It’s official now. Over the past few years I’ve written and/or edited over 1,000 pages of travel content. During this time I’ve seen a lot. What works and what doesn’t. And in this post we’ll cover the 35 most common mistakes in travel blogging and how you can fix them TODAY.
Note: Many of these mistakes apply to blogging in general, so if you’re not a travel blogger keep reading! Ready to get dirty? Then dive right in…
1. Not having a USP – your Unique Selling Proposition explains how you’re different than other travel blogs. Travelfish covers Southeast Asia while Chris Guillebeau is trying to visit every country in the world before his 35th birthday. How do you stand out?
2. Not owning (and hosting) your own domain – nothing screams amateur like a blogspot blog. Even if you’re just starting out, buy a domain name and host it yourself. Bluehost and GoDaddy are two popular options.
3. Not changing your permalinks – WordPress defaults your URLs into something like blogname.com/p=2321… not exactly helpful, right? You can either change each permalink individually on the “New Post” page (just below the title) or set WordPress to automatically display the title as the permalink.
4. Writing short posts – travel pieces can be extremely in-depth, which will get more social shares, links and search engine traffic. Short posts are fine occasionally, but create killer content to keep people coming back.
5. Glossing over details – guidebooks include when to go, what to do, operating hours, costs, etc. Your blog should, too.
6. Writing crappy headlines – “My Trip to Europe” is BORING. Instead, use one of these 101 headline templates for travel bloggers. They’ll get more click-throughs from Twitter, Google, Facebook… basically everywhere.
7. Using a default favicon – a favicon is the little icon that appears in the tab (for example, Gmail has a little red envelope). You can create your own favicon at favicon.cc.
8. Posting erratically – if you publish five posts one week then go silent for a month, many of your readers will never come back. You should maintain the Optimal Blogging Frequency. Pro tip: write posts ahead of time, then schedule them to go out at regular intervals. Having a backup supply of content guarantees steady delivery when things come up.
9. Not including a call to action – every post should ask the reader to do something. Share the post, leave a comment, sign up for your newsletter, subscribe to your RSS, buy something… whatever it is, you MUST ask for it!
10. Not citing references and helpful sites – links are what separates the web from books. Be sure to include links to any resource you mention!
11. Doing a half-ass job at marketing – once your travel blog is up you gotta let the world know about it. I recommend dedicating at least half your energy towards marketing your blog (and the other half creating content worth marketing). Here are over a hundred ways to grow your traffic; pick a few and get started.
12. Not linking to photos – if you use a Creative Commons photo from Flickr the least you can do is link back to it. You can either include a link under the image or link the image itself.
13. Failing to respond – you should respond to EACH and EVERY comment on your blog (at least at first). Respond to emails, tweets, etc. It shows you care.
14. Writing misleading headlines – this ties in with #6. Even if your headline is DYNAMITE you cannot under-deliver in your post. If this post had any less than 35 mistakes, I’d look like an even bigger jackass than I really am, right?
15. Not taking a stand – the world runs on opinions. Don’t use be wishy-washy in your posts. If you hate Vietnam, say so. If cupcakes are the best thing EVER, say so.
16. Spreading feces for links – controversy is good… but don’t be evil for promotion sake. Even if it does work, the kind of people you attract will turn your blog into Sodom and Gomorrah.
17. Not organizing your content – most travel blogs should be ordered by destination. This way people can read about Europe, then drill down further to read about Spain. Why don’t more travel bloggers do this?
18. Using pop-ups – I recently spoke with a prominent travel blogger who considered adding a pop up to increase opt-ins. I seriously hope I talked him out of it. Pop-ups may increase conversions initially, but they annoy repeat readers (especially if they’ve already opted-in). You can monetize your blog without any banner advertisements.
19. Giving up – many bloggers give up way too soon. Most see little to no success for the first nine months or so… and it may take even longer depending on how effectively you write and market your blog. Don’t give up!
20. Delaying your blog launch until everything is “just right” – I’m very guilty of this. My wife Darcie and I waited to launch our travel site until we had 800 pages of content. Looking back, we could have launched with 50 and started promoting right away.
21. Writing “me too” posts – don’t just echo what other people say. Write about your experiences, include interesting facts (did you know Uganda has the world’s biggest drinkers?) and add your own twist.
22. Being too modest – Don’t apologize for your opinions… defend them with hard-hitting facts. And don’t pitch other bloggers for guest posts with lines like “I’m just starting out but I was hoping you could…” Be assertive. Show them how you can help and deliver on it.
23. Over-relying on advertising – Google Adsense sucks out loud, as do most ad models. You’re getting paid to show readers things they may or may not be interested in… and if it does its job, the ads drive your readers away from your site. Why not offer them something yourself?
24. Chasing “traffic spikes” – Mike Richard from Vagabondish once told me how a blog post went viral (first page of Digg which lead to an interview with Tyra Banks… seriously) and almost crashed his server. But – he warned – that type of traffic never sticks around. Focus on building an audience rather than driving traffic.
25. Adding WAY too much stuff to your blog – ads, banners, your social stream, top commenters, blogrolls… your readers don’t care about any of that stuff. All they care about is your content, so don’t distract them with clutter.
26. Failing to be useful – you can write about your travels as long as you want… so long as other people find it useful. Include facts. Recommend specific places… include professional photos… answer questions in comments… anything to add value for your readers!
27. Forgetting about SEO – this SEOMoz post on SEO for travel bloggers pretty much sums it up. Read it and do what it says. On the other hand, you need to avoid…
28. Writing for search engines – look, Google can give you tons of traffic, but it’s always following what real people want to read. So focus on writing for PEOPLE and the search engines will follow.
29. Not networking “up” – when you start out, make it a priority to get to know other travel bloggers. You’d be surprised how many top bloggers know each other… and getting to know one can easily transition to working with another.
30. Not proofing your work – pretty self-explanatory. After the Deadline is a helpful spell checker plugin for WordPress. You should proofread your blog posts twice at least.
31. Not identifying your audience – when writing posts, try and write for your ideal reader. Seriously – picture this person in your mind when you write. Are they experienced travelers? Just getting started out? ALWAYS keep this person in mind when you’re writing!
32. Poorly formatting posts – people don’t read online. They skim. Make it easy for them by using sub-headings, short paragraphs, and bullet points. Notice how almost this entire post is made of bullets? That’s no accident!
33. Spending too much time on analytics – yes, measuring your marketing efforts is important, but don’t check them every day. I only check out analytics once a month which helps me understand what works and what doesn’t (without wasting time).
34. Not using effective meta descriptions – these are what appear in the search results, so it makes sense to write compelling copy which draws readers in. The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress lets you write the meta description right there in your post page.
35. Not building a brand – your travel blog should be a brand in itself. Create a unique sounding name, hire a designer to create a custom logo and develop a site which reflects your blog. Know why I saved this for last? Because it’s the MOST IMPORTANT! By this you can also build your personal brand.
These 35 mistakes are really just the beginning. But guess what? Mistakes are the fastest way to learn (assuming you don’t repeat them) and I’ve made each and every mistake listed here over the past few years. Which mistakes do you make?