Taking Your Blog to the Next Level

The newly-renovated green-credential packed Vancouver Convention Centre

It’s been a while since Travel Blog Exchange ‘11 in Vancouver this past June so I’m a bit late on the guest-post writing bandwagon. However, I know many TravelBlogs readers will be interested in some of the take-away items from the event. This post is mainly for those wanting to take their blog to the next level – be it audience, revenue, marketing, tech and so forth. You might have been blogging for a while and are now considering ways to monetise. Or you might want to promote your freelance writing abilities through your blog. It could be that you just want to focus on better content. So, without further ado, here are some tips straight from some of the TBEX speakers.

Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere delivers the final keynote

Well-known travel blogger and industry commentator, Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere, got straight into it and said: “Advertising doesn’t work” in relation to travel blogs. He suggested looking at sponsorship opportunities from the beginning and focusing on developing your own product and personality. He even stated: “Content is not king, personality is king”. If you take this approach, you can leverage your blog to make money elsewhere instead of having to make money directly from it. For instance, Gary does a lot of public speaking engagements and believes companies sponsor him for who he is and his broader communication channels – not his site. Other tidbits included the recommendation to start an email list right away and to not forget travel is a trillion-dollar industry so there are lots of opportunities to go around.

Amanda Pressner from The Lost Girls spoke about knowledge as a value construct. She, along with her cofounders, wrote a book that was inspired by their travel blog and then went on to sell the movie rights. She thinks publications are a great way to establish oneself as a writer and editor. Like Gary, she also stressed the importance of growing yourself as a personality first while looking at sponsorship and consulting deals with companies. Amanda has gone on to join an internet start-up and recommends all travel writers take web programming classes to help navigate the digital landscape.

He holds voice, sense of humour, niches and personality (yet, another mention) as the main contenders for success.

Things got a little more philosophical when Mike Barish of Gadling, Cruzerati and freelance fame got to the crux of it by saying: “You need to figure out who you are”. He believes there is no simple way to unlock the path to monetisation but differentiation from other travel bloggers helps. He holds voice, sense of humour, niches and personality (yet, another mention) as the main contenders for success. He also pulled out the oft-quoted jokes of: “If you want to make one million dollars in travel writing, start with two million dollars” and “If you want to make it in travel writing, marry rich”. This aside, he suggested partnering with other people and taking a collaborative outlook. After all, as John F. Kennedy said, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

Group travel blog brainstorming

Other quick tips for growth from a plethora of too-many-to-mention bloggers included gathering research using Google Surveys, Facebook Polls, Bit.ly analytics, BuzzFeed dashboards, social media outreach and more. Use the data to look at what time of the day people are sharing your stuff, and adapt to suit. Run competitions to engage your community. Above all, be aware of what you’re trying to achieve at the end of the day. You don’t have to be all things to all people, and can occupy a niche within a niche.

There might come a time when you want to take your blog content to the broader travel media. When dealing with the press, popular travel journalists and writers dished out their fair share of tips to the eager TBEX crowd. Michael Yessis from World Hum highlighted the significance of personalisation and professionalism when doing an email pitch. “Don’t scrape all of the email addresses and send through to every address at a masthead – the same journalist often receives it again and again.” He suggested sending through items that are really targeted and mention something specific. Formulaic press releases are less likely to be used than quotes from another blogger or writer.

“Converse rather than just listening”…

Jen Leo from the Los Angeles Times, who authors the Web Buzz column, recommends reading the work of the people you’re pitching too before sending something through. If you’re trying to get press for your brand, product or site – build a relationship with the journalist first and follow what they’re up too via their writings and social media updates. “Converse rather than just listening”, she affirmed. When sending files through to journalists, try using a file-sharing program or storage service like Dropbox so you don’t clog inboxes up.

Anne Taylor-Hartzell likes to search for something new, that hasn’t been covered before or of a certain angle, to feature on her luxury and family travel site Hip Travel Mama. She looks for unique items and exclusives. She suggests telling journalists why their readers should care (about what is being pitched) and to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Include factual information – such as links and stats in succinct paragraphs and bullet points. Don’t say: “Can you cover this?”

“When you’re on the ground, you want to document as much as you can…”

To finish, Robert Reid from Lonely Planet went through some of his travel writing tips. He always researches well and believes travel writing isn’t the same as travelling. He composes his posts and guide pieces using research about a place, quotes from locals, descriptive observations and what you do during a visit somewhere. “When you’re on the ground, you want to document as much as you can,” Reid mused. He also spoke about making cubicle travel pieces better by including people in them.

Overall, there were many gold nuggets to come out of TBEX – and only a few snippets included here. If you’d like to hear what the travel blogging industry has to say next year in Keystone, Colorado, visit: http://www.travelblogexchange.com/

About the Author:
Kate Kendall is a digital marketing and community strategist who’s currently travelling around the world. She works with Travellerspoint and also on The Fetch – what’s on city guides for the business, creative and digital communities. You can follow her on Twitter or email her here.

Editor’s Note: All photographs used for this piece are the property of the author.

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Discussion »

  • #1Nancy & Shawn Power

    Thank you for the update!

    Unfortunately we were unable to attend, and to be honest with you, we are still a little green to have attended, but this blog has definitely given us some good tips!… so thanks a bunch. Hope to see you all next year! :-)

    Nancy & Shawn Power

  • #2Sean McNamara

    So I stumbled along this blog, and must say I found it completely interesting. There is a lot of information, which now requires some more research on my part. Excellent post.

  • #3Rhonda

    Interesting stuff! Thank you for the blogging advice. It’s hard to figure some of this stuff out in the beginning.

  • #4Lyndsay

    My guru thought me everything he knows about blogging, I listened but I never took it all in practice. Simply because some of them doesn’t appeal to me (he’s into ‘Content is the King’ guy and when I learned the basics, I did my way into blogging), I tried writing how I enjoy it writing about and putting my place into my readers shoes. Gladly, it became more successful than we thought. Although, my travel blog is a new born one and I have not exerted much effort than my first, I know it will be succeed one day. So, I totally agree on was written here!

  • #5Ashlin Dz W

    Thanks for the great tips. I can see how this can useful to my study abroad blog. I really feel that finding your personality is a great way to separate yourself from others and hone in on your target a very specific target market.

  • #6Danielle

    Sharing my personality on my new blog has been the most intimidating aspect of blogging. So far the posts in which I do this are the ones that provide the most encouraging feedback. A good lesson for me to keep trying to do it.

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