Author Archives: Two Scots Abroad

Make Money With Affiliate Marketing in 11 Easy Steps

Keyboard with shopping cart button

Affiliate marketing is a fantastic way to build passive income that will continue to flow in, even when you’re spending time on other projects. It’s one of the fastest and most effective ways to begin making an income from your blog or website, even when you’re still building up your following and reputation.

By targeting the right audience, you can enjoy commission while recommending your favorite products and services; and the best part is that affiliate marketing works for all niches. 

However, bloggers and niche site owners tend to make a few mistakes that limit their chances of affiliate success.

Here’s our guide on how to make money with affiliate marketing so you can maximise profit, making every post pay. 

Since there are many considerations involved, please read the full guide before implementing or making any changes to your affiliate posts. 

Make Money With Affiliate Marketing Today

1. Target the Right Audience

When I first started implementing an affiliate process, I applied for popular affiliate programs and inserted the affiliate link into my popular posts. 

While this affiliate ‘trickle-down effect’ will make you some income, it’s not the best strategy for affiliate success.

You need to catch the reader with their credit card in their hand to start making consistent sales. 

To really start making money from affiliates, you need to flip your affiliate game around and start the process by choosing the right product/service, that are essential to your target audience, that have prime keywords to help you rank your affiliate article on page one of Google.

For example, instead of just adding Amazon product affiliate links to your guide on studying for finals, you can choose a product that you know will help students study and target the keywords they would be using to search for such products.

Why not do both?

You can make money through both methods, but the more targeted approach will likely make more.

Track the income to see which type of post brings in the most income.

Couple shopping on laptop.

So How Do I Rank on Google?

This process is called search engine optimization (SEO). If you are not familiar with SEO I suggest you read our this guide and this article to keyword research.

Part of SEO is keyword research.

This helps you target keywords with a decent volume and low competition so you can appear on page one of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) in Google.

SEO will allow you to reach the right audience who want to buy the affiliate product or service. 

We call this process writing ‘money-making’ posts. You can make affiliate income from social media but you need an engaged audience to do so. An active newsletter list is another funnel that you can target.

For us, SEO offers the best outcomes for our travel and food sites when it comes to monetising through affiliates so this guide is going to focus on using SEO.

Keysearch keywords example

2. Choose Products/Services to Promote

When deciding what affiliate products to promote, don’t just choose the popular ones.

Really consider the following things:

  • The affiliate and the product. Do you stand behind the company? Is it something your audience needs or wants? Is it a high enough price point to actually make money from? What commission will you receive? What is the cookie window?
  • How a buyer would purchase the product. Will they buy right away or consider their decision first? This will affect what kind of marketing you need to do.
  • What is the user intent of the target audience? For example, what does the Google searcher asking for ‘best neighborhoods in New York’ want? Hotels? Houses for sale? What does a searcher asking for “best slow cooker” want?
Blue skies over Brooklyn Bridge up close Seaport NYC Manhattan

3. Consider the Buying Cycle

You need to appeal to readers who are ready to purchase in order for them to get out their credit card and make the purchase right away.

So be sure you choose keywords that target the decision/buying stage.

These people are beyond the information-gathering stage and are ready to buy as soon as they find the right product.

Using buying words and phrases will attract decision-stage readers. Here are some example buying words:

  • Product reviews
  • This product vs That product 
  • Best luxury product or best budget product
  • For women … for men … for families

If you think you have a chance of ranking on page one of Google with your post, then don’t worry so much about the volume of the keyword. It’s better to rank well for smaller volume keywords than to not rank for high volume ones. **

Read more about how to find the right keywords here.

I used to believe you needed a large audience to make money but that’s not true, you need a targeted audience. With affiliate marketing, it is better to have a hundred views that convert, than a thousand that don’t. 

For example, one of my targeted money-making posts makes 3x the commission in comparison to another post that receives a ton of views but isn’t targeted. 

Affiliate links work much better in a targeted post.

Couple looking at laptop. Office. Work.

4. Solve a Problem

You can add an affiliate link to just about any post, but the ones that will begin to make money are the ones that solve a problem.

The best way to tackle this is to brainstorm your audience’s pain points. Think about an issue that causes a problem for your audience – something they struggle with.

What are the top three things that keep your audience up at night?

Such as how to source a recipe ingredient they can’t get at home, or how to choose the best elliptical machine when there are so many similar options on the market.

Those are the affiliate products you should introduce to your audience.

After brainstorming, conduct keyword research to see if people are actively looking for a solution to that problem on Google. If there is search volume, and the post you write solves the problem, you will begin to make affiliate sales.

Note: Don’t forget to consider whether you can compete against the top ten posts in the SERPs. If there are already dozens of people solving that problem, you might have a hard time getting your solution in front of readers. 

Write an in-depth and very useful guide for your audience about that pain point. Identify the issue, empathize with the issue, and introduce your product that solves the issue.

Woman angry on laptop. Work.

5. Choose The Right Affiliate Programs 

When choosing an affiliate program, at the very least you have to consider the following: 

  • Commission – What percentage will you make? Or is there a flat fee you will receive per sale?
  • Cookie Window – How long does a reader have to purchase in order for you to get the commission? 

For example,’s direct program gives a 25% commission on the amount they make (not the full hotel booking amount) with no cookie window, whereas Amazon has a sliding scale for commission, product depending, and a 24-hour cookie window.

More advanced site owners will also consider the overall company conversion rate before applying too because the company’s ability to make the sale after you’ve led a reader to them is also very important.

Hands typing laptop. Work. Office.

6. Consider the Types of Affiliate Programs

Some companies choose to host a direct affiliate program like and Amazon Associates. 

Others go via a third party where you sign up for the third-party program (like Commission Junction or Awin), then you must also apply for the individual affiliate program. 

There are companies covering every niche thinkable in these third-party sites. 

Here are some of the affiliate marketing programs we use on our sites (travel, food and SEO):

  • Amazon Associates – Direct Amazon product sales
  • ShareASale – Third party, shop for merchants once you sign up
  • VigLink now Sovrn CommerceThird party, shop for merchants once you sign up
  • CJ – Third party, shop for merchants once you sign up 
  • Partnerize was Performance Horizon – Third party, shop for merchants once you sign up
  • AwinThird party, shop for merchants once you sign up
  • Food52 – Recipes, kitchenware
  • Avantlink – A collection of international merchants.
VigLink Sovrn Commerce Sign Up Page

7. Focus On The Perfect Products 

There are a few ways in which you may be choosing the wrong products or services. 

Firstly, you are pitching a product that just does not convert. 

It might not be right for your audience, it might have poor conversion rates for the company selling it, the product or service is not available all year round, you’ve failed to optimize the post for that product (see next section) and/or you can’t rank for target keywords (see above). 

Secondly, you only focus on low-priced products with low commission rates which in return does not make you much in revenue. 

Naturally, in the beginning, you may not want to target high-value products because you don’t think you can sell them. However, you need to break out of that mindset.

It’s not about the price of the product, it’s about identifying a need and finding a product that fulfills that need.

A low commission rate isn’t always a negative. If you sell a lot of the product, you create a high average order rate (AOV).

In some cases, this can earn you additional income for bringing in a lot of sales.

Note: For some affiliates, the reader doesn’t have to buy the product or service you recommend for you to receive a commission.

For example, with Amazon, don’t be surprised if you see pet-related goods showing up in your reports when you promote wellbeing products.

Although dogs are a great source of happiness, it just means the reader has read your guide, clicked through to Amazon from one of your product links then continued shopping for other items. 

This isn’t always something to be celebrated though as it can indicate that the reader did not complete the buying cycle for the targeted keywords/product or service. 

Earphones, plant and laptop keyboard on pink background

8. Optimize Your Affiliate Posts 

You may have SEO down but your content isn’t converting for affiliates.

There are many reasons that your links might not be converting, such as lack of calls to action, placing it in the wrong spot in the post, and not making the buying signals clear enough.

To fix this issue, see below for some great ideas.

