Based on the number of blogs I see on travel websites it seems as though the argument for their presence has been won. The same holds true for most industries. With few exceptions, navigation bars will link to a blog. Some are easier to find than others, but look hard enough and you’ll usually find one. But, as a professional writer and blogger, I often find myself wondering why some websites appear to have let their blog drift, with posts seemingly unconnected by themes or uneven in format and content. That’s not meant as a negative comment from one writer to another, but an observation based upon professional experiences with a range of clients. The point of this blog is to share some of those experiences and a few lessons learned along the way.
Why a Travel Blog is Necessary
A Google search will turn up several reasons why sites for a travel agency, tour operator, OTA, TMC, etc. all need blogs. Some say it’s necessary for search engine optimization – that Google loves and values content-rich sites. Others contend that blogs are good ways to position company services, products and competitive differentiators. Providing valuable information is also a benefit that’s often cited. What my experience says all these reasons have some claim on the truth, with the common denominator being a pull of people to the site.
The ultimate point of a travel blog – any blog, for that matter – is to generate website traffic by creating value. Does that sound self-evident and straightforward? In fact, it’s not. With the increasing popularity of inbound marketing , there has emerged a corresponding increase in dissociation between the value of the blog to the reader and the value of the blog to the website.
Every travel industry website wants more traffic and inbound marketing has exploded because driving traffic by high Google rankings is difficult and buying traffic with pay-per-click (PPC) is prohibitively expensive for many companies.
Blogs have become the engines for inbound marketing, supplying: keywords, meta-descriptions and internal/external links. Distributed by social media and indexed by Google search with highly focused keywords, over time this content can generate traffic efficiently and economically. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes; blogs and inbound marketing are necessary website tools.
With blogs driving inbound marketing outcomes, there’s a strong case for blog frequency being as – or even more – important than a blog’s engagement with the reader. I’ve had clients who made the decision to pay for five brief daily blogs rather than two weekly posts of developed content: frequency means everything to them, thought leadership and reader interest means much less – that’s how they’ve ordered their business priorities. Only time will tell if this decision was a mistake and a lost opportunity.
The Work that goes into a Blog
The work that goes into a blog is closely related to the type of blog that’s being written. A blog focused on well-developed content is obviously going to require more effort than one designed with frequency in mind. The differences are acute in the areas of research and writing and less so for images and publishing/scheduling.
The point of the following metrics is to provide a rough guide for blog planning and budgeting, so that travel sites can decide what type of blog, or combination of blogs, would be the best choice for their website.
Length: a frequency blog will run between 350 and 500 words whereas a content blog is generally between 750 and 1000. To illustrate the difference, this blog has just reached 546 words. The frequency blog would have ended a few sentences earlier; the content blog is just past the half-way point.
Research: content blogs rely on research to delivery fresh information and insights to readers and customers. This work can take anywhere from three to five hours if the blog writer is familiar with the subject, four to eight hours if he is not.
Reuse: content marketers often recommend reusing existing content for frequency blogs in order to minimize research time. There are certainly situations in which integrating content from several previous blogs produces a new perspective. An experienced writer can assemble prior content and add limited research in one to three hours.
Writing: few activities are more unpredictable than writing, so take the estimation of four to six hours for a content blog; two to three hours for a frequency blog, with a grain of salt.
Publishing: most blogging platforms describe this final task as the work of the moment. In fact, it covers a number of key tasks, including: formatting the content and embedding images; optimizing key words; choosing call-to-actions and previewing responsiveness across a range of devices. This final step generally takes around an hour, regardless of blog type.
The point of any blog is successfully achieving its objective: for frequency blogs the objective is likely a rapid growth in site traffic; for content blogs the objective is typically a combination of traffic growth, thought leadership, and a visitor and customer community. Based on experience and lessons learned, here are some recommendation to help travel blogs be successful.
Education: the blog writer may be an independent contractor or a member of the marketing team. In either case, unless operational people who know the product and the customer provide useful knowledge, the blog will be ineffectual. In my experience, operational staff stay engaged for a few weeks before losing interest, at which point the blog is in danger of losing momentum.
Social Media: a young or revamped blog must gain visibility from a well-managed social media campaign. To gain traffic, each post must be announced on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. within minutes of its publications. But what if those social media channels are not being aggressively managed? In my experience, lackluster social media engagement breeds poor blog activity. A rule of thumb I’ve found accurate is this: there is almost a 1-to-1 relationship between social media followers and a blog growth rate. If competitors have twice the social media followers, their blog will also have twice the growth rate.
Planning: online marketing – email campaigns, call-to-actions, blogs, downloadable content, social media – must be coordinated and executed with a comprehensive editorial calendar. A fragmented approach rarely delivers double-digit increases for traffic, leads, contacts or sales.
Focus on the Title: who doesn’t know compelling value is a requirement for gaining readers for a new blog? Who forgets an uninviting title can negate the world’s best content? Actually, a lot of people do. Writing good titles is hard, but necessary. Watch blog traffic to learn what connects with the audience – and what doesn’t. If a title flops, edit it and don’t repeat the mistake! Blogs may live forever in the blogosphere, but poor titles can be – and should be – buried.
Content Clues: every three months examine content for clues about readership hot buttons. During that time period, the editorial calendar should have promoted specific travel themes/topics across several blogs. How did the immediate and longer term readership of those blogs compare with others? Any themes/topics triggering higher readership should be woven into related themes/topics for the upcoming editorial calendar.