In today’s travel blogging tips interview (the 27th in the series!), I’m shining a spotlight on a green corner of the travel blogging world – namely the lovely Bret and Mary, the blogging couple behind Green Global Travel.
Set up nearly two years ago, these guys are on a mission to save the world, one story at a time. Their site features a heady mix of green news, interviews with the movers and shakers of the eco world, and photos and tales of adventure from exotic destinations. A worthy read.
I managed to steal some time from Bret and Mary’s busy schedules to find out what makes their site tick, learn how they scored interviews with an ex-POTUS, and understand what success means to them. Read on to learn more!
Hello Bret and Mary! Tell us a bit about yourselves and your quest to save the world!
Hi, Laurence! Mary and I met in 2008, fell in love, and almost immediately went on our first big trip together to Hawaii's Big Island. From that point on, even before we launched GGT, we've travelled as often as possible. We both have a huge sense of adventure, a love of nature/wildlife, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to explore other cultures.
It was through founding Green Global Travel in late 2010 that we realized we could use our passions for travel, writing and photography to promote ecotourism, which we believe can help save the world's unspoiled places.
Why did you first start writing a travel blog?
Honestly, it was because the editors I worked with in my freelance writing career didn't seem all that interested in stories on nature/wildlife conservation and cultural preservation.
They wanted (and still want) stories on the best hotels, best spas, best golf courses, etc., which I really didn't care much about (OK, spas are really nice... but you get my point). It felt like mainstream media was more about selling ads than telling good stories, and the more we traveled, the more great stories we had to share.
From jamming with Zulus in South Africa to a traditional shaman's blessing ceremony in Peru, these stories seemed WAY more interesting to me than the assignments I was getting. When Mary got laid off in 2010, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to follow our passions, and in November of that year Green Global Travel was born.
What are your dreams for your blog?
Our long-term vision is to be a big multi-author site a la Matador Network or Mother Nature Network, but focused on ecotourism, wildlife conservation, and indigenous cultures. Eventually we'd also like to start a philanthropic arm to help fund conservation and preservation projects, so we can get more hands-on with regards to our core mission.
Lastly, we'd love it if one day Green Global Travel is mentioned in the same circles as WWF, National Geographic, Sea Shepherd, and all the other great organizations that inspired us.
How do you define success in terms of your blog?
That's a tough question, because I'm one of those entrepreneurial types who's always striving to be better. I don't really believe that success is a destination, but an on-going journey of discovery and evolution. So I really don't spend much time looking back on our last accomplishment before I'm trying to figure out the next mountain we can climb.
Traffic, followers, comments, awards and recognition from your peers are all awesome. But for me it's about exploring the world, telling great stories, and creating a body of work we can be proud of. Oh, and some press trips to dream destinations like Kenya/Tanzania, Morocco and Antarctica would be nice!
You (Bret) have a background in writing, how has that helped with the blog?
I think the fact that I've been a professional writer, editor and photographer since 1995 has been a huge help in terms of knowing how to run a publication, how to work with writers and interns, how to work with PR people, and how to use words and images to tell a compelling story.
Unfortunately, the whole SEO/WordPress/social media side of the business is completely different nut to crack. If we'd understood that stuff better from the get-go, I can't even imagine how much further along we'd be now. We didn't even get on WP until last November! So in many ways we're still playing catch-up as we head into GGT's second blogaversary later this year.
What has been the best thing about having a travel blog?
Telling the stories I want to tell, and having readers really respond to them. Blogging allows you to communicate directly with people on a very personal level you rarely see in the print world, and the immediate feedback you get when you tell a good story that touches people in some way is extremely rewarding.
I also like that I can try creating different series, such as our World Travel Bucket Lists and our Endangered Species Spotlights, and get people's opinions on them immediately. They've ultimately proven to be some of our most popular posts.
Do you follow any metrics in terms of traffic analysis / site ranking, and how important do you think these are?
Oddly enough, I focus on them less and less as we grow. For a while I was really obsessed with Google Analytics, to the extent that my mood would often swing from day to day based on our numbers. But now I've realized that that approach doesn't work for me. Instead, we occasionally will check GA, Alexa, Klout, Domain Authority, FB/Twitter/SU referral traffic, etc. just to make sure our numbers have an upward trend. As long as there's slow, steady growth, I try not to worry about it too much.
Which social networks are you active on, and what tips would you give for success on these?
Try though I might, I'm just not a huge fan of Twitter. We use it regularly because you kind of have to, but I find it has shortcomings as a content curation tool and I loathe communicating via 140 characters.
We love Facebook and StumbleUpon, so much so that I've actually taken some flack about the latter. But I think in terms of drawing sheering numbers of new readers to your site, whom you can then try to convert into regular readers, no other social media outlet comes close. I also like it because, if we follow someone on SU, we never miss a story they share, so we can then choose the very best of their work to share with our readers.
What other techniques have you used to improve your traffic, and how successful have these been?
