How travel bloggers make money from their blogs

by Heather Cowper on 23, August 2011

This article is based on a talk I’m giving to a group of London Bloggers this week on the ever popular topic of how Travel Bloggers make money from their blogs. I’m giving an overview of some of the main ways that travel bloggers make money and some examples and links that you can explore more thoroughly at your leisure.

Content comes first

I asked a few experienced bloggers what advice they could give to someone starting out and their answer was not to focus on money but on content. Valuable, relevant and entertaining content is the foundation of your blog on which you can later build your money making ventures and great content will ensure a steady flow of readers and search engine traffic that advertisers will also value.

Content is the foundation of your blog

In my picture above, I’m trying to illustrate that all this content, whether it is in the form of articles, photos, videos or podcast forms a solid foundation and that your efforts are enhanced and magnified by social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Google + and Stumble, where you can share conversations with your audience. Once you have a solid foundation, you can build your money making house and use different methods to make money from your blog. A blog that does not have a solid basis of great content is unlikely to stand the test of time as your readership will lose interest and drift away.

Where should I begin with monetisation?

You may hear about different approaches that other bloggers are using to make money but it can be confusing as some money making approaches are more appropriate depending on how well establighed your blog is. You might think of it like a river which starts with many tiny streams that build into tributaries and in the end make up one mighty river. In the same way, when you’re starting out you need to establish some streams of income that will build up over time and later add other streams until your income becomes a river.

Where to begin with monetisation?

I’ve grouped the different approaches into those that are suitable for beginners who are just starting, perhaps in their first year, the intermediate difficulty methods that depend on more traffic and you can try perhaps after 2-3 years of blogging and the more advanced approaches that depend on a well established blog and readership that are usually employed by those who have been blogging a few years. That’s not to say that with hard work and concentrated effort you can’t compress these timescales, but being realistic, it does take time to build traffic and reputation.

Adopt the Money-making mind set

If you decide that you want to make money from your blog, one thing you will need to succeed in the long term is what I’ve described here as a money-making mindset. When you start out, it’s usually because of your passion for travel and because you want to share your experiences with others. But what you write will be determined initially by your own experiences, the things you did, the people you met, the funny things that happened to you. It’s all about ME. There’s nothing wrong with this and you will attract and entertain like-minded readers who enjoy and identify with what you have to say, but it probably won’t make you much money.

The money-making mindset

If you want to make money from your blog you need to shift your mind-set from a focus on ME to a focus on your readers. You will make most money if you can identify needs that your readers have, questions they are looking for answers for, problems for which you can offer a solution. This is why travel blogs that are successful in making money have developed pages with travel resources, parts of their site where you can book your hostel or buy your travel insurance and maybe sell you an e-book that will give you travel advice that will address any concerns or fears you have. They are making money through providing solutions to their readers’ problems.

Money making methods for beginner bloggers

Contextual Ads

These are small text adverts that are automatically generated on your blog, in positions that you set up in advance and the most commonly used is Google Adsense. Although contextual ads are a favourite way for bloggers just starting out to try and make some money, I personally wouldn’t advocate using them until your site has built up some traffic and then that you implement them as part of a range on different kinds of advertising.

adsense used on Travel with Pets website

Adsense used on Travel with Pets website

The downside of Google adsense is that you will get paid tiny amounts while your traffic is growing, as the payment is based on a pay per click model and although amounts vary, I am getting between £0.04 and £0.08 per 1000 impressions which is tiny, tiny money. Another downside is that your site will instantly look more cluttered and commercial which is not the best message to send your readers while you are trying to build up some authority.

