I know that the majority of my readers are not bloggers (at least I hope not- go outside! Get some air!), but a lot of you are. This post is for you. I so rarely write about travel blogging on this site (for reasons listed below), but today is different.
I am a proud lady today. After a lot of work, my darling fiance Michael is merging his site, The Art of Travel Blogging, with David Lee’s Travel Blog Success, to create what is essentially the biggest resource on the internet for aspiring travel bloggers. It’s pretty cool: the new Travel Blog Success will offer tons of advice, lessons on blogging, webinars, interviews with experts and so much more. I’ve long been a supporter of both sites so it’s really great to see them coming together to help bloggers.
In honor of that, I thought I might share some “expert advice” of my own. I’ve been blogging seriously for over three years now. That is a horrifying number of hours of my life spent in front of the computer agonizing over word choice, editing photos, answering emails and procrastinating on facebook. Now that I think about it in those terms, it can’t be healthy. I’ll most likely be blind by age 35.
You know what: don’t blog. Go lay on the beach or climb a mountain or something.
If you aren’t convinced by my tail of woe, then I guess I better get on with it. In addition to eyesight issues, carpel tunnel syndrome and an aversion to leaving my bathrobe, I’ve racked up a ton of institutional knowledge and advice over the years. I’ve seen a lot of good things, and a lot of mistakes, trends that I like and trends that I despise. Now I’m going to share with you, the most important blogging advice I know:
1. Don’t Write about Blogging on Your Blog
Ugh I know. I’m already a hypocrite. I AM writing about blogging right now, but I don’t do it very often and for good reason: This blog is about travel. Not travel blogging.
It’s very tempting for travel bloggers to write about blogging and the blogger community, because those articles get a ton of attention (travel bloggers love to comment on each other’s posts). It feels good. However, 90% of my audience are NOT travel bloggers, and they pretty much don’t give a crap about insider baseball and how to improve their non-existent blog. Insider articles are simply not interesting to the majority of your audience. Unless your audience is all travel bloggers, which isn’t a very good strategy for success.
2. Don’t Expect to Make Money
As I wrote in my post, Should You Start a Travel Blog? It’s really important to consider your motivations before you start blogging.
Don’t start a blog to make money. I know this is rich coming from someone who blogs for a living but trust me, on a dollar to hour ratio, blogging for money is a terrible gig. It’s not going to make you rich, it’s probably not even going to fund your travels. Know this going in and find some other motivation for blogging. Love writing, or photography, love sharing your experiences. Find some reward in blogging that is not monetary and the rest will be gravy.
3. Quality Content Above Anything Else
This tip is number 3 but it should be number one. Actually, it should be the only tip in this entire article, because it’s so important that I can not possibly stress it enough. Publish work you’re proud of.
This is the first step towards everything else. You have to walk before you can run, and you have to write a good blog before you can leverage it into a free hotel stay or an ad deal or whatever (actually you can probably get a hotel stay or two with even a crappy blog, but when it comes to the long haul, the only thing that lasts is quality). This doesn’t mean you need to be Hemingway; I really believe anyone can blog, you just need to focus on creating clear, readable and entertaining work.
Quality takes time. It takes work. It takes constant refining and practicing and improving. It can’t really be taught, you just have to keep working at it, which is kind of a drag. But it’s the cornerstone of every blog worth reading.
4. Don’t Just Talk About Yourself
After I write just about any article, I sit back and ask myself, “so what?” Why should people care about this story or soapbox rant? What’s in it for them? Why should anyone read or share or like this article? If it’s not immediately evident to me, that means it’s a boring article and I have to I go back an rewrite it.
Think about the websites you like to read. They all teach you how to do something, entertain you, provide you with cute cat pictures or inform you. There’s always some sort of pay off. Learn how to do that for your own readers. If you write crazy funny articles, or publish breathtaking pictures, or offer some sort of unique insight that can’t be found anywhere else, your audience will basically build itself.
