Nine Lessons from a Year of Travel Blogging
It’s a year since my son and I stepped off the plane in Bangkok. A year and two days since I took time out from sorting through a morass of possessions to set up this blog on a whim.
It’s been an amazing year. We’ve seen things I’d never have dreamt of. Been places I’d never heard of. Met people from hunter-gathering nomads to ladyboys to survivors of the Cambodian genocide; dived an undersea volcano; climbed the highest mountain in South-East Asia; stayed on desert islands, in remote forest, on the roof of a junk…
And this site’s grown from a little hobby project to a creature with a mind of its own, pushing 15,000 readers per month and an increasing number of sponsors. As we enter our second year of travelling and my second year of blogging about it, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learnt the hard way.
1: Choose Your Blog Name Carefully — You’re Stuck With It
My original plan was to travel for one year with Z, the year he was nine. Hence Travels with a Nine Year Old. Well, he’s ten, and we’re still going. And, nope, with a hundred or so incoming links, I am not going to be changing the name.
Picking a blog name is like picking a brand. Try to avoid one that’s time sensitive and steer away from cheese. If you’re serious about blogging, research your keywords and track down a name that has your keywords in: ytravelblog have done this brilliantly.
2: Get on Social Media from the Beginning
Scared of Twitter? Shy of Facebook? Bemused by Stumbleupon? Don’t be. At the same time you set up your site, you should set up a matching identity on Twitter, a page on Facebook and an account on Stumbleupon: if you use video, you’ll need a YouTube account, too.
Twitter and Facebook make a great way to connect with other folk who share your interests: and for them to share your content. Using Stumbleupon right (an essay in itself) can bring you thousands of new readers in a single day.
3: Choose a Good Twitter Username
I rather sulkily got on Twitter a little late in the day. And, without particular thought, opted for one of the worst usernames I’ve seen outside the realm of Twitter spammers: I’m @Mummy_T.
Optimally, your Twitter handle should match the name of your site and your brand identity. Failing that, use something that sums up what you blog about. Y’know. Push comes to shove, hang out on Twitter for a while — perhaps at a Tweetup like TNI — admire the names out there, and pick a handle that has an edge like they do.
But it allows you to add plugins for Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Google Analytics and most anything else you’d care to mention, and choose from a million and one layouts. WordPress.org is powerful, flexible, easy, what the pros use. And, believe you me, it’s a hell of a lot easier to set up a site in WordPress.org from scratch than migrate an existing site over.
5: Pictures Aren’t Optional
The web isn’t a pure text medium. At least one picture, whether it’s from an online library, such as istockphoto, or sourced via Wikimedia Commons, really helps people engage with what you write.
I’ve found that cameras have a habit of dying the second one gets to places exotic enough for it to be impossible to buy another one. Push comes to shove? Use your mobile (if it has a camera). Or illustrate pieces with library images.
6: Guest Posts are Invaluable
Put aside any concerns about driving traffic elsewhere than to your site. Guest posts help get your blog (or your brand) out there, draw in new readers and build an authoritative voice.
7: Use Google Reader
Follow your favourite sites in Google Reader, and comment regularly and authoritatively. That way people get to know you, and your site. You become part of an online community and enable people to discover you.
8: Sites Take Time To Settle In
People can know you for months through comments, Twitter and the like before they get around to checking out your site. Which is probably wise, given it takes most people some time to discover their own voice.
If you’re planning to write about a journey, it’s worth setting up a blog many months before you even begin: Where Is Jenny? has done this really well. That way, you’re not trying to combine travelling with the work that goes into setting up a blog.
9: Encourage People to Connect with You
There’s a marketing term called “a call to action”. And some great bloggers manage to incorporate that call to action into every single post. They offer people the opportunity to sign up for their feed, connect on Facebook, follow them on Twitter; they ask them to share this post on Facebook, Twitter or Stumbleupon. And it works.
Me? If you liked this post, do like us on Facebook or share it with your friends.
And, if you’re a blogger, please share your top tips for getting started in the comments.