To kick off Travel Blog Breakthrough’s blog posts, what better way to do it than to reveal everything I’ve made so far with Going Awesome Places up to October 2014.
Let’s take a step back and talk about how this all started so you can really get a better grasp of how long it’s taken to get to this point. As you know, I started this blog back in May 2012 as something for fun and more of an experiment than anything. After my exodus and returning back home, I decided to keep things going and slowly I began to learn more and more about how the travel blog industry works. However, even as I was getting more involved in my blog, I was still just doing it recreationally a couple times a month.
Fast forward to 2013, I started seeing a gradual increase in traffic and I figured I was doing something right. Then it dawned on me that it might be a cool idea to experiment with making some dough out of this. Keep in mind that I’m still without a job at this point and working on several startups so my income was literally $0. Things started with affiliate advertising and then I got a few random sponsored post requests that I ended up taking.
2014 is the year where I really put a lot more of my focus on Going Awesome Places and after switching to a 3 post a week and applying a lot of learnings and strategies from other bloggers, traffic took another upward climb. Social media was also a big focus in 2014 as I vowed never to be denied a gig just because I had less than 10,000 followers. I then made it my mission to hit that mark by the end of the year (it happened in September woot woot). As a result, more opportunities came flooding in and I also started getting into banner advertising.
So really what I want to impart on any of you reading this is that man it takes a lot of friggin’ time, hard work, sweat, luck and maybe some tears to get rolling. Behind the scenes, you’re constantly thinking about new content to put together, design elements to make your blog better, social media strategies, seeking out brands for trips or sponsorship. Looking back at how I first started the blog, doing this full time is a whole other animal if you want to take things seriously.
Above all else, patience has really been the key. You have to understand that things don’t just happen overnight. As you’ll see below, it’s taken quite the long time to get my blog up to where it is today. I know it still has a long way to go to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other titans of travel blogging but it’s all part of the journey.
INCOMEOkay let’s just dive straight into the income numbers for everything up to October 2014. Note that I’ve converted all numbers into USD currency just to make it easy.
- Sponsored Posts – $1,154.55
- TravelPony – $500.00 in credit
- themidgame – $242.45
- Hotel Travel – $199.92
- Red Pineapple Media – $190.06
- Commission Junction – $185.94
- LinkLift – $173.78
- Amazon Associates US – $161.46
- Cooperatize – $100.00
- Google Adsense -$75.26
- Amazon Associates Canada – $45.11
- Sovrn – $16.50
- Switchads – $3.78
- TripleLift – $0.00
- Bluehost – $0.00
- Siteground – $0.00
Total income: $3,048.82
Now if I pivot the data in a different way, you’ll see a bit more insight in the type of work I did to make money.
- Sponsored Full (provided content and links) – $623.45
- Freelance Writing (writing on another platform) – $560.46
- Sponsored Review – $500.00
- Sponsored Campaign – $465.01
- Affiliate – $392.52
- Banner Ad – $199.92
- Sponsored Link – $173.78
- Ad Platform – $92.54
THOUGHTS ON INCOME
This one’s always hotly debated. It’s good income but at the same time you don’t want to be a sell-out. They are highly attractive because you get a huge lump sum right away and there’s barely any work for you to do. The side effects are that the content may look completely out of place, may be poorly received by your readers and could have negative implications with Google.
Sponsored work encompasses quite a few areas and not all of them are bad. “Sponsored Full” are the ones that look the most obvious. The client provides you all the content and all you have to do is paste and publish. “Sponsored Review” is when a product or service pays you to write a review about them. You try to be as unbiased as possible but of course you can’t exactly say outright negative things about them. “Sponsored Campaign” are when a brand comes to you directly or through a platform like The Midgame and you’re paid to put together a post to promote something like a city and do some social media work for them as well. I’ve enjoyed doing these quite a bit just because I can present the content in a way that looks natural on my site and has real tangible value. Lastly there’s “Sponsored Link” where a company pays to drop a link in one of your existing articles. LinkLift was the only one doing this but I have a feeling you’ll see less of this
I started off blogging being pretty oblivious to the effects of taking sponsored posts but as I’ve matured, I’ve been more careful about what to take. I limit the amount of sponsored work I take and make sure that the ones I do take are relevant to my readers (i.e. travel).
With this being my most significant contributor to income, I will continue to pursue these opportunities but hope to wean off slowly as my traffic picks up and advertising can start taking over.
I started off with this the earliest and ironically is one of my poorest performers. The challenge with affiliates is that you’re paid by CPA (cost per action) which means someone actually needs to then go buy something after they click on the banner or link. I’ve deep linked a bunch of my pages but haven’t had an incredible amount of success.
What’s done the best for me has been the Amazon Associates program. These work the best when I refer to gear that I use or I do a specific review. What’s great about this is that everyone’s buying stuff on Amazon anyways so when you take them to an Amazon page, it’s not perceived as annoying because they probably would’ve checked Amazon for the prices anyways if they were interested in a product. The beauty of this as well is that even if they don’t buy the product you referred them to and they end up buying something completely different, you’ll still get credit for those purchases.
