This post is geared more towards questions than answers. Input and comments are encouraged. It is a review of my own travel blog and the future of it. I have been blogging for 7 months now and am now considering monetization. Making money from my travel blog. Watching, considering, and flagging potentials for profits and income. I am fortunate to be in a position where I can hold off for now. But ultimately full-time travel bloggers need some indication of sustainability. Some potential for incomes. Some inspiration to work harder for the passion they follow. Monetization is like the carrot on a stick. While making money from travel blogs can be realised it does involve hard decisions, temptations and growing pressures to sell out.
The Business of Blogging
I don’t see blogging as a business but a tool to promote business. An extremely strong tool which drives traffic to a product. So what product do travel bloggers actually sell? Most people making money from travel blogs sell website links and advertising space. Not by approaching companies but by waiting for companies to approach them. This means it is necessary to make clear that a blogger is happy to accommodate advertising. More importantly let Google know they accommodate advertising. I tested this recently (April ’13) when setting up an Advertising Page on my site. With a bit of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) I now sit No. 1 on Google for keywords ‘Travel Advertising in Bangkok’ and No. 4 for ‘Travel Advertising in Southeast Asia’. Following publishing of this advertising page I have received opportunities to sell sponsored posts and links on my travel blog. To date, I have accepted none.
Digital Media vs. Print Media
Print media is how I draw comparisons. At its most basic. ‘Free copy’ magazines a good example. These things litter my condo foyer each month yet few ever make it past the bin. Their purpose, audience and reach all questionable. Yet they obviously make enough advertising revenue to exist. Businesses appear to have money to waste on advertising. So why not travel blogs? Is advertising on travel blogs a good investment? This depends primarily on the reach of the travel blog and for many Google PageRank. But there are also added benefits for advertising on travel blogs. Blog posts have the potential to remain online forever (unless agreed otherwise). Potential for infinite views. They also create ‘Backlinks’ which generate traffic to and increase page authority for the buyers own website.
Affiliates are my preferred method for making money from travel blogs. The main advantage of Affiliate Marketing is you have control over who you partner with. Find a trustworthy partner, one you personally recommend and one which offers value to your target market. Work to create sales. This route is more challenging for the blogger, rarely the most profitable, but does create a heightened sense of reward and accomplishment. If done honestly everyone benefits in affiliate marketing. An example is my old site Boutique Bangkok where I Partner with Agoda for hotel reservations. In an affiliate sale; the customer finds the best product, the hotel make a sale, the booking agency receives a booking fee and I (the affiliate partner) receive my commission for guiding the customer to the transaction. Everybody wins. In sponsored posts or links sales this is rarely the case. They rarely offer value to the target market or readers of the blog. The reason I have yet to capitalise on any. If considering the affiliate route below shows an extract from yesterday’s affiliate sales. An unusually high commission fee and a relatively low commission fee. But it in no doubt shows potential for income. Boutique Bangkok is a project I shelved 7 months ago to concentrate on my personal travel blog. PageRank 1. Yesterday while sleeping it made $125.65. Admittedly the most in a long time and similar to the sale of only one link or sponsored post on a high Page Rank travel blog.
Travel Blogging Ethics
The grey areas of blogging. Freebies, press trips, sponsored posts and link sales. The reasons it is hard for travel bloggers to gain credibility. While all the above maybe honourable – to outsiders they look dubious. By accepting the greys a travel blog becomes bias? Profits over purpose. Opportunities over audience. Credibility goes out the window whether honourable or not. Unfortunately they are also necessary for most travel blogs to exist. They are also not new to the travel industry. Magazines, television, professional websites all with the same opportunities. The only difference is the professional media have already gained credibility (whether warranted or not). It is therefore important for individual travel bloggers to build their own credibility. This means disclosing details of grey opportunities and not duping their own audience. Another obstacle to blogger credibility is Black Hat SEO, the copy/paste culture and underhanded marketing techniques. They will always hold back the honest travel blogger and tend to be used out of greed and desperation. They are for those who doubt their own abilities. There is no pride in cheating.
Building Brands, Influencers and Blog Niches
You are the Brand. Your image, interests and lifestyle represent what you promote. This is the reason I put my faceless affiliate site on hold to become a full-time travel blogger. My aim to build my image as an influencer in the market. Doing this I can use my branded travel blog as a ‘flagship site’ to promote other websites and future ventures. The best way for doing this is to find a niche to gain influence. Not always easy. Best done when you scribe to your own interests within your own comfort zones. Don’t copy others. Also airy fairy writing and passing observations don’t suffice. In the past two months I visited ten countries – all ten countries I had visited before. I feel it is better to immerse in one area instead of skimming past a dozen. My niche(s) are Boutique Travel and Gastro-Tourism in Southeast Asia. By writing to my strengths I won Wanderlust Travel Blog of the Year 2013, have been offered (and turned down) opportunities for TV appearances and written articles for magazines. I am happy to live as a small fish.
Blogging and Social Networks
A necessary evil for making money from travel blogs. Link exchange, guest posts and back-scratching. All in the effort of creating links back to your own blog. The more you get involved the more likely you are to be successful. But it is menial, time consuming and depressing. The more you get involved the worse it becomes. Soon you will be sitting round desks, scribbling on whiteboards, attending blogger meetups and smoozing at conferences. Worse than the nine to five? Luckily involvement depends on ambition. For me I haven’t gone further than a basic link exchange. To add a bit of value and purpose to my ‘selling-out’ I used the opportunity to research Travel Bloggers and their Favourite Foods. The problem is that Google likes social people. Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon are only the beginning. The reason I am against excessive networking is that travel blogging can easily take over your life. Create an unhealthy work/life balance which I have no interest in. A balance which is already offset by travel. Socialising during travel is with locals on the street.
The Curse of Travel Blogging
The internet. The internet makes bloggers lazy. More time spent replicating other people’s content without their own critique. If something is popular they add it to personal recommendations. Again this goes for the opposite. Opposing things that are too popular. Snubbing experiences on misconceptions and favouring what their own audience want to hear (or advertisers want them to say). These days travel blogs can be created at home. A copy and paste culture. It is why photography and local knowledge is essential to stand out from others. Also avoid the sensational posts. Going to extremes to build interest. As a food blogger in Bangkok I see it all the time. Eating Pad Thai then Beetles. Bland to obscure. Completely ignoring the essential foods which are actually worth talking about.