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How to Start a Travel Blog: Guide to Becoming a Travel Blogger

If you love to travel, you should start a travel blog. It isn’t hard – and it can be profitable. We’ve been full-time bloggers for many years. In this post, you’ll learn how to start a travel blog and become a professional travel blogger.

How to start a travel blog

Starting a blog isn’t very hard. Visit, setup a blog for free and begin blogging. This is perfect if you want to simply share your personal experiences with friends and family. This works for millions of people.

But wait! Don’t visit those sites! (I don’t think that is what you want.) An income blog is different than a personal one.

To make money with your blog, you need to setup the right platform.

Table of Contents

Is this Travel Blog Mini Course For You?

If you want to make money with your blog and are ready to invest in it, then this mini-course is for you.

You will need to invest both time and money in your new business.

While it isn’t expensive, blogging is like any other business: you will have to spend some money to create a platform where you can really begin making money. So much of any business is trial and error. Suppliers, customer segments, marketing, and products are tried and adjusted as required. Wouldn’t it be great to know the recipe for building your business?

We’ve been blogging for many years and I’ve spent thousands of dollars on training, themes, plugins and online services. Some worked – others not at all.

In this short course, you’ll get my recipe – a cheat-sheet of the products, services, and training that I both use and would buy again – if I had to start over. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

The course is broken into 2 sections:

  1. The Short Version: What you need to know to start right now. It is what we are currently using to run our sites.
  2. The Long (Detailed) Version: If you want to understand specifics and your other options then this will be perfect for you.

The Short Version: Cheat Sheet

If you don’t want all the explanation and just want to buy/download the stuff and get started, this first part is for you. Some of these suggestions are premium while others are inexpensive, even free. These are the actual tools and services we use to run our business. If you would like other options, see the long version below.

  1. Choose your blog niche: Before you buy, register or do anything else, you need to settle on your blog niche. If you already know your topic, move to step 2.
  2. Buy your domain name: Visit GoDaddy and purchase your domain name. Choose a minimum term of 5 years with private registration. If you aren’t sure of which domain name to choose, read more. Cost: $75 (roughly)
  3. Buy your hosting: Go to HostGator and purchase the Baby Plan on a one year contract. Cost: $95.52
  4. Buy Thesis: Go to DIYThemes and purchase Thesis Professional. Cost: $197
  5. Choose your Thesis skin: either use the basic free skin included or choose from a premium design. Cost: Free – $67
  6. Buy these plug-ins: OptinMonster $9/mo (list building), BlogVault $9 / month (site backup).
  7. Signup with Aweber: Visit Aweber (email marketing) and sign up for the $1 trial account. After the first month, Cost: $19 per month
  8. Order these books: Four Hour WorkweekAttention! This Book Will Make You Money and Bloggers Boot Camp and read them over the next 4-6 weeks.

Looking for more detail? Below the image is the detailed course. Remember – there are free/inexpensive and premium ways to do almost every step. Just choose the combination that’s right for your blog.

Why Do You Want to Start a Travel Blog?


Dena and I finishing this post on Isabela Island, Galapagos Islands

As many of you know, we are in the Galapagos for a work trip. We are just past the halfway point of an 11-day content creation trip of three islands.

We’ve seen giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and manta rays. We’ve swam with green sea turtles and sea lions. (See photos at the end of the post.) It is an amazing family experience.

All of this made me think: If we weren’t bloggers, just what would our life be like?

Here’s the thing: We aren’t rich. We aren’t highly trained. We are just a young family from small-town Canada.

If we had a regular job, we couldn’t easily take off for two weeks – leaving everything behind. In the six days that we’ve been here so far, we haven’t even worked 2 hours. Well, aside from the time we spend creating content (8-10 hours per day). But this doesn’t feel like work.

Because our sites just kind of take care of themselves we have done almost no work on them since we arrived. In fact, one of our sites just posted its highest traffic (and thus, profit) month ever – while we are hiking and snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands.

The beauty of online business is that it can create true passive income. By setting up specific systems, we can generate steady (daily) income – even if we aren’t working. We have created a free course to help you learn how to start your income blog.

What is Passive Income? 

Passive income is getting paid when you aren’t working. It is the opposite of getting paid by the hour or the month.

Don’t be mistaken. It takes work to create passive income – it is a business, not a get-rich-quick scheme. But with a passive income stream, you get paid for what you create – not the time you spend on it. If you create something great – your income reflects that.

There are unquestionably tens of thousands of better blogs than ours. There are many bloggers who spend longer writing their posts and editing their videos. And yet many of these blogs don’t make any money.

There isn’t always a direct relation between time spent and resulting income. Time must be spent on the right things. Writing a good post on a bad platform (one that isn’t indexed by Google) or spending too much time promoting mediocre posts won’t get you anywhere.

So it isn’t as easy as just spending a lot of time on your business. It needs to be spent on the right things and in the right order. (We’ll cover more on this in future posts.)

Creating passive income is best done online. And we have had good success doing this through blogging. Since we’ve launched this site, we have had a huge response to both our story and the content. And we have lots of amazing stuff planned.

Based on this response, we know that you have big plans too. We want to know your story. My question to you is:

Why Do You Want to Run an Income Blog?

There are many reasons to create passive income. Family, travel, volunteering or health. What’s your motivation? Please share your reason(s) in the comment section below.

Here are a few photos from our trip so far. This trip is for a blog that we run for a client and is a direct result of our first blog.


Snorkeling with a green sea turtle on Floreana Island, Galapagos. It is a memory that Dena and I will never forget.


Hiking to the beach where sea lions raise their young on Floreana Island.


The famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise


A Galapagos marine iguana after a morning of feeding.

Start an Income Blog: The Long Version

In this course, you’ll learn the following:

  1. Blogging Overview: Learn about choosing your blog niche, blogging frequency, monetization, and commenting systems.
  2. How to buy your blog hosting
  3. How to choose your WordPress theme
  4. Which plugins you should use
  5. How to build your email list – and why you need one
  6. How to track your progress
  7. Additional reading and reference

Blogging Overview: In this section, you’ll learn some of the basics of blogging, such as choosing your blog niche, blogging frequency, and monetization. If you want to get to the tools, skip ahead to section 2.

