I’m going to take a stab in the dark here.
You’ve started a travel blog. You’ve been writing a lot of posts. They’re really good posts too. You’ve optimised them all for SEO, you’ve created beautiful Pinterest graphics and Facebook covers for them, they have tons of great photos, they’re all really long and juicy articles, some are over 3,000 words, you’ve been sharing your stuff all over reddit and Twitter and StumbleUpon, you might have even paid for a few blogging courses, and yet you’re still just drifting along. Your traffic is flat. You’re getting only a handful of views per day. Half of them are probably from your sister. Your Facebook page gets a few likes a week. Your email subscriber list hasn’t even hit triple digits yet.
But I’ve got such nice sign up forms! I post five times a week!
To double the pain, these other travel blogs you’ve been following are killing it. You’re bitter. Jealous. They’re making full time incomes, thousand of followers, 50k fans on Instagram, ranking on the first page of Google for all your favourite keywords. They’re borderline internet famous, and to make things worse, their blog isn’t any better than yours. They’ve got spelling mistakes everywhere. They’re photos are crappy. They haven’t written a guest post in three years. They don’t even use Pinterest!
This is something that’s really common in travel blogging today. People are supposedly doing everything right and not getting any results.
Let’s solve the mystery.
Here are the three main reasons I hear for starting a travel blog today:
- To make money.
- To get free trips.
- To share travels with friends and family.
The third reason is actually a great reason to start a blog, and many of the ‘famous’ travel blogs started out that way. But if that’s your reason you’re probably not concerned about blogger stardom, so we’ll exclude you from the discussion for now.
That leaves us with the first two reasons. Both are disastrous. Why?
- Travel blogs don’t make a lot of money. For the number of hours you will put in, you are better off getting a job at Wendy’s. At least at Wendy’s you will make money on your first day, you won’t need to learn anything more difficult than making a milkshake, and it’s going to be a hundred times less stressful (trust me).
- If you want free trips, I have some news for you. Free trips are shitty. Unless you are one of the best of the best travel bloggers out there right now (if you’re reading this post, you’re probably not) your free trip is going to be the most stressful and hectic trip you’ve ever been on, and you’re going to be working your ass off for most of it (as in, not sleeping in, and probably doing a lot of shit you don’t want to do). Some free trips are cool, but it’s going to take you a long time to get to that point. Again, you’re better off getting a job at Wendy’s for a few weeks and just paying for your trip yourself. Also a lot less work, and a lot less stressful.
This ties into why people have been complaining about the number of new travel blogs popping up. Everybody’s trying to get sponsorships and advertisers. Everyone’s pitching for free trips. It feels like it’s getting crowded. And it feels like everybody’s selling out and bastardizing this little industry that we once held dear.
However, the truth is a lot of bloggers didn’t worry about this influx of new blogs, because we could see what was happening. People were jumping on the bandwagon, trying to start flashy blogs with their gap years and get free travel. Since that’s not what I do, and not what many other established travel blogs do, it was of no concern to us. Why? Because Roger Federer doesn’t worry about Lebron James (don’t you love a sports reference!). These new blogs might be travel blogs, but they weren’t competing with us. They were playing a totally different game.
Why your blog is struggling
Maybe you’ve written some great posts. You went to London, you spent three days roaming around town, trying all the restaurants, taking lots of pretty photos. Then you wrote a beautiful post, 10 Places You Can’t Miss On Your Trip To London.
Yeah, it got some traffic. Maybe it’s getting some action on Pinterest. It might even be ranking on Google. But here’s the problem.
10 Places You Can’t Miss On Your Trip To London isn’t going to win you any lifelong fans. It’s not going to make people think, Man, I want to learn more about this guy. It’s not going to make readers remember your name. I guess, maybe, if you’re a superb writer (and this is a huge maybe), your personality might really shine through and people won’t be able to resist clicking your About page to find out who this funny, amazing writer is, and you’ll win a few loyal readers. And if you can do that, that’s awesome. But most of us aren’t superb writers, and most of us won’t be winning readers that way.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t write these posts. If you have good info on London, write it. Share it. These posts are a good way to improve your SEO and maybe get some Google traffic. But this is hardly what travel blogging is about. It’s 20% of the game. If this is all you have to offer, you’re just another TripAdvisor. You’re just another Wikitravel. And no matter how good your blog is, you will never compete with TripAdvisor and Wikitravel (even if you do write like Hemingway and have tons of bikini photos on Instagram).
What makes a blog successful?
It’s having loyal readers. That’s it. That’s the secret. It’s not about how nice your design is, or how nice your photos are, or how good your SEO is, or how many free trips you get, or how many of your posts go viral.
It’s about how many readers are following you for you. How many readers know what your favourite sport is. How many readers know what you like to eat for breakfast. It’s the number of readers that follow your story, that care about what you’re doing, that want to meet you when you come to their hometown.
Loyal readers will get you advertising deals. Loyal readers will get you free trips. Loyal readers will buy your products.
If you want to make it in the blogging world, and particularly the travel blogging world, you need to earn loyal readers. Notice the keyword: earn. You can’t just write 10 Places To Visit In London and expect people to start tuning into your blog every day. They can find that information at Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, HuffPo or a million other places with much better information (and marketing budgets) than you. This is why most travel blogs are failing. They start with endless enthusiasm, but soon realise their Travel Guide To Lebanon isn’t going to make them famous (because millions of people have already written one) and they give up. 96% of blogs on the internet are abandoned. 96%. That means for every 100 travel blogs started, only 4 survive. But like I said, you don’t have to worry about that other 96. Because they’re competing with Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. Of course they’re going to disappear.
