Travel blogging is a huge and growing industry – there are over a whopping 200 million travel-related blogs on the net with hundreds more being launched every day. While it’s definitely possible to make a full-time income it’s not as easy as it looks. We’ve been professional travel bloggers for nearly seven years and we’re now ranked as one of the Top 10 Travel Blogs in the UK. During that time we’ve seen many other travel blogs come and go and it seems like the main factor to being successful is to think more like an entrepreneur than a hobby blogger. Although, of course, it also helps if you like writing, are very self-motivated and are also prepared for Twitter and Facebook to become your new best friends! So where to start? Can you really run a business as a digital nomad? To help answer the question we get asked the most, we’ve put together this step-by-step (almost) fool-proof guide on how to start a travel blog and turn it into serious business…
Decide on your niche when you start your travel blog
Yes, travel is already a niche but to really stand out you’ll need to focus on a smaller section within travel for example; budget, luxury, adventure or even just one country. We first started out as a very general travel blog focusing on stories and travel tips all over the globe but when we changed our focus to under-the-radar and beautiful travel destinations we increased our audience and received a lot more mentions and backlinks (which are SEO gold; we’ll explain why further down!) This is also a good stage to decide whether you’re going to become a multiple author site or a solo blogger. There are pros and cons to both – with a multiple author site you won’t need quite as much stamina but it’s also much harder to keep a strong voice on your blog.
Think about your branding
Next you’ll need to think about how your website is going to look and feel. Branding basically means a consistent theme – from your website name and the design to the style of your writing and even the font you choose. Even how you’re posing in your profile photo (and even what you’re wearing and the background!) can make a difference to your branding so make sure it all fits together in a tight theme. Decide on a theme, whether it’s going to be offbeat, stylish, fun etc. and make it as memorable as possible – you’ll need to stand out amongst all the zillions of other travel blogs out there!
Buy a domain name
Okay, now you’re ready to start setting up. It’s not easy to find a good, original travel blog name these days but it’s very important to get this bit right (remember this will form a huge part of your branding). We’d suggest finding around 10 – 15 decent domain names and get the opinions of friends and family too, the crowd always seems to know best! Always have your branding in mind when making your final decision and of course, it’s important to be travel related too. When you’re ready, buy the domain name. We purchased ours from the UK registered site 123 reg (this is also a good European option too) but if you’re based in the USA or Canada then 1 & 1 is a very popular option. Also, worldwide domains seller Hostinger has the free domain check tool, so you can try it just to see how it looks like and works.
Realise the importance of a beautifully designed site
The design of your travel blog is your chance to stand out – if your site looks professional, advertisers are much more likely to take your site seriously. You’ll also increase traffic and affiliate commissions. It also helps SEO – the better your site looks the more people will hang around and look through your pages, and the more Google will reward you with traffic. If you don’t have a handy web designer friend or a large budget for a website agency, you still have options. The most popular and user-friendly platform for blogging by far is WordPress but then you’ll still have to choose and buy a theme (themes start from only $29).
Choosing the right theme provider is very important – a poorly designed and coded theme can lose you traffic and conversions – so it’s best to stick to trusted names. For secure and structurally sound themes then the well regarded StudioPress.com is a good choice (try their Metro Theme, Magazine Theme or Ambiance Pro Theme for good all-round blogging themes). For themes which also offer the wow factor then take a look at Themeforest (Squirrel, TuneUp, Brixton, Marmalade, Sahifa and Hemlock, pictured above, are some of the stand out blogging themes). Alternatively, if you want something a little on the feminine side then try the cutesy but stylish themes offered by Pretty Darn Cute Design.
If anything technical scares the hell out of you then opt for something a bit more all-inclusive such as Weebly (their Impact blog style theme is pictured above) or Mozello. They both offer a simple drag-and-drop website builder where you can get your site up and running in a matter of hours – literally no tech skills required! The only downside is that they don’t offer a huge range of design templates but prices start from a very reasonable $8 a month and handily include the domain name and hosting.
If you are going to start a travel blog and run it as a business, you’ll also need to take your logo very seriously too as this is going to form another very important part of your branding. If you’ve got a bit of money to invest Deluxe Logo Design have a reputation for delivering professional and eye-catching logos (example above) and at the more budget end of the scale, LogoNerds can design you a logo for $27. If you’re looking for more choice, then try the famous 99 designs or their more budget competitor 48hourslogo. These sites use a crowd-sourcing model where multiple designers compete in a design contest in order to win your business. Prices start from $29.
