How To Start A Travel Blog In WordPress And Make Money ($150k/Year) With Affiliate Marketing: 2020 Complete Guide

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Thialand

Want to start a travel blog the right way?

Starting a travel blog can be an awesome source pleasure – and passive income!

My blog generated $150,000 last year with affiliate marketing which (just in 2019) let me to travel to Thailand, Chicago 4 times to see my family, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Utah, Wisconsin, nearly every major destination in Colorado, and do a 2-week road trip with my dad.

I teach people how to build successful WordPress websites through website design and SEO; it’s not a travel blog! But it does allow me to travel whenever I want and took me from being completely broke to financially free in 4 years (you can read my full story on this about page).

There’s a lot of poor advice on how to start a travel blog and make money. People will try to refer you to bad hosting (Bluehost), complicated WordPress themes, and slow loading plugins; all of which can hinder your progress. I wrote this post to show you how to start a travel blog the right way, and the easiest! I’ll also show you how to make money with affiliate marketing.

A little bit about me:

I love this blog with all my heart, but let’s be honest, I’d rather travel!

In 2017, I moved from Chicago to Denver when my SEO traffic tripled in just 3 days – thanks Google! I packed my Mom’s car and booked it to Denver, Colorado. A year later, I made $150k/year, bought my own car (the Benz below), and started traveling all over the world. I don’t have to go far from Denver to see some of the most beautiful views. And since all I have to do is write some blog posts once in a while, it gives me plenty of time and money to live freely.

I realize I’m one of the few bloggers who was able to make this happen. I see many people struggling in Facebook Groups to get traffic, sales, and confused on how to start a travel blog. I take tremendous pleasure in helping other people succeed and hope you take my tips to heart.

Rocky-Mountain-National-Park
Mom and I at Rocky Mountain National Park (we saw Tool the night before at the Pepsi Center).

 

Bryce-Canyon
Dad and I at Bryce Canyon, Utah.

 

My-Mercedes
It ain’t a lambo, but I did buy a Mercedes C300 with my blog’s affiliate income.

 

San-Juan-National-Forest
San Juan National Forest, Colorado (taken during a 2-week road trip with my Dad).

 

1. Purchase Domain & Hosting

SiteGround was rated the #1 host in numerous Facebook polls and is who I recommend.

Their speed, support, and overall reliability are worlds better than other entry level hosting (Bluehost, HostGator, GoDaddy). It’s easiest to get domain and hosting through the same place.

2019 Hosting Poll

2017-WordPress-Hosting-FB-Poll

Elementor Hosting Recommendations

July 2019 Hosting Recommendation

WordPress-Host-Poll-Aug-2018

2016-WordPress-Hosting-FB-Poll

Favorite Hosting For Elementor

2018 Hosting Recommendations

WordPress Hosting Poll Sept 2018.png

Select Your Plan – there are 3 plans to choose from (StartUp, GrowBig, GoGeek). StartUp is the cheapest option and should be fine for your travel blog (unless you need to host multiple blogs, on-demand backups, or staging, then you will need GrowBig+). Take a look at their features page to see the features each plan comes with, otherwise their StartUp plan is fine. Be sure to sign up through the WordPress hosting page which makes the setup process easier.

SiteGround-Plans

Sign Up And Choose Your Domain – while signing up, you will be asked if you have a domain and the option to register one. Fill out the form and choose the server location closest to your blog visitors. You don’t need any of the add-ons which have little benefit and cost extra money.

Travel-Blog-Account-Setup

 

2. Install WordPress

Once you sign up, SiteGround will email you a link with their launch wizard.

SiteGround Confirmation

Choose “start a new website,” select WordPress, and create your WordPress login info.

SiteGround Setup

You will then see a confirmation message.

 

3. Login To Your WordPress Admin

After completing the launch wizard, SiteGround will send your WordPress login via email.

Travel-Blog-Account-Setup

Go ahead and login!

Travel-Blog-WordPress-Dashboard

 

4. Make Your Blog Secure With SSL

Adding SSL should be the very first thing you do when starting a travel blog. This makes sure all your blog’s links + images are HTTPS from the start. The steps below show you how to add SSL.

