As we progress towards the end of 2017 I wanted to share an update of the highlights of my Pretraveller blog for 2017, and also share what to look forward to in 2018.
Pretraveller Travel Blog Background
As background, I first started the Pretraveller travel blog 7 1/2 years ago – which is amazing to realise that much time has passed so far since I nervously pressed ‘Publish’ on that first article! When I first started I quickly realised that I had a lot to learn about travel blogging, and in particular to find my voice and my best ‘fit’ as a travel blogger – there are so many different ways that travel bloggers work that it can be challenging to focus on the options which will suit you best.
I have always loved to organise trips and develop spreadsheets to plan our trips, so in the early days I shared a lot of those learnings. Blogging part time whilst holding a demanding full time job as an engineer as well as being the mother of three young children has also meant that the progression of my blog has had to fit around all of my other life activities.
As I persevered my blog slowly gained readers and search engine traffic, I experimented with many travel blogging options and the technical setup of my blog. I then decided to pursue study of a Master of Business on a part time basis over three years from 2014 to 2016, and quickly realised that there was no way that I could continue my previous level of effort on my blog whilst also studying. As a result I consciously decided to drop my blogging efforts back to a low level, to keep things ticking along while I completed my studies, which I successfully achieved in December 2016.
My intent was always to re-engage with developing my blog once my studies were complete, and this time to turn my blog from being a hobby into being a business.
Overall 2017 has been a very busy year. My family life has been very busy with school, lots of sport, music and medical issues. We did a family holiday up to Brisbane last Christmas to visit with our families, which included a lovely week at the beach in Caloundra. We made a conscious effort to go swimming at the beach every day which was great!
We also took another ‘alternate route’ on the drive back to Sydney – this time via the Border Ranges National Park, the Lion’s Road and Mt Barney. This trip was good fun and enabled us to return to work and school in a more refreshed state. It was also our first bigger road trip in our new vehicle, a Kia Carnival, which was great for everyone to have more space to spread out as well as having lots of luggage space.
I also started a new role at work in January which has been very demanding on my time. I did one international work trip to Washington DC in the USA – which is the first time I have ever missed a connecting flight after a storm came through DC as I was due to depart. I ended up having to stay an extra night at an airport hotel in Dallas Fort Worth airport before wrangling new flights to get home to Sydney the following day.
I have also done more domestic travel than I can ever recall – mainly from Sydney to Canberra and Brisbane. It feels like I have travelled almost every other week this year. I really ‘love’ the highway between Sydney and Canberra – I can tell you where every rest stop is and which ones to go to – and which ones not to go to… and where the police cars usually hide to trap the speeding cars… thank goodness for cruise control 🙂 .
Learning More About Blogging
Fortunately, while I was studying I was still learning more about blogging, and my interest was captured when a fellow travel blogger, Sharon Gourlay, decided to take her online business full time and to develop it into a real business. I followed Sharon from the beginning (and did actually co-moderate a Facebook Group with her at that time – which no longer exists) and observed her progress closely. Sharon decided to take a very different approach to most travel bloggers, and went through a phase where she actively took courses and trialled different blogging approaches to develop new income earning sites, and as a result saw an exponential increase in her income, mainly via affiliate income. This was attractive to me as while I love blogging I also do not plan to quit my full time job, so I was looking for a way to develop a business model for my blog which best fit around my life.
I decided that affiliate income was the direction I wanted to go, and got started by starting to develop some separate niche sites which were focused on Amazon affiliate sales on a very narrow range of products, through following Sharon’s niche site development process. After a few months I came to the realisation that I was finding it very difficult to remain motivated to further develop these sites – I personally found that the work did not energise me, unlike when I worked on my Pretraveller travel blog.
I decided to take a break from the niche sites and to refocus on my travel blog for a period before deciding how to move forward. I had already achieved some good success with affiliate income on a couple of Japan posts based on our recent family trip, and decided to write more content to further develop my portfolio of Search Engine Optimised Japan articles. You may not be surprised to realise that I never shifted back to refocus on the niche sites – in fact I am currently in the process of shutting them down.
I will comment that the niche site experiment was valuable learning process for me, as it is by doing this process that I truly learned how to write a high quality Search Engine Optimised article, and also how to best build authority for those articles to give them the best chance of performing well. Pro tip – Sharon’s principles actually work – I now regularly write articles which hit the first page of Google search within a couple of weeks of being posted – and generate long term traffic and income. These articles take longer to research and write, but the payoff is a much better return on effort expended compared with how I used to write blog articles.
