I never really considered myself a blogger or pictured myself becoming one, thinking of myself as mostly just an Instagrammer with a website. When I started this travel blog, I figured I could throw some pictures on it and elaborate a bit more compared to my content on Instagram.
Somewhere down the road, I started realizing the quote “traveling makes you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” was a bit too real. I had a lot of stories to tell and 150,000 readers later, I guess I can start considering myself a blogger and taking this more seriously.
150,000 readers is not much compared to the hardcore bloggers who pull those numbers in a day, but the process has definitely given me a new perspective on the blogosphere. I’ve had a few websites before this one. One of those would regularly hit 100,000 daily visitors, so when I think of how far I’ve come on this blog, I just think of the glory days and remind myself to sit down, b*tch, be humble.
Social media fueled that previous website. Around 80% of traffic came from social media. It was successful but mostly because I already had a wide audience I could advertise it to. I could write whatever I wanted and get it in the faces of millions of people immediately through social media.
With a travel blog like this, articles are a lot more specific, making it harder to just spray it out to millions of random followers. Posting articles about sports or college gets a solid return when I blast it on social media. When you have a large audience, you can count on followers being interested in broad topics like college or sports. If 1% of the one million people who see your article on Twitter are interested, that’s already 10,000 site visitors. On the other hand, sharing a specific post about what to do in Bangkok will get a fraction of a fraction of that percent.
That brings opportunity cost into play. In full transparency, why promote my travel blog when I can push something else and earn way more money? I’m only saying this because I want to emphasize that you can start a successful blog from scratch. I used none of my social media assets to promote this blog. All too often, I see “how to start a blog” articles where the steps are unachievable by the majority of its readers. For example,
Step 1: Think of a clever name.
Step 2: Pay someone $800 to design a pretty website.
Step 3: Have 4 million followers on social media already.
If you don’t have 4 million followers on social media, don’t worry! Just spend $100 on advertising per week to get 50 or so visitors.
A lot of people give up before even starting because they think it can’t be done. When I started this blog, I felt the same way. In my mind, it wasn’t even a side project or a hobby. It was just a formality that I didn’t expect to go anywhere.
For all of 2016, I watched as my blog fluctuated between 10-20 visitors a day. Most of them were probably me. Towards the end of 2016, I saw it spike up to the 30s because of increased interest in my guide for New Years in Times Square. A year later, a week feels like a failure if fewer than 5,000 people stumble onto my blog. Again, when you compare that number to the established bloggers out there, it’s negligible. But, it is something. A year ago, I didn’t think I would even make it to this point. A year from now, who knows how much else could change? Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus solely on how you can improve.
The amount of work to grow my travel blog has been much less than I expected and much more rewarding than I expected. To start your own travel blog, you really only need two things:
A plethora of experiences to draw inspiration from
That’s about it. I consider myself a decent writer, but even a mediocre writer becomes a fantastic storyteller given the right experiences. If you’re starting a travel blog, you probably travel a lot. You’ve probably experienced hundreds of things that you want to tell everyone. Tell them. Tell all the stories you can. You never know who is on Google right now looking to hear your exact story, whether to inform or inspire them. One of my most-Googled articles is about cocaine in Colombia. Seriously, Google “getting cocaine in Colombia” and I’m pretty sure I’m the first one to pop up.
When I say blog about everything, I’m serious. Write about everything you’ve experienced. There is someone out there who is probably curious about it. When I’m traveling, I Google twenty questions a day at least. Guess what? Usually, someone has covered my exact question. Whether it is about how awful a bus ride was or if a tour was worth it, a travel blogger has likely been there, done that. Draw inspiration from your experiences and then write write write like you’ve gulped down a dozen Adderall.
Now, on to the logistics of starting a blog. You may think this is the most important thing, but if you aren’t passionate about writing and traveling, then don’t even bother reading this part.
For someone who was accustomed to using social media to immediately provide exposure to anything I created, the process of manually growing this travel blog was a slow and painful grind. No matter what people think, the reality is that it isn’t easy. However, when I’m typing away and ranting about terrible experiences or snarking my way through a travel guide, everything comes naturally. I’ll accidentally end up writing for hours. If you thought my blogs were long and winding now, you should see them before I force myself to edit out all of the pointless tangents.
(This draft was at 1720 words when I came back to edit it to shorten it, and now it is at 1822 words. My bad).
For example, about ten lines ago, I said: “now, on to the logistics of starting a blog.” Yet here we are and I still haven’t started on the logistics of starting a blog. Basically, this stuff should be fun, but if it’s not fun for you, then you might want to reconsider. All shortcuts aside, you’re probably going to have to grind it out for months and dozens upon dozens of blog posts before seeing any semblance of a payoff.
Now, on to the logistics of starting a blog.
The Logistics of Starting A Blog
Name your blog and then get that domain name. Domains are still pretty cheap these days and depending on how obscure or clever you think your name is, it probably won’t be taken. If you’re a millennial, you’re in luck because I bet your preferred blog name is probably travel-related alliteration or an oddly specific pun based on your name.
