A few years ago I met one of the most well-known travel bloggers in the world. When I asked him what made him stand out, he told me, "Nothing, I was just the first to do it."
In analysing the growth patterns of sites like Mashable, Problogger, and KISSmetrics, I noticed the same recurring themes popping up again and again: start early, be persistent, post content frequently, and plan.
But what if starting early isn't an option? What if you wanted to start travel blogging today - how would you generate millions of visits while being 10+ years late to the party? I want to clarify that it's definitely possible. Below are ten points that, for me, are essential for first time bloggers in 2014.
#1 Start Immediately
Procrastination is the downfall of many a beginner blogger. Resolve to start your blog now, although you may feel unprepared and uncertain. Delays mean that it will be months before your blog is started, if ever, and you will only have wasted a lot of time. If you are unsure of how something will work in practice you should try it out, instead of pondering it forever.
Years ago, starting a blog was a tedious process that involved having to learn to connect MySQL databases to PHP files, and knowing your technical SEO from your off-site SEO. Today, you can get Wordpress up and running in under ten minutes
thanks to one-click installs and the intuitive Wordpress design. For more information on choosing a good host for Wordpress, there's a useful guide here
80% of the results are driven by 20% of your effort. It's advisable to try to understand, as best as possible, what your 20% is ahead of time.
Even with an immediate start, you must formulate a plan. You can start your blog without planning, but you could run into problems later. At the very least ensure that your domain name matches the topic of your blog as closely as possible. Furthermore, you should also think about content and whether you can find new topics to write about after a couple of months, and most importantly, whether you will still enjoy writing about the subject.
#3 Set Goals
Even if you only blog for fun, you should set goals. This makes planning easier and increases motivation. In the long run it pays off, even if you do not always achieve all your objectives. Most bloggers do not set goals from the start, but they quickly realise that it is pointless to blog without direction and not really knowing what they want to achieve. Not only should you set overall targets, but also targets for each month. This is very helpful in planning and it is also a psychological advantage if you have a road map in front of you, instead of just a gaping void.
I like to use a tool called Cyfe, which is a dashboard that let's me visualise everything from search rankings to blogging goals and web traffic. Here's a Cyfe dashboard for a blog that I launched just under a week ago (Qosy
#4 Get the Best Theme You Can Afford
For $40 you can save yourself literally weeks of work. I used to think that free Wordpress themes were a bargain, but i've since built enough blogs to know that more often than not they're less secure, slower, and lack important functionality - that you'll end up paying for in the long run.
Take the blog mentioned above for example, the theme (Jupiter
) cost $55 and it was mobile responsive out of the bag, had hundreds of page templates, and scored 97/100 on Pingdom's page speed tool. The result? One week after launching the blog, it's got about six posts live, and is already driving search traffic. In other words, i've been able to spend more time focused on content and less time on the technical setup.
If the blog or website you're building is intended to be around for a while and attract decent traffic, invest $40-50 now and get the best responsive theme
you can find. Make sure it's fast, well-coded, SEO friendly, and easily customisable.
#5 Touch A Nerve
People are on the Internet searching for answers to questions, and there is such a variety of online offerings that answers can be difficult to find. If you provide concise relevant answers to their questions you can reach the spirit of the reader. The great advantage to this method is that you can quite easily come up with new product ideas based on what your readers show interest in.
#6 Short or Long Articles
In my opinion, you're better off writing a low number of in-depth long-form posts, than a high frequency of short posts. I recently altered my strategy with the Venture Harbour blog: in 2013 we posted 3-4 articles per month around 800-1000 words each. In January 2014, I decided to increase the frequency to 10 articles per month, while increasing the average post length to 1,800 words. The result:
Short articles are popular. The advantage lies in the fact that you can create short articles very quickly and therefore publish many in a short time. This approach is most useful for bloggers who have limited spare time and wish just to entertain their readers. Article length is also dependent on the topic of the blog, and the expectations of the target group. Many users are not willing to read long articles but prefer short to the point information. However, this approach also has drawbacks. A very short article on Google may attract little interest. Most short articles will differ in content from the more in depth competition. News items tend to be very short articles and unsurprisingly do not rank well in Google.
Short articles often offer less potential for individuality. Building a readership base requires unique content with a recognisable style. Longer articles are preferable if you want to examine a topic closely and go into more detail. In addition, longer articles can be timeless. This can have a very positive effect in the medium to long term, as these articles can rank well in Google and continue to bring traffic after many months or years. An archive full of long articles is therefore very positive and a good avenue for bringing independent, relevant traffic to your blog.
#7 Answer Questions
Never ignore your readers. Readers questions are a constant source for new article ideas. Instead of racking your brain, listen to what your readers say is of interest to them, and the content they want to read. Search forums, blogs and emails to see what concerns readers, their problems and needs, and build constructive content around these issues.
#8 Work on your copywriting & headline writing skills
Five times as many people read your headline as your body copy. As David Ogilvy put it, when you write your headline - you've spent 80 cents out of your dollar.
Most bloggers look for outside tools and tips to improve their blogging, but often the most valuable investment is in your own skills. Consider what we discussed earlier: a good blog requires persistence and a high frequency of (good content). Those things are created by tools - they're created by you. Your levels of energy, willpower, and determination are huge factors in the overall success of your blog.
Don't worry, I won't go all 'basketball coach' on you, but bear in mind that if you want to be a decent blogger, work on yourself. The two most obvious things to work on are your headlines, and your general copywriting.
There are dozens of good courses out there on effective copywriting, but headline writing is a bit more of an art. I cannot recommend enough using a headline A/B testing tool. Some of the largest blogs on the Internet require their writers to produce 25 different headlines for each article they write.
Each headline is then tested to see which one receives the highest click through rate. You can read more about headline A/B testing and other headline writing tips here
There are people who roam around the Internet disturbing the peace wherever they can. They usually only participate in discussion to offend or to cause trouble others. Constructive criticism is useful, but trolls are only interested in creating discord. You can deal with trolls by staying calm and ignoring them. Regularly check your blog and delete negative comments. Check the style of your blog, look at the content and see if there is anything that may attract negative attention.
#10 Learning From Mistakes
Errors and failures are a fact of life and they usually shape us more than our successes. When blogging you can make mistakes that have negative consequences. This is one of the main reasons why blogs are never attempted, but errors are also about learning and evolving. The majority of errors are not permanent or dramatic, and major errors can be avoided (and repaired) with appropriate research before action.
Like all of us, i've made some monumental cockups in my time as a blogger - from accidentally outreaching to parody reviewers (and consequently having a parody review made of my site), to taking down my whole server while 'learning to code'. However, the most impactful 'mistake' I made was simply not being aggressive enough - or being too short-sighted.
These days, when I create a blog, I try to post daily 2,000+ word articles. I also try to think what will be a good strategy two years from now, and then I get started straight away. My first blog took 2.5 years to reach 100,000 monthly visitors. My second blog took 20 months. My most recent blog got there in 12 months. The lesson here? We all get better over time, but there's a lot we can learn from others' mistakes that will help us improve at an even faster rate.