “adult” sites. We were losing sales, we were losing visitors, and we just generally looked bad to any new visitors coming to our site…

We panicked a little and hunted for a solution to this. We couldn’t find any articles or information about this issue. Then, due to the amazing power of Facebook groups, a magician named Chris Moore popped up to save the day.

Chris quickly cleaned up our sites and put some security measures in place to prevent these types of issues from happening again in the future.

Seeing as we couldn’t find a solution to this problem through our own searches, we begged Chris to write an article for our readers on how to solve and prevent this issue.

So, without further ado, here’s Chris’s (insanely in-depth) solution. Make sure you follow along and implement everything he recommends on your site!

** Enter Chris Moore **

Your super awesome, highly targeted, and hyper-clicked ads are running on Facebook and Twitter. Tons of people are visiting your site. All seems to be going well. Except that conversions are kind of low. “Hmmm… My ads don’t normally have this lackluster response, what’s going on?”

And then it gets worse, now you have angry visitors beating down your inbox door with outrageous claims that your links are redirecting them to porn sites! “What? How did this happen? What’s going on? Did I get hacked?”

You fire up your browser, click on your link, and… nothing. It just goes right to your site. So you scratch your head thinking, “Oh well, maybe it was just a coincidence.”

But it wasn’t. Another email or Facebook message comes in, and then another… Now they’re saying it only happens on mobile devices. So you crack out your iPhone and sure enough, straight to porn! “Ah man… I’ve been hacked!”

So how did you get here?

Well, there are a ton of ways: being victim to SQL injections; using weak passwords, which lead to a brute force login; having themes or plugins with vulnerabilities (it even happens to experienced developers!); not updating the WordPress core (especially when security issues are patched); and being the target of a hacker who has your site on their mind (and honestly, there isn’t much you can do there, especially if they are really good).

But more important than knowing the causes and methods, the real question is this: how can you prevent this from happening in the future? That’s what this post hopes to enlighten you on.

The 11 Steps Along the Path to Security Bliss

Here are a series of steps that you should take to protect yourself from a future hacking or malware infestation. Please note that these are not all the steps you can take, but these are very good ones, and will have you headed in the right direction.

You should also take these steps before you contact your host, or a professional, to help you to clean up your sites from a prior hacking. If possible, you should aim to complete these steps in the course of one day. If that simply isn’t possible (due to the number of sites you have), consider hiring some help, or set yourself a schedule by which you can complete these steps as soon as humanly possible.

And of course, if any of these steps feel too daunting or intimidating, or you just want things to be cleaned up and locked down for you, please feel free to get in touch with me here: I would be happy to serve you further!

And with that, on to the 11 steps!

1.) Backup, Backup, and Backup Again

If you don’t already have a backup routine, let’s make sure you have one starting now. Some hosts are kind enough to do daily backups for you (such as SiteGround and a number of other hosts, sometimes depending on which plan you have), but even if they do, you should never rely on just that.

I personally like to have 3 main locations for my backups at all times: my host’s backup (which is already on my server); an Amazon s3 backup; and a DropBox backup. You can of course use any service you want (and there are many, both free and paid), but the bottom line is you need to have multiple backups, in multiple locations. Just trust me on this.

Additionally, you should download any cloud-based backups to your desktop computer at least once every week or two, just in case. Paranoid, you say? Possibly, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. (Remember that paper you wrote back in high school, the night before it was due? You were right about to finish it, and then, at the worst possible moment, the power went out, and you hadn’t saved it yet! Well, that happened to me a few decades ago and from that day forward I was never the same! Let us learn from our mistakes (or mine, in this case)).

(We use BackupBuddy for backups at Learn To Blog)

2.) Clean Up Yo Mess!

You will see a theme throughout this entire post, namely, we should try to keep our sites and servers as lean and clean as possible. Start by getting rid of all unnecessary clutter and stuff just lying around. For this step, I would like you to completely delete and remove any and all WordPress sites (the entire folders!) that you do not actually use or need. Just remove them completely. If you would like to keep them for the future, just go into your cPanel (specifically your host’s Control Panel > File Manger), then ZIP the folder associated with that site, download the ZIP, and then delete the original folder and the ZIP. This will save you from a lot of the work to follow below.

