November was the big month where I finally revealed the new-look Going Awesome Places to the world and while I wish I can say it was a piece of cake, there was a lot of work involved that made it an arduous task but also incredibly rewarding once I got it out into the world. Follow along in the journey because who knows, a site refresh might be something you’re thinking about as well!
Travel Blog Breakthrough really started because one day I had the crazy idea to take all the things I had learned about travel blogging up to that point and share it in the form of blog posts. This turned into the Travel Blogger’s Toolkit series on Going Awesome Places.
Realizing that this was becoming bigger than what made sense for a regular travel blog, I took the leap of faith and decided to start another blog – this one you’re reading. I wanted to do more than just toolkit blog posts though and that’s how the podcast started, and these income/traffic reports started.
I may be a bit naive here but one of the frustrating parts about travel blogging is that other bloggers tend to be so guarded with their information, instead of sharing and helping. My philosophy has always been that we’re all in this together. The better we can all become as bloggers, the stronger our voice becomes which then increases the amount of opportunities that come for us as a community. Community is the operative word here.
The first report was all the way back to October 2014 and here’s a quote that I think will resonate with a lot of you.
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.
I think the biggest thing that keeps these income and traffic reports going is the fact that the path to success is really a journey. I for one am not one of the upper echelon bloggers. In fact, I have to say that I still suck at A LOT of things. The key at the end of the day is that these monthly reports are a perfect way to reflect on how to learn, iterate and continuing to do what you love.
As much as these are good ways for me to keep track of my own progress, I honestly do it for you guys.
- Because the goal of taking your blog to the next level and making money of it is not as crazy you think.
- Because if you’re feeling down and thinking “man this is friggin’ hard!”….well yes it is but you’re not alone. 🙂
- And really at the end of the day, it’s about generating conversation and ideas to ultimately hit those elusive breakthrough moments we’re all looking for.
BY THE NUMBERS
While I was heads down on getting the site ready, I was letting the remaining days of the site run through. Yes the previous-look site was advertising laden but nobody can doubt that it was driving incredible amounts of income (by my standards anyways).
Always promising is the diversification and growth of my portfolio of work which in 2016 brought in the addition of more hosting of Twitter chats and the growth of affiliate marketing passive income.
Sadly November also saw the end of Sohelpful.me which was the tool that I used to let readers book 1 on 1 mentoring time with me. I’ve yet to find a replacement but hope to get to it soon.
In the absence of time to write dedicated articles, I still want to be able to share what I learn month to month here. My hope is that my random bits of gibberish help you in your journey!
A New Beginning
If you think blogging is something where you build your site once and you “set it and forget it”, you’d be kidding yourself. The web is constantly evolving and what’s in one year is out the next. Being on my third iteration of the site, there was the nagging feeling that there was so much more I could be doing with the site. Small things bugged me but there were some glaring issues with it that I knew would be just a matter of time when it’d be a blocker for growth.
2016 was the tipping point for me where I knew I had to focus on bringing Going Awesome Places up to par with new web standards and my other core mandate to make the blog easier to navigate and discover new content.
For me, it came down to a few things:
- Time – I knew that I just wouldn’t have time to do this thing by myself
- Cost – Opening up budget to spend on hiring someone and purchasing new tools/platform
- Research – I’m nowhere close to a web designer but I looked at current trends and what I found was overwhelmingly a focus around mobile-friendliness, flat design, clean/unclutter, and clear driving to action (as a reader, tell me what to do and where to go)
- Inspiration – I spent time getting inspired by the travel bloggers I look up to and picked and chose the best of everything I love about them.
So what exactly did I do? My blog post to open up the new launch covers what makes Going Awesome Places new and improved so read that first to get a good idea of what I went through.
Pain Before The Gain
Behind the scenes, there was so much involved in this project. I’m not even sure where to start but here are a few thoughts around what you need to think about when you inevitably go through your own site redesign.
Expect it to not go according to plan
I went into it thinking I’d be able to get it done in a couple months with the opening of 2016. It took a heck of a lot longer than that because:
- Life got busy as it usually does.
- Having a vision is hard. You just won’t know exactly what you want because it’ll evolve based on what’s feasible, cost, time, and what you see from other bloggers. The more I looked, the more I was distracted by all the wild and wonderful things I could do. In the end though, I just needed to make a decision.
- You might have the right person for the job but you’re kind of at the whim of their schedule no matter how much you push.
- The developer can only do so much. The remaining 40% takes sheer will power and focus to get things across the finish line.
