The journey of travel blogging
Yay! I did it. I survived a year of travel blogging. 13th May 2018 was the day I published my first blog post – An evening in Paris. We are a year old now and feel upbeat about the year to come. My blog’s birthday was rather uneventful as I was busy with the launch of my first ebook which happened on the same day! What a coincidence isn’t it? I feel humbled by all the love I have been showered to the blog in the form of messages, comments, shares, and subscriptions that have I have received in the course of one year. To say it wasn’t easy would be an understatement. It has been tough, and it still is for me to constantly battle with time and manage to nurture my blog like my first child. This post is not just to celebrate the anniversary but also to share my journey for everyone out there who struggle to keep their passion alive.
How it all started
It’s a personal achievement for a person who started another blog way back in 2010 and dumped it in the grave despite the overwhelming support from the friend circle. To know why you may need a background story. Now when I look back, 2010 was the perfect timing to take this seriously and make something out of it. I discovered this amazing tool to give an outlet to my creative energy. I was just out of college and had a lot of time to put into it. My friends were many and had a lot of time too to read all the crap and appreciate it. I rekindled the blog again when I took a career break to pursue higher studies and published our Bhutan travel story. Yay! I was overwhelmed by the comments pouring in soon after I shared it on Facebook! This should have breathed in a new life to my blog, but alas. The queen of procrastination let it down once again. “Spectrum of Life”, as the blog was named was forced into hibernation mode yet again.
Fast forward 2018. I was spending most of my leisure time outside work binging on TV shows, youtube videos and simply imagining what life would be if I was a content creator. But years of struggling against my natural inclination towards art and making an (arguably) successful career in analytics had taken a toll on my writing skills. I could no longer put words into my thoughts with the same flair I did it with when I was in school. Yet, when I created this blog on the free Blogger platform I expected a similar response. Well, I was in for a royal disappointment. Eight years down the line most of us are busy with our personal lives, almost lost touch except that one time when I made a comment on politics and turned a friend into a foe.
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It was difficult to find readers for my new blog apart from my mom, even within my social circle. Facebook moving to the “pay to play” model didn’t help either. I didn’t have any strategy to promote my blog. I just thought that I would share on Facebook and comments would pour in just the way it did five years back. I was wrong. In the ocean of content creators, it’s hard to get noticed. Everyone is a content creator to be fair. Anyone who decides to share their views of the platform, or simply create a photo album is a creator. Every content piles on top of the other none of them get their fair share of time to be on the forefront unless you do something about it. And who wants to read blogs anyway. If it’s social or political there’s a natural tendency to open it because it affects your life. Travel, not so much unless maybe some favorite celebrity is posting it.
This is where I took the best decision a newbie blogger can take. I refer to myself as a newbie because one look at my dormant first blog will tell you that I was doing nothing with it. I joined an online community of travel bloggers, quite a few of them in fact. These were communities where people openly discussed their problems, challenges, and even insecurities bloggers. Bloggers were encouraged to support each other. Collaboration over competition is what I learned. Someone taught me about Pinterest, someone told me what DA is, someone pointed me to Canva which is now a tool I feel handicapped without.
Blogging can be a lonely journey, especially if you don’t have natural social skills. I read somewhere that most bloggers become inactive or just quit blogging within 6 months. Lack of motivation and support is the primary reason for this. So if someone is starting off or on the verge of quitting, I will refer them to a blogging community.
A quick shoutout
This picture is dedicated to all my favorite blogging communities. The first 3 of them are travel blogging groups in Facebook, next 2 are facebook groups for all bloggers to discuss ideas, and the last one is a website which teaches a lot about writing, blogging and social media (especially Twitter).
Fears and Let-downs
You know that you are serious about it when the fear of losing kicks in. Sounds like a bit of relationship advice but it holds true about blogging. Most start off as hobby-bloggers but get serious with time. If I take into account the amount of time I spend and stress that I take for this baby of mine, I can’t look into the mirror and say that it’s still just a hobby. It’s not a business either. For me, it’s a passion to create something that people would love to consume. It’s just the yearning to be seen as an actor, to be heard as a singer or to be read like a writer.
