I cannot talk about travel blogging without sharing how I first started.
For the longest time, I’d always wanted to be able to travel more. To have more work flexibility and freedom. From where I came from, it seemed like graduating from university and plunging yourself into full-time corporate work is the way to go, and the only way to survive.
I had two options after graduation: to work my butt off and get promoted to a high-level manager so I could *possibly* travel for work, or to go the freelancer route and live with an unsteady income.
With the former, I knew I would have to endure long working hours, bite the bullet at boss’ impossible demands, maybe even taking the blame for something I am not accountable for, all in the name of “being in the boss’ good graces.” I might lose my autonomy and instead be a “yes man” to any of my boss’ ideas. Again, because nobody wants to step on the only person that could promote you.
With the latter, you get all the freedom you want, yes. That also means you have to continuously hustle to get steady income flowing. Working for independent clients and projects still meant you’re still privy to your clients’ mood swings and demands, and you have to bite the bullet regardless if you want to have food on your bowl.
I know that because I’ve been through both options. In between studying, I was freelancing part-time. And in between working full-time, I was still freelancing. I thought that was the only way to earn my freedom to travel.
During that whole course, I’d started a travel blog on the side to document my travels, which began when I did a 6-month international school exchange to France. I got my first DSLR camera on my 21st birthday, and I was about to embark on a trip of a lifetime – my first trip far away from Asia, and my first one-way ticket!
So many adventures awaited. In that 6 months, I’d traversed 16 countries, 55 cities, and learned to say hello in 11 languages – all from just travelling around Central and West Europe!
Along the way, I poured through countless of blogs and read stories of how bloggers are able to make full-time incomes from blogging about what they love. They so easily were able to travel “for work” and they didn’t have to justify anything to their bosses because, well, they are their own bosses.
Limited by my options, I went on taking on a full-time corporate job upon graduation because – let’s be realistic – earning a full-time income from blogging sounds like a far-fetched dream when you’re getting only a handful of blog visitors each day.
While sitting at my desk job, half my mind would be itching to travel. I would have a hidden tab on my computer screen open on my travel blog and promoting my blog posts as much as I can or churning content that would *hopefully* rank on search engines one day.
I can’t go on this way, I thought.
That life-changing moment
By that time, my travel blog had already accompanied me through university and full-time work for 3 years. I’d accumulated enough knowledge to know that blogging full-time *could* be possible. I just had to trust my gut, leave the stability that everyone around me was accustomed to, and pursue my passions.
Long story short, I threw in my resignation letter, bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand to stay for 6 months and then to Japan for another 3 months, and dedicated my time wholly to growing my blog and exploring the world.
From the SEO and content strategies that I’d learned and experimented with, I finally mastered a way to get Google to notice my posts and rank them on search engines, to get readers to click through to my affiliate links and purchase, and to establish trust with my readers while email subscribers started trickling in…
Slowly but surely, I was able to go from 95,000 yearly sessions to over 430,000 sessions – almost 5x since being equipped with proper SEO techniques!
And I’m not alone.
Hearing the success from my blog’s traffic growth, a good travel blogger friend of mine reached out telling me how he was struggling with his blog traffic. He told me his dream where he can live off his travel blog and have a flexible lifestyle with mini retirements with his family, not bound down by long working hours.
With the correct SEO tools and strategies used, he was able to achieve a 500% increase in organic traffic!
How exactly I make money travel blogging
My big win happened when my site traffic qualified for Mediavine, an ad management company (the equivalent of Google ads) that generate ads that pay waaay better than Google Adsense does. That was the start of my passive income stream!
Also, by building up my site’s authority and quality traffic, the site was soon able to attract advertisers and affiliates on its own, instead of me constantly trying to search for advertisers to work with.
Another intangible part of “earning” from my travel blog was being able to partner with tourism boards, tours, hotels and tours because they recognized my site as one with travel authority. I was able to go gliding and skydiving in New Zealand, toured in a safari in South Africa, enjoy San Francisco from the top on a helicopter, visit the happiest country in the world – Bhutan and live in luxury in the overwater villas in the Maldives.
Some people are driven by financial gains. Others, like my friend and I, are driven by experiences, that’s why travel blogging is the perfect job for us.
Being able to be a trusted travel source gives me more honour than stuffing a million dollars in my face.
How I grew my travel blog traffic
That’s why I’m going to spill some trade secrets today on how I manage to grow my traffic passively and start earning an income from travel blogging!
