When I tell people that I’m a travel blogger, the first thing they usually ask, amongst ‘how much money do you make?’ and ‘can I swap lives with you?’ is ‘so… What’s that then?’.
Travel blogging is a relatively new profession, and one which many people take up as a side project to their full time job. I know bloggers who ‘in real life’ are lawyers, barristers, nurses, teachers or other professions which have absolutely nothing to do with travelling or blogging. On the other hand, there are bloggers who work in marketing, social media or creative roles and use blogging to further their skills in their field. And then there’s the minority who manage to make it their full time job.
In any case, there’s a real knowledge gap about what blogging actually is, outside of those who already do it. So to answer the question, let’s go back to the beginning and try to put together a kind of ‘job description’ for a blogger.
Weblog, Youblog, everybody blogs
Back in the early days of the information age, there existed a very basic version of the modern day blog, known as a ‘web log’. This was merged together (‘weblog’) and later shortened to ‘blog’, which is how it’s known today. Essentially a ‘blog’ is a website written by an individual or small group of people which is regularly updated. It’s that simple.
Anyone can have a blog. All you need to do is sign up to one of the free blogging services such as WordPress, Weebly or Tumblr and start writing. But this doesn’t necessarily qualify you as a blogger just yet. It takes time to build an audience of engaged readers who look forward to your next update. And it takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours of UNPAID work before you’ll even get a sniff of a ‘sponsored post’ or ‘free trip’ (more on those another time).
So what does it take to become a successful blogger? In short, an all-rounder who possesses great writing skills and the ability to find their audience. Here are some of the skills you’ll need to make it to the top.
#1 – Writing
In my opinion, a good blogger must have the ability to tell a story as well as solve a problem for their readers. That’s why for me, writing skills is #1 on the list. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, and I’ve seen some terrible examples of lazy writing or a weak grasp on the English language.
I’m not talking about those bloggers who have English as their second language (actually good on them, because blogging in your mother tongue is hard enough, let alone in a foreign one), but those bloggers who simply don’t make the effort. If you want to be taken seriously as a blogger, learn the art of good writing and ALWAYS check your posts for typos, at the very least!
No one wants to read a ream of rambling text. That’s why you’ll have to punctuate your blog post with enticing imagery to help break it up and to allow the reader to visualise what it is you’re writing about. Thanks to the rise of the smartphone, you don’t need to be a mega-technical photographer, but you do need to know how to frame and capture some smart images for you to use in your post.
If you’re looking to really make your post pop, you’ll need to learn how to edit your images to bring out the most interesting features of a photo, or play around with colours and filters to give your photos personality. For example, on Instagram, I like to make my photos as bright and fun as possible and in doing so, have created a style for my feed. Follow me on Instagram here.
More to come on the blog soon on how to take better travel photos. Stay tuned!
OK, so you’ve worked on a unique and inspiring post, you’ve edited your images and now you’re ready for it to be seen by the world… Now what? Well, now you’ll have to learn how to use your chosen platform to publish the content.
My blog is self hosted on wordpress.org (meaning that I have my own domain name – alifeofmore.co.uk rather than a site like alifeofmore.wordpress.com). I would highly recommend hosting your site yourself in order to unlock its full potential. A self-hosted site on WordPress gives you access to thousands of free plugins to help improve your site’s appearance, usability and security.
You’ll also have the option to pick from thousands of templates to create the right layout for your blog. I use X Theme, but if you’ve seen a blog layout you like (and provided it’s hosted with WordPress), you can find out what theme they used by using whatwpthemeisthat.
After you’ve hosted and picked a template, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with how to publish and manage the content you’re putting out there. I could talk for hours on this (and surely will over the coming months!), but for now, being able to publish a post will suffice.
#4 Technical skills
Eeeek! You’ve published your post but now it looks weird / links are broken / images aren’t displaying correctly / your site has been hacked! Welcome to the dark side of blogging where you’ll spend hours in online forums trying to figure out what the hell went wrong and then frantically trying to fix it.
You’ll likely spend an entire Saturday afternoon deactivating plugins to figure out which one is making your site malfunction. These are the days that no blogger wants you to know about, but trust me: They are very, very real. #Bloglife
SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation is one of the more loathed tasks by most bloggers. Of course you’ll be passionate about your writing, your photography and about sharing your story from your angle, but those who ignore SEO completely should be prepared to lose out on potentially thousands of page views.
