SD › How to Start a Travel Blog
Updated: December 19, 2019
About me: I’ve been travel blogging for 9 years. Santorini Dave got over 2 million pageviews last month and is probably the most popular travel blog on the internet. (That’s hard to determine, of course, but I give it a 60% probability of being true – I’ve seen no evidence that any travel blog gets more traffic.)
Note: This is a work in progress. It’s also a side-project. It will take some weird forms as I write, edit, and polish it over the coming year. My goal is to add to it most days and have it completed by the end of 2020.
Guiding principle: The world has a lot of mediocre, make something great. (It’s easy to make a lousy blog. It’s hard to make a good one.)
Also: If the thing stopping you from starting a blog is that you think you’re too late, then start a blog. You’re not too late.
How To Start A Travel Blog – 10 Steps
• Choose a niche.
• Develop a plan for making money.
• Pick a domain name and register it.
• Find a hosting company for your website.
• Learn the basics about WordPress, posts, pages, and plugins.
• Pick a theme and think about layout and navigation.
• Install Google Analytics and other essential apps.
• Create a content map and writing schedule.
• Learn the basics about SEO, readability, usability, and navigation.
• Reserve social media accounts.
• Write A Book
• Newsletters and Emails
• Would someone pay to read this? (a good measure)
• What do people search for?
• Create your own category
• Google and the Google Quality Guidelines
• SEO Essentials – what you can ignore and what you can’t
• Most travel companies are poorly managed (frustrating but creates opportunity). Also, hard is good.
• WordPress: Things to get right from the start
• Essentials for Blogging: Google Analytics, Google Trends, Moz, Screaming Frog, Crazy Egg, WP Engine, Cloudflare, TinyLetter, MailChimp, Patreon.
• How To Make Your Blog Fast
• Books: Don’t Make Me Think (essential)
This is advice for starting to make money. Blogging to make money (whether it be to support a travel lifestyle or as a main occupation) is very different from blogging for friends and family. If you only want a place to display photos from a recent trip but with no long-term goals of starting a business or developing an audience then go to blogger.com, open an account, and start typing and uploading photos. It’s pretty easy and there are some good guides for creating a travel blog (for free).
229 Essential Tips for Starting a Travel Blog
Choosing A Niche
– solve a problem (make things people want)
– build a brand
– type of blog: storytelling or topic or destination
– focus, focus, focus (if you want to make money)
- The first thing to decide: what will your blog be about. The best blogs and websites focus on one thing. They find a problem people have – and then they solve that problem better than any other site or resource.
- The Jobs To Be Done framework works well for building a successful blog. Read about it and understand it. When people come to your site they have a job they need to get done – even if it doesn’t seem like a job. They need to be entertained. They need to find the best taco stand in Mexico City. They need to day dream during their lunch hour. They need to know the best time to go to Thailand. These are all jobs the reader needs to fulfill. And you need to do it better than any other site.
- Much of YCombinator’s essential startup advice also applies to building a money-making blog:
• Launch now
• Build something people want
• Do things that don’t scale
• Find the 90 / 10 solution
• Find 10-100 customers who love your product
• All startups are badly broken at some point
• Talk to users
• Growth is the result of a great product not the precursor
- You have to build a blog that if it disappeared tomorrow, readers would go to your site and see a blank page and say, “fuck, now what do I do?”
- Success is predicated on two main factors: quality and building a brand. Basically: what you do and what others think you do.
- A brand is what readers will say about you to their friends. This begins with how you describe your blog (in the title and subheading, in blog posts, on social media, in the topics you link to in your navigation). But most of branding is what readers think about your blog (as opposed to what you say about your blog). Your brand is what people say about your blog in 1 sentence or less.
- Your blog should be easily described in one simple phrase.
- This is what you want people to say about your blog: It’s about traveling with pets. Or: It’s about food tours. Or: It’s about the best beaches in the world. Or: It’s about Sicily.