Check out HostGator.com if you’re looking to buy a domain name and a cheap place to host your blog. It’s pretty easy to make your own website these days. Drag-and-drop site builders like the ones on HostGator are nice because you don’t need web developing skills or the hundreds of dollars that it might cost to hire someone to create a website.
When you first start off, it might be easy to get distracted by all the cool features and focus solely on the aesthetics. While it’s important to have a great-looking website, no one’s going to see it if you don’t have any content. Make it look nice, but make sure it’s functional. Advanced graphics are not necessary at this point.
This website that you’re reading this on is my third or fourth attempt at a travel blog. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted trying to make an interactive map or some other purely aesthetic feature. Once you get the blog going, investing your time and money into flashy features is up to you. Of the three or four current versions of this blog undergoing varying degrees of construction on different site builders, this is the most basic and the least flashy. But hey, it works and any money I’ve made on it will definitely be re-invested in the near future towards upgrading the site.
Focus On What’s Important First
With little content, the blog will struggle to take off no matter how good it looks. When you’re starting off, try to get at least 15-20 posts written before even thinking about promoting the blog. People who stumble upon the blog will be more likely to subscribe if they see that there is enough quality content and that the blog has been recently updated. I frequently scroll through blog feeds searching for travel guides or travel inspo, but no matter how good someone’s content is, I rarely subscribe if I see that their blog has like three posts and hasn’t been updated in six months.
Having a lot of posts also gives readers more content to hop to after they finish reading a post you’ve shared or promoted. Low bounce rates and higher impressions can be a big selling point if you choose to do any advertising or sponsored posts on your site. Having a lot of articles can catch a reader’s eye and keep them on the site longer. One-and-done readers are still better than none, but you should do everything possible to turn a casual reader into a subscriber.
What Kind Of Content Should I Have?
Your content should be unique to you but also useful and interesting to readers. Travel guides are what’s going to end up performing well from traffic via search engines. Inspirational travel blogs have more likelihood of going viral. Think of your blog as no different than a YouTube channel or something. The informative videos are going to be found through more keyword specific searches. The inspirational videos are probably going to pop up on your Facebook or Twitter feed from someone sharing it. Going back to the previous bullet point, the channels with more videos are likely going to get more subscribers.
Mix up your content but try to keep it focused on what you want your niche to be. If you’re a travel blog, then keep it as closely-related to travel as you can. If your content is well-written and relevant, then with a bit of luck and patience, your articles will start getting hits and your blog will begin to grow.
How Do I Start Getting Traffic?
Like basically everything else, start with reaching out to people you know. Your family will definitely support you, even if it means just sharing your posts on Facebook. You can share your posts on your personal profiles, but I recommend creating separate pages for your blog. On the occasion that a random person stumbles upon your blog and happens to want to also follow you on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, it’s good to already have that readily available, even if you don’t use it frequently. Social media is helpful, but it’s far from the only way to start getting traffic.
With good, specific content and smart SEO (search engine optimization) tactics, your blog can start growing effortlessly. If you’ve taken the time to write something, then take the time to increase the chances of someone finding it on Google. Add relevant and specific keywords in the title, excerpt, alt-texts, and the article itself. You also have to accept that you’re not a popular blogger… yet.
Your post titles should say exactly what you’re going to cover. A title like “My Trip To Indonesia” will not get you any help from search engines. Clever titles with clever puns also won’t help you out there. A better title would be something like “A Backpacker’s Guide To Traveling In Indonesia” or “5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going To Bali“. Once you get the blog going, then go ahead, use that pun as your title.
If your content tackles specific travel situations and locations, you’ll have less competition when it comes to reaching the first page of Google searches. If your articles are generic like “Best Places To Go In 2017” or “10 Best Cities in Europe“, then good luck competing against major publications that have definitely already covered that. No matter how good your article is, it will be difficult to compete against established names without paying.
I’ve never paid for advertising for this blog and I think growth and traffic can be attained without paying for it. However, if you’ve got the money then it’s up to you to experiment. A lot of website hosting platforms, including HostGator, provide a complimentary $100 in Google AdWords if you buy any of their web-hosting packages. Some of their packages start at less than $4 a month. That’s a pretty solid deal if you want to start promoting your blog sooner rather than later. Like I said, it’s best to hold off on paying for promotion until your blog gains traction on its own. Once you see which posts succeed organically, it gives you an idea of which ones to promote. Unfortunately, it also lets you know which ones you have to accept were flops.
Starting your own travel blog is equally as frustrating as it is exciting. If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to avoid a lot of the mistakes that people encounter. Travel blogging should be fun, but you should also be informed about how to go about it intelligently. A bit of extra care and time taken in the early stages can go a long way in the end. Trust me, it is way better to be prepared for any roadblocks ahead of time.
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