So you’ve decided you want to start a blog! YAASSS! As you know we have a travel blog and it quickly became a huge part of our lives and continues to be something we focus on constantly. It becomes a bit of an obsession TBH.
It’s pretty easy to start a blog. And it can also be a lot of fun, whether you are just creating one to share your experiences with your friends and family back home (which was originally why we started ours) or you want to turn it into a business. And yes…travel blogging or any blogging CAN BE a very viable business. Some people might try and tell you otherwise and say it’s a waste of time. But if it’s truly something you want to do and have a passion for…
Don’t let other people’s opinions stop you from doing something you love. The hard part is making it super successful, this is something you’ll probably always search and reach for. So don’t think there is a magical moment after you start a blog where you’ll feel you’ve ‘made it.’
There are plenty of posts out there on the web that tell you how to start a blog, how is our different? We try and highlight throughout some of the tips we used when growing ours. Along with some of the roadblocks, we hit when we decided to start a blog. Going back and changing some of these things can be a pain in the butt and takes a lot of time. Better to do it right the first time! So throughout our guide, we will highlight some of the things we wish we knew from the beginning. Everything from themes to plugins and whatever might be in between. Basically, things you want to start a blog with right off the bat.
Before you even begin thinking about how to start a blog we recommend taking a look at our post on 10 things no one tells you before you start a blog. It really goes into some of the stuff we honestly had NO IDEA about when we first decided to start a blog. Because let’s face it, articles (even ours potentially) about how to start a blog make it look so damn simple. But there is SO much more going on behind the scenes. So let’s dive into how to start a blog.
1) Find Your Niche
Are you thinking…well my niche is simple, it’s DIY or mommy blogging or if you’re like us, it’s travel. While yes that’s true, what KIND of travel is it (or DIY or whatever). You want to attract an audience that has similar interests to you right from the start. Someone who loves sitting on the beach and doing nothing their entire vacation isn’t going to be interested in where the best places to snorkel in Fiji are. The person who likes to travel in luxury isn’t going to care about the Ultimate Guide To Staying In A Hostel. And people who don’t care about adventure and the outdoors sure won’t care about Easy Hiking Trails In Banff National Park. You get the idea.
Pick something more specific so your audience will be interested in what you have to say long-term.
We focus on Adventure Travel on a middle-class budget because we love finding new places to explore and experience. But we also don’t live that traditional ‘backpacker‘ lifestyle sleeping in 20 person dorms and can’t afford the exceptional luxury. Sometimes we pick hotels and that’s okay but they are always reasonably priced! Find something you can become an expert in. If you’re talking about luxury travel one week and backpacker travel the next, you are likely to lose your audiences attention…and quick.
Here are some examples of great blogs with really good niches:
Adventurous Kate: Kate focuses on Solo Female Travel http://www.adventurouskate.com/
Goats on the Road: Nick and Dariece focus on staying financially stable while traveling https://www.goatsontheroad.com/
Hektic Travels: Dalene and Pete revolve their blog around housesitting your way through the world http://www.hecktictravels.com/
Traveling Canucks: Cam and Nicole blog about traveling with a family https://travelingcanucks.com/
When you start a blog it might take a little while to truly feel like you’ll find your niche. That’s okay, take your time with it. If you’re still finding your niche just make sure what you are posting to your audience is still creative and interesting so they are engaged. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what you yourself would want to get out of a blog.
2) Come up with a unique and memorable blog and domain name
This is arguably one of the most fun and difficult parts when you start a blog. You want to come up with something that is both creative and memorable, yet different and unique. You also want something that isn’t already a registered domain name.
What is a domain name?
It’s essentially the address of your site. For example, ours is toquesandboots.com and will stay that way provided that we continue to pay our domain registration fees. Yes, there are fees! No, they are not overly expensive and typically are paid through your hosting (which we will go into more detail in our next point).
If you’re taking your blog very seriously from the moment you start a blog we would recommend just paying for a domain and hosting right away. But if you’re looking at it for more of a hobby than anything else there are a few free platforms you can use like; WordPress.com, Tumblr, and Blogger.
However, these free platforms do come with a few disadvantages in the world of blogging.
- Search engines don’t usually favour these types of blogs. So your hard work on that recent post might not be as visible on Google, Bing, Yahoo or whatever other search engines as you want it to be. Blogs with set domains are more likely to have an easier time ranking in search engines.
- Monetizing your site won’t happen. You aren’t allowed to have any ads on your site when using a free blogging site, but these hosts can place ads on your blog. Which means you could lose out on potential income.
