Doctor of Credit offered to read any new blogs out there about miles, points, travel and deals.
I actually read every new frequent travel blog that I come across. I add most of them to my RSS feed (I follow blogs with Newsblur largely because it was the closest to Google Reader which shut down in mid-2013).
I also try to link to smaller blogs as well as bigger ones that have something that strikes me as interesting on a given day. Sometimes that means I get an idea for a post from them, and give them a ‘hat tip’ and other times it means including them in a list of links of things I found interesting on other sites (which is arguably better for their traffic, but either helps their SEO).
So I’ll make the same offer, if you have a blog that I should be reading please leave it in the comments. You might actually be surprised that I’m already reading it, but I might also have something to learn.
Along those lines, at one point or another every blogger offers navel gazing advice for other bloggers. I’ve largely avoided posts meant for bloggers since that’s not the audience for this site. But I’m also pretty regularly asked for advice, I’ve thought about it a great deal, and it would be great to be able to respond with a link to this post anyway (!).
How and Why I Started This Blog
I started blogging one weekend day in May 2002 on a lark. I had several friends with blogs back then, and I thought I’d try my hand at it. Only I didn’t have anything useful to contribute solely on politics and current events, which were the only blogs I knew about at the time. So I decided to write about travel and miles and points along with an eclectic amalgamation of offbeat news.
My Original Blog
In the beginning I’d get 30 visits a day. The very first link to this site came from legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Within a year I was getting 500 a day, although there were exciting spikes along the way — Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit would link to me regularly, especially for my regular coverage of the TSA and the early bumper stickers I created to Impeach Norm Mineta as Secretary of Transportation (the TSA had been part of DOT before it was moved to the super German-sounding Department of Homeland Security). The tagline for the stickers was “Liberty & Security Not Bureaucracy.”
I don’t think I was getting 2000 visits a day regularly until I was about 4 years in. One thing that helped me jump to even that level were links from my boss’s blog and an opportunity to guest blog for him.
When I look back at my posts even from those first few years I’m not super proud of them. It took me a long time to find my ‘voice’.
But it was fun. I’m not naturally a great writer, but I still love the creative outlet and opportunity to express myself. I got to interact with and even to know many people who share my interests. In 2005 I even declared what I wanted for Christmas and a reader sent it to me.
Back then blogs interacted with each other more than they do today. Blogging was a conversational medium. You linked to someone’s post and shared why you agreed or disagreed with them. That’s how traffic was built. That formative experience for me has a lot to do with why I credit where I find things, and why I try to send traffic to blogs (by including them in lists of links) when I feel like they deserve greater attention.
How to Grow Your Blog
Even though my blog traffic is, by some measures, ‘impressive’ I may be one of the worst people to offer advice on building a blog. I don’t do very many of the Things. You’re. Supposed. To. Do. and it also took me a Very. Long. Time. to build a readership.
Nonetheless, I hope my experiences will be useful to some who are blogging or considering it.
And when I talk about quality content, I mean it on my own terms. You don’t have to like this blog, or like every post, and I respect your opinion. I only use ‘quality’ in terms of producing the kind of content that I’m trying to produce.
- The most important thing is to be patient. Success doesn’t happen quickly, or at a minimum the lack of quick success doesn’t mean you won’t be successful.
There are some blogs that do take off (relatively) fast. I think that Million Mile Secrets was built very intentionally, with a business plan, offering something to readers that didn’t exist at the time. The site was founded by a brand management professional, and it took off quickly.
My experience though is the opposite. Here’s what my traffic looks like over the past 7 years:
- Be patient and persistent. Just keep at it. It takes time to build your voice. It takes time to build enough content so that people will find you through Google when performing searches. Post regularly, and post often. All things equal the more I post, the more traffic my site gets.
- Network with other bloggers, and share your knowledge on other sites. Certainly if you want me to see one of your posts, email me or tweet me. I may not link to it, but I’ll notice it. Bloggers are always looking for content, remember that the more I post the more traffic the blog gets, so pitching a post is consistent with the self-interest of the person you’re pitching — as long as you don’t pitch a fit when they don’t link to you.