But not you.
How to build a loyal readership
I’m going to tell you a secret.
People don’t follow blogs.
People follow people.
If you write your 10 Places In London post (I’ll stop talking about it soon, I promise), here’s what will most likely happen. I’ll open the post. I’ll flick through it. If it’s well written I might even take mental note of one or two places, or Google them for more information. Then I’ll close your post.
There’s a 90% chance I don’t even remember the name of your blog.
There’s a 95% chance I didn’t even care to find out your name.
There’s a 99% chance I’ll never visit your blog again.
I got the info I needed, then I left.
Sure, maybe your blog was great. But people don’t follow blogs. People follow people.
Now let’s say you write a post about finding your Grandma’s diary one day in your attic. There’s a diary entry from her visit to London, back in 1955. There was a name. There was even an address. On your trip to London, you decide to chase up on this address. Wow. Someone still lives there. It’s an old man. You show him your Grandma’s photo. He remembers her! He invites you in for tea, and you spend the entire evening listening to travel stories of your Grandma from fifty years ago. Two weeks later, you publish a post; A London Love Story; 50 Years Later. It doesn’t get many views. A few hundred, maybe. But the people who do read it to the end, love it. Maybe there’s something in there they relate to. Maybe they had a similar story. Maybe they just found it charming. But it’s a story that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s yours, and because it’s only yours, you would have connected deeply with the few people who did read it.
Those are the kinds of people who will subscribe to your blog. Those are the kinds of people who will check in next week to see if you’ve written something new. And most importantly, those are the people who will remember you. They’ll take the time to bookmark your site, read your About page, and find out who you are. Those are the people who will say, Man, I want to find out more about this guy.
Now of course, I doubt any of you are going to find your Grandma’s diary in an attic and find an address of a strange man in London. That’s not the point. The point is that travel blogging is about a lot more than just bucket lists and how-to guides and 10 Things To Do posts. Those pieces of content are great for the informational purposes of your site, but to set yourself apart and carve yourself a piece of the travel blogging industry, you need to offer more. You need to explore the part of travel we all truly love, which is friendships, new experiences, romance, self discovery, danger, joy, fear, loneliness. These are emotions travellers all relate to, and experiences aspiring travellers want to hear about.
It doesn’t need to be a Grandma’s Diary story. It could just be a simple post about a conversation you had with a stranger at a market, or a long afternoon you spent in an airport, or that time you got lost in Lima. Maybe it could just be some rambling of something personal and reflective. But it needs to connect. To connect, it needs to be real.
Best of all, when you write these personal narratives, you no longer compete with the TripAdvisors. In fact, you don’t compete with anybody, because nobody else can write those posts. The only person who can write about your thoughts and experiences is you. Readers are not going to say, “Oh I already read a really emotional story on Lauren’s blog, so I’m not going to read this one on Brendan’s blog.” That might happen with 10 Things To Do posts, but that never happens with story. In fact, it’s the total opposite. When people find personal, powerful, unique content, they start looking for more. If you look at the travel blogs that have stood the test of time, this is the common denominator behind them – their personality shines through – and it’s usually through deeply personal or entertaining narrative that shows the human side of travel and why we really do what we do.
The truth about travel blogging is that it isn’t even really about travel. There are literally millions of photos of the Eiffel tower that are better than yours, and you can find them all in less than a second on Google. Your blog post about How To Visit The Eiffel Tower might be super helpful, and it might get some hits. But it won’t win you lifelong fans. Don’t tell us about the tower. Tell us about someone you met there, something you learned, something reflective, something honest. Tell us about why you wanted to go there in the first place. Tell us something nobody else can tell us.
People don’t follow blogs. People follow people.
Some practical tips to take away:
So what does this all really translate to? Of course, no two travel blogs are the same. There is no secret formula. And among the masses you might even find one or two exceptions. But to maximise your chance of success, and to create a blog that is not only successful but is fulfilling and rewarding for yourself too, here are a few broad pieces of advice for you to take or leave:
- Show people who you are. Share as much as you are willing. People need to be able to relate to you, as if you’re an old friend. If you think about the bloggers you remember and follow and love, you could probably write a whole page of personal details about them. Talk about your kids. Talk about your sister. Talk about your hobbies. Talk about your fears. This is what being a blogger really is – being someone people relate to. Don’t be just a person on the internet.
- Don’t stop writing informational posts and guides. These are still important. However, understand what their purpose is. There are only so many posts like this you can write, and they are usually there to serve people who are already loyal readers. It’s the human content that will win you those readers in the first place.
- Don’t blog for money. It blurs your vision. Money will come when your readership builds, and that takes time. And it certainly doesn’t build around a blog covered in ads and sponsored content.
- Always engage your audience. If people take time to email you or comment, reply! Every established blogger I know spends hours every week answering emails. I get sent essays all the time about people’s life stories (I’m talking like 1,000 words+) and I read every single one of them. And I always answer. Sometimes I write an essay back. This is how you build relationships.
- Place an emphasis on story. People learn through stories, and through your stories they will learn not only about the places you’re visiting, but about you as well. People will follow you when they feel like they know you. One more time: People don’t follow blogs. People follow people.
To all your success,
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