Just thinking about it makes me go “wow” that I was able to pull it off. If I told you at the beginning I knew exactly how all of this was going to play out, I’d be lying to myself. I just had to roll with the punches.
Finding the right person for the job
The key to making all of this happen was really the result of me finding a web designer that I could share my vision with and lean on to get it to work the way I wanted to, provide sound advice on what was realistic, and also understood the world of blogging.
That last point is what I learned to be the most important of all and truly the turning point for me to start thinking harder about how I could improve the site beyond just a face lift.
My journey to find this person started with the decision to go with the Genesis framework and following that, the Altitude Pro child theme. By chance, I was poking around for examples of others using this theme and I found out about Dustn.tv. As soon as I saw his site, I could envision how a travel blog would work with this theme.
Since I have some experience doing front-end development, I first attempted to see if I could replicate what he had done to his blog. Thankfully creating a staging site was incredibly easy with WP Engine. However, I quickly learned that there were a lot of changes he had made to the base theme and I just didn’t have the patience to get it to do what I wanted. I also realized that I had too much on my plate to take all of this on my own.
In desperation, I reached out to Dustin and asked if he’d be interested in working on a project like mine where essentially he’d be copying most of the theme work he had done already. He didn’t respond back right away but after a few followups he agreed to chat over Hangouts and we struck a deal for what he’d help me deliver.
Now I go into more details about why the project was delayed in my launch post, but the point that I want to make is that if I got a general developer to build a site from scratch, it would’ve been helluva lot more difficult. Instead of having to articulate exactly what I wanted, there was already something visual for me to work off of which made my job way easier.
The other benefit of being able to work with Dustin was that he just had so much knowledge and wisdom around blogging best practices and plugins I should have (more on that below). Despite the delays and all of that, what I enjoyed the most about working with him was that he was extremely accommodating, had a flexible schedule, and was someone I could quickly book a 30 minute meeting when needed to help fix a problem or ask about the best way of doing something. The beauty with Dustin was that if I did have a problem, it was usually something that he had solved already so it was so much easier to resolve.
This was probably the most unorthodox of this whole process but it definitely helped. The fact is that working with a developer is really hard and communicating your ideas is even harder. Make sure you developer is someone that’s good at communicating, gets your vision, is willing to iterate with you, and is good at explaining concepts because ultimately you have to maintain the site on your own.
You don’t always get what you want
Now the flip side of it all, not everything went according to plan. One of the biggest things I was looking for in a new site is the ability for visitors to be able to search for their destination of interest up at the top. The idea was that for people that are planning a trip somewhere, being able to get to the posts that matter right away through some sort of auto-complete.
The more research Dustin did on this, the more complex this was. In the end, I came to the reality that this might not be that valuable of a feature for readers wanting to explore the site.
Sometimes you have to compromise.
You think you have the right structure to your WordPress site but you probably don’t
I wish someone told me how I should’ve set up my site right from the beginning or maybe it’s just a pain that all bloggers go through. Seriously though, why isn’t it more friggin more obvious how to use Pages versus Categories?
Besides the search feature on the home page that I wanted, the second top priority was to build a Destinations page with the same idea of helping guide readers to specific sections of the blog to find articles for countries they’re planning trips for.
The hard part then was figuring out how I was going to set up the individual country pages. Did I need to create a new Page for each or was it a Category? Here’s what it came down to:
- With a Page, you have full control over what content is in there including the URL path but the problem without additional plugins or coding, there’s no way to group a collection of blog posts and organize them within the page.
- With Categories, Genesis has it built-in where you have the ability to write custom HTML for the header part of a category archive page. On top of that, you still have the ability to give your category a URL “slug” that is for all intensive purposes means the archive page has path. What you lose is flexibility as each page is the same template.
Wait so is an category archive page?
This is a standard WordPress feature where you can assign a post you write to one or many categories. For example, you can have a “Travel Hack” category and also a “Canada” category. If your post is about Canadian travel hacks, you might assign it to both. The beauty of categories is that when you add the category to your top navigational menu, you can direct your readers to go to a page which only shows you blog posts that have that category assigned. This page is a category archive page.
Now what I made a mess of, as an early blogger, was the complete improper use of categories. I made categories for trips I went on (i.e. “Asia 2012”, “Utah Ski Trip”) on top of a complex hierarchical category structure that went from Continent -> Country because it had made sense at the time with my menu system. With my new website design, all of this was BAD. I had to completely revamp how all my posts were categorized and since I needed all of my country-based category archive pages to have a basic path of goingawesomeplaces.com/canada-travel-tips, I needed a flat category structure.