- This what you don’t want people to say about your blog: It’s, I don’t know, it’s about travel stuff, and she travels places and writes about it. It’s kinda funny. She takes really good photos.
- Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand. Build a brand.
- You choose a niche, you solve a problem for readers related to that niche, then you build a brand around that one concept or idea.
- Read The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product Or Service Into a World-Class Brand – a wonderful book about focus and branding. (The authors are skeptical of “quality” – the idea that being best in class is distinguishing enough to build a brand. In the online world quality is a huge factor.)
- For certain, you don’t have to pick and develop your brand from day one. You can experiment, learn, and pivot. But every time you pivot to a new topic you’re essentially building your brand from scratch. The sooner you establish your brand (your focus) in your own mind, the sooner you can start establishing your brand in the minds of your readers.
- So, what do you focus on? There are three types of travel blogging: Storytelling, Topic-based, Destination-based. Pretty much everything will fall into one of these broad categories. Even if it’s a photography blog it will still be one of these three types. You’ll either tell a story with your photos, focus on a specific topic with your photos, or focus on a destination.
- Storytelling travel blogs – I’m sorry, but you will not make money from travel tales and adventure stories. Or, if you do, you’re far more talented than me and you’re not reading my lame-ass post about focusing on your brand. So stop reading and go do it. Start your blog about all your crazy stories traveling the world. (Also: good luck. There’s a place for storytelling in the world but you won’t find a blog post on it. You might as well read self-help books on how to be original. There are a dozen people in the world that will make money from travel storytelling. If you think you could be one of those twelve then go for it.)
- Topic-based travel blogs – This is where most blogs end-up. Bloggers start with storytelling. Then most quit. The ones that don’t quit see that it’s hard to keep people interested in just stories (or just photos). You need a topic – a focus to keep readers coming back.
- One dilemma is where to draw the line around your interest and how niche should you go. If you focus too much there’s not enough to write about. If you don’t focus enough, you don’t have a brand. You have, “she writes about travel stuff.”
- Another challenge is writing about one topic repeatedly, in different ways, from different angles. It’s the Brides Magazine dilemma. How do you keep writing about the same thing in different ways? How do you build a consistent readership when most people transition out of any phase or interest (at least when it comes to reading and researching travel topics)?
- What do people search for? I will go into this in more detail later but a quick introduction to keyword research – which means using online tools to figure out what people search for (typically on Google). At this point in starting a blog you’re not really interested in the actual words people use to search for information (that comes later). Now, you’re simply interested in the topics people search for. Are people interested in food tours in Tokyo, cooking courses in Florence, music museums in Liverpool, kayaking trips in Mykonos? It’s never straight-forward but with patience and diligence you can get a pretty good idea about which topics people search for. A simple free tool is Google Trends (and a good guide for using Google Trends). Another helpful free one is Answer the Public which focuses more on what questions do people ask on Google (as opposed to just entering keywords). There are many others that require a fee and provide greater insight. The Moz Keyword Explorer is my favorite (good guide). It’s $99/month which is a lot when starting out but keyword research is so important (and you’re going to need it eventually) that if you’re serious about giving blogging a go you probably should buy it – at least for a month or two as you decide which topic or destination to focus on. (There is a 30 day free trial.) SEMrush and ahrefs are two other keyword research tools nearly as good as MOZ.
- Free manual keyword research: pick up a guidebook to a popular destination and scan through the different sections and categories. Each of these could be a topic for a blog. Take a look at this famous image of the Craigslist homepage – many of the categories on Craigslist became a company or category in its own right. This is what you need to do to Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Rick Steves: break down what is compiled in their books and create evergreen content around all the interests, questions, and concerns that travelers have. Good podcast: the founders of Lonely Planet on How I Built This.
