We Learned About Blogging As We Went
Our RetiredAndTravelling blog was started for our own enjoyment. We shared it and it grew. And along the way we learned about blogging the hard way – experientially!
As we hit 500 travel blog posts, we looked back on what we learned about blogging. It was a good time to reflect on why we started blogging. And why we kept doing it.
We Started Blogging To Better Record Our RetiredAndTravelling Adventures
When we semi-retired and started to travel much more, we needed a better way to record our travels than hand-written journals and unorganized digital photo albums. We considered a few options. But since I had a technology background, I figured I could learn out how to start an online blog. Boy I learned a lot!
Our initial RetiredAndTravelling blog was hosted on Blogger. This was a free platform. And was pretty easy to get blog posts published. This allowed us to have our travel notes and representative pictures all in one place. And since it was online, we shared our travels with friends and family.
After about a year of blogging, we decided that we wanted to continue. We wanted a platform that had more flexibility and options for design. And were committed enough to invest some money to pay for a hosted WordPress site with GoDaddy. Our first 3 year contract was reasonably priced. The renewal cost after we added some security measures including HTTPS was not as well priced. On our next renewal, we plan to shop again for hosting options.
We learned about blogging in very painful ways when we moved the Blogger posts to WordPress. Often new plugins or themes required re-work to every blog post. We were happy when we finally had the basic site configured. And we focused less on the technical operations and more on content creation.
We Built It And They Did Come
We were delighted when we figured out Google Analytics and saw that our RetiredAndTravelling blog actually drew readers. And it was very awesome when RetiredAndTravelling was selected for travel blogger awards for Baby Boomer, Retired and Canadian travel blogs.
We set up social media channels and an identity for RetiredAndTravelling. Although we were not early enough and our identity was not the same on all channels. And then we spent a lot of time using the social media channels to interact with other travellers. And to promote the blog posts. Over time, the blog traffic and quality of traffic we received from social media has varied by channel.
The social media acquisition numbers were also directly related to the amount of time spent on the various channels actually interacting with other travellers. Just dropping blog links was not successful. When we travelled, we often had little time or poor connectivity so did not spend hours every day on social media. And this was directly reflected in our blog stats from social media.
But it appeared that we were writing about things that other travellers were interested in. Our search traffic volume has consistently been very high. Some of our more popular posts draw in high traffic month after month.
Writing quality posts brought in readers. This was one of the things we learned about blogging very early in the game.
Opportunities To Make Money Have Come Too
We are NOT lucky to be able to travel when we want and in the style we want. There was no luck involved! When we started travelling almost 6 months of the year, we had a healthy nest egg built through hard work and setting our priorities on what was important.
But this meant we did not have to make a living while we travelled or really supplement our travel budget. We understand that many others run their blog and social media as a business. And many people need extra money to travel. But we have not had to sell space on our blog and dilute our messages.
Our RetiredAndTravelling blog is clean, content rich and uncluttered by in-line ads every few paragraphs. Our side bars are not filled with product placement ads. Every day we get many requests for product endorsements and external blog posts. They are all politely declined.
Our blog will occasionally reference products that we love and use all the time. A few times we have included a pass-through link to share a discount with readers. Or have linked to blog posts of other travellers that we found compelling. We would never post a product blog post for something we have never tried or could not completely endorse.
Often we got treats and upgrades when we travelled. We decided to focus on travel brand loyalty and built travel points and status. Our elite status rewarded us with many great travel experiences and perks. We disclose any extra special treatment or perks we get from our status or from having this RetiredAndTravelling blog.
But we have also carefully selected opportunities to take sponsored travel or enjoy travel experiences that were free or discounted. But only if it was something we really wanted to do. We disclose this sponsored travel. And genuinely believe that our blog posts always reflect our true opinions.
We found many ways to make money when our travel blog grew. This was definitely one of the things we learned about blogging after 500 posts. But we also learned that most people did not get rich from their travel blogs. A success blog business required a commitment to promotion and a work schedule that was beyond what most people sustained.
There Were A Lot Of Fun Times
We love our travelling lifestyle. We visited so many exciting spots. Many are on bucket lists for most people. We mix cruising with land-based travel. The cruises let us taste test spots that we might want to return to. But I must admit that very few places have come off the travel wish list. On our land-based travel we explored places in much more depth.
We semi-retired early so that we could travel while we still had the health and energy to do the fun things we wanted to do. During our travels, we had some great close up encounters with whales and wild animals. We still love to scuba dive when we travel. Renting a boat for a high speed trip on the water was always fun. Helicopter tours over beautiful landscapes like Sedona in Arizona got our adrenaline up. And off road jeep adventures climbing rocks never caused us to bat an eye.
One of the great by-products of engaging in social media with travel groups was the chance to talk with a lot of great people who shared our love of travelling and adventure. As we travelled, we enjoyed the chance to meet many of these travellers in person. We always had a great meet-up when we got together. This chance to make new friends was a surprise benefit we learned about blogging.
But Also Lots of Work
One of the things we learned early about blogging was that it was a lot of work. And required commitment. Burnout was a regular risk for all bloggers.
