Yeah, you’re totally right – I do have the best job ever. I travel around the world, write about my experiences, and somehow—mysteriously—that pays my bills (which are, let’s face it, 90% plane tickets and hotel rooms anyway). And all you know is that I “blog” and that you want to do it too.
Did I go to college and major in Blogging? No—my degree is actually far less useful. Did I have a teacher/guru/jedi master show me the ways of blogging? Again, no. I was all alone on the mean streets of Cyberspace. A true renegade, capable of unspeakable puns. What I did do, was Google, Google, and Google some more until eventually the whole thing just fell into place. So much Googling.
Actually, scratch that. That’s a lie. Nothing about this blog “fell” into place. Instead, every piece of it was forced here through literal blood, sweat, tears, and screams into my couch cushions. Needless to say, blogging ain’t easy; but if I can do it, from scratch for that matter, so can you. And I don’t mean to sound like a fortune cookie, but honestly, I tried changing my pants while brushing my teeth this morning and I fell down in my closet.
I’ve been blogging here at My Wanderlusty Life since 2014 and I currently make a liveable (in most cities) income from said venture. So yes, Malcolm Gladwell and I would consider myself an expert. I started it during a time when I was working at a tedious, mind-numbing job where you could often find me hiding under my desk to avoid certain people (true story) and rolling my eyes so intensely I was afraid they were going to stick that way (doesn’t it just feel so good though?). Needless to say, I was in desperate need of a creative outlet.
At the time, I knew nothing about computers and/or the internet, I was a sporadic user of social media at best, and I cuss way, way too much. And yet, somehow I’ve been able to turn a profit. In 2016 I quit that job, traded in eating my lunch in a utility closet to avoid other humans, and have been blogging full time ever since. And all of it started here, taking these same steps I’m about to show you. Good luck!
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 00: DECORATE YOUR WORK SPACE WITH FRESH FLOWERS
Psyche! Totally kidding. No sane person’s work space looks like the above photo. Mine, for instance, is covered in food crumbs, markers and tiny Post-its, a crushed up box of Kleenex from the back seat of my car, a tub of lip balm, unopened mail that’s been there for weeks (maybe I should get to that?), and a neglected, cold, half-drunk cup of coffee. Flowers? Absolutely not; no living thing could survive here.
Don’t let the blogging world desk-shame you. It’s okay if your workspace doesn’t include: a petite succulent, a light box or, for whatever reason in hell, Scrabble letters spelling out a pseudo-inspirational phrase like “girl boss”, a cup of tea in a cute mug, a tiny globe, and some plated pastries. That is not real life.
Besides, ’twas Albert Einstein who pointed out, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Just keep that in mind when you come over.
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 01: DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO BLOG ABOUT
Okay, so you know you want to start a blog. That means you probably already have a topic in mind. A passion. A higher calling. A word to spread. Or just a desire to share pictures of yourself in different outfits. Buuuut maybe you don’t. Maybe you just know you want it to involve cheese somehow. And that’s okay. For me, I knew I wanted to write but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. I cycled through a few different options (cheese was probably one of them) and finally settled on the topic of travel. I had taken and was taking a fair number of trips at that time and thought writing about them was a totally novel idea—as if no one else had previously thought of this.
HHAAHAHAHHAHAahhaAHAhahAHAHA oh shit I just fell over.
Yeah, travel blogs have been done before. The internet has been around for, for many of you, your entire lives. For me, since about the 7th grade, and it sounded like this: PshhkkkkrrrrEEEEEEeeeeeetshchchchchch*kading*kading. There isn’t much that hasn’t already been done on the internet. However, what users of the internet hadn’t experienced yet, was me. And now you.
So what will you blog about? Travel? Food (coughcheese)? Fashion? Beekeeping? Cats? I really hope it’s cats. If you think you need help deciding, answer these questions:
- What is something you are passionate about?
- What is something you talk about a lot and enjoy talking about a lot?
- What is something you already know a lot about?
- What is something you think you can help people with?
- What is something you like reading about?
- What is something you feel the internet is missing?
- Don’t you love cats though?
Did you pick something? Good. It just kinda jumped right out there at you, didn’t it? Now, I’m going to use myself as a case study—at this point I had chosen “Travel” as my blog topic. But that’s too general, right? Travel is a wide-ranging topic. I mean, it literally covers the entire planet, everything in it, and, as my friend Valerie has shown us, everything around it as well. So basically, I’d narrowed it down to writing about the whole friggin’ universe.
The same could be said about “food”, or “books”, or “sports.” No one is an expert in all aspects of a single topic. Not even Oprah Winfrey. But maybe you are an expert on Chinese food in New York City, presidential biographies, or synchronized swimming (teach meee!!).
I then had to ask myself the following:
- What about travel am I somewhat of an expert in?
- What about travel am I good at?
- What about travel do I think the internet is missing?
- What about travel do I think I can help people with?
Coming up with the answers to these was much harder than it sounds and actually took me a couple of years to nail down. I didn’t specialize in one particular geographical area (i.e. Europe or Mexico or Dallas, TX, etc.) because I travel everywhere. I wasn’t an expert in a particular way of travel (i.e. staying in hostels, traveling solo, or using air miles, etc.) because I do a little bit of everything. To find my answer, I had to take a look at my last few trips + the ones I was planning and find the common denominator.
