After writing a post on how to start a travel blog last summer, several of you commented or emailed with specific questions. What hosting do I use? Do I do my own design? And how can you get a map like that on your own site?
Let’s start with the basics.
Domain + Hosting
My blog is obviously a WordPress site—is there any other way to blog, really?—as it has been for nine years. The first year I was on Blogspot and quickly outgrew the limited platform. WordPress is a free service as long as you use a subdomain (i.e. your site ends in wordpress.com). I, however, always purchase custom site domains, which you can do through BlueHost for as little as $5.79 a year per domain.
As for hosting companies that are good for bloggers, I went through many early on, including Rackspace, and something always went wrong or my site was going down continuously. It wasn’t ideal. Four years ago, I made the switch to WPEngine, and I’ll be honest: I’m not going back.
For one, my site has never gone down for more than a few minutes. Second, anytime I’ve had even the slightest bit of trouble with anything regarding my site, I’ve Tweeted WPEngine, and their support is amazing. I have the $99/month plan, but if you’re just starting out, you’ll only need the $29/month plan at a first. And a bonus, if you pay for a full year upfront, rather than on the monthly plan, you get two months of hosting for free (deal available here).
On another note, they do routine backups of my site, which is imperative since I never think to do such things on my own! There’s also a Page Performance feature that will automatically test the speed of your site (weekly, monthly or twice monthly) and offer up actionable recommendations on how to make it faster. All in all, it’s just a great company with stellar customer service, so I’m happy to pay a bit more than I was paying for other hosts in the past to ensure that my site never goes rogue.
Ever since switching to Further Bound as my design/development team, I’ve gone light on the plugins. Why? Well, they custom-coded so many things that I didn’t really require a whole lot of extra stuff. (They’re also the best. Have I mentioned that?)
Still, there are a few tried-and-true plugins that I will never quit, all free unless otherwise noted:
- WP Editorial Calendar. I live by my Google Calendar, so it makes sense that my blog lives by its own internal one. I love being able to jot down ideas for posts months in advance and then have a visual reminder of them once the date rolls around.
- JetPack by WordPress. I used to use this on an old version of my site, but after recent evidence that Google Analytics is no longer reliable, I wanted a backup method to track my stats. JetPack is made by Automattic, the team behind WordPress, so I feel it’s probably the most reliable judge of how a user is using a WP site. There’s a premium version available, but I use the free one.
- Interactive World Maps. This premium plugin costs $20 and is how I’m able to keep an interactive map of all my travels so that you can search a country’s archives simply by clicking the destination on the map. How cool is that?
- Comment Reply Notification. I’ve been using this for years, and it’s never failed me. In a nutshell, all this does is allow me to reply to you guys and also send you a copy of that reply to your email. It’s really great for keeping a conversation going and interacting with readers.
- CommentLuv. I love that this plugin pulls fellow bloggers’ latest posts when they leave me a comment. That way I, along with fellow readers who scroll through the comments, can click through and read other commenters’ posts, too.
- Yoast SEO. This plugin allows me to write blurbs for each post that will appear in search engines and on social media shares. It’s also a great way to analyze each post for length, content, relative keywords, etc. There’s a premium version available, but I use the free one.
You can search most of these directly through the plugin page on your dashboard; you don’t have to download them through third-party sites that I linked to above. Going down the plugin rabbit hole can be a time suck—and also screw with your site if not done correctly—so always make sure the plugin has solid reviews (and a lot of reviewers at that) and is compatible with your version of WordPress.
The second I started implementing three Pinnable images at the bottom of my posts, I got several emails about what plugin I was using. My big secret? Nothing! Well, I do use the free version of Canva to create all the text overlay photos that you guys can share on Pinterest if you so desire, and then the “PIN IT” is simple text with the H1 heading code in WordPress, and I line them up side by side in a three-pack just like I would a normal post. Easy-peasy!
I’ve vowed to up my Pinterest game this year, so I signed up for Tailwind—you can get a free month trial here if you want to test it out—and hired a gal to help me out a few hours a week cleaning all that up. Are you a Pinner? Can we be friends? Follow me here, and leave a comment below and I’ll be sure and repay the favor!
Posts by Email
It seems like a lot of people prefer this option as I have a couple thousands followers who read my posts by email, for which you can sign up here. I get it: I also subscribe to my favorite blogs if they have that option, as ever since the death of Google Reader, emails serve as a reminder that said blogger has posted new content.