- You are limited. There are very few themes, plugins and whatever else you may want to use to create your site. These plugins and theme will help to optimize your blog and make it look exactly the way you want it to. Without them creating a unique site may be more difficult.
- Your blogging platform can delete your site and content if they ever think it violates any of their terms and conditions. Which means you can kiss all your hard work goodbye!
- You may not be seen as professional. Even if your content is out of this world, brands and potential advertisers don’t also see free platform bloggers as 100% professional. Which means you could again lose out on potential income or future projects.
- Your blog URL is a lot longer and harder for an audience to remember. Free platforms will always show a URL somewhat like this: ‘yourtravelblogname.theircompanyname.com. While your own registered domain would simply be yourtravelblog.com – which one is easier for the audience?
- When you start a blog on these sites, you never have full ownership of your blog. You are essentially a part owner of your site. All of your photography, information, and articles will partly be owned by the free platform you chose. Which gives them part control of your creative content. That’s a pretty scary thought!
You can definitely start a blog on a free platform and switch to a self-hosting domain later, but it can be quite a hassle.
So if you are thinking you want to start a blog for some long-term goals, go with self-hosting right off the bat. There are just so many more benefits for a self-hosted blog! But you still need a name, here are some tips for coming up with one:
Create something that is memorable
You want people to remember your blog. You’re going to have a rough time gaining an audience when you start a blog if your name isn’t memorable or easy to spell/say.
Things to take into consideration:
- What it potentially looks like in a URL. Numbers, hyphens and any other weird characters you can somehow fit into a URL are not going to be user-friendly. Making it difficult for your blog’s name to spread like wildfire.
- Make it easy to spell and pick words people know. We can be the first to admit that it is was difficult to start a blog with a unique word like ‘Toque’ in our name. Not very many people can spell it regardless of even how many people in Canada say it every day. So it (at the beginning) made it difficult for people to find our site because of that one word! It got better over time through SEO and Pinterest though.
- Write it in one sentence without spaces to see what it looks like together. There would be nothing worse than combing two words to find out they accidentally spell something unwanted. But…at least that’s memorable? Sort of…
- Circle your name around your niche. When you start a blog you have to identify your niche. In our case, that’s a travel blog, so you want your name to reflect your blog’s about travel. However try and be clever about it and avoid some of the most commonly used words like ‘vagabond,’ ‘adventurous’ and ‘wanderlust.’ They’ve been used plenty and aren’t going to make you stand out from the crowd. If anything it would potentially help other bloggers. It could also affect your SEO (search engine optimization) rankings drastically!
- Make sure your name is timeless. If you pick something with ‘backpacker’ or ‘luxury’ in the name you are going to pigeonhole yourself into that niche when you start a blog. But in the future, if you want to switch from backpacking to luxury you may lose a significant amount of your audience. Be careful about including countries in your name too as people may assume your blog is only about that one destination…unless it is, then go ahead!
- Make it something you are proud of and love! This is going to become your baby and a potentially a huge part of your life. So, create a name that you are proud to tell others about.
Check if it’s available.
Once you’ve come up with something (this could take you a while, we know it did for us) you’re going to want to make sure it’s available! Both for a domain name on the web and within social networks. There are a few ways to do this:
- Straight up Google it. You can either just type it directly into the URL with a .com on the end of putting it in the Google search bar in quotations. Then just see what comes up!
- Go to SiteGround’s Domain Name Services (don’t worry you aren’t registering or paying for anything yet) and type in the name to begin setting up a site. SiteGround will tell you if the name is available.
- Go to KnowEm and search for the name. This will tell you which social sites your name is available on.
3) Buying Your Domain and Self-Hosting Your Site
Once you’ve found a great name….it’s time to buy your domain and start hosting your site! Hosting services are services that give you a home on the internet and reserves your spot. It holds all of your blogs data, posts, photos, you name it! So when someone goes looking for it your hosting service quickly delivers that information.
Where can you find hosting? Well, that’s pretty easy because there are plenty of hosting services out there. Bluehost is one of the most popular ones, but we honestly do NOT recommend going with them. We were hosted with them for over two years and have experienced from pretty terrible customer service and had a lot of issues talking with them when we finally did switch to another service. They continued to bill us after we had canceled with them! So we switched to SiteGround and THANK GOODNESS we did. It’s been nothing but smooth sailing.
Here some reasons why we (already) love them:
- Quality hosting at a very affordable and reasonable price. We haven’t experienced any outages with them (which is amazing) and they have some great security protocols with great loading times for websites. Their prices are amazing too and can be as low as $3.95 per month! We bought two years at a time at that price and saved a TON of money. Not to mention we don’t need to worry about hosting now for TWO YEARS! You can go month to month but the pricing is more so we would recommend buying in bulk.