The beauty of Genesis over my other themes was that I had the built-in capability to edit what the title and description text of each category archive page. That is what allows pages like the USA Travel Guide page to look the way it does.
What else messed up?
I’m probably putting you more and more off from doing a site redesign but I want to be straight with you in terms of what other work I had to plow through to get everything to look the way I wanted to.
- Featured image – I’ve come a long way from when I started when I didn’t know what featured images were for but with every new theme, the image itself is used in different ways. For Altitude Pro, the featured image is used at the very top of the post and problem is that all of my previous featured images had text on it so that was a problem. Yes, that meant I had to go through EVERY post and swap out the image for a different one, often times having to create new ones and make sure they were a very specific pixel width and height.
- Category – This is two fold as I talk about above. I had to make sure all my categories were created correctly with the right slug, title, and custom description. At the post level, I had to re-assign categories to make sure they all lined up. Lastly, I removed all the useless categories I created like the “Asia 2012”.
- New plugins – If you decide to do an even larger overhaul like I did, that means setting them up and if they require input at the post level, you have to edit each one.
In the end, you just have to get it out of the door
I could’ve continued to perfect the site for months but in the end, I just needed to migrate staging to production and put the sucker live. The longer I waited and anguished over ever small detail, the more I would never finish.
Dustin gave me some great advice around just putting it live and fixing up the blog posts that 80% of your traffic goes to and then fixing up the remaining 20% later over time.
I also initially wasted a ton of time going through blog posts from my first year of blogging and I realized later that it was not an effective use of my time because barely any traffic goes to those pages. Think cost (time & effort) vs benefit.
Stepping Up My Game
Dustin was AMAZING at helping me improve my blogs by introducing me to new tools. Each of them deserve a dedicated post but I’ll just bullet out the new ones that I’ve added and why they’re so good.
- OptinMonster – The resounding feedback I got from Dustin was that Sumo which I relied on for lead capture through things like slide in boxes and other things like contact forms was too bulky and not very effective. He recommended OptinMonster and while I was hesitant to pay for more tools, I can say unequivocally the best lead capture plugin out there.
- Ninja Forms – Dustin gave me a quick demo of this on one of our calls and I was sold. They make it so easy to build forms of any shape and size.
- Social Warfare – Sure Dustin is a bit biased here because he also co-runs this company but the tool they’ve built is pretty awesome. Since I pulled out Sumo, I needed another way for readers to share my content on social. A problem I’ve always had with tools like Sumo is that it’s a catch-all solution. I just never liked that I couldn’t set the exact messaging and image is used for each social channel. With Social Warfare you can. I don’t know how I’ve lived this whole time without it.
- Yoast SEO – This is a massive departure from using All-In-One SEO. While it was doing the job, I was experiencing weird glitches with All-In-One and I was also really enjoying Yoast through Travel Blog Breakthrough so with the site change, I knew this was my opportunity to do the migration. The migration itself was easy (click of a button) but the problem is that not everything comes over (social images, social messaging) so this was yet another thing I had to fix post by post.
- CoSchedule – You all know that I’ve been a huge advocate of CoSchedule for years now. They’ve been upping their game recently with features such as best time scheduling, ReQueue, and social templates. I won’t go into how all of them work but I was shown the light and now I can’t live without it. It’s made social scheduling even easier than before.
Focus on doing a better job at…
I’ve learned that every time you redesign your site, you have that much more experience to pull from. All those things that you tell yourself “I wish I could do a better job at X” is possible because you can now focus on these areas as part of your next iteration. This is the best time to take a step back and re-evaluate everything. For me it came down to a few things:
- Focus on building a list and segmenting those users
- Create more exclusive content to drive sign ups
- Clean up display ad clutter and focus even more on affiliates
- Better ways to navigate within the site – That’s what sticky sidebar “Everything I use to travel”, “Where do you want to go” and “Deals to save you money” are all about
Oh gosh I feel like I could keep going but I’ll stop here. Drop a line below if you had more questions. I’ll probably follow up with more site redesign geeking next month!
WANT TO SEE MORE?
If you’ve found TBB hugely valuable over this past year and want to show your support, I’ve created a Patreon page where you’re able to show you love for as little as $1.
Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to do so without getting anything in return and so you’ll find several tier levels similar to Kickstarter where you can basically pick a package to get even MORE out of Travel Blog Breakthrough. I’m committing to amp it up and for those that are truly committed to taking your travel blog to the next level, there are now ways for you to get access more of me.