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, 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. I have come to think of the Internet as a virtual New York City–a large, sprawling metropolis packed to the rafters with talented 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.
1. Nailing your website’s first impression.
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 as FurtherBound, 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. The Pin the Map Project was designed by Suitcase Designs!
Tip: Hiring designers can sometimes prove costly but 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.
2. Deciding to invest in your site.
While platforms like Blogger or Tumblr allow you to blog for free, there is something to be said about owning your own domain and self-hosting. If your blog is something you hope to turn from side hobby into career then you’ll need to put your money where your words are and invest in a domain. For example, The Pin the Map Project used to be www.thepinthemapproject.wordpress.com before I purchased the domain of www.thepinthemapproject.com. The difference? One looks more professional while the other is clearly a personal blog. Purchasing a domain goes hand-in-hand with deciding to design your blog to look sleeker and well-done.
Similarly, it’s said that self-hosting is the key to being taken seriously as a blogger, which is to say that customized templates on WordPress.org with a self-hosting service such as BlueHost gives the blog a more digitally savvy, stylized feel. Not being the most savvy with website coding and design, I cannot recommend Suitcase Designs enough! These talented folks not only switched The Pin the Map Project to WordPress.org and BlueHost, but answered my endless questions along the way.
3. Tips to building your website traffic and following.
It’s much easier said than done to drive traffic to your website when first starting out. Driving traffic (or site visitation) 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 traffic is to ride on the coat tails of another, more established publication–such as a FOOD & WINE, Bootnsall, Matador, Thought Catalog, etc. Pitching articles to other sites exposes your writing and website to the thousands of viewers that brand already has. For example, I 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. I have interviewed editors from Vagabondish.com and the Matador Network and this gave me the huge opportunity to have my blog aligned with those brands and exposed to their 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.
4. Considering paid media and advertising.
I work in advertising and have been on accounts of some of the most established brand names in the world and although people know about these brands, the companies still pay for advertising. Why? Because regardless if you’re a household, global name or a newly minted blog, paid advertising helps you target specific countries, people with specified interests and drives clicks and page views to your site. While it is ideal to have earned traffic by means of published content, traveler interviews and social media–sometimes paid traffic will drive the most site visitation. Outbrain is a great company that allows you to set up an advertising campaign, set your daily budget and choose content on your site that you want shared. Different from just running an ad, Outbrain appends links to relevant articles at the bottom of stories on CNN and more. If someone is reading about travel, for example, at the end of that article there is a section prompting them to check out other relevant content–this is where Outbrain will place your links! It’s a proven way to drive traffic to your site and expose articles to readers who may not have heard of your blog.
Tip: When setting up a campaign on Outbrain, make sure to geo-target your campaign to specific countries in order to ensure you are running on quality and relevant sites. Likewise, it is better to set a higher daily budget over a shorter amount of time vs. a lower budget over a longer campaign flight.
5. Getting social.
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.
6. Join blogger communities & meet ups.
Another way to drive traffic to your website and grow following is to join blogger communities such as Stumbleupon, Bloglovin and Feedly. These communities allow you to add your blog to their directories, sync your blog so posts are automatically updated in blogger feeds and add a button to your page for easy following. Bloglovin–one of my favorites–is also a great resource for connecting with other bloggers in your area of interest and seeing what other people are writing about. When I am having writer’s block, I tend to scroll through my Bloglovin feed to find inspiration for my next great story.
Another great resource is the Professional Travel Bloggers Association, which connects travel bloggers with PR people and industry contacts who may be interested in working with them. In order to join the PTBA you must exceed 3,000 page views in the past 30 days and have had your website for over 9 months. If interested in joining the PTBA, which I am also a member of, you can apply here. If your blog is not yet at the point that it is exceeding 3,000 page views per month, check out the above tips on driving earned and paid traffic to your site.
If in New York, join the newly launched NYC Travel Dinner Series to meet other local bloggers, writers and travelers in the city!
7. Learning the ins and outs of SEO.
Admittedly, I am still learning about SEO and its many intricacies. SEO (or search engine optimization) is what helps people find your site and content when Google searching. In order to be discovered by readers, your site needs to be set up with SEO, which essentially means that your posts will be tagged with the right keywords and Google optimized so that your articles are found. The Pin the Map Project uses the Squirrly SEO plug-in which makes it easy to make sure my posts are optimized. Once installed, Squirrly analyzes all the pages of your blog and suggests quick ways to improve the SEO–whether by adding keywords, images, etc. Posts and pages that are Google friendly will highlight in green–doesn’t get much simpler than that!
8. Looking for blog sponsorships and advertising opportunities.
Your blog is set up, your homepage has a killer design, you’re pushing out new content and your traffic is steadily growing! Next step is to look for opportunities to expand your reach and blog via blog sponsorships and advertising opportunities. As you continue to build your site and push things out via social media, you’ll be thrilled when e-mails start coming in regarding blog sponsorships, product reviews and opportunities to work with travel brands. While it may seem tempting to jump at the first opportunity that comes knocking, make sure that whatever you choose is on brand with your blog and your audience. If your website is about budget travel and backpacking, it wouldn’t make sense to review a luxury hotel (no matter how tempting that free room sounds). Similarly, if your website is about luxury travel it wouldn’t be on brand to review a hostel in exchange for a free stay. Only you know what your website’s values are and with every decisions and opportunity, it is up to you to preserve what your blog is about.
When you feel like your blog is ready, start pitching tourism boards, travel agencies and brands that you’d like to work with! Best case you hear something back, worst case your note goes unanswered–but at the end of the day you will get out of your blog what you put into it, so pour your effort in and you’ll see amazing results come out.
9. Staying connected & engaged.
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. Stay 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.
10. Connecting with brands.
Recently, I have joined platforms such as BloggerBridge or Blog on Brands, which specialize in connecting bloggers with various companies or brands that may be interested in working with them. Both platforms pull in your Google Analytics stats and allow you to present examples of your work and categorize your blog so that it is easily searchable for people in the industry. Within a week of signing up for BloggerBridge, I was thrilled to receive a message from a tour company in London interested in working with me and having me review their offerings. I cannot recommend these platforms enough as they are an excellent means of networking and connecting with PR and travel industry contacts.
11. Remembering that 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 press trips, 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 travel 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.
Make sure to check more BLOG TIPS here and share your best blogging tips in the comments section below!