The no bullshit guide to starting a blog that works.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, if you purchase a product or a service from such a link, I get a small commission.
If anyone makes blogging look easy, let me say it at the very onset, it is not. Not only does each article require extensive planning, multiple iterations (mine’s 30+ on average) and designing accompanying graphics, blogging is not something you can set up once and then just ignore for the rest of time. Not if you are serious about making it into something tangible. It’s the constant background noise that just doesn’t drown even if you consciously try to.
Some days, I wake up thinking of a genius idea of how to present or promote my content, and by the end of the week, I realise it just won’t work. No one can ever make you a Professional Blogger. I keep hearing of some special blogging courses which promise you XYZ, but in my opinion, there is no custom made formula that can ensure your success. Just like going to a great business school, didn’t by default make me a great manager, the same way enrolling into a $1000 course, is not going to suddenly make you a blogging millionaire. We live in the age of information overload. Whatever you are looking for is out there. If you haven’t found it yet, it’s probably because it either doesn’t exist or you haven’t mastered your digital search skills yet.
I’m not an amateur blogger, but I’m also not a full-time professional blogger. I hope one day, this can grow from a side-hustle into a full-fledged business but with my current commitments, it’s not yet feasible. However, if I can manage to write bi-monthly (or more) 1000+ word articles along with being a full-time student, marketing intern, learning German and traveling the world, so can you. I write this step-by-step guide to start a travel and lifestyle blog with the aim of helping absolute beginners or desperate bloggers who are in need of some creative ideas.
Before you go on and want to believe what I say, here’s why I think you should.
- I spend about 20–30h/week on my blog, most of which takes place in marathon weekend pajama sessions.
- I’ve been blogging since winter of 2016 which is when I moved to Germany, so about a year and half.
- I’ve purchased my domain only a year ago, and moved to a self-hosted blog and design only 1 month ago. Oh, how I wish I did this right at the beginning!
- My first year blogging(2017), I made zero profit, but I recovered the cost of running the blog through a sponsored post.
- My second year blogging(2018), I have invested much more and I’m already seeing money trick in, but it’s only the beginning and I have many things to learn on effective monetisation.
- My blog has over 6000+ followers on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, WordPress and Email (For privacy reasons, I will not share my followers’ data here or anywhere on this website).
- My blog averages between 18,000–25,000 views a month with a bounce rate of less than 2% and with zero paid advertising. Here’s the last 30 days data:
- Alexa Ranking for those that love numbers. This changes every now and then, but well I’m on a general upward trend so I don’t see the point in hiding it.
At this point, if you feel like it’s worth reading my guide to start a travel and lifestyle blog, by all means do!
Step 1: Pick a Blog Name and Buy a Domain
A “domain” is essentially the digital address of your website. I will not go into the detail of what kind of a domain you should or should not buy as it will ultimately depend on what kind of audience you would like to build. I personally thinking a .COM domain is the easiest and best way to begin especially if you plan to have a worldwide audience, which I guess if you aim to write about travel or lifestyle, you will.
Picking a blog name can be the hardest thing ever, as when you think about it many names have already been done to death. Words such as ‘nomadic, adventurous, wanderer, wanderlust, backpacker, world traveler, boho, vagabond, blond, expat, foreign’ have already thousands, if not millions of iterations. Find something unique that not only explains what your blog is about but also doesn’t pigeon hole you. It’s completely alright to go from a big blog covering a wide variety of topics to a narrow one. Doing the opposite however is an uphill battle. If you pick a name such as “Musings of a teenager”, what happens when you’re not one?
At the time when I thought about my blog name, I thought about what I represent, what my big adventure was going to be about and how I could differentiate myself in the same space. I’m sure I’m not the first ‘Indian Girl in Germany’, but I sure am trying to be the best Indian blogger in Germany, if not worldwide!
Many people love to pick a blog name after their own name, but in my opinion, I know like 2 blogs which are famous just by their actual full names. You have to realize that to build a global audience, if your name has roots in Hindi or Italian or French, unless you plan to write your blog only in that language, that is the only time it makes sense to pick such a name. If you plan to start a travel and lifestyle blog, unless you have a famous second name that the world identifies with, or you’re already famous, I’d say do not pick your own name. You could however definitely include a part of your name with something catchy and easy to remember. It also helps to have an easy blog name to remember. If you tell me to read a blog named- Extravagant Vagabond Adventures, I can promise you I will forget this 100% by the next day. You want to create something that is you, easy and catchy to remember and that is broad enough to experiment with your niche.
Finally, where can you buy a domain? You can buy it at Go Daddy where a huge chunk of people do. However, in the step 2, I’ll explain why it’s so much better to just buy a domain with the platform you want to host on your blog on. Hang on.
