1.) Get your bearings
> The following questions may seem obvious, but there are loads of sites on the Internet that haven’t done this preliminary work and probably confusing readers, who are asking themselves, “What is this site about? What’s the point? And why am I wasting time reading them?”
a.) WHY are you writing?
- Are you creating a blog so friends can keep up with your travel exploits? Are you hoping to visit and launch a comprehensive list of all the best bars in America?
- Answering “why” will help you understand and connect with your audience (or the audience you hope to have).
- Almost any answer to “why” is a legitimate reason to launch a travel site.
b.) For WHOM are you writing?
- Friends/family? People who live in a specific region? People unfamiliar with an area who need practicalities for “getting around”?
- Answering “who” helps you to understand the kinds of content you’ll write, based on your readers’ needs.
c.) WHAT are you writing about?
- Knowing precisely “why” and “who” helps shape the answer to this question, the most important one.
- Always keep the “what” in mind — this will help give shape to your site. If your “who” doesn’t care about your “what,” don’t put it on your site.
- Pick a topic and stick to it. If you want to expand your scope, launch a new, complementary site, if coverage doesn’t overlap neatly. Make the topic simple to express to new readers — “water slides in Florida”; “food carts of SE Asia”; “safari-ing in Southern Africa.”
- CAUTION: Avoid wide-ranging topics (unless you are a “general travel” site, and then… be very careful, so you don’t confuse readers).
- Examples of good “general travel” sites —
* Matador Network
* Lonely Planet’s blog
> Note that they all have large networks of contributors, something most new sites do not have.
- Examples of successful niche blogs —
* Delicious Baby
> Answering who, why, and what gives shape to your site, allowing you to convert a casual reader into a fan.
2.) Give readers a view
a.) Just because you’re a “writer,” don’t discount the use of imagery/videos.
b.) Especially for travel sites, pictures help tell the story and immerse the reader in your experience.
- Try to use your own imagery, especially if talking about hotels, attractions, gear, or first-person narratives (no one wants to see stock imagery in a review!).
c.) Use the largest format/highest res your site can handle.
d.) BONUS: Images also serve the purpose of giving a readers’ brain a break from digesting long, dense chunks of text. Imagine reading as snorkeling — pictures serve as an opportunity for the brain to “surface” and take a glorious gulp of fresh air.
- Examples of sites that leverage photos/video well —
* Matador Network (mostly CC-licensed from Flickr)
* Everything Everywhere (almost entirely original)
* PostcardJunky is a great example of how long, thick chunks of narration benefit from well-placed imagery.
> Making stories come alive, by using imagery and video, allows you to convert a reader into a fan.
3.) Give readers a map
a.) Avoid generic “monthly archives” like Blogger/Blogspot uses. This only informs the reader how long the site has been live.
b.) Use smart but simple categories/tags that a reader can easily understand (for many travel sites, organizing by destination is an obvious potential choice). This allows readers to get from you the information they need as easily as possible.
> Make it simple for readers to get your info — if they have to “dig” for the info they want, they’re likely to leave.
c.) Spotlight your “best” writing/series, maybe in a rail, or near the top of the main page. This allows you to “put your best foot forward” and show readers how awesome you are.
- Examples of sites that have simple, intuitive navigation —
* Gadling (organized by country, and “type” of travel)
* Matador Network (organized by travel “topic”)
* HuffPo (not a travel site, but the the tabs at the top of the page allow readers to dig in, simply)
> Allowing readers to get the info they want from you easily helps you convert a reader into a fan.
4.) Give readers a voice
a.) As readers, we give writers the respect to have their say. Return the favor, and give readers the respect to have their say.
b.) Allow your articles to become living, organic conversations by allowing comments.
c.) Participate in the discussion there; don’t just let readers leave comments and not get feedback from you.
d.) Don’t be afraid to convert reader comments into new story ideas, or to allow comments to influence your writing (e.g., maybe you got a tip about an attraction you recommend being closed).
e.) No matter what your CMS/platform, try to utilize free, robust commenting systems, like Disqus, that let users authenticate in a variety of social network sites so they don’t have to sign up for yet another account.
- Example of a travel site that engages well with its readers —
* Nomadic Matt (Few travel writers get as “beaten up” over their choice of lifestyle as Nomadic Matt. Study how he gets into the conversation by responding to readers directly in his comments. He cares about his readers and their understanding of him.)
> Allowing a reader to interact with you allows you to convert a reader into a fan.
5.) Amplify readers’ voices
a.) Becoming as important or more important than SEO.
b.) Use social media to promote your own work, and let your fans promote your work for you. Fans are like an army of marketing agents, working for free!
c.) Use social media to connect with like-minded people, to promote your “human-ness,” and to change your website into a living thing (i.e., your “brand”).
d.) Be careful not to clutter your site with widgets and buttons, but be sure to make it as simple as possible for your fans to spread your good work.
e.) Consider that new readers may give credence to posts with many RTs of Facebook “shares” and that thousands of “shares” can help “prove” to new readers that you are an expert in your subject matter.
- Example of a site that uses social media effectively —
* Everything Everywhere (101k+ Twitter followers)
6.) Set your hours
a.) Set rigorous but manageable goals for yourself, regarding output. Be consistent, and work hard — but don’t get burned out.
- Emphasize quality over quantity
b.) Set reader expectations for how often they can get fresh content.
- Avoid taking long breaks
- Examples of travel sites that “set their hours” —
* Gadling (updates 5-20 times/day, depending on day/news cycle)
* The Scout (updates only once per day, but always offers one really good story)
7.) Be patient
a.) Toughest tip here.
b.) Unless you’re Steve Martin, or Steve Jobs, or Steve Case, it’s quite unlikely that your site will be the biggest right off the bat.
c.) However, if you keep in mind WHY you’re writing; WHO you’re writing for; and WHAT you write about — and never waver — you’ll attract readers and convert them into fans.
—> Success WILL happen.
1.) Get your bearings