Image: Thomas Leuthard
I have been in search since 2001, building websites and driving traffic to them. This site has been going since 2012 and growing it’s traffic month on month. We are now up to 55k+ uniques per month, its not a huge amount but I spend very little time on it. Once this traffic builds to around 100K I will sell it. I’m happy to build traffic slowly with little outlay and let the site age – I see it as an investment.
I’m going to share with you my process and how you can build a travel blog from scratch. This will be a lot more technical than most other guides and give you some pro tips for driving traffic and making money.
There are hundreds of travel blogs out there – how can you make yours stand out? The answer is to go niche. The more niche your travel site is, the better your chances of dominating that area. Examples of niche travel sites could be:
- Walking site
- Climbing blog
- Adventure travel
- Travel hacks site
- Travelling by Campervan
Get your thinking cap on and come up with something awesome. It really helps it you have an interest in the area – then it becomes more of a hobby and fun to build.
The name of your site will be your brand, make sure it’s memorable and catchy.
Search through available domain names with a registrar and make a list of available domains for brainstorming. I would always go for a .com and not scared to use an obscure name for my sites, they are often more memorable.
Go to Namevine and also see if the social profiles are free. There’s nothing worse than registering a good domain name and not being able to secure the social profiles to go with it. Don’t forget you are building a brand, even if you are starting out small.
Register the domain and find cheap hosting
When starting out, you don’t want to spend a fortune on hosting. You an pick up cheap hosting for a little as $50/year. You also do not want to use free blogging platforms like WordPress.com – not to be confussed with WordPress.org which I’ll get to later.
How to Install WordPress.org on your travel site
Don’t think WordPress.org is a small blogging platform. Its a total beast. Even big news sites like The Guardian and Mashable run on WordPress. The platform is very easy to use and highly scalable.
- Once you have registered your hosting, make sure the domain servers are pointing at your hosting. Go to DNS and add the correct name. It will look something like this ns1.domainfin.com
- Log into your Cpanel with the information provided by your hosting company, usually sent to you by email.
- Go to the scripts section and install WordPress.org. Tip: change the admin name away from ‘admin’ at the start for security reasons, it will save you a lot of time working out how to do this later.
- Once installed and the DNS has propogated, you should see the domain live when you add it into your browser
WordPress Themes for Travel Sites
WordPress out of the box will look a bit boring, but this is just the starting point. You can now add themes to make the site look awesome. I have always used Genesis as its a great frame work and they have some cool themes. Genesis sits on top of WordPress and is very well coded.
Once you gave Genesis installed, you can add a child theme to make it look great. Most themes are mobile responsive and built in HTML5 with cool scrolling functionality. This site runs on the Magazine theme.
WordPress Pluggins for your Travel Site
These are the plugins I use on most of my sites, I see these as essential.
- Yoast SEO – lots of useful features to help you SEO your sites
- Bulletproof security – Beefs up your WP security with secure .htaccess files
- Digg Digg – Social share buttons
- Ultimate TinyMCE – Gives you more control over the look and feel of your fonts
Securing your WordPress Travel Blog
WordPress is not very secure out of the box, but a few simple tweaks will make a huge difference.
- Make your user name is not ‘Admin ‘ – it’s the first thing hackers will try. This is best created when you first install WordPress as it will be a pain in the arse to change later if you are not familiar with WordPress.
- Create a very secure password – use a password generator to create a 20 character password with letters, numbers and symbols.
- Install Bullet proof security plugin as mentioned above. This plugin will create an awesome .htaccess file on your server and help protect your admin area. The plugin has lots of other functionality, but you will need to read up a little on it as may appear daunting.
Making your Travel Blog Super Fast
Google likes fast loading sites and it is a ranking factor. Here are a few things you can do to speed things up. I recommend signing up to Cloudflare – the free account. Cloudflare acts as a content delivery network (CDN) and will speed up the load time pf pages. Cloudflare also gives you website a extra layer of security.
Host your images on a CDN. Take a look at Cloudinary – you can host a couple of hundred images on their servers for free. Image CDNs like cloudinary will cache your images on their different servers around the world, and optimize load time according to a visitors location.
[colorbox]Tip: Cloudinary will give you 2GB of storage for free and 5GB bandwidth per month. Use this but make sure you move to Amazon S3 below when you start maxing out as they will want to start charging you and stop your free quota being displayed. [/colorbox]
Once your blog traffic starts to grow, this will soon be used up. Once this happens move to Amazon S3 CDN for your images with Amazon Cloudfront. It’s a paid service but it will cost you peanuts. This site uses Amazon S3 for image hosting, click on above image to see the url location.
