How to Make a Travel Blog #YOLO
Before trying WordPress – something like 1 in 6 sites on the net use WordPress, and it ranks well in Google – I messed around with quick ‘website builders’ like Jimdo, Weebly etc. and ended up getting bored. Had Bravehost and Blogspot domains back in the day too – didn’t get far.
They can work though – JustOneWayTicket is a successful travel blog built on Jimdo.
I’d read that WordPress was good but had ‘a little more of a learning curve‘, and used intimidating things called ‘plugins‘. Looking back I was just making excuses not to give it a try. When I finally did then I realised it was a piece of cake, had Nomad Philippines up with ease, and at the time of writing I’ve put up around 40 of Dante’s blog posts in the first few weeks.
Some friends wanted to start their own
sexpat travel blog, so I thought I’d write a step by step dummy’s guide to WordPress and hosting. If you can operate a smartphone, you can make a travel blog too, it’s that simple (ironically Dante is yet to buy one as he’s too cheap and Filipina girls all use SMS texts).
Make your own crappy travel blog
Getting a Domain
I use CheckDomain.com to quickly find out if a domain name is available. Get a .com one, as they tend to rank better. ‘Philippines Nomad’ was taken, hence Nomad Philippines. Usual recommendations are to avoid hyphens, numbers, difficult words to spell etc. Keep it short, and it can be helpful to have a keyword phrase in there somewhere.
Not necessarily though, as Live-Less-Ordinary is another big travel blog with hyphens and no keywords in the domain. Anything can work and Google will consider yours an authority site if the content is great.
Then head over to NameCheap and buy it, that part is pretty simple. It’s the cheapest place to buy one, around $10 / year.
You don’t need any extras except maybe Whois protection to stop the girls you’re going to write about from tracking you down. That’s free for the first year on NameCheap.
Head over to HostGator and buy a plan. That’s the hosting provider this site uses, and we haven’t had any problems so far.
If you’re 100% sure you only want one blog go for the Hatchling plan, however if you later realise how easy this all is and want to start other sites, you may regret not taking the Baby plan. That one allows for unlimited domain hosting.
I planned to set up a separate niche site on ladyboys so went for the Baby plan at $6 /month. Again you don’t need any of the extras they try to sell you.
Pointing Domain NameServers
Here’s a guide on how to do that. You’ll need the two nameservers sent to you in your welcome email from HostGator, just search your inbox for that.
Then it takes a day or two for ‘the DNS to propagate‘ until your site works, just start drafting some digital nomad blogs while you’re waiting.
Log in to the HostGator customer portal and use the quick Wordpress install. Here’s a guide.
Once done just add /wp-admin/ to the end of your domain, and that’s the URL of the backend of your site, where you do stuff. Bookmark that.
NB What you have just done is install WordPress.org. On WordPress.com – not the same thing – you don’t need to get hosting and you can start with a free domain XXXX.wordpress.com.
That may seem simpler but I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s more expensive once you upgrade to your own XXXX.com and you have less control over what you can do with your site, and what ads you run. Read up on the whole .com vs .org debate here.
Setting Up Wordpress
When I’m logged in to Nomad Philippines at the moment the left panel looks something like this. Yours will have a few less things until you install more plugins – things that do stuff.
Everything is intuitive, you’ll work it out within a few days, even if it looks intimidating at first.
This site is made with Hueman theme, it’s a free one and looks nicer than the default free ones (’21st century’, and so on). Plenty of nice free themes out there, just Google around.
Then if you have the right speed plugins they can run just as fast as a Premium theme.
Just go to Appearance -> Themes and find one.
Posts are all your blogs, you’ll want to go to Settings – Permalinks and choose ‘post name’ so that the URL slug (/last-part-of-the-url) be the name of the post rather than a number code or a date.
Pages are things like your ‘About’ page, ‘Contact’, Sitemap, etc.
Categories and tags are self-explanatory, select a category each blog post goes under as you go along. You can change those at any time and it’ll automatically go back and change everything.
For Nomad Philippines at the moment we have four categories, ‘Moving to the Philippines’, ‘Living in the Philippines’, ‘Filipina Dating’ and ‘Around Asia’.
