This is a guest post by Lisa Egle who runs the travel blog Chicky Bus. Lisa approached me here on TBC to see if the travel blog community can help her decide if she should try to monetize here blog, and if so, how best to approach it.
I think this is a great chance for us all to learn as I know many (if not most) of us have faced this question about monetizing. Lisa is very brave to open up her site completely to all of us and see what is going on traffic wise. Many of us have a piece of the monetizion puzzle and this is a great opportunity to help out each other in the comments. I will also post a follow up article with all the comments organized along with my own thoughts.
Time To Monetize?
When I started my travel blog–Chicky Bus—approximately one year ago, I had two primary goals: sharing my travel stories, tips and photos with others while building a social media platform to help me publish/sell my travel memoirs, once completed.
“Monetizing” my site—with ads, widgets, affiliate sales, etc.—was not high on the list although, admittedly, it was in the back of my mind.
Now, one year later, the monetary possibilities have grown in importance and moved up on the priority list. I recognize the value of what I do/see the engagement, put in a lot of time/energy and have seen my “numbers” improving. I’ve also spent not just time but money on my site for: a premium theme builder, webhost fees, a social media consultant, a web developer and some paid plug-ins. I’d love to see a return on my investment.
Before I ask my questions and we conduct our “case study,” here’s some background on my site:
Site Name/Tagline: Chicky Bus: Finding yourself off the beaten path.
How it appears on Google: Chicky Bus: Travel tips, spirituality and humor.
Age of Site: 1 year, 1 month
Domain Name: I chose the domain name, www.chickybus.com, because it’s memorable, the backbone of the overall concept and thus, “brandable.” Early on, I opted to do this versus choosing a “discoverable” name, one that would be found in simple searches about travel—eg, “solo travel” and “female adventure travel”. I do, of course, use these and many other “key words” in certain posts.
Chicky Bus aims to take readers “off-the-beaten path and into the moment—to a place of self-discovery”—via tales, tips, photos and more. This reflects the theme of the book I recently completed and works the same way; readers/”passengers” are taken on the bus for trips/”rides” to 5 continents around the world, which entertain and lead to introspection and hopefully, inspire healthy risk-taking and more in-the-moment “authentic travel.”
The site is geared to anyone, male or female, with an interest in travel/cultural experiences and photography:
· independent travelers (solo/couples) who travel internationally and in the US
· travelers who generally take tours and wonder what it’s like to get off the beaten path
· people considering their first trip
· students and professors interested in cultural exchange/world politics
· anyone interested in personal growth (living in the moment, taking risks, etc.) and open to the idea of it happening via travel
According to Alexa statistics, my site’s audience “tends to be childless; they are also disproportionately highly educated women between the ages of 25 and 45 who browse from home and have incomes under $100,000.”
Visitors to the site spend approximately 44 seconds on each page view and a total of seven minutes on the site during each visit. Search engines refer approximately 10% of visits. (Note: this is also per Alexa and some of it differs from what Google’s metrics said.)
Alexa Ranking: 146,280 worldwide (42,532 US and 57,281 in the UK)
Google Page Rank: 3
Google Analytics: Approximately 3250 visitors (75% new) per month, of whom about 2530 are “absolute/unique”; 5676 page views in the past month; time on site varies.
Twitter Followers—3000 followers
Klout Score: 63
*I realize that there are mixed reviews re: the validity/value of some of these numbers and metrics; however, since they’re what many people use, I’ve listed them. What I do know is that those visiting my site tend to be loyal, interested and highly engaged.
Monetize Now or Later?
Last month, Virgin Atlantic (via a marketing company) approached me about running a search widget on my site and I agreed to it. It’s a start, but I’d like to see more money coming in.
I’ve been approached by other companies, those less well-known, and haven’t been sure what to do. Some of them seem spammy and not worth my time. I recently set up an advertising page to show which options are available.
So, my question to you—those already making money—is…is it time for me to really monetize or not? Is my site the kind that’s appropriate for this? Are my “numbers” high enough? And if so, which types of situations will bring in the most money without creating a lot more work for me?
The challenge here, of course, is time. I’ve finished writing my book and am considering publishing options. Meanwhile, I’m a full-time ESL professor and have a busy life. Of course, like many of my travel blogger peers, I’m a bit of a social media/Internet addict and, at times, feel burnt out.
Here are some of the things I’d like advice about—and to see demystified if possible. And if it helps to share links to lists, articles, etc, if relevant, please do so. Without further ado, here are my questions:
1. Affiliate links: Are they worth it?
I recently bought some slashproof travel gear that I thought was excellent. Is it worth writing a post about it and using affiliate marketing to try to earn commission? Is it worth the time/energy? I am sure that other travelers would benefit from the post, but would they click and buy?
2. Advertising: What’s the best approach?
Do I, the travel blogger, pursue it? Look at other bloggers’ sites and see who they have as “sponsors” and if their “numbers” and niche are similar, approach that particular advertiser? Or do I wait to be approached by the advertisers themselves? And if/when that happens, how do I know whom to trust?
And if they are legit, how much should I charge? How long should I commit for? How do I re-negotiate for a higher rate? And what about homepage versus single-post page versus sitewide? Are there different prices for each option?
Anyone out there have a form or rate sheet to share that they give to advertisers to show the options/pricing structure?
3. Sponsored vs paid guest posts: One or both?
Every once in a while, I see that a traveler blogger’s post was sponsored by someone else; at the bottom, there’s a link to a travel-related company. I wonder how much they were paid to include this link.
Other times, I see a post that the blogger allowed someone else to write—and obviously got paid for, too. The writing quality (and number of comments) is generally low or simply awkward sounding; sometimes the post seems out of place and, on occasion, compromises the integrity of the site in some way.
In my case, I’m more comfortable with allowing for the former situation versus the latter. Also, I’d even consider writing a “targeted post”—one that the advertiser wants to run that includes a link. This, however, would cost a lot since it would really be labor-intensive.
What’s a good/basic protocol for each of the scenarios? How much can/should one charge?
4. Press Trips: “It’s complicated,” right? Or not?
As a former reporter, I find the idea of a press trip a bit perplexing and wonder how it really works. What specifically do “they” (eg–the agency, tourism council, etc.) pay for—airfare, transportation, tours, etc? Some of it? All of it?
And what about compensation? Do you get paid, too? If so, what is it fair to ask for? And what happens if the trip doesn’t go well? How do you handle writing about it? Is there any sort of conflict of interest?
What about income tax (if you’re not a permanent digital nomad)? Must you claim the “free trip” (and what it would have cost) as income? Do you have to pay sales tax on it based on the rate mandated by the state in which you live?
Final Question: How Do I Monetize Without Losing Sight of My Original Goals?
These are some of the monetization situations I’ve been wondering about and would love to know your thoughts re: my particular “case.” As you can see, if I pursue monetization, I’d like to work “smart” versus “hard.”) The question is–how do I manage it all without losing sight of my primary goals—providing quality content to readers, maintaining my social media platform and getting my book published?
Bio: Lisa Egle, founder/owner of www.chickybus.com, is an independent traveler and an ESL professor at a 2-year college. She recently finished her travel memoirs, a collection of short stories about her experiences on 5 continents around the world. She’s done everything from (unintentionally) eating dog in China to being proposed to on a chicken bus and recently, meeting a Colombian hermit in Lebanon. Her travel philosophy (and the concept of her site) is “travel off the beaten path and into the moment–to a place of self-discovery.”
So what do all of your smart travel bloggers things about Chicky Bus’ situation? Leave your comments below and let’s figure out this monetization issue!