Step 1: In your SiteGround account, go to My Accounts → Go To cPanel → Security → Let’s Encrypt SSL, then click “activate free.” This will install a free Let’s Encrypt SSL on your domain.

Travel-Blog-SSL

Step 2: In WordPress, go to SG Optimizer → Environment Optimization → Enable HTTPS. SiteGround will ask if you want them to configure HTTPS automatically, which you should do. Once that is done, refresh your travel blog and you should see HTTPS is in your domain name.

Enable-HTTPS-SG-Optimizer

Without SSL:

Insecure-Travel-Blog

With SSL:

Travel-Blog-SSL

 

5. Choose A Travel Blog Theme

I highly recommend using Astra themes for your travel blog.

They look very nice, are mobile responsive, fast loading, built in WordPress, and they have multiple travel blog themes to choose from. In this guide, I will be using the Travel Blog theme as an example, but they also have other travel themes like Outdoor Adventure and Wanderlust.

Step 1: In WordPress, go to Plugins → Add New → search/install the Astra Starter Sites plugin.

Astra-Starter-Sites-Search

Step 2: You will see a prompt to install and activate the Astra theme. Do it.

Astra Theme Notification

Step 3: Choose your page builder. Elementor is the most popular, but the Travel Blog theme from this example requires Gutenberg. It just depends on which theme you want and which page builder that theme requires (different themes are built in different page builders). Page builders basically control how you build pages but most page builders are very user-friendly.

Gutenberg-Page-Builder

Step 4: Choose your travel blog theme. Look at all the themes including the ones built in Elementor, Beaver Builder, Brizy, and Gutenberg. When choosing a travel blog theme, the most important thing is that it should look very similar to how you want your own blog to look. If it doesn’t have something specific you want, you can always install a plugin to add functionality.

Travel-Theme-Search

Step 5: Import your theme by clicking Import Site. When you do this, Astra will automatically download all content, plugins, widgets, and WordPress customizer settings to your own blog.

Import-Travel-Blog-Theme

Importing-Travel-Blog

Step 6: Once the import done, refresh and your travel blog should look exactly like the theme:

Travel-Blog

Other Travel Blog WordPress Themes

I listed a few other WordPress travel blog themes below. Some are more difficult to customize, don’t load as fast, aren’t as easy to import, don’t get updated frequently, and may come with challenges. That’s why I recommend Astra’s travel blog themes; they’re both easy and reliable!

 

6. Name Your Travel Blog

In WordPress, go to Settings → General (this is where you’ll name your Travel Blog).

Your travel blog name will appear in Google’s search results and should usually be the same as your domain name. Leave the tagline blank and do not change the WordPress or Site Address.

Travel-Blog-WordPress-Title

 

7. Start Customizing Your Blog’s Design

You can change many elements of your travel blog in Appearance → Astra Options.

Astra-Options

Things You Can Do In Astra Options:

  • Upload logo
  • Upload favicon (16x16px site icon)
  • Change footer layout + copyright area
  • Change font family, size, weight, line height
  • Change navigation menu layout on desktop + mobile
  • Change layout of pages/posts (fullwidth, sidebar, etc)
  • Change color of text, theme, link, link hover, header, background
  • Customize information on your blog (author, publish dates, category, etc)
  • Customize the sidebar on your travel blog (if you have one) and it’s width

Travel-Blog-Site-Identity-Settings

Travel-Blog-Footer

Customize-Travel-Blog-Colors

 

8. Create Destination Categories

You’ll want to add a few blog categories to categorize your posts under.

Add your blog categories under Posts → Categories.

For travel blogs, these are usually destinations (eg. Africa), or topics that can make you money with affiliate marketing (travel gear, flights, hotel recommendations) or whatever general topics you want to blog about. There is no perfect number; 4-5 should be plenty if you’re just starting. You can always add more once you actually start creating content under that category.

Travel-Blog-Categories

 

9. Add A Travel Map

The Interactive Geo Maps plugin is great for adding a travel map and you can see a demo here.

