Updated on April 2017 to reflect changes in the blogging industry.
I often get asked how I started my blog and got it to the point where it is today. The truth is that anyone can start a blog, and this statement comes from the guy who started a blog without even fully understanding what a blog is. I, of course, made a lot of mistakes on the way (which of course, helped me learn even more), but today I can help you fast-track the learning process so you can start your travel blog like a pro.
These tips are not only to help you create an excellent blog, whether it is a travel blog or any other type of blog, but also to make it easier and faster for you to rank in Google.
1. Select a specific niche
Travel is already a niche, but in today’s blogging world, just blogging about travel might get you nowhere. You need to stand out, and it is easier to stand out if you write about something that you are passionate about. You have to identify yourself with something more specific, like backpacking, luxury travel, foodie, movie locations, volunteering experiences, etc.
A few good samples to look are:
- AdventurousKate – Kate focuses on female solo travel.
- The Great Affair – Candace shares stories and watercolor sketches she paints during her trips.
- Legal Nomads – Jodi tells stories through food.
2. Create your blog’s name and buy a proper .com domain
Believe or not, getting a good domain name is really important. If possible, it should be short, catchy, and memorable. Also, it should stand the test of time. What I mean by that is that if you start a blog with an URL that goes like TimsEuroTrip.com, once you start blogging about Asia, your name won’t make any sense. Or, 22YearOldTraveler.com; you won’t be 22 forever, right?
You can be creative too by inventing your own terms, like for example, GloboTreks. Being creative is good, but sometimes it can make it harder for people to catch or remember the name properly.
For example, every time I meet people on the road and tell them my blog’s name or URL, they all go, “globaltreks.com, got it!” Then I have to either correct them by spelling the URL or giving them a business card. I love my URL since it is my brand, so I don’t mind.
How to find a good domain?
I use GoDaddy to buy all my domain names, but any domain seller will do fine. A few recommendations on selecting domains:
- Don’t have hyphens in the domain (i.e., site-domain.com) as it makes it harder for people to remember.
- Preferably buy a .com domain. That’s what people remember, and it gives more search engine value to your site. Buy a .net if you have no choice. Forget about the rest… .org, .co, .info…
- Make sure no one else has something similar to yours.
- If you’re looking to become a “professional” blogger, in the long run, I’d avoid using words like “nomad,” “vagabond,” and similar, as they have been overused in the industry and will not help set you apart or make you memorable when sharing your URL.
- Your name should reflect your niche, if possible. If you’re in the budget travel niche, then pick words that reflect that, which will be different than if you were in the luxury travel niche.
- As mentioned before, keep it short. Three or four words at most. Make it easy for people to remember, and type.
3. Buy a hosting plan
While it doesn’t matter where you buy your domain name, when it comes to hosting servers it does have a significant impact on your site’s performance. Your hosting service will affect your site’s speed and overall capacity, so you need to look for a reputable hosting company with a reliable service. Trust me; you don’t want to have a mediocre host to save a few dollars a month. Not worth it.
In case you don’t understand what hosting is, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Look at it this way; hosting is like buying a piece of land of the internet, and the domain is the address to your site/house. The house is the blog you’ll build. Trust me; it is not scary.
I recommend BlueHost since they have excellent service, are extremely reliable, cheap, and most importantly, fast! I totally recommend them.
When you go to BlueHost, hit the big Get Started Now button, and it will take you to a page that looks like the one below. Just enter the domain name you bought under “I have a domain name.”
If you don’t have a domain yet, that’s fine as BlueHost gives you a free domain when you open an account with them. Write a new domain name under “new domain” to see if it is available. That new domain will be free for the first year only.
Note: I prefer having my domain at GoDaddy.com, even if my hosting is with BlueHost, for flexibility and pricing reasons, but it doesn’t matter where you get your domain when you’re starting.
Then, you will enter your personal and payment information. You will also select a hosting plan. I recommend starting with the “basic” plan and choosing the 12 months price since it is not expensive and it would give you enough time to play around and see if travel blogging is really for you.
In addition to the account plan, BlueHost will recommend some add-ons (through those checkboxes). Do not pick any! You don’t need them now.
A cheaper alternative to BlueHost? I know some people are not in the position to invest a full year of hosting right at the beginning. Instead, I can recommend getting HostGator and start with its “Hatchling” plan. I used HostGator for years, and they were excellent for my site until I had to upgrade to a more comprehensive plan.
