As most of you will know, Yentl is a web developer at Respux. He has had multiple blogs (geldmeyer.com [rip], loft-7.be, respux.be/blog,..) and now we started this Better Travel Together journey together.
How do you start your own (travel) blog? It is actually quite easy to start blogging. The hardest part is maintaining it. In this blog post, we’ll explain to you how to get started and which pitfalls to avoid. This will be a huge post, so don’t forget to bookmark it or save it to your Pinterest 😉
Rather see the video version? Check it at the bottom of this post!
1. Pick a domain name
This seems easy, but bear in mind that this domain name will follow you along the road. A few tips on my (Dutch) blog:
- Make sure your URL is easy to type. A typo is easily made.
- Keep it short and/or readable
We preferred btt.com, but that domain is taken and unused since 1997 🙁
- Use keywords in your URL [travel]
- Localize (only if you’re a local business)
- Don’t use hyphens or numbers (typos!)
- Make your URL easy to remember
(Say it out loud: better travel together dot com)
- Investigate similar URLs (.org, .net, .co.uk,..)
- Use the right extension (for us that’d be .com or .travel)
- Protect your brand. Buy the other domains and redirect them to your main domain.
- Buy them quickly. There are lots of ‘domain resellers’ on the market. They buy domain names and try to sell them for thousands of euros/dollars.
2. Choose a web hosting company
I’ve worked with lots and lots of hosting companies in the past. Some of them are GoDaddy, Versio, Combell, Hostgator, one.com, Siteground, A2, Google Hosting and Bluehost. As of today, I’m still using 3 of the above hosting companies.
Choosing a bad hosting company will lower your page speed and thus lower your rankings in Google. Google hates slow websites. and so do you.
Versio is my cheap hosting provider. I use them to buy domains and redirect these to my main websites (prices starting at €1/domain). Their servers suck, but they give me the option to buy domains cheap.
Combell is my go to hosting company for professional websites in Belgium as they have some of the best servers and services around in Belgium.
Bluehost* is my favourite international hosting company (thus for travel blogs with a broad audience). They are recommended by the company behind WordPress itself ever since 2005. They have a 24/7 service and offer free refunds. My favourite thing about Bluehost is that they work together with Cloudflare CDN. More info later in this post about that (optimize your blog).
Another big plus of Bluehost* is that they have 1-click installs for the most popular blogging platforms. It’s not a plus for me personally, but if you’ve never set up a website it’ll be a huge time saver.
I do recommend Bluehost when you’re just starting out and don’t have an audience yet, it’s easy and cheap. We started this blog on Bluehost ourselves, but as I’m a web developer I love to play around with our own site and after a year I’ve chosen for another hosting option for ourselves. This site is now hosted by Google Cloud Computing, which has great servers but is (way too) hard to set up..
*This link is a referral link. If you click it you’ll get a reduction in your hosting plan (3.95/month, including a free domain name) and Bluehost will reward us for referring them to you.
3. Choose a blogging platform and install it
I’ve tested out many blogging platforms myself. Blogger, Drupal, Squarespace, Wix, WordPress.com, WordPress.org…
The reason why I love self-hosted WordPress.org (not .com!) websites are that they have so many possibilities to customize, and yet are so easy to use for the average Joe.
On one hand, you can customize your layout with themes, on the other hand, you can customize all functionality with plugins. And most important of all: you’re the owner of your own website and thus you’re allowed to put advertisements on your content.
In this post, I’ll be using WordPress.org self-hosted websites as an example, but feel free to ask me anything in the comments below! 🙂
4. Install your website on your hosting
Depending on your hosting this will be easy or hard. If you chose for Bluehost, all you have to do is click install and your website will be up and running within 5 minutes. If you’re using another hosting company, you’ll have to
- download the latest stable WordPress version at wordpress.org/download
- make a SQL database on your hosting platform
- Install WordPress in that database
- Configure your install
PS. the steps above are easier said than done 😉
Make sure you use safe & unique passwords. You don’t want to see your site hacked and/or deleted!
5. Pick a theme
A WordPress theme can make or break your website. The theme is either super customizable or rock solid. A lot of the features will depend on this theme. Don’t be scared to pay some money for a theme, it’ll pay off in the end.
My two favourite themes for WordPress are Enfold and Newspaper. Enfold is my go-to theme for corporate websites due to its flexibility and demo import, Newspaper is my blogging theme because of it’s optimized for blogs.
6. Build a site structure
The most simple setup for your site is:
- a homepage with your blog posts
- individual blog and category posts
- a contact page (don’t miss out on this one if you’re looking for partnerships etc!)
You can get as creative as you want, as long as you have a theme that is easily customizable.
7. Create some content
As long as your website is not the next Facebook or Instagram, people won’t come to your website and scroll around for hours.
Make some great content so your visitors have a reason the click around and read.
Be unique. Don’t copy. Don’t steal.
Of course, you can search for inspiration on other travel sites (like this one 😉 ), but make sure the content is yours. Two reasons:
- Google doesn’t like duplicate content, so they won’t index your page.
- It’s just not nice to steal other people’s intellectual property.
Try to develop your own style. Whether it’s your way of writing or the type of content you provide. Give your visitors a reason to return!
8. Customize your website
Make sure your visitors can easily navigate on your website. If someone wants to contact you, they should be able to do so in 2 seconds. If they want to search for something, make sure there is a search bar on your menu…
In WordPress, you can adjust your menu via Dashboard > Appearance > Menu.
The real power of WordPress lies in the plugins. Do you want social share buttons on your blog posts? Just install a plugin. (We’re using Social Warfare for that.)
Go to Dashboard > Plugins > Install new and you’re able to install thousands of plugins.
