This weeks travel blogging tips article features one of my favourite travel bloggers: Amanda Williams, author of travel blog A Dangerous Business.
Amanda and I share a passion for New Zealand, and she has already provided me with a wonderfully comprehensive post on what to do when in the land of the long white cloud, a post which proved to be immensely valuable to me when I came out here.
Today Amanda shares her thoughts on what it takes to start a successful travel blog, taken from the lessons she has learnt over the last year of building her own site, including thoughts on advertising, traffic stats, and the things she wish she had done earlier. Enjoy the read.
Tell us a little bit about Amanda and your site: A Dangerous Business.
Well, I’m a 24-year-old journalist from Ohio, and I currently work at a small newspaper as an editor. I’ve been fascinated by the world “out there” ever since I was in gradeschool and rushing home to watch “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” every afternoon. In high school, I knew I wanted to travel far and wide, and I visited a total of 7 countries during college, including studying abroad for 5 months in New Zealand.
While I was in NZ, I kept a personal blog to keep my friends and family up to date on my daily life. I posted photos, wrote about my impressions of my new home, and described all my adventures in detail. Once I returned home and got hired into my current job, I got a bit bored and longed for a taste of travel again. So I decided to start a travel blog.
The name comes from a J.R.R. Tolkien quote that goes like this: “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might get swept off to.” It’s one of my favourite quotes, and I think it can be applied to travel.
Why did you start writing a travel blog?
Like I said above, I started my very first travel blog while I was studying abroad in New Zealand, as a way to keep family and friends in the loop. I feel like many people start blogs for this reason.
But, after I got back and entered into the “real world,” I missed having that element of travel and the opportunity to write in my everyday life. So I started a travel blog in order to force myself to put some of my stories and experiences down on paper.
I started it mainly just for myself, and never expected it to take off like it has.
How do you define success in terms of your travel blog?
How does anyone define travel blogging success? Money? Free trips? Getting mentioned in a big publication? I’m kind of fuzzy on it all. Sure, it’s nice to make a few bucks off my site, but none of these things are what I set out to do when I started my blog. I just wanted to write, and to have a place to put all my stories and photos.
Success for me is more about being proud of my content, and having others recognize that it’s good. Retweets on Twitter and comments on my posts go a much longer way in my mind than page views and advertising dollars.
What aspirations do you have for your travel blog?
Honestly? I have no idea. Sure, I’d love for it to turn into my full-time job. I’d love to become location-independent and make enough money off my blog to be able to live and travel off of. But, in reality, I’m not sure if that will happen.
I don’t have aspirations to be a wandering nomad like a lot of other bloggers. I want to travel, yes. But I also want to get married and settle down eventually, too.
Right now, my aspirations are to continue putting out quality content; to keep improving my stats; to make a bit of money; and to inspire others to get out there and see the world.
How important do you think site design and technical know-how are for a travel blog?
I think choosing a good, clean, easily-navigable design is extremely important for a travel blog. You want to encourage people to visit and use your site, not confuse them and drive them away. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a design wiz. I’m currently using a free theme, and hired the lovely Jenny Leonard to whip up my custom header for me.
I don’t necessarily think technical know-how is a must, but it definitely helps. I only know very, very basic html. When I run into technical issues, I usually go running to Twitter asking for help if I can’t find answers on Google. Luckily, there are a ton of helpful bloggers out there (like Chris from Aussie Nomad, for example) who are almost always willing to lend a tech-savvy hand.
Do you follow any metrics in terms of traffic analysis / site ranking, and how important do you think these are?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pay attention to my stats. Currently, I have WordPress stats and Google Analytics running. I usually take a glance at my WP stats whenever I log in to my admin panel, and take a look at my Google Analytics maybe once a week. I also check on my Alexa ranking from time to time.
I’m not obsessed over my stats, but I still think it’s important (for me) to know where I stand. Based on page views, it’s easy to see what sort of content does well, and what tends to flop with my readers.
What would be your number one tip for increasing site traffic?
