Top10 Tips from Two Years of Travel Blogging
Hello there! Knowing that’ I’d be nose-deep in work, plus have the grand Durga Puja plans ahead, I still plunged into My Friend Alexa 2020! This is my introductory post of the season and I will begin by discussing my journey of blogging. I hope my learnings, the things I did right and the things I did not, will help fellow bloggers carve their way to success. If not, it will surely give you some “aha” moments when you read.
5 things I did right
Choose a topic that you enjoy talking about
This is important because “success” in blogging takes time. Unless you are already a famous and have a big social following, it is hard to find readers. All creative people want their work to reach the right audience, and it is hard to find that audience these days. This is especially true for written content. Only if you choose something that you are not truly passionate about, can you stay motivated in this journey.
Try out with a free platform but decide soon
Free platforms like Blogger , Wix are great to begin with. It’s as simple as opening a social media account. The problem begins when you try to customize the layout, optimize it for SEO or speed-up the website. If you are not sure that blogging is your calling, you may start with these. But decide soon, preferably within the first year of blogging and move on to self-hosting. I started with Blogger. After reading other blogs I spent humungous amount of time trying to customize the layout of my blog through html codes. It took up so much time that I couldn’t do what I loved the most – writing.
Tip: If you are starting with a free platform , choose WordPress.com. It’s because you can take the advantage of numerous plugins developed only for WordPress. And many hosting providers like Siteground has a free migration tool for WordPress users.
Move to self hosting if you want to take your blog to the next level
Once I moved on to WordPress.org with Siteground as the hosting service provider, I have got good riddance from that frustration of failed attempts of coding. It was initially a scary decision, given the work involved in migration and also the investment. I told myself, “people do buy expensive things for their hobbies, why can’t I get myself a hosting service”? I hired a freelancer to do the migration and after a few initial hiccups my blog in its current form was ready.
If you are planning to move to self hosting I strongly recommend Siteground. It’s the fastest, and has 24/7 customer support. The only problem is that the renewal charges are huge. So it’s a good idea to buy a 3 –year package at once. The second best in terms of performance is Bluehoust. It is also one of the most popular providers among bloggers. Here are a few other hosting providers for bloggers in India and their pricing.
- FastComet ($9.95 per month – $19.95 per month) – Now available at 70% discount
- Hostgator (Rs. 99 per month – Rs. 6289 per month
- GreenGeeks ($9.95 per month -24.95 per month) – Now available at 70% discount
- Bluehost (Rs. 499 per month – 6719 per month) – Currently available at upto 60% discount
- Siteground ($14.99 per month – $39.99 per month) – Currently available at upto 55% discount
I’ve mentioned the regular pricing in brackets , but they are often available in heavily discounted prices.
I can’t stress on how important this is. Especially for someone who is not an “influencer” and don’t boast of a huge social media engagement, SEO is the key. You see, when you publish a new post and share it on your social platforms you get a lot of traction. But within a few days it fades away. To bring readers back you write one more, and you have to keep writing to establish the authority. But if the posts are search optimized, people nowhere in your social media circle will visit your website looking for the exact information on your article. Who knows, they love it so much that they click through to various related posts , subscribe to your newsletters and become your regular readers. Well, even if that is not so, you at least get readers who you have no social contact with.
If you are into affiliate marketing, you are more likely to make a sale through users coming through search engines , than through social media. Imagine, I shared a post about best shoes for travel in India. You may find it on social media and click it because I have written it. But you don’t intend to buy shoes right now. So you’ll read, maybe take a note of something and move on. But someone who is actively searching for the query, lands in your site. Of course the user will be more prone to make the purchase through your links directly.
Optimize website design for speed and usability
It’s said that a webpage needs to pass the 3 second test. There’s so many sites out there sharing the same information. Why would one wait for my site to load, if it takes a long time? Even search engines penalize slow websites. Which is another reason to choose a fast server-space like Siteground. Now if I remove all colors and pictures from my webpage, of course it’s speed will improve. But what about the reader experience? Who loves to read a travel blog without photos or some byte-sized pictures? What I mean is, one needs to achieve the right balance between utility and style. Everyday as consumers we make the same decisions. Be it a furniture or a car or even a house.
In the beginning I kept an automatic slideshow of my posts on my homepage. I personally loved it. But I had to let it go for speed concerns. I used an option for related posts or next posts to peek-in at the end of each post. I removed that too for speed concerns. Instead I take the effort to choose the related posts and link them to my post manually. As of now I am happy with the way my site looks and runs. But I keep contemplating whether or not to do away with my sidebar totally. What do you think?
