On January 8, 2012 I wrote my first ever blog post here on ADayTrip.com. Giving travel ideas, tips and reviews for activities across New England is something I enjoyed doing in my personal life and I wanted to expand that into a blog where I could share my experiences with a wider audience. It’s been a busy year full of ups and down, but in the end it’s been worth it. I’ve learned an incredible amount about the blogging world and, in this post, I’ve boiled it down for you in the hopes that any new travel bloggers can avoid many of the painful mistakes I made. Here are my tips and advice for new travel bloggers.
Do Your Keyword Research
I listed this one first because I feel that it the most important skill a blogger needs to learn. While, yes, you should be writing for people, you also need to learn how to write for search engines and the keywords people are searching for. Pat Flynn gives a great demonstration here on how to do proper keyword research.
You’ll have a much easier time getting your blog noticed in the search engines if you choose keywords that have lower competition. I didn’t do my research as thoroughly as I should have and I find myself up against some BIG competition.
Choose Your Website Title Carefully
You’ve only got one shot at a domain name, so choose it wisely. It is how people will refer to you going forward.
I didn’t initially set out for this blog to include myself, it was going to be a “faceless” travel guide for activities around New England. I soon realized that what I was writing about – reviews, tips and advice – needed a “face”. I also discovered that there is a LOT of competition in the New England travel market, but almost all of these sites are “faceless”. Adding my name and face to the site was an easy way to stand out from the crowd.
At that point, I began to regret the name of the site. ADayTrip.com (or A Day Trip as it was called initially) was only mildly descriptive of what the site entailed. It also wasn’t great for SEO purposes since the keyword day trip isn’t a highly searched term. In retrospect, I should have chosen a name like “Craig’s Travels” or even something relating to New England. In the end I decided to brand the site as ADayTrip.com and try to make the best of it.
Create a Social Media Presence Early
This is my biggest regret, not creating a social media presence earlier than I did.
Like I said above, I originally planned to make this blog a faceless travel site that relied mostly on search engine traffic to bring in viewers. With all of Google’s algorithm changes, this proved not to be a viable option. I’ve read on many, many sites that it’s important to establish a following early and of course I thought I was different – I didn’t need to do that! I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I had a few blog posts in the early days that attracted a lot of search engine traffic and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t have a social media presence to “capture” those readers and keep them coming back for more. It was a good 6 months before I finally got around to making Facebook, Twitter and G+ pages and I missed out on all of those potential followers.
Additionally, it’s also an okay way of getting more search engine exposure. It’s not fantastic by any means, but I’ve found Facebook posts, G+ posts and especially Pinterest albums rating highly for some of my targeted keywords. It’s never a bad idea to try to corner a market with all of your web properties.
Google is a Cruel Mistress
What the god Google giveth, the god Google taketh away.
This year has been brutal for Google algorithm changes. When I first started blogging, I wrote posts that weren’t SEO optimized for specific keywords. Somehow it still did well in the SERPs. I did have some basic knowledge of SEO: the title and URL should countain the keyword and the post should contain a picture with the keyword in its title and alt text. In the beginning, this was enough to bring in organic search traffic.
Then Google rolled out the EMD update at the end of September and my organic traffic disappeared overnight. It was heartbreaking, but it forced me to understand SEO and to rethink my strategy.
Do yourself a favor and get the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin and use it from the start of your blog. I had to go back over all of my posts, research the exact keywords and spend hours doing on-page SEO (with the Yoast plugin) to get my site back into the SERPs.
And, to tie into the last tip, if I had created a social presence earlier, I could have had some traffic trickling in from my followers instead of none.
Tackle One Social Media Outlet at a Time
There are so many out there: Facebook, Twitter, G+, Pinterest, Stumbleupon, Instagram and many more. Each one of them operates and drives traffic in different ways. It can take a while to learn how to properly use them. My advice is to start with one form of social media and learn what works best for getting followers and interacting with them; then move onto another one.
Start with Facebook. It is almost unanimously agreed among SEO experts that Facebook brings in the most traffic, learn it before delving into other forms.
Twitter is a good way to interact with established bloggers and to begin networking; it’s also the easiest to build a following on (follow people and they usually will follow you back).
G+ is important for getting your author bio to show up in the Google search results; but there aren’t a lot of people using it, so it can be hard to find followers. G+ recently started adding the ability to share circles, this is an easy way to get a big number of followers. This post is a good place to start building a follower list.