Buy your hosting for your travel blog business
For all you technophobes out there hosting may seem a little daunting and a little confusing but it’s actually not at all. Put very simply, it’s renting your little bit of space on the web and in this space you’ll store all your site’s data, files, and photos so that internet users across the globe can access it (when they type in your domain name). When you’re first starting out we would definitely recommend Bluehost as it basks in the glory of being officially rated as the best WordPress hosting service provider (by WordPress itself!) and the prices are also very reasonable too – they offer quality hosting and good customer support for $6.95 per month for 12 months and being generous folks, Bluehost also throw in a free domain name!
It’s very easy to set up too, here’s a video tutorial on how to set up a WordPress site on Bluehost within half an hour..
WP Engine is another hosting option, it’s much more of an investment (prices start from $30 a month) but WP Engine can actually help you increase your traffic and revenue. WP Engine users experience significant speed increases for their websites – a very important factor when ranking your site in Google. They also offer good customer support and with its scalability and security, you won’t have to worry about your website going down at the wrong time.
Brush up on your writing skills
Writing is going to be your main focus so yes it’s definitely going to help if you have a little bit of a flair for it or even like writing! I always enjoyed creative writing back in my school days but I was definitely rusty when we started the travel blog! One of the first things that threw me a little was how long it took to craft and structure an article… and how tricky it is. You’ll also might find yourself worrying about whether it’s good enough before you hit that scary publish button! Yes, you’ll get quicker and improve your skills more and more as time goes on, but to get your blog noticed (and to get links back to it in order to gain traction in big, bad Google) your content has got to be of a decent standard. To get your writing into a blog-worthy shape before starting out it’s probably worth looking into a writing/coaching course or even a self-help ebook specifically aimed at blogging.
Also admit when you need help! You’ll be in danger of burning out if you try and write every post yourself so accept guest posting, ask friends or even hire writers when needed. We’ve used the very reasonably priced HireWriters.com a few times to help out, it’s just always worth testing out a few writers before you hire them for larger jobs.
Think about your images on your travel blog business
Blogs are extremely visual and images can add a huge amount of value to your storytelling – in fact imagery can often make or break a website so it’s in your interest to get the best possible images you can. They encourage social media sharing, can add real insight to your posts and make your blog far more memorable. If you remember to use alt-tags, images are also excellent for SEO. If you want to take travel blogging seriously (especially as a business) it would idea to learn how to take a good photograph or two! If you don’t have a natural flair for capturing images there are lots of places you can hone your skills if you find that practice doesn’t make perfect. We’ve been huge fans of professional travel photographer Trey Radcliff aka Stuck in Customs for a long time now and as well as coming across as a great guy, his photos are seriously incredible. He offers to share his insider secrets and tips in highly recommended structured Photography tutorials, workshops and ebooks.
Get to grips with running your site
The more simple aspects of blogging on a WordPress site like editing content, posting new pages and adding images are pretty straight forward and easy to pick up. Other functions like adding plugins etc. may take a bit more time to learn. The web is a good place to find your answers but if you’re someone who likes your learning to be a little more structured then WP Academy offers complete A-Z, beginner to advanced training courses on all things WordPress (including SEO, plugins, newsletter management etc.) and is a good choice if you want to make a serious business out of travel blogging.
Launch with a fanfare and make friends quickly!
When you’re ready to launch we would recommend doing it with the biggest fanfare possible – telling everyone you know and shouting about it from your social media channels (that you should have set up already in preparation – this will help both SEO and driving traffic to your site). A big launch will help gain you as much traction as possible with Google and get your blog noticed. Don’t see other bloggers as competitors, instead make friends with them, comment on popular travel blogs, join blogging sharing groups (either privately formed ones or global ones like triberr). Be as active, engaging and likeable as possible!
SEO tactics – i.e how to get Google to love you!
SEO is still very important and if you work hard enough when you first launch you’ll gain traction and be rewarded with healthy amounts of traffic (this happens around the 12 month mark). SEO is ever-changing and many factors affect how high you rank in Google but still one of the main ways Google will decide on whether to take your travel blog seriously is how many links from other websites you have. Links count as popularity votes and the higher authority the site mentioning you, the better (links back from newspaper’s websites and tourist boards for example will count for more).