- A quick aside about Evergreen Content: This is the bedrock of many (probably most) money-making blogs. It’s content that remains relevant and useful to readers over months and years. Non-evergreen content: Delta Airlines Sale on RTW Tickets (this will be potentially relevant to readers for a few days or few weeks and then you might as well delete it). Evergreen content: How To Find Cheap RTW Tickets (this can remain relevant for months or years, it can be refined and improved, edited and updated – and if done well will increase in popularity as the months pass). The key to evergreen content is to write helpful, informative, special, and unique content – 10X content in the parlance of online marketing (or content that is 10 times as good as anything else out there). That’s easy to say but hard to do. The measure I have for quality is would a husband or wife send your page to their spouse and write: “Check out this article on Singapore food tours, it’s awesome. Can you print this out to take on our trip?” It’s a high bar that few posts meet. Even a “good” post is quickly forgotten. For a post to be remembered, bookmarked, printed, or forwarded to a friend it really has to be great. A good overview of 10x content by Rand Fishkin.
- Create a new category – Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – You don’t have to write about a topic that people are already aware of. You can create a whole new category of travel. Airbnb is the business version of this: people didn’t think staying in the house of a stranger was a thing – until Airbnb made it a thing. Make a travel blog around an idea that isn’t an idea right now. I’m wouldn’t suggest to go start brainstorming for this great new concept. It seems to me it either comes to you or it doesn’t but you needn’t feel confined by the current landscape of searches and interests. Good interview with Joe Gebbia of Airbnb with Reid Hoffman.
- Blogging About Hotels – Pros: This is probably the best (most lucrative, most consistent) travel topic for making money. Readers have an enduring interest (sometimes passion) for great, good, cheap, and charming places to stay. So there is always plenty of interest from readers. Also, it’s relatively easy to monetize as there are good affiliate programs with Agoda.com, Booking.com, Hotelscombined, and TripAdvisor. Cons: It’s insanely fucking competitive. You will be competing against some of the biggest brands in the travel industry: Booking.com, Tripadvisor, Marriott, even the NY Times. If you go this route start niche: honeymoon hotels, villas in Hawaii, ski resorts. Overwaterbungalows.net is a good example of a site that focuses exclusively on one topic related to accommodation.
- Blogging About Flights – Pros: Lots of people are interested in cheap flights, where to fly, how to get there, and all questions related to flights and flying. It’s also where many people begin their travel research: Who flies there and how can I get there? Cons: Profit margins for airlines are razor thin and there’s no good way to directly monetize flight searches. Scott’s Cheap Flights makes big money by researching cheap flights and then selling the info through a newsletter subscription. (Great interview with Scott on the Indie Hackers podcast.) But you’ll need to be really creative if you want to make money from readers and searches related to flights. To repeat: you won’t make money from the flight searches themselves you’ll need to monetize in some other way: book, newsletter, making and selling airport-friendly pajamas.
- Blogging About Family Travel – This is how I started. I wrote the blog My Little Nomads about traveling the world with kids. It was awesome fun and by the process of trial, error, trial, error, several more trials, and several more errors I discovered the best-family-hotels angle. By year five or six my pages on the best hotels for families in Paris, London, NYC, and about two dozen other destinations were near or at the top of the Google SERPs. Somewhere in there I started Santorini Dave as a side project (there were many) and eventually moved all the MLN content to SD. The challenge with family travel is to keep people coming back. For one, kids age and the window where parents are searching for “Paris hotel with play structure” is pretty small. And two, even within that timeframe do parents really plan everything through the lens of “the family”? – some, yes. But many don’t. It’s not things to do in Paris with kids, it’s just things to do in Paris – and then let’s pick the activities that will work for our family. The hotels for families topic is a great one, but – and it’s a big fucking but – you’d have to compete with me. And I have an eight-year head start. Good luck.
- Blogging About Budget Travel – Pros: It’s cheap and easy to perform the travel research. In order to save money, you travel frugally and keep expenses down. Then you write about traveling frugally and keeping expenses down. Cons: Hard to make money through people that spend little money. Also, very competitive. Note: Little money and lots of competition is a bad combo. Good interview with budget travel blogger Nomadic Matt on the Noah Kagan podcast.