Commission Junction (CJ) has been a bit of a bust for me except for one instance where someone bought a $2000 tour with G Adventures. Aside from that, I’ve gotten pennies here and there for Groupon and TripAdvisor. I’m currently using the Simple Ad Manager WordPress plugin to manage my inventory of CJ banner ads but am considering cutting this out in the future in favor of more productive ad platforms.
Bluehost (hosting company) is an interesting referral program I signed up for when I started Travel Blogger’s Toolkit. You get $75 per sign up which is pretty tasty but alas I haven’t had any signups yet! Siteground is similar and I’m also looking to ramp them up. Working on it 🙂
This month I put in applications for Infolinks and ShareASale so we’ll see how those go.
I honestly got into this a little late. It wasn’t until June of 2014 that I got into the game which is why you see such pathetic numbers for Google Adsense. Sovrn, SwitchAds and TripleLift came shortly after to experiment with other ad networks.
Here’s a glimpse of my Google AdSense performance.
Sovrn has been decent after kicking it off at the end of September. I have noticed that since I don’t have traffic in the millions that ad platforms that use the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) aren’t as effective for me. Contrast that to AdSense where I can make much more through clicks. Above, you can see that I’m making upwards to $1.67 CAD per one click versus $0.72 USD per thousand views. SwitchAds’ performance operates very similarly to Sovrn and has performed way worse while TripleLift isn’t even worth mentioning because I’ve only gotten 40 impressions since I’ve had it up in September.
This month I also joined YellowHammer, BlogAds and Media.net. I will report back next month on how those fare.
SELLING AD SPACE
This really only happened to me on one occasion when HotelTravel approached me to sign up for their affiliate program but was willing to pay me $200 over the course of a year to have banners up on my blog. It seemed like something easy to implement so I put them up.
I’m hoping this starts to pick up in the future when I’ll be able to approach specific brands about placing banner ads on my blog posts and charging per month to have it up on either a specific page(s) or site wide.
I don’t get a lot of opportunities here but I do take advantage when someone does reach out to me to write content for their platform. In most cases, it’s been travel startups that have contacted me.
WHAT ABOUT PRESS TRIPS?
I thought about putting in numbers for press trips but I’d be cheating if I put in the value of those trips in there. Having done 2 trips so far, the value of them is easily around $1000 but if it isn’t cash in my hands, it doesn’t really count.
I know $3000 isn’t a whopping number but hey it’s a start right? I really only started thinking about income in January 2013 so that comes out to a $138.58 average per month up to now. Hopefully I can break that average in future months.
TRAFFICBelow are a few screenshots taken from Google Analytics. Click on them to see larger versions of them.
The traffic has certainly been steadily increasing but as always, at the whim of the Google search algorithms.
I probably need to explain a few of the spikes that you see. The first spike around May and June of 2014 occurred because TravelPony loved my review of them so much that they injected it into their paid campaigns on platforms like Taboola, Disqus and Outbrain. As a result, I got a ridiculous amount of traffic from sites serving those ads.
The second spike happened just this month when I wrote a blog post talking about the revitalization of Buffalo. I swear the entire Buffalo community rallied behind this post because it got shared by literally everyone and their grandmother. Over the course of a week, I got a huge influx of traffic. All of this was short lived though as it died down considerably in later weeks.
All of these “events” were unplanned on my part. They’re nice to see these spikes but like most viral things on the net, they give you a quick boost but things go back to normal once the smoke clears.
TOP 10 TRAFFIC SOURCES
Google is clearly top dog when it comes to driving traffic to most travel blogs. I also seem to get a healthy number of people that come directly onto my site. After that, you see Taboola, Outbrain and Disqus from the TravelPony campaign and then there’s a decent number coming from Twitter, Facebook and RedFlagDeals. It’s worth mentioning that my RedFlagDeals (RFD) strategy came from a time when I spent some effort trying to inject my links through forums. With RFD I simply found threads from people asking travel questions or looking for discount codes. I would try to help where I could and then dropped my link at the bottom. I did the same thing on Lonely Planet, Fodors and TripAdvisor. It worked to some extent but it was just too much work for very little return on traffic which is why I stopped. Deal sites like RFD really loved my post on secret list of car rental discount codes so thats why you see a nice surge there.
THOUGHTS ON TRAFFIC
It was a nice little exercise to go back all the way to the beginning of time to see how things have grown these past 2+ years.
When it comes to future strategy, I really need to think about putting more time and effort in diversifying traffic outside of Google. I’ve done a lot of work on Twitter this year but next I need to think about expanding my reach on Facebook and on Pinterest. At the same time, I also need to continue to hammer out posts that will hit first page on Google search.
Keep hustling, hacking, testing, building, learning, tweaking (not twerking) and networking! Good things do happen to those that are persistent and work hard.
Stay tuned for next month’s income report!