Put your readers first. Sure, blogging is kind of inherently narcissistic, but you are nothing if you don’t serve the kind people who read your blog. Without your readers you are a lonely person on a laptop alone in the dark.
5. Network Until You Die
I used to hate networking. All that blatant self-promotion and small talk with people I barely knew. Not great for an introvert like me.
Well in blogging, it’s all about who you know. Without connections you are writing into the void. You’re going to need friends and business connections to teach you, collaborate with you, promote you and more. Probably the biggest things that have helped me grow my audience are: getting on twitter, attending blogging conferences and guest posting on other sites.
Surprisingly this has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. I’ve met so many fascinating people and made some true friends (and well, more). Take advantage of the community- it’s a terrific resource.
6. Find a Mentor
Not always easy, but great if you can swing it!
When I first started out as a fledgling blogger, there was a whole hell of a lot I didn’t know. We didn’t even have facebook groups back then so I was quite totally on my own until David Lee, of the above mentioned Travel Blog Success and Go Backpacking, took me under his wing (possibly as an early case study for TBS). He taught me so much about the industry, gave me my first advertising contacts and coached me through the process.I might have got there on my own eventually, but it definitely speeded things up.
Now that I’m a little more established, I try to give out as much advice as I can find time for: through the Travel Blog Success forums, speaking at conferences, through events like the Blog House (now accepting applications!) and more. There is a lot of help out there if you ask for it.
7. Don’t Get Discouraged
Blogging, when you’re in it for the long haul, is hard. You’ll work long hours, late into the night, essentially for free. Projects will fall through, hopes will be dashed. You’ll pour your hearts and soul out into a post that expresses you perfectly and someone will write a nasty comment correcting your spelling.
You’ll probably want to throw in the towel, but don’t. This is a business that rewards tenacity. It took me a year to make my first dollar on my blog (which came as a totally unexpected and welcome surprise). All of my major milestones have been hard fought and hard won. It’s a business of tiny battles and relentlessly slow climbing up and up. It’s not an easy road, but the people who are going to make it, are the ones who don’t give in.
8. Think Creatively
This make come as a shock, since I know my advice is so brilliant and all, but: you don’t have to follow it. Just like there is no wrong way to travel, there is no wrong way to travel blog (although a lot of people will try to convince you otherwise).
The craziest thing about the travel blogging industry, is that there is no working model or mold yet. Everyone is still stabbing around in the dark, trying to find the best, most sustainable way to make a living. It can be discouraging, but it’s also really exciting because there is so much freedom.
When I look at the future of travel blogging, I know that the ones who are going to make it long-term are the ones who think beyond the model of writing posts and selling ads. The people who are finding new and creative ways to tell stories and to interact and work with the industry.
We’re still in the Wild West here, so carve out your own piece of land.
9. Don’t Do Drama
I’m saving this for last because it’s an important one to me. As the travel blogosphere gets more crowded and more competitive, I’ve begun to see a dramatic rise in infighting, petty rivalries and take-downs. There are people out there whose sole-purpose in travel blogging seems to be to mock and act superior to other travel bloggers.
It’s bullshit. It’s unprofessional and it’s a distraction. Travel blogging is not high school and nobody actually likes the catty girls in the back of the classroom. Over time I’ve started to remove myself from the various blogging facebook groups and to withdraw from these negative discussions. Nothing good can come from them.
Don’t be drawn into drama, it’s unprofessional and a waste of time. When you feel like making a snarky comment, go write a blog post instead. Ignore the haters, they just mean you’re actually doing something interesting, worth objecting to. There is room for all of us here. Channel your energies productively and your blog will bloom.
So, that’s all I’ve got. 9 semi-helpful suggestions for bloggers. Do it for love. Don’t get discouraged. Treat your blog like a business and act like a professional. What do you think?
If you’re interested in checking out Travel Blog Success, you can find more information here. The links in this article are affiliate links but this is a product I strongly believe in.