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How to Start a SEO-friendly Travel Blog in 2019 : A Beginner’s Guide

By Ryan | Tips

Mar 02
how to start a travel blog

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"Would you tell me how to start a travel blog from scratch ? I’d like to set up one but don’t know where to start”

MrAbroad is two year old at the time of this article, this journey is great and we thank you so much for your support.

So, the above question is still one of the most frequently asked one, and belive me, I thought real hard on how to answer it in just an email, but had no result so far 😀

Well, today I’m going to share how to build a travel blog from scratch, with easy to follow steps, and examples using this site MrAbroad.

Time for some Q&A before we start:

  • Do I need to learn programming?
    No, I didn’t know how to code when I built this site. And believe me, building a website and learning how to code are two different things.
  • What do I need?
    Follow my steps, and know how to use Copy-Paste command.
  • Is building a website THAT easy?
    Building a travel blog is easy, keeping it running is hard, monetizing it is fun. That’s all I can tell you.

Here’s 10 steps to build a travel blog, and my promise is, if you follow these steps closely, you can build your own travel blog in no time. 

And I also mention how to do simple SEO to make your site rank higher and faster on Google.

#1 - Pick a name for your blog

A domain name is your brand. You must do it carefully .

So, what makes a good domain

Short and easy to remember

Human beings are bad at remember things. And if your blog is something like IamADudeTraveling.com, no one cares about it.

Also avoid number and hyphens in the domain. 2 or 3 words are preferrable.

Has a generic meaning

One mistake is to make your blog name too specific, such as a destination (TravelAsia.com) , a stage of your life (SingleTravels.com), or an age (TwentiesOnTheRoad.com)

Why? Because things change.

What will happen if your blog becomes so successful that you want to write about destinations outside of Asia? Or if you get married, or traveling when you’re at your 30s, 40s?

A name closely tied to a stage of your life eventually becomes irrelevant to your content, and will be a constraint to your creativity as well.

Not to mention if you decide to write more about traveling in Africa, you’ll have to rebranding the whole site, not so good in my opinion.

Remember this: Things change, think long-term.

Must be unique

Which means, avoid over-used words like vagabonding, Nomad, Adventurous etc. They have been used to death, and can’t make your blog stand out.

And also stay away from trademarked company names, you don’t want to be in trouble later on.

Next, check the availability of your name to make sure no one has ever used it before. Duplication is bad.

Check its history

Last, but not least, check the history of your domain. Now it may sound confusing, but let me explain this.

Since blogging is so popular now, there’s a chance that your brand-new domain was once being used by another blog owner. And guess what? Although the content of that site has gone for good, Google still remembers its “reputation”.

But does a bad domain have anything to do with me, I’m a honest guy doing honest stuff with this blog?

Well, maybe, but if the previous owner of your domain happens to be a black hat hacker who posted irrelevant stuff on the site, or worse, sexual or other prohibited content. The site reputation is so bad that it’s hard to rank well on Google (in fact, it will never rank at all)

This stuff is a SEO-related thing. Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to get rid of these bad domains later on this guide.

4 Steps of Picking the Perfect Name for Your Blog

  • Brainstorm : write all the name you can think of, using some tools and inspiration which I will mention later.
  • Filter : Remove all the names that are too specific,overused, or has bad reputation.
  • Check : the history of this domain, for SEO purpose.
  • Purchase: Congratulations, you have your domain for your new blog.

Case Study : How I came up with the name Mr.Abroad

Brainstorming

First, a pen and a sheet of paper

It was hard to come up with a name first, so I started with the keywords related to traveling, for example: vagabonding, travel, abroad … you name it.

Then, using the tool at NameMesh.com, I generated a list of possible domains, using 2-3 of the keywords mentioned above.

NameMesh is a great tool since it’s not only give you a possible ranges of domain, but also checks if the domain is available for purchase.

Filter
From the list, I picked 3 domains, using the criteria listed above (short, easy to remember etc.)

Check
First, I want to check if the domain is brand new (which means, never get purchased before), by using the tool at whois.domaintools.com
It’s the best if the domain is fresh, if not, I'll go to next step

Next, if the domain was used before, checked it again at Archive.org – the largest Internet Time Machine, allowing you to take a look at the history of the site for suspicious content.

Register your domain at Namecheap.com

Full disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through one of these links, I receive a commission from the sale at no additional cost to you.

You may ask : Hosting company also provides domain registration service, why don’t we just use it?

Well, the reason is : Although it’s really convenient to have your hosting and domain registered at the same place, but I prefer it separated. You know, the best job should be done by the best.

I’ve used Namecheap for many years, they have good promotion which allows me to purchase domain at low price.

