“And we sat among our photographs
Examined every one
And in the end we compromised
And met the morning sun
Maybe I think too much”
On December 18, 2017, I published my first blog post. I have studied digital marketing and I’ve certainly read my share of blogs but before December, I knew nothing about how to actually create a page and knew even less about how to get people to read it. This is now my 40th post and I recently started to think about all that I’ve learned about blogging.
For me, the process was a bit different than it probably is for most people. I decided at the beginning that I didn’t care about making money. This was just going to be a fun way to connect with friends and family during a very long stretch away from home. I also decided that I wasn’t going to spend any money on growing the blog. So outside of buying the website and hosting, I have spent no money on ADrayInTheLife.com. Clearly, most bloggers have their sights set on making some money and most are probably willing to spend a bit of money to help get them there.
Anyway, regardless of your objectives, I hope these lessons are valuable to you if you’ve ever considered starting a blog. If you’re only a blog reader and not a blog writer, take a moment to check out these ideas. Blogging is way more complicated than I ever thought it would be. Hopefully, you’ll gain an appreciation for the really great bloggers out there after reading all that goes into it.
Having a Gameplan
Obviously, the primary goal of any blog is to get loads of people to engage with your content. From there, there are a wide variety of ways to generate revenue (i.e., ads, merchandise sales, etc…). How to achieve your goals is completely up to you but requires some serious strategic thinking. For example, which social media platform(s) will you use? Instagram is clearly the most popular at the moment but that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective. I’ve really enjoyed taking and editing pictures for my Instagram account but I have no meaningful way to drive traffic from Instagram to my blog. Each of the other platforms has their own positive and negative aspects that I’ve struggled with over the last few months.
Other key decisions include what kind of content you will produce, what topics you think current and potential readers would care about, how much money you are willing to spend to connect with people, how much time you are willing to spend to engage with people on social media, and what you want your digital identity to look like. These are not easy questions and require some serious research and likely some trial and error as well.
Personality & Content
It is certainly possible to create a digital identity that is completely different from your actual identity but it’s hard. At the end of the day, core parts of your true personality will likely come through in the content you create. In order to be truly successful, I believe you have to have a personality that really connects with people and/or content that provides meaningful value for your readers. For me, my personality is a little more reserved so I’ve tried to connect with people by providing interesting content. Plus, as this was a fun project for me, I really had a great time writing blog posts.
Getting Involved in Conversation
Social media is a massive part of any successful blog but, contrary to popular belief, it’s much more than just posting pretty pictures. A successful social media campaign is about engaging with as many people as you can in a virtual space. To build a following, you absolutely must get involved in the conversations that your current and potential readers are having. This doesn’t mean having a bot automatically comment on Instagram posts with “Nice photo.” This means that you have read content and totally immerse yourself in one or more social media platforms. I absolutely admit that I have not done this very well mostly because I find that to successfully engage in social media takes hours and hours of time every day… and I was simply unwilling to make that kind of commitment.
Hard Work to Write
As I said earlier, I’ve now written 40 blog posts in about six months. I don’t really know why I wrote so many but I had a lot of fun with it. Writing comes fairly easy to me so once I have an idea, it doesn’t take me too terribly long to get it down on paper. That said, what has taken me a lot of time is getting the content online and formatting it with pictures so that it looks presentable on my site. Further, editing your content for style and formatting also takes a bit of time. For some bloggers, this process may come easier. Regardless, writing blog posts does take time and tremendous attention to detail. Of course, there is absolutely no need to write 40 posts in six months. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.
Need to Spend Money
I’ve tried to make my blog visible without spending money and social media provides today’s bloggers and marketers with a tremendous vehicle for accomplishing this goal, especially if you’ve got a strategy in place that capitalizes on your magnetic personality or dynamic content. However, this takes time unless you’re willing to spend the money to put your content in front of the right people. Using influencers and social media advertising can be effective, but it ultimately costs money.
However, you may also need to spend money on other aspects of blogging. Building functionality on your website may require spending money on a developer or on advanced web-based features. Buying the right equipment to take and edit the pictures for your Instagram account costs money. Hiring lawyers to help you navigate through the complex world of entrepreneurship also isn’t free. Again, launching a successful blog isn’t as easy as posting a bunch of pretty pictures.
Blogging Changes How You Travel
Obviously there are other types of blogs besides travel blogs but regardless of your focus, I think blogging will change your experience in that area. For the travel category, I think this can be both a good and a bad thing.
On the good side, blogging forces you to get out there, do things, think about them, and take pictures in the process. Sometimes there is a tendency to just go through the motions a little bit while you travel, but if you have a blog, you always need to be on the lookout for that great idea for your next post or the next great photo for your Instagram feed.
However, this is also a bad thing as it can make travel seem a bit like work. At times during this trip, I felt like I was so focused on finding that great photo opportunity, that I forgot to let myself be in the moment. Again, I’m only blogging for fun so it’s more important to me to have great experiences. However, if you’re trying to start a business, blogging will forever alter how you experience the world.
Lots of Competition
There are literally thousands and thousands of travel blogs which makes it really hard to stand out. This is once again why it’s so important to have a strategy. What will separate your blog from the others that are already established?
The good news here is that I’ve found that very few blogs provide any meaningful content. Recycled material is everywhere! We’ve all scrolled down our Instagram feed only to see the same photo appear on multiple accounts. If you actually go to some of these websites, you’ll find that many of them are poorly constructed and lack any sort of valuable content. If you can provide great content and give that content a voice through your own personality, I believe you can stand out from the people trying to shortcut their way to a successful blog.
It’s a Fun Diversion (especially for such a long trip)
So you may be asking yourself why I wrote so many blog posts if I never intended to make any money from this. For me, I had four main objectives.
1. To learn about blogging and digital marketing. I teach marketing after all so this seems like something I should know.
2. To stay connected to people back home while I’m gone for so long.
3. To help people learn about how to travel without spending loads of money.
4. To create a fun diversion for myself.
I wanted to have a more immersive travel experience which meant staying longer in each destination. However, being a tourist, I don’t have all the familiar distractions that I might have at home. For example, besides a couple of big sporting events, I’ve watched almost no TV since I left. So I’ve got to fill my time doing something and the blog was a fun side project for me to engage in during the days and nights when I didn’t feel like exploring.
One of the unexpected benefits of the blog was building new connections through the blog. There have been a few people who I knew prior to the blog who I have built stronger connections with and there are those people who somehow got connected to the blog who have reached out as I’ve visited each place. Once I get back home, I don’t think I’ll write as frequently but I will certainly maintain the blog as I’m anxious to build more relationships over time.
Thank you so much for reading the blog. I hope you’ve found this and other articles entertaining and valuable. Looking forward to meeting up for a coffee whenever I’m in your city!