Pinterest I’m not totally sold on. I try to pin every single picture I post to an album that’s targeting important keywords. For instance I have this album titled “Best Things to Do in Massachusetts” and I pin all of my MA activities pictures to this album. In addition, every time I pin a picture, I try to make sure that the description of the picture contains a keyword and that the link back to the article is in the description. For many of the keywords that I target, my pins and Pinterest albums have actually outranked my website in the SERPs which can sometimes bring in visitors.
However, Pinterest does not seem to be a great way to drive in traffic in the travel niche. I heard that it is great for cooking/recipe websites; but for travel sites, people generally only want to look at the pictures. Pinterest does not encourage users to actually click through the picture and go to your site. I’ve had a few pins go semi-viral and it brought in almost no traffic. It seems that people just pin things onto their albums and leave them there. Pinterest will create a lot of backlinks for your sites and posts though, so it’s still a good idea to have a Pinterest account for your blog.
The rest of the social mediums I don’t have much experience with. I, too, am trying to learn these one at a time.
Setup Google Authorship
You can read about what Google Authorship is here. I strongly recommend that you set this up as early as possible. If you get the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin I recommended above, it’s a breeze to implement it site-wide. What happens with Google Authorship is that your G+ profile picture will appear next to your search results. This is a very easy way to make your website stand out and get more clicks to your site.
You may want to invest some time getting people to circle you though, seeing something like “by Craig Lodge, 2 people have him in circles” will not make you seem like an authority figure.
Watermark Any Images You Create
If you notice, every image on this site that I’ve taken has the watermark of adaytrip.com somewhere on the picture. I’ve come across numerous scraper websites that will harvest pictures and post them as if they own them. Nothing is more frustrating that seeing your hard work on someone else’s page that took your content without asking.
Watermarking images takes only a few minutes and it’s a good way to protect your investments.
Don’t Obsess Over Traffic Stats
I’m guilty of this one: refreshing your page-hit statistics every minute to see if someone new clicked onto your page. This is a really unhealthy habit to get into, not only will it be disappointing but it will also start to stress you out. Making a website is a slow process, it will take time for your posts to enter cyberspace and even longer before you see a steady stream of visitors.
Try to limit checking your traffic stats to once or twice a week if you can.
Don’t Take on More than You Can Handle
After the EMD update and losing almost all of my organic traffic, I panicked and went into overdrive. I kept reading that what Google wanted was frequent, unique, high-quality content; so I whipped into a frenzy.
I began pumping out articles almost every other day. I also began writing articles on other sites as well to create some backlinks and build a stronger online portfolio. I published articles on InfoBarrel as well as Squidoo and a few article directories. This was more work than I could possibly handle and I burnt out at about the one month mark.
More importantly, I wasn’t having fun. I work a 9-5 job as well and I began dreading each day.
Establish a schedule that works for you. I have since cut down my posting to once every 3 days, but will probably have to cut it down even further to once every 4 days. It may hurt me in the SERPs, but I’m okay with that. I’d rather take the time, explore new destinations and do quality posts. Ever since I eased up on the workload, I’ve been more energized to actually write and it doesn’t feel like work.
Network with More Established Sites
In the travel niche, there are a lot of great, established blogs out there. If you’re just getting started in the travel niche, find a few travel sites that you find interesting. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and sign up for their email newsletters. Then start commenting on posts and interacting with them. Not only does this get you noticed by the bloggers, but their followers will begin to notice you as well. You can also learn a great deal in how they run their sites and what you should be doing.
Many of these bloggers are very friendly and willing to help you as much as they can. Unfortunately, the successful bloggers are also very busy; so don’t take it personally if they don’t respond to an email or a tweet.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
I think it’s built into human nature to compare what we have against what others have. When you first start a travel blog, you’ll probably compare yourself to the larger, more successful travel sites out there (I certainly did) and wonder why you aren’t doing as well as they are. Since the internet is so intangible, I think it’s easy to forget just how much hard work others have done to get where they are today.
Instead, try to look at things from a more objective viewpoint. What do they do that works well? Can I integrate this somehow into my own site?
Your 1st year in blogging will be full of triumphs and disappointments and you’ll want to quit many, many times. It’s important that you hang in there and keep at it. I know I’ve wanted to quit more times than I can count, but little by little this site is beginning to grow its own legs. I’m happy with its progress and look forward to what my second year in blogging brings.
If you’re curious, my very first post was a great write up on the John Adams home tour; be sure to check it out.
Here’s to another great year!