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Case Studies

Valerie & Valise – 8 Years On:
Lessons Learned from 8 Years of Blogging

It’s hard to believe that my very first post was published on Valerie & Valise eight years ago today. 8 years ago, I was living in Seattle, had just started a brand new job, and thought travel blogging would be a good way to hone my travel writing skills and prove I was worthy of a job at Travel + Leisure or AFAR.

Today, I don’t want a job at T+L or AFAR – I’ve created a career I love that gives me the freedom and resources to prioritize my life on my own terms. I can travel freely, make enough to cover my lifestyle (including my husband), and work on my own terms… which is to say a lot, all the time. πŸ˜‚

As I normally do each October the 21st, I wanted to set aside some time to share my thoughts on this crazy travel blogging journey I’ve been on. I’ve shared some stats below as well as lessons learned and thoughts on the future of travel blogging – at least for me and my site.

FYI: I stuck a bunch of photos from my travels this year throughout the post, so it’s not really thematic in that way.

What’s Changed Since 2013

8 Year - From 2013 to Now

Think back eight years: the internet was an entirely different place. We all had iPhone what… 4s? Maybe 5s if you were fancy. Mobile web design didn’t exist. There were no “influencers.” People used Yahoo. When you googled some travel keyword there were a few travel bloggers, but their content was mostly narrative-driven storytelling rather than resources with the logistical info you needed to actually plan your own trip.

Now, obviously, it’s completely different. Blogging has become a legitimate career path, and the internet reflects this – there are virtually no travel queries you can search on Google and not see at least one blog show up on the first page of results. Hundreds of thousands of us compete for the same ranking spots and traffic – and it’s become less about who is writing the blog and more about what they say and how helpful they are in their content.

From a technical standpoint, the focus in travel blogging is more about optimizing for SEO than cultivating a personality brand – though some of the O.B.s (Original Blogsters) still have personality sites that do well. (I discussed this in a lot more depth in my Year 6 recap.)

On my own journey, I went from trying to create a site that focused around me as someone worth following (2013-2016) to one that was highly SEO optimized and sort of lost the “me”-ness (2017-2018) to a site that feels like it blends the two and allows me to be a helpful expert (2019-present).

I’d be remiss to not mention that the pandemic has been a huge shift, as we approach a second full year of living in a very different world to travel in. While 2020 (years 6-7) was hard on my business, I saw a rebound this year that made it my best year yet. That makes it very hard to predict what the future will hold!

Lessons Learned in 8 Years of Blogging

Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve been around long enough to have some real perspective and wisdom about this crazy career path I’ve taken. Here’s what I’ve been mulling on in the past year:

  • Blogging is a career, not a gig or job. The most successful bloggers I know are in it for the long haul, meaning they put in years of hard work before seeing much return – and stick with it afterward. This is the longest I’ve worked at any single project, and I still feel like I’ve only just begun.
  • As a career, you need a career path. Traveling and writing about it can be the path you take, but it’s also important to think about growing, developing, leveling up, getting “promoted” or however else you think about your long-term goals. For me, that has looked like starting new sites to our portfolio here on Site School, selling new products, and learning new skills.
  • Too many places are still focused on vanity metrics. I’m endlessly annoyed by how many social media influencers and traditional journalists get access to trips and opportunities that “traditional” bloggers do not – even though we have complete control over our audiences and email lists and can generally deliver better (and actually report) on things like conversions and sales. Every year I hope it will change – and every year stays the same, feeling like I’m at the bottom of the pile but driving the most true business value when I finally get picked.
  • My lessons from Year 7 are all still 100% true. Go read them and see if you agree.

Valerie & Valise: Year 7 to Year 8

Here are a few different parts of my business and what happened in each area.

Travel

I was fortunate to travel a healthy amount in this past year – and more importantly to places that truly inspired me as a person and writer. Here’s the list, with some links to stories I wrote about those places (so far!)

We also moved from California to Ohio, which means I’ve done a few little day trips here that I’ll probably never write about! My California Photo Journal, looking back on the four years we lived there, was really popular when I published it.

Blogging

This past year was incredibly productive, as I wrote or updated 105 posts between October 21, 2020, and today; 22 of those were within the last month.

I discovered (or more accurately, finally became conscious of) the fact that my writing energy is both variable and seasonal. It comes in waves where I feel incredibly creative, and then tapers off – or drops off – at times. I have to build in breaks throughout the year to refill my creative coffers.

After taking off August and most of September (in part due to travel) I am now in the most productive and creative sprint I’ve ever been in. Inspired by my success this past year, I want to create even. more. content!!!! to be ready to help people travel in 2022. I have no doubt I will be burned out at the end, but I’ll be able to take a break if I want – or keep pushing in other areas of my travel site business.

