We lead the most fun lives: always on vacation and enjoying beaches with the kids or touring old forts or hiking in the desert. It’s all fun all the time. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful that we get to be bloggers. OMG, the work that goes into it though. We never really share what goes on behind the scenes of blogging, but it’s time to. If you ever wanted to start blogging, this is for you. If you’ve started blogging and you don’t know how people go from hobby to jobby, this is for you.
If you are a blogger yourself or you just aspire to be, you’ve probably read articles about the blogging world or influencers and what they do or why they’re ruining the travel industry or something. I’m sharing with you the behind the scenes of blogging because I love it and I’m not too jaded about it. What I’ve got to share is fully about the work we do. You’ll see there are indeed perks along the way, but more than that it’s work and it is a full time job that I love.
Becoming a travel blogger: who, what, why, when…
So, I’m going to start with how I started blogging because the journey from Day 1 to four years later is an interesting one. As you read, know that my blogging journey is much different than many others’ as I was the first in my niche (LGBT family travel blog). Each person is going to be inspired by different things and want to share different aspects of their lives. If you’re reading this because you want to start blogging, know that behind the scenes of blogging is also different for everyone.
What you'll find...
- Why I started blogging
- When blogging grows: more than just writing
- Finding your blogging niche
- Learning and leveraging social media
- Shameless self promotion
Why I started blogging
For me, I had just quit my job and was a full-time stay at home dad. I had a ton of creative energy, but my only job was wiping butts and making meals. Even though this is extremely important and is all many ever wish for, I’m the type of person that need to have a job or project that I can be creative with and expel my creative energy on. I started blogging just to give myself a creative outlet. I didn’t know at the time that I was filling a need in the blogosphere.
After talking to Chris about wanting to start a blog as a creative outlet and as a way to document our lives, I decided that focusing on travel would be a good idea. I had just started following a few travel bloggers on social media and thought they were doing something pretty cool by sharing authentic accounts of their favorite places and in a way teaching people about new ways to travel, or even inspiring others to get out there, and I figured that I could do the same. I thought I could just start writing about our camping trips and stuff and it would just be out on the internet if somebody wanted to read it.
I started writing and posting some pictures and called it good. I then realized the potential that came with starting a blog and needed to actually put more thought and work into it. And then things started to take off… and that’s when behind the scenes of blogging started to become more than writing anecdotes about changing diapers on the hiking trail.
When blogging grows: more than just writing
A few months after I started blogging and writing just about our small camping trips and a couple of experiences we’d had that were quite unique to being a tw0-dad family we started to get inquiries from other websites asking for written contributions and interviews. For me, this was very strange and nothing I ever expected. After a few requests to do podcast interviews and Skype calls for articles, I realized that if I dug a bit deeper into the business of blogging, I could make something both entertaining and meaningful.
With writing and having pieces about the blog on other sites, I saw that I needed to up my own game with the content on 2TravelDads.com. I realized that my site needed to be on a more professional platform than the original Google Blogger. Also, I saw that I needed to start sharing my content and having an actual presence on social media. I started to read other blogs that were traveling all over and exploring places I’d only dreamed of. Between the upgraded websites, strong social media presences and professional photography of other blogs, I had a lot to learn.
I dedicated a few hours each night after the kids went to bed to learn about the craft of blogging. I learned about SEO (Search Engine Optimization), about algorithms, and about web-friendly writing structure. I worked on photo editing to figure out what style worked well with the blog. I joined some different Facebook groups where bloggers share tips and best practices. Since then, I’ve continued to study up, ask for feedback and have honed my strategies for publicizing new content and building partnerships. More to come on that…
Now, how to start blogging…
Quick poll: how many articles have you read about “how to start blogging” or “how to achieve overnight success?” I’m guessing at least three others. I’ve got an outline for you, a printable checklist, to get you on the way to starting a blog that you WANT to work at and develop into something great.
Note: this isn’t “how to” set up a blog on the back end, but how to effectively determine what type of blog and content you want to create. This is about being successful as you start blogging, not technical web stuff.
