How to Take Your Travel Blog to the Next Level
“..now what?” It was the first thought to cross my mind once I had launched my website, The Pin the Map Project, and had officially put my thoughts out into the world. Born from the idea to travel long-term in 2016, The Pin the Map Project began as a blog to track how someone goes from a 9-5 corporate job to a full-time traveler before the age of 30. With a focus on budget travel, planning tips and candid views of destinations—I knew I wanted my website to serve as a forum for aspiring travelers to stop day dreaming and start living their lives one pin at a time.
Looking towards some of my favorite travel writers, I had visions of what I expected my site to be and felt that pang of reality and disappointment when my first few blog posts weren’t immediately a hit but instead were read only by my parents. I have come to think of the internet as a virtual New York City–a large, sprawling metropolis packed to the rafters with people all elbowing their way to the top. Much like ‘the Concrete Jungle,’ it is easy for a website to fall to the wayside and become eclipsed. It takes ambition, work and being savvy to separate your site from the herd of blogs and stand out. Anyone with a mouse and keyboard has the ability to create a blog, but not everyone has the knowledge of how to position, promote and push their website to the forefront of the crowd. Since graduating college, I have taken a scenic route in my search for career bliss; having tried on industries like hats, I picked up experience in public relations, marketing, advertising and journalism along the way. While at the time it felt like I was stumbling around from desk job to desk job, now I realize that every chapter of my career hunt has left me with a set of skills that can be used to nurture my passion for travel writing and help my site blossom. Whether a new blogger, veteran writer or aspiring traveler hoping to document your travels, the following tips will help build your audience and take your website to the next level.
Dress for the Site you Want, Not the Site you Have
Psychologists say that It takes just one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make our first impression, whether meeting someone at a bar, interviewing for a position or simply walking down the street, appearance plays a crucial role in how we are perceived. While first impressions translate to personal appearance on a day-to-day basis, in the blogger-sphere your ‘face’ is the homepage of your website. Imagine that you are skimming through various websites and find one that catches your eye, you click through to the homepage but the layout is sloppy, text is either too small or over sized and images are blurry or dis-proportioned–these are just some of the turn-off’s that can send a visitor running from you website into the arms of another.
Travel sites such as Hope Engaged , Lazy Travelers, or That Backpacker are examples of clean, minimalist homepages that are user-friendly, visually alluring and draws your attention to either featured content or text the writer wants you to see. Publishing platforms such as WordPress, Squarespace or Blogger usually offer or sell themes that will give your website a jumping off point. Choose a theme that best compliments your content, for example if your site is focused on photography then you would likely choose a layout that is image-based and less text heavy.
If serious about your travel site and taking it to the next level, visit the websites of those you admire and take note (at the bottom of their page) of who designed their blog. Web designers such asFurtherBound, Natalia Rosa, The Suitcase Designs and Maiedae specialize in custom web design, logo creation and unique templates to either build your site from scratch, give it a make over or simply provide you with a unique header.
Tip: Design Crowd connects you with many developers and site designers by allowing you to post a job to the site and gives designers the chance to big on your project.
Building your Site Traffic By Pitching and Interviewing
It’s much easier said than done to drive traffic to your website when first starting out. Driving traffic (or visitors) essentially requires that people already know about your site and are frequent followers or are referred to your blog via a recommendation or another source. There is a 4-prong approach I use for The Pin the Map Project to drive traffic and following and that is to pitch,interview, socialize and engage. If you think about it, the best way to drive site visitation is to ride on the coat tails of another, more established publication–such as a Bootnsall, Thought Catalog, etc. Pitching articles to other travel sites exposes your writing and website to the thousands of viewers that brand already has. For example, I recently pitched a story to Thought Catalog about ways to save money for travel and the piece drove over 1,000 views to my homepage and jumped up the number of followers I have!
Interviewing other travelers is a trick I picked up from on of my favorite travel writers, Beth of Besudesu Abroad. Each week, Beth turns towards the travel community and interviews bloggers, travelers and photographers who have a great story to tell. Beth’s Travel Tuesday interview series not only connects people to others in the travel community but allows her to support other blogs by sharing them with her readership. Taking a page from Beth’s book, I created The Traveler Series , to similarly highlight the travels of editors and notable writers. Whereas Beth is an established travel writer and has developed her following over many years, I leverage The Traveler Series to not only connect to other writers but to expose my blog to their following when I post their interviews. Most recently, I interviewed an editor from Nowhere Magazine and this gave me the huge opportunity to have my blog aligned with that brand and exposed to its social following. Although interviewing other travelers is a great way to increase site traffic, it is also a priceless way to learn from other established bloggers who may have tips and tricks for building up your website.
In advertising we like to say that ‘word-of-mouth’ or viral marketing is the strongest form of advertising; that is because a trusted voice holds more weight than a sales pitch direct from an advertiser. Whatever you blog, post or share should be tweeted, facebooked, instagrammed and pinned to your social following to both bring visitors to your site and encourage word-of-mouth advertising. If a friend of yours read a great post you wrote about the temples in Cambodia and she then shares that with another friend who is planning a trip there, your site is organically growing in following and readership by means of word-of-mouth. Make sure you blog has a Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram and Pinterest in order to reach people across all four social platforms. Ways to grow social following include: social media contests and asking people you interview or pitch to tweet your story and mention your social handles.
Stay Connected & Engage
In blogs, as in life, it is not interesting for people when they are a part of a one-sided monologue. If you were sitting across the table from someone who rarely bothered to ask you anything about yourself or comment on your interests, you would quickly get bored–the same goes for blogging. Your website is a forum for readers to interact with you, leave comments, share thoughts and find solace in other like-minded travelers, so engage with your followers! Whenever a comment is left, reply and encourage conversation; similarly you should check out other blogs and comment on great articles or photographs you see. Staying connected to other writers and engage with the travel community–it creates a nurturing environment for everyone to read, support, comment and follow one another’s work.
Patience is a Virtue
In the course of my interviews with various travelers I have learned that it often takes years for some of the greats to reach the level of paid sponsorships, working with tourism boards and having thousands of followers visiting their site. As is the case with most things in life, it takes patience and determination to mark the difference between a casual blog followed by five or a thriving blog visited by thousands. Be diligent in your posting, churn our new content every week and continue to pitch stories to support your blog and eventually pull it to the upper echelons of the blogger-sphere.