Step 2: Buy a Host for Your Blog and Install WordPress
Now that you have a digital address, you need to rent a space to hold it online. This space is called a “host”. I would strongly recommend buying a domain along with the platform where you plan to host. I have used and would like to talk only about 2 such hosting platforms here:
- SiteGround: I am currently hosting my blog on SiteGround and how I wish I had done this from the very beginning. I guess I never considered myself to reach a point where I thought I’d care about this. But now that I have, I do. This option is slightly harder than starting with a free WordPress blog and taking things one step at a time. However, you can still buy a domain and a hosting plan on Site Ground, install wordpress.org (industry standard) and go full-steam ahead. In the long run this will save you money, and also make it way easier for you to monetize your blog once you’ve moved past the beginner phase. Here’s how you can do this:
- Choose a plan based on your needs- I’d suggest go with the “StartUp” plan if you’re unsure of how many visits you could get per month and would like to start with a very basic website. If you’re fairly confident, go for the “GrowBig” plan as it would be easier for you not to have to upgrade your blog at a later stage plus the site loading speed would be much faster. It is also a good plan for people that have already started to blog but would like to have the option to grow bigger. Either plan will cost you less than 2 coffees a month and gives you the option to install whichever editing platform you’d like. (I use WordPress.org and it’s also the industry’s leading platform)
- Register a new domain or transfer the one you already bought. In my own experience, it is way easier if you buy the domain also at SiteGround, rather than having to transfer at a later stage. I bought mine at WordPress as I hosted my website with them for the first one year, and I really wish at this point I’d gone the Site Ground Host+ Domain route to avoid having to change all my name server details and files while migrating hosts.
- Finally, review your plan and go right ahead! If you already have a blog running, you can also request a free website transfer and the support at SiteGround was just phenomenal to help me move from WordPress Hosting to the one at SiteGround. I literally had everything transferred by the SiteGround support in one hour or less. It took a lot of work on my end to make sure all the files remained unaffected, but you could avoid that simply by not committing my mistake in the first place.
- WordPress: Many beginners have started with a free blog on WordPress and then moved to a business or premium account. While being comparatively easy to use at the beginning, in my experience unless you have a business account at WordPress from the very beginning, you will be massively limited. Many plugins and scripts just do not work on WordPress Personal/Premium plans so even if you spend a lot, you would not get the most value for your money. However, if you are looking to dabble into the world of blogging for a short period and then take the leap to a self hosted blog, then you can go ahead with a basic or premium plan! In this option, WordPress hosts your blog and is also the editing platform. When you use SiteGround, then WordPress is not your host, but rather only your editor. I would suggest this method specifically for hobby bloggers that do not one day hope to monetise their blog.
Having done both, I recommend going with Option 1(using SiteGround), and had I done it a year ago right at the beginning, I would have saved so much time in migrating my blog and in the resulting downtime.
Step 3: Install a Unique and Customizable Theme for Your Blog
While you can totally get a free theme available to you with whichever platform you go for above, I highly recommend investing in a good theme from the start. Even if you write the best content in the world but your blog is hard to navigate or just downright ugly, no one will spend time reading it. You got to make sure you create something you are proud of and is great to look at. Not all of us have the luxury of knowing how to design from scratch or have the money to hire a custom designer to create a special theme for you. Thankfully, most purchased themes come with either a Live Preview option or a Visual Composer which helps you see changes in real time and implement them with one click.
For the beginning, you can purchase a basic theme which you can modify in hundreds if not thousands of different ways to create your own signature look. I am using the Soledad theme from Theme Forest. The theme also came with a 6 month free support to help me if anything were to go wrong while installing it. You do not have to use the same theme, but can rather spend time browsing and checking out what fits your budget and blog aesthetics best.
There is a reason better themes cost more money, but then again to each her own theme. I’ve also come across some beautiful WordPress Themes on Designer Blogs which I would recommend if you’d like to have something very neat and unique looking to begin with.
Step 4: Get Writing and Publish your Blog
Once your domain+ platform+ theme are set up, all that’s really left is for your to write. I think it’s good to write 10–15 articles first, make sure you get a second opinion on them and then go ahead and publish them all together. An empty site looks like there’s not a lot of thought put into it. It also doesn’t give visitors enough reason to stick around. I’d say write until you become confident that a) people would like to read what you wrote, b) you would like people to read what your wrote. One without the other is not really a good formula for success.
Remember, your first 10–15 articles are not going to be your proudest in an otherwise long blogging career. But the magic of owning your own website, is this thing called editing. You can always go back and update your initial posts, set them to private or even delete them altogether if it no longer appeals to your blog content.