Having said that, I know of travel bloggers who are making $400-600 per month from adsense as part of a range of different advertising methods. That’s enough to make me think I might look at it this method again. The key tips I’ve gleaned are;

  • Contextual ads work best on sites where there is a large proportion of search engine traffic and not so well on sites that rely more on social media or direct traffic
  • Contextual ads work best inside the post rather than in the sidebar – this is because the advert can be more relevant to the content being read as it will pick up on more specific keywords.
  • The best placement is higher up rather than lower and to the left rather than the right.
  • You need to experiment with the appearance that works best for your blog – it may be better to have colours and text that blend in with the rest of the site or to make them stand out more.
  • Testing with different size, placement, colour etc seems to be the key to success
In the image above you can see Adsense being used on the How to Travel with Pets website run by Anil Polat of Foxnomad

Writing for other websites

This is something I personally did in the early days of my blog, writing posts for sites such as Europe a la Carte, Uptake Lodging Blog and Sunshine blog, but the maximum I was paid was £30 per article. If you are demonstrating your writing abilities on your blog, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to persuade online sites that you can produce some excellent content for them.

Often they are also looking for you to promote the articles through your own online networks, so it pays to be building up your presence on Twitter and Facebook at the same time. This kind of relationship can also be valuable in building links to your site (if you are allowed to include them in your article or bio) and in establishing a reputation as a writer when you are just starting out, even though the revenue isn’t huge.

If writing is your passion then you may move on to more financially viable paid writing assignment which over time could amount to a full time income. For instance, Andy Jarosz is a professional travel writer who produces articles for a number of articles – he has his own non-commercial travel blog at 501 places but also writes online article for a number of client blogs such as Tourdust, Iberostar, Sunvil and Discount London – you can find links from his blog.

If you want to make travel writing your main focus for making money, then you’ll also find lots of useful travel writing resources at Matador U resource page and at the Matador Notebook blog – They run a $350 online travel writing programme but there are plenty of useful articles you can read for free.

 Affiliate products

Affiliate products are normally digital products or service where you can make a commission for any sales generated from a link on your site. There are normally no barriers to signing up for an affiliate programme and you will be able to generate customised links that send your readers to the product website or pages and make money on any sales that result.

The Ultimate Tech Guide for Travellers by Anil PolatThe cookie that tracks these visits and sales normally remains in place for 30 days, meaning that you will receive commission on any sale within this time frame, even if they are on different products than the reader originally looked at. Typical affiliate programmes used by travel bloggers are;

  • Amazon – normally paying 5% commission but it could be on any Amazon products
  • Travel sites for holidays, hotels or insurance, normally paying up to 5% commission – I use Hostelbooker.com and Hotels Combined.com
  • E-books by other authors such as the ones below that I have sold;

-How to create a successful WordPress site by Matt Preston
The Ultimate tech guide for travelers by Anil Polat
The Art of Solo Travel by Stephanie Lee

Travel Bloggers I spoke to reported mixed results and although I have put some affiliate links on my site I can’t personally report a huge amount of revenue from this source. The main tips are;

  • Alistair MacKenzie of Travel Lists suggests promoting a wide range of different affiliate products that are relevant to what you are writing about – he has around 600 different affiliate products on his site and although each one makes a small amount, it all adds up. (see my podcast about How top travel bloggers monetise their blogs)
  • Karen Bryan at Europe a la Carte found that it does not work to add an affiliate banner in the sidebar, but you need to add it as a contextual link in the actual article.
  • It’s important to promote affiliate products that you have used yourself or are confident to recommend to your readers
  • For digital products it works well to write a review of the product, giving your honest and balanced view of its merits and ensure that your article adds value to the reader, adding additional insights and information of your own.
  • Craig Martin at Make money travel blogging suggested in this article that you use redirections for your affiliate links to give you the flexibility to change them in the future and also to make them easier to communicate, for instance if you mention them in a podcast.
  • Craig’s also recommended to me the Link Daemon WordPress Plugin (costs $20) which enables you to automatically set up affiliate links throughout your site of specific keywords such as hotels, hostels etc.

Money Making methods for Intermediate Bloggers

Advertising

This is usually the biggest source of revenue for travel bloggers, especially once your website becomes more established.

