On one of my comments on a website for writers I got the question on how to set up a travel blog. Now this might come as a surprise to you: setting up a travel blog is no different from any other blog.
The basics are all the same.
This article therefor may apply for non travel-blogger-wannabe’s also.
Where to start? It all might seem a little bit overwhelming when you do your research and run into stuff like: domains, themes, hosting and databases. Not to mention SEO, plugin’s, add-ons and content. Terminology that will become very well known to you once you get started.
So lets do that shall we? Lets create some order in the information. no, it should be the other way around, without knowing where you are heading choosing a domain name is useless.
1. Write a plan
I cannot stretch that one enough. If you want to start a blog, you’ll need a plan. The plan is the umbrella. Most advice start with: Get a domain name…..that is useless, unless you know where you are heading you cannot pick your domain name wisely. You’ll end up with a totally useless domain name, and believe me, I’ve been there and done that, let’s save you some frustration and write yourself a plan. Good preparation is essential for your blogs succes.
Your blog should be a solid combination of domain name, knowing your target audience, your lay-out and content. Your visitors should recognise the place. Visually and emotionally, and if they don’t they won’t return.
And if they do not return, you will never be successful.
Every step of this guide is also for you to determine whether or not you really want to blog, if you are up to it and willing to make the sacrifices that you have to make if you want to be a successful blogger.
You can download my free blog plan to help you, the link is at the bottom of the article.
2. Pick a domain name
So you got your plan, more or less, I mean it is not a solid document it is a living document that will be adjusted along the way. I recently adjusted mine for this particular blog and it is up and running for more than a year.
Keep your plan as a guideline, it will help you to stay focussed. And once you really get started you know what I mean.
Since domain names aren’t easy to find nowadays. There are zillions of websites out there, and you probably do not have that one unique name nobody thought of before.
So check the availability of the domain name. A link to where you can check availability and buy a name is at the bottom of the article.
- keep it short, short names are easy to remember
- no underscore in the name
- go for .com if you aim internationally, if not, go for your countries extension
- pick a unique name, do not settle for a name that is already taken in another extension, that works confusing in search results
- make sure it is readable and that you do not unintentionally end up with an inappropriate name (fun link at the bottom of this article)
- be recognisable in the name, either you or your product or business
Before you click “purchase” sleep on it for a night or so, check with friends, make sure that this is the name that really is ‘you’. You wouldn’t be the first one to waist money on a name you cannot use after you start putting things together. That is why I recommend writing the plan. You might learn that the search for a name inspires you to rewrite the plan, or makes you doubt you really want to do this.
But you do, so lets continue!
3. Get hosting
No, no, I want to open a wordpress.com domain or blog at blogger….well, you just lost the race. Like I read somewhere on a website: Do not build your house on land you do not own. If you want to be taken serious out there, be serious about your plans. Go for the real thing and get yourself a proper hosting.
Not a cheap one that bails out on you all the time when you edit your media-library, or even worse, when someone you share the server space with gets massive activities. Make sure that when a post goes viral your hosting can handle that. Bet get proper hosting, and proper hosting means you pay more than just 1 US$ a month.
I love MediaTemple. They have a good and responsive help desk and support and are very costumer friendly and yes, they also do affiliates and the link you will find at the end of this article is an affiliate link.
They offer multiple website hosting in 1 package, multiple email-addresses and aliases, and you can choose between several different hosting packages.
4. Install WordPress
O yeah, the tech stuff can get worse. Once you studied all the different blogging platforms you will probably end up with WordPress.org, it is the largest and most user friendly platform there is, works great with Google and offers many themes and plugins. It also has a huge community of people that want to read your blog or help you with the technical stuff. Just check that knowledge base they offer, it makes blogging understandable for everyone.
Now here is another decision for you to make: do the database work yourself or ask someone to do it for you. Some hosting companies offer a WordPress Service Hosting, but I think that is a waste of money for hiring someone is cheaper than paying for a one time job every month in more expensive hosting. But that is entirely up to you of course.
This is also the moment that you think: Gosh I really want to blog, but this is way over my head. If that is the case, take a look at WordPress.com. You can set up a blog there within seconds, a few but’s:
you do not have that much freedom over your blog’s design and functionality
your blog name will have the following extension….. yourname.wordpress.com, unless you pay a lot of money
In some countries there can be advertisement on your blog you cannot do anything about that and you won;t get paid for that either
But if you decide to use it, it worked fine for me when I just started blogging and it will work fine for you as well. And in that case you can skip step 3 and 4 and save some time and money.
5. Give notice to the public
Once your database is done and WordPress is up and running your website can be found on the internet. Nothing more daft than showing a website with the default: Lorum Ipsum-starters blog from WordPress and the ‘just another WordPress Blog’-tagline. So put up a first blog to notify the public that it is a website under construction.
You also might want to dive in from the deep end and get yourself a plugin from the plugin directory that put’s up a (comstumized) ‘Under Construction”-notification. That is really pro!
Just search for: Under construction in the plugin directory and find yourself a good one. This may be a good introduction to the plugin directory and how to define what a good plugin should look like. Few tips:
- view the screenshots
- check for regular updates
- check for reviews (and do not believe everything you read)
- check how many active users there are
If the plugin is working with your latest WordPress version is nice but not a must. Some code will not need an update every time WordPress updates. But if it does, that’s better of course.
6. Let’s get creative and get a theme!
Now for the themes there is a lot to say. A theme determines your website appearance, but also its functionality. And you might find some pretty nice themes in the free theme viewer, but also some terrible ones that are poorly coded.