Development of the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group
I am a member of Sharon’s Digital Nomad Wannabe website and Facebook Group where she runs regular challenges for bloggers to develop their business, and it was there that I came across the idea to set up a Facebook Group relating to my blog. I had been contemplating how to take my Japan content further, and in June 2017 decided to set up a Facebook Group called Japan Travel Planning which focused on Japan as a specific travel destination. My aim was to share both my Pretraveller content and other Japan related content with people planning to travel to Japan, to have a forum where I could help people plan their trips and along the way to develop further affiliate income.
I am promoting the group through my Japan focused content, and have been amazed to see the group grow to over 1400 members in only six months – not counting the large number of spammers who have applied and I have rejected and also the many spammers I have kicked out of the group over time! Group members typically come from four main sources – my Pretraveller blog articles, Google Search, Facebook recommendations and referrals by members.
The group members are mostly people who are actively planning to travel to Japan, and I am pleased to see how the group has engaged with the content and the feedback I receive in terms of how this information has assisted the group members to have a successful trip to Japan.
If you are a travel blogger reading this be aware that I have additional rules for travel bloggers to join this group so please only ask to join the group if you are genuinely planning to travel to Japan in the near future.
How Much Effort Does it Take to Run the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group?
If you are a member of the group you may not realise the amount of work which goes on behind the scenes to manage a Facebook Group of this nature. I spend between 30-60 minutes every day curating content for the group – that means that I search my Facebook feed to find relevant articles on Japan (after first having to find the best content providers to follow!), then batch them to the Buffer content management tool for future trickle sharing to the group. I also regularly have to re-sequence the articles in Buffer to ensure a good mix of different kinds of content for readers, as well as sharing my own content – without spamming the group.
I also encourage group members to ask questions, most days there are questions, some are answered by the other group members, but often they do not do the in depth research to be able to answer the questions or to provide an authoritative reference. Some questions require substantial time on my part to answer while others are quite quick. I always feel quite energised when I help someone plan their trip and for me this does not feel like I am working 🙂 !
I have also been learning about how to assist the group members to get the best available travel deals when booking their trip. I am now a member of many different affiliate programs, and each company regularly provides discounts, offers and competitions which are of value to my members. I therefore spend some time every week searching the latest deals to ensure that I am sharing them with my members.
As a result of my efforts, and also having developed more Search Engine Optimised Japan content, I am seeing a progressive increase in website traffic and income from my blog and expect this to continue into the future – it will be really interesting to see where I am at 12 months from now 🙂 !
Pretraveller Goals for 2018
I have recently spent some time considering what to set as my blogging goals for 2018. You will be pleased to know that I plan to continue to develop my Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group – I have more articles I want to write about Japan, I am also planning to trial some options to increase the number of members of the group, potentially through advertising as well as better utilisation of other social media channels, as not everyone wants to use Facebook. I also have a Japan Travel Planning email list which is growing, but I need to focus more effort to fine tune my strategy on how to best provide the information people are looking for using that channel.
I also want to continue to see my business revenue progressively grow over the next year – my aim is to develop the equivalent of a good part time Australian income this year!
I have also decided to cease doing some activities – as previously mentioned I am shutting down my niche site experiments, I have also decided not to continue with my annual top Australian and New Zealand Travel Blogger lists – it took a lot of time and effort to put these lists together, and now that my direction is changing I decided that it was time to bring that activity to a close after 4 years of producing these articles. Some of my fellow travel bloggers are in the process of setting up a new business called Australian Travel Bloggers, and I am looking forward to see what they can achieve to help connect travel bloggers with the travel industry.
I am also planning to return to Japan in the near future (hopefully in 2018) – with an aim for my business income to be able to pay for the next trip and for me to be able to claim part of the trip as a business expense. When I next visit Japan some areas I plan to visit include Mt Fuji, Wakayama, Hiroshima and Beppu. My family want to come with me to go back to Japan, so therefore we need to save a lot more money to be able to fund this trip… as well as planning to do our next big family trip to Europe in 2019 – it was originally supposed to be a USA trip but my family has recently hijacked those travel plans… 🙂 .
Along the way work and my family will still be very busy – I am expecting to do a lot more international travel for work this year, with potentially 2-3 work trips to Italy which are typically exhausting – but should be fun to return to Italy after a long break. I have visited Italy twice before on holiday and really loved it as a destination. I also expect to do a reasonable amount of domestic travel for work, but hopefully a lot less than last year 🙂 – we will see…
I hope you have all had a great 2017 and wish you all the best for 2018!
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