How to Start a Blog
Hi, my name is Gemma to those who follow our travel website Two Scots Abroad.
However, did you know that I used to live a double life?
Up until 2018, I taught politics and current affairs to high school students in Scotland, and feedback tells me i’m pretty good at it.
I still teach but my audience has shifted. Now I work with fellow bloggers to help them help them improve traffic to their websites.
I co-own the SEO support group and website, Make Traffic Happen with my friend Laura.
I’m quality at travelling too! I’ve been swinging on my backpack (literally, I’m 5″2 so I have to put the bag on a chair or table, hook a strap over my right shoulder and then swing it over my back) since I was 19 years old when I first went inter-railing through Eastern Europe.
Facebook had only really become a ‘thing’ during those dark ages so there was no website to document the time the Hungarian granny made me take off my bikini bottoms for a massage at the Széchenyi baths in Budapest.
Craig and I waited until my 30th birthday to hit pause on our daily lives, taking an 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe and thus our travel website, Two Scots Abroad, was born. This is a self-made site.
I have no technical background, no degree in marketing and I had no idea how to approach, never mind pitch, a company. Yet here we are, five years, many tears, 265 articles, 100+ partnerships, 30K social media followers, and two national press stories later.
→ If I can do it, you can too and I’m here to show you how. Trust me, i’m a teacher!
Let's Get Set Up
Choosing a Host + Domain
Now that you’ve chosen your name and you have an idea of what you want to write about you need to find somewhere on the internet to put your stories and advice.
If you completed the previous task you will have already checked to see if your company name domain (URL) is free.
Go ahead and purchase it. You can buy a domain for less than $10 per year. Some website owners prefer to keep their domain and host company separate.
In my first year and a half, I bought my domain from Bluehost who were also my host.
When I moved to Siteground for hosting I did not move my domain so they were separate.
I now use Namecheap for my domain as well as several other sites.
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:
1. Is there 24/7 chat for customer service for when there are meltdowns (there will be)?
2. Is it affordable? You shouldn’t be paying more than $10 per month for a shared host (good starting point)
I did not have a clue which host to choose when I first started Two Scots Abroad.
I asked some tech friends and they suggested Bluehost.
At $3.95/£2.92 a month I thought this was a good investment considering I had no idea where TSA was going to go.
You will find that Bluehost is recommended by many bloggers. This is because they have an affiliate programme which means sites recommend products and services in exchange for commission.
I genuinely used Bluehost for the first 1.5 years of my blogging career and I am about to use them again for a new site until the traffic builds and I need to move on.
Siteground also has an affiliate scheme, as does A2 hosting and Go Daddy, and on and on.
You have to read between the lines – is the blogger sharing their honest experience of their time with the host or are they suggesting with no conviction?
I was happy with the 1.5 years that I was hosted with Bluehost. It wasn’t until my site went down one day that it was time to move on, I had outgrown the package as my audience was increasing.
We lasted longer than the average relationship (6-8 months)!
They are cheap and the support is good so I can recommend them for the starting out stage of blogging.
Pros of Bluehost
- Excellent customer service
- Free email accounts
- Free back ups
- 50GB of website space
Cons of Bluehost
- If your audience grows you may find issues with load speed
My second host, who I’ve just left after nearly hitting the 3 year mark of blogging, was Siteground.
One of the most attractive features of Siteground is their excellent 24/7 chat customer service.
The lowest package for under £3/$3.72 per month is their shared hosting ‘start up’.
I didn’t actually join at the starter level but their next up ‘Grow Big’ package which is suitable for sites with up to 25K monthly visits.
Siteground moved my site from http to https (a more secure network which Google wants you to do), with ease and it was free.
Pros of Siteground
- Excellent customer services (got me out of so many binds)
- Free move to secure site for 1 year
- Free email accounts
- Free daily back ups (copies of your site in case something goes wrong)
- Great for starting out
- 10GB of website space (Grow Big package is 20GB for £1-ish more per month)
Cons of Siteground
- Next package after ‘grow big’ (my second host package after 1.5 years) was expensive
- It’s popular
Let's Build a Brand
Selecting a name for your blog is an important but tough decision.
My name is Gemma and I was born in the 80s, as was every second girl in Scotland. I went to high school with another Gemma and had two other Gemmas in my social circle at university.