3.) Purge Unneeded Users and Demote Others

Delete all unused administrator level user accounts. This includes anyone with administrator privileges that doesn’t need them anymore: previous developers, former colleagues, etc. Also consider demoting anyone that doesn’t actually need administrator level access. Just go to WordPress > Users > Edit > Role, and then change the user role to either Editor, Author, or even Contributor (you can find out more about WordPress user capabilities and roles by clicking here).

4.) Delete the User with the Username “Admin”

“Admin” is the most common username, and it is also the most commonly attempted username in brute force login attempts. And although it isn’t difficult for someone to find out your username, why give it to them on a silver platter or expose yourself to the more bot-drive, automated attacks?

So, if you have a user with the username “admin”, login with another administrator account and delete that user. When you delete this user, it will ask you to assign all content to another user. Make sure to do so or you will lose all content created by that user! This is a very important step, so please don’t miss it! Again, make sure to assign the content created by that “admin” user to another user, or you will lose everything! Okay? Okay.

5.) Get Rid of Keepsakes

Human beings seem to have a tendency to hold on to things they don’t actually need. Well, with your WordPress site, this can be deadly (especially if you don’t have a backup). In this step, you should proactively delete any and all unused or deactivated plugins or themes on all of your sites. Get rid of the clutter. (Some choose to leave the Twenty Twelve theme as a backup theme, just in case, but that is up to you).

6.) Update, Update, and Update Again

This is probably the number one cause of your site getting hacked: not keeping up to date with WordPress, theme, and plugin updates. Almost every day new vulnerabilities are being discovered in WordPress themes and plugins (mainly plugins). Responsible and engaged developers are quick to patch these issues (sometimes even before the vulnerability is publicly known), and so we should be vigilant to update as soon as a new update arrives. I appreciate that sometimes updates can mess up your site (and I have dealt with this on my own sites at times), but please don’t let that stop you from updating, especially if the update concerns a security issue.

So, in this step, you should update all WordPress installations on your entire server, as well as all themes and plugins, to the latest versions. Yes, do this for every single WordPress site on your server. This step is absolutely essential, and as I said above, it’s probably the cause of most hacking and malware related issues in the first place!

7.) Change All Your WordPress Passwords

If your site was compromised, chances are that the hacker was able to get your password (either by a brute force attack, or after-the-fact, through other means). Regardless, it is a good habit to update your passwords every 3 – 6 months (I know, I know, it’s a hassle, but we want to be safe, right?).

So, in this step, change all the passwords for all of the remaining administrator or editor level users on all of your WordPress sites. Passwords, as a rule, should be “strong”, which means they should be unique, long, and obscure. Resist the urge to use short or duplicate passwords across your sites. Use programs like “1Password” or “LastPass” to manage all your passwords. You will thank me later for that suggestion. 🙂

8.) Limit the Doors of Entry

As you can see, there’s a theme developing here: if you don’t need it, get rid of it! In this step, I’m asking you to delete all FTP user accounts that are not needed. I personally only keep the main one and any accounts that are being used by a developer (which I will delete when the job is done).

However, when you do this, please make sure to keep the FTP content folders for any FTP users that you delete. The system should prompt you to keep the content and folders, so make sure you do so. I repeat, only delete the user itself, and not the content folders, or you will lose your content!

9.) Change Your Remaining FTP, cPanel, and Hosting Passwords

Now that you’ve gotten rid of the unnecessary clutter in your FTP accounts, you should change all the passwords for all the remaining FTP accounts, as well as the passwords for your main hosting account and cPanel. As mentioned above, passwords should always be unique, long, and obscure. Again, “1Password” and “LastPass” are your friends here.