Step 1: Install The Interactive Geo Maps Plugin
Go to plugins → add new → search/install the Interactive Geo Maps plugin.

Step 2: Add And Customize Your Travel Map
In WordPress, go to Maps → Add New. Here you can customize the map’s design including the region, colors, background, font family, borders, map size, title of the travel map, and more.

Map-Customizations

Step 3: Add Your Locations
To add a marker to your travel map, click the location on the map then click “Add Marker Here.” It will show you the region name and latitude/longitude of the marker. Once a marker is added, you can name the marker (eg. Denver, Colorado) and even add a link to the marker. For example, you could write a post on something related to “Denver, Colorado” then link to it here.

WordPress-Travel-Map

Travel-Markers

Step 4: Add The Travel Map To Your Page
Once your travel map is finished, edit the page you want to add the map to. Copy the shortcode from the map then add it to the page. When you preview it, you will see the travel map is there.

Travel-Map-Shortcode

 

10. Design The Homepage

To edit any page, go to Pages → All Pages → Edit.

For the most part, you will point, click, and edit. If you’re using Gutenberg (or Elementor depending on your theme), you may want to watch YouTube videos to learn how to edit pages.

Edit-Travel-Blog-Homepage

Everything is basically click and edit:

Edit-Travel-Blog-Homepage

Here’s a tutorial on editing pages with Gutenberg:

 

11. Design The About Page

Your about page is one of the easiest pages to customize.

Just like your homepage is point, click, and edit, so is your about page.

Travel-Blog-About-Page

 

12. Design The Contact Page

Everything is the same as far as editing, but this page should have a contact form.

To edit it, go to WPForms → All Forms → Add New. Everything is drag and drop. You can add, delete, and edit fields. Use it for a contact form or even a subscribe form for collecting emails.

WPForms-Builder

To add a form to the contact page, copy/paste the form’s shortcode onto the page:

Embed-Contact-Form

Add-WP-Forms

 

You will need to create your pages first before adding them to your navigation menu.

You can do this under Pages → All Pages. Your theme already comes with pre-built pages which you can use as templates (you’ll still want to customize them), delete, or you can add new ones.

Travel-Blog-Pages

Once your pages are published, head to Appearance → Menus. Drag and drop pages from the left to your navigation menu to the right. Dropdown menus can be created by dropping a page under another page with an indent. You can also add blog posts or custom links to your menu.

Travel-Blog-Menu

Astra Options let you customize the design of your navigation menu:

Travel-Blog-Header

 

14. Write Your First Blog Post

To write your first blog post, go to Posts → Add New.

The first step is to find a keyword (shown in next step) so you can drive traffic to the post through SEO. Write a keyword-rich title and starting typing away! Of course, don’t forget to add images and key information about your destination or whatever it is you’re writing about.

Writing-Blog-Post

 

15. Optimize Blog Posts For Google

SEO (search engine optimization) is the most efficient way to drive traffic to your travel blog.

Step 1: Find A Long-Tail (Specific) Phrase
Go to google.com and start typing in a phrase. Use the Google Autocomplete suggestions to find a long-tail phrase (usually 3+ words) describing the topic you want to write about. Doing keyword research before going on your trip may entice you to visit specific places or learn about specific things! Sometimes, you can target 2-3 keywords if they are very similar by writing the post title to include both keywords (example: Tips For Backpacking in Yosemite National Park).

Travel-Blog-Keywords

Step 2: Research The Keyword’s Competition
Google the keyword and click on some of the top results. If you answer yes to one of the following questions, the keyword may be too competitive and you may want to find a new one.

  • It it a broad keyword?
  • Do the top results cover the topic extensively?
  • Do high authority sites (eg. org) rank in top results (you can use MozBar to check this)?

Choose long-tail phrases with weak content in the top results.

Step 3: Create An In-Depth Blog Post About The Keyword
Finding keywords and using them in the right places is easy. But in-depth content is what makes you rank. Do what nobody else is doing: make a video, infographic, and take spectacular photos.

