Hi there, before you start reading I’ll say up front that I wrote this post almost 3 years ago. In those 3 years I’ve learnt a LOT more and we now make a decent living from our websites. Everything in this posts is valid still and will stand you, as a new blogger, in good stead, but if you want the real insider tips, you’ll have to wait a little longer! I’m currently coaching new bloggers for a fee, if that’s something you’re interested in, get in touch.
If I can do this, you can do it to!
Two years ago this week I bought our name, organised hosting and set up my brand new blog over the course of a weekend.
I had years of experience as a web designer, marketer, journalist and travel correspondent…Don’t be silly.
I knew nothing!
I was setting out into something totally unknown, I’d had a wordpress.com blog for a few months, just for fun, which had shown me that I really enjoyed the blogging world and that I wanted to take it further. Travel blogging is a thing that makes money, that was news to me back in September 2012. I’d never even seen a travel blog before then.
Part of travelling long-term for us has been making this blog work, we couldn’t possibly do it with no income after the first batch of savings ran out. Neither of us has the sort of profession that happens online, so we had to get a new one. It’s working out OK, after a lot of trial and error.
This post may contain affiliate links, they will cost you nothing extra if you use them and all views are 100% genuine, as always. Scroll down to see how much money affiliate advertising is making for us (not much!)
In 2 Years Look How We’ve Grown!
No record-breaking growth here but a slow, steady progression. I’m sure your graph could be much steeper if you knew what you were doing right from day one.
Back in September I never thought for 1 minute that I’d be playing on the same field as my newly discovered favourite bloggers, Gabi of The Nomadic Family and Erin of Travel With Bender. I poured over their blogs looking for inspiration and tips for our soon-to-start travels and to learn how this thing should be done.
2 years in, I’m there, we’re in a good place.
We currently have around 33,000 page views per month, that’s enough to be interesting to sponsors and advertisers. We have just over 2,000 Facebook followers, 4,000 Twitter followers and 2,000 Pinterest fans. It’s not massive, but it’s enough.
We’ve made a little money and we’ve had a lot of free or sponsored perks. They’re not truly free, I work really hard for them, but they’re what keep life, particularly for the kids, lots of fun and what make the 15 hour days at the computer totally worth it.
UPDATE: January 2016. We’re at 100+ K PV per month, all the other figures are smashed too. What remains important to us is our kind of travel, as a family. We started this adventure to show the kids the world and give them an amazing education and that is still what matters, not turning the blog into a massive business, but we’re doing OK. 15 hour days at the computer are NEVER worth it, but sometimes, to make the money and meet deadlines, it has to be done.
Tips for New Blogs and Bloggers.
I love blogging and I love some aspects of social media but it’s been a hard slog to get here and I’ve learned so much you wouldn’t believe. I guess some people get training like this in university and kids these days grow up with all this, I’ve just picked it up along the way. The growth we’ve seen in the last 2 years could have been achieved far more quickly if I’d known a few things back at the start.
You Need Social Media
All of them, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, G+, Instagram, Stumble Upon, Linked In, all of them play a part in putting your blog out there and bringing in traffic. The best way to grow them is to use them regularly, follow loads of people, be genuine, share selflessly and really engage.
You could also use services like Triberr, this free sharing community was crucial in my Twitter growth. Once I joined some prominent Triberr tribes my following took off, but Twitter has never brought me great traffic. I have now left Triberr and I only share posts I really like, my following is good but Twitter brings hardly any traffic.
To really succeed in social media you have to use them all, it’s very labour intensive and most big bloggers have assistants to take the strain. I really don’t think it’s possible for 1 person to do it all, I rarely use Twitter, Stumble Upon or G+ but I’m an expert at Pinterest!
I would advise you to create all of your accounts, get the ball rolling and then focus on one social media channel at a time to master. Doing them right is important, you could waste a lot of time in haphazard use. We have a Blogging Tips board on Pinterest, it’s a great source of knowledge. I delete any pins that I have read and not found useful ( particularly the ones that are adverts for courses and books) so you should find our collection useful too.
In the early days, bloggers social sharing groups gave me a boost, but I think my time would have been better spent creating content, genuinely discovering and sharing other people’s work and making great Pinterest images. I once increased my traffic by 30% in one month by being very pro-active in sharing groups. As soon as I stopped, traffic went back to its normal level. In my opinion it’s just not worth it.
Sharing groups do wonders for your Alexa rank because only bloggers have the Alexa toolbar installed, it’s not a genuine statistic, so not one I’m interesting in boosting artificially.
You Need Friends
Promoting and sharing other blogs is vital to the growth of your own blog. You follow them, they follow you, you read, comment and collaborate, everybody is happy. Closer friendships, private sharing groups, collaborative projects and just friendly encouragement are all components of blog success. I’ve made some great friends, not just other bloggers, followers too. Some of my followers are extremely loyal, they’ve liked and commented on almost every post and over time have become friends, that totally rocks.
Facebook groups for bloggers, friendly groups where questions can be asked and support given, were an invaluable source of knowledge as I started out. They can also be the scene for some nasty battles, tread with care and trust nobody until they’ve proven trustworthy.
I was heavily involved with the groups for a while but now I’ve quit, they were sapping my time. I only share other people’s work if I genuinely like it or think it could be interesting to my readers, I’m out of the big sharing groups. But I do still have a handful of genuine, like-minded friends in the blogging world. We support each other as we always have and I’m always looking to discover and share new bloggers.