10.) Ensure that File and Folder Permissions are Correct

If your host is worth being hosted with, they will do this for you. I have seen cases (a few, unfortunately), where the host will tell you you have to do this yourself. But since this is a really simple thing to do, I can’t image that a good host would push this task back on you. If that does happen though, even after you call and tell them you can’t figure it out, I would seriously consider changing hosts. But hopefully they will cooperate with you on this.

So, in this step, please call your host (or submit a support ticket) and ask them to verify the permissions for all files and folders on your server. Files should be set to 644 permissions and folders should be set to 755 permissions. This is the WordPress default and standard. You would be surprised how many insecure and crazy permissions I have seen while cleaning up hacked sites. Just double-check and be on the safe side.

11.) Install the Free WordFence Security Plugin

This step is probably one of the most critical in this entire series of steps, and that’s why I’ve saved it for last. WordFence Security is a godsend and a truly wonderful tool. Yes, there are many security plugins out there, and some may actually do more and have a fancier interface, but WordFence is not only free and effective, it is also fairly easy to use. Bottom line is, it gets the job done. Install it now.

Once you’ve installed it, please take the following steps (and this is the whole point of installing WordFence right here):

Go to WordFence > Options and set all your settings like the following screenshots (feel free to customize, but I would select all of the scan settings for sure though):

WordFence Basic Options
WordFence Basic Options
WordFence Alerts
WordFence Alerts
WordFence Scan Settings
WordFence Scan Settings
WordFence Login Security Settings
WordFence Login Security Settings
WordFence "Other" Options
WordFence “Other” Options

Once you have mimicked those settings, go to WordFence > Scan > Start a WordFence Scan.

The scan will take some time, but will yield some very useful information. Once you get the report, you may want to click on “Restore the original version of this file” for any warning that WordFence gives you, or you may just want to delete the plugin/theme in question altogether and reinstall it. It is entirely up to you and depends on your site and setup. Good thing you have backups though, right?

12.) 3 Powerful .htaccess Rules (for Advanced Users)

Yeah, I know, there are only supposed to be 11 steps, but I felt it would be a disservice to not include these powerful .htaccess rules that will further lock down your site from attacks. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, please don’t. Reach out for help from a professional instead. If you do feel comfortable though, then dive on in, because these 3 rules alone will do wonders for your WordPress site’s security.

In the root folder of every WordPress installation you have, you should find an .htaccess file. If you don’t see it, it’s probably because your FTP client or cPanel settings aren’t configured to show “hidden” files. Ask your host about this. Once you find the .htaccess file, open it, and add the following lines to it (at the very bottom or very top should be fine):

# protect wp-config.php file
<files wp-config.php>
order allow,deny
deny from all

Those lines of code will protect your “wp-config.php” file, which is one of the most commonly hacked files that we see in the WordPress world.

# disable directory browsing
Options All -Indexes

That code disables the ability to browse website directories directly, which hackers may use to find exploits to help them get into your system. Can they still find other ways of getting information? Of course they can, but again, why make it easier for them to do so?

# protect from sql injection
Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} (\<|%3C).*script.*(\>|%3E) [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} GLOBALS(=|\[|\%[0-9A-Z]{0,2}) [OR]
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} _REQUEST(=|\[|\%[0-9A-Z]{0,2})
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php [F,L]

This last bit of somewhat complex code helps to prevent database script injections. Every little thing we can do helps.

If any of these three code snippets mess up your site in any way, just simply go back to your .htaccess file and delete the code. Chances are that you put it in the wrong place, or that your theme or plugins don’t want to play along. That’s okay, but definitely give these snippets a try nonetheless!

If any of this is over your head, or if your site was already hacked, please feel free to get in touch with me here: I usually get sites cleaned up within 24 hours of being contacted, and you get some free tips, tricks, and consulting along the way.

Let the Comments Begin!

If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them below. I know that this is a hot topic, and people have tons of opinions on security. Please realize that this post does not mention everything, and does not claim to be the ultimate solution to WordPress security. It is simply a step in the right direction and will help greatly. With that in mind, comment away!