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Friday, February 4, 2011

Niche Travel Blogging Demystified

This guest post is by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.

If you look at all the travel blogs out there, you’ll notice many common themes. People tend to write a blog that falls into an overarching category like cruises, backpacking, solo travel, or digital nomad travel. They don’t refine their offerings any further. What readers are left with is thousands of blogs about the same thing, and a crowded field where no one really dominates. There are no leaders, no experts, and the bloggers’ voices get lost in the crowd.

For some bloggers, that’s fine. They simply blog because they like blogging. They want to interact with others and have no intention of ever making their blog into a business. If they make three hundred dollars selling an ad, they’re probably ecstatic; if they never make any money, they’re probably not fussed.

Yet there are a lot of bloggers out there who do want to make money. Some of them want to make a living, and most would just love for their blog to pay for their travels. In a sea of sameness, though, it’s hard to get the traction you need to become an expert, distinguish yourself, and gain traffic. And as we all know, it’s only then that you can make money from your blog.

A few weeks ago, a travel blogger I read said that we travel bloggers should look to companies like Lonely Planet and be like them. “Copy the big companies,” he said.

I think this is the worst mistake you can make. You can’t be Lonely Planet, Boots n All, Orbitz, or the like. These companies have decades of experience and money that you don’t have, as well as huge budgets that allow them to stay ahead of the game.

Moreover, there’s no way you’ll be able to get ahead of their brands. Google didn’t wake up saying they want to be Microsoft. They said, “we want to be a new tech company.” That’s what you should aim for. You should aim to be something new. Don’t follow. Lead.

To be a leader, you need to be niche. That word is thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean?

In simple terms, being niche means that you focus on a narrow topic. For the purpose of this article, I am going to talk a lot about backpacking as a niche. If you look at most travel blogs, you’ll notice that they all focus on backpacking or long-term travel. It seems to be a trend. How do you make yourself different when everyone is writing about the same thing?

Recently, I gave some advice to another travel blogger. He had just come back from a long-term trip to Central and South America, and he wanted to make his website bigger and earn some money from it, so what did he do? He followed the conventional line of thinking and turned his site into a general backpacking blog, and in the process he made his blog just the same as all the other blogs out there. They offered the same tips, advice, and stories that everyone on the Internet does.

I asked him, “How many sites do you see about backpacking in Central and South America?” That made him stop and think. He couldn’t think of any blogs that covered these regions, and he had just spent two years living, learning, and traveling that region of the world.

I told him that he is an expert on that area, and I asked him why he’s trying to cover the whole world. “Cover the area you know about!” I said. “When people ask other travelers where they look for information on a specific region, you want your name to come up first. Be the backpacking site for your area of expertise.”

One of the greatest things the Internet has done is that it has made all niches marketable. With millions of people on the ‘net at any second of the day, even the smallest hobby or niche has an audience. You may think you are the only one with a passion for photos of horses doing stupid things, but with the Internet, you’ll find that you aren’t. You can bring all sorts of people together with your niche site.

The same is true in travel. No niche is too small. There are blogs covering RV travel, consumer issues, cruises, seniors’ cruises, gay cruises, gay seniors’ cruises, backpacking, long term travel, couples travel, and Asia travel—you can always find interested followers within your area of expertise.

Look at the “top travel blogs.” Out of the top 20 blogs, the majority deal with backpacking, independent travel, or families. Everyone is talking about the same thing.

When you looked at the numbers of those sites, did you notice something? There are a few with really high numbers, but the most are simply in the same area. They are talking about the same general topic, and thus they all share the same traffic.

Now take a look at the site Travel Fish. This is a destination-based site. It’s not really a blog, but it focuses on one thing: Southeast Asia. What kind of traffic does it get? It has an Alexa rank of 33,000 and a Compete rank of 144,000, which averages 88,500. That puts the site at #5 on the list of blogs.

By going super-niche, your blog gains a single purpose. Everything you do focuses around one central theme. It helps focus your content, your marketing, and your audience. Don’t be everything to everyone. Be the best at one thing to some people. You want people to reference your name when people ask where they need to go for help. Travelfish’s single-minded nature allows that site to be the expert, and dominate one field. The owner doesn’t compete with anyone. People compete with him.

There are many travel websites out there. If you don’t go niche, you won’t be able to create a name for yourself. If you really want to make a stellar travel blog, monetize it, and be successful, you must pick one small genre of travel or location in the world, and be the expert on that. Otherwise, you’ll never break out of the crowd.

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.

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