Why Travel Blogging Isn’t Like Regular Blogging

8
SHARES

This is the second article in my pre Blog World Expo series about blogging and the travel industry.

Yesterday I talked about travel writing vs travel blogging. Today I’m just going to talk about blogging. In particular, why travel blogging is different from blogging in other niches. I’m also going to be talking about blogging from the perspective of an independent blogger, not a newspaper that has blog or a corporate blog.

Most bloggers have read or are familiar with many of the blogging advice sites. The problem with most of them is that the information they provide is very generic and often comes from the perspective of someone who is in a very different niche than travel. Because their niche is different, the advice they give is often incomplete. Too many people in the travel niche follow the advice they give without giving thought to how their circumstances might be different and how that advice might have to be modified.

What I’d like to do in this article is spell out some of the ways in which the travel niche is unique and what you as a travel blogger should be aware of when managing your travel blog.

Audience

The potential audience for travel is enormous. Most people go on vacation and a large number of people engage in business travel. Travel is the #1 thing which people spend money on online (flight, hotel and car reservations). There are television channels devoted to travel, magazines and most every major newspaper in the world has a section at least once a week devoted to travel. Travel is big business.

You’d think that would be great news for travel blogs, right?

Yet, if you look what makes up the top 100 blogs, you will not find any sites devoted to travel. Zero. Nada. Gadling.com, which is owned AOL comes in at #219. Intelligent Travel, which is owned by National Geographic, comes in at #21,651. WorldHum.com, owned by the Travel Channel, comes in at #7,393. My blog is ranked at #20,860. Most of the top 100 consists of politics, technology, and entertainment. (Technorati ranks should be taken with a huge grain of salt, but I’m just using them for comparative purposes).

So what is the deal? Why does travel perform so poorly online when it does so well in traditional media?

Timeliness

Not much new happens in the world of travel. Not compared to what the popular blogs cover. There are always new things happening in technology, sports, gossip and politics. Look at the travel section of any newspaper and the article about Tahiti could easily have been written 10 years ago. Things just don’t change so there isn’t as much of an incentive for readers to follow a blog.

When people are searching for something travel related, they are usually searching for something specific. They want to book a flight, find out visa requirements, or something related to an upcoming trip. Plopping down on the couch and watching the Travel Channel is a different experience from taking the time to follow a blog. I can say from first hand experience the most people who find my site weren’t looking for it. They discover it by accident and then decide to follow. I get emails and tweets all the time from people who say, “Wow. I just found your site and what you are doing is so cool!” They weren’t looking for me, they just stumbled across me. I take that into consideration when marketing. I don’t try to be where people are looking because they aren’t looking. I try to be where people will find me by accident.

Competition

The biggest thing which really makes this niche difficult is all the big players travel blogs have to compete against. People look at a site like Problogger.net and marvel at Darren’s success. Indeed, his blog is successful, but that is because there are no blogging television channels he has to compete with. There are no magazine or major newspapers with blogging or internet marketing sections. Most of the people who have done well in this niche have no competition whatsoever from established media outlets. The only competition they have for mind share and in Google searches are with other independent bloggers.

In the world of travel, there are a bunch of huge names which suck up all the oxygen. They aren’t organized as blogs per se, but they still get indexed in Google all the same. Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Conde Nast, Fodor’s, the Travel Channel, and Frommers are all huge travel related media institutions that are online. On top of that throw in big internet players like AOL, BBC, CNN, MSNBC, About.com and Yahoo, and on top of that toss in the big travel portals like Trip Advisor, Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz and Kayak. Mix in the travel section of every major newspaper in the world, then finally add in the smaller online travel companies like Uptake and BootsNAll.

How do you think a travel blog is going to do against all of that when people are searching in Google? That isn’t even considering the fact that Google basically whitelists big media sites like National Geographic, CNN, and Conde Nast so they never have to worry about search engine optimization like most bloggers do. The deck is massively, massively stacked against the little guy in this business. An identical article on a travel blog will not be ranked as high as the exact same article in Lonely Planet, all things being equal.

