2017 was the start of something new for me.
Although I technically launched my site at the end of 2016 I left it collecting dust while I researched and panicked over all the stuff I didn’t know about blogging. 2016 ended with a plan of attack for 2017 filled with goals, measurables, and a burning desire for success. Basically, I started treating my blog like a business.
In this post, I want to share with you my journey through my first year as a travel blogger. I will be sharing valuable information on travel blogging for beginners, so if this is you, pay close attention for I am revealing all my successes, failures, and learning lessons from my first year. Plus, a special sneak peak at my goals for 2018 in hopes of giving you even more direction.
Table of Contents
Why I Started Blogging
While I love traveling more than most things in life, my whole intention of starting a blog was to gain experience in a field I didn’t go to school for in hopes of landing a job in Digital Marketing. What I didn’t know was that building an online presence in the blogosphere would not only give me a creative outlet but quite possibly be the biggest challenge I have faced to date.
Being a blogger is a rather complex job title. It goes beyond sitting behind a computer typing out opinions. Being a blogger means Social Media Guru, Web Developer, Marketing Strategist, Content Creator, Copywriter, Writing/Communication Skills. . . just to name a few.
I believed that if I was able to launch and grow a successful blog, I would acquire all the skills needed to have the career I wanted. It is the purest form of self-starter, self-taught.
The Startup Process
Honestly, the hardest part about starting a blog is 1) picking my name and 2) hitting the “go live” button. Looking back, I don’t know what I was so nervous about. As if once I hit the publish button I would be flooded with tons of traffic. The reality is I got a total of 76 pageviews my first month live.
Picking my blog name
Picking a name for my blog took a significant amount of time. It actually deserves its own discussion rather than a bullet. If you’re interested in finding out if your blog name passes the test, enter your email below and I will send you a free copy of …. Hi My Name Is _______: How to Pass the Blog Name test
Start-Up Tools, Services, and Costs
Here are a few essentials I found extremely helpful when launching my travel blog.
Domain Name from GoDaddy: $45 for 3 years
Host from BlueHost: $142 for 3 years
WordPress: $0 free with Bluehost
Plug-ins $0 – Here are the absolutely necessary ones:
Yoast – The best plug-in for SEO beginners.
Easy Google Fonts – So you can change your fonts to your liking and brand style.
MailChimp Forms by Mailmunch – Though this can be any provider you like.
Jetpack – Does multiple things from monitoring spam to providing traffic analytics.
Insert Header and Footers – If coding is not your strong suit you will need this plug-in.
Gravatar $0 – So everyone can see your gorgeous face in the sidebar.
iThemes Backup Buddy: $80. TIP: Purchase during the holidays. They always run 40% off sitewide during the holidays.
Google Analytics, WebMasters, and AdWords Account: $0
Professional Gmail Account: $10/month for 2 email addresses (one for website inquiries and one for professional/personal purposes).
MailChimp: $0. Think of MailChimp as the host to your emails just like Bluehost is the host to your site.
Mailmunch: $19/month used to design my opt-in forms.
Tailwind: Scheduling Assistant for Pinterest and Instagram $14/month
Canva: Design my pins $12/month
Lightroom/Photoshop: Photo editing platform $10/month
DSLR Camera: I use a Canon EOS 80D $1,500
Joyb mini tripod $40
Total expenses first year: estimated $2,595 (YIKES!)
After picking my name and getting my site set up, it was time to come up with some goals. After all, this blog was now my business which meant I needed to get serious about what I wanted to achieve from all this work. Aka, What was my purpose? How was I going to get there?
Probably the best thing I did was create a formal annual plan for Seeking Neverland. Guess business school wasn’t a total waste of time. BLOGGING WIN
Here is a snippet of what I had on my original plan:
Email Subscribers: 100 for the year
Pageviews: 1,000 PV per month
Instagram: Gain 3 new followers a day
As I learned more and realized different priorities, I restructured my plan. I don’t think there is anything wrong with you doing that. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly, or bi-annually, it’s extremely important to revisit your plan and make sure you are on track towards achieving your yearly goals.
Here is a snippet of what I had on my revised plan:
Email Subscribers: 2% of monthly visitors
Pageviews: 10k per month
SEO Pinterest Profile, Boards, and Pins
Quickly learning a majority of my traffic was from Pinterest and NOT Instagram, I shifted my focus to polishing up my Pinterest rather than gaining more IG followers. It’s a no-brainer really.
Noticed I added a DA score goal. That’s because once I learned about Domain Authority (DA) I realized I needed to focus on growing this score.
Work on linking structure: backlinks, internal links, and external links
SEO all blog posts
Guest post at least twice a month
Remember to spend time on this part. Really take the time to come up with realistic goals for yourself. Write them down everywhere, re-visit often, and make adjustments as needed!
Training: the steep learning curve
Web Development / WordPress
This is going to be a huge focus for me in 2018. I seriously slacked on this my first year. Coding still scares the hell out of me and I already crashed my site once.