For me, the one thing all my trips had in common was: trying to fit in as much as possible in a short amount of time. Turns out, I was a stone cold expert in fitting three different countries into a nine-day trip; in visiting six museums in two days; in finding the fastest route from here to there. And so the concept of #TimeBudgetTravel was born. Ladies and gentlemen, I had just found my niche. (pronounced “nitch” because I’m not the spawn of Satan)
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 02: CHOOSE A BLOG NAME
Okay, not to freak you out, but choosing a blog name is THE MOST IMPORTANT part when you’re learning how to start a blog. I mean, wouldn’t you be a totally different person if your name was [insert first pet’s name] [insert the street you grew up on]? Because I’m pretty sure that’s your stripper name.
Your blog name does a lot. It tells people your whole agenda in just a word or two (or three, in my case). It gives readers clues into your personality, your age, your passion, and your goals. That is, if you do it right. Giggity giggity.
Coming up with the perfect blog name will take time, imagination, and a healthy amount of ingenuity. Not unlike your stripping career, ba-dum-tssh. So you don’t have to start from scratch, here are some guidelines to follow:
⇢ Keep it short. Your blog name needs to be easy to remember and the longer your blog name is the… wait, what were we talking about? SEE. Attention spans are short and memory is running low. I bet you don’t even know your mother’s phone number by heart. Shame, shame.
⇢ Make sure it relays what your blog is going to be about. Let’s take my blog for instance—My Wanderlusty Life. From this name you can deduce that my blog is:
- About travel, due to my use of the word ‘wanderlust’
- About me and my life, specifically, as opposed to just a site on general travel topics. Obviously this site is going to contain posts on my own personal experiences and is not a collective, faceless effort.
- Geared towards a younger-ish audience, based on the fact that I’ve never heard anyone over 50 utter the word ‘wanderlust’.
⇢ Avoid overused terms. Like, if you’re going to start a travel blog, the word ‘wanderlust’ for example. Ahem, moving on. The idea is to stand out and be memorable, not to get lost in the cyber crowd. I mean, isn’t it so much easier to find the giant pirate ship in a Where’s Waldo picture than, say, WALDO?
Look, in my defense I thought I was the first person to come up with the concept of a travel blog so… I’m innocent here. I also never claimed to not be the most stubborn person you’ll ever meet. Do as I say, not as I do, mmmkay?
⇢ Avoid hyphens, double letters, and glottal stops when possible. Just because your blog and everything that goes along with it is online, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay there. By that I mean, people are constantly asking me what my blog is called out there in the real world. You know, the place with all the germs and cat hair? And I have to answer them, with my mouth. Unless I’m chewing because that’s just rude.
Your blog’s potential name may look great when spelled out, but how does it sound? Does it roll off the tongue? Like… “My Wanderlusty Life” perhaps? *flips hair* (I literally chose this name because I love alliterative sounds.) Now, if that domain was taken and I was forced to go with “my-wanderlusty-life.com” instead of “mywanderlustylife.com”, this is what would happen at parties:
“Hey, so what’s the name of your blog?”
“My Wanderlusty Life”
“Wow, that really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I’ll check that out!”
“Okay, but you should know, it’s ‘my hyphen wanderlusty hyphen life dot com.'”
NO ONE IS GOING TO REMEMBER THAT. Especially not after a bucket of Jello shots because those are the types of parties I attend. Also, if yourchosedomain.com is already taken, that just means you’re going to potentially be sending a lot of traffic to a site that’s not even yours.
As far as glottal stops, I’ll take a reference from a favorite TV show of mine, 1990s hit sitcom, Frasier. Maybe your name is Jack Crane, fantastic. But trying to tell people your website is ‘jackcrane.com’ may confuse some of them. Go ahead, say it out loud. “Is he saying Jacrane? or Jackrain?”
And let’s face it, double letters will just confuse your brain. If someone can’t find your site on the first try, you may not get a second. Today’s humans have the attention span of… wait, where was I? Oh yeah, so let’s say your blog name is “Camera and Donuts” because you’re clearly meant to be my bff. People typing in ‘cameraanddonuts.com’ could, and probably will, totally mess that up. (I just messed it up typing that example, sooo.) ‘Camerandonuts.com’ probably goes to a 404 page and they’ll think your site is broken and bye. Theys gots things to do. Like go get some donuts because your blog name is nothing if not inspirational.
⇢ Stick with .com. Look, as tempting as it may be to snatch up a domain name that ends in .wtf, .sexy, or .vodka (all actual, available URL extensions), your blog will succeed much more as a .com. It’s the standard, the go-to, the one that everyone remembers, and has been ever since the internet came in the form of free AOL compact discs in your mailbox. (Okay, maybe I’m too old to use the word wanderlust?) No one will remember mywanderlustylife.coffee (another legit option) after a pitcher of margaritas because sometimes I go to fiestas too.
⇢ Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Don’t rush into a blog name because that’s going to be her name for life. If your mother had chosen your name based on the first thing that came to her mind, your driver’s license would probably read “EPIDURALLLLL!!! Johnson”. You’ve gotta consider how that’s going to make her look in 5 years, 10 years, or at least until the robots have risen up and words are no longer useful. Beep boop beep. Grab a thesaurus and try out words you wouldn’t previously have considered. Maybe there’s a better rhyme or alliteration in there? (Yes, Dr. Seuss is my hero.) Or one word that gets across the point of multiple words, etc.