Deep Linking

For many affiliate programs, in-text affiliate links that are naturally placed within context convert better than widgets and images.

Widgets can slow your page speed down too.

Clear Calls to Action (CTAs)

CTAs are buying signals, like buy here, act now, check prices, reserve your spot, etc.

Not including CTAs might leave your readers without a clear understanding of what they should do.

If you use Gutenberg you can use the coloured boxes function, bottoms or separating lines to make callouts stand out.

You can also create your own CTA boxes using this code: <div style=”background-color: #BBF1F5; padding: 1.0em; max-width: 25.0em; margin: 1.0em 0; border: solid 1.0px #BBF1F5;”><strong> Don’t miss out. Buy today! </div> Example:

Don’t miss out. Buy today!

Change the colour coding to match your brand colours. You can also change the thickness of the box.

Linking is such an important part of the post-building process.

Sense of Emotion

Every good marketer knows that fear sells. If you can paint a picture from personal experience which outlines why the reader should buy the product and add a sense of urgency or excitement, you could increase your selling power. Remember, solve a problem!

Avoid Affiliate Stuffing

Just like keyword stuffing, you can overdo affiliates too. Sure you want to encourage click-throughs, but having an affiliate in every paragraph looks spammy and can be overwhelming.

Sell naturally by putting a personal spin on it. If you’re trying to sell products you don’t use yourself, it will come across as unnatural and salesy.

Use Professional Plugins

There are a couple of affiliate plugins which improve the user experience (UX) as well as making items stand out.

Thirsty Links – An easy-to-use link cloaking plugin. Redirects your messy + sometimes spammy looking links to a neat URL. It tracks clicks for analyzing too.

Mobile User Experience

Do not ignore mobile user experience. Google now ranks the mobile version of your site, so always evaluate how your posts look to mobile users.

Ask a friend to check for you, sometimes it’s difficult to see issues with your own posts.

Man Texting on Phone.

9. Track Your Affiliates

Affiliate marketing is not a set-it-and-forget-it process!

Question any affiliate course that screams ‘make money while you sleep’.

Sure, you will be selling while you get shut-eye but to make a lot of money you have to stay on top of securing Google rankings through SEO and working out what affiliate placement is working. 

That’s why we prefer to refer to affiliate marketing as ‘nurtured income’ as opposed to passive income – as it will need some attention.

If an affiliate program offers a way for you to track the specific link that is being clicked, use it.

This will give you great insight into what links are converting, and what links aren’t.

Check frequently to see what placement is working and be willing to adjust it when it’s not.

Is it a deep link, a buying signal CTA, a button or a box? Can you replicate what it working elsewhere?

If it’s not working, tweak it. Business is about calculated risk. 

What products are selling? Brainstorm more content, do keyword research and publish.

If you have ads running on your site it might be worth removing them for money-making posts or at least manipulating ad placement, so they don’t detract from the money you could be making.  

Even worse, ads can display the same affiliate partner so your reader may be seeing ads promoting the affiliate partner and if they click the ad instead of your link, that’s an affiliate sale lost for you.

This can happen if the reader has looked at the affiliate partner site before.  

Woman using spreadsheet on desktop. Office.

10. Build Relationships

Many bloggers are resistant to following the advice of affiliate partners, and believe me, I was one of them.

For example, whenever I was contacted by a company who wanted me to become an affiliate and start mentioning their product in my posts, I wondered why I should give a company free advertisement on my site. They should pay for that exposure, right? Not necessarily. 

While some affiliates will pay for advertisement in addition to the affiliate commission, most won’t.

Effectively, the affiliate commission is your payment for advertising their product.

You become partners and agree to positively promote their product on your site, which begins to make you a trusted brand ambassador. 

One of my Facebook followers asked if I trusted GetYourGuide tours, which I am an affiliate for.

I could honestly say yes because I’ve used them personally.

Create an open dialogue with affiliate partners.

Email often, discuss ideas, ask for reports if they are not readily available.

Some partners will be into this, others won’t care. You just have to keep wooing! 

Don’t ignore the wee guys.

Some of our most successful affiliate partners are brands you’ve probably not heard about.

Don’t disregard every email from affiliates as spam. Be very diligent with the companies that find you via your top ranking posts.

They understand SEO, too. It’s a killer combo for affiliate income.

Don’t be afraid to ask for placement fees if you can guarantee Return On Investment (ROI).

Some companies do have a budget for this. It is more likely that you will have success if the company contacted you.

Especially if they found you on page one of Google for a buying keyword.

Attend industry events so you can meet partners face to face.

Invite your favorite partners to conferences.

If they are going already, arrange to meet for a casual drink or more officially during a speed-networking slot. 

Conference room with big screen and audience. Work.

11. Don’t Think You’re An Affiliate Expert 

We see this too often.

Bloggers make a month of sales and suddenly they know everything about affiliates, so they start a company telling other bloggers how to make money from affiliates.

Affiliate marketing is a long-term commitment.

It takes at least a year of analysis to understand the full cycle of your affiliates: the ebbs and flows of traffic, the buying trends, the low season, Black Friday/Cyber Monday rush, the damn cancellations and returns. 

Sure, get excited about the first affiliate sales, but don’t get too emotionally attached until the monthly revenue is consistent and growing. 

Would the bank give you a mortgage on your current sales?

Readers, always check the credentials of those selling you advice and courses. Make sure they can back up what they say with actual data and proof.

Check the testimonials for blogging courses are by bloggers and site owners, not Instagram accounts owners. These are completely different platforms.

Pink background with laptop and paper clouds. work.

Current Affiliate Issues

When you start really digging deep into affiliates and improving your conversions, you will likely run into a few issues that you need to be aware of so you don’t get burned.

  • Affiliates can change contracts when they want and they do! Laura once applied to a program that offered 12% commission only to find they changed the commission rate a month later to 1%.
  • Affiliate partners change programs and they may or may not tell you about it. That means you have to change the links to the new affiliate program or they will become defunct.
  • Many affiliate dashboards are confusing and require a degree to understand and navigate. We’re spoiled by Google Analytics/Search Console. Why can’t every affiliate have something similar?
  • When a reader clicks on your affiliate link and it clicks through to the mobile app instead of a browser, are you making that referral sale? With the majority of our readers viewing our posts via mobile it is something we should all be questioning our affiliate partners.
Woman drinking coffee in office.

Final Words

The biggest change you will see in affiliate earnings will be when you start thinking strategically about your affiliate partnerships and links, rather than just tossing a link in whenever it seems convenient.

Start acting like a business person who is in it for the long run and is confident in making strategic risks for increased gains.

About the Authors

Gemma is the owner of a number of travel and lifestyle websites including Two Scots Abroad Travel Guides. Laura runs a portfolio of travel, food, and lifestyle sites. They both love to travel, drink wine, and increase their website traffic through SEO!

How to Start a Blog in 10 Easy Steps

Computer with yellow office

If you want to start a blog, or even a second or third blog, and you need some help getting going, these instructions will help you go through the steps one-by-one. Starting a blog, even if you’ve done it before, is all about making important decisions and implementing them in the correct order.

I’ve set up over a dozen blogs and websites, myself. You’d think it would get easier, but there are so many steps involved in creating a blog. It’s very easy to forgot some of the requirements, or even do them in the wrong order.

Following the steps below, we’ll take you from the very first step of choosing a blog name, to purchasing a domain, setting up hosting, installing WordPress, a theme, and the required plugins.

How to Start Your Own Blog in 10 Easy Steps

Many people start blogs just record their thoughts or connect with family, not necessarily as a business or a professional website.

If you’re really only starting a blog for personal reasons, I suggest you head over to or and sign up for a free site. It’s really easy and you’ll be publishing your first post in no time.

But if there’s even a small chance you might want to take your blog in a more professional direction – whether you’re hoping to eventually make money from it, or not – take the time to set it up properly and think through all of the choices before getting started.

This will save you loads of time and effort in the long run and will set you up for blogging success.

If you’ve decided to create a professional blog or website – or maybe even a second one, that’s great! Now, prepare yourself, because it will take some time to get it all set up and running.

