Travel Blogging 101: What Makes A Great Travel Blog?
Whether it’s Lonely Planet, National Geographic, BootsnAll or Matador, almost every travel platform has ranked the best travel blogs. And while many of us are aware of the marquee bloggers, such as Gary Arndt’s Everything Everywhere, what is less talked about is what makes them such great travel blogs?
As an avid reader of travel blogs, I’ve taken some time to pluck them apart. If you too want to carve out your own award-winning piece of the travelsphere, here are some essential aspects to pay attention to.
If you are just starting out, advertising is probably not going to be part of your blog since you should focus on building your audience first. For an excellent explanation of starting a blog, I highly recommend Tim Leffel’s The Four Stages of a Successful Blog (And How to Promote At Each Level). In fact, his Travel Writing 2.0 book and accompanying website is a great resource for aspiring travel writers.
Once advertising does become part of your blog, make sure that it doesn’t interfere with your content. If possible, restrict ad banners and graphics to the side, top and bottom, instead of interspersing them in the text. Moreover, be clear what is content and what is a sponsored ad.
Content & Concept
You need good content to be able to secure advertising in the first place. But what is it that makes “good” content? Well, correct spelling and grammar for one. With spell check functionality in nearly every bit of modern computer software, there’s just no excuse for misspellings and poor grammar.
Beyond that, good content transcends grammatical correctness. “Travel blog” is very general and to be successful, you will need to define a general concept. Find your niche, as they say. Is it about you? Your travels? RTW travel in general? Being a travel writer? Travelling to a certain city or country? Or family travel? Luxury vacations? Or more along the lines of backpacking?
Before you get started on your own, take a look at some of the travel blogs out there. Gary Arndt has quite an extensive directory for you to get started. Once you’ve figured out what’s already been done, try to come up with a new approach.
For example, when I studied abroad in Madrid, I found that there was a lack of information available to students living in the Spanish capital on a budget. Inspired by my own experiences, I created MADbudget: The Ultimate Guide to Madrid, which features recommendations on how to enjoy the Spanish capital on a budget, including exclusive interviews with people who have studied or worked in Spain.
If you give your concept some thought before writing away, it will be easier and probably also more successful in the long run. It can be destination-based, such as Living in Patagonia, or theme-based, such as Katy Stewart’s Starry-Eyed Travels. Travel writer Kay Harwell FernÃ¡ndez, for example, decided to go all out on Chocolate Travel. She even has an iPhone app for the Chocoholic Traveler now.
It’s always better to start with a narrow focus and then branch out. That is, don’t try to cover everything about travel. Essentially, you should be able to describe your overall concept in two sentences.
This may sound superfluous, but your readers need to be able to read your blog. Having neon-colored font on a dark background is going to aggravate the reader’s eyes. Pop-ups, too, will get your readers annoyed. Make it easy for them; sometimes a simple design, perhaps even including a white background and black font, can do more than a complicated one.
Personality & Passion
Behind most successful travel blog stands a passionate person. Sometimes, it may even be two, as is the case with Two Guys Around the World, Lonely Planet’s Travel Blog Winner in 2009.
In one of his posts for the technology and social media blog The Future Buzz, Adam Singer calls passion “a secret of the social web.” While Singer concentrates on the fact that successful social media marketing requires passion, the same holds true for an effective travel blog in general. If you are passionate about what you post, it will shine through in your content.
Moreover, if your passion is coupled by personality, even better. Blogging is the equivalent of a modern diary (although when you travel, you should make a distinction between the two, as I have explained in Diary or Blog: How to Decide Whether To Make Your Travels Private or Public.) While you shouldn’t post your most intimate personal information on the web, a certain personality should come through. Check out Margo Millure’s The Travel Belles for a unique and successful way to sculpting your own personality and those of your fellow contributors.
Engaging Your Readers
If you are trying to set up a blog and make money from it, your readership base will need to extend beyond your immediate friends and family. Thus, while it may be interesting to you to write about what you did every day, chances are most people will quickly click through to the next blog.
Give your readers a reason to visit your blog. Provide them with first-hand information that is not egocentric. Allow them to vicariously experience your exciting travels, and enable them to recreate a similar trip should they want to.
Also, make it easy for your readers to contact you, both via comments on the actual blog and via email. Your blog should be a space for diverse opinions. If you like, you can even include a section on guest posts to further involve fellow readers and bloggers.
Last but not last, provide a subscription to an RSS feed. But don’t go overboard; if your subscribers receive too many emails, they will unsubscribe even faster.
Adapting to the 2.0 Landscape: Social Media
What it comes down to is whether you are trying to earn income from your blog or whether you’re just blogging for fun. In the case of the latter, you can ignore the part on social media marketing. If you are trying to make money, however, there’s almost no way around Facebook, Twitter and all the rest. Set up a Facebook page and invite your friends. Same goes for Twitter.
Social media marketing for bloggers would take up an entire article at least, and I promise to write more about it in the near future. In the meantime, let me note that Media Bistro offers a Social Media Marketing Bootcamp, and at Birmingham City University, you can earn an entire Masters in the same field.
Video can be both part of the marketing and part of the content. When people think about blogging, they think about hammering away at the keys to come up with prose that is often much less polished than a glossy magazine article. Add a photo and that’s it.
Again, an engaging personality and passion are key. By combining text with still and moving images, you can hit the travel blogging jackpot.
Want to Try Your Hand?
For further information, you may find Kristina Wegscheider’s How to Start a Travel Blog or Website series useful. Editor-in-Chief of Do It While You’re Young, Wegscheider goes through the steps one by one, and moreover, will answer specific questions via comments and/or email, too! Now that’s successful engagement with readers.