1- Time Investment
Content. takes. much. more. time. to. create. than. you. would. expect.
Trust us. While building our campervan, we spent as much time building the van than documenting our Build Journal. It takes dedication, passion and TIME; in other words, it’s a hobby. It’s very common for people the create a website, create 2 or 3 entries, then give up after they realize all the work involved. Look around, there are many examples of abandoned blogs.
And it’s much more than content creation. You’ll have to answer questions, fix bugs, maintain the database, etc. This, again, takes time.
Still with us? Good! Keep reading 🙂
2- Choose Your Website Name
In A Nutshell
Your first assignment is to find your website name. Don’t overlook this. It is VERY important, as your name becomes your “trademark” and will follow you forever (it’s not a good practice to change it later). It took us a few weeks to settle on “FarOutRide”… brainstorm, sleep on it, brainstorm again, sleep on it… See, we told you creating content takes time! But if you’re having fun doing this, it’s a good sign.
Find a SHORT and CATCHY name
It must mean something
The domain name must be available
Buying Your Domain Name
You can buy your domain name from any provider. However, we strongly recommend to buy it from the same provider as your hosting service (see “Hosting” section below). Indeed, it’ll make your life much easier if all your stuff is centralize to the same place. We learnt this the hard way.
So keep reading, you’ll register your domain at the same time as buying your hosting service.
3- Choose a Website Platform
In A Nutshell
Choosing a website platform is a bit like choosing between a Ford Transit, a Mercedes Sprinter or a Dodge ProMaster… each has its pros and cons:
Our Choice: WordPress.org
It is THE most popular website platform, which means lots of third party themes, plugins, host options, online resources, etc; that’s very comforting for us knowing we have engineering background, not web design! And the keyword word is: FREEDOM. We like having total control on what we do (that’s one of the reason we built our own van!)
From now on, this article is all about WordPress!
4- WordPress Hosting
In A Nutshell
A website is basically a bunch of files on a server (computer). So you’ll need a server that:
Sounds complicated? It’s really not, because all of that is provided by your HOSTING SERVICE! All you have to do is to select the appropriate host for your needs. We initially went for the cheapest host service we found; don’t be like us! The site quickly became too slow and customer service was pretty much non-existant. We did our homework and compared most of the host services available… long story short, we decided to go with SiteGround:
How To Sign Up
It's quite straitforward...
5- Get A WordPress Theme
In A Nutshell
A theme defines the appearance, display and features of your website. It also affects the speed of your website, which is very important for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). There are literally thousands of available themes; some of them are free and some of them are paid (a.k.a. “premium”, expect to pay anything between $20 to 80$). In our opinion, it’s worth going for a Premium theme as the appearance and design is generally higher-end and will provide a better user experience.
Not all themes are made equal… after a few years running faroutride.com, we had to change our theme because the speed of our website was too slow. Long story short, we are now running one of the best theme out there:
Our Recommended Theme
6- Get A Page Builder (Optional)
In A Nutshell
After choosing and installing your theme, you can create content using WordPress editor (the editor is called “Gutenberg” at the moment). However, we HIGHLY recommend to install Elementor Pro Page Builder as it makes content creation much more intuitive and powerful! We started using Elementor Pro a few months back and it’s been a game changer, as we can focus on content creation (streamlined) rather than struggling with the WordPress editor.
Elementor Pro Page Builder
7- Build Your Website
But first, let's recap
Here is what we did so far:
- We got and setup our hosting service and domain name (SiteGround).
- We installed our theme (GeneratePress).
- We installed a page builder (Elementor Pro).
Organization is key
Before you start creating content, you must plan your website. The biggest challenge is organizing the information so that it’s easy for the users to find their way around. So take the time to create a “map” of your website; think about all the articles you plan on publishing and how you want your users to navigate through the website.
Streamlined User Experience
It’s important to create a modern and streamlined experience for the users. Stay away from (too many) animations, blinking text, popups, and keep things light. Make it visually appealing with lots of high-quality photos, not too much text and a few videos to complement. It’s all about balance.
