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Thinking of starting a vape blog? It’s not as easy as you’d think – here’s a bunch of hard-lessons I’ve learned over the years running VapeBeat
Back when I started VapeBeat in 2014, things were very different. The market was in its infancy, there were no real vape blogs around, and the selection of vape products available in the UK (where I live) was pretty limited. You had ego-style vape pens and very rudimentary box mods that were almost too large to use – it wasn’t the good ol’ days basically.
So why did I start a vape blog? Two reasons: 1) I already worked in publishing, so I wanted to start my own site and, hopefully, turn a little side-hustle into a fully-fledged business; and 2) because I could never find any good/useful information about vaping online when I searched for it. I’d been looking for something to do for a while and these two things combined gave birth to the site you’re looking at right now, VapeBeat.
40 Miles of Bad Road…
Starting a new blog is hard. Starting a new blog about vaping is next to impossible, however, because all the things you usually have at your disposal (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Facebook Promotion, Content Syndication) to generate traffic while you wait for Google to index your site are not allowed. Vaping is basically banned everywhere, so you can forget about PPC for bringing traffic to your blog…
I did not know this either when I started, and it properly fudged my plans. By this point, however, I’d already committed to the site, had the development work done, and was on course to launch. I couldn’t pull out basically, so I resigned myself to the fact that this site would have to generate traffic solely from content – and that meant getting shit-hot at SEO, as well as hiring someone who actually was (and good SEOs are not cheap).
On top of this, you will not get any traffic for at least the first few months. Why? It takes about that long for Google to index a new site. Again, this isn’t ideal, but you can get around it by using social media posts to push an initial trickle of traffic over to your content. But even then, it’s going to be just that, a trickle. Getting to the big numbers (100,000 – 500,000 users a month) takes time, a lot of investment, and water-tight SEO. And even if you do all that the entire industry could be wiped out overnight by a single new piece of legislation.
What You’ll Need To Start A Vape Blog (The Tools I Use)
If you read all of the above and you still want to give it a go, I doff my cap to you, sir! It’s a tough road, but it’s one that can be commanded if you use the right tools and have the right work ethic. I started VapeBeat alongside my full-time job as a technology journalist. I’d come home at 6 pm, then blog for several hours before going to bed because I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to do it. And it did this for 12 months straight – remember: this takes work. A lot of work. And there’s not much reward at the beginning.
So what do you need to start your vape blog? Essentially, you need the following things – and these are truly essential, so do not skip them:
- Hosting – Hosting is the #1 most important thing you can invest in from day one. Make your site fast and it’ll rank quicker. This is just a fact. You can use cheap hosting but your site’s traffic, as a result, will suffer. I use Kinsta, it’s the fastest WordPress host on the planet and it will ensure your site loads in under three seconds on any device (a crucial metric that is part of Google’s ranking algorithm). A cheaper option, if you really don’t have the cash to spare right away, would be Bluehost – it’s much cheaper but it isn’t as fast.
- WordPress – You need something to build your blog on. And for that you’ll need to use WordPress; it’s the #1 best CMS on the planet and is used by everyone from The New York Times to us. And if it’s good enough for The New York Times, then it’s good enough for your vaping blog. Avoid Wix like the plague. WordPress is built for the web and is the only thing you should be using. And if you want to build your own pages, Elementor is brilliant for this – you can drag and drop stuff with zero need for code.
- Email Marketing – Remember what I said about Google ads and Facebook? This is why you need to build your email list from DAY ONE. Building your email list lets you build your own audience that Google cannot touch. It’s yours for keeps. And the best email marketing tool on the planet right now is ConvertKit. I’ve used a bunch – MailChimp, MailerLite, Aweber – and nothing comes close to what you can do with ConvertKit. It is the only email marketing software you’ll ever need.
- Optin Form Software – OK, so you have an email marketing suite in the form of ConvertKit, but how do you actually get people onto your email list? Simple: you use pop-ups and banners and inline opt-in forms on your site. And for this, you’ll need OptinMonster – AKA the best lead generation software on the planet. You can use exit-intent pop-ups, inline opt-in forms, and even hello bars, and pretty much everything else in between. OptinMonster will even collect your email leads for you too if you want to start collecting before you have ConvertKit downloaded.
How Do Vape Blogs Make Money?
