Happy birthday, Pack The Suitcases! You’re one today. Here are some travel blogging tips I’ve learnt over the past year since we gave birth to you.
1. Re-size your images from the start
The absolute worst thing I did in the first few months was to upload all my images full size. Yes, full bloody size. Meaning each one was about 2MB and 4600×2600. They all took roughly 19 years to download. I’m still working on replacing them all with smaller versions and it’s the most boring, time-consuming waste of life I’ve ever experienced. I want to sob just thinking about how much I still have to do. If you don’t have PhotoShop, you can download Fotor and batch re-size your images. I go for 1200 x 900 for landscapes these days, which is much more palatable for Google’s page speed loading test and means readers don’t just give up and close the blog in 2 seconds.
2. Go self-hosted as early as you can
I started off on the free WordPress.com, before quickly realising it was hopeless for actually doing anything useful. Following some excellent travel blogging tips from the goldmine that is the FTB (Female Travel Bloggers) group, I went self-hosted. I use WordPress.org and SiteGround (who have been excellent). There are millions of articles online about why you need to do this, so I won’t bore you with too much, but I can say it’s revolutionised my blog and I’m so glad I didn’t wait too long to do it or it would have been a right pain.
3. SEO is everything
That’s search engine optimisation BTW. I’m definitely not qualified to talk about it, but as soon as you’re self-hosted with WordPress.org, get the Yoast plugin and try not to cry when you realise none of your blogs have any chance of ever ranking on Google due to the total lack of SEO. Proceed to read everything Yoast has on their website about SEO. Then read some more.
Just don’t get too obsessed with keyword density because it really will ruin your writing about travel blogging tips, travel blogging lessons, uk-based travel bloggers, best travel bloggers to follow in 2017…
What do you mean that joke’s been done before?!
4. Accept that hardly anyone actually reads anything
Even your friends have absolutely zero attention span when it comes to reading your blogs. No matter how eloquent and witty they are. Try writing something offensive about one of them in the last line of one and see if they ever notice, even though they say they read every blog you ever write. Sorry in advance for the crushing disappointment: by ‘read’, they mean ‘skim’.
As for the general public, good luck getting them to read anything that isn’t a ‘listicle’ e.g. ‘20 unique things to do in Tokyo‘ or ‘10 best travel planning tips‘. People like lists. Lists are safe. The numbering means people know when they’ll end so they can move on to the next thing that can hold their minute-long attention span. But you have to work out whether you want to a) pander to this and draw in all the hits, b) stick to writing lovely long essays that get under the skin of destinations, or c) go somewhere in the middle. I’ve gone for option c. We do big essays that are really photo-heavy, interspersed with the odd list.
5. Negative blogs get (useless) attention
Bad news sells. I’ve heard about travel bloggers deliberately slagging off the food in the Philippines, something that locals get livid about, just to get that traffic when they all flood to defend it in the post comments and share the link on their Facebook because they’re so incensed. This kind of thing can make your stats explode. But the popularity drops off as fast as it arrives and isn’t a way to build a readership.
One of the first things that ever happened to our blog was it going (unintentionally) viral. We went from about 4 views per day to 10,000 overnight. That’s the stuff bloggers dream of. Our stats have never been as strong since. It wasn’t any use long-term, though.
It happened because one of our first ever blogs (one that I’ve actually managed to apply tip #1 to – hooray!) was about Reykjavik and it wasn’t all glowing praise. Cue the local press finding it and publishing a news article about it on both their Icelandic– and English-language websites. It is actually a balanced blog, describing things we liked and didn’t like in the city. But it was enough to cause a storm all over Facebook. Ironically, we seemed to have more Reykjavik locals being agreeable/fair about it compared with angry Americans who’d been to Reykjavik once and were now determined to leap to its ‘defence’. Very few of them seemed to actually read the blog itself and not just the news piece, which obviously just picked out the negative bits.
The dust settled and it was back to square one with stats.
6. Everyone reads on mobile
Make sure your site actually works on tablet and mobile. Sorry, this is a boring tip but it has to be said. I hardly ever use my mobile or tablet to read blogs, so it constantly baffles me that so many people do. But they do. I much prefer how blogs look on desktop view and find it much easier to get stuck in when I’m on the laptop. Why would you want to read on a tiny screen? Anyway, this is the world we live in so if you want readers, you’re going to have to work with it.
7. Be ready to constantly get accused of going away ‘too much’
…Even though you go away exactly the same amount you did before you started writing about it.