Finding your blogging niche
I first gave a presentation on this in the spring of 2016 at WordCamp JAX. People had so many questions about the importance of finding a niche, the value of appealing to or covering a specific niche, and even “What is a niche?” I’ll tell you what: it was in that moment that I realized that a lot of people just start blogging without a calculated approach. It was then that I realized that a lot of bloggers fizzle out because they’re creating content that they care about (as they should be) but that EVERYBODY else is also. And that’s why finding your niche is important.
Be the missing voice of a style or demographic
The first thing to do is to see what you’re writing or plan on writing and then find out who is out there. When I decided to start blogging, I was seeing a lot of travel bloggers and larger travel sites getting retweeted and reshared across every platform. Apparently EVERYBODY likes what such and such was creating. Great! Good framework to peek at to understand what people care about. But is that all? Do you just mimic success? No.
As you create your plan to start a blog, you need to see where there’s a gap in coverage. Here are three questions to ask yourself:
- What do I know a lot about that I don’t see commonly shared?
- What is unusual about my take or experience with a niche?
- Will anybody be interested in hearing my point of view (POV), and if so why is my POV more interesting than somebody else’s?
If you can answer and understand those three questions AND find a specific demographic or style that you can provide a missing voice for, you’ll be able to land in a niche that you can thrive in and that will provide you enjoyable work. Remember, a blog truly is work, so best that you are in a space that you enjoy and have a unique passion for.
My own survey: I’m a gay parent, I travel constantly with very young children, I have a lot of travel industry experience and insight, our family has unique/unusual experiences and POV, I have an education in both creative writing and photography. “I can create an LGBT family travel blog that’s both interesting and insightful.”
Be true to your blogging niche
If you’ve landed on a niche and want to create content in your our voice for a specific group of people or within a specific web space, you need to commit to it. “But if I want to start blogging and don’t have content yet, how will I know if I’m on the right track?” Easy. Trial and error my friend. If you have decided that your niche is going to be easy DIY projects for the home, start there by creating content that showcases your unique skills and ideas that you haven’t seen done fifty times on the internet or cable home improvement shows. Create a piece or series of content that is unusual with surprise bonus projects or secondary uses. Incorporate something eye-catching and memorable into the content.
If you create your first run of blog content to fit with the three original questions above, you should see a positive response as people discover it. You’ll know if your initial following, which will likely be your friends and family, visits your blog and shares it or leaves a comment, if they reach out to you with encouraging words or if they don’t show any interest. Those indicators can guide you to make changes in the early stages of blogging to create content that you love and other do it.
Also, if you’re rolling along and are seeing a great response to the content you create and you have great numbers in terms of site visits and social following growth, don’t turn everything on its head and just start writing about something completely unrelated. That’s a great way to turn your loyal following off. If you’ve found success in your niche soon after you start blogging, keep that momentum.
Note: I’m not saying what “great numbers” are in terms of growing a following or getting early site traffic. It’s different for everyone and in every niche. For some, getting 100 views per day on their blog is incredible and beyond the reach they ever dreamed they could establish. For others, they might have unrealistic expectations of themselves and think they’re doing poorly when they start blogging… but they have crazy great traffic because they’re working in a very niche zone that had a tremendous gap.
Growing your new blog
Some people are blessed with blogging skills and a narrow niche with a huge audience, and hooray for them, as they’ll see website traffic and social media growth happen rather swiftly and steadily. Beyond those fortunate few, there is a rougher sea ahead. Between every millenial starting a blog and the ever changing algorithms of the internet, it can feel like you’re a minnow swimming in an undersea canyon with hammerheads all around. And it is like that, but if you’ve gotten yourself into a niche that truly suits you and that you’re passionate about, you’ll be willing to do the work to grown your blog.
“But how do you grow a blog? You can’t just dump water on it and put it in a window sill.” You’re totally right; it’s all about elbow grease and learning.
Learning and leveraging social media
I hate to start here, but social media is exceptionally important in the more grand scheme of blogging. When you start blogging it feels great to write some wonderful content and incorporate images that really tell your story and accentuate your voice, but how do you initially get people to see it? Yes, blogs show up in search results and that’s the key driver for most established bloggers, but until that’s you, social media is your new best friend. And it is one of the big ways to get paid to travel.