1. Create a Well-Thought out Plan for your Blog

Don’t skip this step!

The most important first step to creating a successful blog is to completely think through the plan for your blog. Without a solid plan, if you just forge ahead without thinking it through, you could end up with a site that just doesn’t make sense.

Oftentimes, we have these great ideas for a website, but no matter how great the idea, if there is no audience, no demand for the information, and/or no way to monetize it, you could be putting in a lot of work with little to no reward.

Create a Business Plan

This doesn’t have to be some extensive report that’s uber professional, but you should create some sort of business plan. Your business plan should include:

  1. What is the primary focus?
  2. Who is your audience?
  3. What are the main keywords you will target? Is there search volume proving this keywords to be in demand?
  4. How difficult is the competition for target keywords? Will you be able to get Google traffic quickly?
  5. How will you make money?
  6. What will you sell? Is there a demand for these products?
  7. Are there affiliate programs for your niche?
  8. How many other competitors are there in this niche?
  9. How do you plan to gain backlinks to your content?
  10. What is your content plan?
  11. How many posts will you write per week?
  12. Will you hire help?
Mum with baby on laptop.

Decide on a Blog Name

One of the most important decisions you have to make is your blog name. You want it to express your personality in some way, but you don’t want to be so creative that people don’t get it or think it’s ostentatious.

Most of all, you don’t want it to be generic or too much like anyone else’s. If you’ve seen it before, it’s not a great idea.

You can still focus on a topic that’s been covered, but try to be more creative with your blog name.

You might have heard somewhere that your blog name should contain the niche keywords you’re aiming at, but from experience I haven’t found that to be true.

To the contrary, it can make your blog sound spammy or too sales oriented.

Examples of this would be:,

Choose something:

  1. Easy to remember
  2. Easy to spell and spelled correctly
  3. Easy to say
  4. That doesn’t need to be constantly explained
  5. That clearly demonstrates what your aim is
  6. That is available

Learn from Laura’s Mistake

When I chose my name, I went through dozens before I found one that I liked and that was available. I settled on Savored Journeys before I thought through all the possible issues that might arise from that name.

I’m sure you can see this coming… In many parts of the world, savored is spelled savoured.

I now have to explain that it’s the U.S. spelling.

This issue was solved by buying the domain and redirecting it to

But it was a hassle I wish I had avoided.

Down the road a bit, I learned that someone started a site called

There may be many different spellings or variations of your site that you want to keep for yourself.

If this is the case, be sure to look up every possible spelling to make sure they’re all free before you proceed.

The last thing you want is to create a site that has a very similar name to another.

Check the Domain

No matter what you end up choosing, it’s only a good idea if the domain is available or can be purchased. If your awesome name is already in use or the domain belongs to someone else, it’s no longer awesome.

You can use a service like Namecheap to research available domains.

I like Namecheap because it’s a reliable and easy way to search for a free domain, and it offers many other suggestions and extensions.

I suggest you make a list of at least 20 possible names and then start checking the availability.

Don’t get attached to something until you know if it’s free.

The internet is a saturated place. Be prepared for all of your ideas to be taken. You have to get pretty unique to find something.

Check Social Media for a Handle

Once you’ve found a domain name that meets the criteria and that is available, you’ll want to pass it through the social media channels to make sure it’s available there too.

For instance, if you choose the domain ‘’ then you should try to secure @amazingrecipes on every social media channel.

This makes it very easy for people to find you, retweet you, like you, and engage with your profile.

It’s best to avoid domains where you’ll have to shorten or change your name on social media, but if you can’t, be sure to choose something similar, like @amazingrecs.

We are finding these days that although some social media channel handles have been taken, the accounts are no longer active – this is a decision you would need to weigh up before committing to a name.

Woman speaking on phone in cafe. Work.

2. Purchase the Domain Name

With Namecheap, you can buy a domain for less than $10 per year.

If you feel committed to the domain, you can purchase it for two years or more.

It is also recommended to buy the and/or .org of your domain, plus any variations there might be, to avoid any competitors purchasing it in the future.

If the isn’t free, I would refrain from using that domain and go back to the drawing board.

Sorry! You don’t want to jump on the back of an already established brand.

Once you’ve found a free domain name that you like, go ahead and purchase it.

namecheap screenshot

3. Choose a Host

Choosing a host for your first year is not that tricky.

At this stage, you are probably unsure about the longevity of your blog, so here a few things to consider when host shopping:

  • Is there 24/7 chat for customer service for when there are meltdowns? And there will be many.
  • Is it affordable? You shouldn’t be paying more than $10 per month for a shared hosting plan.
  • Do they have a low downtime record and good reviews?

PRO TIP: If this is your second or third site, you may be able to host all of your sites on one server/plan. Most plans allow you to host more than one site, as long as the resources you’ve purchased under the plan are large enough to host the sites.

What is Shared Hosting?

Shared hosting is where hundreds or even thousands of websites share a single server.

While that might sound daunting, it’s perfectly normal for new sites with low traffic to purchase that affordable option. It’s not until your site grows that you’ll want to move away from shared hosting.

What is Dedicated or VPS Hosting?

If you are choosing a host for a second site and expect traffic to increase quickly, consider dedicated or virtual private server hosting.

This is where you have your own server which can make your site faster,  because it is not fighting other sites for resources.

Dedicated servers can be very expensive and are likely not necessary until you’ve reached a high level of traffic. A VPS or Cloud server is a great, lower-cost, alternative.

Recommended Hosting Plan Options

Everyone has their opinion on hosting plans. However, having hosted sites on many different plans, we have our own list of recommended hosts that we think suit most, if not all, new websites.

A2 Hosting

A2 is another hosting provider you might want to consider. I use A2 for all seven of my websites, including this site, Make Traffic Happen.

They have a lot of different hosting options, so it won’t matter if you have a brand new blog or you need to step up your plan to expand your business.

They are very helpful and the customer support is good as long as you call instead of chatting – the agents who run the online chat aren’t very experienced.

I use the VPS Hosting package, which is a relatively cheap plan, compared to similar plans. You can host multiple sites on this one plan, so if this is your second or third site, you won’t have to get new hosting for each site.

Pros of A2 Hosting

  • Many different options, from basic shared hosting to professional-level dedicated hosting
  • Affordable
  • Great customer service
  • Turbo servers that claim to be 20x faster
  • Includes free SSL certificate

Cons of A2 Hosting

  • Online chat support is not great
  • They don’t often warn you about downtime, so you need to be vigilant on your own
A2 Hosting plans


Instead of using a single server, your website can tap into a “cluster” that uses resources from a centralized pool. To reach customer service you create a ticket in your dashboard. Replies are usually within a couple of hours.

Gemma uses Cloudways for hosting. She’s on the DigitalOcean hosting package. Cloud hosting is a type of web hosting which uses multiple different servers to balance the load and maximize uptime.


  • Affordable cloud hosting, so great for growing sites
  • I’ve experienced a crazy spike in traffic with no downtime
  • Uses multiple cloud servers to share the load, rather than one shared server
  • They offer free migration of your existing site, when you move to Cloudways.


  • More expensive than starter packages
  • No 24/7 chatbox, ticket only
Cloudways pricing table

Setting Up Your Domain and Host

Here’s the step-by-step instructions for setting up with a Namecheap domain and one of the hosting packages listed above. Most domain registration sites have a similar set up, in case you go with someone else.

  1. Brainstorm a brand name, purchase the domain using Namecheap
  2. Also buy and .org
  3. Navigate to the hosting website
  4. Choose host package which is best for your needs
  5. Sign up and purchase
  6. Use the correct email address as this is where an essential email is sent
  7. Keep a note of your password as you need that for the next step

Connecting Your Domain and Host

  1. Log in to your Namecheap account
  2. Click on Domain List
  3. Choose .com and then the ‘manage’ button
  4. Look for ‘nameservers’
  5. Select ‘Custom DNS’ 
  6. Log in to your hosting account
  7. Click on Domains and choose the ‘manage’ button
  8. Copy the nameserver 1 into Namecheap
  9. Copy the nameserver 2 into Namecheap
  10. Click the green tick in Namecheap
  11. Done

How Long Does It Take?

