Hi there, before you start reading I’ll say up front that I wrote this post almost 4 years ago. In those 4 years I’ve learnt a LOT more and we now make a very good living from our websites. My husband no longer works, this blog supports our family of 4 as we travel the world. Today we have 170,000 page views per month. Everything in this post is valid still and will stand you, as a new blogger, in good stead.
Read on, everything in this post is free to help get you started. No courses, no charges, no way. Beware courses.
After you take a look at this post, find our more recent blogging content. Go to the top menu bar and select “Blogging” but please have a quick scan of this post first. It illustrates progression and development in the blogging industry.
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. That’s something I can help you with, see this post and shoot me an e-mail.
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 few clicks.
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 and Facebook is my second home.
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. However , I feel Alexa gives a far more accurate impression of the size of a site than DA and it’s the first metric I check if I’m checking out your site.
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 am VERY good at SEO, there’s something about it that I love and it is endlessy fascinating. I love figuring out what Google is up to.
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 and we also have a great post on the basics of SEO, updated for 2018’s Google changes.
Keyword targeting is vital, every post should be targeting a keyword ( actually a phrase, also called a long-tail keyword). You can guess your keywords, or you can do proper key word research to see how many people are searching a particular keyword and how competitive that keyword if.
So, if you’re starting out and your site lacks authority, don’t target keywords Nomadic Matt is using. He’ll outrank you every time, so will I. (update, this is no longer the case in 2018, the best content wins, see our SEO post above but to get your post in front of eyeballs so that it CAN rise to the top, a high DA is a huge help).
Over time your website’s authority will grow and you stand more chance of ranking for more competitive and popular keywords.
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. This is also what determines your DA.
While DA is based purely on backlinks, Google’s ranking of your post is based on hundreds of factors.
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.
You can get a certain level of low quality back links through commenting on blogs. A few years ago you could even get “follow” links from certain big sites, but these are largely gone now. People used to say that for each blog post you publish, go leave 10 comments on relative, authoritative sites. It’s not the best way, but it does help in the absence of links from National Geographic. It’s probably more useful in getting your name out there and growing relationships with other bloggers.
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 ( Update: When we switched from Adsense to Mediavine in 2017, our advertising revenue skyrocketed, it’s huge now)
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 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 and this isn’t a fairy tale.
Branding, Branding, Branding!
Consistent logo, fonts, colours and message are key. Stick to who you are, visually and in your tone.
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 ( Update: He quit in 2017 and only worked part time to that point !) , 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. Best of luck with your blog!