We always travel with full bags of electronics so we can work while we travel. Whether it was writing draft blog posts or sorting photos, a part of almost every travel day included some blog-related work. Sometimes we do get the most amazing office views!
On top of actual blog work, we tried to post to social media as we travel. Sometimes time zones or internet connectivity made that challenging. But social media was unforgiving. We lost followers and visibility when we took large blocks of time offline.
When we were at home, our blogging work was a full time job. Friends were surprised when I told them I work at least 40 hours a week on travel blogging when we are home. That does not include David’s time on photos. When you shoot over 500 pictures a day when travelling, this drives a lot of time afterwards.
As we have increased our travelling, we spend less time at home. And one of the downsides has been getting behind in actually processing and publishing blog posts. We figure we could stop travelling for a year or two and we might finally publish all the blog posts sitting in draft.
And even with a hosted WordPress site, there was still time spent on the technical side of the blog site. The base software and plugins change constantly. And like most software, they are not always delivered bug-free. When a problem developed on the blog, it sometimes took days to fix it. Even with my technology background! Unless you pay for full support and trouble-shooting, you will spend time on things that have nothing to do with travel blog content!
Getting Good Traffic For The Blog Posts Required Effort
If you just write it, good blog traffic won’t always come. There are two points here – one is about traffic and the second is about good traffic.
As a techy geek, I built spreadsheets to track my social media and blog statistics. Trending numbers helped me to understand what worked and what didn’t. While pure visits was interesting, we wanted visits that showed that our content was valuable. We aimed for low bounce rates, high time on site and high pages per visit.
Getting blog traffic to our site required good content that people wanted to read. We had some great success with travel destinations or tips that people really searched for. We travelled for 4 weeks in Portugal as its popularity increased. And we found an insatiable demand for detailed information about all the reasons to visit Portugal.
But we have also been surprised when travel destinations drew little interest. We visited some of the most iconic sites in China – panda bears, Yangtze River cruises, Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall of China. But two weeks after we returned and starting publishing our China travels, there were huge tensions with China. Many people lost immediate interest in reading about China. Maybe some day this content will be in demand.
Getting good traffic to our site required content that was deep and broad. Linking to other related content on our site kept visitors engaged for longer. And they came back to our site knowing that they got thorough information and tips. We don’t post lists with limited real information. And we don’t post about things we have not fully experienced.
Google can be a fickle friend to a blogger. But great content and a focus on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) brought readers to our site. The SEO algorithms changed constantly so we needed to constantly learn about what made good searchable content.
Constant promotion across social media channels tempted people. And reminded them that we have stuff they want to read. The social media channels also had groups that helped us promote our content. But the success varied.
We use Pinterest as a great social media channel to gather information about things we are interested in. And we get a lot of good traffic from Pinterest. But many of the Pinterest groups we joined to promote our content created high Pinterest traffic. But it was not good traffic. Bounce rates were very high, time on site was low and pages per visit stayed at one. People simply opened the blog post and left. This increased raw traffic. But it was not really the kind of traffic we wanted.
It has been a hard road. But building good content and promoting it properly was one of the things we learned about blogging.
We Now Travel Differently
Since we started RetiredAndTravelling, we find we may also travel a bit differently. We look at places to visit and think about what might be of interest when we prioritize destinations and things to do. It does not stop us from visiting places that we find interesting. But we are looking for things that we can share. And we have experienced so many new things that we may not have seen before we had the blog.
David was always a great photographer. But I got much better since we started blogging. I learned a lot from David. And as I learned to focus on the story I am telling.
We must admit that we are those people who have to photograph almost everything. Is food really food if you don’t have a picture? Our friends and family often roll their eyes.
But when we got together with other travellers, everyone shared tips about the best way to get pictures. When we went wine tasting in Temecula, we met up with a great group of local travellers. We were sure that we drove the winery staff crazy as each of us made just one more adjustment to catch the perfect picture.
We do need to get better at just putting down the phone or the camera to enjoy the sights and sounds as we travel. A balance of sharing and enjoying is something we learned about blogging the hard way.
So Many Things Learned After We Started Blogging
After 500 blog posts, we have a RetiredAndTravelling identity. We both still pick up contract work when we are home for longer periods of time. However, we are most likely to introduce ourselves as travel bloggers and photographers. That is the business card we normally share.
The lessons we learned about blogging came experientially. We read a lot as we went. But many new learnings meant a lot of work to apply the learnings. And what worked one year, changed the next.
We are still excited to be publishing RetiredAndTravelling. It was hugely rewarding to find that others were interested in our travels and tips.
It was great when we found travel sponsors who valued the blog we built. And felt it was the right place to promote their products. We are happy we still have the financial capabilities to be able to choose how and when we monetize blog opportunities.
But most importantly, we love the chance to record our travels. And to re-live the travel experience as we work on blog posts and photos. The blog posts are memory aids for us as we age. When we return to a destination, we re-read our posts to remember what was still left for a return visit. And what we want to experience again!
There are so many things to learn about blogging. Our way may not be yours. But we hope a few of these tips will help if you are starting a blog. Or wondering if you should keep at it.
Do you have something to add to the things we learned about blogging? Did you keep blogging after you hit 500 blog posts?
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