Ensure you have signed up to Google Search Console, here you can do a speed test and Google will give you a few pointers to speed things up further. You may need a developer to action some of the issues highlighted.
Writing the Content
Now it’s all down to you to get your creative writing flowing. When you start writing, the first few posts will take hours, but you will get quicker and more confident every post you publish. Once you have a good amount of content and you know what gets traffic, its time to scale the process (see below).
Driving Traffic, Scaling Content and building a $10,000/mth Income
Unless you are going all out for a social strategy, Google is likely to send you 80% of your traffic.
You need content ideas that drive traffic through either social or search. Social traffic is likely to give you big spikes on posts if they do well, where Google will send you constant traffic if the article is good and ‘evergreen’. You need to see where other sites are getting their traffic from, which articles and then use their idea and make your posts better. Here are some great tools for sniffing out your competitors:
Buzzsumo – Will give you the top articles by social shares by niche or domains – amazing if you are looking to get high social traffic.
SEMRush – This will give you a sites organic rankings and top keywords. If they are ranking well for some keywords, but have low link metrics, you are likely to outrank them with better content.
Try SEMRush on a site…
Obviously the keywords like ‘Travel blog’ are going to be hard to rank for the short term, go niche and look for topics that smaller sites are ranking for.
One simple trick is to see a blogs popular posts – yes they will actually tell you which posts are driving them high traffic.
My Content Fishing Strategy
I have developed a technique to gain maximum traffic per $1, I call it content fishing. Here is the process:
- Create some quick 500 word posts on topics that you think will be popular. e.g. Rio with the 2016 Olympics
- Publish and keep a close eye on your analytics
- If a post is getting traffic, then keep updating it regularly and build out a decent sized post (2000-4000 words)
- Once it is doing well you create some related posts around the topic to build up relevant internal links and authority on the topic.
To get high traffic you need a a lot of posts. Some people can bang out posts really quickly…but that’s not me. I prefer to come up with content ideas then pay writers to do the slog work. You don’t have to pay a fortune for writers, try Fiverr for example, you will be surprised how good some of the content is for $5. I also recommend Upwork – you will find someone great after a bit of trial and error.
I’ve been experimenting with translating content into different languages, so I have a Russian subfolder which is geo-targeted to the country with Google search console. The content I get translated is generally around countries I know will be popular with Russians…they are bloody everywhere now 🙂
This could be scaled to different countries depending on your niche.
I recommend either using Upwork or a company like Unbabel to get you content translated.
Link building in the travel niche
You have to build links to your blog if you want your posts to do well in search and build organic traffic. Here are the top methods that work in 2016, but remember quality is better than quantity. Try to write and place 2 articles a month on top quality sites that accept contributions.
- Guest post on high quality sites
- Cross link from your guest posts to related posts on your site
- Build a resources which people will be happy to link to
- Make your photographs free to use with a link attribution
If your content is amazing, people will naturally link to you.
To see which site link to you try one of these providers:
Open Link Profiler – Great tool as its’s free and still gives you loads of link data.
Monetising your Travel Blog
for every 1000 visitors you are likely to earn $1-3. Yes this is crap after all the effort you have put into your site but this is continually and automated. Once a post is getting traffic, its likely to stay that way for a long time. The search engine giant says that 2 million people have chosen its platform so far, which promises to deliver high quality and relevant content to your audience.
However, some websites have been banned from Adsense rather unceremoniously. According to Google, this could be for a range of reasons, which include clicking ads on your own site, generating or receiving automated traffic, using incentivised sources, deceptive ad placement, or simply violating webmaster guidelines.
But no matter whether you have been banned or not, what other alternatives are there to Google Adsense and how do they stack up against the leading monetisation platform? Well, here is a quick look at 10 of the best.
As the world’s biggest online store, you won’t be surprised to hear that Amazon can potentially give you plenty of profit with its Associates program. It enables you to put and promote dynamic image ads on your blog, which Amazon will pay commission for every time a sale is attributed to the link.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of Amazon Associates is that everything a consumer buys through your link, regardless of whether it was the recommended item or not, will generate commission.
In direct competition to Google Adsense, Media.net powers the Yahoo! Bing Network Contextual Ads program. It has over 650 employees in key operation centres across the globe such as New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Zurich, Mumbai, and Bangalore.
Media.net provides a wide range of advertising and traffic monetisation solutions to a significant yet diverse client base, but stresses that its services are exclusively made available to web publishers with high-quality content only. Select publishers include Forbes, Reuters, Esquire, and Elle.