1. Choosing a Blog Niche

Choose narrow and own it. When we started our first blog, we were super general ( and planned on covering everything about Ecuador. And in a very sterile way. After reading the book Attention! we changed both our name and our approach.

We re-branded our site to GringosAbroad and made it a family travel/expat blog. We wrote from our own experiences – with personality, and people loved it! While we had trouble attracting attention to our first site – the adjusted site is now the most popular English language travel/expat site in the country.

Blogs are popular because they aren’t sterile corporate-speak. Write about what’s important to you, with your emotion and humor. People will be able to relate to you and you’ll build a loyal community.

First, you will need to determine: What is your blog about?

determine blog niche

“Well that’s easy,” you say, “it’s going to be about: travel, car repair, roofing, beauty or fashion.”

Well, that’s fine, but that’s not a niche.

Unless you’re going to have a team of experienced and high-yield writers you need to have a very narrow niche.

What is a Blog Niche?

It’s important to recognize that a general category (like travel or beauty) is going to be a difficult blogging niche. Successful blogs take a very narrow and deep view of a specific topic. For example, a blog about backpacking the Andes Mountains from Columbia to Chile will be more successful than a general blog about traveling in Latin America.

You might be asking, “But won’t this niche blogging limit my readership?” Yes, it will. And that’s kind of the point.

It would be impossible (at least as a solo traveler/blogger) to provide all the information that would be needed for a healthy and complete blog about Latin American travel. But backpacking the Andes Mountains is doable – and when people visit your site it will be clear to them what your site is about, they will feel like they found the answer to their question, and they will want to become part of your blog’s community.

What this means, is that this niche group of readers will be much more likely to purchase products that you recommend or create, to click on contextual PPC ads, and to share your relevant content with their friends (who likely have similar interests).

While choosing a specific and narrow niche is important, you also need to think through the following criteria:

8 Questions To Determine Your Blog Niche:

  1. Do I actually like this topic?
  2. Do I know what I’m talking about?
  3. Are other people interested in this topic?
  4. Is this interest growing or shrinking?
  5. How many other blogs cover this same niche?
  6. What do these competing blogs miss?
  7. Will I find enough topics/content to write about?
  8. Will I be able to make money from this niche?

1. Do I actually like this topic?

Okay, so this probably sounds like a silly question. Do I really have to like my topic? The answer is: No, you don’t have to like the topic. Then again, a person doesn’t really have to like their job either – but it’s a lot better when they do.

Having a topic that excites you and interests you, is going to come across in the quality of what you write. It is the difference between dreading the next post you have to write and losing count of how many posts you have scheduled because of your love of the topic.

If you’re having trouble determining what topics you enjoy to write about, ask yourself:

  • What do I enjoy to do in my spare time?
  • What do I talk about with my friends and family?
  • What do I look forward to doing on the weekends?
  • What is the last book I purchased to read just for fun?
  • What websites, books, magazines, and TV programs do I enjoy the most?

Why You Should Enjoy Your Topic: Creating a blog (and a business) will take a significant amount of time. It will require real dedication and interest to continue blogging – especially during the months when you feel like no one is reading your hard work. This will be much easier if you like your topic.

2. Do I know what I’m talking about?

This is also a very important question. While you do not need to be an expert to run a successful blog it is important to have at least some background in your topic. A good blog is an exploration, a learning experience for the blogger and the readers. There is no need to wait until you are a bona fide expert in the topic before you start blogging about it. In fact, blogging is the best way to become an expert in your niche.

That being said, it is important to have a background in what you are writing about. Setting yourself up as an expert – when you are not – is a recipe for disappointment, for both yourself and your readers. You can count on your readers calling you to task on your lack of knowledge/insight.

If you are not an expert in the topic that you want to blog about, be honest about that. Tell your readers that your blogging about this topic because it interests you, and because you want to learn more about it.

Blogging is a journey and it’s important to be transparent about where you actually are.

3, Are other people interested in this topic?

Enjoying your topic is one thing. Finding other people who also have an interest in the topic is something else.

Just because you enjoy collecting unusual items doesn’t mean that anyone else does. It’s important to take the time – before establishing your blog – to determine the potential readership (market) for your topic.

Reviewing other blogs in your niche, Facebook fan pages, magazines or actual clubs in your city is a good way to determine possible readership potential. Remember, you don’t need millions of readers to have a successful blog, but you do need a large readership base.

Interest in your topic can be determined in a number of ways, but because your blog is going to be online (obviously) checking search volumes and results is a powerful and fast way to see levels of interest for your topic.

A few tools that I’ve used to determine possible market size are:

  • Google AdWords keyword tool
  • Google Insights
  • Traffic Travis (free and premium version)
  • general Google search

4. Is this interest growing or shrinking?

It is possible to choose a niche that is “too niche”. Internet trends, fads, and bizarre hobbies are probably not a good foundation for your blog. On the other hand, trends that have been growing and appear to have the potential to keep on growing are an excellent place to begin. Covering a new trend as it begins is an amazing way to become the authority on that topic.

Chasing a trend can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, but if you choose it correctly it can mean a very successful site. It is obvious that the best bloggers need to stay current with trends both in blogging and in their niche. Take some time, hang out on some blogs or sites in your niche (including Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts) to get a feel for the direction of the sites and communities, see what topics are popular, and what the readers are asking and looking for.

An excellent way to gauge current trends, and to see if they are growing or shrinking, is using Google trends. You can compare two niches or topics at one time and get a feel for which one shows more potential.

5. How many other blogs cover this same niche?

If there is interest in your topic, then someone is going to be covering it, at least in part, already. There is a possibility that your specific niche has not been covered yet. But reasonably speaking, that isn’t very likely.

What is likely, is that you will find a niche that is being covered in part but not to the depth that it could be. Find that niche, cover it well and you are on your way to a successful and profitable blog.

