9 Components in My Travel Blog Strategy for 2020

Here we are: a new year! A new decade! A new opportunity to create or adjust our business and travel blog strategies! I do love a new year, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from my many, many posts this week… ?

Not to toot my own horn, but I work pretty hard at this blog – and I think it’s paid off so far. (There’s always room to grow!) As part of that work, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about my travel blog strategy to ensure I’m working smarter but also tackling the big hairy problems. I’m not afraid to run experiments and try something new – including posts like this, offering blogging services, and creating new courses and products.

To that end, I’ve come up with these travel blog strategies to help you, my fellow bloggers, try and tackle your own big hairy blogger problems. These are ideas I’ve spent the last few months (or years!) thinking about and testing. I’m confident they’re ideas in the right direction for travel blog success in 2020 and beyond, though of course your mileage may vary. Read on to learn about the components of my travel blog strategy for 2020.

1. Set Goals (Eyes on the Prize)

Lewis Carroll said, If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. But I’m not sure that’s true when it comes to travel blog strategy… My philosophy is more If you don’t know where you’re trying to go, how will you get anywhere?

I started setting goals for my blog in late 2017, and you know what? I’ve exceeded 90% of the goals I have set since then. But I’m not sure I would have even hit those goals – much less celebrated them – if I hadn’t set goals in the first place.

I’m currently working on a top secret project that will include help to set your own blogging goals… But in the meantime I highly recommend the Goal Setting Challenge from Digital Nomad Wannabe. Sharon’s five-day email sequence is super helpful; it’s what I used back in 2017 and I’ve done it so many times I no longer need to refer back to the emails or videos.

My 2020 goals are far more elaborate than any I’ve set in the past – but I’m also confident they’re incredibly well-thought-out and if I’m going to achieve them, it’s going to require all the hard work and persistence I’ve got!

2. Get a Mentor

At a certain point in your blogging career, you just need advice from someone who’s been there before. That’s where a mentor comes in. While everyone’s blogging journey is different – and Google/social media is a different beast from day to day and year to year – a mentor can help guide the way.

I’m so excited that I’ve found myself a mentor for the first few months of 2020 (and probably beyond). I’m not sure if she wants me to share her name, but I’m glad to have someone who can give me advice and hear my wild strategy ideas (the ones that don’t make it into this post!).

If you’re looking for a mentor, you’re in luck! I recently started offering blogging mentorship and my first client (hey, Brie! ??) encouraged me to offer it to others too. Hit me up if you’re interested, or if you just want some free advice. (I’m a terrible salesperson!)

3. Having an Email Strategy is Key

If there’s been one resounding cry across the blogosphere in the last few months of 2019, it’s that Google is eating all our search traffic. I’ve known this was coming for the past few years because of SEO work I do outside my blog… but it still hurt to see a 30% drop between my peak in August and my traffic in November. #ouch

That’s why building your email list is one of the most important things you can do in 2020. I’ve been using Kate Doster’s email and list-building tools (for free) for a few months now and my email traffic is up 4x in two months 5x in three months. I just made the investment in some of her email courses and webinars, too, because investing is part of building a business!

Here’s a quick breakdown of my own strategy:

  1. Identify pain-points or unanswered questions where my blog isn’t good enough to answer the question in a single post.
  2. Create a “lead magnet” (something people get for signing up) to encourage them to enter my “funnel.”
  3. Deliver boatloads of value in my email “funnel” on that specific topic they’ve signed up for.
  4. Keep each new subscriber in their “segment” to email them any new posts I write on that topic – as well as my twice-weekly newsletter.

Seriously, it’s never going to be more traffic than Google but it’s the only way to guarantee people see your posts that won’t be affected by an algorithm! Get to it!

4. Be Willing to Get Personal

I used to scoff at this advice, and I couldn’t figure out how it fit into my blog and brand. Simultaneously, I bemoaned that nobody liked my blog for me and the fact that I didn’t have a loyal community of readers.

Over the last few years, I came to realize that’s because there wasn’t very much of me in my blog. I wasn’t in the photos, I didn’t share my thoughts or opinions, and the writing was pretty sterile. My social media had a little pep, but my email newsletter was a ghost town. I started experimenting with the idea of disclosing and sharing more in 2019, and I’m confident it’s critical to creating true relationships with my readers.

In particular, think about personal disclosure and where it provides extra value to your readers. Since most of us get our traffic from Google, these people don’t know us when they land on our sites. What they really want is the answer to their question, but there are opportunities to meet that need and introduce yourself.

I have a two-level strategy for being more personal:

  1. I ensure I’m in at least 3-5 photos in every post – if not more – but never all of the photos. This helps readers see who is sharing the information, and underscores that I really did go there.
  2. In my email newsletter, I spend every Tuesday sharing more personal thoughts on travel and life. I am grateful for the opportunity to reach people in their inboxes, and want to connect more with them. My personal emails always get better open and reply rates, and my unsubscribe rate is much lower than on the Friday ‘read my latest posts’ emails.

Everyone has their own level of ‘person’-ality they’re willing to share on their blog. But so far, this has worked on mine and I plan to continue doing it in the new year.