This is one of the Internet’s largest monetisation networks, which helps more than 200,000 publishers in 128 countries around the world earn money from unused ad space. In fact, Infolinks works with renowned brands such as Facebook, Amazon, eBay, TripAdvisor, and many more.
Best of all, it is free and easy to use yet doesn’t interfere with the experience of online audiences. There are no setup fees, no minimum page view or visitor
Since its inception in 2011, PropellerAds has quickly developed into a huge pop under network, which specialises in monetising websites for sectors including entertainment, videos, movies, games, dating, software, gambling, and more.
Due to its niche, ProperllerAds has the potential to provide you with even more money than Adsense anyway. It also makes a huge amount of sense from a mobile perspective, as PropellerAds works closely with ad networks that monetise smartphone apps and services, which could deliver a big ROI and great CPMs.
If you want a carbon copy of Google Adsense, it is difficult to look past Adversal. It has good banners and image ads, while the CTR and revenue will adapt to get the best results possible for your website. It even works well with other languages.
But while your account should get approved quickly, it is important to note that Adversal requires all sites to have a minimum of 50,000 page views per month.
PopAds is a performance network that specialises in pop unders, although it also has pop ups, tab ups, tab unders, and other monetisation methods available. It claims to be the highest and fastest paying ad network on the market when it comes to pop unders.
This is because along with good rates and the ability to monetise all countries, PopAds also pays daily as long as you earn $5 or more per day. Setting up your ads should only take a few minutes too, where you are given the ability to determine a minimum bid and choose autoplaying sound or video ads.
Yet another performance ad network that offers payment based on results, Revenue Hits is a self-service platform for publishers. It has different monetisation channels available as well as the ability to create banner ads, sliders, buttons, pop unders, and more.
Although Revenue Hits pays on a NET 30 basis and can provide payment via electronic transfer, PayPal, and Payoneer, you need to keep ads running for at least 3-4 days for the best results.
Offering daily payments with only a $1 payout minimum, Yllix is a great option if you want to receive revenue immediately. It has a decent CPM and multiple monetisation options, while the intuitive dashboard is easy to get to grips with.
Options include pop unders, mobile redirects, sliders, layer ads, and full page ads for a solid CTR. Choose Yllix if you want to dip your toes in the monetisation water, as approval is fast as well.
Not only is Chitika very similar to Adsense, it can also work alongside Google with no problems whatsoever. After signing up you will be given access to various ad types, a low payment threshold ($10 minimum via PayPal, $50 minimum via cheque), as well as Chitika’s own smart ad technology and RTB platform.
Chitika currently boasts a network of more than 350,000 publishers, four billion strategically targeted ads served per month, and proprietary targeting technology that leverages the power of programmatic buying to serve the right ad at the right time.
PopCash has been around for a while now and can be relied upon to deliver excellent results. It has pop under ads with a great CPM and good inventory for all countries, which is inclusive of both mobile and desktop traffic.
In addition to daily payments via PayPal, Payza, or Paxum, you can also benefit from statistics updated every hour, low stakes, and live support from dedicated members of staff.
Most big companies like booking.com will have an affiliate program you can sign up to. If your visitors click through and make a sale, you will get commission. Smaller niche sites are likely to pay you higher rates of commission, up to 50% in some cases. Here are a few affiliate networks worth signing up to:
Sharesale – Nice range of smaller brands and product, though has a shit interface.
Affiliate Window – Good for uK based affiliate programs
Commission Junction – Lots of advertisers
Tradedoubler – Lots of big brand advetisers
Selling a service
I sell digital marketing services and content, which alone makes me $10K/month revenue.
Types of service include:
- Community management
- PR services
- Product reviews
- Blog management
- Content management
- Social media consulting
Advertising – The best way to make money is with sponsored posts, but be warned people are looking for dofollow links which may be against Google guidlines as you are ‘selling links’. Prospective customers will for looking for Domain authority (DA) sites of 30+. The average price for selling posts is $300. If you are going to you this tactic its best to make the links nofollow or it will kill your site.
Google easily detects these kind of paid links and will issue you a ‘unnatural outbound links penalty’ before long.
The trick is to be subtle, natural and do not over do it. Even if you are selling 1 per month that’s $3000/year.
Newletter promotions – If you have a lot of subscribers, advertisers will be happy to promote themselves in your newsletters.
Social Promotion – If you have built a large, active following on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram you will be able to sell your social promotion service to big brands.
Banner Ads – People will pay to place ads on your site if you have decent traffic. Apply to Buy Sell Ads – they will take care of all this with just a script on your site.
The $10k/Month revenue stream
Below is a break down of the potential revenue streams you should be aiming for.