I think what I’ve found to be hugely important is being active on various forms of social media. You can be putting out great content, but if nobody knows about it, it’ll show in your traffic.
Of course, this won’t be true for everyone, especially those running blogs that are already hugely popular. But for relatively newer bloggers like myself, I think interacting with people on Twitter, Facebook, and other blogs is so, so important.
The more present you are, the more other people will start to take notice.
What have you found to be the hardest thing about running a travel blog, and how do you overcome this?
But the hardest thing for me, I think, is the time commitment. Since I’m one of the newer kids on the block, I know I have to put extra time into everything that I do. I spend time each day constructing new posts, promoting myself and interacting with others on Twitter and Facebook, and reading a bunch of other blogs. I also have a full-time job, so it’s often really tough to actually find any “me time.”
I try to strive for at least some balance, and I often take mini breaks from everything on the weekends, when traffic is generally lower anyway. I don’t want to get burnt out, or start to resent the time I put into my blog. I think the best way to avoid that is to know when to take a break.
What sort of time commitment do you put in to your travel blog on a weekly basis?
A whole lot! I’ve never actually kept track of the hours, but some weeks it ends up feeling like a second job – albeit a job I enjoy much, much more than my “real” one!
I’m different than some other bloggers in that I post fresh content nearly every day. This means I really have to keep on top of things, and sometimes put in some extra time.
If there was one thing you wish you could have known before you started writing your blog, what would it have been?
I wish I would have been aware of the wider travel blogging community when I started off. I wish I had known how great Twitter is, and how to actually use it to enhance my blogging. And I wish I would have switched over to a self-hosted site a lot sooner!
What have you found to be the best way to go about generating an income from your blog?
I only actually started accepting advertising in late November, so I’m pretty new to the whole thing. I was absolutely clueless at first when it came to things like prices and the like. But I’d say I’m definitely having some mild success with generating a bit of extra income each month from my blog. It’s by no means enough to live on, but it’s definitely helping to bolster my travel fund!
My biggest tip would be: If you have questions, find someone to ask! When I first started out, I contacted some fellow bloggers who I knew had experience working with advertisers, and asked them a bunch of things. They were super helpful, and gave a lot of great advice that I’m still using.
Also, reading posts and participating on the forums at Travel Blog Challenge has been a great source of info, too.
How do you go about promoting your travel blog?
I mostly promote on Twitter and Facebook, but I also dabble in StumbleUpon every now and then. And, of course, simply commenting on other blogs is a great way to both interact with other bloggers, and to promote yourself at the same time.
If you have questions or problems with your site, where do you go to find answers?
Usually, I turn to Google first. Often, my problems are common or easy to fix, and I can usually work them out on my own. If I can’t, then I take my questions to Twitter, and hope that some tech-savvy soul takes pity on me and offers to help me out.
Travel blogging is becoming more and more popular. How do you differentiate yourself in such a crowded market?
Well, it certainly isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes even putting the work in doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll see success. I think it all comes down to a combination of personality, finding your voice, providing quality content, and making sure you are seen and heard.
I feel like people only follow the content of a blog to a certain extent. They’re much more likely to stick around if they connect with your writing style and enjoy your personality. You can blog about amazing places and topics, but if you’re dead boring, people probably aren’t going to read.
And finally, what key advice would you give to people running, or thinking about setting up, their own travel blog?
I would tell them to start early, and start out blogging for themselves. This helps with that “finding your voice” part, because if you’re only blogging for yourself, you don’t feel as much pressure to be or say or do anything for someone else’s benefit.
And, of course, don’t give up! Blogging of any sort can get frustrating. I get flustered at least once a week. But the key is to keep at it as long as you’re enjoying it.
As always, tremendous thanks to Amanda for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about her travels on her website: A Dangerous Business, plus you can find her on both twitter and facebook.
For more travel blogging tips from the experts, have a look at the rest of the series. To keep up to date with upcoming posts you can subscribe to the RSS feed or join in on the site’s Facebook page. In the meantime, if you have any questions or thoughts on this post or the series thus far, the comments box awaits!