- Blogging About Food Travel – Competitive (if not in quality then at least in the fact that many people want to do it) and hard to monetize. If I were to start a food blog it would be very focused. Say, sushi or pizza – the two most common food-related searches for any specific destination. (David Chang’s Ugly Delicious show on Netflix does a great dive into pizza around the world – there’s a lot someone could write about.) Then try to develop a brand around that niche. When someone travels to a new city and they want sushi they instantly think of your blog. The challenge is that with a topic this thin/focused it needs to have a very wide base. That is, readers would need to assume you’ve covered everywhere: Portland, Montreal, Lyon, Athens, Dubai, Sydney, Mexico City. Everywhere. If you just have pages on the best sushi in 16 different cities it’s too inconsistent to be helpful and dependable. So, how many destinations can you visit and write about and keep up to date? And then once you’ve done that, how do you make money from that traffic? It’s fine to say, I’ll get the traffic and then worry about monetizing later – that’s fine, maybe even necessary. But monetizing will be a huge challenge so start brainstorming now.
- Blogging About Music Travel – Pros: not that competitive (maybe surprisingly so). Cons: even if someone has a deep interest in, say, the Beatles in London, they’re unlikely to plan their entire trip around it. This will be one of many searches. Yes, they’ll search for where did the Beatles play in London and you could build a great resource for that information. But an hour later when they’re looking for hotels will they be searching for “hotels near places in London where Beatles played”? No. They’ll just start looking for hotels in London. And it’s that gap that makes it hard to monetize. It’s difficult to take the reader by the hand at their music interest and guide them to some topic where you can make money. Of course, you could try to make money directly from the music interest. Find the best music tours in each city and recommend them (the challenge: even NYC and London have very few music-related tours, Barcelona, Tokyo, Vancouver, and Singapore I’m sure have none). Or, if you’re thinking big, develop your own tours in a handful of big music cities. This would be more of a business than a blog – but that’s probably what you’d be looking at to make a go of it.
- Blogging About Cruises – First off, cruises fucking suck. What a fucking joke. So there’s that. But moving on, I think there’s space for a cruise guru that curates and recommends different cruises. This has been done before but it always morphs into a corporate-looking site with little authenticity. CruiseJoe.com could work but you’re back to this riddle: how many different cruises can you cover well? Probably more than you think but still not enough to be comprehensive. My advice would be to narrow the topic to something manageable. River cruises are popular but it’s still too big a topic for one person to cover exhaustively. Canal cruises in Europe is better. Or maybe just canal cruises in France. Could work. It needs to be small enough that you can be The Expert. But big enough to be able to get significant traffic.
- Blogging About Slow Travel – This is one of many examples where it’s a general topic with high interest. But, when it comes to particular searches that have money-making potential most readers will do a very more-specific search that does not fall under the slow travel umbrella. For example, they might do hours of research about slow travel in Umbria and have a list of places they want to visit and things to do. But then when it comes to book a wine tour, buy train tickets, book hotels (which are the ways you’ll be able to make money) they’ll simply do Google searches for those specific topics.
- Destination-based travel blogs – This is the most underutilized, most underrated, most easily monetized, and most likely to succeed. It’s also the type of travel blog that really, truly feels helpful to the reader. You know Bangkok. You know it inside and out, backwards and forwards. And you’re going to be able to help readers with all their questions, concerns, and confusions. The big stuff and little stuff.
- I’m not sure why so few bloggers start a blog about a specific destination. Maybe because it doesn’t really feel like a travel blog. If you live in London, well then, writing about London’s restaurants, hotels, trains, and tours doesn’t feel very exotic to you. But this is isn’t about you. It’s about your readers. They want to know about London and you’re a London expert. (That’s a pretty good match.)