Post to frequent flyer communities, or to reddit. Don’t pitch your posts, just develop a reputation for being helpful, if a forum lets you include your blog in your post signature the more content you provide the more traffic you’ll get. And if your content is helpful you’ll be respected, and people will have confidence sharing your posts. You’ll grow organically.
- SEO matters, but not as much as you think. Don’t write for Google. The most important thing for getting traffic from Google is having useful content, and having lots of it. That way you’ll wind up in more search results. And if you want Google to highlight your content, get others to link to your content. I’m fortunate that this blog has something like 400,000 inbound links (or so I’m told). That takes time. Focus on content first, and then tweaking content so that Google can find it. Don’t put Google first.
- Have something to say. Why should people read you? Why is your content different? You can do ‘the same as what seems to be successful’ and that’s fine as far as it goes, but at a minimum you likely want to have a unique twist on it. You’re probably not going to be as good at traveling the world in different premium cabins and reporting on the varied experiences near every day as One Mile at a Time. You’re probably not going to cover the best and cheapest ways to get to Tel Aviv better than Dan’s Deals. But if you have a unique perspective, perhaps because of your training or day job experience, try offering that — with abandon or (pleasant) attitude.
- Develop a thick skin. If I couldn’t handle criticism — and even a couple of death threats (really) — I’d have given up a long time ago. This is the internet, and people who are incredibly kind in person get really nasty online. Here’s one of my favorite cartoons. Plus I make mistakes, and I learn from the experiences of readers. So I welcome feedback, in whatever form it comes.
How to Make Money Blogging
Making money from your blog comes last. I don’t have any advice on how to turn your blog into a standalone business or do so quickly.
I write all my own posts. This isn’t even my full time job and I don’t have anyone working for me. I’ve only hosted a handful of guest posts, even, and that’s been because I was interested in the specialized experiences that the guest authors had to offer — a friend who had booked a Delta business class award on Saudia to fly home to Pakistan, an attorney who offered their perspective on the legal issues surrounding the Supreme Court’s miles and points case Northwest v. Ginsberg.
Everything I know or believe about the theory of the firm? I do the opposite.
Here’s what I do know: content comes first, then readership, then revenue. There are any number of strategies for earning money off of a blog, but none of them matter without readership.
- There are all kinds of affiliate links, for booking hotels or buying Amazon products or signing up for credit cards. When you use one of my credit card links, I’ll earn a referral credit (and I appreciate that very much).
- You can sell courses, or e-books, or consulting services (these days my award booking service is hardly alone in the space).
- Advertising is much easier to put up on your site than it used to be when I started.
You aren’t going to make very much money with any of these strategies if you have 500 readers or 1000 readers or even 2000 readers. Earning a living on the internet is fundamentally about scale, which means offering enough content that people want to read so that they come back regularly and you grow your audience.
If you have a lot of readers, almost any strategy will earn money. If you have very few readers there’s almost no strategy that will.
And then it all comes back to patience and time. Blogs that start because they think they’re going to make money almost always fail, because the author gets frustrated — they may come out of the gate quickly, but they burn out just as fast when other life priorities get in the way and they realize that six months or a year in there’s no real revenue from their efforts.
If you’re getting into blogging to make money, you’re doing it wrong. You have to love it. You have to write because you want to write. And if you don’t you’re unlikely to succeed.
This blog started without any ads at all. GoogleAds didn’t even exist when I began. After a month or so Glenn Reynolds paid to take down the ad placed there by my first site host, Blogspot. After 7 months Randy Petersen offered to host my blog. But it wasn’t until 2004 that I had an ad up. “BlogAds” were selling on my site for $40 per week, and I told Randy he could keep it all to defer hosting costs and the technical help his team had given me to get things set up.
After more than five years of blogging I was making $250 a month from the site. It wasn’t long after that I was making $750 a month. Things really took off with the launch of an award booking business in 2009, and getting coverage for it in the New York Times, USA Today, and being named as one of Conde’ Nast Traveler‘s “World’s Top Travel Specialists” starting in 2010. But that was 7 years in. Granted I didn’t do much of anything to ‘monetize’ the site before that, so I could have made more than $250 or $750, but not that much more because it’s fundamentally about math — a function of the number of people reading what you write.