So you want to start a travel blog: what is the first 6 months REALLY like?

So you want to start a travel blog. You’ve picked out a perfect blog name. You have endless ideas for blog posts to write. Maybe you dream of full-time traveling and passively making more money than your friends with real jobs. Hate to break it to you: you won’t find that life through travel blogging! At least not at first. Starting a travel blogging takes WORK – getting a domain name and a website up and running, producing content, and promoting your business is not all that easy. BUT, it can be done – we just did! Our blog was born in April of 2019, and now that we’ve been at it for about six months, we have a sense of what’s involved in starting a blog and how long it’ll take to see results.

There are lots of guides out there on how to become a travel blogger. But there’s almost nothing on what the first months of blogging really look like. How do you go from nothing to having a successful travel blog? We had no idea when we started out.

Let’s start with the most important data from our own travel blog – web traffic. We had near zero traffic for months. Months! Three and a half months to be exact. It was depressing. Demoralizing even. But when we started this blog we promised ourselves we’d work on it for a year, no matter the results. So we kept posting and making Pins for our near-zero number of viewers.

Then, a couple of things happened.

First, our blog finally left the Google “sandbox.” That meant we started showing up on Google searches – and we started getting our first sustainable traffic. Take a look at mid-July in the plot below – our weekly traffic numbers finally rise well above zero. Amazing!

Second, we got our first backlinks from other blogs. This happened in early September, near the spike in traffic shown below. Now our weekly users were in the hundreds, and we started seeing even new posts ranking in Google search and getting organic search traffic. This is the first time we felt like our blog had a chance of succeeding!

Google analytics since our blog's birth
Our analytics since our blog’s birth – slow and fitful growth

And, in our most momentous event, sometime in early August we sold our first product via an affiliate link. Amazing! Making the first dollar is always the hardest… or so we hope. Since then it’s been slow going on the affiliate sales, and we don’t get enough traffic to make any money with ads. So for now we’re focused on building traffic and hoping that affiliate income will rise as we get more users. But we’ll see on this, and adjust our strategy if that turns out not to work.

So that’s where we stand at the moment. We’re focused on trying to build our content, write guest posts, and generate backlinks – all critical to further improve our Google rankings. We don’t really have any traffic targets or goals at this point, only because we just have no idea how long it will take to reach specific milestones. We’ll just be happy if our traffic continues to rise, which it is so far in October as compared to September.

We had a bunch of questions when we started this blog, which we’ve found some answers to. So here they are, in hopes that they help YOU if you’re thinking of starting a blog!

Do you need social media to launch a travel blog?

This is a question we wrestled with from the start. On the one hand, it does seem useful to amass followers on the various social media platforms. On the other, we HATE managing these accounts. And our impression was that apart from Pinterest, social is not a great driver of traffic. So at first we just sent out Pins for our posts and neglected Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… and we think that was a good decision.

At first, all of our traffic came from Pinterest. But as we started to rank on Google, that has switched – these days, 75+% of our traffic comes from organic search (our search traffic history from Google Search Console is below). Which is great, because that traffic is MUCH more sustainable than any social traffic – if we leave the site for weeks, that traffic will still be coming in. Whereas if we don’t publish any Pins for a while, that traffic will wither and die (and with it our blog, noooooooo).

Our search traffic history from google search console
Our search traffic is growing! We love this graph.

So if you’re just starting out, our advice would be to focus 80% of your energy on content, and maybe 20% on Pinterest. But don’t bother with the other social platforms – you can get a blog up and running without them.

Does the design have to be professionally made?

No! We are far from web-design gurus. But it only took a few days of (very) part time work to find a WordPress template that looked reasonably good and put together a logo using free image editing tools. It’s not hard, although getting familiar with HTML and CSS will help you immensely, as sometimes there are little things that don’t look quite right, and you might need to fix them with a bit of code. But by no means do you need to be a computer scientist, nor do you have to hire somebody to do it for you.

We do think that if we continue to see traffic growth (and start to make consistent $!) that we’ll invest in a professional WordPress template. This will provide more customization options for expanding the site’s design and functionality.

Remember that most people who find blogs do so through Google – and they’re mostly focused on the content. So while a blog’s design needs to be attractive, at the beginning we don’t think that spending weeks tweaking the layout is going to provide much payoff. Instead, create content!

Should I promote my blog, or make more content?

BOTH! But, if you’re like us at first, you might wonder: how do I promote my blog? Good question. This is what we’ve done so far.

  1. Write a round-up post. This is where you email other bloggers and ask them to answer a question or write about an experience, and compile the answers from as many people as you can into a post. It’s a great way to get in contact with other bloggers, and if you’re lucky get some backlinks or social media shares. We’ve done one of these so far, and it did result in us getting a bunch of new traffic.
  2. Guest post on other blogs. There are some great guides to guest posting out there already – this one helped us a lot. Just remember that if you’re a brand new blog, you’re not going to be able to guest post on the top blogs out there. Look for blogs that are a bit ahead of you in terms of development (check their domain authority). Most importantly, write good content for your guest posts! By guest posting you’re getting exposure to new readers, and you want them to notice your post and click back to your blog!
  3. Build an active Pinterest account. At first, our Pins were our only source of traffic. And if you get a Pin to go semi-viral, you can get a huge traffic spike – this has happened to us a couple of times. And now, we have dozens of Pins, many of which are still circulating and generating a bit of traffic. It’s a lower percentage of our total traffic now, but it’s still substantial. And if you’re just starting out, Pins are a great way to get some immediate viewers for your new blog!

Now that we have a fair number of posts (41 at the moment), we are shifting to spend more time on promotion. That’s not to say we’ve stopped making content! We haven’t. But content without promotion is content that will never be seen. So we need to get that content in front of some new eyes and build our traffic!

How much time do I have to spend on my travel blog?

Well, surely spending more time on your blog would result in faster growth, but if you’re content with a slow rise, it doesn’t take that much time at all. We both have full time jobs, so blogging is not our top priority. Even so, it’s possible to gain traffic and build up content. We are currently both spending 10 minutes a day on the blog. We have a list of tasks to be done, from emailing people, writing guest posts, making Pins, and updating the blog design. Everyday, we chug away at one of these tasks. We’re making slow but steady progress!

Remember that time is on your side

Getting a new travel blog off the ground can be a bit demoralizing. Seeing a giant ZERO on your Google Analytics day after day can really kill blogger morale. But – remember that one of the most important factors in your blog’s search engine ranking is its age. If you are consistently creating content for a sustained period, you WILL see progress. We have! But don’t expect it to happen overnight – you really have to give it months.

So that’s been our first 6 months! While we’re far from a successful travel blog in terms of income, we’ve had a great time starting our travel blog and are excited to see it finally getting some traffic. For the next six months, we don’t have concrete goals in terms of traffic or income, because we just have no idea what to expect. But we hope for steady growth in traffic, and to begin seeing steady income as well. If that happens, we’ll be happy. We’ll see!

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