WHAT TO DO AFTER YOU CHOOSE A BLOG NAME
GOOGLE THAT SUM’BITCH.
For starters, you need to make sure it’s not already taken. Like how you have all those great ideas for Shark Tank when you’re in the shower, only to find out those stellar inventions are already selling for half price on Amazon. Lame.
You’re also going to need to make sure it’s not a copyrighted term (What do you mean I can’t call my space blog ‘Star Wars’???), is in any way porn-related (you’d honestly be shocked), or has its own page on Urban Dictionary as a synonym for God-knows-what.
CHECK SOCIAL MEDIA
After you’ve narrowed all your options down to one beautiful, perfect name for your new baby that wasn’t brought on by painful labor, you’ll need to check social media. You didn’t think being a blogger was just about writing on your blog did you? Oh, honey.
After choosing your perfect blog name, head to the big four social media sites—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest—and see if the corresponding handles are available. For instance, is there already an Instagram account for @cameraanddonuts? (No, there’s not. But you’re not using that one anyway, remember?) Everything associated with your new brand should all have the same name—or as close to each other as possible. MEMORABLE, son! *mic drop*
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 03: CHOOSE A WEB HOST
Let’s get technical, technical!
Lemme start this section off by explaining a few things. First: it’s about to get hella confusing up in here but don’t feel bad. Literally no one understands this. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when learning a new skill from scratch so just remember to breathe. Also, a good cry helps. Second: remember this…
There are three key things you need in order to start a blog: a domain name, a web host, and a WordPress account. Many of the following explanations will come off as technical and redundant so let me paint you a picture:
Your domain name = your address
Your web host = the apartment you rent + your landlord
Your WordPress account = your utilities provider + your interior decorator
Get it? Got it? Good.
So you’ve chosen a domain name – now it’s time to figure out where you want to live and who you want your landlord to be. (Raise your hand if you wish you could actually choose your own real-world landlord…🙌🏻) Just like you and your cats here on Earth, your blog needs a place to live on the internet. And just like choosing a state/neighborhood/hipster commune in which to reside, there are pros and cons to consider when choosing a web host as well.
There are TONS of technical criteria you can sift through if that’s your jam, and while you’re doing that, I’mma be over here choosing business cards that best accentuate my cats green eyes or something else utterly useless in order to avoid having to deal with the technical mumbo-jumbo. However, some aspects of choosing a web host are more important than others. For me, it’s:
⇢ Website security | Which companies have the best security track record? You don’t want to live in a building that doesn’t have locks, now do you? Hell naw you don’t. For your baby, you’re going to want, at the very least, an alarm system, steel bars on the doors and windows, snipers, razor wire around the perimeter, Home Alone-caliber booby traps, and a massive German Shepherd that’s unfazed by cuts of raw steak. The internet is a dangerous, merciless place where everyone is trying to rob you. It’s basically a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Fun, right!?
⇢ Customer service | As previously mentioned, I don’t know shit about computers, so when something goes wrong with my site, I need someone to fix it for me permanently and immediately. When I have a question about emails or plugins or site speed, I need someone to hold my hand and tell me it’s gon’ be aiight. And then do it for me. It takes a village, you guys. And I need someone I can rely on 100/100 times.
⇢ User friendliness | Blogging can get uber-technical so I need things as simple and straightforward as possible, like my Starbucks order. I demand the black coffee of web hosting.
I can’t speak for all the web hosting companies out there (because I only use one) but I can tell you this:
- I hear nothing but complaints about Bluehost, HostGator, and GoDaddy in all the blogging groups I’m in.
- I hear nothing but the most amazing things about the web host I actually use: SiteGround.
SiteGround has got to be the absolute best there is. I mean, it just can’t get any better than them. I’m literally in love with this company. Their customer support is the best I’ve experienced from ANY COMPANY EVER IN LIFE and the website security would keep even Kevin McCallister happy. They’re all, “I’m gonna give you to the count of ten to get your ugly, yellow, no-good keister off my website, before I pump your guts with some kind of internet punishment that totally exists!” Totally works.
I haven’t gone to SiteGround with a single problem/question that they didn’t immediately fix or help me with. I honestly can’t rave about them enough. Just trust me on this one – choose SiteGround as your web host.
HOW TO START A BLOG WITH SITEGROUND
Go to siteground.com (not siteground.tech, not siteground.cloud, and certainly not siteground.wine even though that one sounds a helluva lot more fun than what we’re doing which, ironically, will require much, much wine).
Click on “Managed WordPress Hosting.” Since you’re going to also need a WordPress account, we’re going to get ahead of the game here. Otherwise, you’d choose “Reliable Web Hosting” and then would later have to migrate your WordPress account over and, like, who needs that?
Choose a hosting plan. And by that I mean: Choose how big of an apartment you want to live in.