It can take anywhere from a few minutes to 48 hours to propagate your new domain. A ‘website coming soon’ page will appear on your URL once the process has finished.

Woman on laptop back to camera.

4. Download WordPress

The next step in creating your blog is to download WordPress. Some hosts, like A2, will install WordPress for you when you set up your hosting. If that’s not included in your package, you’ll have to follow a series of steps to download WordPress.

This process is different on every hosting plan, so it’s not possible for us to reproduce the steps.

The best way to proceed is to either Google your hosting plan and “install WordPress”, or to get in touch with the host and ask for their instructions.

Note: There are other content management systems besides WordPress, like Wix and Squarespace. However, we don’t recommend these other platforms.

The reason is that WordPress allows so much more customization. It allows you to have complete control of your site, so you can tailor it to your heart’s content.

Are you confused about WordPress versus

These are two separate things. is a commercial site where you can host your blog for free, with limitations – the two most important being that your domain will be and that you cannot upload or alter your own site template, which will restrict your creativity. 

It runs on the open-source WordPress platform and is accessed at

Woman on laptop. Work. Office.

5. Build Your Site in WordPress

Now that you’ve got a fresh install of WordPress, you can log in to your site and begin building your perfect blog.

To log in, go to your new domain and add /wp-admin/ to the end of the URL, like this:

You will be presented with a login screen, which is where you will paste in the admin username and password that you created when installing WordPress in the last step.

Now on to the fun part – designing your blog!

wordpress login

6. Design Your Blog

Designing your blog is the fun part, but it’s not incredibly easy if you don’t know anything about website design, coding or graphics.

In order to really do your blog justice and make it look professional, you’ll either need to become a jack of all trades, or hire someone to do it for you.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you will need to learn how to do it yourself.

Choose a Theme

First thing is to pick a theme. You can search through dozens of free templates on the theme directory or a popular theme sites like Envato Market.

The theme we use for this site is called Flatsome, which can be purchased through the Envato market for around $59.

It has it’s own page builder, which makes it very easy to use. I’m currently using this theme for all of my website because it’s so easy to create any layout you want.

There are dozens of other themes to choose from in various categories.

Use the search bar to look for “blog themes”.

You can also ask other bloggers for theme suggestions.

Many like Astra, OceanWP, and the Genesis framework.

You might be hesitant to buy a premium theme when you’re just starting out since you’re not yet making any money from your blog, but it is a good investment and will keep you from having to redesign your blog.

Purchased themes are updated frequently with new features, offer support, and are more robust and powerful.

We prefer buying a theme and designing your site yourself over paying a designer or web developer to create a theme from scratch for you.

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you’ll need to install it on WordPress.

Generally, the theme will come with instructions for installation, and it’s relatively straightforward.

It’s when you want to start getting creative and changing parts of the theme that you’ll need to invest more time and knowledge into it.

Creating a child theme is a good idea if you’re going to make changes, so those changes don’t get overwritten in an upgrade.

Design a Logo

Hopefully, you were considering possible logo designs when you thought up your name, so you already have some ideas.

If not, spend some time envisioning what you’d like your logo to look like.

Check out other blogs to see what the current design trend is.

Currently, small logos in the upper left corner of the site is trending, rather than large full-width logos.

If you’re not graphically inclined, you’ll probably need to hire someone to design your logo.

It’s better to put a little money into your logo than to do it yourself and end up with something poorly designed.

The logo is the face of your blog. If it’s not professional, you will lose respect and trust for your readers.

We went through many different versions of our logo before we got to one we liked.

Consider hiring a designer from popular sites like or

Check out both and decide which is right for you.

Create a Tag Line

While a tagline isn’t as critical as the other elements of your blog, it is still important.

You want to write a tagline that is succinct and clearly explains the message of your site.

My tagline on Savored Journeys is “Affordable travel, food and wine”. It’s not fancy, but it gets the message across.

  • Twitter: It’s what’s happening.
  • Edinburgh Airport: Where Scotland Meets The World
  • Batoko: We’re rubbish. Literally.

Download Plugins

WordPress offers a great set of tools for you to run your site efficiently, but sometimes a specific functionality you require isn’t available.

That’s when plugins come in handy. Plugins can also help you manage site speed, optimize images and provide caching and security.

The types of plugins you need to get started:

SEO assistance: We recommend using SEOPress or Rank Math to help with structural elements of your blog post and to write the meta-description for a page, as well as to generate a site map.

Image optimization: There are many plugins that can do the job of optimizing your images. They vary in price and functionality. Some we recommend are Shortpixel, Smush, EWWW and Robin Image Optimizer.

Caching Plugin: You’ll need a plugin to manage the caching aspect of your site, which is wise to have for speeding up the performance and loading. We recommend WP Rocket and W3TC.

Social Sharing plugin: Every post on your site should offer the ability for a user to share it on popular social media sites. For this, you will need a plugin to display the sharing icons. We recommend the one below:

Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress – This is a premium plugin that I think is well worth the cost. It allows you to set up nice looking and easy to use social share buttons on your posts. You can buy this plugin for $19 from the Envato Market.

Spam Filter: You need a powerful spam filter to eliminate spammy comments from your site. The best two are Akismet (paid) and Antispam Bee (free).

Contact Form: Most sites offer a contact form which a user can send a message to you. The most used plugin for this is Contact Form 7, but others are WP Forms Lite and Gravity Forms.

Security plugin: A good  security plugin is necessary to limit the number of attacks and login attempts on our site. You can use plugins like Wordfence and Loginizer to protect your site.

CDN: A CDN allows content of your site to be delivered from a remote location nearer to the reader, taking less time to transmit the data. It also provides a layer of security to your site. We recommend initially setting up a free Cloudflare account.

Google Analytics: You’ll want to create a Google Analytics account and link that to your website, so you can begin to collect and analyze stats from your blog. Some theme allow you to add code to the header, where you will paste the code (Flatsome allows you to put the code in Customize > Advanced).

However, some themes don’t make this easy.

If you can’t find how to add header code, you can install GA Google Analytics, which provides a box where you can add the code.

Check out our guide to the best blogging tools for more.

Set Up Necessary Pages

Once you’ve got your plugins installed and set up, you’ll want to work on adding a few additional features. You don’t have to do them right away, but this will give you a list to work on:

  1. Create and optimize your homepage. This should ideally be a static page that shows readers what is important on your site.
  2. Set up a Contact Us page with a contact form, so you can start receiving email from readers.
  3. Set up an About Us page.
  4. Set up a Disclaimer page and a Privacy Policy.
  5. Topic pages. You will need some content created in the topics before you can create these pages.
  6. Set up Google Search Console (this isn’t necessary right away, but will be helpful in the future.)
Hands typing laptop with hat on bed. Work.

7. Get Started with Social Media

The final step to starting a successful blog is to set up your social media profiles and get connected in Facebook blogger groups.

These two things will help you reach a larger audience and promote your content more than any other thing you can do.

Once you’re all set up with a few posts and ready to get going with promoting your blog, I suggest joining a few Facebook networking groups.

Create Profiles

Choose which social media outlets you plan to use and create a profile on each. I recommend these five networks:

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, Pinterest and Linkedin.

There are dozens of others, of course, but these five will give you the best start.

You can focus on others later.

When setting up your profile, make sure to use the same:

  • Image
  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Key themes/colors
  • Keywords
Woman looking at computer with Chrristmas tree in background.

8. Write Articles

The backbone of your blog is the content that you write.

Without great content that people really want to read, you have nothing more than a shiny new website.

In order to start attracting readers, you need to build up a solid list of articles.

You’ve already decided on your niche, and now you need to stick to it as much as possible.

Give people exactly what they expect to read when they come to your site.

The best tip I can give a beginning blogger about content is to use good search engine optimization (SEO), even from the very first article you publish, which starts with brainstorming and keyword research which you can read about here.