Do some research before you install plugins. I don’t recommend you to install plugins you find anywhere on the internet that’s not https://wordpress.org/plugins/ unless you’re certain it’s trustworthy.
Don’t just install plugins for the sake of it. Because plugins will slow down your blog and, again, Google doesn’t like slow sites. You’ll have to find a balance between online marketing, user experience, and site speed.
Some plugins we do recommend you to install:
- Accelerated Mobile Pages for AMP
- Akismet for SPAM
- Contact form 7
- Glue for Yoast and AMP
- Really simple SSL
- Shortpixel for image optimization
- Social Warfare for social share
- WPS hide login for security reasons
- Yoast for SEO
One of the most important settings for your SEO is your URL structure or your ‘permalinks’.
You can edit them via Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks. We recommend you to use /%category%/%postname%/ as seen below. It’s the best option for Google as it’s readable and gives a nice structure to your site.
If you’re editing your site or you are moving your site to a new platform (for example blogger.com > self-hosted WordPress) make sure to make 301 redirects from your old posts to your new posts. Otherwise, you’ll use all of Google’s history for those posts.
Depending on your theme you can hide or show your user details below a post. We’ve chosen not to (by the time you read this we might have changed our thoughts though ;)). Anyways it’s a good idea to edit your user details as you can put a CTA (call to action) in it.
For example, you can show people where to find your social media channels and to subscribe to your YouTube channel.
Dashboard > Users > Your Profile
9. Create even more content
We cannot stress this enough: content is super important.
Without good, unique and relevant content your site is worthless. You can invest 1000’s of dollars into online marketing, but you will never gain any profit. Unless you’re Justin Bieber and have a fanbase of millions of groupies that is.
Fresh content keeps readers coming back and gives Google an alert that you have an updated site. Google will crawl your site more often and show your pages higher in the rankings.
10. (online) marketing
If the content is your engine, online marketing (paid or not) is the gasoline that keeps it going.
Social media accounts
If you’re just starting your online blogging journey, make sure to claim all of your social media channels. Try to get them as identical as possible.
Some of our channels:
- https://www.twitter.com/BTravelTogether/ (only 16 characters allowed 🙁 )
How to make your channels
- Youtube explanation
Probably the most important, but at the same time the most forgotten way of driving traffic to your blog.
I know some bloggers with a 300k email list. That is 300 000 people who have proven to like your content and that are likely to read your content again. All you have to do is send them an email with your fresh content.
We are using MailChimp to automate some emails. If you subscribe to our blog you’ll get an automatic mail on the first day of every month with an overview of every new blog post, published in the last month.
- We don’t forget to send updates, as they’re automatic.
- Your followers get a reminder to read your content and visit your blog.
- They possibly monetize your blog.
- MailChimp is free if you have less than 2000 subscribers 🙂
Link building & commenting on other blogs for traffic
I won’t be going into too much detail about SEO. Of course, your website has to be ‘SEO-proof’. More on that later in this post.
Link building is one of the most important aspects to get a high ranking in Google. You can create awesome content and hope that someone links to it. But it might be a better idea to have a strategy about it. Reach out to other websites and ask them to link to your content.
Then again, make sure you have great content that people are looking for and they will write about it. Create lame content and no one wants to link.
Keep in mind that it’s not only website owners, but also social media shares. They have a bit less power in Google’s eyes, but they’ll help.
So if you like this post, be sure to pin, share or tweet this post 😉
Guest posting is one easiest way to gain links, but it takes time. You’ll have to write quality content for other blogs. In return, you may post a link back to your website.
Forum links are most of the time no-follow links, so they don’t really matter for Google. If you provide valuable comments on a forum, people might take a look at your website to see what else you’ve got to say.
11. Monetize your blog
If you’re a blogger, you want to provide value to your audience. Without asking for anything in return. You can, however, earn a few bucks whilst doing what you love.
You’ve probably seen ads more than you’d like. They’re annoying for the user (as they’ll slow down your site and hide content), but they will earn you some money. If you have a lot of traffic on your website you might consider placing ads on your website.
As a reference: if we place ads on our site we earn €1.5 per 1000 views. If someone clicks on your ads you’ll get some more.
If you’re getting 1 000 000 pageviews per month you’d get around €1500.
Affiliate marketing is one of the more subtle ways of earning some money for your hard work. In the beginning of this post, we’ve mentioned BlueHost to get your hosting. If you click that link you’ll get a reduced price for your hosting and we get some credits too.
If you want to help us you can check out our support page! 🙂
Just as we’ve got sponsored posts (#sp) on Instagram, you can partner up with companies (hotels, hostels, brands or activity companies).
In exchange for an honest review, you’re getting paid, either with goods, a stay or even cash.
12. Optimize your blog
I won’t go too deep into details about SEO. There are 1000’s of good blog posts out there that’ll teach you all of the ins and outs of SEO.
I’ll list some of the most important things to start with.
- Pick an SEO optimised theme. A solid base makes it easier to work with afterwards.
- Install the Yoast SEO plugin. You’ll be able to adjust your metadata etc.
- Start building links to your blog. A good start is to install a social sharing plugin.
If you have any question about SEO let us know in the comments below and Yentl’ll help you out 😉
Normally a website is hosted on 1 server. A CDN (Content Delivery Network) “copies” your website to multiple servers. That way a user is able to connect to the closest server. This way the loading time of your website is lower.
Another plus of a CDN is that they have built-in security.
We’re using CloudFlare, which is an official partner of Bluehost.
See what I did there 😉
Good luck with your blog! If you have any question, let us know in the comments below.
Video version on how to make a travel blog
Video made with Rocketium.com