Since you’re just starting out, flying solo, no kids, no in-laws, yada yada, you and your cat should start small – maybe a studio? You wouldn’t buy a huge 7-bedroom mansion with the hopes of one day filling it up, right? The same goes for your blog. It’s new, you currently have zero readers, and your site at this time will require very little. Despite how big you see your little baby growing, let the blog grow in time. You can always upgrade later.
Register the awesome, one-of-a-kind, memorable, new domain name you’ve just come up with. Is this the cheapest address you’ve ever purchased or what? Literally, my P.O. Box costs mansion prices in these terms.
Fill out the secure sign up form – or, what I like to call, the birth certificate for your new, sometimes frustrating, but oh-so-rewarding child.
You’ll need to:
- Create an account with SiteGround (that would be the “Account Information” portion of the program).
- Fill in your personal, actual, real-world information.
- And, enter your payment information.
- None of this is new to you. If you’ve ever made an online purchase, this is no different. Except you won’t see a box-full of cat sweaters on your porch in 3-5 days.
Under PURCHASE INFORMATION, it digs a little deeper.
The plan you chose and your data center should be automatically filled out. Chances are it says “Start Up” and “Chicago”, respectively. For period, it’s up to you. When I started out, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to like blogging at all so I started off paying per year. I mean, I’m not going to pay rent for three years on an apartment I may only live in for six months. I’m not a Kardashian. However, it’s all up to you. Maybe you’re ambitious; maybe you don’t have commitment issues; maybe you’re husband is a world famous, albeit off-his-rocker, musical artist and money is no object?
EXTRA SERVICES explained:
- Domain Registration: Since you’re registering a new domain, you’ll have to pay for it, obvs. A small price to pay though for your own little slice of the new millennial American Dream.
- Domain Privacy: I highly recommend. Without it, any ol’ weirdo can look up owner information for any website. That means, your personal phone number, your home address, etc. This annual $12 fee keeps all of that sensitive information out of the hands of every internet lurker who wants to mail you their fingernail clippings and used socks. Or worse. DUN DUN DUNNNNNN.
- SG Site Scanner: I’m obviously super paranoid about break-ins so I, too, use the SG Site Scanner. Think of it as a 24-hour security guard walking circles around your house making sure everything’s A-OK. If he spots something fishy, he’ll send you an email. Also, he apparently doesn’t have to sleep, ever. Those are the people you want working for you.
Fill out your credit card information, click that little box that says you’ve totally read the Terms and Conditions (or maybe, actually read them?) and you’re all set!
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 04: INSTALL WORDPRESS
When it comes to blogging, WordPress is all you need to know. WordPress is industry standard and the home of blogs of all kinds and all major websites. Like, if it’s good enough for Disney, it’s good enough for me. If it’s good enough for the New York Times, it’s good enough for me. Don’t get swayed by the Blogspot ads or the Wix commercials – Okay, so Karlie Kloss uses Wix (huh? Karlie who? Exactly). Beyoncé uses WordPress.
If your domain is your address, and your web host is your apartment, WordPress is your utility company, your interior decorator, and your live-in housekeeper, because we should all have one of those. WordPress is what controls how your blog looks and operates; it’s how your blog is powered; and it’s what keeps your blog clean, organized, and never without fresh sheets.
Yes, there are two distinct forms of WordPress. Because, I told you, blogging ain’t easy. Since I’m going to walk you through how to install WordPress through SiteGround, you won’t necessarily need this information – but this question will come up at some point and you should know the difference. The more you know…💫
WordPress.com is the site people go to when they want to start a free blog… but that’s not you. Free WordPress blogs are for the not-so-serious bloggers out there, they are quite limited in what you can do with them, and they lack all the goodies. Plus, every free WordPress blog has a domain that looks like this: www.coolnewblog.wordpress.com. U-G-L-Y you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly! You get what you pay for, remember?
WordPress.org is where you wanna be. WordPress.org is the wicked popular website builder everyone, even Facebook, even the official Star Wars blog, knows and loves. These blogs are your very own to customize as much or as a little as you want. You get a domain name that you create and own, you can customize errrythang, and your site can now start to bring in the millions of dollars we all know it’s gonna make. Beyoncé money.
After signing up with SiteGround you’ll get an email welcoming you to the partay! That email will contain a button to SiteGround’s Launch Wizard which I’ve nicknamed ‘Groundalf. On this page you can register with WordPress and begin the setup process. ‘Groundalf makes this super easy to follow but, if you have questions, just hit up SiteGround’s ahh-mazing customer support. They may just do the whole thing for you. True story.
Now, if you’re as utterly clueless as I was, your next thought is probably: How in THE WORLD do I edit my blog? UUGGGHHHHHH! (I’m super dramatic.) The answer: type in your domain name and put /wp-admin at the end. From there, you can log in using your WordPress credentials and build your kickass blog. It seems so obvious really but no one ever shared that small (but like kinda the most important part) nugget of information with me.
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 05: CHOOSE A BLOG THEME
Next you’ll want to start filling your new home with wall colors, curtains, furniture, and just basically the entire home décor section at Target because isn’t owning everything in there just absolutely necessary? Why, yes, of course I need a dinosaur lamp! More than I need oxygen!