- Another plus withe destination-blogs vs topical-blogs is that it’s easier to gather contacts, build relationships, and establish partnerships in one destination than in multiple-destinations for a single topic. For example, it’s easier to meet all the restaurants and hotel owners in Puerto Vallarta than it is to meet all the food tour guides in 30+ cities around the world.
- There are always tradeoffs, and with a destination-based blog it’s harder to build a recurring audience. If someone’s traveling to Sicily then you’ll be their guru for the weeks and months leading up to your trip. But once they’re back home they’ll have little reason to re-visit your site and use it to plan future trips. Unless they’re returning to Sicily, but even in that case they’re less likely to use your site as a resource on a 2nd or 3rd trip than the first. On the other hand, these readers will be your biggest booster. Everyone in the office knows they went to Sicily last year and if your site is truly helpful they’ll spread the word for free. That’s what you want.
- How to pick a destination for a destination-based blog – Criteria: you want a destination that you either live in or are willing to visit (a lot). You want a place that attracts travelers in the moderate to high-end budget category. For one, because it’s easier to make money when people are paying bigger sums (and hard to make money via a hostel bed) but also because wealthier travelers are willing to exchange money for time and information. Budget travelers typically don’t mind hunting through the weeds to find the info they need. Another important element for good destinations is that there are several elements that are not easily understood. For Santorini (a prime focus of my blog) two topics give potential visitors a lot of uncertainty: what is the caldera or where to stay on it? And how to get to Santorini by ferry. Both topics require lots of research. Seattle, on the other hand, (another destination I’ve written about extensively but have found it harder to gain traction) requires little advanced research. As long as you’ve booked your hotel you can pretty much land at the airport, taxi into the city, and just walk out the front door of your hotel and start exploring. That lack of pre-trip research makes it hard to pull readers into your community. Lastly, you don’t want a destination that primarily appeals to package tourists – they don’t do in-depth research and they typically book through a large holiday company making their interest hard to monetize.
- Best destinations for a travel blog – The following destinations strike me as great candidates for building a travel blog around (listed from very competitive to less competitive): Florence, Whistler, Iceland, Austin, Kyoto, Santa Fe, Tulum, Goa, Koh Phangan, Sicily, Ubud, San Sebastian, Chile, Quebec City, Ojai, Mexico City, Western China, Chamonix, Matera.
- How big/popular does a destination have to be to have money-making potential: I don’t know the answer to this but my gut feel is that though Matera (in southern Italy) is a tiny town with only 20 to 30 small hotels if you were the top search result for all the top queries related to Matera you’d be able to support yourself through the blog. Searches that you’d have to be near the top (on Google) to have a reasonable shot at success: best time to visit Matera, how to get to Matera, Naples to Matera, Rome to Matera, luxury hotels in Matera, boutique hotels in Matera, cave hotels in Matera, best restaurants in Matera, best tours in Matera, things to do in Matera, and probably 5 to 20 other popular searches and questions related to Matera travel.
- Summary: Choosing A Niche – Topics are great for building an audience but hard to monetize. Destination-based sites are easier to monetize but it’s hard to build a community. Don’t choose a storytelling blog if you want to make money.
- Free PR Trips – This isn’t making you money but it is getting you (potentially) a bunch of free stuff that’s appealing. Free tours, free hotel stays, maybe even free trips. (Free airfare is rare unless it’s part of a full-paid trip, usually from a resort or tourism organization.)
- Most of the companies and organizations that give this stuff away are looking for blogs with large social media accounts (with many followers). This might change as they become more clued-in to what drives bookings (it’s not promotions on social media) but for now that’s how it is and it creates a dilemma. Do you spend your valuable time building social media accounts and gaining followers, even though this isn’t very helpful to the long-term prospects of your blog? Or do you focus on your website and building and writing great content? This will make your blog more likely to succeed but you won’t be getting the free press trips.