I know it’s a lot to learn all at once, but nothing will give you a stronger base to build on than using good SEO.

Laptop with cloud above it on blue background.

9. Create a Marketing Plan

You can start off with a basic marketing plan, which includes posting to each of your social media networks whenever you publish a post.

You can do this manually, by going to each network and customizing a post.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Publish my post.
  2. Share on my social media channels using a management tool to speed up the process

Other ways to promote your content:

  • Mention it in an Instagram or TikTok post.
  • Make a short informational video about the post and put it up on YouTube.
  • Share it with other bloggers in your niche.
  • Take part in IG and Facebook lives or podcast interviews.
Woman in hat on phone with laptop. Work.

10. Connect With Other Bloggers

It took me almost a year of blogging to figure out that I could connect with other bloggers via Facebook Groups.

What a difference that made!

As soon as I got connect into a few awesome Facebook Groups, my blog started to take off.

There are tons of groups and many different ways in which each interacts.

You’ll want to join a few and choose which ones work the best for you.

I love the camaraderie, the ability to ask questions and learn from more seasoned bloggers, and working together for a common goal.

Laptop with mug on yellow background


Most important of all is that you have fun and enjoy what you’re doing. It takes a lot of willpower, motivation and determination to run a successful blog.

You won’t be getting paid for any of this work until you’re much more established, and if you don’t love it, your blog will end up just being a time hog.

Now you’ve learned everything you need to know about how to start your own blog.

About the Authors

Gemma is the owner of a number of travel and lifestyle websites including Two Scots Abroad Travel Guides. Laura runs a portfolio of travel, food, and lifestyle sites. They both love to travel, drink wine, and increase their website traffic through SEO!

Keysearch Review: Affordable Keyword Search Competition Tool

Laptop with mug on yellow background

Are your page views stagnant, erratic or non-existent? Mines were too and I could not work out why. I was publishing 2-3 times per week, then shouting from the rooftops about the articles on social media. The problem? It’s your keyword search game.

The Solution? A solid search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy which includes searching for keywords that will help you rank on search engines (SERPs) like Google. It’s not magic, it’s strategy, procedure, and technique and I’m going to show you how to do it with Keysearch, the affordable keyword competition tool.

This guide has been updated to include Keysearch’s new features which include how to find competitor keywords, content assistance and easy find bulk keywords.

Please enjoy 20% off Keysearch monthly or annual fee. Just quote MTH20 at checkout.

In this post you will learn:

  • How to plan keyword research
  • How to find target keywords for free
  • Pro and cons of free keyword planner tools
  • How to use Keysearch paid keyword analysis tool

Did You Know?

  • The first 3 search results in Google get over half of all traffic
  • Less than 1/4 of searchers bother to click page 2

I honestly used to get excited and assume some kind of Harry Potter magic had gone down when I noticed one of my articles made it onto Google.

I never really understood what being on Google meant, though.

I was ignorant to the fact that ranking on Google increases the number of people reading your posts (organic traffic) so you can monetise through ads and affiliate marketing.

It also makes your brand more attractive to businesses who want to pay you to promote their products.

Ranking on Google is like a golden ticket.

Fact: Two of my best-paying clients found me on page 1 of Google and ended up paying me more than my weekly part-time high school teacher wage to be featured on my site. I did not have to hunt them down, they contacted me.

Keyword Terminology

So now we’ve established what ranking on page 1 of Google can mean for your brand and bank account, let’s take a look at the important terms you need to understand before diving into keyword research. Then we’ll unpack what keyword research is and how to do it using Keysearch.


  • Volume: Number of people searching for keywords.
  • Difficulty/competitiveness: How easy is it to rank for keywords?
  • Domain authority (DA): Loosely predicts how well sites might rank on Google.
  • Niche sites: Websites which produce a lot of content about a specific topic. These sites are generally harder to outrank.

What Are Keywords?

Keywords are the search terms and phrases people use to find your content on Google.

They are direct or indirect questions that potential readers want an answer for.

These keywords should match the main points/topics/themes that you are discussing in your article.

This includes your title, story, the message, and the reason you are writing the article.

We call this fulfilling user intent.

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the act of finding keywords that we can create content around so we’re increasing our chances of ranking on Google and getting all that lovely organic traffic.

The aim is to rank on on page one of Google in positions 1-3.

To do this you need to find keywords that you can actually rank for and then create content for those keywords.

Sometimes that means tweaking the angle of your post so it is best to do keyword research before you start typing anything.

The Problem with Finding Keywords

SEO is now part of successful bloggers content creation strategy which makes keyword research a tad more difficult than before.

However, it is not impossible and really is the only reliable way to increase your website page views into the hundreds of thousands bracke.

While other traffic sources such as social media have some of scope for referrals, they tend to be less consistent than organic traffic from search engines.

Another problem with keyword research is that some bloggers and site owners who are tying it out, aren’t quite getting it right because they are attempting to target very broad keywords with a large volume count and hefty competition!

Broad Keyword Example

For example, regardless of how well-written, humorous, or useful your article on the Colorado city, ‘Denver’ or ‘seafood chowder’ is, it’s likely not going to rank page one of Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages) because there is too much competition for such a broad keyword.

Plus, we don’t actually know what the user intent is of broad keywords like Denver.

Does the searcher want a travel guide to Denver or a historical description?

What you write might not correctly target that intent, so Google can’t read what the content is about.

There is an easy solution for this keyword problem though, you have to narrow the topic down.

Keywords like ‘what to see in Denver’ or ‘easy seafood chowder’ are better because they are narrower topics, but they are still difficult to compete for, because lots of content creators before you are already ranking for those terms.

You’ll need to drill down to an even more specific topic, or find topics that not a lot of other people have already written about.

For example, ‘Denver date night ideas’ and ‘dairy-free seafood chowder’ are narrowly defined keywords that likely don’t have a lot of competition because they are not broad. 

We know exactly what the user wants when they type these keywords into Google, so the user intent is clear and you can write your article to answer those specific questions.

But how do we know for sure if those keywords do or don’t have a lot of competition?

And how do we know if anyone is even using those specific keywords to find content?

The good news is, you don’t have to play a guessing game when choose keywords as there are keyword research tools to help you find more detailed information about keywords, so you can make a more informed decision.

PRO TIP: Before you start researching keywords you should brainstorm all the possible angles of your topic. This will give you the best chances of hitting the sweet spot during keyword research. We’ll look into this in more detail below.

Free Keyword Research Tools

While we recommend paying for the affordable Keyword research tool, Keysearch, we’re going to take you through a couple of free options so you can compare free versus premium software.

1. Google Recommends

Google recommends is a free keyword research tool.

If you open up Google in a new Incognito window and type in ‘Denver date night ideas’, Google will make recommendations on the query (keywords) you have typed in.

You can also scroll to the bottom of the search results and you will see the ‘searches related to…’ section.

While this is a great starting point it doesn’t tell us the vital information we need to know to assess if we think we can rank for the keywords or not.

What’s missing?

There’s no monthly volume or competition score for us to weigh and while we can see the posts which rank on page one of Google we have no quick glance at their stats to see if we have a chance of outranking them.

For me, this is still just the brainstorming stage.

Great for expanding our ideas and angles that we can explore but useless for moving forward with keyword research.

Google recommends is a great starting point for planning your articles.

You may want to begin formulating your ideas around some of these suggestions.

Google Recommends


  • Free
  • Good starting point


  • No volume so no idea how many people are searching for it
  • Competitiveness not identified
Google search dropdown example

2. Google Trends

Google Trends is a nifty site created by Google.

It allows users to compare data and analyze search queries from Google Search.

The data is shown in graph form so you can visualize what people are searching for, where they are located, and at what time of year they are searching for the query.

Again, this is a great starting off point, especially for planning seasonal content, or prioritizing which posts to create and publish first.

Keywords Everywhere


  • Free
  • Provides trends


  • Limited data about search volume
  • No competition
Google Trends

3. Domain Authority and Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz is the team who measure our DAs (domain authority).