HostGator offers a “pay on a monthly basis” plan, which is what I got with them when I started. While it is less money to pay upfront than getting BlueHost, in the long run, the overall yearly cost will be more expensive since they give you bigger discounts the longer your contract is. Hostgator also offer the free first domain with your hosting plan.
By the way, BlueHost and HostGator are part of the same company, so their customer support service and quality are about the same. I recommend both, from experience!
4. Change domain nameservers if the hosting and domain are not from the same company.
Note: If you got your domain on GoDaddy and your host is HostGator or BlueHost, you must go through this point. If both domain and host are from the same company, you can skip this point.
This is very easy to do. Nameservers tell the domain where it will be hosted. It is like matching a home address (domain) with an empty lot (server) where you will build a house (site).
Your hosting server will have two nameservers (i.e., ns2187.bluehost.com), which you will find in your server’s control panel. Copy those, and replace the ones your domain seller appointed initially.
In the image below, I show where you can replace them in GoDaddy. Once you click on your domain, you’ll have the option to manage the nameservers. Just click it and replace.
5. Secure Your Social Media Handles
Get your unique screennames or handles on the most important social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Pinterest. Try keeping the same “handle” on all platforms for ease (except Google+ which uses your name).
Now we are ready to bring the site to life!!
6. Install WordPress
WordPress overall the most popular and best blogging platform to use these days. It is great for SEO (search engine optimization), so using it will help you considerably.
BlueHost and HostGator have an easy “one click” WordPress install buttons. In your control panel, you’ll see a “WordPress” button or “One-Click Install.” You just hit that and follow the installation steps.
Don’t worry; it is easy. But in case you find this confusing, you can see the video below that explains the WordPress installation with Bluehost.
7. Install a Theme
What is a theme? A theme is what gives your site its “pretty look.” Each blog you visit has a theme, and each theme is different and customizable to a degree. What theme you select will depend on how you approach your site and what will you do with it as not all themes work as well for all kinds of sites.
I’ve used a few free and paid themes on my site, but currently, I’m using Genesis from StudioPress, with the Dynamik Website Builder child theme. I recommend this combination to anyone who wants a really flexible theme to customize their site’s design to the smallest detail, while still having a fast site.
Both of these are premium themes, so you have to pay for them. If you don’t want to invest in theme at the beginning, you can select a free theme from StudioPress, Woothemes, or even WordPress. Of the three mentioned previously, I’d probably pick StudioPress as they are more SEO oriented (I’ll get into that soon) while still giving you a pretty site. After a year or so, if you want to have a more flexible design and be more serious about your blog, you can move into a paid theme. But, whatever theme you choose, try choosing one that is responsive, meaning that it is mobile friendly.
To install your theme, go to the left-hand column in WordPress and click Appearance > Themes > Add New > Upload. The theme you picked will come as a .zip file, which is the file you’ll upload here. If you’re choosing a free theme from the WordPress theme directory, then your theme file will be uploaded automatically from their server. After it is uploaded to your site, hit the “Activate” button to display it on your site. From this point on, you can customize the theme as you wish (colors, logo, spacing, typography), depending on the customization flexibility given by the theme developer.
8. Install the following plugins (they are all free)
Search for these plugins in the plugins section of the admin side of your site. Plugins > Add New.
- Yoast SEO – This is one of the best, if not the best, SEO plugins out there. (SEO is Search Engine Optimization, which is essential for Google to “like” and show your site on the first page when someone searches for anything related to your site). It combines various plugins that take care of your permalinks, sitemaps, indexation, robots meta, RSS, internal links, and more. This plugin is crucial since it will help structure your site in a way that makes it easy for Google to crawl and properly index your site, and it helps you create a keyword rich Home Title and Description, among other things. Since this is an extensive plugin, check out this post on what it does and how to set it up.
- Akismet – This will reduce the Spam comments in your blog. This plugin comes installed with WordPress, so all you need do is activate it and sign up for an account at akismet.com.
- Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights – This plugin helps you connect your site to your Google Analytics account (the industry standard for traffic tracking and analytics) so that you can see all of the traffic and keyword data right on your WordPress Admin panel. (You need to first setup a Google Analytics account)
- W3 Total Cache – Google likes fast sites, and this plugin will help you achieve that (if properly configured). I admit it is somewhat difficult to setup, and it can even screw up your site if done wrong, but it’s good to install it. Check this excellent post on how to configure it correctly.
- WP-DBManager – Good to keep a backup of your site.