My mom has been my biggest support in the journey reading every single post and giving her feedback on them. But even she is worried at times that I am overworked and overstressed. My husband has been a constant companion but things don’t help when after a long day at the office you have to give time to your blog. After all that hard work there’s still a fear – who is reading my blog. Is it just travel bloggers like me? I love being read by the well-traveled writers and getting their feedback, but I want my reader-base to be broad. I want to inspire people to make time for travel. How can I inspire the already inspired?
The other dominant fear and guilt are – “am I letting down people”? Am I not giving enough time to the people around me, the time that they deserve. A rather pragmatic fear that also kicks in is regarding my well-paid full-time job. What if I falter on my job? What if my performance suffer and I get stranded in the zone of mediocrity in both the fields?
I can’t count just how many times I got overwhelmed by all this and wanted to give it up altogether. Maybe I’ll start afresh when I retire I thought. Or maybe I will just write on Instagram, Quora or Tripoto. I cannot manage a blog on my own I thought. Thanks to the support from my dear ones, I actually did hang on to it. I hung on and I kept learning. At least today I feel secure. I am still trying to strike a work-life balance and make time for a workout, but I am getting there. Let me share some of the lessons I learned on the journey.
Valuable lessons learned
Okay, so the first lesson for new bloggers is to join a community, which thankfully, I figured out early in my journey. But there are many more things which I wish I knew one year back when I started blogging. I took the time to learn these lessons, and I keep learning every day. Sharing a few of these to help out budding bloggers.
- Invest in your blog to get results
It’s not important when you are doing it as a hobby I thought. However, I had spent many years of my childhood and my parents’ money to learn singing, dancing, and painting. What were they if not hobbies? Even during my first year in Bangalore, I spent quite a significant sum of money on learning the contemporary dance form. I can’t do a single move from the routine without looking like a rolling panda now. So even if it’s a hobby, it’s ok to invest money in it and just do the things you like to do. In my income report in the next section, you can clearly see my expenses. I don’t know if I will be a successful blogger, I don’t know what lies in the future. I know that I am creating something and I’m loving it. I am ok with it for now.
- Self-hosting is the way to go
I started with a free blog on Blogger platform. I bought my domain in July 2018 but remained with the old platform. I spent a lot of time in trying to optimize the speed of my Blogger-based blog only to end up making it look crappy. I finally pulled the plug towards the end of November and took advantage of the Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale to switch to Siteground. If you are looking for a free host go for WordPress.com only. Do not start with Blogger, Wix, etc.
- Get some help
You cannot do it all, especially if you have a full-time job. I spent an obscene amount of time trying out different layouts on Blogger and editing (and messing up) HTML codes. I am an Indian girl who has been raised in the era of feminism to believe that she can do it all. Then I went on to do B.Tech and then MBA, so I thought there’s nothing in blogging that I can’t manage alone. I spent an obscene amount of time trying to edit the HTML codes on a free blogging platform (Blogger) and messing it up. Blogger doesn’t support plugins so everything from drop-down menus to table of contents needs to be done by editing the code manually. So when I finally decided to move to a self-hosted platform I found someone to help me with the transition and setting up my blog on WordPress. I took this plunge in December last year. That little one-time investment saved me so much time.
- Quality over Quantity – Always
Unless you really want to be the blogger who needs to publish and promote every day for success, don’t focus on the number of posts. Focus on quality. I prefer writing short verses on my Instagram posts. My blog is for the longer meaty posts. Sometimes I try to be the answer to people’s queries on a search engine, in which case it is all the more important to take your time and be the “best answer in the world”. But even when I don’t target a keyword, I like to pour it all out in a clean structured way. I think of it this way. As a reader what is it I would prefer? Reading three related things on a single page, or click-baiting me into reading about 7 wonders of India and telling me to keep clicking on the next page. Or worse, I end up on a page which has 5 sentences about one place and tells me to come back tomorrow for the second place! If this reminds you of some site, ya, that was intended. I wouldn’t do what frustrates me as a reader.
