This is a post for people who are looking to build a travel blog and don’t know where to start. I blogged a few months ago on how to grow your travel blog but realized I put the cart before the horse so, after many emails, I wanted to share the simple steps for getting your blog up and running. For regular travel content and tips, go here!
Whether as a hobby or profession, travel blogging requires some technical skill. Not a lot but a little. When I started my blog, I knew nothing about making a website. Luckily, on my adventures around the world, I met Matt and Kat, a British couple who also happened to be web designers. When I came home after that trip in 2008 and decided I wanted to start this blog, they agreed to help me set up my blog and teach me HTML. Back then, I hand-coded my website and used a funky tool called Dreamweaver to build my website. It was painfully slow and I wasn’t very good at it. My original website was really ugly!
Luckily, you no longer have to build websites that way. Websites and blogs have gotten a lot easier and simpler thanks to WordPress. WordPress is a simple out of the box platform designed to make websites easier for those not technically savvy (like myself). It powers over 25% of the Internet and is the best platform for blogging.
A few months back I talked about the ways you could succeed with a travel blog but, today, I want to give a quick tutorial on how to create a travel blog from scratch in six easy steps:
Step 1: Pick a name
The first thing you need to do is pick a domain name (i.e your website name). When picking your domain name, there are no hard and fast rules on what to pick. There’s no such thing as a “wrong domain” but there are a couple of things you should know to help you pick the best domain:
Make a name that can last. If you pick “JohnsAsiaAdeventure.com” and then you leave Asia, the domain won’t make sense anymore. Make sure you pick a name that isn’t so focused that if you decide to shift gears or change your focus, you can keep the same domain name.
Try to avoid words like “nomad,” “vagabond,” “wanderlust,” and “adventure.” They have been done to death.
Pick a name that describes what you do as much as possible. I was a nomad so “Nomadic Matt” was the best pick for me. If you’re into luxury, put words in your domain that convey that. You want people to see the name and go “I get what that website is about.”
Keep it short. Use 3-4 words maximum. You want the name that rolls off the tongue. Even Ramit Sethi from “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” often abbreviates his site to “I Will Teach” or “IWT”. The shorter the better.
Keep it simple. I’m not a fan of using jargon or slang in your domain name as I think that makes things confusing for people who don’t know it. The last thing you want is something going “What does that mean?” or being confused. If someone has to think of the meaning, then you’ve already lost them. So don’t try to be clever either!
Step 2: Sign up for Hostgator
After you’ve picked out your domain name, you’ll need to register it and buy hosting (the little computer that’s going to power your website). There are a lot of basic hosting companies out there – Hostgator and Bluehost being to two biggest.
Though owned by the same parent company, I lean towards Hostgator as I find their call center customer service quicker and friendlier and they are prone to fewer outages (no one wants their website to go down). I’ve been using them for years and still have a few domains and email through them.
Here’s a walk-through of how to register your name with Hostgator:
First, choose the hatchling plan. This is the most basic plan but it’s perfect for new blogs and I wouldn’t recommend spending more money until you get a lot of traffic and decide you’re going to do this long term!
After you pick that plan, you’ll be sent to the order form. Enter your domain name and select the hosting package you want. Be sure to add “domain privacy protection” as this keeps your registration information from being public record. After this, it will have you include your billing address and payment information. It will also ask you if you want to by additional add-on services. DO NOT PICK ANY. You won’t need them. From there, it will run your credit card and presto! You have a domain name!
After you’ve paid, you’ll get to this screen where you can see your domain name and account information:
That’s it! It’s super simple and takes about five minutes to do from start to finish! You can click here to go to Hostgator to set it up.
Step 3: Install WordPress
After you’ve registered your domain name and got your hosting package, the next thing you want to do is install WordPress. WordPress is what will actually run the website. The host is simply the computer your site sits on. To set WordPress up:
In the same screen as above, click “hosting” and, in the next screen, “Get Started with WordPress Today”:
You’ll be taken to this screen. Click WordPress:
In the dropdown menu, select your domain name and hit next:
Enter your user information. Under blog title, enter the name of your blog. Create a strong username and then hit install.
After your WordPress is installed and created, a screen will display with the username you chose and a password that they generated for you. If you’d like to create a different password (something stronger or more memorable), then go to your wp-login screen at domainname.com/wp-admin, click on “reset password,” and you’ll be sent instructions on how to reset it.
That’s it! Now your website is up and running and you’re ready to start blogging!
Step 4: Install your plugins
After you’ve installed WordPress onto Hostgator, go to domainname.com/wp-admin and use the username and password you created to login. You’ll see a screen like this after you login:
From there, the first thing you want to do is install plugins. Plugins are a great way to add additional functionality to a WordPress-powered site. And with over 41,000 (at last check) listed in the WordPress Repository and many more premium options available from developers, there are endless possibilities as to what you can do with your site. From the main screen, click Plugins –> Add New on the left-hand column:
If you can think of a feature you’d like to have on your site, I can almost guarantee there is a plugin for it but here are my favorites:
Akismet – Just like getting junk mail in your mailbox, your website will get spammers looking to leave junk comments on your site. Akismet seeks to reduce the amount of this by automatically filtering it for you. This plugin comes installed with WordPress, and all you need do is activate it and sign up for an account at akismet.com.
Yoast SEO – The best SEO plugin out there. This combines the ability to create meta tags and descriptions for your posts, optimize your titles, create a sitemap for search engines to read, customize how your posts appear across social media and do a whole lot more. It’s simple, easy to use, and comes with foolproof instructions.