5 things I did wrong
There’s more to learn from the wrongs than the rights (or things I perceive I did right). Here goes my list of top 5 mistakes.
Choose the right name
This will always remain at the top. Especially because I thought a lot before buying a domain and asked friends. Almost everyone said this is a cool name to go with. But all of them were non-bloggers. In practice the name is just not right for this blog. To begin with, the spelling mistake is not cool. It seemed cool when I started off, but not when brands and even fellow bloggers mention my blog as “Backpack N Xplore”. I have to remind them saying the name of my blog is Backpack & eXplore. The blog url and all my handles are backpacknxplore. I don’t know why it seemed so cool to me when I started off.
Also, brands assume it to be a backpacking blog, for obvious reasons. Well it’s not. What I really meant is “pack your bags and go out to explore”. Somehow the meaning is not well-conveyed through the name of the blog. But now I have established a reasonably good name already, my posts are ranking well on search engine, and I am afraid of disturbing everything by changing the name.
So decide upon a name that not only describes your blog correctly, but also stands the test of time. The use Namecheap to find and buy domain names at a cheap price. Now they offer hosting services too.
Invest on your blog
In the beginning I wanted to do it all by myself. Coding, designing, analyzing, writing. My computer science background gifted me with an ego that made me believe that if I can do something , I should. It’s wrong. In fact trying to customize blogger blog using HTML codes is a flop idea. Similarly, it’s good to invest in learning. Not just time but money. Most of the free information available on SEO is available to all. Experts don’t share their secrets for free. I decided to buy a book on SEO much later. Similarly I bought Keysearch subscription for keyword research. That indeed helped me choose the best long tail keywords and make SEO work for me. I just wish I made these investments earlier.
Social Media optimization
I haven’t got the time or interest to invest in it yet. I was happy with the traffic I was getting on auto-pilot mode through SEO. Then came the pandemic and all my keyword research went down the drain. People were no longer searching about travel. Many travel bloggers pivoted to recipes and DIY which were booming at that time. Now here’s the problem for me. Google wouldn’t rank my non-travel posts well, no matter how good they are. It’s because this is an established travel blog. Second, even if I try to impress Google with my non-travel posts, it will take time. SEO takes time to kick-off for each blog post.
If I had a massive or reasonably engaged social media following, I’d still have readers for my non-travel posts. There was a talk in the travel community about how easy it is to get travel content viral on Tiktok owing to lack of competition. But I wasn’t in for downloading the app on my phone.
While I have been able to make some great friends within the blogging community I still struggle with brand connections. I must admit I have not done much towards it either. For a long time I refrained from pitching hotels and tourism boards till I reach a certain number of page views per month. The target in my mind was 10K monthly viewership (excluding self-views). Finally when I achieved that, I started reading about pitching and also ordered a business card. I still kept procrastinating before pitching to brands, when the pandemic hit and my plans were shelved.
My advice: Start early on this. At least read up, join some free webinars and courses to learn about pitching and invest time in finding the right brands to partner with. I have worked with a few brands but that’s just because they approached me through mail or Instagram.
Focus on monetization
That’s a key if you want to take up blogging as a full time career option. For me, it’s still not that. In fact what I make out of blogging barely covers the maintenance cost of this websites. If apply the same hourly rate of effort that goes into this blog as I earn in my current full-time job, then I’ll never break-even. Monetization was never the focus when I started blogging. I never intended to make a full time career out of it. But it feels good to be rewarded for good work. During this pandemic a lot of bloggers earned extra income giving out webinars, e-courses and writing buying guides. I’m yet to pick up on those skills. But that’s okay. For now I’m happy that I can use my presence to amplify the voice of some causes I care about. Be it Amphan relief, or honoring the COVID warriors or generating awareness of responsible travel.
If you want to monetize your blog, I suggest you to try affiliate marketing now. I don’t think it’s worth signing up for ads unless you have a reasonably high stable traffic. Ads in fact slow down the website and affect SEO. Tell me if you think otherwise, and at what point (in website traffic) were you able to make money from ads. Here are a few affiliate networks you should begin with as a travel blogger.
- Amazon – The king of all affiliates
- Booking.com – The King of travel affiliates
- Cuelinks – An aggregator of affiliates. The best thing about it is the ease of joining and adding links. Unlike Amazon it doesn’t have a target of 3 sales in first 3 months for eligibility.
Disclaimer: I have sprinkled some affiliate links on this blog post for monetization.
So that was my blogging tips for beginners. Hope you liked it. Please pin the post and share with your blogger friends if you did.
So that’s the end of my first blog post for #MyFriendAlexa. Hope to take my blog to the next level through this campaign by Blogchatter.