There are thousands of WordPress plugins available to “tweak” the look of your website and add neat features. Restrain from using them too much! Plugins add extra code to your website and slow down your page loading, which is bad for SEO and user experience. That being said, it’s OK to use a few of them especially if they come from reputable source: GeneratePress Premium, Elementor Pro, Yoast SEO, Sucuri Security, etc.
If you’re new to build a website, you might find the learning curve a bit steep. So remember: Google is your friend! Website creation topic is extensively covered on the web, so you’re always one Google search away from getting an answer to any question.
8- Get An Audience
Build it and they will come
Nope, this advice is BS. No one will come if you just “build it”. YOU need to bring people to your website, one by one to start with.
Discussion Forums, Facebook Groups, Reddit, etc., are all great platforms to spread the word about your website. Constantly promoting your website is considered spamming! So be an active member, answer questions, be part of discussions and take the opportunity to occasionally link to your website if it’s appropriate.
Don’t overlook Pinterest. After Search Engines, Pinterest is what drives the more traffic to FarOutRide! While posts on Facebook or Instagram quickly fade out (a post will drive traffic for about 24h), posts on Pinterest keep bringing traffic over time.
Even if you don’t plan on becoming a “YouTuber”, putting videos on YouTube can drive a TON of traffic to your website. We totally overlooked this with FarOutRide, and honestly we wish we did…
Facebook and Instagram
No introduction needed here. Having a Facebook and Instagram is kind of mandatory to complement your website… While it’s a great way for people to discover your website, it’s not by any means the most efficient way to do so. That being said, it’s a great way to connect with your audience and keep them up to date.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Google is what drive the most traffic to FarOutRide, hands down. Ranking high on Google is the holy grail of SEO; that’s what everyone wants, so don’t expect it to be easy. Beware of the “hacks” or “Gurus” that promise to rank high in exchange of a paid course… There’s no hack, there’s no secret. Google constantly update their core algorithm to improve their search results, so taking advantage of a “hack” will most likely not last in time.
Google’s goal is to prioritize quality websites, so your goal should be to create quality content. Okay, there is more to it actually. And because we’re no SEO experts, we’ll leave you to credible sources:
9- Protect Your Investment
In A Nutshell
Here’s one more thing we learnt the hard way: protect your investment (website). At this point, you probably spent considerable amount of time and money and it’s only a matter of time before you get hacked and loose it all.
Indeed, somewhere in 2018 FarOutRide got injected with some crypto-encrypting-something-script. We spent close to a week trying to figure it out (no luck) and before hitting the reset button, we reached out to Sucuri Security… A few hours later and everything was back to normal! (one of their staff localized and removed the malicious script from our site). Lesson learned: it’s worth investing in security!
10- Monetize Your Website
In A Nutshell
There are several ways to make money from your website. In all cases, make sure to read and understand the rules as you might loose you benefits if you’re audited. Here are potential strategies:
April 2020 Update:
The golden age of affiliate marketing is coming to an end. In 2017, Amazon dropped its commissions from 8.5% average to 5% average. In 2020, Amazon slashed its commissions from 5% average to 2.5% average. And others (eBay etc.) are following the trend.
