Holy crow, you guys. As of today, my first blog, Valerie & Valise, has been live for 9 years. NINE. YEARS.
If my blog were a child – and I affectionally refer to my sites as my children – it would be in 4th grade! We’d be starting to worry, I mean think, about puberty and middle school at this point! AH!
Valerie & Valise is one of the longest-standing things in my life, as I have only a few friendships that date back to earlier days, and it even pre-dates how long I’ve known my husband. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important professional projects I have ever – or will ever – do in my career… as meandering and at-times-lost as I have been on that path.
As I approach a decade of blogging, it’s time to sit down again and share my thoughts on the process so far, and what I’ve learned.
(Unlike lots of posts, I’m not going to add photos the rest of this recap – they just distract from the points I’m trying to make!)
What’s Changed in Travel Blogging Since 2013
Each year, I like to start by sharing insights on the major changes I’ve noticed in travel blogging since I began. This is a pretty wide-sweeping area, but helps me share my overall observations.
First of all, travel blogging has become immeasurably more professional as an industry in the past 9 years. Many bloggers in the first wave – who started their blogs 2012 – never imagined it might be a full-time occupation; those of us in the second wave (2013-2015) mostly just hoped to earn enough to cover our travel costs. Today, travel blogging is a legitimate career that has global recognition – when I tell people I’m a travel blogger, they have an idea of what that means, and it’s not crazy to conceive of it earning me enough to support my life and family.
This also means there are many more opportunities to work and earn. While social media influencers and YouTubers have managed to capitalize best on the types of partnerships that bloggers pioneered, it’s far easier today to create meaningful relationships with brands and destinations that are valuable – in real dollars – for both parties. People are getting paid and making money from travel blogging, and they weren’t 9 years ago.
But travel blogging itself has also changed. Gone are the days of daily updates for friends and family back home about the trip you’re currently on; now the most successful and longest-lasting travel bloggers craft a strategy that focuses heavily – if not entirely – on optimizing for search engines and getting traffic from them. We now live in an SEO era as travel bloggers, and fighting against this will most likely leave you feeling unsuccessful and unsatisfied.
This is not to say that SEO has stripped the person out of the personality-driven blog; while you can certainly find old posts I wrote that barely have me in them, the best posts on my site position me as the expert and build a relationship with my readers even if they’ve never met me before. While it’s no longer daily logs and personal thoughts, travel bloggers are integral to the blogs they run and are present on them – in both words, photos, and videos.
So where does that leave us? When I “started this job,” it was very different than it looks today – and that has required me to adapt and change with the times. And I’m still adapting and changing, such as re-launching my YouTube channel and building niche sites to diversify my income. I certainly couldn’t have imagined nine years ago when I first pressed publish that I’d now be running four sites full-time, crafting videos, starting podcasts, trying to keep up on Instagram, and traveling about one-quarter of the year – but it’s possible, and perhaps even necessary, to achieve the level of success I want from my travel blog(s).
Lessons Learned in 9 Years of Blogging
Based on the above free-flow of ideas, here are a few lessons I’ve learned – including some from past years that I still think are relevant:
- Diversify your income beyond “traffic-based” revenue streams like advertising and affiliates (Year 7 Lesson) – Absolutely this is true, and it’s the hardest part of running a travel blog. Coming up with creative products and services that serve your audience’s needs is challenging, but also the best way to ensure you can weather storms like the past few years when travel was limited.
- Build your audience off-algorithm too (Year 7 Lesson) – I still agree that, on the whole, travel bloggers – myself included – rely far too much on algorithm-based traffic channels. What I should say is: email is a critical part of your strategy, and I’m sure you’re neglecting it. I’m working on a product that will help, coming out later this year.
- Too many places are still focused on vanity metrics (Year 8 Lesson) – This is the most frustrating part of being a travel blogger in a world of social media influencers: people want high follower counts without realizing that those followers have meaningless if they don’t see the post or interact with it to create value for the brand or destination. PR people will continue to obsess about Instagram and TikTok, wasting their budgets on those people – when they could engage with travel bloggers and drive actual bookings and sales.