- Extremely user-friendly AND great for beginners. Everything is laid out for you so there really is no question as to where things are. There is also a large resource of information that can help newbies (and sometimes vets) and answer any questions.
- If you can’t find what you’re looking for..their customer service is out of this world! You can ask them whatever you want, we have even asked them questions unrelated to hosting and they’ve been answered! They have a quick and easy to use Live Chat feature that is open 24/7 so if you’re doing some late night blogging and get stuck, they’ve got your back! We have never waited more than ten minutes to talk to someone, which is a huge improvement from BlueHost.
You can find our 4 steps to starting a site with SiteGround here. It’s super easy and there are four different plans available.
4) Install and Set-Up WordPress
Are you thinking, “Wait I thought we were self-hosting and not using a free platform?” We are! There is a WordPress.org and a WordPress.com. One is for self-hosting (.org) the other a free platform (.com). Obviously, we want to start a blog that is self-hosted using .org. WordPress is going to be your CMS. Content Management System.
There are two ways to install WordPress from their website and from SiteGround. You can check out our post on setting up a site with SiteGround here and it details how to set-up WordPress at the bottom of it. WordPress is one of the easiest tools to use when you start a blog. It doesn’t take a long time to get accustomed to the platform. Some huge sites like CNN and the New York Times use it! It features one single sidebar with all of your options for plugins, posts, pages, appearance, absolutely everything. You can also create separate accounts for individuals with various access to certain things on the site if you want to have more than one author on your blog.
Great for potentially opening up space for guest bloggers!
After you have set up WordPress and have a little base, we recommend immediately going to your Siteground Cpanel and installing the SSL certificate. This gives you a secure site. Doing this right off the bat is better than waiting because if you wait it could cause a lot of redirects and unnecessary headaches. Siteground has a guide on how to do this here.
5) Choose a Theme, Customize Your Website, and Add Plugins
This is where the majority of the fun (and sometimes frustration) comes in! Themes and plugins are tools that give you a customized look and feel for your site but also help with some of the back-end stuff. Basically, they are the foundation of a functional and beautiful website.
Where can you get them from?
After you install WordPress there is a bit of a shortcut. Just go through your left-hand menu and click Appearance – Themes – Add New. This will pull up an extensive list of themes you can test to see if you like and download if you do. These themes are typically free.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a bit more in-depth and perhaps not so free, we recommend places like ThemeForest and ElegantThemes. These are two of the more popular places to get themes. If you do get a theme from a third party you will be sent a link to download the .zip file which can then be uploaded in the Appearance – Themes area.
You’re going to want a logo at some point. It’s a representation of you and your blog, but it’s also going to help your readers recognize your blog. We had a friend design ours so we sort of got lucky there. But perhaps you aren’t that lucky, you can make your own logo at Logo Design. It’s a website that allows you to create your own style logo in just a couple minutes, there are free options but you’ll most likely have to pay for it (not much, however). You could even check in blogging Facebook groups if there are people willing to make logos for a low price! Blogging communities are the best.
Do you need plugins? Yes, you do! Why?
Because not only do they help you customize your site, but they help your site run efficiently and smoothly for you and your readers. Here are a few free WordPress plugins we highly recommend you add to your blog. You can do this by clicking Plugins – Add New on your navigation dashboard. Once you get there you can either load a .zip file or type in the plugin name, find it and click install.
- Jetpack – This plugin is packed full of features like related posts, automatic social sharing, and site stats.
- Akismet – protects your website from spam comments
- WordPress SEO by Yoast – helps you optimize your site for Google. This helps readers organically find your blog when their search something in the engine. There are plenty of tutorials on their website that help you make the most of SEO.
- Google Analytics – You really should set this up from the get-go! Google Analytics is a great tool that helps you measure and analyze any traffic that comes to your blog. Future advertisers could also want to see your site stats before they work with you, you’ll want to have a full record of those. Register through Google first here, then install the plugin to integrate tracking to your website.
TIP: The more plugins you have, the more likely it will slow down your website. Be very selective!
Siteground has a plugin that helps speed up your load time called ‘SuperCacher.’ You have to first turn on ‘Static Cache’ (you can find instructions for that here). After you complete those steps you can enable ‘Dynamic Cache’ (steps found here) and then you’re good to go!
6) Create The Basic’s And Start An E-mail List
What do we mean by must-have pages? Well, there are a few pages you’ve probably noticed every blog usually has and for very good reason.