- Making contacts in the travel industry, writing emails, maintaining relationships, and updating companies on your posts is all a lot of work. A full-time job really if done right. Don’t underestimate the time commitment that it takes to get a lot of free pr trips. And all that time your working on getting free stuff you could be working on your blog. It’s a huge tradeoff.
- My advice. If you want to build a blog for getting free press trips then go all in on social media (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube) and write simple, fawning posts on your site for the companies and attractions that give you stuff. Maybe it’s not the most honorable route but if you’re after free travel perks you have to give them what they want: good press and lots of social media mentions.
- But, if you want to build a great blog, brand, and business then forget about reaping large numbers of free trips, stays, and tours – that’s a different game. Do one or the other.
- An exception to this is free entrance tickets to museums, attractions, and on-going events. If you have a blog that looks legitimate and gets a decent amount of traffic an email to the press office of most attractions will get you free entrance. It’s still a time suck and at some point you’ll likely decide that the hours spent sending and replying to emails is not worth saving $10, $20, or $30 – but maybe still worth the effort for the big-ticket events. (Note: I’ve never had any business or attraction enquire about traffic numbers for my blog related to a free-ticket inquiry. Assuming you do get a response, it’s always been pretty straightforward: ask for tickets, get tickets.)
- Affiliate Marketing – This is the process of writing content related to a particular affiliate program. For example, writing about the best food tours in Los Angeles and then linking to tours on an affiliate site like Viator. You then get a percentage of the booking price and it doesn’t cost the person booking any added fees or cost. Actually, since booking sites often have cheaper tickets and the booking process is much smoother with a better user experience you’re usually doing the reader a favor by directing them towards the more polished booking site. Win-win.
- Potential affiliate programs: Agoda (hotels), Booking.com (hotels), Hotelscombined (hotels), Viator (tours), GetYourGuide (tours), Tripadvisor (everything), InsureMyTrip (travel insurance), Amazon (anything Amazon sells), and G Adventures (trips). There are also networks of affiliate programs (usually smaller programs) like Rakuten and CJ Affiliates. With these you apply to the network as a whole and then get access to all the individual affiliate programs, but some companies do have an extra approval step.
- The commission you earn from these affiliates is usually a percentage of the booking. And it is very negotiable once you have some traffic and are creating bookings. As a very rough guide assume the first percentage you’re offered could be doubled if you start originating a large number of bookings on the affiliate site. For example, I believe the basic rate from Viator is 7% for all new affiliates. Meaning for a $100 tour that is booked on their site by a reader that came from your site (via a link) you would get $7. If your site starts generating more bookings then you might be able to get this rate up to 14%, maybe even 16%. This will be a slow incremental process over many years to get from 7% to 14%. It will take a lot of emails and plenty of persistence. (And it’s worth repeating: when using an affiliate link there is no added charge to the person that books the tour.)
- Selling A Book or Some Other Product You Make – This is the basic premise: a) create a great blog that offers real value to readers. b) build a following through email lists and social media accounts. c) be perceived as an expert in some field or topic by your followers. d) sell your book or product to your followers.
- The currency here is trust. This method can work when you’ve built a community that believes in you. Read: Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.
- You should be a little skeptical of this route. It reminds me of the Then A Miracle Occurs cartoon: I have no idea how to make money blogging so I’ll start blogging and then I’ll figure it out later. Which, if that’s all you’ve got, then go with it. But (in most cases) it’s not a plan, it’s an absence of a plan.
- One of the drawbacks of this approach is that as you build your audience you don’t have a good feedback loop for what works and what doesn’t. Another drawback is that you’re dividing your effort between building your blog content and building your product. In an ideal world those are one and the same thing. And for books specifically, it’s particularly uncertain. It’s hard enough for authors who do nothing but write books to make money writing books. You have to sell a lot of books to make a living.
- This approach works better when it’s part of a business plan not the entire business plan.
Instead of: build audience › sell them a product.
Try: build audience › monetize traffic › also sell them a product.
