Over the last few years the growth of The Heartland USA has been amazing. It is at the point now where I can legitimately call myself a professional travel blogger as the site earns enough money to keep sending me on new adventures, allowing me to present even more useful information and photographs to the people who take the time to visit.
So what’s the secret? How do you turn your passion for travel into a career? The following are all things that I think you need to do to emulate The Heartland USA’s success.
Do It Out of Passion
The Heartland USA was started because a few of my friends wanted to see more of the photographs that I had taken during my adventures. There was no bigger purpose behind the site initially, but there was a ton of passion. I love traveling, photography and writing about my adventures. All of this pushed me to keep writing and updating, even when the site was making no money at all. That is the key, because if you aren’t willing to blog about your travels for nothing at all, you won’t be able to build the audience and experience needed for all of that hard work to pay off later.
There is so much that I didn’t know about the online world before I started this blog. Over the years I have educated myself about search engine optimization, Google Adwords, AdSense and a host of other techniques that can be used to build an audience for my blog and help monetize it. Not all of these will work for you, but it is crucial that you spend time learning about the nuts and bolts of actually marketing a website if you want your audience to grow. Once you have the information, you then need to apply it. There is a lot of work that goes into running a travel blog outside of the fun stuff and you need to be dedicated enough to your goals to actually do it.
Always Put The Audience First
Your readers are the people who will ultimately decide whether or not your blog is successful enough for you to make a living from it. This means you need to focus on delivering content and a service that satisfies the people who come to the site. Be receptive to any feedback you receive and spend time interacting with the people who have taken the time out of their own days to look at your work and contact you. It’s amazing just how much of a difference actually speaking to the people who visit your site can make, as it allows for the creation of more personal relationships and shows that you really do care about your audience.
Do Cool Things
People come to travel blogs because they want to hear about interesting adventures and really cool things. Your passion for travel really needs to shine through in the posts you create and the photographs that you post, which means you sometimes need to have the courage to do things that take you a little outside of your comfort zone. Try local cuisine, meet people from other cultures and tell their stories, and engage in any new experiences that come your way. They all make for interesting reading and may inspire others to do the same.
Do Guest Posting
You may have noticed that The Heartland USA offers people the opportunity to contribute their own stories to the site. One of the main aims of this is to allow new travel bloggers and writers an opportunity to reach a larger audience with their work and hopefully gain exposure for their own blogs. I spent some time guest blogging for other travel sites when I first started out, which allowed me to connect with an audience that I may not have reached otherwise.
Advertising is a tricky issue for travel bloggers. Ads will likely become your main source of income from your website as the audience starts to grow, but you will also want to ensure the site maintains its integrity and doesn’t start advertising any old products to your readers. The best way to do this is to take control of your site’s advertising yourself. Work closely with businesses who you feel can offer products and services that will appeal to your audience. Not only will this be appreciated by your readers, but you also make it more likely that the advertising campaigns are successful, which allows you and your partners to make money.
Network With Other Travelers
I love to hear from other travelers because each conversation offers the potential for education and new opportunities. While your travel blog is meant to be fun, you also need to treat it like a business at times, which means making time to connect with others in your niche. Speak to the people who contact you through your site, but also seek out communities online and on social media who share your passions. This will help you to meet even more people, many of whom may even become part of your audience.
Tell Your Story
Perhaps above all else, you need to be able to connect with your audience through your blog. Anybody can post a few pictures with a couple of captions below them. I should know, because that’s what I did when I started out. However, I found that The Heartland USA really started to capture people’s attention when I started telling stories. Stories about my life, the tales behind the pictures I took and the adventures I experienced all helped me to build a “brand” of sorts that allows me to engage with my audience. People want to hear what you have to say, so tell your stories in everything that you do.
The Final Word
I’m not going to claim that this list is exhaustive and there are probably other travel bloggers out there who have done different things to turn professional. What I can say is that all of the above helped me to turn The Heartland USA into a popular travel blog that allows me to earn a living doing what I enjoy most in the world.