I don’t know how all vape blogs make money, but I’m guessing it’s a combination of three things: affiliate commissions, ads (either programmatic or direct), and paid-for content. The problem with all three, however, is that you need traffic in large volumes to make them work.
If your blog is doing less than 1000 visits a day, you’re going to struggle to make any money from ads, affiliates, or paid-for content. In order to succeed and grow your brand, you need traffic, and to get the traffic you need great content that ranks well in Google.
Here at VapeBeat, we make the majority of our revenue via affiliate commissions, whereby we make a small fee every time somebody buys something after reading about it in one of our posts. We also run ads, direct and programmatic, and we launched our very own vape juice store in 2019. We DO NOT do paid-for posts or reviews, however, as I don’t agree with them. If we recommend a product it is because we like it, not because someone paid us too.
Again, to make a living running a vape blog, you’ll need to be generating north of 10-20K visitors a month. And even then, that’s the absolute bare minimum. Ideally, to turn a blog into an actual business, you’ll need to be clearing the 100K mark. Get it to over 500,000 visitors a month and you’re looking at some pretty solid revenue per month (easily $10-$20K). But getting to this point isn’t easy – it takes work and A LOT of investment in software, hosting and people to become a dominant brand online.
In fact, the biggest costs I have running this site are people (marketing and SEO) and hosting (around $800 a month). Chuck in all the other additional costs from the tools and services you need to run a successful blog and you’re looking at costs in excess of $2K a month. And that’s if you write your own content. If you can’t do that, add another $1K onto that figure. Bottom line? It is expensive to grow a website. And just doing content is not enough; you need to be thinking about collecting emails, CRO (conversion rate optimization), updating content, producing content, staying on budget, managing people, and keeping track of all your bills and invoices…
Biggest Single Cost of Running A Blog?
Hard to say, as it’ll depend on your skillset. But for me, it’s SEO and development, as I’m not “pro-grade” at either of these things. My SEO is passable, I could get by with it at the start, but to get to the next stage (over 200,000 visitors a month), I had to start investing heavily in technical SEO and that stuff ain’t cheap – you’re looking at $175 an hour for a good, technical SEO.
And SEO isn’t something you can cheap out on. I learned this the hard way. I used an agency for 12 months at a cost of $800 a month and they did exactly ZIP for my site. Eventually, I fired them and found my current SEO provider. Within a month of employing this dude, I had a 40% increase in traffic and visibility in my Google rankings. They also fixed my site’s speed issues and sorted out its structural issues (cos that’s a thing).
Could you do all this by yourself? I guess you could if you’re already an SEO professional. But learning it all from scratch would take years. I’ve been working online as a writer for over 10 years, so I have passable SEO, but the stuff that goes into technical SEO is so far beyond my reach that I still don’t understand half it. There are some really good SEO courses online (this one is awesome for beginners), and they’re well worth it in the beginning. Get yourself a grounding in SEO, take your blog as far as you can with it, then hire someone that REALLY knows what they’re doing to take it to the next level.
My Advice? Recapping All of The Above…
If you want to start a vape blog, there are a few things you can do to give yourself a leg-up, so to speak.
- The first is to make sure you’re good at writing – not just OK, but damn impressive. And for that, you’ll need to practice, read, and maybe take a course or two (this one is very good).
- Next, get good hosting – I use Kinsta, it’s the #1 best WordPress host on the planet. It’s pricey, but beginner packages start from as little as $30 a month. If you want to keep your costs low, use Blue Host – it’s cheaper and you can always swap once your blog starts growing.
- Third, do as much of the work as you can yourself. This will save you money in the short term which you’ll want to do. Trust me, it starts getting expensive the bigger you get, so the more you can save at the beginning the better. Fourth, be prepared to work really f***ing hard – like harder than you ever have before. It takes a solid year or two to grow a blog from zero to slightly more than zero, so be prepared for this.
- Finally, write good content. Stuff that helps people. There are too many affiliate sites on the web as it is – people are now savvy about the type of content that is legit and the sort that is purely designed for affiliate commissions. You need to love and care about what you do. If you do, this will come across in your content and people will respond to that accordingly – whether through sales or signing up to your mailing list.
There really is no magic formula for starting a vape blog; it’s just a lot of hard work, money, investment (both time and money), and trial and error. But, hey, all blogs started at zero, right? Even huge ones like The Huffington Post and Engadget, so just keep the faith, do good content, and try to be different enough to stand out from the crowd!