- Selling Advertising – Possible, but difficult. Yes, you can get companies to pay you to display ads on your site but in most cases you’re better off (and your readers are better off) if you monetize that traffic through affiliate links. I can’t think of any type of page that you’d do better with paid advertising than linking to related products, services, or bookings. For example, if you have a popular page on the best travel luggage you’ll make more money by linking to affiliate pages for all the brands and models you mention than by selling advertising to a suitcase company. And, just as important, your readers are better served by links to the products than by distracting advertising that takes up real estate on the page, slows the loading of the page, and is likely completely ignored. (Opinions may differ on this but I think it’s rare that a reader wants or benefits from paid advertising. Certainly affiliate links can be spammy and not in the users best interest, but when done right they really can be part of a great user experience. The reader gets quality information and the blogger gets paid for making good helpful content.)
- If you do sell advertising it will likely be through an ad network like Google Adsense. You’ll copy and paste a few lines of code into your website. The code runs an algorithm that determines the topic of your content and displays related advertising. For example, it will be able to tell that your post is about luggage and will display advertising related to that topic (advertisers bid on keywords and topics and the highest bid wins the spot). Pros: very easy to implement. Cons: it will display ads that are unrelated to the content or that are of dubious integrity. You will have some control over what type of ads get displayed (you can ban certain companies and categories) but not a lot. And to the extent you limit advertisers you’re just limited revenue. Adsense will also display advertising based on the readers past searches and browsing. Some readers will be turned-off by the fact that they recently searched for a Volvo and now your site is displaying car advertisements. Even if you’re untroubled by the algorithmic tracking of internet browsing some of your readers will not like it.
- Selling Tours or Experiences with Local Businesses – This is essentially advertising. But I wanted to single out experiences and small businesses that you play a more active role in suggesting and recommending. This is most-likely to happen with a destination-based blog. Say, you’ve built the top website for Kyoto-related travel. And now you’re trying to monetize your site through local relationships. My main thought with this type of monetization is just how much time, effort, and hustle this will take. Time to meet people and form relationships, develop a plan and negotiate the terms of your interaction. And all of this time is time you can’t be researching travel options and writing on your blog, creating content that is helpful and interesting to readers. And it all points me back to recommending that the best way to monetize a blog is through a handful of good quality affiliate partners. Create lots of content around your topic or destination that is super-helpful to readers. Most of this content will not be directly monetized. It’s just free content that helps your readers plan their trip. Then target one to three affiliates that have great products or services that you can whole-heartedly recommend to your readers. They’re out there – you just have to find them.
- Exclusive Access (perhaps to a forum or newsletter) – Scott’s Cheap Flights is the only travel blog/website that I know about that has effectively charge for access to exclusive information (in his case a newsletter). Nomadic Matt has a travel forum but it’s free. There is certainly a way of doing this: offering content or information so good that people will pay for it. But it’s tough. There’s so much free content on the web that in order to charge for it, it has to be really great. And even then, how do promote and sell people on it before they’ve seen it?
- Selling Links – This is the process of adding a link to your website (usually with very specific anchor text) for the purposes of getting paid by the company you linked to. Google frowns upon this and will penalize sites that link and get linked to in this manner. Basically, don’t do it if you care about getting traffic from Google searches. You used to be able to get paid $25 to $500 for a link but the practice has faded and it’s now rare to get offered payment for links.
- The Basics: It’s called “buying” a domain name (e.g. SantoriniDave.com) but it’s more like renting it. You register the name at sites like Namecheap, Namesilo, Godaddy, and Domain.com and then need to renew by the year (though you can do this in 2, 5, or 10 year periods).
- Registering a domain and hosting it (covered below) are separate things. You can register your domain name with one company (e.g. Namecheap) and host it with a different company (e.g. Godaddy). And for security reasons this is what I recommend. It’s bad if either your registration or your hosting site gets hacked. But it’s really bad if both get hacked and that’s (by definition) would happen if your registration and hosting company are one and the same. So, register with one company (my top recommendation: Namecheap) and host your site with another company (my top recommendation: WP Engine).