I did, however, learn about FileZilla and how to essentially backdoor into your site and restore it. I also learned to back up my entire site after every published post. LESSON LEARNED
One thing I am glad I did was get a self-hosted WordPress right away. I was a little rocky with WordPress in the beginning in fear of breaking my site, but now after a year, I can confidently maneuver around the platform. BLOGGING WIN
Content Marketing / SEO
While I can’t code to save my life, I did learn a significant amount about SEO over this year. Not only for Google, but Pinterest as well. I took quite the liking to it.
For a first year blogger I increased my organic reach to over 30% in less than one year, 10% of those ranking on the first and second page of Google SERP. In my opinion, that is a blogging win for someone who didn’t even know what SEO stood for a year ago. BLOGGING WIN
In 2018 my goals are to gain even more organic traffic in hopes of surpassing my social traffic. A big part of reaching this goal is to revamp old posts and optimize them for search engines. It’s already proven to be quite a tedious task.
I have already started revamping old posts with the first one being 3 Money Saving Apps You Need to be Using. I performed a keyword research, re-designed a more clickable Pin, and structured my post to include more words and photos.
CHECK IT OUT HERE: 3 Money Saving Apps You Need to be Using
Photography / Lightroom
Not going to lie, I seriously regret not paying attention to my Photoshop photography class I took in high school because I would be in way better shape today.
Embarrassing story. I heard it was best to shoot in RAW. So I did. The problem was that I had no clue how to open a RAW photo on my computer, therefore I had no choice but to edit JPEGS.
Well, finally a year later I learned that RAW images can only be opened through a platform. A platform like Lightroom (I only had Lightroom for a year). The trick was a simple setting in Lightroom to allow RAW images to preview. I am happy to announce, I now edit RAW images. BLOGGING FAIL
As with most, I owe my photo editing skills to YouTube. After countless hours spent watching YouTube and practicing in Lightroom I am finally at a point where I found a basic editing style I like and feel confident when posting it on Instagram.
Still, I have a long way to go when it comes to photo editing, but I am finally at a comfort level with the basics that I can start branching into more technical stuff like split toning, tone curve, gradual and radial filters.
If you’re interested in how I learned photography and found my photo editing style, I explain it all in this post.
Social Media: The Big Bad Wolf
Instagram and Pinterest were my two biggest focuses for the year. I wanted Instagram to be all about showing my personality and networking and Pinterest to be my traffic driver.
If you want to know how I increased my Instagram following read this.
This is how I grew my Pinterest following:
Optimized every single board for Pinterest SEO.
Created board covers to give my profile a cohesive feel (Does this even matter though?).
Created a group board – Join here
Made a best of board and re-pinned to other boards from there.
Joined a sh*t ton of group boards and regularly repin from them.
Enabled rich pins.
Followed similar accounts to mine.
Made quality looking pins.
Used Tailwind to schedule multiple pins a day.
I started out wanting to specialize in adventure travel, but the reality was that I frequented cities far more often than I’ve ever been camping or hiking. After multiple blog posts, I realized my specialty was City Travel.
I also learned that branding comes in all ways, shapes, and forms including my writing tone/voice. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a strong writer, my vocabulary is about as good as Joey Tribbiani’s. Yet, I love sharing stories with all of you, and have made it my mission to grow stronger as a writer.
Knowing this about myself I took what I knew and applied it to my writing which carried all the way into the way I wrote my Instagram captions, Tweets, and Facebook posts. So what is my writing style? My writing style is one of casual conversation with honesty and the occasional silly humor.
Is my brand where I want it to be? HELL NO. In my opinion, branding yourself in a cohesive way takes time – from choosing the right name, logo, colors, voice, image, blah blah blah good lord YOU ARE NEVER DONE!
What I will tell you though is when it comes to your brand, no matter how strong it is at the moment, it needs to be carried across anything and everything you engage in.
How I Got Organized
I started using Google Drive: Docs and Sheets
I’m sure this will get my judged by many but I only recently discovered how amazing Google Drive (docs and sheets) is. Until recently I had everything saved on my laptop. The problem I often faced was whenever I was away from my computer and needed to do some work, I couldn’t.
This resulted in me having a shit ton of notes on post-its, on my phone, etc. It was scattered madness. That’s not even talking about how many open windows I had on Google Chrome.
Now by having everything on Google Drive, I can work from anywhere. I even have the app on my phone.
I created a blog post template
Seeing as growing my domain authority (DA) was a goal of mine, I knew I needed to optimize my entire site for SEO. As I mentioned before that meant performing a keyword search to rank for, writing quality (high word count) content, and having a strong linking structure. So I created a short template to be used with every draft post.
Before I start any new post I write in at the top:
Keyword(s) I want to rank for
Any Content Upgrades and/or Opt-In Offers
I created a content calendar for blog posts and Instagram.