To start, you’ll need to choose a blog theme. See how blogs like My Wanderlusty Life, Annual Adventure, It’s Five O’Clock Here, and The Pink Backpack all look different? That’s because they all have different themes. Your interior designer would call this a scheme, but I just call my new Target bedroom “Jurassic chic.” To give you an idea of what I mean, this blog runs on a theme called Metro Pro – checking out the template on this page you’ll see what I mean. (I’ve actually done very little customization because #computersarehard.)
FREE THEMES // VS // PREMIUM THEMES
There are tons of free themes to choose from to get yourself started, but upgrading to one you’ve paid for is recommended. Free themes can be limiting in their functions, may be widely used (so your site could possibly look just like someone else’s), and, because you haven’t paid for this service, the developer’s have no obligation to provide support. If that goldfish you won at the carnival dies by the end of the day, don’t expect anyone to replace it. Just sayin’.
Premium WordPress themes, on the other hand, have everything you want and need. They are highly customizable and come ready with many functions the free versions don’t have. There’s a better chance of your site being totally unique. Also, premium themes come with regular updates and support to ensure your site is running smoothly all the live long day.
CHOOSING A THEME
To choose a theme, one way to start is to go into your admin panel (i.e., yourblog.com/wp-admin). From there, choose APPEARANCE in the menu on the left side, then THEMES. You can choose from the examples shown right there, or click ADD NEW to search through more. All I gots to say is, Put on the coffee – iz gon’ be a loooong night.
When you’re ready to choose a premium WordPress theme, go here. (Which, if I may say, should just go ahead and be right now. You’d hate yourself if you got your blog all established then decided you hated your shitty free theme.) Iz gon’ be an even longer night now.
If you see a theme that catches your eye, you can click on it to get all kinds of information. To see what it actually looks like as a site, be sure to click on “open live demo” and explore it on your own.
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 06: DOWNLOAD SOME PLUGINS
Plugins are the little helpers you hire to keep your house running: your butler, your housekeeper, your dog walker, your chef, and your live-in bed-maker. Plugins are your thermostat, your mailbox, your doorbell, and your Roomba. And yes, this analogy is even more ridiculous given that I’ve previously told you to purchase just a small studio for yourself. Whatever. Most necessary plugins are free so… you’d hire all those people if they worked for you for free too so shut up.
Believe it or not, there are still things your landlord won’t do for you (*gasp* What? No!), and that’s where plugins come in. You’re free to use plugins as you so desire throughout your blogging journey but there are a few key plugins you should start with:
⇢ Jetpack | Jetpack is great for beginners because it’s super simple and straightforward to use when you’re just learning how to start a blog. I mostly use it for a quick glance at my stats, spam protection, website backups, downtime monitoring, and to protect against malicious attacks. (Starting a blog is starting to sound super scary, huh?)
⇢ Akismet | Akismet has one job – to safeguard your site against unwanted comments. Am I talking about the ones that read, “Your a whinner.” or “Cant handle the truth your a moron.” or “You are a disgrace to real tightwads.”? No, unfortunately, I’m not. Akismet guards against robots, not idiots. (My Spirit Airlines review really brings out the best in humanity.)
What Akismet blocks are comments like, “CHeeP NBA jerzeys from Chinaa! CLicK heer!” and with a 99.9% accuracy rate. In the four years My Wanderlusty Life has been up and running, Akismet has blocked 49,449 spam comments… and counting.
⇢ Yoast SEO | Since you’re just learning how to start a blog, you may not know this yet, but SEO (“search engine optimization”) is a very important thing you need to know all about. It gets suuuper complicated and complex but, starting out, the Yoast SEO plugin really helps you get the job done without having to understand it all. Win-win! It helps you optimize your blog posts for search traffic, social media, etc. and all in a straightforward, easy to digest way. I don’t think there’s a decent blog out there that doesn’t use it.
OTHER PLUGINS I LIKE FOR BEGINNERS
⇢ JQuery Pin It Button | Pinterest is YUUUGE in the world of blogging so you want your blog posts to be as pinnable as possible. The JQuery Pin It Button is a simple plugin that adds a “Pin It” button over the images in your blog posts. You can customize it to only pin certain images, on certain pages, etc., and even customize the look of it.
Hover your mouse over this image and notice the button in the upper left-hand corner:
⇢ TinyMCE Advanced | The TinyMCE Advanced plugin isn’t really all that ‘advanced’ at all so don’t panic. What it does is add a few extra editing options to your standard (coughprimitive) WordPress editor like: fonts and font sizes, indentations, etc. to better customize your blog posts.
In all honesty, should I go back and inception the crap out of that picture? Methinks yes.
Your list of plugins will grow as your blog does and just know that for almost anything you want to do, chances are there’s a plugin for that. Now, there are two easy ways to install plugins into your WordPress site.
- In your WordPress dashboard, click on ‘Plugins’ over in the left-hand menu.
- At the top, next to the word Plugins, click on “Add New”.
- This will bring up a list of featured plugins – but what you want is the search bar at the top right. Search for any plugin you want, say, one that will show your Instagram feed in your sidebar. Search for “Instagram” or something similar. I mean, I guess just use your brain.
- In the box for the Instagram Feed plugin (or whichever else you choose) click on “Install Now” and that’s literally it.
- You can now find and customize this plugin in the plugin menu on your WP dashboard under “Installed Plugins”. ROCKET SCIENCE. YOU JUST COMPUTER’ED!
