When I first started my travel blog just over a year ago I knew that it was going to be successful. It had to be. Failure was never an option.
A lot of people start travel blogging wondering ‘how’ they will be able to compete with some of the other top travel blogs who are already established and have been plying their craft for years. I’ve heard some say it’s nearly impossible to break into a field that is already saturated. Why even bother when the odds are stacked against you?
In a word – passion. Passion to travel. Passion to share stories. Passion to take photos. Passion to create travel videos. Passion to give advice that is going to help others. Ultimately, passion is the determining factor of whether or not you are going to be successful with your travel blog. The more ‘unrealistic’ you are with your dreams, goals and imagination, the more likely it is that you are going to achieve ‘incredible’ things.
Passion is going to ignite a level of confidence in yourself. With a high degree of confidence and certainty you’ll be catapulted to take massive action towards achieving your goals. With massive action you’ll start to see results that will help confirm your belief that what you’re doing is worthwhile. With impressive results you’ll grow even more passionate about your projects. It’s the feedback loop of success. This isn’t limited to just travel blogging – it’s really the determining factor in just about any field.
The good news is that hard work, determination and consistent effort is going to help you achieve your blogging goals. The bad news is that hard work alone isn’t going to cut it. It’s about working ‘smart’ and realizing that what it takes to make a successful travel blog is more than just creating posts on your own site and leaving things up to chance. There are a number of phases a travel blog must endure before it is considered mature or successful:
Phase 1 (Building The Snowball)
Every travel blog – even the top travel sites today – started out from scratch. My travel blog was once bare bones and so was yours. All of us have pressed ‘publish’ for the first time wondering who on earth -other than friends and family – is actually going to read this post? Phase 1 is the most clumsy phase but it is also the most crucial. Any travel blog that I’ve noticed achieve success, in a short period of time, absolutely crushes it during this phase.
This is the phase where you need to eat, sleep & breathe your site day in and day out. Without a herculean effort it becomes a daunting task for your travel blog to receive any sort of traction. In order for a snowball to accumulate mass and eventually propel itself down the hill, it first requires a considerable effort. The following is a list of things that I feel are essential for a site to reach its full potential in phase 1:
1) Consistent Content
You’re going to be wanting to churn out content on your own site as consistently as possible. Posting sporadically or whenever ‘inspiration’ comes just isn’t going to cut it. Imagine a serious athlete training for an event. Do they take days/weeks off when they ‘don’t’ feel like’ training? Nope. If you want your site to do well creating a consistent posting schedule is a key component.
2) Rocking Social Media
In the beginning stages ‘Google’ is not your best friend. They tend to favour the kid who has been around the block a few times. Sites that have mature domains, loads of content and a strong link profile get all of the love from the search engines; however, social media is a way you can light a fuse under your site and watch it blow up quickly. Rocking platforms such as facebook, stumble upon, twitter and pinterest are going to help drive traffic to your site. Once again, this is something that cannot be done sporadically. Consider social media the travel blogging equivalent of brushing your teeth. I doubt you’d go a day without brushing your teeth and I wouldn’t suggest letting a day pass without engaging in social media in some capacity.
3) Getting Your Name Out There
You’re a complete nobody when you first start out. It’s great having ‘Mom follow along’ but in order to create a successful travel blog you need a solid readership. In the initial stages, one of the easiest ways to attract this for your site is to become a fully immersed in the travel blogging community. Commenting, tweeting, stumbling and promoting the work of others is the name of the game. It’s all about being a ‘team player’ and hoping that others eventually reciprocate. The travel blogging community is for the most part full of incredible people willing to help one another out. Although there has been a lot of posts and chatter lately about things being somewhat toxic, it’s really only a few that are actively seeking to spoil the party for others. Anyhow, you want to be a bit like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, propelling yourself in a kamikaze like fashion in as many places as you possibly can to get your name out there.
4) Building Links
Building links is the ‘travel blogging’ equivalent of training for an event. One doesn’t notice the gruelling hours spent in the gym, track or field, but this is where the elite competitors separate themselves from the pack. It’s not enough to have a nice blog design, write compelling prose, tantalize with stunning photography or set the world on fire with cleverly composed travel videos. Without a strong link profile your ship (travel blog) is left out at sea.
