Once upon a time, creating a travel blog was the last thing on the mind’s of travellers. We used to be consumed with malaria jabs, and how many condoms to pack. We left our mobile phones at home with the laptop, and went in search of wild times and wilderness. Things appear to have changed.
Now we’re apparently concerned with which WordPress plugins we need. Which social network to massage, and which blogging platform to choose.
This time of year always sprouts a healthy number of new travel blogs, and 2010 has been no exception. In this blog-eat-blog world, I empathise with those brave enough to build a self-hosted travel blog.
It can be brutal.
Help is on its way
Bloggers have to contend with Facebook and Twitter; they need forty-eight Google accounts; they have to boost their subscribers, reward their readers, engage with their audience, monitor the competition, and please their mothers; not to mention, score quality backlinks and spot a spammer from a hundred paces.
Oh, and it’s a travel blog, therefore one must also find the time to travel.
It’s go-go-go in a 140-characters. Everyone must Like you, Digg you, not to mention Stumble over you a dozen times a week, while they guzzle Google Caffeine.
You could feel extremely inadequate, extremely fast. I know — I’ve been there.
My biggest and most terrifying concern, is that the travel blogs are taking over travel. Blogs used to be the cool alternative to a handwritten journal — now they’re an altogether different beast.
I believe the turning point was monetisation. People make money off travel blogging. Fact. Some even write eBooks about it; which saves you time, and makes them money. Fact.
But think about it. Your earnings are going to increase exponentially with the amount of time and effort you put into your travel blog. After twelve months, you would be fortunate to be earning £200 a month from your blog. Over eighteen months, you would be lucky (and I really mean that) to have earned more than £2,000 (US$3,200).
Now, think about it. Do you want to taint your trip of a lifetime, by sacrificing day after day of this amazing opportunity, to earn £2,000 — or £3.60 a day — over 18-months?
I wouldn’t either.
Work to travel, don’t travel to work (unless you’re a “digital nomad” or an air hostess). You’ve got the rest of your life to sit in front of a computer.
Travel blogs are ultimately a good thing; they encourage a positive attitude towards travel, and blogger’s tips and tricks can save you money along your journey. They can also develop valuable skills; such as interaction with people of different cultures, and writing for the web.
Focus on the Good Stuff
Here’s a few more things to help you focus on the right things, which will help enhance your blog, while not taking up too much of your time.
It’s written with new travel bloggers in mind, but there are lessons to be learned for the most seasoned among us.
Five Things Not to Worry About
Number of readers. Number of pageviews. Number of comments. These are some of the most common quagmires; simply because bloggers are always talking about them. In my opinion, you do not need to worry about statistics unless you have decided to go hard and use your blog as a platform to sell advertising. Sure, take a look every now and then, but it is one of the least important elements for new bloggers. Don’t get obsessed.
“Everyone else is doing it, so I should too.” Running advertising campaigns on your blog might look great and make you feel a bit special; but as I’ve already touched on, you have to be semi-serious to make any money at all off it — especially for young, unremarkable blogs. The time you will spend trying to decipher the advertising process is much better spent elsewhere, and over time, decent advertisers may be attracted organically.
Rank goes hand-in-hand with statistics. Your Alexa and Compete rankings can become the source of obsession. It’s empowering to watch that little number rise, and rise, and rise — until you smash through Dahl’s glass roof — but let’s be honest, everyone’s is. It’s the tide of the Internet. The only people that care about rank are other web site owners, and some advertisers. If you’re writing good content, your rank will find a natural level. Just don’t sit there staring at it.
I have a lot of good friends. They’re great. They each have their own quirks and personality, and they all make me smile in their own special way. Blogs are like people. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to actually be your friend, don’t try and emulate someone else’s blog. The reason the platform is so popular, is that it’s an extension of our personalities. Some are ugly but full of good intentions, some are beautiful but full of crap. Break the rules, and be yourself. You’ll find a lot of reward in this.
Everyone wants a good-looking blog. I respect good design, and it’s something I try to get across here on my own site. But let’s be honest, many of your readers aren’t even visiting your blog. They’re viewing them through RSS readers. In the beginning, just find a blog theme that isn’t fussy. Something that isn’t going to tie you up in forums. Something that isn’t going to break every five minutes. This site is built on K2 (although it will be changing soon) and it’s just about the most unfussy theme there is.
Five other things not to worry about — but are worth doing
Learning how to harness search engine optimisation (SEO) for your content, is well worth the time investment if you want to be found by curious strangers. It’s not rocket science, and can be quite interesting. In layman’s terms, SEO helps search engines understand what your content is about. If you run WordPress, install the All in One SEO Pack plugin (other plugins are available). A useful website for learning about SEO is http://www.SEOBook.com.
There’s a high probability you found this post through social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) Loyal readers will keep returning without prompts, but social media remains the quickest way to kickstart the buzz around your content. Signing up for Twitter account, or creating a Facebook page is not the end of the story however. It takes time, and it takes commitment to build up a quality following to support your blog content. You have to be prepared to give as much as you take, but blogs aside, it’s a decision that will enhance your journey. Sites like Mashable will keep you up to speed on tips, tools and trends.
I cannot stress this enough. Content is the number one thing you need to concentrate on. If you think of a good angle for a post, write it down, or scribble the context down as a draft (that’s how this post was born). Create a simple editorial plan and think a few posts ahead, by looking at your travel plans. Look at what’s trending across the entire Internet, and think about how you can turn this into a useful post. I believe all posts should be born of desire, not need. What makes you tick, not what makes me tick. Passion glows, apathy aches.
Learn HTML & CSS
This can be a veritable nightmare, not least because by the time you’ve learned it, it’s probably been superseded by a new version. Many bloggers don’t realise how much HTML is needed to create even the simplest of blog posts. Spend a little time learning HTML and CSS whenever you can, and it will ultimately save you time in the long run. The HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (affiliate link) is a useful book for beginners, while http://www.w3schools.com/ will encourage good coding skills.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but, by the time it was there were a hundred arrow-straight roads leading straight to Caesar’s bedroom. As you’re exploring other blogs (never, ever use the word blogosphere in my company) check to see if they accept link exchanges. They’re not the most powerful, but any link in the early stages is worth it if you want to improve your online presence, and support the online travel community. Once you’re in the swing of things, consider guest posting for other blogs to attract new readers (as I did, on this subject for TravelBlogAdvice.com).
Now you’ve read this, you should know that I have left myself wide open. I have tried to help you, but this will inevitably lead me to criticism. “Why didn’t you say this, do this, tell me this, do that yourself?”
I really don’t care. I just want to make sure travellers are getting the most out of their travels, and they are not getting blinded by less important matters.
Let us not forget, ten years ago we had no interest in “blogging”. And if you’re starting a blog today, you will still be considered one of the early adopters in one hundred years time.
Finally, if you’ve recently started a new travel blog, I applaud you.
You might feel that a lot of the work you’ve already put in “behind the scenes” has gone unnoticed. While that’s true in some respects, most seasoned bloggers do realise the amount of effort it’s taken for you to get those posts up, and those images in just the right place.
Keep things simple, and focus on the most important things — like making sure you’ve packed enough condoms.