Let’s say you’re out surfing the internet for the best plugin to display your Instagram feed. You’ll probably come across a page like this:
- And when you do, simply click “download” to download the plugin, as a .zip file, to your computer.
- Next, go to the Plugins section of your WP dashboard, and click “Add New”.
- Instead of searching for a plugin in the search box, you can click “Upload Plugin” at the top left.
- You’ll then choose the plugin (just straight up use the .zip file, from your computer’s menu), upload it to your WordPress, and it’ll be immediately available for activation and editing in your “Installed Plugins” section. YOU’RE A TECH GENIUS!
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 07: SET UP YOUR BLOG
Over 5,300 words later, it’s finally time to set up your blog!
To start out, your blog will need some basics. I guess you could think of these as plumbing and wall paint and maybe a working doorbell because door-to-door salespeople are still a thing. You’ll need to know when to hide behind the kitchen island. So let’s set up some furniture, plant some flowers, and hang up a picture or two!
Bloggingly speaking, I mean:
⇢ Customize your blog’s theme. Choose colors and fonts and your general layout.
⇢ Create an About page. Let your millions of future readers know what you and your site are all about. Don’t exactly know yet? (Can I get an AMEN!?) Don’t worry; it’ll come in time. You can update/change/completely scrap your About page as often as you like. (Here’s mine as a semi-decent example: About Ashley)
⇢ Set up a Contact page so people know how to find you and/or get in touch. (Unless you’re writing a blog on, say, extraterrestrial conspiracies and you don’t want to be found. Totes fine.)
For everything else, just play around with it. It could take you ten minutes, or, if you’re anything like me, you could be working on this for the next five years. However, the most important step in setting up your blog:
⇢ WRITE A BLOG POST!
Your first blog post will be your hardest post to write. It’s hard to know exactly where to start, I know. There isn’t a seed to plant, a recipe to follow, or a “special hug” to get from someone you love. You gotta birth this thing from scratch. Whenever you need help with this, refer back to the questions asked in STEP 01 – they may just keep you on the right path.
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 08: INSTALL GOOGLE ANALYTICS
Google Analytics is a free tool that basically everyone uses to analyze the traffic that goes to their sites. It can tell you things like what sites your readers are coming from, what countries they live in, their ages, what languages they speak, how they found your site, and like a million other things. It’s quite unnerving actually—but you’ll get used to it.
Even if you think you’ll neverrrrr need this kind of information, install Google Analytics. Because, you know what, you. will. need. this. kind. of. information. If for nothing else, it’s quite the ego boost to see how many people are reading your blog posts.
You’ll need Google Analytics for a number of important things like advertising, other ways of making money, and basically just giving your blog an overall purpose. GA will tell advertisers how many people are reading your site and their demographics, while it’ll tell you what your readers enjoy reading about, your top traffic referrers (Facebook, Google, the family newsletter your mom sends out, etc.), which of your posts are the most popular, what time of day people are reading, etc. I PROMISE ONE DAY YOU WILL CARE DESPERATELY ABOUT THIS STUFF.
To start for free, go to Google.com/Analytics and click “Start for Free” over on the right side. See how easy this is gonna be? YOU GOT THIS!
PRO TIP: Also download the Google Analytics mobile app so you can low-key check your blog stats ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY.
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 09: SNATCH UP THOSE SOCIAL MEDIA HANDLES
Okay so remember about three years ago (okay, I’m kidding, but this is a long page) when we talked about your blog name? And how you were supposed to check the big four social media sites to make sure those names weren’t taken? Well, it’s time… GRAB ‘EM!
I realize I’m old so there are probably a whole buncha new social media sites out there I don’t know about—probably called Qlirf or Snurgl or something equally nonsensical—but you should at least concentrate on the big four: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest.
Actually, lemme rephrase that… you should focus on whichever ones you want to focus on. For instance, I hate Twitter with the passion of a thousand suns so it’s not a place where I dedicate my time. But, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to snag the Twitter handle of my blog’s name. Regardless of whether or not you plan to Facebook, Insta, tweet, or pin, you should still grab the corresponding handles of these, the four major social media platforms. Because you know what’ll happen if you don’t? Someone else will. And then it’ll be super weird when they start tweeting about CHeeP NBA jerzeys from Chinaa. And since it’s being done under your blog’s name, it’ll make you look spammy as hell, untrustworthy, and, most importantly, like a really bad speller.
For this you’ll want to:
- Try to keep your handle as close to your blog name as possible. Brand consistency is what we’re after! Unfortunately for me, both Twitter and Pinterest have a character limit so for those two I ended up having to use @wanderlustylife instead of @mywanderlustylife. Buuuuut, close enough.
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to be creative here. No: @wand3rlustylif3 or anything like that.
- Avoid _underscores_ if you can. We’re not in AIM anymore, Toto.
Now that you’ve got your social media profiles, you’ll need to set them up! Remember – consistency! Try to use the same profile picture, description, etc., for all four (or more if you also go with Swizzy and Boobat). This kind of brand consistency lets people know they’re on the social media account of the blog they want to be.
