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One Year of Blogging: Lessons Learned

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Today marks one year since publishing my very first article: 5 of the Best Quotes to Inspire You to Travel. When I first launched this blog a year ago, I had no clue what I was doing.

I knew how to travel. I knew I had lots of advice and inspiration that I could give to others about travelling. But I had absolutely no knowledge about SEO, blogging or what Internet users would even want to read about.

Fast forward to today and I have gained a wealth of knowledge by simply trying things out, analysing what has worked and what hasn’t worked and I’ve had buckets of fun. I love my blog, and today, I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my blogging journey…

1. Don’t use clickbait titles: readers don’t like it!!

I like to think that I haven’t used clickbait titles in any of my articles, but there is a chance I’ve been guilty of this by accident. Some bloggers though choose to use clickbait articles on purpose, and it can really frustrate readers! I’m not saying Nomadic Matt is guilty of doing this on a regular basis, but just look at the comments on this recent article about travelling anywhere in the world for $1,000. Some of those comments are pretty damning, aren’t they? But clickbait is something I’ve seen the world over within the blogging community. Although it might increase page views, it’s not going to make readers come back for more or trust you. So my advice? Avoid clickbait titles. Yes, you gotta make them catchy. But try to ensure your reader knows what the article will be about before they click on it through the use of a fun, engaging and useful title.

2. Use WordPress.org

When I first started my blog, I didn’t know anything about blogging platforms. I first tried out Wix, until I realised how difficult it was to customise and even publish a simple blog! I then went straight to WordPress.com, took out a cheap package so I could use my own domain name and away I went. I loved it: it was easy to publish new blogs, I liked my theme and blogging was enjoyable. But as my blog grew, I realised I was missing important functionality such as a link to Google Analytics data and the ability to customise my site to match my personality and branding. In May this year, I moved my site over to WordPress.org with the help of my hosting provider: SiteGround. They did this for free for me, and the entire switchover was painless. I chose a theme that could be highly customised and began re-building my site the way I wanted it… and now, I love my blog even more!

Wanderer of the World
My old WordPress.com website header… oh, the memories!

3. Find ways to monetise your site

Another reason to move away from WordPress.com (or to not use it in the first place) is so that you can monetise your site. No matter how much you love writing, you’ll love it even more if you can find ways to make money from your new hobby too. Some simple ways to monetise your site include using affiliate links, writing sponsored posts or writing paid guest articles. For affiliate links, a great program to use is Awin, as well as Amazon Associates. As for finding paid writing opportunities, there are so many sites you can use including Copypress and Upwork. I’ve even had some companies contact me with paid writing opportunities just because they saw me on Twitter!

4. Take photos of EVERYTHING

This is especially key for travel blogging. Although you can use stock footage from sites like Pixabay, Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons, it’s always best to use your own photography as much as possible. On the one hand, you know that there’s definitely no copyright issues, and on the other, it also helps to kick you up the butt to improve your own photography skills!

Fresh water taken from a waterfall in Iceland

5. You don’t have to have a highly specific niche

If you attend any blogging course, or listen to the famous bloggers, they will tell you time and time again that you must have a highly specific niche. Apparently ‘travel’ isn’t ‘niche’ enough. It needs to be: ‘couples travel’, ‘food travel’, ‘solo female travel’ etc etc. But why would you want to pigeonhole your writing in this way? Why shouldn’t you write about whatever you love, even if the articles don’t quite fit into a highly specific niche? Although my blog focuses on travel, that’s about as niche as I’d like to get for now. Why? Because I love writing and I love travelling the way I want to. I don’t want to limit myself!

6. Write from the heart & follow your passion

This goes hand in hand with the above. You need to write about what you love and are passionate about. Otherwise, if you don’t love what you’re writing, then no-one else is going to. Seriously, I’ve been there! When I was first starting out, I wrote an article called: “6 Reasons Why You Should Visit Berlin”. Now, although I liked Berlin, I didn’t find it was this incredible place that I want to travel back to time and time again (like Hawaii). So why did I write this article? Well, I’d seen other bloggers writing similar articles about other destinations, and I felt like I had to write about Berlin because I’d been there. Those were literally the only reasons. And seriously, you can tell when you read the article! It is still my least favourite article on the whole site, and just sits there in the background, unloved like a large bruise on my foot. Someday, I’ll get around to improving it. But my point is: if you’re not loving what you’re writing, no-one else will either!

