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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Making Money from your Travel Blog

Last evening, there was a travel blogging session as part of the conference arranged by Social Media Week, Bangalore and Lonely Planet India. During this session, 6 travel bloggers (Arun Bhat, Sam, Deepti Asthana, Sangeetha, Mansi Pal and myself) dug deep into the world of travel blogging. Some of us have made this their career, while the others are pursuing this as an active hobby. We discussed how there is a distinct shift in the attitude of the young Indian travelers, the latest trends in travel, how to maximize leaves and finally, the monetization part. As expected, a lot of the audience were keen on knowing how to make money from their travel blogs. This seems to be the question in the mind of most travel bloggers and hence, I thought it would be great to summarize the various options here. These options are a sum of the techniques used by me, options discussed in the travel blogging forum and options used by other travel bloggers.

Is your Blog a Brand that people can connect to?

Before you read the various ways and techniques to make money from your blog, do ask yourself these questions:

1) Are you treating your travel blog as a brand? Does this brand connect with your personal style of travel?

2) Do you have a self-hosted blog with your own domain name and does it have a good navigable design and great content?

3) Do you write content that connects with your personal or your blog’s niche area?

4) Do you write content that your readers are interested in?

5) Can you afford to invest time and effort in your travel blog without expecting any returns?

6) Can you handle free of cost pilot projects to build your credibility?

7) Can you think of your blog as your startup business, however small the scale might be?

8) Do you write original content?

If you have answered ‘No’ to any of the above questions, you have still not reached the maturity to monetize your travel blog and you will have to invest more time and effort into it.

Think of your travel blog like a startup business. You build your brand first. Then comes credibility. Then you use your earned credibility and inherent skill to address your reader’s need. There was a problem and you solved or addressed it. Thus, you offer value and you have reached a stage where you will start to create money making opportunities. 

Money Making Techniques

Google Ads

This is the lowest hanging fruit  in the money making tree. All you need is a blog that is at least 6 months old and some tens of posts. You can register with google and insert these Ads on your blog. Initially, you will make miniscule money from this, but as your blog traffic improves, your Google Ad revenue will also increase. You can even monetize your videos on You Tube.

Contextual Ads

Once you have more content on your site and a healthy readership, you will definitely have decent domain authority and page ranking. At this time, a lot of organizations will be keen to advertise on your site. However, do ensure that you keep your advertising contextual with your content and with the blog’s niche areas. Else, you will get penalized by Google for link selling and also by your reader for confusing them.

Affiliate Marketing

Typically, on a travel blog, we talk about hotels, destinations, flight tickets, travel gear, gadgets and much more. Most of these can be bought online through websites like booking.com, expedia.com, flipkart.com, amazon.com and others. All these sites offer a percentage of the sale to the blogger if their reader ends up buying their service or product. All you have to do is sign up to be an affiliate, put the affiliate code on your blog and disclose to your reader that you will make a small amount of money in case they decide to buy a product or service by clicking the link on your blog.

Travel Writing

A lot of travel bloggers write well and hence as a next step, they can try their hand at travel writing. This could be for other blogs, online portals, magazines and/or newspapers. If you mine your relationships well, if you work hard and write good content, you will be able to land yourself a pilot project. Initially, travel writing does not pay much, but what it lacks in money, it compensates in reach and visibility. With a lot of travel writing opportunities in the kitty, the money factor will also go up. More travel writing exposure also opens up doors with more brands.

Working with Brands – branding, content, digital marketing, consulting

Each one of us possess an important skill or set of skills  that we use in our normal day-to-day jobs. These skills coupled with your blog’s reach and credibility can come in handy for many brands. You could collaborate with them for branding, digital marketing, blog management, content management, public relations and many other interesting activities. Again, the key is to mine your relationship, do some pilot projects for free and then take it from there. In some cases, you can also become a brand ambassador. Sudhir Shivaram, a top class photographer from Bangalore became the brand ambassador for Canon India.

Custom Tours

A lot of people following our blogs connect with our style of travel. This could be photography based, backpacking expeditions, culture getaways, wildlife holidays, food trips, luxury trips, adventure holidays, motorcycling holidays or a combination of all the above. And these people would pay us a small tour fee to plan their holidays and to experience traveling with us travel bloggers who inspire and motivate them. Arun Bhat’s Darter Photography offers photography tours in the space of wildlife and culture. Similarly, there are off-beat tours, festival tours, volunteering tours, food tours and any other niche that is your strength. Matt of Nomadic Matt also offers rich experiential international tours to his readers.

Travel Speaking

As you travel and as you blog, you will get experienced and knowledgeable. A lot of people will find this wisdom helpful. You could talk about building brands, social media, writing great content, planning trips and others to a wide demographic audience that ranges from students to young working population to people with lots of money. In addition to money, these sessions will help you widen your reach and increase visibility for your brand. You can also talk at leading travel blogging conferences, travel trade shows and other marquee events and earn higher while gaining more visibility.

Photography and Photo merchandise

Like content, photographs are also your intellectual property. And they offer a good money making potential. You can always try to put your photos on getty images and shutter stock, but the money from those sources take a while to materialize. What worked for me was selling my photographs to hotels, selling photograph merchandise (magnets, mugs, T shirts, keychains, etc.) to shops near tourist hubs and finally a full fledged e-commerce solution for selling merchandise for all my pictures. You could also try your hand at photo exhibitions and see if people are keen on buying your photographs.

e-Books or Books

These days Amazon’s kindle allows authors to publish without requiring a publishing house. They provide all the necessary publishing infrastructure and the blogger just has to write great content. Even if you price your book at $1 and you sell 1000 copies, you end up making $1000. Books require a bit more effort, but with some e-books under your belt, you will be much better placed.

Web Design, SEO, Social Media Marketing for other Bloggers and Website Owners

Depending on your skillset, you can help other bloggers and website owners with their graphic design, web development (templates, plug-ins, javascripts, etc.), mobile app development, SEO, social media marketing, content writing and much more. You are just charging for sharing your expertise.

Typical Gestation Time for a Blog

As a thumb rule, it takes about 12 months before a blog starts making sizeable revenue. I would not be surprised if people took 18 or 24 months to make decent money. It took me 24 months to start counting. There is no fast track, but if you do the right things, you can expedite the process.

Do you know any more ways to Make Money?

Is there something else that you or your blogger friends do? Well, we would love to hear about it. Drop me a line in the comments below and I will add it to this list.



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