Blog for long enough and you're bound to get some emails from readers or those looking to set up their own websites. I love this kind of mail because a) I like to be helpful. I often email my contacts for advice about things they might know the answer to and it's great to give back; and b) it usually means you're doing something right. Catching people's attention online is difficult and if someone looks at your website and thinks, "Wow, these people must know a thing or two," that's a good indicator.
I was thinking that if a few people have these questions, surely others must have them too, so I thought I'd share a few things we've learned over the last two years. Hopefully they help you and shed some light on things you've been wondering as well.
Knowing what you know now, if you were starting a travel blog, what would you do the same or differently?
I'm certainly no expert in this area, but I think the most important thing that I would do differently is to either choose a niche or to make the blog more about myself or us personally. People get into blogging for a variety of different reasons but if you're looking to grow your blog into something that resembles a business (i.e. profitable), then you need to make it a marketable product. Niche blogs, that is blogs that are about a particular destination or region, type of travel or a specific space within travel and tourism do better. They are going to be more focussed and therefore do better in search rankings. People who are interested in that niche are going to subscribe to them and stay loyal because week after week you will be bringing them information about what they are interested in. You will become an expert about that one topic, lending authority to what you write.
Personality based blogs are also strong because people like to follow other people. I didn't make this up - it's just information I'm passing along from the wisdom of top bloggers and personal observation. My friend Andi is a great example of this. Her blog, My Beautiful Adventures, is about just what it says: the fabulous trips she takes and the adventures she has along the way because of her lifestyle and winning personality. She and her husband have an international love story, which she openly shares and her blog also has a niche: luxury travel. If you check out her comments on each post, you'll see that her readers care about her and what she's doing. It's a success. So let your personality shine through when you're blogging and don't censor yourself. Let your readers get to know you and figure out what about you makes your life special. That should be a focus for your blog.
If you're passionate about writing and travel, then a travel blog makes sense for following mantras like, "Do what you love." But the hard truth that you must understand when it comes to business is that people don't really give a shit about what you love to do. Nobody buys something because they thought, "Oh, Ted over here wants to fulfill his dreams. I better help him out." They care about what need you're fulfilling for them. That may be information or entertainment, or it may be a solution to a real problem they've been having. So this advice also falls under what I would do the same if I was starting a blog today: I don't do it for the money. When I have some information to share that I think will help people, I write a guide and hope it ranks well in the search engines. Some of our posts do that. We get up to 50 hits a day on a post we wrote about helping people choose between two different activities in a popular place in New Zealand. But that traffic does not convert to sales. I never planned for the blog to be a business so it isn't. Though we do make money from it, but I'll get to that later.
The other thing I would do again is to network with other bloggers. You can join one or both of these Facebook groups (Global Bloggers Network and Travel Bloggers) and I also like the Social Media Connect group on TBEX, though I'm not able to be as active there as I used to be because of time constraints. Help each other and get to know the other bloggers in the community. It's a good one! Participating in Twitter chats like #TTOT is also a great way to meet other passionate travellers and bloggers, while taking part in a fun discussion. Here is a list of more of those chats (and another one here).
Did you set your blog up yourself or did you hire someone to do it?
You can probably tell that I built this entire thing myself. We run on the Thesis theme, which is a fully customizable theme with out-of-the box SEO optimization, though you still need to read up on that to get the most out of it. Every component you see on the site has been a process of trial and error over the last two years. We've probably tried a hundred different plug-ins and spend a lot of time on discussion forums and searching the internet for information about how to improve the user experience on this website. Making it beautiful has fallen by the wayside because at the end of the day I mainly want people to be able to read our content and enjoy the photographs we have to share.
You can pay someone to design for you, and if you're going to make it a real (that means profitable) business, then I highly recommend that. But you may want to get started first and then pay for a service like that when you've made some money, as good designers don't come cheap. In the meantime, splurge a little on a functional premium theme that you know how to use to do what you want and focus on writing high quality content. That's all you need to succeed in the early days.
(yes, that's an affiliate banner...since I mentioned Thesis, I thought we should get the credit for it)
Do you accept guest posts?
Yes we do. If you're a fellow travel blogger and aren't just looking to get a free backlink for a company, we'd love to have you guest post and the guest post guidelines are here.
To those people who set up Gmail accounts with stupid names and spam us and other bloggers constantly with your, "I love your blog and I want to write an article for your website; it won't cost you a penny but I'll need a backlink to my client" emails: your desperation makes me die a little inside. PLEASE find a real line of work and stop harrassing us all.
Which types of advertising/affiliate programs have you had the most success with?
I'll go with none of them. I know that lots of people have success with these programs and maybe we just don't have enough traffic or dedicated readers to make any money, but I no longer participate in affiliate programs unless there is a really compelling offer there.