DA is formulated by investigating around 40 different criteria including the quality of the links you have linking back to your posts.

If your site is new or your DA is low you may find it harder to rank on Google, it’s not impossible, just more of a challenge.

You can check out your domain authority here.

Health warning: I did not start tracking my DA until it was in its 20s as I had no idea what it was! Concentrate on building your brand, enjoy writing and improve your authority.

Your DA is often what SEO companies ask for via email when they building links to client’s sites.

Moz has also created a free keyword research tool called Moz Keyword Explorer.

It is a step up from Google Recommends as it details keyword volume and also how competitive those keywords are.

However, it is free and as the saying goes – the devil is in the detail.

Moz’s free level does not tell you much about your competitors, like other paid software, like Keysearch, and the monthly search volume is not exact.

It also restricts your use to ten searches per month.

Believe me, you are going to want to do more keyword research than that once you see how easy it is to do and how quickly it can increase traffic to your website.

Moz Free Keyword Research Tool


  • It’s free
  • Highlights competitiveness
  • Identifies competitors
  • Additional keywords


  • Volume is vague and sometimes inaccurate
  • Monthly limit of ten searches

Keysearch: Affordable Keyword Search Competition Tool

Keysearch is the most popular paid keyword research tool amongst the content creators we network with. It is relatively cheap at $17 per month or $169 for the year.

Please enjoy 20% off Keysearch monthly or annual fee. Just quote MTH20 at checkout.

Keysearch not only fills in flaws that the free tools above fail on but also offers:

  • Keyword tracking.
  • Backlink check.
  • Google Trends.
  • Competition comparison.
  • Saved lists.

Keysearch is a website I use every day. Not only for new content but also for old posts.

In the graph below, you can clearly see from my Google Analytics where I started implementing SEO on my travel site.

Google Analytics graph

How to Use Keysearch for Keyword Analysis 

After you have taking time do some brainstorming, follow the following steps:

  • Type your keywords into the keyword analysis search bar.
  • ‎Choose your location or leave ‘all locations’.
  • Hit return. You can also filter for a certain keyword.
  • Sort by volume with largest at the top.

The results will pull up a series of potential keywords, monthly volume and competition scored.

Keysearch keywords example

The above image displays Keysearch information.

We can see the following from the keyword analyzer returns:

  • The volume of our defined keyword ‘Denver date night ideas’ is 1000.
  • I am happy with a volume above 100. Naturally the larger, the better.
  • It also states how difficult the keywords would be for us in terms of competitiveness.
  • Red is difficult, amber would be tough and green is possible. Denver date night ideas is a go-gettum green. Light blue is a unicorn!
  • The goal is to find a keyword that is high in volume but low in difficulty.
  • To the left-hand side, variations of the keywords are displayed as well as other keywords we might want to consider such as cheap date night ideas (in) Denver. You are getting two services for the price of one! BOGOF.
  • You can use the ‘filter’ option to refine your search and also the categories at the top such as volume to organise the results better.

Bingo! You have your targeted defined keyword, variations and also other keywords you can potentially rank for.

New website or new to SEO? You may have a hard time finding keywords you can rank for, but you have to start somewhere!

Checking Out the Competition

Cast your eyes to the right-hand side table on Keysearch.

This is who is currently ranking for the selected keywords.

This is where we assess how likely we can elbow into the top slots.

Are there sites on the list that have a lower DA than your site?

Keysearch SERPs analysis example

If these sites do not have the keywords in the URL, (meta) descriptiontitle and/or they lack links (backlinks from other respectable sites/internal links) then we may be in for a chance of competing to rank on page one of Google.

The ‘Auth‘ column tells us the do follow external links to the post.

Higher the backlinks, harder it might be to beat.

Links‘ calculates do/nofollow links, internal and external but not outbound links.

Note: If the competitor’s domain name contains the keyword, there is a good chance that Google will see them as more authoritative, if they have solid content on their site to prove it.

That makes an exact match domain site harder to outrank.

This is also true for the amount of content the competition has about a topic on their site.

If the competitor has a lot of Denver content – more than your own site – it might also be difficult to outrank them. It’s generally better to write in-depth and go wide than write thinly about lots of different topics.

If you think you can nudge out around two of the competitors on page one at present, tick the target keywords and all the additional ones that support your post (usually 8-10) add to a new list and then export them.

Additional Keysearch Features

The team at Keysearch are very excited that they have developed more than just a keyword checker.

Next to the SERP Analysis (image above), you can select ‘rankings/traffic‘ and this will give you some insight into the keywords that the post is ranking for (click ‘URL keywords’ for the pop-up) and the estimated URL traffic that the specific post/page actually gets.

You can then assess the additional keywords that you could potentially rank for too.

This function acts as a bulk keyword difficulty checker.

You can also use Keysearch to investigate Youtube keywords.

Competitor Keyword Analysis 

The biggest change for Keysearch is the function to compare URLs against each other to check out what keywords the competition is ranking for that you are not using.

If you select ‘Competitive Analysis‘ at the very top of the page and then ‘Competitor Gap’ you will then be faced with two search bars.

Put the URL you want to check in the first (I would guess you just want to know the keywords of one post so choose the ‘specific page’ on the drop-down).

Next, add your URL on a similar topic in the second search bar and choose specific page again. Keysearch will then return any keywords that you are not targeting but the competition is.

Keysearch competitor keyword analysis

Keysearch Content Assist

Keysearch has a new beta feature available to help assist you while you are either optimising old posts or writing new content. 

On the top navigation bar, look for the ‘Content Assist’ button. 

Add the desired keywords and read the information to the right. In the first column, it identifies the ‘must words’ – these are words you might consider using. 

Some of them are very generic, others are targeted. 

‘Keywords’ pulls these from Google’s suggestions, so be sure to check the volume on these keywords before using them. 

‘Relevant information’ pulls up relevant snippets. 

I’ve actually found that the top 10 it pulls up here differs from the top 10 in the SERPs section for a few I tested. 

The ‘questions’ section identifies the questions that people ask about the keywords. Finally, SERPs outlines the word count of the top 10 on page one of Google.

Overall, another handy feature by the Keysearch team, do you agree? Pssst 20% off use the code MTH20 – click here to try it for yourself. 

Keysearch Content Assist

Backlink Checker

Not a new feature but still useful, you will find the ‘Backlink Checker’ in the ‘Competitive Analysis’ drop-down.

Here you can see who is linking back to your specific post or full website. It also indicates if the link is ‘do or no follow’.

Do follow links are ones that pass link juice on to your site, while no follow links do not.

If you left a comment on a post or paid for the ad space then it is likely that it will be no follow. Naturally, you can use the tool to look at your competition’s backlinks, as well.

Keysearch Backlink Checker

Rank Tracking

Once you start optimising your posts you need to asses if the strategy is working.

You can do this by tracking your keyword’s ranking position.

Head to the top of the dashboard, choose ‘Rank Tracking’, type in your website URL and add keywords.

You need to refresh them using the arrow every time you want to track them.

I would advise doing this along with the keywords in Google Search Console and checking your placement on Google using the incognito mode too.

Keysearch Rank Tracker

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I see monthly Google’s searches for certain words for free?

    Detailed above you will see a review of Moz’s keyword planner and Keysearch. Keysearch keyword competition checker also offers one free month trial.
  • What is the smartest way to keyword research? 

    The most effective way to do keyword research is to brainstorm as part of your planning stage, use the Keysearch brainstorming tool and Google suggests, then assess the keyword difficulty in a premium tool of your choice.
  • Keysearch is bringing up a ‘zero’ response for volume.

    What does this mean? Keysearch’s official response on this is that they collect information from Google and this is the return.
  • Can I rank for keywords that are 0 in volume? 

    Some bloggers definitely report ranking for 0 volume keywords. Our advice would always be to aim for the highest volume and lowest competition. You can always assess the progress using Search Console once the post is ranking and tweak again.
  • What about grammar?