I’ve written a couple of fairly comprehensive articles about advertising for travel bloggers below, so do take a look at these;

What should I charge for advertising on my blog?
How to set up an advertising page for your blog

The typical kinds of advertising that you may be approached about are;

  • Banner advertising – the advertiser provides you with an image in the appropriate size which you set up to link to their website. These will normally appear in the sidebar although you also have the option to place these in the header, at the bottom of all posts, or within individual posts.
  • Widgets in the sidebar – these often have a background image but will contain links and the advertiser will normally send you the code which is hosted on their own website.
  • Text links – You may be approached to place text links in the sidebar on your home page or within existing posts.

There are a few things that will attract an advertiser to your site;

  • Traffic – the traffic as measured by unique visitors and page views is a big factor in how much an advertiser will pay as it will be the biggest indicator of how many clicks they will get through to their site.
  • Page Rank – this is the main factor for advertisers looking to place text links as they are less interested in the click through value of the ad than the SEO value that a link from a high Page Rank site will give them in improving their standing in the search engines. The Google Page Rank is the most often used public indicator but there are also many unpublished page rank variables that search engines use to determine page rank value.
  • The niche that your site appeals to, if it is closely aligned with the advertiser’s target customers.
There is a useful survey on Travel Blog Challenge about how much travel bloggers charge for advertising

If you don’t yet have any advertisers, I’d suggest that you work hard on your content and value to your readers and try to build up some links to your site, perhaps by offering guest posts to other more established bloggers. This will provide the best foundation for your site being perceived as a place worth advertising. Most of the travel bloggers I spoke to found that advertisers came to them, once they had established a certain reputation, page rank and traffic.

However, you can also be prepared for advertisers by having an advertiser’s information page and perhaps adding a few affiliate banners in the sidebar to make it more obvious that you are open for advertising. One tip from Shannon Lane of Traveling Mamas was that when she started she gave away a few free ads in her sidebar for companies she had a relationship with, and within 3 months she was being approached by other advertisers.

You should be aware that Google’s advice if you sell links or advertising banners for advertising is that you should use a ‘no follow’ tag, so that the link will not be used for link benefit although the click through will be the same. There is a risk that if you do not follow this advice, your site may be penalised by Google in some way, but on the other hand you may not find anyone wanting to buy links with a no follow tag, so you will need to personally decide whether this is a risk you want to take.

If you go down the road of selling text links then you should;

  • Only sell links that are relevant to your blog’s niche e.g. only travel related links on a travel blog
  • Make sure your links appear in a natural way and over a period of time, not all at once
  • Moderate the amount of links that you add – I’ve seen a suggestion to stick to maximum 4 links per article and no more than 100 external links on a home page including the sidebar.
  • It goes without saying that selling links to suspect sites that promote gambling or porn or are generally spanmmy will quickly get your own site downgraded in the search engines.

Sponsored posts

Sponsored posts are articles that you are paid to publish on your blog. It could be an article provided by the sponsor or one that you have written yourself on a pre-agreed theme. In both cases that Sponsored post will normally contain information about the sponsor’s products and services and/or a link to their website or contextual links within the body of the article with links to appropriate pages on their website.

Although a sponsored post has some brand benefit for the advertisers is mainly seen as part of a link building strategy. I have noticed that in recent months sponsored posts are proving more popular than links in the sidebar, as search engines are placing more value on links that are surrounded by relevant text and keywords.

Not all bloggers accept sponsored posts as they feel that it dilutes the integrity of their own voice for their readers. This is a valid concern and I find that while there are some sponsors that provide excellent articles, many more provide very bland or generic material, despite me giving very clear editorial guidelines. If you accept sponsored posts, you will also have to learn to tactfully say no to many poorly written or low value articles.

One way to get around the quality issue is to write articles yourself on a pre-agreed theme that will then contain the links that the advertiser requires. In this case you would normally charge more for the article to reflect your effort in writing it. I do sometimes take this approach but only where I feel able to write an article that draws on a destination I have already visited and does not involve me having to research a place or subject I know little about which can be very time consuming.