My preferred newsletter provider is MailChimp. I pay for premium services and have it all linked to my RSS feed so that it sends my latest post out the morning after publishing at 9am CST. Couldn’t be easier!
What It Costs
Having a blog can be a costly investment as it grows. In the early stages, investments worth making are your custom domain and a reliable hosting service like WPEngine. Once you’ve grown as a business, then it’s time to start investing in other ways.
Here’s a rough break down of what it costs me annually to run my blog:
- WPEngine hosting: $990/year
- BlueHost domain: $10/year
- Adobe Creative Cloud: $10/month
- Mailchimp: $30/month
- Dropbox: $99/year
- Designer/developer services: $500 for maintenance/upgrades
That’s a total of $2,079, not counting miscellaneous expenditures that happen from time to time.
Sound like a lot? Well, most of these services allow you to pay in monthly installments, which makes the blow a bit easier to stomach. But at the end of the day, it takes money to make money, right?
Now, questions, class?
Disclosure: I pay for all of these services myself, but I’ve had such a good experience with them all that I’ve signed on to be an affiliate for a few, meaning I’ll receive a small commission if you also join via these links, which I would appreciate given that, as detailed above, it’s not cheap to run a blog!
I didn’t know CommentLuv, but as soon as it’s tested with my version of WP I will get it as well! Great tips, thanks!
Yes, you should! On the blogger end, it makes it so much easier for me to see commenters’ latest post and click directly through to that.
This is SOOOO helpful! This very weekend, I’m leashed to my desk trying to get my new blog off the ground. I’d love it if you’d follow me back on Pinterest… Don’t mind the dust (and the fact the default theme is showing on the website today), it’s all a work in progress.
Oh, I know what you mean, Courtney. I’ll go a month without visiting Pinterest then Pin 30 things in one day, ha! That’s why I like Tailwind—and I’m sooooo late to the party on this as I just bought it last month—because you can just visit once a week or however often you want and schedule all your Pins at once. It’s great for people like you and me who forget that Pinterest exists 😉
And I followed you back, girl!
Love the three options for pinning at the end of your posts — so smart!
PS — Bloglovin has helped fill the void that Google Reader left for me. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend it! 🙂
How is it any different from Feedly (which I currently use and often forget exists!)? My big thing, Jess, is that Google Reader was right there BAM! in my face every time I opened my browser, and headlines would catch my eye that would have me clicking directly through every time. Is there anything about Bloglovin that helps you remember to check your feed? I really only think about it when either I a) see a post from a commenter on my blog (thanks, CommentLuv!) or b) happen to see a link someone Tweets or shares on Facebook.
It’s pretty similar to Feedly. I like that I can see my own blog subscribers there and also see what they are responding to in terms of liking, saving, etc. I get daily updates about activity on my site so that typically reminds me to go check out the blogs I’m following there as well.
I totally still miss Google Reader but I am glad I still have a place to go that brings all the blogs I follow into one feed!
Fine but can I just come stay with you for a weekend for a blog boot camp? Yes? Cool.
If that’s what it takes to get you down here for a visit, then YES! But only if your furry assistant joins.
I love posts like these, I love you all of your posts if I’m being honest. One day I’m going to start my own blog so I’m glad to have your page to come to for inspiration and tips! For now I’m merely an avid Pinterest-Er and C&C fan, so excited to be able to follow you on another platform!
Thank you, Ali! Found you on Pinterest, too! And let me know when that day comes and your blog is live 😉
I’m kind of agreeing with the week long boot camp?!? 🙂 Could you explain the Pinterest thing more in depth? Is there a code you are putting with the pictures that links them to Pinterest? I can’t quite figure it out, but I really like the way you do the three across the bottom of post. It’s also my goal to up my Pinterest game. I love Instagram, not so much Facebook, and kind of loathe Twitter, but Pinterest I think I can do better at! Thanks for the help!
Hi, Janet! Sorry, I realize the way that I worded that may have been confusing. Most people who use Pinterest have the Pin It button on their toolbar, so a lot of the work is done for you, but as a Pinterest user myself, I often don’t even think about Pinning content while reading blogs. Thus, I’ve simply made it easier for readers by giving them three options per post of images with text overlay at the optimal Pinterest size so they can add them to their boards as they so choose =)
Your timing could not be better! I’ve finally got my “real job” workload back to manageable and had set aside this entire weekend for blogging bootcamp. Of course, it’s 60 degrees…in Chicago…in January, so we’ll see how much I actually get done before I’m drawn outdoors 😉
Ha! Same here. I just want to be outdoors all the time, and if 70 degrees in January is the one upside to climate change…well, I’ll embrace that.