A few things to keep in mind:
- your own blog plan and mood board: what do you want your website to look like for your visitors
- is it responsive? Most themes are but makes sure it is! It should look good on any device
- does it have options to change colours, sidebars, theme width etc?
- How does the theme look live? Some themes show beautiful screenshots, but once you see it live you realize there is a lot of coding to do or you might even have to create a child theme or buy extra functionality to get what you see
I use MHThemes. And yes they also have an affiliate program. MHThemes are coded for the future. Always one step ahead of Google, SEO ready, very user friendly, they look good on any device, have a great documentation on how to make the most of your website and even a list of recommended plugins that will cause no conflicts with the themes functionality. Their step-by-step-visual-install-guides make building good websites understandable to everyone.
You will find a link to their themes at the bottom of this article.
7. Make a header
A header is like the business card of your blog or website. By just one look at it people now your brand. And even as a hobby blogger you have a brand. Your subject, you yourself as a blogger and the articles you write are your product. You have to brand them.
- a header that tells what to expect.
- a header that draws people in
- a header that is so tempting they cannot resist
- a header that makes people feel they are in the right place
And at the same time: do not overdo it. A header is just what it is: a header, the doorstep to your blog.
You can have one designed specially for you, but you can also get all creative yourself and make one. On my Dutch blog: halloaarde.net I made one myself, here on Leaving Holland.com I simply use my websites identity and tagline with a photo, that is the standard header the theme offers.
8. Install plugins
What apps are for your smartphone, plugins can be to your website. There are thousands of them. And the same as with the themes: there are some pretty good and useful ones but there is a lot of ill coded crap as well.
be very careful and choose wisely.
- does it get regular updates
- how do the screenshots look
- what are user experiences
- does it work with your version of WordPress
- how is the plugin developer handling reviews and support and what is his attitude
- if there are complaints are they genuine or just peoples short fuse or bad manners
- how many users are there
Now this may come as a surprise to you, but this website is running without the monstrous Jetpack plugin that comes automatically when installing WordPress. That might not yet work for you, but it does for me. And maybe over time you will find out that you do not need Jetpack either. Why did I remove it? I wrote an article on that.
Plugins you might like:
- Contact form 7
- Mail Chimp for WordPress integration to set up a mailing list
- Cookie Law info for your European visitors
- Scroll triggered Boxes (did you fill out mine?)
- All in One SEO
9. Create a sidebar (or not), footer and menu
Personally: I do not use a sidebar. It draws away the attention from the content. But that is what I think. You on the other hand, might like a nice sidebar for your visitors to navigate from.
Most sidebars and footers are widgetized. That means that you simply add widgets to make it look like you want it to look. The text widget fills the gaps where you need to add information or buttons that are not provided for by WordPress or your theme.
Some ideas to put in the sidebar or footer
- popular posts
- links to other blogs you like
- social icons
In the menu you post the categories or articles you want people to navigate to.
You can set up different menus and depending your theme on different places. My Magazine theme lets me make a header menu, a main menu a sub-main menu and a footer menu. I can use all, or one or any combination of those.
10. Write your pages
Pages are different from blogs, pages contain static content, you update it every now and then but it is mostly the same. Post are daily/weekly entries and pages are a one time setup.
Here are a few pages your blog cannot do without:
- About, the about page is about you, introducing yourself to your audience.It should have some magic to it. I wrote an article about the perfect about page. Your ‘About’ page might be the most read page on your blog.
- Contact, if you want your viewers to contact you you should have a contact page. You can edit this with the contact form 7 plugin mentioned earlier. My advice is to never just share your email address with the public unless you want a lot of spam and please do NOT do the most unprofessional yourname @ websitename dot com thing!
- Most populair posts, once your blog is up and running you might want to set up a post-based-page with links to your most popular posts. Some themes have widgets for that. If you use a static front page like I do, there might be a widget to display them on the front page.
- Disclaimer , you need a disclaimer, as a (travel) blogger you should never be hold responsible for providing outdated information f.e., do add a copyright statement to the disclaimer as well, since you do not want anyone to ‘borrow’ your content for their own benefits. If you wonder where my disclaimer is? It is combined in my ToS in the footer of my website.
- If you are a business keep all your purchases and pay them from a business acount, they are business expenses and in most countries tax deductible
- There are other plugins to use than the enormous Yoast SEO plugin, try it!
if you are a business and offering services do not forget to add a Terms of Service page
- You can add a web-shop to your blog if you want to sell products
- If you have a contact form, inform people on the time within you will likely answer them
- Travel bloggers should specialize in a certain topic to stand out in the crowd
- Add a travel map to your blog to show where you’ve been and where you are going
- Look around on Leaving Holland to get yourself an idea of how a complete blog including web shop and services could look like for you.
MH Themes > Buy a solid coded theme
WordPress.org > download WordPreess for your self hosted blog
WordPress.com > create a new WoredPress blog for free
Namecheap > do not overpay for your domain name
Mediatemple > for affordable and fast hosting
The Bored Panda > Examples of very wrong domain names
Congratulations! You have a blog!
This is the setup basics, once you’re done with this you can start writing. Setting up a successful travel blog is about traveling, hard work and consistency. Keep posting helpful and informative but also engaging content. Be creative in your subjects. Optimize your blog for SEO and share it on your network, ask other people to share it and build an audience.
This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through my links, you’re supporting the existing of Leaving Holland — and I’m grateful for that!