To meet with both US and UK advertising guidelines, you should declare any paid relationship in these articles, which most bloggers do by using the words ‘sponsored post’ within the article itself or (rather less transparently) by declaring somewhere on their site that they accept posts that are paid for.

Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape who I interviewed for my podcast on How Travel Bloggers Monetise their blogs prefers to work with specific advertisers or agencies who can provide high quality articles and also limits the sponsored posts to one per week, with a couple of his own articles in between.

Case Study – Mark from TravelWonders

Mark accepts guest articles from other bloggers, charities and commercial travel businesses but he charges any commercial websites. They provide an article that may contain 2 links to their website and the articles must be travel related, content rich and unique to the web, which he tests by searching for a couple of early sentences in Google. Mark only publishes one sponsored post per week and finds that the article he receives vary in quality to extremely good to mediocre. Mark provides the sponsors with article guidelines and sometimes rejects articles, requesting a re-write if he feels they are not good enough. Mark marks all these articles as ‘guest articles’ and has a disclosure on his blog that some guest posts may be sponsored. Mark generally has a backlog of around four to five guest articles at any time and has a steady supply of sponsors approaching him.

Sell your Travel Expertise

This is an way of making money that may suit those living in areas of the world that are popular for tourism. You can use your blog to showcase your knowledge and expertise for the place where you live, which may enable you to promote and earn commission from local travel providers, or put together holiday packages.
This is an approach that worked well for Marina K Villatoro of Travel Experta  who writes;

I started my blog talking about my life and adventures with my family in Central America, mainly Costa Rica. As time went by my readers started emailing me about hotel, tours, recommendations etc. This got to be so many that I started contacting the hotels, until I became a travel agent for these areas.If a blog is very niche oriented or the blogger stays in one location long enough and gets similar requests, they can work out with all tourism services ways to make package.

Another blogger who has developed sales of tours to interesting and adventurous destinations is Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick who sells women only trips to places like Bhutan, India and Vietnam. You can hear my podcast interview with Beth Whitman about her trip to Papua New Guinea.

Beth Whitman in Papua New Guinea Copyright Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman in Papua New Guinea

Money making methods for well established bloggers

Digital Products

Digital Products are something the most bloggers start to explore once their blog is well established and they have build up some reputation in their niche. Although there is more money to be made, this method is also a lot more work and requires you to have built up some trust with your audience. You also need to do some research to ensure that you are providing a product that will provide a solution to problems that your audience are experiencing and that they will be willing to pay for.

Digital products in the travel sector typically sell for $5-30 although in other sectors they sell for much more. If you create an affiliate programme to help sell your e-book or product, you will typically pay 50% commission but will harness a much larger potential audience through tapping in to your affiliate’s communities.

To get a feel for the kind of e-books that other travel bloggers are selling and at what price, take a look at the following travel blogs;

Indie Travel Podcast Books
Nomadic Matt Travel Store
Foxnomad eBooks
Almost Fearless Travel Books

Case study – Anil Polat from Foxnomad

Anil now has two ebooks – The Ultimate Tech guide for Travelers and Overcoming the 7 major obstacles to traveling the world and now he’s working on his third. He found the process of writing the e-books pretty straightforward, writing them himself in a word document and then converting them to PDF format with a photo cover. For the first book which is priced at $8 he did everything himself but for the second, he decided to pay a designer to design the cover. With the second e-book (Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers) the price was also much higher at $37, but Anil offers an additional bonus of  personal support and advice for the first 6 month after purchase. Anil has found that putting his ebooks in the Amazon Kindle store has really boosted his sales and he also sells through Nook books at Barnes and Noble. Anil has an affiliate programme to sell both e-books and uses e-junkie and Commission Junctions to manage affiliate sales, offering the typical 50% commission, although he probably gets more direct leads and has also found that mentions outside the travel blogshere such as by PC World have brought in sales.  Anil has has now sold close to 1000 e-books.