So while finding no similar blogs could be a sign of lack of interest, there is an equal risk of finding thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of blogs covering your topic. It’s clear that there is a lot of interest, but what are the odds that your blog will rise to the top? Most blogs depend heavily on search engine traffic and if your topic has been covered extremely thoroughly already, it may be a stretch to imagine your post ranking above the thousands of similar ones already published.

There are always exceptions, but there’s no need to make this harder on yourself than it needs to be. There are numerous niches that have been under-covered or could be covered from a different angle – there is no need to choose an impossibly difficult topic to blog about.

6. What do these competing blogs miss?

This is an important question. While you are almost certain to find competing blogs in your niche it is important to ask the question: What can I do better?

Specifically, read the comments from readers on specific posts of competing blogs. Is there a common theme or topic that is being requested?

What topics do you notice that are either missing, being covered halfheartedly, or that could be covered from a different angle?

The best niche is often what is “missing” in a very popular topic.

It’s important to ask yourself specific questions about these competing blogs. Look at their strengths and weaknesses. In what areas do they excel and/or fall short in interacting with the readers and in gaining traffic?

7. Will I find enough topics/content to write about?

A good blog niche will not have a shortage of content. As a blogger you have three primary sources of content:

  1. your previous experience and knowledge
  2. what you are learning about your niche now
  3. developments/news in your niche

A good test of the amount of content available in your niche is this:

Starting right now: write down as many specific blog post ideas as possible. Probably the first 5 to 10 will come quickly, but then what? If you can’t identify at least 20 possible blog posts within the next 10 minutes, then maybe you need to rethink your niche. As I planned this blog I wrote a list of more than 100 posts that I would write over the next year. As I write each post, I think of numerous new posts that I will write in the future.

Sites such as reviews or celebrity news will continually give new topics, so there’s really no need to worry about running out of content. There are topics however, that will be challenging even after just 20 or 30 posts.

8. Will I be able to make money from this niche?

Make sure you ask this question: Is there a way to make money from this niche?

There are many ways to monetize a blog, including:

  • pay per click ads
  • affiliate programs
  • display advertising
  • selling your own product
  • selling services through your blog

Until you actually begin blogging and building an audience, it can be hard to determine which of these methods will work for you. But before you start your blog make sure that it can be monetized.

An excellent place to start is to look at your competitor’s sites and see how they are making money.

  • Do they have a product to sell?
  • Are there a lot of affiliate links and display ads?
  • Do they actively promote private display advertising?
  • Do pay per click advertising spaces receive a prominent location on their blog?
  • Do they ask for donations?

Promoting affiliate products is a primary way that bloggers in almost every niche make money.

It basically works this way: you promote another company’s product on your site including a coded tracking link to their sales page. When one of your visitors clicks and purchases the recommended product you receive a percentage of the purchase price as a commission.

There are a number of large affiliate networks that manage the programs for the vendors and make automatic payments to the publishers (a.k.a. bloggers).

Where To Go From Here: There’s a lot to think about when planning a new blog and determining your specific niche. Make sure to take enough time when making your decision, as you will be spending years writing about the topic.

While a poor choice can make it hard when you’re getting started, it often isn’t difficult to make an adjustment in your niche as you’re going, provided that you are still writing within the same topic. Sometimes readers let you know the direction that your blog should be going in through their comments, emails, and interaction on social networks.

Blogging Frequency

Some of the popular blogging books and bloggers advocate posting a minimum of once per day. Recently there has been a shift in that mindset. Publishing every day (or even multiple times per day) puts the focus on volume.

Quality will suffer – eventually – at such a high rate. When we first started, we published 5-6 times per week. Recently I had to go back through those older posts and delete dozens of them – the quality just wasn’t there.

Instead of focusing on the number of posts – focus on helping people.

Address a concern or question that is common among your readers (or one you imagine will be) and solve it. Tell them the issues involved and what they need to consider. Include video tutorials, links, and clear photos. Many bloggers aim for 400-600 word posts.

Instead, you should aim for 1000-3000 words. Make it epic. Readers will become advocates for your site and it will be shared socially. Create a huge set of these types of posts and your site will quickly become an authority in its niche.

Of course, there is a minimum posting frequency that you should follow. We aim to publish a minimum of 3-4 times per month – once every 7-10 days. We follow this minimum even when we are traveling, working on another project or on vacation.

Once you establish a pattern, it’s important to stick to it – your readers will expect that of you. There is nothing more disappointing than finding a blog that answers your questions – and then noticing that they haven’t updated in months.

A blog without recent posts is a dead blog.

Blog Monetization

While many people start a blog with the intention of selling a specific product, there is a better way. Begin blogging and build your community first.

Community building includes more than getting traffic. Interact and build a following across social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc) and your email list.

Once you have a group of people who trust and respect you, you’ll learn what interests and troubles them. You’ll be in a position to create an educational product (e-book, course, consulting) that will be just what they are looking for.

Remember: build an audience then find a way to monetize it. If your niche is well chosen, you won’t have any trouble.

How to Choose a Great Domain Name: 6 Rules

Yes, you can buy a domain for $7.99. And it should only take about 3 minutes if you have your credit card ready.

But, is this what you really want?

Your domain name is one of the most important components in starting your blog. And while it’s true that a profitable site can be built on a crummy domain – this isn’t ideal.

Your domain is important both in branding and search engine optimization. Choosing a great domain can make the promotion of your site so much easier. And you can avoid looking like a scammer.

I’m sure that you have a great name in mind, but you might want to slow down a little. Take a few minutes and consider these six rules to choosing a great domain.

Rule #1: Don’t Be in a Rush

Rushing into choosing a domain name is like rushing into marriage. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but it could lead to regret down the road.

Search a name, think about it and play with it. Put it in Illustrator or Photoshop and see what designs look like. Type the name into your word processor and see how it looks. It might sound one way but look very different in print.

Don’t forget to say it out loud. How does it sound? Film a short video and say the name a few times. Is it easily understood – or can it be confused with something else?