These pages are completely separate from your basic blog section, which is a collection of your posts. You’ll want pages like:
- About – Introduce yourself to your audience. Make it engaging and honest so your audience can get to know you and relate to you. That way they will actually want to follow you.
- Contact – Perhaps show your e-mail address and social media channels on this page. If you have a place people can send mail you could certainly add that as well. It’s not a bad idea to use a contact form either, we use Ninja Forms. It’s easy to use and we have never had a problem with it.
- Disclaimer – You’re going to want to protect yourself from any liabilities. This lays out all of that legal stuff you should go over with your audience. You can find ours here or another example is from Adventurous Kate.
- Others – There are other pages you may want to consider adding to your blog. Pages like categories of old articles, FAQ, a ‘destinations’ page, and in the future a press page to show your stats to future potential clients.
Sidebars & Footers
Your sidebar is usually placed along the edge of your blog posts and even pages if you want. You can add whatever you want in your sidebar that you think suits your blog and your audience. This area can be accessed by going into your Widgets section via Appearance on the WordPress left-hand menu. Appearance – Widgets. But here are some things we recommend you have:
- About – Don’t make this too long, a brief little paragraph is all you need. You should include a photo too so your audience places a face to your blog. Then link this area to your about page.
- Newsletter – We are going to touch more on this in a second. But you’re going to want to have something in your sidebar that is obvious and allows people to subscribe to your updates. We recommend Mailerlite. We’ll talk more about the plugins below.
- Social Media Links – This is super important! You want to promote your social accounts. These help you increase your audience on all your channels. You can have a variety of different looks and feels. We use the Easy Social Share Buttons plugin.
- Popular Posts – This helps increase the likelihood visitors will check out other articles. Use this plugin for that.
Like we mentioned you’re going to want to have a mailing list. Try to start this from the beginning so you can begin capturing e-mails from the get-go. We personally use Mailerlite (you can sign up for ours on our blog sidebar!) and have tried others in the past. Ultimately we found Mailerlite a bit easier to use and design. You can start with a free account and as it builds eventually you’ll have to opt into a paid service. But they’re pretty reasonably priced. Try and pick one you’re going to want to stick to for a while if not ever. Because changing it and switching your e-mails over could be a pain.
So why is this important?
Well, you want to keep your engaged audience in the loop. It’s also technically another sharing platform so your audience could have the option to send it to their friends, which increases your audience. Plus, it helps for when you decide to do contests or promote specific products. How? You can track when your e-mail is opened, the clicks, and conversions.
Set Up Your Social Media Accounts
Social media is probably one of the single most important aspects of starting a blog. Why? Because this is going to be a huge platform for growth for your blog. It’s a place for you to promote your material and grow your audience. Your blog will eventually grow on its own with good SEO practice and stuff like that but that would take AGES. Social platforms are a lot faster and well worth your time. Alternatively, it shows your audience that you are active in the community and active with them.
Ideally, you want all of your social handles to match your blog name. That helps with brand recognition and makes it easier for your audience to find you on all channels. Register your name on all the name channels like Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube (if you decide to do video), Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
7) Start Creating Your Best Content
Now the super fun step…CREATING CONTENT! This is obviously the meat of your blog and the reason realistically that you started this journey, so you could write engaging and original stuff!
- First Post – This is a great chance for you to write about who you are, where you live, what you blog is about, and maybe even how you got to where you are. It’s also a perfect for telling your audience where you are in your journey and perhaps where you hope to end up. This starts that relationship you want with your audience and brings them right into your journey with you.
- Future Posts – Now it’s time for you to post about current trips and tips or even future trips, inspirational posts, maybe even photo journals, and so so much more. All of these things depend on you and where you want to take your audience. But make them TRULY YOU. Write about things you love within your niche, this will feel a lot more authentic to your audience than just writing a bunch of stuff you don’t care about.
- Post Regularly – You want to start posting quite regularly at the beginning to build that audience and your voice. It also helps your Google rankings by telling their systems that you exist, write posts regularly, and have up to date content. Google loves blogs that are constantly updating information. How often you post at the beginning is honestly up to you, but we wouldn’t recommend any less than two times per week at the beginning just to get a plethora of content. These old posts will also most likely become the most viewed because they will be on the internet the longest. You can always go back and update them too, which either way we recommend. Eventually, when your blog grows you can choose to post once a week or more or less, it’s up to you!
- Quality Over Quantity – You can write a thousand posts, but if they all suck and have no meaning to your audience you aren’t going to get traffic. The more you write, read and research the better your posts will become. We look back at some of our old posts now and are mind blown at how much improvement they require. We don’t want to say they’re bad because old posts aren’t (and we think that’s a sour way to look at your old writing). They just need some refreshing and that’s totally okay. How can you improve your writing a bit faster?