7. Get involved with collaborations

This took me a few months to find out about and to understand. Firstly, what’s a collab or collaboration? Well, this is when you work with other bloggers on content, in return for a linkback to your site (good for DA). An example of this might be: “Travel Blogger’s Favourite Afternoon Teas Around the World” or “Weddings from Around the World”. Why would you do it? If sending content to other bloggers, you’ll receive a linkback to your site, which improves your Domain Authority and ultimately, your ranking on search engines. Plus, you’ll be getting your content in front of a new audience with very little work required on your part, as most collabs will only ask you to contribute a couple hundred words. Alternatively, you may decide to launch your own collab post like my examples – why? Well, you’re essentially getting “free” content for little effort, plus most people who get involved usually share the articles with their own audiences (at least at first). They’re a win win! The easiest way to find collab opportunities would be to join groups on Facebook. Here are some particularly good ones:

Wanderer of the World Wedding in England

8. Learn SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

SEO is vital to building a great blog and getting your content in front of a large audience. Plus, when you get SEO right, bringing new users to your site becomes a hell of a lot easier as you just simply write the post effectively and watch people come to you. There are lots of people out there who will tell you all kinds of ‘SEO tricks’, but really, it’s not that difficult. Here are some key SEO points to takeaway:

  • Keywords: Ensure you have keywords (words you want to rank in search engines for) in your main title, URL, image alt tags and meta description (this is the blurb shown in search engine results under each article).
  • Write for the searcher: Try to answer a question. Is someone else already ranking for this question? Be better than them. Write a better answer to the question, a longer answer and outrank the competition. I managed to do this with both my “Why Does it Always Rain in Wales?” article and my “5 Highlights of Venice” article. By writing in-depth, useful answers to searchers’ questions, I’ve been on Page 1 since the articles went live, and both are now featured snippets in Google. Cool, eh?
  • Get linkbacks: By getting involved with collabs, or by producing useful content, you’ll start building linkbacks to your articles. If Google sees this from high quality sites, you’ll start ranking higher. Take my article about “Morocco Airport Security” as an example. This consistently brings me good traffic, and is referred to by other sites as good knowledge or a source material. This has happened through very little effort of my own, other than writing a useful article!

9. Compress your images

This leads on nicely from the SEO point above, as another key element to ranking highly is by having a decent page speed for your articles. This means having a good website theme, fewer plugins running in the background and compressed images! Luckily for you, I like to keep things simple. For images less than 1mb in size, I use a plugin called Smush Image Compression and Optimisation, which automatically compresses images upon upload to WordPress. For any images larger than this size (usually my Pins), I put them through Optimizilla before uploading to my site, which is super quick and easy to use.

10. Brands will want to work with you even without a massive following

Time and time again, you hear of influencers who have large social media followings who get paid to travel the world. Well, yes of course, that’s the dream! But what about when you’re just starting out and beginning to build a following? Well, brands will still want to work with you, and may even contact you themselves! I’ve had several companies find me on Twitter to work with me on sponsored content in return for a form of payment or freebie gift. If you have a small social following, don’t fret. Brands will still want to work with you if they can see you have an engaged, loyal following (albeit small), and that you create good content.

Working in Bristol Guide

11. Expect many sleepless nights

This is important. Blogging is great fun, but it can be stressful to keep on top of the latest trends, a high workload and stiff competition (especially if you’re trying to go it alone). You may find that you start having sleepless nights as your mind whirrs away over all of this great content you just don’t have the time to write. But you’ve really got to try to stop your blog from affecting your sleeping pattern. Here are some tips for when you want to sleep, but your mind just won’t let you:

  • Write everything down in a notebook: If your brain really won’t shut up, quickly write down what you’re thinking into a notebook (not a phone or iPad!) This will help appease your mind into thinking you’ve achieved a goal, allowing you to get some much needed shuteye.
  • Try some non-caffeinated herbal teas in the evening: I swear by herbal teas that contain camomile or lavender for the evenings. Some of my favourites include Sleep by Twinings and Night Time by Pukka.
  • Exercise! Pop out for a walk in the evening, or try some Yoga. Either of these are great options to help reduce the amount of thoughts swimming around in your brain, whilst giving your body a gentle workout to tire it into a restful sleep.

12. Believe in yourself, no-one else will

Confidence is something I’ve personally always struggled with, so I know it’s easier said than done to believe in yourself. But seriously, you’ve just got to. Blogging is a tough industry and most fail within the first year, but you’ve got to have belief that what you’re bringing to the group is useful, valuable and highly sought after. Trust me when I say there is enough room for all of us! When I first started out, I thought I had no chance of appearing on Page 1 or even 2 of Google. Yet, I started producing content that clearly others weren’t doing as well (or at all!) And I know there are still a lot of topics out there up for grabs! But whilst you’re creating your blog, don’t expect non-bloggers to “get it”. Often, they will ask: “Why do you do it if you don’t get paid for every post you write?” or “Who cares about blogs, when you could be doing vlogs?” I’ve been there and had these questions asked of me time and time again. All I can say is: keep loving what you’re doing and forget the haters. They’re just jealous they don’t have as cool or as motivating a hobby as you do.

13. Read, learn, grow

For any writer, reading other content should be part and parcel of the day. From reading other blogs in your industry, to reading totally random blogs, to reading cereal packets and novels, reading needs to be a part of your blogging schedule (even if you can only manage 30 minutes per day)! Not sure where to start? Here are a few of the blogs and websites I read regularly:

The Winding Stair Bookshop, Dublin

14. Don’t be a copycat: be unique!

Even though you might be reading other blogs and websites, don’t feel that you need to be a copycat. Taking inspiration from others is great, but you’re never going to stand out if your blog and content just looks and sounds like everyone else! Be unique… you might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you will develop a loyal following of people who hang on your every word and who like everything you post on Facebook.