Then I added tags like ‘Hotels’, ‘Dating Sites’ or ‘Thailand’ to certain articles, that makes setting up the navigation menu easier, and links blogs together for users and Google.
Again you can change all those at any point without breaking anything.
‘Media’ is where upload and delete pics, and make them load faster with ‘WP Smush’ plugin – more on that later.
‘Comments’ is where you can approve comments if you have them set to be held for moderation (Settings -> Discussion), and edit out the Indian spammers’ website links.
Under ‘Appearance’ you can set up your navigation menus, sidebars, widgets (things that go in sidebars), upload your site’s logo and favicon (small 16×16 pixel logo in the browser tab), change the color scheme, change the homepage to an actual page instead of a feed of the latest posts, add in links to your blog’s Facebook, stuff like that.
In ‘Users’ you can see everyone that has registered for your site if you allow that, and make other people able to submit posts.
Best WordPress Plugins
These are the ones I’ve liked so far, you might find others. Install under Plugins -> Add New. They’re all free (cheapskate).
- Admin Bar Disabler
Just gets rid of the black bar across the top of the screen while you’re on your blog, for you and other Admins.
Blocks comment spam, just sign up for a free account, put your API key in, and you’re done. You can check what was blocked.
- Better Delete Revision
Deletes stored older revisions of blog posts, that you don’t need anymore, lightening the load on your database.
- Broken Link Checker
Alerts you in the dashboard if any links are broken on your blog, helpful but turn off ‘apply custom CSS’ in the settings or it crosses out links on your blog – not really necessary, a couple times it told me a link was broken when it wasn’t.
Plugin to add a link to your site when someone copy pastes content from it. One click install and then everytime someone shares your text in an email, on social media or anywhere, there’s a backlink to the page it came from. Like news sites do.
- Custom Sidebars
The best plugin I found to control the sidebars, and I tried a few. After install under Appearance -> Widgets you can make different sidebars appear on different pages or categories, e.g. on Nomad Philippines every ‘Filipina Dating’ Post will have the most recent ten posts from that category in the left sidebar. Same for every other category.
- DW Question Answer
This is the plugin used to create the Ask an Expat forum. It’s free. Opted for that as the free forum plugins I tried weren’t that good, maybe I’ll go for a paid one. I like this Q&A plugin though as each question will create it’s own thread and the URL will obviously be a question, which might match what people are searching in Google – good for SEO. Update – found Mingle forum plugin, looks promising and allows you to turn easily posts in forum threads so the OP is your post.
- Easy MailChimp Forms
Lets you quickly add a mailing list subscribe form inside any page or post with a [shortcode].
- Front End PM
Used this to add private messages for logged in Nomad Philippines members.
- Google Analytics by Yoast
Puts traffic statistics in your dashboard so you don’t need to log in to Google Analytics. Lots of these plugins, Google Analyticator and the Yoast one are good.
Then get e.g. ‘Analytics Spam Blocker’ plugin or follow guides to stop spam referrals from sites like ‘semalt.com’, ‘event-tracking.com’, ‘floating-share-buttons’, ‘buttons-for-website.com’ etc. from messing up the stats.
Google Analytics Dashboard – First couple weeks on Nomad Philippines
- Image Widget
Lets you put images in the sidebar, e.g. the FilipinoCupid one in the right sidebar on this site (best Filipina dating site).
- Invisible Optin
Once you later use Facebook ads (e.g. suggest everyone who’s been on your site in the last 30 days to like your FB page, or check out your latest ebook) this plugin inserts the remarketing pixel onto your site. That tracks everyone who checks out your site.
This is very popular but I ended up deactivating it as Jetpack comments are slower, the ’email me everytime someone posts a comment’ feature didn’t work when I tested it, the ‘subscribe by email’ for notifications of each new post didn’t work either, and some of the other things Jetpack does were covered by other plugins in this list. Your mileage may vary.
- Login Non-Admin Redirection
If you’re going to have registered members, this stops them being sent to the backend after log in. They can’t do anything from there unless you let them, but it doesn’t look neat.