Hindsight is 20/20, so I will begin with some common mistakes I see many content creators often making. I myself am guilty of making some of these mistakes. I hope that after reading these, you can prevent them by starting on the right foot.
9 Rookie SEO mistakes to prevent
1. Hone in on specific topics/ niche
This is the biggest correction I wish I did when I first started. As a budding blogger, there can be the temptation of wanting to blog about anything you fancy. I get it, it’s sometimes hard to focus on one direction, especially when you’re starting out.
One of Google’s ranking factors is Authoritativeness, so you’ll want to establish your blog’s authoritativeness in building a single niche by writing as extensively about anything that revolves around that niche as possible.
2. URL slug length
Are your URL slugs short and concise? URL slugs are the trailing words at the end of your domain e.g. xxx.com/do-you-know-how-long-this-is. Make them concise and to the point – usually 3-5 words long- as that is what search engines favour more of e.g. xxx.com/long-this-is.
Related: What to name your blog – 9 easy tips
3. Submit posts for Google to crawl
Whenever you post a new article or edit an old one, do you submit it to Google to crawl your latest version? If not, Google probably doesn’t recognise your newly edited version!
Go to Search Console, input your URL into the search box at the top. In the new page you’re directed to, click “Request indexing.”
4. Add authoritative links in every article
This is one basic On-Page SEO tactic that every content writer should know, and if you don’t, you’re missing out!
Adding authoritative and trustworthy links on your post signals to search engines that you’re associated with these, thus improving your post’s credibility and expertise
Some examples include adding link references to expert quotes, studies or citations you’ve used in your article.
Related: How Neil Patel gets backlinks
5. All affiliate links should have nofollow tags
Do you incorporate affiliate links in your posts? If so, are they nofollow? If not, they should be, otherwise search engines might be penalising you for it.
You can easily add nofollow tags into your links with the plugin Rank Math, a free SEO plugin I highly recommend by the way! It’s intuitive and very easy to implement especially for new bloggers.
Alternatively, you can custom add nofollow tags into your HTML text in the article.
6. Not more than 1 H1 heading in your post
One of the best SEO practices is to only have one H1 heading in your article, and that is usually your post title. If you have H1 headings sprinkled in your article body, it’s time to go back and remove them.
7. Reduce the file size of images
More often than not, the size of images will contribute to the lagging of your site speed. A large image size consumes more resources on your site, which also affects your CPU and inode usage.
A good rule of thumb is to have image sizes less than 500kb.
You can manually resize them with Lightroom, Photoshop or other photo editing tools. I manually compress my image using sites like I Love Img, which is totally free. This free photo editor also resizes images, crops images, generates meme and more.
You can download image compressing plugins to do the job for you as well. I personally use ShortPixel.
8. Deliver a good user experience
Above all, Google prioritizes content that provide a good user experience. That means, your article should be structured in a way that it is easy to read and understand. You should have proper headings and images to accompany.
Get an outsider opinion on how your site looks like to them. Are your fonts large enough? Does the font colour affect the readability of your text? Is the site speed loading fast enough?
9. Study your analytics
Sometimes, the best way to ride on your wave is to study what worked best and what didn’t. Take a look at what posts are getting the most traffic and where they are getting them from.
What you’re ranking highly on Google could be Google recognizing you as an expertise in that topic. It could be a particular destination, like Seoul, a particular activity, like snorkelling, or a particular theme, like budget travel.
Consider writing more topics surrounding the posts that are ranking highly on Google.
In the same way, study what posts are doing poorly, why and what you can do about it.
Is it because it’s newly published? If so, give Google some time to recognize and crawl your new posts.
Is it because it doesn’t cover a topic thoroughly? If so, lengthen the post and provide more valuable information that answers questions that are common asked around that topic.
Is it because it’s an isolated topic that you wrote but never went back to it again? An example would be writing a beauty product review in a travel blog. Google would have trouble making sense of what a beauty product is doing in a blog revolving around travel. It would hardly make sense for Google to recognize your blog as an authority in beauty, hence your article may thus rank lower compared to other beauty websites out there.
There you have it. With these 9 solid SEO tips, I’m now handing the ball over to you. Start taking action now and study your blog.
If you’d like to learn more about SEO, you can get free access to my SEO email course here.
Bio: Full-time travel blogger and SEO coach roaming the world at whim, Isabel draws energy from being outdoors. An explorer at heart, the world is her playground. She chronicles her travel adventures and budget tips on Bel Around The World.