5. Build Tools Google is too Lazy to Tackle

Okay, we get it, Google. You’re going to beg, borrow, scrape, and steal our blog content to increase your own traffic. It’s bullshit, it’s a monopoly, and it’s putting loads of small website owners out of business. I’ve got strong feelings about it!

While a blog is not a blog without new blog posts, there are ways to undercut Google, and one of the best ways is by building other things (beyond blog posts) that Google is too lazy to build themselves. If we’ve learned anything from their “borrow, scrape, and steal” strategy, it’s that Google wants us bloggers to do the hard work and they’ll piggyback on it for minimal effort.

But what if we build things they can’t borrow, scrape, or steal? What if we build tools that augment our written word and provide value beyond Google’s featured snippets and target text? Then, my friends, we bloggers take back the power.

I’ve begun building tools like this on a few key articles (here and here) and now spend time on every article considering what content ‘auguments’ I can add that Google won’t be able to steal from me. Thumbs nose at Google.

6. Learn from Your Rainmakers & Iterate to Build Expertise

As part of my content strategy for 2020, I took a long hard look at two categories of what I call “rainmaker” posts (those that bring me the big traffic and big moolah on my current income streams):

  1. All Time Rainmakers – the best performing posts across my site, for example The Ultimate 10-Day Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide and 7 Reasons Why You Should Visit Prague in January
  2. 2019 Rainmakers – those rising stars this year that outperformed the rest of my posts, for example 10 Essentials You Need to Pack for Hawaii and How to Make the Most of One Day in Zion National Park

I especially paid attention to the overlap between those two – 2019 posts that are among my all-time top performers.

I looked for patterns, considering things like whether it’s a new type of post for me (e.g. one day in Zion), how other posts like it performed (e.g. Hawaii compared to other packing lists), and other articles I might write on the same destination or topic (e.g. other PCH articles I could write).

I was able to come up with a list of ‘rainmaker ideas,’ which I’ve used to create my 2020 content strategy. By learning from and iterating on your own rainmakers, you can double down your expertise on certain topics (which Google says they love) and hopefully gain more traffic and income.

7. Optimize Your Income at Any Traffic Level

I’m not sure if this is a myth, but I think I believed it: you can’t optimize your income until you get to [insert random number] traffic level. If you believe in this myth like I did, let me tell you: it is not true!!!

You can optimize your income at any traffic level. The secret is to find opportunities to do so.

Let’s say you have ads turned on, whether it’s Adsense, Ezoic, or Mediavine. You should probably read every single article in their knowledge base about optimizing your earn rate per viewer, eh? Like seriously, Google that ish now and add it to the top of your Asana to-do list.

And if you’re using affiliates, you should comparison shop! Many merchants have different terms in different networks, so you can optimize which ads you use to try and capture the most possible income.

(For example, I now have booking.com and hotels.com links for all my hotel recommendations. Why? Booking.com has a 25% commission rate – but only if the person books right then. Hotels.com has a much smaller 4% rate, but a 30-day cookie. By doing both, I try to capture people whichever way they might choose to book.)

Be sure to include relevant, valuable affiliate links wherever you can – including in your email funnels that are part of your fancy new email strategy. (Also be sure to read the terms before adding links to emails, as some sites (cough, Amazon, cough) don’t like this.)

8. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify (Your Income!)

This is an old adage in the travel blog strategy toolkit: diversify! What this means, in simple terms, is to ensure your income comes from a variety of different sources.

Level 1 of income diversification means ensuring you get income from different places. If you only run ads, start adding affiliate links. Add affiliate links from different networks and merchants. Make sure your income isn’t solely tied to one place, so no one place can take it away.

Level 2 is a bit more complex. If you only run ads and do affiliate links, all your income is tied to your traffic. When Google takes away your traffic, they take away your income. So you need to start thinking about non-traffic-based income streams. This can be courses, services (like my mentorship or SEO services), products (like my travel journal or souvenirs). These income streams are independent of how much traffic Google does (or doesn’t) send you or me, so we’re even more diversified and insulated against losing traffic.

9. Take Care of Yourself & Value Your Time

This is a new part of my travel blog strategy this year, because I’ll be honest: it’s way too easy for me to work on my blog all. the. time. As a result, I don’t really take care of myself, take good breaks, or value my time the way I might with a full-time job. (Like, if I had a full-time job, I wouldn’t be writing this at 9:15pm on a Sunday night…)

That’s why in 2020 I’m working to treat myself to the following:

  • Breaks during the day, especially for meditation and working out
  • Real vacations to places around the world that aren’t for work on my blog (or other freelance articles)
  • Massages, because I’m worth it ??‍♀️

As you now know, my 2020 Mantra is Time, so I’m also trying to value both my work time (asking for higher rates!) and my non-work time (giving myself rest and rejuvenation!). If you’re curious about other ways I’m considering Time this year, be sure to check out that post.

Are there any parts of your travel blog strategy that I missed? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Valerie has been blogging since 2001, and has been running her oldest travel blog for a decade. You can find her across the internet on her various niche sites, but she started Site School to help fellow bloggers grow and create better content.

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