Great tips! I’m currently redoing my site. Wondering how you get adobe cc for $10 a month? The cheapest I’ve seen is student for $19.99.
I just double-checked to make sure, and I’m still paying $10.96/month for what is billed as “Adobe Photography Plan.” Then again, Scott and I each have a desktop and a laptop and that only gives you access on two computers, so we actually have two subscriptions and thus are paying $22/month. We also own the Photoshop and Lightroom software, but then Adobe forced everyone to switch to a monthly plan to get the updates so we’ve been doing that for at least three years now (*thumbs down*).
Try this link. Looks like our plan is still $9.99/month:
This was super helpful. I’d love to hear about your transition to Wordpress. I’m a new blogger on Blogger.
Thanks Kristin for these amazing tips. You have no idea that How much this post helped me. These are amazing tips and many of them I come to know for the first time. Hope you would do more like this post:)
Oh, I’m glad you found it useful, Thomas! I’ll definitely be sharing more blogging and industry tidbits in the coming months =)
Thank you for sharing all of this with us! As a small blogger it can be so confusing…. there are so many plugins to choose from and I always ask myself which ones really make sense. Thanks again for the help!
I totally understand, Anna! Before my last redesign, I went plugin crazy! There are just countless options and it’s overwhelming. Then I ran into the problem of plugins conflicting with others. Luckily, my design-dev team Hannah and Lee built this site rock solid, so I didn’t need a whole lot of extra bells and whistles and just use the plugins that really make sense from an efficiency standpoint (like having an editorial calendar).
Hi Kristin! We’ve been following you for some time now and are loving your posts! We have a travel blog too, and are using Tailwind as well. Isn’t it great? We’re upping our Pinterest game too this year and started using Tailwind Tribes to help with that. Heard of it? If you want to join our WTW Tailwind Tribe (that would be awesome!), just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll gladly invite you!
Sure thing, Birthe! I’ll shoot you an email =)
First of all, I didn’t recognize you in the photo, took me a minute! I’ve seen you with the red hair from the front, but not the side and I thought it was a stock image for a second! I’ve actually been working on a similar post as I’ve had a lot of people ask me over the years and people are always under the impression that blogging is free, or cheap! Glad to see we use some of the same tools, great minds think alike. I love the current location plug-in, I am still struggling with how to organize the posts around all the places I’ve been, still haven’t found the perfect solution, but I do like that plug-in!
I think it’s the lighting and my hair being up. It always looks five shades darker when in a bun 😉
I can’t say I’ve ever updated the current location once (oops!), but it is a cool feature, I will agree!
I recently started a blog and this post is super helpful! I also use Canva, and it is a game changer. That’s crazy to see how much it costs to maintain a blog once it begins to grow.
Right? And people get mad at bloggers for affiliate links and banner ads, ha. It costs money to run a business! Good luck, Lindsey =)
These are great tips! I’m going to start using the three pins at the bottom. And I’ve been looking for an interactive map, so I’ll definitely check that plugin out. Thanks!
No problem. Happy to help!
Hey Kristin! Thanks for writing this. Super helpful. I just revamped my site. Do you use a hashtag plugin for WP? Was thinking about adding one, but figured I’d check with you first.
P.S. Hope you are doing well and continuing to conquer those handstands. 🙂 You inspired me to attempt the one-arm handstand. Sarah
Thanks Kristin! I’m a new travel blogger who is looking to start traveling full time later this year and this post helped me a great deal! As someone who came into blogging as a complete novice, this helped a great deal.
Great helpful guide for me as a new blogger.
I have found you on wordpress. So far I have read almost 10-15 of your posts and loving it. In your writing you seem very open, honest and down to earth person. I love the way you talk through your posts. I am a 21 days old blogger and I would like to ask, If you have any advice for a new blogger like myself? I have started my blog to save my memories and share ideas so far.
Hey Kristin, Thank you so much for sharing this helpful article. Until now I was only aware of YoastSEO plugin but now will try using other plugins as well. Thanks again and keep sharing more tips 🙂
These are some really good tips, I might be applying some 🙂
Kristin, thank you for sharing these helpful tips and resources. Blogging is a huge topic.
Very well crafted. Amazing piece. Looking forward to read more from you! 🙂
All the tips here are really useful and informative. Bloggers want to get success but without proper knowledge, they will not succeed. Your tips will help to reach the goal of success. Thanks for your interesting article.
Every step cost. Writing is an art. But few can understand