The truth of the matter is that links are still (and even in the future when social signals play a more significant role) the currency of exchange when it comes to how well your site is going to do in the search engines. Without new eyeballs on your site each and every day, growing your blog readership and fan-base is like trying to swim laps in quicksand.
There are a number of ways to build links. Doing link exchanges, guest posting & commenting on other blogs & forums are all part of the equation. One of the easiest ways to check the progress of your site’s link profile is to track its domain authority (which is updated roughly once a month) by installing the SEOmoz toolbar.
ETA: This stage is the make or break period for successful travel blogs. A lot of travel bloggers burn out in this phase and give up inches before they’ve crossed the finish line. The truth is that this phase can last a while or it can be over within a few months. Whether one is the tortoise or the hare, has a lot to do with the passion, effort, commitment and skill-level one has during this phase. Many bloggers mention the first 6 months as the time period before things really start to take-off. I’ve seen sites get beyond this stage in less time than that. On the other hand, I’ve seen sites that have required a lot more time than this. The main thing is to NOT GIVE UP during this phase.
Phase 2 (Gaining Traction with the Snowball)
In phase 2 things start getting a little easier. If phase one is the gang initiation period, phase 2 is where you’ve earned your stripes. At this point, the efforts you’ve made to create consistent content, rock social media, get your name out there and build links have paid off in spades. At this point your site has achieved a solid readership base and is well known within the travel blogging community. It also has a strong social media footprint and receives solid traffic from Google and other search engines.
The good news is that you can let the pedal off of the gas a bit from time to time at this stage. Some signs that you’ve reached this stage include traffic not dropping off significantly when/if you haven’t posted in a while and other sites linking to you on a consistent basis.
This is the phase when you can start thinking beyond the blog. This is a great time to start other projects (other sites, ebooks, youtube videos, freelancing, etc) because the effort needed to grow your site in phase 1 is no longer necessary in stage 2. You will, of course, still need to post consistently, utilize social media, get your name out there and build links; however, the main difference is that you can do it more moderately at this stage.
This is an exciting stage for your blog because at this point you’re no longer the rookie and your efforts don’t fall upon deaf ears.
ETA: It could take months or years to reach this stage. The majority of travel blogs (even some of the most successful ones) will likely plateau in this area for a considerable period of time or never reach the next level. In order to reach the final stage it takes a lot of effort and dedication and likely years of hard work and expertise to finally arrive at that level.
Phase 3 (No Longer a Snowball – You’re an Avalanche)
Yes. At this point you’re truly crushing it. This is when you’ve made it. Your site receives enormous traffic, has a huge following and is a respected authority within your field. Companies are lining up to work with you and industry professionals are requesting you to speak at conferences. This is the level I aspire to be at in some given point in time.
When you’ve reached this level you’ll be ranked near or at the top of every top travel blogging list. No matter what metric is being measured, your site at this given point in time will be elite in all areas. Some sites that have achieved this level of success and respect are Everything Everywhere, Nomadic Matt, The Planet D and Stuck in Customs. Aside from working hard on all of their sites and having a refined skill-set they have another important thing in common: they’ve been doing this consistently for years.
The key formula to reaching this level is to pass through phases one and two and stick with your site with the same level of commitment over a significant period of time. When defining the career of any successful writer, athlete or politician, it’s not done over a period of weeks or months, but instead it takes years – or possibly even decades – for the final chapters to be written.
The title of this post is ‘How to create a Successful Travel Blog in your first year of blogging.’ This article has instead morphed into something bigger covering the three phases of development your travel site and career can eventually follow. As a travel blogger starting out, it’s possible to get beyond stage one in your first year; however, it’ll require a ridiculously high level of dedication. I’ve personally seen certain sites grow at an immense rate as if they were a stuntman being blasted out of a cannon. It’s certainly feasible for your site to do well within the first year of blogging, but only for those prepared to roll up their sleeves and put in some serious hard/smart work.
Are you going to get burnt out in stage one and throw in the towel? Will you stick around long enough to reach stage II? Or will you put in the effort it takes to grow your blog and refine your skills to the point where you’re an authority in the industry?
That’s a question only you can answer.