A huge newbie blogger mistake I made was failing to consistently publish new material. Some months I would post one or two blog posts and other months I wouldn’t publish anything at all. I quickly got behind on blog posts despite my long list of ideas. It was just hard to find the motivation. To make matters even worse, there were a few times I saw my topic ideas being posted by other bloggers. Guess it’s true that if you don’t do it, someone else will. BLOGGING FAIL
Finally around August, I had enough and decided to create a content calendar. I broke it down by month including seasonal topics as needed with due dates for each. Before I knew it I had content mapped out for the rest of the year and was actually meeting deadlines. I also gave myself a daily goal to write for at least 30-minutes a day. This quickly turned into me writing full blog posts in a single sitting thus getting ahead schedule. LEARNING LESSON
I did the same for Instagram. It not only helped me create a more cohesive look to my feed, but I wasn’t scrambling last minute looking for hashtags and profiles to tag in my last minute post.
I scheduled my pins to group boards using Tailwind.
Tailwind is the only auto scheduler tool I use and that’s because they are a trusted partner of Pinterest. I usually only schedule my own pins to all my group boards using Tailwind. By having that part out of the way, I am free to roam Pinterest looking for other people’s contents to share.
I spend too much time in Facebook groups.
The opportunity cost with exchanging help in Facebook groups was that I wasn’t putting that time towards my own blog. While I wouldn’t be where I am today without Facebook Groups, I had to draw the line somewhere. Trying to be active in 5+ Facebook groups, promoting my content, repinning others, commenting on blog posts, liking IG photos, etc tied up most of my day. I eventually realized that was taking time away from more valuable work such as SEO and building an email list. Might I add, most of these groups offered no real support.
I offered no real incentives for readers to subscribe.
While I had an opt-in form right away, I offered no real incentives for readers to subscribe. Six months in and I barely had 50 subscribers.
I filled my mind is irrelevant information.
What I mean by irrelevant is that it was not relevant to what I needed to know at that time. For example, I was trying to make better SEO friendly content so I looked online for some tips. Without blinking an eye I was suddenly reading about affiliate marketing, which was totally irrelevant! Knowing affiliate marketing would one day be important, it was not relevant to what I needed to know at that point in time.
I expected overnight success with little effort.
The “I want it now” mentality is what leads many bloggers to fail. It’s easy to get wrapped up in envy over the success of other bloggers, but the truth is we all start from somewhere. We all come from different levels of knowledge, experience, etc. and we all put in different amounts of effort. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Keep going.
Biggest Learning Lessons
Focus on networking day 1.
Obviously, the biggest way to network is via social media (i.e. Facebook Groups). While I am still a part of many Facebook groups, I shifted my focus from promoting my blog with no real return to simply meeting other bloggers. Now I just conversate with people from anything to blogging best practices to laughing at funny memes. There is less pressure and now I’m active in these groups for pleasure.
Sometimes you gotta put your horrible work out there and tweak it as you learn.
My first post was HORRIFYING. I had no idea what SEO was, my content structure was elementary, photos unedited, and a generic looking pin I pulled from Canva. However, by having some content of my own, as I learned new things (i.e. how to add alt tags to images for SEO) I was able to put my learnings into practice using my own content.
You need social media so get on it.
Social Media serves bloggers two purposes: 1) getting traffic to your site 2) networking. Both require tons of attention depending on what you want to get out of social media. My advice is to pick one at a time to master.
For me, my biggest traffic sources from social media comes from Pinterest and Facebook. IG serves as my fun creative outlet where I do 95% of my networking. Sure I get no traffic from Instagram, but I build relationships with people. Depending on your goals should dictate where you are putting your attention to.
For example, if you don’t care as much about networking and would rather have higher page views, then you need to next decide if you want to focus more on organic traffic or social traffic (i.e. traffic from social media). If organic reach is important to you then you need to bury your head in learning SEO.
If you still want to have a social presence while getting traffic to your site, then you need to bury yourself into learning everything about Pinterest, Facebook, wherever you want your traffic to come from. See how we just drilled your training focus down from something so broad as I want traffic.
Keep the online research on a needs basis.
If you’re going to research something online, keep it to 2-3 articles min. Don’t keep windows open for “I’m going to read this eventually).
Your success is a direct result of how much time you put into your blog.
This may not always be true, but as a first-year travel blogger, this is 100% true. You need to make a name for yourself which means hard work.
What I did Achieve
Not much . . . but I learned a ton that I believe has put me in a good place to make 2018 my
bitch best year yet! In all honesty, I didn’t achieve all the stats I was hoping for, but I did achieve growth which is further than I was on Day 1.
So What’s Next?
Next year I plan to move along with monetizing my site through affiliate marketing, links, and sponsored posts. I also am working towards publishing my first e-book which is harder than it sounds. Stay tuned for that release date!
Aside from that, I will continue to revamp posts, grow my email subscribers and social media following, as well as, delivering even more exciting travel posts!
Hopefully after reading this you understand the chaos and hard work that goes into starting a successful travel blog. While there is much more to learn, you at least know the importance of picking the right name, setting goals, learning the right skills, building a solid brand, and staying organized.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comment below or via email.
What type of successes and failures have you endured when starting a blog? Share in the comments below!