- This video by Rand Fishkin is a helpful overview of best practices for naming your website and things to keep in mind when choosing a domain name. Definitely watch this video before you buy your domain.
- Err on the side of short, pronounceable (more pronounceable usually means more easily remembered), brandable (Google isn’t called searchengine.com), and general (backpackingasia.com will make it difficult to write about anything else). Don’t focus on what your first 20 posts are going to be about. Think about where you want to be in 3 to 5 years.
- I’ll acknowledge some contradiction in what I’m saying. Throughout this post I’ve recommended that your blog be focused. And now I’m recommending a more general name that could work with any topic. There is some tension here. For the highest likelihood of success you’ll want to target 1 or 2 key ideas, topics, or categories. Say a blog about travel luggage. Great topic with lots to write about and some good ways to monetize traffic. And if you’re going to focus on luggage it would be nice to have a domain name (website name) that highlights the category: e.g. bagstogo.com. But with a name like that it’s hard to transition to other topics in the future should those other topics prove more rewarding. Say you notice that travel gear and extras get more traffic and make more money and you want to move your focus to cameras, headphones, backpacks, and travel pillows. Then the fact you pinned your domain name to “bags” will be a challenge. With all that said, I lean towards a more general name that will allow you to go in many different directions.
- A website host is the place where the files of your website are stored and where your web pages are served from. In the most basic sense, your host company owns a server (a large powerful computer) and your website files are stored on it. When someone reads your website they are accessing the web pages on your host’s server. This is the single most important relationship you’ll have for your website. You will talk with the help desk at your host company more than any other company. You’ll access their site more than any other site. You’ll read their help pages more than any other help pages. Pick a very good website host.
- The best website host for your blog: WP Engine – they have the best customer service, the fastest hosting, the best security, and the best ability to accommodate your traffic growth. They do cost more ($35/month) than other getting-started hosting companies – but it’s worth it. Saving money and being frugal is a smart approach for most things to do with your blog. But hosting is the one exception where spending a bit more has huge benefits for your website’s speed and security, and in your time spent dealing with your host company. WP Engine has top notch security, automatic daily backups, CDN storage for faster web pages, and superb customer help. This isn’t just talk – I use WP Engine for this site. My brother just started a blog and what did I recommend to him? Yes, WP Engine. My thinking is this: If you’re not willing to spend $35/month then you’re not serious about building a quality website.
- The best cheap website host for your blog: Bluehost – this is a fine choice to save money on hosting. I think in the medium to long term you’re better off going with WP Engine. But if that’s just too expensive then you’ll likely do fine with BlueHost. Just be prepared for slower customer service and more hands-on activity on your end (security checks, CDN setup, backups, and updates). You can move to a faster more robust host later but do be prepared for a lot of time, effort, and updating to transfer all your website files and configurations from one host to another.
- What is WordPress? WordPress is a free and open-source content management system (CMS) based on PHP & MySQL. It’s the world’s most popular tool for creating any kind of website; from a travel blog to a full-featured business website. In 2018 WordPress was used by more than 60 million websites, including 30% of the top 10 million websites. Basically, it’s the software that stores your site’s content, displays that content on your website, and where you administer all changes and updates to your site.
- Do I have to use WordPress for my blog? No, there are other choices like Squarespace, Wix, Drupal, and Blogger. I won’t go into any detail on those alternatives but I do believe that WordPress is the easiest to learn and has the most flexibility and customization should you need it as your site grows.
- Get a book on WordPress – WordPress for Beginners is good. Watch videos: WordPress Tutorial For Beginners. Read blogs: How To Use WordPress.
Making Money from Your Travel Blog
-Free PR Trips
-Selling A Book or Some Other Product You Make
-Selling Tours or Experiences with small local businesses
-Exclusive Access (perhaps to a forum or email access)