Most of the people who are considered A-List bloggers are there because they are in niches which have no competition from large media outlets. (Technology, internet marketing, blogging, mommy blogging, making money online, etc)

Sub-Niches

Another unique thing about the travel niche is how totally different sites are grouped together. My site is pretty much a travelogue. A site like Chris Elliot’s is devoted to travel consumer affairs. The Cranky Flier deals with aviation. There are blogs dedicated to lost cost backpacking, travel gadgets, luxury travel, specific destinations, frequent flier programs, hotels, cruses, family travel, travel for women, and more. There isn’t a whole lot of overlap between them, but they are all get lumped together. Travel is a really big category.

Conclusion

The take away from all of this if you are a travel blogger is to not just blindly accept blogging wisdom without thinking about how it applies to you. Some advice is universal and some is not. Understand what you are up against. You have to be creative and really hustle to compete with the big boys.

  • 20 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Sharon Simms says:

    I enjoy your blog but find the white print on black hard on the eyes, even when I enlarge it on my iPad. The photos pop well against the black background, but not the print.

  2. Craig says:

    I’m just happy Jamie said, “indie travel” … Even if the medium-sized players BootsnAll have started using it in their tagline.

    I pretty much agree, as we’ve previously discussed. Niche, personal positioning, and looking beyond the travel blogging fishbowl are key to growth.

  3. Jamie says:

    Super discussion – indie travel website owners can’t hope to compete with the majors on breadth of coverage, but they can compete on depth.

    Find a niche, one that you are passionate about and which hopefully resonates with readers, and go for it!

    There is a wealth of useful information online regarding SEO, keyword optimisation, social media strategies and more, just a Google search away.

    With a focus on little-known places to visit within Europe, our website http://www.yonder-europe.com has seen a real uptick in quality of visits since we optimised our keywords (rather than trying to scoop up all searches for “travel”) and started engaging more fully with our Facebook and Twitter followers…

    Here’s to the continued success of independent travel websites!

  4. Nico says:

    Not only are diminutive travel bloggers up against a juggernaut in general searching, they have their work cut out for them with specific searches too. I know the little guys have such great first person experience that no one can find because they’re all but invisible to Google (even pages deeps in the search). I’ve actually gone out of my way to find small-time travel blogger articles using the completely worthless “blog search” function in Google, and also engines that claim to be blog-friendly like Icerocket and Blogsearchengine and get nothing for very specific searches (such as “angkor wat independent travel blogger”). So yeah, the deck is remarkably stacked against the grassroots travel blogger.

    Sadly, I offer no solution to offer but only to confirm your claim. Hopefully Google (or someone else) will find a way to spotlight the writing talent and information deluge that exists beyond the big boys. Thanks, Gary.

  5. Laura says:

    Excellent post – I run a very new travel blog about student travel to Europe and it’s amazing how difficult it is to get hits and work our way to prominence among all the big dogs.

    You made a very interesting point with the timeliness, too. You have to be creative to be a travel writer…those old locales don’t seem to change much!

  6. But “big boys” often provide out dated info. So I always check information they provide in other traveller’s blogs to get more correct view about place I am planning to go. So even they (aka LP) may be on the top of search result I usually skip them without checking out.

  7. Interesting to know about how google ranks sites … i just write as i love to travel and love to tell travel tales to others … i never write about anything I haven’t seen or done .
    seems many many so called ‘travel writers’ just interview their computers

    good piece

  8. worldnomad says:

    I don’t think there is necessarily the concept of whitelisting sites, but the big sites are deemed ‘authority sites’ by virtue of their size, incoming links and reputation (which is basically the same thing).

    Sites like ProBlogger and ZenHabits are also deemed ‘authority sites’ and therefore any article they write will also get instant high-ranking in Google.

    Travel is a crowded field with lots of competitors, so it is difficult to compete with the big boys.

  9. …the fact that Google basically whitelists big media sites like National Geographic, CNN, and Conde Nast so they never have to worry about search engine optimization like most bloggers do…

    I would be interested to see your source on this whitelist fact. In my opinion there is no white list. Instead, those big named sites have an advantage do to their brand and the amount of money they spend on advertising their products, services and web site(s).