- Build quality backlinks through guest posting and collaborative posts
I am not good with social media, maybe because I am a socially awkward person, to begin with. I’m like Ross from F.R.I.E.N.D.S or Amy from Big Bang Theory, without their brains. Every time I try to promote my work through Instagram there’s a deep voice within me that says “what the hell are you doing, who does that?”. I shut her up and proceed mostly but I understand that social media cannot be my strategy. So I started focusing on this thing called S.E.O. Which is why I worry about backlinks. The best part about getting good quality backlinks is that more often than not, all you need to do is write good stuff. Write amazing materials on your blog that others want to link to, write guest posts for awesome bloggers and joint collaborations.
- Do not sell short
So you created some good content, battled against the tide on social media and built those valuable backlinks. One fine morning you open your mailbox to receive your first un-solicited message saying how great your blog is and how your audience would benefit from a link to their site. You are happy that a stranger discovered you, but you can’t bring yourself to ask “what’s in it for me?”. Some companies can reach out to you for sponsored posts, offering you money for publishing a post on your site. Value your work and the authority that you have built. Just because it takes two minutes to publish a guest post someone sent you doesn’t mean it’s worth 2 pounds. This is why it’s important to learn about the business of backlinks and learn how much companies value a good quality backlink. Be very cautious with emails asking for backlinks or sending you a full-blown article for publishing.
A collaboration with Cleatrip – Best Summer destinations in India
- Value your brand
I’m not bragging when I say that I receive offers for a guest post all the time. I have a very standard policy to work only with brands I can personally recommend to my friend. Even in that case, I do not accept sponsored guest posts as the quality is not up to the mark. I write the posts myself (and charge for writing +product placement) or offer to provide product placement on an existing post. I turn down 9 out of 10 offers I get, but that’s much better than the risk of losing authority.
Tune in to Instagram tomorrow at 7 pm to attend my first Insta Live! I will be talking about blogging, answering all your questions and telling you a bit about my new book which is still available for free download on BlogChatter Library.
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Blog Growth Report
Finally, I come to the numbers. As you can see I have disabled Google Ads on my website. I tried it out for a month but it slowed down my site, and my SERP rankings seemed to slip. Rather my rankings dropped which I blamed on the page-load-time, which in turn I blamed on the ads. I wasn’t getting enough traffic to earn through ad clicks anyway. I have now shelved the thought of enabling it for later when I cross the target of 10,000 MPV. So that’s one of my blogging goals for this year.
Oh, by the way, you can pin the image below to save our post if you like it.
I cannot show the Google analytics trends because the setup was wrong for half the year resulting in double-counting. That was another side-effect of me writing long HTML codes on Blogger without any proper control. It was handled when my developer moved the site to WordPress, but it broke my heart to see my pageviews nose-dive.
Quick check: If your bounce rate is anything less than say 75%, then go back and check your google analytics setup.
So let me call out a few things below.
- Currently, I am averaging at about 3500-4000 unique page views a month
- Over the last couple of months I have cut down my social media time, and organic traffic has become my top source.
- My impressions on Google has increased by 20 times since July (which is when I bought the domain)
- I got 980 views from Google organic search in the last 30 days. In the whole month of August last year, it was just 70.
So here is the money-talk, how much did I spend and how much did I make? Note that this is only cash income through blogging and not the payment in kind like free products. I am yet to break-even, but most businesses take time to do so. As a part-time work or rather a hobby, Rs.16,200 is not that big an annual income to spend on doing what you like.
So that was my blogging journey so far. I guess I have stuck long enough to not give up. Travel blogging can be lonely and frustrating, while at the same time being satisfying and rewarding. Maybe that’s the taste of any self-started venture no matter how small and insignificant that is. If you are an aspiring blogger, I hope this post has given you some clarity on what to expect when you start blogging. If you are a seasoned blogger you might have some advice for me and others. If you are none of the above, I can’t just thank you more for reading this all. Hope you got a sneak-peek into the life of a travel blogger. In conclusion, the journey goes on.
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