When we first began our expat blog, we decided on the name It was a variant of a variant of what we originally wanted. We found a name that was available, so we bought it.

We didn’t really understand the value of a strong name and we were in a rush to start blogging.

Despite lots of promotion and content, we hardly attracted any visitors. After reading the book Attention! (Jim Kukral) we decided to change the domain to GringosAbroad. Although it cost time and money, the switch was the best thing we could have done – in terms of branding and traffic. The site took off and remains the top travel/expat site in the country.

Rule #2: Look For Hidden Words and Meanings

Domains with hidden words can be funny (at best) or embarrassing and distracting (at worst). These hidden words occur when you combine two or more words into one domain. Here are two sites that come to mind that have hidden words:

  • IncomeDiary – the popular make money online site has the word “media” (incomediary) inside of it. In this case, there are no negatives and likely some search benefits.
  • GringosExpat – a local service in my city that helps foreigners relocate here. The hidden word in this name is “sex” (gringosexpat) and is not only distracting but could easily attract the wrong type of clients. They ended up changing the site to GringoExpat (singular and thus minus one “s”)

The last thing you want to do with your new brand is convey a secondary (negative) message.

Rule #3: Don’t Be Cheap

The inclination of every new business is to save money. This isn’t bad in itself, but don’t skimp on domain names. Buy them for a minimum of five years, even if it is for a small project. There are three reasons to buy for a long time.

  • Commitment: If you own it for just a year, how committed will you be? If you aren’t willing to invest in a domain for longer than 12 months, maybe it isn’t worth purchasing at all. Be careful with how much time you spend on projects that you aren’t confident enough to invest in. Earlier today I purchased a new domain for five years with private registration (see rule number four) for just $75 with Go Daddy. By purchasing a domain for five or even ten years, you’re making a significant commitment to yourself to make that project a success. The only exception I see to this rule is for event-based websites that either will 1) never be repeated, or 2) have the year in the URL. Aside from these two cases invest in your domain and in your business.
  • Search Rankings: It is a fact that search engines favor domain names that have been registered for longer than one year. How much difference does it make? I’m not sure, I haven’t seen anything in print to quantify the search engine optimization (SEO) benefits. But the benefits are there as most SEO experts will tell you. The reason for the SEO benefits is clear: the search engines also recognize the commitment being made by a domain registered for a long period of time. They then weigh that domain as being of higher value than a domain registered for just 12 months. Remember this domain is for your business: don’t be cheap.
  • Convenience: So aside from making a commitment to yourself and to the immediate SEO benefits, purchasing your domain name for longer than 12 months just makes sense from a time management perspective. Avoid making annual payments, printing invoices, and having accounting hassles and just pay for it all upfront.

Rule #4: Buy Private Registration

Unless you enjoy receiving massive amounts of spam (selling everything from prescription drugs to sexual aids) buy private registration. It’s true that it costs a little more money. If that bothers you, see Rule #3.

Getting an extra 50 spam messages a day will affect your productivity, and ultimately cost you money. Save hours of frustration and wasted time – spend the extra $10/year. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Rule #5: Buy Your Domain Names With GoDaddy

Unless you are planning on only ever owning one domain name (I know, that sounds reasonable when you are starting) you need a real domain name registrar.

By the way, you’ll never own just one domain. New ideas and new products have a way of creating a need to own more. In addition to the 16 that I own currently, I have owned at least 10 other domains that I have since let expire.

I’ve never hosted my sites with GoDaddy – but they have all of my domains. When I need to switch hosting, it is extremely simple. I transfer my files from one host to the other and then redirect the name servers.

Why do I use Because they are the biggest and the best. A lot has been said (in the past) about their risque marketing and their flamboyant CEO, but the fact is that there is no one better to register your domains with.

I haven’t bought a domain name anywhere besides GoDaddy for more than 5 years.

Visit GoDaddy to purchase your domain.

Rule #6: Don’t Listen To Naysayers and Yes-Men

A caution: Asking friends and family for feedback on the idea you have for your domain name might seem like a good idea. But be careful. Their well-intended suggestions and feedback are most frequently meant to protect:

  • you from disappointment or
  • themselves from supporting a “poor idea”

The best names and domain names that I have ever created, have been exclusively created with my wife (and no one else). Asking for feedback on a new domain name/business name is asking for negative feedback or worse, the yes-man response.

  • “Well, I don’t think this will be the next Facebook…”
  • “Sort of sounds silly, doesn’t it?”
  • “Sounds like a great idea to me!”

All of these comments have an ulterior motive, none of which are to help you build your lifestyle business. Asking your business mentor, a trusted colleague and, of course, your business (life) partner are important. Just be careful. Your gut reaction is valuable and carries more weight than all the feedback that others can give you.

Seldom will anyone know your business better than you will. Just remember not to be pigheaded – if someone is offering valuable constructive comments: Listen!

Brainstorming Domain Names: 

There are lots of great ways to create a powerful domain.

There are lots of sites that will spin available domain names, based on your keyword. There are multiple ways to generate ideas using adjectives,  colors, numbers, verbs, multiple names, and varying domain types – and the site tells you which ones of these are available for purchase right now.

When we are brainstorming new domains and new product names, we most commonly use With an idea in mind, we can quickly create a variety of options with unique components and find a domain that is not only available but one that we can build a solid brand around.

Summary: In summary, remember to take it slow (at least relatively slow) when choosing your domain. Don’t rush.

Take a minute and look for hidden words and meanings in your new domain. Putting two or three words together with no spaces often creates bizarre (and sometimes embarrassing) combinations.

Don’t be cheap. Buy your domain for at least five years and purchase private registration to save yourself years of overwhelming spam email messages.

And finally, be careful about listening to the naysayers and the yes-men. Some people automatically take a negative view of your ideas (even if they are amazing) while others will say yes to whatever foolishness you suggest. In almost every case, listen for valid points from friends and family – and then go with your gut.