- You can’t do it all. This is a new lesson learned this year: over the past few months, I’ve been downshifting many of the niche sites I started in 2020-2021, and focusing just on the ones that are both fulfilling, provide me meaningful income opportunities, and allow me to grow. This has helped me free up space for new projects, but there’s always more I’m not doing (like growing my social media accounts). It’s impossible to keep all plates spinning, even for someone like me who’s generally very productive.
I’d love to hear if you agree with these lessons I’ve learned or have thoughts on them.
Valerie & Valise: Year 7 to Year 8
Here are a few different parts of my business and what happened in each area.
It was a busy year – perhaps too busy! I’m finally now starting to wind down, with only a few shorter trips left this year, but I had a lot of long trips in 2021-2022 that certainly wore me down and leave me happy to be mostly home for the next few months.
- December 2021 – Las Vegas
- March 2022 – Death Valley, Minneapolis, and Jordan
- April 2022 – Washington State & Memphis
- June 2022 – Alaska & the Maldives
- July/August 2022 – Alaska (for three weeks!)
- September 2022 – London & New Mexico
- October 2022 – Nevada
In total, I spent 96 days on the road or roughly 26% of the year. Especially with the longer trip and longer flights, I am a bit worn down from all that travel.
Since October 22, 2021, I’ve published 59 new blog posts, and updated another 49 for 108 total posts within the last year. This is roughly the same as last year (105), and a pretty impressive number – it means I published or updated a post every 3-4 days all year on average.
What I’ve discovered in the last year is that I can never run out of ideas, especially when it comes to Alaska travel. This means I have to be smart about what I choose to spend my creative energy on, especially as it changes seasonally (as does my availability to write due to travel). It is my goal in the next year to publish or update at least 90 posts, with the following targets in order of priority:
- Getting all of my pre-pandemic content updated
- Producing high-quality content for my partners in a timely fashion
- Filling in gaps on my Alaska content map
- I received 1,762,211 pageviews from October 21, 2020 to October 20, 2021.
- I received 1,873,242 pageviews from October 21, 2021 to October 20, 2022.
This is a 6% increase year over year and I reached 110,000+ more people than last year. I originally thought it would be much more, but it turns out that Alaska was an insanely popular destination in 2021, which boosted my numbers last year in a way that didn’t replicate this year.
That’s okay though – I still saw growth despite “not doing as well” this year. My traffic has also stayed higher this year in the autumn compared to last year, which is a good sign that I’ve begun to diversify my content away from an over-reliance on the summer season.
- I earned ~$163,900 between October 2020 and September 2021.
- I earned ~$139,600 between October 2021 and September 2022.
This loss doesn’t surprise me: I feel like I had a much harder time earning this year than last year, especially from affiliate marketing. For example, Booking.com earnings are down almost 30% compared to last year, I didn’t earn anything from Airbnb (since they closed their program in March 2021), and I’ve earned barely one-third of my biggest other affiliate through ShareASale this year.
All this says is that I need to work harder at my affiliate marketing strategies in year 10!
Traveling in Alaska especially is fun now – it’s not uncommon for me to run into readers while I’m there visiting! That happened twice during my trips to year, which should really be the biggest success metric I have: I meet actual people who used my site to plan a trip – in the place I helped them plan a trip to!
In any case, my other community metrics don’t feel as salient to my business as they did last year. I get lots of emails and comments, and my Alaska Facebook group is now over 44k members.
How do I keep track of all these stats? I’ve got an organizational system!
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What’s Next for Year 10?
Great question, dear reader. I honestly have no major plans: Valerie & Valise now feels like a mature business and not one that needs huge strategic changes to see continued success.
- I plan to continue focusing on SEO-driven content that is high quality and demonstrates my E-A-T to keep Google happy.
- I plan to continue partnering with brands and destinations who see the value of working with bloggers, and create content that drives them that value and brand awareness.
- I plan to optimize some existing parts of my business, like email marketing, affiliate marketing, and product strategies, to keep them productive for years to come.
I guess one major thing I plan to focus on in Year 10 is my YouTube channel. I have neglected this side of being a content creator and am curious if I can build up a community there that finds value in the videos I create – especially in trying to reach more people planning Alaska trips.
Have any questions about my plans for next year, or my recap of this past year? Comment below – or join me over in the Site School community on Facebook to get faster answers and connect with other bloggers building their businesses.