Facebook for sharing content
Yes, I use Facebook for sharing pictures of my kids and to call out the people in my life who favor convenience over being earth-concious, but this is also where I first told them all that I would start blogging our adventures and sharing stories from the road. You’ve got a built in audience there already, so put it out to them that you’re becoming a blogger.
Here’s a great example:
You’ve just started blogging and have completed your first piece. It’s fully composed with images, links to credible sources or helpful tools, you’ve got a nice little “About Me” page on your site, and you’re ready to tell the world that you’re the expert on something… even if that something is your seemingly failing journey to becoming a watercolor artist. PS: that was me and I totally had a blog about it. May it RIP. So, your first step is to share with your Facebook friends that you’re doing something new and are excited to bring them along on your journey. Boom! You get your first clicks to your new blog.
Social media referrals play a key role in helping you determine what content is interesting to people as well as in telling the crawling internet bots that people are looking to your site for information. And if you’ve shared your first posts to Facebook and your friends are eating it up, they may be sharing through their Facebook channels too… and the beat goes on.
Note: create an actual Facebook page for your blog, or create a community for your niche and use it like you would a page. This is important, particularly later as you’ve grown, for engaging with brands and collaborating with fellow bloggers.
Using Twitter with blogging
Thinking about that same launch of your first blog post, you need to tell Twitter too, because if we’ve learned one thing in recent years, it’s that Twitter can spread something like wild fire. Don’t get me wrong: you can’t just open a Twitter account and have a viral tweet right out of the gate. Here’s how you effectively use Twitter as a blogger (just the basics here):
- set up a Twitter account applicable to your blog
- follow Twitter accounts that interest you, both who are bloggers and brands/experts within your niche, and regular people you know too
- use your Twitter handle (username) to interact with others who are really rockin’ it. Tell them you’re starting a blog or have already. Engage!
- when you’re first blog post is live, tell Twitter! Craft a tweet that includes the website AND use a few applicable hashtags
- if somebody retweets you or comments, ENGAGE WITH IT.
Growing a Twitter following is weird and seems pointless at first, but as you see engagement on the platform rise, you’ll enjoy it! As you see people clicking through to your content, you’ll be glad you did the whole Twitter thing.
Tip: if you see somebody tweet something about a “Twitter party” or a “chat,” try to join in. Themed chats about all kinds of niche topics or hosted by brands happen all the time. It’s a great way to get people familiar with you as a blogger and to share your opinions and thoughts outside of long form blog content.
Something else, and this comes a bit down the line after starting a blog, is that brands and destinations, publications and influential media, like to use Twitter to gauge the pulse of the populous. Many brands that are looking to partner with bloggers and influencers may discover them or first interact with them via Twitter. Having a presence in the Twitterverse can be more beneficial than you realize.
Other social media for blog growth
There are, of course, other social media platforms that are beneficial to growing a new blog. These include Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Triberr, Flipboard, Mix, Reddit and the list never ends. Each has their strengths and is worth learning about, but when you’re just starting a blog, focusing on the two platforms with the most engagement is key. Pinterest is your next social media to conquer and it’s incredible for growing your website traffic, but when you’re first starting, keeping it simple will help you stay motivated and not get overwhelmed.
Shameless self promotion
This is where you’ll make or break your new blog and how much you attach external interest to how you’re measuring success as you start blogging. As I mentioned, when you first begin a blog, your primary followers and those actively checking out your content are your family and friends. Why is that? Here are a few reasons:
- it takes time for Google to crawl and understand a website to recommend to its users within search results
- a lot of the followers you get on social media when you start a blog are your family and friends, so the same crew you’re already reaching
- other bloggers and those in the niche or industry you’re blogging about probably don’t know of you yet so aren’t referring people to your work
“Well, how do I fix these problems?” The answer is shameless self promotion. This sounds awful, but it’s how you begin to get in front of an audience. If you’ve picked a niche where you’ll be a unique voice and can create valuable, interesting content, these steps of self promotion will work to grow your audience and move you onto the next steps of running a blog:
- research, understand, and actively pursue SEO – leveraging keywords and creating authoritative content makes Google happy and if you’re the answer people are looking for, you’ll rank higher in the search results. Be the authority.