What I think may be a good way to make money is selling the information products of your peers as an affiliate. There are lots of great eBooks written by travel bloggers and writing a review of those (including your affiliate link, of course) can be a good strategy for making a bit of money.
We make most of our income on this blog from my Moving to Australia eBook, which sells mainly on the Amazon kindle store, with the rest coming from banner ads, widgets and advertorial content. It's about a 50/50 split. The advertisers approach us by email and we send them our rates for what they want to achieve. We're talking thousands but not enough for even one of us to quit our jobs unless I went completely bush and lived on a rice paddy in southeast Asia somewhere. And that's just not going to happen. But don't get me wrong, there are successful travel bloggers out there who do make a living with their blogs. They will probably be the first to tell you that it's not easy and just how much time they spend on their businesses. So if you want to make a go of it, be prepared to work really, really hard.
How do you approach places you'd like to review, be hosted by, talk about press trips with, etc.? What is the best approach?
We routinely look for leads in publications such as the International Travel Writers Alliance newsletter and with networks like TravMedia. We speak with other bloggers as well and network on places like Twitter, where it's easy to find the right people to talk to. I then create a pitch, which is usually an email telling them what need we could fulfill for them, including statistics about our blog and our media kit. We get plenty of rejections but we've also had the opportunity to work with some great brands last year.
The better defined your niche is (see my earlier comments) and the better your statistics are, the more trips and sponsored hotel stays you're going to get. On one occasion, a client even approached us. You need to put yourself out there and you need to deliver real value to the companies you are supporting. Otherwise, I'm sorry, but you're just another freeloader looking for handouts from travel service providers. And that makes all the hard-working, serious bloggers look bad.
How do you (or how can I) make a living while travelling?
We are expats before we are travellers. The reality of our situation is that John has a professional career that allows him to work in only certain places and our movements follow that. Last year we travelled around the world continuously for a year but that was an anomaly. I work in online media so I have a little more flexibility, though I'm not a true 'location independent' individual. At the moment I'm building a website that will be the basis for a company I want to form, but I suspect that if that goes well it will eventually require staff. I have a long way to go before that business will be profitable so I'm not even thinking that way yet. Plus we like being expats. Full immersion in a new culture is an amazing experience that I would recommend for anyone looking to make their international travel a permanent thing (IF you've really considered what being an expat entails).
There are all kinds of ways to make a living while travelling. You could teach English overseas or take your professional qualifications on the road with a freelancing career. If you're in your twenties, many countries have working holiday programs that will allow you to stay in the country for a year or longer. All kinds of books and websites have been created around this so just do a search or leave a message in the comments and I'll point you in the right direction.
If you're thinking of starting a business that will make you location independent, I highly recommend that you stick to the internet or mobile. Create an online service or a game that people will love and you can run that kind of business from anywhere. This will require a certain amount of tenacity and a special skills set, but if you really want it like I do you won't let that stop you. I'm a big fan of throwing myself into the deep-end and creating things from scratch. All the information you need to do it is online or in a book somewhere. Make a plan and just get started.
I hope this post has told you something you didn't already know. If you have any other questions for us, please leave them in the comments below and I'll see what I can do to help you.
I enjoyed reading this post. Being able to travel the world while working is just amazing. Thanks for sharing.
Great post. I love finding these gems, just when I need them. We are just like you, in the fact that we are self made expats. We would love to be more mobile, but really like “knowing” a place. We are currently in Spain and would love to figure out a way for income to continue longer than originally planned. This was helpful to bring home to me that we are in “expats” and not nomadic, but would like to see more. We will see more of Europe over the summer, while the kids are out of school. Thanks for… Read more »
Thanks for stopping by, Heidi =) I would love to spend some extended time in Spain…wishing you a wonderful time on the rest of your European adventures!
Great advice. Thanks for being willing to share your insights, trials, & errors so openly. We feel like we are constantly learning and as soon as we think we may have figure out one thing there’s something else.
Such is life! I feel that way about everything =)
Great post. We have recently started a travel blog in preparation for our backpacking trip through Europe and Asia and this post addresses many of our questions. We would love to guest post on your site in the future! I also run a food blog (avocadopesto.wordpress.com) which I will continue to run while we travel and I recently bought the domain and purchased the thesis theme — now just have to start designing it!
Hi Vicky – How exciting! Your trip will be fantastic and we’d love to have a guest post from you guys =) Thesis is great…good luck with the design and your travels!
A great post with some excellent tips and information. Finding a niche is probably one I need to do but….it all takes time as you mention!!
Thanks, Jenny – never seems to be enough time! =)