As I sit here in front of my trusty laptop, the third one I’ve owned over the last 5 years, I’ve realised that my travel blog has finally come of age and that I’ve done a complete circle. You see it was about this time in 2009 that I started my first travel blog to share some of my stories with friends and family. Don’t laugh but it was originally called focus2focus.net. Don’t ask me what it meant, I was young and dumb, and just went with it.
I remember the first few months where blogging was at its purest form for me; the first page views, the nervousness when you released a post and the first comments. It was addictive! The more I read about blogging, the more I absorbed. Everything from analytics, SEO, CSS, PHP, WordPress, servers, RSS, social media and the list goes on. My website was evolving rapidly and it wasn’t long before I realised my domain error and re-branded as the Travel Project. It was about this time that Lonely Planet came a knocking.
Back in 2010 Lonely Planet had a great blogger platform called Blogsherpa (now defunct), they chose a group of bloggers to connect their posts with their website and they selected me. Can you imagine the doors that opened when you told businesses you were Lonely Planet affiliated? I started earning money quickly from my site. It was something that I had thought of, yet never imagined was possible this quickly. I then got hungrier to the potential of blogging and began to explore how the best of the best were performing. The answer I quickly came up with was that content is king supported by a strong readership.
Sounds easy right? Write a lot and connect with people. Well it’s harder than it looks as you can’t make people follow you and writing great content in a world where a blog is created every half a second is over whelming. I struggled to keep up with the pace of other bloggers, I started to get my first angry commentators who would pick on spelling mistakes and I started to become stressed with something that was meant to be fun. Eventually I stopped and asked the question “what am I doing wrong, it shouldn’t be this hard?” After trying so many different angles and styles, I eventually came to this conclusion: Write for yourself, be genuine and everything else will follow.
With this one moment it changed everything. I realised I didn’t want to be the most visited blog out there, I was happy just being me and before I knew it, a steady amount of posts were being produced and businesses were approaching me for work. So although I’m not a Sherry Otts, an Ian Mallory, a Matthew Kepnes or a Melvin Boucher, I became okay with that. These guys work so hard to achieve their web presence and they have stood the test of time because of it. There will always be blogs that come, rocket up the chart and then disappear as their authors get tired or run out of material. However the best blogs run the marathon instead of the sprint.
So with this in mind, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned with you over the years
1. Blogging is a numbers game.
Although blogging is as much about the writing and to some extent the travel (although it’s not as much as I’d like it to be), I’ve learned over the last five years that blogging is a numbers game. Don’t understand? Well let me explain. After you get past the honeymoon stage of your blog, where everything is exciting and you begin to get your first readers (and you will), the reality sinks in that to grow your readership base you need to find new ways to connect. Before you know it the number game begins. Google Analytics, page ranks, Alexa rankings, page views, unique page views, bounce rates, 6% keywords, klout score, the amount of followers, the list goes on. I reckon, although not everyone would admit it, every Blogger goes through this stage at one point or another. When analysis become obsession! You stop caring so much about the content and become more focused on getting that next follower or jumping up the ranking. Numbers are important however the golden rule is content is king and no matter what trick you use in the book, this one will always increase your readers.
2. Yes you can be sued!
In 2013 I realised that blogging stopped being fun for me and that I had begun to over focus on the numbers, the money chasing and the stress of dealing with companies and media agencies. It all accumulated with a legal notice threatening to sue me if I didn’t change a certain article to put the company into a certain light, neither though it was a very positive article and I wrote it of my own accord (no payment). What was even more concerning was that I was also being threatened with legal action over the comments of other people on the post, which in my opinion was freedom of speech. I was subsequently asked to edit their comments. I refused of course! Ethics and integrity!! So as a lowly poor student who couldn’t fight it, I chose to refuse to modify and pull the post indefinitely. Although I was fuming about how I got walked over by this company, it brought me to the attention of the bigger picture. When I started blogging, our sector was only just starting to gain traction with commerce. However as this grows and our craft is taken more seriously, so does the responsibility and legalities of what we do. In other words there is more to lose (and gain) than ever before and more to be accountable for.
3. Blogging is hard work.
Let me just clear this up if you’re thinking about professional blogging – it is hard work! Yes it’s exciting, rewarding, creative and exhilarating however at the crux of blogging (at least at the top end), it is about producing great unique content frequently that is different from everybody else. I was reading a stat the other day that there are now over 152 million blogs world-wide with a new one created every half a second. That’s a lot of noise! I don’t say this to deter you from blogging, in fact I say it to help prepare yourself for it – blogging (unless it’s a short term project) is a marathon and not a sprint, be unique!
4. Doors do open and money can be made.
If you take your blog seriously and I recommend that you do, there is no reason you cant use it as a mechanism to earn money, obtain free products and press trips – it’s all there for you! Tourism business and destination organizations are realising the power of bloggers more so than ever before and you can thank the bloggers of early years for forging these relationships. I still remember when I received my first Google cheque in the mail and now I can charge the same amount to display a single post on my site. I say this not to blow my own trumpet however to show you the evolution of blogging in a commercial sense. Obviously you need to consider the ethics and to always be honest with your readers, heck most people don’t care if you’ve taken a freebie (most travel sections in newspapers are just paid PR) as long as you’re honest about it.
5. The complete package
To become a great blogger you must become one with everything! Alright I know that sounds a bit zen but a blogger isn’t just an online writer, you also have to be a skilled photographer (use more than a filter), PR and marketer (Man Men all over again), IT expert (your site will crash), graphic designer (don’t choose a free boring template everyone else is using), travel agent (you will be asked for recommendations), professional (Business attire is required), friend (Travel bloggers drink a lot…..and I do mean a lot) and a salesperson (Don’t sell yourself short). On a good note, I hardly knew any of this stuff when I started, especially the IT side of things. Now I know my way around Css, Php, servers and your website can not be found messages like I was a trained IT consultant. The great thing about our community is we share our innovation and if you need a hand, bloggers will be there to help.
So that about sums up my first 5 years of blogging. On a final note I want to thank Niki, who is often the center of my pieces and who has put up with all my crazy travels, the bloggers who have inspired me (Amanda Kendle, World Wandering Kiwi ) and to my readers, whether you came for a day or stayed with me for the long trip, I appreciate it. Here’s to the next 5 years!