Now for my best tip:

Use an HTML table of contents on every post you write.

See the top of this article for an example. This is extremely helpful for both users and search engines: it organizes your post, lets people jump (and link) to specific sections, and gives you a better chance of getting award jump-to links and listed in Google’s featured snippets. See this HTML table of contents Github code or ask a developer to help (as it will require CSS styling).

Step 4: Use The Keyword In The Right Places

Don’t obsess over getting green lights in Yoast’s SEO plugin!

The most important places to use your keyword are:

  • Post title
  • Permalink
  • SEO title + meta description (in Yoast)
  • A couple of times in the content body
  • Image alt text (doesn’t have to be the exact keyword)

Text length (in-depth content) and using quality internal/external links are also important. But the rest of on-page SEO is pretty much all about your content and you can ignore the rest of Yoast’s recommendations. Stuffing keywords to get keyword density up, or sacrificing a great title people will click on (just to use the exact keyword in the beginning) isn’t always worth it.

Travel-Blog-SEO

 

16. Use Schema When Reviewing Destinations

If you’re reviewing destinations, you should be using review rich snippets.

These add review stars to your search results (resulting in more people clicking your link and more traffic to your travel blog). You can use a plugin like All In One Review Rich Snippets or another rich snippet plugin. Simply install the plugin and markup the page by adding the review stars, author name, and other basic information. Wait a few days and you should see the stars.

Destination-Rich-Snippets

 

17. Make Your Blog Look Nice When Shared On Facebook + Twitter

Uploading custom graphics makes your travel blog format nicely on Facebook + Twitter.

Here’s without custom graphics:

Travel-Blog-Sharing-Before

Here’s with custom graphics:

Travel-Blog-OG-Image

Step 1: Make sure the Yoast SEO plugin is installed.

Step 2: Edit any page or post, scroll down to the Yoast SEO section, and click the “Social” tab. You will see an option for both Facebook and Twitter where you can upload custom graphics.

Yoast-OG-Image

Step 3: Create an image for each social network and upload them here. Facebook’s dimensions are 1200 x 630 pixels, Twitter’s are 1024 x 512 pixels. To make sure it’s working, copy/paste the page or post’s URL to Facebook or Twitter and make sure you see your custom graphics.

 

18. Monetize Your Travel Blog With Affiliate Links

This blog generated $150k in 2019 through affiliate marketing.

The “secret” lies within this post… in the first step of this tutorial, I referred you SiteGround’s hosting and make $150 if you sign up using my affiliate link. I make a point to write about topics (keywords) where I can provide value while referring people to affiliates. That’s why you’ll see travel blogs write a post on “how to start a travel blog” since hosting commissions are so high.

Step 1: Get Traffic Before Applying To Affiliate Programs
Most affiliates want to see you have decent traffic (and a good amount of content) on your travel blog before getting approved to their program. Once you do, many affiliates will bend over backward to get your referrals. Keep monetization in mind when writing your content so that when you do eventually get approved, you can add affiliate links to relevant existing posts.

Step 2: Find The Right Affiliate Program(s)
The best affiliates have good branding (for higher conversions), high commissions (for higher payouts), and a competitive landscape (prevents them from abandoning you). Companies like REI and most popular hotels, flight services, and travel merchandise companies have an affiliate program. Google “REI Affiliate Program” or “Travel Blog Affiliate Programs” and do research.

Booking-Affiliate-Program

It was no surprise when Amazon cut their affiliate commissions by 70% in April, 2020. Most people go straight to Amazon – they don’t need affiliates (at least, not anymore) and they had a history of writing content that outranks (competes) with their own affiliates so they go directly to Amazon. Don’t rely on 1 single company. Plenty of hosting companies offer $150/sale and will be glad to have your business – that’s why to some extent, that affiliate industry is safe. Find an affiliate program that has a nice balance of branding, commissions, and competition.