    As a result, these sites get large numbers of visitors that: link to the site, bookmark the site and reference the site’s articles and pages; which plays into Googles algorithm.

    My point is, if you or I had huge budgets to promote our site, our results would also be stellar when trying to rank for those really competitive keywords.

    As you wrote above, there is hope for the small guy. Travel bloggers need to optimize for niche keywords and longer tailed keywords. They need to do keyword research and optimize each post for that specific topic. Specifically, bloggers need to use: title tags, h1-h6 tags, ul and li tags. These tags need to be coordinated with meta tags (description meta) and blog categories.

    I really enjoy your blog -hope my questioning your whitelist source is not taken wrong. Your post is great.

    • Gary says:

      I should have been clearer when I said “whitelist”. By that I do not mean that they go to the top of rankings for anything and everything. I am talking about domain trust and authority. Watch this video by SEOmoz http://www.seomoz.org/blog/whiteboard-friday-domain-trust-authority

      Sites like BBC are trusted implicitly by Google. They are by definition an authoritative source. Others get authority via a link chain from the whitelisted authority sites. I am not talking about Page Rank.

      Even small companies like BootsNAll and Uptake have to fight against the giants.

      It is possible to outrank a big site, but it takes a lot of work and it takes no work for the big site. That’s the difference.

  10. Your absolutely right, the deck is stacked against the little guy as far as competition goes in the travel arena. Dare I say we will never rank #1 for a search on “travel”. But that’s a boring search and we rank for more exciting and interesting searches. You have done extremely well with your blog and regardless of how we found you, we found you and your blog and love it! We will take over all the little niche crumbs that the big players can’t and most will appreciate it and keep coming back for more. Excuse my rambling, too much coffee this morning! ;)

    • Gary says:

      It is difficult but it can be done if you stick with it long enough and are willing to try and fill in the gaps between the big players. It just requires more work than in other niches.

  11. charmine says:

    Gary,another great post.You are spot on.I too keep tabs of what’s going on ,but you really thought this through.All this has
    got me thinking……umm….
    I like to know too what you think of my lil blog,I’ve been playing too many meme’s,but There are some travel tales in there.I’d appreciate an honest opinion if can spare the time.I’m still working on it though!

  12. As a print journalist and blogger, I’m learning that having a niche is key. In addition to my “What a Trip” blog, I’ve recently launched http://www.writinghorseback.com.

    The blog covers adventure travel, but it drills down to a very narrow focus; equestrian travel deals and lodging reviews. It’s all about the key word phrase “horseback riding vacations.”

    Truly travel blogging isn’t like regular blogging.

  13. Eman says:

    Great article but…damn, if this isn’t intimidating.

    How DOES the little guy get a piece of the pie? Creativity does play a part. But I also think finding your “voice” is key.

  14. Dave says:

    Again, you bring up the bigger picture that I hadn’t really thought about until now. It’s actually kind of depressing how much the typical travel blogger is up against.

    Of course, I’ve read quite a lot of travel blogs from people who didn’t seem to be on a mission to reach the masses. They used the blog as an outlet to keep friends and family updated, and if strangers stumbled upon it as well, all the better. It all comes down to intent.

    • Gary says:

      If you look at all the travel blogs hosted at sites like Travellerspoint, Travelblog.org and other sites, the number is probably in the hundreds of thousands. Most of those are blogs designed for personal use.

      My point in all of this was trying to put some perspective on all the talk about new media talking over from old media. Most of the people who make those claims are in areas where there is no old media. If you are in an area with lots of old media, it is a totally different ballgame.

  15. I like your article. I’ve just started a travel blog, mainly because there are a number of places I love to go that have no information on them. Go travel bloggers!.

  16. I have yet to make a big splash in this niche of traveling blogging, but I cannot think of another category that I love as much as travel and the stories that come for meeting new people, places, and more. I would love for you to check out my site: http://www.mstravelingpants.travel

  17. for me blogging is some sort of sharing your thoughts and ideas which can be helpful to anyone as long as it doesn’t annoy anybody or bringing up some tactless nonsense. You can think just about anything and sharing it to the world..

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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