6 Things to Check Before Buying Your Domain

  1. Check for spelling, inverted or extra letters, and hidden meanings
  2. Make sure that you have the right domain: dot-com instead of dot-co, for example.
  3. Confirm the registration length (five years or more)
  4. Confirm Private Domain Registration (usually $3.99-$7.99/year). This is really important to avoid spam.
  5. Remove Business Registration ($4.99-9.99/year). This is not necessary.
  6. Check your order total to make sure that nothing was accidentally added to the order.

2. Purchase Your Hosting

I’ve hosted with many different companies. The one that I recommend is HostGator. As you get started you will need just their basic shared hosting plan. Their service is stable and their customer service knowledgeable. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal. I recommend the Baby Plan because you can host all your sites within the one hosting plan.

They offer three hosting plans:

  1. Hatchling Plan: One domain, unlimited bandwidth, and disk space. Cost: $5.56/month with a 1-year commitment.
  2. Baby Plan: Unlimited Domains, bandwidth, and disk space. Cost: $7.96/month with a 1-year commitment.
  3. Business Plan: Same as Baby Plan (unlimited domains, bandwidth, and disk-space) plus free Private SSL & IP and Toll-Free Number. Cost: $11.96/month with 1-year commitment.

Pricing reduces even further with a two or three-year commitment.

A key feature of HostGator is that you can start out with a very inexpensive, albeit powerful, hosting plan and then upgrade to either VPS or Dedicated hosting – without having to switch hosting companies.

HostGator offers a number of entry-level packages at a very low cost. Their customer service is exceptional – both in terms of short wait times and in solving problems.

My first hosting package was with Network Solutions (more than 15 years ago). I chose them because they had convincing marketing – they looked like experts. All of the other hosts I considered used chintzy logos and sites – and I was scared to use them. As it turns out – marketing isn’t a good measure of capability.

We currently host our sites in two places: HostGator for the smaller sites and WP Engine for the larger ones.

Choosing a good web host is an important step in your online business – here are the options and things you need to consider. But, first: Why do you need web hosting?

Why You Need Web Hosting

Web hosting is the place that your website lives, where the files and images reside. While, technically, you could store your sites (and all of their files) on your computer, it isn’t very practical. What happens to your site when you turn off your computer? It goes down, and no one can access it. What about when 500 (or 50,000) people try to access your site all at once? It will crash your computer. It is so impractical that no one actually does it.

Buying web hosting outsources the headaches of hosting to a company with huge resources that can handle whatever traffic your site receives. When you purchase a web hosting plan you are, in most cases, buying an allotment of space on a server. Through mirroring and redundancy, your server files remain stable and safe – even during most maintenance and server upgrades.

Other types of hosting plans are actually a rental of a specific server in a specific location. Instead of incurring the capital cost of purchasing a server, you can use one of theirs. In most cases, they handle maintenance and upgrades on the server. They’ll make sure that it keeps working, so you can focus on running your business.

So before we get into the specific classes of web hosts there are a few specific criteria to keep in mind.

It’s important to make sure that the host has the capabilities to manage your site, specifically with what you have in mind – and what you may grow your site into. Many of the hosts, including Host Gator and Bluehost, use cPanel (control panel) which makes writing your site super easy. cPanel uses a one-click-install for WordPress which removes the technical headaches of creating your website.

5 Factors to Consider in Choosing Your Host

  1. Bandwidth: A measure of how much data can be transferred per month.
  2. Number of visitors: Some hosts gauge traffic by number of visitors instead of bandwidth. This is a little easier to grasp than bandwidth.
  3. Storage space: This is a measure of how many files you can store in your space. This includes not only site files but also pdf and video files that you may host on your site. It is unlikely that you’ll use all the space that is offered. If you have a large number of videos and downloadable files you might consider using a file hosting service like Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). This service will serve files quickly and cheaply.
  4. Technical support: This is one of the biggest factors to consider in your web host. They should speak English clearly and understand hosting – not just read stuff off of a screen. I can confidently recommend both of my hosts – their customer support is superb.
  5. Number of domains: While you might only be planning to purchase and use one domain, you should plan on more. I started with one – and now own 17 domains. I frequently buy new domains as I’m working on a project – to ensure that I have it when the project is ready.

In terms of hosting, it is often best to purchase more than you need at this moment. Obviously, your traffic is going to increase, you’ll likely have the need for payment processing and hosting of multiple websites and multiple domains.

Also, consider the costs of the premium hosting packages as your traffic increases. As you get more visitors, what options does the host offer? Can you simply upgrade to a more robust package and not have to move your site? Or are their premium hosting packages so expensive that you will be forced to switch hosts, as your business grows?

What About Up-Time Percentage?

A number of hosts tout their up-time percentage as if it really means something. I don’t think it does. While true up-time does matter, every host will go down once in a while: sometimes for maintenance and other times because of DDoS attacks (distributed denial-of-service attack) or even for technical failure.

In my opinion, technical support is much more important than the promoted up-time percentage of a specific host. Technical support is what will get your site back up and running when there is a problem. Your site is more likely to have problems because of something you did than something that the host does. In this case, technical support is critical – choose a host that has superb technical customer support.

Planning for the Future

My recommendation when choosing a web host is the plan for future growth. Not only does the choice of the host itself matter, but the ability to increase both in the number of websites and to handle high levels of traffic are important.

I recommend both HostGator and WP Engine because they both have the ability to scale. They both offer an entry-level hosting plan but also virtual and dedicated server options.

To run a successful online business you won’t need 100,000 visitors per month. In fact, you may be able to be very successful with just 5,000 or 10,000 per month. It all depends on your offer and how your site/business is structured. While the majority of blogs will never need to upgrade from shared hosting, planning for future growth is important.

3. Choose Your WordPress Theme

There are three options (aside from designing it yourself) for WordPress themes.

