It may sound glamorous, but the life of a travel blogger is not necessarily as plush and relaxing as those “fun in the sun”, “relaxing in paradise” photos suggest. While free trips to the worlds’ most famed destinations and complimentary stays in five star resorts are just about everyone’s dream, let’s face it, they don’t pay the bills.
The truth is, most travel bloggers are broke, but there is a way out. Here are some ways to correct “broke-travel-blogger-syndrome”, and as with most worthwhile ventures, you must be willing to put in the time and effort.
Here are 5 steps to help you build a travel blog that doesn’t merely “pay the bills”:
1. Big-Ticket Blogging
What is big-ticket blogging? It’s the art of going after lucrative niches that return “big-ticket” checks. In the case of travel blogging, this would be paying close attention to niches like “cruises”, “resorts” and “travel packages”. When you’re starting your blog, keep some of these niches in mind, instead of solely documenting your travel stories and experiences. Essentially, any time a piece of content goes live, you need to understand your back-end monetization strategy.
For example, you can still document your travel experiences, provide insane value and entertainment to your audience, and still rank for a keyword like, say, “Nicaragua surf camp”.
Let’s say you went to a Nicaraguan surf camp, had a great experience, then blogged about it. Because that is a lucrative keyword, you could put a CTA (call to action) at the end of your surf camp post that asks readers to leave an email for an “irresistible deal” with a top Nicaraguan surf camp provider (I actually did this with Thunderbomb Surf in Nicaragua).
Then, boom, you could either sell those leads or work out a commission structure to a surf camp in Nicaragua. This would be a “big-ticket” strategy because the money made with even one transaction could yield north of $500-$1,000.
That’s lucrative travel blogging.
2. Affiliate Marketing
Forget about simply putting ads on your blog page. It’s old school, cheapens the look of your blog, dilutes the reader experience, and here’s the number one reason not to do it: it doesn’t really earn you that much money.
If you want to shed blood, sweat and tears for every single dollar your blog makes, then sure, go the Google Adsense route; but if $50-$200 affiliate commissions are more your style, than you’ll need to embrace affiliate marketing.
The key to achieving this is through affiliate marketing. Going after advertisers and negotiating placement packages for your blog content mean you’re constantly on the grind. Each time a deal expires, so does your blog’s potential to earn, and you’re once again faced with negotiating sales. Even clickable ads are pretty much moot for the blogger looking to earn real money, since profits are usually merely pennies on the dollar.
Acclaimed travel blogger and money-making-expert Troy Shanks has perfected this to a science. He has blogged about several travel companies that would be an ideal “upsale” to a his audience, and instead of $5 weekly Adsense checks, he funnels that traffic into “big-ticket” commission travel deals. Anytime someone joins a travel deal using his affiliate link, he gets paid a commission.
Seeking out quality affiliates is worth your while. Some travel clubs, many in direct-sales and MLM (see World Ventures or Wake Up Now), will pay as much as $5,000 per affiliate sale. If you are able to establish the right relationships with the right affiliates, draw readers to your blog with the story and images of the vacation of a lifetime, and you make it easy for readers to book that holiday after reading.
It’s a beautiful thing. And those dollars will continue to roll in long after you hit the publish button.
Then, combine this with other methods that don’t leave you reliant on big spenders to earn your commission. For example, if you’re promoting an epic surf trip in Bali, or trekking the Swiss Alps, then building relationships with gear shops that can provide another income stream. Negotiate a percentage of every sale made through your blog. Offer incentives like discount codes to your readers that make it difficult for them to turn down the offer.
3. Utilize “Tourist Boards”
Affiliate programs are good. Tourist Boards, the government bodies responsible for promoting tourism in each country, could be even better. Tourism is a major moneymaker and foreign-exchange earner for countries that rely on it. As a result, massive budgets are allocated to “tourist Boards” and “ministries of tourism” to promote the destination.
The New York Tourist Board reportedly has the third largest budget in the country to promote tourism in New York State. Everyone knows what New York City has to offer, but who’s covering New York “State”? Those are some partnerships waiting to happen.
Seek out a few tourist boards you can begin developing relationships with. Tourism-focused countries usually establish a “Board of Tourism” in that country as well as one in each country where their marketing efforts are most heavily focused. Think about what you can offer that’s unique…perhaps your blogging community could deliver valuable feedback for their tourism board? Perhaps you could promote a certain destination for them?
Study your readers, know their habits and use this information to help you determine which “tourist boards” are worth approaching. Are your readers mostly concentrated in the US? Are they more likely to vacation here? Are a significant number of them vegan, sports enthusiasts, or some other unique factor that offers you a compelling sales pitch?
Use this information to help you prepare an airtight proposal. Suggest coverage of a certain amount of destinations or resorts in the country over a period of time. The tourism officials and directors will likely know the ones they want covered, and a project of this nature could land you anywhere from a 6-month to a five-year contract depending on the strength of your proposal, the success of your pilot project, and the political cycle of the country you’re working with.
4. Utilize “Baller” Promotional Tools
There are NUMEROUS tools available to help you grow your audience, which is the first key step toward monetizing. Some of them are even free….use them.
For social, tools like BuzzBundle help both promote content and automate social posting. You can monitor and track conversations across numerous channels and platforms, find your target audience members and engage them. Monitor other travel blogs and seek out people looking to book quality vacations. Engage them and bring them over to your site where you offer what they are looking for, and can facilitate easy booking.
Also, Tweroid, FaceBook Insights and Timing + tell you when you can best reach them. When promoting your content, timing is everything, particularly across popular social platforms where it can easily be lost in cluttered newsfeeds.
5. Find Blogging Communities
More vital than knowing when to post, is finding legit communities to post to….utilize tools like LinkedIn Groups, Google + Communities and FaceBook Custom and Lookalike Audiences to reach new people who are likely interested in what you are blogging about…
With Google + Communities you can engage like-minded groups of people seeking information on most industries. Needless to say, it’s a great resource for seeking out those with a love for travel and keen to book their next holiday (Also, a great place to promote your posts a la “finding guest contributors”).
Dan Messina, a social manager at Top Ten Reviews recently shared a post in a popular G+ tech community, and look what it did:
Over 8,500 eyeballs (the green one), from one share. People are underestimating the power of strong G+ communities.
Utilize LinkedIn Groups in a similar way to reach out to industry professionals. Once again, think outside the box. Staff members at large corporations often take off for company retreats and conference tourism.
Work with your affiliates to design irresistible packages for corporate conventions. The company books through your travel blog for a deal they can’t get elsewhere, and as always, you collect commission on every booking. You can also utilize LinkedIn to seek out quality affiliates.
To effectively utilize these tools, step away from the hard sell. Readers know your only interest is their wallets, and it’s a huge turn-off. Occasionally offer content that’s written just for their entertainment, interest and general knowledge. The good news is, this is an easy task for the travel blogger, who literally has the world and all of it’s interesting, yet little known places and treasures at his or her fingertips.
Lucrative keywords, quality content, excellent promotional strategies and solid partnerships and affiliates…these are what separate the successful travel blogger from the broke, frustrated travel bloggers.
Add these lethal strategies to your travel blog strategy, and you’re blog will “take of” and take you to the land of “first-class” earnings.
(see what I did there?)
Always think big-ticket, always think bigger. Good luck.
Jeremy Page spent 9 months traveling through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador while making money on his Macbook Air. He teaches passive income at MultipleStreams.org.