In the past it was far too easy to cheat with paid link services but now Google has clamped down on this so you’ll need to focus on other ways to get links back. Popular techniques now involve ‘link bait’ articles, pitching personal travel stories to the press, running voting contests or competitions, guest posting for top travel blogs and also mentioning other travel bloggers and hope they return a little love too! We mostly used ‘link bait’ as our SEO strategy: articles designed to be highly sharable, controversial or emotional, published with the purpose of catching the attention of people so they get shared and hopefully get linked to more!
Our first link bait article was Top 10 cool and unusual hotels in New York. It was the first article to go viral when we first started the website and even got a mention from Lonely Planet. It still appears at the very top in Google for many keywords including “unusual hotels New York” “quirky hotels New York” and “unique hotels New York” even 6 years later, due to the amount of sharing and attention it received.
You’ll also need to know how to target specific keywords in Google and also how to do your ‘internal SEO.’ Check what keywords to target in Google’s Keyword Tool – you’ll need to think of what people are searching for and answer their questions, for example, “things to do in Paris” or “places to visit in Paris” It’s important to find keyword phrases that are not too competitive but still have enough searches to be worthwhile (700-1,500 searches a month seems to be the sweet spot for small independent publishers). Next, write the article based around these keywords making sure you include them in the title but also not forgetting other internal SEO factors. This infographic is one of the best internal SEO guides we’ve come across and we always use it as a checklist ourselves.
Click Image to Enlarge
Source: On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page – Infographic
SEO isn’t easy to master but annoyingly it’s an essential part of blogging if you want to run it as a business. If you need a little help there’s lots of white hat SEO services to try. For example, UpCity.com have created a detailed walk through and reporting system which will organise exactly what SEO tasks you need to do in order to achieve higher rankings (for $39 per month). Alternatively, the highly regarded SEO Powersuite is an all in one suite of SEO tools which will help blast your competition into oblivion! The tools include Website Auditor which diagnoses onsite problems, RankTracker which helps you keep track of your search positions, SEO SpyGlass which enables you to find your competitors backlinks (and then nab them!) and LinkAssistant to find high quality backlink sources. This is the software that many SEO professionals and agencies use.
Think about how to monetise
It’s all very well knowing how to rank and gain traffic but it’s also very important to have a monetisation strategy! There are many ways you can monetise your blog – affiliates schemes, AdSense, banner and video placements, advertorials, sponsored competitions, copywriting for other publishers and when you get to a certain level, paid campaigns with tourist boards and pitching for sponsorship. There’s also some less obvious ways of making money too. For example you can sell your photographs through SmugMug (this works best if you promote your end too) or selling your own products. For example, David Hoffman from David’s Been Here invented, manufactured and branded his own inflatable travel pillow (which cleverly contours to your neck for maximum comfort) and is successfully selling the product through Amazon.
If you really want take the business of blogging seriously then we would definitely recommend investing in professional blogging courses. Nomadic Matt’s Super Star Blogging is the first one we’d recommend. Matt is the world’s most successful travel blogger and before the course he used to sell an ebook guide about how to build a successful travel blog which we actually used ourselves to turn this travel blog into a successful business. He really knows what he’s talking about – trust us! The course shows bloggers exactly where you need to focus your time and energy, how to grow an audience, write highly sharable content and how to develop your brand as well as more practical things like getting to grips with SEO and social media tactics which work. The course is a one off fee of $349.
Travel Blog Success is the other professional travel blogging course we’d recommend. It’s an online course and community where you can find the information and resources you’ll need to create your own successful travel blog, including starting up, building it, effective ways of promotion, and making money with your blog. It even covers subjects like how to increase your site’s loading speed (which really helps SEO). Run by a group of successful experienced travel bloggers, it has propelled many a travel blogger into the professional league. Also try the Blogging Fast Lane for some other awesome tips on blogging.
Although running a successful travel blog isn’t easy thing to achieve, it’s definitely possible to turn it into a serious business if you work hard enough (and have a strategy in mind) and the rewards are huge if you do make it. Yes at times it can feel like you’re juggling several very wriggly hamsters in the air at the same time but there are not many any jobs which allows you to be your own boss and travel the world at the same time! I know we wouldn’t change it for anything. Good luck!