Relevanssi – While WordPress does a lot of things well, what it fails at is adding search functionality to your site. Relevanssi seeks to fix this and give your readers the most accurate results when searching on your site.
BackWPup – You can never backup your site too much. The WordPress database holds every word you’ve ever written, and if your blog has started to make you a few dollars, you would be nuts not to keep regular backups. BackWPup does it perfectly. With the ability to schedule backups, you needn’t worry about doing it manually (especially useful to the more forgetful among us). There’s also the option to upload backups to Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage services, ensuring that if the worst does happen, your data will be safe.
Google Analytics For WordPress – Adding analytic tracking to your website is an important move in finding out who your readers are, where they are coming from, and what your most popular content is. When you sign up for Google Analytics, the site asks you to place a snippet of code into your website. For most people, that can be difficult, which is why there’s Google Analytics for WordPress. This adds a lovely graphical interface to your site where you can click a couple of buttons and set up your tracking without any hassle.
SumoMe – This is the best social sharing plugin on the web. Use this. It comes with great analytics and testing features.
Jetpack – Jetpack is aimed at super-charging your website with a host of features from WordPress’s free hosting platform, giving you the best of both worlds. With this plugin, you can add a spell-checker, contact forms, extra widgets, and a whole slew of more features, all with just one plugin.
W3 Total Cache – This plugin works by creating saved copies of your site, saving WordPress from having to generate them for every new visitor. This, in turn, cuts down on the amount of work your hosting server has to do and makes loading your webpages much much faster.
Step 5: Install your theme
Next, you need to make your website look pretty. One of the most important things a blog needs besides good content is a good design. People decide in seconds whether or not they trust your website and choose to stay. A visually unappealing website will turn off readers and reduce the number of return visits you get. So to accomplish a good design, you will need an amazing WordPress theme (i.e., design templates and files). You have 3 options:
Free Themes – Free themes are plentiful and for budding new bloggers looking to make their mark online, they seem like a great option as it allows you to keep costs low. There are many great free themes available online but most of them are not amazing.
If you plan on blogging for a long time, this might become a problem as your website grows. However, if you just need a simple design to blog for your friends and family, then go the free route. You can find some good free themes at wordpress.org.
Premium Themes – The next step up from a free theme is a premium theme. Premium themes are paid themes that offer a bit more uniqueness, flexibility, and functionality. These cost from $25 USD and up, depending on the developer and features.
With a premium theme, you almost always have a support forum that can help you begin to learn how to customize your site yourself. This can be a great way to introduce yourself to PHP and HTML code (which is what your theme and WordPress is created with) without having to worry about breaking your site and not having anybody to help you fix it.
The two best companies to buy premium themes from are WooThemes and StudioPress. My personal favorite is StudioPress as it is more SEO-friendly, a bit sleeker, and cooler. WooThemes are great for photographers and more “fun” personal blogs.
Custom Themes – If you have the money and want a completely unique website, a custom theme is the only way to go. Hiring a website designer/developer will allow you to build the site you dream of and get everything you want. A good WordPress theme from a good designer and developer starts at about $1,500 USD, though the typical average is $3,000-5,000 USD. In my experience, you get the coding you pay for, and cheap can lead to many problems later, so you’ll want a reputable and experienced person.
As a new blogger, I would go with option #1 or 2 as it will be the easiest. To install your theme, simply go to the left-hand column, click Appearance –> Themes –> upload. Whatever theme you picked will come as a .ZIP file for you to easily upload. From, there you just activate it and it’s turned on. All themes come with a manual and help file so you can customize your design to your specific needs.
Step 6: Create your main pages
After you’ve uploaded your theme, you’re going to want to make a few basic pages on your website in addition to the blog posts. To create these pages (or posts), go again to your left sidebar and click Pages —> Add New. (Or, for blog posts, Posts –> Add New.) The difference between a page and a post is that a page is a static piece of content that lives separate from the blog. A post is a blog post that gets “buried” as you write more and more. For example, this post is a blog. When I update again, another post will get put on top of it and it will be pushed down in the archives, making it harder to find. But a page like my about page lives on the top of the website, right off the main url, and does NOT get buried. It’s a lot easier to find.
I recommend creating 4 basic pages to start:
About Page – This where you tell people about yourself, your history, what your blog is about, and why it will help them. This is one of the most important pages on your website so make it personable!
Contact Page – People need a way to reach you! Be sure to be very clear on what emails you will and won’t respond to so people don’t send you spam.
Copyright Page – This is a standard page letting people know you own this work and not to steal it. You can find out of the box examples throughout the Internet.
(If you look in my footer, under the “About” section, you can see examples of all 4 of these pages!
That’s it! You’ve set up your basic website. Sure, there’s social media buttons to add, blogs to write, and images to upload but these 6 steps will create the basic framework of your blog! The hard comes after when you decide you want to turn it into a profession and start thinking about marketing, product creation, and everything in between but that stuff comes later. By following these steps, you’ll get your blog up and running so you can start sharing your stories and tips!
If you’re looking for more in-depth advice, I have a very detailed and robust blogging course that gives you a behind the scenes look at this website and features case studies, expert interviews, monthly webinars, tech support and help setting up your blog, and a lot more. You’ll learn everything I know about creating a successful blog. If you’re interested, click here to get started now.