  1. Free Themes: WordPress provides free themes (Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven and Twenty Twelve) that come as part of your WordPress installation. They load fast and work smooth. They are not very easy to customize but might work for you if you are on a budget. You should consider upgrading to a more robust theme as your site grows. WooThemes – a low-cost option – also offers 15+ free themes. They are worth checking out. If cost is a concern, I think a free WooTheme is your best option.
  2. Low-cost Themes: WooThemes is a favorite of mine. When I was getting started I used a number of WooThemes. They are produced by fluent English speakers (different from many of the lower cost themes) which means you’ll understand all the instructions. Sounds funny – but some of the other theme designs are frustrating to use because of poor English. WooThemes has a ton of theme options, and they offer a buy-1 get-2-more-for-free deal. It’s great if you are planning a couple of sites (or if you just can’t make up your mind). They also produce a set of eCommerce themes known as WooCommerce.
  3. Premium Theme: If you are serious about blogging and have a little money to invest – I recommend that you choose Thesis from the beginning.  The Thesis framework isn’t cheap. There are three options. You get the same framework with all options. The biggest difference is support. The less expensive option only gives you 12 months of upgrades. That means in a year from now, you’ll have to pay to get the latest version of the framework. With Thesis Professional you get lifetime access. You also get a couple of free skins with the two premium versions. Choose from Thesis Basic ($87), Thesis Basic Plus ($164) or Thesis Professional ($197). You can use them on an unlimited number of your own sites. In addition to the theme, you’ll also need a skin. A free skin comes with the theme as well.

What is a WordPress Theme?

The theme is what makes a WordPress installation look like “your site”. It takes the basic looking free theme and makes your site look like an authority. A theme gives your site/blog its appearance.

  • WordPress is the back-end – it is a content management system (known as CMS).
  • The theme/skin manages the front-end: the width, colors, fonts, and function of your site.

A good theme will allow customizations so you can test conversion rates and increase page views (or whatever your desired action is). Free themes should be avoided. Low-cost themes (under $50) have their place but I’ll never use them again. I’ve used a number of frameworks (Pagelines, Genesis, and Thesis) and I feel strongly that only this level of theme should be used for your online business.

I’ve used dozens of premium themes. The one that I’m the happiest with is Thesis – it is the fastest and most stable framework that I’ve used. It’s design features are intuitive and there are many designers creating great skins (like a miniature theme) for it. In fact, the skin I’m using here is a modified version of a premium one I purchased.

Here is how WordPress / Thesis / Thesis Skins fit together:

  1. Install WordPress on your hosting server.
  2. Then, inside of WordPress dashboard install Thesis as a theme.
  3. Then, inside of your Thesis dashboard, you can upload (and modify) your skin. It is kind of like a layer cake.

4. Required WordPress Plugins

WordPress plug-ins are small files/programs that install inside of your WordPress installation. They allow added function to your blog. Many plug-ins are marketing tools, to generate more page-views, improve site navigation or encourage social sharing.

Here are the plug-ins that we use on our blogs:

Free WordPress Plugins

  • Yuzo Related Posts: This is a simple plugin that displays a set of photo/text links at the bottom of each post and/or page on your site. Because it displays contextually similar posts, this increases page views by more than 20% on my sites – and it creates a better user experience.
  • Akismet: If you hate spam comments, you must use this one. You can sign-up for a free account and it blocks more than 99% of spam comments. Since we installed it, this spam filter has blocked 393,266 spam comments on GringosAbroad (we have a respectable 11,745 real comments published). I can’t even imagine sorting out that number of spam comments.
  • Annual Archive: This simple (and free) plugin generates an attractive archives (site map) for a blog. This is an important component of your site navigation.
  • Yoast SEO: I don’t pretend to understand the depth of SEO – but I do know a good plugin when I see it. This plugin doesn’t affect page speed / load time but it does structure your posts (and site in general) in such a way to make it easier for search engines and search users to find your content. It manages the following: post titles and meta descriptions, canonical, breadcrumbs, permalink clean up, XML Sitemaps, RSS enhancements, edit your robots.txt and .htaccess, and clean up head section. Once setup, it manages these aspects automatically.

Premium WordPress Plugins

  • BlogVault: This is a plugin that I can’t do without. It automatically backs-up and protects my sites. Every 24 hours a complete backup is generated and available for download. Every time I’m going to make updates or significant changes to a site, I log-in and generate a backup. If something goes wrong on what I’m doing, I can just restore it – and the tool restores the site as it was before I broke it. You never think about this until your site crashes – a necessary safety net.
  • PrettyLinksPro: Creating clean affiliate links doesn’t have to be hard. A tool like PrettyLinks changes a crazy ugly link to a, well, prettier one. Both go to the same place and we get affiliate commissions either way – but it sure looks better, doesn’t it? I can see click count and organize links by categories. And if the affiliate changes the coding in the future, I only need to update the change in the tool (it installs on your server, sort of like a WordPress install) and it updates all links – even if they are in an old email or even in a pdf file someone has stored on their computer.

5. Email Marketing

Building an email list should be one of your principal objectives. Your email list is a tangible asset that needs to be cared for and grown.

Why is the Email Newsletter So Important?

Your email list is important because it gives you the ability to contact these readers again: every time you publish a new post, have some big news or release a new product.

These subscribers will become the core of your community – they have raised their hand and asked for you to contact them with your news and offers.

Who should you use to build your list?

I recommend AWeber. They are the best option that I’ve seen. Aweber offers a powerful auto-responder tool, newsletter creation tool, signup form tool, RSS to email, powerful analytics, high deliverability rate, and subscriber segmenting. If you don’t really understand what this all means, don’t worry. With time, many of these tools will be useful to you. For now, just start with Aweber and learn their powerful tools as you go.

The first email marketing service I used was Constant Contact. And I would never have switched, except that they didn’t allow multiple lists with unique branding. This became an issue because I wanted to use the one account to manage lists for different sites.

They couldn’t do it – I would have had to purchase multiple accounts. This wouldn’t only be inconvenient – it would also be expensive. After sorting through a dozen options, I settled on Aweber. I currently have 5 email lists within the one account.

Aweber integrates seamlessly with both Optin Skin and Popup Domination to help build your list.