New-Amazon-Affiliate-Commissions

Step 3: Sign Up With Affiliate Marketplaces Or Individual Programs
Some companies have their own affiliate program and you can find it by Googling “company name affiliate program” (or check the footer of their website). Others are part of an affiliate marketplace like ShareASale, Impact, or CJ Affiliate (3 popular ones). The affiliate marketplaces let you join multiple affiliate programs, create links, and manage your programs all in one place.

Step 4: Install An Affiliate Link Management Plugin
The Thirsty Affiliates plugin is what I use. It lets you cloak/manage affiliate links.

Step 5: Test, Track, And Adjust Your Strategy 
Learning how to monetize takes time. For example, I learned that including Facebook polls where some hosting companies were ranked #1 significantly improved my conversion rates.

Step 6: Blog About Topics (Keywords) With Affiliate Opportunities
Make sure you’re writing about topics where you can actually refer people your affiliate’s product/services. But again, don’t be salesy. This post you’re reading should be super helpful, but I also referred you to SiteGround’s WordPress hosting (an affiliate of mine). It’s a win-win.

Hosting has huge commissions which is why you see so many “how to start a travel blog” posts:

SiteGround-Affiliate-Sales

 

19. Install Essential WordPress Plugins

There are a few essential WordPress plugins that should be installed on your travel blog.

  • Yoast SEO: popular SEO plugin I have a tutorial for.
  • Interactive Geo Maps: add a travel map of the places you’ve been to
  • UpdraftPlus: take backups with 1 click to third party services (eg. Dropbox).
  • iThemes Security: improves your security with a single click.
  • ShortPixel: losslessly compress images to load fast (may see loss in quality).
  • SG Optimizer: SiteGround’s speed optimization plugin (comes pre-installed).
  • Anti-Spam: prevents spam on blog comments + contact forms.
  • Thirsty Affiliates: affiliate link management plugin (includes cloaking).

 

20. Setup Google Tools

You should ideally have both Google Analytics and Google Search Console installed.

Installing Google Analytics

  • Sign up for Google Analytics
  • Copy your UA code (eg. UA-000000-2)
  • Install a Google Analytics Plugin
  • Paste UA code into the plugin (Settings → Google Analytics)

Google-Analytics-UA-Code

Installing Google Search Console

  • Install Yoast SEO
  • Sign up for Google Search Console
  • Use the HTML tag verification option and copy the code
  • Paste code into Yoast (SEO → General → Webmaster Tools → Google Search Console)
  • Delete everything outside the quotations, including the quotations
  • Save changes in Yoast
  • Click “Verify” in Search Console

Google-Search-Console-Performance-Dashboard

 

21. Make Your Blog Load Fast

A faster blog can result in higher rankings, less bounces, and more sales.

Here are a few extremely easy things you can do to make your travel blog load faster.

Configure The SG Optimizer Plugin – in WordPress, go to SG Optimizer → Frontend + Media Optimization and configure these settings. While optimizing (compressing) images makes them load faster, you may see a loss in quality. Test a few images before enabling this permanently.

SG-Optimizer-Frontend-Optimization

Activate Cloudflare’s CDN In SiteGround – In your SiteGround account, go to My Account → Go To cPanel → Cloudflare → Activate Free. This enables Cloudflare’s free content delivery network (CDN) which hosts your travel blog on over 200 data centers. This reduces the distance between your server and visitors and is especially helpful if you have global visitors.

Travel-Blog-Cloudflare-Activation

Avoid Installing Bloated Plugins – avoid this list of 65+ slow plugins.

Avoid Gigantic Images – large images take longer to load. If your blog’s content width is 700 pixels wide, don’t upload 2,000 pixel width images! Although you should ideally upload images that fix the exact dimensions your travel blog calls for, you can cheat a bit and make them slightly larger (around 1.5x their recommended size) for high quality. I wouldn’t go over that.

And finally, use GTmetrix to measure load times:

Travel-Blog-GTmetrix-Report

 

22. Get A Custom Travel Blog Design

Looking for a more custom design for your travel blog?

We build search engine optimized travel blogs that are completely custom (we don’t use themes). If you’re looking for a more custom design with a proper SEO setup, contact our team.

Cheers,
Tom

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