In other words, for the same amount of sales we generate, we’re making 70% less commission in 2020 compared to 2017. It definitely makes this whole “monetize your website” a struggle now…
16 thoughts on “How To Start Your Website (And Make Money)”
My name is Danniel and my coming of age years happened in the 90’s. Yes, I’m that old. Thru the years I’ve had a Ford Econoline that was already converted, although poorly, then an extended 79 Dodge van that I converted myself – rebuilding its 302 engine, its transmission, 4″ lift kit, and all interior parts (it was beautiful), and I had an old motorhome for 18 months that I lived in the whole time. To date, my Dodge was my favorite but I swerved to avoid hitting an elk in Colorado and flipped it off a cliff! Helicopter rides to a Denver hospital gets EXPENSIVE that way, I DO NOT recommend it. Lol. Trouble is I met my wife AFTER all this and she wants that life resurrected now that we can share it together; my stories just aren’t enough anymore. Lol. So, here I go again. She bought an old Plymouth mini-van (like a soccer mom would buy) and has turned me loose. When I started researching, being that the internet is no longer dial-up and much more informative than in the 90’s, I found FarOutRide and fell in love all over again. Huge thank you for the extensive, and I’m sure exhausting, work you’ve done. I’ve seen many sites but you are by far my favorite. We will be starting the build next week and taking pics along the way so we can pay it forward as y’all have. Won’t be long, maybe 2 months, and we’ll be on the road with Dallas in the rearview mirrors. Keep in touch and if we cross paths I’ll cook an open fire dinner for the four of us as a way to thank y’all for helping me not repeat the mistakes that I forgot I made 20+ years ago. (Did I mention I was old now? My memory ain’t what it used to be. Lol)
Thanks for the story 🙂
We wish you good luck with your project, the two of you will have great times!
See you on the road,
Best Van life and Van Build site bar none! You guys cover everything… I honestly don’t know where you get the time… I imagine you guys are glued to your computers 24/7… coming from someone who has taken the steps to build a website and blog, etc… I can vouch for the 2-3 posts and leave it behind. It’s sooo much work!
Thanks for all the hard work you guys put in. I could (and have) wasted so many hours trying to put all this research together, and you guys have everything in one place. Truly impressive!
Thanks for the kind words 🙂
It’s a never ending project for sure! Keeps us busy on rainy days (and more)!
This is definitely the best vanlife site I have come across. Everything is laid out in an easy to read and navigate fashion!
Cool! Interesting to read about how the back end of things work. Thanks for sharing!
Amazing build…. love the site and hoping my mom who is getting into her own sprinter van build (same vehicle) loves your site as well. I have enjoyed looking through your builds and the amount of information you provide is so amazing. I love your reviews honest and to the point. Also the if we had to do this all over again… I would not have thought of the vent near the backdoor and the dust it kick up and allows into the van. Thanks so much for posting all of this information and yes it all is very helpful. (Pinterest) Is how I landed on your site so yes it pays to publish to them. Hope you keep having many happy miles in the van camper. v/r Heath
Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. 🙂
excellent content! we just purchased a mbz sprinter 170 (getting built in Germany in July), and then having it outfitted in September by a local company (designed by us). we are excited to memorialize the journey on our website, and your article will help us get on our way. thank you!
I stumbled upon you guys on Expedition Portal today and over the course of the day have read most of the website, found you on Facebook and basically devoured all the content. The content is incredible but while surfing through your site I really enjoyed the speed and performance. I knew it was WordPress and was just about to send you a note asking for more info when I stumbled on this page. Thank you very much for all the info, my WP site runs like a sleepy snail so I’m going to be giving most of your suggestions a try. Thank you!
Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated!
From my perspective, your website is super fast! Pages load almost instantly and your speed score is almost perfect: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/?url=https%3A%2F%2Ffreshgravel.com%2F&tab=mobile
Maybe it’s slow because you’re logged in? I don’t know…
Hello, I can’t thank you enough for building such an amazing resource! I’m just starting my Van Life / Off Grid living learning journey (in the research phase) before I begin investing and taking action into the lifestyle for the long term. Your website will be my go-to guide. Many thanks and gratitude! Be well 🙂
I believe that you have switched WordPress.com description with WordPress.org. The .com has very limited customization (but for a fee you can use your own domain name). The .org is the one with unlimited customization, lots of 3rd party plugins, etc.
Oh, you’re absolutely right! It’s fixed now…
THANKS for the head’s up! I’m appreciate you took the time to tell me 🙂
Have a good one,
Thanks for sharing this guys! I asked the question like a month ago in comments, I didn’t expect such an in-depth article response!
Keep up the good work.
When get the same question many times, it means it’s time for a thorough post!