Step 5: Create Social Media Accounts for Brand Building
Now you’ve picked a name, purchased a domain, a platform to host it on, and even published a few great posts. What next?
No amount of amazing content is worth it’s while if no one ever finds it. We’ll get into SEO and other such blogging jargon at an advanced stage. For the beginning, it’s crucial that you work with what you know how to work with. This means that you use the channels where your audience is most likely to find you, follow you and provide feedback. The social media channels that you would pick would hugely vary of course based on your final niche, but starting with a few places where almost everyone is present such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest is highly advisable. For me, I personally cannot juggle accounts in six platforms, and would not recommend you to do this unless you plan to blog full-time. I’d rather focus my energy on creating content that’s high quality and focus on a few social media platforms that I understand how to use best.
I really only started to use Pinterest like a month ago, but the kind of visibility you can generate there is viral. It’s so much easier to get other people to find you where everyone else is as visually and creatively driven as you are. Facebook, on the other hand is a great tool to make your posts viral, get comments and engage your audience directly based on the content that you generate. Instagram, is honestly my least favourite tool, and while this may have worked for bloggers that started 5 years ago, I think in today’s day and age with the constantly changing algorithm, it would not be a smart move to solely rely on this to drive traffic to your blog. If you’d like to just be an Instagram influencer, and only create content to post on that application, do go full steam ahead. But if your aim is to eventually have a full-blown website that represents you, then well you need to keep your eggs in various baskets. After some trial and errors, you will find which channels work best for your content and audience.
Step 6: Promote and Use Google Analytics
At the very beginning, it’s probably only going to be your friends and family that will read your blog. Be patient and keep promoting your content. How well you wrote something does not matter if no one saw it. We live in an age of social proof and the more eyeballs your content get, the better your blogging game will eventually get. Some of my loyal followers often provide me with valuable feedback, appreciation and even criticism which helps me understand my audience so much better. There are times when I get emails from readers that I cannot in this lifetime hope to answer accurately, but it’s truly fascinating how fast people actually can come to love or hate your content, provided your are visible in the right places.
Another drawback of using WordPress for the first one year, is that I could not integrate my account to Google Analytics. I was, for the lack of a better phrase, being cheap and lazy. Now that I’m not, and have had access to my Google Analytics data, my mind has exploded with the amount of information I can gather on my readers. Not in a creepy way, but data that helps you promote what people most want to read, and in places where they most want to read it. Once you become good at observing trends in this data you really can tailor your content to the right audience. You do not need to be good at math or some kind of data nerd to do this. Anyone can understand this over time, and if you use this well so can you to strengthen and build on your audience continuously.
Step 7: Partner with Affiliate Networks
After a point, you will undoubtedly begin to think- “hey, how can I eventually generate an income from this blog?”
Even if you don’t plan to become a full-time blogger, this question will inevitably cross your mind. It crossed my mind exactly at the beginning of 2018 and after having spent over a quarter of 2018 re-designing and upgrading my blog, I have found a few networks that I totally love. Since, you’re probably just beginning to grasp your head around this, I’ll only share the ones that I feel are most relevant to travel and lifestyle. I’m aware that niches such as fashion and beauty have other networks that may or may not work with you. I however, do not talk about that a lot and hence feel it’s unrelated to what I really want to use my blog for.
First of all, an affiliate network is where advertisers gather to partner with people like you (bloggers) who have a platform where their products can sell. In many ways, you become the medium for the advertiser to sell their product or service. An affiliate network is essentially an aggregator that hosts both advertisers and publishers and makes money from a small percentage of the commission that you get from generating sales from your blog. The reason I like this method, is because this is something that you build for the long-run. Many bloggers would like to explored free trips or sponsored content, but for the sake of my lifestyle, I like to work on things that will continue to yield me profit in the long run and that I do not need to change or update each time I do something different. If you feel that you’d like to explore alternate means of generating income, do go ahead.
With that said, here’s my top 3 affiliate networks, which if you have a decent looking blog with at-least a few thousand views a month, you should easily get approval for. If you get rejected, do not be dis-heartened. Just come back again after your content and audience has significantly grown.
- Amazon Affiliates: Based on the country where your audience is and where you plan to file your taxes, you can enrol in as many country based programs as you want to. You can also select geo-targeting as you write content for audience from across the world and can pick different products to show case for difference audience. This is definitely the easiest program to start with, although for me, I haven’t focused a lot on this channel as I like to recommend specific brands which I often cannot find on Amazon. Also, commissions are low in the beginning, but once your sales pick up, so will your commissions.
- AWIN- They require a $6 dollar fee which can be recovered if you cross that threshold, but some of the travel and hospitality industry’s best brands and companies are platform so you may not want to miss out on this. Click on the banner below to join!