There is a useful free report on making e-books, available at Smart Passive Income – e-books the smart way

If you want to create a book that will be printed (yes, actual paper!) it’s possible to do create self-published books to be printed on demand at Create Space and then sold through Amazon. Thanks to the tip from Lash of Lash World Tour who has self-published her books on hiking and cycling in Bali this way.

Tips for your e-book

  • Do some research to make sure that your e-book or digital product will solve a problem that readers will be prepared to pay money for – you could do keyword research or survey your readers
  • Build up an e-mail list before you launch your e-book to maximise your sales potential – you could even ask people to sign up to be notified once it is available
  • Consider creating a shorter free report first as a trial run, to get used to the process.
  • You can write a series of articles on your blog that will form the backbone of your product and then add more detail or information for the final paid product
  • Engage fellow bloggers to act as affiliates for you, offer review copies, interviews etc in order to maximise your e-book sales.
  • Promote your e-book using all the power of social media, blog posts, guest posts on other blogs.
  • Don’t forget to promote your e-book outside the travel blogging community, make sure it is available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble etc

Multiple sites

Once you’ve got one site established and starting to make money, many travel bloggers who are serious about making money start other blog sites as a spin off from their flagship site.

While it is obviously more work to maintain two or more sites rather than one, and there is a danger that you may end up not doing either site justice, this is an effective way of building up a portfolio of revenue streams.

You may find that you are prepared to be more commercial on your second sites or target niches that are likely to mae you more moeny. You can also provide more leverage for advertisers by putting together advertising packages across multiple sites.

Think of it like a shop that decides to open multiple branches in different towns, or a women’s clothing store that also opens branches for menswear, homeware and menswear that will all appeal to the same customer base.

Once you have been blogging a while you will normally find ideas for other sites, but take care to do some research or be sure that they will be popular niches before you invest a lot of time in starting a new site.

Different types of sites you might start

  • In depth site about the place you live
  • Sites offering advice for a sub niche of your main blog
  • ‘How to’ sites that share your expertise

Examples of Successful Blogs who have started other sites

Karen Bryan from Europe a la Carte started blogging about European travel, but now she also has sites at Top Travel Content Europe and Help me to Save

Anil Polat writes about travelling smarter at Foxnomad but also has sites at How to travel with pets, Travel Blog advice and Tech guide for Travel

Indie Travel Podcast covers travel advice and podcasts and also has sites at  Make Money Travel Blogging and Art of Solo Travel

Darren Cronian started a consumer travel blog at Travel Rants and now runs My Life in Leeds

Dave Lee writes for independent budget travellers at Go Backpacking and has also stared Travel Blog Success and Medellin Living

Sponsorship

This is an money making method that you can develop once your blog is very well established with high amounts of traffic and a loyal community of readers. It is a method that will normally develop from existing relationships you have with advertisers or PR agencies who want to take the relationship a step further as they feel that you can give them access to potential customers who fit their target market.
  • The starting point of a sponsorship relationship may be a press trip or other publicity event that you are invited to participate in where you are offered free travel or hotel stays in return for coverage on your blog. While this is not a holiday, but a working trip, and is not typically paid, it may develop longer term into a paid relationship.
  • As the relationship develops you may agree a paid relationship for a 6-12 month term to become an ‘ambassador’ for a particular brand, to promote them informally to your community through social media as well as through your blog and perhaps including advertising on your site or in your newsletter.
  • Donna Hull at My Itchy Travel Feet, who specialises in Baby Boomer Travel has recently decided to concentrate on working with a smaller number of sponsors rather than selling advertising as has so far signed up two sponsors who appeal to her readership.
  • The key to success in this kind of relationship is to stick to products or services you believe in and would probably be using anyway and that appeal to your target market
  • To attract quality sponsors you need to be clear about your proposition and provide specific information about what you can offer – take a look at my Press/PR page or create a Media kit like this one from The Planet D or this Press Pack from Mallory on Travel
Case study – Shannon Lane of Traveling Mamas
Shannon Lane created Traveling Mamas as a group travel blog to encourage women to get out and travel, whether with the family, girlfriend getaways or with their partners. She accepts press trips that enable her to write about interesting places on the blog and sometimes works with travel brands for contests and giveaways on her blog. Shannon also works with consumer brands that she believes in and personally uses, based on a contract for a fixed 6-12 month term with a monthly stipend. She will put together a package for the sponsor that may involve articles on the blog, contests, inclusion in her newsletter and banner advertising. The key to this, Shannon believes, is to be very choosy about who you work with, only supporting products you can believe in, and she turns many approaches away on this basis. Shannon even now sometimes gets paid for her appearance at certain events which she will accept if she feels it will make an interesting story for the blog.