Advertising – $2000
Adsense – $1000
Marketing services – $4000
Writing Service – $2000
Affiliate Earnings – $1000
Understanding Google Analytics for your Travel Blog
As soon as your site is up and running, make sure you sign up to Google analytics and Search console and integrate the two together. You can also integrate your Adsense account with analytics to see which posts are making you the most adsense income.
We average 70K uniques per month as seen below
Important factors are:
Time on site – Google love good engagement
Bounce rate – Blog posts typically have high bounce rates. People land, get the information that want then leave. You need to create ways to keep them on your site. Related posts, linking to related posts…
Acquisition – You need to know where your traffic is coming from. Its likely to be from referrals to start, then organic when your blog has aged a while. The trick is to not rely on Google for most of your traffic, this can change dramatically at any given time. You should be aiming to drive the majority of your traffic from social, a strategy Matadoor network does well at.
Travel Blogging Networking
As opposed to the vast majority of other occupations, the travel blogger may struggle to network with likeminded professionals. After all, you don’t tend to work for an employer who makes you attend industry conferences or trade shows, while most intrepid globetrotters aren’t sure where they’ll be in the world on any given day.
However, you would be surprised at how much help and support is out there if you know where to look. In fact, there are countless events and meet-ups taking place all over the world, which aim to inspire and advise in equal measure.
What’s more, the lion’s share of wayfaring wordsmiths are more than happy to offer up opinion and guidance, even if travel blogging is a somewhat overcrowded and competitive niche.
So, with this in mind, here is a guide to networking for travel bloggers.
Try to attend an actual event
As a travel blogger, the thought of making your way across the other side of the world for an event won’t be as daunting as it is for most people. Therefore, if you are serious about generating a sustainable salary from travel-related content, you should consider attending a real-life event. The most popular include:
TBEX – This is the travel industry’s largest gathering of bloggers, writers, content creators, and social media professionals. In addition to the people and resources you can potentially learn from, TBEX also has multiple events annually in various global locations. They are often announced over a year in advance too, allowing you to plan your trip with ample time to spare.
ITB – Although strictly a trade show, ITB is the biggest of its kind and still well worth visiting if you want to establish relationships with tourist boards and travel operators. The main event takes place in Berlin and covers sub-categories such as adventure travel, business travel, youth travel, LGBT, cultural tourism, social responsibility, and technology.
Travel Massive – Comprising of an abundance of industry insiders, Travel Massive has a number of local events going on all over the world at any one time. You should be able to find at least one event coming up soon in your area, which tend to attract writers, brands, start-ups, and agents.
SxSW – Recognised the world over as the biggest festival for original music, independent film, and emerging technologies, SxSW also presents a great opportunity for travel bloggers as well. It grows exponentially by the year and is the ultimate networking opportunity for rubbing shoulders with the creative industries’ big hitters.
Join online communities
Professional Travel Bloggers Association – The Professional Travel Bloggers Association’s mission is to “promote the interests of travel bloggers within the industry by supporting and fostering the needs, careers and relationships of travel bloggers.” However, the PTBA requires that you have been actively blogging for at least nine months and achieve more than 3k monthly page views.
Travel Blog Success – This is a pay-to-play networking community where you can not only visit the forums for advice or inspiration, but also sign up to online courses to improve your blogging skills. There are regular webinars, a secret Facebook group, and a 30-day money back guarantee.
Travellerspoint – More than 30,000 blogs have shared 175,000 stories on Travellerspoint thus far, which claims to be the web’s largest and most active travel communities with members representing every country in the world. Feel free to visit the forums with a question or make use of its 50,000 accommodation booking options.
Facebook Groups – No matter where you are planning to visit next or what your travel niche is, you are bound to find a corresponding group on Facebook. From discovering what life as an expat is like in Dubai to finding out where the best hiking routes are in Peru, conduct a quick search on Facebook and you will probably find the answer in next to no time.
Approach your favourite travel bloggers
Chances are you will have a few favourite travel bloggers, who excite you with their words but also influence your own content. But rather than simply reading what they have to say and wondering whether you will ever be that good, why not approach them and ask for some guidance?
As mentioned earlier, most travel bloggers are extremely affable and obliging when it comes to offering support. You could even strike up a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.
The key takeaway to remember with networking is the more you put in, the more you will get out, which can also be said for every travel endeavour you undertake.
The travel bloggers tool list
Bluehost – for your hosting
SEMrush – for competitor research
Upwork – for content and all other admin/dev work
Hootsuite – for running all your social profiles
Buzzsumo – for finding most shared content in your niche
Travel Blog Success – Great resource for growing your travel blog