For example: during their KING COM promotion you can purchase domain as low as $8.88 ( instead od $12.15, nearly 30% off)

Here’s how to register a domain at Namecheap
a.Login to Namecheap.com

b.Input your desired domain into the search box (NameMesh already let us know if the domain is available), in this example, I chose “lovevagabond.com” (hey, this domain is available, too, feel free to use it, first come first serve)

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c.Then Namecheap gives us a list of available domains with .com, .net etc (I recommend picking the .com if available since it’s more popular than the rest)

d.Choose “Add to cart” next to the domain you want

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e.Namecheap displays other upsells, for now just ignore them, press “View Cart”

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f.Next, you can see the summary of the purchase, for example : domain registration (for 1 year at default), ICANN fee and WHOIS guard (free)

What is WHOIS Guard? 

As far as I know, the identity of domain owner is made public via tools such as whois.com. Which means, any random dude can have access to your email and, well, phone numbers and , God knows what else he can do. This feature conceals your true identity and display only fake one.

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g.Next, press confirm order to go to the next step. (you might have to sign up for a Namecheap account at this step)

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h. Finally you can choose your payment method. And done, the domain is yours

# 2 -  Select a webhost

Here’s the question you may ask before registering a web host.

Should I use free blogging platform (Blogger, WordPress) or creating my own site?

Well, there’re pros and cons of using the mentioned blogging service.

Pros

Cons

Zero cost, just sign up and use the service

You don’t have full control over the blog. For example, Blogger is owned by Google, and Google can shut your blog for some reason, which means your data are lost. 


Using free blogging platform means you can’t install any plugins or custom themes, 

So, in short, if you’re serious about blogging, then I recommend purchasing yourself a host (it cost less than you thought in the long term, just keep reading)

Now you have a domain registered, let’s move to the next step: set up a hosting.

If a domain is your home address, then the hosting is a home itself.
While there’re many host providers out there, I suggest using Hostgator and Siteground.

I’ve been using Hostgator for years, ever since I knew about blogging. Their services, to me, are one of the best out there.

Another good option is Siteground, they’re fast, low-cost and always reliable.

how to get yourself a host at Hostgator

a.Go to their signup page, choose web hosting

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b.Choose the “Hatchling” plan, and enjoy 60% off

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Ryan, what the heck are other Plans ?

I’m glad that you ask. 


The main difference between this plan and other bigger plan is the number of domains you can use and other, well, services.


Bigger plans allow user to have multiple domains for one hosting, which means, many website. So, unless you’re a dude like me who wants to run multiple websites using the same host, you don’t need other plans.

c.We already got a domain from previous step, so just pick “I already own this domain” (you should type lovevagabond.com)

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d.Choose “Hatchling” and their 36-month plan

OK, why do we have to play so big ?

I made a mistake of choosing only the 12-month cycle when I first registered at Hostgator. Because this offer is only for the first purchase (which means, you hardly get this price after renewal)

The fee for 12 month after this period is similar to that of 36 months, this offer is a steal. Just use it.

e.Review all your info and press ‘Checkout now” to complete the purchase

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f.Hostgator then gives you an email with the login credential, keep it somewhere safe (you can create a folder in your mailbox to store this mail)

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g.Right now, pay attention to these lines

  • Your control panel: is the link to the Hostgator Dashboard, we need it for next step ( log in to it using the Username and Password)
  • Nameservers: Remember the domain we registered at Namecheap? These two lines are needed. Then login to your dashboard, choose Domain List

Link your domain to Hostgator

Login to Namecheap, choose Dashboard, then "Domain List"

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Find your purchased domain and choose “Manage”

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At Nameserver, choose “Custom DNS” , and insert these two lines above to this field, then press the green tickbox

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Done, your domain at Namecheap is connected to Hostgator Hosting. Hooray.

#3 - Install and configure WordPress

Let’s get to the next part, intalling WordPress on your site.

So, why WordPress, not Blogger? Because WordPress is the most popular blogging platform in the world. It’s easy to use, has tons of plugin, and themes are just hard to resist. And you can do all the awesome stuff without having to code a single line.

OK, enough words, I’ll show you how to get yourself the magic called “Wordpress”

First, login to Hostgator cPanel using the credentials in the above email, and choose "Install a free WordPress site"

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Choose your username, and password carefully (we will need this to login to our webpage later)

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Then, choose “Install”, and that’s it.

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WordPress is available, pretty fast, right?

#4 - Understand your WordPress dashboard

It’s a bit crowded here, but don’t worry , you just have to pay attention to just a few things to get your site working right now

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From suraark

Post: where you put your ideas into words and rock the world, that’s right, it’s where the articles are born

Page: Page is similar to post, but with a main difference: you can display page on the menu. Furthermore, page is a static piece of content, unlike post. For example: if you create new post (like this one), the previous ones get “buried”, but page is not.