- CJ Affiliate– My favourite platform so far, especially for European and American audience, I love everything about this platform. It’s easy to use, has fast reporting mechanisms and thousands of publishers to chose from. It’s also at the moment the most profitable network for me.
Step 8: Partner with Advertising Networks
This is a step that is conditional to the kind of traffic you end up generating on your blog. Once you cross 250 views a day, I would say you can start preparing to monetize your website based on a variety of ad networks that fit best with your content. Some networks will outright reject you and some will even ban you for an indefinite period (happens quite often with Google Adsense and happened to me too). However, it is a future income stream you could/should experience. Even if you only earn money to have one coffee a month from blog advertising, you will be better equipped to deal with ads once your website grows big and having learnt what works best for your blog at the beginning always helps!
Here’s the most popular ones for travel and lifestyle bloggers:
Step 9: Partner with other Bloggers
I started to do this way too late in my blogging journey, but if I could do it from the very beginning I would. Why, you ask?
- To get high quality back links to your website which helps you with how well Google ranks your blog
- To strengthen the quality of your domain over time which again helps you to be found much easier on web
- To get visibility where your audience is most likely to be eat- other travel and lifestyle blogs
- To build a community of bloggers that will help you in the long run grow and even plan/collaborate together
Step 10: Create an Email Subscriber List
Again, something I wish I started to do from Day 1 itself. Every thing you own via a second platform is not technically yours. Why?
- Google keeps changing its ranking algorithm making it impossible for you to be certain about how you will generate traffic or revenues from your blog. Ads served by Google or any other search platform, are therefore in my opinion the most unpredictable long-term revenue source.
- Facebook and Instagram are infamous for shutting down brand pages or accounts overnight for sometimes not particularly big reasons. This could happen to you, and then what?
- Your email list is the most dedicated, loyal and consistent set of followers you have no matter how many followers you have on social media. The strength of your blog whilst dependent on your social media following, the money you make from your blog will however be highly dependent on the email list that you and you alone own.
- People guard their emails fiercely, mostly due to the danger of being spammed. If they subscribe to you because they believe in the content you have to offer, you essentially have a life-long customer that may in future have a much larger value than he or she has today.
For creating an email list and even hosting basic campaigns, head here=> Powered by MailChimp. It’s free until 2000 subscribers, so that’s a good benchmark for you to judge the success of your blog and eventually move to a paid program once you’ve crossed the threshold. A paid program on the other hand, will give you significantly more options to use email marketing campaigns and is a small price to pay to build a list you will own for a long time!
Domain=>Host=>Theme=>Publish=>Social Media=>Analytics=>Affiliates=>Advertising=>Blogging Partners=>Email List
Phew! That was long. Before you go, I’d just like to reinforce:
General Tips before you Start a Travel and Lifestyle Blog
- There is a huge misconception that bloggers and influencers are the same people. In my short and limited experience, I think there is a huge difference. You can be one without the other or you can be both. What I do think is important is to focus on what you are truly passionate about. If you do not think you have a talent for writing, you will have a hard time making it huge as a blogger. If you’re not good at photography, it will be hard as hell to become an Instagram Influencer, unless your influence comes from some where else (such as being a celebrity or a famous person) or buying a good editor’s presets. If you’re not good at creating videos, you will find it hard to get discovered and become famous on Youtube. This does not mean you need to be born with some special talent to be a blogger or a social media influencer. It just means that you have to learn to pick your battle and stick to what you can do best. Maybe you can do it all, and for that I salute you. But when you’re just starting out, it helps to focus on what you think you can be best at.
- Content is going to make or break you. If you do not consistently publish good content, why would anyone want to come back and read anything on your blog? It’s not just important to make everything look pretty and nice, it’s equally if not more important to write the best content you can. It’s also important to write on what people actually want to read, so doing some research on that would help you too. On the web space, unfortunately people do judge by the cover, so if your first or second impression is not worth looking at again, you’ll lose that visitor faster than you can type two sentences.
- If you’re looking for overnight success, do not start a blog. You’re better off having a private journal instead. Like I said before, patience, hard work, strategy and developing your own hacks will lead you to consistent progress. I am still on a development journey and whilst I am no where close to being professional, I have learnt so much since I started just by doing and failing or doing and succeeding.
- Do not be cheap like me and invest right from the beginning. $5–10 a month is really not that much for a platform that could potentially help you discover who you are in a completely different way. You get exactly what you pay for, and you cannot do great things with your blog if you’re limited by a free platform in the first place. Get a good domain name, a good hosting plan and a good theme. Half your initiate battle would already be won.
If you’d like to get this step by step guide as a PDF along with all the tools I use to monetize and grow my blog, go here to sign up.
Originally published at indiangirling.com on May 20, 2018.