- MailChimp for WordPress
Set up a free account on MailChimp.com to have a mailing list on your site. That’s where you’ll email all your subscribers from, with your latest blogs, micro-life updates or whatever. Then install the plugin to display a ‘sign up to my crappy newsletter’ widget in the sidebar.
- MailChimp Sync
Adds all registered users to your mailing list.
- Polygon Recent Comments With Avatar
This plugin is a better way to display recent comments in the sidebar, just looks prettier and has the user’s avatar by the comment.
- Share Buttons by AddToAny
Some people like ShareaHolic or Floating Share Buttons, I prefer a simpler look so went with AddToAny social buttons. Those are the Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so on buttons at the bottom of blog posts. There are dozens of plugins for this, some offer ways to make money with suggested posts from around the web – if you have a ton of traffic.
- ShortCodes Ultimate
To do pretty things in blog posts like add colored boxes and so on, with simple [shortcodes].
- Speed Booster Pack
Not sure if this is doing anything, but apparently speeds up your site.
- Theme My Login
Makes your login screen for members look a bit more professional, instead of the default WordPress one.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast
Lots of SEO type things, including checking the keyword frequency on your blogs, setting the meta title and description, etc. Gives you recommendations.
How WordPress SEO by Yoast Plugin looks as you write a post
Supposed to block spammers from registering for your site if you allow that, based on their IP and email address, without needing a Captcha. Seems to be working ok so far. Used Cleantalk at first but that wasn’t free after the trial period.
- WP Bouncer
Only lets registered members log in from one location at a time, useful if you have a paid membership site. May be adding VIP posts to Nomad Philippines in the future.
- WP Performance Speed Booster
Another plugin to apparently improve site speed.
- WP Simple Adsense Insertion
Allows you to more easily put Adsense on your site with a neat shortcode rather than the long ad code. And if the Adsense code you use ever changes you won’t need to go back and edit it on every old page.
- WP Smush
Once you’ve installed this go to Media -> WP Smush every now and again to reduce the loading time of images and speed up your site, without any noticeable loss of image quality. Very important plugin.
- WP Super Cache
If you’re not updating your site very often, or when you’re not doing anything (e.g. while you’re sleeping), this plugin when turned on will cache every page. That means Google ‘saves your site’ and serves users its saved version, to make things load much faster.
Turn it off if you need to see changes you make as you make them. I notice comments still work – posters still see their comments instantly after posting – but the DW Question Answer forum doesn’t update instantly, maybe I need to adjust the settings. Apparently you can make exceptions for which pages don’t get cached.
- WP User Avatar
Allows commenters / forum posters to use a custom avatar.
- WP Wizard Cloak
Changes your affiliate links to look like e.g. http://nomadphilippines.com/agoda-hotels which is neater, and in case links ever change you won’t need to go back and edit old ones.
- Yuzo Related Posts
Hundreds of related posts plugins, which put those square pics and links at the bottom of a post with a ‘related’ or ‘you may also like’ header. I tried WordPress Related Posts, ShareaHolic, Zemanta, and several others, just ended up liking this one most. Some of the others didn’t line up with the page width, or didn’t look neat.
Getting Traffic To Your Site
Hundreds of ways to do this. Check out sites like SmartpassiveIncome, NichePursuits and NicheHacks, nowadays half the internet is about teaching others to make money online or how to make a travel blog or niche site. Just don’t fall for any MLM schemes, use free info.
Plenty other stuff to learn on keyword research and stuff like that. Do that as you go along as it might take a year for your blog to rank well in Google anyway – just get started, don’t worry about everything being perfect. #YOLO.
The Nomad Philippines logo was made on Fiverr for $5, as was Dante’s ebook cover – outsource all that stuff to freelancers and focus on writing good content. Plus get linked to affiliate programs on hotel providers, dating sites etc. to monetize your content while giving value to people. Like Nomad Philippines is.
Affiliate disclaimer – (your blog should have one of these somewhere too) – this page was made with affiliate links. I only recommend products or services I use myself.
Any other digital nomads in the Philippines? Get in touch at info(at)nomadphilippines.com.