Comment: where you review all the comments from readers, possible actions here are: Approve, Reply or delete spam comment

Settings: change the configuration of your site.

Appearance: change the theme, the menu of your site, and many more.

Plugin: unleash the power of WordPress by adding plugins and extensions to your site.

#5 - Logo Design

Why do you need a professional looking logo?

Well, obviously, a logo makes your site more than just a mere blogging site like thousands of others, but stand out as a brand itself.

Cool, professional logo is also an act of commitment, it means you’re serious into this blogging business.

Ryan, sounds great, but I don’t know how to draw?

Well, guess what, neither do I, but that doesn’t stop you to come up with an eye-catching logo, right?

Here are some recommended solutions

Fiverr: a freelancer marketplace where you can do anything starting from just $5, but don’t get me wrong, we can’t get a logo with just $5. A decent one cost around $25-$50. I’ve been using Fiverr for the last few years for some tasks, including designing a logo for another site, my tips are:

  • Do check the reviews of each freelancer before hiring them
  • Look for “unlimited revision” and “source included” when you want to order a package. “Unlimited revision” means you can make him/her to fix the logo until it meets your standard. “Source included” means the product must be delivered with the graphic files (it could be PSD for Photoshop or AI for Adobe Illustration)

Canva : a free graphic service, allowing you to make logos by just dragging and dropping the elements. The premium account has access to more tools and template, but in my opinion, if your budget is tight, the available templates are just enough.

Upwork: formerly Elance-oDesk, is the global freelancing platform where you can hire talented professionals for your project, from simple task such as logo design, or complex one like developing an app.

#6 - Choose a theme and design for your blog

OK, now you have WordPress installed on a hosting, with a registered domain name. Then what’s next?

It’s time to pick a theme for your blog

If a blog is your house, then the theme is the decoration, the “look” of your house.

A good theme makes your site look more professional and can easily catch reader’s eye (nobody wants to see an ugly blog).

But how do you know if the theme is right, while there’re hell a lot of themes out there, both paid and free ?

Here’re my suggestion:

  • Take a look around for inspiration: first of all, the best theme is the one that you love. Visit other blogs in your market and see how they look, pay attention to the design that wins your heart, and take note. For example: a Google search for this query “100 travel blogs” can bring a lot of examples.

Nice Ryan, but how do I know what theme the blog is using?

I don’t know, but this tool https://www.wpthemedetector.com/ can give me the answer.

  • Usability : the goal of a blog is to share your thought and knowledge to the world, make it easy to read, share and spread. A fancy theme only does its job only if the content can be consumed by easily by reader.
  • SEO-support: SEO – or Search Engine Optimization is a process of affecting your website rank in Google result. Let’s be honest, although your content is top-notch, if no one can read it, then it’s useless. Frankly, SEO is difficult, especially to new bloggers. Some theme can help you with this task. 
  • Responsiveness: IF the theme is responsive, which means it displays the content properly on different devices, for example :phones, tablets, laptops. Why is this important you may ask? Because a responsive website brings good user experience, and Google favors site with such a feature, and ranks them higher in the search engine result.
  • Fast: if a theme is not well optimized, it might affect your site's speed, therefore affect your Google rank as well

My Choice: Thrive Theme

In my case, I chose Thrive Theme for the following reasons:

  • Fast : it’s still debatable as if Thrive is faster than Genesis, but in my opinion, it does load faster
  • Easy to customize: you don’t need to have knowledge about CSS or stuff like that, everything is done through menus.
  • Awesome Thrive Architect plugin : well, Thrive spoiled me with this plugin, since you can do almost every cool tricks without installing tons of plugins, in just a single tool: table of content? No problem, stylized Box ? Piece of Cake.
  • Cool child themes: although the number of child theme is very limited , only 9 (Genesis has much more ), but I found each of them is unique in its own way (This blog is using Pressive Theme FYI)

#7 - Install must-have plugins

Askimet: people hate spam, and this plugin keeps your sites from countless of spam comment every-single-second. A must-have plugin for every blogger (and it’s free).

Yoast SEO: as I said earlier, SEO is a difficult task for newbie, so this plugin can help you to optmize your post, header, keywords etc for a better SEO result.

Updraft Plus: bad thing happens, and a handy backup plugin is always needed.

WP Rocket : my all time favorite plugin for speeding up website. (note: this one is a paid plugin, so you don’t need to buy it right at the beginning)

#8 - Setup Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Console

These two tools give you valuable data and insight on user behavior (Google Analytics), or the error on your site ( Webmaster Console), for example : what page attracts most users? The bounce rate of your site?