Learn how to optimise your posts to be found easier in google, and you’re tapping in to a new audience who shares the same passions as you do. Plus once you’ve published your post to your audience and it’s no longer being shared by online communities, people will still stumble across it and may share it with their friends and connections, causing delightful little viral spikes. It’s a no brainer, really.
I use Yoast SEO plugin to manage my basic SEO needs.
#6 Social Media
The social media landscape is constantly shifting so as a blogger, it’s your job to keep on top of the latest trends. This doesn’t mean jumping on the bandwagon of every new social platform which presents itself to you, but deciding what’s right for your blog and seeing it through.
You’ll need to create fresh and engaging content for social media, not just pump out the same old things over and over again. So take some time to think about what your audience may like and test a few things out.
As well as creating the content, you’ll have to be on hand to talk to your readers and followers any time they ask you a question, or simply comment on your stuff. After all, you’re trying to build a community here. Don’t ignore those who actively engage with you!
Chances are, if you’re making engaging content you’ll want to create something that hasn’t been done before, so brushing up on your design skills is super-important. I use canva to create impactful images for Pinterest, and there are plenty of apps to add wording to your images too, such as wordswag, Piction, Phonto and Typic.
#8 Video Editing
Depending on the style of your blog and the channels you’re looking to promote it on, you may like to learn some basic video editing skills. If your blog’s focus is on YouTube, Vine, Snapchat or to some extent, Instagram, then it’s a must.
As a side note, there is a huge gap in the travel blogging market for a dedicated Youtuber or video content creator. Some bloggers do this well, but there aren’t nearly enough of them doing a good job of it (myself included). If only I had the time…
It’s no good doing all of this work if you’re not constantly learning and improving, but looking at the results of your efforts and working out what works well (and what doesn’t) is integral to the success of a blog. However it’s usually the first thing to fall by the wayside when time is tight.
Try to put aside 30 minutes a week to check in on how your content is being received. There are lots of ways to do this including google analytics (for your website), Tailwind (for Pinterest), Hootsuite (for twitter, Facebook, Instagram, G+ and LinkedIn) and Moz (for understanding how your social media presence affects your SEO score).
#10 Public Relations
Once you’ve created enough content and gained your audience of loyal followers, you might like to reach out to a couple of brands or PR agencies to talk about the possibility of collaborating. It’s important to keep in mind that any collaboration is a business opportunity for you and the brand, so you’ll need to feel pretty certain that whatever you’re offering is of value to the brand in question.
You should ask yourself not ‘what’s in it for me?’ but ‘what’s in it for them?’. Any sponsored content should be mutually beneficial for the sake of all bloggers. No one likes a greedy blogger who just wants ‘free’ stuff (spoiler: it’s never actually ‘free’ anyway, as a lot of work goes into a successful collab), and then doesn’t deliver on their promises. The brand won’t want to trust other bloggers in future, and it makes all of us who work bloody hard to make these partnerships successful want to punch you in the back of the head.
Once you’ve got the following, put together a brief media pack including your monthly users and page views, social following on each platform and some info on readers (where they’re from, age, gender etc) which you can get from google analytics.
Don’t forget any partnership between you and a company needs to be clearly disclosed. See the ethics page for more info on what that means.
#11 Agony Aunt
One of the joys of being a blogger is that you open up a little part of yourself to the world. This means that other people who are in a similar situation may reach out and want your expert advice on something. Whether that’s ‘where should I go if I only have a weekend in London?’ to ‘How can I make my travel dreams a reality?’, this part of the job is often the most rewarding.
In some cases, you’ll feel a close personal connection with your readers and want to go the extra mile to answer their questions as fully as you can. This I call the ‘agony aunt’ effect. Great though it is, it does take time, so any successful blogger should be prepared to go into detailed replies to their reader. After all, they’ve taken the time to read your stuff and contact you. It’s only fair!
So these are my basic skills to make it as a blogger. I hope I haven’t scared you off! Done right, blogging is a wonderfully fulfilling hobby or career which will lead you to people who share your passion, and really that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
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