You Need Good SEO
Start as you mean to go on and read up on SEO before you even buy your domain name. SEO is vital to getting traffic from Google. About 75% of my traffic came from search engines until recently, without decent SEO it just wouldn’t happen. I’m not great at it, but I’m not doing too bad a job. I would highly recommend a good SEO plugin to help you. Key word research and targeting is key here, read more about that in our recent post on making your first $1000 on Amazon.
UPDATE: My Google traffic is now down to under 55% because Pinterest is booming for me. This is good, we shouldn’t be totally dependent on search engine traffic. The best tip for good SEO: Write great content and don’t cut corners, this post on SEO explains it well.
You Need Incoming Links
These are what tells Google that your site is important. The number of incoming links ( AKA back links), recommendations if you like, determine ( in part) how far up the search results Google will put you. There are many ways to get them, some more devious than others. I have NEVER done any sort of link exchange or aggressively pursued link acquisition, mine have come naturally, organically. These days I’m starting to realise that to play with the big boys, you need to do as they do or be left behind.
Don’t Expect To Get Rich Quick
I’ve been experimenting with different affiliate links and money-making ideas for a couple of years. Now, at 50,000 page views per month:
Skyscanner is bringing in a steady trickle, around $12/month.
Agoda is now bringing in decent money, but there has been a steep learning curve. $1000/month seems achievable.
My cruise affiliates have so far brought me nothing, which is frustrating as our cruise posts are hugely popular.
Google Adsense is my best steady advertising revenue, around $400/month
I’ve recently implemented some new affiliate programmes and things are picking up nicely.
Our main income stream is advertising.
I’m still figuring this thing out but you seem to need to find a link for just about everything and place them in the text of every post, again, go to our Pinterest blogging tips board for some great ideas from the big bloggers that I’m busy trying to implement. I regularly check to see which posts of mine are most popular and make sure those posts have Adsense ads and affiliate links within the body of the text. This has helped things along a lot. I’m not trying to sell anything here, more point people in the direction of the site, there’s no hard sell. I just want people to buy something from the affiliate site within the next month while my cookie is still active, that’s how it works.
You Need a Tough Skin
With exposure comes vulnerability. I’ve had some nasty comments. You have to learn to just let it go.
Don’t Let The Competition Scare You
Don’t be intimidated by other bloggers, some of them have huge numbers of followers that you may think are unachievable for you. Know that followers can be bought. $5 gets you a 1,000 Twitter followers, it’s the same for all social media platforms. It looks superficially good but isn’t the best idea, not everyone is fooled by the big numbers.
Time is important, big blogs have been around a long time, if you keep plugging away you’re sure to grow over time.
You (May) Need to Promote Yourself and be Pushy
I’m totally rubbish at this. I’m far too reserved and lacking in confidence, but if you’ve got it, work it. Always ask for what you need, don’t be scared of rejection, big yourself up, network like crazy, aggressively pursue goals. If I could do this I would be a lot further ahead than I am.
As this sort of personal promotion takes me right out of my comfort zone, I wait for people to come to me, it’s working and I can live with myself. Blogs have to have a unique selling point. That could be the person behind it or the sort of travel you do, both of these have brought me amazing opportunities in the last year without having to chase them. Be yourself and don’t worry what everyone else is doing.
You Need to Be Professional
Keep the rants and hissy fits off your pages. I’ve seen a few people crash and burn. You’re in the business of looking for future job opportunities, keep it clean right from the beginning.
That said, people want to read posts written by human beings, warts and all. I keep it real, it keeps people reading because everyone has bad days, this isn’t a fairy tale.
You Need to Love It
There will be months and months of work for no pay and you can’t do that unless you love what you’re doing. Blogging takes over your life and watching the figures grow can become an addiction. You also need to love what you blog about, you can’t pretend to have a passion for long without the cracks showing.
You Need to Have a Dream
You need to be aiming for the skies and always wanting more. You can never just rest on your laurels, to maintain growth you have to constantly push forwards and keep learning.
Future Goals and Dreams
So that’s it. Our first 2 years of blogging and our first 18 months of full-time travel are in the bag. We’ve had some ups and downs, a few disasters and misadventures, but overall it’s been FREAKING AWESOME!
We’re loving life and the new freedom that we have. It seems that now anything is possible, we can do this thing.
I’d like to get to a point where my husband no longer has to work, it would be great to be true digital nomads. Realistically, I don’t think that’s going to happen but the balance we have at the moment is acceptable. Most of our freedom has come from being happy with less, less space and less possessions. We genuinely prefer to live this way and we never want to go back to having a house full of “stuff” to tie us down.
So what’s next? We planned on going to India, Nepal, Bhutan, some South East Asia and a surprise entry…Australia, “home ” for a few months to travel on that continent. But plans are made to be broken and a surprise opportunity came our way.
We’ve actually ended up going to Turkey, Dubai and then we were invited on a 33 day world cruise, because hard work and being true to yourself pays off, in the end. Back to Asia now, for more of the backpacking we love. The blog will be on the back burner again while we travel, minimum effort from me to just keep it ticking over. It was useful to have those 8 months of sitting still to get everything working better and some money coming in because I could never put in that much hard work on the road while being a mum and educator too. Most of my blogging friends find the same thing. Full time family travel plus full time blogging aren’t really compatible.