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 own travel blog like a pro.
These tips are not only to help you create a good 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. 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 find a good domain?
I use GoDaddy to buy all my domain names, but any domain seller will do fine. A few recommendations:
- Don’t have hyphens in the domain (ie. 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.
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 great impact in 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 parcel 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 great 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. Simply enter the domain name you bought under “I have a domain name”. If you don’t have a domain, enter a new domain name under “new domain” to see if it is available. That new domain will be free for the first year.
Then, you will enter your personal and payment information. In addition, you will select a hosting plan. I recommend to start with 12 months since it is not expensive and it would give you enough time to play around and see if travel blogging is really for you.
I recommend having the check boxes as shown in the image below, only the SiteLock Domain Security checked. It helps keep your private information used for the hosting purchase away from people who would try to search for it (WhoIs). The others you don’t need at the beginning or can achieve through different means.
4. Change domain nameservers if the hosting and domain are not from the same company.
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 (ie. ns2187.bluehost.com), which you will find in your server’s control panel. Copy those, and replace the ones your domain seller appointed originally. 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 exact 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 with SEO (search engine optimization), so using it will help you considerably.
BlueHost has an easy “one click” WordPress install buttons. In your control panel, you’ll see a “WordPress” button. 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 Theme
What theme you select will depend on how you approach your site and what will you do with it.
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 if you don’t want to invest in them at the beginning, you can select a free theme from StudioPress, Woothemes, or even WordPress (which are often limited) and slowly move into a paid theme when you want to get more serious about it. But, whatever theme you choose, try choosing one that is responsive, meaning that it is mobile friendly.
8. Install the following plugins (they are all free)
Search for these plugins in the plugins section of the admin side of your site.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast – This is one of the best, if not the best, SEO plugins out there. It combines various plugins that take care of your permalinks, sitemaps, indexation, robots meta, rss, internal links, and more. This plugin is very important 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 or niche site.
- Google Analyticator – This plugin helps you connect your site to your Google Analytics account (the industry standard on 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 post on how to configure it.
- 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 as spam, thus not bothering your real commenters. (you need Akismet for this plugin to work)
- Contact Form 7 – Allows you to install a simple contact form so people can email you through your site.
- Digg Digg — Displays social media icons on a floating sidebar, making it easy for people to share your posts.
- Zemanta – places related posts at the bottom of the current post being read.
- Comment Reply Notification – Notifies commenters when they have a new reply to their comment. (It’s a courtesy thing.)
- FD Feedburner Plugin — Manages your feed, your stream of new content.
HELP PUT YOUR SITE UNDER GOOGLE’S EYES
9. Register with Google Analytics (put code in Google Analyticator)
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 in your site, what do they click, and more.
A good 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 own directory. Submit you 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 three 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 an emailing 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 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, but they also have a paid version with more tools and options.
13. Create the basic content pages
You should create a few pages that will help visitors know who you are (About page), get in touch with you (Contact page), and navigate the site (Sitemap or blog post page or homepage).
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 type of blog. I also took this course, and even though I took it after blogging and monetizing my site for a while, I still learned a lot from the course. It goes into detail about monetization techniques and helps you understand some industry standards according to your blogs presence. Several big travel bloggers are members of its “closed” community and help 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 twice a week. Also, network constantly and get to know other travel bloggers in your niche and outside 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 to not 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.