I sometimes get messages from new bloggers who have questions or are looking for ideas or encouragement, which leads me to this post–a collection of tips for new bloggers and (hopefully) some encouragement for those who are starting out and wonder if it’s really all worth it. Let me begin by saying that there are many travel bloggers who are much more successful and therefore more qualified than I am to write a post like this. I am not claiming to be the ultimate expert, but I do have enough experience and have made enough mistakes to give some advice.
So here we have my tips for new bloggers plus some questions that have come my way (and these are true for any blogging niche but come from my experience in travel blogging):
1) Decide what your goal is and make choices from there.
Do you want to blog long-term and possibly use it for business or professional growth? Do you have the passion and time to commit to your blog every week for the long haul? If you answer yes to both of these, consider getting your blog going the right way from the beginning. The rest of this post is geared toward you.
If you answer no, that’s OK–your life will be a whole lot easier . You might want to blog as a place to express yourself and share stories with friends and family while on a long trip. You might want to write about a specific topic for a while as a resource for others. You might be curious about blogging and want to try it out for a while. If this is you, start with a WordPress.com site and have fun. Click here if you are not familiar with the difference between WordPress.com and .org.
One mistake I made early on was jumping in without knowing what I was doing. As you get started, take some time to learn about blogging, decide on your goals, and get familiar with other blogs in your niche. Find some favorites and think about why you are attracted to their blogs–what is it about their writing and blog style that makes you want to visit over and over? Make your site look nice and get some quality content up before trying to get readers.
2) Your site looks nice. What theme do you use?
This site is self-hosted on WordPress.org. If you plan to blog for the long haul, pay someone to set you up on WP.org (or do it yourself). I use Canvas theme from WooThemes. I also have help behind the scenes from RTWLabs keeping everything running smoothly. I try to keep the site clean, which means less stuff all over the site so it’s not too busy. I hired someone to design the header you see at the top. More about all that here.
3) What social media tools should I be using and are they really worth it?
At the minimum, you should be using Twitter, Facebook (as a page, not your personal account), Pinterest, StumbleUpon, and Google+. Yes, they are all really worth it, but you have to use them consistently to see the benefits.
4) Are there any communities of bloggers that I should join?
Yes! The blogging groups on Facebook are wonderful (e.g. Global Bloggers, Business of Blogging) for networking and asking questions.
The paid course Travel Blog Success is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn step by step. The guys who run it really know what they are talking about, and lots of high-profile bloggers have taken the course and participate in the forums. Through January 25, enter TBS35 here for a 35% discount!
5) Choose a small niche and promote yourself.
This is one I still struggle with, but honestly it is true. It’s hard to narrow down my writing and research because I have so many interests. However, one thing that really is important is to think about what your main interests are and specialize in those.
Why? Because there are thousands, if not millions, of travel bloggers, food bloggers, mommy bloggers, etc., so if you stay general, barely anyone will notice. Figure out what you are passionate and knowledgeable about and make that your niche. Traveling through Asia? Outdoor adventures? Slow travel? Later you can expand your blogging to other niches by starting other blogs or getting other writing gigs.
Here’s what happened to me:
–I wrote about my travels and realized that I didn’t want to focus on one area of the world, say California or Brazil.
–I helped found the group ArtSmart Travel because of my background in art history and my interest in seeing art and architecture around the world. Those monthly roundtable posts have become a sub-niche of mine.
–I played with the niche of family travel since I often travel with my two small children but realized that it’s not my focus–many other family travel bloggers out there are more passionate about the topic than I am.
–I started to realize that my niche is my travel perspective. I am a person who loves details, so when I travel, I like to go slowly, get to really know a place, learn about its history and heritage, and get off the beaten path.
–I started having success by combining my travel perspective with writing about places that I really love (e.g. Napa Valley, Brazil, Italy). When you love something, others can feel your passion and knowledge, and they begin to trust you.
–I entered a competition to attend the Florens2012 Cultural and Environmental Heritage Week as a social media reporter. I wrote about 4 posts about travel and cultural heritage. I won.
Through attending the conferences and having discussions with others, I came away with a mission to promote “quality travel.” By focusing on places that I really know and love and using my passion for detail, I can write about travel in a responsible way, one which promotes authentic, slow, mindful travel. And that’s my niche.
Once you figure out what you will focus on, let everyone who you are:
Think of some key words that match your niche and put them in a box on the sidebar so that everyone who visits your blog sees them. Put them in all your social media profiles. Put them on your business cards. Brand yourself using those words. Write guest posts about those topics. In short, spread the word that you are the go-to person for that niche.
6) How can I get more traffic?
Compared to big travel blogs, my site doesn’t get a ton of traffic, but it has been increasing steadily over the past year. There was a plateau when I was consistently getting around 100 pageviews a day, but last fall, traffic started increasing, and finally in December I got over 10,000 pageviews. While there are many ways to increase traffic, using a combination of these strategies should help you increase your numbers.
–Write quality content. That’s your first priority.
–Comment on other blogs, especially if they use CommentLuv, which links to your latest blog post.
–Ask to join a couple of group Pinterest boards that have a large number of followers (search Pinterest by topic and look for large group boards). Pin your best photos from blog posts and include the title of the post; some of the people who repin them will click through.
–Share posts with tourism boards or others who might be interested. For example, if you write a post about the best places to taste wine in Washington, send the link to the related tourism boards and the wineries themselves. Connect with their Facebook pages. If they share your post, you may get lots of traffic from their large audiences.
–Make connections with other bloggers. Share your favorite posts of theirs. Ask them to do a link exchange on your respective sites.
–Get active using StumbleUpon. It doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes a day, but you need to stumble several posts a day to get the benefits, and a lucky stumble can bring you thousands of pageviews. Granted, views from StumbleUpon are not the most valuable because those readers don’t tend to stay long, but they are still new people coming to your site!
–Write as many guest posts as you can. The previously mentioned Facebook groups are great places to get guest posting opportunities. Be careful, however. If you write a guest post for a site, don’t let them pressure you to include a link back to their site (including adding a badge) because the reward for your hard work is the link back to your site.
–Design your blog posts carefully with your audience in mind. The general web audience has a very short attention span, so imagine what the average reader will do with your post in about 2 minutes. Use photos, headings, and short paragraphs. Bold important parts. Unless you are a gifted writer and have an audience that enjoys long reads, don’t write super long posts most of the time, or break them up into separate posts (Part 1 and Part 2).
–Edit yourself. Check your posts for errors. Don’t be afraid to cut sentences to make your writing more concise or effective. Use only your best photos. Edit your photos using Picasa (free), Photoshop, or Lightroom. Be sure to compress and resize your photos so that they don’t slow down your site.
–Run giveaways–people like them! This is something I will do more of in 2013. My recent giveaway of a subscription to AFAR magazine didn’t cost me much but brought me new Facebook fans and email subscribers. Use Rafflecopter to manage your giveaways.
–Get involved in some of the weekly link-ups, like Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox. One of my favorites is Suzy Guese’s “Suzy Stumbles Over Travel” series. You leave the link of your favorite new blog post, and Suzy will comment on it, share it, and stumble it using StumbleUpon. Then every Monday she chooses her 5 favorites.
Most of all, have fun and be yourself! If blogging ever becomes a chore, don’t be afraid to take a break. I did that, and in the long run, it made no difference except that it gave me the space I needed to go through a difficult personal time. If you really love expressing yourself in this way, the blogging platform will always be there!
Questions? Suggestions? Please leave a comment!