Consultancy

Like sponsorship, consultancy is something that you may develop over time through developing existing advertising or PR relationships. Typically you may work with marketing professionals who seek your advice and then are prepared to pay for your expertise. Different types of condultancy could involve;

  • Advising Marketing/PR professionals on specialist aspects of blogging and social media
  • Working with local companies who need help promoting themselves in the online world
  • Working with companies on the technical aspects of blogging or SEO
  • Running company Social Media sites for them, such as their Twitter/Facebook accounts, especially for smaller local businesses who want someone local
  • Using your contacts in the blogging world to advise companies who they should work with e.g. selection of bloggers for press trips or speakers for events
  • Organising meet-ups of bloggers for specific promotions
  • Participation in marketing brainstorming sessions that relate to your target market
  • Speaking at travel or blogging conferences and industry events
  • Assisting conference organisers to ensure they can meet the needs of blogging delegates
Case study – Rajul Chande works for a number of online publishing projects and writes;
“I’ve been selling freelance online marketing and SEO services. To be fair, I started this activity before I began blogging but the two have definitely positively reinforced each other. Having a well-promoted blog gives you the ideal reference to sell your expertise in SEO, especially to traditional small businesses which are often a bit confused about what they should do”

Membership model

This money making method is for bloggers who are well established in their niche with a strong following and some expertise that readers will be prepared to pay for. Typically the Membership model involves setting up a product or service that is sold on a monthly subscription basis. The advantage is that you may secure an ongoing revenue stream but there is a lot of work required to support this model. Examples may be;

  • A Training course that includes ongoing support via a forum or access to the author
  • Access to premium content such for a monthly subscription fee

Examples of this kind of model in the Travel Blogsphere include;

Travel Blog Success - an online training course training you how to build and make money through your travel blog

Meet Plan Go – Advice on how to plan your career break and involving local events in the US and online training

This model is not widely used in the travel blogging niche which is still developing but is widely used in the more advanced Internet Marketing niche

There is a useful free report on Membership sites available at Membership Site Mastermind from Yaro Starek

Videos and Podcasts

Both videos and podcasts can be monetised by using and adapting the approaches mentioned above, when they are integrated into a travel blog. However there are a few ways that you can monetise more directly;

Videos

If you have a number of videos on Youtube, you can apply for the Youtube Partner Programme (although you may wait a long, long, long time before you here whether you have been accepted). This will enable you to add Google Adsense to your videos.

Viddler also has a Partner Program for revenue sharing

You can make money directly from your videos if you are expert in this area by making your own films, documentaries or promotional videos for local companies.

For inspiration take a look at Overlander.TV where Mark Shea makes videos for travel sponsors, sells DVDs of his own films and makes money through his Youtube Channel advertising.

Also Jeff Jung at Career Break Secrets has created a Video Travel Advice Series that he sells online.

Podcasts

Most Podcasters use a number of the monetisation methods listed above but once they have a large following, they can get direct sponsors for each episode, who are mentioned during the audio recording.

Some podcast networks such as Blubrry enable you to earn money through advertising.

Below you’ll find the slideshow that I presented for the talk on the subject of How travel bloggers make money from their blogs;

I hope you’ll find all this information useful – please do share any tips for making money that you have had success with in the comments below.

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