6. Track Your Progress: Analytics

There are a number of ways to track the progress and growth of your site. Here are the two that we use:

  1. Google Analytics: To use this free service, you’ll need to sign-up for a free Google account. If you have a Gmail email account you can use that. Then you will have to copy a small line of tracking code inside of your WordPress site. Many themes have a specific place to paste it. This is the most powerful analytics service that I’ve used – and it’s free! You can track numbers of visitors, page-views, and sources of traffic. Be warned: analytics can be addictive!
  2. Site Stats by JetPack: There is a free plug-in produced by called JetPack. This is a powerful set of tools – the best of which is Site Stats. I like this because it is inside of WordPress. While I check Google Analytics every week – I can keep on eye on actual site traffic right inside of the WordPress dashboard. Site Stats display the following charts: Referrers, top pages/posts, search engine terms and out-bound clicks. The “referrers” chart is important because you can see right away if another blog is linking to you – and you can both thank them and join the conversation on their site. This is even easier to setup than Google Analytics.

7. SEO Keyword Research: Build a Blog Keyword List

What are your blog’s keywords?

What? You haven’t chosen them yet?

Choosing your keywords are critical to helping establish your search engine ranking from day one. In this post, you’ll learn how to sift through thousands of options and choose the best keywords for your blog. You’ll also learn about the SEO tools that will help you in your search.

But first, what is a keyword?

What is a Keyword?

A keyword is a specific word or phrase that describes the contents of a page or even a complete site.

Basically, think about what a reader would search for to find your specific page.

3 Types of Keywords

Although it sounds like a single word, it is often a phrase of 2 or more words. The longer phrases are known as long tail keywords.

Here are two examples of broad, specific, and long tail keywords.

  • Broad keyword: ecuador
  • Specific keyword: living in ecuador 
  • Long tail keyword: what’s it’s like to live in ecuador as an expat
  • Broad keyword: gopro
  • Specific keyword: gopro timelapse 
  • Long tail keyword: how to make gopro sunset timelapse

What does all this mean? Well, it’s almost impossible to rank on a broad keyword. Words like “Ecuador” and “GoPro” are both high traffic and high competition. You’ll need a solid authority site, with thousands of quality inbound links to be able to rank for these keywords. Broad keywords could be described as “vanity” keywords. A term like “Ecuador” is not profitable because it doesn’t identify what the reader is looking for – or even the language they are searching in (Ecuador is spelled the same in English and Spanish).

Specific keywords are easier to rank for – and can be very profitable. These can range from 2-4 words and narrow the topic down considerably.

Generally speaking, long tail keywords are the easiest to rank for.  This can take some researc, but isn’t that hard. These can be very long, I’ve seen phrases from 10-14 words. For example:

  • canon powershot sx6210 hs review
  • how to change the oil in 1994 trooper
  • best blog platform for making money

These long tail keywords generally aren’t that competitive because the search traffic isn’t that high. As you write granular posts you will just automatically rank for them.

Which type of keyword should you target?

4 Steps to SEO Keyword Research

While long tail keywords are useful in some cases, you should target specific keywords – expressions of 2-4 words. Taking the time to carry out SEO keyword research will have long term benefits on the success of your site.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. First of all, you should sit down and write a list of the main topics on your site. These can serve as your categories. Be sure to include phrases and expressions that your readers and customers would use to describe your offering.
  2. Now, you’ll want to select more specific terms. I like to use Market Samurai to get related keywords. You can also use Long Tail Pro or Keyword Planner. These tools help you to see phrases related to your topic. Don’t skip this step. If you only use words that you can think of – you’ll likely miss the most profitable expressions.
  3. Now this list needs to be reduced and/or organized. Which ones will make up your primary 5-10 keywords? Remember to choose specific keywords (generally 2-4 words in length). These terms should best describe what your site is about.
  4. Now organize the remaining keywords. Some of them might make a good blog post. Others might be good for a whole post series. Keep the list and continue to update it in the coming months.

It’s a good idea to create the list of keywords as you establish your blog niche. It will give you a good idea of the number and type of posts you can create and if they can be monetized in some way.


3 SEO Keyword Research Tools We Use

While you can just brainstorm your keywords, it’s best to use a tool to identify them. We’ve had good success with these three:

  • Keyword Planner by Google Adwords: This free tool is great for initial searching. Once you log in, choose “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas”.
  • Market Samurai: This is a powerful piece of software that will accelerate your sifting.
  • Long Tail Pro: Similar to Market Samurai, this tool has a different, more user-friendly interface but isn’t quite as powerful.
Final Tip: There is value in repetition. Using varied or repeated keywords will improve your search ranking. Using the GoPro example, you might use the varied and repeated keywords of: GoPro camera, GoPro tutorials, GoPro mounts, GoPro action shots. These are focused around one large topic but break it down into granular pieces.

8. 11 Best Blogging Platforms (Use WordPress)

There are a ridiculous number of blogging platforms. Which one should you use? 

In this section, I’ll break down:

  • What is a blogging platform?
  • The top 11 blogging platforms
  • 5 reasons you must choose WordPress

What is a Blogging Platform?

A blogging platform is a CMS (content management system). It takes much of the manual work of site creation and maintenance. The software will tie all of your posts and pages together into an easy-to-navigate site – both for you and your readers.

Many new bloggers start off with Blogger. It is easy, free, and linked to their Google/ Gmail account. But if you are planning on starting an income blogdon’t use Blogger.

Here is a breakdown of the top eleven blogging platforms:

11 Best Blogging Platforms

These platforms are listed as “best” because of their popularity. In my opinion, there is only one blogging platform for business: WordPress. See more on WordPress below this list.