#9 - Create your basic pages, first post and Social Media Accounts

These pages are needed for every blog, they are

  • About page: this page is about yourself, why you made this blog.
  • Contact page : how do people contact you
  • Privacy Policy and Disclaimer: show how you handle user’s data, how cookies are used on your site etc. IF you’re an Amazon Affiliate, then there’s a “disclaimer’ part on this page, too.

Your first post: now it's the time, write a short post saying hello to your audience, doesn’t need to be long or too serious. Just say something like ‘Hi guys! This is my first post’

Create Social Media Accounts with your brand: on common platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram ... 

#10 - Start Writing and Monetization

Now we’re into the most interesting part of getting yourself a blog : content creation and monetization.

Content Strategy: What type of site do you want to make?

What should you write about?

The answer is simple: Anything that you’re interested in.

After all, your blog, your content, your rules.

But I also have some good tips for beginners

  • Be yourself: Don’t pretend to be somebody else, have your own voice. For example : if you travel to a country and have bad experience, blog about it. Just because that place gets positive reviews doesn’t mean it’s perfect. We have the good, the bad and the ugly 😀 . Besides, your experience may help readers a lot.
  • Have a sense of humor: try to come up with interesting content. For example: I found this article so fun to read https://www.archivesofadventure.com/5-reasons-its-dumb-to-exercise-while-traveling/
  • Add videos and images if possible: avoid wall of text, try to break up the article into smaller paragraph, add videos, images, infographic if possible.

What type of site do you want to make?

Well, it’a little bit advance. There’re two types of site: authority site and niche site.

So what’s the difference between them?

Authority Site: In SEO-wise, if you’re doing authority site, then you’re playing long term. The authority site covers a wide range of topics with quality article. As a result, it will take longer for Google to rank your site and attract traffic. But once your site is strong enough, then your article can rank relatively fast.

Niche Site: On the other hand, niche site focuses on a narrower topic, so it’s easier to rank fast on Google. The downside is, it’s hard to expand to other field. If you decide to travel to other places or write about other topic, then niche site isn’t an option.

For example:
Authority Site: Travel in Europe (articles about traveling in many countries in Europe)
Niche Site: Travel in England.

In my case, I built MrAbroad with the long term in mind, it took me about 6 months to get my first visitor, and more than a year to get enough traffic (but maybe just because I’m not good at SEO)

Read more: The Ultimate Japan Packing List

Monetization: how to make money as a travel blogger

Now to the most interesting part, how to make money from your blog.

Don’t wait until your blog get enough traffic and start making money, you can do it right now. Of course, the income may be small at first, but it’s always a pleasure having a passive income.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how we can monetize our blog.

Adsense: the most popular way (although not the best way to monetize your blog) is placing Adsense ads on your site. Login to Adsense, sign up for an account, register your site, setup an ad unit, and you’re good to go.

Tips: For WordPress user, I recommend using the plugin Advance Ads to manage your Adsense placement. You can display the ad on the sidebar, between paragraph, and many more.

But once your traffic grows, there’re better alternatives to Adsense, for example:

  • If you reaches 10,000 page views monthly, then consider using Ezoic Ads, which has better CPM rate than Adsense
  • And with a 25,000 page views monthly, why not give MediaVine a chance? Almost every famous travel bloggers use their ad, they can’t be wrong.

Amazon Associates: the “traditional” way to affiliate marketing. Start making money with Amazon is simple, first you need to sign up for an account at Amazon Associates Program, then write an article about a product, with a link to that product in Amazon. Once reader clicks on that link and makes a purchase ( it doesn’t need to be the same product you mentioned), you’ll get a commision from Amazon.

Booking.com or TravelPayouts: use these sites to promote Hotels and accomodation. With TravelPayout you can also help readers to find flight with best price, as seen here on my site. I’m thinking about switching to TravelPayouts since their payout is higher than Booking.com

GetYourGuide: Have you been to a great attraction? Have a review about that place? Cool, then sign up for an account at GetYourGuide and start making money when your reader book a ticket to that place.

Other ways:
You can sell banner on your site, sounds cool, eh?

Logging to AdClerks or BuySellAds, two of the most popular marketplace for ad space, list your site there and wait for advertisers to come.

There’re options like sponsored post , which means somebody will pay to have their article posted on your site, with a backlink to their site (I haven’t done this kind of monetization yet, but I heard the price may be from $100-$300 per article).

Well, about monetization, we can talk about this topic all day. The sky is the limit of how well someone can make money from their blog.

But the principle is : your reader experience comes first, don’t overdo it and make them feel uncomfortable.

Let’s rock

Now you have all the information needed to start your own travel blog , now it’s your turn. Wish you all the best.

And. come on! Just do it already.

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Ryan Smith, a solo traveler, and founder of MrAbroad.com with a bunch of friends. I love going outside, reading books and talking to people.

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