15. Your blog, your rules!

There are lots of people out there who will tell you what you should do with your blog. Some examples of what you’ll hear regularly are:

“Only write long-form content: Google loves it!”
“All your Instagram photos need to have the same theme.”
“No-one cares about your personal stories. Don’t write those.”

You’ll hear a lot more within the blogging community, but these are definitely some standouts I’ve heard multiple times over the year. But who cares what they think?

Providing you’re writing valuable content, that you love, others out there will love it too. If your style is short, snappy blog pieces, then great! Just maybe aim for over 400 words to at least stand with a chance in search results. Do you prefer writing mammoth articles? Great! Just keep an eye on how long people are actually staying on the page for.

Basically, your blog, your rules! Go about things how you want to do it, keep it consistent and you will succeed. I’ve tried all kinds of things over this past year. Some have worked amazingly well, which I never expected. Whilst things I thought would definitely work (and was told would work), totally bombed. Along the way, you’ll find your own footing on what works for you and your audience. And once you’ve got your own personal formula worked out, stick to it!

16. Use Pinterest

A year ago, I never knew how valuable Pinterest is as a social media tool. I seriously thought it was all about Facebook and Instagram these days. Pinterest is great as it acts like a visual search engine. So rather than social posts becoming lost and forgotten pretty much as soon as you’ve posted them (like in a Facebook feed), pins are evergreen. There are some pins I posted maybe 6 months ago that still bring in heaps of traffic. Do I understand how? No. I just know it works. So yeah, consider giving Pinterest a go. And Canva is a great tool to help you create awesome pins (I use it pretty much everyday!!)

Use Pinterest

17. Guest posting is important and fun

When I was first starting out, I couldn’t understand why writing for other blogs was a good idea – until I tried a bunch. First and foremost, they act in a similar way to collabs by giving you a backlink, and by getting your content in front of a different (and often much larger) audience. But what I didn’t think it would be was fun. By writing to someone else’s style guide, you’re able to perhaps try a different format, topic or writing style from what you’d normally use. That’s great experience for any budding writer. And when the finished result is published; well, it feels pretty damn good to be published elsewhere! There are Facebook groups you can join to get guest posting opportunities… some of my favourites are:

But you can also contact blogs, newspapers and journals to have your work published too. With your own blog as your portfolio, you should get more “Yeses” than “Nos”. But seriously, ask! By asking, I’ve had my articles published on the Visit Bristol blog, as well as in my local newspaper… and I don’t intend on stopping there!

18. Give yourself goals and objectives

To help you grow your blog to the size you want it to be, it’s important to have a note of goals you want to achieve. This can include things like number of page views you want to reach each month, social media followers or even more subjective goals like improving your photography. When I started my blog, I defined a set of objectives I wanted to achieve by launching my site and writing articles, which I’ve listed below:

  1. Share memories
  2. Improve my photography skills
  3. Become a better writer
  4. Share hints and tips
  5. Make my stamp on the world
  6. Build a traveller following
  7. Travel more
  8. Bonus: make money

These were simply jotted down in a notebook, which has since become full of blog ideas. And then along the way, I’ve established monthly goals to achieve plus a few daily goals, such as complete blogs X, Y and Z today.

19. Try to stick to a schedule

When reading other blogs (particularly those I’m a super loyal reader of), I will frequently check their sites for new blogs. However, there have been occasions when bloggers have gone MIA for a couple of weeks. Maybe they went away travelling? Or just wanted some time off? Even as a loyal reader, I found this frustrated me. (Sorry guys!) Although I would still come back to their site, I noticed when the blogger went MIA. So something I’ve learned from that for my own blog is to try to avoid going quiet. If you’re going away travelling for long periods of time, maybe consider scheduling blogs to go out whilst you’re away. You can easily schedule them in before your trip, appeasing your eager readers.

Also, it’s great if you can produce content that fits in with the time of the year as well. Maybe a Halloween inspired post in October or a Christmas theme in December for example? Throughout this year, I’ve tried all kinds of tools to help me develop a blogging schedule. But the one I’ve settled on (and love) is Trello. This allows you to create boards, which act as to-do lists. By moving cards from the left to the right, you get a feeling of satisfaction for completing an action (i.e. publishing a blog post). Plus, you can add attachments, checklists, colour-coded labels and due dates to help you keep on top of your workload. And it’s free!

For some inspiration, here’s my Wanderer of the World Trello board:

Wanderer of the World Trello Board

It allows me to create cards for my neverending blog ideas, schedule them in based on the due date, and keeps a to-do list of collabs I’m involved with. Useful, huh?

20. Have fun!

But most importantly… have fun. Just enjoy what you’re doing, keep learning and honing your craft and keep it up!

Okay, so this blog has turned out to be way more detailed than I expected. I hope it’ll prove useful to you on your blogging journey! Over to you now: what are some things you’ve learned from blogging?

Was this useful? Feel free to share the knowledge!

Lessons Learned from One Year of Travel Blogging

PS This article contains a few affiliate links for products and services I personally recommend. If you do decide to purchase one of my recommendations, I’ll receive a little bit of commission, helping me to keep this website fun, free and jam-packed full of info for everyone!
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