    Does Google care about grammar when it comes to potential keywords? If you put the keyword idea into Google, it is likely that the SERPs return pulls up sites which use correct grammar regardless of the keyword ignoring it.
  • Which is the most affordable and cheapest keyword research tool for bloggers?

    If you want to move from hobbyist to professional you definitely need to invest in a keyword research tool. There are more advanced programmes on the market like Ahrefs and SEMrush which both come in at around $120 per month. Keysearch offers keyword research, tracking, analysis and now competitor information making it a sound investment at $17 per month. I’ve been using it since 2017 as has Laura and most of our blogging friends.

Final Words

A keyword difficulty checker is definitely a tool that every blogger should have in their toolkit if they are looking to increase their traffic, monetise and/or show that partners that they can genuinely meet deliverables.

Although there are free keyword difficulty tools they can only take you so far and eventually a premium program will be required if moving your blog from hobby to business. This is an investment, you have to speculate to accumulate in business.

For us, Keysearch is the best keyword difficulty tool because it is affordable, assessing keyword difficulty, tracks ranking, offers backlink checks and now compares your keywords to the competition.

All that for $17 per month or $169 for the year (plus 20% off with our coupon code MTH20).

About the Authors

Gemma is the owner of a number of travel and lifestyle websites including Two Scots Abroad Travel Guides. Laura runs a portfolio of travel, food, and lifestyle sites. They both love to travel, drink wine, and increase their website traffic through SEO!

30 Things to do in Chicago at Christmas

Chicago Christmas Winter December Skyline Snow

The city of Chicago is known to flex its majesty during the Christmas season. Chicago comes alive with anticipation as temperatures drop, and it is truly a magical place to spend Christmas with loved ones, new travel friends or even alone.

From popular Christmas activities to lesser-known winter events, here’s your guide to things to do in Chicago at Christmas for all ages and budgets.

While Christmas activities might look a little different this year, there are still many options for Christmas cheer. 

You may also like our guides to 3-day Chicago itinerary, free things to do in Chicago, and unique activities.

Christmas Things to do in Chicago

1. Christkindlmarket Christmas Market

For a European Christmas experience that can be found in Chicago, check out the Christkindlmarket Christmas Market at Daley Plaza in the Loop and Wrigleyville at Gallagher Way.

Pick up the perfect Christmas gift from November at the shopping experience inspired by the 16th century Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany.

Christkindlmarket Chicago is an authentic partnership between the city and Nuremberg, Germany and has been running since 1996.

In the past, vendors such as Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store have traveled from Germany to participate in the Christmas holiday market!

Enjoy filling European food like currywurst, raclette, and strudel, perfect for winter.

It continues to be one of the most popular things to do in Chicago at Christmas.  

Chrishtkindlmarket also features in our guide to Illinois in winter.

2. The Nutcracker at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lose a couple of hours to a majestic rendition of The Nutcracker presented by the Joffrey Ballet.

The Art Deco-style Lyric Opera House (20 N Upper Wacker Dr) hosts the annual winter show featuring story, dancing, and live orchestra.

3. The Bean Selfie

One of the most recognizable symbols in Chicago is that big silver bean at Millennium Park.

Just because the ground is dusted/covered in the white stuff, it does not stop winter lovers from taking a reflection shot with the number one attraction in the city!

Officially called Cloud Gate, this stainless steel figure is the work of Indian-born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor and is made up of 169 polished plates; that’s a lot of cleaning!

If you are doing it for the ‘Gram, you might want to get a picture of Lake Michigan completely frozen up with the Chicago skyline standing behind.

Check out our free things to do in Chicago guide for more.

Cloud Gate silver Chicago Bean with reflections of skyline and skyscrapers behind it

4. Ice Skating In Chicago at Millennium Park

Just because it is winter, it does not mean that you cannot enjoy outdoor activities this Christmas. Chicago has a number of one-of-a-kind ice skating rinks all over the city.

There are both indoor and outdoor rinks that thousands of people visit during Christmas.

One of the most visited rinks in Chicago is the Mccormick Tribune Ice Skating Rink at Millennium Park. It is open from November to March every year.

Look out for the 2-4-1 offers, which let you skate both Millennium and Maggie Daley Park.

If you are new in town, you can hire ice-skating gear. One of the family-friendly things to do in Chicago in winter.

5. Ice Skating Ribbon

Another Chicago ice-skating opportunity is at the Ice Skating Ribbon located at Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon.

This outdoor skating rink opens in winter and it differs to other rinks as it snakes around the park, like a ribbon!

Low section of couple in skates ice skating on rink

6. Sledding In Chicago

Sledding is a great way to bond with family and friends during cold winter days.

Every Christmas holiday, sledging enthusiasts head to Cricket Hill at Montrose Harbor, Palmisano Park in Bridgeport, the Dan Ryan Woods and Soldier Field.

These hills offer the perfect sledding places and they are safe for kids too. For people looking to sled away from the city, they can head out to the suburbs where places like James Park (Evanston’s “Mount Trashmore”) and Polar Peak at Frozemont (Rosemount MB Financial Park, 20 mins from Chicago Downtown) reign supreme.

Father and son having fun sledding in the snow

7. Wrigley Building Christmas Tree

Stunning tree at Wrigley Plaza (400-410 Michigan Avenue), which pops against the glazed terra-cotta on Magnificent Mile.

The Wrigley is one of the many festive trees around the city but the most iconic.

8. IO Godfrey Igloos

Climb inside the heated igloos of the Godfrey Hotel’s rooftop winter scene!

These dreamy see-through igloos keep you warm while you drink and enjoy the views.

Back by popular demand, these rooftop igloos seat six people; one bottle per group must be purchased.

Bookings live from the end of October, a deposit is taken to secure it.

You may also like our guide to hidden gems in Chicago.

9. Curling By The Lake

Harry Caray’s Tavern (9700 E Grand Ave) at Navy Pier is where you’ll find a fun game of curling.

Curling By The Lake consists of a patio curling rink made of Polyglide synthetic ice, Curling Cocktails, and a cozy Warming Hut with electric a fireplace and blankets!

10. Winter Wonderland at Gallagher Way

Head to the Wrigleyville neighborhood for ice skating, ice bumper cars, and private chalets for rent.

There’s also a host of Christmas food from around the world like perogies, and crepes.

11. Frosty’s A Christmas Bar

Head to 809 W Evergreen (Goose Island) for Frosty’s pop-up Christmas bar which has heaps of Instagrammable props like swings, giant soldiers and candy canes.

Get ready to party at Frosty’s! Check out the official website for this winter updates.

12. Have Glogg At Simon’s Tavern

Looking for the perfect night spot to spend quality time with friends?

The Andersonville neighborhood dive bar, Simon’s Tavern (5210 N Clark St), was recently voted as the most loved bar in all of Chicago.

The place has been open since 1934 and is perfect for people looking to enjoy a night out during the Christmas period.

You can cozy up with friends, knock back the tavern’s famous spiced wine and feed the jukebox all night long.

During the holidays, a special neon sign is put up on the front window proclaiming, “It’s glogg time!”

If you are looking to drink by an open fire, head to Broken Shaker or Drumbar for an outside fire with a classy twist.

13. Polar Express Pulls Into Chicago

Hop aboard the CTA’s holiday train, which is decked out in over 60,000 lights, tinsel and a visit from Santa!

Check out the official CTA website for this winter updates.

14. Christmas Shopping in Chicago

Looking for a special gift for a loved one? How about you head to one of the many holiday markets in Chicago.

As you browse the markets, you will experience the wintertime magic while having a blast shopping for the perfect gifts for everyone on your list.

The seasonal market circuit offers a variety of merchandise, from Chicago-themed gifts to sugary confections to vintage clothing.

You are free to enjoy a boozy beverage as you shop. Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago is where you will find the European inspired Christmas market stalls and lights to boot.

If, like me, you prefer vintage shopping, head to the Lower West Side for Knee Deep Vintage, Richard’s Fabulous Finds at Wicker Park (I love this area) and Encore Resale Clothing at Hyde Park.