We're still experimenting there. Right now we're in the middle of a huge SEO overhaul, because we knew nothing about it when we started and now have nearly 500 stories we need to go back and tweak. We've done the usual guest posting and commenting on other bloggers' pages,and we're getting ready to launch a big PR campaign to try to get some press from the traditional media. Hopefully they'll consider what we're doing newsworthy in some way.
You have interviewed some pretty impressive folk. How did you manage to pull that off?
That's actually how I made my career as a writer. I started out as a music and movie critic, but eventually moved into celebrity interviews. After talking to hundreds of people from the worlds of music, TV and film, I got into interviewing folks like Ted Turner, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore. So when we started GGT, it just made sense to include that as part of what we do.
Now, getting to interview the world's greatest environmentalists, and working directly with the people who work to change governmental policies, is extremely rewarding. Look for stories on Jacques Cousteau's son Jean-Michel, folks from Kiva and Survival International, and hopefully even the Prime Minister of Palestine soon.
Elevator pitches can be important for the aspiring travel blogger. What information do you put in yours?
Well, I have the benefit of working in the blog and print journalism worlds simultaneously, so I usually try to emphasize that stories from our press trips typically wind up in at least 3-4 different outlets. I make sure my award-winning professional career is highlighted and include links to our media kit, which has case studies and recommendations from our previous press trip. Basically, we try present a case that says, "Of course you should want to work with us!"
How do you split the work of running a travel blog between the two of you?
In general Mary handles the Business side and I handle the Creative, but sometimes the line gets blurry. Mary is very organizational and professional: She can do spread sheets like nobody's business, and is great at tracking our interns' progress. At the same time, she also does photos and videos when we travel, including video editing.
I'm really good with big picture ideas and concepts, like Don Draper but without the addiction to cigarettes, drinking and philandering. I handle all editorial, work with the writers, handle a good bit of our social media and come up with new growth strategies, as well as the obvious writing, editing and taking photos.
What have you found to be the hardest thing about running a travel blog, and how do you overcome this?
It's extremely time-consuming, and I'm not sure we've overcome it or found the right balance yet. It takes up a lot of time we could be on romantic dates, or hanging with friends, or chilling with our families. Some days are better than others, but there's a definite burnout factor in pay. When that happens, we shut off the computers and head to the lake. I'm not sure there are problems a day out on the boat can't fix!
If you started your blog today, what would you do differently?
First of all, I'd focus on GGT right from the get-go. We launched an improv comedy company not long after GGT, and wound up spending a better part of a year focused on that. I'd also have started on WordPress rather than Joomla and learned SEO sooner.
Does your blog generate any form of income, and if so, how did you achieve this?
We've sold some advertising, but we didn't start trying to monetize until about two months ago and Google has obviously pooped on everyone's parade lately. But we did pretty well in June and July, and we have some other monetization ideas (including social media consulting and offering 1-on-1 writing mentorships) that we'll be unveiling after we finish the re-design.
If you have questions or problems with your site, where do you go to find answers?
Usually the FB groups, especially The Business of Blogging. Guys like Michael Tieso and Adam Costa have given exceptional guidance on everything from SEO to tech support. Which is helpful for somebody like me who's pretty clueless about the bells and whistles of running a site.
You have carved yourself a great niche with a focus on green travel. A niche gives great focus, but do you ever find yourself constrained in what you can write about as a result?
Not really. Our travel interests are pretty diverse, ecotourism is a fairly broad field, and our niche is an honest reflection of the way we like to travel. Cities are not really our thing in general. But, whether it's exploring the history and culture of Cartagena or finding the green side of New York City, we can always find elements of a destination that work for us.
And on the flipside, how important do you think focusing on a niche is for a travel blog?
I can say that it has been very important for us, but I am a big believer in the idea that every blog is unique and has its own focus. Your mileage may vary.
And finally, what key advice would you give to people running, or thinking about setting up, their own travel blog?
If you believe in your blog and you're truly passionate about what you're doing, do not give up. Other, more experienced bloggers may tell you that you should do it this way or that way, but what they really mean is that's the way THEY did it, and it may or may not work for you.
Take the time to really define your brand and its central mission. Decide what kind of blog you want yours to be, and what ultimate end game is: Do you want to make lots of money, travel the world, sell to the highest bidder, or simply help make people's lives better? There's room for all of it, just make sure you follow the path that works best for you. We've always just kind of stumbled along on a quest to find our own path, and so far the changes in our life have been AMAZING!
Massive thanks to Bret and Mary for taking the time to answer all my questions! You can follow along with their mission to save the world over on their blog, Green Global Travel, as well as on their facebook page and twitter account. And if you’ve got questions for Bret and Mary that you want answers to – hit up the comments below!
If you want to read more travel blogging tips from some of the biggest names in the industry, check out the rest of my travel blogging tips series. Or, if you’re a travel blogger keen to take part in my series, get in touch and we’ll schedule you in!