HOW TO START A BLOG | STEP 10: JOIN SOME BLOGGING GROUPS & COMMUNITIES
You’ve got a blog now! You’re going to have A LOT of questions. Think: 8th grade “health” class… on steroids. Finding the answers to these questions is going to be mind-numbing, time-consuming, and you very well might just rip all your hair out. The one thing that has been more beneficial in this respect than anything else at all ever? Joining Facebook blogging groups.
There are infinity+1 Facebook groups about blogging out there, so which ones are the best? I’ll leave that up to you. What some bloggers love, I can’t stand, and vice versa. My advice is to join a whole bunch and figure it out as you go.
The optimal blogging Facebook group will:
- Allow you to ask questions
- Help you get the answers to them
- Have members ranging from blogging beginners to blogging masters. A Facebook group for beginning bloggers won’t help you out much if everyone is in the same hole. (You’ve heard of the blind leading the blind I assume?) Just like a blogging group for masters will be way beyond your skill level.
- At the very least, have a steady stream of informed bloggers conversing on a regular basis that you can low-key stalk and learn things from.
These blogging Facebook groups are a great way to meet other bloggers, share information it could otherwise take you HOURS or DAYS and WEEKS to figure out on your own, and you can even search within the groups for certain keywords, should you have a specific question. Many of these kinds of groups are closed and you may need to answer a couple of questions before being accepted. Once accepted, always read (and follow) the group’s rules and regulations—often saved as the first post on the group’s wall.
SOME BLOGGING FACEBOOK GROUPS TO START WITH
- The Business of Blogging // Full of general blogging-related topics for all levels
- DNW – Making Money from Blogging // Group led by Sharon Gourlay who’s basically a mastermind at all things blogging – you definitely want to follow her.
- Make Traffic Happen // A group dedicated to helping bloggers drive traffic to their sites
SOME SPECIFICALLY TRAVEL BLOGGING RELATED
- Female Travel Bloggers // Covers topics of travel blogging and travel in general, for women
- Travel Bloggers Social Media Sharing Group // This is great for getting your blog out there at the beginning by getting other bloggers to share your content, and vice versa.
In addition to the world of free Facebook groups out there, another suggestion is to join a blogging community or two. These kinds of groups are INVALUABLE when you’re starting out and may just be the smartest blogging decision you’ll ever make.
When I started out, Travel Blog Success was all the rage. It absolutely changed my life in terms of not throwing myself out the window when trying to figure out stuff like header image sizes and whatever a cPanel is. These groups are maintained by professional bloggers, and have bloggers of all levels as members. They have moderators whose main goals are to get YOU up and running and becoming a successful blogger.
These kinds of groups are typically add-ons to a bigger blogging course and community. You get lesson-by-lesson instruction on blogging and everything that goes along with it, in addition to a private Facebook group for members. Travel Blog Success has since gone the way of MySpace but there are plenty more groups you can join. For example, I personally am a member of:
- Ditch the Daily Grind: How to Turn Your Blog Into a Profitable Business // By Jessica Festa of Jessie on a Journey
- Travel Blog Prosperity: Say Goodbye to Confusion and Hello to Blogging Clarity // By Jessica Festa of Jessie on a Journey
- Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships // By Amanda Williams of A Dangerous Business
- Affiliate Marketing for Travel Bloggers: A Beginner’s Guide // By Amanda Williams of A Dangerous Business
In all seriousness, if you want all of your blogging questions answered in one spot, in one easy-to-find manner, join these courses. Make it easy on yourself! They come with a price, yes, but there is no better blogging investment when you’re just starting out!
HOW TO MAKE MONEY WITH YOUR BLOG
A-HA! Finally, we get to the good stuff! (If you could see me, I’m rubbing my hands together as if coming up with an evil plan. I sometimes feel like I should’ve gone the way of YouTuber instead.)
There are many, many ways to make money with your blog—some can take years to work towards, while some you can get to right away. When I started my blog back in 2014, I didn’t even know you could make money blogging—I simply used it as a creative outlet and for something to do to look like I was working while at work. (Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean, mm-hmm…) It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I made my first $0.48 and I knew I’d really made it. Look out, world! Ashley’s RICH! (I 100% understand why businesses frame and display and their first dollar bill ever made.) I say this to let you know you’re already WAY ahead of me!
Basically, I recommend a product to my readers, they click on the link to that product that’s in my blog post, they make a purchase, I get a small percentage of the sale price as commission. SEE HOW EASY!? Affiliate marketing is great because it’s easy to get started even for a brand-new blog, you’re getting paid on information you’re already giving out, and it’s passive income, i.e. the dream. If you’ve ever worked at the mall, you already understand working for commission. Affiliate marketing is kinda like that, only you don’t have to put on pants, fake smile all day, or eat your lunch in a food court.
So who pays these commissions? Typically, the company who just made the sale, but sometimes others. You can join affiliate programs directly with some companies, or through third-party affiliate programs. I represent a mixture of the two. For example, Amazon runs their own affiliate program, but others, including the likes of Tripadvisor and Zappos, use a third party affiliate marketing network called Commission Junction.
To see some examples of affiliate marketing in action, check out:
- Yes, You Need Travel Insurance! And Here’s Why…
- How to Dress for Day of the Dead // A Complete Guide for Both Sexes
- Do This, Not That // Touring the ATM Cave in Belize
Is affiliate marketing a science? YES. It took me years to figure this out and I’m still learning every day. Joining Amanda Williams’ Beginner’s Guide to Affiliate Marketing course would be a perfect first step for you and take out a lot of the guessing. Don’t wait two years to make 48¢! It will take you forever to buy a yacht.