- Conditional CAPTCHA for WordPress – Akismet is good at fighting Spam, yet a lot of them squeeze through. This plugin puts a CAPTCHA only to comments that look like spam, thus not bothering your real commenters. (you need Akismet for this plugin to work)
- WPForms Lite – If your plugin doesn’t come with a “contact me” page, then I recommend installing this plugin. It allows you to install a simple contact form so people can email you through your site.
- SumoMe — Displays social media icons on a floating sidebar, making it easy for people to share your posts.
- Jetpack — This plugin, which also comes installed with your WordPress, supercharges your site with a lot of cool functionalities like contact forms (as an alternative to the one mentioned above), related posts, spell-checker, and more. But, be careful with this plugin. While its functionalities are excellent, if you use too many of them, they will slow down your site. Select only the necessary.
- Subscribe to Comments Reloaded – Notifies commenters when they have a new reply to their comment. (It’s a courtesy thing.)
HELP PUT YOUR SITE UNDER GOOGLE’S EYES
9. Register with Google Analytics (put code in Google Analytics for WordPress plugin)
Setup a Google Analytics account to track your visitors, where your traffic is coming from, with which keywords, what do they see, how long they stay on your site, what do they click, and more.
A thorough study of your analytics will help you target your users with the correct content and will also tell you what works and what not for your site.
10. Register the site at DMOZ
Dmoz is the internet’s largest directory system and is maintained by human editors. Being listed in Dmoz can give your site a boost to rank well in Google because Google uses Dmoz results in its directory. Submit your site just once; it might take months or years for them to list you (not kidding). Do it once and forget it. If they don’t list you, don’t worry.
11. Register the site with Google, Yahoo, and Bing Webmasters
Register your site with the two main search engines webmaster area to improve your site’s visibility. It will help them recognize your site faster and will tell them to crawl it. Put each search engine code in your WordPress SEO plugin.
CONTENT CREATION AND FURTHER STEPS
12. Start a mailing list/newsletter
You might think that this is not essential, but look closely, and you’ll see that all professional bloggers do have a mailing list/newsletter. It helps deliver the content you won’t necessarily want to put on your blog but believe is valuable for your followers and it is also a way to keep in touch with them and keep them updated in a slightly more personal way. I use MailChimp, which is free for a list up to 2000 emails, but they also have a paid version with more tools and options.
13. Create the basic content pages and posts
Once your site is setup, you should create some basic informational pages like:
- About Page – Where people will get to know a bit about you and the blog.
- Contact Page – Where readers will be able to reach you via email.
- Sitemap Page – Lists all the pages and posts on your blog for easy crawling and indexing from Google. Yoast SEO plugin takes care of this.
- Homepage – If you don’t want your homepage to show your latest posts, then you must create a static homepage that displays whatever information you put on it. This page is not necessary if you want your latest posts to be on your homepage (the way most themes are setup).
You can create more pages based on your site’s need. To create a page, go to your WordPress dashboard and hit Pages > Add New.
Blog posts are different from pages. A page is considered static content that doesn’t get pushed on your RSS feed, while a blog post is a content that gets displayed on the top of your RSS feed or the top of your homepage and it slowly gets displaced and “buried” by newer content as you publish it. For example, this is a blog post that once got displayed on the top of the blog’s homepage, and now it is buried a few pages deep in the blog’s posts list.
To create a post, go to your WordPress dashboard and hit Posts > Add New.
14. Monetize it!
When it comes to monetizing your blog and making a living out of it, I highly recommend Travel Blog Success. While this is more relevant for travel blogs, the content offered does apply to any blog. I took this course, and even though I took it after blogging and monetizing my site for a while, I still learned a lot from it.
It goes into detail about monetization techniques and helps you understand some industry standards according to your blog’s presence. Several prominent travel bloggers are members of its “closed” Facebook community, which in my opinion, is the biggest value you get from the course since everyone there helps each other with tips and suggestions on running a blog professionally or anything else related to it.
From here on, my recommendation is to keep a constant writing pace and to blog at least once or twice a week. Also, network regularly and get to know other travel bloggers in your niche and outside of it through social media platforms (Facebook groups and Twitter are excellent for this).
The last thing I have to say is to have a lot of patience and not to give up. Getting traffic, spreading your name and brand, and monetizing the blog takes time and a lot of effort, but it is worth it if you work hard for it.
Ready to start your blog?!
If you have any doubts, share it in the comments and I’ll be happy to help!