- your initial social media following are people you know directly. Ask those people to share your content or tell their friends about your blog and what you’re doing that’s unique. Word of mouth is a strong tool.
- when you create content that features a brand, destination, or makes reference to another blogger, LET THEM KNOW. Just like you’re working on self promotion to get your name out there, products and brands love to share content that enhances their own presence with potential customers. While starting a blog isn’t all about selling, if you want to grow your blog and see elevated success, partnering with those who have sales targets and large audiences is a great way to expand your reach.
- offer to create content for others – if you know me you know that I never encourage people to work for free, but when you’re a new blogger, a great way to both get in front of a larger audience AND build back links (beneficial for SEO) is to offer to contribute to other blogs and websites. DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE FARM, but providing some great content that encourages others to check out your own site is smart!
Being active on your own behalf will help you climb the ladder of your niche more effectively than you might realize. Don’t be ashamed of the content you’re creating; celebrate it and ask others to join you in your creative endeavors. Self promotion is a part of carving out the life you love, the hobby you enjoy, or the job you want to thrive at.
Next steps to start blogging
Now that you’ve seen how to start blogging on the right foot, you’re ready to begin! If you’ve already started and you’ve been reading this to take a look at your strategy and re-evaluate, that’s great too. Download the checklist and then here are your next steps:
- Determine your niche – whittle it down as far as you can to pinpoint where you’re truly an expert with a unique voice
- Name your blog – choose a name that is memorable AND applicable to your niche, be different but not mysterious
- Secure your domain name – you NEED to have an actual domain name; a hosted blog address isn’t setting you up for growth
- Write your first content – be the authority from day one; write what you know and can be authentic about
- Share your content – use your social media to circulate your first content pieces
- Ask for feedback – whether from people you know will be honest with your or via a fellow blogger you’ve never met but respect, ask for specific feedback about what you’re doing and where you could improve. Take everything with a grain of salt, because this is your project and you know your vision, but listen to valid feedback knowing that you can most likely improve.
- Keep on creating content – the key to anything is practice, and as you create content and build links, Google will take note. Think of this as building your street cred.
One last note: these are the things I wish I knew from the get-go. Listen to this advice and you’ll enjoy blogging and can start your journey with joy! Here’s the scoop of getting things moving:
- launch your website ASAP – let it start aging so that Google reads it and sees it grow in authority. That’s the first step to getting in front of your target audience in the future. Tip: my hosting service is WireFlare and they are amazing with support and helping when I need it. Sign up with WireFlare here!
- be sure that as you create content that it is quality – yes, write from the heart and share the fears and struggles you have, but also provide solutions and encouragement
- learn about SEO from the beginning – I recommend purchasing an SEO course to learn about successful content creation. Make Traffic Happen is amazing and easy to understand and enact.
- take photos and notes of everything – you never know when you’ll need a photo or want to remember something about an experience or particular moment. DOCUMENT IT ALL so it’s easier in the future. This can be particularly great if somebody shares their own experience with you and you’re trying to recollect your own thoughts and feelings or what helped you. JOURNALING is your best friend.
- social media is the last thing – Facebook and Instagram have drastically changed in the last year and for those of us that have been doing this for years it’s a bummer, but as you are just breaking into blogging you have nowhere to go but up. Start sharing social content to let people know who YOU are, and then just enjoy it. Build a community of followers that understand you and support you and that you can support in return. Don’t worry about numbers, but create a dedicated following, small or large.
I hope this is all very helpful and that you’re inspired to start blogging. Please be sure to download and print off this checklist to get you started. Place it somewhere you’ll see it often or where you’ll be working on your new blog. Execute each task with joy and mark it off like a goal you’ve accomplished. Keep that attitude and starting a blog will be one of the most rewarding decisions of your life.
Go ahead and pin this for when you’re ready to get serious and start a blog. Starting a blog is amazing and can change your life if done right. 🙂