We both work full time in non-travel careers, so definitely don’t travel ‘all the time’. We’re lucky to earn enough and to have enough annual leave (32.5 days: sorry, USA readers) to be able to go away regularly. Being fortunate enough to have so many travel privileges helps too: we’re in Europe, British passport holders, live near an airport, able-bodied and extremely fortunate in plenty of ways.
People love saying ‘Oh you’re going away again?!’ and ‘You’re always on holiday’ in a semi-accusatory tone. They’re always the ones who have all the privileges we do but choose to spend their money on smoking/designer labels/having children. It’s just different stuff to budget for. Of course travel is a luxury that shouldn’t be taken for granted. But we could easily spend our salaries and time in other ways. It’s just that we prioritise going on holiday over other things.
8. Social media is vital (but annoying)
Social media accounts are the bane of my travel-blogging life, but unfortunately you need them if you want people to find and share your posts. You need them even more if you ever want paid work as a travel blogger.
Facebook is my favourite. Not that it’s easy. The algorithm is such that you’ll only see a page’s Facebook posts if you actually interact with them (likes/comments/shares). Unfortunately, most people don’t do that, even if they are interested. They just read and scroll on by. So it rarely comes up on their feeds. I’m very lucky in that I have friends who do give my posts the odd ‘like’ so I’m not totally screaming into a black hole. Also, if a blog post gets shared by someone with a decent following on Facebook, for example on a local page like this one that shared our Kirkby Lonsdale post, it can send your stats wild. People definitely share stuff most on their personal Facebook accounts and it can be amazing if a post takes off.
Pinterest drives the most traffic but unless you want to pay for something like Tailwind (I’m currently spending enough on the blog without adding more stuff), it’s hard work and intensely time consuming. But it can increase your visitors 100 fold, if you put the effort in. Cracking Pinterest properly is next on my blogging to-do list, but till then, I get a great daily flow of traffic to my Kobe, Japan blog post from it, all because of one pretty pin that took off.
Hardly anyone I know uses Twitter any more. I rarely get much traffic from it. But with Hootsuite, it’s no bother and worth going through the motions just to keep a presence on there. I’ve had one success with it when a BBC Radio Shropshire DJ shared our Shrewsbury post and views shot up. Other than that, I find it a bit tumble-weedy.
Instagram is my most hated account. It’s also the one that tourist boards, travel companies and all those others who can make your blog successful view as the most important. So I stick at it. The algorithm is cutthroat and it’s very hard to grow followers unless you are young, attractive, thin and good friends with a professional photographer. Loads of people ‘cheat’ by using bots and every time you post, you get inundated with their automated comments. People also do the follow/unfollow tactic, which drives me insane. Instagram is basically a lot of effort and doesn’t actually drive much traffic to your blog. A necessary evil.
Lol just kidding.
9. Everything takes forever
Actually writing words about somewhere we’ve just been only takes a few hours, if I’m feeling into it. It’s everything else that takes a long time. This is roughly what goes into every post…
- We usually take a thousand photos on every trip, which all need uploading off the SD card and onto the Mac.
- I sort them into folders, one for each potential blog post, getting rid of any that won’t make the cut as I go (Why do I have six chins? How does Chris get his thumb over the lens 8 times in a row?).
- More whittling down and then I edit, re-size and upload The Chosen Ones to my library on WordPress.
- I then sort them into different blogs and save them as drafts.
- After picking which one to do first, I write the words around the photos (the best bit).
- I make a Pinterest graphic on Canva (my favourite ever blogging tool) to go at the end of the post, along with versions of it optimised for Facebook and Twitter.
- I then research who to promote the post to (tourist boards, local groups, etc) and decide a time for it to go live.
- When it’s ready, I test it out on desktop, mobile and tablet views before hitting ‘OK’.
- Then comes the promotion – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, emails. Ramming it down the throat of passing strangers.The usual.
- I use Hootsuite to schedule it on Twitter regularly for the rest of time, sometimes @-ing accounts that might re-Tweet it.
- Finally, I track the stats on Google Analytics and potentially cry a bit.
10. You have to enjoy it
You’ve probably read those stats that say most travel blogs die within the first year. If you aren’t making or intending to make any money from it, it’s hard to find the time and energy travel blogging demands. This started out just as a hobby to document our honeymoon but we’ve become addicted to it. You’ve just got to really enjoy the photography, the writing and the occasional nice bit of feedback. When you publish a post and sit back and look at it, there’s something very satisfying about it.
I even enjoy dabbling in code these days and got excited recently when I managed to work out the CSS for making the mobile navigation display properly. Send help.
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