- Get Someone To Read Your Content Before You Post – Whether it’s family or friends, or even someone from a blogging community you are apart of. They can give you feedback on your writing and let you know what they think of it.
- Read Other Blogs – This can help improve how you write and can open your eyes to blog formats that seem to be working. Perhaps even where they post their pictures and so on.
- Write about things you are passionate about – Like we said before if you write from the heart your audience is more likely to participate in your blog.
- Use Grammarly – Readers aren’t going to take your blog as seriously if they constantly see spelling and grammatical errors. Grammarly helps you pick those out and fix them, in turn making you a better writer.
Over everything, just remember that success won’t come overnight.
If you haven’t read our article about things you should know before you start a blog, we recommend you do! You can read it over here. It might give you some insight on what you’re getting yourself into. It takes hard work and dedication.
8) Promote Promote Promote
Now it’s time for the really hard work, promoting your blog and your work. You might not really know where to start at the beginning and might be thinking if SEO is included in this. It’s not, SEO and traffic from Google is organic traffic and promoting your material is referral traffic. Both are great sources but you will most likely get more traffic at the start with referral traffic. Eventually, your blog will gain more organic traffic so don’t worry!
Social media is so important for promoting your material. It’s where we get a majority of our traffic from. Why are they so great? Because they are used for sharing (which might seem obvious) but that means your audience has the opportunity to send it to their friends and keep the ball rolling. Which is great for you! We got you to sign up for all those social accounts, but you may notice that some work better for you than others. But you need to play around and be active on all of them at first to see which one is going to be your bread and butter so to speak.
For us it’s Pinterest, but for other bloggers it’s Facebook.
So just start building an audience and see which one takes off. However, you aren’t going to just focus on that ONE. Never put all your eggs in one basket. We continue to focus on three platforms, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. These seem to be the three we are most successful with (Pinterest more so). You should also set up analytics for all of your social channels so you can figure out which times are the best for you to post. These will tell you when your audience is most active, that way you can get more eyes on your content.
If you do plan on using Pinterest as your main platform we highly recommend using Tailwind.
It’s only $10 a month and allows you to schedule all of your pins ahead of time. Which is going to really help because posting 10-20 times a day on Pinterest throughout the day takes a lot of time. Not to mention that’s only ONE of the social channels you have to navigate and post to regularly. We found within the first 2 weeks of using Tailwind our sessions increased by almost 18%! IN TWO WEEKS. While our Pinterest monthly sessions went from 24k to 89k! You can sign up for Tailwind here, it’s only around $10 per month and worth it to increase your traffic! Otherwise just start a free trial and see how you like it.
The Blogging Community
Joining Facebook groups and other communities can do two things: give you the opportunity to interact with other bloggers and gives you an immediate audience for your blog. Other bloggers in these groups could be more established than you which means they could be great resources for helping you. Fellow bloggers are also interested in reading blogs, which means you are sending you material directly to a potential audience member. Not to mention these groups typically have special days of the week where you can share and promote your content. These promotional opportunities can come in the form of shares, blog comments, Instagram follows, and so on and so forth.
Just be careful with some of these groups, because we found that while we saw an increase in Instagram followers…our engagement wasn’t going up. So definitely don’t rely on them because ultimately they may not be your target audience. There are pros and cons to using these types of groups. But like we said they are amazing for answering questions and connecting with like-minded people.
This can seem a little scary at first, but it can open your work up to a much wider audience and fast! Some of the blogging communities you join will have people who post looking for collaboration posts, guest posts, or maybe even interviews. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people too and ask if they are looking for guest posts or not. You’d be surprised how many blogs are. We do, however, recommend checking their website thoroughly before approaching them. A lot of blogs will state somewhere if they accept guest posts or not.
You might consider submitting some of your work to sites like Huffington Post or BuzzFeed Communities (where you can submit articles to be seen by moderators who could potentially help make content go viral). Getting posted on places like these could help skyrocket your blogs hits and make you go viral. Which obviously is what every blogger truly wants. But don’t be heartbroken if you don’t achieve that or get rejected, it’s fine. It happens and perhaps it was just that specific article that didn’t suit their platform. Just feel trying! There are plenty of other large platforms you can submit to, just give it a Google search and start pitching!
And there you have it, over 5,000 words on how to start a blog! If it’s your first blog, congratulations and we can’t wait for it to grow.
If you have any questions at all let us know or sound off in the comments!
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