15. Visit Chicago’s Toy Stores

Chicago has several toy stores.

During the Christmas season, the shops are open until late hours to accommodate the number of last-minute shoppers.

The toys available at these stores aren’t just for kids.

You will find all sorts of toys, including rare collectables.

One of the places to visit in Chicago during winter is Macy’s (the old Marshall Fields) to see the 45-foot tree in the Walnut Room.

Christmas Tree Magnificent Mile Chicago

16. Check Out The Latest Christmas Movies

Every year, there are Christmas-themed movies that get released in cinemas.

Chicago is home to one of the best cinemas equipped with the latest technology to provide a thrilling experience to movie buffs. There are several movies released each year with different ratings.

Instead of staying home and enjoying the same Christmas films you have watched over and over, why not head to one of the cinemas in Chicago and catch the latest Christmas movies. Bring along the whole family to make the experience memorable.

Alternatively, what about Christmas date night? AMC Dine-in Theatres Block 37 lets you eat a freshly prepared meal, have a drink in hand and watch a movie!

Logan Theatre (2646 N Milwaukee Avenue) is an old-school cinema with crushed velvet seats and cheap show tickets. You can expect new movies, throwbacks and late-night movies.

Downtown Chicago winter view with frozen lake

17. Christmas Shows in Chicago

Do you enjoy watching live plays?

Every year, local theaters in Chicago present both old favourites and new plays on stage.

Venues also host festive orchestras and ballet shows.

Check out the historic CIBC Theatre, the James M. Nederlander Theatre, and the Cadillac Palace Theatre for more.

Chicago Theatre sign and buildings

18. Adler Planetarium

Not specifically a Christmas activity but a unique point of interest in Chicago for those who like all things space-related – Alder Planetarium (1300 S Lake Shore Drive).

Many of the shows start at midnight for obvious reasons.

You can expect educational shows, hands-on activities and expert exhibitions. In 2020, you can watch a show online.

Check out our guide to unique things to do in Chicago for more alternative ideas.

Chicago in December in Winter_

19. Book a Snug and Eat Fondue Until You Puke

OK, don’t puke, but you can reserve a cozy nook at Geja’s Cafe, where the menu calls for fondue and fine wine.

For over 50 years, Geja’s Cafe (340 W Armitage Avenue) has been encouraging visitors to play with their food over an open fire.

This award-winning restaurant has won the title of one of the most romantic places to dine in the US by USA Today!

20. Gorge on Monster Hot Chocolates

Did you even go on a winter city break if you didn’t get a pic of you and your bestie cheersing an overflowing hot chocolate packed with giant marshmallows?

Indulge your sweet tooth while warming up with killer hot chocolates at Bombobar (832 W Randolph Street) or XO Marshmallow (6977 N Sheridan Road).

Christmas Festivals

21. Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

You will not have properly experienced Christmas in Chicago unless you do the things listed in this post, especially the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Every year, the city of Chicago erects an official 50-foot+ Christmas tree in the majestic Millennium Park. 

It won’t just be the tree that is glowing as Christmas-lovers capture the event on their phones.

There might just be another bright surprise for you too.

22. Morton Arboretum Illumination

Morton Arboretum Illumination, 30 minutes outside of Chicago, is day trip worth taking for the Illumination: Tree Lights.

The two-mile-long driving event along Arboretum’s 1,700 acres has more than lit up 10,000 trees!

Open from Thanksgiving through to New Year’s Day. A great family-friendly driving experience. 

23. Christmas Around the World at Museum of Science & Industry

It is the tradition that the Museum of Science & Industry plays host to the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light event each year from the second week in November until January.

Expect a floor-to-dome-sized Christmas tree surrounding bother small (but in no means small) trees decorated by volunteers.

Each tree represents the different ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world, hence the title. Museum of Science & Industry can be found at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive.

You can also learn how to say Merry Christmas in lots of languages!

24. Chicago Christmas Lights Festival

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (Mag’s Mile) is home to many hotels, shops and restaurants, but for one night in November, the street comes to life with music, light and a few Disney characters thrown in to kick-start the festive feels.

25. Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Walk by and through the huge light installations at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape (1000 Lake Cook Rd).

This family-friendly Christmas event marries nature with music, light, fire, and color.

26. Santa Hustle Chicago

Whack on the red suit, beard, hat and sneakers – it’s time to compete for the gold medal during the Santa Hustle!

Volunteers pass out goodies and keep spirits high as you run through The Windy City.

The course includes at 5K route and a kids dash for families. Cookies included!

Other Winter Festivals in Chicago

27. Día de Muertos

Honor and celebrate those who have lost their lives during the annual Day of the Dead exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The exhibit features art, photography, and traditionally decorated altars.

28. Kwanzaa at DuSable Black History Museum

Learn more about the annual holiday, Kwanzaa, celebrated in African-American culture at the DuSable Black History Museum.

Events include education and performances.

29. NYE Fireworks at Navy Pier

Ring in the new year for free at Navy Pier with a family-friendly festival.

The event will feature a countdown to midnight then a huge firework display.

There are also a number of premium NYE events throughout the city, including a party at Navy Pier where you can see the fireworks as part of the ticket.

30. Lunar New Year Parade

Celebrations in Chicago stretch into January with the Lunar New Year Parade.

The colorful parade includes a traditional dragon, dancing teams, floats, and marching bands.

Getting Around Chicago

It’s really easy to navigate downtown Chicago; like Glasgow in Scotland, it uses a grid system.

Downtown is divided by Madison Street (North and South), and State Street splits up East and West.

There is an extensive transport system for those who prefer not to walk and/or want to squeeze more in.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the train and bus system in the city.

You can pay with cash for single trips or invest in a reloadable Ventra Transit Card or Unlimited Ride Pass for multi-use savings. The ‘L’ train covers 144 rail stations, and two of the links operate 24 hours a day.

The Blue Line links the airport (O’Hare) to downtown, and the Red Link hooks up the North and the South. Some of the buses also run 24 hours a day.

You need the exact change for buses. You can plan your journey using the Chicago route planner.

Weather in Chicago

You can expect temperatures of around 21°F (-6.1°C) to 35°F (1.7°C).

Prepare for ice and snow from December. Wrap up, wear layers and invest in a good quality waterproof coat.

If this doesn’t sound like temperatures you can handle, consider fall in Chicago instead.

Orange fall trees with Buckingham Fountain Grant Park in Chicago

What to Wear in Chicago in Winter

  • Layers, keep warm outdoors but get ready to remove items when indoors 
  • Thermals if you plan to be out for a long time 
  • Padded outerwear
  • Wool outerwear is warm but not great when it gets wet
  • Hat, gloves, scarf to keep cozy 
  • Extra socks, consider pantyhose under your pants 
  • Comfortable waterproof or snow boots, especially if you plan to walk a lot
  • Sunshades for winter glare
  • Tote bags for shopping
Chicago panoramic view in the winter. Woman in red coat.

Final Words

If you are new to the city, visiting Chicago in December is an exciting time full of festivals and markets. If you are a local, I hope you’ve discovered something new to try out this winter. Please do tell us your favourite Christmas activities in Chicago below!

Winter Travel Tips

Christmas Markets Vienna Austria

Whether you are looking for a romantic city break, an adrenaline-fuelled ski trip or winter sun vacay, our winter travel itineraries will provide destination inspiration and support during the planning.

Winter Travel Itineraries


Paris in December Winter Christmas_

The USA + Canada

Gemma with Christmas mug at Vancouver Christmas Market_

Winter Sun Destinations

Dubai in December. Christmas tree in Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai

Winter Destination Inspiration

Not sure where to go yet? Here are our inspiration guides:

Vienna in Winter December Christmas World on Rathausplatz

Winter Packing Lists

Salomon Quest Women Lightweight Waterproof Boot

Planning to hit the slopes this winter? Here’s everything you need from skis to sunscreen.

Don’t forget your travel insurance! We use True Traveller which is a company for Europeans. Many others use World Nomads.

Couple with skis on mountain