  1. {Free} A self-hosted WordPress blog is the choice of 11 of the top 20 blogs worldwide. In my opinion, this is the best platform for blogging and online business. See a detailed list of reasons at the end of this post. Use
  2. {Free} While it might sound like the same thing, it is actually very different. Unless you signup for their premium packages ($1000’s / month) this tool is limited. While it is the best option for a free/family blog, this isn’t a good choice for an income blog. Avoid for business.
  3. Blogger: {Free} Owned by Google, this tool is popular because it is easy to set up. It looks bad and has almost no ability to customize or monetize. Avoid this platform.
  4. SquareSpace: {Pay} While I have never used SquareSpace, it looks like a great tool. They offer solid hosting, e-commerce capability and costs begin at $10/month for 1 product or $20/month for up to a 20 product store. Because of limited expansion and customization, this platform is not recommended.
  5. Moveable Type: {Pay} Pricing starts at $595 for up to five users. For unlimited users price increases to $1,195. I’m not sure why someone would purchase this when a superior platform (WordPress) is available for free. I like the looks of the tool, but if you want a stable, premium CMS – why pay for something that you can get for free? Avoid.
  6. Joomla: {Free} Very popular here in Ecuador, Joomla is a great choice if you like ugly, animated websites. From what I have seen, you need to be well trained to do anything with this software  – and even then the results range from disappointing to sad. Avoid.
  7. Drupal: {Free} Similar to Joomla. Avoid.
  8. TypePad: {Pay} Without a doubt, the most popular TypePad blog is run by marketer Seth Godin. It is a minimalist design and a stable platform. If you want your blog to be separate from your site you can use TypePad. Otherwise, you should use a platform that properly integrates both into one. Costs from $8.95 – $49.95 per month. Not recommended.
  9. Tumblr: {Free} Great for microblogging and for curating related photos of your favorite topic this is not a business blogging platform. Avoid.
  10. LiveJournal: {Free} Another popular yet pointless blogging platform. Much like Tumblr, LiveJournal happily allows you to blog on their domain and help build their domain authority. This might be great as a hobby, but if you are going to start a business, you need to own your own content and your domain authority. Avoid.
  11. Weebly: {Free + Pay} This service has improved dramatically over the past few years. You can build a custom site for free, although the premium options will give you more flexibility and a more professional look. Might be good for photographers or someone who needs a brochure style site. Not recommended.

Why You Should Use WordPress

If you want to run an online business, you need to consider WordPress.

Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. Popularity: Because of its popularity, users know how to find their way around WordPress. The menus, sidebars, and footers are generally the same across the hundreds of WordPress themes – making it easy for site users to navigate. This is an important factor to consider. If a reader cannot easily find what they are looking for (or figure out the menus) then they won’t stay around – resulting in an opportunity lost.
  2. Stability: WordPress is popular for one primary reason. It is stable. This means that it just works. It is fast and almost never crashes.
  3. Cost: WordPress is free. You will have to purchase hosting (I recommend starting with HostGator) and a theme (I recommend premium Thesis or Genesis). Or you can use one of the free themes that come with WordPress to get started.
  4. Flexibility: Because of the huge number of plugins (small programs that run inside of WordPress) you can easily optimize your site to improve conversions, social sharing, monetization, and navigation.
  5. Great Documentation / Training: This is no small matter. You will have questions. Without proper documentation, how will you get answers? has a free forum that is very active where you can get many questions answered. But because of its popularity, there are hundreds of bloggers that create tutorials and answer questions for WordPress issues. Here are a few books that cover WordPress tutorials.

What should you do next? Visit HostGator and setup your new WordPress blog now.

9. Additional Reading

Recommended Business Books and Training

  • The Four Hour Workweek: This recent classic has come to define the lifestyle design movement. Tim Ferriss takes societies standards and turns them on their head. He covers lifestyle design for employees, business owners, singles and families.
  • Empire Building Kit: This is one of the most comprehensive step-by-step guides to starting an online business. A full year worth of daily emails, plus case studies and action plans – this course is sure to help you go from wishing to a functioning online business.
  • Attention! This Book Will Make You Money: This is one of my favorite business books – and yet it reads more like advice from a good (expert) friend. Jim Kukral speaks from personal experience about topics ranging from idea generation and selling online to the proper use of social media and powerful branding.
  • Bloggers Boot Camp: Think you have what it takes to be a professional blogger? Long-time bloggers Charlie White and John Biggs give a glimpse into just what’s required to make a successful blog/business. They cover tools and tactics. Not all that deep, but definitely a solid introduction.

Recommended Travel and Expat Books

  • The Family Sabbatical Handbook: If you are lacking the confidence to pull up your family and head to another country, then reading about these 16 families who have successfully done that will certainly help. The book covers families who have taken sabbaticals in Europe, China, Mexico, and South America. Learn about how they made things work – everything from money and schooling to language and the reentry to their home country.

10. Other Blogging  Considerations:

Writing a blog is simple. Running a profitable blog is something else entirely. If you follow the above seven steps, you’ll have a functioning and professional blog. Now you need to build an audience and begin building a community. As your community grows, so will your income.

Over the coming months, we’ll be covering the following topics:

  • Social media networks
  • Build a blogging schedule
  • Monetization
  • Video blogging/marketing
  • Guest blogging
  • Effective outsourcing
  • HTML for bloggers
  • Image editing
  • How to write a blog post
  • Free sources of targeted website traffic
  • Keeping it under control: Time management
  • When to go pro
  • Handling accounting and payments

Are You Ready to Get Started?

How much traffic is needed before you can monetize? This is a common question. I think you should start from day one. Here’s why.

How to become a travel blogger

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If you enjoyed this guide, please share this with friends and colleagues. It may be the best gift they receive all year!

So there you have it. The basics to starting a successful income blog.

Questions or comments? Great! Please share them in the comment section below:

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arvind gupta

Friday 11th of January 2019

Hi, Firstly, very well written article. I’m reading this article 2nd time and shortlisted few topics that interest me for lifelong.

They are basically good habits, learning & self-improvement. Also, I like these topics because I want to share these learnings of mine with current youth.

I’m having some troubles if you can help me that would be very kind.

1. In which niche these all topics are coming, motivational niche? 2. Difficulties in constructing the blogs for these topics. I’m more of like talking straight but recently trying to write in an informal way through personal examples. But, any tip on how to construct articles would also be great. 3. How to understand the audience and write in that way?

Looking forward to your reply

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Tuesday 25th of December 2018

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