Go here to sign up for some of most popular affiliate networks:
Specifically, the display ads you see on this and basically every website on the World Wide Web.
Advertising is not traditionally a beginner move since you typically need a decent amount of traffic, a dedicated following, an inferred authority on a subject, among many other criteria. HOWEVER, it makes a lucrative goal to work towards.
There are a number of advertising networks you can join based on a number of factors. The most well-known is Google AdSense (Google owns everything. Know that now and just accept it.) while the one I use is Mediavine. To be frank here, I couldn’t figure out Google AdSense to save my life so I scrapped it from my existence and held out for Mediavine—the most popular among the blogging community (and for good reason, cough$$$). Then again, I fell up the stairs twice in one day last week for no apparent reason. You’ll probably be able to figure it out.
In addition to worldwide advertising networks, you can always sell advertising space on your blog, all on your own. YOU DA BOSS, so you can do these things. It’s your world now, sister!
SPONSORED BLOG POSTS
Sponsored blog posts—and by that I mean a blog post that a company/etc. pays you to publish—can be an excellent way for your blog to pay the bills. Sponsored posts are just another form of advertising—a way for a company to reach your audience, through you. To see an example of a sponsored post published by yours truly, check out: 15 Essential Mexico City Experiences for the Best Trip Ever, sponsored by Expedia.
Now that you’re a blogger, you don’t necessarily have to stay put. The World Wide Web is yours! There are a LARGE number of websites related to your blog niche that welcome outside writers with… whatever the online equivalent of open arms is. This kind of work is a great way to make money (still without having to change out of your pajamas), get your name and writing style out there, and potentially even get a link back to your blog. Now that you have a blog, you have a consistently-updated writing portfolio to share.
THE LITTLE EXTRA THINGS
Your blog is your own, your little space of the infinite internet—you can do (just about) anything you want with it. So get creative. Try new things and new monetization methods. The average millionaire, after all, has an average of seven income streams. Just sayin’.
For instance, I love sharing my little piece of the web with other bloggers who are also trying to get a leg up. Because of this, I started my featured blogger program where other bloggers can advertise their sites on my site, for a small fee. My traffic could potentially become their traffic. My readers are now exposed to their blogs as well, a meeting that may never have happened otherwise. And I make a little extra cash. It’s a win-win for all parties!
And when you get your blog up and running, you can be one of my featured blogs, too! Head over to my Featured Blogs page for more information.
MY FAVORITE BLOGGING RESOURCES
I’ve mentioned many of my favorite blogging resources throughout this post, but those were but a drop in the bucket of tools I use every single day to make this dream a reality. I told you, IT TAKES A VILLAGE!
Below are my favorite blogging resources and the ones I would recommend to anyone. I use only the most user-friendly options (let’s be real, that’s out of necessity), and typically go where I can find the best deal. Happy blogging!
Computers are hard and SiteGround is my blogging guardian angel. They do everything for me (or at least show me how to do it myself) and their support is the best customer service of ANY COMPANY I’ve ever dealt with. MWL would be nothing without these geniuses. You couldn’t ask for a better web host.
This course by Amanda Williams covers everything you need for making friends in high places. It includes pitching, media kit creation, working on social media campaigns, scoring sponsored travel, and everything in between.
Fellow travel blogger Jessica Festa’s course is a perfect first stop on the road to turning your blog into a profitable business. Even as someone who’s been blogging over 4 years, I still learn something new every time I turn to it!
Jessica also offers this other course, the next step in dominating the blogging world and making a livable income. Think of this course as your 24/7 complete travel blogging coach. Click here to see everything it offers!
PicMonkey is my go-to for quick, easy photo editing. I use it to resize photos, do some light editing, and create pins and featured images. The free version is awesome but I can’t recommend upgrading enough!
After years of using free online programs, I finally upgraded to Adobe Lightroom for serious photo editing. It’s simpler to use than Photoshop but lacks none of the possibility. (See an example edited photo in this post). You can preset filters to make editing your photos a snap.
This e-book on how to use your DSLR (the real way) is perfect for beginners. It breaks down every aspect of your camera in simple terms, offers quality examples, interesting facts, and only costs $9.99.
I used to use iMovie for all my video needs… until I discovered something much more fun and user-friendly. Filmora has been infinitely useful for creating simple, shareable videos for social media + blog posts.
Pinterest has single-handedly helped grow my web traffic but managing it is a pain and a real time-suck. Tailwind is an easy to use program that does it all for me, offers great analytics, and saves me about a million hours a month. Use this link to get a free month of Tailwind to see if you like it!
Mailchimp is the email marketing program I use to send out my monthly newsletters and new post alerts. It’s sooo easy to use (and pretty fun actually) even a monkey could do it. Seriously, I’m proof. Also, it’s free if you have less than 2,000 subscribers – so give it a try!
I use Moo.com for my printed business cards because of their high quality and unique design. Moo.com offers some of the best business cards I’ve ever seen. Their stock paper is super thick and I love my square cards!
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