Traffic

  • I received 977,009 pageviews from October 21, 2019 to October 20, 2020.
  • I received 1,762,211 pageviews from October 21, 2020 to October 20, 2021.

That’s an 80% increase from last year, which blows my mind – that’s so many people who found my site as part of their travel planning process. It blows away my goal of reaching 1 million pageviews per year, and I exceeded 200,000 pageviews per month several times.

Income

  • I earned ~$103,500 between October 2019 and September 2020.
  • I earned ~$163,900 between October 2020 and September 2021.

That represents a 58% increase from last year, which is impressive though not as good as I’d hope.

Let me explain: when your traffic goes up, you want your income to go up roughly the same amount, as it means you are staying “just as good” at getting money out of those new readers as the ones you used to have. Since I earned less this year – relative to the traffic I had – it means I wasn’t as effective at earning each time someone came to my site.

Maybe I was writing on less “sales-oriented” content or maybe more people were vaguely interested in travel but not willing to commit this year. It’s hard to know for sure, but it’s always something I keep in mind: I always want my income growth to grow more (or fall less) than my traffic.

Community

It’s hard to quantify the growth of my community – which I define as those who stay connected to the site beyond a single visit. Here are some stats I have from the year that are a bit insightful.

  • I received 547 emails from readers this year. This is about equal with last year, but still – a lot of emails to reply to!
  • I received about 328 comments this year. This isn’t a ton of growth compared to last year (especially for how much my traffic went up) but I think commenting has become less common on the internet.
  • I helped 33 people plan cusmo Alaska itineraries before I stopped offering this as a service and created a replacement product (which I’ve sold another 10 of).
  • My Alaska Facebook group has grown to 7.1k members. This is a new thing I started a few months ago, and while I’m not doing much to grow it (thanks, Facebook!), it has been a good tool to build out a “social” aspect of my brand.

I’m also always aware of email signup rates, open rates, and reply rates – but I don’t track those. I just generally keep tabs on how I “feel” about them.

8th Blogiversary “Giveaway”

To celebrate my Blogiversary, I have a super easy giveaway: join my Blogging Bosses Site School Facebook group! (I’m in the process of rebranding.) Everyone who joins between now and November 20, 2021 will be entered to win a free copy of my Blogging Bosses course.

I’m in the process of rebranding that group and redesigning it to help bloggers like you (and me) get more shit done. We do monthly challenges for points and prizes, and it’s all free to help you stay motivated and focused on growing your blog until you’re writing an 8th Blogiversary post too.

What’s Next for Year 9?

You know how in each decade of your life, there’s the early-, mid-, and late- years? Like the early-20s, mid-30s (which I am now 😱), or late teens? I am definitely in the late first years of my travel site, as it’s now in its 9th year. That leaves me wondering: what’s next? Where does it go? Do I just run my travel site forevermore as I always have?

If you know me – or have read many of these posts – you know that complacency is not in my nature, so broadly speaking: no, my travel site won’t stay as it is forevermore. But I’m also not sure I’ll have the time or energy to focus on any big changes in the next year.

In particular, having started 11 other sites now, my attention is divided; I think of them like children, who all need attention and care. I think that the next year will see me either growing those other sites until they are self-sufficient and productive – or paring them down off of my priority list. As I do that, I’ll be able to free up space for bigger projects with this travel site, should I choose to focus on them.

Regarding my travel site specifically, I’d like to focus on the following areas:

  • More smart content and more comprehensiveness. There’s no point writing articles that get tons of traffic but do nothing else for my business. While I want to add more content, I want it to always be in service of the business I’m building.
  • Better product marketing. I’ve built some really cool products on my travel site but am garbage at promoting them. I want to improve my ecommerce chops this year.
  • Designing a specific business strategy document for the next decade of my travel site. While I have lots of ideas up here *gestures to head* I don’t formalize them in writing and thus often forget or deprioritize them. I’ve had some big, creative ideas for how this site can grow and change, and would like to take time to do a formal retreat to create a guiding document to help me make them a reality.

Okay, I’ll wrap this up here for now. If you have any questions or thoughts about this last year or my future strategy, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

5 Comments

  • Kristen

    Congrats on your success and lessons learned! I’m not sure if you’re still in SATW but it sounds like you’ve got great ideas to share. As an associate there, I’d love to learn more about blogs and who’s doing great work that helps destinations attract visitors.

  • Dale

    This was really interesting and helpful to read! I also really liked reading your case studies for your new sites and hope you’ll keep publishing them! This year I sold two of my blogs (one a travel blog) in order to pare down my business, but now I’m considering starting another portfolio of sites like you have. I think it’s a great way to be diversified and create assets you can sell later on. So it’s super helpful to see your progress reports of your new sites!

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