You don't want to do that to your website and that's the thing, you are not just naming your website, you are creating a brand.
Building your own brand is such an under-rated part of blogging yet it is paramount to your success.
Bad marketing decisions make sticky situations, when I say Pepsi you are thinking of the Kendall Jenner advert fiasco right?
Not such a bad move for one of the Kardashian clan considering she'll still make millions but you've still to reach those dizzy highs so let's talk name choice and niches.
5 Tips for Choosing your Blog Name
1. Represent Your Niche
Your niche is the topics you write/vlog about.
Some digital influencers know their niche from the outset - this is wise.
There are thousands of us out there, be a peacock - stand out, go niche and go narrow.
Niche used to be as simple as 'family travel blogging' as opposed to 'travel blogging' but now you need drill down deeper than that.
What are your hobbies, pet hates or personality traits? Can they work for you and your website?
- Savored Journeys writes about travel and food
- Sofia Adventures is a Baltic-centric travel site
- Two Drifters merge relationship advice with their love for wandering
If you don't know your niche yet don't be put off.
I was a little late to the game and it took months of sharing our travel stories to work out that our affordable travel guides with a pinch of personality were our best sellers.
2. Be Easy To Remember
Please take this tip seriously.
Although you might find an 'in' joke or an old nickname hilarious you won't be laughing when you have to explain it for the 100th time to readers, fellow bloggers and potential partners.
If a name does not roll off the tongue or is easy to find in search bars of social media you could be losing out on networking opportunities in the future.
Also consider time sensitivity, you may start your brand as a young chicken but will the name choice follow you through to when you are supporting a fetching turkey neck?
Good examples of simple but effective names are
- Backlinko by Brain Dean, he is one of the SEO gurus on the web (link building is a SEO strategy)
- Edinbraw, Gary is an Edinburgh based (niche) writer and 'braw' means nice over here on the east coast of Scotland
- Pages of Travel are another clever pair - Logan and Kallsy Page used their surname to create their unforgettable title
3. Don't Drown
Travel blogger wannabes - delete the words...
- Nomadic (Matt and Samuel have that covered)
- Wander/ing (Alice in Wanderland and Wandering Earl)
- Adventurous (Kate)
...from your list and avoid the word 'travel' at the beginning.
I hate when I plan to tag a fellow account and their name starts with 'travel' - you will be competing (drowning) in a sea of successful influencers who have bagged that name and put it on a T-shirt already (literally, some influencers sell souvenirs).
4. Be Whack?
Who writes these rules?! Grab a name by the balls and wear it with pride.
As long as it is memorable it could rock for you like it has worked for the hyper-lapse photographers Bobo and ChiChi (Scott and Megan).
5. You Want a Shy Guy
You need your chosen name to be anti-social, as in, it's not claimed on social media already.
Once you've thought of a few ideas do a rummage around Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, G+ and YouTube to see if it's free.
You didn't think you were getting away without any homework did you?
- Write down some ideas of what you think you will be writing about
- Google top 50 blogs in your niche
- Note down which names are popular and ignore
- Use a thesaurus and build a word bank of potentials
- Use the free website word cloud generator like The World Pursuit did, I used this in class with students for speech writing!
- Search social media to see if they are unclaimed
- Test the domain availability (the URL) on site such as Namecheap
- Tell me in the comments below what you dream up
Let's Get More Traffic
Now that you have you name, niche and brand message it is time to start creating content.
If you want to create content that people see you have to write posts that people are searching for.
There two ways in which to do this.
Firstly, Pinterest. Pinterest is a visual search engine used by over 3 million people each month.
Pinners search for a variety of topics with the most popular being cooking, decor and lifestyle related themes.
However, other topics such as travel and health do well too.
Users save pins for the topics that they are interested in and these pins click through to website articles.
We've created the ultimate guide to Pinterest at Make Traffic Happen which can read here.
Next is SEO which stands for Search Engine Optimisation and put simply this means 'speaking Google's language' so you can increase organic traffic to your website.
SEO isn't magic, it is strategy, procedure and technique. It isn't scary either and it doesn't have to be too technical.
The main parts of SEO include:
- Brainstorming every angle of the topic
- Keyword research to see what searchers are looking for
- On-page SEO for post structure
- Off-page SEO to build backlinks
- Technical SEO such a speed
You can sign up for a series of free lessons to help you get started with SEO here.